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The Real Scoop on Labor

The placenta, family invitations, and fainting husbands

Q. Someone told me the placenta looks like a big kidney. Is this true? Because if so, I'm telling my doctor to keep it to himself.

A. Well, the placenta can look that way, and frankly, you'll be lucky if yours does. "A big, red, beefy placenta that looks a lot like organ meat is exactly what we hope for," Buxton says. "A tiny, shriveled placenta may mean you didn't take care of yourself or that your baby may not have gotten the nutrients and oxygen she needed." Of course, once your baby is born you will be so ecstatic and involved with her that you will barely be aware of the staff going about their business, known as the third stage of labor (the easy part, to you). Meanwhile, your health care provider will quietly inspect the placenta to make sure it's normal and healthy and intact, but by then you'll be tallying up your little one's Apgar score and cooing about her already obvious brilliance.

Q. I was hoping to invite some family members to be with me at the birth, but now I'm getting worried I'll lose control and start screaming at everyone.

A. It's the stuff of many a movie or TV show: Mom on the delivery table cursing out her husband for getting her into this mess. If you've ever been in a hospital maternity unit, you certainly may have heard a few screams. Still, you're not likely to morph into a totally different personality, says Trish Booth, a former childbirth educator and doula in Manlius, New York, and the author of Pregnancy Q&A: Authoritative and Reassuring Answers to the Questions on Your Mind. "You do not become someone else in labor -- it's an intensification of who you already are," she explains. "If you turn inward and get quiet under stress, that's what you'll do in labor. If you yell and scream normally, then you may during childbirth too."

Q. Is it true -- do women really end up pooping when they push the baby out?

A. There's a very good reason they tell you pushing the baby out feels like a bowel movement -- you're probably having one of those too. "The vagina and rectum are parallel, so when the baby's head begins to crown, anything in the rectum gets expelled as well," explains Buxton. "It's just physics. Women get upset because it's a private thing, but like vomiting, it's no surprise to anyone who works in a labor room. We just discreetly clean it up and move on." And rest assured that no one is going to allow your baby to land in poop -- this event happens in the early stages of pushing, not when the baby comes out.

Q. My husband fainted at my last birth -- he said all the blood was too scary looking. I'm not squeamish, however, and would like to try to watch the birth in the hospital mirror this time around. Do I dare -- and what do I do about him?

A. We love dads -- we wouldn't be procreating without them, after all -- but not all men are created equal when it comes to delivery-room support. Research shows that men fear losing their partner more than anything else about childbirth, explains Booth. Labor can be frightening for them to watch, and when it comes to medical decisions, "many dads will defer to anyone in scrubs," she says. Chances are your partner will hold up better the second time around -- just like you, he has some idea of what to expect -- but don't force a 360-degree view on him if he seems wary of the idea. The beauty of the delivery-room mirror is that it is easily adjustable. Your health care provider can angle it so that you can see what's going on while Dad averts his eyes. And if you change your mind, it can be quickly rotated so you don't have to watch either. Actually, the reverse often happens: "Watching your own progress can be a good motivational tool," says Buxton. "Moms get inspired to push harder when they see the head coming. And dads who come into the delivery room insisting they don't want to see any blood may totally change their tune and become fascinated if the caregivers explain what's happening. The next thing you know, Dad's putting on gloves and catching the baby."

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