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Column 11 things nobody tells you about giving birth

Some things you can learn from books, writes mother of three Deborah McCarthy – but not these.

I WAS TALKING to a girl I know who was heavily pregnant with her first child, and it got me thinking of ALL the things the parenting books omit about labour and birth. The following are just a few things I wish somebody had told me:

1. The Importance of Silence

The first error you can make when labour starts or if you find out you are getting induced is tell people. Especially your parents and especially if its your first baby. It’s natural to want to share this exciting news with your parents or friends. To send an excited text between those first irregular labour pains. DO NOT DO IT.

The fewer people who know the arrival of your baby is imminent the better. THEY WILL WRECK YOUR HEAD. I was induced on my first baby so knew the day before and told family, friends etc. What resulted was my phone buzzing and hopping constantly, and my mother driving around the general vicinity of the hospital for hours before finally giving in and gatecrashing the delivery suite. Yes, you read that right.

The same thing happened on the birth of my second child. They didn’t learn their lesson when my sister was in labour. I believe my Dad had a stand up row with the porter in the maternity hospital because he wouldn’t let him in. My Dad threatened him with the gardaí for withholding information. I shit you not! Your parents might be the most sane people in the world but when their child is in labour, they lose every shred of sanity they own and do ridiculous things. TELL NOBODY YOU ARE IN LABOUR.

2. The Admin

So you rock up to the hospital and before you get anywhere near the labour ward, they want you to fill in forms and disclaimers and all sorts. Not a problem if you are labouring slowly with your first baby or giddily heading into to get induced. HUGE PROBLEM when your labour is progressing at the speed of lightning and some jobsworth is there waving his clipboard and blocking your way to the medical assistance, drugs and privacy.

Big shout out to Mr Rules Must Be Adhered To in Holles St Hospital – I loved when he whisked my husband off to an office to fill out forms, leaving me to wail and literally scratch the walls in the corridor for five minutes before finally letting us up the stairs to the labour ward. Give yourself extra time for checking-in fun when heading to the hospital if possible.

3. ‘Birth Partners’

The biggest misnomer ever. The word Partner gives the impression you are in this together, sharing it all. LIES. You go through labour, you give birth. The “partner”, be it your husband/boyfriend, mother or friend is there with you but they are not sharing the labour or birth. Sharing the joy when baby arrives, sure. Sharing the actual labour pains, no, not at all.

The other role of the “birth partner” is  to drive you mental. They can achieve this sometimes by simply breathing or by a variety of other ways. Either way they will irritate you greatly, no matter how much you love them. I think its good to know this beforehand and even maybe apologise in advance.  Sometimes they don’t deserve an apology though, for example, when they stand laughing and pointing at you  at one side of the room. True story.

4. Midwives

Are amazing. Most of them. I have given birth three times and two of those times I was graced with fabulous supportive midwives. The one on my first birth was chatty and distracted me and was very encouraging and helpful.  The one on my third birth examined me, went off to the corner of the room and came back just as my daughter was born. Exactly what I would’ve requested. Fabulous. Wonderful. Cannot sing their praises more highly.

Then there was the midwife who was with me on the birth of my second child. The midwife who told me I wasn’t in labour when I was 8cm dilated. The midwife who thought she was there to support my husband and not me, who kept insisting he pop off and get a snack and when he was there discussed rugby with him in great detail as I lay there in labour. The midwife who left me strapped to monitors on a bed, popped open a window for some “fresh air” and then disappeared for twenty minutes, while I lay there in sub-Arctic temperatures with a wind blowing around the room strong enough to knock over medical utensils. She was a joy.

If you have the highly unlikely misfortune to have a midwife who you really do not like, who is not listening to you and who is more interested in discussing rugby with your husband than your labour, request another one.

5. The Thong

Has no place in the labour ward or your hospital bag. I arrived in to have my first child and there I was all lovely sitting there on the bed waiting to get my waters broken. Now this may sound obvious, but you would be surprised: You need to remove your knickers if you are going to give birth. Obvious yes. I forgot. So anyway I then had the pleasure of tying to act like I wasn’t mortified and try to just slip the knickers off.

Hard to do subtly at the best of times. Significantly harder in a bright hospital room, with a ginormous bump, three medical staff and your birth partner all in situ. I achieved it. I was wearing a thong. The nurses noticed this and then ensued a conversation about how damn funny it was that I was wearing a thong when I was about to give birth. It was just so hilarious for everyone. Gas.

After my second birth, the midwife asked my husband to get me underwear and fresh pyjamas from my bag. Somehow the SAME THONG had ended up in my hospital bag. He handed this and the PJs to the midwife. Oh, the laugh the midwife had. A thong and those hospital maternity pads. Those crazy midwives really do find thongs hilarious. Let that be a warning to you. I learnt the hard way. I found it safer just to give up wearing underwear as I approached my due date, third time round.

6. The Tourette’s

The majority of women find contractions painful. You expect them to be. What I did not expect was with the contractions came a form of Tourette’s. The pain of contractions made me curse and curse and curse. Mostly at my husband but I did save some choice words, each time, for my midwives. Sometimes directly, sometimes I just told my husband what an absolute bitch the midwife was despite her being six feet from me. Labour also made me think nobody could hear me.

I am sure midwives get called all sorts during labour, you apologise afterwards, you are all aglow and in love with your squishy newborn and its all quite funny. When it’s not so funny and a lot more embarrassing is when you call you your midwife a  stupid bitch who is clearly incompetent and then you get an epidural and you are calm and pain-free and still have hours of labour to go and also hours to spend in the company of the incompetent bitch midwife. Awkward. Direct your bitches, bastards, and fucks at your birth partner. That is what they are there for.

7The Cringe Factor

There is a possibility that during your first labour you may find certain things a bit blush inducing. When I was brought in to have my first baby, I was asked my weight before labour started, in front of my husband. I was a tad affronted by this clear invasion of my privacy. Oh the naivety. Within hours he was going to see another person come out of me and I was worried about him knowing my weight?

Giving birth is messy. The midwives have seen it all before. Your birth partner is shielded from a lot of it, and to be honest they forget the horror film parts because they witness the amazing part and that is what will stick with them. Fear of  pooing, farting, vomiting, bleeding, leaking and all the rest will only happen with your first labour. After you have given birth little will faze you ever again.

Oh and no amount of spray tans, manicures, pedicures, Brazilians etc before the birth will make it less messy.

8. The Epidural

Have one, don’t have one. Whatever works for you. With your first birth though, do not rule anything in or out before hand. I have given birth with one and without. The common feature of all labours was me screaming “get me the fucking drugs” loudly. If you do get one, you will want your anesthesiologist  to become your birth partner because he or she will become your new best friend instantly. Be prepared for this huge outpouring of emotional gratitude you will bestow on this total stranger.

Also be prepared that sometimes an epidural can make your nose swell. Sometimes up to three times the size it usually is. I have all these photographs of me and my daughter taken after she was born. You cannot appreciate the beauty of her because your eyes are drawn to my HUGE swollen nose in every single photo.

9. The Racehorse

This is what I felt like when it got to the pushing stage. People  screaming, “Come on, you can do it.” Cheering me. Shouting my name. Your birth partner turns into a cheerleader. Push , push, push, PUSH. Fuck, fuck, fuck, FUCK OFF. The Tourette’s comes back during the pushing stage. I found being shouted at like a racehorse coming up to the finish line the most irritating thing that has ever happened to me. With my last birth there was no cheering me on, it was a much more enjoyable birth. Tell them to shut up. Also don’t let the fear that you are going to burst blood vessels in your eyeballs stop you from pushing properly. Another true story.

10. The ‘I Cannot Do This’

I defy anybody to give birth without uttering these words. But you can and you do. The good thing to remember if you are drug-free labouring: when you get to the stage when you really feel like you can’t do it anymore, it’s almost over.

11. The Wonder

Then there is a baby. A beautiful stunning baby. That first cry is the most amazing sound you will ever hear. You will feel like superwoman. Your baby will be covered in gook and blood and bits of things that were inside you and your baby will be the most beautiful thing you have ever, ever laid eyes on.   Finally your birth partner becomes useful because they are as excited and instantly in love with this baby as you are. The high I got after birth was something that no drug could ever achieve. I would do it again in a heartbeat.

Deborah McCarthy has three children. She writes at, a blog and swap site for maternity, baby and children’s clothes, where this post originally appeared.

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