How I Prepared for Childbirth (incl. Postpartum)
Recently, I read a post that questioned the whole idea about writing a birth plan; arguing with the fact that childbirth is an event which can’t be planned. Although I agree with the latter – childbirth is indeed an event where we don’t know upfront which exact course it’ll take ( I guess that my first birth story is an accurate proof ;)) – still I don’t think that this is something we can use to argue against having a birth plan.
However, I think that the name doesn’t fit so instead let’s change plan to wish list. Though we may not be able to plan we can still have in mind what we wish for and how we envision our ideal birth experience. Here below, I’ll map out why I think so and how the different points translate into my personal birth experiences:
Oxytocin – The Love Hormone
It all starts with the fact that labour kicks-off with the female body secreting the hormone oxytocin which is known as “the love hormone” as it is also produced when we have sex or cuddle. Yep, you read well, it all ends with what it started, ha! However, its production slows down when we add stress to the situation, so it is helpful to clarify the following points in order to feel 100% comfortable. I say conformtable because, I don’t know how it is with you, but that’s exactly how I need to feel when having sex 😉
1. The Environment
The question is: where do you feel comfortable, where do you feel relaxed ?
If you love having a doctor and a NICU around in order to feel safe and prepared in case something bad happens, then the hospital seems like the perfect fit. Moreover, delivering in a hospital opens access to pain medication and a cesarien in case it is wanted or needed. The interior is clean and some hospitals do even offer more cozy looking birth rooms. In some countries the new mother and baby (and sometimes also the father) can even stay for a couple of days after the birth, so these are also strong points that can speak towards birthing at the hospital.
During the birth of my son we had to transfer to the hospital. I was ok with that because it was needed. Hospital staff was qualified and polite but as its members changed every six hours it felt quite unfamiliar and less personal. With beeing quite busy due to the big amount of patients they had, they did not read my file and were not aware of the fact that I had been labouring for a long time already which I could feel in the way of how some of them treated me.
The Birth Centre
If you are looking for an environment that feels cosy and less medical but that is not your home, you may go for a birth centre.
For the birth of my son, I did not want to deliver in a hospital. With the hospital staff being required to follow a protocol which can leave less room for flexibility and open the door to medical intervention – whether it’s wanted by the birthing mother or not – I was really not reassured. On the other side, as I did not know what to expect yet from labour, staying at home wasn’t an option either. Moreover, we had just moved in to our apartment which did not really feel like home yet so delivering there was really a no no for me. Instead, I decided with my man to have our baby at a birth centre, which felt like a great middle way. I liked the interior which was really cosy (think of a nice living/hotel room), access to a birth pool and other non-medical pain relief methods as well as the support from a group of maternity nurses. Of course, there was also the possibility to transfer easily to the hospital in case it was needed.
Birthing at home means that you can labour and birth in an environment that you are very familiar with. You use your own bathroom, towels and furniture. However, it depends on your home (and your neighbours ;)) whether you feel comfortable in that place. There are no rules about where you could go and what you should/shouldn’t do. Moreover, given that everything goes well there is no need to transfer by car, neither during labour nor once your baby is born. Depending on the available facilities, you can organise the birth the way you want, i.e. rent birth pool if you envision a water birth.
For my daughter’s delivery, I did not want to go back to the birth centre (too many memories were attached to that location) but I still didn’t want to go to a hospital as I really don’t appreciate sitting in a car while having contractions. Moreover, if everything goes well, in the Netherlands you don’t get to stay at the hospital once you’ve given birth but go home after 4 hours or so, so all in all, I didn’t see the point in leaving my home, the place where I feel the safest. Hence, I chose to birth my baby at home. As I wanted to give birth in the water, we rented a birth pool here in Amsterdam from De Oerbron and made sure to have all the equipment available that would be needed by the midwife and maternity nurse.
2. The Method
In an article published in the Huffington Post, childbirth was described as followed: “Giving birth requires a mother to push herself light years past her own limitations. She will be skyrocketed out of her comfort zone into a foreign land that demands strength, stamina, resilience and a shocking amount of trust – that her body really is designed to do this, that her tiny, yet-to-be-born baby is tough enough to handle all that pushing, gripping, and squeezing, and that this is an event that will eventually be over (those 35-hour labourers know exactly what I’m talking about).”
I confirm this to be true! There is not one event in my life that required me such a big amount of strength and faith like childbirth. That’s why I think it’s important to prepare for it. Whether you attend a birth preparation class, watch an educational video on Youtube, learn Yoga breathing methods or practice the Hypnobirthing method…it is definitely good to learn one of those methods in order to be able to cope with labour pain. Even if you decide to go for pain medication I can’t recommend this enough because you never know how your birth will go (i.e. very fast without leaving time pain medication) and what conditions will apply (i.e. anaesthetist is busy due to high workload at the hospital, epidural is not working…).
3. The People & The Vibe
Who do you want to be surrounded by ? Who gives you a feeling of comfort and safety ?Who does make you feel good ? Who stays calm and positive in situations that are out of our control ?
How do you feel about your gynaecologist and/or your midwife ? Do you feel respected, safe and trusted ?
Beside my man who is the rock in my life and whose presence at the birth I would never ever question, I put a lot of importance towards my midwife. In the Netherlands, midwifes hold the holy grail when it comes to childbirth; gynaecologists do only enter the scene in case something is really going wrong. So with the midwife being the one who would oversee the whole pregnancy and birth, it was clear to me that I wanted her to be someone I can trust and I feel comfortable with. During this pregnancy, I started with a regular practice but figured out at some point that the provided care was too light and not personal enough. When the birth approached, this feeling became even stronger so I changed my midwife at week 35. Today I can say that it was the best decision I’ve ever made. I went from a midwife who provided 15 minute appointments to someone whose weekly meetings took at least one hour and included personal assessment and massages to make me feel good. For me, it was very important to have a great connection to my midwife, especially as I was planning a homebirth.
Bedsides the midwife, some people want further help and hire a doula who provides customised and very personalised support before, during and after the birth. Of course, there are also other people you can add to the mix such as your mother, sister, a friend…it’s really up to you.
Once you’ve chosen your support team, I can just recommend to “brief” them on what you want/not want during your birth. By “them” I also mean your doctor and the medical staff in case you go to the hospital. Share your birth preparation method and ideal birth experience with them. Tell them your wishes and your fears. Define who will do what while you’re in labour. It’s important to let them know because once you’re birthing your baby you don’t want to have to deal with practical questions and decisions. Remember, your oxytocin needs to be flowing and asking you the wrong questions activates the wrong part of your brain which can interrupt that “loving” process 😉
4. Organise Postpartum Care
Giving birth doesn’t end with the birth of the child. The mother’s body also needs time to heal and rest. In most countries six weeks for recovering time are recommended. Therefore, it’s important to think about how you can organise that time once you’ve given birth, especially if you have already older children to take care of.
In my case, beside the daily visits from my midwife, I had one week for support by a maternity nurse who would come to my home every day for a couple of hours. It’s a common thing in the Netherlands and luckily part of the whole birthing system. I also had support from my mother and afterwards I contacted the Mothering the Mother network, a community of women who provide help such as meal trains, child care or help around the house. To complete the support circle, I also decided with my man that he would take on major household chores, bring our son to daycare…all those things which would help me relax, bond with our baby and recover more smoothly.
Nowadays, I see more and more the option to hire also a postpartum doula. This is a person who will specifically take care of you and your family and provide the care you need in that period of time.
4. Keep room for the unexpected… but stay positive!
Of course, even once you’ve thought about all these points, it can still go differently. However, when this happens, I advise to accept it as such. After all, giving birth and recovering from it are both part of life. It’s something where we don’t get to control everything and when things are out of your control, well just take them as they are and stay positive. You’ll see, at the end it’ll all be fine 😉