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Things I Didn't Know About Childbirth

Since Madeleine was a c-section, I went into Cora’s birth as a first time laborer. I took a Lamaze class with Maddie, a refresher class geared specifically towards VBACs with Cora, and read all my books. I’d coached my girlfriend Abby through both of her births, and felt confident I knew what was in store though I’d never experienced it.

What can I say? I learned a few things. As much as you know that there’s a difference between reading about something and experiencing it first-hand, you don’t really get it until you go through it. Here are some of the fun facts I discovered I’d missed in all my research:

The whole vomit thing. I remember vaguely hearing the doula who taught my Lamaze class talking about this possibility; she’d instructed us to put a Tupperware bowl in our to-go bag in case we needed to puke in the car. For some reason, I associated the puking with the car and assumed it was motion sickness or something. This is not true. Apparently, the baby pressing down on your cervix can cause you to throw up. Who knew?

Lucky me, I was hooked up to all my machines the whole time. And luckier me, the first time I needed to vomit, Brian was using the room’s restroom. And the nurse was not in the room. Fortunately, Abby was, and all I had to say to her was, “I need to go,” and she was on top of it. My friend ripped all the plugs for all the machines from the wall faster than you could say Here Comes Last Night’s Dinner, and wheeled me towards the bathroom. I proceeded to block my husband in to the bathroom with my pitocin machine while I threw up in the extra sink.

At this time, the flatlining machines caused my OB to come check on me. Sticking her head into the room, she said merrily, “How’s it going?” “I’m puking,” I groaned. “Excellent!” she replied, practically rubbing her hands together. “Means the baby’s moving down. Keep up the good work.” And then she left.

I threw up a couple more times – once more during labor, and right afterwards when I got up for the first time to pee. That one, though, was a result of almost fainting from standing up too fast after an epidural. Something else They don’t tell you not to do.

There’s no such thing as a little pitocin. My OB swore to me that she’d induce me by starting me off on a very low dose, and gradually increasing it to mimic natural labor. Guess what? Even a little pitocin is a lot. My contractions were 90 seconds apart, with only 20 seconds of rest between each one, very quickly. Ouch. And that sadist of a nurse kept coming in every 20 minutes like clockwork to turn it up some more.

Rocking really does help. I know, I should have believed this one since I’d made Abby rock during her labors. I don’t know why it works, but I know that holding still during a contraction was almost impossible. I say almost, because –

Epidurals aren’t instantaneous. I didn’t expect immediate relief, and I understood it would take some time to prep, but when I asked how long I’d have to hold still, the anesthesiologist replied, “Three to four minutes.”

Are you kidding me??? Do you know how many contractions I’d have in three to four minutes???

Honestly, this freaked me out the most about the epidural. I’d had a spinal before for the c-section so the needle didn’t worry me, and I wasn’t scared of him “missing” and hurting me – I knew my OB would pick a good doctor. But I didn’t know how I’d make it through a couple contractions without standing and rocking. I suggested (quite reasonably, I thought) that he do all his prep work and then let me tell him when to start: I’d have a contraction, hop back on the table and yell “Go!” so we’d have as little contraction time as possible. He politely demurred. So there I was, sitting, and hunched over no less (which makes it WAY worse), for a good three contractions while he did his thing. As incentive, he cheerfully pointed out that if I moved at all I could be paralyzed. Thanks.

The OB is in charge. Not the mean anesthesiologist. Before leaving, he issued dire warnings against anything passing my lips except ice chips. Several hours later, starved and empty, I begged for some Gatorade. To which my OB replied, “Of course you can! I specifically wrote in your notes you can have any liquids. Did he not tell you?”

Um, nope.

There’s tape for labor, too. One of the worst parts about the c-section was the Removal of the Tape, both covering my incision and holding my catheter in place. Let’s just say that skin came off with it and it wasn’t fun and I was happy I was on a self-controlled morphine drip.

I didn’t realize there’d be tape involved with an epidural, as well. First, they insert a catheter and tape it in place, resulting in another nice skin abrasion on the thigh. Then they tape the epidural thingie all the way up your spine. With no skin prep. I was so happy to get the epidural I didn’t really notice the tape going on. I just noticed when the resident came in afterwards, leaned me forward, and said, “Time to get this off!” before peeling me like a grape.

Epidurals are subject to gravity. What do I mean by this? While lying propped up in bed and happily enjoying the epidural, I had a nurse come prop my right butt cheek up with a wedge; she said the baby’s heart rate was down and they wanted to shift me towards my left side to help out. I didn’t care at all and cheerfully complied.

About an hour later, I noticed I was getting intense spasms in my right side. They felt like muscle cramps, then intense muscle cramps, then – wait- contractions! My OB came in and I asked if I could shift positions to stretch out, and she agreed. As I was rolling onto my right side, I noticed my left leg was totally numb while my right leg had almost complete feeling. When I pointed this out, she said, “Of course! The epidural responds to gravity. That’s probably why you’re feeling the contractions now. Didn’t the anesthesiologist warn you about that?”

Um, nope. Just glad I found out early enough to re-numb the right side before pushing.

Epidurals don’t make you completely numb. I was amazed at how much control I had over my pushing muscles –my abdominals and my pelvic floor. It was the coolest thing ever, to be able to push confidently but without pain. That totally made the birth rock.

You don’t have to lie on your back to push. I know we all learn those different pushing positions in Lamaze class, but when it comes time, everyone seems to push on their back. I think this is mostly because that’s where you are when the doctor does a check and discovers it’s time to push. Talk to your doctor ahead of time, but most will let you choose from a few different positions. When I asked my OB in advance, she laughed and said, “Jennifer, you can push from a headstand for all I care. As long as I’ve got a clear view you can do what you want.” She was good on her word, and I pushed lying on my side. It was comfortable and made me happy.

Giving birth is the coolest thing in the world. Yes, I know I gave birth with the c-section, but I was so removed from the process that she could’ve handed me a little bunny and told me it was what she’d pulled out of my uterus and I’d have believed her. This was so intimate, so empowering, and so cool that I wanted to do it all over again right away. My doctor helped Cora’s head and shoulders come out, then had me pull her out and bring her to my chest myself, and it’s an experience I’ll never forget. Plus, I had drugs and felt no pain.

So that’s what I learned. Lots of things about pain medication, something new on the vomit topic, and a bit about myself. I know I have more power in those situations than it feels like. I know that when I throw up, I want someone around to hold my hair off my face for me (thanks, Abby) - and I suspect that all of us want our mommies. I know I couldn't have done it nearly so well without my husband and best friend by my side. I know that I am stronger than I think, and can do anything I have to. And I know that I’m a different person now than I was before, and that’s no small matter.


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