So a pregnant friend of mine very sweetly emailed to me, this morning, that she'd be glad to hear any thoughts I had about childbirth...and of course, I emailed back a several page treatise that went on far too long in way too much detail--typical me. But since I spent all this time writing some thoughts, it occurred to me I might post them here, mostly because I'd be interested in what other people have to say.
As to labor itself...well, i guess I do have a couple of things worth sharing about that. maybe. the first is that: it will be fine. and whatever happens, you will love your story. whatever happens, it will be GREAT.
I felt really strongly before hand that I wanted a natural childbirth--it was important to me. If you decide that it's important to you, I can give you some tips about how to make that happen for yourself--it can be difficult to do in a hospital. But i don't think there's inherently anything better about a natural birth...though, i I will say that it was a huge boost to have a sense of delivering a child as something I DID, myself. It's like reading Moby Dick, or running a marathon. I did gain some confidence from the experience. But there are lots of ways to gain confidence.
The one thing I would say that I did right (given that I had an unusually short labor) is that I was really lowkey about the early stages of it. I just relaxed on the couch, with no lights and no clock, and just slept through it as much as I could. I basically think that timing contractions is kind of bullshit. It gets you all hyped up and distracted, which ultimately slows down your contractions and makes them less effecient. You don't need to know how far apart your contractions are to know when to go to the hospital. go to the hospital when, as a friend of mine said, you are "howling like a dog." EVERYTHING IS LESS COMFORTABLE at the hospital. So stay home where it is nice as long as you can. If you know you've reached your threshold, it's time to go to the hospital--and then you can either have your baby, or, if you're not dilated enough, you can make them give you pitocin and an epidural, and then you'll have your baby. Either way.
also, I would say that (and i know other people who've said this) the hardest part about the contractions isn't that they hurt, but rather that they make you afraid of how much it's going to hurt later. You get this sense, in the midst of a contraction, that "i can do this, but I can't do any more than this." But that is WRONG. all you have to do is have the contraction you're having.
The other thing I would pass on as really good advice I received is that you must remember that "birth is non linear." Nothing about any part of the labor tells you, necessarily, anything about how the rest of it will go. The first part can go really quickly and then you can get stuck for hours, or vice-versa. Both are perfectly normal--and this is part of why you want to stay relaxed as you can at the beginning, because you have no way of knowing what will happen later.
It's important to remember this in the weeks before you are due, particularly if your doctor does cervical exams. I know many many people who were, like, two centimeters dilated at their 38 week appointment. And then they were all hyped up about how their baby could come! Any minute! And they got all exhausted and wired and their baby didn't come until 41 weeks, or whatever, because those first two centimeters have NOTHING TO DO with the last eight. Doctors DO NOT UNDERSTAND labor; we do not know what triggers it or why it happens the way it does. Doctors can give you information about where you are, but they can't accurately predict, I would say, what is going to happen next.
Okay, that's a lot! Let me reiterate the main point: it will be fine, try and relax, etc. Also...it will not be what you expect. Which is okay. Because the great part about childbirth is that it's bigger than you...and it's good to be a part of something bigger than you. Or at least, that's what I'm learning.