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.