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Birth Expectations Versus Reality

The expectation versus the reality women have of the birth experience is often vastly different. Here are some common examples.

Published May 12, 2020

Maybe you grew up hearing that childbirth can be a breeze, or you saw those flawless magazine pictures of Kate Middleton exiting the hospital and thought that was typical for all new moms. Perhaps you actually do know someone who had a relatively easy childbirth. The truth is, the expectation versus reality of birth is much different than we might have imagined. And sometimes, for reasons we don’t even anticipate! Let’s examine a few common expectations women have about childbirth and look at the reality of what happens when those little angels come into the world.

Birth Expectations Versus Reality

I’ll Look Put-Together For My Post-Birth Photos

Expectation: Post-birth photos will look flawless. I’ll have my makeup on, a nice hair-do, and an easy smile. My baby and partner, of course, are cooperating for all of it.

Reality: I did have a colorful headband I wore when my first daughter was born. And it made it into some photos from the delivery room. But the reality was I tied up my hair in a messy bun, and I was so out of it (and blissed out) that I didn’t care much what I looked like in the photos. I went into labor first thing in the morning and didn’t have time to do my hair or makeup. Later, it took me several days after my oldest was born to take my first shower because everything down yonder hurt so much. It was hard to stand, let alone walk. After that first shower, I finally got dressed—into a comfy pair of sweats and a sweatshirt. And yes, another messy bun. And yes, I had a big smile on my face, too. 🙂

Contractions and Pushing Are Gonna Hurt!

Expectation: During delivery, I will feel the most pain from contractions and pushing.

Reality: Not necessarily. This is certainly true for some women. But for others (myself) included—the worst pain can be from other procedures. I was induced for the birth of my second daughter. Both the insertion of the catheter and the process of having an IV needle inserted into my hand were by far the most painful experiences. The first nurse could not insert the IV into the top of my hand. After many tries and a lot of blood, another nurse took over and eventually got the thing in somewhere on my wrist! I did have an epidural for the birth itself. So that took the edge off considerably when it came to the contractions and pushing.

I’ll Deliver In The Hospital

Expectation: I have a vision for where the birth will occur, and I expect that to be the location.

Reality: Sometimes, your water breaks at an odd hour. Or your contractions start when you’re grocery shopping or running a board meeting. Or, quite simply, your baby ends up being born somewhere unexpected. For example, you may have a delivery that happens so quickly that you don’t have time to get to the hospital. So your little bundle is delivered by you, your spouse, or a good Samaritan in the car or at your home. Or conversely, you may have planned for childbirth at home with a midwife, but complications require you to transition to a hospital bed. Being intentional about making plans, but agreeing to be flexible about adjusting those plans, if necessary, helps your situation to go more smoothly.

I Will Quickly Push Out My Baby

Expectation: As soon as I feel the urge to push or am told I’m ready to push, I will bear down and quickly push out my baby.

Reality: For some women, they can push out their babies in a few pushes. However, many women, especially first-time mothers, take much longer. It’s not uncommon for women to push for an hour or two until their babies are born. Don’t become discouraged if this happens to you. And sometimes, babies can’t tolerate the pushing pressure, and you may require a C-section. Do not feel like you have failed or your body has failed you if this happens. You have done everything you can to deliver your baby safely. You are an amazing and strong mother, no matter how your baby enters the world.

My Doctor Will Deliver My Baby

Expectation: The doctor who did most or all of my OB-GYN check-ups over the last 40 weeks will also deliver my baby and be there for me in those special moments.

Reality: Unless you have special arrangements with a private doctor, most doctors can’t guarantee that they will be the ones delivering junior. You can hire a doula if you’d like to ensure that a skilled and familiar face is in the room when you give birth. My husband and I hired a doula for the birth of our first child because we were living far away from immediate family at the time and wanted extra support. It was a great decision! She walked us through the pregnancy and helped us write a birth plan. Then, she was on call when we got close to our baby’s due date. Our doula came right away and was wonderful support from start to finish.

Breastfeeding Will Be Blissful

Expectation: The process of feeding my child using my own body will be easy and carefree.

Reality: For some moms, including myself, breastfeeding did come naturally after childbirth. My kiddos latched pretty easily. However, after six months of breastfeeding my second child, I realized that she was severely allergic to dairy. It was almost impossible for me to do a dairy-free diet and feed her. Long story short, I had to switch her over to a soy-based formula, and that choice worked well for our family. I have plenty of friends and relatives for whom latching and breastfeeding was not a viable option. Instead, they chose to accept that reality and celebrate a different way of feeding and bonding with their child using formula.

Whatever expectations you may have in anticipation of those special days of childbirth, I urge you to set goals but be willing to see those plans change. Our expectation versus the reality of birth is often very different. Stay faithful and trust that whatever happens, in the end, you will have a beautiful outcome that is unique to your life’s journey.

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  • Author

Kristen v.H. Middleton is a Clinical Psychologist in training (PsyD), a Yale University graduate, former school teacher and administrator, turned stay-at-home mom. She lives with her husband and children in… Read more

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