When it comes to childbirth and parenting, everyone has an opinion. As your family and friends become aware of your pregnancy they may begin to share with you their own birth experiences. Everyone around you becomes a storyteller, and the stories range from beautiful to frightening and everything in between. Suddenly strangers approach you to tell you about their best friend’s uncle’s second wife giving birth on a cruise ship.
In the months leading up to birth women are sponges. They gather information to know their options and choices, and make the best plan for their birth. We prepare for our births by listening to these stories, reading books, and asking questions. Yet with all of these storytellers, each birth experience offers something that was not foreseen or expected. I hear it from new mothers all the time, “why didn’t anyone tell me about this?”
You will hear a lot of stories throughout your pregnancy. Some will be helpful, others are best unspoken. Here are four birth stories that every pregnant woman should hear.
BIRTH STORY #1: Your labor may stop and start again later.
Often referred to as prodromal labor, prelabor, or my least favorite- false labor. Your contractions can be regular for hours, 15 minutes apart or even 5 minutes apart, but may not build in intensity. That doesn’t mean that they wont feel intense at times, but then they just stop. Often, but not always, these contractions come in the middle of the night and wake you up, but they could happen at any time. I encourage you to rest and do life as usual until you can’t. This could happen once for 20 hours straight, everyday for weeks, or not at all. It can be very disheartening to gear up for labor only to stop. Remember that each contraction is bringing you closer to your baby and getting some of the work out of the way.
BIRTH STORY #2: What it feels like to have a baby.
We have all heard the “I never knew I could love someone so much” story. I’m talking about how you feel physically. Your body, even in a natural birth, has just worked harder than it ever has before. Consider birth to be like a marathon. Hours of labor, contraction after contraction, and then dilating and pushing a 7+ pound baby out of your vagina.. your body will be exhausted and most likely hurt. After birth your perineum may feel weird. I’ve heard women say it feels like their organs will fall out, or that they are afraid to move or use the bathroom. Your postpartum body may feel very strange, or you may not even notice. Much like a marathon runner you may feel like a warrior. Your hormones change during labor and you may feel unstoppable. I encourage all brand new mothers to rest through this exhilarating postpartum period.
BIRTH STORY #3: The reality of a newborn.
When it comes to preparing for a baby we love to talk about the good stuff. The fresh baby smell, the soft cuddles, the cute outfits, all the love and bonding and oxytocin. It’s beautiful, truly. Life changing. You know what else? Sometimes it is miserable. Sometimes babies cry more than they smile. They also do not sleep through the night or when you want them to. Your baby probably will sleep a lot during the day and only if you hold them and do nothing else. Breastfeeding is beautiful, and you will probably be breastfeeding more hours than not. Sometimes you may not feel that lovey-dovey oxytocin rush because you are too exhausted from a long labor and newborn care, and that’s okay. Having a new baby is a big adjustment and you will need help.
BIRTH STORY #4: You cannot do this alone.
This leads me to the last story that needs to be told. You cannot do this alone, do not plan to. Most women hear about the importance of taking a good childbirth education class and having a supportive birth team. The story that needs to be told more is one of honoring your sacred postpartum period. You will need to rest and feed yourself and your baby, everything else will wait. You will more than likely need to ask for help. After the baby is born everyone wants to see the baby, we tend to forget about the mom. Plan ahead to have a chore list and meal train, and let people know how they can help you before the baby comes. After the birth you may find that you have trouble asking for help. You will be exhausted and emotional and more than likely feel like you should be doing more. Planning ahead to have support will eliminate some of that guilt.
It’s important that women get together and share our birth stories. Throughout history women have learned about birth from their mothers and grandmothers. The journey of motherhood connects all women in a sacred way that must be honored and celebrated. As a midwife and birth activist, I strive to deepen that connection and bring back the intuitive nature of each woman’s birth experience.
Do you have a birth story to tell? Did something happen during your labor or birth experience that you wish you would have been more prepared for? Share your birth stories below in the comments.
PHOTO CREDIT: HEARTLOVE PHOTOGRAPHY