Birth is a touchy subject. I get it. It’s so precious and so intense and so unbelievably vulnerable.
Birth can be traumatic, scary and dangerous. You tell someone you’re pregnant, and they come back at you with a story of a friend of a friend who had a birth where everything went wrong. Agony, searing, screaming pain. It’s terrifying and it’s the conversation that we most have around birth.
But what we don’t discuss all that often is that birth can also be beautiful, strong and sacred. It can be surrender and giving over to our bodies. It can be athletic and empowering. Sometimes, it’s not up to us how it goes, but we need to start talking about all the ways that childbirth is healthy and good to give ourselves the best chance of empowering births.
I’m not saying it’s not intense and painful, but it’s not ONLY those things. By only talking about the pain, we scare women. Women who are (generally) built to do this. Women who are capable of giving over and having a non-traumatic birth experience, however the baby actually comes out. I’m advocating for changing the conversation about birth, not doing it a certain way. Birth is not a competition, it doesn’t matter how baby arrives, in the end. But it is vital to me, and quickly feeling like a personal crusade, that women feel that they have options and feel empowered to give birth however they want, and know that they are capable of doing so with the proper preparations.
I had a heavily invasive start to my pregnancy. There were a variety of unexpected potential complications. Lots of tests, lots of ultrasounds, so much medicalization. It was traumatizing and incredibly stressful. So going in to my second trimester, after every test had come back normal and everything with the baby was clear and healthy, I determined an unmedicated birth was the only way to go because I wanted the least invasive measures as possible.
That is not to say I didn’t consider the alternatives. I did research on all the medications, the epidural, the laughing gas (which was available at my hospital). In the end, I thought about who I am and what makes me feel comfortable. I don’t like feeling disembodied. It’s one of the reasons I don’t like to smoke pot. It makes me anxious and jumpy to not feel totally connected to all parts of my body. That right away eliminates the epidural. The prospect of not being able to walk was far worse to me than the prospect of the pain.
Ultimately, I didn’t want to bring any anxiety or nerves into the experience. I wanted to feel grounded. I wanted to feel balanced. I wanted to feel strong enough, emotionally and physically, to surrender to my body.
That meant I had to prepare. I had to do my homework. I had to read and watch and research. Information makes me calm and gets me focused. By the time I had finished with all my prep, I was ready to have the unmedicated birth that I wanted. This is what worked for me, but discuss with your doctor to ensure what you are doing is advisable for you and your pregnancy. Here’s what I did:
- I hired a doula. Hands-down the best decision for me. The best advice I got was to choose a doula whose style of encouragement would actually work for me. For some, that’s someone who is loving, others it’s someone who is really intense “go, go, go!” For me, that’s someone who is no-nonsense and not overly emotional either way. My doula was lovely, totally sweet, but also calm and frank. She did not let me panic, she did not let me stress. She kept me grounded and calm in ways that were essential to both me and my husband during the birth. She was such an essential support, but not overly intrusive somehow. Plus she was a great resource to reach out to throughout my pregnancy when I had questions. It was the best money I spent.
- Prenatal yoga/physical exercise. Staying active is vital in pregnancy (provided you don’t have complications that require bed rest, of course). I lived near a lake during my pregnancy and would walk it almost every day. It was a little over three miles around, so it was an excellent way to stay fit and strong. I walked the entire length up until about 7 months and I slowly reduced the length as my walk turned into a waddle. Prenatal yoga was really helpful in safely stretching, calming my mind, and connecting with my breath. Breathing is the number one way of managing the pain in labor, so I am grateful I had all that practice. When I couldn’t make it to a yoga class, I would do yoga videos on YouTube.
- Meditation. Much of this list is going to sound hippie-dippy and that’s maybe because I am a bit of a hippie. But meditation was also essential to managing my anxiety and actually preparing for the birth. I listened to the same meditations over and over throughout my third trimester, so that on the day of my actual labor, listening to it helped me to stay calm and centered.
- Birthing class. My husband and I took a birthing class through my yoga instructor. We learned a variety of strategies, like different positions and movements that offer counter pressure to the contractions. We also watched a birthing video that had several births. Look, if you’re squeamish about birth and haven’t seen one since The Miracle of Life video in seventh grade, I get it. I hadn’t either! But if you or your partner are about to push a baby out of you, you should prepare yourself by actually watching live births. You’re grownups, you can do it! They stop getting so weird and gross and you see just how beautiful it is. By the end, I was a blubbering mess.
- Books and Blogs. I recommend Ina May Gaskin’s book, Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth. It is very hippie (even for me), but reading several birth stories in a row was very helpful. I also followed a few birth blogs. Birth Without Fear is my favorite. There are tons of amazing birth stories, of all kinds (unmedicated, C-sections, VBACs, etc), from all walks of life, and images of labor and birth that are simply stunning. I still follow the blog because it’s just beautiful. The more you normalize birth, have it in your everyday mindset, the more prepared you will be.
- Mantras. I wrote out a few mantras, decorated them and put them on my wall to look at every day for several weeks leading up to the due date. They included my favorite quotes from books I had read about birth, the images that had come to mind during yoga and meditations. It helped get me in the zone.
- Birth plan. I had a thorough and heavily researched birth plan (this book was a great resource: Expecting Better: Why the Conventional Pregnancy Wisdom Is Wrong–and What You Really Need to Know) I printed out and gave copies of to my doula and the hospital staff. My husband and I knew my answers to all the issues that I could envision would arise. I also took great care in choosing my team of support in the room, and the hospital itself, to feel comfortable with their decision making should anything go awry. I totally ended up deviating from my plan on several points in the actual moment. A birth plan is simply a guide of how you’d like it all to go without knowing how it actually will go. There were things that needed to shift to keep me and baby safe and I was able to keep my cool because I had done my research.
- Medjool Dates. This is probably my weirdest recommendation. My doula recommended that for the last several weeks of my pregnancy, that I eat 1-2 Medjool dates three times a day to increase the chances of spontaneous labor (non induction). There have been a few studies that concluded that eating dates in the last four weeks of pregnancy made a significant difference in cervical effacement and need for labor augmentation. I can’t say that this didn’t work because I ate so many effing dates and I had a spontaneous labor with no dilation issues and no need for induction interventions. In the end, it’s not like it’s harming anything to eat a bunch of dates, so you may as well try!
- Point person. To mitigate any stress, I appointed my sister to be the person who sent the news out of when I went into labor and details about baby once he was born. I didn’t want to have to be tied to my phone at all, so it was really helpful to have a point person to answer all logistical questions.
In the end, I am so happy to say that I was able to have the birth I wanted. It was amazing. It was intense. It was thrilling and joyful and I have never felt like a more strong, capable warrior than I did during childbirth. I am forever grateful.
Even still, I know that you can do all the prep and still not have the birth you expected or wanted. Things happen. Babies turn around, get stuck, blood pressures drop, issues arise. Those elements are all out of our control and are to be taken seriously. Birth can be dangerous business, which is why focusing on the things that you can control is the best you can do.
Bottom Line: I focused on mental and physical strength training. I took the preparations seriously because this was going to be a life-altering event that required the best of me.
Maybe you think this list is bananas. That’s totally fine. You should still prepare yourself in your own way. I recommend sitting and doing some real thinking about what makes the most sense for YOU. Your body, your situation, your baby.
I had a great deal of luck and genetic predisposition on my side, but I also did a LOT of work to ensure that I had the best chance of a beautiful birth. You deserve the best chance, too.
Do you have tips and tricks you utilized to prepare for birth? Let me know!