The key to meaningful birth preparation:
Prepare for pain, intensity and the unexpected
There seem to be a common belief in our culture today; that as long as a woman thinks positively about birth & is determined to birth without drugs, then that will give her a good birth. And if a woman worries about cesareans or pain, that will somehow manifest itself for her birth. I remember it well myself, giving birth to my first child about 10 years ago. I was determined to prove that birth was natural and that I would show them all where to put their epidurals. I don’t think I would have even answered honestly if someone had asked me if I had worries or fears about my birth. I did of course 🙂
Feeling respected, listened to and dealt with in a non-judgmental way is a very important part of preparing for birth. I had great fear of not being able to push my baby out, I had great fears of losing control in hospital with all sorts of interventions put on me and I had an agreement with myself about not letting my baby ever being taken to the nursery. As it turned out, all three fears manifested themselves to some degree in the birth. Now I don’t believe that because these were my fears they happened, but I do believe if I had been helped to take my worries more seriously, I would have had a much better birth and felt much less traumatised.
Worry is the work of pregnancy and it is there for a good reason. It drives us to sort out how to deal with situations we most hope won’t happen. We can’t prepare for all situations, but it is the ones we fear the most that will be most difficult, if left unattended.
The other thing that is creeping into our culture is a polarized attitude about pain. On one hand there is an attitude that believes if we don’t mention the word pain, labour will be pain free. The other attitude is evidenced by all the horrendous stories about the agonizing suffering women will go through in birth. I think that in traditional birth classes, in general, we spend too little time preparing women and their partners for the intensity and pain of labour. Most women all over the world report some sort of pain involved with childbirth. And I don’t think counting on a pain free birth is realistic. More often than not, that it is likely to fail; leaving women totally overwhelmed and with no tools to deal with the reality. But obviously being scared senseless is not beneficial either. If women are not prepared for the fact that birth is painful and intense, they are very likely to be very surprised and very overwhelmed during labour. And if it turns out to be not painful for them, it will be a fantastic bonus.
I have struggled with the issue of how to prepare for birth for ages. I want to pass on my passion, my respect and amazement for birth to parents. But I also want to prepare them for what birth is like in our modern culture, where birth is easily more complicated than it needs to be. We don’t know how a particular woman will feel throughout her birth, and often the unknown is the scariest aspect for both women and caregivers. Striking a balance of strength, confidence and determination with an open heart and a willingness to work with caregivers and to do whatever is needed of you, without giving your power away, is, I think, the ultimate. Helping women to be compassionate to themselves, while being realistic about what birth is, as well as being savvy in communicating effectively with hospital staff is the key. These are skills to prioritise when preparing for birth.
Being positive about birth does not have to exclude taking fears and worries seriously. And it doesn’t mean that we can’t talk about other types of births than natural ones. I believe that the positive in preparation comes in through making time to celebrate birth with all its challenges and joys. Birth is an unbelievably amazing, challenging, awesome, hard, and transformative event and celebrating with rituals for instance, can help women and their partners embrace birth for whatever it will be for them, pain or no pain, home or hospital, medical help or not. Happy birthing 🙂