Note: This post is about my own experience of childbirth. It is not meant to imply that your experience or the experience you hope to have is somehow false or not valid. But by sharing my own experience, I hope it will help with the problem of unreasonable expectations, especially for first timers. I wish I had known some of this stuff going into it.
Also, this post is not about food or cooking. Sorry. But I promise not to share any of the really gross details, either, for those of you who are squeamish.
I never really bought into the idea that childbirth would be a spiritual or a transcendent experience, as I had read in so many books while I was pregnant. I didn’t make a birth plan to ensure that my birthing experience went just so, either. I knew, intellectually, that there would be pain, although this was a very abstract (and frightening) concept beforehand. I didn’t have many expectations, all in all. But I wasn’t prepared for what it actually was like either.
The most surprising thing about it was how physical the whole thing was. Perhaps this wouldn’t come as a surprise to an athlete, but I am no athlete, and giving birth was probably the most physical thing I have ever done. Forget any notions of meditation or chanting or channeling my inner goddess. Also forget things like passing the time with cards or even on the computer (the hospital had free wi-fi!). Once the process started up, my body was the only thing I could focus on. Anything else was a joke.
In retrospect, I’m glad I didn’t fixate on planning out exactly how my birthing experience would go or try to elevate its meaning with any kind of ceremony. Once the contractions got intense, which happened very quickly, all such plans would have been thrown out the window. Since I had complications that I couldn’t have anticipated, I’m extremely glad I was in a hospital with a doctor, rather than at home or in a birthing center. The place where I gave birth didn’t end up mattering all that much. Being in a hospital room didn’t lessen the experience at all. It didn’t take away from the enormity of what I was doing. Things like the setting and the birth plan really are just window dressing, actually.
Here are a few things I wish I had known beforehand, though:
I wish I had known to get the epidural earlier. I held out until the pain was completely unbearable. I really should have asked for it when things started to get very intense. But I’m very glad I got it, even though it may have been a little late in the process. I am convinced that without it, I wouldn’t have been able to push for so long and would have had to have an emergency C-section.
I wish I had known to use a focal point during pushing. It took me a long time to figure out that I was a much better pusher when I was focusing on some object. This should be something they teach in birthing classes. I finally figured out that I should focus on the fetal monitor strapped to my stomach, and once I started doing that, my efforts were much more effective. I also got feedback because I could see the monitor rise on my abdomen as I pushed — the higher it rose, the better I was pushing.
I wish I had known that I didn’t have to be lying flat on my back to push. The first-shift nurse either had me lying on my back and doing what amounted to an abdominal crunch to push, which pretty much exhausted me, or lying on my side, which just didn’t work. When the second-shift nurse came in, she set up this bar like on a ski lift car and had me sit up and hold on to that to push. That was much easier and more comfortable than lying down. I made more progress in the hour or so I used that bar than I had in the whole previous two hours of pushing. (In case you’re wondering, I ended up pushing for about four hours!) If I had known I had alternatives, I would have asked about them much sooner.
Even though giving birth wasn’t such a spiritual event for me, it was a transformative event. I proved to myself that I was stronger and my body was tougher than I ever gave myself credit for. Sometime during all the pushing, I decided I didn’t want to have a C-section, and I learned that my will and my motivation are greater than I ever thought, enough to overcome pain and utter physical exhaustion. These are good things to know about myself. I feel much more equipped to tackle daily life now. Compared to giving birth, everything else is easy.
And I’d say the end result was worth it!
P.S. My husband was a super coach and helped me more during the whole ordeal than he’ll ever know. I didn’t even yell at him one time (that I can recall). He’s the best!