You read books, go to birthing classes, talk to your mum- and you feel you’re kind of prepared for delivering your baby. You’ve got your birth plan ready and you’re hoping the labour won’t really take 40 hours (like it happened to your friend).
But there are things that nobody really tells you about labour. My birthing experience was not exactly as I planned and I was a bit upset that I was not ‘warned’ about certain things. That’s why I decided to write this post.
Hopefully I will lay out everything there is to know about giving birth. Apologies in advance but I think we all deserve to know the ugly truth!
1. Your water won’t break at your feet like in the Hollywood movies
It’s funny how I thought my water will break like I’ve just spilled a glass of liquid on the floor. Isn’t this the kind of picture that got stuck in our heads after watching all these predictable American comedies?
In reality however, it looks a bit different. Water breaking resembles more a situation where you peed yourself uncontrollably- it’s a slow flow going down your legs (although it can feel like a gush of water as well).
Also, just because your water broke, doesn’t mean you have to rush to the hospital with your partner driving like crazy (how many times have you seen this type of scene appearing in the movie?!). It could still be hours (or even a whole day) before the best part (contractions) begin and your cervix starts to dilate.
What’s more, your ‘water’ (which is essentially a protective fluid around your baby) can break more than once. It can even leak from you all day, how amazing is that?! That’s one of the reasons you need to have maxi pads in your hospital bag.
2. Your doctor might break the water for you, if this doesn’t happen on its own
That’s what has happened to me; my midwife broke my water using a special glove with a pricked end (but more often they use a long, thin probe called amnihook). It was not the most comfortable thing but bearable considering my contractions started some time ago!
While there’s a lot of debate on whether water breaking is not interfering too much with the natural process of labour, based on my experience it did speed up the delivery.
Either way, it’s important to know that having your water broken means the labor will start within the next 24 hours. If it doesn’t, you will have to be induced as there’s nothing more protecting your baby- meaning there’s risk of infection through your vagina.
3. Contractions can feel worse than the delivery itself
I think we all expect that pushing out the baby will be the worst moment from the whole experience, considering we have a watermelon – size- baby going through our lemon-size-vagina but honestly, contractions can feel much worse (sorry to break it to you).
If you decide to have an epidural, then at some point you may not feel pain at all. But if you’re having your baby naturally (all the insane women including me!) then contractions at the latest stage of labour WILL feel like someone is torturing you from inside.
At the beginning the contractions feel like regular menstrual cramps, and you’re like: ‘I can manage that, it’s not as bad as I thought’. But soon they turn into an evil monster that gets his hands on your lower back and lower abdomen and squeezes them with all the force until pushing out a baby seems like a good distraction from it all.
Of course my view is subjective, some women may disagree and say delivering the baby is the most difficult part (crowning is called the ‘ring of fire’ for a reason).
Which brings us to number 4…
4. If you chose to have your baby naturally without epidural, you’ll probably ask for it when it’s too late
As mentioned above, giving birth HURTS and the only way you can really make the pain go away is to get an epidural. Obviously, it’s a personal choice as there are some risks and side effects associated with it- such as higher risk of medical intervention.
For this reason I didn’t decide to have an epidural but how my desperate need of a natural birth ended? With a medical intervention! If I ever had to give birth again (which I’m not planning so far), I would definitely ask for one.
Anyway, if you still want to have your baby without any pain killers, just remember you can’t get the epidural at the later stage of labour. I was aware of it but I still asked for it when the s***t hit the fan!
You’re gonna have to replace it with something else like gas & air. I used it at the end, minutes before the delivery- if you do it right it can actually take your mind off the pain (well, at least partially). Or you can just yell and swear- works well too, especially yelling at your partner; no kidding!
5. You may have to wear compression stockings on your legs
If for any reason you’re immobile during labour (as I was partially), or your prone to blood clotting, your midwife may give you a pair of sexy-looking compression stockings. In my case it was to prevent potential blood clots in my legs.
Some of you may have to wear it for up to 10 days after giving birth.
6. Things may not go according to your plan
One thing that you want to do before the labour actually starts is not to get fixated on the idea of your birth plan. Don’t get me wrong, it’s important to have one to let your doctors/ midwife know what your wishes are (like the fact that you don’t want any type of medical interference). But birth is not something you can predict and it’s better to come to terms with it now.
I was putting my birth plan together for weeks until I decided it’s ready and sounds great. My main point was that I don’t want any pain-killers as I’ll be practising hypnobirthing (that I’ve been preparing for weeks before the big day).
Also, I really wanted to give birth in a birthing pool in a home-from-home birth centre (led by midwives only). As a young, healthy mum with pretty much straight-forward pregnancy, I wouldn’t think something may happen to disturb my vision of the wonderful birthing experience!
Sadly, my body didn’t exactly want to co-operate with my plans. It all started great with mild contractions until they got a bit stronger and I started to vomit! I guess that was my body’s reaction to the waves of pain or hormones coming into the surface (or both).
And just like that, everything I planned went down the drain- I landed in the hospital birth centre, stuck with a tube in my vain (I couldn’t even drink or eat or else I’d throw up again) and a weird kind of a belly belt that was monitoring my baby’s heart beat. Of course, birthing pool was out of the question and I gave up on using hypnobirthing methods the minute contractions began to be overwhelming.
7. Most likely there will be more than one midwife looking after you
If it’s your first baby, chances are you can go through labour for many long hours that turn into days (I know just imagining it makes you feel dizzy). That means, more than one midwife/doctor will look after you and unfortunately you can’t choose who will deliver your baby.
I was lucky enough to have my baby delivered by the same midwife that took care of me on the day of admission. But it’s only because I was in labour for so long she manged to finish her shift, go home and come for her evening shift the next day!
But if your favourite doctor is not there, you will be in the state of mind called: ‘I really don’t care anymore!’. You just want the baby out and whoever is going to help make that happen – a nurse, junior doctor or a freaking urologist — seems fine with you.
8. You may feel hungry…or not at all
It’s advised to eat something light during the labour not to upset your stomach. Well, my stomach was upset even without eating! Although I was hungry at first, I kind of lost my hunger all together once I started vomiting on a regular basis.
Of course, it doesn’t mean it will happen to you as well, you may actually feel super hungry and crave loads of things you did during your pregnancy. But it’s best to go for healthy snacks- fruits, toasts, crackers or yoghurts.
9. You may experience labour ‘shakes’
Fun fact: did you know it’s totally normal to tremble uncontrollably during labour? Your body could shake so much that your teeth start to chatter and you’re gonna be scared of biting off your tongue!
Our hormones are the ones to blame (like we didn’t have enough of them during the whole pregnancy!), mainly the oxytocin that’s causing your uterus to contract. Adding adrenaline and other stress hormones that mix with your oscillated body chemicals equals a huge physical reaction that is similar to a shock.
This shock that your body is going through may also be the reason for sweating, vomiting, itching, shivering, feeling hot and cold in turns and crying (it seems the only thing I missed from this list is itching!).
10. When it’s time, you will feel as if you’re having a massive urge to poo
No matter how gross it sounds, you will know when it’s time to push your baby out as you will feel a desperate need to do a number 2. And that is because you’ve got around 4 kg baby pressing on your entire lower area, including your butt, trying to see the light of the day through your vagina!
You may even start begging your doctor to let you go to the toilet but obviously you cannot (or your baby could actually drop inside of the toilet…horrible mental image).
And spoiler alert; you can actually poo yourself when you’re pushing the baby out- but it’s completely normal and nothing to be ashamed of (says someone who prayed for this not to happen).
11. You may have an episiotomy
If you don’t know this word by now, don’t even try to google it (and that’s exactly what you’re about to do, am I right?). Episiotomy is basically cutting your perineum area to help get the baby out.
As horrible as it sounds, from my experience, I couldn’t distinguish any new separate form of pain when my OB was doing it. I guess the adrenaline did its job or I simply didn’t care anymore!
12. The doctor may use a ‘vacuum’ to deliver your baby
In my case, the pushing stage was taking too long so there was a risk of my baby girls’ heart going down; that’s when my OB had to use a ‘vacuum’ suction to get her out quicker. I really wanted to avoid it (knowing the risks associated with it), but at this point I had to listen to my doctor and just go with it.
I couldn’t feel or see how this is happening (thanks God for that) but when my daughter was finally brought into this world she had a circle mark on her little head to prove she was vacuumed (how weird that sounds, huh?!)
I felt pretty bad for her until the mark disappeared but thankfully she was perfectly healthy.
13. The last stage of labour is delivering the placenta
It’s nothing to worry about- if you decide to ‘birth’ placenta naturally, all you gonna need is to give this one last push. I had definitely enough of pushing so I got the injection that kind of made things happen faster.
Chances are that you won’t even feel it – by then you will be holding your little miracle in your arms and you’ll be overwhelmed with joy (I’m actually reliving this moment right now and I’m about to cry again!).
And no, I didn’t eat the placenta, put it in the frame or turned it into a teddy bear (apparently it’s a thing!).
14. You’ll most likely have stitches
That’s of course if you had an episiotomy (or if your perineum has torn on its own during the delivery).
Good news? Vagina stitches dissolve in about week time so there’s no need to visit your doctor. Bad news? You will probably feel the discomfort, like a burning sensation, especially when peeing or trying to poo (you’ll be peeing very slowly and actually feel scared to do the number 2 because you’ll have a feeling the stitches are about to break apart).
15. There will be loads of blood
You think you’re ready for the sight of some blood coming out of you, but let me tell you this: you’ll be surprised. When you look at the sheets you were lying on, you’ll wonder: ‘how much blood can you lose without collapsing?!’.
And don’t freak out when you go to the bathroom to wash yourself as you’re gonna see a waterfall of blood coming out of you. I don’t want to scare you at all, rather assure you it’s all normal- you just have to become best friends with the maternity pads for the next 6 weeks.
Yep, that’s roughly the time you’re gonna need to recover after delivery, bleeding included. But it won’t be as bad as at the beginning.
16. Your bump won’t go down right after delivery
My mum was with me during the labour, which I’m eternally grateful for. But I’ll never forget when she looked at me few hours after delivery and said ‘why your belly is still this size? When I had you, I’m pretty sure my belly went down much faster’. And I was like : ‘wow thanks mum, that’s very encouraging!’.
But I believe she had totally forgotten how the post partum recovery looks like (to her defence, it was 25 years since she gave birth!) so I forgave her this insensitive comment.
In real life, the baby bump can be disappearing for a good couple of weeks. So next time you see a mama with a ‘pregnancy belly’ that has a small baby in her pushchair, don’t try to calculate how on earth she could have gotten pregnant again so fast!
17. You’ll realise you’ve never changed baby’s diaper before
That’s exactly what went through my mind when I stayed alone with my little one for the first time. I thought: ‘right, so what do I do now? Oh sh*t, I guess I have to change her but how do I do it?!’
That’s the beauty of being a first-time mum: you’re gonna have to figure it out on your own eventually. We’ve all been there and we’ve all manged! So will you (or just call a midwife to show you instead).
18. You’ll almost forget the whole experience soon after giving birth
When I was still pregnant I asked my mum how labour really looks like. She gave me very vague answer and said she can’t really remember the whole experience- even though she had 3 of us!
It’s funny how we all seem to black out the worse parts of giving birth and the only thing we can actually remember (and still feel) is the moment we’re holding our babies for the first time and looking at their perfect little faces:)
I guess it’s a very smart way universe brainwashed us into having more babies (otherwise who would ever decide to have 2/3 or more kids?).
Hopefully I didn’t scare you too much. I just want you to feel ready for any possible outcome. And remember, it’s always hard before it gets easy!
At the end of the day, your baby is all that matters and trust me when I say: s/he’s worth all this pain.
Keep calm and carry on mamas!
All the best,