I’m the type of person who likes to know what they’re getting into. So naturally labor scared me. When I became pregnant with my first child last March, I read everything about labor I could get my hands on. Books, online forums, apps, you name it and I read it. I also faithfully attended the childbirth prep classes the hospital offered – studiously taking notes like we were going to be tested on the material (can you tell I’m a firstborn?)
Despite all my preparation, I was terrified. I’m a squeamish person and the thought of what was going to happen down there freaked me out. Tearing? No way. Forceps? Nooo thank you. A C-section? Couldn’t even think about it.
So I decorated the nursery, unpacked the shower gifts and washed the baby clothes. All the while trying not to think about what was to come. When it came time for my 38-week appointment and subsequent cervix exam, I had to give myself a pep talk. I acted as if I were going to give birth right there at the appointment.
Truth was, I almost did. Contractions began later on that day (though I didn’t realize it at the time) and that evening, I was definitely in labor. I had assumed it was Braxton Hicks and it wasn’t until I couldn’t walk or talk (a great feat for me) that I realized this just might be the real deal. And suddenly, it was show time.
For me, labor came on quick and furious. Much of it is still a blur, but there are six things I learned that day:
You’re not in control.
My son arrived 11 days early – two days before Thanksgiving. My husband and I had planned to do more preparations over the long holiday weekend. We thought we had all the time in the world. My son had other ideas.
Throughout the entire labor, I was forced to give up control. I had to trust that the doctors and nurses knew what they were doing. I literally had to place my life and my son’s in their hands. I had to allow my body to do what it was meant to do. I had to give in to every contraction because they were coming, whether I liked it or not. I could fight it or I could give up control and just go with the moment. This was very difficult for me but a good intro lesson to parenthood.
The body can do amazing things.
Speaking of contractions – holy crap they hurt. I knew they would (has anyone ever said a contraction was the greatest feeling ever? If you have, I’d love to meet you. Maybe you can be in the delivery room coaching me the next time I give birth). I remember declaring to the nurse (and the entire maternity ward) that I would never think of a period cramp the same way again. I walked in circles around triage (when I arrived I was 3 centimeters dilated and couldn’t be admitted until I was 4 so they held me hostage for awhile). I barely made it 30 seconds before crouching and holding against the wall for dear life while another contraction ripped through me.
But I survived. Granted I had the help of strong drugs (epidural, anyone?) but still – my body pushed out another human being. A pretty amazing accomplishment and one I am very proud of.
Don’t try to be a hero.
As I mentioned above, I gave in and took the epidural. After I reached 4 centimeters and was admitted, all hell broke loose. I began throwing up with every contraction (my husband was forced to stand there with a tiny, kidney bean-shaped dish to hold my vomit. Talk about romantic). I’m a total baby when it comes to throwing up and I knew that if this continued for the next who knows how many hours, I would have zero strength to actually push the baby out. In that moment, I made the decision to get the epidural. And you know what? I’m glad I did. It gave me the chance to rest (we arrived at the hospital at 1am, so we never actually went to bed that night) and preserve my strength for pushing. It also put me in a better frame of mind, which is just as important for everything that comes after birth.
The point? There is no right decision. It’s all about what’s right for you. Trust your gut and if you want to take that epidural, do it (you won’t be in the minority – more than 60% of women feel the way you do). No one gets a medal for being a hero in the delivery room. We’re all heroes – we gave birth, didn’t we?!
Stay mentally healthy.
I knew labor would require physical strength, but I didn’t realize how mentally strong you have to be to push out a baby. In fact, when it comes to labor, I think mental strength is more important than physical. If you have a positive mindset, your body can take you places you never thought possible.
When the first contractions hit, I made the mistake of closing my eyes and forgetting to breathe. Instead of being in control of the contractions, I was allowing them to take control of me. I was reacting out of fear and it made things ten times more painful. Once I got my breathing under control and took each contraction as it came, things got much easier (it was still hard though. I mean, it’s labor after all).
Be prepared to change plans in a split second.
The motto during labor? Expect the unexpected. At any moment, things can change and you need to deviate from the course you were on.
I was fortunate to deliver vaginally. But I was prepared that I may need to make some tough decisions to keep myself and my baby safe. While I was lying in the bed after getting the epidural, my son kept playing with the umbilical cord, causing his blood pressure to skyrocket. Nurses came in every five seconds to check on me and one of them told me I may have to have a C-section if they weren’t able to get things stabilized.
Fear surged through me when I heard this. A C-section wasn’t part of my birth plan. The truth is, my birth plan only had one item on it: get baby out safe. And if I needed a C-section to do it, then so be it.
Be prepared to change plans if your baby’s health is compromised. It may not be the plan you wished for, but trust me – when your baby is placed in your arms, you’re not going to be thinking about the birth you wish you had (and if you are, you’ll soon be distracted by your crying infant).
You are your best advocate.
Even though you have to give up control during labor, you still need to advocate for yourself and your baby. If there’s something you’re not comfortable with, bring it to your doctor’s attention. If there are several options for pain medicine, you need to decide which one is best for you in that moment. This is your birth and your baby.
You’ll need to be your own advocate after the baby is born too – especially with family and friends. I knew everyone was excited about my child (the first grandchild on both sides) and so I wanted to give them all the opportunity to meet him and interact with him shortly after birth. But I wasn’t prepared for what that really meant. Which was a packed hospital room and nurses/lactation consultants coming in every five seconds. I was immediately overwhelmed.
Before giving birth, decide how you want to handle visitors. Talk to your spouse or partner about when you want to introduce the baby to family and how long you want family to stay. As exciting as it is to introduce family and friends to a new baby, remember that you just pushed a human out of you. You’re probably really freaking tired. Make sure to leave time for rest. Especially now that a good night’s sleep is a thing of the past.
What did labor teach you? Any advice to offer moms-to-be?