One of my favorite movies is Father of the Bride Part II. Mostly because I love the hospital scene—the one where George Banks gets drugged on sleeping pills and whoops! mom and daughter end up going into labor at the same time (spoiler alert from 1995). Then there’s that touching scene when Steve Martin looks at the doctor and says, “They’re everything I’ve got.” Oh, how my heart melts each time I watch it. This is how my delivery story will go, I thought a I painted my toenails after eating waffles and sleeping in until double digits. My pregnancy had been blissful, so I felt pretty certain the delivery would be no different.
Although I have several friends who tried to prepare me for labor and delivery, this was before I had a kid, so I was convinced I knew everything. I had my own ideas about labor and delivery, some of which were completely, utterly, and fantastically wrong. I started thinking about this on day two of my son’s life as I asked myself: what just happened here?
Recently, talking with a friend who just had her second baby, she was reminding me of all the things we have forgotten when it comes to labor and delivery. So I for all of you first-time and second-time moms, here’s a little refresher.
The beginning stages of labor can take days or even weeks.
At 37 weeks, I was dilated three centimeters. The doctor told us we probably wouldn’t make it through the weekend without going into labor. This was on a Thursday morning. Ten days later, with my contractions five minutes apart, I was still three centimeters dilated! What I didn’t realize is that your body does this revving up for labor, and it can actually take quite a bit of time to go into active labor, especially for a first-time mom. According to Whattoexpect.com early or latent labor can last from “several hours to several weeks.”
Triage is ROUGH.
The whole point of triage is to allow the medical staff to determine that you are in active labor and ready to be admitted to the hospital for delivery. What they don’t tell you is that it WILL take over an hour for them to monitor and evaluate you from the time you walk through their doors to the time you are admitted to the hospital. One labor and delivery nurse told me the usual time in triage is one to three hours, depending on your stage of labor. Let’s not forget that you are in labor and unmedicated the entire time! I walked into the hospital at 4:17 and I wasn’t admitted until 7 am.
It turns out, the things you think you will care about during delivery end up not mattering. At all.
My husband and I spent two hours one night making labor mixes for our iPod. And guess what happened? We never listened to either of them. Since I was in labor all night the previous night (and for the ten days prior to active labor), I was exhausted by the time I got settled in my hospital bed. I slept for most of the eleven hours after my epidural. I thought I wouldn’t want my mom in the delivery room, but as we were preparing to push, I realized we were about to witness a miracle, and I wanted her there.
Doing #1 and #2 post delivery is nearly traumatic.
I remember sitting in the bathroom after delivery while the nurse helped me. After five minutes, which seemed like an hour, I finally told her I couldn’t do it and I wanted to go to my room. I never knew this was the DEAL after you delivered—that the nurse had to watch you go to the bathroom. Trust me, using the restroom for the first time after your body has just opened up and spit out a baby is a huge deal. But you will get through it with the help of some meds and a good dose of patience.
Your birth plan could change at any moment.
Okay, so maybe I stole this from a friend who gave birth before me, but nonetheless, it was something I didn’t know before. Although you have spent your entire life trying to figure out what type of birth you want, your baby and your body may have other plans. Be prepared that no matter how determined you are, things could change at the last moment due to necessity, and you will be forced to make peace with the narrative you tell about your birth story. Just remember, there is no shame in birthing a baby, no matter how you did it—all natural, with the help of medication, or via cesarean section—the birth of any baby is something to be proud about.
The hospital is really no fun at all.
I remember telling my friends that we were going to have a huge party after delivery. I was so looking forward to everyone meeting our son and holding him for the first time. Then the whirlwind of being a first-time mom hit me. I remember that first night with so much joy and anxiety—we had no idea what we were doing! I had just successfully nursed my son and swaddled him—oh, it sounds so much easier than it was—when we were just settling in to close our eyes and the pediatrician came in at midnight to examine him. He unwrapped him and of course he cried, because that is what tiny human babies do. And I don’t think any of us slept at all that first night. Nurses and doctors are wonderful people. I felt truly blessed to have such great care, but I could not handle another nurse pushing on my uterus and waking up my baby one more time!
Sometimes babies just cry.
I read lots of books pre and post-delivery, and I can’t recall any of them saying “your baby is just going to cry like a lunatic sometimes for no apparent reason.” But I’m sure your baby will be different—that’s what I tell all of my friends, with a knowing smile.
Your post-baby body brings fun new adventures.
If you aren’t excited about waking up every few hours to breastfeed for the next several months of you life, there is a lot more to be excited about because your post-baby body will amaze you. Aside from leaky breasts, mastitis, and the post-delivery bleeding, you should also look forward to hemorrhoids. My mother, in all her wisdom, bought me a tube of hemorrhoid cream before delivery. “Just in case,” she assured me. I rolled my eyes, assuming she didn’t know what she was talking about. Her little gift ended up saving me in a very desperate moment. Enough said. Moving right along.
Kangaroo Care can be a big help.
I had heard about skin-to-skin before delivery, but I drastically underestimated its power. I thought it was only useful the first few days after delivery, but as it turns out Kangaroo Care is an effective way to calm your baby and get some sleep months later. One NICU nurse informed me that Kangaroo Care can help with bonding, promote lactation and baby’s brain development, and also regulate baby’s body temperature.
In a split second you will become someone else.
Someone once told me the moment of childbirth is powerful because in an instant you know so many things you didn’t know before. You finally understand the miracle of birth, the love of a mother and father, and also the love of the creator in a new way. It is beyond my comprehension that God could make a human inside of me. Our son is the best of us and the worst of us wrapped in baby skin with baby toes and baby eyelashes. There is nothing miraculous about me, but the fact that this body God made has managed to create and knit together a child with flesh and bones, is surely miraculous.
Through childbirth, we are able for a moment to glimpse behind the curtain of creation and experience a miracle firsthand. The joy of being a mother is indescribable. If the price of that joy is temporary discomfort and pain, by all means, I would pay it over and over again.