As a parent, I have Googled a lot of truly bizarre questions. Questions I wouldn't have guessed I'd ever ask. "Why does my baby's poop smell like bread?" "Should I worry about baby grunting like French bulldog?" "Why does my baby want to eat socks?" And when I was pregnant? They say there are no stupid questions, but I asked some pretty stupid questions. Like... "If I sneeze too hard does it hurt the baby?" or "Is it OK to wear tights?" I didn't ask most of these questions aloud, mind you, but I asked them in my head. Now here's where we take kind of a serious turn.
Because there are so many questions that pop into our heads when we're pregnant — including, yes, a bunch of kind of silly ones — we wind up holding back on the questions we probably should be asking lest we be perceived as sounding dumb or rude. On top of that (probably even more than that) you don't always know what you don't know, so there are a lot of important questions that go unasked simply because it never strikes us to ask them.
I asked 20 women what question they wish they had asked before giving birth. Here's what they had to say.
"I wish I had asked when I could eat. After 22 hours and then a c-section, I was under the impression I would get rewarded with a 6 course meal. Ravenous! I had to wait hours and hours after, it made me cry."
I wish I'd asked about the first 12 hours after having the baby. The crazy emotions, the blood clot the size of a bullfrog that fell out of me, the incredible weakness in my legs. It all took me by surprise. I was only focused on preparing to push out the baby, and the baby care after bringing him home.
"I think I would have asked my doula more about postpartum follow-up. I knew her services only included one postpartum visit, but I didn't realize that was really it! No check-ins, no follow-up after that. I felt a bit abandoned after she helped me through such a huge, life-altering experience."
I wish I had asked me about recovery from birth. I focused and read so much about the actual birth, but the recovery period was much more difficult and it was hard because I wasn't expecting it.
"Can you do a tummy tuck at the same time [as a c-section]?"
(Note: a tummy tuck during a c-section is generally not recommended!)
"If the 6 weeks after delivery was important to my healing. I suffered from the pressures of the American thought that I could and should get back to life ASAP, and now I am really suffering, including losing my ability to have more kids. I wish I'd asked about what recovery would really be like for me. I was just thinking about the baby."
When is it too late to ask for drugs?
"'WTF is the ring of fire?' I'd heard people talk about it, but no one ever explained it. When I experienced it, however, I figured it out pretty fast. It would have been nice to have a heads up."
[Writer's note: That is some real talk right there.]
"I went to one of those handy "c-section classes" because I knew ahead of time that I'd be having one, so I feel like I got a lot of good information about the procedure itself and and its aftermath, but I should have asked more questions about the kind of frequent monitoring I would get after giving birth. The hospital took good care of me, but I was at a teaching hospital, which meant that for the 3 days I was there after the birth, I had what felt like the entire procession from the Canterbury Tales coming through my room at regular intervals. I started to get really grouchy because they kept interrupting my nap. If I had known that ahead of time, I would have tried to plan to have my husband or mom run interference, or negotiate some kind of quiet hours so I could sleep. Would definitely try that if I do this again."
What items should I have on hand to help me breastfeed successfully?
"Can I take one more quick nap?"
"Seriously, how did I not ask what kind of breastfeeding support they had? The answer? NONE."
Is it normal to lose bladder control and pee all over your floor? If you are standing in a puddle of your urine and crying and the new born baby is crying, who should your [partner] help first?
"I wish I would have known all my birthing options. I thought everyone just got an epidural and that was expected; that's what I ended up doing."
"I was told more things than I asked. I had twins, and was told I would need to have an epidural in case things went south fast, that I needed constant monitoring during labor, and I shouldn't build up expectations for an ideal birth (or take birthing classes) because there were too many variables in multiple delivery. I went into pre-eclampsia and HELLP syndrome at 35w6d and was induced. What I wish I had asked was "Is it worth it to get an epidural before breaking my water, even though it might stall labor?" Because I was so sure I didn't want the epi until I was in transition, so they broke my bag at 2cm and I was fully dilated within an hour. OUCH. I did manage to birth both vaginally, though ... I was mostly disappointed that I wasn't in control."
I wish my doctor would have openly talked about postpartum depression/anxiety. That hit me over the head like a sledgehammer and then everyone starts with the 'It's totally normal to feel that way.'
"Dude, that I had asked for the honest truth about the [postpartum] bloodbath. My nurse told me to call for help before going to the bathroom the first time. I called, called again, and again and then finally went on my own. Wobbly legs were nothing compared to the amount of blood that gushed onto the floor, toilet, walls, mirror and me...OK, maybe that's a bit exaggerated but I wasn't prepared to manage it and it was messy! I nearly fainted. Someone should have explicitly told me why I needed help!"
"I think I would have liked to ask, "What am I allowed to say 'no' to?" My whole first birth experience was an absolute mess — failed induction ending in emergency c-section. And the whole time, I just laid there like a giant passive beached whale and let things happen to me. It was a chemical, physical blur. I could not have been a more naive, inactive participant if I had tried. I had no idea what I was doing, no idea what was going on, no idea if I was allowed to challenge or refuse any of it, and no idea why I all of a sudden needed 35 medical interventions/wires/needles/straps all over me. If I could go back, I would ask any question I could think of to have helped me feel more in control and more like my own advocate. Of course the medical professionals are in charge... But that doesn't mean I had to agree with every suggestion. I wish I had known that."
I wish I had been more prepared for the surprise encore contractions for placenta delivery. After a marathon back labor and thinking I was done as my baby laid in my arms I hear "OK, now you will contract again as you deliver the placenta." It was truly like winning the Hunger Games and then being told "Psych! It's time for a bonus round!"
[Writer's note: And now you know how Katniss felt when she had to participate in the Quarter Quell, Jillian. No wonder she went kind of crazy!]
"A slightly different twist on this: I'm going to share the question I'm so glad my doula asked me in preparing for my second delivery. [Writer's note: OK. I'll allow it, Heather, you rebel.] We knew the birth was likely going to be induced and more medical than I'd prefer because [I had preeclampsia]. She asked, "If nothing else goes your way, what is the ONE most important thing to you in this process, besides the obvious healthy mom and baby?"
For me, it was that I be aware and "present" for the moment of birth and the precious first hours afterward, because with my first, I was so completely spent and exhausted from 48 hours of induction that I couldn't stay awake. I have no memory of holding her for the first time, or of her first 12 or so hours of life. Recognizing that priority with my second put everything in perspective, and framed all my other decisions. My doula helped me remember that and choose to get the epidural earlier, which let me rest while I finished dilating, which meant I got exactly what I wanted most. I actually pulled her out of my body and up onto my chest! It was incredible."