After recently listening to a girl who was pregnant with her first child share her anxiety about her upcoming childbirth, I was inspired to quickly jot down important things I learned from my own experience. While I read the books and took the classes, there were still some things I didn’t think about until after I checked in. Also, several of the things I was anxious about turned out to be quite trivial in hindsight. First of all, allow me to say that my labor story is unique. Every woman experiences childbirth differently. The pain might be different for some than others. Some people have beautiful stories. Some have very sad (though still beautiful) stories. Some have hilariously awkward stories. This advice is based only on my own experience, although I’ve had many conversations with other women who have agreed. If you’re a dude, you have my permission to keep reading. I would even suggest doing so if your lady is with child, but this is your warning. Things are about to get very, very honest.
1. DON’T WAIT-People will tell you to wait. Doctors want your contractions to be a certain number of minutes apart and last a certain amount of time before you come in. I went in way sooner than some people would say I should have and I have no regrets. I felt safe. I knew that I was going to get the care I needed when I needed it. I was quite happy to wait 14 hours to have a baby in a place where people were monitoring him and me constantly. Keep in mind that with your first baby, your labor will usually last longer. You will have plenty of time. It is rare for you to suddenly have a contraction and then a baby an hour later. Don’t panic. Someone will be able to take you to the hospital quite quickly and you will probably check in and wait for a very, very, long time before anything happens. When I went to the hospital, I was almost positive I wasn’t actually in labor. I felt stupid. I knew they were going to send me home. They didn’t. I was in labor. I had no pain at all. Just a little bleeding and some painless contractions that felt like Braxton Hicks. It might have been awkward if I hadn’t been in labor, but I’d rather a false alarm than not being in the right place at the right time. Don’t wait. If you feel like you might be in labor, go in and find out. It’s worth the risk of embarrassment for peace of mind.
2. EAT-I had been told by my friends to eat a HUGE meal before going to the hospital because once you’re there, you aren’t allowed to have a single bite. I ate something before we went. A pop tart maybe? I don’t remember. Whatever it was, it was not enough. I wasn’t allowed to eat for 15 hours. My wonderful family decided to bring Chick-fil-a and eat it in front of me while I was in labor. STUFF YOUR FACE WITH ALL THE FOOD YOU HAVE UNTIL YOU CAN NO LONGER MOVE. I mean it. Then, eat some more on the way to the hospital.
3.GET AN EPIDURAL ASAP-If you’ve decided not to get an epidural, I support you and your decision and have no advice for you whatsoever. Also, I think you’re crazy. If you are getting one, get it ASAP. The nurse will tell you to let her know when you think you need your epidural. Some women have said that they feel like the nurse is encouraging them to wait until they’re in pain. Not me. I asked for it immediately, and why not? The sooner the better. Also, I remember being fearful of the epidural before I checked in. It’s very strange. Once you’re admitted, you kind of go into a haze. I’ve heard others say the same thing. You aren’t really focused on what’s to come. You are very much in the present moment. It is very surreal. Once it was epidural time, I wasn’t nervous at all. It didn’t feel good, but it wasn’t the terrifying experience I thought it would be. I actually remember feeling very connected to my husband during it because he helped hold me still. I remember thinking, Aw! He’s doing so good holding me still. Seriously.
4. TAKE ALL THE DRUGS-Ask for more drugs every time you feel anything. The nurse anesthetist is the one who has to administer the meds. When you ask for more meds, you have to wait for him or her to finish doing whatever it is they are doing and walk all the way to your room. They are probably quite busy with other patients. They make too much money to be the anesthetist for only one person. They have things to do. I always asked for meds before I hurt. By the time she got to my room, I was starting to hurt. Many women wait until they are in pretty substantial pain to ask for meds and by the time the NA gets there, it is excruciating. Ask for drugs. All the time. Trust me.
5. PUSHING IS THE BEST PART-Don’t worry about pushing. Pushing is the best. It is what I was most afraid of. How is that giant baby head going to come out of there? Listen to your doctor and nurses. They will tell you to relax your jaw. They will coach you when to breathe. They will count the amount of seconds you are to push and relax. I closed my eyes and did everything they told me. They know what they are talking about. Pushing doesn’t hurt. Pushing is a relief. As Danielle Finch put it the other day, “You have mommy power.” It’s amazing. I pushed Jack out in 45 minutes and it seriously only felt like five. You go into this zone of concentration and strength and then, your baby arrives. Just like that.
6. IBUPROFEN AND COLACE-For some very strange reason, my doctor’s orders did not have medications scheduled post-partum. It was all “as needed”. Listen closely, friend. Tell your nurse that every time you can have Ibuprofen and Colace, you want it. Then, when you go home, continue taking it for a few days. Ibuprofen is not just for pain, it is also for inflammation. You can imagine after just pushing a human being out of your hoo-ha, that there might be some swelling going on. The Colace is a stool softener. It helps you poop. I’m not going to elaborate. I think you can figure it out. Please, take it. It makes things go so much smoother. Literally.
7. FOCUS ON YOURSELF-Because I had never had a baby, I didn’t realize that I wasn’t supposed to feel as awful as I did. I didn’t want to seem like a whiny patient, so I didn’t complain to my nurses and CNAs that I felt terrible. I passed out several times after I had Jack and felt like I had been hit by a truck. While it is normal to be exhausted after labor, to feel like you can’t even get up to go to the bathroom is not good. You need to let your nurse know if you feel awful and ask her to tell your doctor. In my case, I had extremely low hemoglobin(iron levels). It took several days for me to finally go back to the doctor. I waited until I was swollen and short of breath. That is not a good idea. If you feel worse than you think you should, tell your doctor. Ask him to check your levels. If you aren’t comfortable with this, ask your husband, mother, sister, doula, whoever to do it for you. That’s what a support team is for.
8. TAKE CARE OF YOUR GIRL PARTS- If you want your lady parts back to normal as quickly as possible, there are a few things I’d like to recommend. Every single time you go to the bathroom, use that weird spray bottle thing in the bathroom to keep things clean. The hospital will give you a bottle that you can take home. They will also give you this weird ass mesh underwear and giant diaper pads. To feel more like an adult when you get home, have these ready: It also helps to line these overnight pads with Tucks. They are little pads soaked in witch hazel which is good for inflammation. You will only need them a few days. When I was in the hospital, I saw this tube sitting on the counter: I didn’t understand why I would need anti-itch cream so I didn’t use it. When I got home, I started having some pretty achy lady parts. I tried the cream. IT WAS LIKE AN ANGEL CAME DOWN FROM HEAVEN AND HEALED MY HOO-HA. Please, please, please use this cream. Every time you go potty. It’s seriously amazing.
8. PAY ATTENTION TO YOUR EMOTIONS- I was very cautious about paying attention to signs of post-partum depression since depression runs in my family. Fortunately for me, I dodged that bullet. Post-partum depression is very common and nothing to be embarrassed about. With all the hormones rushing through your body and the trauma your body has gone through, it is important to notice if you aren’t feeling like yourself. Talk to your family and support system about noticing the signs also. They might need to notify your doctor for you if you aren’t able.
Having a baby used to be one of the things I feared most in life. I had always wanted children, but fantasized about the terror of childbirth. Until you experience it for yourself, you really can’t completely understand. I hope, however, that you take comfort in knowing that many women agree: It really isn’t that bad-well-if you get an epidural.