Lessons learned during labour and delivery

I don’t really know where to start when writing about labour and delivery. For starters, it was such an intense experience that even now, almost two weeks later, I’m struggling to find the right words (any words) to tell the story well. And secondly, while I was pregnant I was incredibly curious about other women’s experiences of the whole process. Yet I’m not sure that hearing all those stories actually served me well.

Almost no one I talked to spoke positively about labour and delivery, and it seemed that for every woman who had experienced a relatively trouble-free birth there were two more who spoke first (with the haunted look of a trauma survivor) of how badly they tore, how intense back labour was, or how everything went wrong and they needed to have an emergency caesarian. Then there were the real horror stories, of which I heard several.

So I’m unsure of how much detail to go into. I mean, do you really want to know that at 8AM I was 5 cm dilated, throwing up, the contractions were coming one on top of the other almost without pause, and that I told the obstetrician I was dying? Maybe you do, but does knowing that actually help anyone? I’m not so sure.

So instead of giving you the blow by blow, complete with timeline, I think I’ll just talk about a couple of things that I learned or that surprised me along the way. But let me say this before I say any more – overall I had a reasonably good experience of labour and delivery. At eleven and a half hours from first contraction to delivery it maybe wasn’t quite as speedy as I had hoped for, but quicker and generally more manageable than I had feared.

Now, lessons and surprises…

I was more capable of managing the pain than I’d feared I would be: I won’t lie – the pain, especially during the last seven hours, was intense, all-consuming, and like nothing I’d ever experienced before. All that work I’d done creating birth playlists and packing movies we could watch in case of a long labour – none of it was needed. I was completely incapable of concentrating on anything except what was happening in my body.

What helped me the most during labour was keeping my eyes closed and counting my breaths during contractions. As long as I could do that I stayed focused and calm – almost as if I were in a trance. At no time was there any screaming, or swearing at Mike, or biting. Apart from the rough patch at 8AM when I said that I thought I wanted an epidural, I didn’t ask for medication again. In the end I was more afraid that my focus and self-control would completely disappear if I opened my eyes long enough to ask for pain relief than I was of continuing to endure without it. The end result? A completely natural birth.

Labouring in water was a big help: After my waters broke at 8AM I got into an inflatable tub full of warm water and stayed there for the next several hours. The warmth and being comparatively weightless when I wanted to shift position was a huge help in dealing with the contractions.

Having a doula (a birth coach) was a big help: Partly because of the risk that Mike would miss the birth, we decided to hire a doula to be with us during labour and delivery. It was a great decision. Jade was able to stay with us the entire time, whereas the hospital midwives had to keep coming and going as they attended to other patients. She massaged my back at key points, sponged off my face with cold water, gently nudged me to change positions at certain times, kept a vigilant eye on the process, and was able to reassure Mike that things were progressing normally. Left to my own devices I suspect I would have stayed curled up on the bed with my eyes closed the entire time, labour would have been longer, and I probably wouldn’t have made it without pain relief. If you’re pregnant and considering whether or not to hire a doula, hire one.

Moving on, here’s one that I could never fathom how it would be possible beforehand… The women who tell you that in the later stages of labour you will not care if you are stark naked and in the most unflattering position when three total strangers walk into the room… they are right. 

That oft-talked about magical moment when they place your newborn on your chest right after delivery? … Not so much. I was surprised how out of it I was immediately following delivery, and how long the whole after-birth process took. After he was delivered I went into shock and spent most of the next hour shaking uncontrollably while I was being stitched up and delivering the placenta. The baby was on my chest, but it was all I could do to hold him and pat him. There was no incandescent moment of mystery, connection, and wonder as I gazed into his eyes or kissed his little face (which was mostly screwed up, purple, and screaming). He pooed all over me. It was all much more earthy than magical.

Later that night though, when he was all bundled up and I was alone with him in the hospital, and he started to squirm and make unhappy guinea pig noises and wouldn’t settle down again until he was cuddled up right against my chest… that was pretty magical.

So there you have it. If you’ve had a baby or witnessed a birth, what did you learn or what surprised you about the whole process?

14 responses to “Lessons learned during labour and delivery

  1. So glad the Doula suggestion worked for you. And totally relate to the so out of it with pain and focus that nudity is not even a consideration. Probably the only two times in my life I have felt such freedom! Elisa

    • Yeah, very pro doula. I’m glad both of us are on this side of the last couple of months. If you’re back in Cambodia already hope things are going well, or if you’re not that you’re feeling OK about the huge transition upcoming. We should chat about that whole dynamic at some stage.

  2. I ended up having an emergency C-section – after having two epidurals, and then anesthesia for the surgery – so I was a bit “out of it” after the birth and can relate to you experiencing that feeling. I do not recall experiencing that overwhelming feeling of love and euphoria when handed my newborn – just total exhaustion and a desire to sleep. Somehow I muddled through though – and the next day could better relate to the “joys of new motherhood”. 🙂

    • Ooof, that doesn’t sound like any fun at all. And, yeah, exhaustion and desire for sleep… now that I’ve been through the whole thing that response seems much more understandable, really, than euphoria :). Hope you’re well.

  3. Love the biting comment 🙂

    I think i’ve still got scars, glad its going well.

    • Thanks Jeff… yeah, I can totally see why women bite, I do. And if I had been an “outwards” focused instead of an “inwards focused” labourer I think Mike may have had more to worry about.

  4. Yep. I have always felt slightly guilty that I didn’t fall in love immediately with my babies. I think I just stared at both of them like, “Oh, wow. A baby.” And yes, the horrible shaking right after delivery….what is up with THAT?

    It’s all worth it though. Wait ’til you start getting gummy smiles and euphoric laughter every time you enter the room!


    • I know, the uncontrollable shaking really caught me by surprise. I had it the first night home from the hospital too after one of the midnight feeds. Not fun. Hope you’re well!

  5. I was surprised at the recovery process. I knew that c-sections had a long recovery, but I somehow forgot that even without surgery, you’ve essentially been through surgery and your body takes weeks to recover (as you are now experiencing). It took me two days to be able to stand without wobbling, and two weeks to walk anywhere without my lady bits swelling and being painful a few hours later. And…. it’s like having a period for a month. I really didn’t know all of that.

    I did experience the euphoria at birth, and I’m not an overly emotional woman. However, I did have an epidural, so perhaps the epidural enabled that rush of emotions because I wasn’t as exhausted?

    • Yeah, sounds familiar. I have been surprised by how long it’s taking to feel steady and half-human again. I have a greater understanding now for traditional cultural practices like the Laos tradition of women sitting by the fire for a month after the birth of their first baby while all the women in the village tend to their needs. Also, interesting on the epidural… I’ve heard mixed reports on that. Some women say it made them feel detached from the whole experience, others have reported it really helped them connect better with their baby because they weren’t quite so out of it on the pain. Glad you got to experience that “rush”.

  6. As a birth doula I see many women too overwhelmed to enjoy their “baby immediately on chest”. I see them still in labor land, still processing what just happened! Although it is wonderful that your baby wasn’t wisked off to a incubator, to a nursery full of strangers (like when I had my first baby 34 years ago), I feel bad that women have put such high expectations on eachother and themselves to have an instant bonding ‘experience’. I learned aboaut something called the Birth Pause from Karen Strange. Here is a link explaining this important stage of birth, one yet unrecognized by many. http://www.birthpause.com/p/birth-pause.html

    Heck, even after sex I take a pause. As with most things in the universe, things happen in waves, even the contractions of childbirth take a pause. Each day takes a pause. And so should we. Baby’s need a moment to pause too. ♥

    • Thank you for this, Rosie. That was a very interesting link to take a look at. That “too overwhelmed to process” in the moments right after birth was definitely my experience. All the best, Lisa

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