When I gave birth to my oldest daughter, I didn’t have any idea how much her birth would be a shock to my system. Fortunately I was prepared for it as much as a woman who hasn’t yet experienced it can be. My birth was a physically painful and emotionally exhausting ordeal. My ten-pound baby was born at home with the assistance of a midwife and her assistants a few days after her due date. What I learned from that experience is that birth is unpredictable. In celebration of her 13 years on this earth and the 3 homebirths I had after (her including a set of twins) I devised these 10 tips to help others find balance in their own birth experience.
- Find a doctor or midwife you feel completely comfortable with
- Hire a doula
- Take a natural childbirth class
- Involve your partner
- Keep birth attendees low
- Have realistic expectations
- Create a peaceful birth environment
- Go to La Leche League meetings
- Create a daily mantra
- Let go
1. Find a doctor or midwife you feel completely comfortable with
Birth is the most primal, intimate experience of a woman’s life. You want to feel safe and secure while you’re going through it. Most obstectric offices require you to cycle through each doctor because there’s a chance you won’t actually give birth with your personal doctor attending. Unfortunately many OBs are unable to give you more than a 10-15 minute appointment due to modern medicine practices. Certified Nurse Midwives who often practice out of obstectric offices or CNM clinics usually offer a more intimate setting for appointments and have longer appointment times. Birth center and home birth midwives, who are sometimes CNM’s but most often Certified Professional Midwives (CPM,) offer appointments that are generally at least an hour long. No matter which option you use, make sure that you are happy and comfortable with the person attending your birth.
2. Hire a doula
The Greek word doula means a woman who serves. In the labor setting a doula cares exclusively for the mother. She is a birth professional who creates a relationship with the expecting mother before, offers physical and emotional support during the labor, and continues the relationship for as long as agreed upon during the postpartum phase. The mother and doula decide before birth what the mother expects. Usually massages, calming words of support, a doula can be the communicator between the mother and the birth attendant. She can also be the person who ensures that the birth team is following through with a pre-written birth plan.
3. Take a natural childbirth class
There are childbirth classes offered by hospitals and doctors offices but they generally only touch on the process of laboring and giving birth in the hospital. Those may be covered by insurance while natural childbirth classes can be expensive, but the cost is worth it. I took The Bradley Method for my first pregnancy, but there are so many options. A doula or midwife can give you options in your area. You can also find resources through a local attachment parenting group.
4. Involve your partner
Birth can be an overwhelming and harrowing experience for male partners. It’s not possible for them to truly understand the changes a mother’s body goes through for the 9 months of pregnancy and months of postpartum. Talking to them about the process is very important. Including them at prenatal visits is helpful and encouraging them to ask questions will help both parents. Most people have never seen birth, especially men. Watch natural childbirth videos together. Talk together about the things that might happen during labor and birth. Many women make primal noises, some cry, some (including me) say they can’t do it. Sometimes encouragement is welcomed and other times it’s distracting or annoying. Tell your partner before labor that you might say mean things and that you don’t mean them. The overwhelming process of birth can make the most timid and respectful woman turn into a sailor instantaneously! Some partners feel helpless watching their wife in discomfort. This is worth communicating about so that your partner feels safe. Another reason to have back up support and the reminder that birth is the most natural experience a woman can go through.
5. Keep birth attendees low
My first birth had a midwife, two assistants, my mother, my mother-in-law, a friend, and my husband. All while I labored naked in my bed. Most of them were sitting in chairs watching. My birth went on hours longer than it should have. My last birth had my husband and my midwife and it was the easiest birth I’ve had. A watched pot never boils. Birth is a private experience. In the hospital you may have less options but this is something you can discuss with your provider and have an expectation set ahead of time of who is allowed in and during which times. Include this in your birth plan if necessary. If you’re birthing at home, have childcare arranged. Even if you want your other children there in attendance, you could change your mind once those early contractions start.
6. Have realistic expectations
You can take every class possible and feel completely prepared going in, but birth is tricky. While our bodies are 100% designed to do this, that doesn’t mean things won’t get weird or go wrong and that can happen very quickly. Keep a positive attitude but also be prepared for things that could become out of the norm. Talk to your provider about the possibilities and ask them how they would handle those situations.
7. Create a peaceful birth environment
Decide what will keep you calmest. Do you like peaceful music, candles, being able to take a bath during birth or planning to labor in a birth tub? This is personal so plan your birth space accordingly to what relaxes you the most. If you’re birthing outside of your home, have the things you desire packed and ready for someone to set up in your birth environment. Your partner or doula should be aware of what things you want in your setting.
8. Go to La Leche League meetings
La Leche League meetings are a breastfeeding support group found in almost every setting. Breastfeeding as seemingly natural as it should be can be one of the most difficult challenges faced by women. You go through all of this work to get the baby out, now you have to figure out how this feeding stuff works! Latch issues, thrush, pain, it can wear down on the most hormonally stable woman. But take one who’s recovering from birth, sleep deprived, and overwhelmed by new motherhood…the breaking point is easy to get to in that situation. This is where a support system is integral. If we were living in primitive tribes we would grow up seeing women breastfeed everywhere. Once it was our turn all of the women would be supporting and teaching us. In the nuclear family, we have almost no breastfeeding support. We have a couple of generations that made breastfeeding out to be a bad thing so women now have mothers who may have never even breastfed. Going to LLL meetings before you ever have your baby can create that support system so that if you find yourself struggling, there are women who can help you through it so that breastfeeding becomes a successful journey for you.
9. Create a daily mantra
I had a decent postpartum hemorrhage after my first daughter. My midwife was very skilled and knew exactly what to do when it happened but during those 10 minutes or so it was a frightening time. During my next pregnancy I told myself everyday that I wouldn’t hemorrhage and I didn’t! For my fourth baby I told myself daily that I would have a beautiful, peaceful birth and I did. Use whatever mantra you’d like for the outcome of your experience.
10. Let go
There is nothing that takes away your control more than birth. Don’t let perfectionism into your experience. If your goal is a natural childbirth but you end up using medication or having a cesarean it’s perfectly okay. Don’t beat yourself up or build resentments about the experience. Let go of the outcome and enjoy the journey with the baby you’re growing. The moment after birth your whole life will change forever. The truth is that even though birth is this really big deal, you won’t be thinking too much about it once your little one starts growing up and you’re experiencing all that their own journey brings to your life.
Good luck and happy birthing!