Friday, January 1, 2016

Add These Things To Your Birthing To-Do List

This post has been ruminating in my mind for a few weeks now.

It may not be eloquent, but hopefully it will be helpful.

Anyways, here goes.

When we prepare to birth our baby, we check things off our to-do lists. Each of our lists may look different, but for the most part I think it's safe to say will include one, or all, of the following (in no particular order):

  • Decorate the nursery
  • Buy stroller, baby carriers, diapers, clothes, etc
  • Attend prenatal classes
  • Help prepare siblings (if you've had babies before)
  • Attend yoga or some other exercise class
  • Pack bags
  • Fill freezer with meals
  • Hire a doula (hehe wink, wink...couldn't help myself!)

The list goes on, and like I said, it looks different for each of us.

But what is missing?

It looks pretty good! What could it be?

I promise something is missing.

Here's a clue...

Who is the one that is actually going to be giving birth?
Who is the one that will remember the birth for a lifetime?
Who is the one that will need to make decisions during pregnancy, birth and beyond?

The answer is YOU!

Where are the lines on your to-do list for preparing for the emotional and mental aspects of this journey?

We aren't usually encouraged to think of the following:

  • Have I thought and read/researched about how birth and being a parent may impact me and my emotional/mental well-being?
  • Do I have supports in place to help me through the first year of my baby's life (ideally longer, but usually the first year is the most all-encompassing)?
  • If my birth involves special circumstances (for example, VBAC, previous difficult or traumatic birth, etc) have I sought out guidance and support to help prepare me for this birth?
  • What are my beliefs about birth, the postpartum period, breastfeeding, being a parent?
  • What, if any, are my expectations when it comes to all of the above?
  • Are these expectations based on what I need or are they based on the ideas/opinions of others?
  • Have I looked at them clearly and critically/logically? Are they based on sound evidence or pure opinion or fear?
  • Do I even need to have these expectations or ideals? 
  • Are they contributing in a healthy way to my preparation or are they leading to anxiety about the whole thing?
  • How attached am I to these expectations?
  • How will I feel if they do not come to pass?
  • What do I need to do/prepare/heal/let go of to feel that however the birth experience may go, I will feel at peace and confident about my experience and my decisions?

That last one is the doozy. It's the trickiest one of all, but also the most important.

It means you need to dig deep...and not on the day your labour starts.

Well head of time, prepare your heart and your mind. Begin to explore the questions above. Be curious, not judgemental. As these things come to your awareness, you will begin to see that some things are important and some things are not. You may also realize some new things become important that you didn't think of before.

After giving birth to my own babies and supporting many women through their own babies' births, I feel that the most important aspect of preparing for birth is not how or where you give birth. Not if you avoid the epidural, or if you give birth in a hospital, or if you give birth squatting or on your back, whether you birthed vaginally or by cesarean...

These things may be important, but in the end it doesn't come down to these, because every woman's birth experience is going to be different and based on her own personal health history, circumstances and sometimes to sheer-random-birthy-luck.

After you give birth to your baby, it is true that some things will not go as you thought, some things will, perhaps some things may happen that you didn't even consider...and it's OK if you feel sad about it.

But after you give birth to your baby the thing that is going to carry you onward and forward and help you move beyond that sadness and through the whole motherhood journey is how you felt during the birth. And for that matter, how you felt during the whole childbearing months, which ultimately lead to the BIG day: the day you give birth to your baby.

If you felt fearful, if you felt you couldn't or didn't speak up about any questions you had or to ask for what you needed, if you didn't understand what was happening or why, if you didn't know you had options, if you were made to feel at odds with your body and had a hard time accepting the changes and sensations, if you felt unsupported during labour and lacked the guidance to feel reassured about what was happening...all these are possibly going to contribute to you feeling a bit confused, upset and, for some women, can be the trigger(s) that lead to them feeling utterly devastated after they give birth.

And no woman should feel that way. In this day and age, we can do better.

Women need to feel empowered to prepare themselves, inform themselves, be aware of their options, be aware of evidence-based care, so that they can make informed decisions and feel respected, heard and at peace with their birth experience.

But also, women need to understand birth.

Thankfully, mother nature has been smart and has designed birth in a way that works well and without complications, most of the time.

I do not want to start some debate, but I will likely ruffle some feathers when I say, there are way too many opinions and ideals, from one side of the spectrum to the other,  that give women the expectations that if they "do birth the right way" they will have a perfect birth. The thing is, there is no one way to have a perfect birth. In fact, we should just scrap using the word perfect to describe birth (or anything in life, for that matter).

It is my opinion that in almost all cases, birth is unpredictable in at least one way, almost always in more than one. There is a sort of randomness to birth that is yet unexplained.

There are things that we just can't completely anticipate, and that's just part of life.

These unanticipated things are different for each of us. For some it means that the intensity and duration of labour were more than they thought. For others, it means their baby is in a position that makes it hard to progress. For others it means that some health concern arises and leads to needing to make appropriate decisions to ensure a healthy mom and baby in the end. For others, the experience will seem completely "run of the mill", but then the shock will come after, with breastfeeding or the sleep deprivation....there are just so many ways our journey unfolds.

Ultimately, we may not be able to control all these things, no matter how hard we plan, how much we read, what doula we hire, what care provider we choose or where we choose to give birth. Obviously, I am not saying that these preparations are NOT important. What I am saying is that we need to make these preparations but ALSO understand that there is much more to giving birth that these.

What we most definitely CAN do and prepare and count on, is our attitude, our coping tools and our mindset. And these are the things that are harder to prepare, but well worth the effort.

There are cases, where the unpredictability of birth (we are human after all, not perfect or ideal or without faults--it's just part of the human journey) comes to pass and things go down a different path than we thought we'd be on.

It is in these cases, where being emotionally and mentally prepared is most critical. It is where mindset comes in very handy and we will be able to handle the forks and bumps in the road much more steadily. And this will set the foundation for a steady start to parenthood.

If we are clinging to expectations and ideals beyond a time that is healthy to, forcing the experience to continue down a path that it just can no longer go, and we do not know our options or are making decisions that are not fully informed, we will feel the impact of these deviations in the journey much more.

So I encourage you to dig deep.

Be willing to explore your beliefs and ideals and expectations. Be willing to prepare: knowledge, mindset, attitude and build a coping tool-kit.

Do what you need to do to be steadfast but also flexible and fluid for it is almost for certain that there will come a time that your flexibility and fluidity will be needed.

Remember that each woman's journey is her own. There is no "perfect" way to give birth, it will be unique for each of us. And that is why it's beautiful.

Remember what matters, is that we feel supported, respected, informed and well, like rock stars, because, heck, giving birth is a great feat that needs to be celebrated, rejoiced and everyone who births deserves a high-five!