Friday, February 26, 2010

Labor & Delivery 101

The other day I was reading a book about labor and delivery. And I was only 20 pages into the book when it occurred to me at some point this will pregnancy will end. I will have to deliver this baby. And it will not be fun.

For the most part, pregnancy is fun. You get a free pass to just “be” for 40 weeks of your life. You have an excuse for everything. It’s like training for your first Ironman. You are a rock star. Everyone is excited to talk with you about it, to share their experience and offer their support. I’ve heard that by the second pregnancy, you’re lucky if someone even holds a door open for you. I imagine by the third people are asking you to open the door for them.

But at some point you realize that the fun will come to an end. I was in a store the other day and a baby was wailing. Not just crying – wailing. It struck me that in less than 5 months, that mother trying frantically to rock and hush her baby might be me. It also struck me that I might not leave the house after July for a very long time.

At first I wasn't even going to read the book. Angela gave the book to me a few months ago and mentioned that once she was giving birth, she was glad she had read it. But I was hesitant for a few reasons. First of all, many have advised me not to read books. Too much information, it will scare you, go by your intuition, do what feels right. Secondly, do I really want to know? I coach some athletes who refuse to do a half Ironman before the full Ironman. Why? They don’t want to know half of how bad it’s going to hurt. I finally get it. Because there is something about reading about birth that makes me a little scared. Do I really want to know how excruciatingly painful, awful, messy and get this baby out of me RIGHT NOW it is going to be?

I don’t know.

Finally, I gave in to the book. It was time to face my fears and get me some labor and delivery education. Soon I realized that there are things I already know, things I should know, things I don’t want to know. This book covered all of it.

A few chapters in, the author started talking about pain. It occurred to me that most women may not have a scale to measure pain - know what I mean? Sure, there is emotional pain, and ow I stubbed my toe pain but how often do most "normal" women experience pain when they go from bed to car to desk to couch to bed again? Where is the pain?

I think I may have an advantage here. You see, I have spent years burning in my own physical pain. I know what it feels like to get to zone 5c. I have blown up. I have done 25s no breath underwater and then peed myself. Pain is a familiar language to me. I get it. The up to my eyeballs in lactic acid pain. The shaky I just spent too long above my threshold pain. The I missed the interval but oh shit I have to keep swimming hard or else I will get lapped pain.

I miss pain. Really, I do.

So when the author started talking about pain, I listened. But she explained something I really didn’t understand. She said that most physical pain we have experienced usually lessens over time. Labor is the opposite. It worsens then it stops. I thought about it in regards to my pain experience. The pain I know doesn't stop until you hit the rest interval. The pain I know builds. I thought about Ironman. At no point did the pain of Ironman subside. It got worse and worse until finally at mile 22 it felt like two explosions that were really just blisters bursting followed by my quads tightening. I continued to run – even faster – to get to the finish line. The pain continued to worsen until I crossed the line and even at that point the pain did not stop. Instead my body just throbbed with hot pain.

So maybe, just maybe, I am one step closer to grasping the pain of labor because I have done Ironman. Or maybe not. I am sure it is 100 times worse because at no point in Ironman does a small person travel down your backbone and through your vagina.

Though it feels like that around mile 80 of the bike.

The next thing the author did was talk about how to prepare for the pain. She suggested taking a bowl of ice cubes, grabbing a handful and squeezing it tight for 90 seconds. Is it wrong that the idea of doing that does not leave me scared? I go outside to my car each morning and sit on the ass cold seat when it’s below 20 degrees outside. It’s safe to say my ass grips a handful of ice cubes every day. I’ve sat in a sub-50 degree ice bath, completely naked, for 10 minutes. WITH NO MAGAZINE. Is this where the ordinary woman draws the line for pain tolerance? If you told me to shove those ice cubes in my mouth for 90 seconds while standing outside in 20 degrees, naked – NOW we are talking pain.

The book, though, was informative and prepared me – at least “theoretically” – about what to expect in labor. I anticipate it will hurt – bad. Very bad. I’ve been there in my mind and sometimes I get scared. I think most women have a vision of themselves giving birth or envisioned it at some point in life – and it involved a bad fitting hospital gown, screaming, gritting, pooping and … all I want to say is please spare me the post-labor close-up face picture. I don’t think I will want to revisit that look.

But while I might be “prepared” what about Chris? The ignorance of all things childbirth is so blissful husband. There are things he should know. Things we should talk about. The other night when Chris was riding in the basement, I took the opportunity to park myself in my basement-comfy-chair with the book. Then, I announced to Chris that I had a few questions to ask him about having the baby.

This is my time, he said as he turned back to look at me from the middle of his warm-up.

In the category of things never to say to your pregnant wife: That is not the correct answer.

I gave him that look back like listen I am sitting here with a stomach bursting out of a pair of cupcake pajama pants, 12 pounds heavier, I have urinated at least 20 times today and all I want is a glass of wine, the least you can do is answer a few questions about what is going to be the most painful experience of my life.

I am just kidding.

That is the correct answer. Thank you.

What is your feeling about drugs during delivery?

It is your pain.

What about an epidural?

Whatever makes you happy.

How do you do with the sight of blood?


What about lots of blood and a placenta?

Ok, I know all of that stuff has to come out of you.

Do you want to be at the head of the bed or watching the baby come out at the end of the bed?

It doesn’t matter. Where ever you want me to be. Some people need to be in their box of pain by themselves. If you want me in there with you, I will be there.

(I got the sense that to Chris, having this baby will be like doing a 12 minute interval at CP6 – you just put yourself in the pain box and gut it out for the prescribed time no matter what it takes. This will be far worse than CP6 though. How about CP.2 for 26 hours straight).

So you don’t want to watch the baby being born.

(you could tell he hadn’t thought about it like that)

Let me put it this way, if you watch a small person come out of me will you ever been able to put your woo woo into my hoo ha again.

He paused, with an empty look across his face then said: I don’t know.

At that moment, it became clear. He has no idea what is coming. And so it was decided (by me). He will be standing at the head of the bed.

Time to move on to the more important isuses: What are you going to do if I poop myself?

You could tell that he had answer but like the questions above could sense there might be a right and a wrong answer. So I filled in his blank.

You will call me poopy pants.

I read through some of the other scenarios and questions – if I have C-section will he stay with me or go with the baby, what should we bring, who will call everyone. Having a baby requires some planning!

Then, things took a more serious turn.

Did you know there is no sex after child birth for at least 6 weeks?

Really? I figured it would be at least 8 weeks.

I was thinking it might be more like 8 to 10 years.

We both laughed. But as ridiculous as the conversation was, I think it helped. Because how often do you talk about these things. Sure, we know what life is like preparing before baby and roughly anticipate how completely disheveled life will become after baby. But in those hours directly en route to baby – how many couples have covered that?

Not that we have the road map – turns out, there is none, you just go the way the baby wants you to go – but I feel like we at least know the direction of where to go. And the things that may come up. Or, honestly the things that may come out (ewww). I feel one step closer to being prepared.

Heck, I’ve even started to make a list of things I will need when I come home from the hospital. And I am pleased to report that a 24-pack of granny panties is right up there next to wine, lots. Along with my post-delivery order for sushi.


Molly said...

LOL at your entire post! I'm sure that much like life post-ART nothing my dentist can do to me seems that painful anymore, nothing post-Ironman will be quite the same to you as for other women.

And...cracking up at Chris' comments...when my brother was born at home, I sang Happy Birthday at the top of my lungs while he was crowning. I got sent to the foot of the bed to bother my mother less.

Mama Simmons said...

Your posts bring back lots of memories. :) And since you KNOW everyone shares their birth stories with pregnant women... (don't worry- mine isn't that bad)

I remember wanting to feel the pain- I wanted to know what it was like. I wasn't opposed to having an epidural if I needed one, but I was really curious about how bad the pain would be. Honestly, it reminded me of track workouts. Because it hurt like hell for like 60-90 seconds but then the pain would *completely* go away. That was the weirdest thing to me- how bad it would hurt but then like turning off a light switch it would just stop hurting 100%. Then like a minute later it would start hurting again. The fact that I had that minute or two of recovery made the whole thing very bearable for me. All in all though not so bad- but mine was quick. I only had to do the painful part for about 2 hours. I think I could have gone about 5-6 hours but after that I think I would have requested the drugs for sure.

Ph, and Scott saw the placenta and was in awe. Doc asked me if I wanted to see it but I politely declined. NO THANK YOU.

Mary IronMatron said...

Elizabeth, I have thought so much about this--comparing the pain of IM to the pain of childbirth. You are WAY ahead of the game in that you simply Know the language of pain! And it doesn't frighten you the way it does non-endurance athletes... So you're prepared in a way that nearly every other woman IS NOT.
But the difference I think is that ultimately you can control the pain in IM. You know--deep down--you can stop it--or slow down. You don't--but you could.
Labor is scary b/c you can't stop it. And unlike IM, it hurts pretty early--and it's hard to conceive it hurting more and more.
But some women totally can handle this so well! I didn't--but I know so many people who have. It sort of depends on how you do with things that are out of your control. The problem with Type A endurance athletes is that usually they are supremely in control...
Also--I would look into what it's like to have and recover from a section. (You are probably doing this already.) You just don't know--and the percentage is up to like 30% now of women who give birth that way. I hadn't looked into it all and so it really terrified me when it turned out that that is how I was going to give birth.

Shevaun said...

Don't stress too much about the pain associated with labor. It certainly wasn't the worst pain I've ever felt. Dislocated elbow, ART, and track workouts are much worse. An epidural is always an option, but the experience of feeling your body through the process is pretty cool. And you know at the end is a reward greater than any finish line. Best of luck.

Angela and David Kidd said...

I still remember my doctor telling me after 6 weeks, "I'm happy to tell your husband you can't have sex for another 10 weeks if you'd like."

If I go through childbirth again, and hopefully I will one more time, I'd fight not to be induced if it didn't threaten the baby's health. Petosin induced contractions are no joke. You don't get a break between contractions.

You will be hooked to a machine that tells you how strong (painful your contractions are). At first I loved looking at the numbers and was like "Bring it on. I can get higher than that!" but a few hours later and seven contractions in a row and I made David turn the screen the other way. I did not need really high numbers to verify what I was feeling. David was fascinated by this data and my guess is that Chris will be too.

Pedergraham said...

'xactly what Mary said. She must have been reading my mind.

Tara said...

Too funny! Poop before you go and don't be scared to use that epidural. Epidurals are a beautiful thing.

Terri said...

I second the epidural option - just be sure they know you want it on standby. This introduces that element of control - and you can make the pain stop.

jennabul said...

Don't forget to add coffee to your list of things you will need when you get home. Unless you are giving up coffee for good and just going with tea post baby birth...Loved the conversation between you and Chris. Honestly though, don't worry about the poop. You get to the point that, if you have to poop a little to get the baby out, you'll do it. Nurses and doctors we've seen it all before.

Jenna said...

Great post. Despite any planning - it will go down they way it goes down. Chris will adapt on the fly to what ever he has too and the two of you will be amazed at your strength and support and your new baby!! I planned and had lists and it all went out the window but if you let your body proceed and do what it is meant to do - it is very powerful to know what your body is possible to doing. L and D is a funny thing.... when you find yourself on the other side, come back and read this post. :) poopy

Alili said...

I would have loved to avoid induction, but that wasn't in the cards. I did get to control whether or not I had drugs and am happy that I was able to avoid them (even though I REALLY wanted them). Pitocin absolutely sucks because the contractions don't come with breaks (or brakes), continuous nauseating searing pain. TMI?! :)

But seriously, if I could give birth to my behemoth baby YOU can certainly do this!

Michelle said...

As you say, you are WAY ahead of the game here. Mama Simmons nailed it - it's like a track workout. You feel the pain starting to build, it reaches a peak, then it starts to fade away. I thought about waves during much of my labor (and my first was LONG and ridiculously painful as he was a back labor baby and was apparently VERY comfy in there and didn't want to face the world outside of mommy) - it was the perfect analogy for me. I just rode them out. It hurts, sure. Like hell, actually. But ..... you deal. Just like you have been dealing with for years of training.

If you want to do this, you can. Just make up your mind and stick to the plan. It's one of the coolest things I've ever done - by far. And hey - it's a challenge. I bet more people have completed an IM than have had a drug free birth. You want a new challenge? There you go. Let's see a throwdown, girl. :)