Adventures in the Delivery Room
Let’s set the scene. You’ve spent the last nine months waiting in enamored anticipation for your baby to be born. You’ve read every book, downloaded every pregnancy app, devoured every mommy blog, and talked to all of your friends and family members about how to raise a healthy, happy little human. You’re pretty confident that you know the ins and outs, ups and downs, and can handle everything that’s thrown your way. And you’re probably right. But there might be a couple things that happen in the delivery room - during actual childbirth - that you might not be prepared for. Every delivery is different, every situation is unique, and you certainly can’t prepare for everything. But here are some things you should be ready for.
Just like pregnancy, no two labors are alike, and it’s generally impossible to predict how your experience is going to play out. But there are some general guidelines and ways to prepare for at least the duration of labor.
The first stage of labor is the longest, and consists of three phases - early labor, active labor and the transition stage. Early labor can be unpredictable and for some women it can last hours to days. Typically, many women experience labor that lasts anywhere from 6-18 hours on average, including the very early stages of labor that don’t necessarily require them to rush to the hospital.
But some women don’t have quite as much time to prepare. A precipitous birth, or rapid labor, is characterized by labor that can last as little as three hours and is typically less than five hours.
While this might sound like a dream come true, there are some drawbacks and dangers to giving birth so quickly.
For some women, giving birth quickly leaves them understandably panicked and emotionally unprepared. They might not be in an ideal or even appropriate location for giving birth (like a car, bus, or at work!), and they might not be with the people they dreamed of being with while they experienced this monumental moment.
Rapid labor can also have physical consequences, like tearing or laceration of the cervix or vagina, hemorrhaging and even shock.
Talk with your health provider about the classic signs and symptoms of labor. They will be able to suggest when you should call or go to the hospital based on your own specific situation. Though you can’t control the speed or progression of your labor, it’s important to remain as calm as possible, breathe and call for help immediately.
Be at Ease With Feces
Maybe you’ve heard rumors about having a bowel movement in the delivery room. The fact is, it’s true. It’s very, very common to go number two during labor.
And if you really think about it, it makes sense. When you push, you’re using the same muscles that you use when you’re going… well, poop. Plus, the baby moving through the birth canal means there’s a lot of extra pressure on your colon and even your rectum. Try as you might, if there’s feces in your bowels during labor, you probably will not be able to stop yourself from releasing it. But don’t worry, everyone in the room with you is well versed in handling this very natural phenomenon. It’s common, healthy, and chances are, you’ll be so busy having a baby that you might not even realize it happened.
As if pushing a small human through your body isn’t enough, sometimes vaginal ripping or tearing happens. It’s something many women don’t want to think about let alone talk about, but the truth is, it happens more frequently than you might think.
A vaginal tear is a spontaneous laceration to the area between the vagina and rectum (the perineum) that happens when a baby is pushed out. Sometimes the vagina will stretch enough, but unfortunately, 95 percent of first-time moms tear.
There are four degrees of vaginal tearing. All are painful, but the degree of tearing and number of stitches needed and recovery time can vary. First-degree tears can take up to six weeks to heal fully, while fourth-degree tears can take many months. Talk to your physician or care provider about ways to help avoid tearing or ripping. There are things you can do before labor (like perineal massage) and during labor like special pushing and warm compresses that can help prevent or minimize tearing.
You should definitely talk with your physician about the possibility of an episiotomy. An episiotomy is when your physician makes an incision in the perineum that widens the vaginal opening to hopefully prevent tearing. While this used to be common, routine practice, many providers now selectively use episiotomy. Talk with your provider about episiotomy before going into labor. They can answer any questions you might have, and can explain under what circumstances the procedure might be necessary.
Depending on your physician’s schedule or situation, they might not actually be the person on call at the moment you head to the hospital to give birth. You might see one of their partners, or another on-call physician. Rest assured, they will know your history, and will make sure your delivery runs as smoothly as possible. Many moms report that when they go into labor, they focus less on who actually delivers them, and more on managing pain and having a healthy baby.
It’s also very possible that you’ll spend the majority of your labor without a physician physically in the room with you. But what you will have is a team of nurses and other staff members there to care for you, who will be monitoring your progress and giving your physician all the important information and updates.
As with everything, every person’s experience is different. How much time your physician spends in the room and who actually delivers your baby depends completely on your hospital, your physicians and your unique situation.
And by man down, we just mean “person down.” If you have partners, friends or family with you in the delivery room, it’s very possible that they might faint or pass out. Aside from seeing things they aren’t used to seeing (like needles, blood and other bodily fluids and functions), your loved ones are going through a trauma of their own. They are witnessing the person they care about most in the world go through a very chaotic and potentially dangerous endeavor. They’re seeing nurses and physicians hovering around and medical tools and instruments being brought in. They’re watching you go through a great deal of pain, and there’s nothing they can do to help.
If at all possible, try to be selective about who is in the delivery room with you. Limit spectators to people who will bring peace, comfort and calm instead of chaos and extra excitement. It’s not always possible, but it’s worth a try.
Remember, It’s Worth It
Delivering a baby is exciting, scary and probably one of the most significant moments of your life. All these delivery room happenings might make it seem extra scary, but many moms say they forget about the gory details once they get home and start loving up their new babies.
Be sure to talk with your physician about any and every question or fear you might have. No fear is too silly, and no question is too gross. Your physician has heard it all, and experienced it all and will know how to address your concerns and put your mind at ease.