Giving birth is a lot like a marathon, or so I've been told. I will admit that I have never trained for a marathon. But I know people who have, and here are a few things they have told me about the process that I think apply beautifully to the marathon of labor!
Mental preparedness is key. There are going to be times throughout the process of labor that you'll want to quit, give up, and forget this crazy idea of having a baby (right in the middle of it all!). I've heard moms very close to meeting their babies exclaim, "That's it! Never mind, I'm going home. I'm done doing this!" If you are reading this and you've had a baby, you most likely can relate to this sentiment! I remind moms that when they feel they are "done" and that they can't do this one more minute, second or hour, they are likely very close to the end of the marathon. The physical stamina is important, yes. But the mental stamina is an equally important key to finishing the race! I recommend taking a childbirth education series that will allow you to learn as much as you can about the process so that you know what to expect and how you can prepare. I also encourage positively envisioning, meditating, praying and/or thinking about the birth you want when you look forward to your birth experience. Some moms may find that it's helpful to practice breathing and relaxation exercises, watch *positive* and affirming births (like this one!), and talk through any fears or concerns prior to or during labor. Going into labor with fear or dread can really hinder the process of labor and the production of oxytocin (the hormone so important to keeping labor progressing). Listening to others share their own journeys through the births of their babies during pregnancy can be helpful, but I want to emphasize the importance of keeping those interactions positive.
You have to train. Physical endurance is really important. This is why I recommend maintaining some sort of exercise routine (assuming your provider has given you the all-clear). You do not have to stop fitness activities just because you are pregnant. Even in late pregnancy, you can continue to keep your normal exercise routine as long as it's comfortable for you and there's no medical reason to discontinue.
Finally, hire a coach! Doulas are gaining popularity as many women have discovered what it feels like to have consistent, continuous support throughout their pregnancies, labors, and postpartum period. You don't have to do this alone. One dad recently told me, "I don't know what we would have done without you. We wouldn't have had the knowledge or expertise to do the things you suggested, and it really made such a difference. Thank you!"
Remember, birth is a marathon and not a sprint. You CAN finish the race! (And the reward at the end is better than any medal you could ever receive.)
Birth is hard work.
Like the hardest work a woman will ever have to do in her life.
It's an incredibly vulnerable time, one in which she may feel frightened, unsure of herself, scared, or even sad. She may worry she can't do this work and might even feel like she has failed if her birth plan isn't going 100% according to plan. She may want to quit, give up, or begin to fight the process. These are all very normal reactions to the overwhelming sensations that labor can bring, but the key to a positive experience, even when things go differently than planned, lies in one thing: Surrendering.
The longer I support laboring moms, the more I observe that relinquishing control of the birthing process is absolutely key to a healthy mental and emotional state. But it's really, REALLY hard to do. I know this because I have personally been through childbirth three times with my own children. And each time it was very different. New fears crept in with each birth scenario, and I had to constantly discipline my mind to stay focused and in the moment. I was tempted to watch the clock, get fixated on numbers as they pertained to my cervical dilation, and frankly, quit when it got hard. It was definitely a battle of the mind.
One thing I intentionally talk with my clients about is the importance of surrendering throughout the laboring and birthing process. Here are some examples of times when this reminder is particularly useful:
I chose the above picture from a birth I doula'ed about a year ago. I love this photo, because the mom laboring in the tub was very close to meeting her baby, and she was surrounded by so much love and support from those present. When I talked with this mom about her birth experience, she gave me permission to share this with my readers about that moment:
"I doubted whether I was strong enough to persevere through whatever the birthing process would bring. Since my baby came three weeks early and caught us by surprise I felt like I wasn't fully ready to face the pain. Through the support and encouragement of my birth team and Happi as my doula, I was able to learn how to give in to each contraction rather than fight them. I was strong enough. I did it!"
She surrendered, and...she did it!
As a Doula, I provide two prenatal visits for couples throughout the last few months of pregnancy. One visit is to plan the birth and the second is used to discuss all things postpartum once baby arrives. I believe both topics are of great and equal importance in preparing for the two major life events they are about to experience. I spend a good hour or two at each visit helping couples navigate the many decisions and options available to them.
If you are expecting, I would strongly encourage you to learn as much as you can about the birth process through childbirth education classes. You cannot formulate a birth plan if you do not understand what your options are. You also need to ask a lot of questions when you tour your place of birth. Here are just a few things you'll need to inquire about in order to create your birth plan. This list is limited but gives you an idea:
Having said that, we know not everything always goes according to plan, but having it in writing absolutely gives the provider and nurses a very solid idea of what you do and don't want. Things like, "Please do not ask me if I want pain medication" take the guesswork out of a situation where mom may be struggling through labor. The nurses know she will ask for help when or if she reaches that point.
Note: I provide birth planning sessions and private, in-home childbirth education classes. Contact me if you are interested in learning more about your options. This can be a scary time full of many unknowns. I'm glad to answer all of your questions!
What should you pack in your hospital bag? Here's a checklist to get your started!
Anything else you'd add? Leave it in the comments below!
The driving force behind my choosing doula work as a profession was my own personal experience. As I have processed the births of my three children, which have all been totally different and unique, I recognize now, more than ever, how important it is for a woman to feel positively about her birth. While I cannot promise specific outcomes for birth clients, I can definitely help set them up for success to the best of my ability with the knowledge and skill set I have.
If you are pregnant and have specific goals and objectives that you'd like to accomplish in your birth, I believe there are 5 important things that you may want to consider as you plan for your birth experience. I truly believe that doing these things will make the biggest impact on your birth outcome.
1. Carefully choose your provider.
It is incredibly important that the provider you choose has respect and understanding for the way you want to birth and is supportive of the various aspects of your birth plan (assuming you have a general understanding of what you want it to look like). Take time to research different obstetricians and midwives early in your pregnancy, ask friends who they have used and why, and ask any birth workers you may know already (such as doulas, childbirth educators, labor and delivery nurses etc.) what to look for based upon your wishes for your birth. If you do not feel that your current provider is supportive of the way in which you want to birth, it is okay to consider switching providers, assuming there is enough time left in your pregnancy to be accepted by the practice. Ideally, it is best to have done your research early in your pregnancy so that you aren't scrambling at the last minute because you are feeling that your current provider isn't a good fit for you.
2. Hire a doula.
One of the most important things you can do to accomplish your goals for your birth is to hire a labor doula. Over and over again, women who have had a positive birth experience share that it was in part because they had a doula. It's not that we, as doulas, can guarantee specific outcomes because every birth is different and unique. What we can do, however, is guarantee that you have amazing, consistent support. I personally work very hard to contribute value as part of the birthing woman's team, serving her alongside her partner, provider, nurses, and anyone else she may choose to have with her. A good doula knows how to support her client through emotional support (labor is hard work, so compassion and encouragement through the process is key!), informational support (help being able to understand and dissect information as it's given to you), and physical support (hands-on comfort measures, positional changes, utilizing birth tools available, etc).
3. Educate yourself!
The saying, "knowledge is power" has great application when it comes to birth. The more you know, the better prepared you are. Truly, nothing can prepare you for the experience that is birth. It is like nothing else you have been through, and probably like nothing else that you will go through in the future. The beautiful thing about birth is that the discomfort you feel has purpose. It is a necessary means to an end...the moment you finally get to hold your baby in your arms! Often, however, women in our culture fear birth because they don't know how or if they will be able to manage the pain. It may be that they had a prior traumatic birth experience, or perhaps someone close to them did and they are scared the same might happen to them. There can be many reasons they are fearful. Because of this, I encourage clients to arm themselves with information, and I often recommend great books to my clients that will encourage them in their journey of labor. Not only do they help educate but they also encourage and inspire. "Your body was made to do this," I often tell clients. "Trust it. It knows what to do." As you read, learn, and arm yourself with knowledge, you'll find that these words are true!
4. Take Childbirth Education Classes.
This falls under the above category of educating yourself, as nothing can prepare you fully for the birth experience. It really needs its own category, though, because the classes you take should fall in line with your goals for your birth. Childbirth education classes can be very helpful for understanding the process of labor and birth and should present you with specific options to consider as you formulate your birth plan. There are so many choices out there for your consideration. I encourage you to again do your research and then pick the one that seems to be the best match for you and your goals for your birth (as well one that will best serve your partner!).
5. Formulate a birth plan.
Creating a birth plan is something I do with my clients as part of my service to them, but if a doula isn't an option for you, then there are several great websites and templates you can utilize. Your birth plan should be very specific. It should be kept concise and limited to one page, as nurses and doctors don't have time to read pages and pages once you are admitted to your place of birth. Ideally, it is helpful if it can be presented to your provider at least one month before your estimated due date so that they can review it. In my experience, I have found that most doctors and nurses are very happy to see a birth plan and spend time going over it with you.
I truly hope that these five suggestions are helpful to you as you plan for the birth of your baby. It is my desire that all women be armed with support, knowledge and information that results in a positive birth experience.
Thanks for reading!
Happi loves serving families in the Northwest Suburbs of Chicago as a labor doula and childbirth educator. When she's not at a birth, she loves spending time her husband and three boys.