When I found out I was pregnant I thought I knew exactly how things would go. I read my copy of What to Expect When You're Expecting, took a birth class, joined an online pregnancy group, and wrote an extensive birth plan. I’m not saying that all of that was unnecessary, but for the most part I learned they weren't the most important ways to get ready to welcome my new baby. In fact, there are things no one will tell you about preparing for childbirth... except me, of course. I will totally tell you, because you deserve to know how it really is.
It might sound weird, but in my experience the most important part of preparing for childbirth was finding an OB-GYN or midwife I could trust to help me get through childbirth relatively unscathed. I also realized that allowing for some flexibility in your birth plan is a must. Now, I’m not saying you shouldn’t have a set of goals or an ideal birth experience in mind, I'm just saying that life doesn't always care about your goals or ideal plan.
Above all, I think it's important to remember that there's no one "right way" to do labor and delivery. For some people, the best birth is a scheduled C-Section, and for others it's a candle-lit birthing suite with a doula and a midwife. Some might feel disappointment when their birth plan doesn't go accordingly, and others will get the experience they want. And while no two births are the same, I've found that it's "best" to try to go with the flow and accept that your badass birth for what it was, rather than what you thought it would be.
So If you're getting ready to have a baby, here are some things you totally need to know but may not have heard from anyone else:
A Birthing Class Isn't Always Necessary
I feel like most of what I learned in the birthing class I attended was geared towards someone who ends up having a picture-perfect, unmedicated, vaginal childbirth. Any other kind of birth was stigmatized big-time by my instructor. And once I was actually in labor I felt like no amount of walking, bouncing, or soaking in a tub would do anything for my back labor. But as a result of that class I felt terrible asking for an epidural.
Of course, not every birthing class is the same, and many people find them to be incredibly beneficial. But if you don't find and/or attend one, I wouldn't worry.
Prenatal Visits Are Either Boring Or Scary
I went into pregnancy knowing that prenatal care was super-important. No one told me how boring most of my visits would be, though. They never started on time (not once in three pregnancies), generally lasted five minutes, and for the most part included a set of handouts and routine measurements, which seemed like a total waste of time.
On the other hand, there were the scary appointments. When I had an abnormal test result, ultrasound reading, or high blood pressure, suddenly boring turned into an intense trip to labor and delivery or a jaunt to see a specialist. I learned the best way to approach these appointments was to stay calm (which is, yes, much easier said than done).
Figure Out How The Car Seat Works In Advance
Installing car seats can be confusing, especially if you've never done it before. Some sweat, tears, and even blood might be shed. I highly recommend you figure out how the car seat works well before your baby’s due date, and thread the straps for a tiny newborn so you aren’t stuck doing it in the hospital parking lot.
Picking The Right Provider Is So Important
I learned the hard way how important it is to pick the right health care provider. If you If you can’t trust your OB-GYN or midwife to provide you with accurate info, or to listen to your concerns or questions, how can you trust them to catch your baby? And, guys, if you pick one and they aren't a good fit, you can totally switch.
Try To Stay Calm
When you get an “abnormal” or “borderline” test result, the best thing to do is talk it over with your provider or ask for a referral to the right specialist. Always remember that what's considered "typical" is a range, and an abnormal result is not always the end of the world and may not be something to freak out about.
Buy Formula, Even If You Plan On Breastfeeding
After three wildly different birthing and infant-feeding experiences, I finally realized that having formula on-hand is incredibly beneficial in reaching my breastfeeding goals. Supplementing with formula, before my milk came in, could help my baby breastfeed longer and could prevent low blood sugar and dehydration. By bringing a six-pack of ready-to-feed formula along, I didn't have to stress about whether or not the nurses or hospital staff would refuse to let me feed my baby, either.
I brought so many things with me to the hospital the first time, from birthing balls and pillows to special pajamas and my laptop. I didn’t need half of it and it was a pain to load back in the car when we took our baby home from the hospital.
Make A Flexible Birth Plan
Nothing happened according to my first birth plan. My midwife was out of town, they scheduled me for induction, and then my water broke on the bathroom floor. After about 16 hours of excruciating back labor I begged for an epidural, and while that wasn't what I had listed under "pain management" that epidural was exactly what I needed. I got a nap, rested, had a snack, and went on to deliver my baby with no pain.
I wish I had realized that making a birth plan doesn't mean there isn't room for flexibility or compromise or even a change of heart. So don't be afraid to change it up in the moment and if you want and/or need to.
Remember That Birth Is Unpredictable
Birth is unpredictable, so try not to predict how things will go, get your heart set on a specific experience, or stress out about what will or will not be. If things don’t go as planned, forgive yourself.
No matter what, you should never page Dr. Google about a test result or pregnancy symptom. Instead, call your OB-GYN or midwife. That’s literally why they have someone on call 24 hours a day.
Ask About Hospital Policies
I wish I had asked my midwife about hospital rules before I went to the hospital in the middle of the night. I discovered I wasn't "in labor enough" to stay. I was having regular contractions and was dilated two centimeters, but the hospital required four centimeters before they would admit me. I made numerous trips back and forth to the hospital that weekend and never progressed far enough for them to admit me, no matter how many laps they made me walk around the labor and delivery corridor.
It’s OK If You Change Your Mind
Labor and delivery was nothing like I expected it to be. Instead of being this beautiful experience, it was incredibly painful and seemingly never-ending. By the end, I begged for relief... and that relief came in the form of medication.
It took me a long time to accept that choosing an epidural didn’t make my birth any less badass. In fact, I sort of think that having the presence of self to change my mind, especially when faced with the pressure to birth a certain way, is nothing short of amazing.