Almost as soon as you tell people you’re pregnant you can expect to start hearing horror stories about how terrible people’s births have been. They say ‘it’s the worst pain ever’, ‘worse than breaking all your bones at once’. You might hear one or two people say ‘for me birth was amazing, I coped ok with the contractions and holding my new baby was the best moment of my life, I felt like a rock star.’ But in among all the other negative stories and all the images in the media of women screaming and suffering it might seem like those people were just lucky. You might hear it said that there’s no point in a birth plan, birth never goes to plan anyway, you’d just be setting yourself up for disappointment.
As a doula, I’d really like all women to know: if you feel like you would like to change the script, step out of the madness and even maybe look forward to giving birth the power is in your hands. Planning for birth might be just what you need. Information is power and regardless of what you choose to put on a birth plan or even if you choose to have one the power is in the planning stage. Knowing how birth works and what your rights are and talking through different possible ways that labour can go with your birth partner and how you would handle changes in the plan can give you the power over all the worries and fears that our society fills your head with.
Reading a good book about birth is a great place to start planning for your birth and changing how you feel. The Positive Birth Book by Milli Hill is one great example another is Bump by Kate Evans. Going to a Positive Birth Movement Group is a great place to start hearing other people’s stories of how they weren’t just lucky but they did have a positive birth. Positive births can be any kind of birth, the way you are treated and cared for and being aware of your own power in the birth situation are the keys. You should know that every choice is yours, you caregivers will give you the very best medical advice they have but you can always ask what are the alternatives and ask for more details or time to make your own decisions.
There’s a hormone that your body and brain both make it’s called oxytocin. Oxytocin does lots of things in your body, probably more than have been discovered so far. One of the things it does is to make the muscles in your uterus contract in a coordinated way. That coordinated muscle contraction is what your uterus needs to do to pull back your cervix and push out your baby (otherwise known as labour and birth). This is a system of your body (much like digestion or walking) that works much better if you don’t overthink it. Another handy function of oxytocin is it helps you feel ok about pain and it helps to encourage your body to make endorphins which actually help you feel less pain.
So here are the practical top tips for your birth plan.
- Plan to give yourself the highest possible levels of oxytocin. Oxytocin and labour and birth thrive in the same conditions as sex and romance. As Ina May Gaskin puts it ‘the energy that gets the baby in gets the baby out’. We’re talking low lights, relaxing music if you like it, lots of laughter and positive talking from someone who loves you, loving touch such as cuddles and massages. Just as we need to feel safe and loved to enjoy sex, feeling safe and loved helps us to birth more easily.
- Understand that the pain of contractions is not the same pain as the pain of injury. The pain of contractions is the overwhelming feeling of your body working the hardest it ever has. Think of when hardcore athletes say they love to feel the pain and push through the pain that’s the pain you’re feeling with contractions. Your body signalling not that something is wrong (like with an injury pain) but that everything is right. Help your birth partner know the response you need is for them to admire you like a professional athlete, not pity you like someone being damaged. It’s a really good start to helping them learn what you need from them through your labour and birth.
- Find ways that help you work with your body. You might be planning to have an epidural or gas and air or a water birth or just to bite on a piece of wood. But whatever you plan there is also going to be an early stage where you need to work with your contractions and allow your body to get working. You might be someone who likes movement or someone who finds something to repeat in your head to distract and relax you or someone who likes to really focus on breathing deep and slowly. Consider looking into antenatal classes that suit you, hypnobirthing, yoga, active birth, aquanatal anything that gives you a practical tool rather than just basic information. Check out Hampshire Doulas ideas for positive affirmations if that appeals to you.
- Remind your birth partner to respect how amazing you are giving birth and to focus on being your biggest fan not worrying about you. Help them to help you by talking about the things you find it encouraging to hear when you’re working hard and things that might annoy you. Also, help them learn how you feel about the complications and deviations from plan A that could occur during your labour and what your choices might be in those situations. Help them learn to help you ask questions and make informed decisions. Then they are prepared to accept and support your decisions on the day whatever they may be.
- Don’t forget after the birth comes life with a baby. Make a postnatal plan too. Plan to look after yourself to get the support and ask for the help you need. Plan to take it easy, live a 24-hour lifestyle when it comes to sleep and spend as much time as possible skin to skin with your baby.
A doula is someone whose support will come in all the ways that we’ve talked about here. They get to know you, support you with all the practical things you need during labour, support and encourage your birth partner so they can enjoy the birth too and always focus on how amazing you are and support your decisions whatever they may be. If you feel you would like to know more about that kind of support please feel free to get in touch with any of the Hampshire Doulas.