intensely trivial

Straight talk about first-time birth, Part 1

I am not a very experienced doula; I’ve only attended 20 births so far. But I’ve been wanting to write about some birthy things, so I’m going to jump in right now. A doula friend of mine attended a birth today, the first birth for the mother. My friend and I kept in touch occasionally during the birth process. She updated me on the progress being made, and I prayed for the mother and the doula. And when my friend got home after 18 hours of supporting this new mother, I helped her debrief about the birth. I found myself thinking some of the same thoughts I’ve had over and over, and I decided that, despite my relative inexperience, it’s time to lay out some straight talk about first-time birth.
(A note about this series of posts: I had Dan read an early draft of it, and he said he thought, from a user-interface point of view, it had a longwindedness that caused the eyes to glaze over. Therefore, I’m posting it in several installments. Feel free to skip them if you aren’t interested in the topic. Also, there are topics that I’m restraining myself from discussing here, such as sphincter law, induction, and newborn procedures. I hope to write a post later on things first-time mothers should hear about the postpartum experience.)

1. She had a ___-hour labor!!
And you know what? It’s normal to have a seemingly long labor the first time. We need to stop sensationalizing it. In general, it is more work to give birth the first time than any other time. Your body hasn’t ever done it before, and neither has your mind. At childbirth classes, they tell you the average first-time birth takes 12 hours or something. That’s 12 hours of active labor, average. That means 12 hours, on average, of labor once your cervix has dilated to 4-ish cm. It doesn’t include however long you might be in early labor.
What all this means is that you can’t start feeling sorry for yourself early on. Yes, it’s hard. No, it would not be a good idea to get an epidural at 2 cm. They will probably send you home from the hospital. That is *good*, because home is much more comfortable than the hospital. You don’t believe it, and it’s hard to believe in labor, too, but it is TRUE. I didn’t believe it, either. Many first-time moms don’t believe it. Try to believe it. Think pioneer woman. Just pretend like it’s not a big deal and try not to complain, for your sake. It will get to be a bigger deal later on. Try not to psych yourself out early, like I did.

2. The mind factor
If a pregnant animal mother knows she’s not safe, she won’t have her baby. Animal mothers tend to have their babies at night. Know why? They have privacy at night, and no one is bothering them. The principle holds true for human mothers: If they don’t feel safe, their bodies will not give birth, unless there is coaxing of some kind (say, pitocin). For example, while I was supporting one of my clients who was having good contractions about five minutes apart, her parents called. Talking with them made my client anxious, and her contractions flat-out stopped for a while. Finally, her husband helped her calm down from that anxiety, and her contractions started right up again. Your mental and emotional state has a huge effect on what your body is doing.

3. Approach birth with humility
Women have been having babies for thousands of years, it is true. But this is a poor excuse for not preparing yourself. Many first-time moms, including me, enter childbirth arrogantly. Maybe this is because we think if things get too overwhelming for us, we can just ask for drugs. You need to approach birth with humility. It will be the most challenging thing you have done up till this point, and every bit of effort you put into it will be worth it. Some first-time mothers go into childbirth having spent less time learning about birth choices than they do researching new TVs (to borrow a phrase from Echo). I have attended long, difficult labors that ended up different than the woman had hoped (she got an epidural when she hadn’t planned on it, or she ended up with a cesarean when she’d hoped for a vaginal birth), and I have never heard a mother regret the time she spent learning about her options and trying to make reasonable choices for her baby and herself.
Continue on to Part 2. . .


Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Straight talk on first-time birth, Part 3 « intensely trivial pingbacked on 9 years, 3 months ago
  2. Straight talk about first-time birth, Part 2 « intensely trivial pingbacked on 9 years, 3 months ago


  1. Awesome article. I forwarded it to my pregnant first-time friend, and added it on my blog as well! 🙂

    Posted 9 years, 3 months ago
  2. * Kate says:

    Thank you for these articles. I have had six, with one due the end of next month and I very much think education on birth is really important.
    I have one favor to ask of you. Is it possible to put links on the first two parts of this to the other posts so they are easier to find? That way I could send someone to the first post and they could just click the link to the next one, etc.
    I will be bookmarking your site for sure. I have thought about becoming a doula or midwife later in life (with no. 7 on the way and the oldest only 11 it is not conducive to being gone at the drop of a hat). I may be talking to you later about what you do.

    Posted 9 years, 3 months ago
  3. * manhattandoula says:

    Kate, welcome. I would love to hear more from you. With your personal experience with birth, you could teach me a lot. I’ll add links to these articles. I’m still learning the ropes of this blog thing. 😉

    Posted 9 years, 3 months ago

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