That was my biggest question and concern going into all this. I had a (what I now realize was irrational) fear that I wouldn’t know I was in labor when the time came, realize too late, not be able to get to the hospital in time, and have to have the baby in my bathtub or some such thing. Shout out to I Didn’t Know I Was Pregnant or whatever that TV show is called for giving me this ridiculous notion. This brings me to point number one in my list of things I wish I knew before giving birth.
1. You Will Get To The Hospital On Time
When imagining my labor, I tended to have a bit of a Hollywood-esque understanding of how it would go. By this I mean that in the movies there tends to be a defining moment where suddenly OH MY GOD HER WATER JUST BROKE SHE’S IN LABOR WHAT DO WE DO THE BABY IS GOING TO FLY OUT ANY MINUTE NOW!!!
First of all, only 15% of women have their water break prior to labor beginning (link). Contrary to what Hollywood thinks, your water breaking is not the end-all-be-all sign that the baby is coming. The breaking of your bag of waters can take place at any point during your labor, including very late in the game when you should already be in the hospital. That being said, if your water does break, GET THEE TO A HOSPITAL, WOMAN! While this is not the defining sign that labor has started, it is the defining sign that you need to get this baby out of you STAT. The breaking of your bag of waters is the opening of the amniotic sac around your baby and essentially means that your uterus is now open to infection. This happened to me, but more on how fun that was later 😉
Back to getting to the hospital on time. Let me explain some logistics: there are 3 stages to labor.
- Early Labor: this is where your cervix dilates up to 3cm. This is the longest/least painful part of labor. Some women are dilated 1 or 2 cm weeks before they actually give birth. I was dilated 1cm like a week or two before giving birth myself. Point is, the first 3 cm aren’t particularly difficult (compared to what comes next)
- Active Labor: During this stage, you will continue dilating up to 7 cm. This is where things start to get real. This is actually where I asked for my epidural, I only made it to 6 cm ☹️ Also, my water broke during this part, which is normal. They had me try and see if I could work through the contractions in the shower, which is where my water broke.
- Transitional Labor: by far the most painful part of labor. Thankfully, in normal labor this is also the shortest part of labor, the max duration is roughly 3 hours, although it can be as short as 15 minutes. This is where you dilate the last few centimeters up to 10 cm.
Only once you have reached 10 cm can you even start to think about pushing.
While I wish I could share with you what that is like, as I mentioned, I ended up asking for an epidural at 6 cm because I couldn’t handle the pain, and from there ended up with a stalled labor and 5 hours later I was having a c-section. The point is, when I got to the hospital at 8:30 am, I was only dilated maybe 3 of 4 cm, and my son was born almost exactly 12 hours later, and this is all with me spending the whole night prior in Early Labor. You’re gonna make it, Momma, don’t worry.
2. You May Initially Mistake Contractions For Gas
Part of the reason I was irrationally afraid that I would not know when I was in labor is because my mother did not know she was in labor initially when she was pregnant with me. She was gardening and just thought she had some bad gas and tried to muscle through it. Eventually she goes inside and realizes that gas pain is coming EXACTLY every 8 minutes and had my dad take her to the hospital etc.
Whelp, in spite of hearing this story several times throughout my life, when my time came to have my baby, I went a whole night before I finally admitted to myself that I could be in labor. My husband and I made a carne asada (aka BBQ) with one of his cousins around 10pm the night before I went to the hospital, and we had beans with our meal, so when I was waking up every 15-8 minutes with what I thought was horrible gas pain, I blamed the beans. You may be shaking your head and wondering how I could be so oblivious, and I would like to just let you know that pregnancy gas pains are THE WORST once your baby is in a certain position in the last trimester.
Additionally, over the course of that evening it eventually occurred to me that these could be contractions or I could at least practice for my contractions by treating them as such. I started to do the breathing that is described in the Lamaze video I watched (more on that later) and downloaded a contractions tracking app (I used THIS ONE) to see if my gas pains were regular enough to not be gas pains. In my ignorant opinion, they were not. Sometimes there was 15 minutes between them, sometimes 8, 3, 20, it was haphazard. They also didn’t seem to be increasing in pain or even maintaining the same level of pain, which is supposed to be another sign that it’s the real deal. My doctor had told me to not call them until my contractions were firmly at every 5 minutes. The way they said it I assumed that real labor contractions were precise enough to set your watch by.
THIS IS NOT THE CASE.
After a whole night of wishing I could sleep, even taking a shower at one point in an attempt to relax enough to maybe pass this gas (yes I realize how oblivious this sounds but I would like to just impress upon you again how horrible pregnant lady gas pains are..), I finally called it quits and got up to start my day when my husband woke up for work around 7. Yes you read that correctly, I was waking up every 15 minutes all night in terrible pain and he slept through it because he is a rock, bless his heart.
Wouldn’t you know it once I committed to being in an upright position my contractions took on a very defined schedule of being every 3-4 minutes! Luckily for me, we live on the premises where my husband works so I just walked downstairs and calmly told my husband to get the car started around 8.
(Me on the way out to the car, in labor, BUT FIRST LET ME TAKE A SELFIE 😅)
At this point the pain still hadn’t increased much, I’m getting less of a break to recover, but it is overall still pretty manageable. I even found myself thinking that if these were what contractions felt like birth was going to be a breeze, God bless my high threshold for pain etc.
Ha. Haha. Hahaha. Boy was I naïve.
3. CONTRACTIONS ARE NO JOKE: A pain management course (such as Lamaze) is therefore highly recommended
Below I have linked the Lamaze Crash Course that I watched in preparation for giving birth. My hospital offered various classes pertaining to childbirth and childcare, however they were like $100 a pop and I am poor, so I resorted to the Interwebs for help.
I will be honest, while the actual breathing exercises she discusses here are really great and really helped me, there are two things that I would like to add:
- Your partner will be of so much more use to you if he has the same pain management knowledge as you. I should have made the hubby watch this too, or even made him go to a real class with me. When the time came, I was truly blessed to have an incredible nurse who helped me through, but my husband, while very supportive, was a little lost as to how to help me. For his own sake, I think next time it might be valuable to include him on any brushing up on pain management I do. I would probably also make a plan with him on how he can help me instead of baptizing the poor man by fire. This time all I did was tell him I didn’t want an epidural or a c-section, and we all know how that turned out. Turns out when your wife is screaming at you in pain it is really hard to stick to a promise you made months ago.
- Don’t close your eyes when you are breathing through a contraction. It actually makes you focus on the pain more. Also, don’t tense up when you are having a contraction. Obviously this is easier said than done, but I found that the more I forced myself to move around, the more I was able to distract myself from the pain. The nurse that was attending me also suggested that I pick a focus point and trace it with my eyes while breathing through a contraction. Frankly, the moving helped me better than the focus point, but I may have had a different opinion of that had I gotten all the way to the transition part of my labor.
4. Be Prepared For Anything
I went into this whole thing pretty firmly set against having an epidural or a c-section — both options kind of scared the pants off of me. I made my husband aware of my wishes, and I told the labor nurse the minute I got to the hospital. I did all the things the internet told me to. Then I found myself, several hours later, in the on suite shower, screaming and begging my husband for an epidural.
When they say labor makes you crazy, they are not joking.
I actually called the anesthesiologist in twice because I tried to rally the first time I asked for the epidural, but I would say an hour or so later I asked the nurse to call him back. The the reason I ended up finally committing to it was a combination of the pain and the fact that I had not slept at all the night prior because I was in labor. In terms of the pain, I remember screaming and punching the walls of the shower, begging my husband for an epidural while he calmly tried to remind me that I had explicitly told him not to let me get an epidural. In terms of the tiredness, I think maybe if I had not been so tired, maybe I would have been able to better work on my pain management techniques? That could also just be the post-partum amnesia talking though 😅 In any event, I think there was a part of my pain addled brain that thought that if I could just get a BREAK from all these contractions, I would be ok.
The thing about epidurals is, you are not allowed to move once it’s administered. Although both my attending doctor and nurse repeatedly assured me that an epidural does not increase the chances of a c-section, I would like to point out that my labor immediately stopped progressing once I got the epidural. I have a sneaking suspicion this is due to the fact that I was no longer moving around, but no one has given me a proper medical explanation, so it will largely remain a mystery to me.
However, as I said, my labor stalled at 6 cm, right after my epidural, and my contractions eventually even stopped. fast forward to 5 hours later, they try to restart my contractions, only to find that my cervix still won’t dilate. This leads to the c-section question. By this time, my bag of waters has been broken for some time, which means that I was open to infection (I ended up getting an infection anyways, more on how fun that was in the next bullet). Although my doctor did not force me into this c-section, she did make sure that I knew that we were getting into a zone where normal labor did not seem to be working. More importantly, my epidural was wearing off, so I could feel my contractions in one side of my abdomen, but I could not get up and move to do pain management like I could before because you’re not allowed to move with an epidural!
The problem for me was, since I did not want/plan to have an epidural/c-section, I had done virtually no research on either procedure. I didn’t even know until that moment that an epidural could lose effectiveness! All of my prior knowledge was picked up by chance idly flipping through What to Expect When You’re Expecting one time. This did not serve me well not only because I did not know what I was getting myself into, but also because I had done zero mental preparation for this moment.
Fun fact: you have to enter the operating room alone.
They prepped me in my room, put me on a gurney, rolled me to the operating room, transferred me to the operating table, and hooked me up to a stronger epidural-type-thing. My husband was not allowed to accompany me because it is standard operating procedure to “set” the room before allowing the birth partner in.
Fun fact: I almost had a panic attack when they rolled me in.
Tears pricked my eyes, I had to focus on breathing, and I had to remind myself that my baby would be worth whatever happens to me. I put everything in God’s hands, and as one of the nurses started asking me about vaccinations, etc, my husband walked in dressed in full scrubs. It was so adorable/funny I immediately felt just a little less scared. That being said, I probably could have saved myself some palpitations by mentally preparing myself for this potential situation prior to giving birth.
5. It’s Not Always Over When It’s Over
So my son was born.
I cried probably more than he did when I heard his first little squalls.
Like literally the nurse asked me if I was ok.
Her job is to take care of women hearing their baby’s first cries every day, and she still thought I was being so hysterical that she was worried there was something wrong with me 😅
They did not initially put my baby on me because I think I fainted/was high as a kite, but when they finally did, my little chubber tried to nurse my nose 😍 I will spare you the picture taken of me at this point but I am clearly super out of it 😅
So we eventually get processed into a room, they have a pull out cot for my husband, and we proceed to spend our postpartum evening in the hospital. Everything is blissful. We made a baby! Everybody is healthy! Visitors come the next day to observe our bliss. Sometime in the afternoon I develop a fever and the visitors are asked to leave.
By that evening I am delirious, hearing the nurses tell me things that they are not saying, and generally a hot mess.
Turns out I had gotten an infection in my uterus from having my water break and then not delivering for many hours/possibly from the c-section.
They give me antibiotics, I respond spectacularly, and am actually allowed to be released on schedule. I get home, and aside from having an anxious first 24 hours at home waiting for my milk to come in, I respond to everything very well. My doctor says at my first postpartum check-up that my stitches have healed perfectly. I figure I’m blessed and try to focus on getting back to normal.
Then, my stitches got infected. Turns out, while the stitches had healed on the surface, they had not healed internally, leading to a build-up of pus and general icky-ness. What followed was two weeks of me having to go to the hospital EVERY DAY to get IV antibiotics. By the grace of God, my husband had been given two weeks of paternity leave (bless that woman!), so he was able to take me and the baby to the hospital for most of that. frequently I would be nursing Aaron with one arm while the other was hooked up to an IV. It was horrible, but oozing pus from my c-section was definitely worse. They ended up having to re-open it and pack it with gauze. A nurse had to come to my house EVERY DAY for roughly a month to re-pack it until everything healed up properly.
And yet, even with all of that, it was so worth it.