From the moment you pee on the stick and see the two lines, the smiley face, or the word pregnant, your mind starts to run wild. Is this for real? Will it be good? Could this really be happening? After dropping about fifty more bucks at the drugstore by taking another three to four tests to confirm what the first showed (trust us, we’ve been there!), the idea of pregnancy and motherhood begins to settle in.
Through deep breaths and calming thoughts, you start to envision what the next nine months will look like. Cravings, nausea, fatigue (sometimes extreme), bloating, spider veins, acne, back pain, and maternity clothes…bring it on! And although you can handle almost any of pregnancy’s curve balls—and there are many—the unknown surrounding how that baby will actually make his or her entrance into this world is probably the most nerve racking. Will there be endless hours of pain where you spend every contraction cursing your labor team (gotta love the movies!), or will it be a peaceful few hours rocking back and forth to the iPod playlist you carefully selected? Whichever it winds up being, you can almost be sure it won’t be what you imagined. It will deviate from your birth plan or your non-birth plan, no matter how hard you will it not to.
Amidst all the unattractive parts of pregnancy, there will be the most attractive things you have ever experienced. You will feel your baby kick. You will listen to your baby’s heartbeat, and you will watch your baby grow. You will think a lot about your future, both immediate and distant, and try to imagine what your days, nights, and years will look like. (Spoiler: the nights will be long, and the sleep, short!) While you can’t know when or how everything will happen during labor, you can take those sleepless nights preparing for a variety of possibilities. By educating yourself (through reputable sources—shout out to Truly, MD!) and talking to your doctor or midwife, you can prepare yourself for what might come. There is a lot to learn and a lot to consider, so we will give you the abridged version.
Epidurals are not your enemy; in fact, they are sort of your fair-weather best friend. (Labor isn’t so long!) Despite all the pros, unfortunately, for some reason there is a lot of negative hype around epidurals, such as:
- They will cause a C-section.
- They will hurt your baby.
- They will cause permanent back pain.
These are simply not true. While epidurals have been demonstrated to increase the second stage of labor (a.k.a. how long it takes you to push that kid out) and increase a woman’s need for labor augmentation (Pitocin), they have not clearly been linked to increased C-sections.
Data show that timing may be the issue, and getting your epidural too early (defined as < 4cm) may be what increases the risk of a C-section. So while we will do our best to coach you through those early contractions sans an epidural, in our opinion, next to the pill, epidurals may be medicine’s best gift to women. Think of any other medical situation where it would be okay for a woman to have intense pain and no pain control. We can’t think of one! So don’t try to be a hero. If the pain is too much, it’s okay to cry mercy. We promise this doesn’t make you a failure. While pain-free labor seems pretty amazing, we would be remiss not to mention that there are some negative side effects with epidurals (headache, temporary weakness/numbness, fever, low blood pressure, rash). However, in general epidurals are incredibly safe and in our opinion a total lifesaver!
Hot topic #2 on the L&D floor. Put your scissors away, because episiotomies (a cut along the perineum to increase space) are no longer standard practice. The routine use of episiotomies is sort of an old-school practice (reference to it can be found in the medical literature for over 300 years!). Historically, it was done to help expedite the pushing process, more space presumably equaling more speed. It was also thought to decrease the incidence of bad tears and future leakage (a.k.a. your dependence on Depends!). But the studies demonstrated that the proof was missing from the pudding. Most evidence showed that the benefits of routine episiotomies were sparse and in more of doctors’ anecdotal experiences (let me tell you about what I’ve seen!) more than evidence-based. Medicine moves faster than a NASCAR racer in the final lap of the Daytona 500; research is the fuel driving the process. Routine episiotomies are out of gas; restricted use is preferred and is the current practice.
Zodiac signs, numbers, days of the week, and months are all important. I mean, if you deliver a Taurus as opposed to an Aries you could be up against a bull versus a ram. But despite your love of certain signs, elective anything when it comes to labor should be carefully considered. Scheduling C-sections and deliveries to fit between scheduled appointments, commitments, and important events has become a popular trend. The “Cesarean delivery on maternal request” (the PC way to say “no medical reason to go under the knife”) encompasses about 2.5% of all births in this country (about 1.3 million births per year). Simply stated, if this is what you want you are clearly not alone. But before you go under the knife, we ask you to consider the potential downsides of this seemingly benign procedure.
While the most common surgical procedure performed on women in the US is a C-section, they are most certainly not risk-free. A C-section is still surgery. You will be in the hospital longer; your baby has a higher chance of respiratory problems. Squeezing through the birth canal squeezes the fluid out of the lungs, while taking the “easy way out” does not allow the fluid to come out, and you are at higher risk of problems in your next pregnancy. Think of it this way: when you fall and cut your knee, you usually get a scab. The area heals, but often a scar remains. As long as it isn’t on your face, you can pretty much deal! Well, when a C-section is performed and the uterus is cut, it (just like your knee) will scab and eventually will heal. But even in the hands of the best OB, it is not uncommon for scar tissue to form on the uterus. Scar tissue on the uterus may be hard to see, but trust us, it is not a pretty sight. While cosmetically, you won’t have a problem (only your OB sees your uterus!), scar tissue can negatively affect your future pregnancies in a pretty big way. Placental implantation problems, uterine rupture, and even the need for a hysterectomy can all occur the next time around.
And in this case, the motto “The more, the better” does not apply. The more kids you have, the more C-sections you will likely need and the worse the situation can become. A planned “C” will decrease your urinary leakage (cough, sneeze, laugh, oops!) in the first year after delivery, but after that, the playing fields between elective C-section and vaginal delivery are pretty much equal. (Basically, we all will be peeing on ourselves at the same rate.) So while it seems simpler, cleaner, and easier, we again remind you that it is surgery, and surgery has risks. Think before you sign up. Read, ask, consider, and investigate.
Flashing alert…we are talking about the elective-not-in-labor C-section, NOT the “I’ve-been-in-labor-for-24-hours-and-pushing-for-four,-and-this-kid-won’t-come-out C-section!” Or this baby is breech and won’t turn C-section. Trust us, we are not knocking C-sections or those who have them; being awake while somebody is operating on your belly is more than admirable. If you wind up needing a C-section, don’t sweat it. You are no less of a woman, a mom, or a tough chick because you couldn’t push your baby out from below. It’s your voice, your body, and your baby. And as long as you are at least 39 weeks pregnant (one week before your due date or more), you can request an elective-not-in-labor-just-because-I-want-it C-section!
We’ve seen women who swore off epidurals like the devil begging for them and women who signed up for elective C-sections walk onto the labor floor 10cm and pushing. You just never know how it will go. Have an idea what you want—midwife or OB, doula or partner, C-section or vaginal delivery—but be ready to accept the exact opposite. You can print it 100 times, in color and in bold, but it likely won’t change what happens on that fateful morning, afternoon, or evening. In the words of our girl Elsa, “Let it go.” More important than the perfect story or the kickass photo ops is safety (yours and your baby’s).
Hours of painful contractions can blur your ability to reason. That’s what your trusty OB/midwife is there for. Sure, we’ve probably been up with you, but sleepless nights are par for the course for an obstetrician (coffee is our best friend!). Even the best of stories and plans often needs editing. And while chapters 1–10 may not be a New York Times bestseller, it’s the last page that matters most: a healthy mom and a healthy baby. The rest are just words on a page!