"No, you won't be pregnant forever. I know it feels like it right now, but one way or another, all babies come out eventually." As a first-time mom, I wasn't entirely convinced, but I listened. In our one-on-one and community care sessions, there were so many things my midwives said about labor and delivery that, thankfully, turned out to be true (as hard as they were to believe, especially at the time).
In our society, there's plenty of storytelling that promotes fear about giving birth. What makes midwives so great is that they swim hard against that (sadly) pretty popular and powerful tide. They believe in the power and strength of women’s bodies, and that belief guides everything they do and say. For women having low-risk pregnancies, midwives are amazing to have in your corner, because it's hard not to believe in yourself and your body when you're surrounded by other people who do.
Though I obviously can't speak for all moms, all labors, and all births, the following was absolutely true for me when I had my son. In hindsight, it shouldn't have surprised me that the things my midwives said would be true and would eventually make sense to me; they basically eat, sleep, and breathe all things pregnancy and birth for their whole lives. Still, I'm really glad that I was fortunate enough to have a healthy pregnancy and labor, glad that the following things my midwives told me turned out to be for real, and unbelievably glad that I somehow figured out how to listen to it, so I could have the birth experience that I wanted.
"Don’t Chase Your Labor"
I wish I'd listened to this one sooner. I might have spent less time trying to walk, dance, acupuncture, and otherwise coax my body into starting labor, and more time just relaxing. (I'd probably still dance though, but for fun instead of hoping I'd wind up in labor by the end of class.)
My midwives all reminded us not to "chase our labor" with any of the teas or other folk remedies people use to try to jump-start labor, because if your body and your baby aren't ready yet, then you'll just make yourself uncomfortable and even more impatient.
"When The Time Comes, You’ll Know"
If my main midwife was any less awesome than she is, I might have felt embarrassed by the number of times I texted her wondering if I was getting close to labor, and trying to figure out if it was the "real thing" or not. I was so worried that labor was going to take me by surprise, but she constantly reassured me that no, that was not the case. "When it's for real, you will know." She was totally right.
"A Lot Of Things Can Come Up For You During Labor..."
So many different feelings came up for me during labor. Not even thoughts or actual memories, just the random, detached feelings that went along with them. It was incredibly emotional, and powerful, in a way that I didn't fully expect.
"... But You Can Handle It If You Take It Moment By Moment"
My midwives and childbirth educator were all very clear about taking things as they came and simply getting from one contraction to the next, rather than trying to track how much time was passing or thinking about long I'd already labored. Once I'd gotten so into laboring that I was no longer thinking, but just doing, I was able to handle all the emotional stuff the same way I handled the physical stuff; by just moving with it and being with it, and letting it come and go instead of trying to control it or figure it all out.
"You Will Lose Track Of Time"
While I was going through Braxton Hicks hell for two weeks before going into labor, I started timing all of my contractions with an app on my phone. During labor, I was stunned when I realized that the sun had come up, apparently hours before, without my noticing it.
"Intensity Doesn’t Necessarily Equal Suffering"
There are a lot of sensations that can happen during labor and birth, in addition to the pain that we normally discuss when we talk about childbirth. During my birth experience, I felt a lot of stuff, from that sinking-stomach feeling you get while plunging down a huge roller coaster, to gut-squeezing cramps, to even a few moments of pleasure. It was really intense, but the more I just let my body do what it was going to do instead of fearing it, the more I could just experience the sensations for what they were, instead of suffering. (And when I was in pain, particularly while pushing, I shifted positions and slowed things down, so that I didn't hurt myself.)
"Don’t Fear Your Own Body"
At one point, during what I'm convinced was the longest transition in birthing history, I started wondering how it was possible that I was both the bone-deepest, most exhausted I'd ever been in my life, wondering if I could even keep going, yet simultaneously surging with a power and intensity that I'd never felt before, moving a brand new person down and out of my body. I realized that my midwives were right: birth doesn't happen to us, it's something our own bodies do.
So, I didn't need to fear what I was feeling because it was all me. I needed to accept it and listen to it so I'd be able to keep going.
Everyone — midwives, childbirth educators, other moms — who told me to keep moving during labor was totally right. Moving on my ball, swaying and dancing in my partner's arms, rolling around in my tub and shower, all helped me take my contractions as they came, handling the intensity without feeling like I was suffering.
"It’s Better To Feel Your Way Through Labor, Than Think Your Way Through It"
This was information that took a while to sink into my super anxious mind, but it was absolutely true. Your knowledge and judgment doesn't desert you when you decide to be fully present and listen to your body. Instead, you make decisions based on what you know is right (whether that decision is "Let's keep going with Plan A" or "Forget the birth plan, I need to change gears"), rather than talking yourself into and out of decisions based on anxiety and fear.
"You’ve Got This"
Yes, it's a miracle that a person's body can make another person's body. But, as my midwives frequently reminded me, it's also a miracle that has happened over and over again, every day, for millennia. Bad things can and do happen sometimes, but things go right way more often than they go wrong. If you decide to believe in your body — and you should, because it's strong, and fierce, and amazing — the odds are in your favor. You've got this.