You’re pregnant? Congratulations! Now pull on your poncho, because while you might think you’ve got this pregnancy thing under control – you ain’t seen nothing yet. Like it or not, you’ve just landed belly first in the insanity, hilarity, judgement and confusion that is birth in the age of the internet.
On its good days, the internet is a wonderful source of support and information for pregnant women. You can learn about everything from how to choose a good care provider, how to write a birth plan, and even what to do with your placenta after your baby is done with it. Even so, there are some things that can’t be taught. Things that you’ll need to just be open to, rather than seeking to be educated about on an intellectual level. Things that women who’ve birthed before you will tell you they only really understood after their baby was in their arms and they’d had months – or even years – to reflect.
Disclaimer: The irony of writing a post about things you can’t learn about birth on the internet…to be posted on the internet…is not lost on me. Nup, not at all.
1. There’s power in surrender – not stoicism
Before I had my own babies and even very early in my work as a doula, I believed that birth was about gritting your teeth, digging your heels in and and toughing it out. I’m a natural stoic, I think, and when I birthed my first baby I approached labour very much as a battle against my body to be fought and won. So, so many women in our culture come from this place – it’s a natural extension of the level of control we exert over every other area of our lives. Our bodies, and labour pain are just one more thing to be conquered.
But birth isn’t really like that.
The women who come through labour with the most positive feelings are usually the ones who were able to not only recognise the enormous power of birth – but willingly surrender to it. Even when they’re afraid and feel like it’s full of scary unknowns. These women recognise that labour isn’t a war against pain as much as it’s a co operative effort between body, mind and baby to get the job done.
2. Breathing isn’t as easy as you think it is
You know, I get a bit antsy when I read that “the breathing” for birth is something that’s not taught anymore, as though it’s entirely irrelevant. It’s true that you don’t really need to be taught to breathe (you got this far without formal instruction, right?), and it’s also true that the structured labour breathing that was all the go in the 70’s and 80’s isn’t really all that great. That said, there IS a trick to breathing through labour and many of us don’t know it.
Sustainable, effective breathing in labour is a matter of practice, focus and awareness. But if we’re always being told that we don’t need to do anything to prepare, then most of us will do….absolutely nothing to prepare. Labour really isn’t the time you want to be realising that those yoga classes or the doula were perhaps not the indulgences you thought they were earlier in your pregnancy.
3. Don’t let fear define your birth experience
It’s no wonder so many of us carry fear around birth – often from our earliest exposure to it we learn that it’s dangerous, painful and undignified. This basic belief is reinforced over and over again by TV and movies, other women’s traumatic birth stories, the media and a multitude of other influences. There’s very little good stuff going around to balance out the scales, and this is only made worse by the fact that often our very first experience of real birth doesn’t occur until we finally get behind the hereto forth secret walls of the labour ward ourselves.
Fear is a funny beast. Where it exists, it will have its way – whether you choose to actively acknowledge its existence or not. It has a way of sneaking up on you and biting you when you least expect it. Unspoken fear can bleed into every aspect of your birth experience and it can influence your decision making in ways that you’re not even aware of until you start picking those decisions apart after the fact. Whatever it is that frightens you, use the precious time you have in pregnancy to find a way to work through it. (Shameless plug – doulas are wonderful at this!).
A healthy dose of fear is fine and normal; it motivates us to put in place what we need to birth. Paralysing, debilitating fear on the other hand is counter productive and it’s those fears that need to be explored safely.
4. Birth Transforms – for better or for worse
You have the chance to create your own birth story, and it won’t be the same as anyone else’s. Your birth will change you as a woman, and as a human being…for better or for worse. While we have only limited control over what actually happens during our birth, we do have control over who we choose to attend to us during this most vulnerable time. Good choices mean you’ll be treated with respect, dignity and compassion no matter what happens. It’s this, rather than the actual events of your birth, that will colour how you feel about your experience for a long time afterwards. We don’t leave our births at the hospital. Recognise that you and your baby deserve to be treated well, and you deserve an experience that leaves you feeling good about yourself, and ready to mother.
That’s the real power of birth.