So, you’ve been to all the antenatal classes and you’ve read all the books and you now think you are suitably prepared and know what to expect, right? Wrong! I’m about to tell you the honest truth of what you can expect once you go into labour.
(Please note: These experiences are based on my own and it is important to remember that every birth is different)
‘Stretch and Sweep’
If, like me, your body creates too much of a comfy housing for your little bundle of joy and they decide that they don’t want to make an appearance come your due date, your midwife will offer you a stretch and sweep/membrane sweep to hopefully help get things moving. They sell it to you as a ‘gentle’ sweep around your cervix using their finger to help separate the membranes of the amniotic sac surrounding your baby which should then release hormones which kick start your labour. What it actually feels like is them shoving their whole arm so far up there that it feels like it’s going to come out of your mouth! Although, to be honest…by 40+ weeks pregnant, you will probably accept any offer of anything that will help evict your little womb raider.
‘Your Mucous Plug’
Often described as one of the first signs that things are ‘imminent’ and otherwise known as your ‘bloody show’, the purpose of your mucous plug is to block the opening of your cervix to help prevent any nasties from entering your uterus. Some people lose theirs hours before birth while others can notice it up to 2 weeks beforehand. It’s often described as a clear or slightly blood streaked jelly-like substance that you are most likely to notice after going to the loo. It actually looks more like your vagina has had a bad case of the common cold and sneezed out a huge snot ball right into your knickers! On a serious note though ladies, if you notice that there is a lot of blood present within the mucous plug, or further blood loss occurs then its best to just get advice from your midwife or antenatal ward just to check things are ok.
‘Your Waters Breaking’
I always imagined that when I went into labour, my waters dramatically breaking would be the first thing to happen, followed by the onset of contractions. Because that’s what happens in all the films and TV shows right? I even became that anxious about the thought of it that as my due date loomed closer, I was too nervous to go anywhere on my own ‘just in case’. My waters actually never broke naturally on their own accord for either of my births and the midwife was required to break them for me to help speed things along. Don’t worry though, it’s not as barbaric as it sounds and nowhere near as uncomfortable as a stretch and sweep. The midwife just inserts a small hook to break to sac and next thing you know, you feel like you are wetting yourself…everywhere!
‘Shitting Yourself During Labour’
Yes, we have all heard it happens and yes we all sit there in denial telling ourselves ‘well it won’t happen to me’, but I hate to be the bearer of bad news, it probably will. And do you know what? You honestly won’t even care at the time because what you are about to push out will be a hell of a lot worse! It will just be months later when your partner casually slides it into conversation that you will want the ground to swallow you up…”But its ok love, because it was only little and it floated!” mine kindly informed me. And if you are extra lucky, you might even throw up a bit too during labour! Isn’t it all just magical?
‘The Ring of Fire’
This is the moment when the head starts crowning and they weren’t kidding when they named this ‘The Ring of Fire’. It bloody hurts! Depending on the kind of birth you are having, your midwife will usually help support this phase by applying pressure to your perineum to help reduce the risk of tearing. You are also normally asked to try and control your breathing and pant through this part and trust me, you should try and listen! Pushing too hard through this phase runs the risk of causing a serious tear (imagine ripping yourself in half and you get the idea) and you really do NOT want that.
‘Third Stage of Labour’
With my first pregnancy, I remember feeling the pure elation of pushing all 9lb 2oz of baby out and thinking “Hurrah! It’s over!”, only for my midwife to then say to me “Right, when you feel your next contraction, I want you to give one more big push and get this placenta out shall we?”……WHAT!? You mean I’m not done yet. Don’t get me wrong, I knew the placenta was in there but the thought of what happened to it following the birth of my baby had never even crossed my mind. It was never really talked about in any of the articles I had read or antenatal classes I had attended and now the time was upon us and I was nervous. And I had a right to be nervous because for me, that next contraction never came. Some mothers have since said that their placentas just ‘slipped out’ with hardly any notice however that was certainly NOT the case for me. We waited, and waited for my next contraction which still wasn’t making an appearance. The midwife tugged slightly on the cord that was still hanging out of me with no luck. It still felt firmly in place and wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon. After much discussion, it was then decided that they would insert a catheter into me to drain my bladder in case that was blocking the exit. Sure enough, with a newly emptied bladder, I then stood up to change position and out fell my placenta, with a huge thud on the floor. Stupidly, I made the mistake of instinctively looking down out of fear that my insides had just fallen out of me (because that is what it felt like). Nobody tells you that your placenta is bloody massive and the equivalent of birthing another baby! It’s no wonder the thing didn’t want to come out.
This was another thing I wasn’t quite prepared for. I was lucky enough to escape my first birth with just a first degree tear which meant that only the perineal skin had been torn. I did, however still need stitches but once you’ve pushed a 9lb 2oz baby out of there, they felt like a breeze. It’s certainly true what they say about dignity in childbirth and the fact that you have none as all inhibitions were out the window while I lay flat on my back with my legs wide open (pretty sure that’s what got me into this situation) while I had one midwife inspecting my nether regions, another midwife holding a torch (as if I needed anymore confirmation that I now resembled a wind tunnel ‘down there’), a student midwife observing and my mother pacing up and down next to me holding a freshly born baby Flynn. The best piece of advice I can give if you suffer a tear is take a jug of warm water with you when you go for a wee and gently pour it down below to help relieve any stinging. And take as many shallow baths as you need to help relieve any discomfort. And if you are worried by the thought that because you have torn once before, you will the next time you give birth then please don’t. I am happy to report that I survived the birth of my second child unscathed with not even a scratch!
‘Bleeding After Birth’
To explain post birth bleeding like a ‘heavy period’ would be a huge understatement. I remember opening up a maternity pad and being shocked by the size of it thinking “How the hell is this going to fit in between my legs!? I’ve seen thinner mattress toppers!” but they are that size for a reason. In the first few days, I even doubled up on them and still found I needed to replace them hourly. Night time was always a bit hit and miss too as to whether or not I would wake up to a blood bath. The feeling of dread was similar to being a teenager all over again when you first start your period and find yourself forever worrying about ‘leakages’. Not forgetting to mention the blood clots! Me and my mum still laugh about the time I sent her a panicked message the day after Flynn was born when I stepped out of the bath and what looked like a kidney fell out of me! Her response? “Ah yes. I forgot to warn you about the slugs!” And until this day, we now forever fondly refer to them as ‘slugs’ because that is exactly what they look like. Big, fat, disgusting slugs!
‘The Biggest Truth of All’
And finally, the most important truth of all is that YOU CAN DO THIS! You will be amazed at what the female body can achieve when pushed to its limits and although it’s completely natural to feel scared and doubt your own abilities, you will come out the other end feeling like you can absolutely conquer the world! Women are warriors. You may even find the whole experience enjoyable and it will certainly be one you will never forget!
At least not until you can wee without feeling like your vagina is on fire!
By Amy Werdekker