Birth is nothing like the movies

We all know what birth is like.

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But really. We’ve seen it in movies and television shows. Reality couldn’t be that far off!

A pregnant woman is going along her day. Everything is going great. Then all of a sudden, she has to get the attention of everyone around her – “IT’S TIME!” she says in a panic.

In the next scene, we see the panicked father helping her into or out of the car on their way to the hospital. She is in agony, and they rush into the lobby of the hospital. He doesn’t know what to do, so his laboring wife has to stay calm as she checks into the hospital and her husband fears that her baby will drop out of her at any moment.

Finally, we see the woman (now in a hospital gown), covered in sweat, gasping for breath, pain etched across her face as she lays with her arms propping her up on a hospital bed.giphy3

A doctor and a team of nurses stare into her vagina watching the baby emerge. The doctor waits. Then shouts at her “Okay PUSH!” With a cry, the woman crunches up her face, we hear the cry of a baby.

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Instantly, the woman’s face changes from anguish to joy as the doctor presents her with her baby.

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My labor was nothing like a television birth. 

To be fair, I was at home, but even when I transferred to the hospital the first time, it didn’t feel like a television show (for one, my hair didn’t look that great).

I also understand that my experience was not typical, and if a woman has had an epidural, she would probably need some guidance about when to push. But in my experience – no one had to tell me any of these things, and I really didn’t want anyone to tell me what to do while I was delivering my babies. I just wanted people to be nice to me, tell me everything was going okay, and help me be as comfortable as possible while my body did it’s thing.

A few ways that television may give you unrealistic expectations about labor

  • Your water breaking is not necessarily the first thing that will happen
    • With both of my babies, my water didn’t break until moments before my baby was born. This is not common, but it’s also not uncommon. It’s actually kind of a good thing (at least for me, with my goal of having fewer interventions in labor). Once your water breaks, the fluid protecting your baby from infection and generally making their life in your womb a cushy spa day is gone. Your water breaking is an official eviction notice. Most estimates say that after your water breaks you want to deliver your baby within 24 hours. If your water breaks when you’re 3 centimeters dilated (you need to get to 10 centimeters and THEN it can take several hours for the baby to make his or her way out into the world), your doctor (or midwife) will want to be sure your labor is progressing for both your and your baby’s health.
    • In my earlier post, I mentioned the “cascading interventions,” which can lead to c-section – often these first interventions are made because your water has broken and your doctor (rightly) wants to speed things along. Now, I would say (not as a medical expert) that sometimes these interventions get in the way of your body doing it’s thing, and if you can just relax and know your body is doing what it’s supposed to do, you’ll be in better shape.
  • Lying on a bed is not a great position for delivering a baby.
    • Both of my babies were born when I was squatting in a pool of water. In a hospital, you lay in bed because that is more convenient for the doctor, but if you’ve been watching April the giraffe, you know that many creatures give birth standing up. Why? Is it because they haven’t discovered beds? No. It’s because when you’re in an upright position, it facilitates the baby coming down (because the laws of gravity apply inside your body, too), and can make the whole process easier and more comfortable (note: this is not the same as easy and comfortable). But I will say, that basically any position other than laying on your back is more comfortable when you’re in labor. Lying on your side, curling up in child’s pose, walking around, squatting and hanging on to a birth ball or your labor coach, standing in the shower, hugging someone you love…all WAY more comfortable than laying on your back.
  • You will be not be in constant pain
    • Contractions come and go. When you’re not having a contraction (the contractions also push the baby out), you don’t feel pain. You will have a different experience on pitocin (more on that to come).
  • You do not need instructions from your doctor on how to push
    • When it was time to push my baby out, I knew. For most people with an uncomplicated pregnancy (In one sense, every pregnancy is super complicated because it’s your baby and your body, but most people are basically healthy, most babies are basically healthy, most babies have normal presentations, etc.) – birth is an involuntary process. No one had to teach your heart how to beat, no one had to show you how to breathe, no one had to teach you how to pee or poop, birth is an involuntary process. It can go much better if you have assistance from a doula, midwife, doctor, caring spouse – just like you can learn strategies for better breathing, you can exercise you heart to make it stronger and you can learn when  and where to use the bathroom – there are things you can do to facilitate your birth that will make it easier for you and your baby, and that’s really important, but you really don’t need anyone to yell at you while you’re in labor.

To wrap up, on the one hand, it’s great that pregnancy, labor, birth and babies make their way onto television and movies so frequently. There are certain sectors of our world where we pretend children and families don’t exist, and I think that is unhealthy for our society. But I think it’s important to recognize that these depictions of birth are written to be entertaining, not to be instructive. On the one hand, the movies are all correct – delivering a baby is really uncomfortable, and when the contractions and the pushing are over, you experience the huge sense of relief when the baby is finally out, and you see your sweet baby for the first time…there is nothing like that feeling. But I think that if we changed our expectations and conversations around these things, we could have better long term outcomes for moms and babies.

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You see an squished red faced alien looking thing, but I see my sweet newborn!

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