Reality of Labor

My post on the realities of NFP made me think about the reality of labor versus what I was told in my antenatal classes. The midwives running the classes were perfectly nice, and I know they were trying to fit in what they saw as relevant information for all while not scaring anyone, but I felt they did me a disservice. Moreover, the student midwife who was with me when I was in labor with Kieran must have believed the generalizations, because she didn’t listen too me as a  unique woman in labor, but thought of me as a “standard woman in labor.”

So what did they teach me in that class that didn’t match reality? The first was that there would always be at least a 30-60 second break between contractions, even at the height of labor. With my first, though, I could feel another contraction at the same time one was tapering off, so there was no break between contractions. Perhaps that was because he was posterior, I don’t know.

Speaking of the baby being posterior, no mention was made (as far as I remember) about how position in labor could affect the baby’s position. He didn’t turn posterior until I laid down on my back in labor. At that point, he turned and pressed on my sciatic nerve, making it nigh impossible for me to move out of that position again. It wasn’t until I was pregnant with my second and talking to my community midwife that I learned there were better positions for labor and birth that could minimize my chances of having the baby turn posterior and minimize the chance of tearing. For my other births I have chosen to labor upright on a birthing ball, and give birth either kneeling or on all fours.

In that class, we were also told how women tend to dilate about 1cm an hour. So when the midwife checked me while I was screaming that I couldn’t do this any longer and it turned out I was only 3cm, I gave up. The midwife didn’t look at me overall, just that number, and declared I had a long road ahead. An hour later I was pushing and he was born, because I’m that special person who doesn’t follow the “rules.”

I don’t remember any mention of the reality of transition, either. Oh, it was mentioned, but not in detail. This was the worst disservice, I feel, because had I known what transition was like, I would’ve known it was almost over instead of just giving up at that point. I know transition is incredibly difficult to describe, though the Bradley book does a good job of that. I wasn’t told that saying, “I can’t do this!” means you’re probably in transition and will therefore be pushing soon. I wasn’t told that the pain of labor in transition is at least partly psychological (not that the pain isn’t real, but that the struggle and pain is not just in the body, but in the mind and psyche – like I said, it’s hard to describe).

I wish these things had been noted in antenatal classes so that my first labor would’ve been a little less of a mystery. I wish I would’ve understand more what my body was doing that first time. I know it’s impossible to completely understand it before going through it, and even after that it’s a little different each time. I’m more confident in my body now, though (which my midwife appreciated, as I could tell her I’d phone for her when I started vocalizing because I knew I’d have 1-2 hours, max, from that point). I do understand that the midwives didn’t want to scare anyone, and they had to deal with a range of people who have different bodies, but I feel at least some of this could have been addressed to take away some of the mystery and better prepare us.

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