We’ve all heard the horror stories; pushy family members refusing to leave the delivery room when a mom is laboring, nurses making women wait for 20-30 minutes to push while they wait for the doctor to arrive, and partners cluelessly scrambling in the process. Hearing these (amongst worse tales) can have any first time mom quaking in her (one size bigger than normal) booties just thinking about her impending trip to Labor and Delivery; but this doesn’t have to happen to you. There are steps you can take leading up to “the big day” to ensure your L&D experience is smooth and as complication free as possible.
1. Ask your doctor to map out the birthing process for you. Many first time moms are embarrassed to ask questions (especially this one, because it seems so simple- you contract, you push, you get a baby, right? Not always). In order to have realistic expectations, you need to know more specifics. Is there a special phone number you need to call if you go into labor after hours? Do you have to be contracting at a certain pace to leave for the hospital? When you arrive, will the doctor be there? Will he expect you to wait to push (in spite of dilation) if he hasn’t arrived? Are the nurses equipped to deliver if he isn’t in time? In what scenario would you need a c-section? At what point does the practice typically induce late moms? If said induction took place, what is the typical procedure and outcome? At what point can you get an epidural (and at what point can you no longer opt for one)?
Sound like a lot of questions? That’s because there are a lot of different situations that can take place. If, after all the information is provided, you hear something you aren’t comfortable with, discuss this in advance. The delivery room is a tough place to have a conversation about expectations; sure you might be in labor 12 hours, but you could also be in labor for 3, and in between contractions isn’t the time to discuss your concerns of episiotomies. Odds are your baby will come on it’s own time and you’ll be able to have the birth you want, but just in case, it’s always good to be prepared. Which leads me to…
2. Be flexible. I, personally, am not a fan of birth plans. I’ve seen quite a few friends go into their first labor experience expecting a very specific outcome (no meds, water birth, home birth, etc.) only to be disappointed when plans changed. That said, I know a lot of women really like have their wishes down in writing should a doctor or nurse they’re not familiar with be on call the day/night of their delivery. While this is fine in theory, you need to go into this experience with an open mind; remind yourself that the end outcome (if we’re all lucky) is a healthy baby, and how we get them here is just a means to an end.
3. Take a birthing class. While most hospitals offer some form of birthing or Lamaze classes, many women are hesitant to attend thinking that it will be 3-6 hours of someone teaching you how to breath in the “hee hee hee, hah hah hah” fashion. I thought this myself until I decided to see what the hype was about. While we did focus on some breathing techniques, the class educated us on much more. I learned about all of the pain medications the hospital would use if requested, their potential side effects and even saw a video on how they are administered. They also went over the various procedures that might be used in the event that a mom needs help getting baby out (whether they used forceps, did an episiotomy or performed a c-section). As they say, knowledge is power, and having lots of ammo going into labor is invaluable.
4. Communicate. Talk to your husband/partner/doula/birthing coach about your expectations of them during delivery. While you might not know exactly how you’re going to feel going into labor, you can have a general idea of what you want your support person’s role to be. For me, I told my husband I wanted him for quiet support- back rubbing, making sure I had cold wash cloths on my head at all times, and pretty much leaving me alone otherwise. If you know your partner is terrible in high stress situations, you may want to have an additional support person in the room to help keep you calm and comfortable (some people ask other relatives or friends, others hire doulas or birth coaches). Your support person will likely be running interference for you, so make sure they know your wishes when it comes to having family in the room or having the doctor perform specific procedures.
Last, but most important of all…
5. Be your own advocate. Time and again I hear women complain that their husbands want their parents in the delivery room, that parents/in-laws overstay their welcome while laboring (causing distraction and discomfort), and that doctors forced them into a situation they were not comfortable with. The best thing you can do for yourself and your baby is to speak up. You have a lot of years ahead of you advocating on behalf of your child, so it will be good practice to start having your voice be heard now. This doesn’t mean you have to be rude, but you do need to be firm and fair.
For instance, if your husband insists his parents be witnesses to the blessed event and you’re uncomfortable with that, you need to say so. Explain to your partner (calmly) that although you know they’re excited about becoming a parent, you’ll be going through a lot and most of it isn’t pretty (not to mention most people aren’t thrilled with the idea of their father’s in law seeing their delicate parts). Ask them for a role reversal (i.e., how would he feel if say, your mom was in the room while he got a vasectomy?). A lot of times, significant others are so excited about the birth of their children that they forget how it has to happen. However, you need to be fair about this; while it’s okay that your extra support person be your mom or sister (or other person), you can’t invite your whole family to be involved and exclude his family (unless there are some serious extenuating circumstances).
If you come across any of the above situations, and your significant other isn’t being supportive, you can always tell your nurse. Your nurses are there to help YOU, not your partner; and if you express discomfort at the unwanted presence of anyone (partner included), they will do the “dirty work” and have them removed from the room.
If you only want certain people notified of the impending birth of your baby (please don’t post my labor progress on Facebook, twitter or the like!), or only certain people to visit in the hospital after the fact, make it known well before hand. When I had my daughter, I was uncomfortable with the thought of a lot of visitors. I knew I’d be tired and it was cold and flu season (while most people use common sense about this, you can’t trust that everyone won’t show up with an unintended “gift” of illness for your baby). My husband and I spread the word through our parents that we’d only be having close family visit us at the hospital, and we’d be happy to make arrangements to visit with others once we were home and settled a bit.
Having a baby can be the most beautiful, wonderful, messy and scary time of your life. Even if you’re a second (or third or fourth) time mom, giving birth to each child is it’s own experience. Savor it as best you can, because you can only do it once!