Preparing for the birth of your first child is, for many, the most intense period of their life so far. The melting pot of emotions includes the extremes of blind excitement and complete terror, plus everything in between. One minute you find yourself daydreaming about chubby toes and how much you can’t wait to smooch and nibble them and the next, you’re plunged into the icy chill of fear that you’re making a huge mistake, life is never going to be the same again and you just know you’re not and never will be ready to birth a human being out your vagina or belly.
Then we have to navigate our views and ‘readiness’ for childbirth. Many outside factors feed into this, including:
• Practical Organisation- is the birth bag/box all packed etc, Do you know who you are calling and when, is travel, pet care, postnatal support arranged?
• Health & Clinical Experiences- how supportive are the professionals you have? How is your pregnancy progressing clinically?
• Emotions - How excited, frightened, calm are you? How mentally prepared are you? Have you targeted this area and worked to turn worries into mental power?
• Birth Partners - again, how supportive & prepared are your team? Are they confident in advocating your birth plan? Do they help or hinder your preparation?
It can be a lonely time, perhaps your friends haven’t began to have their babies yet or you could be geographically isolated from your support network. I wanted to put together a post to help your prepare yourself practically and emotionally for birth. The following suggestions are not exhaustive but they are doorways and tools you can use as you progress in your pregnancy.
By understanding topics such as consent & coercion and how they translate in the birth space you are arming yourself with the most effective tool you could have in your quest for a smooth, respected and positive birth experience.
KNOW YOUR RIGHTS
This is always the first piece of advice I give any pregnant person/ couple & their birth team (if they ask).
It’s imperative that you know your fundamental human rights before you begin to discuss your care in pregnancy & birth. By understanding topics such as consent & coercion and how they translate in the birth space you are arming yourself with the most effective tool you could have in your quest for a smooth, respected and positive birth experience.
With this knowledge you can navigate your options for birth while understanding that you are in complete control over each decision. You decide where you birth, when others can and cannot touch/examine you, which positions you want to be in (and stay in) and who you want with you etc. The list really is endless but the overarching rule is YOU ARE IN CHARGE.
There are many resources which discuss this very topic but my absolute favourite is the book Human Rights in Childbirth by Rebecca Schiller. This book can be downloaded onto your smartphone or kindle as well as ordered in paper copy. Another book that details the topic of autonomy and your birth rights is Am I Allowed by Beverley A Lawrence Beech.
A really easy to digest list of factsheets are available on Birthrights website. They can even be printed and popped into your notes.
It may seem that I am preparing you for a human rights war here, it really isn’t quite as dramatic as that. However the reality is that we are still quite a bit away from providing autonomous care within our maternity system. There is still a lot of language such as ‘you’d have to’, ‘we wouldn’t allow’, ‘we need you to’ used during antenatal appointments and on our labour wards. This is an environmental issue where care givers, who should be aware of a pregnant persons right to decline interventions or request certain care, consciously or unconsciously use coercive language. This could be happening for a number of reasons but that’s not a can of worms I intend to open today. Knowing that it happens and how you can prepare for it is enough for now.
Please get in touch if you have any questions or are currently experiencing some issues around this point
Forget Everything You Know
As Nicola Mahdiya Goodall discusses in her wonderful Ted Talk ‘Reframing Birth’, our media and society have taught us to fear birth. Many approach birth in complete terror due to the dramatic and frightening portrayals they’ve seen in movies, tv shows and books.
It’s so important to recognise that these images of birth were created with the sole purpose of getting a reaction from the viewer. We love a bit of drama! Knowing that the reality of birth couldn’t be in such stark contrast is the first step to reprogramming your brain. You (and probably your birth partner) are gonna have to completely rewire the way you react to the thought of birth. To do this you’re going to flood yourself with real positive birth stories, watch real birth videos (NOT ONE BORN EVERY MINUTE) and visualise the smooth, positive birth you’re going to have.
Get following positive birth Instagram accounts with real birth images, desensitise yourself to pictures of crowning baby heads bulging through stretched, taught labia and newborn gooey goodness with vernix, blood and amniotic fluid covering the pink/blue/purple (all normal) bundles.
Yes birth is intense, yes birth can be messy but my goodness it’s fantastic when you’re prepared, when you’re excited and when you understand what’s really coming.
To flood yourself with birth stories head to your local Positive Birth Movement meet-up. Search for ‘positive birth video’, ‘gentle birth’, ‘hypno birth’ and even ‘homebirth’ on YouTube to find a treasure trove of real birth videos which demonstrate how beautiful, calm and powerful it really can be.
My fave Instagram accounts are:
Empowered Birth Project
Badass Mother Birther
And, of course, my own Jen Muir Badass Birth
some great hashtags to search are #childbirthwithoutfear & #stopcensoringbirth (be aware that the latter does contain graphic birth images)
Assemble Your Birth Team
A birth team that’s prepared, knowledgable and supportive are among the most important things you can have with you as you birth. Way more important than the handheld fan, the lip balm, the freshly washed nightshirt or the snacks (which are bloody important too btw).
When you have a confident birth partner/s you can relax into your zone safe in the knowledge that your needs with be attended, the right environment will be created and your birth plan will be respected. This does mean that your birth team require more than a basic knowledge of the birthing process and, as discussed above, your rights. They should be able to comfortably discuss your wishes and worries with your care provider. This does mean that many women are opting to have a Doula/independent birth professional with them as they birth their babies. A doula brings a plethora of techniques, knowledge and experience meaning they are there should you need practical, emotional or informational support throughout your pregnancy and labour. The magical bonus here is that your birth partner is then able to focus on you and that the weight of being the only ‘go-to’ is lifted.
Many people opt to take a parent in along with their partner. Mums, sisters and/or Dads can be wonderful birth partners but please remember that at least one of your birth partners should be well versed in your birth plan, why you’ve made these decisions, what you will and won’t compromise on and what your contingency plans are should you need them.
In a homebirth setting you can have as many birth attendants as you wish, however in most hospitals you are usually limited to two. You may still be able to swap people over, for example Mum and a partner, Mum swaps with doula when required, partner swaps with mum etc. Your extras can be in the waiting area or can head home for rest and shower etc.
Get Your Head Out The Sand
A common preparation method for soon to be first time parents is to adopt the Ostrich Approach. Head is buried in the sand and the famous last words of ‘we will just see how it goes’ are dished out to anyone who enquires how ‘are you feeling about the birth?’.
I cannot tell you how many people I have spoken with people who lament that their choice to not appropriately prepare physically, mentally and informationally for their birth resulted in an experience lacking in autonomy, knowledge and power.
Enroll in local birth prep classes, there are lots to choose from. Join in some pregnancy yoga, you’ll be amazed at how much you learn and how much they build your confidence.
You can also attend couples hypnobirthing workshops!
Yes this does all sound like a bit of money but truly this investment will pay dividends and many educators etc will accept payment plans.
Believe me your birth experience is more important than any of the fancy baby clothes, faddy gadgets and mega travel systems you can buy. #soznotsoz
Below I have included my ultimate birth prep list to help you in the packing of your homebirth box or hospital bag. I’ve tried to ensure this list is as extensive as you’ll get but if I have missed anything please comment below.
I hope this posts helps in your prep. If you have any questions please get in touch either in the comments below, via my contact page or through any of my social media.