Labor and delivery can be the scariest and most painful event in a mother’s life. After months and months of pregnancy and anticipation it is finally time to bring baby into the world, and that act usually takes a tremendous amount of effort. In the movies, labor and delivery is often boiled down to a few screams, some sweat, a few pushes and ta-da! There’s the baby. In real life there are three stages to the whole process and here’s a newsflash - the whole thing hurts.
Stage one includes Early Labor (when your cervix begins to dilate and efface - gradually thin out and open up to about 4 cm), and Active Labor (when dilation occurs quicker than before and contractions are closer together, more intense and last longer.) This stage lasts until your cervix is open to 10 cm.
Stage two happens when you are completely dilated and ultimately push out your baby. Finally, the delivery of the placenta is the third stage and completes the whole process.
Every woman has her own unique labor and delivery story for each of her babies. For some women Active Labor, when the cervix opens rapidly from 5 - 10 cm, is often the most overwhelming and traumatic part of the process. In some cases, especially when looking back at the event, the period of Active Labor can be pretty hilarious for everyone involved.
In the end, you come out of the ordeal with a beautiful baby, but in the moment, Active Labor may seem an insurmountable task. These 15 ways that dilation can be perfectly wild and amazing. After the shock-value wears off we can look at what you may be able to do to deal with the pain if something similar happens to you.
14 It Was The Ginger Ale!
My personal labor and delivery story was intense, to say the least, but the exact moment when I went from Early Labor to Active Labor will go down as one of the funniest moments in history according to my husband and I. We had spent an almost leisurely hour or so waiting for the induction medicine I was given to kick in. It was fun, really. My husband and I watched La Bamba, which was on the hospital TV and which he had never seen before (how is that even possible, right?)
We stared lovingly into each others eyes and held hands and felt butterflies. Then the nurse came in, checked my cervix and since I was at 4cm told us that we were going to move into the next room. We looked at each other and almost laughed - if this was how the whole thing would go this was going to be so easy. We got settled in the delivery room and the nurse handed me a small cup of ginger ale. The second the liquid touched my lips - I was mid-sip and hadn’t even swallowed - my first active labor contraction hit. When the excruciating pain was over and I realized that I hadn’t been ripped apart by the vagina I looked at my husband and told him, “It was the ginger ale. This can’t be right. The ginger ale hurt me.” He was white as a ghost and had a look of pure fear in his eyes as he simply nodded and said, “yeah, that must have been it.” And I honestly believed the nurse had given me some kind of horrible soda until the next contraction hit.
13 Quicker Than Quick
One woman was in the hospital waiting room when her water suddenly broke. At that point she only had time to pull off her underwear and boom - there was her baby. This woman didn’t have to endure hours of active labor, however, it was game time before she, or anyone else in the hospital, was ready for her baby to make an appearance. This new mom was lucky enough to at least be at the hospital, if not in a room, when her baby arrived. If you find yourself in the unique position of not being able to get to the hospital and you have to give birth on your own there are a few things to remember once the baby is out. Whattoexpect.com has a great article on emergency deliveries but the three key points are 1- Bring him or her up to your chest for skin to skin contact, 2- encourage the baby to breathe on his or her own, and 3- don’t cut the umbilical cord yourself.
12 6th Time’s A Charm
Sometimes people say that the more babies you have the quicker labor and delivery is for you. A woman who had five children at home went from 3cm to 10cm in an hour during the birth of her sixth baby. One. Hour. That is less time than most movies. My regular hair appointments take almost three hours and all I walk out with is myself. This woman managed to morph her body so that a person the size of a watermelon could come out of it in just one short hour. While this is crazy fast (and probably very painful) the time it takes for a pregnant woman to fully dilate really depends on her individual body. Perhaps because this woman had already had five babies, her body knew what to do exactly when it was ready so everything moved insanely quick. The truth is there is no telling how long labor will last. It is unique for every woman and every birth.
11 Jumping Out - Feet First
It would be nice if women who experience our next kind of crazy labor and delivery story got some sort of reward (that is besides the amazing and beautiful child they just gave birth to.) It takes a very stoic and courageous woman to labor for hours and hours - fully dilate - and only then discover that she has to have a C-section. Imagine, if you will, that you have to experience the hardest parts of two completely different things. I believe that is what having a C-section after hours of labor essentially is.
If you end up having an unplanned C-section, then clearly your doctor feels that this is the delivery method that will keep you and the baby safest so it really is a miracle of modern medicine. However, one can’t help getting chills when one thinks of some of the scenarios women have to deal with. In one instance a baby was in the breech position and the foot of the child was basically hanging out of the birth canal when doctors did a c-section earlier than planned.
10 Flash Flood
Some pregnant women live in fear of their water breaking in public. This thought is daunting enough so most women remain preoccupied about not wanting to make a splash in front of strangers at their local supermarket. What people don’t often think about is how their water may break. First things first, what is the liquid that comes out when your water breaks? During gestation, the baby is surrounded by a protective cushion of amniotic fluid within the mother’s uterus. During the first half of pregnancy, the fluid is mostly water that comes from the mother’s body. During the second half of pregnancy, the fluid is mainly made up of the baby’s urine and also includes nutrients, hormones, and antibodies to protect the baby from infection. At some point during labor - it could be very early on or it could be later in the process - the sac of amniotic fluid bursts and drains through the birth canal. In some instances, the burst can happen with such force that the “water” can rush out forcefully like a projectile. Depending on the expecting mother’s position when this happens, if she is laying down, for instance, she could basically send a deluge of amniotic fluid all the way across a room.
9 Born To Fly
Even when a woman is cleared to fly there can be an interesting turn of events. When it's time for a baby to come there really is no stopping it. One woman was cleared to fly from the Philippines to San Francisco in the United States. With five hours left on the flight she started to experience labor pains. Luckily there were some on-flight nurses as well as trained flight attendants who were able to assist with the birth. It only took 15 minutes for this mom to give birth to her healthy baby high up in the air.
Travelling while pregnant can be really hard and most obstetricians recommend that you don’t fly during your last trimester. If you are planning on travelling during your pregnancy some important things to keep in mind are that security checkpoints in airports nor pressurized cabins are harmful to pregnant women. If you are toward the end of your pregnancy, however, there is always a chance that you could go into labor. Would you rather that happen at 30,000 feet in the air or safely on solid ground?
8 Greatest Driver In The World
The award for managing labor pain, in my opinion, goes to one Scottish woman who opted to take her driver’s test while she was experiencing labor pains. According to the story, this woman woke up around 4 a.m. with labor pain and patiently waited until after her driving exam at 8:40 a.m. to go to the hospital. While she was taking her test her contractions were approximately 10 minutes apart.
Luckily she passed her driving test and also delivered a healthy baby that same day.
While this doesn’t sound like the safest approach to labor (or a driving test) it definitely was something to do while waiting for Active Labor to kick in. First-time parents incorrectly assume that once you go into labor all attention and priority is then placed on the labor. As veteran parents will often tell you, that is just plain old not the case. Labor can take so long that many women choose to stay as long as possible in the comfort of their own homes. Essentially, to keep their minds off of the discomfort, they end up treating the occasion like any other day. They know the real pain and the time to push will usually take quite a while to arrive.
7 Make Yourself Comfortable
Ask any mother and one of the things that will probably stick in her memory from the experience of labor and delivery in a hospital setting is the checking of her cervix by medical professionals. For many women, labor can take a while - hours and hours, really. While the expectant mother is dealing with the worst pain in her life she also has to tolerate several sets of hands exploring and checking her nether regions.
The miracle of birth truly is amazing and it is a wonder that the human body knows just what to do to bring new life into the world. The one thing the body can’t do is know exactly when the right time to actually push a baby out will be. It takes some one else measuring the opening of your cervix to see if a baby will be able to fit through it.
This can make for some very awkward interactions - especially if any student doctors are involved. Of course, at the end of the day, none of this really matters but in the moment when you get your cervix checked and then there is a change of shift and a whole new set of people have to check your cervix... things can feel a little weird - just sayin'.
6 Hold On A Sec
Almost adding insult to injury there is an even more awkward moment that can occur while someone is checking a laboring mother’s cervix. It is, in fact, possible for a woman to have a contraction while her cervix is being checked. There is plenty of description around what your belly will feel like during a contraction. There is not, however, a tremendous amount of information about what is actually happening to your vagina through this whole process. You might suspect from the name that the opening of your vagina clamps down (contracting) and then stretches open. I kind of imagine the first part of this act being something like when a Venus flytrap snaps shut - like jaws clamping down. If it just so happens that someone is checking the cervix while this happens then, unfortunately, they are just along for the ride - stuck there until the contraction passes with their fingers trapped and the desperate need to look at something, anything other than the pregnant woman’s eyes.
5 Your Turn!
Somewhere right before transition, when the mother is about to begin pushing her baby out, is when many women experience a moment of pure delirium mixed with the belief that they can somehow get out of actually having to push out the baby. One woman simply turned to her husband at this point and told him that he had to push the next time a contraction came - she just couldn’t do it. Thankfully this feeling of inadequacy passes and women all over the world - and for all of time - have given birth to babies. I am willing to bet that almost all women, at some point during labor, feel like they are incapable of doing what they are doing. Luckily, biology takes over at that point and helps move things along. Plus, modern medicine also has made great strides over the years and if absolutely necessary, your doctors can assist in delivering a healthy baby for you in the safest way possible.
4 Get Your Giggles Out
Hormones have an intense effect on a woman throughout pregnancy as a whole. Labor and delivery are no exception. Hormones are raging through a woman’s body at this point and there is absolutely nothing she can do to stop them - they are a necessary element in the process of birth. They are what helps the body change and stretch so that it can produce a perfect little human. Unfortunately, hormones also make us women feel and sometimes act completely loony. Some women, especially those who have dealt with really long and exhausting labors, describe a comical form of hysteria hitting them hard during active labor. After hours of contractions and pain, one woman described her experience as a long-lasting fit of laughter…. about a solid half an hour where she just simply couldn’t stop laughing. While this sounds fun, laughing during contractions really really hurts so try to get your giggles out during early labor at least.
3 Let’s Get Physical
Pain can make people behave in ways that they wouldn’t normally behave. When the human body is subjected to pain for an extended period of time, an involuntary response to that pain can sometimes occur. Quite often, women in the middle of labor (and their partners) describe a surprising verbal response - cursing and screaming obscenities has been noted at times. At other times there is a physical response. Throwing punches or even head-butting has been known to happen during the course of labor (especially before the epidural has been administered). This is just yet another reason why we should be very appreciative and thankful for dedicated nurses. Forget about the ones who work in the Emergency or Operating Room. The nurses who help bring life into the world have seen (and sometimes have been on the receiving end) of some scariest stuff in the delivery room.
2 It’s A Marathon - Not A Sprint
There is a story that I have a lot of trouble believing but the mom this happened to says it is true so who am I to judge? This woman was in labor at the hospital and got completely engrossed in a Harry Potter marathon. I guess she is a big fan because at some point during the marathon when the doctor checked her cervix she was dilated almost to 10cm. I’ve read a lot about managing labor pain and I must say this was the first time that Harry Potter ever came up. In case you are like me and witches and wizards are not enough to keep your mind off of the pain, there are a few things that experts say will help you during the process. You can change positions or take a walk, get in the tub or shower, or alternate breathing and relaxation methods.
1 Good Things Come To Those Who Wait
Dilation and effacement are somewhat mysterious to me in that they can happen so differently for many women. We’ve talked a lot about how quickly it can occur and the pins associated with it but something crazy to remember is that the whole process can actually take much longer than anticipated for some women. There are stories of women who experience labor for not just mere hours but actually for days. Other women, for some reason or another, find that they need to be induced but their bodies refuse to cooperate as the doctors would hope. These women are inundated with medication to cause contractions to begin but their cervix remains tightly closed. It's so important that you discuss possible outcomes with your obstetrician prior to delivery so that you are both on the same page with how to handle these situations.
The most important thing to remember is that medical professionals are going to do everything in their power to keep mom and baby safe during labor and delivery. Hopefully for you, the process will be smooth sailing and as painless as possible.