It's really difficult to comprehend just what labor & delivery is like until you actually go through it. Not even birthing class prepared me for what I experienced--at least not entirely. It's definitely important and worth it to take a birthing class when you're pregnant, but birthing class can only provide you a very basic foundation for what to look out for and not what to expect. Even early labor signs aren't necessarily an indicator of imminent delivery. So, I thought I'd share unexpected things I learned about labor & delivery through my traumatic experience, because yes, it was traumatic. It wasn't until 4 weeks post-partum did I start to un- clench my legs when in the shower.
By the time I got to the hospital, I was 9cm dilated and our son was delivered 2 hours later--a dream kind of delivery for the nurses I am told, because they like when you labor at home for as long as possible. However, despite the excruciating and literally blinding pain I was in, I did not think I was in the late stages of labor yet. It was nearly 1am when we arrived at the hospital, and the previous morning I had gone in for a labor check due to early labor signs I was experiencing, along with contractions. But at 10 or 11am the previous day, I was still only 2-3cm dilated--which I had been for a couple weeks already--and my cervix was still in the back (it needs to be in the front for delivery). Neither the nurse nor doctor seemed overly concerned that I'd deliver in the next 24 hours. In fact, the nurse told me that I might feel this way for a few days, and then it may suddenly go away. So, I figured I at least had a few more days, though I was desperately praying this baby would wait until his due date which was nearly two weeks out. On top of that, we learned in birthing class that it's best to labor at home for as long as possible so I didn't want to arrive too early. I was worried maybe I was just having intense contractions, but I'd still only be 2-3 cm dilated and my cervix would still be in the back. I even had my husband call the hospital around 8pm to ask the nurses for advice and the nurse he spoke with even suggested I had low pain tolerance. So when I was told I was 9cm and my cervix was at the front, I was both shocked and relieved. I was about to have a baby.
So here are a few unexpected things I found about labor & delivery.
Is My Butt Exploding???
I'm not sure if all women feel like this, but from the time my contractions were so bad I couldn't move or see, I felt like my butt was going to explode. It was an extreme and intensified mass of pain that took over my lower body and I felt like I needed to take a massive poo, only this poo was more likely to be an atomic bomb. In fact, when I was in delivery, my nurses told me to push like I was trying to poo. And many women do poo during that stage of labor. So if you're wondering what labor feels like, that is the best way I can describe it.
Pushing for 10 Seconds is Harder Than It Sounds
Speaking of pushing, I found it sometimes difficult to actually push for 10 seconds at a time, three times each contraction. Sometimes I could only make it to 8 seconds. And that's another thing. You aren't just pushing endlessly until the baby comes out. You push at the peak of the contraction for 10 seconds, three times, and then you take a break until the next contraction.
Your Water Doesn't Always Break
Hollywood has us all thinking that a woman's water breaking is a big dramatic event and that that's the signal it's time to go to the hospital. While yes, if your water breaks, that is ONE of the signs to go to the hospital, it is not the only. Also, some women may feel a gush of water come out, while others may not even realize their water has broken because it may just feel like a little leak and leaking down there is a common happenstance for women from the time puberty hits. Still others may find that their water doesn't even break. That was me. The doctor had to break my water when we were at the hospital.
Multiple Stages of Labor
When you hear a woman say she labored for 36 hours, it doesn't necessarily mean that all 36 hours were spent huffing and puffing, screaming, cutting the circulation off in their partner's hand, and pushing. There are three phases of labor: early, active, and transition. Pushing happens at the very end, which can be long for some women but once your water breaks they won't let you push for more than 24 hours before they induce you or take you in for a C-section to avoid infection (this is of course if you are giving birth in a hospital. I'm not sure how that works at birthing centers or at home births). Hospitals want you to labor at home for as long as possible, because there you can do so in your own comfort (if you can call it comfort), and you can eat. If you go in too early then who knows how long you'll be there for and you may not be able to eat. But trust me, while you're laboring at home, you won't want to eat that much as soon as your contractions start to intensify. I labored for 22.5 hours, and most of it was in pain, but the first 7-8 hours were not horrible. Then things progressed quickly for me and I'm not even sure how I survived the remaining 12-13 hours at home.
I always imagined the epidural was just a shot, but in actuality a small catheter is stuck in your back and stays there until your baby is delivered. Of all the things that freaked me out a little, for some reason that one did. I think just the thought of something stuck in my back for who knows how long. But it needs to stay in you, otherwise the drugs will wear off. By the time I got the epidural, I didn't care about that, I just wanted it to start working and it was the longest 10 minutes of my life waiting for it to kick in. And trust me, even having that epidural for the last hour or so was a life saver for me. So, I have all the more respect for women who do completely natural births. I'm not even sure how I would have survived or made it into the right position if I had to continue without it. However, I do know that when we get to a certain point in our labor, our bodies naturally start pushing. So, the miracle that is a woman's body is a whole kind of super power.
Hollywood Isn't Always So Wrong
In Hollywood movies and television, another classic go to labor and delivery depiction is that of a woman screaming her head off. Well, I'm pretty sure my screams were even more dramatic. I was in so much pain I couldn't even control my screams. I couldn't see (maybe my eyes were shut, but I have no idea), my body was paralyzed by the pain, and I screamed bloody murder. Even I was surprised by what came out of my mouth. It was like an outer body experience.
While watching birthing videos in birthing class did put me on edge a bit about what was going to happen to my body, it in no way was comparable or came even close to being able to prepare me for the physical trauma my body went through. In my mind, after birthing class, I thought I was prepared enough to have an idea as to when to go to the hospital; but clearly I was wrong. We only left to the hospital because I wasn't sure how I was going to get up to the Labor & Delivery floor, and had we waited any longer our child was sure to have been born at home. Experiencing this most natural and amazing part of life left me in awe of all mothers. God was NOT joking when he created women.