There's a lot of debate over birth experience...from natural birth advocates, to the moms who schedule their cesareans. I think that pregnancy and the birth experience prepares us for parenting. Teaching us to listen to our bodies, and therefore hopefully learning to listen to our children. We learn to be patient when it takes us five times as long to walk up the steps at nine months pregnant than it did three months before. You may think that this is going to be a post about practicing your breathing and relaxation techniques and the birth positions that you've learned, and making sure that your baby is in the proper position for birth (which is head down, baby's back facing outward and slightly tilted to mom's left side, what is called Left Occiput Anterior-LOA, in case you didn't know. Stay tuned for a later post on the importance of baby's position...) All of these things are important and require attention, but I believe that birth is not just a physical event but requires strength and coping skills that you have to reach deep inside yourself to find. Birth is about 90% mental. You may be puzzled by that. But having two homebirths and knowing what it took for me to cope with the contractions later in labor, it is largely a mental process. Many women that just learn about relaxation during labor, like a self-hypnosis course, or just learn breathing techniques may find themselves at the end of their rope, so to speak, during transition when the contractions do not seem to give you any break. It's hard to keep breathing and relaxing during those. Now I am not saying that those techniques do not work, some women find that they do, throughout their whole labor. But I think when you focus on one way of coping, you are doing yourself a diservice. I personally like to have many tricks left in my bag of labor tricks. It's much better to have a bunch of techniques that you didn't even need than to use up your few techniques and have nothing left to turn to when the going gets tougher. That's one of the reasons why I did not affiliate myself with any one childbirth education entitity, like Bradley Method or Lamaze. I teach many coping techniques including breathing, relaxation positioning and visualization among many others which are similar to techniques learned in specific methods such as Hypnobabies and Bradley Method. Ask any athlete or marathon runner what it takes to carry on when they "hit the wall." How so they get past the place when they think that they can't go on anymore? Their answer would be that they need to have a good mental game. Athletes and runners usually do well giving birth not because they are in top physical condition, but because they know how to cope mentally already. And then there are women who are in great physical shape but either did not educate themselves enough before birth or didn't strengthen their mental game while pregnant, and their labors may not go as well as a woman that is strong enough mentally but may not be in the best physical shape. Developing your mental game is crutial. There are a few things that you can do before birth to help prepare yourself mentally.
1. Surround yourself with the positive Don't watch those birth shows on cable TV. Most are highly medically managed births and some are right out condescending to couple that are hoping for a natural birth. Unless you know that the show will not cast natural birth in a negative light, don't watch it. There is only one show that I am aware of that is like that all of the time. Labor of Love on the Veria network is solely homebirths. It was on in mid-2012, and I believe there is only a handful of shows. I'm not even sure if they are making new ones. But if you happen to catch it, that's a good one. We are surrounded by negative images of birth from a young age and as we get older and then get pregnant it seems like you are a magnet for birth stories. Hollywood doesn't do a good job either, with a typical natural birth consisting of the mom screaming at her significant other to not touch her ever again, being nasty to the nurses and everyone else around her. Makes you confident that you can and want to do this, doesn't it? We have to rewrite our preconcieved (no pun intended) ideas of what natural birth looks like. Read and seek out positive birth stories. There are many Facebook pages that showcase natural birth stories and information (check my likes on my page for some of them). Adventures of Natural Childbirth by Janet Schwegel and Pam England and Ina May's Guide to Childbirth are excellent starting points for good birth stories if you are looking for books. Talk to experienced and confident moms. Ones that have had a natural birth. Voice your concerns and ask if they experienced the same thing and what they did to overcome them.
2. Practice relaxing, visualizing and vocalizing Get to know how to relax yourself. It's important in early labor. Visualize yourself giving birth confidently. Visualize yourself upright and active. Think about-or write down what your perfect labor would look like. Also think about what kinds of coping techniques and positions or movements you believe you would like to use during labor. Imagine yourself doing them, and then actually do them. Especially if it something that is uncomfortable or embarrassing for you to do. Get comfortable doing it. The same goes for vocalizing. Vocalization is a proven method of not only disappating pain but also helping to relax vaginal muscles. Get over your embarrassment. The best sounds to make are low gutteral sounds, like moaning, but if you feel like screaming, do it! Many women become self-concious when making this type of sound because it sounds very close to sounds she may make while having sex. (hmm.. all interconnected) When mom is uninhibited and comfortable in the place of birth, these are sounds that intinctively come out of mom's mouth during transition. Try and get used to hearing yourself make those sounds.
3. Establish a good support system The people that you talk with and share your hopes for this birth should be on the same page with you, or at least supportive of your decisions. This is also extremely important for the individuals that you choose to invite to the birth. Before birth, negative birth stories and attitudes can effect mom's confidence in herself and put seeds of doubt in her mind that will sprout during labor and can impede progress. During birth, the same applies. anyone that is uncomfortable, fearful or not confident in the natural labor process can stall mom's labor, which may lead to unneccessary interventions. Keep in mind that it is YOUR birth. You have the right to tell someone that you do not think it would be best if they attended. Of course, how you do this depends on the nature of the relationship with this person. Honesty can be the best policy, but not always. If you are delivering in a birth center or hospital you can always blame their policies. This works well (even if it is a little white lie) if you do not want to hurt someone's feelings. And if someone that does come to your birth turns out to be not-so-helpful, you have the right to ask them to leave. It is a good idea to tell all that are coming to support you that you do not know how you are going to react and what your needs will be while you are in labor, so prepare them that they may be asked to leave if that is what you want. Hopefully this will soothe any hurt feelings.
4. Seek out good information Society tells us that childbirth is always painful, and that we can't or shouldn't do it without pain medication. Research shows us that the women who report a greater satisfaction in their birth experience largely had an unmedicated birth and where very educated on the process and various ways to cope with the challenge of labor. Read good books. See my recommended reading list. Take a good birth class. Ask your instructor what her philosophies are, what coping techniques she teaches, if she believes in working through the emotions and fears that may be associated with labor.
5. Find a good birth mantra A mantra, an affirmation, whatever you choose to call it, it's a simple saying that is positive, encouraging, confidence building, and affirms mom's belief that she can do this. If you believe that you will have a negative experience (this goes for anything in life), chances are your experience will mirror your belief. If you say to yourself all day long "My job is horrible," " I hate my job, " you will most likely have a horrible day no matter what really happened, because your outlook is negative. Birth is no different. If you think positively about it, and tell yourself that you can do it all along, you increase your chances for a positive experience. Maybe I should do a post on my favorite birth affirmations :)
Thinking positively, getting comfortable looking into your inner self, and surrounding yourself with positive support and information can increase your confidence and mentally prepare yourself for birth. It's a good place to start.
There are books on this if you want to explore it further.
Birthing From Within by Pam England
Mind over Labor by Carl Jones
And if your baby decides to be born some time after you reach 38 wks pregnant, some women gain patience waiting for their little one to arrive. In late pregnancy, the insomnia and the urge to go pee, sometimes several times in the middle of the night, is mother nature's way of preparing us for those frequent night nursings. Am I scaring you yet? Just kidding. Pregnancy is hard for some, easy for others. Birth isn't any different. Birth is hard work. So is being a parent. While you may not endure the physical work that birth requires from raising your children, but the emotional strain is definitely there, and even more so. You can't (and wouldn't) walk away and give upon your children when the going gets tough. And it does get tough. During labor and birth, there may be easy and hard times, a few contractions that are easy and small followed by a couple that are doosies. As a parent, not all the days are tough, you will have days that your child is as sweet as could be, listening to your every word and doing exactly what he needs to do, and then there are the days where it seems like she has to argue about every little thing. It's work, but isn't there an old saying, anything worth it is worth working for? At the end of your labor and birth, you have this little being that you are in awe of, and you feel so empowered at what you just accomplished. And at the end of one of those good days as a parent
, you can look at your (hopefully sleeping) child and know that you are doing a good job.
Here's a good article from Mothering.com that inspired this blog post: