A friend of mine who's due at the first of August emailed me asking about Braxton-Hicks contractions. When I described them, she asked "So are labor contractions a lot more intense?" - she's really trying to figure out if she can handle labor without an epidural.
I ended up writing a rather lengthy reply, describing my experience with labor contractions. Now, I know everyone's experience is different, but I thought it might help some of our first-time mamas have an idea of what's ahead of them.
Yeah, intense is a good word. When they're real, they'll take all your focus. Your world will narrow down to just what your body is doing. That's why labor coaches (your DH) have to remind you to breathe - you may get so preoccupied that you forget. And the uterus is just like any other muscle - it needs oxygen to do its work. It feels totally counterintuitive to make yourself ignore this contraction long enough to move your diaphragm, but it's the most effective thing you can do. And it really does help you cope with the contraction, too.
Just remember to take it one contraction at a time. They're only about sixty seconds long at their worst. You can get through anything for a minute, right? Then you'll have a few minutes to relax before the next.
You do any reading on Bradley birthing? I'm not hugely impressed by most of it, but one thing really stuck with me - the emotional signposts. The important one is when you get to the "I can't do this any more!" stage. It's a panic/escape kind of feeling, and quite uncontrollable. That's actually a GOOD thing - it means you've hit transition, the last couple of centimeters, and it's almost all over. It's not actually a reaction to the pain - it's a last-minute surge of hormones that really messes with your brain. Emphasize to your DH to look for this - he should LABEL it as transition to you out loud, and remind you that means it's almost over. That's usually enough to get a woman to refocus enough to get through it.
Oh, and when you get to that point, it's too late for an epidural. It won't take effect before it's time to push. Kind of a dirty trick, if you ask me LOL.
I did labor both ways - drug free for 44 hours, 12 hours of an epidural, and drug free for pushing and delivery. This time around, the epidural isn't even in the plan. I knew drug-free was better for the baby and that's the way I wanted to go, but I hadn't realized how badly I'd hate the epidural itself. I couldn't move my left leg at all - couldn't even shift in bed, DH and the nurse had to move me around like a lump of meat. And my leg tingled like it was asleep the whole time, and of course it was on the side where DH was standing, so he wanted to touch/stroke it a lot. That was so uncomfortable, and he just couldn't stop himself. It's honestly the one thing I actually YELLED at him about during the whole thing! No, I'm fully convinced that the pain relief wasn't worth it.
How's that for an unusual opinion? Ha!