I didn’t really expect much from labor, so I thought, but having been through it a month and a half ago I realize now that I was caught off guard by some things. I did have a fantasy of me, bravely bearing down through the pain, silently suffering in beautiful anguish and then going out for a nice, long jog the day after. None of that happened.
Here are some things that surprised me about labor:
Sitting in a hot bath dulls the pain more than you think. I sat in the little bathtub in my room with the jets on, sipping cans of Shasta and occasionally wimpering during a contraction. This is bad, I thought, this pain is making me squirm. Then I was asked to get out so the nurse could check and see how far I had dilated. That is when things got real. The tub dulled the pain so much that my first out-of-tub contraction was such an unpleasant shock that I immediately started wailing. Which leads me to my next discovery…
I am not as tough as I thought. Sure, I have those horror story menstrual periods that last for over a week and keep me in what I used to think was unbearable pain, and I thought that this was enough to toughen me for labor. Apparently, though, I am a complete wimp, and my husband tells me (although I have no recollection of this because the pain literally caused me to lose my mind) that I curled up on the hospital bed and repeated begged the staff for help. Help…h..help…HELP!
The pressure, not the pain, was the worst part. The feeing of little Søren pushing down on the birth canal caused the most complete feelings of panic that I have ever known. I literally thought that I would rip in two. I thought that he would come out and no one would be ready for him. I thought that he would get stuck and I would have that awful feeling of pressure for the rest of my life. You lose the ability to think rationally about the future when you are in labor.
The delivery room looked like a gory episode of CSI. Labor is messy…which everyone knows. I wasn’t prepared, however, for the slasher film horror that would happen when I first stood up after delivery, and then continued for the next few days. My hospital bathroom literally looked like a crime scene.
Time stands still…and rushes forward. My labor lasted about 7 hours. When I was asked afterwards how long it felt, I said 20 minutes. I think most people thought I would say it felt like it lasted for days, but it really only felt like minutes. During my transition phase (the most painful) I temporarily left my body, and I remember almost nothing of that time. When women say that they forget the pain of labor, I think what they really mean is that they blacked out during the pain of labor.
Epidurals are ok. Really, they are. This is humbling. I asked for an epidural, even though I really, really, really really didn’t want one. No, I didn’t ask, I begged. I pleaded with the nurse to put me out of my misery, and when the anesthesiologist didn’t walk to my room fast enough I started to get nasty. I asked for the meds at 7 centimeters, and they took effect when I was at 10 centimeters. The anesthesiologist laughed at me and said “why do you even need me to give you this? You made it on your own!” Not by choice. Still, when it came time to push I was my self again, the pain was gone, the room was quiet, and I could actually remember that part of the labor, unlike everything before. If I hadn’t had the epidural, I probably would be blacked out and unconscious when Søren emerged.
Having a good labor nurse makes all the difference. I was fortunate enough to have two – a nurse, and her nurse-trainee. We learned that it was nurse-trainee’s first ever delivery, and thinking back I feel very sorry that I had to be his first. Those two people made me laugh, filled me with encouraging words, and listened to me apologize and obsess for hours about getting the epidural. When the doctor didn’t believe me after I told her that my water broke (she was the on-call doctor. My doctor would have believed me), the nurse stood up for me and forced the doctor to look again. Labor nurses are heros – angels in hospital scrubs.