As a parent-to-be, I remember reading so many books on childbirth. I felt like I was searching and searching and never finding what I needed to hear. But I wasn’t sure WHAT it was I needed to hear.
While searching for answers about what labour would feel like, I read that the sensations would feel like incredibly intense, wave-like menstrual cramps, maybe some back ache, that there would be some trembling, struggles with fatigue, and perhaps even vomiting. Sensations similar to a watermelon in one’s bum were also alluded to, but not expanded upon enough for my intense curiosity.
I was inundated by very formulaic numerical information about how to time contractions and how my cervix and mind would feel at various phases of dilation (very little of which ended up being true for me as a birthing woman nor for the clients I support as a birth doula). When looking at other sources of information, I read that birth could be gentle and beautiful, that with the power of my focused mind I could transform the pain into something else if I chose. I read that if things went wonky in birth, it was possibly due to pelvic misalignment, unprocessed emotions or my own cultural conditioning. While that information did contain some nuggets of value and wisdom, I felt it could potentially be setting me up for self-blame if things went way off course. I wanted to feel like a rock star about my birth…no matter what! So how was I to prepare wisely?
As a childbirth educator, I want to tell the truth about the intensity of birth to assist my students in preparing for its reality. I also, however, don’t want to scare the daylights of them. Striving for that balance within a group of random people gathering for information isn’t easy, as some people are more anxious than others. Over the years I have discovered through evidence that risking a little fear that may come with the truth tends to mobilize efforts to prepare, more so than building up birth to seem like a straightforward, predictable, smooth event if only you do your breathing and visualizing. That kind of “protection” doesn’t necessarily help people in the nitty gritty of birthing, even if it helps them remain totally relaxed about the thought of birth while pregnant.
I DO believe birth can be powerful, beautiful, and even quite gentle for many people but it is never a promise I will make based upon any technique or approach. Why? For one, every person is different. We all have different skills and modes of processing sensation. One size does not fit all when it comes to birth preparation methods. In fact, the more solid the expectation of how birth WILL go, the more stress and shock can be experienced if it doesn’t go that way.
Given that birth isn’t just about our will and mindset but also our BABY’S journey (their having their own birth journey), being prepared for different contingencies is a wise approach even if you do have a firm idea about what you want to experience. People can sometimes skip over the section about Cesarean birth in the books, or not go over the tools to help them with natural birth because they believe they will totally have time to get the epidural before things get gnarly. But you know what they say about the best laid plans. There can sometimes be a secret superstition that reading about different possibilities from your own birth dreams might make them happen. But it doesn’t, any more than bringing an umbrella outside on day where there is a possibility of showers at some point will invite the rain.
What I realize now is that the searching I was doing when I was pregnant was for that nebulous snippet of information that would let me know what I could think or do to get through the process of birth “unscathed” by the pain and intensity everyone talked about. I wanted to know I could still feel totally like me in every moment, and just have a baby without feeling “out of my element” or that it was “too much”. I was quite attached to my normal, everyday mind and was wary of the idea of changing into someone fully consumed by the demands of my body for a potentially long time. I thought maybe there was a “trick”. While there are ways to support coping and staying present and as calm as possible, that nebulous snippet simply doesn’t exist.
From experiencing birth four times myself and from attending many hundreds of births, the truth is this: there IS no getting through this “unscathed”. You can read and talk about it all you want, but until you’re truly in it, it is hard to really understand. We don’t achieve parenthood without going through a great big change in ourselves.
Whether we want to move through birth according to Nature’s physiological blueprint, whether we choose pain relief, or whether we birth surgically, the fact remains: birth is extraordinary transformation. You WILL change. You will very likely feel in some moments that things ARE “out of control” and “too much”. But guess what? Chances are, you are gonna be ok! There are seven billion people on the planet, all of them born. Even if you have serious doubts, I know you’ve GOT this. If I can do it, you can. In fact, it was cool enough for me to end up doing it four times.
The thing about extraordinary transformation is that it is hard. It is the nature of transformation. There is no such thing as an easy birth, no matter how that birth unfolds. Accepting birth’s unpredictable nature (and it remains unpredictable, even when things are planned) is the first step in preparing realistically for the journey. So I tell the truth. Birth is hard. But you are strong.
At Birth Essentials Prenatal Classes, we give you the information, tools, and options to cope with birth and early parenting like the strong person you are, with support for however you want to approach it. Even if you happen to be anxious and don’t believe you’re strong right now, know that if you’re already dealing with late pregnancy, it is naturally providing you with some birth training, physically and mentally. Your baby will emerge. You will make it. I know this because in over two decades of educating about and supporting birth, I have never seen anyone remain pregnant forever.
Leaving everything up to chance or adopting an “it will be what it will be” approach to birthing carries the potential risk of your being overwhelmed on the big day. With wise preparation, no matter what happens, the likelihood of your feeling like a powerful participant in the birth process is much higher. And that is good because the experience of birth isn’t just a means to an end; birth really matters! It is an experience that will stay with you throughout your lifetime and lend shape to your parenting. How you FEEL about your birth, no matter what the details are at the end of the day, is important.
Birth can be a blur, what do you remember most about your labour?
May you prepare wisely, birth powerfully, and parent authentically.
Prenatal Classes Montreal – Ottawa