I remember being in my ninth month of pregnancy with my firstborn daughter. I thought about the impending birth every day. What would it feel like? How would I react? How long would it take? Would I be strong enough? Strangely, I was curious more than I was afraid.
I ended up having my baby vaginally – with an OB – at a hospital – without drugs. The experience was generally positive, but not outstanding (It wasn’t until I delivered baby #2 at a birth center that I realize how much BETTER the birth experience could be).
Here is what I wish someone would have told me about birth when I was a first-time mom-to-be:
1. You don’t have to be afraid. Our culture makes birth seem like this terrifying event where something bad is bound to go wrong at any second. Hospital gowns. Beeping red lights. IVs. Medicines. Screaming. That’s what we see on TV. But birth doesn’t have to be like that.
2. You CAN do this. The truth is that women have been birthing babies from the beginning of time. Your body KNOWS what to do. YOU know what to do. You are strong. You are able.
3. Doctors are not always right and you don’t have to listen to them. Do I sound like a rebel or what? I’m actually not. Just ask my husband: I am the girl who *always* follows the rules. Except when it comes to birth. The truth is that all doctors don’t always give the best advice – they might say things in soothing, authoritarian tones. They may try to bully you. But don’t be bullied. If you want a second opinion, get a second opinion. If you want time to think, ask for it. If you have questions, ask them. If you want to say, “no thank you, I don’t want that procedure/process for me or my baby” – DO. And don’t feel bad about it.
4. Home birth is not dangerous. The mainstream medical establishment has tricked us all into believing that the best and safest place for a baby to be born is an a hospital, attended by an OB. In fact, that is not entirely true. The American Public Health Association reports that “homebirth is as safe as hospital birth for low-risk women, yet carries a much lower rate of medical interventions, including Cesarean section.” If you want to do a home birth, find a midwife and do it. It’s a safe, legitimate option for most women.
5. Birth centers are worth looking into. I’ve written previously about Birth Centers versus Hospitals – and, if you know me “in real life,” you know that I am forever singing the praises of our local birth center. And it’s not just me either. If you ask my husband about birth, he will automatically talk about how the birth center experience was a thousand times better than the hospital experience. Hands-down. I’m not saying it’s the best choice for everyone, but it’s certainly an option worth considering.
6. Midwives are highly trained, highly capable caregivers. While I am certainly thankful for modern medical technologies and doctors who have the ability to perform life-saving surgery when necessary, it is important to keep in mind that deliveries by OBs should be the exception not the norm.
Note that “The United States spends more per capita than any other industrialized nation on health care, yet the country ranks only 27th in terms of infant mortality. Much of that expenditure is aimed toward technological advances rather than personalized care during pregnancy and birth. In fact, the majority of countries with the best birth outcomes have midwives as frontline providers of maternity services” (American Journal of Public Health, 2002).
For some women with high-risk pregnancies, a hospital birth with an OB is the best decision. For the majority, however, midwives are likely the better option.
7. Medical inductions are not “normal” – or necessary (in most cases). The following story is far, far too common: a woman goes in for a routine check-up at 37, 38, 39, or 40 weeks. And the doctor says, “let’s have this baby today” or “the placenta appears to be declining” or something similar. The mom-to-be is scared and the prospect of not being pregnant anymore sounds enticing so she checks in to the hospital to be induced. From there, a long string of interventions occur (IVs, pitocin, epidurals, uh-oh – c-section).
I’m not saying that inductions are always unwarranted nor am I saying that you made the wrong decision if you chose to be induced at the directive of your doctor. What I AM saying is that it is important to listen to your heart, your body. It is important to ask a lot of questions if induction is suggested. It is okay to say, “no thank you” if you don’t want to be induced.
8. Pitocin makes your contractions hurt more (and thus makes getting an epidural more likely). It is well-known among moms and caregivers that pitocin tends to make contractions more intense. It is also important to keep in mind that receiving pitocin will require you to have an IV and be monitored continuously during the administration of the drug.
9. Epidurals are not necessarily safe. Childbirth Connection reports that epidurals:
- increase the length of the pushing phase of labor
- increase the likelihood of birth with vacuum extraction or forceps
- increase the likelihood of maternal fever
- increase the likelihood of serious tearing of perineal tissue into or through the rectal sphincter
- can adversely affect newborn behavior compared with unmedicated infants
The data is currently not adequate, but some studies indicate that epidurals may also increase the likelihood of cesarean section and may adversely effect breastfeeding.
I’m not suggesting that getting an epidural is wrong or that you are a bad person if you choose to get one. What I AM saying is that epidurals are not without side effects. It’s important for women to understand both the drawbacks and the advantages of receiving one. I like this quote from Childbirth Connection: “Every woman needs to understand these trade-offs and make informed decisions according to her values, preferences, and options.”
10. You should listen to your body. If you want to walk, walk. If you want to sing, sing. If you want to squat, squat. If you want to get in the tub, get in the tub. If you want to take all of your clothes off, go for it. Delivering at home, at a birth center, with a midwife, or with a specialist who fully supports natural childbirth will help ensure that you have the best birth experience. IVs, hospital monitors, wires, and constant “dilation checks” WILL impede your ability to relax and to move around.
So listen to your body. Be confident in your ability to give birth. Be excited because your world is about to change forever – in the most wonderful way imaginable.
Motherhood is miraculous and magnificent. You are going to love it.
YOUR TURN: What do YOU wish you would have known about birth when you were pregnant with your first child?