Don't worry. This is not a horror story. When I was pregnant, people felt compelled to tell me about their experience with childbirth. I heard about every kind of labor there is—the long, the short, the hectic, the heroic. And after I experienced labor for myself, I realized that people just tell you the CliffsNotes version of childbirth. They tell you the dramatic or the funny parts and they leave out the practical details that could really be helpful when it's your turn to give birth.
So here are 20 important things no one tells you about labor.
1. It can be amazing. I will be forever grateful to a woman I worked with a week before my first child was born. She told me that she loved giving birth both times she'd done it. She found it to be a really amazing rush of adrenaline and love. I had never heard anyone describe labor to me in that way.
2. My labor was amazing...probably because I didn't feel it. I don't know about where you live, but in LA people really, really wanted me to feel the pain of childbirth. The first question everyone asked (including complete strangers) was, "Are you going to have the baby naturally?" My favorite answer was one my husband gave: "Of course we're having the baby naturally, with an epidural."
Yes, I plan on pushing the baby out of me. I haven't asked aliens to teleport my daughter out of my body. But I wouldn't have a tooth pulled "naturally." I wouldn't have an appendectomy "naturally." I don't intend to feel an enormous amount of pain to prove that I can survive feeling an enormous amount of pain.
With epidurals, I got to have two peaceful birth experiences focused completely on my babies.
3. Plan to let your birth plan go. I have friends who hoped to avoid an epidural and their labors were just too long. I have friends who really wanted an epidural and their labors were just too quick. I have friends who had unexpected C-sections. A labor and delivery nurse once told me, "No one gets a trophy for getting through labor a particular way." What you really want is a healthy baby, however he or she chooses to arrive.
4. It can cost more than you expect. I had both my children at the same hospital with the same doctor. With my first, I received one bill (my daughter was included on my bill) and I paid one hospital deductible for my insurance. With my second, I received two bills - one for my son and one for me. So I paid two hospital deductibles. I believe the difference was that my son spent 24 hours in the NICU where my daughter roomed with me our entire stay. I encourage you to find out how the hospital bills you and your baby so you can be prepared.
5. Your anesthesiologist may be out of network even at an in network hospital. If you get an epidural, you won't have a choice of anesthesiologist. You'll get whatever doctor is working at the time. And then you may get a bill for thousands of dollars from that anesthesiologist saying that he or she is not in your insurance network. Do NOT pay that bill. This happened to me and to a friend who gave birth at a different hospital, so I think this a fairly common practice.
I got nowhere with the doctor's billing department (which was obviously a billing company contracted by the doctor and not the doctor's office itself). My insurance tried to negotiate for me and they got nowhere. Finally, I called the main hospital number and asked to speak to someone in administration. That administrator said emphatically that it was unacceptable for the doctor to charge me out of network rates if he chose to work at their in network hospital. She gave me the name and number of the local individual who handles billing for that anesthesiologist. After speaking to that person, I owed nothing.
6. Water doesn't break like it breaks in the movies. At 38 weeks I felt a strong jab from my daughter followed by a trickle of something out of my body. And then as I moved around some more, I felt more trickles. All the way to the hospital I asked my husband, "My water broke right?!" I was so afraid to have a nurse say, "Oh, no, honey, you're just peeing all over yourself." My water had indeed broken.
7. You may not know you're in labor. You know those movies where the woman is really pregnant and suddenly she holds her belly and goes, "Oh, this is it!" and they rush to the hospital because it only took her 3 seconds to know she was in labor? I wasn't sure I was in labor even with my second labor. I had contractions the entire last trimester. I woke up every night thinking it was the beginning of labor.
8. The doctor's not there. My doctor was there for the last hour of both of my labors. Nurses did all the rest. The doctor just showed up at the end to catch my kids.
9. Breastfeeding is not as natural as you think. People tell you, "Oh, breastfeeding is the most natural thing in the world." Well, my sobbing in pain and my daughter's teeny tiny latch beg to differ. Breastfeeding is an incredible way to feed our children, but it does not come naturally like breathing or heartbeats. It's natural like walking or eating–you, your body and your baby have to learn how to do it first and then it comes naturally.
Get lactation help beyond your hospital stay after labor. Go to a lactation consultant (remember, it's likely covered by your insurance) or a breastfeeding support group. My entire first experience with motherhood could have been dramatically improved if I had gotten breastfeeding help sooner.
10. You may not fall in instant love with your baby. It's so important that we're honest about this. Your body just went through some major trauma and you're holding this little creature on your chest and you may just be in total bliss or you may be like, "Uh, you look like a little alien and I don't feel like I know you." Or maybe your partner doesn't yet feel a connection to your child. It doesn't mean anything! This does not make you or your partner a bad parent. You will feel a connection eventually.
11. You may find childbirth to be more Nicholas Sparks than Stephen King. I almost passed out watching the video they showed us in birthing class and my husband has been known to faint at the sight of blood. So when we saw the mirror on wheels in the delivery room, we laughed. Who would ever, ever want to watch that horror show?! But when the time came, I thought, "I will never have the opportunity to watch my daughter being born again." And so I watched and then my husband watched. It's hands down the coolest thing I will ever see in my life. My husband still cries when he thinks of it. I choose to believe that's because it was the coolest thing he ever saw in his life too.
12. There are medicinal side effects they don't warn you about. Epidurals can give you the shakes. (So can dilating quickly.) My teeth were chattering like Scooby Doo for a brief time during both labors.
And anything that enhances labor, like a Pitocin drip or prostaglandin gel, can enhance the intensity of contractions. I'm not saying this so you'll avoid them (I had to have Pit drip with both labors). I'm telling you so you can be prepared for the extra pain.
13. There are programs where you can have a midwife in a hospital setting. I know UCLA has this. So you can kind of have the best of both worlds if you are interested in a less "hospitally" birth but with the safety of a hospital.
14. Not all hospitals have a NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit). This one is important. If your child should need any extra care, you're going to want to be at a hospital with a NICU. Otherwise, they will have to transfer your baby via ambulance to another hospital while you are still in recovery at the first hospital.
15. It's different for everyone and every birth. No one has the same experience of childbirth. My labors were different and I'm the same person (most of the time). I have friends who describe contractions as "a little more intense than cramps" and I have friends who have passed out from the intensity of the pain.
16. Even epidurals are different for everyone and every birth. With my daughter my legs were completely numb and annoyingly unhelpful. With my son (exact same anesthesiologist) my legs were not numb and I could move them of my own free will. But I could feel contractions with both epidurals (they just weren't painful), so I knew when to push.
17. Acid reflux does not equal a full-head-of-hair baby. I had terrible acid reflux with both pregnancies and people loved to tell me that that meant my kids would be born with hair. I had two nearly bald babies.
18. Active labor (where contractions are coming fast and intense and you are almost fully dilated) is only a portion of labor. You may hear a lot of stories about women being in labor for 48 hours. That doesn't mean they were having an easy time of it, but it also doesn't mean that they were sweating, screaming and pushing for 48 hours.
19. Labor breathing isn't nearly as complicated as I imagined. Once again, Hollywood misdirected me. I went to birthing class thinking I was going to learn to hee-hee and hoo-hoo breathe. I just learned how to breathe in through my nose for four counts and out through my mouth for four counts.
20. Recovery takes a while. No, really. It takes a while. Labor was easier than I expected and recovering from labor was harder-maybe because no one talks about it. Maybe they don't talk about it because it's still not socially acceptable to talk about how much your private parts hurt. If you could have a good solid week of complete rest, your body might heal faster, but we both know that's not really an option.
I do think it's true what they say. You won't remember the details of your labor. You'll just remember the results. And whatever your labor experience, it'll be worth it when that baby is in your arms (even if he looks like a little alien).