When I was in midwifery school one of our assignments early on was a question: If you were given the opportunity to speak on television about birth and had only one or two things to say, what would that be? In response, I said something like what I am about to say here, but as a student, I didn’t really know it to be true. I believed it, but I didn’t KNOW it, and that’s a huge difference.
So, as an aside, I did have an opportunity to speak on television. Several years ago my practice was featured in a news story about homebirth. It was a well-done piece showcasing the birth of one of the mamas that I helped. Unfortunately, I didn’t get my chance to say the one thing I really wanted everyone to know about birth. But thanks to the mama who allowed a reporter and camerawoman into her birth, she showed everyone anyway. You can see that story here.
So back to the point: I don’t expect I will have another opportunity to speak on TV again anytime soon, so here are 3 things I want every woman to know about birth:
#1 You can do it.
In a normal, straightforward labor, if you are prepared mentally, you can give birth without pain meds. Labor is really doable. It is not “the worst pain in the world” for most people. Is it intense? Sure. Is it hard work? Absolutely. But it is manageable. You have a contraction for a minute and then you get a break. You get another contraction for a minute and then you get a break. During those breaks you feel great. The other thing that helps is your body’s hormonal helpers: the hormonal cascade involved in an unmedicated birth is truly amazing (more on this in a minute). The key here is preparation. In learning any new task or training for a job or an athletic event you need to learn what to do and prepare your mind and body for the tasks at hand. Ina May talks about how women instinctually know how to give birth and I do believe this. I also know that many women have a hard time tapping into that instinctual knowledge and are filled with fear. So before birth, prepare your brain. Deal with your fear, choose your provider and your setting wisely, surround yourself with people who support you, and then go ahead and have your unmedicated birth. It is worth it.
#2 The hormonal cocktail after an unmedicated birth is unlike anything else.
There is a great article in Mothering about the hormonal cascade in labor and after birth and you can read that here. There are hormones that help you through labor and then there are more that are released as the baby is born. These hormones facilitate falling in love with your baby and milk production and then enforce the biological imperative that you fiercely take care of your newborn. The high after this is amazing. I haven’t done many illicit drugs in my life but I will surmise that the high immediately after birth is better than all of them put together. The sheer ecstasy of pushing your baby out into the world and meeting your baby is truly incomparable.
#3 Your birth is only the beginning.
In pregnancy, especially with a first baby, it is very easy to focus only on the birth. It is a huge thing to focus on and hard not to. However, your birth is just the beginning of a very long journey of caring for your children. It pays to put some energy into thinking about how you plan to parent this little one. It is also important to plan how you are going to be taken care of in the days after the birth so that you can learn to breastfeed and heal your body after this amazing transformation. Don’t expect to just jump back into life. Take a time out and enjoy this baby’s first days and weeks because you will never get those back. Your baby is only this tiny once.