“Mazel tov!” everyone screeched when they found out I was pregnant. Of course they did. I was married to a good man, owned my home, had a secure job, and was now “with child.” Was there any other appropriate reaction?
I took my role as a mom-to-be seriously. I read all the pregnancy/parenting guidebooks, started prenatal yoga, and managed a calendar of doctor appointments. Lucky for me, aside from occasional moodiness and nausea, my pregnancy was pretty uneventful from beginning to end.
But my labor and delivery were a totally different story. NOTHING was as expected. Here’s what no one told me about childbirth and what I wish they had. Hopefully some of it will help you, too.
1. When your water “breaks,” it may just leak. Possibly for days
My labor started with my water breaking at 6:00 a.m. the day before I was due. I had read that labor can last a very long time so, at onset, you should go for a walk, take a bath, or do something distracting or comforting.
But nobody mentioned that, after your water breaks, you may continue to leak until the baby is born — making none of these distractions a possibility. In the movies, a woman’s water breaks in one glorious burst, she freaks out with excitement, and they rush her to the hospital where the baby pops out. I now know that this is a highly glorified scenario.
I leaked until I had my son at 8:08 p.m. – 26 hours after my water broke.
2. Epidurals don’t come with guarantees
I’m not big on pain, so getting an epidural was literally at the top of the list on my “birth plan.” When I arrived at the hospital, I insisted on getting one as soon as possible. I had heard that they don’t hurt baby, they successfully minimize pain, and were extremely low risk. What could go wrong?
Well, in my case, the anesthesiologist “missed” the first time, so I was still able to feel every contraction. Then I started having “the shakes” — a term that no one had mentioned prior to that moment — which I later learned, thanks to Google, was my body’s natural reaction to the hormone/adrenaline cocktail I was served.
That made administering the epidural the second time particularly challenging. I briefly passed out and awoke to a host of medical professionals playing with wires, monitors and my IV, trying to revive me. But, hey, at least the pain was gone.
3. The term “birth plan” should probably be abolished.
When it was finally time for me to start pushing, I found myself wearing an oxygen mask, thanks to the events detailed above. I was weak and tired. I hadn’t eaten in over 25 hours. The doctor told me we could speed up the process with an episiotomy. My birth plan clearly said “NO EPISIOTOMY,” but nothing mattered at that point.
I told him to do whatever he needed to do, because I was done. So much for the birth plan.
And when my baby was born, they immediately took him away to be cleaned, weighed, and measured — as per my request from months ago — which I immediately regretted. I now know that some skin-to-skin contact right after birth nourishes both baby and mom.
4. There are physical symptoms that happen post-childbirth, too.
None of the pregnancy guidebooks I’d read included a chapter on the physical symptoms of the post-childbirth experience. For me, these included a freezing cold that would take over my body, uncontrollable shaking, and general confusion. At one point, my teeth were chattering so hard the nurses gave me a mouth guard to protect my teeth. They later wrapped my body is several heating blankets coated with aluminum — I felt like a burrito.
5. Facebook posts don’t tell the whole story.
I was so disillusioned right after having my baby. Wasn’t I supposed to feel ecstatic, over the moon, and “so in love already” — as the all the books and Facebook posts of so many others suggested? But I wasn’t feeling any of these. Instead, I felt… detached. I experienced tremendous guilt over this. I looked at this most perfect baby with a head of dark hair and thought: I have NO idea what I’m doing.
6. Adjusting to life with baby takes time.
As the days went by, my husband and I slowly adjusted to life as a threesome. At first, we dragged baby Jacob to work events and social gatherings. But later, we offered to host dinner parties at our home as much as possible — we found it easier to have people come to us. No guidebook taught us that, but, like so many other things, we eventually figured it out.
7. Practice makes progress.
I learned a lot from the experience of having my first child, and I made many adjustments accordingly when I got pregnant with my second. My experience was my teacher. I now recognize that the “one size fits all” pregnancy and parenting guidebooks had never been of great use to me. The answers were always inside me — and they are inside you, too.