7 Childbirth “Facts” I Was Completely Wrong About

 

As I entered my last trimester of pregnancy I thought I knew everything there was to know about labor. Even as I type this I can picture experienced moms all over the world scoffing at my naiveté from the other side of the screen. In my defense: I’m neurotic enough that the day after I found out I was pregnant I rushed to research and buy all the best pregnancy and labor books, I subscribed to the most popular blogs and podcasts, and I also insisted on taking an 8-hour long childbirth class at our hospital of choice. I made sure I read article after article and childbirth story after childbirth story from different moms in different situations. So, going into my third trimester, I thought I had good reason to believe that I knew all the well-known and not-so-well-known facts about labor. I thought I knew exactly what to expect.

Turns out learning to let go of preconceived notions about how things should or should not be is as big a part of early parenting as wiping people’s butts. These are some of the things I held as fact before childbirth and the story of how I was proven wrong.

 

1. The breaking of waters is a finite thing

I knew that the breaking of waters might come as a big gush or a slow trickle. For me it was a big gush of warm liquid accompanied by my first active labor contraction. Then, surprisingly enough came another gush as I tried to change into something dry for the ride to the hospital. And then another gush as I sat in the passenger seat on the way to the hospital feeling like my soul was pouring out of my hoo-ha in liquid form. And then another gush as I changed into my hospital gown trying not to be freaked out by the blood tincture that accompanied the water.

Long story short, after that first gush of water came out of my lady parts it just kind of never stopped. I had to quickly let go of my primal instinct to want to feel dry. I had to learn to be okay with knowing that me, my clothes, and the bedding underneath me would be in a constant state of monsoon-like wetness for the foreseeable future.

 

2. Labor contractions feel like really strong cramps and are, therefore, bearable

The closer I came to my due date, the more obsessed I became over wanting to know exactly what I should expect when it came to labor contractions. My search yielded many a vague answer but it seems the general consensus is that contractions simply feel like highly intense period cramps. Armed with this knowledge I thought that: a) I knew exactly what kind of sensations to expect being the reluctant expert that I am at period cramping, and b) that I could potentially withstand the pain, maybe even without medication.

Guess who had a giant belly and was terribly wrong? Yep, me. What I felt was more akin to a giant, invisible hand grabbing a hold of my midsection and squeezing with enough force to turn my insides into mush. As soon as I realized the reality of it I only had one thing on my mind: medication NOW.

 

3. Under no circumstance will my husband be allowed to look “down there” during childbirth

This one was a biggie for me. I was convinced that if my husband caught a glimpse of what was going on in my nether regions during childbirth a sort of spell would be broken, all mystery would be swiftly wiped away from our marriage, and he would find it hard to picture anything else when he thought about me.

In the end, though, not only was I proven wrong about this silly idea of mine but I happened to stop caring altogether. When I started the long and arduous labor of pushing a person out of me I wanted nothing more than to have my husband by my side, working with me, advocating for me, keeping me informed of things I could not see. At that moment I realized that we truly were in this whole parenting business together, from start to finish. There was no more room for keeping things hidden for the sake of mystery. After all, intimacy isn’t born out of mystery; intimacy is born out of closeness, out of fully sharing experiences, and out of supporting each other when we are at our most vulnerable.

 

4. The contractions are the hardest part of labor

I’m almost ashamed to admit this but I truly believed the worst part was over after having survived labor contractions before my post-epidural bliss.

Oh boy was I wrong!

This one is all on me, though. My L&D nurse tried to warn me several times by telling me to rest up and nap while I had the chance because pushing was the most exhausting part. I blissfully ignored her and spent most of my pre-pushing time picturing my brand new baby and chatting it up with my husband.

Suffice to say that while contractions were painful, exhaustion to the point of nearly passing out is even worse. After hours of pushing while trying not to go gentle into that good night, I learned my lesson: never ignore advice from your L&D nurse, they have been through this process more times than you have and they are there to help.

 

5. I will be able to control my bodily functions

This notion was shattered pretty early on with the whole water gushing out of me uncontrollably (see above). However, it only got worse as the labor progressed. By the time I was admitted to the hospital and shown to my room I was shaking so much you would have thought I had fallen into icy waters and then sat in a room with full A/C blasting. I was not cold but I literally could not stop my whole body from shaking. According to my nurse this is completely normal and just another fun way for our bodies to deal with all the crap it was being put through.

Oh! And did I mention the puking? Yep, vomiting mid pushing is apparently a thing and it is about as fun as it sounds.

 

6. I won’t be needing ice chips or chapstick, I can usually go hours without drinking water

I know, I know…but I really did think this. Suffice to say I was very, very wrong on this one and by the end of it I was so gosh-darned thirsty I could have ripped that epidural out and ran down the hall to get water if I needed to. Luckily I did not need to go to such lengths as I was showered (not literally) with bottles of water and delicious grape juice the minute it was all over.

 

7. It’s all worth it

What a cliché, am I right? And yet, even before experiencing childbirth I had a notion that my little guy – that little person I had never met but already loved so much – was going to be worth all the literal and metaphorical pain of pregnancy and labor. It’s not that I was wrong about this so much as I could not yet grasp how much he was worth it.

The second he was born – healthy and freakishly loud – I felt a rush of love, relief, euphoria, and excitement that I had never experienced before. It was such a high that if someone had asked me right then and there whether I would do it all over again, I would have said: “Sign me up!” And that was before I knew the utter happiness that comes with holding my baby boy or seeing him smile. I suspect I’m in for a lifetime of moments that remind me how much he was and still is worth it.

Despite and quite possibly because of all the things that did not go according to my expectations, the day my son was born has been etched into my memory as one of the most exciting days of my life. I hope reading this does not add to your childbirth fears but instead helps you feel a little bit more prepared than you did yesterday and a little less surprised if something does not go as planned during labor.

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7 Childbirth “Facts” I Was Completely Wrong About

  As I entered my last trimester of pregnancy I thought I...
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17 Comments

  • So true!
    Especially no. 3 – by the time we got to the hospital, I didn’t care who saw what. They could have led a school class through the room while I was “lounging” buck naked in that tub and I couldn’t have cared less.
    Also, my partner didn’t only see everything, he even got to touch baby’s head when he was crowning.
    And guess what – none of us had a problem with it. not then, not now.

  • It saddens and concerns me that so many women take childbirth ed classes, read tons of books and are still not given realistic information. As a former midwife and childbirth educator, I recommend Birthing from within, if you plan a natural childbirth. And GIVE FEEDBACK to the educators in your hospital as to the short comings of the information. It is not TMI to let women know that the baby needs amniotic fluid to be constantly replenished, or that most of us poop and tear and that bonding and breastfeeding take TIME. We are neither to fragile nor uneducated enough to know the realities of childbirth. Sometimes staff forget and become complacent because they see so many labors. That’s not fair and it isn’t helpful. For every woman birthing, there is a unique labor.

  • I really love this article and how you “put” your experience into perspective. Its so… REAL! Not all rainbows and b.s. lol I just had my first 5 months ago today. I went in thinking that my birth plan would be followed without a glitch. Boy was I wrong! So very VERY wrong! I was in labor for 46 long miserable hours!! And my contractions literally came 3 at a time so they would last 5+ minutes and then I would get a 10-15 minute break, the nurses were shocked and a couple said they had never seen anything like it. I was so loaded up on pain killers but felt everything! And Then had to have a emergency c-section and I had to be put under because the meds didnt work then either! It was just insane. But when I woke up 3 hours master hearing my little one cry I began crying! And as soon as she stopped I stopped. As soon as she had been placed on my chest She stopped. I still hate that she was kept from me and that I was out under and didn’t get to do the skin to skin. But now I have this incredibly beautiful and happy little girl. And you know what?!. Call me crazy but I would do it ALL over again in a heart beat for her! She is an absolute god-send!!

  • One thing they told us over and over again was that my water wouldn’t break before contractions like it does in the movies… well there we were leaving the grocery store and my water broke! It came in several gushes over the next few hours. Also, I didn’t have contractions for 18 hours and they basically forced me to take pitocin… which lead to me taking the wonderful epidural! Basically they should tell you to have no expectations, you’re birth plan should just be a wishlist.

  • Thankfully, I’ve had really manageable labors, to the point that I almost feel guilty telling people about them. I don’t know if I just have a really high pain tolerance, or if my experiences have been significantly different from typical ones. I wasn’t even sure what contractions were after my first, since it was all back labor, and I felt like I needed to go to the bathroom every 2 minutes… By my second, I wisened up, and when I started feeling like I needed the bathroom (after having already gone), I looked at the clock, and started timing those sensations…

    Regarding water breaking being finite – beyond that, I thought real labor would certainly follow my big flow (in bed – so not too dramatic!). Adrenaline was running, so I couldn’t sleep, but no contractions really came (maybe a few?). I tried a few natural (non-invasive) things to jump-start labor, but they did nothing. (I wasn’t interested in castor oil and some other suggestions). I went to the hospital after 24 hours, was tested, and told my water hadn’t broken (so I wet the bed with a HUGE gush for the first time ever????), and was sent home. Since I hadn’t slept in over 24 hours, they recommended Tylenol PM – which was AWFUL, still couldn’t sleep, but was so disoriented, I wanted to cry. Finally, I came back in the next night in active labor (see above about back labor), more than 50 hours after my water had broken, and they checked me and said, “apparently, your water broke” – shocker, I tell you. (Nothing happened in between.)

    • I feel the same about contractions, with my first, I labored alone for several hours and got to the hospital dilated to 7cm. And had my baby within 8 hours total. No epidural. With my second baby, I was dilated to 5cm for a week. Again the contractions didn’t hurt (NO back labor). And had my baby with in 4 hours total, no epidural.
      I just wonder if I have a high pain tolerance or what?!

  • The early contractions were definitely period like cramps. Then it got more intense when active labor started. I actually don’t remember the time I was in active labor without medication so thank you brain!! The epidural was awesome and didn’t wear off for me. It was still working after I had given birth and while they were stitching me up. I love modern medicine!!

  • This post is so spot-on, I almost thought you were describing my birth experience! If only I’d read this a month ago… Sending this to every current first-pregnancy friend I know!

  • My birth experiences were completely different. First off, the pushing stage is one of the easiest parts for me. With my first, I was just trying to go to the bathroom. I had actually thought my labor had stopped. With my second the pushing stage was more of a relief. It’s right before the pushing stage in transition that has always been the hardest for me, and from what I understand it is for most. Also, the pain was not that bad. With the first the only pain I had was in my hips during transition when my hips were expanding, but as soon as I got into the pool the pain went away. With the second, I did have pain from the contractions, but they weren’t bad. It was more of the pain you get when you keep using over worked muscles. Want to know my secret? First, give birth at the place you feel the most comfortable. For me it’s home; I don’t think I could ever give birth at the hospital. I can’t even stand the smell. Next, relax completely with each contraction. I know you just want to clench up to dill with the pain, but that’s actually making your body have to work more. Thirdly, eat and drink. Birth is like a marathon, and I don’t see any marathon runners not eating or drinking. The last one I will mention is, follow your instincts. You need to work with your body and do what it tells you. If your body tells you to walk then walk, if it tells you to sleep then sleep. I hope this will help others prepare for birth. It works for me, maybe it will work of others too.

    • Totally agree with you! Although I gave birth twice at the hospital. I have super easy pregnancies, labor and deliveries and would do it 10 more times! It’s just not very painful for me.

    • I totally agree with what you wrote! Not a lot about what the author of this article wrote really resonated with me. I’ve given birth 3 times all med free and my last one I had a homebirth (planned homebirth but ended up birthing without my midwife since she didn’t make it in time). The homebirth was by far the easiest and most comfortable since i wasn’t forced in to any uncomfortable positions or restricted by monitors and interrupted by hospital staff. Home is the place for me for sure! Yes, the hospitals violated my birth plan with my first 2 babies but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have birth plans or should expect them to be violated. In my experience I needed an advocate who would have stood up for my birth plan in the hospital when I couldn’t speak for myself. At home, my birth plan went completely flawlessly because there was no one to fight, everything was on my own terms. I think birth can be so different for every single person. No one knows what their experience will be until they have given birth themselves.

  • One “fact” that I quickly found out was false is that the epidural always works. I was so excited that the pain would be over once they put that epidural in me. The first two hours with it were excellent, exactly what everyone says it is. But the next 12+ hours until my son was born was pure hell because the epidural stopped working (what?!? that’s a thing?) and I felt it all. They give you a little button you can press every 15 minutes to give you an extra “boost” of epidural power, which did absolutely nothing for me.

    And I also didn’t realize that the pushing feeling, it’s like when you’re super constipated (like I was during pregnancy) and can’t get it out no matter how hard you try. Definitely didn’t expect that, but I honestly hadn’t read up on anyone else’s experience while pushing.

    Great read!

    • It sounds like it was not inserted properly or needed readjusting. I too thought they always worked and it did initially until about an hour and a half later one half of my body was numb and the other half felt every single contraction. I kept complaining and eventually I started timing the contractions for them as they viewed them on the monitor and suddenly I was right. They came back and adjusted it and still no relief so eventually they came back again and reinserted the epidural. Suddenly I had relief and it felt amazing!

    • I had the exact same thing happen! I was in labor for 23 hours – I got an epidural about 10 hours in and it wore off about 2 hours before I started pushing!

  • I love, love, love this post too!! I had many of the same preconceived ideals that turned out to be soooo unrealistic too!! And talk about myself and my SO getting closer! I was greatly humbled with the quickness when he helped me do things for myself that I was unable to do after my cesarean. I felt that there was NO MORE mysteries as he helped me hygienically

  • Thank you for writing this. The shaking thing happened to me when they told me I needed a c section after a day of labor and 3 hours of pushing. No one ever said it was normal. Until just now, I thought it was the drugs and adrenaline from being scared.

  • OH man, contractions with my last baby felt like someone had put a knife in my stomach and twisted it around and around. Let me tell you, I have never had any period cramps even remotely close to that. Early contractions? Sure. But active labor? Well, I’m just grateful that we were able to get the epidural in time (the nurse said it might not happen. Ahh).

    Love this post though!

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