6 Lessons I Learned From my First Labor and Delivery (Part II of Our Birth Story)

Whether or not you read my very detailed birth story in Part I, here’s a quick recap:

I thought with near certainty that my baby girl would be early, so when I hit forty weeks, I was actually a little shocked. This far into pregnancy, I had been impatient for quite some time, especially since this was my first baby.

I was uncomfortable and exceedingly ready to meet her. In my impatience, I allowed my doctors to schedule an induction for two days after my due date, and to strip my membranes to help move things along.

The day after my due date, my water broke. My doctor ordered Cervadil (a ripening agent) and Pitocin to accelerate labor. In order to keep the fetal heart rate monitor in place, my nurse wouldn’t let me out of the bed.

The Cervadil and Pitocin catapulted me straight into intense labor and I never caught up. Fourteen hours after my water broke, I was disheartened to learn I only measured three centimeters. Exhausted and in agonizing pain, I accepted an epidural, which came an hour later.

Resting restored my composure so that I had both the physical energy and mental clarity to birth my daughter and meet her for the first time. I pushed for less than thirty minutes and suffered only minor tearing. Here’s what my first birth experience has taught me…

6 Lessons I Learned From my First Labor and Delivery

Lesson 1: Vegetarians Shouldn’t Eat at Steakhouses

First and foremost, my first pregnancy and delivery taught me to be more selective when choosing doctors and hospitals. Fresh out of college, and newly married with an unexpected pregnancy, I had no idea what I was doing.

I put off choosing a local OBGYN for an excessively long time because the number of choices in the Northern Virginia/DC area was overwhelming. With the halfway mark fast approaching, I finally picked a group, almost at random, and made an appointment.

Let me back up here and tell you: my goal was to have an un-medicated labor and natural delivery, bouncing on my birth ball and pushing in whatever position felt most natural. My gut told me I needed to find a midwife, but I was afraid it might be too expensive, especially if not covered by insurance.

So I took the safe route and grabbed an all-female doctor group with privileges at the hospital I had toured and liked (the only hospital I had toured, by the way). Financially a good decision, but one that came with downsides.

My regular OB checkups were fine, except that one doctor gave me a hard time about my weight gain. However, as my due date grew nearer, they began discussing induction.

My mind told me my body knew when the baby would be ready, but my sciatica and stretching skin overrode my reason. I let myself be pressured into scheduling the procedure for two days after my due date if the baby had not yet arrived. Looking back, I’m aghast.

When my due date arrived before the baby, I was frustrated and really wanted to move the process along. I desperately hoped the doctor would strip my membranes that day, which she did. Next go-round, if I make it the full forty, I don’t think I would allow that again so soon.

Once you’re finally in labor and at the hospital, you may or may not see your doctor before you’re fully dilated. My doctor made her first appearance after I’d been there for thirteen hours. A midwife would have spent more time with me and even acted as an advocate on my behalf with the hospital staff and better coached me through contractions.

A vegetarian who is savagely hungry probably shouldn’t choose to eat at a steakhouse.

By the same token, the place you give birth should share your goals and values. I wanted to be able to listen to my body, find a comfortable position, and move as needed, but my nurse would not let me out of the bed.

I fatigued quickly and received no assistance from gravity. By the next morning I chose to have the epidural, which I had wanted to avoid, just so that my body could relax enough to progress. To attain the freedom I desired and the support I needed, I should have made more of an effort to find a midwife and probably a birthing center.

Lesson 2: Get Off the Conveyor Belt

The traditional hospital birthing system is set up like an assembly line with a production deadline.

The doctors want your baby out by your due date. If it’s not, they promptly kick it out. Doctors tend to like scheduling inductions because they can put it on the calendar in pen, and the hospital knows how many beds will be filled.

At the hospital, the doctors and nurses want to keep labor clipping along, so you’re given hormones like Cervadil and Pitocin. The hormones likely won’t help you adjust gently to labor, but they’ll amplify it quickly enough that you want an epidural.

Once you have an epidural, you’re easier for the nurses to manage until the doctor announces it’s time to push. When you’re juiced, you don’t have much to scream about, making for an easy labor, and then you can briskly be moved to a recovery room to empty the delivery bed.

I am not saying that the entire hospital staff views you as a number, or that no one cares about your needs or well-being. There’s no conspiracy to sabotage your birth plan (probably).

I had some excellent nurses who were very kind and attentive, and I loved my doctor. But the assembly line mentality is encouraged and common, so go in understanding what to expect. You may be fine with it, or you may want things to slow down.

Either way, be prepared to step off the conveyor belt and remind those attending to you of your goals and needs for your delivery. That brings me to my next lesson:

Lesson 3: Be Your Own Advocate

Having my first child, I was not confident in my own judgement and decisions. I thought I was beforehand, but once I was at the hospital with a stoic nurse informing me that the doctor ordered Cervadil and Pitocin, who was I to contradict them?

I wanted to trust that my medical team knew best.

I didn’t want to be confined to the bed, but with the Cervadil, the nurse insisted she needed to constantly monitor the baby’s heart rate. Would I be endangering my baby for the small comfort of standing? The events at the hospital snowballed to the point that I no longer had the natural birth I had planned.

Respect that the nurses’ job is to ensure your labor and delivery are safe and by the book. But also remember that your job is to push a watermelon out of a garden hose by whatever means necessary.

Your job takes precedence. If the nurse cannot follow protocol without interfering with your ability to accomplish your job, you will need to have a courteous but firm conversation with her (or him).

If you are not comfortable with what the hospital is instructing or prescribing, say so.

Lesson 4: BYOB (Bring Your Own Backup)

Calling my best friend at 2 in the morning to come sit with me at the hospital was one of the best decisions I made during labor. She ended up being the person who most made me feel supported.

Have someone in mind ahead of time who will be available to hold your hand and tell you you’re gorgeous, even when you’re sitting in a puddle of your own fluids with yesterday’s makeup smeared across your face. Ideally, that would be your husband/partner, but that isn’t always possible.

I did not use a doula, but now I would seriously consider it. Labor is not the time you want to feel alone. Even with my mom and husband with me, I lost my confidence. My mom was trying to respect my space, and my husband was extremely tired from full time work and law school.

I know that baby was coming no matter what, but I feel like I couldn’t have done it without my girlfriend.

Lesson 5: Have a Camera Ready

One of my greatest treasures from that day (other than my baby, obviously) are the pictures my best friend snapped right after the delivery.

Not only did she hold one of my legs while I pushed, but she also had her camera ready around her neck, and the pictures she captured are priceless. (Although, not gonna lie, some of those images definitely needed cropping.)

You might be worried about how you’ll look in the pictures. After all, it won’t exactly be your most glamorous moment. It doesn’t matter. Have someone–anyone–take pictures. They don’t have to be professional and cost $800.

I now have pictures of my husband’s tears as he saw his daughter for the first time; my mom gazing proudly at her new granddaughter; my baby’s first glimpse at her new world; my own ugly-crying as I tried to comfort my wrinkly, screeching newborn.

I get to relive the best day of my life every time I look at these pictures.

Another reason to want pictures is that you might not remember this experience later. Our memories naturally fade over time. For us women, our minds are programmed to erase most of that day (because otherwise we might never do it again).

The hormones and adrenaline make the whole event blurry on their own, but if you opt for pain medication (in particular the intravenous kind), you might not be mentally present. I have heard some say their biggest regret with the pain medication is that they do not remember holding their babies for the first time.

Remember, you don’t have to post these pictures on Instagram. No one has to see them but you, and trust me, you will want them no matter how horrendous (think) you look.

Lesson 6: Have an Open Mind

Most importantly of all, enter this experience with an open mind, especially if it is your first time.

The day (or night) is not going to go the way you fantasized or planned. You may plan for an all-natural birth, but after fourteen hours of active labor, feel like an epidural is the right option. Just because other women “tough it out” doesn’t mean you have to.

Your delivery is your own, and you may be comparing apples to oranges. Or apples to lasagna. Your old acquaintance Susie posted fifty Instagram stories about her natural delivery, and you might think if she could do it, you have no excuse. But Suzie’s water broke at 1 a.m. and the baby crowned at 7 a.m. You, on the other hand, are only four centimeters after 12 hours of exhausting back labor. Not a fair comparison.

Alternatively, you may arrive at the hospital expecting an epidural and find that you’re able to manage the pain with your breathing and power through, or your labor may progress so quickly that there isn’t time for an epidural. Perhaps you planned a water birth and then can’t stand to be wet. You wanted a home birth, but at the last minute, would feel more comfortable in the hospital.

It happens. If you fight it, you’ll only make it harder.

If you go in with an inflexible birth plan, you’ll likely make the entire experience more difficult than it could have been both for yourself and your medical team. No decision you make should be in any way influenced by anyone else’s birth story.

A change of plan doesn’t mean you failed. You are strong and amazing no matter what.

The Last Thing You Should Take Away from My Birth Story

You’re having a baby! I’m so excited for you, Mama. I loved being pregnant and feeling a tiny human being dancing in my tummy, but I didn’t want to be pregnant forever. I was so ready to meet my baby and feel like myself again.

No matter what happens, whether or not things go the way you planned, you’re going to meet your baby. Don’t sweat the details.

Take in everything as it comes. Write your experiences down and take lots of pictures along the way because you might be surprised how little you remember later on.

Are you bursting at the seams, ready to get that karate kid out? What’s the strangest piece of advice you’ve received about labor and delivery? Comment below!

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