Pregnancy is full of unknowns. One of the biggest unknowns is what to expect from labor. There are so many different birth options available and every expectant mother wonders about each of them. I can help with taking away a little bit of the mystery. I’ve had three pregnancies and gave birth a different way each time. I’m going to share some details of my different birth experiences to help you know what to expect.
First, I want to add a little disclaimer: I’m not a doctor, so please don’t use these stories in place of medical advice from a doctor or midwife. These are just my experiences that I’m sharing to help you as you research what to expect from labor.
Planned Cesarean (C-Section)
I started with a twin pregnancy. One baby was breech and so we opted to do a C-section. I had time to do some research before the big day. I recommend that every pregnant woman at least consider the fact that she might have a C-section. Knowing what to expect will make it far less scary when it actually happens.
My mother-in-law was one of my best sources of information. She also had twins so she knew what I would be going through. She told me all about the spinal block and the fact that prior to starting surgery, I would have my arms spread away from my body like I was on a cross. The staff does this to prevent any reflex grasping motions when they start the procedure. This information freaked me out. I didn’t know if I could handle being in that position but when it happened, it wasn’t that big of a deal. My arms didn’t have anywhere else to be anyway. My husband held my hand and it distracted me most of the time.
The thing that actually drove me the craziest was the curtain that was right in front of my face. It made me feel really claustrophobic. Since my body was numb, I kind of felt like a disembodied head. My husband was good at telling me what was going on and my anesthesiologist was also really attentive to me. I liked knowing that the anesthesiologist was paying attention to me while all the other staff was focused on the babies.
Some people complain that their C-section hurt their initial bonding experience with their baby. I didn’t really see my daughters until an hour after they were born. My oldest had a collapsed lung so I didn’t hold her until about 60 hours (yes, as in two and a half days) later. But I didn’t love my girls any less. It was a little surreal seeing them for the first time in their hospital rooms because I didn’t see them come out of my body, but I still knew they were my babies. In all honestly, the whole hospital experience was surreal.
I did cheat a bit on the recovery part of a C-Section. My babies were preterm and had to stay in the NICU so I didn’t have to take care of them while I was recovering. For the first four days, I’d go over to special care for a few hours to help with diaper changes and feeding and then go back to my room. After I was discharged I spent another 14 days living at the hospital and helping take care of the girls. My body was mostly healed by the time the girls came home from the hospital.
My two tips to make recovering from C-sections far less painful are these. First, wear a postpartum belly wrap. This isn’t for vanity reasons. The belly wrap will hold your abdomen together so you don’t feel like you are splitting open. The hospital should provide you with one if you ask or you can buy your own ahead of time. Second, stay on top of your pain. Take your medicine on time and communicate your needs to the hospital staff. The worst pain I experienced was in my shoulder. It was referred pain from gas. I let my nurse know and she gave me a pill that took care of it.
Medicated Vaginal Birth After Cesarean (VBAC)
At the beginning of my next pregnancy, I knew I wanted to try to give birth vaginally. I had worried that I would have to fight with my doctor to even get her to consider doing a VBAC. Instead, when I first saw her with my second pregnancy, she asked, “Do you want to try for a VBAC?” She was awesome.
My labor was long and overnight. I’d been hoping to do the labor completely unmedicated, but at about 2:00 in the morning I realized I was completely worn out. I asked for an epidural and after the procedure, my husband and I were able to get about three hours of sleep before it was time to push the baby out. And thanks to the epidural, the pushing didn’t hurt. The downside was that I was completely numb. My husband and a nurse had to hold my legs while I pushed.
Throughout the labor, I was monitored much more than I would have been had I not had a C-section. I had to stay in bed and that probably slowed things down. But the extra monitoring was less restrictive than a C-section would have been.
After my son was born, I was able to get up, walk, and go to the bathroom within an hour. With the C-section, it took about a day before I could do any of those things.
I’d say the only downside to a vaginal birth is that you have to sit on the area that is recovering. And hospital beds do not help this situation. It seems like every time I got the bed adjusted in a somewhat comfortable position, someone would come in and need to examine me. The recovery was much faster than with the C-section. Within a few days, sitting was okay and within a few weeks, everything was back to normal.
My main tip for a vaginal birth is to make sure you have a good supply of Tucks Medicated Pads. I needed those after pushing my 9-pound baby out.
First off, I should be clear that my youngest daughter’s birth was very much an accidental home birth. I never in my wildest dreams thought that I would ever have a baby at home. It certainly wasn’t something that I wanted to do. I couldn’t wrap my mind around the thought of doing something so bloody in my own home.
However, my labor went quicker than I anticipated. Much quicker. I was in transition 90 minutes after I started having regular contractions. My husband barely made it back from dropping the kids off at the babysitter’s when the baby was crowning. There wasn’t any option to say, “hey let’s see if we can make it to the hospital so we don’t have to have the baby here.”
My daughter was delivered by my husband and two neighbors who ran over when they heard me screaming. It took two pushes to get her out. Her cord was tied off with shoelaces from another neighbor’s shoes. The ambulance showed up 10 minutes after my daughter was born.
I think one reason my labor went so fast was because I was at home. If I’d gone to the hospital they would have sat me down on a bed and hooked me up to a bunch of monitors for another V-BAC. I suspect that would have slowed things down at least a little bit. Instead, I was walking around my house trying to pack last minute things and get the kids ready to go to the babysitter’s house. When I did have a contraction, I’d just hunch over, grimace, make funny noises, and breath through the pain. Then I’d get back to trying to find shoes for the kids.
Even though it was a fast labor, the delivery still hurt. Words really can’t express how much delivering a baby hurts. Agony is probably the best word to describe it. I thought I was going to split right open and die in the bathroom when the baby started crowning. Screaming really isn’t the right word for the sounds I made during that time, but it’s the only word that I can think of.
As much as delivering the baby hurt, it was totally worth it for the feeling of relief that I felt as she came out. I’ve heard of people describing it as orgasmic. I wouldn’t go that far, but it was amazing. To go from utter pain to utter relief in one second was wonderful.
After my daughter was born I felt really empowered. I had just gone through one of the worst experiences of my life – and I survived. After that, I felt like I could do anything. I highly recommend doing a completely unmedicated birth. The experience is truly transcendent and life-changing.
But I don’t necessarily recommend home birth because after the baby was born, I very much needed to be at a hospital. I had a retained placenta that ended up falling apart inside of me during the ambulance ride to the hospital. That resulted in a D&C procedure to get all the placenta out. I’d lost a lot of blood and ended up with low blood pressure. I fainted in my hospital room after getting up to use the bathroom. I was really close to needing a blood transfusion.
This is when the maybes and what-ifs start taking over. My husband and I think that if I had been able to deliver the placenta at home then all those crazy things could have been avoided. Maybe if I’d had a midwife and doula around they could have helped the placenta come out when it should have. But on the other hand, what if my uterus had ruptured because this was a VBAC delivery? Things could have been really bad. Or what if my daughter hadn’t been born perfectly healthy?
I don’t know the answers to those things. What I do know is what happened. So based on what happened to me, I can’t recommend home birth. I still would prefer to give birth in a hospital.
But let me reiterate that I really really, really recommend unmedicated birth.
So which method was my favorite?
All of them – kind of.
Each birth was awesome in its own way and resulted in healthy babies. My husband was a source of strength and each delivery brought us closer together. I was able to see doctors and nurses do their jobs with skill and dedication. I witnessed neighbors dropping everything to rush over to help. I learned so many things through each birth experience.
No matter what your birth experience ends up being, it can be a beautiful and empowering experience. Take some time to research your options but also be prepared for something else happening.