As I’ve learned over the years and by talking with other moms, each woman’’s childbirth story is unique. There is one thing we experience universally at one point, though: terrifying thoughts about going into labor. I guess there is a reason the gestational period is nine months, as I'm convinced it takes that long to summon the courage to actually get a full-term human being to exit your body. Honestly, I would have been fine to procrastinate, because there is never a point at which I said, “Yup, let’s go birth this baby.” Even at my most uncomfortable state, days past my due date, I had trepidations about going into labor.
Part of the problem is that I had done so much research. I trolled parenting sites, and devoured What To Expect more times than I care to count. But the inherent problem with inundating yourself with this parenting material is that you are immediately put on the defensive. All this parenting info only served to make me aware of everything that could possibly go wrong. Knowledge is power, but having all this knowledge about childbirth, and no actual experience going through it, just fed my fears.
So before I knew I could make it through childbirth in one piece (mostly), I had some absolutely terrifying thoughts when I actually went into labor. I didn’t go into labor "naturally" with my first kid, as I was induced before I was even dilated, so all these scary ideas popped into my head as a second-time mom, proving, once again, that every childbirth experience is completely different:
"I Can’t Do This"
Women have been giving birth for thousands of years, but that did nothing to shore up my confidence about going through with it. The horror of pushing this 7-pound child through an opening in my body that nothing wider than a cucumber had entered (and even that was pushing it) suddenly registered in the wake of my first contractions. I had nine months to prepare for this moment, and it hadn’t been enough.
"What If I Get Hungry?"
I went into labor with my son a little after 8 p.m., while I was putting my toddler daughter to sleep. There wasn’t going to be a meal on my horizon for a good 12 hours, which would have been fine if I was going to be asleep for most of that time. But if I was in active labor, I was sure to get hungry. What if I was still laboring through breakfast time? My hospital didn’t allow me to eat while in the delivery room, so I was seriously afraid that I wouldn’t be eating for a while. It was a traumatizing thought.
"What If I Can’t Shower For Days?"
I like my showers. Even being a mom to small kids hasn’t cured me of that. Before my husband and I left for the hospital, I took a shower, even though I had already taken one that day. Just like I didn’t know when my next meal was coming, in light of going into labor, I didn’t know when my next shower would happen, either.
"What If The Cord Is Wrapped Around The Baby’s Neck?"
Though I knew of other moms whose babies were born with the cord wrapped around them in some way, and they were perfectly fine, this hypothetical scenario freaked me out. I was annoyed that nature could design something so faulty as to choke off the life of the thing it has nourished during pregnancy. Mostly, I was terrified of losing my baby.
"What If They Have To Give Me Pitocin?"
I was induced with my first child when I was 10 days past my due date and an ultrasound revealed that my amniotic fluid was a bit low. That got me a bed and a Pitocin drip, which kickstarted my contractions to the extreme. I was in excruciating pain in no time, and the thought of that happening again made me panic. Though I had gone into labor naturally the second time around, I worried that they’d crank up the contractions if I wasn’t progressing quickly enough.
Yeah, that’s exactly what happened. I went into labor right before Independence Day, and I’m sure the covering obstetrician (my own OB was away) didn’t want to spend more time away from his summer home than he had to on July 4th weekend. My fears were realized, but I’ve lived to tell about them so I guess they weren’t as bad as I thought.
"What If The Epidural Hurts?"
It did, but I survived. The most fearful part of going into labor is simply not knowing what’s going to happen. If I had known that I was going to receive Pitocin, and then an epidural, definitively before checking in to the maternity ward to deliver my second child, I think it might have taken the edge off my fear.
"What If I’m Too Tired To Push?"
I was really worried that I’d run out of steam the second time around. With my first born, I had slept the night before and rested comfortably (after getting that epidural) before delivering her in three quiet pushes a little after 7 p.m. But I didn’t check in to the hospital the second time around until after midnight and I was really worried I wouldn’t be rested enough to push effectively. I was definitely more tired pushing out my son, who was born a little before 10 a.m., but never did I feel I had run out of energy. I really wanted him out of me, I guess.
"What If They Baby’s Heartbeat Slows Down?"
I often wonder if my choice to have my babies in a hospital is the reason why so much medical gear came into play during each one of my deliveries. My heartbeat and the baby’s heartbeat were monitored. I was hooked up from my belly to my finger, with an intravenous drip of Pitocin and a catheter between my legs after receiving an epidural. It was a lot to keep track of, and because I was connected to so many machines in so many ways, it made me nervous. Were they monitoring the baby’s heartbeat because they were afraid of what the Pitocin would do? Though everything was perfectly fine, I felt as if we were just waiting for something bad to happen.
"What If My Water Breaks On The Way To The Hospital?"
My father gave us a ride to the hospital with my first baby, and I wasn’t in labor as my doctor wanted me to come in to start getting induced. But I went into labor naturally with my second baby very late at night and, to top it all off, we had to call a cab. I could tell exactly what the driver was thinking when he saw me awkwardly climb into the backseat. It was something along the lines of, “Please lady, don’t get any of your baby stuff on my upholstery.”
"What If I Have To Push Before We Make It To The Hospital?"
The only thought worse than my water breaking in a taxi is having to deliver my kid in one. It wasn’t so much that I was afraid for the baby’s safety, but more about exposing us both to the stew of NYC germs from all the passengers that had sat in the seat before me.
"What If We Can’t Get A Cab?"
Given the late hour we were calling for a cab, I was worried one wouldn’t show up at our Queens apartment until my contractions were really close together. Or maybe one wouldn’t come at all and I’d have an impromptu home birth, something I was not prepared for. There is nothing anyone could have said to assuage my fears when I went into labor; like my contractions, I just had to ride them out.
Plus, on other side of my terrifying thoughts was an amazing new person I couldn’t wait to meet.