11 things I really wish I had known about labour
I was your stereotypical pregnant girl on her first pregnancy.
A total cliché. Days and nights were spent pouring over the pregnancy books, the week-by-week pregnancy guides on websites – that's when I wasn't running to a pregnancy yoga class, or a one-on-one session with my hypnobirth instructor!
I did it all, read it all, was consumed by my growing bump, and it was a glorious time of self-indulgence (and eating ALL of the cakes, let's be honest). I had the 'perfect' birth planned, a calming playlist to listen to in between contractions, a TENS machine, a spray can of water for my face, and the cutest little nightie to birth in. It was all going to go swimmingly.
And it did. In that, no labour is easy (hence the name), but the baby came out safe and sound, and I survived. Which is all that matters in the grand scheme of things. But afterwards it struck me, birthing was not the Pinterest-perfect process the books and websites had led me to believe – I realised I had planned it all out in my head and as a result, I put myself under way too much pressure to have this 'perfect birth experience'.
So, if I could tell previous self some advice, it would be:
1. Don't plan your 'ideal' labour
Labour doesn't go according to anyone's plan. That's mother nature for you. It's okay to have preferences for different things you would like to happen, but by planning it out too perfectly, you might end up disappointed.
2. The doctors and nurses aren't really that bothered with the non-medical aspects on your 'birth plan'
From what I experienced, they've got their own plan: to look after you and your baby and make sure the baby comes out safely. End of. So leave them to it*
3. Your body is taken over
If you've never experienced a contraction, it's like something sweeps in momentarily to take over your entire body and it's hard to control it. Once the contractions are in full swing, they come quickly, so the only thing you do have control over is how you deal with them. The more relaxed and open you are to the contractions mentally, the better your body will respond to the contractions physically. The power of the mind should not be underestimated when it comes to labour.
4. The midwives are super-human
They are kind in a way that you don't often come across in everyday modern life. They really understand labour is not an easy process, and they make you feel like you are the only person who has ever given birth. They are also hugely overworked and should be given a medal every single day!
5. That no matter how many books you read, you will never be prepared
I couldn't have been more prepared, I was ready to walk the halls of the hospital, to bounce up and down gently on my birthing ball while listening to my amazingly calming hypnobirthing CDs (which were a Godsend). But in the end, I had to be monitored for the whole labour so didn't get to do any of those fancy labour positions I had envisaged. That was unforeseen but I had never thought it would go that way, the CDs and midwives got me through, but I wish I had mentally prepared for that part.
6. Euphoria is coming
If I had known the joy that was to come, I would have found labour easier (which I did on my second baby). The feeling when baby arrives is almost indescribable – a gut-wrenching feeling of relief mixed with an overarching sense of love. NO amount of drugs or alcohol or sex can give you this feeling. It is hands-down the most special few moments of your life.
7. You don't have to birth naturally to give birth
So many women who end up having C-Sections feel guilty – they tell us so on the site all the time – imagined peer pressure and over-reading natural birthing books can do this. At the end of the day, it really doesn't matter what way the baby comes out as long as it's safe! Friends who have had both C-Sections and birthed 'naturally' say both recovery times were different, but neither was harder than the other.
8. If you want an epidural, then get an epidural!
On my first labour, I had this bizarre preconceived notion that getting one was a failing of some sorts – that it was a bad thing to ask for drugs while in labour – an admittance that I wasn't up for what my body was supposed to be able to do. It was, I grew a baby for ten months, but it's hard to push a watermelon down a narrow canal! I thought not asking for drugs was like a badge of honour and my only regret was not asking for it sooner as I lay strapped to a bed for ten hours. The help is there; if you need it, take it. If you think you can do it without the drugs, then go for it. But never feel that it is a failing to ask for help.
9. That those long, slow breaths and visualisation would get me through the labour as focussed as possible
The yoga teacher told me to visualise a long twirling ribbon coming out of my mouth and across the room and to close my eyes when a contraction was coming on, to breathe in long and deep and then slowly let the breathe out as I imagined the ribbon flowing across the room. She said think 'RE' when you breathe in, and 'LAX' when you breathe out. I did this for both of my labours and it worked brilliantly to keep me focused and as relaxed as possible! I've told so many people this method and they have thanked me after – you don't always need to do a full course in something to get the best tricks!
10. That your first meal after labour...
... is the best meal of your life. Even if it is tea and toast! (or Eddie Rockets burger and chips that I sent my husband to get on my second labour!).
11. You will forget the hard parts
It was a fleeting moment in your life – it was tough and it didn't feel like a fleeting moment at the time – but you forget about it and you'd do it all again in a flash. Your body was made to be able to do this, and labour is only a tiny part of the entire process of becoming a parent – you can do it!
*Please note I would never advocate NOT writing a Birth Plan. I believe in writing Birth Plans, especially to get things straight in your own mind as to how you foresee the labour. I wrote one for both my labours. Specifying to your midwife and doctor what your medical preferences are, is hugely important. I am referring to things in your birth plan like dimmed lights, candles, and music and the non-medical aspects in the labour ward, that don't necessarily concern your safety and the safety of your baby. From my personal experiences, these aspects in both my labours were ignored, and I had put emphasis on these things being imperative to a calm labour, and after complications, I was disappointed afterwards. I feel it is beneficial not to sugar-coat what might happen when you're in labour, so you don't dwell on things you feel are important, that might not be a priority for the staff when you're there.