Yes, your birth can be amazing!
For many women, that statement seems completely insane! To the vast majority of birthing women in North America the thought of going into labour is a scary one. We live in a society where most women have a perspective of birth that is completely rooted in fear and uncertainty. As much as a mother-to-be may feel grateful and excited to be pregnant, she can feel very fearful and concerned at the same time. Often there is a lot of guilt that goes along with the fear as well, as women think they should feel happy or that they should be tougher but they cannot help but worry about the pain and the process. What if I can’t handle it? What will happen? What if something goes wrong? What is it really like caring for a newborn? Am I ready?
Recently I was at a La Leche League meeting, listening to an expecting mother tell her story of how she was scheduled to be induced in a few days when she completely broke down. This was her first meeting and she couldn’t fight back her tears even in a room full of strangers. She was absolutely terrified. I left that meeting feeling so sad, as even the positive birth and breastfeeding stories in the room seemed to do little to ease her fears of her upcoming birth because her concerns ran so deep.
Where do these intense fears come from?
Negative birth stories are everywhere and people are not afraid to share them. Does that mean that birth is a negative experience? In most cases, no. Many women who have said their birth experiences were positive will still be the first to tell any woman with a bump about the most challenging moments first. Why do we do that? I can recall a conversation I heard once between two women at a library story-time I took my son to and it sounded almost like a competition “Oh I was in labour with Joel for 18 hours” to which her friend said “I was in labour for 3 days before Carly came, it was terrible”. Whatever happened to ‘when I saw his face for the first time I bawled, I was so happy’ or ‘I couldn’t believe I did it, I was so proud of myself’.
Whether it’s about birth generally or more specifically the way YOU want to birth, everyone just seems to have something to say. A co-worker tells you how she hemmoraged after her daughter was born, your cousin relays how she tore so badly with her first that she couldn’t sit down for a week and your sweet Aunt Maureen gasps and covers her mouth with her hands when you mention you’d like an unmedicated birth. “Oh sweetie, are you sure?” she says. As much as the people in your life mean well, these stories serve no one and contribute much to the fear-based birth culture we have in North America.
Few women have actually witnessed a birth. Most of us were not raised in a community where we saw our mother’s, aunties, sisters, cousins and friends giving birth so we either have no experience or our only visual (unfortunately) is something we saw on TV, which is likely not at all accurate.
The fear and uncertainty is intertwined within the medical system for birth as well. We test for this, check for that and wait anxiously for the next ultrasound just to be sure everything is alright. We wait on baited breath for the care-giver to tell us everything is fine, rather than just trusting our growing bellies and overall health. Birth is unpredictable and there is always a chance for things to take a turn yes, definitely true. Thank goodness for modern obstetrical care! Is that the norm though? Does living in the world of ‘what-if’s’ do more damage than good?
The truth is that fear and uncertainty can actually hinder the progress of labour. Negative beliefs and fears can increase your perceptions of labour pain and reduce the effectiveness of comfort measures and relaxation techniques, even some medications. It can lead to more interventions, tougher labours and all around more negative feelings around pregnancy, labour and birth. This carries on into the postpartum period as well. A lack of confidence to birth a baby easily transforms into a lack of confidence to care for that baby or lack of confidence in parenting.
Birth is not something that has to be feared though. There are many things an expecting mother can do to help to calm her nerves and ease her anxieties. It can be a long road, it is not always easy and the fears likely won’t disappear completely but they do not have to debilitate you or take over your life (and your labour or postpartum) either. Any woman can keep a positive, confident, and calmer frame of mind through all four trimesters if she’s willing to put the work in.
When my daughter was born I caught her with my own two hands and I was absolutely elated! I have never felt so empowered, proud or free and it is one of the most special moments in my life. Her birth was amazing! I am not a freak of nature and I do not have super human powers. I have the same body parts as every other female. I trusted my body and truly believed I could do it. I worked very hard to gain that perspective and I have learned that any woman can do the same and she should. Yes, your birth can be AMAZING too!
Educate & Prepare Yourself
Read and read a lot.
Especially as a first time mom. The more you know of what to expect, the less you will feel afraid. Much of the fear around childbirth comes just from the unknown and the uncertainty. When women and their partners do not know what will/could happen or of ways they can work to manage the pain, it can feel overwhelming and very scary.
There are so many incredible books that speak positively of labour & birth and provide a great deal of evidence based birthing information. Some of my favorites are “Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth” by Ina May Gaskin, “The Birth Partner” by Penny Simkin, “Birthing from Within” by Pam England and “Natural Hospital Birth” by Cynthia Gabriel.
Find amazing Childbirth Education Classes.
The benefits of attending a positive childbirth education series are many. Spending time consistently with positive, encouraging and uplifting educators that guide you through the birthing process and pros and cons of every birthing preference is invaluable. Connecting with other mothers and their families who are in the same stage of life and maybe even have the same fears as you do and talking about them is also another amazing way to reduce your fears and anxieties.
Participating in a class or tour put on by a hospital will provide you with valuable information on what to expect in that particular hospital as far as policies and procedures go, but I cannot speak to how much of a positive perspective you will gain.
Have a Plan.
Create a birth plan, a postpartum plan and a breastfeeding plan. This is very easy for some mothers and a complete chore for many others but either way it is very important. Putting down your preferences on paper for everything from how you feel about an epidural, who is going to cut the umbilical cord, what sort of things your family can help you with once the baby comes home to how long you intend to breastfeed for and/or how comfortable you are with someone feeding your child a bottle can be profound. This can feel overwhelming as parents-to-be often have no idea where to even start and a doula and/or childbirth educator can be a great benefit with this.
Writing down all these little but crucial things will put your mama mind at peace, knowing that when push comes to shove you and your partner have thought of every scenario and making a decision will be that much easier. Navigating birth is rarely seamless as birth doesn’t always go as planned. Families can lessen their chances of feeling negative about their birth and postpartum experience when they have educated themselves and are prepared to advocate for themselves.
Prepare & Practice.
The more effort you put into preparing yourself for birth the more confident you will
feel when it all begins. Have healthy expectations. Birth is hard work. The average birth is around 14 hours in length but yours could be much more or much less. It is to your benefit to start to think about how you are going to cope with the demands of labour and how your partner (or doula/other support people) can best support you. Practice relaxation techniques, different positions and comfort measures often. You will know what to do when the big day comes.
Bring a positive attitude.
Find the right perspective.
“Your body is not a lemon. You are not a machine. The Creator is not a careless mechanic. Human female bodies have the same potential to give birth well as aardvarks, lions, rhinoceri, elephants, moose, and water buffalo. Even if it has not been your habit throughout your life so far, I recommend that you learn to think positively about your body.” – Ina May Gaskin
Stand in awe of what your body is capable of. It has conceived and grown a human life without you even having to think about it. You bet it’s capable of bringing that baby earth side, and feeding it too! So many women labour and give birth every day around this globe and many do it hours or even days away from a hospital or doctor and do it well!
Put Positive Affirmations to Work
Sometimes the words we speak can take us from one moment to the next, one day to the next and one contraction to the next. Many women find that printing off or drawing out positive birth affirmations and taping them to a mirror, car dashboard, computer screen, fridge or anywhere really can work wonders for keeping a positive frame of mind and perspective. Have them all around you when you are in the early stages of labour at home and bring them with you to the hospital and keep them in sight.
Any positive affirmation is great in pregnancy, labour & birth and in postpartum as well. Here are a few;
- “I am strong and healthy and labour is normal.”
- “Women all over the world are birthing with me.”
- “It’s not pain, its progress.”
- “Calmly and without fear I trust in my body to birth my baby.”
- “My contractions can never be stronger than me; they are me.”
- “Soft jaw, soft hands, soft shoulders, breathe.”
- “I am being gentle with myself & taking the time I need to recover”
- “My baby and I are learning to understand each other”
- “This too shall pass”
Visualize the Best Case Scenario.
Guided imagery can be powerful in childbirth, especially for women with a sensitive nature, as they can be more inclined to being emotionally affected by visual images.
It’s important that in whatever you visualize for birth that you visualize it as a natural, non-threatening process. If you desire a natural birth, expect to deliver vaginally without problems and visualize that. If you are hoping for an epidural, visualize connecting with your baby by keeping your hands on your belly and feeling the contractions while using different positions. You won’t feel so disconnected. Most importantly, visualize that moment you see your child for the very first time. Healthy, strong and perfect. What will they look like? What will they smell like? Sound like? Feel like? Will you laugh? Will you cry? How will you feel? What will your partner do and say?
Visualize your postpartum as well. No one rocks sweat pants quite like a new mom and dad, so own that. Picture all the snuggling you’ll be doing with your new baby while family members pop by to support you with ready-made meals and unlimited encouraging words. Even if you know that may not actually happen, it is about creating the positive feelings.
Spend Time with Women Who Speak Positively of Birth.
Not every person in your circle will have a positive perspective on birth and you cannot always avoid spending time with them but you can make a point of spending more time with people in your circle who do have great stories of their births or at least view it as a natural, non-threatening process. The more you can keep those positive thoughts in your mind the better as it is amazing how much doubt just one comment can create (even from a complete stranger). You have to work to remain uplifted and in the right frame of mind. A doula can be a great asset in this regard. Call her anytime someone tells you a negative story or has something to say that concerns you. Her perspective and experience will help you get back on track. There are many support groups for expecting mothers as well.
Read & Re-Read Positive Birth Stories.
Positive birth stories are powerful, not only to counter the negative ones, but also to give a mother more confidence. It also makes the birth process feel less distant and intimidating. The stories also allow a mother to gain an understanding for all the different directions birth can go and really what birth looks like. Reading of women birthing peacefully through very challenging labours can make it less scary and seem more attainable.
My copy of ‘Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth’ by Ina May Gaskin is so very worn. I must have read the birth story section at least 20 times when I was pregnant with my first and it is the only book I read with my second.
Positive Birth Movement has some great stories on their blog as well; http://www.positivebirthmovement.org/pbm-blog.
It is also important to avoid watching TV shows depicting birth, they are rarely accurate or authentic (and will likely contribute to any anxiety.) There are a handful of great videos on birth that you might prefer watching.
Talk About Your Strengths & Fears.
It can be helpful to speak often of your strengths and things about your character or personality that you know will serve you well in labour and birth. Are you persistent? Determined? Hard-working? Self-motivated? Physically fit? What about your partner? What strengths can he/she bring to the birthing room? Is he calm and cool under pressure? Does the sound of her voice sooth you?
It is just as important to discuss your fears and concerns. Whether that is with your partner, your care-giver or a professional. Getting these things off your chest and working through them in an attempt to see them as less threatening can prevent blockages in labour. How much have you endured to get to this point? Have you experienced loss or fertility challenges? Do you struggle with anxiety?
Discuss your fears and work through them but focus on your strengths.
Find a Positive Breastfeeding Group.
Women often spend much of their pregnancy learning about and preparing for labour & birth and little time preparing for breastfeeding. All of a sudden they have this incredible little person in their arms and a world of worry on how to feed him/her.
To help avoid a rocky start and false expectations, attending meetings with a breastfeeding support group prior to birth and afterwards can be extremely beneficial. I cannot say enough amazing things about La Leche League Canada. Leaders hold meetings in many different locations, days and times on a monthly basis for one hour or so. Pregnant women, new mothers, children, partners and supporters are all welcome to come and learn many things about breastfeeding, have their questions answered and to bounce things off other parents, getting a variety of ideas for what may or may not work for their family. You can find a group in your area at https://www.lllc.ca/find-group.
Look after your health.
The healthier you are, the better chance you have of an easier labour and birth. Exercise, healthy eating, chiropractic care, prenatal massage and loads and loads of self-care will give you more energy, less aches and pains and a great frame of mind to tackle the challenge of labour and birth. These things can contribute to less of a need for interventions in birth in relation to conditions such as gestational diabetes or high blood pressure as well. Yoga is fantastic and there is a very long list of benefits to birthing women, but even a daily walk, one more salad and taking extra rests can go a long way.
Birth Based in Love
I am thankful that the perspective of birth is changing for many women and in the medical system (even if it is so slowly). I look forward to the day when every woman has access to the type of care she chooses for herself and her family and when our birth culture reflects what birth can be. Based in love and not in fear.
Was the birth of your child AMAZING? Please share with us!