Giving Birth: 10 Things to Expect (Besides the Obvious)
If you are counting down the weeks until your baby is born, then you've no doubt thought about what giving birth will be like. I find we all fit into one of three categories:
- In Denial. Mums in this category say things like, "if you go to antenatal classes you'll just end up confused", "I don't need to know anything", "I'm not thinking about it", or "what the f*ck are Kegels?".
- The Planner (or obsessive). Mums in this category say things like, "I've got my birth plan done and my bags packed all ready to go", "I plan on having 'xyz' painkillers/natural birth/water birth", "it's physically best to be in 'xyz' position while giving birth", "my chest freezer is packed full of precooked meals", or, "all these Kegels I've been doing are going to make such a difference."
- The 'She'll Be Right' mum. Mums in this category say things like, "my mum/sister/best friend had these types of births, so that's probably what'll happen to me", "babies don't need much stuff", "I'll just wing it", "I don't care what happens, so long as the baby's healthy", or "oh yeah, Kegels, I keep forgetting about those (quickly does a few Kegels)".
Maybe we are all a little bit of all of them.
Whichever category you fall into, the fact is, giving birth usually ends up being nothing like what you expected (unless you were a midwife before you got pregnant). Whether we admit it or not, the truth is that before we've had a baby ourselves, giving birth is a massive mystery to all of us.
Whether we've planned out the perfect birth and done everything we could to 'make' it happen, or we are ready to get the epidural the moment we get to the hospital, or we haven't really got a clue what to expect and trust the midwife will tell us everything… it rarely works out to be so simple.
The thing is, we have no control over what our body or baby will do. And that pretty much means anything could happen!
So, even though this post won't clear up exactly what giving birth is like - and let's be honest, it's different for everyone - here are a few things you can expect with giving birth. Besides the obvious.
1. When you've given birth, you will have your own story, which will be different from everyone else you talk to. And your story is incredibly important. It won't be a mystery for long, and you will wonder how first-time pregnant ladies can be so naive about what they are about to go into (whether they are oblivious or think they've got it all under control).
2. Maybe no one will care about your birth story. I don't know why, but these days it's really taboo to talk about giving birth unless you're making jokes. Even at baby showers the other mums make jokes about giving birth and having a newborn… and leave you thinking it can't be that bad if everyone laughs about it and if everyone else got through it. This is why it is so important to talk to your midwives afterwards, or go to an early parent class, or join a mothers' group with mums whose babies are the same age. Talking about what you went through can be incredibly important for your postnatal recovery.
3. What happens in labour does matter. If you're a Category 2 Planner mum, you'll assume I'm talking about your choices, but I'm not. I'm talking about the fact that no matter what sort of labour/delivery you have, it will have effects. No one gets off the hook, no matter how perfect/easy (yeah right) your labour/delivery is. You will be exhausted or sore or unable to go to the toilet, or you might have lost a lot of blood, or the baby needed something immediately after birth, etc. But one of the biggest problems these days for us modern mums is that our expectations of what it will be like can cause the biggest effects afterwards - especially if (and when) things don't go how you expected they would. We can get hung up on what happened in the delivery room, or how we were treated, or feel like we failed somehow. In fact, a huge contributor to postnatal depression is simply that our labour/delivery didn't go to plan! Everyone wants a perfect/easy/healthy birth for their babies, of course, but when things don't go exactly as you hoped, just know that this is normal. It's normal for you to feel the effects - both physical and emotional - after giving birth.
4. The lovely hospital pose photos are fake. We all look like crap afterwards. If necessary, just take a shot of the baby in your arms. No one will notice… they want to see the baby, not you (welcome to parenting). The only people who care how good/bad you look are just trying to judge whether you look good or bad anyway.
5. Giving birth can seem like the biggest day of your life. It's a bit like a wedding - everyone spends so much time planning the wedding, but no matter how big a deal your wedding is, it only lasts a day. Then you've got the marriage which lasts the rest of your lives. Giving birth is massive, it's the beginning, it's the climax of your pregnancy, but no matter how big it seems - it will be over soon. And then you've got the baby, and the rest of your lives. You'll be amazed when the baby is in your arms that it's over - just like that.
6. The baby needs you straight away. You don't get to give birth, then sleep for a night to recover. Assuming the baby isn't whisked off to emergency care, he or she is going to want a feed (let the painful learning curve begin), and then a cuddle, and then another feed, and then a nappy change, etc. It's a shock to the system to go through the biggest physical ordeal of your life, and then not get a proper rest afterwards. If you're mentally prepared for this, you'll cope better. Also, there will be people around to help, so accept as much help as you can.
7. Just like that, you are no longer pregnant. The moment the baby's out, you're not pregnant. It's a weird mental shift after the last 40 weeks of having the 'pregnant' label influencing every aspect of your life.
8. To some extent, you will feel like you have lost control of the situation. This is normal, because realistically, of course you're not in control of what your body or baby will do. (Welcome to parenting.)
9. You'll have a moment of awe afterwards when you realise that every person was birthed by someone… all those mums went through what you did too.
10 You might wonder why no one told you how hard it is. Those jokes about giving birth to a watermelon don't do justice to anything! The truth is, nothing prepares you. And then you have a newborn and have to learn to breastfeed and cope with no sleep - the giving birth story begins to seem like not such a big deal in the larger scheme of things. It'll stay with you for the rest of your life, but to everyone else, it's just another day.
One day, all the pregnant mums you try to warn about what's ahead will nod and smile and shrug and pass off your advice, happy to live in their naivety, completely unaware that it's naivety at all (we only realise this in hindsight). And isn't that one of the great things about waiting for your first baby… you really have no idea what's ahead.