09 February 2009

Things I've Learned - Labour

This post was prompted by a conversation I had today with my cousin, who's due in March. We talked about many things: prenatal classes, visitors in the hospital and at home, nursing pads, bottles, breast pumps... There is so much to think about as you enter your final weeks of pregnancy, but looming large above everything else, is labour. Capital L Labour.

When I first discovered I was pregnant, I immediately read everything I could get my hands on. I tore through What to Expect and devoured Your Over 35 Week by Week Guide to Pregnancy. I bought my husband The Expectant Father and read it in an afternoon. (Of course he never even scanned the table of contents, but that's a rant for another day.) I read and read and read, and looked at websites, and lurked on forums, and asked friends. I was informed. With a vengeance.

Except that I realized, as our due date approached, that in addition to skipping the bits about c-sections and formula feeding, I had somehow glossed over all the information in my many pregnancy books about labour.

My husband is from a medical family. Dinner conversations as he was growing up were often icky, and graphically so, as his parents (both doctors) and his sister (studying medicine) discussed their day. As a result, he can handle just about anything, and laughs at my complete inability to deal. When I'm flipping through TV channels and chance upon surgery in progress on one of the learning channels, I practically break a finger I'm in such a hurry to get the channel changed. So as I read my pregnancy books, I would make one passing glance at a diagram of the baby in the birth canal, convulse with squeamishness, and turn the page. At the prenatal class I was the person saying, "Really? Do we have to have another diagram? Do we really need to know what that looks like?"

As the last couple of weeks of my pregnancy were upon us, and it became clear that I could, technically, go into labour at any moment, I finally knuckled down and read about it.

And then I put it out of my mind.

I dealt with the idea of labour by not thinking about it too much. I figured my body would do what it needed to do whether I was freaking out about it or not, and would probably do it better if I wasn't freaking out. As my friend Christa, a nurse who's worked a lot in obstetrics, once said to me,

"Listen to your monkey. It knows what to do."

I let that be my mantra, and stashed the (to me) unsavoury details in a dimly lit, cobwebby, rarely used corner of my mental library.

Our birth plan was simple:
Help me, and support my partner in helping me, to safely deliver a healthy baby.

Which is exactly what happened.

Except it wasn't at all what I expected or thought it would be.

And here's something that's true: none of that matters.

The Takeaway:
  1. Every woman's labour is different. Your expectations, your philosophy, and your choices will inform your experience, and comparing yourself to the woman you know who had her baby easily after three hours of labour will make you a crazy person. (Unless you are that woman, in which case don't step out in front of my car. I'm just sayin'.)
  2. Don't browbeat yourself with words like "natural". As I told my friend Stephanie who was concerned about being induced and that it wouldn't be a natural process "baby's born = natural". The rest is details.
  3. Within weeks of giving birth, the details of labour and delivery will start to become fuzzy. If we remembered every detail forever, a lot less women would go through it more than once.
  4. Labour is to parenting as wedding is to marriage. Labour is over quickly. (For some, more quickly than others, yes, but I'm talking about within the context of your entire lifetime.) Parenting is the part that matters.

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