We know birth is important, we know it is a big day but do we know just how much it really matters? We have all likely heard a new mom tell her birth story in such detail and it seems so significant, but it is a fresh memory and thus does not seem overly significant. Have you ever asked the mother of a twenty year old about her labor? What about the mother of a forty or even sixty year old? Often, with the same detail of a new mom, her story comes flowing out with readable emotion on her face and in her tone. This is why birth matters, it is an inevitable life changing moment that a mother never forgets.
My birthday was the other day and my birth mother messaged me happy birthday and shared details about my birth. Decades later she recalls the time, the day, who was there, how she felt and the tone of the room. With just a few sentences she conveyed that memory as an unforgettable and life changing moment. If we know this, if we truly grasp this significance we need to strive to create positive birth memories because they shape us and remain with us forever.
Here are a few memories:
“She let me move and walk around, it was relieving to find new positions and listen to my body. Then they placed her right on my chest.” – Mother of a 33 year old
“My body told me to be on all fours, I just needed to do that but they wouldn’t let me. They made me stay in bed and on my back. It hurt.” – Mother of a 37 year old
“Everyone was so supportive. I felt the love in the room. I couldn’t have imagined a better birth.” – Mother of a newborn
“I labored alone near many others laboring alone. No one offered me anything, no one helped. Once I was ready to push, many hours later, they finally took me to delivery room.” – Mother of a 40 year old
“It was just my husband, my midwife and her student. Everyone gave me space but remained close if I needed them. It was calm, relaxing and not an ounce of fear.” – Mother of a 7 year old
What do you hope to remember about your births? In twenty, forty and sixty years what do you think others will hear when they ask about your birth experiences? I can honestly say I remember more about my births than I do my wedding day. Each event is life changing and full of memories but birth changed me in ways that are hard to describe. I do not recall how the guests at my wedding made me feel but I remember how each birth attendant made me feel.
If you are a mom you have the opportunity to make choices that aid in a positive birth experience. If you have ever planned a wedding or significant event, you likely spent many hours planning it. You would not dream of just showing up hoping the event hall staff would know exactly how you envisioned things without ever learning about and making your preferences known. Certainly the staff has hosted events before and you could show up and have a decent wedding but more than likely it would not match the exact vision you had in mind. In the same way, birth professionals have assisted in many births but if you are not aware of your options and you do not actively participate in planning and decision making then you more than likely will have an experience that differs from your expectations. Here are a few tips to help facilitate a positive birth experience:
1. Make a well researched care provider choice. Picking a birth attendant at random or simply continuing with a current provider may not produce the experience you desire. How do their other patients feel about experience? Did their previous clients have a birth similar to your desires? Finding a care provider that takes the time to answer any concerns you have, big or small, and does not rush you through appointments is invaluable. A provider that asks you what your plans are and encourages active participation in decision making likely values birth experience.
2. Choose a birth location that can facilitate your desired birth experience. Often we make care decisions based on convenience without realizing the importance of learning about our options. Some also are not aware of all the birth options in their area. Many areas have multiple hospital maternity units, freestanding birth centers and even homebirth midwives. You do not have to choose the closest hospital, you do not even have to choose a hospital, do you know all of your options? There is no right or wrong place to deliver in general, but it is possible to choose the wrong facility based on your goals for birth.
3. Know your options and build your confidence. As mentioned above, you likely spent a lot of time and resources when planning a wedding or special event. How much time have you spent preparing for birth? How confident are you in your ability to not just delivr but to have a positive experience? A comprehensive childbirth class not only presents you with options and education, it also builds your confidence. Removing fear, anxiety and uncertainty about your big day can contribute to a positive birth experience.
4. Choose your labor support wisely. Chances are if you have a partner you plan to count on them for labor support and that rarely requires much thought. Did you know there is also the option of professional labor support, also known as a doula? Professional labor support brings continual support throughout your whole labor. Depending on where you choose to deliver, you may not have professional continual emotional and physical support in between your healthcare providers monitoring and clinical tasks. This is not negligence on their behalf, it simply is not always within their ability to provide emotional support while also ensuring the health and safety of mom and baby. Partners are often invaluable during labor but it can be a heavy load to be the sole support person for a laboring woman. It is also important to be conscious of the impact additional family and friends can have on your birth experience. Birth is a complex physiological process and how we feel in those moments physically impacts labor from pain level to length of labor.
5. Know your rights and do not be afraid to speak up for them. YOU matter and your experience matters! Regardless of where you choose to deliver and with whom, you have rights. Learn about your rights, inform your labor team about your rights and choose a care provider that respects those rights.
Obviously the most important factor is the health and safety of you and baby, but that does not mean your experience is not extremely important as well. I am fortunate to say I have very positive memories about my birth experiences, but that did not happen only by chance. I spent many hours researching providers, learning my options and taking a comprehensive childbirth class. What are you doing to prepare for your big day? What positive memories do you hope to share in twenty, forty and even sixty years from now?