I recently had the privilege of being my best friend’s doula. I flew out to LA where she lives with her husband and two other daughters and spent the week hoping baby # 3 would arrive during that 7–day window.
It was a gift: an absolutely life changing experience, especially for someone who has yet to have children herself. From walking through quickening labor contractions in Santa Monica shoe stores (and terrifying many retail clerks in the process), to watching the veteran anesthesiologist narrate the epidural insertion like Morgan Freeman, to videoing the moment baby # 3 took her first breath – it’s safe to say that my copy of “what to expect when you’re expecting” and those doula birthing videos didn’t do it poetic justice.
Birth in North America has become a more private, medicalized affair than ever before. Gone are the days that most women – mothers, daughters, sisters, aunts and friends – gathered at home to actively support each other’s births. We’ve obviously made incredible medical progress, however it’s rare that first time moms today have ever witnessed a birth in-person. We’ve lost the implicit confidence that comes from seeing how our bodies were designed to successfully create. We spent countless hours and dollars on prenatal classes – from Lamaze to Hypo-birthing – all in the name of preparing for, and reducing anxiety over childbirth. How much more confident would we be if birth was a normal event we’d been exposed to for years? Anxiety stems mostly from what is unknown.
Fear is so powerful. Here’s how it works in labor: anxiety/fear creates tension à tension leads to increased pain à increased pain leads to more FEAR. The cycle continues. Speaking personally, I am the sort of person who likes all the information up front. Give it to me straight. The more I know, the less I fear. That’s why I decided to interview our Labor and Delivery Nurse for her top advice for first time moms. She hesitated at first while thinking about it – then enthusiastically blurted out these tips. I promised her I’d share!
1) Stay at home for as long as possible. You’ll be more comfortable there. Shower and eat and drink something before coming to the hospital. You don’t get any food or water if/when you opt for the pain meds.
2) Be “pushy”. Ask questions about what’s happening, what drugs you’re getting, what your concerns are, why things are being done in a particular way. The squeaky wheel get’s the grease. And ladies, you want the grease. (For example, I mentioned my friend was afraid of tearing from this big baby, so they brought us warm compresses and mineral oil and coached her when to push more slowly.)
3) Have Realistic Expectations of your Partner. Your partner may be the best birthing coach in the world, or not. Talk to them about your expectations before hand, find out their fears and decide whether you want an additional person in the room for support who may be less emotionally invested (read: calm and objective!)
4) Stop judging yourself. You may come in with an all-natural drug-free birth plan, but then things get hard. Like, you’re-not-coping-anymore-hard. If you get an epidural, you are not weak. You are not copping out. Women used to die from this all the time. Pain levels are different for each woman depending on the baby’s position, the length and type of labor and individual unique neural pain receptors. Do what YOU need to do.
Above all, be kind to yourself. You’re taking a giant leap of faith into the unknown. Do your best and know that your best is good enough. Your body is not a lemon. You can do this! And if you get the chance to support another woman’s birth, recognize the gift.