Most women don’t think much about giving birth in their first trimester. If you’re newly pregnant, you’re probably just trying to keep your lunch down or thinking about how to tactfully bow out of after-work cocktails without raising suspicions. You may be more worried about miscarriage than an unnecessary c-section at this stage in the game. Totally understandable.
But often I hear women at the end of their pregnancy wondering if they might have made some other choices had they known X,Y, or Z about childbirth at some earlier point. So I came up with some thoughts for why it can be a good idea to get into birth sooner than you might expect:
1. You may want to switch care-providers. The ob/gyn you’ve been seeing for perfunctory pap smears may or may not be the right person to care for you in labor. Ask your doctor now what his or her c-section, induction and episiotomy rates are. Ask about birth. How does the conversation go? Does your doctor shut down your curiosity? Or engage with you? Reading about different philosophies of birth now can help you make a good decision about a care provider before the end of pregnancy, when it’s harder to switch practices.
2. Maybe a midwife is a good choice for you. The word “midwife” is not familiar to many Americans, yet a midwife is often a great choice for an expecting mom. Midwives do all that obstetricians do except for surgery. (If you need surgery, they work with obstetricians who perform them.). They do all prenatal care, they prescribe meds, order tests … they work in and out of hospitals, depending on the care provider. In general, midwifery care involves fewer medical interventions that obstetric care. But women absolutely do get medications — including pain medication — while under the care of midwives. (In other words, midwives are not just for ‘natural birth types.’)
3. Eating well and getting exercise now can prevent complications in childbirth later. Obviously there are lots of good reasons to eat well and work out during pregnancy, but I find that often, in our culture, women are told to lose weight for SUPERFICIAL reasons more often than for reasons to do with good health and minimizing pain or discomfort. Maintaining a healthy weight and avoiding refined sugars in pregnancy can be hard at times, but the kick-backs can be monumental; a lower chance of interventions, including c-sections, in childbirth and a quicker recovery are two perks.
4. The hospital where you’ll deliver may be perfect, or not so great/convenient. Some hospitals are fantastic for a high-risk pregnancy or a pregnancy with specific needs (multiples, etc.), and some are better suited for a low-risk, low-intervention birth with bath tubs and showers for moms to labor in as well as the option of an epidural. Also, what’s the location of the hospital? Sometimes it’s worth driving a distance to a hospital you love, but if it’s a complicated commute do you want to stick with it or change providers/hospitals now?
5. You’ll likely need to deprogram yourself of scary images of childbirth … and that can take a little take time. We’ve all seen lots of Hollywood movies where birth looks like A Screaming Emergency. Becoming familiar with how this bodily function works can reduce fear and make it all seem like the normal life event that it is. Birth may not be a walk in the park, but it is a normal physiological event. Reading lots of birth stories can help: Try the Birth Interview Project or any of the books by Ina May Gaskin.
6. It’s never too soon to educate yourself about what’s true and what’s whack when it comes to birth. There are so many myths surrounding childbirth, you may as well start sorting fact from fiction now. One myth is that if you’re totally unafraid, you’ll have no pain. (Yes, fear can enhance pain, but women who are totally unafraid of birth can still feel pain in labor — I’ve seen it happen!) Another myth is that a c-section is safer than a vaginal birth. Another myth is that an epidural has no risks. Another myth is that the epidural has tons of risks. . (An epidural has more or less risk depending on the circumstances under which you get it). So look at childbirthconnection.org or The Big Book of Birth or Sheila Kitzinger’s birth book for really good, evidence-based information.
7. You may want a doula, and the good ones can get booked up fast. A doula is a labor support person who can help you throughout labor and reduce the chance of interventions, including labor inducing medications and c-section.
8. Because you don’t want to be 38 weeks along and suddenly realize you’re with the wrong doctor at a crappy hospital without any real understanding of WTF is going to happen in labor and only vague images from dramatic TV shows and horror birth stories from sadistic or otherwise overly dramatic co-workers. I know this one is redundant, but I’m just sayin’.
9. Childbirth is not just about the day it happens. It’s about the end of pregnancy, it’s about the beginning of motherhood. It’s about your body, your brain and your life. It’s also very much about who you’re with. Preparation, loving support, continuous care… these all help make this tremendous physical and emotional transition a smooth and meaningful one. (Or at least one that will not linger in a bad or traumatizing way.)
10. Because birth is actually really cool. Pregnancy and birth can certainly involve lots of discomfort, but check it out: Giving birth is unbelievably powerful. Our bodies are wicked cool for being able to pull this off, and lots of people who write about childbirth will remind you of this over and over again. This message is a powerful antidote to the other (lame) messages we so often get about our (lame) bodies. Getting on this bandwagon of female body power may sound kinda hokey or crunchy but I think it’s a fine idea as you take on the mantle of motherhood.
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