What REALLY Happens in the Delivery Room

By Colleen Dunn Bates

One thing any decent journalist knows how to do is research. So when I was pregnant for the first time, I researched like crazy. I read every book. I grilled my friends who’d been through it. I wrote down questions for my obstetrician so I wouldn’t forget them.

I researched all the childbirth classes and carefully debated the options (Lamaze? Bradley? Home birth?). I interviewed pediatricians. And then my water broke, and I was hit with one surprise after another. Not for one minute did labor and delivery go as I expected. I felt totally unprepared. I felt like an idiot. But after talking to doulas, doctors, midwives, childbirth educators, and parents, I found out that I was hardly an idiot. It turns out that pretty much everyone faces some sort of surprise in the delivery room. Here are the most common ones.»

What Due Date?

Even though doctors, doulas, and midwives continually stress that a due date is just a best guess, we moms-to-be can’t help but plan our lives around that date. Unfortunately, our bodies don’t check the calendar on our Palm Pilots. “My husband and I had a fish-and-chips lunch before my routine doctor’s appointment,” says Claire Glidden, a California entertainment executive and mother of a toddler son, Ford.

It was three weeks before her due date, and the couple had yet to buy a car seat or stroller, let alone pack a bag for the hospital. “At my appointment, they found that I had preeclampsia, which called for an emergency C-section, with fish and chips still in my stomach,” she says. “From that point on, nothing was in my control.” Now expecting her second child, she feels more ready to accept whatever happens.

It Hurts!

“Almost 100 percent of the time, the women I work with are surprised by the pain,” says Susan Moray, CPM, LM, a midwife in Portland, Oregon, who specializes in home births. Something about the self-protective instinct of human nature leads women to think that they’ll be the lucky ones for whom pain is no big deal. “We don’t mince words in our childbirth classes and during prenatal care, but almost everyone thinks it will be different for them—they think it’s mind over matter, and pain won’t happen to them.”

One way to prepare, says Chris Pearson, M.D., a longtime baby-deliverer at Providence St. Joseph Medical Center in Burbank, California, is to accept it, not fight it. “Many women are used to controlling everything in their lives,” he says, “then they go into labor and are surprised to find that they’ve got about as much control over the process, and the pain, as a rafter has in the whitewater.” Sure, you have some tools, just like a rafter has paddles, but in general you’re going along for the ride—wherever the whitewater takes you.