In birth, ignorance isn't bliss

The exact path your birth will take is unpredictable. With so many variables in the process, it can feel overwhelming to attempt preparation for all of the possible twists and turns you’ll encounter during pregnancy, birth, and postpartum. While it may seem like the best (only?) option is to go in without expectations and follow the lead of your care providers, I want to encourage you to take the reins on your body and your birth experience. You absolutely cannot control every aspect of your birth, but you can educate and prepare yourself for the experience.

When meeting a potential client, I always ask what your plans are for childbirth education. I want to know what you’re going to know about labor and birth. I provide informational support during pregnancy and birth, but that does not replace childbirth education. And not all childbirth education courses are created equally. If you haven’t already booked classes, I’m happy to provide referrals to instructors/courses that will meet your needs.

One of the advantages to preparing yourself for childbirth is that you’re more likely to have an empowering experience when you feel confident about your decisions. You’re in a totally different state of mind during labor, and having to learn about an intervention for the first time when you’re laboring can be distracting and unnerving. It’s hard to really take in the information that’s being shared (or ask for it if it’s not being shared) when you’re laboring. If you’re prepared for what may come, you’ll be clearer on what’s best for you in the moment and in the long run. And all of that education and preparation will hopefully lead to a more positive birth experience and a stronger start into parenthood.

She’s a human, not an incubator

Many expectant parents make comments along the lines of, “…as long as the baby is healthy” when talking about their upcoming birth. As a mother of two, I wholeheartedly understand wanting healthy babies, but somehow we have created such a babycentric culture that not only friends and family, but also mothers themselves, believe that their mental and physical health have a lower value than that of their child’s. It starts when a woman is pregnant and complete strangers think it’s okay to feel her belly. She’s treated like a vessel instead of a human who may be totally uncomfortable with you touching her body.

Then, as the women thinks about how she might want her birth experience to unfold, she may weigh her options in terms of what is “best for baby.” These sentiments may be echoed or strengthened by her care provider, family, or even her own partner. Of course the baby’s health is important, but did the mother’s lose its value the moment the baby was conceived? There are two lives to consider, and a person shouldn’t be treated as though they are selfish or heartless if they take their own body into consideration.

The postpartum period seems to be a time when a mother’s mental and physical health gets most neglected. It pains me when women who’ve recently birthed are treated as though they’ve served their purpose in delivering this new life to the world, that they’re now an empty incubator, and all of the attention turns to the newborn. New moms need care. They need to know that they have support as they focus nearly all of their energy on caring for their baby. And while mom’s eyes are on the newborn, close family and friends need to remember to keep theirs on the new mom. Is she eating well? Is there something you could do around the house for her so she can feed and rest with the baby? Does she seem overwhelmed or anxious? Does she know that you have her back?

New babies are squishy and adorable and exciting. Feed them and hold them and talk to them. Respect when they’re upset or tired, revel in their joy, and celebrate their milestones. New moms are awesome. Feed them and hold them (if they want to be touched) and talk to them. Respect when they’re upset or tired, revel in their joy, and celebrate their milestones. These are two lives, two humans who are equally important to each other and to the world.

Intuition in pregnancy and birth

In my experience, as the baby grows and your body changes in pregnancy, so does your intuition relative to the wellbeing of yourself and baby. And while many people seem keenly aware of and reactive to what their gut tells them in other aspects of life, some find it hard to do so when they’re pregnant. I think part of this may stem from the fact that everything is so new with a first pregnancy, so you tend to rely on books or others’ advice to decide if what you’re experiencing is normal. I strongly suggest trusting your gut and bringing any concerns and questions, no matter how silly they may feel, to your care provider. Of course, you can also run them past your doula first if you feel like you need a filter for all of the questions that may arise. Your care provider should be willing to listen to your concerns and answer questions. If you feel like you’re not being heard, it’s never too late to consider interviewing and possibly switching providers.

During labor, being in tune with what your mind and body are telling you is also important. For example, maybe you’ve been on your back in the bed, but you feel like you should get up and change positions. It could be that your baby is trying to move to an optimal birthing position and your body wants to help the baby along. Listening to your body comes into play during the pushing phase of labor. ACOG states: “In the absence of an indication for expeditious delivery, women ... may be offered a period of rest of 1–2 hours (unless the woman has an urge to bear down sooner) ...”* This means that some people will rest before they begin the pushing phase, and there are cases when it is okay to do so. Most of the time, you can also listen to your body in terms of how you push. Again, from ACOG: “When not coached to breathe in a specific way, women push with an open glottis. In consideration of the limited data regarding outcomes ..., each woman should be encouraged to use the technique that she prefers and is most effective for her.”*

So while books and Facebook groups may be your first stop when you have questions, don’t forget that each pregnancy is unique. Your intuition is important and you should always feel safe sharing information with and asking questions of your care provider and birth partners. You know best how and what you’re feeling- it is your body, your pregnancy and your birth.


Doulas and partners

A common concern among people considering a birth doula is that a partner's role will be diminished or replaced altogether.  In reality, a doula can and should enhance your partner's role and make their presence at the birth even more special and helpful.  Your partner knows you better than anyone else in the room, and maybe even in the world.  Your doula knows the ins and outs of birth, the stages of labor, and the different emotional and physical needs that may arise during these times. So when you combine these two forces, both the partner and the doula are better able to serve you. 

Maybe your partner is giving you a massage and, while you feel like you need their physical touch, what he or she is doing is REALLY not working.  A doula can suggest other ways to provide physical comfort. Or your partner can tell from the look in your eyes that you've hit a wall, but neither of you know what to try next.  A doula help move you into a new position that might be better for you and the baby, or maybe change something about the setting in the room to make you feel more at ease.  It could also be the case that your partner goes into total deer in headlights mode as you begin moving along deeper into labor.  They have never seen you act the way you are and feel scared, helpless, and probably pretty clueless.  Your birth doula is there to not only support you as the birthing person, but to support your partner in their role and make sure they feel as helpful and connected to you as possible.

As your doula, I would never try to replace your partner.  I want to help them be the best they can be so you both reflect positively on your partnership in bringing baby into the world. Check out this quick article for more info on how doulas and partners work together.