Eight months ago I had a baby. She was born in the water, out of the hospital and with no drugs or interventions (You can read my birth story here). I’m not going to say that a drug-free labor and delivery was a complete walk in the park, but I will say that it was a wonderful experience that I would do all over again and that it was completely the right choice for me. In the months leading up to my due date, fear creeped in from time to time, but there were some things that continually encouraged me and that really helped me to push through during my labor and delivery.
In one of my birthing books, I read the comparison of labor to swimming in the ocean. The ocean is huge and powerful and cannot be contained, much like the experience of birth. Birth, like the waves cannot be stopped, so if you fight it you will only succeed in tiring yourself out and getting overwhelmed by the waves. “You cannot control the waves (i.e. birth) but, you can learn how to surf (i.e. learning how to get through your contractions).” Labor, much like the entire pregnancy experience, is all about surrender. Surrendering to the fact that you cannot control everything (*This is also a great thing to remember during parenthood) is key.
I am not a doctor, a midwife, or a doula, but I can share some things that were helpful for my birth experience and perhaps some of the suggestions will be helpful as options for you during your own birth.
1. The power of positive thinking starts now
In the months leading up to delivery, people were constantly trying to scare me with their birthing horror stories and asking me if I was scared. I quickly learned a few responses for these situations. When someone would tell me about a negative birth experience, I would respond with “I understand that some births don’t go as smoothly as others, but every birth is different. My birth experience will be different from any one else’s and I believe that is going to be positive.” Usually that was enough to derail people from telling more needlessly intimidating stories. And when people asked if I was scared or nervous about birth, my response was “No. I know that birth is going to be challenging hard work, but I feel prepared and I know that I am strong and capable. My body knows how to do this and it’s going to be great.” Even at times when I did have doubts, I would constantly tell others and myself that I was strong and capable and could do this, because if you say something enough times you really do start to believe it.
2. Don’t get hung up on past experiences
I will be the first person to admit that I am a complete baby when it comes to pain. There have been times when I have been brought to tears by little more than a scraped knee, so I definitely had my doubts at times as to whether or not I would be able to handle the pain of labor. But, while labor pain was more intense than anything I had ever experienced before, the management of that pain was also very different. Remember that your body will give you what you need to deal with the pain of labor. You can do it!
3. Figure out how you cope
We did an exercise in my birthing class where we had to hold a bag of ice in our hand for an extended period of time while doing the following: 1. being totally silent with our eyes closed, 2. while talking with our partner, and 3. while walking around the room. After the exercise we talked about which method helped us most to get through the pain of our freezing hands. For me, I handled the pain the best when I was silently breathing with my eyes closed and this turned out to be how I worked best through labor as well. Get to know yourself and what works for you and it will help you be a little more prepared.
4. Don’t be afraid to try new things
You never know how labor is going to be or how you’re going to respond to it until you’re in it. Don’t be afraid to try new things. I was worried about being loud during labor, but something that really helped me was low moaning and blowing “horse lips” (if you’ve never heard of Ina May Gaskin’s “Sphincter Law”, it explains why this can help). I also learned that laboring on the toilet, while completely unglamorous, was a great spot for me to be. You never know what’s going to work until you try it.
5. Get a good birthing partner
Having a good partner to help and encourage you through birth is one of the greatest helps you can have. A husband, a mom, a good friend…find out who will be most encouraging to you and ask them to be present for you during labor. Let them know how they can support you. You will be so thankful for it.
Above all, remember that you are strong and capable and your body can do this Mama!
*Note: I know that my particular style for birthing is not for everyone and I truly believe that however you feel the most safe and comfortable to birth is the right way for you. But, I do hope that those of you who are looking for a natural birth experience will be encouraged by this.