Giving birth to your first child is one of the most amazing things that can happen to a woman. It’s so surreal that we can grow a baby inside of us from a tiny little cell to a living, breathing human being. Our bodies can do outstanding things and delivering a baby is one of them.
While the outcome of childbirth is astonishing and beautiful, the whole aspect of labor and delivery is not so pretty. Since the last couple months of pregnancy can be so uncomfortable, it would be nice if birthing the baby could be easy on us, but it’s not.
Just like parenting, you can read every pregnancy book and take every childbirth class, but you may never be fully prepared. It’s frustrating that you can’t know exactly how it’s going to go, but doing your research and having all the knowledge you can, will help you to feel more confident and educated in the process.
My experience with labor and delivery
As the end of my pregnancy drew near, I began doing all my research on childbirth. I consulted friends and coworkers, took hospital tours, participated in childbirth classes, and prenatal yoga instruction. I had planned to have an unmedicated birth and was looking into all the natural pain management techniques and reading about different experiences and situations.
Although I thought I was prepared for having the birth that I was hoping for, it just didn’t happen that way. As it turned out, there are so many variables that happen during labor that I had not thought of, heard about, or prepared for. These were things that were out of my control and just the way my body was meant to birth a baby.
Both of my labors for two children were very different. Neither was easy, but the second time around I had a much better handle on everything that was going on. I knew what to expect, what to look for, and was more confident in my abilities. There are several things I wish I had known about childbirth before my first, but there are some things that you really only learn through your own experience.
I will elaborate more about my experiences below and give you an idea of what labor and delivery is really like, including things that doctors or friends don’t tell you. Everyone’s experience and perspective on childbirth can be different and unique, but sharing this information is what helps other women to be informed and feel prepared. Soon enough you will find out for yourself and be able to share your unique experience with others.
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What Doctors Don’t Tell You About Childbirth
You Can’t Plan Your Birth
For my first baby, I hoped to have a natural, drug-free labor. I wanted to labor (have contractions) at home for as long as possible so I could get to the hospital when it was time to push. This would make it harder for me to ask for the epidural. Of course, it didn’t go as planned.
What happened instead was that my water broke (like a huge gush), but I wasn’t in any pain. When I called my doctor they said the baby must be delivered within 24 hours when your water breaks due to risk of infection. I was also positive for Strep B bacteria which is a culture they do during the last month of pregnancy. Therefore, I needed an antibiotic 4 hours before the baby made its presence.
This made it difficult for me to confidently stay at home because I could be putting my baby at risk if I didn’t get the antibiotic and didn’t go into labor naturally. At that point, my contractions had not started on their own yet so I knew I would need to get to the hospital to start the induction process.
None of this was part of my plan and nothing really ended up as I wanted it after that either, except for the fact that I delivered a healthy baby girl. All that matters is that it will happen as it’s supposed to and you need to be flexible with the whole experience.
It’s Good to Be Educated
I’m sure right now you’re looking into hospital tours, childbirth classes, childcare basics, breastfeeding courses, mom blogs, and medical websites. There is so much information out there that can help you stay informed. It’s your job to do the research and know about the childbirth process.
You’ll want to read as much as you can because doctors don’t really give you too much detail about the labor and delivery process. Unless you’re asking specific questions (which how would you know if you don’t learn about it?), they’re not giving you enough information.
Although, even birthing classes won’t completely prepare you, you will probably go into labor being more confident. When the actual time came, I forgot everything I learned in classes and read online. It all just escaped my mind because I was just focused on the health of myself and my baby.
You May Not Know When You’re in Labor
Those last few weeks of pregnancy are filled with anxiousness over when you will actually go into labor. You might think every little cramp is labor contractions, but if it’s not that intense, it probably isn’t. You’ll probably have a couple false alarms with slight contractions which is just your body preparing itself for labor.
The actual active labor period will give you contractions at equal intervals (every 9 minutes, 7 minutes, 5 minutes, etc) and they will actually take your breath away. It’s a pain that’s pretty intense that you may not be able to walk or talk when it happens. That’s when you know!
You Could Feel Contractions in Different Areas
My doctor told me that I should feel my whole belly (around the naval) contracting when I’m in labor. However, I felt contractions low and down closer to my groin. He originally told me that if I was feeling it there, it’s not labor, but sure enough it was.
Every woman is different so listen to what your body is telling you and not always just the doctor. Some women have contractions in their back, low groin area, side, stomach, or even up under their breast. You can never be too safe so if you think you might be in labor, just give a call so you’re prepared to head to the hospital if it gets more intense.
It can be a very long process
It may seem like as soon as labor begins, you will have a baby within an hour or two. While that may be true for some women, typically it can take 10 hours, 20 hours, even 30 hours from start to finish! It all depends how ready your body is and how fast you progress.
Sometimes you might feel your first contraction so intense, 5 minutes apart, and you’re already 8cm dilated which means the baby is coming quickly. If you’re like me and your water breaks first and you have to be gradually induced, it could take closer to the 20 hour mark.
Just because contractions started, does not mean the baby is flying out. Sometimes they just take their time and don’t get any more intense for hours.
I was in the hospital for about 20 hours BEFORE my baby was even born! I was bored, anxious, and just wanting the process to hurry up already. Lingering at the hospital can be torturous, especially with pain that comes and goes. You’ll be anxious not knowing how much longer it will take to meet your baby.
You Do Get a Break From the Pain
The actual contractions of your uterine muscles to push the baby out lasts for only about 30 seconds at a time. Although while you’re experiencing it, it can feel like 30 minutes, once the contraction is over you do get a break for 3-5 minutes.
During the contraction, I felt like OMG this is the worst pain ever. Then once the muscles would relax and I got a break, I was like Oh that wasn’t so bad. So you just have to make it through the short time of pain to get through to the easy part. Now, we can do anything for just 30 seconds right?
It’s Out of Your Control
Once labor starts, you can’t really dictate how your body is going to take it, but you can control how you respond to it. Therefore, be prepared and confident that your doctors/midwives/nurses know your wishes and that they are the best to help with any situation that arises.
Being Induced is Worse than Natural Labor
There can be many reasons for labor to be induced instead of letting it happen naturally. Whether you’re past your due date, your water breaks prematurely, or an emergency medical condition, you will probably be induced with Pitocin. Pitocin is a drug that will start labor on it’s own instead of waiting for it to naturally happen.
The contractions from Pitocin are much more intense than natural contractions. They can come on very quickly and are so much more painful.
I was induced with my first labor because my water broke, but the contractions didn’t start on their own. When you have an artificial way to start labor, it’s nearly impossible to not use medical intervention for the pain. Although I was planning a natural birth, I knew I would need the epidural without question.
Don’t Wait Until the Last Minute for the Epidural
There is typically only one anesthesiologist in the labor and delivery unit to administer the epidural. It also can take around 45 minutes for the doctor to prep the area, get consent, give the needle, and educate you.
Therefore, if you decide when you’re in extreme pain that you want an epidural, it can take over an hour for the anesthesiologist to even get to you if they’re currently with another patient. By that time, the pain might be so intolerable.
During my last delivery, it took over 2 hours for them to get to me! At that point, I was in a lot of pain and getting pissed. So, if you are planning to get the epidural anyway, make sure you request it in advance, even if you’re not in extreme pain yet. At the least, ask how long it would take that day for the anesthesiologist to get to you and they should know based on how busy they are.
The Epidural Hurt Less Than the Contractions
The idea of getting a huge needle so close to my spinal cord freaked me out. I was definitely nervous about the pain before I was actually in labor. However, once I was actually experiencing the pain from contractions, it didn’t matter.
The doctor numbs the area around the spine before he inserts the epidural so you barely feel it. The pinch that you do feel is far less painful than the actual contractions themself.
You Still Have Feeling With the Epidural
Everyone’s body can respond differently to the epidural and every doctor has a different approach to their epidural medication. Therefore, there’s a chance you may still feel residual pain or pressure in your abdominal or groin region even after the epidural has set in.
You probably won’t be 100% numb to the contractions and delivery pain, but it will drastically reduce the feeling. Some people also experience more numbness on one side of the body and they feel more pain on the other.
You’ll Probably Get a Catheter with an Epidural
They will most likely insert a catheter into your urethra during labor if you receive an epidural. This kind of caught me off guard and I was a little freaked out by it. However, it is standard procedure in order to release urine from your bladder since you can’t voluntary use the bathroom when you’re numb.
Not Being Able to Move Your Legs is Scary
After the epidural is settling in your body, the majority of the lower half of your body will go numb. You may try to lift your leg or wiggle your toes and you can’t. Your brain will be telling your legs to move, but they just won’t. This is pretty terrifying!
I always had a fear of paralysis especially with a needle going into my spine, so I was scared I would have some kind of permenant damage from this and never be able to move my legs again! Needless to say, that didn’t happen and you can walk shortly after the epidural wears off.
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You Need to Monitor Yourself
As much as you need to put your faith and trust into your doctor/midwife/nurses, it’s important to be aware of everything that is going on. Ask questions and make sure everyone is monitoring both you and your baby’s vitals.
Crazy things can happen during birth and sometimes even doctors can’t pick up on it. Be educated by taking childbirth classes and know how to advocate for yourself.
When I was induced with Pitocin during my first labor, the Pitocin was turned on too high and my contractions began to be extremely close together. I couldn’t feel them because I had an epidural, but my baby sure could. Therefore, my baby wasn’t getting any break or relief from the contractions because they were one right after another and her heart rate started to significantly drop.
This was so scary. Although the nurses and doctors did pick up on it and knew what to do, I wish I knew sooner that this is what was happening. Because I had continuous fetal monitoring on, they should have been able to see how close the contractions were and that it was dangerous. However, they didn’t and it could have had detrimental effects if they didn’t get to me in time.
There Will be Wires and Tubes All Over
Even though you’re going to a hospital, you kind of expect labor and delivery to be an in-and-out, natural process. I didn’t realize I would be hooked up to IVs and have monitors strapped to my belly.
While you’re just laboring, you may have a blood pressure cuff that remains on doing continuous checks, oxygen mask if the baby’s heart rate is dropping, IV in your arm/hand with medications or fluids, electrodes on your belly or inside your vagina to monitor the baby’s heart rate, and possibly other devices.
You Will Only Be Concerned With the Health of Your Baby
In my experience, my baby’s heart rate was dropping because she wasn’t getting relief from the contractions. When a fetus’s heart rate drops significantly, it can effect the amount of blood and oxygen that gets to their brain. This really scared me because of the impact I knew it could have on my baby’s health.
I told the doctor I wanted to get the baby out ASAP so she would not be in any pain or risk any health problems. I was willing to do anything to keep her safe, even if that meant having a c-section.
They Can Turn Off the Epidural
In order to push correctly, you may need to feel each contraction and the pressure of the baby moving inside of you. When you have an epidural, you may not feel the pain and pressure because you’re numb.
My doctor turned off the epidural medication so that I would feel everything and be able to push more effectively. This was a surprise to me! He didn’t even tell me that he was doing it, but all of a sudden I started feeling an immense amount of pain. It made pushing even harder.
You Won’t Feel Modest at All
In the delivery room, you will literally be bearing all for the world to see and you probably won’t care. You’ll have multiple nurses, doctors, or midwives surrounding you and staring at your lady parts. I am typically a modest person, but with all that pain and determination to get that baby out, it’s the least of your worries.
Your hospital gown will be open, breasts and private parts exposed, and all of your bodily fluids making their way out of your body for all to see. Because they tell you to push like you’re pooping, I kept passing gas with every push. I could not stop apologizing and saying sorry when it happened because I was so embarrassed! As time went on, I just realized it’s the nature of childbirth and these nurses see it all day long.
Also during labor, you may get so hot because your body is in such a state of shock. I ripped off my hospital gown half way through pushing because I just couldn’t tolerate having it touch me. I was fully naked on the delivery table. Normally, this would have made me so uncomfortable, but in the moment it just had to happen.
Your Partner May be Just as Scared as You
As labor progressed and I was in more and more pain and problems were arising, I could sense that my husband was also getting very nervous too. When the baby’s heart rate was dropping, he was constantly looking at the monitor and getting the nurse, but trying not to scare me.
During the pushing phase when things got very intense, he was almost in tears at how much pain I was in and worried about the health of our baby. Although I was the one doing all the work, he was right there by my side experiencing every emotion as well.
The Doctors May Scare You
As much as the health care professionals don’t want to freak you out, they may do just that without knowing it. Maybe I was just overly anxious throughout labor, but I would always try to read their faces and it would make me so nervous. Whether they were looking at the monitors or talking amongst themself, I was so worried that something was wrong and they weren’t telling me.
In most cases, this wasn’t true. However, it’s hard to tell that to an already emotional pregnant woman! I wanted all the details on my progression and the vitals for both myself and my baby and sometimes they just don’t inform you of everything that’s going on.
You Will Know When You Have to Push
Even with the epidural, you can probably feel when your baby is about to start descending and entering the birth canal. It’s a tough feeling to explain, but you will know when it is happening. Women have that natural instinct to help their baby through the birthing process. So don’t worry about not knowing what to do. Your body will be sure to tell you.
For both deliveries, I got the shakes during the pushing phase of labor. I just assumed that I was cold because my teeth were chattering and I was shivering, but it was uncontrollable. They do keep the hospitals chilly, but you’ll actually be so hot because of all the hard work you’re doing.
The hormones that your body produces during labor cause you to shake. It’s a completely normal response to the process. Just tell your partner No, you don’t need a sweater because you’re shivering.
Throwing Up is Common
I didn’t actually throw up, but I was very close to it and even had to ask for a bucket in case it actually came out. For me, it happened during the pushing phase because of how exhausting and physically grueling it was. You’re exerting so much energy and force during labor that your body’s response may be to vomit (or poop). Your insides are literally being squeezed and forced in so many ways.
Pooping is Even More Common
I definitely pooped right on the delivery bed while I was pushing. The doctors and nurses will tell you to push like you’re taking a poop, so since you’re activating those muscles, that is what is likely to happen.
As if you didn’t need more embarrassing things to happen, the nurses wiping up your poop is an all-time-low feeling. However, they say if you’re making yourself poop, you’re pushing correctly! They see it all the time so try not to worry about it.
You’ll Be So Hot
Like I said above, I ripped off my hospital gown during labor because it was just so hot. You’re basically doing the most intensive work out you’ve ever done, so you’re bound to sweat.
The Baby’s Heart Rate Will Likely Drop
It’s common for the stress of the contractions and labor to cause your baby’s heart rate to drop slightly. It’s also normal and shouldn’t have any impact on their vitals. However, if it drops too low, that’s when your baby could be in distress and the doctors will have to take action.
Pushing is Hard Work
They must call it labor because it is serious work! I knew you had to put effort in, but I never knew the extent. I just assumed the baby comes out mostly on it’s own, you just have to give it a little help. That’s not the case. You, alone, are trying to push this baby out and you need to put in all the little energy you have at this point to get it out.
Not only was it so much harder than I thought it would be, it was exhausting! I pushed for 2 hours and after about 1 hour, I was ready to give up. I was in so much pain, drained, and discouraged. Getting the baby out on my own felt impossible unless I could manually stick my hands up there and pull her out.
After all the childbirth classes and research about how to breathe the baby out and push like you’re pooping, I still somehow could not push correctly. The nurses and doctors were telling me how to push and I was trying with all my might to do what they were saying. However, they still said I wasn’t doing it right. It still baffles me why I wasn’t doing it right and others just naturally push a baby out so quickly.
This was by far the hardest phase of labor for me because I felt it all (epidural shut off). I was contracting every single muscle in my body to push a 6lb baby out of me and it seemed like it would never end.
Ring of Fire
You may or may not experience the ring of fire if you have an epidural. The ring of fire is basically the pain you feel as the baby’s head crowns through the vaginal opening. It’s an immense amount of pressure and feels like your entire vaginal area is being stretched from the inside out. It has to open wide enough for the entire head and shoulders to come out.
This part was a killer, but the good news is that it only lasts for like 30 seconds until the baby’s head and shoulders pop all the way out. However, if you have a full epidural at this time, you shouldn’t feel it that bad.
Doctors Can Be Intimidating
Maybe it was just my experience, but my male OB physician was not very warm through the whole process. I don’t want to make a generalization, but men can’t possibly understand and empathize with the pain that a women goes through during childbirth, even after seeing thousands of them.
During the whole labor and pushing, my doctor was a bit condescending. It was a tough experience for everyone in the room, but I was hoping he would have been a little calmer and gentler with me. He just barked orders and instructions about pushing the baby out and made me feel like I was doing everything wrong.
Doctors are Only There to Catch the Baby
After all the scouting and bonding you have done to get to know the doctor who is going to deliver your baby, they aren’t even with you a lot. The nurses are the ones who will be taking care of you should any needs arise. The doctor only gets called in if there is a complication and to check in every once in awhile as labor progresses.
The role of an OB during a vaginal birth is very minimal. They are there during labor to write orders for what the nurses have to do. Once you’re 10cm dilated and ready to push is when they come in, gown up, and prepare to catch the baby.
Of course, there is more to it than we see and in an emergency, I would be happy to have an OB physician there. However, now I realize why many women deliver babies on their own or with just the help of a midwife or doula.
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How Nervous You Will Be When the Baby is Delivered
The immediate relief once the baby comes out is breathtaking, but your job has just begun. Right after the baby is born, you’ll want to hear that first cry to know that they took their first breath of oxygen. Although you have just gone through the most intense experience of your life, your only concern will be that your baby is ok.
After my second delivery, the nurses quickly took the baby for routine measurements and observations in the corner of my delivery room for what seemed like 20 minutes! It was probably only like 5 minutes, but it seemed like an eternity and all I could think and ask was, Is he ok? Deep in my mind I thought something was wrong since they took him from me for so long.
This is normal procedure, but it just made me feel like they were hiding something from me. I asked what his APGAR score was and whether he looked ok. My nerves were soon calmed when they finally put him in my arms and I could see his beautiful face and hear him breathing.
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Delivery Isn’t Over After the Baby Comes Out
If you think the craziness is over the second your baby comes out, think again! You still have to deliver the placenta. The placenta is the organ that nourishes the fetus during pregnancy and since it’s job is done now that the baby is out, it also needs to come out.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t just come out on it’s own with the baby. There is still some pushing involved to get it all the way out. However, this pain is nowhere near like pushing the baby out, but it does still take some effort and it’s uncomfortable.
Along with the placenta will also come more bodily fluids and blood. So much fluid. Then there’s time for stitches. Hopefully you will be lucky enough to not need them, but if you do, the doctor will do that right after delivery as well. You may or may not feel it if the epidural is still turned on, but it’s nowhere near the pain of childbirth so you will still be relieved!
Bonding Can Take Time
When I was pregnant, I would have daydreams about that moment when the nurses would place the baby in my arms and how special it would be. It would always make me tear up thinking about that perfect moment when the world would just stop and how happy I would be. However, it doesn’t always feel that way and that’s ok.
There weren’t magical fireworks and tears of joy. This wasn’t because I didn’t love my baby and I wasn’t over the moon, but I was just in a state of shock and exhaustion. That could have also been because the end of my delivery was so traumatic with the baby’s heart rate dropping, doctor using suction to get her out, and shoulders getting stuck which all made for a stressful final 2 hours.
The first thing I said when they put the first baby in my arms was not Oh my, I am so in love. It was I am never doing that again.That feeling subsided soon after and I could finally appreciate the little angel I was looking at. I was just expecting that instantaneous, joyful emotion, but it didn’t happen.
After just 10 minutes or so I was finally able to relax, take a deep breath, and love on my baby. However, for some moms bonding can take a little longer. That’s fine, just know that it will happen. Once the trauma wears off, you’ll feel that love that you know you have.
Childbirth is serious
Yes, millions of babies are born everyday and mothers of all different ages, races, and sizes are giving birth without issue. However, it’s not an experience to take lightly. With medical advancement in the last decades, the maternal mortality rate (women dying during birth) has decreased greatly, but there are still instances where new mother’s don’t end up living to see their newborn baby.
This isn’t to scare you, but to make sure you’re aware of the possible complications so you can be well informed. I know many circumstances where women had to advocate for themselves because something just didn’t feel right and they had life-risking symptoms that their doctors never picked up on.
Even though childbirth is a completely natural part of life, it’s altering the state of your body and can still result in serious issues. Although many riskier labors result in c-sections (which is a major surgery), complications can arise from vaginal births as well. Even days after you give birth, it’s best to be aware of your body and let the doctors know if something is off.
Childbirth can be traumatic
Not only am I talking about the risk of physical complications from childbirth, but mentally too. What your body and mind have gone through from conception to after delivery is nothing short of incredible, but it is an exhausting, scary experience. Many women end up traumatized from the experience and it can result in postpartum anxiety or depression, which is common.
My first childbirth felt very traumatic because of the issues I had with low fetal heart rate and difficulty pushing my baby out, however it wasn’t even half the amount of craziness that some mothers go through. You will probably experience so many emotions during delivery and those feelings don’t just go away as soon as you push the baby out. The memories may linger for days, weeks, or even months after birth.
However, after all is said and done, I can still look back and say it was the most beautiful experience because it brought me my two perfect children and I’m ready to do it all over again (as soon as my husband lets me)!
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Continued in my next post are some things you probably didn’t know about immediately after giving birth. Be sure to read on for the dish about all the postpartum details!