Just as every woman and every baby are unique, every pregnancy and childbirth are also unique experiences and not always comparable. I was very fortunate to have a relatively easy and smooth pregnancy. My little Peanut came two weeks early and fast. (From the time my water broke to his birth was about two and a half hours).
As a first time mother, I thought I would share some of the things that I learn from the labor, delivery, and recovery on the off chance that it might help another first time mother. Let’s jump right on in.
1. Take a birth prep class.
If you are a first time mother and nervous or anxious about labor and delivery, I highly recommend taking a childbirth prep class. At first, I was skeptical. I thought I could just read up and ask my mom, older sister, and friends who recently had children any questions. But as my son’s due date came closer, I realized that I had no idea what to do when labor started or what the actual delivery would be like. So I signed myself and my husband up for a birth prep class offered at the hospital where we would deliver. We had a great nurse instructor and any little fears and doubts that were creeping into my mind were put to rest.
When the course was finished, I felt calmer and better prepared. I also learned a few techniques that made the final few weeks of pregnancy easier to manage — like sitting on an exercise ball. Believe me, it works!
Another benefit of a birthing class, especially if you take one offered by the hospital or birthing center where you are planning to deliver, is that the instructor will be able to tell you what that hospital/center prefers to do in different situations, how they handle emergencies, what techniques they approve or disapprove of, their statistics and numbers, etc. As part of the class we took, we were also given a guided tour of the labor and delivery floor and the recovery floor.
2. The importance of a good support person/people.
I cannot stress the importance of a very good support person and/or team. When active labor began very suddenly as I was waiting in the triage room for the nurse to confirm my water had broken so I could be admitted, everything I had read and learned at the prep class completely slipped my mind. Breathing techniques? Out the window. Labor positions? Gone. I was completely blown away by the intensity and frequency of the contractions.
Unlike many women, I didn’t get a gradual progression of labor and time to mentally prepare. I went from absolutely no contractions to strong, 1-minute-apart active labor contractions in a matter of minutes. Everything happened so fast that by the time I walked to the delivery room and set up, I was so dilated that I was passed the point where they allow the administration of pain medicine so I birthed our son au naturale, or as my dad later said “frontier style”.
I am so grateful that my amazing husband went with me to those classes, and he remembered everything. He was an awesome support person. He stayed with me the whole time, 98% of it holding my hand, encouraging me, gently reminding me to breathe. I remember, in the middle of full labor, opening my eyes, looking up at him, and saying: “I love you!” and he gave me a kiss and said: “You got this, babe. You’re doing great!”
So a good support person — whether it is your husband, mother, sister, doula, or whoever — is very important! Because they help you through the labor and delivery, they need to be very encouraging, understand your wants and needs, and be your voice/advocate with the paperwork and answering questions.
3. The importance of having a good medical team.
Whether you give birth at a hospital, birthing center, or at home, it is important to have a good medical team. Doctor, nurses, midwives… whomever you decide to assist you.
I had the most amazing team of nurses. Truly, they were phenomenal. They were very encouraging and guided me with my breathing and vocalizations. When I decided (very early on) that I was most comfortable lying flat on my back with both legs up, bent at the knee with my shins parallel to the floor, two of the nurses actually stood there holding my legs for me. I had my eyes closed almost the entire team to help me focus on the contractions so I have no idea what my nurses looked like but I still remember their wonderful voices. We actually had double the number of nurses as our little Peanut was born around shift-change, so the night shift nurses arrived but the day shift nurses did not want to leave until he was born.
I also had a great doctor. She actually wasn’t my regular doctor (my doctor was off that weekend) so I actually met her during the delivery. Since I progressed so fast, she barely had time to arrive and get ready before I was actively pushing. But she was great! She was both very professional and very nice. Our little Peanut was born small for a full term baby at 4 pounds 11 ounces, and the last two weeks of the pregnancy, the ultrasound had showed he was small so we were under stricter monitoring just in case something was wrong. Our son was delivered relatively easily, but there were some issues with the placenta.
Actually, to be honest, “delivering” the placenta hurt far worse than delivering my son because it was stuck. The doctor had to press on my stomach and also reach in and scoop it out. She showed me the placenta afterward and discovered a small anomaly (the umbilical cord was grown in the placenta in an odd way), which is most likely the reason our son was smaller than he should have been. Towards the last bit of the pregnancy, after the baby is fully developed but when s/he is supposed to gain some weight, our son was not getting quite all the nutrients he needed to put on the weight. So he was perfectly proportioned, symmetrical, and very strong (he lifted his head up from my chest and stared right into my face just minutes after birth!) but small and super skinny.
Anyway, the doctor was great. I am so grateful that she was on duty that day.
4. Do not worry about modesty.
I am an extremely modest person, but when you are in full labor pushing out a baby or afterwards in recovery, modesty is not a top priority. There are so many people assisting you, checking on you and the baby, encouraging skin-to-skin and breastfeeding, and even helping you use the bathroom. Yes, after childbirth, just using the bathroom is a huge and exhausting ordeal! I was also mesmerized by the amazing little bundle snuggled on my chest. Sure, you want to be decent when visitors come by, but it is okay to not stress about modesty when it is just you, the baby, and your medical team.
5. Pack a few important items but don’t stress the hospital go bag.
I was so uncertain what to pack in our hospital “go” bag. I read dozens of lists online and read tons of suggestions, and I finally settled on a change of clothes for myself and my husband, two coming home outfits for our son (neither fit because he was born premie size and all we had were newborn!), snacks for my husband in case labor was long (it wasn’t!), and some basic toiletries for me. I have sensitive skin so though the hospital provided soap for the shower, I wanted my own soap and shampoo.
What I forgot that we really needed was a receiving blanket. You see, even though my doctor had said he could come at any time, I thought we had at the very least another week. As a result, our “go” bag was not finished. I am just grateful that I listened to the Holy Spirit’s whisper that Saturday morning to throw the not-quite-finished “go” bag in the car before we left for church, or we would have not had anything when my water broke later that afternoon!
One more thing: I brought a cheap but comfortable nightgown to wear when visitors came to the recovery room. Silly me, I did not get one that opens in the front so I had to take it all the way off when pumping and trying to breastfeed. (Our little Peanut couldn’t breastfeed so I started pumping in the hospital.) As a result, I only wore it once and stuck with the regular hospital gowns the rest of the time.
Which leads me right into the next tip…
6. Rock the hospital chic!
After you give birth, you will most likely be given these amazing (some say hideous) mesh-like panties that are designed for comfort and to hold these huge diaper-like pads. Some women hate these mesh panties and diaper pads. I loved them. They are so comfortable, and I must say, after pushing out a baby and tearing a little (I had to have three stitches), I care more about comfort than fashion. I joked about “rocking the hospital chic” with my husband and actually asked for extra mesh panties and diaper pads to take home. I made those mesh panties last for two weeks post-birth! I was actually very sad when I threw the last pair away and was tempted to find a medical supply site to order more, but I found that my normal undies where suitably comfortable at that point.
7. Ask lots of questions.
Don’t be shy. Ask lots of questions and let the staff demonstrate things you might be unsure about. Never changed a newborn’s diaper before? Ask the nurse to do the first one and watch how it is done. Ask if you can watch when your little one gets his or her first “bath”. Not sure if you are positioning the baby correctly to breastfeed? Ask for help.
No question is a silly one, and these individuals are trained professionals who care for newborns on a daily basis. I watched the night nurse change little Peanut’s first diaper and swaddle him. The next afternoon I watched his first “bath” (sponge bath). I asked for help from the nurses and also a lactation consultant when I discovered Peanut was not latching properly, and my husband and I asked the hospital pediatrician tons of questions.
8. Take everything the hospital/birthing center allows you to take… and ask for extras!
It depends on the hospital or birthing center, but the hospital I delivered at offered many freebies. Use them while you are there and take the extras with you when you are discharged.
There is a reason the mesh panties and diaper pads exist. You will experience bleeding and discharge after delivering your baby. There is also a reason for the peri-bottle, pain reliever spray, and witch hazel wipes for use when using the bathroom. It is to keep you clean and ease any pain in your nether-regions. When I was being discharged, they gave me a little care package that included a pack of maternity pads. I packed up the extra mesh panties, diaper pads, peri-bottle, pain reliever spray, witch hazel wipes that I had not used and also the free pump parts that would work on the pump my parents were buying for me that very day. I also asked for extra mesh panties, maternity pads, ready-to-go formula, and disposable slow flow nipples for our son and the staff happily gave them to us.
Basically, everything that I could take home, I did and I am so glad! It made the first days at home easier because we did not have to worry about rushing to the store for pain reliever spray or more pads or formula for the baby.
These are eight things I learned from my experience giving birth to my son, and I hope it might be useful to other first time mothers out there. These may or may not be applicable to every woman’s situation, but I had fun recording my experience. After all, if it is in the Lord’s plans for our little family, we decide to have another child in the future.