As for the delivery itself, the best advice I can give is to take whatever childbirth classes are available and learn what to expect and what to do. Several women having their first babies have mentioned that the whole delivery was the scariest thing for them. Today, however, it doesn't have to be scary or, for many women, even painful. The obstetrical profession seems to have finally realized the important role the mother plays (well, duh) and has begun to afford her the respect and care she needs.
The main change I've seen since my babies were born is the use of the epidural. According to Wikipedia, “Epidural techniques frequently involve injection of drugs through a catheter placed into the epidural space. The injection can result in a loss of sensation—including the sensation of pain—by blocking the transmission of signals through nerve fibers in or near the spinal cord.”
Unfortunately, there are a few problems with it. One occasional downside is that you might have headaches for a couple days afterwards. Also, sometimes the baby comes too fast and there's no time--you’re almost ready to push and have already gone through most of the hard part anyway .If you do time it right, though, most of your labor will be merely boring with some periods of intense concentration and a final dramatic ending, but not painful. Really. You can relax and get out of your own way and let your body take over and do what it needs to do.
The first method I used was Lamaze, which was fairly new at the time. It worked better than nothing, but you still had to try to relax through very painful contractions by a series of breathing techniques. Today there are alternatives to Lamaze. One method gaining in popularity is called Hypno Birthing. It is a kind of self-hypnosis designed to help you relax completely, enough so that you can actually disregard the pain and not let it get in the way. I've heard varying degrees of satisfaction with this method, but it is worth looking into.
Whichever method you use, make sure your doctor will agree. Some of them are more open to differing techniques than others. Also, with all methods you do need to do the preparations! And it works better if your husband can be part of it with you.
Now I have to tell you about my own delivery experiences. My first two babies were born the old-fashioned way, and when I say “old-fashioned,” I mean medieval. I was left in a room and periodically given pitocin pills to hurry things along. I didn't know what was happening--there was very little information available and my doctors had told me nothing. I was afraid and I was alone. Poor Lloyd had to wait in the fathers’ waiting room all night and was admonished to keep his feet off the coffee table. For the first baby, just before the delivery, I was given a general anesthetic and missed the whole thing. When I finally woke up hours later, I was so sick from the anesthesia I couldn't even see my baby until the next day. With my second one, I didn't have any anesthesia, but I was pushing for two hours and both the doctor and nurse kept scolding me because I was “doing it all wrong.” It’s amazing I had any more children at all.
For my next two babies, I discovered the Laying In Hospital in New York City and had a completely different experience. For the first time, my husband was encouraged to be with me and we were able to use the Lamaze we'd learned together. Soon afterwards, Lloyd went into the military, and I had three more babies in Army hospitals in Germany. On the one hand, it was great because it was so cheap. Just $15 a pop, which covered my meals. I tell people the reason we had so many children is because we couldn't pass up a bargain like that.
Of course, you get what you pay for. The military hospitals are meant for soldiers so the maternity wing is like a bare-bones afterthought. For example, after the delivery, I spent two hours in recovery, then had to walk up a flight of stairs to the maternity ward. Once there, I found a set of sheets on my bed, which I was expected to make myself. Meanwhile, an 18-year-old male corpsman explained all about how to care for myself, including how to use the peri bottle. The next day, I heard the food cart come down the hall and the lady pushing it yelled, “Breakfast, ladies!” We all struggled out of bed and made our slow way to the cart to pick up our trays and bring them back to our beds. Then we had to bus our own dishes back to the cart. During one of my stays, I saw a woman in a hospital gown and robe mopping the floor next to her bed. Definitely no frills.
No one had individual rooms either. We were placed in large spaces with four people apiece and no TV’s. Since we all stayed three full days, we got to know each other pretty well and that was kind of fun. However, they dressed our babies in raggedy undershirts, disposable diapers, and worn, threadbare receiving blankets. One colonel’s wife kept saying she wanted to go home immediately so she could put her baby in some decent clothing. We kept our babies with us at all times; no friendly nursery took them during the night.
In spite of all this, I just kept having them.
I've heard it said, “Women forget childbirth once they have a baby in their arms.” First of all, it sounds like something a man would say, and second, it’s not true. We do not forget. To this day, I remember every painful breath. But the bottom line is the babies made it all worthwhile. Yes, it was kind of awful, but look what we have because of it!