How many times have you heard a scary birth story?
And how many times have you heard a beautiful one?
I’m talking about the kind of story where the mother felt empowered and happy with the outcome of her labouring experience…Before I was preggas, I couldn’t think of one!
On the other hand, I’d heard a traumatic birth story one too many times. And I hated this notion that to be a woman in childbirth you have to expect the worst. Excruciating pain, drugs, no say in what happens during this process and accept the probability that you’ll need to undergo major surgery in order to receive your “bundle of joy”.
That’s why as soon as I found out I was pregnant I went to work researching ways to ensure my birth was a positive one. Deep down I knew there had to be a way to overcome some of this terror I felt. How do you prepare for birth?
I basically wanted to find a way to prepare myself for the main event. After all, as women, isn’t this supposed to be what our bodies were designed to do??
So here’s a few things I wanted to share for anyone feeling the same way I did.
Do your research and ask questions
Did you know that c section rates in Australia are among the highest in the world? And tend to be more so in the private than public sector? I didn’t know that 1 in 3 babies are delivered via c section! Which, to be clear, doesn’t mean you will have a negative birth experience. However, it is an interesting stat to pay attention to. And no, it’s not just because more women are electing to have this kind of intervention. Whilst it can be a necessary procedure in some cases, I think it’s important to know what the benefits and risks are of such a procedure before you go into labour and aren’t left to make a call in the heat of the moment. Discuss it openly with your carer in advance.
The same can be said for any kind of medical intervention. Really understand all the pros and cons so you know what to expect and can be at peace about what may or may not happen, rather than wing it on the day and be disappointed later. Whilst it’s good to want to trust the experts, even they don’t always get it right. This is your body after all, so get informed.
Dr Sarah Buckley offers some great advice in this area with the BRAIN acronym in her book Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering. The idea is to use this to help you in the decision making process. It goes like this;
B(enefits): What are the benefits of the associated procedure/medication/intervention?
R(isks): What are the risks associated with the procedure/medication/intervention?
A(lternatives): Is there an alternative that we can explore?
I(ntuition): What does your gut tell you? Really tune into this, don’t ignore it.
N(nothing/next): What if we do nothing or choose to postpone action? What would the next step be if we said yes, or no (to which you can apply BRAIN again).
If you’re a low risk case like I was and keen for a more natural approach to birth, then a midwife is ideal. Their whole philosophy is to promote normal birth and empower women to do this while still providing the necessary medical expertise and referrals to doctors where required.
Once I had done more searching, I was immediately drawn to the midwifery group practice (MGP) model that was available at my local public hospital. MGPs are amazing as they provide you with the same continuity of care you would expect from an OBGYN during your pregnancy. The only difference being you get that same midwife DURING your labour, while an OB will pop in and out until you are at the pushing (second) stage of labour.
I just have to say I’m so so grateful for our public hospital system here in Australia and for the amazing care I received during my pregnancy and birth. It was truly exceptional and I have to admit I was surprised by this! Sadly, I had negative preconceptions about public care and if I hadn’t explored this option I may not have ever known. Unfortunately my GP failed to discuss this with me initially and assumed because I had private health insurance, that I wanted to go to a private hospital. In the end, going public meant I was also able to save a LOT of money AND still have the best, most intimate, care. Win win.
It’s never too late to change your mode of care
I was seeing an OB in the private system initially until I realised he didn’t support the water birth I desired. At 18 weeks pregnant it was a relief to know I could switch to the public system and still get the continuity of care I wanted through the MGP. Having a dedicated midwife on the same page as me, who not only supported me but sincerely cared about my choices to birth naturally, was key to my positive experience. So don’t be afraid to look at other options even if you think you are too far along!
Carefully select your birth team
In addition to having a wonderful midwife I chose a doula. Doulas are trained to assist during pregnancy and labour and are with you every step of the way. A sort of personal birth coach/cheerleader really! She was an amazing support to me outside of the care I received from my midwife and visited me at my home in the lead up to and after my birth. She was on call for me when I needed and answered any questions I had throughout our time together. We spoke about the fears I had and she helped me to manage and overcome these which I thought was incredible. During labour, she helped with natural pain relief techniques, meditation and basically kept me in the zone during times my midwife had to step out or was busy with the clinical setting (fetal monitoring, paperwork etc).
Then of course there was my beautiful husband, who barely left my side. He also benefited from having these 2 amazing women in the room and was able to take some direction from them in helping to support me!
I can tell you there is nothing better than having people you trust, in the birth suite, cheering you on through one of the toughest gigs you’ll ever do.
Prepare your body/mind
Just as a marathon runner trains for a marathon, a pregnant woman should train for birth. Our bodies are truly ah-mazing, but we need to give them the best chance at running this proverbial race.
A holistic approach to health is therefore the best way in ensuring a better outcome. That includes a diet that nourishes your cells (sorry, time to ditch the donuts and coffee) and lots of gentle exercise like prenatal yoga which has proven benefits in clearing the mind, and stretching the body, as well as helping you to engage with bub. It also happened to be the best antidote to my leg cramps and pregnancy constipation!! (It had to be said).
Dr Gowri Motha was my source of wellness inspiration and I love how she details the benefits of engaging alternative therapies like reflexology and acupuncture to assist the body in being fit for birth. In this modern age, we sit more than we move and movement is crucial to freeing stagnant energy in the body.
Invest in an independent birth educator
Someone once told me that antenatal classes run by the hospitals tend to teach you how to be a good patient. It’s pretty on point. They ensure you know as much about the hospital and what to expect when you are a patient but rarely discuss how to take care of YOU.
Being pregnant and birthing a baby leaves us women so so vulnerable, therefore priority should be given to our wellbeing and how we wish to be treated before, during and after labour. So, hubby in tow, I signed us up to the ever popular Calmbirth and Shebirths courses. If you can only do one, I strongly suggest the wonderful Nadine Richardson’s Shebirths which has a more holistic approach and really offers parents to be a set of skills, or tools, that you can pick and choose based on what appeals to you most.
Communicate your birth intentions
Also known as a birth plan or birth preferences, your birth intentions should be discussed at some point with your carer. At first I wasn’t so sure I needed one, but after reading more about their use, I realised it was something I needed to do for myself more than anything. It was somewhat therapeutic to have listed out all the scenarios I preferred. I also believe that having a ‘plan’ can set you up for failure if things don’t work out according to that plan (as they so often do during birth), so I settled with ‘intentions’ instead.
It’s important to remain open to whatever may happen, but a great idea to share with your midwife, doula, partner, obstetrician, whoever(!) on how you wish for things to unfold. Whether that be a yes to gas, no to drugs, yes to delayed cord clamping etc etc. There are some good templates online these days, otherwise you can speak to your carer about what can be included.
Soak up the positive birth stories
Going back to my opening statement, there are just too many negative birth stories being shared these days which perpetuates the fear of childbirth epidemic! So it’s important to seek out the positive ones and really soak up the magic that can happen. And yes, they are out there. Here are a few places to look:
Documentaries like: The Business of Being Born – this was the push I needed (pardon the pun!) to birth in water. It’s a film that follows a midwife in NYC working to support women and their desire for a more natural birth. It also highlights some of the problems that exist in the current birth climate where birth is treated as a medical emergency rather than a natural process. It really opened my eyes to the miracle that is birth and how our amazing bodies really can, if given the chance (and the right prep), allow birth to be a positive one.
The independent courses listed previously also exposed us to some beautiful births.
I just want to finish with a gentle reminder that birth doesn’t have to be natural to be a positive one.
It’s all about the empowerment you get from taking action on the above points and really owning your birth and stepping into the role of active participant (as the amazing Shalome from Rockstar Birth proclaims!)
I hope you found this insightful and if you’re thinking about falling, or are already, pregnant then congratulations!
Birth is miraculous and whatever path you choose I hope the experience is a positive one xx