Things I Wish I Knew Before Labor
I can’t believe I have an almost one-year old. It feels like I was just pregnant yesterday, but suddenly my baby is an independent toddler. As I’m sure many women do at this moment in their postpartum journey, I find myself thinking a lot about when Stella made her screaming entrance on Mother’s Day 2015. Contrary to the usual order of things, it was actually me doing the screaming–she came out quiet as a little mouse. That was only one of the things that surprised me that day. Looking back there are many things I wish I had known before labor.
Things I wish I had known before labor.
I think first-time moms make a lot of assumptions about birth—what we’ll do, how we’ll feel, and the order of things. We have plans and unshakeable beliefs that no amount of cautioning from experienced sources can temper. Sometimes things go as planned, sometimes they don’t, but either way every birth story has its unexpected moments. Now that I have generally lower levels of crazy hormones and 12 months of perspective, I thought it was a good time to share some of the unexpected moments from my birth experience. Here, without filter, I give you the 6 things I wish someone had told me before I went into labor:
- Your body takes over, and it’s SCARY. I am a model type A control freak; anything that takes away the feeling of being in control is on my “Hate and Doggedly Avoid” list. No one warned me that I would only be a passenger on the birth train. I just assumed since the baby was coming out of my body, I would have control of the process. I can remember one particular moment, after about 10 hours of contractions that were coming every 3 minutes, thinking to myself, “I just need to stop this for like 10 minutes to catch my breath and pull my shit together.” And then there was this horrible, panicked realization that there was nothing I could do to stop, or pause, anything. This baby was coming, my body was in charge and doing what it was designed to do, and my brain needed to get on board. I literally hyperventilated and they had to give me an oxygen mask.
- You might not live up to your own expectations. It will still be ok. Pre-birth Jenny had this vision of herself laboring that resembled a cross between a meditating yogi and a comedian cracking vagina jokes. Reality: I screamed nonstop like a banshee for at least 3 hours, maybe longer. Like in a for-real-I’m-being-skinned-alive-and-they-didn’t-put-anyone-in-the-room-next-door way. Turns out I wasn’t nearly as tough as I thought I would be. All joking aside, this one took a little while for me to work through post-partum. I had this perception of myself and when I “failed” to live up to it, I had to come to terms with that. The good news is by month 12 postpartum, I’ve gotten to the I-squeezed-a-human-out-of-my-vagina-with-no-drugs-and-that-makes-me-a-badass place. Did I scream? Oh hell yes I did, because that shit hurt. I’m ok with that. But next time, I’ll bring everyone some earplugs.
- You need a code word. Given the above screaming situation, I also said things that ranged from “We should have just gotten another dog” to “I don’t want to do this anymore, make it stop, make it stop right fucking now.” If your birth team doesn’t know that the way you deal with pain is to vocalize and say every dramatic thing you can think of in a high pitched screech, they may think you are totally traumatized/want a c-section/changed your mind about the epidural. Figure out a code word, tell it to everyone on your team, and only say it if one of the above is actually occurring. I think everyone in the room would have felt better if they had a clear way of knowing where I was actually at mentally and emotionally versus having to gauge the situation by my shrieks.
- The contractions are not the worst part. There is laboring, and then there is actually giving birth. They are not the same thing. This seems obvious, but it was not to me, despite birthing classes and many, many books. Look up “Ring of Fire.” Its real. The thing to remember is, it’s like the last ½ mile of a marathon. You can get through it, because it is SO close to being over. And the “over” feels Which leads me to #5…..
- Not everyone bursts into tears when they see their baby for the first time. They put Stella on my belly and all I can remember thinking was “thank god that is over.” I was so overwhelmed (read: high as a kite on hormones) by the feeling of relief and the absence of pain after 13 hours, that honestly, I can’t even tell you if Stella cried in those first few minutes. It took me probably about 30 minutes before I could emotionally and mentally focus on her. It doesn’t mean you don’t love your kid if you don’t immediately feel the wave wash over you. Take a deep breath, but the baby on your chest, and close your eyes. It will come.
- The only preparation that matters is choosing the right team. In the end, this is not the story of a waylaid birth plan. I had the birth I wanted. That had nothing to do with me, and everything to do with the team around me. From my incredible midwife who was totally nonplussed by my shrieking, to my incomparable doula who did things I never knew were physically possible to move me along without drugs or other interventions, to the nurse in training who acted more like one of my best girlfriends than a stranger, to the experienced nurse who knew when the right time was to give me a stern put-on-your-big-girl-pants talking to: the only, and I mean the only, reason I had the birth I wanted was because of those women. I spent a lot of time reading books, taking classes, buying gadgets and tools, and overanalyzing what to pack or not pack for the hospital. The only preparation that really mattered in the end is that I had assembled a team that was committed to helping me achieve the birth I wanted. Because in the thick of it, despite the 16 books, 8 weeks of classes, and dozens of gadgets and gizmos crammed in my hospital bag, I wasn’t capable of doing anything but riding the contractions and holding on to my husband’s hand for dear life. Pick a team that understands your family’s goals, that both you and your partner feel supported by, and that you are 100% comfortable surrendering to; they are the best predictor that you will have the Birth You Desire®.
This story was written by Jenny and posted with permission by Ursula.
Jenny and her husband Ivan welcomed their first baby, Stella Kate, on May 10th, 2015 at GW Hospital. Stella was Ursula’s 925th baby.