The Expectations and Reality of Labor

My son’s birth was both everything and nothing like I imagined -- and trust me, I spent a lot of time thinking about how it would go! I had a strong sense of what the process of childbirth would be like, but when it comes down to it, you have to go through it to really understand it. The pain and joy of labor and childbirth just can’t be explained in a textbook!

Here are three ways that my birth story was different than I expected:

The Pain: I had a natural birth. To prepare myself for childbirth, I took a twelve-week birthing class and read plenty of books. But I was very surprised to discover that childbirth pain is not constant. There are lots of ‘breaks’ in between contractions. I wouldn’t say that these breaks were a cakewalk, but they were a welcomed relief. Towards the end of labor, when I was getting more tired, my body would even ‘skip’ contractions to let me rest and regain my strength.

Feeling Embarrassed: I thought I’d be embarrassed by the ‘bodily functions’ that accompany childbirth. Most women will poop or pee on the table because of the force of pushing the baby out! The idea of that was so mortifying -- until it happened to me. Trust me: You won’t care when you’re delivering your baby!

“I Hate You!”: In the movies, women always scream at their partners things like, “I hate you! How could you do this to me?” My husband was supportive, loving, and always did exactly what I needed him to do during labor. I never once thought, “I hate you!” Instead, I told him over and over again how much I loved and appreciated him.

And here are two ways my birth story was similar to what I expected:

The Pain: Although the pain was different than I expected in that it wasn’t constant, the overall pain level was what I’d imagined. Before birth, I spent a lot of time imagining what the pain would feel like and how I’d handle it, and that helped me a lot.

The Joy: I imagined that the moment my child was born, I’d look at him and feel this overwhelming and intense sense of joy. And I did! My son’s birth was such a spiritual and transforming experience for my husband and me. The emotional high that I got from delivery ran so deep. It really was the best moment of my life.

Birth Stories: My Surprise C-Section

Labor with my second child was going great. I dilated to seven centimeters on my own, at home, without drugs, doing my Bradley breathing. When the pain got too intense, we drove to the hospital, where I braved more contractions in a warm birthing pool. “I feel like I’m ready to push!” I told the midwife. “So push,” she said. I did. I pushed hard. When the midwife checked me, she frowned. “You’re less effaced than you were an hour ago,” she said. “Your cervix is swelling. I think you need a break.”

That break turned into an epidural, and hours later, a C-section, which is the removal of the baby through an incision in the abdomen and uterine wall. I remember signing a consent form (sloppily, deliriously, hesitantly), and being wheeled into the operating room. A friend had warned me that should I have a C-section, my hands would be tied down during the procedure to prevent accidental contamination of the sterile field. Or accidental slugging of the anesthesiologist when the pain meds didn’t kick in fast enough, since the contractions were still coming hard and fast. I’m so glad I knew about the tying down in advance, so it didn’t freak me out (quite as much). A thousand hours later -- at least it felt that way -- my body was numb from the waist down, and the obstetric surgeons went to work. In less than an hour, I was holding my beautiful little girl in my arms.  

I don’t fault my daughter for having a giant head that wouldn’t fit through the regular channels, but surgery after 13 hours of labor wasn’t the fantasy birth I had in mind. Which brings me to my most important message to you: Abandon fantasy birth story scenarios all ye who enter the labor and delivery ward. Stuff happens -- your cervix may suddenly stop dilating, your baby’s heart rate may get slow, your placenta may start to separate from the uterine wall -- and all these things are completely within the range of normal birth story scenarios! Nothing your doctor or midwife hasn’t seen before.

Whether or not a C-section is part of your birth plan, rest assured that the birthing staff is acting in the best interests of you and your baby at all times. If you wake up on your delivery day with that in mind, your birth experience will not disappoint.

My C-section Delivery

From the second I learned I was carrying twins, I knew I had a good chance that my birth story would involve a C-section. For most of my pregnancy, Baby A (or Bailey as we like to call her now) was head-down, but her stubborn sister, Baby B (Brooklyn), was breached. My doctor explained to me that I could try for a natural birth and hope that the second baby either flipped on her own after her sister was born or they might be able to manually maneuver her from the outside. If they couldn’t flip her, I would need a C-section. I wasn’t thrilled about the possibility of having both a natural birth and a C-section, so we decided that if Baby B was still breached at delivery, I would just have a C-section. When delivery day came, and she was still feet first, we prepared for the C-section.

My husband, Darren, was given scrubs complete with a surgical cap to wear while they prepped me for surgery. They took me into the operating room to administer the spinal tap while Darren waited outside. I was a little intimidated by the room at first. An operating room looks a little less inviting than the comfy delivery room we saw on the hospital tour, and there were a lot of people in the room.

Each baby had a team of doctors and nurses, plus another team of doctors and nurses and the anesthesiologist for me. The spinal tap hurt a little, but only for a few seconds. I had time to move onto the table and lay flat before my lower half went numb. They placed a sheet in front of me to block my view of the surgery. Then the nurse brought my husband back into the room, and he held my hand. The nurse provided a play–by-play of what was happening on the other side of the curtain, so we knew what was going on.

It only took a short amount of time until we heard our first little girl crying, followed a minute later by her sister. It took about a half hour or so to finish the C-section, then I was wheeled into the recovery room. I will never forget my first glimpse of my daughters. They were perfect.

Recovery from a C-section is really like recovering from any other major abdominal surgery. You will be sore and have some pain, but it won’t last forever, though the love for your new baby -- or new babies -- will!