If Nick and I have learned one thing in the last few years, it is this: no matter how precisely you plan, sometimes the universe has something else in store so it’s best to prepare for all possible scenarios. When our care team asked us about a birth plan, we decided to schedule a C-section for a specific date so our families could plan to be with us for Ella’s arrival (an opportunity they missed when Daisy came into the world) but wanted to leave the option open for a VBAC (vaginal birth after C-section) if she decided to come before that date.
With this “open” birth plan in place, we decided to enroll in a private birth class led by a respected birth educator and doula in our community to prepare for all the options that may lie ahead. I highly recommend the investment of time and money for all new parents (or parents considering a new birth plan) in childbirth education. This is one of the most major milestones of your life journey and one you want to be prepared for. I came away from our class feeling knowledgeable, prepared, empowered and excited to embark on whatever birth journey awaits us!
Not the most flattering photo ever taken but can you tell how much we laughed through our class?
Here are some of the most valuable things I took away from our conversation with Cat LaPlante of Birth Freely Birth Services (Philly & NJ area mamas, highly recommend Cat - she was super fun, funny and knowledgeable!):
So much of our birth experience is dictated by our biases going into it. If we expect labor and delivery to be this hugely painful, chaotic experience (for example: as it’s portrayed on TV with the birth mother screaming at her husband and everyone running around in a sweaty, hysterical panic), we are bringing unnecessary fear and anxiety that has a negative influence on our minds and bodies. WE have the ability to flip the script by accepting and manifesting only positive thoughts. Think: “My body was built for this!” “Baby and I are strong, we’ve got this!”
Don’t leave the house too early. Most women experience contractions and early labor for many hours (10-12 average) before going into active labor. During this early labor, you should go about your daily activities as you normally would, staying hydrated and resting when possible while keeping distracted. If you go to the hospital too early, they’ll just send you home. When contractions become the only thing you can focus on, that’s when it’s time to go to the hospital.
Breath is critically important during active labor. Maintaining a breathing rhythm during contractions reduces stress and helps manage the pain. Having a partner breathing in the same rhythm and massaging your shoulders and arms in a downward motion will help mom from tensing up and keep mom feeling calm.
The birth mother should set the tone with her care team and all involved in the birth early and clearly. Establishing our role as dominant decision-makers is absolutely necessary, especially in a hospital setting. It’s important to articulate your birth plan and your preferences at the outset and to insist on making all decisions around pain management and other portions of the process like episiotomy. Our partners play an important role in advocating for our plans and preferences in late stages of labor when it’s more difficult to communicate effectively.
There are many positions that can make labor more efficient and less painful. Laying flat on your back in a hospital bed is not necessarily the way you were intended to give birth. It’s a good idea to research all options that are available to you at the hospital where you are delivering and to think about what will feel best for your body. For example: I suffer from chronic back pain so using a birthing ball to help baby drop and descend will make labor less painful for me.
You can bring as many things as you need into the hospital room to help make it more comfortable and more calm. Our teacher suggested bringing Christmas lights for the bathroom so I can sneak in there for some moments of dimly-lit privacy when I feel overwhelmed. I’m also planning to bring some essential oils for aromatherapy, my favorite pillow for support and my heated back pad for pain relief.
Above all, believe in yourself and your ability to bring a baby into the world – however you choose to do it. Surround yourself with as much support as possible. Speak up and advocate for yourself. The more you are in control of the birth experience, the more empowering it will be.
I have no idea what the next few weeks will hold or how Ella’s entrance into the world will unfold. What I do know is that I feel armed with all of the information I need to make good choices and I feel supported by my partner and my care team to advocate for myself and baby. I am strong, I am capable and I can do this!