I was ready for the contractions. I knew about the whole "pooping while pushing" thing. I prepared myself for the epidural needle. I knew about the "ring of fire" and the possible tearing and the chances of hemorrhoids. But when I was in active labor and my body was preparing to give birth to my 6 lbs, 14 oz son, I had no idea that you vomit during labor. Why no one warned me of this intense, uncomfortable, surprising labor and delivery symptom is beyond me, as it absolutely threw me for a loop and made me feel like I had even less control over my laboring body.
According to Parents, epidurals can cause hypotension, "a sudden drop in blood pressure," and often an early sign of this side-effect is nausea and vomiting. So if you're planning on having an epidural during labor, know that pain relief might come with a side of vomit.
I endured 10 hours of intense back-labor before I succumbed to the mind-numbing pain and demanded an epidural. But I was throwing up way before that needle was inserted into my back. In fact, my vomiting stopped once my epidural was administered, and until that point I was throwing up with impunity and much to the dismay of my kind nursing staff. So, what makes you vomit if you haven't had an epidural?
"Throwing up can occur even if you haven't been given an epidural," according to Parents. "Either because of the pain you're experiencing or as the result of food sitting in your stomach." Per Parents, digestion usually stops during labor, so any food you might have inside of your stomach is just sitting there while your body contracts and prepares for your baby's journey through the birth canal. I went into labor in the evening but before dinner, so I have a feeling my vomit was the direct result of the horrific pain I was experiencing courtesy of back labor. That's why, thankfully, the vomiting stopped once my pain was under control.
So, why don't more moms-to-be hear about the vomits during labor and delivery? While some pregnant women might be in the know, our culture's unwillingness to talk about childbirth candidly arguably contributes to the mystery around the entire process. And since our society has some pretty problematic views of women's bodies — primarily that they shouldn't act like bodies at all but should, instead, be fluid-free, hair-free, bodily function-free incubators that are in no way unsightly — it's no surprise that we don't hear about pregnant women leaking amniotic fluid all over the hospital floor and throwing up down the side of their hospital beds while they contract. Our culture has positioned childbirth as this beautiful, magical experience (and it can be!) instead of an intense act of the body rife with bodily fluids and functions that are nothing if not... intense.
Which is why you shouldn't be in the least bit ashamed if you end up tossing your stomach mid-contraction. I couldn't stop apologizing to my nurses tasked with cleaning up my vomit, and every single one had the same reaction: This is labor. This happens. This isn't your fault. This is normal. Don't apologize. You're giving birth.
Yes, you might poop in front of a bunch of strangers when you're pushing your child out of your body. Yes, your water might break on someone's shoes and you'll keep leaking fluid on the hospital floor while you're contracting every two minutes. And, yes, you might throw up all over the floor in the middle of labor. Just continue to talk with your health care providers, who are there to make sure you're progressing as you should and staying safe, and save your apologies for some other time. Like, never. Because this is birth, baby, and it's not always pretty.