I’ve had two vaginal deliveries so far and I’m about to have my third baby. Here’s what labor was like for me and what I’ve learned in the process.
It can be difficult to know when you’re in true labor. You can have Braxton Hicks contractions, which are fake contractions that can start around mid-pregnancy, but they don’t mean you’re going into real labor anytime soon. They can even become so regular and uncomfortable that you might think you’re in labor but you’re actually not. You can also have real contractions and not realize it immediately. With my first baby, contractions were painful right away so I knew it was real labor. With my second, however, my contractions weren’t very painful until I was further along, so it’s not necessarily common sense.
Your water doesn’t always break right away. We’ve all seen movies when a pregnant woman‘s water breaks and then she’s suddenly racing to the hospital. It’s very dramatic, but it’s not always the first sign of labor. In both of my two previous deliveries, for example, the doctor had to manually break my water when I was already well into labor. The laboring process is very different from what you see on TV.
Labor can be pretty boring. This is another thing that movies and TV shows get wrong. It’s usually a few minutes of screaming followed by a couple of pushes and the baby is out. In reality, labor can go on for days and pushing can take an hour or multiple hours. A lot of your time may be spent sitting around waiting for your body to progress (unless your labor is really fast), and if you have an epidural, you might even get the chance to sleep through some of it.
Contractions feel slightly different for each woman. Contractions typically feel like the worst period cramps you’ve ever had in your life combined with severe gas pains. They can also cause horrible back pain if you’re having back labor. It’s sometimes caused by the baby being turned towards the mother’s back, so she feels all the pressure in the back instead of in the front. Each woman feels the pain of contractions uniquely.
It doesn’t always have to hurt. I’m not going to lie—without pain medication or an epidural, contractions hurt a lot. With my first child, I didn’t get an epidural basically until I was ready to start pushing, so I felt almost everything and was in extreme pain. With my second, I got an epidural early and felt no pain at all for the rest of my labor and delivery. It was wonderful.
Pushing feels like having the biggest bowel movement of your life. You know you’re ready to push the baby out when you feel like you have to take a giant poop. And yes, you may poop during it because you’re putting lots of pressure on that area—it’s kinda bound to happen, but the nurses and doctors don’t care, trust me. They’ve seen it all.
Epidurals don’t always work perfectly. An epidural is a nerve blocker that’s given via a catheter inserted in your spine. It gives a steady stream of medicine to numb the nerves. It’s not always so simple, though. Sometimes one side of your body will go numb but you can still feel the other side. Other times the epidural doesn’t work at all. The doctor can redo the insertion or move the catheter around to fix it, but it’s not a guarantee. It’s worth noting that the effectiveness of the epidural usually has nothing to do with the skill level of the doctor. It depends more on your anatomy and the way your body reacts.
Your experience depends more on the nurses than your doctor. Your doctor will probably be in the room for a few minutes at a time just to check on you. The doctor is really only there to catch the baby and to stitch you up afterward if need be. You’ll spend much more time with the nurses, so the type of nurses you have can make or break the experience. For example, in my first labor, one of my nurses was extremely rude and didn’t believe that I was progressing fast so she was rolling her eyes until I insisted they check me. Good thing I stood my ground because I was further along than they thought and I could’ve missed my chance to get an epidural. Phew! During my second labor, I had the most wonderful nurse and the experience was much better even though my labor was a bit longer.
Labor doesn’t necessarily get easier with each pregnancy. Everyone assumes that each time you have a baby, labor will get easier and easier, but sometimes that’s just not the case. A friend of mine had longer and longer labors with each of her three pregnancies. For me, my second labor was also longer than my first. Each labor is unique and sometimes generalizations don’t apply.
Labor can be vastly different each pregnancy and for each person. You can never predict how your labor is going to go no matter how well you feel you know your body, and you can’t control everything. Unexpected things happen, and it doesn’t always go as planned. You have to be willing to be flexible, and can’t be upset if you can’t have everything the way you want it. You can get lucky and have it go exactly as you plan, but you really never know.
You forget anything negative when you finally hold your baby. There’s no more pain, just blissful contentment when you get to meet your child. There’s no other feeling like it in the world. It’s definitely an out of body experience and a memory that gets imprinted in your brain forever.
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