Natural childbirth is, well, natural, isn't it? Shouldn't women just be able to jump right into birth and know what to do? Shouldn't she just get out of the way of her body and let instinct take over? You can't practice for that, right?
I wrote an article earlier this week for women who feel like they're more anxious, logical, and “Type-A.” These women don't want to just “let instinct take over.” That's not going to happen – they're going to worry, and feel more and more stressed out and worried. A nebulous concept of “just go with the flow” doesn't mean anything to them.
In fact, it doesn't mean a lot to most women. Most of us don't understand what birth is, what a natural, normal birth looks like, or how we should go about preparing for that birth.
A lot of women will tell you they just read some books, gritted their teeth, and made their way through labor however they could manage.
A Different Experience
I've had four natural births so far – what I would consider four wonderful births. But my fourth baby's birth was by far the most amazing experience for me. During his birth I actually worked with him and his efforts to open my body so he could reach my arms.
I wasn't just trying to “bear it” until he was born. I wasn't just moving to try and make myself more comfortable and labor more manageable. I was actually doing what I needed to do to open up so he could come down the birth canal.
The biggest difference between his birth and my three previous births was that I practiced before his birth. I did this in a couple of major ways.
The first way I practiced was to visualize – every day. I really started visualizing once I got into my second trimester (when the pregnancy just feels more “real” all around), and especially once we started our childbirth preparation. But visualization is a powerful technique because it essentially lets you practice for your birth over and over and over again… and your birth goes just how you want it.
You should visualize from the first person – so picture things as if you were looking with your eyes (don't look down upon yourself as if you were watching you in a movie). Imagine where you want your baby to be born. How you want labor to start and how you want yourself to deal with it. How you want to act during each contraction, during transition, and during the pushing stage. Who you want there and how you want them to act. Picture these details in full color, vividly.
At first this may be hard, but as you go through other aspects of birth preparation you'll form a clearer picture in the eye of your mind. Things may change over time, or they may stay pretty much the same. It depends on you. Sometimes visualizing will help you make choices you're having a hard time making. Sometimes a fear will come up that you'll work through. And sometimes things will seem just right 🙂
Visualization is powerful.
Developing the skills you need to work with your body and give birth to your baby is an often-overlooked part of pregnancy. In cultures of the past, young women, even girls, were actually taught about birth. Many things done in these societies – coming of age celebrations, dancing, attending the births of family members, were to help young women learn what they needed to know for their own births.
Today, we are not taught how to give birth. We are taught that when we get pregnant, we go to the doctor (or the midwife), and maybe take a childbirth class. We're taught to basically starve our babies (so we only gain the prescribed amount of weight) and we're taught that we should obey the doctors and the nurses. I'm thankful there are some great books out there now that give us the truth – but even most mainstream pregnancy books just preach the doctor and conventional pregnancy advice. Doctors tell you to read a couple of carefully selected books, listen to them, and that's all you need.
Women are told to take a backseat to the medical establishment, and that when the day comes, the doctor will “deliver” you.
Things have changed a lot throughout history – we went from no participation in birth, to doctors just coming into the birthing rooms, to the age of “twilight sleep” where women were drugged through birth, to a time where things were a little more open and families were expected to be skilled, to the height of the natural childbirth movement and a lot of “go with the flow,” to todays present climate where the c-section rate is skyrocketing and I think women are just confused.
So what needs to give? Women need to prepare for birth. Practice for birth, if you will. It's not the doctor's responsibility to give you all your prenatal care and then deliver you and your baby on that fateful day. It's not your midwife's job to shepherd you through pregnancy and guide you through your birth.
This is your birth, and your baby. And only you can prepare for it. You need to be ready for what it brings. Your birth team may be robust and truly wonderful – and that's a blessing – but don't give it all up to them.
If you understand what to do during labor and birth, things will go smoothly all around.
The way to know what to do is to learn birth skills – the wisdom that all young women used to be taught… and that almost nobody is taught now.
Do you hear the words “trust your body” but don't exactly understand what that means? Who are you? What is your body? How do it work, how does it open, how does it let your baby out? Does your body work exactly like that video you watched in childbirth class?
The answer to that question is “no.” You have a unique body. Discovering birth skills and practicing them throughout the latter months of your pregnancy helps you figure out exactly what causes your body to open. Does a squat help you, or maybe putting a leg up on a chair? Could the hands-and-knees position work best for you? You find these things out by practicing, learning what opens you, and then practicing that position again.
In labor, you naturally use these positions and skills that proved effective for you. You know what truly opens you up so the baby moves down and out – you're not just moving to try and avoid pain. You may have to deal with pain, but if you're moving in ways that open you up, you know it's pain with a purpose, and that you are working with your baby.
There are other aspects of practicing for your birth – breathing, learning how to communicate with your birth partner, etc. And reading books, watching birth videos, etc. are a big part of preparation (that's gathering information). I don't want this article to be endless so I'll wrap up now – but know that actually working with birth skills is the key understanding your own birthing body – and helping your baby move down and out into your arms.