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What I Wish I Knew Before Labor and Delivery

By Erin Ollila

If you’re a first-time parent, you have likely spent time reading pregnancy books and blogs, going to prenatal classes, and even potentially watching clips of real births online. Though, as your friends and family are probably telling you, you won’t know what labor and delivery is like until you experience it for yourself. That doesn’t mean you can’t educate yourself to get prepared. You should!

Here’s what five real moms wish they knew before heading into the delivery room.

You May Act Differently than You Imagined

As you mentally prepare for childbirth, most women will imagine the type of person they will be in the birth room. For me, I expected both fear and determination to fuel me through the event. However, the way you think you’ll act during labor and delivery isn’t always what happens. Quite a few women who we spoke to for this article mentioned that they were surprised how they acted or behaved during the process.

“I wish I would have known everything I assumed about myself as a laboring woman would (or could be) be different,” says Jaclyn Curtis, mother of soon-to-be-three children. She continues, “I hated being touched or verbally supported by my husband. I was completely naked. I made noises I didn’t think could come out of a human. I didn’t like walking around. I ended up birthing on my back. I let the nurse take my baby for a couple hours so I could sleep. I thought a lot about my labor and none of those things I would have seen myself doing.”

Your Body May Involuntarily Shake

“I wish I knew that shaking during labor is common,” says Arlene Soto, a mom of three. “No one assured me that it was normal. It was so weird and involuntary!”

While not all women experience this, it’s actually a common occurrence caused by hormone shifts during labor and can continue for a brief time after delivery. Movement can range from a light shiver to more severe full-body shaking.

In an article for Parents, Desiree Bley, MD, OB-GYN at Providence Hospital in Portland, says, “"Labor shakes are related to hormone shifts, adrenaline response and temperature. We’re all different so some women get them and some don’t. I had a patient who bit her tongue because her teeth were chattering so hard.”

Honestly: Anything Can Happen

Of course, we’re all smart enough to go into labor and delivery knowing that anything can happen. However, we’re also taught to take charge of what we want from the event. Birthing classes will often discuss birth plans, and more and more women are showing up to the hospital with a written plan on how they’d like to proceed with the birthing. This may include whether or not they’d like medical interventions for pain, if they’d like to labor in positions other than their backs, and who is allowed in the room as their support team. But yet, so much can change all those carefully thought out plans.

“I wish I had known that a lot can go wrong with labor and delivery and to be flexible,” says Jen Malia, mom of three. She continues, “I had no specific birth plan in mind with any of my pregnancies. I knew that I needed to give birth in hospitals with doctors and life-saving medical equipment around. I trusted the hospitals where I delivered to be able to handle whatever came up, and luckily for me and my three babies, they did.”

C-Sections Are Not a Bad Thing

Let me tell you a secret that I’ve never admitted before this: when I was pregnant for the first time and reading books on pregnancy, labor, and delivery, I skipped the chapter on cesarean sections thinking that I could will a vaginal delivery by the power of intention. Why bother learning about C-sections when you don’t plan on having one, right?

Wrong. I ended up with a cesarean for both births, and I’m grateful for both experiences, even if I had previously wanted to avoid them at all costs

“I think C-sections get a bad rap,” says Jenny Lane, mom of one. She continues, “I was so scared to have one, and honestly, after 36 hours of labor, it was a huge relief. Also, the recovery from the C-section was, for me, a lot easier than I thought it would be and it was definitely easier than my uncomfortable and complicated pregnancy.”

When I was pregnant for my second, as much as I seriously considered whether or not I wanted a vaginal birth after cesarean (VBAC), I was calmed by learning that a C-section was my only option for my second delivery. I had already experienced it before, so the fear of the unknown was gone, and it also removed my anxiety of not knowing when baby would make her appearance.

Bottom line: if you need an emergency or planned C-section, you can still have a lovely birth experience.

Inductions Aren’t Necessarily Quick

Quite often, a medical induction is needed to begin the labor process, and even though they are supposed to kickstart things, that doesn’t mean the process will be any quicker. In fact, it might even create a longer labor.

When asked what she wished she knew in advance, mom of one, Jordan Rosenfeld, says, “That pitocin to induce labor doesn't mean your labor will go any quicker, and that, in fact, it can make contractions more painful—not like that's an easy thing to measure.”

Does this mean you should avoid an induction? Not necessarily. Plainly: if you don’t need one, you won’t have to have one. However, if for some reason your physician wants to induce labor, they are recommending it for an important reason, likely because you or your baby medically needs it.

Just remember one thing; your experience may be different from everyone else. Go into labor and delivery with an open mind and one goal in site: a safe experience that ends with a happy baby at the end.

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