Dear Pre-Baby Me:
Your prenatal class will spend a lot of time talking about birth plans. After weighing your options and talking to your midwife, you’ll confidently state that your birth plan is to give birth, and also try not to freak out about it too much.
Late in your third trimester, though, someone will loan you a book on hypnobirthing. Sounds magical, doesn’t it? The only experience you have with hypno-anything is the stage hypnosis you’ve seen on TV, where unwitting audience members are hypnotized into making barnyard animal sounds.
What you will learn from the book is that women only experience pain during labor because we expect to. And if we can let go of that expectation, reframe how we think about labor, and let our bodies do what they’re designed to do, we can have a wonderful and pain-free birth. You’ll wholeheartedly buy in to this theory since you don’t like pain. And just like that, you’ll stop worrying and prepare for the most blissful, drug-free birth ever.
You’ll later learn that the barnyard animal sounds version of hypnotism was probably more apt in your case. You’ve never heard a dying cow before, but trust me, you do a great impression of one.
Pre-Baby Me, even though you claim not to have a birth plan, you and I both know that you have certain expectations. I’m here to tell you: forget about them. Now. Because no matter what anyone expects from labor and birth, the actual experience will nearly always be vastly different.
Here are just a few of the ways this will play out for you.
Labor expectations vs reality: a handy guide from Future You
Part 1: The onset
Expectation: You will feel mild, infrequent contractions at first. If this happens at night, you’ll go straight to bed, because it will take time for them to progress (don’t worry — you’ll be able to sleep between contractions). Once you’re in active labor, you’ll call your midwife. Active labor is when your contractions are less than six minutes apart, and at least two minutes long.
Reality: Is early labor even a real thing? you’ll wonder as you’re doubled over in your bathroom at midnight. This thought will be closely followed by Wait, what the actual fuck? when you realize your contractions are less than two minutes in length, but less than one minute apart. Is this active labor? This isn’t what the midwife said would happen. Also, you can forget about the whole sleep idea, unless you’re really good at sleeping in 30-second increments.
Expectation: Labor can’t possibly hurt that badly. After all, if it did, the species would have died out millenia ago and none of us would even exist.
Reality: AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAhahahahahaha. Hah. (yes it can)
Expectation: Your water will break at some point, and although it probably won’t be a gush like you’ve seen in the movies, you’ll at least know it’s happened.
Reality: Throughout your labor, various medical professionals will ask if your water has broken. You won’t know the answer to this, because you don’t know how it’s supposed to be other than “not like in the movies,” and apparently the doctors, nurses and midwives don’t know how to check, or something? Eventually it’ll be safe to assume that your water did, in fact, break at some point, since the baby will have been born.
Part 2: The middle part
Expectation: You are a polite, civilized person who will remain serene and classy throughout labor. You’ll pack your swimsuit top in your hospital bag, just in case you get one of the fancy rooms with a nice tub.
Reality: You’ll greet newcomers to your room with a garbled “Nice to meet you. Here’s my vagina.” The bathing suit top will not make an appearance. And although you will get a fancy room, with a tub and a TV and even a sound system for your phone (!), you’ll barely notice any of it. Seriously, you might as well be in the janitor’s closet.
Expectation: Epidurals are terrifying. You don’t want any drugs.
Reality: Epidurals are magical, especially after 20-plus hours of nonstop contractions. You’ll be tempted to slip the anesthesiologist your phone number while your husband looks on.
Expectation: You’ll stay clear-headed and present, relishing each moment of this transcendent and beautiful experience.
Reality: At one point you will hallucinate that Caitlyn Jenner is delivering your baby while Danny Trejo administers the laughing gas.
Part 3: The last bit, with the pushing and everything
Expectation: Your midwife confirmed at your last checkup that the baby is in the optimal position for birth, so there shouldn’t be any problems with actually getting her out.
Reality: Your baby will do a 180, allowing you to experience the many joys that come with 27 hours of back labor. Also, apparently she thinks she’s Superman, and I don’t think I need to explain to you how that’s going to feel. Plus there will be a vacuum.
Expectation: Because you’ve done all your kegels, shimmies, hip swings, perineal massages, walks, and everything else your doula recommended (even the stuff that weirded you out), you’ll have an easy birthing experience.
Reality: You will have a gruelling, difficult birth, and you’ll resent the time you wasted flailing around like a demented hippo. You could have been at the movies or something.
Part 4: The outcome
Expectation: At the end of it all, you’ll have a beautiful, healthy, 7-ish pound baby whom you will love forever and ever.
Reality: At the end of it all, you’ll have a beautiful (if somewhat cone-headed), 8-and-a-half-ish pound baby, whom you will love forever and ever.
… I guess you don’t need to let go of all your expectations.