If you know me know, if you've heard me ramble excitedly about how positive and empowering my experience was in giving birth to my son, you might find this next statement surprising.
The idea of having a baby used to scare me.
And not just the part about raising the baby either. Nope, the idea of growing said baby in my belly was pretty scary too. What if I screwed it up somehow? And actually giving birth? Completely terrifying.
For many years, I told people I didn't want kids. At the time, I actually believed it, hiding fervently behind my rebellious teen bravado. Who wants kids? I want to stay young forever!
And for awhile, after admitting that raising children wouldn't necessarily be all bad, I would say that I wanted to adopt someday. There are so many unwanted children in the world; why have my own when I could love one of them?
And then I got married. And while we didn't actively discuss having children for the first few years of our relationship, the topic inevitably came up. And guess what? He wanted kids of his own. And guess what else? Somehow, the idea of having babies, my own babies, with this man, the love of my live, was acceptable.
That doesn't mean it wasn't scary. The worst part was the idea of labor and childbirth. And having grown up with glossy media images of women screaming in pain, endless complications, and “typical” hospital births effectively managed by detached unfeeling doctors, the fact that I was scared isn't really surprising.
In all honesty, I didn't really allow myself to think about it much until I was actually pregnant myself. I quit taking my birth control pills at the end of 2010 and, not surprisingly, I discovered I was pregnant in the summer of 2011. As the reality set in, my mind wanted to panic, but I wouldn't let it. Pregnancy itself, I could handle. I've never smoked cigarettes, I immediately stopped my sporadic alcohol consumption, and I was already the picture of health due to a whole-foods (and vegetarian) diet and love of personal fitness.
And labor and birth? The first step in overcoming an irrational fear like mine was education. So I started reading.
And you know what? The more I read, the more comfortable I got with the idea. I read about pain, about natural (non-drug) methods of handling it, of the effects of an epidural on both mama and baby. I read about my options of where to birth: hospital, home, birth center. I read about differences in care between midwives and OBGYNs. I read about potential complications. I read about the “cascade” of interventions so commonly experienced in hospital settings. I read about prenatal nutrition and the benefits of continued exercise. I read about delayed cord clamping versus cord blood banking. I read about the potential risks of ultrasounds that nobody tells you about, and I read that even the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists only recommends them if medically indicated, and not as a routine procedure. I read about gestational diabetes. I read about circumcision. I read about being Rh negative and the use of Rhogam. I read about all of this and much, much, much more.
I read books; among others, Ina May'sGuide to Childbirth and Birthing a Better Way were indescribably helpful to me. I read blogs; Birth Without Fear and Mama Birth helped me to believe that my body could do this. I watched movies; there's a reason that anybody and everybody who is interested in natural childbirth has seen The Business of Being Born. I talked to people: my mama, my sister, my midwife, my friends.
And honestly, all of the reading I did was much more educational than the birth class I took, the one that was offered for free on the military base at Great Lakes. In that class, D and I were the only couple that had hired a midwife, the only couple that didn't plan on birthing in a hospital. I think one other woman said she didn't want pain medication (I think there were six or seven other couples taking the class with us), and one said she'd “see how long she could handle it.” One was planning a c-section (for a good reason; I think she had placenta previa). We were the only vegetarians, the only ones who knew what a doula was, the only ones who knew the names of the most commonly-used drugs for induction, the only ones who knew that a cesarean section necessitated cutting through seven layers of tissue, the only ones who knew that getting an epidural required getting a catheter too. I think we were the only ones made uncomfortable by the idea of continuous fetal monitoring requiring an electrode screwed into the scalp of my baby. We were definitely the only ones who realized that the care of a midwife is actually substantially less expensive than the traditional hospital birth route; the teacher was rather condescending when she implied that we hadn't thought through the financial ramifications of our decision, and D and I definitely did not appreciate that.
And in the end, here is what I realized.
Labor and birth are different for every woman. They are not something to be feared.
Be comfortable in your environment. If you are scared or uncomfortable, if you can't relax, your body will know it and labor will likely take longer.
You will feel contractions. They will likely be uncomfortable at the least, painful at the worst. Remember, though, that unless your contractions are artificially augmented with Pitocin or another induction drug, these contractions are caused by your body. They have a purpose, and you can handle them. Your body won't throw anything at you that you aren't capable of handling.
Your cervix will efface (thin out) and dilate (open up). This may take hours or it may take days. It will take however long your body needs it to take.
Your body will tell you when to push. When you feel that urge, follow it. Don't try to hold back, and likewise don't try to push if your body isn't telling you to.
Don't over-think the process of birth. Let the rational part of your mind step back. Your body knows what it's doing; let it happen!
Above all, believe in your own ability to birth. Your body was made to do this! Birth is normal. Birth is natural.