A little while ago I did a post on how women are so often prepared for a bad birth experience. As I end a series of childbirth classes this week, I have been thinking about all the things I want my students to be sure they know so that they can have a great birth. Here it is.
1) Treat your pregnancy, despite the inevitable aches and pains, like a miracle and a blessing.
Your body was perfectly designed to do something majestic: to grow another human being. Remember that when you have heart burn, back pain and swollen ankles.
2) Stretch marks fade, so don't worry about them too much.
Your body is meant to change with pregnancy and stay different FOREVER. Maybe this is to remind us when we are older of the amazing things that we did. Maybe it keeps our focus on the things that are important, family and children and sacrifice. You will be beautiful and healthy without looking like a pre-teen.
3) Don't pay attention to your labor too soon.
It takes time for a reason. It starts slow so that you know it is time for the baby! And- so you have time to get things ready before you go to your birth place. Have fun with it, don't panic, enjoy your last moments with your partner and your other kids.
4) JUST BREATHE
I know that there are a million ways to comfort a laboring woman and a million relaxing things to think about and poems and scripts. The most important thing to do is just to breathe deeply and naturally like you would if you were exercising. Focus on breathing OUT any tension that you may have. It sounds crazy but it works. A good birth can be as simple as mastering this.
Some women experience painless labor. Some don't. But if you do have what you would call pain- remember that is not your body or your baby trying to punish you. It is not time to get drugs. It is even more important now NOT to get medicated. The reason is that the pain is telling you something, and it is usually telling you to move. Move so you are comfortable, move so it doesn't hurt, move to move your baby down. Labor is a beautiful dance between you and your baby. He is teaching you to work with him, even before he is born. Listen.
6) Face your fears and let go of them.
Virtually everybody in this country is afraid of birth for one reason or another. Fear will cause tension which will make your labor painful because relaxation is key to a painless birth. If you have heard terrible stories, if you have control issues with your body, if you have been abused or raped, or if you have had traumatic births in the past, or anything else that could cause you to be scared of labor and letting go, deal with it now. Birth is not to be feared. When you get through it you will feel stronger than ever.
7) Give in to your labor, but don't give up on a good experience.
I hear women say all the time, "I want a natural birth, but... if it doesn't happen that is OK too." It is OK, but that doesn't mean you should give up on the things you desire when the going gets tough, or when you get lots of pressure from those around you. It is a MUST to give into your body and your labor. But don't give up on a great birth because it is hard at times.
8) Babies come when they are ready.
Oddly this concept has become totally foreign in our culture! Yes there are reasons to induce, and sometimes post dates is even one of them. That being said, there is ample evidence that babies start labor and that they do so when they are ready to breathe and come out. Even so called "natural induction" techniques can start a labor when it is not quite ready, can drag things out, and they send the subtle message that your body is not going to do things on its own.
9) Trust your instincts.
Every woman is different, and so is every experience. Maybe you need an IV to have a natural birth. Maybe you carry your babies to 43 weeks. Maybe your baby needs to come out posterior. Listen to the voices inside you, and not all the fear mongers outside of you. Other people can not always know what is wrong or right for you. Some interventions might be necessary for you, others not, but listen to your inner voice and remember above all that birth is a natural process that most often can happen on its own in a rice paddy or a back alley.
10) We can't control everything.
Some women give birth exactly as they had planned, but many don't. You can have a great empowering birth even if things did not go exactly as you had planned in your head or on paper. I had a fantastic natural hospital birth that included an episiotomy and an iv and post-partum hemorrhage. It was still a great birth that made me feel like I could do anything, even though it included three things specifically forbidden in my birth plan.
Rarely things will go VASTLY different than you had wanted, even if you do everything right. It is OK to mourn the loss of a birth that you wanted for you and your baby. Mourning that loss does not make you selfish. It is a righteous desire to want a natural birth and is is deeply sad when you don't get it.
Both natural or surgical birth can teach us an important lesson for being mothers: that we don't always get to pick how things go, because we don't always know what is best. You can't control a baby or a child, and trying to do so will just make motherhood miserable. Labor teaches us the same lesson, and like many of life's lessons, it can be hard.
For the partner-
I want the dads to remember four things for their laboring partner:
1) She can do this, and so can you. Just having you there is helpful as long as you love her.
2) Your fear will affect her- so don't be afraid or hire a doula if you feel like that would help you.
3) Remind her to drink fluids after all contractions in hard labor.
4) Remind her to pee at least every hour in hard labor- it will keep her moving and relieve pressure and pain.