12 Things Nobody Tells You About Giving Birth

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Labor probably won’t start with your water breaking all at once like it does in the movies. It might start with mild contractions (and your doctor might even need to break it himself) or with your water breaking… very little. Then it’ll most likely continue to break in little spurts. In my case, it broke so little that it was easy to miss.

An epidural doesn’t mean your delivery is going to be pain free (and without regrets.) Sometimes, they don’t work. Other times, your nurses won’t let you have it for too long because you’re close to pushing. Is it worth the side effects to have 10-30 minutes of pain relief? I spoke to a friend recently who had only one regret about her birth: that she couldn’t feel a thing while she pushed her beautiful daughter out into the world. Her doctor was forced to use forceps to pull her baby out because of how numb she was. Even though she felt like she was pushing as hard as she could, nothing was happening.

Your baby might need more time than 40 weeks to make his grand entrance (and believe it or not, an early induction is not without risks.) One of my friends is due in five days and she told me her doctor will schedule an induction on her due date for week 41 (or earlier, if she was sick of being pregnant.) This is so unnecessary.  You can go to 42 weeks (as long as your water hasn’t broken) and are allowed to tell your doctor you want to wait it out if there are no health concerns you should be aware of. Not only can an induction be dangerous to your baby if he or she isn’t fully ready to be born (prematurity, jaundice, abnormal fetal heart rate, shoulder dystocia, and an increased risk of being admitted to the NICU), but it has also been proven to often lead to more, otherwise unnecessary, use of forceps/vacuums and/or Caesarean section.

‘Rest and Be Thankful’ is a stage no one tells you about, but it does occur (and it’s amazing.) Our childbirth instructor, Katherine Anderson, mentioned this during our discussion of the stages of labor. We were familiar with early and active labor as well as transition and pushing. What we didn’t know was that there is a stage called “Rest and Be Thankful” between transition and pushing, during which the uterus reforms itself around the now-descended baby, and when contractions may slow down or stop altogether. I was very aware of this stage during labor and appreciated the few minutes of relief my body gave me after such a difficult stage.

You will deliver not one but two babies. Once your baby comes out and is cleaned up, your midwife or doctor will get ready to deliver the placenta (and any blood clots that follow). This only requires a little push and will not be as painful as birth (thank God!) The “massage” that ensues, however, is awful. Unfortunately, you’ll get a few of them over the course of your hospital stay. Your midwife or doctor will press hard on your belly to make sure there aren’t any clots left and to ensure that your uterus starts shrinking back to its original size.

Pushing feels like… well, #2. As I mentioned in previous posts, I spent all of active labor and transition in a tub. Not to be too graphic here or anything… but just as I was about to be done with transition, I desperately attempted to get up and run to the bathroom! I kept telling my midwife that this was serious, that I needed to go… She kept reassuring me that it was just the baby’s head pushing down — and it was!

You will never experience shame again. Trust me: Not in front of nurses, doctors, or your boyfriend/husband/partner/doula… They will see you under the most unglamorous angles in the most unflattering positions of your life and somehow, it will be the last of your concerns.

You will most likely get the shakes after giving birth. Although I felt pretty good after giving birth to Liam (the perks of a natural birth), I got the most uncontrollable shakes ever once I lay down in the recovery room. They didn’t stop no matter the piles of blankets I covered myself with and lasted for a good half hour.

You will have the longest period of your life. You didn’t think you’d get away with no period for 9 months, right? You’ll bleed nonstop for about six weeks… Don’t panic at the hospital: luckily it does get lighter and lighter as the days go by.

Lying down is actually the worst position to labor in. This position is for the doctor and for the doctor only: good visibility, good angle, practical for interventions… but not so great for the pushing mama. Not only is it more painful, but it can also lead to more interventions. Although it might be safer to actually push the baby lying down, make sure that you’re walking around, squatting, sitting on the toilet, anything to use gravity to your advantage before the pushing stage.

You are allowed to say no (even to the wheel chair they push you into when you get to the hospital… giving birth is not a disease!) I say this a lot but… keep in mind that it is your birth. You are allowed to say no to anything you don’t agree with, as long as it doesn’t put your health and your baby’s in jeopardy. Any drugs, interventions, post-delivery procedures… This is why being educated about your options is so important — too many women trust their doctors because they don’t know they are allowed to speak up.

Fear is the worst thing you can give into — giving birth is all mental. This is maybe the most important thing to remember: you are in control. If you manage to stay calm, breathe, and let the contractions come and go without losing it, you are in good shape to deliver naturally. The more you tense up, the harder it will be for your baby to come out. As the contractions get more intense, it is very easy to lose that control. Put all of your focus in your breaths and keep telling yourself that each contraction is not only temporary, but also bringing you closer and closer to your baby.

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Johanna Riehm teaches in the department of Communication and Media at Manhattanville College and in the department of English at Mercy College. She teaches courses in the history of communication, public speaking, and social media, as well as creative and technical writing workshops. Johanna’s work has been featured in Graffiti Literary Magazine, The Write Place at the Write Time, The Bangalore Review, Cactus Heart Press, and the LaMothe Review. She is working on her first longer work, a creative nonfiction novel called We Carved Our Names in Tamarind Trees.

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