During my first pregnancy, I had plans of a hospital birth with an epidural, wasn't really sure if I would breastfeed or not, and just trusted that whatever care provider I selected would have my wants and needs at the front of their mind at all times. I blindly followed recommendations, went to an OB/GYN not because I wanted to, but because that's what you are supposed to do, and resigned myself to the idea that I would enter into the birthing process afraid, but probably okay. It wasn't until I met a new friend (now an old one), who essentially said "Uh, no. Nope. That's not what you're doing." And over the course of many conversations, I learned what I actually WANTED. So, I changed to a Midwife, planned an out-of-hospital birth, bought cloth diapers and a ring sling, and found out who I really wanted to be as a Mother. It really was one of the most life changing experiences of my entire life. Planning to become a Mother changed who I am as a person, and has altered the entire trajectory of my life. I didn't realize that my own birth experience would end up also being one of the most traumatic experiences in my life as well. While my pregnancy was a breeze, and the birth itself was lovely (and only 4.5 hours!), the immediate postpartum was.....problematic. I ended up with a very large postpartum hemorrhage, a retained placenta, and a lights and sirens transfer to the closest hospital. In total, I lost approximately 1/2 of my blood volume, required blood transfusions, surgery, and had severe postpartum depression and anxiety. What I know now, is that there were things that I could have done to process this situation, or avoid some of the more traumatizing parts of it. Some studies have found that Moms who experience a traumatic birth have a less rewarding experience with breastfeeding, have more difficult relationships with their partners, and child, and that their babies sometimes go on to have behavior orders later in life. There are some things that you can do, as you plan your birthing experience, that can avoid the difficult feelings that often comes with a traumatic birth. Because ultimately, you may not be able to avoid trauma entirely. But what you can do is plan ahead, and make sure that your birthing location, provider, plan, and expectations are in line with what you want and what you need. This is one of the most life altering events you will ever experience. Even if your outcome is different from your original plan, what is most important is that you find yourself in an environment where you are heard, respected, valued, and listened to. These are the subtle pieces that often result in women feeling traumatized.
So, what are some things you can do to have the best possible environment to ensure that you have the best experience possible?
Decide what your priorities are. Medicated or unmedicated? Delayed cord clamping? Breastfeeding or Bottle feeding? If you don't know what your choices are, you don't really have any, right? The very best way to accomplish this is to go through the process of writing your Birth Plan. If you are working with a doula (highly recommended), or attending a childbirth class (also highly recommended), you will often go through all of the things you'll need to consider putting on a Birth Plan. This will help you determine what your priorities are, what the important things are, and what the less important things are.
Find YOUR perfect Provider. After you've determined what your birth priorities are, this will help you determine what your best birth provider option will be. If you are interested in a Natural Birth, locating a provider that aligns with this philosophy will help you achieve that goal more than choosing a provider that doesn't. This means that during birth, they will be leading you towards educated choices and decisions that align with your philosophy. Now I do want to acknowledge that choice is sometimes a luxury. For example, if what you want is a home birth with a hands off Midwife, but you live in an area with a lack of access or your finances don't align with that choice, or even your pregnancy is not considered low risk - this is where things can get unfortunate and complicated. And this is where prioritizing the things that are most important to you can be where you want to place your energy. Maybe you want a Home birth with a Midwife, but you do not have access to this situation - but you can work with one in the hospital. Determine what you want most out of your birth and discuss it with your provider up front.
Find your people and use your voice. Determining who you want in your birthing space, and what you want them to do for you, is VITAL. Think about how you want your partner to act, determine if a doula is the right choice for you (it likely is), if you want to allow your Mother-In-Law, or your Sister, or your other children.....and then use your voice. A doula can often provide a very good perspective on how to help your partner support you, helping you advocate for your choices in labor, and holding your birth space.
Read Stories + Watch Videos to find out what normal looks like. If you've never been in a birth space, listen to stories, read stories, watch videos, and research what birth LOOKS like. I know that there is a fear that you will read stories with negative outcomes and that these will scare you. But, I would encourage you to digest some of those stories as well. The reality is, less than ideal birth situations happen. And there can still be beauty in them, as well as an opportunity to ground you in that reality.
Explore the fears you have around pain. For some people, the fear of the pain of childbirth is real and debilitating. Anyone who has experienced childbirth without medications for pain will agree; it's not the most comfortable experience. But, not only are there options for pain management if you want them, your body is capable of tolerating this pain. The contractions cannot be stronger than you because they ARE you. Fear feeds into pain and intensifies the sensation. Doing work prenatally with a doula or another provider can help with exploring this issue. You are stronger than you realize. And you are strong, capable, and safe.
Learn, Learn, Learn. Take classes. Allow yourself to dream. Talk to your friends, family, and loved ones. Read books. Listen to Podcasts. Join Facebook Groups. This falls into the category of one of the most life defining experiences of your life. Can you imagine a wedding without a plan? A marathon without training? The more you can learn, explore, experience, and digest, the more prepared you will be for the process of delivering a baby in a way that you can walk away from feeling proud and happy.
The reality is that even if you read, watch, and explore; you may find yourself in a situation that you didn't plan for. The best thing that you can do to avoid a traumatic birth is to align your environment with the choices you'd like to make, and keep an open mind about the process. Surround yourself with supportive people who will LISTEN, RESPECT, LOVE, AND HONOR YOUR WISHES. You are worthy of the best possible experience. There is no better person to welcome this baby Earth side than you.