I learned a few things each time I have given birth, usually the hard way. I thought I'd share them just in case anyone else could learn anything useful a bit easier than I did.
1. Every pregnancy is different and when it comes to gender, the differences don't mean squat.
2. No matter how many times you've been pregnant, it is always possible for you to experience something you hadn't before.
3. Every labor is different.
4. Just because your water hasn't broken, (at least as far as you know), doesn't mean it isn't time to push. When your water breaks doesn't necessarily mean anything in terms of the progression of your labor or how soon your baby will be born. With my second and third labors, my water broke around transition or 8/9 cm. My fourth didn't break until it was time to push and then no one could even tell as she was so low she was blocking all the water. Other women I've known have had their water break much earlier in labor.
5. If you aren't sure if you have to go to the bathroom or not, tell the nurse. Maybe you do or maybe that is not something you should be in the bathroom for at all. :)
6. False labor doesn't hurt. Prodromal or pre-labor hurts but is fairly easily manageable. Labor, which actually does something, requires focus, relaxation and prayer.
7. The uterus is a sphincter muscle. Like any other sphincter muscle (if you don't know which ones, you can fairly easily look them up but I'm sure you know at least two even if you didn't realize they were said muscles) the muscle is naturally tense and it is by flexing or pushing the muscle that it naturally relaxes. Now, I don't have x-ray vision, but in my experience, gently pushing to, in effect, relax the uterine muscle aids the muscle while it contracts. The two labors I intentionally focused on doing this were Felicity's, where I made it to the hospital at 9cm dilated having already wanted to push for a half hour, and Teresa's, where I went from 2cm to giving birth in just over 2 1/2 hours. I don't know what a doctor would say about this, but so far my experience is that it helps. So, during an unmedicated labor, it is best to relax every part of you including your uterus but, unlike the vast majority of muscles, it is relaxed by a gentle pushing down. (I actually am just applying a tip given to me by a doctor regarding how to make getting a pap test less uncomfortable.) The opposite movement, think along the lines of a Kegel exercise, would make the poor hard-working uterus work even harder. Kegels are great to do during pregnancy, but not during labor. (I did such a reaction while on 66 en route to the hospital and thought I might split in half.)
8. A good coach is worth his weight in gold.
9. The first week after giving birth, you are going to feel strange, awkward and uncomfortable. It doesn't matter how many times you've done this. You're hormonal and you are adjusting almost as much as your baby is. Accept the fact that feeling strange, awkward and uncomfortable IS normal and will pass.
10. I have never experienced a c-section but I have given birth twice with an epidural and twice without any medical intervention. I definitely prefer giving birth without any medical intervention. First of all, having an epidural doesn't mean you might as well be lounging by the pool while the nurses and doctors do all the work. You may not feel the contractions (my epidurals worked such that I did not feel the contractions) but you might still feel significant pressure. With my second epidural I felt like my tailbone was going to break. You also cannot shift positions. When I had the epidurals, I felt pretty helpless and, indeed, even useless in the birth of my own child. If you have prepared to go without medication, and preparation definitely makes a big difference, I heartily recommend it. Epidurals can have advantages, but they are not free passes and do have a cost.
11. Consider carefully when you choose to go to a hospital. Hospitals and doctors are like ticking clocks. When you get there, they expect your labor to progress. If it doesn't, they want to intervene. And their intervention might move things along to their satisfaction or it might not. If it doesn't, what was a perfectly naturally progressing labor can easily start hearing whispers of a c-section simply due to time. With my first labor, I went to the hospital too early. I was 4cm, so they wouldn't send me home, but my labor stalled and it took me about 8 hours to progress 1 cm further, despite them breaking my water. I don't regret getting the epidural with my first labor as I was, quite literally, falling asleep between contractions I was so exhausted. My regret is getting to the hospital too early. Of course it is hard to judge your first labor, and I was so determined not to make the same mistake twice, I barely made it to the hospital in time for my second, but this is where a good coach can be very helpful in assisting in the decision on when to go to the hospital.
12. If you want a natural drug-free labor, prepare for one. You'd prepare to run a marathon or participate in an athletic event. Labor and birth are hard work and preparation for them makes a world of difference. Personally I am a big fan of the Bradley Method but regardless what method you want to use, preparation and practice are immensely helpful.
13. When you go to the hospital, bring what will make you comfortable. Personally, I find those hospital beds pretty hard so I always bring two pillows from home to help make it more comfortable. I like to bring my own pajamas and slippers. I also ask to leave after 1 night, provided baby and I are doing well. My insurance covers 2 nights but I am always eager to get home to my husband, my children, and my own delightfully comfortable bed.
14. Before you go to the hospital, try to make sure you eat something. Hospitals don't like to let you eat anything just in case you wind up with a c-section but labor takes energy and since you can't naturally sleep through real labor, your energy has to come from somewhere. It will be less draining on you if you have eaten. Although I do recommend keeping it something simple on the more bland side. Reflux and indigestion are not preferable when in labor. Also, make sure you keep drinking water. Those strong contractions will force you to breath through your mouth and it will dry you out. Keep drinking water and stay hydrated. You have enough to concern yourself with without getting dehydrated or feeling parched. Fortunately, in my experience, hospitals are decent about letting you have water or ice chips.
15. Night nurses are usually not as good as day nurses, and I've had doctors confirm the same to me in their experience. They can often not coordinate their visits waking you and baby at all hours. They can be brash, hurried, and insensitive. My best experience with night nurses was Elizabeth's birth when 12 women arrived in labor during the night and kept all the night nurses simply too busy to bother me. I wish I had some great advice for dealing with night nurses but so far the best I've been able to do is to be friendly, try to get them to do what they are supposed to do all at one time, keep the door closed and the lights off, and then countdown until the morning shift brings in the day nurses.
If I think of any others I will add them. Does anyone have anything they would add?
I have no experience with c-sections, so I leave any and all advice on that area to women who have had them.