According to studies cited by PATTCh, an organization dedicated to the Prevention and Treatment of Traumatic Childbirth (www.pattch.org), 25 to 34 per cent of women report that their births were traumatic.
Everyone comes to the path of childbirth with different values, needs, and desires. There are no two pregnant women alike. As radically different as "ideal" birth dreams are from woman to woman, most agree that the experience of birth matters to them.
But what if birth goes differently from what you had hoped?
As a doula and childbirth educator for over 22 years, I have seen some of the hopes and dreams women nurture during pregnancy dashed violently against the rocks of surprise.
Here are five ways to approach your birth day that will decrease the possibility of not only disappointment, but of avoidable trauma. They will also potentially increase your chances of feeling like a rock star about your birth.
1) Have Realistic Expectations
Upon hearing women recount their birth stories, it is apparent that many believe a labour that lasted 18 to 24 hours was long. In fact, 24 hours is normal for a first birth experience.
It will serve you better to expect your labour to be on the longer and harder side. This will inspire you to mobilize some techniques to help you pace yourself. Patience is a key element in coping with labour.
When your expectations meet the reality of a normal labour, you will not react with fear or concern. You will be more prone to remain relaxed, which actually helps you to labour more efficiently. It tends to be psychologically easier on women to discover they are more advanced in their labour than they thought (providing they are in an environment that feels safe to them).
If you expect your body will open according to a formula that can be dictated by an app, believing that times of contractions go according to a dependable curve and can predict how close to full dilation and delivery you are, you could potentially a) think you are WAY farther along than you actually are, which is mojo crushing news to hear when labour is intense, or b) birth in the car.
A clock or an app can never tell you when your baby will arrive. You will very likely know when it is time to take labour seriously because your body will tell you.
2) Prepare for the Unexpected
It is a good idea to have some solid coping skills under your belt in order to meet whatever labour throws at you with confidence.
You may not end up with the natural birth you'd hoped for. You could give birth too quickly to get that epidural you wanted. Or, you unfortunately find your epidural doesn't work quite the way you thought it would. You may not have read the chapter in your birth books on Cesarean, end up needing one, and experience more anxiety than necessary because you didn't have an idea of what to expect.
Take good, unbiased, evidence-based prenatal classes that respect personal choice and furnish you with simple labour coping techniques. Know your options at your place of birth (including for your contingency plans), because without clearly understanding what is available to you and what your rights are, your options are limited.
Leaving it all up to chance with an "it will be what it will be, the experts will decide everything" attitude can deny you the opportunity to truly own your experience. I have found this approach to have a higher likelihood of leading to disappointment and trauma.
Practice your breathing and relaxation, which can be applied to any birth situation, expected or not. Ensure your birth partner knows some good massage techniques to help with comfort. Be open to everything and attached to nothing. Stay centred.
3) Find Your Centre
At the end of the day, no matter how you end up at the big moment of delivery, it is often the baby who decides how they need to come into the world.
You can indeed influence the quality of your birth experience with good diet, good prenatal care, good prenatal education, and a positive attitude which affirms that the normal birth process generally works magnificently. But you cannot control the outcome. It is ultimately a mystery.
What you can do, is practice having some mastery over your responses to what is going on inside you and around you. You can start now. When something hurts or gets on your nerves, take a deep breath and repeat to yourself "Nothing can disturb my peace," until you actually feel anchored to the changeless peace that rests beneath every experience. Think of it like being the whole ocean instead of just the waves.
This way, you learn to discern that whatever is going on in your field of experience is just one small part of any given moment, and it too shall pass. Being centred helps you to refrain from jumping down the rabbit hole of fear and tension in response to the challenges labour provides. This will serve you as you work through the sensations of your birth experience, as well as in difficult parenting moments.
Your ability to access this centre is the greatest tool to have when contractions start coming on strong, or waves of anxiety threaten to crash in on the day of your planned C-section.
Being centred doesn't mean you will behave with Zen like calm. It just means that while you're coping with labour in whatever way you do (yelling being a perfectly valid way), you feel connected to a source of inner strength and self-trust.
4) Trust Yourself
Having witnessed hundreds of births, I can tell you that in pregnancy, birth, and motherhood, women often develop uncanny intuition when it comes to their bodies and their babies. They may doubt it, as intuition is not something we as a culture have a lot of practice validating within ourselves, but it is there nonetheless.
As a young pregnant woman, I was amazed at how intuitive I felt about my needs for birth. I am glad I trusted them, as I sense my birth experiences would have turned out differently had I not.
As a mother of four, I rely a lot on my gut when it comes to making parenting decisions, and you will too
As you and your baby are a symbiotic unit, it isn't a stretch of the imagination to realize there is a deep connection between the two of you, and can lend to your having insider information about what is best for your situation.
5) Get Support
Ensure the people you have on your birth team know what you want, what your greatest concerns are, and are prepared to stand by your wishes whenever possible. They should take time to address your questions and concerns, listen to you, explain your options, and support your choices.
The Cochrane Review, a well known medical journal states: "Continuous support in labour increased the chance of a spontaneous vaginal birth....and women were more satisfied."
Support can come in the form of a friend, a family member, or a professional doula who is trained and experienced in providing information, comfort measures, and empathetic guidance to women and their partners throughout labour and delivery.
Having felt supported, heard, understood, loved, and upheld as active participants in their decision making process wherever possible is what women report helped them feel good about their birth experiences...even if they didn't go as expected.
On the day your little bundle of joy arrives, it is my greatest hope that you feel like a rock star...no matter what! Because your birth experience truly matters.