What it feels like to birth a whopper

Who were you when you gave birth? I can sum me up in one word: horrified. Give me a few more words and I’d add “distraught”, “hysterical” and “exhausted”.

It’s been more than nine years since I had my first child, and I still shudder when I think about how much it hurt. So I'm feeling sympathy agony for the Rockhampton woman who gave birth to a 6.7kg baby (pictured right). My bub was only a hefty 4.3kg and that felt hellish enough. 

Warning – if you haven’t had a baby and wish to remain blissfully ignorant about the horrors of childbirth, stop reading. If, on the other hand, you are feeling deeply suspicious of people who say, “it’s not so bad”, “it’s only one day of pain for a lifetime of pleasure” or “I can’t even remember the pain now”; or you’ve been there, done that and want to compare notes, then read on as I relive my experience of birthing a whopper …

I’m a bit of a wimp, my pain threshold isn’t terribly high, so I was awestruck by the agony of childbirth. I’m not sure what I expected it to be like – in the movies it’s a noisy, painful but mercifully brief experience. Just a few minutes of anxious screen time, then tears of joy as mother and baby are united at last. In the scary videos shown during ante-natal classes, childbirth is sweaty, messy and painful, but still relatively brief. A couple of edited highlights before the blood and mucous-covered baby slips out.

Unfortunately there are no edited highlights in real life, it’s an incredibly long, messy, painful process. There are those outrageous exceptions you hear about – women who deliver their baby after a 45-minute labour and complain that they almost didn’t make it to the hospital on time; or the ones who say they didn’t mind the agony, because it was “pain with a purpose”; or the really annoying ones who say it really didn’t hurt as much as they thought it would. Rubbish. It hurts just as much as you think it will, and then some.

But the funny thing about labour pain is that it starts so innocuously. I was a week overdue and booked in for an induction when I decided to try an old wives’ tale to hurry things along – lots of curry. Minutes after leaving our local Malaysian restaurant, I felt a funny twinge in my lower abdomen. “Ooooh, I think I’ve gone into labour,” I gleefully told Husband, who didn’t believe me. I think his scepticism stemmed from the fact that I was so chirpy about it. But, after nine months and one week of pregnancy it was a relief to think something might finally be happening. Also, those first labour twinges just felt like period pain. In fact, I found the next seven or so hours of labour quite fun in a mild periody sort of way.  As I lay in bed that night, trying to nap between contractions, I foolishly decided the whole labour business wasn’t going to be as bad as I’d thought. It hurt, but it wasn’t unbearable. I enthusiastically timed each contraction and the gaps between them, scribbling notes on a piece of paper beside the bed.

Those notes stopped when my waters broke around 2am. After dashing, legs crossed, to the bathroom to clean up the mess, I realised the pain had taken on a whole new cadence. I think it had something to do with the fact that 4.3kg of baby was no longer cushioned by amniotic fluid in the womb. Her whopping big head was bouncing up and down on my sensitive cervix and it hurt like hell.

We jumped in the car and dashed to the hospital, me clutching the dashboard and moaning at regular intervals. In the reception area, we stood filling out forms before I could be admitted, me bent over double and groaning between signatures. No nice orderlies with wheelchairs to dash me off to a delivery suite like they do on those American TV shows.  Up in the delivery suite at last, a midwife examined me and said I was 3cm dilated. She suggested I have a hot shower, then try a shot of pethidine. I cautiously agreed.


Seconds into the next horrifying contraction, I begged to go straight for the epidural, thanks very much. Bent over, my back exposed so a scarily long needle could be inserted into my spine, I was instructed to keep perfectly still during the procedure. Of course, during those crucial moments of insertion, another hideous contraction swept my body. Thankfully, my fear of permanent paralysis won out over the desire to scream and writhe on the bed. Four hours of pain-free bliss followed, during which I was told to try and get some sleep. Hello? I was about to have a baby, I was way too wound up to sleep! Husband nodded off in the corner while my mind whirred around and around and around. The midwife popped in again to see how I was going and discovered I was fully dialated. She explained they’d be turning down the epidural so I could push the bub out in about an hour. I was so pleased with myself – I was lining up for a textbook delivery.

Wrong! That magical urge to push never came. I huffed and puffed and screamed and strained for hours to absolutely no effect. I’m surprised I didn’t have haemharroids the size of tomatoes by the time I’d finished (and lets not talk about the stuff that did pop out of there …). I felt like a hopeless failure and kept apologising to everyone in the room for “not being able to push properly”. They assured me I was doing a great job, but I thought they were lying – if I was doing it right, why hadn’t the baby come out?  The epidural wore off and the pain reached excruciating heights. A doctor, without consulting me, decided to administer medication to make the contractions even stronger and longer, to see if that would coax the baby out. Nope, she was stuck on something called “the spines” and she wasn’t going anywhere.

After the sixth person asked if I minded them sticking their arm up my clacker to see how things were going, I put my foot down. “THIS ISN’T WORKING, WE HAVE TO TRY SOMETHING ELSE” I howled. They all stared at me in shock, then hastily agreed. A doctor ran through all the options and risks in long, intricate detail – ventouse, high forceps delivery, emergency caesarean … 

I was in far too much agony to think straight, so I begged for another epidural. It arrived mercifully quickly, with the encouraging words that I just had to make it through three more contractions before I would be pain-free again. My first thought was “I can’t do this three more times” followed by “But I have no choice.”

When the drugs kicked in, it was a pretty easy decision. Ventouse probably wouldn’t work because the baby was too high in the birth canal, and I’d heard enough horror stories about the damage caused by high forceps. We decided on an emergency caesarean. We were both sobbing as Husband rang my family to tell them we were headed for the operating table.

I cried all the way to the operating room, too. Once the pain was gone, the enormity of it all washed over me. After 22 hours of labour, I was being prepped for surgery. A drip in each arm, a monitor clipped to my thumb, a nurse shaving my privates and absolutely no feeling in my body from the chest down. Ironically, after all my efforts to push the baby out, the doctors then had to push her back up the birth canal so they could remove her surgically.

The operation only took minutes, but it seemed like hours. Lots of weird cutting and tugging sensations as they manouevered the baby out of my body at last. “Whoa, she’s  a big one!” they shouted as she was held aloft. Then she was washed – see impressive pic, left –  wrapped in a blanket and handed to me to awkwardly hold as I lay amid the drips and monitors. How did I feel? I wasn’t quite sure. Exhausted rather than elated, which didn’t seem quite right.

Then we were wheeled into recovery, where she was nestled to my breast to have her first suckle. She latched straight on and the nurse cheerfully said, “You’ll have no trouble feeding that one.” Brilliant – at least the breast-feeding bit will be easy, I thought to myself. How could I have been so naïve? But that’s a whole other story …

And that's what it's like to have a big baby. You're welcome. 

How big was your bubba? Any war stories to tell?

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