EVERYTHING YOU [DIDN'T] WANT TO KNOW ABOUT CHILDBIRTH (PART I)
I'd seen the childbirth videos in health class. I read blog post after blog post: What No One Tells You About Giving Birth. I read (and watched) What to Expect When You're Expecting. I watched online birthing classes.
But the truth is, I still had no idea what I was about to experience when I gave birth vaginally for the first time...
[Because it's never going to go exactly how you imagine.]
Yes, you and your vag are about to face some harsh realities that nothing, (not even this blog post), can totally prepare you for.
So even though this was my second child, I'd never experienced labor, contractions, or vaginal birth.
AND I FELT LIKE I HAD DODGED A BULLET.
I've always been terrified of giving birth vaginally. I'm a private person. I'm not one to "let it all hang out". My own vagina makes me uncomfortable. SAYING the word *whispers* "Vagina" makes me uncomfortable. I avoid that area as much as possible while still maintaining basic hygiene. Every appointment in which my lady doctor has to check me between the meat curtains consists of her having to tell me to "relax" about 15 times.
So childbirth is probably right up my alley. [It's not]
And if you are anything like me, I'm here to tell you - You are not going to like what's coming (both in this post and in actual pregnancy and childbirth).
For those of you who don't know:
Your lady bits are literally in the spotlight. I mean this is kind of a no-brainer, but still. It's a little bit of a shocker when you're lying there, legs spread wide, and the doctor comes in, flips a switch, and literal giant spotlights drop down from the ceiling.
Spoiler alert: they're not there for a local production of Annie.
I mean, it's kind of a big day for your vagina. There is a lot of exposure and people hanging around in your business. I mean, I don't like meeting new people under normal circumstances, let alone when your first few conversations have them getting more eye contact with your crotch than with your actual face. And for anyone like me who enjoys physical boundaries, I'm here to tell you that you're not just meeting a new person that self-identifies as a "hugger", but more someone whose all five fingers are "huggers" and apparently your little Lady V looks like she could use a hug, or two, or seventeen.
[It just so happened that my nurse was training another nurse that morning. So every time they came to check my cervix, I got checked twice. TWICE! ]
I should probably mention that I was 37 weeks pregnant and had to have a scheduled induction. (You can read the full, less graphic, story here.) Which meant that once again, I did not go into labor naturally. I was only dilated to a 3 and having very small contractions when we arrived at the hospital.
My doctor had explained previously that if I arrived and was dilated at less than a 5, she would mechanically dilate me.
She explained how she would insert a foley balloon inside my cervix and then inflate it. Within an hour (usually) the balloon would expand the cervix until it reached a 5, at which point it would fall out on it's own. It didn't sound great, admittedly, but I figured it wasn't a big deal and she made it sound like a real breeze.
[ L I E S ]
She inserted the balloon and skipped town, (she was only 15 minutes away at her office, but I'm feeling dramatic, so tomato, tomahto) and I was left leaning over the side of the hospital bed with a very foreign, ever expanding, object inside my body, attached to a liter (A LITER!) of fluid that dangled from between my legs, encouraging that balloon to fill and drop. I don't know what I was picturing when my doctor explained this process to me, BUT IT WASN'T THIS.
[It was at this point that I decided I wanted to die.]
My contractions were getting stronger and closer together and, as if those weren't painful enough, this foley contraption was the most uncomfortable medical procedure I've ever experienced. It felt like someone was trying the old "drop the toaster" trick. Only instead of a loose tooth it was vital organs, and instead of a toaster, it was an anvil sized bag of fluid tugging on my insides through my tiny lady hole.
[I'M. NOT. EXAGGERATING. PEOPLE.]
It was uncomfortable. (#understatement)
All I could think was WHY IN THE ACTUAL HELL DID I DECIDE TO PUT MYSELF THROUGH THIS?
And then there are the contractions. :)
...And all the women who have ever given birth were NOT LYING. Contractions are the literal worst. [I'm not being dramatic.] They hurt. You will want to scream, and then pass out, and then wish you were dead. #fulldisclosure
THAT'S HOW BAD THEY HURT.
Many women describe them differently. It's hard to explain and you can't really imagine until you've gone through it yourself.
Common comparisons include (but are not limited to):
It feels like menstrual cramps. Times a thousand. 😵😖
It feels like holding in a big poop. But worse. 😣 💩
It feels like a lot of pressure (the 'semi-truck parked on your uterus' amount) 🚚 😖
It feels like your insides are being squeezed (by a boa constrictor) 🐍 😵
It is as bad as they make it look on TV.
[Like I was done.]
Close the curtains. (Literally).
WE'RE DONE HERE.
And then I got an epidural.
🌞🌈 🦄 🙌
If you're here to find out what natural, unmedicated childbirth feels like, I can't help you. I don't think I would have lived to tell the tale anyway.
I took the path with the drugs.
So if you want to know what that's like, keep reading.
Short version: ↓
[They were great.]
Thanks to the Pitocin (a synthetic version of the hormone Oxytocin which is responsible for telling your body to start contractions) they had given me, I was starting to have contractions about every minute and a half (Pitocin can also cause contractions to come closer together and be more intense) and they. were. starting. to. hurt.
It was getting to the point where I couldn't talk or focus on anything but the contraction itself. It felt like as soon as I recovered from one, another would start. My husband's fingers were starting to feel it and so was I.
We didn't know how quickly I would progress but they told me there was a good chance it could take all day so I decided to go for the epidural.
PSA 📢 : The whole epidural procedure takes around 20 minutes and it takes about 15-20 minutes after that for the pain relief to kick in AND usually is only administered once the patient has had at least 1-2 liters of IV fluids... so it's not something you want to postpone for too long if you know you want it.
Basically the anesthesiologist comes in and inserts a supersized needle in the epidural space in your back while you lean forward or lie on your side.
[This is a really good time to have a support person around. So you can break their fingers as said large needle goes in.] 💉💉💉
I may as well mention that this will all be happening around contractions that are coming and going. (SPOILER: It doesn't feel good)
Once the needle is placed, the anesthesiologist will thread a tube through that needle which will administer the pain relieving drugs to the lower back area so that the patient retains feeling and movement in the upper body, usually from the waist up.
**so... they don't always work... my sister just had a baby and the epidural only worked on one side of her body. The anesthesiologist had to come back and fix it FIFTEEN MINUTES BEFORE SHE HAD THE BABY. #closecall
**ALSO. You might get hella itchy as a side effect. (fun)
There is another type which you can try called a Combined Spinal-Epidural (CSE) or "walking epidural" These are supposed to give you more freedom to move and control the lower half of your body.
Umm. I can't speak for any other ladies out there, but I could NOT feel or move my legs so I basically laid there like a pregnant, beached whale.
Most hospitals hook your epidural meds to a button which you can push (I wanna say it was like every 15 (?) minutes you could give yourself another dose) so that you are in control of how much pain you feel.
It's pretty common for the epidural to not evenly distribute to both sides of the body, so it's likely your nurse will have you shift from lying on one side or the other to help it spread more evenly.
I could wiggle my left toes like a champ. My entire right leg, on the other hand, was dead to me.
Unless you are going with a natural, unmedicated birth plan, you will be hooked up to any and every machine in that hospital.
An IV (probably in a really inconvenient and painful spot in your arm that makes bending your arms or wrists just deeelightful)
A blood pressure cuff
A catheter (whoo-hoo!)
And the two NST monitors wrapped around your belly so they can monitor contractions and baby's heart rate to check for any fetal distress.
They'll probably also stick a peanut shaped birthing ball between your legs while you lie on your side.
A picture of convenience and comfort. I KNOW.
It pretty much means that when you enter the hospital and get in that bed, you are not getting out of it. So get as comfortable as possible and ask your nurse to hook a sister up with some extra pillows.
**Side Note: The nurses are e v e r y t h i n g.
Having a good nurse will totally change your birth and postpartum experience.
Also. You will probably be super hungry because you are using all this energy but you can't refuel because they don't want anything in your system in case something goes wrong (knock on wood) and they have to put you under general anesthesia/take you to surgery.
Enjoy those ice chips.
This is usually when you have some down time, depending on how fast you're progressing. Some women are even able to get a bit of much needed rest in during this waiting period.
So. You might be wondering: Whitney. I want the epidural, but now I am wondering how the heck I am going to be able to listen to my body's cues and crap?
I hear you girl.
I'm a worrier.
(Not only did I want to give birth to a healthy baby without unnecessary medical intervention, but I wanted to do A+ work on my first vaginal birth and I was concerned that being numb would interfere with my body's natural birthing cues.)
Yes. You can still tell when you are having a contraction.
If you pay attention you will feel that you're having them (you just won't feel the pain they are inflicting on your poor, poor body).
As you get closer to being what they in the biz call "complete" (dilated to a 10 and 100% effaced, or thinned out), you'll start to feel a lot of pressure moving down your body.
For me it started out with farts that I couldn't control.
Then it felt like a poop making it's way down. There was a lot of pressure down there and I knew it wasn't a record-breaking, career-making poop. 🏆🏅💩
It was my daughter's head.
My nurses thought I would progress much slower and hadn't checked on me in a while, so finally when one came in to make me roll over on the peanut ball, I told her I was feeling a lot of pressure. Like A LOT.
She was surprised and checked my cervix (which might as well have been the new handshake around there at this point), followed by the nurse in training, and after a graphic discussion, complete with bloody-gloved hand gestures, they confirmed that I was indeed complete and baby's head was peeking out the curtains, ready to make its debut.
CUE. THE. SPOTLIGHTS.
The nurses went to page my doc and let her know baby was coming. They didn't seem optimistic about the timing because they sent for the on call doctor. My OB arrived in the nick of time though with a team of other nurses to help coach pushing, assist her, as well as nursery nurses to help transition baby once she was out.
Hello strangers. Meet my Vag.
> You can't miss it <
My doctor, plastic eye-shield and all, had the front row seat. (Obviously)
My husband was next to me on one side, one of the nursery nurses was on the other.
My mom and sister were on either side, each holding a leg.
The doctor will have you scoot your bum to the edge of the bed (the foot of the bed comes off to reveal what is essentially a slop bucket for all the other stuff that comes out that's not a baby.)
Then the staff will start talking you through pushing. Basically they want you up on your elbows pushing with you entire upper body every time you feel a contraction. The idea is to push yourself toward your knees instead of pulling your knees toward you, which is easier said than done when you've lost every last bit of what little core strength you did have over the past 9 months. But sure doc, we'll do it your way.
They'll tell you to exhale as you push for 10 seconds, stop pushing and inhale for a few, and repeat this process until the contraction stops. Or at least I think that's what they were yelling at me to do. (There's a good chance this is inaccurate due to the fact that this whole part of the process was a big, sweaty, blur.)
Here's where the epidural can bite you in the ass, ladies.
If you're anything like me, and if the epidural does its job, you will be totally numb down there. Which means when they tell you to push, you basically just have to imagine what it feels like to push and then try to make your body execute that image.
I had no idea if my pushing was actually doing anything. It literally felt like I was doing absolutely nothing every time those contractions would come and I had to start pushing.
It was frustrating. and exhausting. and I felt useless. and I just wanted it to be over. and if that nurse told me one more time where to put my elbows when I pushed I was going to put one in her eye.
When the baby's head was breaking through my doctor asked if I wanted to reach down and touch it.
I guess I felt obligated, so I reached down and shrieked when I felt the soft, goopy head of my now half-born child. (I don't really bond with my babies until they are out of me. All the way out, apparently.)
I personally didn't enjoy it, but hey, if it motivates you, touch away.
My doc took the opportunity at this point, 20 minutes into pushing, when baby was crowning, to point out that had I not had an epidural, I would be feeling what they call the "Ring of Fire" pretty intensely right now.
S/O to the epidural for having my vag's back, we appreciated not dealing with that on top of every other exhausting thing happening in that moment.
If you're going au natural, good luck with that, let me know how it goes.
Obviously childbirth varies from woman to woman, and from pregnancy to pregnancy. I wasn't like the woman on TV, yelling at her husband and snapping at everyone around her. It was totally silent between contractions. I was so in my own head and focused on preparing to push again that everything else in the background just faded. When another contraction would come, I'd climb back on to my elbows, grit my teeth, and hope whatever I was doing down there resembled a push.
I ended up pushing for 30 minutes. After hearing "you're so close" and "she's almost out" for about the thousandth time, it was actually true. She was out.
IT. WAS. EXHAUSTING. (I can only imagine what a calorie burner that whole day is.😅)
As long as baby is okay, they'll show him/her to you and take them away to be measured and prodded and you'll just have to listen to them cry while the doctor delivers your placenta (which I hope you aren't saving, but if you are, bon appetit. 🍴) and then, if you're lucky like me, will stitch up any fabulous tearing you had going on down there while another human being exited your nether regions.
**Pro Tip: At this point, if you are still numb, it might be a good idea to remind your mother not to drop your lifeless leg like a sack of potatoes as she rushes off to get a look at the baby that is much cuter than your mutilated lady flower.
Then they'll bring your cute, swollen, cone-headed, still mostly goop-covered baby over to you and you will probably bawl uncontrollably.
Again, as long as everything seems like it's okay and baby is healthy, they should leave you alone for an hour or so and you can do skin to skin, bust out your milk bags and take your first crack at breastfeeding (if you're planning on nursing), and just generally be in awe of everything that just went down.
['Cause that shit was crazy.]
Personally,I was tired. I was hungry, I was shaking like crazy (another fun after-effect), and I felt super weak and worried about holding her by myself.
The amount of adrenaline you have going throughout the entire birth process is INSAAANE. which means when it's all over, your body is pretty much in shock. (It just went through a lot. Give it a break)
In summation. The whole giving birth thing is a real (and I mean real) kick in pants.
But hey, I didn't poop, so I'm calling it a win. 💩🙌
As awful and disgusting as it (truly) is, it's also the most amazing thing that I look back and can't believe I've done.
You know how we all have at least one woman we think about when we need to feel better about ourselves (horrible thing to say, but come on, you're already picturing her face), and we think: "If she can give birth, then so can I"?
Well here I am. (Mostly) intact.
You've got this.
Curious about what to expect now that you're done expecting?
☞ Check out Part II on recovery here! ☜