I'm someone who likes to be informed. I like being prepared for things that might happen to me. I enjoy research. I like knowing things, and some might accuse me of being a bit of a know-it-all at times. But sometimes, and even though it's rare, I think ignorance is bliss. Take, for example, the things I'm glad no one told me about labor. An etymologist will tell you that "labor" comes from the Latin word meaning "work." But let me assure you, here and now, that it actually means "descending into the flaming pits of hell where your body will betray you by putting you through hours of agony after months of discomfort and inconvenience." Am I being dramatic? Yes. But I'm being less dramatic than I usually am about most other things because, well, labor blows, dudes.
Here's the "good news," too. Whatever kind of labor you're going to have? Yeah, that won't make it blow any less. Not much is going to change how difficult childbirth is. You just have to deal with it. Now, sometimes, knowing what's ahead of you can help you prepare for a number of possibilities, both mentally and physically. Other times, though, knowing what's coming and knowing there's nothing you'll be able to do about it is just going to make you anxious which, in turn, will make things immeasurably worse.
So whether you're preparing for your own labor and delivery, or you've been through it already and feel like taking a stroll down contraction-filled memory lane, here are just some of the things I was really glad I didn't know about until they happened:
Contractions Are Worse After Your Water Breaks
Unlike 90 percent of women, both my labors started after my water broke. (Most people experience contractions before their amniotic sac ruptures.) Years later, well after the births of both my children, I was talking to fellow moms about labor and I was amazed to hear so many of them say how it wasn't so bad... then I noticed that a lot of them talked about the fact that things "got real" after their water broke.
"Wait," I asked, "Anecdotally this seems to be a trend, but is that a thing? Like, does labor hurt more after your water breaks? Is that why my labors sucked so hard?"
"It's totally a thing," replied an OB-GYN friend. "There's less and less to cushion the contractions."
Well shoot, you guys. I go back and forth as to whether or not I would have wanted to know this. Because on the one hand, knowing that my labor objectively hurt more probably would have made me feel like a badass. On the other hand, knowing that it hurt more very well could have mind a mindf*ck that I didn't want to deal with.
Labor Feels Like You're Being Torn Apart By Meat Hooks From The Inside
I can't think of too many better ways to describe what labor felt like for me. (And, you know: grain of salt considering my labors weren't exactly typical.) See how that might scare someone? Best to go in sort of blind.
Once Your Water Breaks You're Constantly Leaking
Yeah, you figure it's just going to be one big gush and then you're done. Nope. You know when you have a period that never really ends? Like, you probably get a day of heavy bleeding but then the rest of it is an unpredictable drip? After a while nothing happens, so you start wearing your nice underwear and then — sploosh — here's some nice brown sludgy stuff for ya! Yeah, you're water breaking is kind of like that, only over the course of hours instead of days. I was wearing a pad for most of my labor (no one wants to slip in a puddle of amniotic fluid).
Your Cervix Will Go From Being The Size Of A Blueberry To The Size Of A Bagel
I mean, you know that your cervix dilates 10 centimeters (unless you're me the first time around and you only dilate 5 centimeters in 18 hours and have to have an emergency C-section, but that's another story for another day). You talk about dilating. You get excited about it... but centimeters are a hazy concept for Americans anyway, so you don't really have a concept of how big or small that is. Having a visualization like that would have freaked me out.
You Feel Contractions In Your Butt
I called them "buttractions." It's one of those things that makes sense if you think about it (have you ever seen how closely connected everything is in that general area?) but most people don't really think about it.
After a while in labor, as my babies descended lower into my hips, they put pressure on the surrounding organs, including my rectum. This was far more intense and uncomfortable than I realized it would be. There's nothing to be done for it, either. Knowing that it was coming the second time around didn't make this particular aspect of labor any better, it just made me freak out about when it was coming. It's best not to know or think about it too much until you have to cope.
Pooping In Labor Is Actually A Huge Relief
Most moms who've done it will reassure nervous moms-to-be that, in the moment, you just don't care and neither does anyone else (they're professionals and they're used to it). This information is reassuring and welcome... however, you don't need to know that pooping during labor might actually be a relief. Why? Well, because it does alleviate some of the pressure (by creating space!) and hey, if your baby isn't out yet at least you know all that pushing accomplished something right?
Still, there's a sort of deep-burning shame that goes along with taking pleasure in pooping in front of people. You don't need to know how low the bar will be lowered in labor. You don't need to know just how much of your dignity goes away for a little while.
You'll Make Weird Noises
It's best not to know about these noises because hearing them occur in the wild, spontaneously, is pretty funny. And you never really know what sounds are going to happen! First time around I sounded like a nervously orgasming woodpecker. Second time I sounded more like a chanting Buddhist monk who was also an opera singer.
Everyone Will Bother You
It's not them, it's you... but it's also them because they have no idea what you're going through (even if they've had a baby themselves, because everyone is different) and they will inevitably do something "wrong."
Take, for example, my beloved husband. I told him ahead of time that I wanted him to touch me lovingly, rub my back, and tell me I was beautiful. I love praise and flattery, and I wanted to feel like a powerful mother goddess while in labor. So he did exactly what I told him to in the exact way told him to do it... and I almost immediately groaned and told him to knock it off. I don't know why, but it just wasn't working out in real life. It felt condescending and annoying.
He wasn't the only one who bothered me, either. At some point everyone did something to irritate me to varying degrees of annoyance. Frankly, when someone feels like they're being torn apart internally by meat hooks, I think that's fair.
Short Of An Epidural, Nothing Is Going To Make It All That Much Better
And hey, maybe other people are different, or maybe my expectations were too high, but all the pain management stuff I'd read up on before going into labor did f*ck all when it was go time. Breathing techniques, meditation, water, massage, walking: they don't make anything hurt any less. These are just ways to keep you from losing your mind. See, I expected these things to make me feel better. They did not.
An epidural, on the other hand? If my epidural was a person I would have made love to it.
Epidurals Can Wear Off
For example: they can wear off just as you're about to push out a nine pound, two ounce baby. You know, just as a completely hypothetical example that totally didn't happen to me and my poor vagina and I'm definitely not pouty about it even now, three years after the fact.
Relief Between Contractions Isn't Enough To Recharge You
Maybe this is true when you're contracting every, say, 10 minutes, or even every six minutes. But, lucky me: I contracted ever two minutes for most of my labors. This is not enough time to recoup from the awful, minute-long contractions that make you feel like you're dying.
It Doesn't Get Easier
Alas. This is something I probably knew in the back of my mind but didn't think about. Either way, labor only gets harder and harder until it stops. And it doesn't stop in a sudden puff of rose-scented sparkles or anything. It ends when a bloody infant is pulled out of you, either through tremendous effort on your behalf via your fancy bits or via surgery which you're very likely awake for because you're a badass.
All this to say: it's good to educate yourself and know what you're in for... but other things are best handled in the moment, largely because there's no really terrific way to handle them because labor sucks.
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