A lot of mums to be have their heart set on a particular kind of birth, yet nature and circumstances can mean that their actual experience is pretty different to what they had hoped for. Of course, in the short term every new mum is just glad to have their healthy baby in their arms but later on, once the initial oxytocin rush is over, having a birth experience that wasn't the one you had dreamed of can weigh heavy on the mind.
The very first thing to say is that you did the best you knew how to at the time and given the circumstances. Ideas like, ‘I did something to make my birth hard’ or ‘I should said no’ are worth forgetting about almost immediately. Knowing what to do or say when under time pressure and in the heat of a moment as intense as having a baby, is not easy. Allow yourself some peace of mind.
After knowing and understanding that, I’d share these tips with any woman planning a birth.
Get informed and understand how birth works
This doesn’t mean watching gory birth videos or One Born Every Minute. It does mean learning about how your body and hormones are designed to work with your baby - about how birth is actually a normal, physiological process, not a medical emergency. For example, did you know that the mother’s body receives the message to start labour when the baby’s lungs are mature enough and begin to release a special kind of protein as a signal? Or that pushing with all your might may actually be counterproductive?
It can seem like daunting medical detail at first but you don’t need to be a scientific genius to do this. Keeping an eye on parenting and mothering blogs or Facebook groups is a great way to start. Taking the time to talk to your midwife or a local doula or hypnobirthing teacher would be even better. They are often very passionate about what they do and could talk for hours.
Be an active participant
From a really early age, we begin to receive the wisdom that doctors and caregivers know best. We know they have vast knowledge and experience and want to help them do their job. When you’re worried, uncertain or afraid, it can be comforting to know that there are people around who have seen and done this a million times before. However, this doesn’t mean they know you, your body or your baby. It also doesn’t mean that you should override your very powerful mother’s instinct easily. By being passive when it comes to interactions with caregivers, you will give them no choice but to treat you as a standard patient. They will do what they know best and follow a well worn path. You will still need to consent to everything but they might then assume that you’re happy to go with their first suggestion and not present any alternatives. Being active and vocal, right from the start, will set the right tone - you value their experience and will take their advice but you want to make sure you feel that all the decisions taken were the right ones for you.
Express birth preferences clearly
Shifts change, caregivers work long hours, dads get tired and once in labour, you might not want to talk much. If you’re in a hospital and have a long labour, you might see a few different midwives as people come to the end of their working day.
It really pays to write down your birth preferences clearly and simply and have copies of them ready to share with whoever is looking after you. If you need to, ask your midwife if they have 2 minutes to go through them verbally with you. This is definitely a job for the dads - research shows that once labour begins, dads are much more likely to be listened to than mum. Take advantage of this and allow dad to express his natural instinct to protect his mate and child. This will give mum the chance to remain in her birth bubble, focused and unworried.
It’s your body, your baby and your birth. I’ve heard it said that we ask more questions about fixing a roof or fitting a kitchen than we do when a baby is being born. How can that be right? Birth is magical, awe inspiring and a little bit other worldly it’s true, but it’s also a normal process that has been researched and studied. Your caregivers are professionals who train for years to be able to do their jobs. When you’re feeling overwhelmed or don’t understand, use their knowledge. Talk with them. Satisfy yourself that every decision you make with them was the right thing to do. Don’t leave any room for doubt. It’s ok to ask for the risks and benefits of every option. It’s ok to ask for time to decide. It’s ok to decide to say no. But first, you must ask the questions.
Thank goodness for modern medicine
You may have had your heart set on a natural water birth at home and then your baby arrived via c-section. You might not have wanted any pain relief but on the day you decided differently. Isn’t modern medicine wonderful? You have these choices available to you and can make decisions in clean hospitals, with fully trained caregivers in support and your baby will arrive safely and healthily. It’s so easy to demonise more medicalised births and be disappointed if you don’t achieve a natural one but we are lucky women. So many women in the past and around the world now, don’t have the access to healthcare we have. The fact that we are able to pick and choose in itself is a luxury.
I often remind parents to be that positive and negative are relative terms and thoughts are fluid. There are physical ways to increase your chances of having a more comfortable, natural birth like hypnobirthing, keeping fit during pregnancy and eating well. Equally important is preparing yourself mentally for what is about to happen. If you take the time to get informed and make plans, whatever path your birth takes, you can look back on your birth experience knowing that everything that happened was right for you and your baby. And who can ask for a better start to family life than that?
This post was written for and first appeared on The Natural Parent Magazine.