Preparing for the birth of your first child is, for many, the most intense period of their life so far. The melting pot of emotions includes the extremes of blind excitement and complete terror, plus everything in between. One minute you find yourself daydreaming about chubby toes and how much you can’t wait to smooch and nibble them and the next, you’re plunged into the icy chill of fear that you’re making a huge mistake, life is never going to be the same again and you just know you’re not and never will be ready to birth a human being out your vagina or belly.
Then we have to navigate our views and ‘readiness’ for childbirth. Many outside factors feed into this, including:
• Practical Organisation- is the birth bag/box all packed etc, Do you know who you are calling and when, is travel, pet care, postnatal support arranged?
• Health & Clinical Experiences- how supportive are the professionals you have? How is your pregnancy progressing clinically?
• Emotions - How excited, frightened, calm are you? How mentally prepared are you? Have you targeted this area and worked to turn worries into mental power?
• Birth Partners - again, how supportive & prepared are your team? Are they confident in advocating your birth plan? Do they help or hinder your preparation?
It can be a lonely time, perhaps your friends haven’t began to have their babies yet or you could be geographically isolated from your support network. I wanted to put together a post to help your prepare yourself practically and emotionally for birth. The following suggestions are not exhaustive but they are doorways and tools you can use as you progress in your pregnancy.
By understanding topics such as consent & coercion and how they translate in the birth space you are arming yourself with the most effective tool you could have in your quest for a smooth, respected and positive birth experience.
KNOW YOUR RIGHTS
This is always the first piece of advice I give any pregnant person/ couple & their birth team (if they ask).
It’s imperative that you know your fundamental human rights before you begin to discuss your care in pregnancy & birth. By understanding topics such as consent & coercion and how they translate in the birth space you are arming yourself with the most effective tool you could have in your quest for a smooth, respected and positive birth experience.
With this knowledge you can navigate your options for birth while understanding that you are in complete control over each decision. You decide where you birth, when others can and cannot touch/examine you, which positions you want to be in (and stay in) and who you want with you etc. The list really is endless but the overarching rule is YOU ARE IN CHARGE.
There are many resources which discuss this very topic but my absolute favourite is the book Human Rights in Childbirth by Rebecca Schiller. This book can be downloaded onto your smartphone or kindle as well as ordered in paper copy. Another book that details the topic of autonomy and your birth rights is Am I Allowed by Beverley A Lawrence Beech.
A really easy to digest list of factsheets are available on Birthrights website. They can even be printed and popped into your notes.
It may seem that I am preparing you for a human rights war here, it really isn’t quite as dramatic as that. However the reality is that we are still quite a bit away from providing autonomous care within our maternity system. There is still a lot of language such as ‘you’d have to’, ‘we wouldn’t allow’, ‘we need you to’ used during antenatal appointments and on our labour wards. This is an environmental issue where care givers, who should be aware of a pregnant persons right to decline interventions or request certain care, consciously or unconsciously use coercive language. This could be happening for a number of reasons but that’s not a can of worms I intend to open today. Knowing that it happens and how you can prepare for it is enough for now.
Please get in touch if you have any questions or are currently experiencing some issues around this point
Forget Everything You Know
As Nicola Mahdiya Goodall discusses in her wonderful Ted Talk ‘Reframing Birth’, our media and society have taught us to fear birth. Many approach birth in complete terror due to the dramatic and frightening portrayals they’ve seen in movies, tv shows and books.
It’s so important to recognise that these images of birth were created with the sole purpose of getting a reaction from the viewer. We love a bit of drama! Knowing that the reality of birth couldn’t be in such stark contrast is the first step to reprogramming your brain. You (and probably your birth partner) are gonna have to completely rewire the way you react to the thought of birth. To do this you’re going to flood yourself with real positive birth stories, watch real birth videos (NOT ONE BORN EVERY MINUTE) and visualise the smooth, positive birth you’re going to have.
Get following positive birth Instagram accounts with real birth images, desensitise yourself to pictures of crowning baby heads bulging through stretched, taught labia and newborn gooey goodness with vernix, blood and amniotic fluid covering the pink/blue/purple (all normal) bundles.
Yes birth is intense, yes birth can be messy but my goodness it’s fantastic when you’re prepared, when you’re excited and when you understand what’s really coming.
To flood yourself with birth stories head to your local Positive Birth Movement meet-up. Search for ‘positive birth video’, ‘gentle birth’, ‘hypno birth’ and even ‘homebirth’ on YouTube to find a treasure trove of real birth videos which demonstrate how beautiful, calm and powerful it really can be.
My fave Instagram accounts are:
Empowered Birth Project
Badass Mother Birther
And, of course, my own Jen Muir Badass Birth
some great hashtags to search are #childbirthwithoutfear & #stopcensoringbirth (be aware that the latter does contain graphic birth images)
Assemble Your Birth Team
A birth team that’s prepared, knowledgable and supportive are among the most important things you can have with you as you birth. Way more important than the handheld fan, the lip balm, the freshly washed nightshirt or the snacks (which are bloody important too btw).
When you have a confident birth partner/s you can relax into your zone safe in the knowledge that your needs with be attended, the right environment will be created and your birth plan will be respected. This does mean that your birth team require more than a basic knowledge of the birthing process and, as discussed above, your rights. They should be able to comfortably discuss your wishes and worries with your care provider. This does mean that many women are opting to have a Doula/independent birth professional with them as they birth their babies. A doula brings a plethora of techniques, knowledge and experience meaning they are there should you need practical, emotional or informational support throughout your pregnancy and labour. The magical bonus here is that your birth partner is then able to focus on you and that the weight of being the only ‘go-to’ is lifted.
Many people opt to take a parent in along with their partner. Mums, sisters and/or Dads can be wonderful birth partners but please remember that at least one of your birth partners should be well versed in your birth plan, why you’ve made these decisions, what you will and won’t compromise on and what your contingency plans are should you need them.
In a homebirth setting you can have as many birth attendants as you wish, however in most hospitals you are usually limited to two. You may still be able to swap people over, for example Mum and a partner, Mum swaps with doula when required, partner swaps with mum etc. Your extras can be in the waiting area or can head home for rest and shower etc.
Get Your Head Out The Sand
A common preparation method for soon to be first time parents is to adopt the Ostrich Approach. Head is buried in the sand and the famous last words of ‘we will just see how it goes’ are dished out to anyone who enquires how ‘are you feeling about the birth?’.
I cannot tell you how many people I have spoken with people who lament that their choice to not appropriately prepare physically, mentally and informationally for their birth resulted in an experience lacking in autonomy, knowledge and power.
Enroll in local birth prep classes, there are lots to choose from. Join in some pregnancy yoga, you’ll be amazed at how much you learn and how much they build your confidence.
You can also attend couples hypnobirthing workshops!
Yes this does all sound like a bit of money but truly this investment will pay dividends and many educators etc will accept payment plans.
Believe me your birth experience is more important than any of the fancy baby clothes, faddy gadgets and mega travel systems you can buy. #soznotsoz
Below I have included my ultimate birth prep list to help you in the packing of your homebirth box or hospital bag. I’ve tried to ensure this list is as extensive as you’ll get but if I have missed anything please comment below.
I hope this posts helps in your prep. If you have any questions please get in touch either in the comments below, via my contact page or through any of my social media.
This Birth Story has been shared by a woman I was honoured to work with on the Badass Birth Method Course. I adored working with her and her partner. I’m delighted to bring her story to you.
She has opted to remain anonymous.
Positive Birth Story
I had spent much of my pregnancy refusing to think about this birth due to fear of a repeat of my first traumatic birth four years ago. I was seeing a different midwife at each appointment and was not going to write a birth. I couldnt even read about giving birth. Looking back I can see my state of mind and the fear that consumed me could have led to a self fulfilling prophecy. Luckily deep down I must have known something within me needed to change. I just didn't know then what an amazing journey I was embarking on. One that has changed me so much as a person. Firstly I forced myself to start reading The Positive Birth Book by Milli Hill and what a turning point this was.
A few years previously someone on Facebook mentioned they had a doula supporting them with their birth. The idea of someone I knew being there, advocating for me (I felt the midwife didn't listen to me or respect me first time around) resonated with me.
The Birth of Reuben
A day before I turned 37 weeks pregnant I was due into the hospital for a scan, to see if Reuben had turned yet as he was lying breech throughout my whole pregnancy. I’d already prepared an argument in my head about not wanting an ECV (they sounded painful, distressing for Mum and Baby, and not always successful) so I lay on the sonographers bed that afternoon in hope that he’d turned. But of course, he hadn’t! So we went down to the consultant to discuss my options, and that’s where things escalated a lot quicker than I’d expected.
The Birth of Robyn
I found out I was pregnant in October 2017 and I knew from the very start that I wanted to to have a natural birth. Unfortunately from the point that we announced our pregnancy at the end of December, all of my mummy friends and colleagues had already started to fill my head with horror gory birthing stories and i knew i needed to hear some positive words if I was going to achieve my goal. I did some online searching and followed some links on positive birthing and birthing without fear. Through my online searches I found the Scottish Doula Jen Muir of 'Badass Birthing' and after a short email chat with her, I signed myself and my husband up to a workshop she was leading in March 2018, Glasgow.
Our Birth Story
Our birth story...
Well We didn't make it to our homebirth and we didn't make it into the birth pool... BUT I Had the most incredible and healing birth that I didn't know I needed so badly.
So on Thursday I woke up and a usually 3 year old sets the pace of life and I kinda thought I had leaked my pee somehow. Anyway I stuck a pad on just Incase and went about my day. I dyed my hair...thankfully lol!
I was leaking on and off all day but tried not to think too much of it I was 37+5 weeks.
Bed time for toddler face came and took a while but all settled in bed 9pm and just dosing off and the trickle started...and didn't feel like it was gonna stop. I literally lept out of bed.and woooosh!
The story of you, my darling, my little love.
My due date was March 12th, country was covered with snow and stress levels were HIGH! The 12th came and passed as did the next, pretty much, two weeks! Two failed stretch and sweeps and an induction booked for the 24th! WORST NIGHTMARE! I had gone from longing for labour, being so excited about my waters breaking, rushing to hospital and having a natural water birth to a drug induced labour and birth, I was gutted to say the least. We got to the hospital on Saturday morning...
Jess’ Homebirth Story
On the 23/05/17 at 40+4 weeks pregnant I woke up at 4am feeling a little disheartened labour still hadn’t begun after I'd had a few birthy twinges and a show the night before, I did some reflexology to help bring on labour and fell back asleep. I then woke at 7am to some mild surges, not really knowing if it was actually labour or if it was just another twinge, it just felt like a very mild tightening in my lower back. An hour later I was sure this was definitely going to be the day we meet our baby. Mild surges were coming every 10 minutes or so.
The birth of Indio Wild - By Holly Vincent
Indio Wild, this is for you, so when you grow up you will know exactly how you came into this world and how insanely proud I am of you, of us, our journey. It is magic.
You are a rainbow baby, a double rainbow baby, infact. Before your soul was arrived, we lost two sweet babes that never quite made it earthside. It was heart-shattering. But you came very quickly after, and you filled my heart with equal parts love and worry. I was scared that you would leave me, but you stayed.
Sitting firmly at the top of most women’s birth concerns is that niggling or sometimes screaming fear that she will ‘tear’ during second stage (pushing).
This worry can be so acute for some that it can actually effect their anxiety levels, causing their body to become tense and actually make them more likely to require stitches. So by just knowing the best way to avoid tears you’re reducing your anxiety and therefore already less likely to experience a problem!
I have created the below list in an effort to help you reduce your anxiety and also to provide you with practice tools and ideas you can use now or during your birth. Enjoy!