I have heard over and over and over again of the immense pain of child birth. They say there’s nothing like it and it’s often sighted as the biggest feat of womanhood. Physically it makes sense…pushing something the size of a softball through a hole that’s typically the size of a quarter presents some problems. But that’s basically all that’s said. It sucks. The end. I wish that there was some more education about EXACTLY what goes down during labor and delivery. Here I am to shed some light on that most treacherous of journeys. Now this is just my story, and I’m sure those of you who have had a kid had different experiences, I would love to hear about them! Let me know in the comments about your labor and delivery!
*There is a TLDR at the bottom*
I was used to getting up at weird hours to pee in the middle of the night and wee hours of the morning. On that fateful morning I woke up to quite a pressure and thought that emptying my bladder would help things out so that I could drift back to sleep. And let’s be honest, any amount of sleep you can get during pregnancy is a miraculous thing between the pain in your back, legs, hips, and everywhere else, the great hoisting shuffle that has to happen each time you flip sides, the weird heat flashes, and any digestive issues you might be having that day. I noticed to my great displeasure that relieving myself did absolutely nothing to help the pain I was feeling. I checked the time to see if it might be worth just staying up at this point because I needed to get ready to go to a friend’s wedding later that day. No such luck, it was still super early in the morning. To my relief my pain just went away. I managed to get myself back into bed despite feeling like jaba the hut. The pain came back, a decently strong feeling as if my bladder and abdomen were becoming even more squished than they already were. How that’s even possible, I don’t know. I slowly realized that this very odd feeling pain must be contractions. Crap. Gotta let my friends know I won’t be carpooling with them to the wedding. My husband works a night shift and had just a couple hours of sleep at that point. I decided to let him know what was going on and just hope he could go back to sleep until we actually needed to leave.
PAUSE: For those of you who don’t know, just like I didn’t know, you don’t go to the hospital right away. Different doctors and hospitals or birthing centers have different requirements so be sure to check with yours.
I know many people love being in the comfort of their own home but I was a bit paranoid that my baby was gonna come flying out slip-n-slide style on the way to the hospital. I gently woke my husband and said “hey babe, I’m in the early stages of labor. We don’t need to go yet but I just wanted to let you know what’s going on”. I was met with the biggest eyes my husband has ever made and I realized that he wasn’t breathing… in his half asleep state all he had heard was “labor” and kinda freaked out. I reiterated that everything was okay and that he could continue sleeping for a bit. Thankfully he did manage to pass out again as I went between pacing about, sitting, and lying down. Trying to fall back asleep was useless with the pain. So I just bid my time talking to the baby and timing out my contractions. By the way, Braxton-Hicks contractions (practice contractions your body does possibly months prior to labor) feel nothing like the real thing. We were told to use the 5-1-1 rule to let us know when we should go to the hospital. That means I had to wait for my contractions to be 5 minutes apart (from the start of one contraction to the start of the next), last for 1 minute, and have been that way for an hour. When I first started timing them, they were lasting a minute but were about 7-8 minutes apart. Once I did hit that 5 minute space between I couldn’t wait for that hour to be over. When I was at 45 min of these oh so lovely contractions I woke up my husband, told him to take a shower and then get me to the hospital. My husband got up and took his shower as I attempted to get dressed.
Throughout my pregnancy I had Symphysis Pubis Dysfunction which basically means my hips hurt so badly that I could barely walk, sitting down and standing was also painful, and that I had great difficulty putting pants on. Add to the mixture my contraction pains and overall wobbliness and it was quite the production trying to put on my yoga pants that morning. My husband raced around the house and loaded things into the car as I directed him, stopping every once in a while to let me lean on him as I was bent over double “Ouch, ouch, ouch” through my contractions. As soon as I had woken up my husband I had stopped timing my contractions but I’m pretty sure they were about every 2 min as it was finally time to load me in the car. This was another fiasco since we live in a second story apartment so trying to get down those stairs took a few minutes because I was moving slowly and needed to stop for another contraction. I had another contraction as my husband opened the car door for me. Each contraction brought a mixture of a grunt and a screamed “OUCH OUCH OUCH”. Thankfully I’m not one for cussing or the whole apartment complex would have gotten an earful. I was really worried about my water breaking in my husband’s car so I made him put down a thick towel for me to sit on which ended up being nice because roads are so dang bumpy!!! Ever been sick or really needed to pee while driving down a bumpy road? It’s kinda sort like that…kinda. I asked my husband to drive as smoothly as possible, I’m sure he wanted to get me to the hospital as quickly as possible but swerving around traffic would not have helped the pressure simultaneously exploding and imploding within me. And OF COURSE we live somewhere where we have to drive over train tracks to get anywhere. I temporarily held my breath so I wouldn’t yell as we drove over the series of bumps and grooves caused by the tracks. My husband apologized for every turn, bump, and change in speed that jostled me just enough to add to the pain and at this point I was putting a lot of effort into not crying. I managed to pry my death grip on the car away long enough to text my mom that we were headed in to the hospital. Neither one of our parents live in town so we relied upon technology to keep them updated.
We finally got to the hospital but the complimentary valet wasn’t there because it was a weekend so my husband helped me out of the car as I shuffled in the entrance. My husband left to go park the car. Luckily this was not a busy hospital so the only person around was a friendly info desk person. I grimace/smiled at him and he asked me why I had come in. I told him I was in labor and knew where I was going as I continued to shuffle past his desk. He asked if I wanted a wheelchair but for some reason I thought it would be better if I made myself walk. I got to the elevator and rode up to the second floor where I pressed a button to get the nurses attention who then let me in the door.
PAUSE: Many hospitals have security features that prevent people from taking your baby. Needing to be let in by a nurse was one such feature as was the equivalent to baby lo-jacking that our hospital did but more about that later.
I had just made it to the nurses station when my husband showed up behind me, slightly out of breath and carrying all of my bags. I said “That was quick” and he responded “Well I grabbed everything and ran because I didn’t want to miss anything and I didn’t want you to be alone”. My husband is awesome! We turned to the nurses who asked why we were there and I told them “I’m pretty sure I’m in labor”. What was I thinking “I’m pretty sure” of course I was in labor!!! But then again I knew plenty of women think they are in labor when they aren’t or still have a long ways to go before they’ll be admitted. Our particular hospital had told us that you had to be 3cm dilated or they would send you home and you had to be at 5cm before they would give an epidural. Luckily for me I had been to my OB/GYN the day before and she told me I was at 3cm then.
PAUSE: If you’re new to this let me explain. A woman’s cervix (the lady bit that separates her uterus from her vagina) dilates to about 10cm wide before her baby can actually be born. Her cervix will also thin out and go from being a few cm thick to being paper thin, this is called effacement and is talked about in percentages. The more effaced and dilated the closer you are to popping out that baby. Some women go from 0-10cm in a few hours while others may be at 2cm for weeks before they actually go into labor and progress the rest of the way.
The nurses told us to go to room number two and directed us on how to get there. Halfway down the hall was a contraction ouch ouch ouch. As we came to the second nurses station they asked my husband to fill out a form while I kept shuffling towards the room but I only made it a few paces before another contraction. One of the nurses at the station told me to take breaths and showed me how. The contraction faded and I made it into the room. A different nurse asked how far along I was, asked how far apart the contractions were (I had no idea because all sense of time had gone out the window), and gave me a robe to change into. My husband entered the room to help me change and the nurse came back. She examined me and found that I was 5cm dilated and 80% effaced. She was very kind and throughout my labor would say how impressed she was that I was handling the pain so well. She likely tells that to everyone but it certainly made me feel better at the time. She hooked me up to a blood pressure cuff and put a monitor around my abdomen that was there to check on the baby and my contractions. She then asked what seemed like a million questions and gave me paperwork to fill out. Fun fact: filling out paperwork while contractions hit you doesn’t exactly work. I could barely hold the pen and clipboard so I think it took hours to fill out the paperwork but who knows because again, I wasn’t exactly paying attention to the clock. At some point I was asked if I was planning on having an epidural. To be honest, I didn’t know if I was going to want one or not. I told them that I was going to try to just go for it without but if I changed my mind I would let them know. They then informed me that not only was the doctor who was supposed to deliver my baby at a different hospital and would have to drive down to get to me but that the anesthesiologist in charge of epidurals was too and it would take him half an hour to get there. Good thing I wasn’t banking on the epidural because I’m pretty sure hearing that news would have made everything worse.
PAUSE: Some people love epidurals and swear they couldn’t get through labor without it while others hate the very idea of it. If you are preggers do a little research, consult with your doctor and choose for yourself. The quick version is this but please do some more looking around on the subject before deciding what’s best for you.
Pros; -sweet, sweet relief -safe for mother and baby -less screaming -you should still be able to feel the sensation of your baby being born just without the intense pain
Cons;-needle in your back -can’t walk during or possibly after labor -likely need a catheter
A nurse came in to put an IV in. For some reason this hurt very badly. Like I know my body is going through contractions, and things are shifting and opening in crazy ways but the prick in my arm is what really got to me. And as the nurse taped it down all I could think about was how it was going to hurt to take off all the tape later because I have really hairy arms. The placement of the IV also got a little smear of blood on my bed and it made me feel sick to see it so I hid it, along with my arm, under a pillow. Another person came in and took my blood. I had been anemic during pregnancy so depending on my current status there was a possibility I was going to need blood transfusions. Thankfully it came back with non-anemic status which was the first time in months that had happened. I needed to pee so our nurse came in and showed me how. I realize this sounds like a strange thing but there were monitors that needed to be disconnected and certain cords needed to be unwrapped from my body and my husband needed to help me wheel my IV over to the bathroom. I also felt like I needed to poop but when I asked about that they said that I shouldn’t because it might end up plopping out a baby instead and we didn’t really want him making his entrance into the world straight into a toilet. I finished peeing but IMMEDIATELY felt like I was going to vomit. I told my husband this (he was standing in the doorway to the bathroom while I was still sitting on the toilet) so he drug a trash can over to me and lifted the lid. He then let go and the lid closed on my head. We laughed about that for a fraction of a second before I threw up. No one told me this was a part of child birth! After cleaning up I made it back to bed with the help of my hubby. I was checked again. 6cm and completely effaced. After some time of filling out paperwork I needed to puke again. As I vomited in bed my body also thought it would be cool to make me pee myself. I definitely was not forewarned about this! We called in the nurses and I told them what had happened. She asked if I had peed or if my water had broken. I was fairly certain it was pee.
PAUSE: Luckily when you go in to the hospital to give birth they put the equivalent of a puppy pee pad down underneath you so whatever happens to come out of you doesn’t wreck the bed. The nurses and doctors are used to what most of us would consider gross messes and bodily fluids of all kinds. You’re not going to freak them out, even if you have massive diarrhea during labor. ITS OK!
They changed out this pad and checked me again. I was fully dilated and the amniotic sac was bulging out. I was instructed to let them know when my water broke. She said I would feel a gush because of how it was already bulging. This vomit and pee combo happened once more, again with the nurses hoping it was my water breaking.
PAUSE: The terminology of “water breaking” means that the amniotic sac has broken therefore allowing the amniotic fluid to drain out. Sometimes this happens as a gush and other times it’s a slow trickle. The Hollywood version of a massive gush doesn’t happen for everyone so if you are leaking fluid, even at a slow rate, go to the hospital and have it checked out!
A man came in to take another sample of my blood but at this point I had another contraction so I clung to the bed railing and tried to breathe through it. But this time it didn’t go away. I was crying and clenching onto the bed for a few minutes. My head was swimming as I went between shut eyes and looking at this man who was asking me to just straighten out my arm so he could prick my vein again and take some blood. After a while he realized this was not going to happen so he said he would come back later and left. The nurses came in and asked if my water had broken yet. “Did you feel the gush? You need to let us know if you feel the gush”. It most certainly had not broken. I was getting agitated that they thought I wouldn’t tell them if fluids suddenly came rushing out of me.
They also told me that I shouldn’t close my eyes but instead focus on something. I chose to stare at my husband. In hindsight this was probably torture for him because he wanted so badly to help but when it comes to labor there isn’t much you can do as a bystander to take away the pain. This pain was very intense. I know why women get sweaty during labor. It’s like a full body workout that you have no control over that goes on for hours and hours. The continued stress on your body of so much pain takes a toll. Two nurses were in the room now and a male technician kept bringing in equipment for my baby. I thought that I would throw a fit about a guy being in the room but at this point it was the least of my worries. The doctor still hadn’t shown up so as the nurses got the bed and the room as ready as they could they kept telling me NOT to push.
PAUSE: Most hospital beds for birthing purposes can be adjusted to the doctor’s preference. Some like to be seated while others stand so the bed height adjusts as well as having options for where to put the mother’s legs. Some doctors have you laying down while others go for a squatting approach. If you have thoughts about how you think you’ll be most comfortable and best able to push out that baby make sure you talk to your doctor about it well in advance.
By this time my body didn’t care what I was being told or what I wanted to do because it was pushing for itself. With each contraction my abdominals and glutes would clench down in the most uncomfortable way possible. It felt like a baby and a giant poop were competing to get out of me at the same time. I had not been prepared for that sensation even though I knew it was quite common for women to poop during labor and even get hemorrhoids. When the nurses/technician saw me having a contraction they would all chime in “quick breaths” “blow it away” “don’t push yet” “you’re doing good” over and over again sometimes with hand motions to go along with the “blow it away” remark. All I wanted was for the doctor to show up. I was getting desperate. I was crying not only for the pain but for the hopelessness I was feeling over not knowing when the doctor would be there. Finally, to my great relief, she walked in. Everyone closed around the bed and they put my legs into these stirrup like things. I didn’t need to do much as they hoisted my legs up for me which was good because I don’t think I could have lifted them on my own. They instructed me to hold on to the backs of my thighs. When I felt a contraction I was supposed to tuck my chin into my chest, pull up on my legs while keeping my elbows up, and bear down (bearing down is using your muscles similarly to how you would when you poop). Because I was hooked up to the monitors I mentioned earlier they could tell when I was starting to have a contraction before the expression really hit my face. I could see them all staring at this monitor as I felt the doctor running her finger along my vaginal opening trying to stretch it out.
PAUSE: While the cervix does a lot of preparation work to allow the baby out, your vagina doesn’t do as much. Women may need a procedure called an episiotomy which is the cutting of the vagina down towards the anus. If an episiotomy isn’t performed there is a possibility that the vagina will just tear open. The massaging of the vagina that doctors do is to help prevent either one of these things from happening but especially in short labors the body hasn’t had time to “loosen up” and a tear or cut is inevitable. A tear or an episiotomy requires stitching up afterwards. While some people claim that doing vaginal massages before labor will help prevent this there isn’t proof to back it.
A contraction hit and I was so happy I was allowed to push through it. This pushing lasted quite a long time, basically as long as I could hold my breath and bear down and being an ex-synchronized swimmer I can hold my breath for a while, even under such circumstances. After that I had a mini contraction. By that I mean it felt like a contraction was starting to well up but never hit that peak of intensity so I didn’t use it to push. This happened again. The doctor told me to push on the next one even if it wasn’t a full blown contraction. I took her instruction and held my breath and bared down the next time I felt a contraction coming on. HUGE RELIEF as my baby’s head popped out. I knew that was the hardest part and kept pushing through to one of the weirdest experiences of my life. I could feel all of my sons limbs wriggle through me as he came fully out into the world. When it was only his head that had popped out they told me to look down, I said no. They told me to look down again, I screamed no so they said ok. Maybe you’re different than me but I did not want to see a tiny head hanging out of my nether regions which were undoubtedly bloody and misshapen. I do not do well with blood, I once passed out seeing a drop of blood during surgery so I didn’t exactly think it was the best idea. I heard them ask my husband to cut the umbilical cord, something which he wasn’t sure he was going to do but in the moment it seemed right to him. I saw him reach over and heard the sound of him cutting the cord.
PAUSE: It is pretty common practice for the husband to cut through the umbilical cord but you do not have to. The doctor will show you exactly where to cut and hand you what looks like a pair of scissors. Be warned though, the cord is tough! More like cutting through a steak than a piece of paper.
As soon as I had felt my baby come out I laid back and a few seconds later they placed him on my chest. That was amazing. He was so perfectly sized, he had tons of dark hair, that was currently covered in slimy blood, and he was warm. I internally freaked out for a split second as I gazed at him and saw what I thought to be an extra nipple. How the heck does that happen and why?! But then I realized it was just a skin tag and would likely fall off. I glanced around the room at the doctors at just the wrong time and saw the delivering doctor holding my placenta in her hand before she tipped it into a pan.
PAUSE: After you deliver your baby you also need to “deliver” the placenta. Some people do this right away as it seemed that I had even though I didn’t feel it. Others need some help and deliver it later. The doctor will examine it to make sure none of it is left behind in the uterus.
My baby was screaming and crying.
Then, I noticed I was too. What the heck is happening?! It felt like my vagina was a string instrument and that string was vibrating. This was not ok!! I had the sudden realization that I was being sewn up. Did I tear? Or did they cut me? I had no idea. That’s right folks, the pain of delivery is so intense you don’t notice your vagina literally splitting open. I started saying “ow ow ow” and they asked if I was feeling pressure or a sharp pain. It was a sharp pain. They stuck me with more local anesthetic so I just felt the vibrating as the doctor pulled the string of my stitches tight. This happened for what seemed like far too long, prick of the needle for anesthetic, vibrating and pressure, sharp pain, prick of anesthetic etc. While this was happening nurses did some checks on my baby while I held him. After they did all they could do with him laying on me they told me they were going to take my baby but he would still be in the room and that I could still see him from my place in bed. They told my husband to go with them so he could take pictures while they weighed and measured our baby and got him warmed up.
One of the things they did after he was measured was to attach a tiny electronic anklet and then they gave me a matching electronic wrist band. They had been coded for each other so if someone tried to take my baby too far away, alarms would go off. If they somehow got him near a door, it would lock and the elevators would shut down. Apparently hospitals in the past have had issues with babies being taken or babies getting mixed up with one another. Anytime my baby was taken a few feet away and then returned to me the anklet would beep. If the wrong baby had been returned to me it would have made a different alarm sound. I thought all of this was pretty neat but it also made me wonder how bad of a problem it had to be that hospitals needed to start lo-jacking the babies.
The doctor finally finished stitching me up. They counted gauze pads and left the room. Nurses helped get me into my post-delivery outfit which meant a new hospital robe, complete with holes in the front for my boobs to stick out of to feed my baby, a diaper, and mesh underwear. I was unable to lift my hips off the bed so getting me into this outfit meant rolling very slowly and with much effort from one side to the other along with help from the nurses. Seriously you guys, delivery nurses are the best!
I had started shaking pretty violently. This made me nervous because I hadn’t expected it and I thought there was something wrong. My husband came over and told me how big our baby was, 7lbs 13oz &20inches. He told me that our baby had a lot of birth marks. Some were red while others were blue. The blue ones looked like bruises and covered both hips, part of his lower back, and a few spots on his leg. He let me know this so I wouldn’t think that he had been damaged during birth. I mentioned the shaking and he very calmly told me that I was simply in shock, my body had just been through a lot after all. Thank goodness for calm support! The shaking did go away after 15 minutes or so even though I wish it hadn’t been as long.
A nurse came over with our baby and asked which side I preferred to start feeding him on. I didn’t care so she chose for me. As she sat him down she then turned his head and basically smashed his face into my boob. That sounds violent but I promise it wasn’t. Our baby latched on right away and started to eat. He kept his huge grey eyes open, staring at my armpit as he ate. This was my “this is beautiful and it was all worth it” moment. Everything seemed peaceful and calm and warm and perfect. I noticed his gracefully long eyelashes that were perfectly curled and I was so content. Our baby fell asleep after having his fill and a nurse put him back in his bed that was being warmed.
PAUSE: The hospital will provide diapers, a hat, and clothing for your baby while you stay there. Any outfit you bring for your little sweetie will be used for when you bring your new baby home.
Nurses kept coming in at regular intervals to check on me and do fundal massages. Let me just tell you that the term “massage” in no way implies peace or relaxation. What it actually means is that you’re being jabbed in the stomach and your sore body that’s just trying to recover from its trauma is sent into yet further waves of intense pain. The closest thing I can describe it as is the feeling of getting multiple vaccines. In reality the nurses are trying to help your uterus get back to its normal size and make sure your bleeding is under control. They do this by pressing their fingers into your abdomen near your ribs and then dragging their fingers down towards your belly button, some will use small circular motions.
Unfortunately for me, my bleeding was not under control. I kept plopping out huge clots that came along with gushes of blood each time. I was going through the maxi diaper pads much more quickly than you are supposed to. In the end I was told that they needed to give me medicine and place a catheter. The catheter was to keep my bladder empty and allow my uterus to be at a better angle. To my surprise the medicine was not a pill, but instead a shot in my thigh. Before they placed the catheter the nurse explained that once it was placed, I couldn’t move around because if it got loose they would have to rip the whole thing out and place it again. I was also told that the disinfectant used before placing the catheter would drip down into my stitches and hurt. Then to top it all off I saw the catheter. Nothing that big should have to go up such a small urethra (that’s the anatomical term for your pee hole)!! As it turns out, it didn’t hurt nearly as bad as anything else that had happened to me that day. Phew!
My husband facetimed his family while I laid in bed feeling exhausted and grumpy. Most of his siblings and his parents had gathered together so that they could talk to him all at once. The nurses came in and offered me pain medicine. I said no at first because I thought “hey, I just pushed out a baby without so much as an ibuprofen. I don’t need it now!” But then they told me they really thought I should, at least for now. I conceded and boy am I glad I did! Having the pain medicine made me feel less grumpy and like I actually had energy. I guess when your body isn’t consumed with pain you actually have room in your head to process things more clearly! With my newfound energy I called up my mom. I told her that I had to be stitched up and she asked if it was a tear, as you recall I didn’t actually know what happened so I asked my husband. He said that they had cut me open which I was glad to hear because a clean cut typically heals better than a rough tear. He also told me that the amniotic sac never broke on its own but that they had to puncture it open. All of this was news to me!
From time of my first contraction waking me up into the morning until we left to go to the hospital was about 4 hours, I labored at the hospital for another 4 hours before our baby was born. An overall time of 8 and a half hours may seem like a long time if you’ve never had a child but it’s not. I was fortunate enough to have a short labor especially given that women typically labor for longer with their first child. I’ve heard stories of women laboring for more than 24 hours! No thank you!! I am grateful for my husband, the staff at our hospital, and my mostly smooth sailing labor and delivery. I think my experience was about as good as you could hope for and yet each time I come back to write about my experience, the thought of it makes me nauseous. I think we’ll wait for kiddo #2 until I can read this without feeling ill…
For what happened next read: After the Storm
Things to expect in labor, delivery, and immediate postpartum care include the following:
-Waiting at home
-A lot of paperwork (seriously, so much paperwork)
-A lot of pain
-Possibly waiting for a doctor or anesthesiologist
-Vaginal tears or an episiotomy
-Delivering the placenta
-Medicine in pill or shot form
-Going into shock
-Lots of blood in general