There is just only so much that can be planned. An expectant mom might read all the books, scroll hungrily through all the week-by-week sites, take classes, write out a birth plan, and more, but although these things might help her feel more in control, a big part of giving birth can actually be letting it go.
That control, that is. It’s a natural process, and therefore somewhat unpredictable. Women face the unexpected and the unknown, and even if they’ve done it before, second and subsequent births can be entirely different experiences…
I’ve given birth twice in the last handful of years, and I write about the experiences all the time, at first for fun and for my own fulfillment, and these days because it’s my job — and it’s still one of the most interesting things in the world to me.
I was so excited to get to go through pregnancy, labor, and birth. Of course, I was pumped to become a mom, too, but a big part of the whole journey for me was getting the chance to go through all of this.
I’ll draw largely from my experience with the birth of my first, here, as I suspect many first-timers may be interested in the surprises that came my way, having never done it before, but also a bit from the unexpected aspects of the birth of my second.
It’s all part of my story, and I’ll share it with you today: 20 things that surprised me the most about the birth.
20 The Sheer Speed (Of The Second)
I believe it was something like 20 hours between when I first felt what I recognized as early contractions and when I first held my first baby in my lovin’ arms. An entire afternoon, evening, night, and the better part of a morning had passed in between these two events.
Sure, I had heard that second labors tend to go faster (from my own doctors, for one), but I believe the second one occurred in something like a fifth of the time.
(Although, I am realizing for the first time that it is entirely possible that the early contractions during my second labor were simply ignored as potential Braxton-Hicks, as compared to being so aware that contractions were finally happening at all at the start of my first labor.)
In any case, it surprised me just how much faster things progressed that second time. Happily, though, we were able to make it to the hospital! Barely!
19 The Trouble Nailing Down Timing
In one sense, this didn’t entirely surprise me, in that it was a slight fear of mine that I would not know exactly when it was really time to go to the hospital.
But also, they are so matter-of-fact at the doctor’s office and in pregnancy books about “you should go into the hospital when your contractions have been X far apart for X amount of time…”
The thing is, we followed that formula, and we even waited some beyond that, and we still went in too early to be admitted.
So I guess it just surprised me that first time just how hard it was to tell when we should go on in.
I wasn’t dilated enough yet to be put into a delivery room, and had to spend awful hours walking the hospital halls.
18 The Attack On My Back
I had heard of “back labor,” but for me, that wasn’t really the issue at all.
Instead, what took me by surprise was how hard it was on my back to actually go through the pushing phase.
They kept telling me to curl up more, more, more around the baby still in my uterus to aid in the pushing effort.
First of all, I didn’t feel like this was natural for me or like it was helping, and it exhausted me to do it.
For days, weeks, maybe even months afterward, I had an intense soreness in the middle of my back.
And it was like it never got a chance recover, either, because I was always holding or lifting or feeding the baby, or leaning over to change it, using the very same muscles.
17 How Real The Wall Is
I had read at that point, I believe, that so many women (all?) come to a point during labor, especially natural or unmedicated childbirth, at which they just feel like they can’t or don’t want to go on. Maybe they even feel like they are dying, like they just won’t be able to get through this.
That moment is real, and that surprised me.
You really can hit a wall, so to speak, and feel like you are just trapped, needing to keep going forward somehow but just not knowing how.
Women find a way, and I’m guessing that you will, too. (Kind of your only choice!)
16 Quickly Wanting To Do It All Over Again
Even amid the worst of the pain from contractions, I was rambling on about how worried I was that these sensations and their extreme intensity would prevent me from wanting to do it all again.
So basically, if you think about it, I was already wanting to do it again even during the very worst of the pain. Funny, right?
I guess it’s nature’s way of getting us to reproduce and then reproduce some more. And no, it’s not at all like I forgot how it felt, or what happened that day.
How quickly I wanted to do it all again (especially as someone who never knew before that I wanted multiple children) was quite amusing.
15 The Elaborate Setup For Postpartum Care
I don’t really know why, but I hadn’t given specific thought to what exactly would be going on to take care of me and my body after giving birth.
And the aftercare is certainly a big part of the birth. Believe me.
I guess my mind was, understandably, more focused on the bigger-picture things like, ya know, getting through labor, giving birth, and becoming a mom.
But so it won’t take you by complete surprise, too, I’ll do a quick rundown of what you might expect a nurse to set you up with after the delivery: an escort to the bathroom, a plastic potty insert to collect your urine, a perineal squirt bottle for cleansing… big, mesh disposable briefs, containing a GIANT sanitary pad, antiseptic spray, and perhaps some hemorrhoid pads placed just so…
It’s quite the elaborate system.
14 The Worst Car Ride Ever
I never knew what the worst part of labor and birth would be for me, but I think I can certainly pinpoint it now, after the fact.
It was the car ride to the hospital.
This, to me, was certainly a surprise.
How was I to know that this is where I would experience the first rapid set of contractions that actually required movement and positioning just to get through?
How was I to understand how intolerable it would be to be strapped into the front seat of the car, trapped, for a 10-minute ride that felt like an eternity?
13 The Clearly Real Effects Of Cheerleading
I knew instinctually that I didn’t want a lot of people around: no additional family or friends, no doula.
Just my husband and the nurses and doctors that absolutely had to be there.
I wanted some amount of solitude. I wanted privacy. To me, this felt like freedom.
And so I was completely surprised by how crucial it became to me to have a team of people surrounding me and literally cheering.
It was during pushing. I had already been at it for hours, with slow progress.
And then, I started to get somewhere. The doctor was called in, and the tone changed suddenly to one of excitement and urgency.
As I got closer to meeting my little one, the nurse and doctor cheered things like, “You can do it!” or “A little more!” or something to that effect — I honestly don’t know what it was, but their urging worked.
They saw as much, and I might have even said how well it was working for me, and so to a (small) cheering crowd, my first baby was born.
12 The Magic Of The Mirror
I don’t think I’d given great thought to how much I would want to see or wouldn’t as I actually gave birth. I sort of figured that my mind would have to be focused on the physical task of just getting through it and making it happen.
But after pushing and pushing and pushing some more, the nurse calmly asked if I would like to use a mirror… And I knew she was onto something really smart.
With it positioned just so, I could actually see the result of each pushing effort, and therefore understand that what I was doing really was having a positive effect, and therefore give just a little more and a little more as needed to get that baby born.
I never knew how crucial that mirror would be for me.
11 The Bulging Bag
In sitcoms, it’s always the water breaking and then rushing off to the hospital.
I knew that this was not how it always went in real life, and that the bag of waters often ruptured after some amount of contractions, at some point into the labor (which was unpredictable, to be sure).
But I had no idea that it would be sooo late in the game for me.
They even have a fun term for it: a “bulging bag,” where even as I was pushing, that is what was visible emerging, with the baby still inside of it.
Pretty cool, huh?
Some doctors / nurses may want to break the bag with a little instrument at some point in the process.
10 That Look On The Dr.’s Face, Though…
Now, I was pretty focused on the brand-new little baby before me, not so much the final stages of labor, but I did push out the placenta, and then something happened that had to be explained to me later by my husband.
As I understand it, the placenta sort of snagged on something on its way out or right afterward, maybe even one of those stirrups at the end of the bed, for all I know, and suddenly the OB who delivered my baby had this way over-whelmed look on his face and was exclaiming something, maybe even, “Oh my god!”
This, of course, startled me and I was like what the heck is going on???
No problems or danger for me (phew!), just a messy splatter for him.
9 The Absence Of Tears And Purple Skin
I had it in my mind that parents should be prepared for their newborns to look like tiny aliens, or old men… with a scrunched up face letting out an odd cry, eyes shut tight, and oddly colored skin.
Well to my great delight, mine did no such thing.
My baby was calm and almost seemed observant. Perfect fair skin… Eyes open wide as they looked right up into mine, containing an entire universe, or more.
Just the way we were already gazing at each other, beginning to understand each other and start our life as mother and child…
To say it was a surprise or a trip or any word I can think of is an outrageous understatement.
8 The Insatiable Hunger Afterward
I mean, I hadn’t really thought too much about what I’d want to eat or how much right after giving birth.
I knew that I’d look forward to having a big deli sandwich, that favorite food of mine that pregnant gals have to skip because of the risk for listeria…
But what was wild to me was how ravenous I was — and at all hours of the day and night — during the hours, days, and weeks that followed.
I think surely it had to do with how little I slept. Like, you have to get the energy to keep functioning from somewhere.
Hormones were probably heavily involved, too, as well as the hard physical work I had just gone through and the current work at hand (of taking care of a newborn).
And I think breastfeeding was the big one, and so I instinctually followed that urge to intake, and buzzed the nurse for toast, juice, anything! at 3 in the morning.
7 The Need To Have A Beat Dropped
It was just impossible for me to understand what would help and how when it came to coping with the pain of labor and childbirth.
I don’t know how you could ever really completely successfully prepare — I think you need, in the end, to just sort of learn as you go and do your best to be comfortable and follow your own instincts.
One of the most amusing things ever about labor and childbirth for me, in the end, was how completely crucial rhythm was for me in coping.
I demanded that the tunes keep coming, especially one particular (and particularly hilarious) R&B song that had just the right beat for me to move to during the worst contractions.
6 Mellow For Hours
It wasn’t a rush out the door, and I knew it wouldn’t be.
It was a slow build, just as labor is so often described as in pregnancy books.
What was really quite a lesson to learn for me was just how slow that build ended up being, the first time around, in any case.
Looking back, it’s hard to believe just how mellow it was and for how long.
From the afternoon until fairly late at night, I needed absolutely no coping positions or techniques to get through the pain (that would come — in full force — later). The contractions were all completely manageable.
5 As Easy As Instincts
I remember all of this quite clearly and quite fondly, from the heat of the day to the way I felt as I drove home from the doctor’s office, and labor began.
I had just had my final prenatal appointment — it was the day before my due date.
As I was driving home, I knew that something was up, and I knew that it was the start of the process that would lead to me meeting my first baby.
What was a surprise was not so much how well I was able to understand what was going on, even though I hadn’t ever done it before, but just sort of how easy it was to follow my instincts and stay calm when it was first starting.
I even stopped off for a smoothie — not even kidding.
4 How Much Hospital Hate
A big focus of mine had been how I would know when it was really time to go into the hospital. I would guess that this isn’t uncommon for first-time moms, especially.
But while I was over here worrying about when it would be right to go in, I think I should have instead focused on how long I could possibly stay at home.
See what I mean?
Basically, what I learned after that first experience, to my surprise, was how I really would have preferred (HUGE understatement here…) to be in the comfort of my own home for as long as possible.
At home, I could have gotten into any position that felt right on the floor. I could have used my own bathroom. I could have had privacy.
Therefore that become my focus the next time…
3 So. Much. Swelling.
I got out of the hospital bed for one of the first time after giving birth.
As my feet stepped onto the hard floor, I felt a jiggle…
It was my feet themselves, which to my great astonishment looked much larger and differently shaped than ever before.
I hadn’t noticed much swelling if any during the actual pregnancy, as I know that some women do.
But I suppose as my body began the process of getting rid of all that extra retained fluid from throughout the system, a good amount of it was collecting down below in my feet!
It felt soooo weird, that jiggle as I stepped, and it lasted for at least a few days.
I know that it was still noticeable even at home after being discharged (and then eventually completely went away).
2 Check Out Ms. Chatty
I mean, I guess probably like many people, I have certain moods and phases where I want to talk to a lot of people and certain times that I really like, say, silence or just being alone.
I would think that I would tend toward being quiet and focusing inward during labor and childbirth, but oh no…
I was talking, talking, talking, a mile a minute, as they say.
Any nurse or doctor or staff person that entered the room was getting a taste of it, and it just kept coming.
Maybe it was nerves, or adrenaline… I don’t know, but I had something to say about everything and everyone, and the words flew out of my mouth, even between the worst contractions and during pushing. Weird, right?
1 The Awfulness Of The Afterpains
I don’t really recall afterpains immediately following the birth of my first baby, as in the uterus contracting noticeably as it began the process of returning to (more like) its normal size.
The second time I gave birth, though, I really, really noticed these sensations, and I hadn’t really expected that.
It was especially noticeable during nursing, which makes sense I suppose, as that oxytocin flows. (Nurses will want to make sure by sort of pressing on the abdomen that it seems to be undergoing this process in a timely enough fashion.)
And I don’t think it was just right afterward in the hospital, either, but into the early weeks, as well, and so became another feeling to experience (deal with?) during the recovery period.
Reference: This one mom’s experience.