Today we have more choices than ever about how we birth. We have the option of using a doctor or midwife for our practitioner. We have the choice of birthing in the hospital or at home. We can choose who is present at birth. We can decide to hire a doula. We can choose between a multitude of prenatal classes ranging from hospital-run classes to private classes in Lamaze, the Bradley method or Birthing From Within. We can enroll our older children in Sibling Preparation classes; we can take prenatal yoga or prenatal pilates, we can bring music, pillows and massage oil to the hospital. We can choose to labor in the tub or the shower or on a birth ball. We can play cards or go for a walk. We can birth squatting or standing or via elective cesarean. We can even write up elaborately detailed lists of all of our preferences and give this Birth Plan to our practitioners.
Faced with all of these choices, how do you know what is right for you? How do you know that the decisions you made before the big day will still be right when labor starts – especially if you are a first-time mom?
Choice, in general, can be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it is empowering and enriching to be given the opportunity to have a say in what happens to us. On the other, given too many choices or inadequate information to help in our decisions, the process of choosing can cause stress, anxiety and even guilt and depression. And when it comes to birth, it can give the mistaken impression of control.
Relinquish Control (even those subconscious thoughts)
The first thing you can do on your journey towards the right birth for you is to forget about those fantasies of your ideal birth. We all do it: we all have a vision in our heads of the way we hope our birth will proceed. These visions are rarely realistic (unless you imagined in your ideal birth that you would be half-naked on your hands and knees in a roomful of strangers). Birth is a dynamic process, and we cannot control what happens. The woman who is determined to get her epidural before she’s finished with the hospital admitting desk may deliver a baby at home in the bathroom attended by her partner. The woman who preaches natural birth from before conception may end up with a complication, or labor induction and cesarean delivery. We’ve all read these stories and hoped it wouldn’t be us. But it could be. So the first step is to let go.
Read everything you can get your hands on
Knowledge is power. If you aren’t a reader, ask questions. Ask all the mothers you know what their experience was like. Ask your practitioner all those nagging questions you’re afraid to speak out loud. Explore all the birth possibilities there are. Don’t shy away from those topics that you hope you won’t have to face (like having a long, drawn-out back-labor or requiring a cesarean). Don’t write off ideas that are new to you (like homebirth, or hiring a doula). The more you can understand about the way labor progresses (or sometimes doesn’t) and the way labor is managed (or sometimes mismanaged), the better the chance that you will be able to play an active part in the process.
Be Flexible (but know your limits)
That is, be prepared to change your mind. Something that seemed right before birth may no longer be fitting during birth. Hell, something you asked for during one contraction, may not be what you want during the next. Accept the fact that you may need to revise your thinking in the face of new information. However, if at any time, you are uncomfortable with the care you are receiving, be confident that it is okay to assert yourself or have some intervene on your behalf. By trusting your instincts and your birth team, you’ll know when to stand your ground and when to adapt.
Gather good people around you
The people who support you and care for you during labor can make a huge difference. Consider whether you want a doctor or a midwife, whether you will hire a doula and which friends and family members you would like present. Ask your caregivers questions and reserve the right to change your mind if you don’t feel comfortable. The time it takes at first to find good people could make the difference in how your birth unfolds or at least in how you think (even when things don’t go as planned). Reasonable people will give you information and not rush your decisions, will help keep you focused, will make you feel supported and empowered, will be positive and encouraging and will inspire trust.
Face your Fears
We all go into labor with a mixture of elation and apprehension, but it’s good to ask yourself what it is you are afraid of before your water breaks. Hopefully a few weeks before. It’s hard to know how to manage a nebulous, nameless fear. But if you can seriously explore what scares you about birth (and motherhood) before the throes of labor send you into panic mode, the odds are you’ll be better equipped to deal with whatever comes your way. Try, if you can, to go a little deeper into your fears than the obvious like fear of pain or fear of prolonged labor. What about the pain scares you? Fear of not being strong enough? Fear of losing control? What about a long labour scares you? Facing your fears is emotionally exhausting, but it would be a shame to let fear hold you back from the possibility of an enriching experience.
Know yourself, know your situation
This is the most natural part because it might be decided for you. Are you a home-body who feels most comfortable with a few close friends rather than in the middle of a party? Maybe homebirth is an option for you. Are you an analytical person who is comforted by procedures and technology? Are you someone who always wants to be prepared for the worst case scenario? You might feel the strongest birthing at a hospital or birth center. Are you entirely against medicated birth? Perhaps a water birth is right for you. Is your baby breech? The safest bet for you and your baby could be a cesarean. Was your pregnancy a textbook case or did you suffer from multiple complications? Your health practitioner will be able to explain what your options are based on your situation and with a bit of self-analysis and thought, you’ll find the answers you’re looking for.
Often as labor day unfolds, it doesn’t come down to choice at all. We don’t choose when our babies will come or how they will make their entrance. Sometimes, circumstances arise that take power from the mama, and she needs to stretch and bend around the situation she is given. And sometimes, with trust, in our instincts, in ourselves, in our babies, in birth itself, our babies come just the way we knew they would. We do what we need to do, and the most right thing of all is that they are safe.