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The Stuff They Don’t Tell You Before You Go Into Labor

Photograph by Twenty20

You read all the books on labor. You watched all the documentaries. You got all the advice from your mom, your mother-in-law, every single one of your aunts and even from those friends who make juggling life with three kids under 5 look easy. But still, I found that some advice slipped through the cracks.

These are the ones actually worth remembering.

You might shake uncontrollably.

I don’t know if it was just the nerves, the stress, the heightened levels of sheer adrenaline or a weird combination of the three, but the closer I got to delivery, the more my teeth chattered and my limbs trembled. I wasn’t cold, but the nurses kept putting heated blankets on top of me. I kept trying to say it wasn’t really helping, but I couldn’t talk all that well because of my jack-hammering teeth, so I was as sweaty as I was shaky.

The jury's still out on what exactly causes the shaking, but it could be related to hormone shifts, adrenaline response and temperature, or even blood incompatibility between Mom and Baby. If you find yourself rattling and rolling, do whatever it takes to calm yourself down. If you shake, you shake.

When they break your water, it’ll feel like the best pee you’ve ever had.

This was glorious. That strange rush of liquid falling out of you is oddly euphoric and in a lot of ways, it reignited my desire to keep on pushing through. I think I might have heard angels sing in the seconds that followed but I had also been laboring for more than 26 hours by this point, so my cognitive abilities were more than likely a little fuzzy.

Those pictures are the precursor to the biggest and happiest moments of my life, and looking at them now helps me remember the whole story.

Trust your instincts. No matter what.

You know your body better than anyone else. If you need an epidural, get one. If you need to sway and chant, do it. If you want to eat 14 cherry popsicles while you’re impatiently waiting to dilate to a dang 7, you do you, mama. Your labor belongs to you and you’ll be the only one that gets to remember it, in excruciating detail, for years to come.

Control as much as you possibly can, and if your birth plan starts to fall off the rails and imperative things that you wanted and needed to happen aren’t panning out, it’s OK. Like a wise ice princess once said: Let it go. And remember that nobody deserves to shame you later for split-second decisions you made on one of the hardest, most trying days of your life. Trust yourself. Trust your body. And trust the process. You can do it. Your body was built for it.

Your birth playlist is paramount to everything else you bring with you to the hospital.

Plan it like it’s a dissertation for your last semester of graduate school. Listen to each song in the weeks leading up to the big day and make a mental note of how each one makes you feel. If it’s not nostalgic, empowering or from a place of love, cut that song from the list immediately. Include fast songs that make you laugh or take you back to an awesome day you got to experience. Include ballads that make you cry like your feelings are too big to handle. Most importantly, include songs that make you think of the baby you’ve been growing, songs you’ve sung to your belly or hummed while getting ready, songs that remind you how deep your love for that unborn human is. You’ll remember these songs for the rest of your life, and if you love them all, then the one that just so happens to be playing as your baby is plopped into your arms will mean so much. Make it a good one.

Buy yourself a new pack of underwear.

Go to your local Target and grab the cheapest pack of high-rise undies you can find. Make sure they’re a size too big, so they’re extra comfy once your squishy baby body no longer contains a baby. Be sure they’re ones you won’t get too attached to, as your post-birth body (and all the weird stuff that comes out of it) will undoubtedly destroy them.

Let someone take your picture.

This is daunting for most of us, as our laboring selves are maybe the most unkempt versions of us to ever exist, but this tip is a big one. It doesn’t matter how sweaty you are. It doesn’t matter that you’re wearing a gown with the butt part cut out. It doesn’t matter that your face is contorting into awful shapes because of hard labor. Thank God my mother was in the room with me to snap the occasional picture of me standing up and swinging my hips when laying in my bed for hours on end got annoying, or the one of my sister holding my hand during a deep contraction, after she had just braided my hair into a stubby side braid, or the one of my husband at my side, smiling down at me even though I look like someone threw me directly into a tornado right before the photo was taken.

Those pictures are the precursor to the biggest and happiest moments of my life, and looking at them now helps me remember the whole story for all that it was, my whole labor story, the hard parts and the intense parts and the life-altering parts and the absolutely breathtaking parts. Having all of that to look back on is absolutely everything.