Well the truth is as all the books say, it is different for everyone. I always hated that statement to some degree. I was desperate for some real story about labour - particularily one that answered the question - how do you know you're in labour?
The thing was - I didn't! I had three seperate sets of Braxton Hicks contractions that came about a week before I delivered. Braxton Hicks were tightenings of my belly that were very distinct and came at steady intervals. I had read that to determine if they were Braxton Hicks to take a shower. If they are fake contractions, the shower will make them go away. So I got in the shower, but they didn't fade away. I got excited, and tracked the contractions for hours thinking they would soon worsen and I would be off to the hospital. The shower rule was not true for me - they faded away all of a sudden after several hopeful hours later.
Real labour struck me one afternoon and because I had had so many false alarms I did not believe it was real. The difference this time - I was having pain in my lower back. I resisted beliving it was real a little too long. The contractions came steadily and were progressing very fast. I was in denial and I had known from my last ob/gyn appointment that I was nearly 2cm dilated already. I was afraid of being the girl who cried baby. It was the real deal though, the worst cramping I had ever had in my back in my lifetime.
The books had said the first baby would take hours in early labour and that you should wait it out at home. So I was fully prepared to watch movies, sit and wait. That was wrong! My contractions went from 10 min apart to 5 min apart in less than half an hour, just an hour total after my first inkling of labor. I progressed fast and once I arrived in hospital I was 5c. This was much to the surprise of the doubting doctors and nurses who thought I was crazy to have come in after just 2 hours of labor on my first baby. Long story short I jumped from that 5cm to 9 cm in 2 agonizing hours and recieved my epidural unknown to my nurse when I was 9cm and 100% effaced. They panicked when they realized that maybe the epidural had come too late. I had survived the contractions up to that point by not freaking out and breathing slowly and carefully - it really did work. I also squeezed my husband's hand until I nearly broke his fingers. That helped me focus. No one was allowed to speak around me while I was having contractions either. I was not a nice lady then. The bathtub was also my best friend for labour progress. The hot water not only helped the pain but I found out after had actually helped soften my cervix.
The epidural slowed the progress to a snail's pace - it took nearly 3 hours for the remaining 1 cm. But I would recommend the epidural all the way. I could actually have a conversation! I wasn't in absolute agony anymore with the worst period-like cramps and shaking of my life. I felt the urge to push just before midnight that night, just 9 hours after my labor had started. They warned that typical pushing for a first baby was between 2 and 3 hours. I was prepared. But I concentrated very hard on pushing and made no noise, putting every ounce of my effort into bearing down. It took about 50 minutes to push out my little boy and the tears and laughter that followed were worth every minute of the labour pains.
- Believe it - Labor really wasn't that bad
- Trust your instincts - I KNEW I was progressing fast and wasn't fitting into the typical category for a first pregnancy no matter what "they" said
- Epic Epidural - highly recommend even though it slowed things - well worth it
- Save energy when you push - don't scream! Focus!!