From the moment I found out I was pregnant and the initial shock was replaced with relentless joy, I started researching all the things I needed to do during labor. Sure, I had a solid six or seven months to prepare, but I also knew I would probably need those six or seven months to feel as confident as I possibly could. It turns out, while I found some great advice and learned a lot about what you should do when you go into labor, there are a lot of things you don't have to do when you're in labor, even though everyone tells you that you should.
Listening to unsolicited opinions and reading about other women's birth experiences online and reading and researching and asking questions can be vital when attempting to prepare for labor and delivery, but it can also give you a misguided sense as to what will inevitably work best for you. Every woman is different, so every labor and delivery experience is different and how a woman decides to work through labor is, you guessed it, entirely up to her. What works for one woman might not work for another, so telling a woman what she "should" do when she's in labor, can end up being nothing more than an exercise in futility. You can make a plan and you can try and figure out what will work best for you when you're in the throes of contractions and pressure and pushing, but until you're actually there, those are merely suggestions.
I learned the hard way (per usual) but there really are things that people will emphatically insist you do when you're in labor, that you absolutely do not have to do at all, such as:
Enjoy The Process
Prior to going into labor, I was told to try and "enjoy the process" and let my body "do what it was made to do" and revel in the fact that my powerful body was bringing another human being into the world. A wonderful sentiment, to be sure, but I couldn't bring myself to actually enjoy labor. I didn't like the immense pain and I didn't feel out of control and I didn't like relying on others for comfort. So, no, you don't have to love labor and delivery. How you feel about bringing a kid into the world (even and especially if it isn't positive) is just as valid as anyone else's feelings.
Advocate For Yourself
Well, you shouldn't have to advocate for yourself. Hopefully you aren't put in a position to have to make sure that what you want and what you're comfortable with, actually happen. Hopefully, if you do find yourself in an uncomfortable situation, you have someone there who can advocate for you, so that you can focus your energy and emotions on labor. You shouldn't have to advocate for you're in the middle of a contraction and, while arguably at your most powerful, also at your most vulnerable.
Stick To Your Birth Plan
It's great to write up a birth plan and try to stick to it, but you don't absolute have to. In fact, I think it's probably best to view your birth plan as a goal or suggestion; as point of context and something to strive for and bring you comfort, but definitely not a hard-and-fast rule that can't be changed or altered or ditched entirely. The truth is, you have no idea how your labor and delivery will go, and sometimes deviating from a preconceived plan is exactly what is necessary. It doesn't mean you've failed and it doesn't mean that your labor and delivery is all of a sudden void or not as "natural" as it would have been had you stuck to your plan. It just means that, well, shit happens.
Be OK With Every Change/Suggestion Your Team Gives You
At the same time, if someone is suggesting or asking to change your birth plan and it isn't medically necessary, you have a right to ask questions and say, "No." You don't have to be OK with every change and you don't have to listen to everyone and you don't have to do something you don't want to do when you're in labor. Yes, sometimes a change is medically necessary and, even if you don't want to facilitate it, you have to go with the flow for the safety of yourself and your baby. But that isn't always the case and, when it isn't, you shouldn't have to follow blindly.
Go With The Flow And Don't Ask Questions
I vividly remember, while in the throes of a painful labor, a nurse coming in to start her shift and treating me very differently than the other nurses I previously had. She was doing things without asking me if it was OK and without describing what she was doing and without informing me as to why she was doing them. I'm assuming she just wanted me to "go with the flow," but that wasn't going to happen. She made me uncomfortable and I could tell we weren't going to work well together so, I asked that she be removed. You don't have to be OK with everyone on your team and you don't have to just let things happen; you get to take charge of the situation, when it is safe to.
Suffer Through The Pain To Have A "Natural Experience"
I honestly thought that, if I was going to truly "experience" labor and delivery the way I was "supposed to," I had to do it sans drugs. I spent ten hours in severe pain, unable to find comfort from a birthing ball or a birthing tub or walking the halls or my partner rubbing my back or my partner helping me stand and sway, back and forth. I actually made myself suffer, all so that I could say I had a "natural" birth. It didn't take long, especially after I asked for an epidural and was able to sleep for the first time in over a day, for me to realize that every birth is natural, and making yourself suffer to prove a point is no way to bring a baby into the world.
Spend The Majority Of Your Time Laboring In The Hospital...
I put off going to the hospital for as long as it was safe. I wanted to labor in the comfort of my own home, and waited until my water broke and my contractions were a good four or five minutes apart. I liked having my partner, and only my partner, with me. We timed my contractions and we kept a close eye on how traffic was behaving between our home and the hospital, but for the most part, we didn't dart to the labor and delivery room the moment I started labor, and I think that (for me anyway) the right way to go.
...Or Go To A Hospital At All
And, of course, you don't have to labor or deliver a baby in a hospital, at all. You can have a home birth or go to a birthing center, and both choices should supported. I know so many women who have had miraculous home births, and being able to bring their baby into the world from the comfort of their home only added to their labor and delivery experience.
Let Your Partner/Support Person Touch You/Help
My partner wanted to help ease my labor pains any way he could, which usually meant wanting to rub the small of my back. There were times when this was necessary and, honestly, helped, but there were other times when I absolutely didn't want anyone to touch me. Like, at all. I needed to focus and concentrate and someone else touching my skin seemed to bring all of my focus back to nothing but the pain. I wanted space, and space is something every laboring woman shouldn't be afraid to ask for.
Stay Quiet Or Be Conscious Of Others
If yelling or grunting or cursing or screaming or moaning or simply more yelling, helps you deal with the pain of labor, please yell and grunt and curse and scream and moan and don't you dare worry about anyone else. You shouldn't need to quiet yourself when you're doing something as incredible and difficult as birth.
That You Can't Be Scared...
If you're scared about labor and delivery, feel free to be scared. It doesn't make you less of a woman and it doesn't make you less of a mom and it doesn't make you anything other than a normal human being who realizing the gravity of the situation she is either in or about to be in.
...Or That You Absolutely Should Be Scared
And, of course, if you're not scared, don't feel like you have to feign terror in order to be validated in your upcoming or current experience. Labor can be terrifying but it can also be empowering and a moment when a woman feels the most confident. Allow yourself to feel like the goddamn goddess you are.