Embarrassing tales from the delivery room

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mom_surprisedI just love watching women go into labor in old movies. Serene, smiling and with not a hair out of place, these women calmly prepare themselves for the trip to the hospital with the air of a woman heading out to the beauty parlor. A commercial or two later we see them again, comfortably tucked up in bed in the hospital, beaming over a baby who’s at least a month old and looking utterly gorgeous.
In the real world, birth is painful, messy, elemental, powerful, frightening and, sometimes, completely embarrassing. Here, brave moms confess their blush-inducing experiences and medical support personnel
offer reassuring advice—all in the name of helping you bypass your delivery worries without so much as turning a hair.
What you’re worried about: Indecent exposure
It goes without saying that during labor your lady bits are center stage, but many women arrive at the hospital or birthing center hoping to keep their modesty intact.
What happened
For Summer Pierre of New York, modesty wasn’t a luxury she had the chance to enjoy. “Yeah, so my son was born in the backseat of a vehicle,” she says wryly. She and her husband were taking a cab to the Brooklyn Birthing Center when she realized she was in labor, but they got stuck in traffic. Modesty? “There were about 10 firemen, a policeman, Gladys (the cab driver) and 20 onlookers seeing me spread-eagle in the back of an illuminated minivan,” she says frankly. “Am I proud of myself? Yes, I am.”
What the professionals say
Odds are that won’t happen to you, but if you’re concerned about maintaining dignity, there might be a solution. “A lot of moms get worried or anxious about wearing the hospital gown and having their backsides exposed,” says Alice Turner, CD(DONA), a doula in Atlanta who runs yourdoulabag.com. “Several moms I know bought inexpensive knit tank dresses to labor and birth in.”
What you’re worried about: Not quite making it
We like to imagine ourselves lying in a comfy bed surrounded by competent nurses and midwives when it’s time to push. But just as in Pierre’s extraordinary birth experience, sometimes things happen a little off schedule.
What happened
Katherine Abelson, CNM at the Brooklyn Birthing Center in New York, will never forget the surprise birth that arrived just as she was leaving for the night. “This huge guy rings our bell and yells through the door, ‘She’s having a baby!’ and points to a car parked at the curb. I rush out. The woman’s mother, who happens to be an RN, is yelling, ‘Don’t push!’ and she’s yelling back, ‘I can’t help it!’ I had just decided to push her onto the backseat of the car when her giant of a husband lifts her up, runs her into the center and deposits her on the carpet in the reception area. Right there on the floor, mom delivers, grandma catches, and dad says, ‘Baruch Hashem’—Hebrew for ‘Thank God.’”
What the professionals say
“We tell our clients who fear they won’t make it to the center in time that fast deliveries for first timers are truly rare,” Abelson says, “and we casually remark, ‘You should be so lucky.’” But now she understands that “while a rapid labor is a blessing, an unattended one can be scary. This is particularly true when one’s own body takes over and does stuff the brain can’t possibly wrap itself around.”
What you’re worried about: One-woman trumpet
It’s no secret that pregnant women are a little gassy. Add pushing to the mix and there simply isn’t any chance you can pretend it wasn’t you.
What happened
“Everyone was in the room,” Angela Garvisonkrask of West Virginia recalls. “My mom, my dad, even my stepmother—and we didn’t get along at the time, which made it a little awkward. I had both legs in the air, pushing with all my might, and my son was just beginning to crown, so everyone had gotten very quiet. And that’s when it happened: I farted.”
What the professionals say
“Moms are so embarrassed by the sounds that come out of the rectum,” says Mary Knauer, NM, a midwife with St. Joseph’s Medical Center in Baltimore. “It feels unnatural to make those noises when you’re not in the bathroom, but don’t let it cause you to hold back. Your team is completely supportive. No one is giggling or surprised. In fact, we nurses like to blame dad for it! We make light of it so there’s nothing to feel ashamed of.”
What you’re worried about: Tossing your cookies
Nausea often strikes as moms near the end of labor, when they’re transitioning into the final phase.
What happened
“I had been in labor for hours, and since I was comfortable and had already gotten the epidural, my family left to get a bite to eat,” says Jessica Bear of North Carolina. “The nurse came in a few minutes later to check me. After a moment, she looked up and said, ‘You’re ready to push.’ It terrified me so much to hear that with everyone I needed gone, I just threw up everywhere. The poor nurse!”
What the professionals say
“Some moms will vomit during labor,” says Turner. “The good news is that this often happens near the end of the active phase of labor, just before pushing. It is a sign that labor is going strong.” What can you do to alleviate it? “To help with that nauseous feeling,” she continues, “put a wet washcloth around your neck.”
What you’re worried about: Losing it
Unless you’ve received an effective epidural, it’s hard to maintain your composure while giving birth. You may be a complete lady everywhere else, but in the delivery room you just might become a hissing, spitting, shrieking viper.
What happened
Amy Tilley of North Carolina was fed up with being told to be quiet, when to push and what to feel. In the middle of having her blood pressure checked—again!—she tore the cuff off her arm and threw it across the room. “I may have uttered a few choice words as well,” she admits serenely.
What the professionals say
“I always feel bad for the women who apologize after delivery,” says Knauer. “Birth is the hardest work there is, and it takes extraordinary effort. As far as the staff is concerned, birthing sounds are beautiful.”
Jodi Green, MSW, CD, a doula and chapter leader of the pregnancy support website daraluznetwork.com, agrees. “A laboring woman is not always as nice as she would be in other circumstances, and that’s OK. She’s letting go and giving herself over to the birthing process.”
What you’re worried about: The worst!
“I had one small fear about giving birth, and that was pooping in front of my husband,” says Pierre. “What would he think? ‘Oh my golly, my wife had a baby out of her lady parts and did a poop’?” In fact, pushing out more than just the baby is the biggest fear most women have as far as delivery room embarrassment goes.
What happened
“When pushing time came,” recalls Brooke Brimm of Florida, “I smelled something very foul in the room.” It didn’t take long to figure out what had happened. “I felt two inches tall to have defecated in front of my husband.”
What the professionals say
Yes, sometimes a bowel movement comes out during pushing before the baby is born,” says Turner. “What it means is that you are doing a good job pushing!” Knauer adds, “The muscles used for delivery are the same muscles used for having a bowel movement.” So when you feel the urge, use it! And what about your husband, you ask? “You’re not going to shock anyone. Even family members don’t ever seem to be surprised. It’s all part of the birth experience.”

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