For years before becoming pregnant with my first I joked that I was going to adopt. Not because I didn’t want a squirmy little baby of my own, but because the thought of a big-headed babe making its way down my vaginal canal and squeezing itself out of that opening—probably ripping me to shreds along the way—terrified me. “Nope,” I’d say. “I’ll keep my body intact and pain-free, thank you very much.”
Eventually though, my desire for a baby outweighed the images I had in my head of being strapped down naked on a hospital bed drenched with sweat, yelling at my poor, sweet husband to go to hell for forcing me to endure this kind of torture. And when I did get pregnant, it took everything in my TV critic background to stop paying attention to all of the lies that Hollywood has reinforced over the years about the actual birthing process, and to do some research of my own.
Here’s a pack of lies, and what I learned – and continue to learn – is the truth after now having two babies of my own.
Your water always break dramatically
At our parenting class, my husband and I were shocked to learn that when a woman goes into labour she often does so well in advance of her waters breaking. In fact, many women don’t even experience their waters breaking at all – they have to be broken for them at the hospital in order to advance the delivery. And sometimes the baby is just born without it happening at all.
To be fair, my waters broke very much in Hollywood style with my first baby. I woke up one morning, four weeks before my due date, and suddenly water was gushing all over the floor of my home office. My contractions started five hours later and we were out the door. But with my second, my waters didn’t break until I was fully dilated and at the hospital registration desk (yes, they broke all over the floor). This time, Hubby didn’t take my contractions seriously and didn’t rush home from work because those waters hadn’t broken yet, and as a result I nearly had my baby on the kitchen floor while my toddler threw a tantrum and snatched for my phone.
Birth is always quick and sudden
You know how in the movies (and on TV shows… and on commercials) the wife suddenly declares, “The baby is coming!” and then the partner rushes around the house, grabbing the hospital bag and losing his mind because he has to get his wife to the hospital like, yesterday? Yep, so that does not always happen.
Sure, some people have shorter labours than others. But if you rush to the hospital as soon as you start having contractions, the nurses will probably send you home. Instead, most women are told to ride it out at home and to time their contractions. A friend of mine basically caught up on the entire series of The Mindy Project before heading in with her second baby, and even then she spent plenty of time at the hospital before her kid was born.
The general rule of thumb is 5-1-1: if your contractions are five minutes apart, are lasting for at least one minute, and you’ve noticed that pattern for at least one hour then you head in. Obviously though, your health care provider will tell you when he or she prefers you come in.
Lamaze breathing is the method of choice
How many of us have made fun of Lamaze breathing over the years? It’s hard not to, what with the “hee hee hoos” of it all. It’s what we’re used to seeing on the screen — birthing partners coaching women to “hee hee hoo” their way to birth. But the reality is that Lamaze breathing is no longer as popular as it used to be, not with things like HypnoBirthing and prenatal yoga taking centre stage.
When my time came, I took big inhalations through my nose and breathed out through my mouth, and pictured each contraction as riding a wave. Specifically I tried to be in my happy place, which was a Cuban ocean under the warm sun. I don’t know why that scene came to me in the moment, it just did. So I went with it.
Every woman gives birth on her back
Full disclosure: I did indeed birth both of my babies on my back. The first time I had my husband and a kind nurse help me to lift my legs every time I pushed, and the second time I just… well, I pushed. (That baby was coming!) But historically the whole reason doctors want women to lay on their backs is because it’s easier for them to deliver that way – it’s not necessarily easier for the woman. While in labour, most ladies I’ve spoken with wanted to walk around and to be mobile, not to be cooped up in a hospital bed with heart monitors attached to her. Back in the day women squatted when it came time to birth (gravity is your friend), an option that some women still use today. Meanwhile, others prefer to use a birthing stool or to birth on all fours. My point is that there’s more than one way to labour and birth, but you’d never know it judging from the movies.
Midwives and doulas are all weirdos
Why is it that whenever a midwife or a doula is pictured on TV or in a movie she’s usually some sort of kooky character who munches granola and is somehow a threat to the baby’s well-being with those blasphemous words, “home birth?” In real life, midwives are very qualified individuals who will perform a home birth under safe circumstances, or they’ll travel to the hospital to do the delivery there. My husband and I chose to have babies with midwives at the hospital both times and it was definitely the right choice for us. My team was professional, answered all of my questions in a leisurely manner (the OBGYN I briefly had for my first was always rushing me out the door), and they even came to my house for follow-up checkups with the baby and me once we were home.
I’ve heard some great things about doulas as well; and while they don’t actually deliver the baby, they provide great emotional support to a mother who often needs it. I’ll never forget watching the episode of Gilmore Girls when Sookie told Lorelei that she was using a midwife named Bruce… and Bruce turned out to be a very scary individual who basically threatened to kick Lorelei out for having a bad aura. That kind of portrayal couldn’t be further from the emotional support real midwives provide. And while midwifery care isn’t for everyone, it is a very valid — and kook-free — option for many people like me.
Delivering a baby is the most painful thing in the world
Let’s get real for a second: having a baby hurts. Let’s not pretend that it doesn’t. But is it the most painful thing in the world? I personally didn’t think so, but I also made sure that I was as mentally prepared as possible. Frankly, the first time hurt less than the second, but I was also at the hospital earlier and able to get into a better mindset. The second time around I had awful contractions en route in the car during an ice storm, and to say it was uncomfortable would be a massive understatement. I didn’t have an epidural either time, but my labours were roughly 10 hours from start to finish. Maybe less. At a certain point an epidural becomes necessary when a woman needs a break from contractions that can last days – you need to be as well rested as possible for the pushing process, after all.
The bottom line is that all women have different thresholds and bodies. My mother-in-law told me that she didn’t even know when she was having contractions, and that the nurses had to tell her. Meanwhile I’ve heard from other women that the “ring of fire” (the lovely term applied to crowning) was nearly unbearable, and I’ve also read stories of women who liken birthing a baby to having an orgasm. Then there are all of the women who need to have c-sections either because of the baby’s position or because it becomes distressed during labour.
My point is that every single birth is different, even if you’ve already had a child. Hollywood has taught us that it’s a scary, painful thing, but at the end of the day we should remember that women have been doing this for centuries. Our bodies are built for giving birth, and with advanced medical technologies also at our disposal, the process actually isn’t nearly as scary or painful as some might make it out to be. We just don’t talk about the good stuff enough to counter the bad.
The baby is the only thing you have to push out of there
Remember that movie where the woman gave birth, held her baby and then was forced to push again (and again, and again) in order to deliver the placenta? No? That’s because that movie doesn’t exist. Just when you think you’re done with the actual delivery, you have to deliver the organ that kept it alive for all those months. It’s a pretty simple process for most, but it’s something we never see or talk about.
Your body snaps back right away
If you go by Hollywood standards, a woman pushes a baby out and then her stomach goes back to being nice and flat. Yeah, no. Again it totally depends on the woman and her body, but the general rule of thumb is to bring “going home” clothes that would fit you at around seven months pregnant. Tummies don’t just deflate after you pop; sometimes you need to work for months and months afterwards to get a postpartum body that’s even remotely close to the one you had before becoming pregnant in the first place. Oh, and stretch marks? They’re a real thing, no matter how much cream you apply. You can thank your genes if you do get them.
Everything is sunshine and rainbows down there afterward
Here’s the really fun part about giving birth: the after care. While we’ve all heard about the potential need for stitches, most women who haven’t given birth are surprised to see the giant diapers, pads, ice packs and perineal bottles they’re supposed to use to heal over the next six-to-eight weeks. That’s right – Hollywood doesn’t think scary looking blood clots or using a water bottle to clean yourself after peeing is sexy enough to work into their scripts. And don’t even get us started on the pain that can come with that first post-natal poop.
But here’s the other thing about all of that: while it kind of sucks at the time, you also have a brand new baby to bask in. The unpleasantness, along with any potential pain or uncomfortable incidents, eventually disappears, and before you know it you could find yourself itching to have another one.