What I Wish I’d Known Before I Gave Birth

Who’s helping you deliver the baby can make all the difference, says Lisa Levey.

When Kate Middleton left the hospital with Prince George in her arms, already the inquiries went out about when her body would return to its pre-baby glory. Many were surprised that the baby bump remained post-delivery. 

There’s much you learn through the process of being pregnant and having a baby—like baby bumps don’t disappear overnight (and post-baby bodies rarely return to exactly the same form). For me one of the biggest surprises of having a baby—two babies to be precise—was just how important the delivery nurse is to the whole experience (and just how medical our approach to child birth has become). Let me explain. 

The births of my two sons were starkly different experiences, based primarily on the nurses. When I started feeling contractions with my first child, I went to see my doctor who said it made sense to head on over to the hospital. I checked in and in time was connected to the drip for the epidural anesthesia. When I had gone as far as I felt I could, breathing through the contractions on my own, I asked for the support of pain medication. 

I thought the worst was over—now that I was on the drip—and I could breathe easy. Boy was I wrong. When it came time to push, I was unable to feel the sensation while on the epidural. The nurse stopped all pain medication and it felt like going over a cliff—from the drowsy comfort of being sedated to the full-scale intensity of the most challenging part of childbirth. 

It turns out this “cut it off” approach is a medical decision and not the only way. The pain medication can be lessened gradually, but the full tilt to fully-off approach is seemingly most expeditious. My delivery nurse was stern and intense. Instead of feeling supported through the process, I felt like she was the hard driving sports coach yelling at her athletes. 

Take two. Different deliver nurse and a whole different experience. 

While I was in the process of delivering my second child, a similar pattern ensued—breathe through the contractions to a certain point, ask for pain medication, and when it was time to push, my body struggled to feel the sensation while on the epidural. This time the delivery nurse had also trained as a midwife and her philosophy and approach seemed in stark contrast to my first. 

Instead of “cutting the drip,” she slowly decreased the medication allowing my body to adjust in the meantime. It turns out dialing the epidural down to a lower setting was just the thing, in combination with her skills as a midwife, helping to expertly facilitate the final stage of the birthing process. Instead of feeling afraid and completely overwhelmed, I felt in control and peaceful. 

I decided to write this post because I felt so caught off guard by the need to transition from peaceful bliss—the worst was over and I was nearing the point of meeting my child for the first time—to the full cascade of pain, from 0 to 60 in less than a minute. Had I understood the importance of the delivery nurse during this critical stage of the process (and how relatively common it is for women to struggle with pushing while on an epidural), I think I would have been far better mentally prepared for intensity of the journey. 

I realize the birthing process takes many different forms for women and some deliveries are far more complicated than others. But it’s also clear to me that our medical approach to birth, while proving critical in select situations, has also turned the more garden-variety birth into a medical intervention rather than a natural process supported by medical tools. 

Often in my research work, I ask the question of those I interview, “What do you wish you had known that you’ve learned along the way?” My answer would be: I came to deeply appreciate, through the birth of my children, the absolutely critical role of nurses and the importance of the medical provider’s worldview on the birthing process.

Lisa D’Annolfo Levey is a consultant, speaker, and writer on work-life and diversity management. She spent many years as a Senior Director of Advisory Services at Catalyst. She is the author of The Libra Solution: Shedding Excess and Redefining Success at Work and at Home, focused on a gender-flexible approach to career and family management.

Related Links:

Posted in Life and