Giving birth seemed like the scariest thing on the planet to me. I was worried about it for years, well before I became pregnant. It used to disturb me so much it made me feel ill just thinking about it. I tend to blame the graphic birthing video that was forced upon us in 6th grade. I just haven’t been the same since. Even still, I knew that I needed to be educated about the process before I went into the hospital. I took the classes, read the books, and heard the horror stories. I hate to tell you, but nothing can really prepare you for delivery day. It’s the eventuality that all moms-to-be face, and it brings a lot of experiences that are impossible to understand otherwise. Even still, there were a few things that I wish someone had told me. Here are some tidbits I wish I had known going into labor and delivery…
1. Your birth plan goes out the window.
No matter how prepared you think you are, I can almost guarantee you the birth of your baby won’t go according to plan. It’s nothing that you can truly prepare for. I didn’t have a stringent birth plan, mine was basically “Give me the drugs and get it out of me.” Regardless, after taking the birth class through my hospital, I had ideas of how I would handle pain while in labor and things that I might want to happen while pushing. My sweet angel decided to arrive four weeks early. What is it that they say about the best laid plans? Right. Every mom I have talked to so far has said the same thing. My advice is to be flexible and go with the flow, it makes it a lot easier on everyone, especially you, mama.
It is important to have written requests, though, if there are certain things you do not want to compromise on. Allergies, particular pain management procedures, who you want in the room, and post-delivery wishes (such as immediate skin to skin contact or trying to breastfeed immediately) should be written in advance and discussed with your doctor before you get to the hospital. It helps for all parties to be on the same page, and you will be able to find out whether your doctor can accommodate certain requests, such as skin to skin contact after a c-section or allowing your partner to help during birthing.
2. You won’t give a damn who sees what part of you.
When you go into labor, you are chalk full of emotions– anxiety, excitement, fear, happiness—and a healthy dose of adrenaline. I was so amped up during labor that I had no embarrassment about anything that day. I didn’t care what nurse came in to check my cervical dilation, who helped me to the bathroom, or who saw my boobs or butt as my hospital gown flapped in the breeze. I just wanted the process to be done, and I was willing to let anyone who was there to help do their job. In fact, any sense of bodily embarrassment or discreetness I used to have disappeared after having gone through birth. I’m not quite sure why, but even now I don’t care who sees me whip out a boob for breastfeeding or if someone sees my stomach rolls as I hunch over to play with my baby. It’s actually quite freeing!
3. You will feel like a science experiment.
I never realized how much monitoring would happen while I was going through labor. As soon as I arrived at the hospital, I was hooked up with two belly monitors—one for me and one for baby. These monitors were strapped around my pregnant belly and the cords were connected to a machine so I could watch two screens: one that showed my contractions, and one that showed the baby’s heartbeat. I also received an IV that the nurses administered fluids, anti-biotics, and pain management medication. I then had my epidural, which meant more needles and cords around me. This was all particularly fun when I had to go to the bathroom. Everything had to be unplugged and I waddled to the bathroom, cords draped around my shoulder, toting my IV pole beside me.
4. Getting an epidural doesn’t hurt as much as you think (and makes the birthing process a hell of a lot more pleasant, if that is even possible).
I’m terrible with needles. I have to lay down to get my blood drawn just in case I faint and drop to the floor. The idea of getting a big needle shoved into my spinal canal made me want to throw up. So much so in fact that the nurse gave me a fun little expandable plastic bag that looked like a windsock; instead of catching wind, it would catch my barf. I was already a bundle of nerves that day, so it took everything I had not to shake with anxiety while getting prepped for my epidural. The anesthesiologist first injected a numbing agent, which was none too pleasant itself, but it wasn’t that bad. The actual placement of the epidural catheter felt more like an intense pressure rather than pain. The anticipation hurt worse than the procedure. The doctor was so good at his job, it was over before I knew it.
The actual numbing felt like when your leg falls asleep and is numb. I could still move my legs; they just felt heavy and dull. The nurse and I looked at the belly monitor, seeing wave after wave of contraction. “Do you feel that?” she asked. “Nope,” I said, “not a damn thing.” “Huh,” she replied, “great!” Miraculously, as soon as the medicine kicked in I could no longer feel my contractions. Not one. For the whole birth. HIGH FIVE.
Added bonus: I didn’t feel the urethral catheter insertion or removal (necessary with having an epidural), which I hear hurts like a b. At least you don’t have to worry about peeing during labor.
Pushing still hurt, but it was a new kind of hurt I’d never experienced before. It felt more like an intense pressure, so much so that it registered as pain. Still, I cannot even fathom how women undergo a natural birth with no pain management. The added pain and stress of going natural was not worth it to me, and I am so glad I chose the epidural. It wore off without an issue, and I had no follow-up problems in recovery related to having had an epidural.
Fun fact: Epidurals can actually help your delivery go faster. When you are in that much pain, it can be harder to dilate and be relaxed enough to push your baby out. I can’t recommend the procedure enough.
5. You might poop while pushing.
When it came time to push (Dear God.) the nurse said “Okay, PUSH.” I sucked. I couldn’t really understand how you are supposed to push from your vagina. It’s not really something I had practiced before. Needless to say, nothing much happened. It all clicked when the nurse told me to “Push like you’re pooping.” OH. Got it. The next round went a lot better, and each time we made progress until Baby T emerged wailing.
I wasn’t lucky enough to poop on the table while pushing, but many women do. And the nurses and doctors don’t care. You probably won’t even know if you poop. The experts get you cleaned up quickly and keep moving on. It’s all part of the process. Don’t be embarrassed, not that you will care by that point anyway (refer to #2. HA. Number 2.)
6. The day is over in a flash.
Many women, including myself, dread D-Day. It is probably the most terrifying part of pregnancy. But the baby’s gotta come out somehow. One mom said that labor and delivery is just a miniscule part of the whole process, it’s over before you know it. She was so right. I went in to the hospital early that morning, and before I knew it, it was evening and time to push. I felt like I had just been admitted! Even though it is a long day, the anticipation and adrenaline make the time fly. You’ll be glad it does.
7. It is so incredibly worth it.
It’s an odd relief when you feel your baby slide out of you. Even though he or she will be coated in blood and vernix and you are beyond exhausted, you will want to have that baby in your hot little hands immediately. I almost pulled T out of the nurses hands I was so desperate to hold him. I think it is mama instinct; I was clamoring and anxious to hold my baby straightaway. I didn’t care what he was covered in, he was mine and I was elated.
In the end, all that hard work brings forth a sweet little miracle. Ten perfect fingers and ten perfect toes. I haven’t wanted to put my baby down since the moment he took his first breath. You won’t want to either.