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I helped deliver dozens of babies, and still wasn’t fully prepared for childbirth


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Photo: Stocksy/Alison Winterroth

On average, 250 babies around the world are born every *minute.* Yet, unless you’ve given birth yourself, much of what happens between that first contraction and cutting the cord is shrouded in mystery. Add in the fact that no two births are exactly the same (Was it in a hospital? At home? With the help of a doula? A c-section?), and it seems impossible that any mom-to-be could truly know what to expect. To pull back the curtain on the life-changing process and the superhero moms who go through it, we’re asking women to tell their stories—with all the messy, miraculous details.

Carolyn is an MD and first-time mom who lives and works in the Bronx, New York. 

I went into labor after eating a massive Italian dinner and gorging on homemade blueberry pie my husband and I had baked earlier that day. Oh, and ice cream. I was set to be induced the following day (at 41 weeks) and following our last date night without a sitter, I sunk into the couch with my husband, savoring the last moments sans child.

But then, in the middle of The Great British Baking Show, I felt a gush of fluid that I definitely thought was my water breaking. It was 8:45 p.m.

I knew from my last visit with my OB that I was already 4.5 cm dilated (10 cm is fully dilated) so we decided we should just head straight to the hospital. (I should say that I’m a doctor, spent a year of my residency on the pediatric floor of a hospital, and have seen and assisted in dozens of births. I knew I was ready.) In the car, I started having real contractions—by which I mean painful. They were about six to seven minutes apart.

In the car, I started having real contractions—by which I mean painful.

The trip took just about 15 minutes, but by the time I got there things were picking up. I was examined and found out I was 6 cm dilated. They also said my water had not broken, which means I either peed (oops) or had a small tear somewhere high up inside. Within 30 minutes, my contractions were five minutes apart and in an hour they were two minutes apart.

During this time, my blood pressure had also gone way up. As a doctor, I knew this was related to the pain and my body’s reaction to it, but the doctors and hospital staff took caution because high blood pressure can cause very serious problems during labor. Eventually, it went down, which was a relief. Talk about something I hadn’t planned for, or even imagined being a thing! But that’s the thing about births, you don’t know what your body is going to do.

The pain was getting really intense and, all of a sudden, everyone thought I was going to go into what’s called “precipitous” labor, which basically means you’re going places fast—or rather, your baby is (down the birth canal, specifically). The contractions were then 90 seconds apart and the nurse told me not to get an epidural because we were getting close. It was the worst pain ever.

I went into labor with the goal to deliver a healthy baby and stay healthy myself. I’m just rational like that.

And then I just started vomiting everything, everything, everything. All the Italian dinner, the blueberry pie we made, the ice cream. I overflowed the barf bag and had to yell at someone to take it.

But my labor didn’t kick into overdrive…instead, it slowed down.

An intern checked my dilation and said I was at 9 cm. Since I was so close, I thought I could do it without the epidural, which I had wanted to avoid. “Okay, let’s do this,” I told myself. But then the senior resident also checked me and said I was actually at 7 cm. So annoying. They broke my water (to help move things along) using an instrument that looks and acts like a long knitting needle. It’s just like pop! And ooo-wee, what a gush! Then I’m sitting there in the amniotic fluid and that’s gross. I couldn’t really take it any more, and decided I wanted the epidural.

There was this rush of amazement when I looked at my baby, and I felt a sense of wonderment at the whole process. Like, “Holy crap I have a baby now.”

I went into labor with the goal to deliver a healthy baby and stay healthy myself. I’m just rational like that. When it came to the epidural, my thinking was, “Just see how it goes.” In the moment, considering how long my labor might still potentially go on for, I decided to get it. I didn’t want to be exhausted, and I wanted to avoid a c-section. And let me tell you: When it comes to pain, it was truly one of the best decisions I’ve ever made in my life. What a difference! I was able to relax. I was able to be more present and allow my husband to be there with me. I could actually talk to him!

I had the epidural at 12:30 a.m. and by 3 a.m., I was pushing. My husband held one leg and the nurse held the other. And yes, there was poop. The nurses and doctors actually told me to imagine I was pooping when I pushed!

Now, one of the arguments against epidurals is that you don’t push as hard since you don’t feel any pain. That results in labor slowing down, which can increase the likelihood of a c-section. And I knew from my professional experience that if you’re not pushing well they start to think about that. It really depends on if the baby’s heartbeat is okay. Some babies can go for hours and some can’t. I was able to control the amount of meds I was getting because I had a PCA (patient-controlled analgesia), which meant I could let the epidural wear off a bit when I needed to start pushing, which I did.

I felt an overwhelming sense of love for my son and my husband, and pride in myself.

And then, at 4:49 a.m., my baby boy was born.

There was this rush of amazement when I looked at my baby, and I felt a sense of wonderment at the whole process. Like, “Holy crap I have a baby now.” This is the guy I saw on the ultrasound, I thought to myself. I felt relief that I had done it and I was okay and I had my beautiful baby. I felt a sense of completeness that the baby I had been thinking about for more than nine months was finally here. And I felt an overwhelming sense of love for him and my husband, and pride in myself.

I was putting him to my breast, and meanwhile like four people were sewing up my vagina.  Honestly, what was going through my head at the time was, “Wow.” I had seen dozens of deliveries, so I’ve watched the baby come out many times, and I remember seeing my baby coming up over my knees. The feeling was exactly how I imagined it would feel like.

It’s really hard to remember that there are nearly 8 billion people on the planet and this happens all the time. It’s both the most natural thing in the world and the craziest freaking thing anyone could ever hope to do.

Childbirth isn’t the only part of having a baby that can be mysterious: Here are 10 things no one tells you about being pregnant. And here’s how giving birth can be like the best sex you’ve ever had.

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