What to pack for the Labour Room: Things to help stay grounded and prepare for the unknown

Quite a few new mums or mums who haven’t had a baby for awhile, have been asking me what I brought into the labour room with me! It seems like just yesterday I was carefully packing my bag. I had tried to keep things simple when I had Olive, but second time around, I wanted a bag full of things that helped me feel a little more in control, prepared and calm. I needed a few reminders to help me stay grounded throughout labour as I was so fearful of going through another traumatic birth. Sometimes being prepared gives me a little less space for anxiety and the unknown. Are you similar?

My bag of tricks for the Labour Room

Here are the things I brought to the birth suite when I had Ezra.

  1. Bliss Birth TENS machine To be honest, I was skeptical about the effectiveness of a Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulator. I felt like it was similar to the advice my Mum gave me, “just breathe” through the labour! But this tiny device was what helped me experience a calm, focused birth! It was so easy to use, adjust and distract me from the contractions. A natural pain relief mechanism that helps to block pain signals from reaching the brain and increase endorphins. What a great tool! I used the TENS machine during the active phase of labour (when I was between 3 to 7cm dilated) and for a little while during the transition stage. Prior to being induced, Steve and I tried the TENS machine using the reusable electrode pads on our backs. The gentle buzzing of the pads and boost option to increase the intensity to dull the pain of a contraction was amazing! The machine also had a built in contraction timer which was useful during labour. I was so thankful to Ariel and the warmth and encouragement I received when communicating with her. She passionately runs Bliss Birth sharing practical tools, support and guiding women to a natural birth whether that’s a c’section, drug free or all the drugs, she hopes to support mothers to having that bliss moment when they meet their newborn. Hiring the TENS machine was easily done online, it included the Elle TENS plus machine, new batteries, brand new reusable electrode pads, easy to read instructions, lead wires, prepaid return envelope to send the products back to Bliss Birth. Go check out the Bliss Birth shop, blog and hire options! Click here to head straight over to the labour TENS hire info!
  2. Home Made Affirmation Cards So this is where I got all hippy in Steve’s opinion! But I needed all the tools I could think of to keep me grounded and calm during birth. I’m a visual person so I found these so helpful! I searched in Google for birth affirmations and printed out the ones that resonated with me. I also typed up a few of my own to help me focus and stay grounded if I needed them during labour. It was probably as we approached the transition phase where I asked Steve to help me find these cards. I placed them on the bed and paced around, rocked on the spot and read these cards. Reminding myself about the world outside this clinically, sterile environment and the purpose of the pain I was experiencing. I had written affirmations such as: “The power and the intensity of my contractions can’t be stronger than me, because it is me.”, “Breathe in peace, breathe out tension”, “The Lord God is with me”, “Women around the world are birthing with you right now.” … there are so many!
  3. Photos of my daughter, Olive I needed a reminder of what the pain during childbirth was for. Having some photos of Olive reminded me of the outcome of labour…. a beautiful creation from God, a gift of new life. I found I brought these photos out mid way through the labour to help remind me of the big picture. Our family was growing and she would be a big sister soon! Looking at her photos strengthened me to keep going, knowing that I would soon be meeting a little boy who would one day have his own personality of his own. But even if this is your first labour experiences, I would recommend bringing along photos of things that give you peace, remind you of the outside world, things that remind you of home or a place where you feel calm and relaxed. This helped my heart to stop racing and gain perspective.
  4. Eucalyptus oil and a USB charged diffuser from Kmart The moment we were shown to our room, Steve helped to set up a diffuser. Aromatherapy has its benefits and I chose a smell that I associated with home, relaxation and wellness. I bought a $15 diffuser from Kmart and it was very easy to use. You can find it here.
  5. Bible Verses and messages from amazing women in my life! Prior to having Ezra, some beautiful women in my church threw me a “Baby Blessing”. Many had walked with me after I had PND with Olive and been my “village” throughout my recovery. They knew my heart was burdened with the fear of labour, PND reoccurring and the anxiety of the unknown. These women were my rocks! Their thoughtfulness and prayers helped me stay focused on trusting God and knowing He will be with me. Many of them wrote down verses from the Bible to encourage me and letters of reassurance. I brought these with me to the birth suite too! A big fear of mine is being alone, and these visual reminders were great to have as I rocked and swayed throughout labour. Knowing they were praying for me helped to keep my eyes on the Lord.
  6. Vicks This is my ultimate comfort smell! I had been using it throughout the pregnancy and found it took me back to places in my childhood. I would hold the bottle or put some under my nose and tension points for comfort.
  7. Lavender Heat Pack Ok so there are a heap of conflicting smells going on in the labour room. But I would recommend a heat pack of any sort just in case. This was helpful to use on areas that were aching or just as a temperature distraction.
  8. Snacks for birth partner Energy drinks, lollies, chocolate… a few snacks for your birth partner if you have one is handy. That way they can be focused on staying by your side and have sustenance to have their hands squeezed for an unknown amount of hours!
  9. Battery operated candles I wanted to feel relaxed and the atmosphere of the room was important. Whether it’s bringing your pillow from home, a comfy blanket or wearing your favourite pair of socks. The ambiance of the room is what will help you feel less like a science experiment and more like the Mama Bear! I read that the body senses tension, fear and stress during labour and this can often slow down cervical dilation. You can imagine, if there’s fear pumping through your body, the last thing it wants to do is open up to bring a fragile life into the world. So observing the pain through labour as “healthy pain” with a purpose helped to get me through. Rather than interpreting the pain in a negative way and wanting to tense up and flee from it. You can find the candles I used from everyone’s favourite go to shop! Kmart.
  10. Maternity/Nursing Bra This is a great option for during the labour or in the recovery room. Prior to having Ezra, I had not heard of Mamaway. But they have kindly connected with me and gifted a Rose of Versailles Maternity Bra. It was comfortable with adjustable clasps, extra padding for those lopsided milky boobs and easy access for discrete breast feeding. I have added a link here if you would like to check out their range of maternity clothing, breastfeeding bras and more baby products.

Most importantly, I would say that having the support of women in my church, Steve and my family helped me feel reassured through the process. My husband and beautiful church friends knew how much the fear of the unknown and trauma from my first birth lingered on my mind. They all reminded me that God had got this. He was the constant support I had through my whole pregnancy and birth. We can try to be organised with all our tricks and tools, but at the end of the day, I knew God was who sustained me and went before me. I will be sharing more about my birth story with Ezra very soon! I would love to know what you found helpful to bring along to your birth. Send me a message or comment below!

A comfy Spell dress to feed in, heat pack, electronic candle and Spell calico bag to bring all these items into the hospital with me!

Birth Story – Olive Part 2

It had been 41 weeks and 1 day. My baby had made itself pretty comfortable. Nourished, sustained, thriving and still not ready to make an entrance despite all the signs and symptoms foretold by my baby app! So it was time, to be hooked up to the monitors, waters artificially broken and a syntocin drip commenced for induction.

The last few years I had been somewhat in control of my life. I liked the schedules, to do lists, my diary, my calendar and organising as much as I could to minimise the unknown! I even had an excel spreadsheet for all our connecting flights, hotels and itinerary for our Europe holiday! But as many would know, raising children can be challenging, tiring, messy, confusing and definitely unpredictable! It was a new way to think, process and feel. It was going to be a new season in life and I had those common worries that I’m sure all new mothers or mothers-to-be think about. But I felt like I couldn’t shake the fear and doubt. It was playing on my mind daily and in the quietness of my home. While Steve was at work and I had started maternity leave. I napped and nested while I waited for the days to pass.

My obstetrician had given me all the details. The play by play. The steps of action to be taken if my artificial labour didn’t progress appropriately. If the baby became distressed. If the labour stalled. All the options for the “choose your own” ending for a birth. For someone that was nervous about the whole baby evacuation process, this was helpful. I liked having information. I liked knowing what was going to happen. But the unknown direction the birth could take terrified me and I couldn’t stop thinking of the what if’s. From the minimal reading that I did, it appeared that inductions were usually fast and intense. My sense of being in control was on rocky ground. At the mercy of the syntocin speeding up a labour which my baby was not ready for.

I took a photo of this poster at my birth preparation class.
The lady’s expressions are so realistic?!

Surprisingly, I didn’t have a birth plan! Which went against my usual organised, “need for control” state! My main hope was to go with the flow and follow what was recommended for the safety of my baby. As much as it scared me, I hoped it would be a drug free, natural birth.

So back to the labour room…It’s a strange feeling, meeting a woman who will help guide and support you through a special moment in your life. A woman who will see you at one of the most vulnerable, raw times of your life. Being pushed physically and emotionally. I didn’t feel at ease with this woman. And upon reflection, I probably should have spoken up. My nurse was an experienced clinician but her matter of fact approach was patronising. I didn’t feel comfortable with her and there’s no other way to put it but “the vibes were off!” So as my anxiety continued to bubble, this nurse checked and told me I was already 3 centimetres dilated and the syntocin was ready to go.

When I reflect back about my first birth experience, I wish I had spoken up and shared my worries. That my pounding heart didn’t stifle my voice to speak up. I remember friend’s telling me once you enter the hospital, “you leave your dignity at the door.” And I left it at the door, and my confidence, courage and voice too. I was attached to an external fetal monitor and was confined to a bed. I wanted to move, rock, pace around like I did while in pre-labour at home. I didn’t realise I could request a mobile monitor and it was never offered as an option. As I waited for the syntocin to kick in I remember feeling bewildered and helpless. Just a pin cushion where procedures were done to me but no explanation given. My nurse reclined on a couch directly in front of me. Kicking back with a bored expression. Staring at me, waiting for the show to begin. I had Steve sitting on a chair beside me. He could see I was anxious and tried to reassure me. Glad to have him by my side, I tried to focus on him and all that was familiar.

An hour or so went by and things started to intensify quickly. Before long, the nurse reported that I would be having my baby by lunch time! The contractions were rolling in repeatedly and I could barely catch my breath. I felt so overwhelmed that I suddenly panicked and knew I needed an epidural. Firstly, they offered me the happy gas, then the pethadine injection. But neither brought relief and my anxiety was spiking. “Get me the epidural! I don’t know how much longer I can do this!” I desperately said to Steve.

I had to sit up and lean forward over my belly for the anaesthesiologist to administer the epidural. It was a relief knowing that strong pain medication was on it’s way. The thought of a huge needle going into my back did not phase me as I hoped that it would take the edge off. I remember my anesthesiologist. I found his calm, clear explanation of what was going to happen helped me feel reassured and informed.

After the epidural and catheter were put in, my ever delightful nurse told me, “You can go to sleep now.” Silently rolling her eyes as she watched me grimace and try to “breathe”. But the relief didn’t really come. I felt a bit numb, but soon things intensified again and it felt like bone pressing against bone near my spine. It was excruciating and surprised me that it was not really a pain I could “just breathe through”. I had dilated to 10 centimeters pretty quickly after the epidural and it was time to push! My nurse tried to show me where to focus my energy, but I was feeling dazed and confused. My back was burning with sharp pain and lying down didn’t help. I felt the panic continue to bubble up my throat and tried my hardest to listen to the instructions she was giving me. But I cringed in fear and felt baby was not budging! I soon explained “I have so much pain in my back and don’t know where to push!” My nurse was clearly annoyed and replied, “How can you feel pain? You have an epidural.” She was so belittling and I felt weak, embarrassed and ashamed that I couldn’t do what a woman’s body was supposedly meant to do. The negative thoughts continued to flood in and I hung my arms around Steve’s neck, telling him “I can’t do this..I don’t think I can endure this anymore.”

Baby’s head was stuck. Every time I pushed, she would tuck her chin in and return back to her safe place! The nurses had their staff changeover and my tired, grumpy nurse was replaced by a beautiful, encouraging soul who made me feel less ridiculous and more supported. Before their hand over, both nurses held one of my legs each as I tried to push baby out. I was trying so hard, I nearly kicked them across the room! Due to baby’s posterior position and prolonged second stage, the nurses realised that I would need an emergency c-section. The next few moments are hard to remember as the room suddenly filled with many people. Steve quickly changed into scrubs and a hairnet. I remember seeing his wide eyes, confused by what was happening and the lack of information given to us. We didn’t even know why I needed to be prepped for a caesarian!

I was wheeled into a room with about 12 other staff members present. They gave me a spinal block so that I was numb from belly to toes. It was surreal. What was happening?! Thankfully, the reassuring anaesthesiologist was back again and calmly spoke next to my ear. He explained what was happening with the spinal block, how my legs would feel and not to worry. I look back and learnt so much about patient client interaction, informed consent and clear communication from this positive example. My obstetrician started to prepare for surgery and I lay there in shock. Still unsure what was going on. Thankfully, my obstetrician knew how much it meant to me to try for a natural birth. She wanted me to try pushing one last time to see if the baby could be assisted with a vacuum cup. The anesthesiologist was by my head, Steve by my side holding my hand, nurses and a paediatrician surrounded the bed. All in unison, they said “PUSH!!!!” Despite having no sensation in half my body, I tried to push and after 2 pushes, my baby was born!

She was here. What a relief!

Relief washed over me and all I could do was exclaim, “Thank you God, thank you Jesus!” Steve cut the umbilical cord, they quickly checked her over and then passed her to me. It was a baby girl! My eyes were clouded with tears from relief, shock and disbelief. I couldn’t believe she was real. She looked familiar, but I didn’t know her. I didn’t feel the overwhelming love that I had heard of. But I was so glad that the birth was over. That she was out and she was safe, healthy and here. Steve was over the moon and turned to me and said, “We will name her Olive, yeah?” and that was her name Olive Mary.

After Olive’s birth, I lay there waiting for my obstetrician to repair the effects of a fast, posterior labour. No one had explained what had happened and why I had been rushed to the theatre room. So in the silence, my mind started to fill with negative conclusions. The main one being that I was so incompetent, they had to pull Olive out of me. That I had failed and my hope for an empowered, calm birth did not come to fruition. I was so hard on myself, and in hindsight I feel the exhaustion, my personality, fast labour, trauma, poor communication and lack of birthing debrief was part of my misinterpretation. It was a scary first experience and not as empowered as I had hoped. The joy of meeting my child was soon clouded with irrational thoughts, confusion and anxiety. The silent bubbling had started to overflow and in the quiet night on Day 2 of Olive’s life, I had my first panic attack.

My sweet girl was so placid and a dream baby!
But I look at this picture and see I’m not really myself. My eyes say it all.

My darling Olive, born on the 26th of March in 5 hours and 53 minutes! Our precious daughter and blessing we received with gratitude. I love her so much and know my mental instability did not reduce how much I love her. But the story of my illness and recovery is where I learnt more about myself, mental illness and God’s faithfulness through it all. Read more about this next part of my journey soon.

If this story raised any concerns for you or you notice someone close to you may be needing help, please reach out to someone you trust. For anyone needing assistance, you can visit the Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Australia (PANDA) website or call their National Helpline on 1300 726 306.

Birth Story – Olive Part 1

I can see the fear in my eyes. The uneasy, wide eyed look you get when something is coming towards you but it hasn’t hit you yet. That feeling you get when you anticipate something challenging is just around the corner. You are bracing yourself, but the hard part is, you don’t know when it will happen. You don’t know how you will cope. You don’t even really know how it will feel. Because you have never done it before. It’s the unknown. It’s intense. It’s child birth.

I remember my Mum telling me that it took her 4 years after she was married to face her fear of child birth. She wanted to have a child, but the thought of intense pain, blood and all the fun stuff involved with labour stopped her from starting her motherhood journey. But, in the end, her experience was so positive she exclaimed “I want another one!” the moment she gave birth to me.

My Mama and I

“Just breathe” she told me. “Focus and breathe through the contractions when you are in labour.” I had inherited my mother’s fear of childbirth. I was so anxious at the thought of labour. I wasn’t a sporty kind of girl, I didn’t like the feeling of my heart pounding after a run. I didn’t like to push myself to the physical limits that I knew so many of my friends enjoyed at the gym. The moment I felt any indication of stress or exertion on my body, I wanted to stop! I told myself I wasn’t built for labour! I just wasn’t fit enough for that kind of marathon! What if I don’t know what to do? I have never even changed a nappy before. What if I fail as a Mother? I could just imagine my child raising their eyebrows at me with a look saying, “do you even know what you are doing!?” These were a few of my thoughts prior to falling pregnant with Olive.

We had walked through hard journeys with some of our close friends. Their hearts desiring a child, but their hopes not fulfilled. It was heartbreaking and we grieved with them and for their losses. Steve and I had been married for over 3 years and just returned from our first ever trip to Europe. We hoped to have a baby and start a new season together. And thank God, I soon fell pregnant. We were so nervous. Praying that this glimmer of life on the ultrasound screen would thrive. I remember feeling scared to accept the miracle as I didn’t want to have to say goodbye. I would carefully protect my belly, only eat a pregnancy appropriate diet, I even felt like I walked a different way! But thankfully, the little bean grew, changing into the size of an apple, orange and finally a watermelon! My pregnancy was smooth and I felt overjoyed, more stable in my mood than ever before.

Hello Child. These are your parents!

Not only was a new life growing within me, but I also grew a stronger backbone. My confidence and assertiveness increased at work as I felt the urge to protect my health, energy and outlook for the sake of my baby. I started to feel more sure of my boundaries, saying more “no’s” and putting the wellbeing of my unborn child first. I had always looked out for our friend’s children, my nieces and nephews. I had loved working with kids in our kid’s program at church, babysitting, creche, playgroups… So what happened next really hit me and made me question what sort of woman I was.

My baby was overdue. Multiple stretch and sweeps (if you don’t know what that is, I don’t know whether you should look it up…! But do if you dare!) but this little bub was not budging. I had twinges and false labour for about 3 weeks in the lead up. Waking in the night, pacing next to my side of the bed. Not waking Steve as it was “early labour”, only to be disappointed by morning because nothing had happened. I felt on edge. I was worried my waters would break, so I sat on a towel on my long commute to work. I overanalysed every niggle, every rolling movement, every kick down in the pelvis. I anxiously wondered if this was it, was it time to face my fear of having a baby? I was scared.

I look back on photos from that time in my life, I see the fear in my eyes. Tired lines circle them and highlight the anxiety I felt. But I didn’t say anything. I kept it to myself because surely that’s what all pregnant women feel. Now I know it’s not uncommon to feel this way. It’s normal to be anxious about uncertainties and there are so many support systems available. I didn’t have to go it alone. I was extremely scared and kept telling myself “Suck it up! You are on this train, and you can’t get off. So just get on with it.” My self talk was so encouraging!

38 weeks pregnant. Silent anxiety in my eyes.

On the 26th March, Steve and I woke up early. The sun hadn’t risen yet. We took a photo in our baby’s nursery before we left. I was going in for an induction. The air was crisp, sky was clear, the sun was just coming up as we slid into the car. This was so weird! Today was the day we would meet our baby. We didn’t know if we were having a boy or a girl. We had names for both. As we drove to the hospital, I thought of all the times I had imagined the car ride. Of course I imagined a high speed, pedal to the floor kinda ride, me screaming in agony and Steve driving on the tram tracks to bypass traffic! It would be peak hour and I would almost give birth in the car. Given Steve comes from a farming background, (tells me all the time he knows how to deliver calves!), he would be catching the baby as we rolled into the hospital carpark. But my imagination was a bit more dramatic than real life! We parked at the hospital, wandered in and announced at the desk “Um, we are here to have a…. baby?”

Morning of the induction – Nursery Selfies

We went to our birth suite. It was surreal going in there now, heavily pregnant. The last time we had been in the room was with a group of couples on a tour of the hospital. Giggling and making sarcastic remarks about whether our husbands can use the “happy gas” on D-day. I changed into a hospital gown and a monitor was wrapped around my belly. As we waited for my water’s to be artificially broken, a food service staff member came in and asked me to fill out a menu for breakfast and dinner… It threw me. I couldn’t think about food! It seemed so casual and insensitive at the time. I think I’ll order a Valium thanks! I sarcastically thought to myself. I hastily ticked a couple of boxes and then tried to get back into the zone. This little one was coming out today and my heart was pounding with fear and excitement!

Part 2 will be up next week. Thank you for reading. Feel free to subscribe to read the 2nd part of Olive’s journey earthside!

 

 

Celebrate the small things

Since the time I had Ezra, I have been seeing a Psychologist. This was so beneficial at this stage of change in our family. She guided me with tools I could use to help with anxiety, negative thoughts, depression and self care. It was great to have someone to talk to during those early weeks where I felt like Post Natal Depression (PND) was resurfacing for a second time around. As the weeks went by, I was able to go longer stints without seeing her and it never felt like I was hanging off her. It was such a contrast to when I had PND after Olive’s birth. That was such a different experience and the intensity was a lot stronger.

One chat we had really highlighted to me that I like to achieve things. Having a ‘to do’ list, completing a project, feeling productive, these were all things that gave me a sense of worth. It helped me subconsciously “rate” whether I had a good day or a less worthwhile day (or so I thought!). It changed my mood, it made me feel unmotivated or down if I didn’t have a focus. I had unknowingly been doing this and operated in this way for so long.

So when we got to those newborn weeks of slowing down, focusing on feeding and caring for an unpredictable little human, I started to shut down. I started to get cabin fever and feel the walls closing in. It is a precious time, but also, in many ways, a mundane, repetitive time too! There’s so much sitting, feeding, folding, washing, burping, swaddling, rocking, stumbling! It is sweet, it is tiring, it is different but it is quick in the scheme of things! Although it still felt like a long time when you are sleep deprived!

My sense of worth and achieving something during these early weeks really bothered me. I found it helpful to have small, achievable goals that I could tick off. Such as, I’ll fold the laundry today, change out of my pyjamas, read my bible devotion book, cook dinner/chuck it in the microwave, go for a walk, paint my nails, take a milestone photo, pluck my eyebrows?! Etc. It helped that part of me that desired order, achievement and completion of a task.

I learnt that identifying the small things is important. Because small things are still good things. These small things may have been things I do anyway, things that were essential, simple and necessary. These things were still good things and did not mean the day was wasted or I achieved nothing!

Celebrate the small things because they are still providing balance to how you feel. One negative feeling or situation sometimes can taint all the successes that have happened in the day. But having balance of what makes you feel satisfied, content and accomplished helped me have a sense of peace.

If you identify with this, here are a few steps you can try! Let me know in the comments if this resonates with you or if you have any strategies to recommend!

Steps to Small Things being Good Things

  1. What are the small things? Identify what makes you feel content when they have been achieved, no matter how small.
  2. List them out – speak or write them out.
  3. Aim to complete these tasks in an achievable time frame that you have set.
  4. Celebrate these and know that “Small things can still be good things.”
  5. Glow in the knowledge you don’t have to do everything, be kind to yourself! Survival mode is okay.
  6. Reflect back at your list and see how much you have achieved in the week. Even if you got though one thing, don’t discredit the fact that you are functioning. If you get to the end of the day and the kids are fed, you are in one piece, this is a good outcome! Be grateful for the small and mundane things because you have achieved them despite it feeling like it’s a routine task.

 

Since writing this post in April, I have finished up my meetings with my Psychologist. She was such an integral part of my recovery from PND a second time around. It was great having the practical strategies and routine of seeing her for mental health support. The tools and ideas she educated me on were new and more suitable to me. I feel that it is important you find someone who you “click with” and has methods which resonate with you. Mindfulness, science and learning about the processes behind why something happens really help me! Feel free to speak to your GP if you feel a Psychologist or Mental Health professional would be someone helpful for you.