Honestly, I Wish I'd Been Kinder To Myself During Labor & Delivery
It feels like a lifetime ago that I was in labor, trying to bring my beautiful child into into the world. I was a serious home birther, and once it seemed that labor had really began, I was ready to hunker down for the serious work of having a baby. But mine was not a pleasant birth experience — it was seven days of labor and a c-section before my baby was safely in my arms. And while looking back on it from my new vantage point with a toddler, I don’t actually really regret anything about my labor or birth, I can’t deny that if I was doing it today, I might have behaved a little differently. As a matter of fact, there's one major thing I'd do completely differently if I went into labor today: I'd be a whole lot kinder to myself.
Like the vast majority of parents on the verge of giving birth, I was antsy and anxious about labor. I’d planned a beautiful home birth with a wonderful midwife, and after weeks of those pesky “warm-up contractions,” I was on the lookout for actual labor to start sometime soonish. I had a labor scare while I was at a wedding, of all things, but I ended up being relieved when the contractions faded away and normal life resumed. Then one Sunday night, it felt like something was changing in the quality of the contractions, though they still weren’t all that intense. My wife and I called our midwife, just in case, and she confirmed that it didn’t sound like I was in labor yet, but I should probably get some rest because it might be coming soon. So, I went to bed.
But after two hours of sleep, I woke up in some of the worst pain I'd ever been in in my entire life. Not only were my contractions regular and rhythmic, they were intense and all-consuming. In the wee hours of the morning, I sat up with my wonderful spouse, wondering if this was actually the real deal, and also knowing in my heart that it was. Eventually we called our midwife again, who kept me on the phone and said, with a smile in her voice that I could hear through the phone, “I think I’ll be seeing you later today.”
Before actually going into labor, I'd tried my best to mentally and emotionally prepare myself for labor being a long and difficult haul, but there was no way I could've possibly prepared myself for everything I was in for. And if I had it all to do over today, there is one thing I would do drastically different: I'd go back to bed.
Now, let me explain.
When all was said and done, I was in labor for about five full days over a seven-day period (it took a weird little break in the middle, which let me tell you, was the last thing I wanted when I’d already been wishing the baby would just come out already for three whole days). And while I was at home for most of that time, not really augmenting the labor or actively trying to speed it up, I didn’t shy away from helping it along a little here and there. In fact, I immersed myself fully in the idea that labor was work, and that I was willing to work with my labor. So I practiced leaning into the pain, rather than shying away from it. In part because things were moving so slowly, I did things like getting into positions that intensified the contractions, and going for walks to help keep things moving.
Though it's been a great comfort to me to know that my c-section was absolutely necessary, and that I literally tried everything possible to have an unmedicated vaginal birth, I don’t think I would push myself through all of that now. Having a baby is hard enough, and labor and birth are too unpredictable to tell yourself that if you work hard enough, you’ll get the result you want.
At one very memorable moment, I forced myself up and down our stairs during contractions. It felt like climbing a mountain, and yet I also felt far away. I heard, as if from a distance, strange animal-like sounds coming out of my own mouth. I thought, Is that me? as my partner lovingly held my hand, and my midwife and housemates cheered me on. It hurt like hell, but it also felt amazing to be putting in the effort, to be doing the work of bringing my baby into the world. But in the end, I had a c-section. In the end, I gave birth in a brightly lit operating room, on my back, shaking from the meds. The only work I had to do while they cut me open was tell the anesthesiologist when I thought I was going to puke. And though it's been a great comfort to me to know that my c-section was absolutely necessary, and that I literally tried everything possible to have an unmedicated vaginal birth, I don’t think I would push myself through all of that now. Having a baby is hard enough, and labor and birth are too unpredictable to tell yourself that if you work hard enough, you’ll get the result you want.
If it wouldn’t have made a difference, if I would've ended up on the operating table regardless of my strategy, I would've gone much, much easier on myself.
Instead, if I went into labor today, I'd be as lazy as humanly possible. I'd do absolutely nothing. I wouldn’t squat, or bounce on the birth ball, or walk around the block. I'd lay in whatever position sucked the least, and just let the labor be whatever the hell it was going to be. I'd give my body a break. I'd figure that my body would either know what to do, and getting the baby out would work just fine, or it wouldn’t, and I'd need help getting the baby out. If I went into labor today, I'd probably watch TV or something, because goodness knows, I had the time. And maybe, just maybe, the result would be different. Maybe if I hadn’t been so exhausted from a week of endless laboring, I would've had enough strength left when it was finally time. Then again, maybe not.
In all likelihood, my body was just going to do its own thing, regardless of how I felt about it, and I would have needed the c-section no matter what. But that is the point, isn’t it? Sometimes, people just can’t give birth vaginally, and thankfully we have technology now that makes that OK. If it wouldn’t have made a difference, if I would've ended up on the operating table regardless of my strategy, I would've gone much, much easier on myself.
I'll probably never get a chance to put my ideas about what I would do differently into practice. Odds are, I won’t be having a second child, and even if I do, it’s not likely that my labor will be a repeat of last time. But if I ever am in labor again, or ever find a time machine, I’m going to remember that life is too short and labor is too long, so you may as well be kind to yourself.
If labor started today, I don't know if I'd want to have hospital birth or a home birth. I don't know if I'd plan on getting the epidural right out of the gate or not. I don't know who I'd want in the room. But what I do know — what I know for sure — is that I wouldn't force myself to labor any harder than I absolutely had to.