Every mother has a birth story.
For some, it is their greatest accomplishment — a day they dream of reliving. For others, it is a source of pain, filled with unmet expectations or even traumatic memories. Whether your recollections of labor and delivery are positive, negative or somewhere in between, having a baby is always a transformative experience. It changes us from the inside out.
Because of its life-altering nature, childbirth should not be entered into lightly. Neither should it be an event to be feared. While we can never predict what they journey may entail, we can empower ourselves with knowledge, create a plan, and work toward the kind of birth we want to look back on for the rest of our lives.
We recently held our bi-annual Labor Comfort Measures Workshop, an interactive learning experience designed by The Motherhood Collective, for women who desired to eliminate fear, expand knowledge, and empower themselves with practical tools for a positive labor. Along with their partners, participants received education and hands-on training from local birth professionals.
Here are five important takeaways from the workshop:
Believe In Your Body
Every woman was born with the natural ability to give birth; it is instinctive. Mothers-to-be simply do not hear this enough, but believing this truth is step one to overcoming the fear that often surrounds labor. Lauren Barnes, Executive Director of the Motherhood Collective, shared her perspective.
“I often equate a woman in labor to an athlete during a race. No one would yell from the sidelines, ‘You can’t do this! Give up! You don’t need to prove you’re a hero! What’s the point?!’ No, instead we’d assure the runner with positive words that reinforce her belief in her body’s ability to do great things.”
Lauren expanded upon the idea that women are innately able to give birth to their babies, citing that statistics indicate 95% of births are “normal.”
“This means, if we treated women more like athletes; preparing them with education, equipping them with training, and providing for their physical needs from the sidelines (food, drink, affirmation) we’d end up with a culture of empowered women ushered into motherhood with a clear understanding of their innate power, strength, and bravery. This is something worth cheering for,” she said.
Labor Well at Home
There are many benefits to spending the early part of your labor at home. Studies show that labor progresses faster in a safe, familiar environment. Spend this time with your partner, eating and drinking for sustenance, moving around to manage pain, and meditating. If you’re worried about waiting too long and not being able to make it to the hospital, Katie Page, CNM, shared some wisdom.
“I believe all women have an internal clock that tells them when it’s time to go. However,” she explained, “If you do end up going to the hospital and getting sent home, don’t feel like your clock was wrong.” She encourages mothers-to-be with the facts: labor can pick up in intensity and drop off, and is generally anywhere from 18-20 hours for a first-timer.
Get Familiar with Your Birthing Environment
Even when giving birth in a hospital, there are subtle ways to make the environment your own. Dim the overhead lighting, pack a string of Christmas lights, put on music, or wear a personal aromatherapy diffuser. Creating a space that brings you comfort can change your whole perspective.
Hospitals have numerous resources for laboring mothers that often go unutilized. From birthing balls to tubs and showers, know the tools available to help you find comfort. Even the hospital bed can be a tool! While lying on your back tends to stall labor, women can adjust the bed to chair position and kneel while leaning over onto the headboard...which is also a great birthing option.
Page encourages moms to use simple tools for relief. Her ideas included throwing a knotted sheet over a closed bathroom door and hanging onto it as you bend your knees and move with the contraction. Or using a rebozo sling (a pashmina scarf works, too) to relax in an optimal position for baby’s downward movement. Just make sure you have someone familiar with these techniques assisting you in labor, such as a doula, birthing coach, or labor partner who has been to a workshop and learned how to support you.
Have a Plan for Managing Pain
Writing a birth plan to document your pain management preferences is extremely helpful for the mother, partner and care providers. Movement, mindful breathing, hydrotherapy, massage, counter pressure, and nerve stimulation were discussed at Labor Comfort Measures as options for managing pain, but women were educated on their pharmacological options as well.
When the time comes to push, trust your body to finish the job. Spontaneous pushing (rather than directed pushing) is less exhausting for the mother, decreases the need for instrument-assisted deliveries, and lowers the risk of trauma to the birth canal. If you don’t want to push before you feel the urge to push, let your care provider know you’d like to wait on your body’s cues.
Many women find that a doula can provide an additional layer of support to help them manage pain and reach their goals. Local couple Kathryn and Drew Miller met their doula, Debbie Perdew, through The Motherhood Collective.
“Our goal was a natural birth, but more importantly a birth where we felt educated, supported, and confident in our ability to speak and be heard throughout the process. Debbie allowed us to have all of that,” they said.
Kathryn said her doula’s presence was instrumental in keeping her calm, relaxed, and focused.
“She also gave my husband confidence in his role and taught him specific labor techniques. We knew what we wanted our birth to be and Debbie was the education and empowerment behind those desires.”
Develop A Healthy Mindset
Going into labor with an education-based plan will maximize your chance of having a positive, memorable, and joyful birth experience. But remember that no one can predict the way your labor will play out, and the ultimate goal is a healthy mom and baby. With this in mind, a certain level of flexibility is required.
To sum up the workshop in one sentence: knowing your choices is far more important than what you choose. If your labor takes an unexpected turn, it can still be a positive experience. There are many options and possibilities. Making educated, empowered choices while being open-minded enough to alter plans when needed is a wonderful opportunity to embrace motherhood and grow as an individual.
We'd like to thank our local sponsors, without whom we could not have pulled off such a successful workshop: