After giving birth three times, I consider the experience to be indescribable. Which is why people who haven't been through it should stop comparing it to less painful things, like pooping, or even horribly painful things, like kidney stones. Not just because it's in no way comparable, but because doing so feeds into our society's tendency to minimize women's pain. With that in mind, I think it's time that we get real about birth. In fact, there are a few things women in labor need you to know.
First and foremost, labor is difficult as hell. There's a reason they call it "labor," my friends. It was actually a lot harder than I thought it would be, based on what I had read in books, learned in birthing class, and seen in movies. For me it was a long, painful, and overwhelming experience. So I think we should recognize that most pregnant women don't walk into the hospital, effortlessly give birth, and walk out a few hours later with a baby. And when we romanticize birth as a serene and beautiful experience, or make jokes that might it sound like it's not a big deal, we set the bar way too high for most people to meet. It's not realistic or fair, and laboring women suffer as a result.
Plus, birthing a baby is a messy business. In my experience, you'll end up covered in blood, amniotic fluid, sweat, vernix (that white stuff all over your baby), and sometimes even poop. So, yeah, you may not look like a birth goddess, and you might not feel all that magical while your OB-GYN is stitching up your perineum or abdomen. And you know what? It's OK.
So yeah, it's time we started talking about how labor and birth actually work, so we can finally clear up any misconceptions and help moms-to-be prepare for the inevitable.
It Can Take A While
According to the Mayo Clinic, the average labor for first-time moms can last anywhere from hours to days. Yes, days. Each of my labors have been totally unique and unpredictable, with my first labor lasting almost 24 hours, my second lasting 18 hours, and my last birth — an induction with an epidural — lasting only seven hours from start to finish. There's no way to know how your birth with go, or how long it will take, so you should expect the unexpected and go with the flow.
Childbirth was pretty much the most intrusive experience of my life. Not only did several strangers see my naked body, breasts, vulva, and cervix, but they did so when I was in pain and vulnerable. I joke about how it pretty much cured me of any shyness about my body, but honestly, it was embarrassing, traumatic, and made me feel like my dignity and privacy were not important.
Back labor is by far the worst pain I have ever felt... and can imagine ever feeling, to be honest. It was so much worse than I expected. I wish I had gotten my epidurals sooner, instead of being shamed into waiting and suffering unnecessary pain. But it felt like there was an expectation to at least try to forego pain medication and give birth "naturally," which is such an unfair ask for any human being. I mean, would we ask men to at least try to skip Novocaine for a root canal? Of course not.
There's no way to describe the emotions involved with labor and delivery. From fear, to joy, anger, excitement, frustration, anticipation, boredom, confusion — sometimes even all at once — you're nothing but a ball of feelings.
We May Need Some Alone Time
Between my partner and I having to spend hours together in the same room, and the nurses coming in every hour to check my blood pressure and other vitals, I honestly needed some alone time during labor. I actually kicked my partner out of the delivery room so I could have some much-needed rest so I could re-group before our son was born.
It's Nothing Like The Movies
The movies make birth seem like an intense, quick process, with birthing moms always looking great and feeling awesome immediately afterwards and no matter what happened during their childbirth experience. It was not like that for me at all. After giving birth, I felt like I had been hit by a truck, and you, know, had pushed a watermelon out of my vagina.
Your Labor And Delivery Nurse Is Super Important
Your labor and delivery nurses can make or break your birth experience. I had both comforting, gentle, and laid-back nurses, and terse, angry, drill sergeant-like nurses. I probably don't have to tell you which made my experience in labor and delivery more empowering and pleasant.
Childbirth is disgusting. Chances are you're going to want a shower, because you will be covered in various bodily fluids and will likely smell really bad. It was so gross.
You Might Get Loud
I screamed so loud when I had back labor with my second child, the nursing staff actually asked me to quiet down because I was scaring the other moms-to-be. In case you were wondering, I told them where they could stick that idea. (I blame the pain.)
No Birth Method Is Best For All Moms & Babies
Above all, I think we've got to get over the idea that there's one perfect way to give birth, or that unmedicated is better than getting an epidural or giving birth vaginally is better than having a C-section. Honestly, birth is a diverse, intense, unpredictable experience, and birthing people deserve to feel supported no matter how they choose or end up bringing another human being into the world.