I like to think that I went into my birth about as well educated as a first time mom could be, but if you’ve had a baby you know how that goes. I was one of those women who read everything - and I mean everything - she could get her hands on. Now, looking back with chagrin, I see how little I really knew. Sadly, most of that was simply because I didn’t know to look into the right subjects (hint, researching nursery colors, baby toys and strollers isn’t top of the list!). Now having been through it, there are 7 things I wish I’d known before I went into my first birth.
- Educate yourself on variations and common complications of labor.
Yes, most births are a natural, physiological process. However, the unfortunate reality is that sometimes complications do arise. A 2008 study found that “...nine out of 10 women giving birth suffered complications ranging from ectopic pregnancies...to perineal tears during delivery...” That’s 94.1% of women!
What should you know? Look into the definitions and possible side effects of:
- Meconium staining
- Posterior position
- Back labor
- Vacuum extractions
I know reading about these subjects when you’re pregnant can be intimidating, at best - terrifying at worst, but in the event that one of these complications or interventions becomes necessary, you will be glad you were familiar with your options. Take my story, for example — it didn't occur to me to research complications, and I had no idea what was happening when I ended up with an epidural, a vacuum extraction, an episiotomy and a 4th degree tear.
- Be prepared to advocate for yourself and ask questions during labor.
Ask what is going on with your body when you aren’t sure or need some extra reassurance. Ask why procedures are being performed. Talk to your care providers and let them know what kind of birth you would like to have before things get too intense. Make sure your partner knows to speak up for you if you can’t. It's one of the most important things they can do to support you during labor.
Remember, no matter how in-line with your beliefs about birth they are, your healthcare providers aren't mind readers! If you want something during your labor, you need to ask for it. If you are denied, find out why. Studies have found that women have higher rates of satisfaction in their birth when they felt they had some control in the process. With that in mind, don’t be afraid to advocate for yourself to help you achieve a more satisfying birth experience.
- Don't set your heart on anything for your labor and birth.
Before my birth, I thought I was open to whatever course my labor would take. It turns out I wasn’t! Part way into my labor, I realized that I had set my heart on getting to labor in water. When I wasn’t allowed in the tub, I was devastated. Laboring there had been my key pain relief and relaxation plan. Suddenly my whole process was derailed, and I felt unprepared and afraid.
Because I was so determined to get a particular thing in my labor, I set myself up to be disappointed. Being open and accepting of your body’s unpredictable course and outcome will help you avoid birth trauma. Instead of setting your heart on a particular “kind” of birth or coping technique, be truly open to a variety of options. Pursue the course you want but keep in mind that birth rarely goes as planned.
- Pick your battles.
Sometimes doctors, hospitals or nurses aren't always perfectly in line with the way you envision birth should be. When this happens it is essential to decide what’s important to you during your birth and to concentrate on those few issues. You can't fight everything you disagree with; it's simply not realistic. To achieve a minimally stressful birth, decide what things are truly important to you, and don’t sweat the small stuff.
Reading articles on how to care for your infant is great, but it can undermine your confidence and make everything sound much harder than it is. So many people told me how things “fall into place” and you “just know what to do” after the birth of your little cherub, but of course I didn’t believe them! I stressed and studied and read and watched videos and wondered how on earth I would take care of a precious baby.
But you know what? Things did fall into place. I did “just know”. To a certain extent, just like everyone said, mothering is instinctual. Changing a diaper in real life is far easier than reading how to do it or even watching a video! You just start trying things when baby cries until something pacifies her. Knowing the basics like safety and general care of baby is necessary but stressing that you won’t know how to care for her and over-studying is not.
- Postpartum Depression can occur anytime during the first year.
I felt fabulous for the first two months of my baby’s existence. And then...I started feeling angry, exhausted, moody, confused, stupid, and completely unhappy. I was confounded. I’d been on the lookout for postpartum depression in the first weeks following my daughter’s birth, but when nothing happened, I thought I’d dodged the bullet.
Wrong. Postpartum depression can occur anytime in the first year after your baby’s birth, and it’s important to seek treatment regardless of when it manifests.
- Be ready to fight the guilt.
Don't worry if you don't know what I am talking about. You will once you are holding your little bundle and are suddenly faced with your new life as a mother. Mommy guilt is feeling guilty about everything...no matter what. For example, after I had my daughter I felt guilty for resting while she slept, but if I got up and did something I felt guilty for not resting. I felt guilty for letting someone else watch her so that I could spend some uninterrupted time with my husband, and I felt guilty for neglecting him if I didn't. I felt guilty if I didn't use all natural products on my baby, but I felt guilty for spending a ton on them if I did. Get the picture? You can't win. And that’s ok. You are a mother - a kind, loving, responsible mother who makes the best decisions she can in the situations with which she is faced.
Studying for your birth and parenthood is vitally important, but it is even more important to prepare for the right things. Having been through it once before, I know now what I should have devoted my time to researching. Birth doesn't always go the way you want and you need to know how to handle it when things go awry. You need to be ready to advocate for the birth you want and ask questions about your labor. Even as you take control, you also need to be open to the course your body takes, even if it doesn’t perfectly match your expectations. Deciding ahead of time which battles are worth fighting will help with that, as will avoiding stress over how to care for a newborn (just remember to keep an eye out for postpartum depression!). Finally, and most importantly, remember that the only measure of a mother that matters is that she make her baby feel loved.
What do you wish you had known before giving birth? Share it in the comments below, or shoot me an email, and I’ll gather up the best responses for another article down the road!