Ahh, the birth story.
There is are two types of birth story: you will either encounter a tale shrouded in mystery and told with the gravitas of an Ulyssean epic, or you will hear how the midwife had to fish a floater out of the pool, whilst Sarah snarled at her husband that if he told her to “keep breathing” one more fucking time it would be his perineum in need of stitches.
Which of these stories you hear, depends not only on the teller, but also the listener. Prior to getting pregnant and giving birth, I only ever heard the edited versions. “It was fine,” friends would tell me, “it’s tiring but so worth it” blah, blah, blah. Having a midwife for a best friend meant I had heard numerous (hilarious) accounts from the ‘other end’ of the hospital bed, and I had watched every episode of One Born Every Minute on catch-up so I pretty much thought I had this down.
Oh how wrong I was.
10 things I wish someone had told me about labour
1. The pain really isn’t that bad: Ok, so I can’t claim that this is true for everyone, but what I can promise is 1. you will forget just how bad it was (although that may take some time) and 2. there are pain relief options out there which can make the whole thing more bearable. Try to remember that no matter how long your labour, the baby has to come out (more often than not through the entrance it went in) and whilst the conception may have been more enjoyable, meeting your baby for the first time beats any orgasm you’ve ever had. You’ll get through it, and chances are you’ll want to do it all over again at some point.
2. There are no prizes for bravery: In case you were in any doubt – your baby is the prize, so if you’re struggling then don’t be a martyr…take the drugs! As soon as you have your little bundle in your arms you won’t care if you did it using nothing but visualisation and belly breathing or if you were numb from the nipples down. If you need help then get it.
3. A lot of “other stuff” comes out too: Mucas plugs, leaking waters, blood, vomit (no one warned me about that one), poo – I’m sorry ladies but labour is a messy business! Bear this in mind when packing your hospital bag – is it really worth splashing out on a cute silk nightie which will more than likely be consigned to the bin? Stick with old, unloved, dark coloured clothing (when things get going you won’t care who sees what) and make sure you have a stash of heavy-duty sanitary towels ready. On that note: postpartum bleeding is a bit of a bitch. I know you’ve had the best part of a year period free but Aunt Flo is back with a vengeance, so look forward to that.
4. You will probably shit yourself: I know you don’t want to think about it, but you might as well just accept it and move on. Good news is you’re unlikely to know it’s happened and won’t give a flying fuck even if you do (although your birth partner may need a stuff drink to recover from that particular visual).
5. It can be boring: For many people, the time from first twinge to babe in arms is more of a marathon than a sprint. Shocking, I know, given how we’ve all seen on TV when expectant mothers go from “I think the baby is coming” through waters breaking, a few huffs (and a token scream) to gushing visitors bringing flowers and grapes all in a matter of hours. Sadly it’s rarely like that (especially not for first timers) so find something to keep you and your partner occupied, particularly in the early stages. Go for a walk, watch a movie, play Sudoku, have a bath… anything to help take your mind off what’s to come.
6. Sometimes it’s a bit surreal: In fact, labour can get downright ridiculous! Things turned a bit crazy for us when, on our 157th lap of the hospital grounds, a particularly gruelling contraction struck as we were metres away from the hospital’s helicopter landing pad. And guess what? A sodding helicopter rocked up. It was like a scene from a 1990s budget action movie: my arms thrown around Tom’s neck as I huffed and groaned through the agony; bracing ourselves against the defeating roar of the chopper blades which caused a tornado around us. The scene was witnessed by a couple of hospital staff, clearly heading home after a long day, their sympathetic gaze reaffirming my own belief that these were less than ideal conditions for birthing a baby. Expect the unexpected (and remember – it will make a good story when it’s over!)
7. Don’t forget your birth partner: Obviously you’re the star, but there will come a point when you really need them. And you need them to be full of vitality and motivational one liners, not a knackered, esurient mess who has made themselves guest of honour at their own pity party. Make sure they’ve fed, hydrated and dressed appropriately (e.g. pool rooms are, on average, the same temperature as the inner levels of Dante’s Inferno) so they can focus all their energy on helping you to the finish line (instead of whinging that they’re missing Eastenders and really want a Snickers bar.)
8. There’s nothing sexy about compression socks: Ok, I’m sure you knew that already, but it never occurred to me that I would have to wear them from the moment I arrived at the hospital until I left. Yet another reason not to fret over buying a pretty nightie do deliver in…no matter what you’re wearing they’re guaranteed to make you look like an OAP.
9. Things don’t always go to plan: No doubt you have visions of how you want your labour to go, but that won’t necessarily be how things turn out. Things might slow down, the baby might need some help, unforeseen issues (such as raised blood pressure) might arise, or maybe you start to feel that floating around in an oversized bath just isn’t cutting the mustard anymore and you need some drugs!! Whatever the situation, when it comes to labour you may want to channel your inner Scout and ‘Be Prepared’…for everything to suddenly change. Yes, you may have spent weeks carefully devising your birth plan (if you’re particularly Type A you might have even gone as far as printing and laminatig copies for your birth partner to ceremoniously hand out to all and sundry on delivery suite) but your baby has neither read or is vaguely interested in your ‘plan’. Think of it more as a birth ‘wishlist’ and remember that the whole experience will be less stressful for all involved if you are ‘prepared’ to go with the flow. (Ref. #6 for evidence of things not included on birth plan.)
10. It be will be the single greatest thing you do in your life: I’ve given birth twice now, under two very different circumstances and with two very different outcomes. But both were the most wonderful thing I have ever experienced. After all the worry, the pain, the expulsion of unidentifiable bodily fluids, the exhaustion, you finally (after months of waiting, hoping, dreaming) get to meet the love of your life. Now what could be better than that?
Worth it? Absolutely.