With 1 week to go till my due date, the inevitability of the hardest phase of this pregnancy now looms upon me. I am getting closer and closer to the day when my daughter will finally arrive. I am so excited to meet her and hold her, but I am not looking forward to labor pain!
I had contractions about two weeks ago for three hours and thought that it might be real labor and I was Iike, “Oh dear, not yet. Too early. Not ready!” The sensation of cramping, tightening and aching around the abdomen opened up a portal into my pregnancy memory file — the memory of childbirth and labor. My, my here we go again! I was reacquainted with the trepidation I always feel when I am nearing my 40th week. At the same time, I felt that nervous excitement…soon and very soon!
Some years ago, I emailed my sister a list of what to expect during her delivery. I am including that list here for newbie moms who may be clueless like I once was. Personally, I really like to know what to expect whenever I get into something. I like to know the details. And it’s important to me to have done my best to research and prepare myself. So I hope this will mentally, emotionally, and physically condition the newbie moms out there on what to expect (for those who want to do natural birth).
How Your Body Prepares for Labor:
Your nesting instinct kicks in. Cleaning the house, preparing baby’s things, getting baby’s area for his or her arrival becomes sort of a compulsion and obsession. You want everything to be ready.
Your belly drops. Towards the end of the third trimester, the baby settles into a mother’s pelvis. This is called dropping or lightening. Personally, my belly stays high until I go into labor so it isn’t necessarily a predictor for me that labor is near. However, for some moms the difference is significant — changes in the shape of their bellies, easier breathing and less frequent bouts with heartburn. Of course this means having to pee alot more because of the pressure on the bladder.
According to my obstetrician-gynecologist, Dr. Regina Capistrano, lightening happens 1 to 2 weeks before labor for first-time moms. For those who have given birth before, this may not even happen until the day a mom gives birth.
The best position for delivery is when the baby’s head is presenting first. With my third baby, Titus, his head wasn’t completely engaged. He was side-lying. So this affected how my cervix effaced. I was only effaced on one side which made my contractions inefficient. So, I had to do exercises to get him into the right position. Rocking side to side while standing helped alot!
A baby’s head will begin at -3 “station” when his or head is above the pelvis then at 0 station when his or her head is fully engaged and ready to be delivered. By +3 station the baby’s head is crowning or emerging from the birth canal. (I’ll talk about that later…)
You experience more Braxton Hicks contractions. These are like practice contractions which can happen very early in pregnancy and become much more frequent towards the latter part. They can resemble true contractions but they don’t become consistently longer, stronger or closer together. Your tummy will harden and feel rock-like. These false contractions help to soften the cervix and open it up a little bit. They aren’t the real thing yet. But they do give you a foretaste of what real labor will begin to feel like.
If Braxton Hicks contractions get painful, you can change position, walk around, do some deep breathing, take a warm shower, or drink lots of fluids (according to Baby Center, these contractions can be triggered by dehydration). For first time moms who have not reached 37 weeks and contractions feel regular and persist past an hour, especially when accompanied by bleeding, unusual discharge, and achy lower back pain, it is best to inform your doctor so she can advise you what to do. This could be a sign of pre-term labor.
You loose the “jelly.” There is no other non-gross way to talk about this mucus plug. But it acts like a seal for the cervix. Once the cervix begins to open up, the plug comes out. It can happen in bits over a period of time (discharge), or in one piece, accompanied by blood or tinged with it. Although labor may not happen right away, you are definitely headed in that direction. Labor can happen in a matter of hours, days or weeks.
Labor and what to expect:
True labor can be broken down into three stages — early, active and transitional.
First stage: The cervix dilates to 3 cm.
- You will feel a menstrual-like cramping and tightening that wraps around your abdomen from the back to the front.
- Contractions will last about 30 to 45 seconds with breaks of 5 to 30 minutes in between.
- Even though these contractions are relatively mild or can be confused as Braxton Hicks, they will become stronger and more frequent.
- Once contractions become 1 to 2 minutes long with 4 or 5 minutes in between each one for a period of at least an hour, it’s time to inform the doctor. Or, if the amniotic sac ruptures (whichever occurs first).
Personal experience…I don’t always know that early labor is happening. It can feel so subtle. So I just go about my normal routines. Alot of times, I probably experience this early stage during the day while I am busy doing chores, taking care of the kids or homeschooling them, shopping or eating out. These contractions don’t really bother me until they become noticeably uncomfortable. For me this has consistently happened towards the evening. At night, when all is quiet and I am lying in bed and can’t quite relax because my contractions interrupt my attempts to do so, I start timing them. When a pattern surfaces, I tell Edric and he will usually call our doctor to let her know what’s happening.
From here on out, we just follow her recommendations and Edric takes charge. I love this man! He will make sure all bags and documents are ready and we proceed to the hospital. Actually, I take a shower first to relax my body and put on something comfortable. This is my way of prepping for the emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual battle that is up ahead.
Active Labor Phase: The cervix dilates from 4 to 7 cm.
- Contractions will be more intense, more frequent, and closer to one another. It’s hard not to notice the escalating pain so if you didn’t feel them in the earlier stage of labor, the growing pain will definitely be an indicator that this is it! The pain with each contraction won’t subside or go away (except for the breaks in between.)
- Nurses or your doctor will come in every hour to do an internal exam. This is very uncomfortable but it is the best way for them to check if labor is progressing as it should.
- Baby’s heartbeat will be monitored to make sure he or she is not in distress.
- At some point, they will also strap on a belt that feels like a belly band to record contractions.
- This stage can last up to 5 hours but it is significantly shorter for moms with previous natural births. Contractions during this phase will be about 45-60 seconds long with 3-5 minutes of rest between each one. Take advantage of those breaks because you will need to conserve your energy for the next phase — the hardest stretch.
Personal experience…I walk around as much as possible while I am in the labor room. Even if it means pacing the room back and forth or doing some slight jogging to get my baby’s head engaged and my cervix dilated faster, I do it.
With Tiana, I had to move around because I wanted to get my contractions to increase in intensity. Since she wasn’t fully engaged, I literally jogged back and forth in the labor room. Edric has the video archived somewhere. Since my bag of water or amniotic sac was in tack, I was allowed to do this.
I can still be chatty at this point and converse with Edric. Even though I am uncomfortable, this isn’t the hardest part yet so I try my best to stay relaxed and move my body into positions that allow me to manage the pain better. Sometimes I am lying down, other times sitting or standing up. Gravity is always a factor in my favor so as much as possible I keep myself upright.
Transitional Labor Phase: The cervix dilates from 7 to 10 cm.
- Transition is the stage before pushing the baby out. This takes between 30 minutes to 2 hours. (With my first it was between 1 to 2 hours, but with my fourth baby, it only took 30 minutes.)
- It will feel like the most difficult t stage because the pain intensifies to a point where you must use all your strength and energy to focus on getting through each contraction. Every contraction will be at least 1 minute long or even 2 minutes (if you are like me), with a rest in between of about 30 seconds to 2 minutes.
- The stronger the contractions the more efficient the opening up of the cervix is, so be encouraged! It’s a positive kind of pain even though it hurts like heck.
Personal experience…It helps to breath through each contraction to relax. I use deep breathing while closing my eyes to stay calm and focused. I just tell myself, take it one contraction at time. Just get through the next contraction. You are one contraction closer to delivering your baby! You can do all things through Christ who strengthens you.
I don’t think things like, how long is this going to take?! This pain is killing me! because it is counter-productive to do so.
As much as possible, I fill my mind with positive thoughts and I pray like crazy, asking the Lord for strength, fortitude, and help. Of course it makes a big difference to know that Edric is there. He is a very reassuring presence and he makes me feel relaxed by staying on top of everything — monitoring the monitors, checking on my progress and communicating with the nurses, massaging or rubbing my back, holding my hand, praying for me, breathing with me, etc.
Delivery and what to expect:
Delivery of the baby
- At 10 cm, you are ready to push the baby out. Until then, avoid doing so because it will only frustrate you and put your baby in distress.
- The urge to push will feel like the urge to go number 2. You will feel a whole lot of pressure down there and want to relieve it.
- If you are in a birthing room, you can give birth in the same room you labor. Otherwise, you will be brought to the delivery room where they will prep you for delivery. Your doctor will have a pediatrician on stand-by too to take care of your baby after he or she is born.
- Delivery time depends on the mom. It can take minutes or a few hours.
Personal experience…I often feel a renewed sense of energy at this point. With my previous births, the pushing stage didn’t last longer than 30 minutes. Okay, with the last two, this stage was less than 10 minutes. In fact, I didn’t have to push Tiana out. She did all the work and my doctor had just finished putting on gloves and out she came, just in time to be caught!
Pushing involves a technique. When the contraction comes, I push as hard I as I can for 10 counts (holding my breath), and then relax my abdominal muscles slowly for another 10 counts (still holding my breath). I don’t release my pushing muscles right away because my baby can go back up the birth canal. It’s like taking one step forward and two steps backward if I don’t control my muscles. What I want is two steps forward, one step backward, so the pushing has to be done properly.
When my baby’s head is finally visible or crowning, I get so excited because the end is near! I am not one of those women who needs to see what is happening down there. I never use a mirror to look and neither does Edric. We want to preserve a certain mystery and protect our sex life. So we rely on the instructions of my doctor for when to push.
The most difficult part to push out is the head. I opt for a pressure episiotomy without anesthesia because I hardly feel it on top of all the pain. And it is easier to get stitched up afterward. A tear from pushing is harder to repair. As soon as my baby’s head is out, I listen carefully to my doctor’s instructions. She will tell me to wait until the baby’s head is turned to the side while his or her shoulders rotate into the right position. When she is positioned properly, my doctor will tell me to push on the next contraction and out comes my baby!
Oh, this is the part I love! I feel an incredible, euphoric sense of relief and joy. It’s like heaven on earth. Nothing can compare to the sensation of having lived through that ordeal and survived it. My baby will let out a first cry, the umbilical cord is cut (Edric gets to do this) and I get to hold my baby so he or she can latch on to the breast. They will naturally suck. It is so amazing.
Delivery of the placenta
- It’s not quite over yet because the placenta has to be delivered. The whole thing has to come out to avoid a future infection. But the doctor will make sure this happens.
- Contractions at this point are bearable and seemingly mild compared to what you’ve just gone through.
Personal experience…I start conversing with everyone in the room as I am being stitched up by my doctor because of the episiotomy. Edric usually pays attention to our baby and looks on as standard procedures are done. After Apgar scores are taken, baby is weighed, measured and cleaned up. The pediatrician will swaddle my baby. Edric usually holds our baby and first family photos are taken. I am so happy and relieved that it’s all over. All I want to do is rest and be near my baby.
Recovery and what to expect:
The Recovery Room
- You will be wheeled into a recovery room.
- Your baby will be in a small cot beside you.
- Nurses will periodically check your vitals to make sure you are okay to go to your hospital room.
- After about 2 hours (for those who go through natural birth and assuming everything is normal), you and your baby will be taken to your hospital room.
The Hospital Room
- In the hospital room, your baby will room in with you (this is required in most reputable hospitals).
- Every hour, a nurse will come in to check your vitals. This can get annoying so if you would really like them to leave you alone, you can request that they don’t disturb you for a particular stretch of time. But you can’t hold them off forever. They will have to make these checks to make sure you and your baby are okay.
- Every 1.5 to 2 hours, you need to nurse your baby. Even if you feel like nothing is coming out, don’t lose heart. Sucking encourages the production of milk and your baby’s tummy is so tiny (like the size of a quail egg), so they won’t need much to feel full. Your baby will need the first batch of colostrum that comes from you so make sure you breastfeed right away. By the third or fourth day, your milk will come in.
- If you give birth vaginally and without anaesthesia, the only thing that will feel sore is the episiotomy. You can ask for a laxative if you are afraid to use the toilet to poop. You can also ask for painkillers if you are uncomfortable.
- Since your uterus will continue to contract, you will still feel some pain with each contraction. But,the hardest part of your job is done!
- After two or three days (depending on your condition), you can check-out.
- Be sure to have a baby name prepared and your documents on hand (marriage contract) for your child’s birth certificate. it’s easiest to get this all done in the hospital.
Personal experience…Edric takes care of all the room arrangements while I am resting in the recovery room. He takes our bags up and sets everything up, then picks me up when I am given the go-signal to proceed to our room. Baby and I get wheeled up together. Once we are alone, we enjoy the first few moments with our newborn. It’s a time to thank and praise God for our child and the experience of getting him or her into the world. On the second day, Edric will bring our other kids over so we can celebrate with them. We usually ask a relative to stay with them so they don’t feel too lonely. Thankfully, our hospital is just five minutes away from our home so we don’t feel like we are too far away from one another.
I hang around in a robe so it is easy for me to breastfeed. Okay, and my big secret which I am now announcing is that I wear a pull up adult diaper instead of a maternity pad. I experimented with this during my last pregnancy and it was awesome. Edric didn’t find it attractive at all of course but for the first few days I felt like it was the best way to deal with the normal bleeding that occurs after.
Also, I take a shower as soon as I can. I know some cultures are particular about not doing so and to each his own, but it is one of the things I really look forward to after giving birth. There really may be some benefit to doing the month long no shower thing but I have not ever done it and by God’s grace, I’ve recovered just fine. It would be interesting to see research on how beneficial it really is when you don’t take a shower for a month.
Going home and what to expect:
- Your husband can settle all the bills so you can check out. But the doctor needs to give the go signal for you to do so first. She will make sure that you and your baby are fit to go home.
- Once you have checked-out, the hospital will usually bring you and your baby out to your car in a wheel chair. I don’t know why. It’s not really necessary but it’s kind of fun to ride in a wheel chair.
- You will still look like you are four months pregnant so don’t be discouraged. Just bring something to wear that is lose around the tummy. The uterus does shrink back down to its original size. But it will take some time, a couple of weeks.
- Of course, you will feel significantly lighter. You will probably have lost between 12 to 15 pounds. The rest of your weight will come off as you keep breastfeeding and easing into an exercise routine.
- Give yourself at least 2 months to recuperate. I did P90x at 2 months and my body wasn’t ready for strenuous exercise like that. I got injured. So this time I intend to do moderate exercise before anything too extreme. I’m also older so who am I kidding?!
- You won’t be able to have sex for atleast a month and a half (if your birth has been normal). So you may have to be creative if you don’t want your husband to die.
Once you are home, enjoy every stage that your baby goes through. The first few months are difficult in terms of sleep but they will pass. You will look back on all of this and be amazed at how the Lord provided you with the grace to give birth, breastfeed, and instinctively develop the natural, God-given abilities and gifts that a mother has to love and care for her child.
If motherhood were so difficult, I wouldn’t be having a fifth child. Personal experience…motherhood is my gift to my children, but it is God’s gift to me — a privilege I treasure with all my heart!