A question I see popping up over and over on the internet is “what is it like to give birth?” The answer almost always includes the phrase “it depends on the person.” Some women have easy labor, delivering their newborn in a matter of hours. Others are long and drawn out over a couple of days. The pain of childbirth is also dependent on the individual. If your pain tolerance is high, childbirth may not feel so horrible. Of course, with the technology and medicines available today, they have ways of speeding up labor as well as easing women’s pain during the birthing process.
Myself, I’ve had 3 children and each one was a bit different. I was only 19 when I had my first-born. I had no clue what contractions would feel like. According to WebMd.com, true labor contractions usually start in the lower back and move to the front of the abdomen. For some women it can feel like menstrual cramps.1 Up until this time I never even had menstrual cramps so I really didn’t know what I was in for.
Contractions started on a Thursday night right around bedtime. For me they were mainly in my lower abdomen and between the legs (what I now continue to experience as menstrual cramps). Strong, but short and bearable they were about 10 minutes apart. I was able to sleep through them all the way until morning.
The next morning the contractions continued unchanged. 10 minutes apart and still bearable. We gathered all my things for the hospital stay and called my stepdaughter to pick us up. (My husband did not have a license at this time). Since this was a Friday, and it just so happened to be a payday for m husband, we decided to swing by his workplace and get his check. I regretted that decision. It was only about 20 minutes away from our home, but by the time he returned to the car with check in hand, my contractions were now 2 minutes apart and growing increasingly painful. The hospital was another 15-20 minutes away. It was now that I half-regretted not attending a Lamaze class. I tried to breathe like they show in the movies and failed miserably.
I think I was in the hospital for about an hour when I finally said enough of the pain, “give me an epidural!” Let me tell you, those things are absolutely amazing. Within moments of them pumping medicine into the epidural, total bliss! The pain was gone. One problem however, someone must have misjudged the dosage (I know they asked me my weight, but maybe I was a bit off?). When it came time for actual delivery – I could NOT feel a thing in my lower extremities. Even my abdomen was numb. My husband had to hold up one leg and a nurse had to hold up the other because I couldn’t even feel enough to lift them. When the nurse said to push, I sat up, but I had no idea if I was pushing or not. I couldn’t feel a doggone thing down there! It all ended well though and my precious newborn was delivered healthy and well.
My legs were still numb several hours later. When they got me out of bed to go to the bathroom and get moved to my overnight room, my legs were still mostly asleep with just barely a bit of tingling. Kind of like how your lips feel after a dental procedure with a Novocain injection.
My other two deliveries went much smoother now that I had an idea of what to expect. Although I had heard many women say that subsequent deliveries go faster and that made me worry about getting to the hospital on time. I certainly did not want to deliver a baby in the car!
So when contractions started on a weekday morning for my second child, I called my ride right away. This time around it was my stepmother, who also ended up videotaping the birth. She lived an hour away from our home, and arrived in less than 45 minutes! Apparently she sped down the highway at 75 miles per hour (or more) freaked out that I’d be delivering when she arrived. She burst through the door to find me calmly changing my first-born’s diaper on the floor. We laughed over her needless rushing and sat around the apartment for several hours before finally going in to the hospital. This time I waited a little longer to get the epidural. I pushed myself to deal with the pain as long as I could because the epidurals are known to slow down labor. At least at that time they were because of the type of anesthetic they used. 2
Even with holding off for a few more hours, I still didn’t deliver until nearly midnight. At least this time though, I could actually feel more. The contractions were just a dull achy feeling rather than pain. So this time when they told me to push I actually felt like I was pushing. When baby finally crowned, I could feel that too. Believe me, it really does feel like you’re trying to push a watermelon through a hole the size of a lemon! At least with the epidural there wasn’t pain, just a real strong feeling of discomfort. It was only a few minutes after the head crowned that I could feel the baby’s body being pulled out of me. A very strange sensation indeed.
With my 3rd child, we were about an hour from the hospital and knew there were some major construction projects along the route at the time. So we were pretty concerned about getting there on time. Contractions started in the early evening. We went to the video store and rented a movie (Toy Story 2, I think). By the time we got home from the video store the pain was pretty strong so we decided to head to the hospital. Being that it was nighttime, the construction actually didn’t hold us up and we arrived far sooner than we anticipated. The nurse hooked me up to a monitor, checked my dilation and then paged the doctor on call. The doctor told her to send me home, it was too early in labor. So, we headed back home and started watching the movie. We weren’t even halfway through it when I said, we have to go NOW. The pain was getting unbearable and contractions much closer together. And off we went again. I believe it was going on midnight or 1 AM by now. This time I waited until my doctor told me it was the nearing the point where I wouldn’t be able to get the epidural. (I was getting better at handling the contraction pain and a nurse there helped me to breathe properly.) Once the doctor started having me push, my baby boy literally slid right out! There was no endless pushing. I ended up delivering my 3rd beautiful baby within a couple hours after sunrise.
Out of my experiences I have the following advice:
– Pack your things and have your route planned well in advance.
– Talk to your doctor about pain control options beforehand so that you know when is the best time to ask for it during labor.
– Don’t wait too long at home. Go in when the pain starts getting strong. No one wants to deliver a baby in the backseat of their car!
– Do not let them send you back home, unless you get something in writing that says you won’t be billed for the room or time spent on the monitor. (The hospital billed us a room charge for the hour I spent on the monitor before they sent us home during my 3rd delivery. Our insurance, of course, didn’t cover the extra room charge.)
- Labor Contractions: Braxton-Hicks or True Labor?
- Questions about Childbirth Pain
Cedars-Sinai Health System.