Childbirth: what they don’t tell you

For nine months, you prepare for your baby’s arrival with anticipation and anxiety. You apply to take classes in the hospital or at home with a midwife, read many books on childbirth… And yet, despite the your knowledge in theory, you are likely to be surprised by some aspects of this exceptional moment. Even though childbirth is unique, and it is impossible to anticipate everything, here are some good feedback to know.


The water breaking: “I thought it was like a balloon piercing”
In movies, expectant moms always have their water break all at once in improbable situations and rush to maternity in disaster. But that’s is not always how it happens. Some will even see their pocket pierced in the hospital (a completely painless procedure) if at an already advanced stage of labor. For 34-year-old Claire, mum of one-year-old Gaston, things did not go as she had imagined: “I thought that when women’s waters broke, it was like a balloon that breaks through. However, it can happen slowly and gradually. My waters ran for 48 hours, waiting for my delivery to begin.” Fracture rupture of the two membranes, crack or medical breakthrough: the scenarios can vary from one woman to another, and from one delivery to another.


The surprises of the epidural: “I was surprised not to feel the sting!”
It is often when the pain of the contractions becomes too intense that the anesthetist proposes to put the epidural. But again, there can always be surprises. Everything is a question of timing: it is not a shot like others and it takes about ten minutes to prepare, then wait for it to take effect. The anesthetist can give it starting 2–3 centimeters of dilation of the cervix but after 8 centimeters, if the labor is already too advanced, he will probably tell you that it is too late. This was the case for Anastasia, 32, at the birth of her little Alix, three months ago: “It went so fast! I had very strong contractions for two hours, and then it was too late for anesthesia.” Claire, who dreaded the shot terribly, had a good surprise: “I was surprised to feel nothing! I was well briefed on this and I was very afraid that the needle would hurt me, when in fact, it didn’t at all.”


Variable labor times: “I did not expect everything to go so fast”
Some mothers say they had 30 hours of labor, while others gave birth to their baby “in two hours.” It is sometimes difficult to differentiate the false labor (painful contractions but without opening the cervix) from an imminent childbirth. For her first child, Anastasia was expecting a long labor, but nothing happened according to her plans: “On December 10, we were going on a romantic weekend in Cabourg when I started having contractions. I thought it was false labor, with my term being scheduled for February 1st.” The contractions, more and more close and painful, push the couple to call for emergency services, who took them to the nearest hospital: “I kept saying, ‘We’re just going to reassure ourselves, and we’re going return after.’ At 17h we were in Cabourg, at 19h at the hospital in Caen, and Alix was born at 22h. It is said that for a first child it lasts for hours, so I was not prepared for everything to go so fast. For Gabrielle, on the contrary, the labor was very long: “I was hospitalized on Tuesday afternoon after my water broke, but the labor was so slow that my son was born on Thursday morning only!”


The three phases of labor: “I thought the push was going to be fast”
When we talk about childbirth, we think of the phase of labor as being more or less long, with its series of contractions more or less painful, then the thrust that literally allows to “expel” the baby. In reality, this phase of expulsion has in itself three different phases. The baby must first go down into the pelvis, then it passes into the vagina, and then passes the perineum before the head peeks out. For Gabrielle, 29, mother of little Louis, 2 years old, the passage into the cervix was longer than expected: “My son was badly situated in my cervix, so he did not descend. After long hours of labor, I thought the push was going to be fast. I did not realize that at this stage of my delivery, there could be a blockage. After a little more than half an hour, the doctor decided to guide his head with small spatulas, and in a few minutes it was settled.”


Several possible positions to give birth: “I had a classic vision of childbirth”
“I had a rather ‘classic’ vision of childbirth, where the mother is lying on her hospital bed, undergoes contractions and pushes while lying on her back, feet in the air on the stirrups,” says Manon. However, more and more maternity hospitals offer alternatives to young mothers for delivery day, with the possibility of choosing the best position for the expulsion phase of the baby. On the back, on the side, or even on the belly: several options are proposed, according to what is best for the mother, which allows her to push the most effectively and will help the baby to depart well. Similarly, for the duration of labor, it is not advisable for the mother to wait passively lying on her back during the contractions: the more active she is, moving, massaging her back on a ball or practicing small pelvic rotation exercises, the more it can speed up the labor and control the pain.


Tiphaine Lévy-Frébault
Translation: Ashley Griffin
Photo credit: ©Belly Balloon Photography/Les Louves

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