I’m in the home stretch now and preparing for our new little one’s arrival is taking up most of my time. Probably the largest area of preparation is for the birth. Though this event may only last a couple of days, many parents spend an enormous amount of time in anticipation of it and getting ready. We actually weren’t sure if this would even be possible for us until a couple of weeks ago. I had a low-lying placenta for most of my pregnancy, which only just moved up and out of the way recently. But with that obstacle surmounted, we can now look forward to our ideal birthing situation.
When I say “natural” childbirth, I mean a vaginal birth that is free of drugs and interventions. That said, I do not exclude other ways of childbirth from falling under this umbrella, and I don’t judge or discriminate against mother’s who bring their babies into this world any other way. Everyone has to make the choices that are right for them and their situations. I also recognize that sometimes this kind of birth is impossible. The reason I am choosing it is because I want to experience all of the natural hormones and alertness that comes from not being medicated. I also try to go drug-free as much as possible after the negative experiences I’ve had with medications. I want to avoid interventions because I believe in the body’s ability to do what it needs to do without them. But, of course, I also recognize that when the day comes, circumstances may present themselves that require a change of course. None of us know what will actually happen on our baby’s birthday. It’s great to prepare but not keeping options open would also be detrimental. So we move forward with our ideal situation in mind and hope for the best, aware that things may not go as planned.
I’ve heard that it’s very common these days to say you want a natural childbirth, and that many doctors don’t take this seriously because so many women say they want that but do nothing to prepare. I do not want to be guilty of this. So much of this phenomenon is wrapped up by our societal conditioning that birth will be painful, difficult and even frightening. Movies depict women screaming and yelling at their partners, their waters breaking to begin labor. Hospital birth classes focus on telling women when they should request their epidurals, showing videos of unmedicated births that look horrifying. Even the term labor has somewhat negative connotations. Those of us who hope to have a different experience have a lot of mental unlearning and retraining to do. After all, if you expect something to hurt it probably will.
A natural birth can take place in any setting. Because this is my first and I still would like to have options with regards to interventions should they be medically necessary, I chose to have my birth in a hospital. I don’t think that this necessarily negates me from having the birth that I want. But I’m not just going with the flow and seeing what happens. We have put a team in place around us to help mitigate those aspects of a hospital birth that could foil our desired outcomes. A lot of that is mental and physical preparation to avoid things like needing an induction, having one accidentally or being physically unprepared for what is to come. Here are some things we are doing to achieve our goal:
While I am having a hospital birth, it helps to have a hospital that focuses on woman-centered and baby-friendly practices. Luckily my doctor only delivers at two hospitals, both of which are committed to these practices. Some things to look for are an emphasis on breastfeeding, promotion of immediate skin-to-skin contact after birth and nurses who are trained in doula practices. Other options for natural birth include birthing centers and home births.
It also helps to have a doctor or midwife who is on-board with your natural childbirth plan. This is the one wild card in our plan. I really like my doctor and he is the best in his field for maternal fetal medicine, however, he also could be quick to go to interventions. I have been engaging in good communication with him about my desires and preferences and will continue to work on this over the next few weeks leading up to my birthing time. Your practitioner is probably the most important component to ensuring the birth you want so make this choice carefully.
A doula is a specially trained support person who assists the mother and father before, during and after the birth of the baby. My doula has attended over 300 births and has been invaluable in our learning and preparation. She can assist with the choices you will make during the birth process, bringing tools and techniques on the day to help you get through the process, educate you on likely scenarios in the hospital or other settings and also usually meets with you before and after the birth to prepare the birth plan, get to know your wishes and assist with baby care questions at the post-partum visit.
Many parents take a birthing class and it helps to choose one that is in sync with your birth plan. Hypnobabies was recommended to me by my acupuncturist and we are now two weeks into the class. I love this course. Through self-hypnosis you train your body to relax and calibrate your mind to release tension, anxiety and fear about birth. I thought this sounded way out there when I signed up for it and wasn’t sure I would be able to do it. After a couple of weeks of listening to the introductory CD I was completely transformed and blissed out, finding it very easy to relax completely and induce a state of hypnosis. The class also features all the practical tips you need to achieve an unmedicated birth.
My wonderful husband has been involved in all aspects of my pregnancy and birth, from going to most doctor’s visits with me to taking an active role in helping me prepare for my natural birth. My doula recommended a book for him to read (see resources below) and he works on Hypnobabies with me daily. You will need a good support person with you during your birthing time and he or she needs to know what is going on so be sure your partner isn’t left out of your preparations.
I did acupuncture weekly before and during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy and will see my practitioner again from week 36 on. This is to prepare my body and ensure that everything that should be happening in the weeks leading up to birth is on-track and proceeding as necessary. I actually don’t know what we will be doing in these sessions yet but I imagine it will be similar to the work done in the first trimester, with different effects, of course.
I hadn’t seen a chiropractor before my pregnancy and the closest I came to something like it was when I worked with a “Naprapat” in Norway, who included some chiropractic work in his sessions. And I actually hadn’t noticed much pain or any other issues when I had my first visit with the chiropractor my doula recommended. She did some testing, which involved rolling a device up the back of my spine to get a reading as to where I had the most heat and tension in my body. All seemed to be on the left side. I was also having some sinus issues that were dramatically helped by my first adjustment. I now see my chiropractor every two weeks just to ensure that any imbalances in my spine and pelvis are corrected, to prevent discomfort and to ensure the baby is in the optimal position for birth.
I have been doing prenatal Pilates since the beginning of my second trimester with a specialist instructor trained in the practice. This is much gentler than the Pilates work I was doing prior to becoming pregnant but it is very helpful for stability, coordination and the pelvic floor. As I get closer to the end of my pregnancy I will also be incorporating some additional exercises like hula circles on the birthing ball and squats. Cardio work has been something I should be doing more of. I feel like I am in good shape and get quite a bit of exercise running around doing errands most days, but my doula did point out that it would be good to do a lot of walking as I get closer to birth. If only the weather where I live would cooperate – it is still so hot outside for October and I don’t have a treadmill!
I have been reading so much during my pregnancy. There are so many wonderful resources out there no matter what type of birth you are having. Here are some resources that my doula recommends and also a few I discovered on my own.
Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth – Ina May Gaskin
Natural Childbirth the Bradley Way
Natural Hospital Birth – Cynthia Gabriel
Ina May’s Guide to Breastfeeding – Ina May Gaskin
The Birth Partner by Penny Simkin (for your partner)
The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding – La Leche League International
The Thinking Woman’s Guide to a Better Birth – Henci Goer
Nurturing the Unborn Child – Thomas Verny, M.D. & Pamela Weintraub
Do you have any natural childbirth resources to add?