When I realized I was pregnant and decided I wanted to be a mother, my mind immediately raced to the undeniable fact that, hopefully, I was going to experience labor and delivery. It was odd, because that's the end game, but it's also a somewhat scary end game. So, I did my research and asked so many questions and scoured the internet in an attempt to prepare myself as best as possible. In the end, though, I realized there are things no one will tell you about labor; not even those damn baby-book authors who seem to talk about, you know, everything.
Of course, this isn't necessarily anyone's fault. Labor and delivery is a very intimate experience, so if women who have gone through it don't want to open up and share every single detail about their unique and person childbirth experiences, they absolutely shouldn't. Furthermore, there are some moments in life that no amount of planning can possibly prepare you for, and labor is definitely one of them. I had a birth plan and I read book after book after book and I begged my mother to tell me every single detail about the two times she birthed babies; but none of it seemed to matter when I was contracting every two minutes.
So, while the following may not be things most people are quick to talk about when it comes to labor, keep in mind that, in the end, even this list might not matter. Every woman, every labor, every delivery; it's all different. My experience will never be just like someone else's, and someone else's experience will never be entirely like mine. The best thing, in my humble opinion, you can do to prepare for labor is to keep an open mind, listen to yourself and your body, and take whatever anyone says (even me, dear reader) with a grain of salt.
It Can Last For Days. Yes, Actual Days.
I think you'd be hard-pressed to find a pregnant woman who hasn't heard about that one "horror" story where labor lasted for, like, three days. Still, you never really think it'll happen to you until, you know, it does. Turns out, I was in active labor for over 24 hours, and it was the absolute worst. When it's your first baby (and if you get an epidural, which can slow down labor) you should probably prepare yourself to be in it for the long haul.
You Don't Have To Do The Majority (Or Any) Of Your Laboring In A Hospital
I was lucky in that I had a great team of doctors who told me I would be doing myself a huge favor if I labored at home for as long as possible. No, they weren't encouraging me to wait until the last minute and risk having my baby on the side of some freeway. However, they told me that I didn't need to come in right away, at the first sign of a steady contraction, and that if I felt comfortable laboring at home that would be the best thing for everyone involved. I would be able to be someplace I felt safe and comfortable (a place where I knew my surroundings intimately) and I wouldn't have to deal with hospital staff coming in and out of my room.
Of course if you aren't having a hospital birth at all, then you don't need to worry about laboring in a hospital at all. I know most believe a hospital is absolutely necessary when you're birthing a baby (and, yes, sometimes it very much so is), but I promise that if you have a low-risk, "normal" pregnancy, you can labor safely and successfully without ever stepping foot in a hospital (or even a birthing center).
Standing, Walking, Rolling, Swaying And Just Being Mobile, Will Help
When it came to dealing with the pain of labor, the only thing that helped me was moving. I tried laboring in a tub, but that only increased the severity of my contractions. I tried rolling around on a birthing ball, and I honestly felt like I was dying. I tried walking the hospital halls and that was helpful and doable, until the contractions became so severe that someone had to hold me up.
In the end, it was standing and swaying back and forth (while simultaneously leaning on my partner) that seemed to do the trick. After almost 10 hours of standing I just couldn't take it anymore and asked for that sweet, sweet epidural.
Yes, It Does Help To Make Noise
I won't lie, at first I was pretty self-conscious about doing the whole low-moaning thing through every painful contraction. However, I'll be the first to tell you that you don't give a flying you-know-what about how you sound (or how you look or anything else, for that matter) when you're in that much pain. If low moans and growls and something resembling the sound of a dying animal helped me get through the pain, that was exactly what I was going to do.
It's OK If You Don't Want Anyone To Touch You
This hurt my partner's feelings, at first, but when I was laboring I didn't want anyone to touch me. At least, not at first. When I physically needed to lean on my partner for support, my tune changed. However, until that moment, I didn't want a single person (no matter how much they wanted to help ) to touch me. In fact, if they maintained a few feet distance, I was even happier.
You Don't Have To Make Yourself Suffer In Order To Prove A Point
This one took me far too long to realize, but I really didn't have to put myself through such excrutiating pain, and for so long, just to prove a point. Still, I let certain birth-rhetoric get to my head, and I really wanted to get the "full experience" and feel "one with motherhood," and a bunch of other things that aren't real. In the end, I should have happily recognized my personal limit, listened to my own body and, in the end, asked for that epidural way, way earlier.
You Don't Have To Consider Labor A "Beautiful" Experience
I'm not one to downplay how miraculous labor and delivery is. I mean, it's such an incredible process and women's bodies are pretty extraordinary. Still, you don't have to consider labor "beautiful" in order to appreciate it. In fact, you can downright hate it, and it doesn't mean that you're a bad feminist or mother or woman or you're somehow incapable of being in awe of the entire ordeal. You can think it's pretty gross and kind of the worst, and still think it's unbelievable.
Now Is The Time To Demand Whatever It Is You Want Or Need
If ever there was a time to be demanding, now is the time. Of course, I am in no way saying that the only time a woman can be demanding is when she is pushing and/or having a baby cut from her body. Not true. Like, not even a little bit.
However, when you're in pain and you're trying to focus and do something as incredible as bringing another human being into the world, you absolutely do not have to be polite. You do not have to be "quiet" and you do not have to be "kind" and you do not have to be anything other than whatever it is you need to be in order to accomplish the task at hand.
Yes, It Hurts
Sorry to break it to you, as I very much would like to be one of those women to say that birth was painless (and even orgasmic) but that's not my experience. It just hurts.
There Are Different Kinds Of Labor
Prior to pushing a human being out of my body, I thought there was only one type of labor. Labor. Turns out, there are multiple stages of labor, and there's this horrid thing called back labor.
There are preterm labor contractions, which are contractions that happen prior to your 37 week gestational mark, usually timed 10-12 minutes apart for over an hour. These labor contractions could be a sign that you're in pre-term labor. There are early labor contractions, where your contractions last 60-90 seconds, and active labor contractions, where your contractions intensify and you'll be contracting 45 to 60 seconds at a time, with a three to five minute rest in between. Then, of course, there's back labor: an intense lower back pain that can continue even when contractions end, that's just the worst damn thing in the world and the reason why I opted for an epidural after 10 grueling hours.
You're Not Weak If You Think It's Scary
It's OK to admit that you're scared of labor. Hell, it's OK to admit that you're scared during labor. Whether you've had a baby before or not, when your body is going through something so intense and involuntary, it's pretty normal to be a little frightened. You're not a weak woman for saying, "Yep, I'm completely and totally freaked out right now." If anything, acknowledging those feelings will help you overcome them so that you can bring your baby into the world safely.