Having never given birth before, I was unsure what to expect during labor and delivery, so I did what anyone would do and I hounded my mommy friends for details and scoured the Internet for information. Even then, I still felt unprepared, aside from expecting the worst pain of my life.
I was scared my water would break and I wouldn’t know it. As any pregnant woman knows, there is a lot going on, and coming out, down there all the time. I was terrified that I wouldn’t have a giant gush of fluid, but rather a slow leak that I wouldn’t even notice. At my last OB appointment I discussed this with my doctor and she assured me I would definitely know the difference between my water breaking and me peeing on myself. I still wasn’t convinced. My water never ended up breaking on its own, so it had to be broken for me in the hospital. I was so scared it was going to hurt – that hook thingy they use to rip it open does NOT look pleasant – but I didn’t feel a thing aside from a huge gush of warm liquid. It was then that I understood there is no mistaking leaking water for anything else.
I didn’t know what real contractions felt like, and I was worried I wouldn’t recognize them. I started having Braxton Hicks contractions on a regular basis around 20 weeks, and although everyone told me the real thing would be much different, I was still nervous that I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference and I would end up having the baby at home or in the car. While BH felt uncomfortable and tight, when I woke up with period-like cramps and waves of pain at 2:00am, I knew it was the real deal. Well, that’s not true – I was in denial for about an hour even while I was timing them and they were 3-4 minutes apart and getting progressively worse. I didn’t want to get to Labor and Delivery only to be sent home for false labor. It wasn’t, though – 14 hours later my little peanut was born.
Real labor is nothing like the movies. You know the screaming woman in a hospital gown trying to push a human out of her body? That is obviously only the end part of the whole process. There are hours and hours of not a lot going on before that. Hubby and I walked around the unit for awhile, I sat in the sun on the windowsill, and then we watched a whole lot of Food Network. My contractions weren’t that bad until the very end – and had I known it was the very end, I would have been able to cope with them a lot better. Also, there is no room for modesty in childbirth. I knew this to a point, but the movies make it seem like it’s just you and the doctor and maybe a nurse in the room. Not in my experience! I had a nurse, a resident, a student, and the nurse-midwife all down there inspecting my lady parts. I seriously felt like I was on display, but I couldn’t have cared less as long as someone got that baby out of me.
That being said, have a birth plan but realize it may get thrown out the window at any moment and you have to be OK with that. I wanted a natural childbirth – no IV drugs, no Pitocin, no epidural. I didn’t have it written down anywhere, but I had discussed it with my husband and let him know what my plans were. I also knew that if I or the baby were in any kind of distress or I just couldn’t do it, I would accept the epidural. I made it about 12 hours with absolutely nothing other than breathing and warm towels on my back before I caved and got the epidural. I really wanted them to check me and see how dilated I was first, because I felt like if I was close, I would just continue on. I knew that I had hit a wall and that most likely meant I was in transition and it would all be over soon, but I was so scared that I wouldn’t have the energy to push. I had only gotten about an hour of sleep the night before – not to mention I had no food in my system aside from a few saltines I scarfed down as we left the house – and I was already exhausted. I was told that they didn’t like to check for no reason because it can introduce bacteria and increase the risk of infection, so I told the nurse to go ahead and call the anesthesiologist. I was disappointed to find out shortly after the medicine took effect that I was already at 8cm. I briefly felt like I had failed, but then the resident came in and told me how shocked she was to learn that I hadn’t been given Pitocin at all – she was sure I had been just based on how quickly and well everything was progressing. She told me I should definitely consider it a “natural” childbirth because my body did everything on its own. Looking back, getting the epidural was a good decision for me – I had to push for close to an hour and I don’t think I would have made it if I didn’t get that half hour of pain-free rest beforehand.
Labor is hard work. My best advice to anyone who is pregnant is to get as much sleep as possible if you’re close to your due date. You never know when that baby will want out, and you’re going to need your energy. I made the mistake of staying up until midnight watching TV and then going upstairs to bed to read for another hour. That means I got about an hour of sleep before I was woken up by contractions. My labor lasted 14 hours, and then I had an hour of mandatory skin-to-skin with the baby, another hour of weights/measurements and moving to a new room, visitors, dinner, more visitors, and finally it was time for bed. But, it’s incredibly difficult to sleep with a newborn in the room. She was calm and not crying, but newborns make all kinds of weird noises and scary breathing sounds and it is impossible not to check on them every few minutes. Not to mention the fact that they were coming in every couple of hours to check my blood pressure because it was too high, then they needed to take blood, then I needed to take more medicine… basically it is impossible to get good sleep at the hospital and you won’t be sleeping once you get home, either.
Overall, I had a relatively easy and drama-free childbirth experience. The pain was worse than I was expecting, but it wasn’t completely unmanageable like everyone had me believe beforehand. I had great support from my husband and the medical team at the hospital, which I’m sure contributed to how well it went.