1. Beware the unsolicited advice…
Ha, like this post! Nobody knows you like you know yourself and other people’s advice comes from their own unique experiences. Exactly like me writing this…I’m only writing it because of the specific experience I had and because of who I am. If the advice resonates with you then great, if not don’t worry about it.
When I was pregnant unsolicited birth advice was just the worst! So do you want my advice? If a sentence from a stranger starts with ‘do you want my advice?’ Get in quick, say no and run for the hills as fast as your bumpy body will let you.
Are you still there? If you haven’t gone, here are the rest of my suggestions:
2. Knowledge is power/ignorance is bliss
Arm yourself with the amount of knowledge you feel comfortable with. For some that’s none. For others it’s everything.
For me it’s everything. I started with these books:
And settled on this one which fast became my birth bible:
3. Have expectations of your birth
Contrary to a lot of advice I think you should allow yourself in pregnancy to expect your birth to be a certain way. You have a plan, you have hopes and aspirations for your birth, you have a desired location. I think that’s all great. As long as you can reconcile yourself to the fact that things may change I can’t see why you wouldn’t want to plan.
I also think you should have certain expectations about the treatment you will receive. Most midwives are wonderful people and I would expect me and my baby to be treated pretty wonderfully by them.
4. Believe in your labour brain
Question decisions that others present to you all the way through your pregnancy and, particularly during labour. If the situation isn’t an emergency there may be other paths that can be explored. Professionals have the most amazing medical skill and knowledge but can make a fairly good consultant when it comes to your own body. Your birthing partners are crucial in achieving this. They can advocate for you and be the fuel for your labour brain.
One of the most vivid memories of my birth experience was a 4am conference on the labour ward. I’d been in labour since 3am the night before and was pretty exhausted. I’d just left my planned home birth at home and had arrived in hospital feeling a bit sad with contractions slowing. Upon arrival and assessment my husband, my independent midwife and I were presented with the plan: an Oxytocin drip to get contractions going again and a strong pain relief administered by a drip that may simulate drunkenness.
A perfectly reasonable plan, please don’t get me wrong but for me it didn’t sound good. I don’t like feeling drunk and I was also exhausted (did I mention that!?) so managing to get through too many more contractions, particularly induced ones, didn’t feel very promising. With our midwife as our fuel and advocate we asked the hospital midwife about probability of intervention with this route and if there were any alternatives. She was surprised, but gave an honest answer that allowed us to properly assess the probable outcome for me. Suffice to say we laid out an alternative plan that was agreed and actioned.
I strongly believe that this was a defining moment for me in how I now feel about my birth. Add funnily enough the alternative path was something I absolutely didn’t want and was sure I would only have as a total last resort BUT in the circumstances it was the best option and in that moment I was able to make my peace with it because ultimately I chose it.
So if the situation allows, be an active participant in discussions. You may be in pain, you may be exhausted, you may have no concept of time but, contrary to common myth, you don’t lose your mind.
5. Birth afterthoughts services
Wait at least six weeks but, wherever you give birth, consider taking advantage of the birth afterthoughts service at your local hospital…even if just a little bit of you wants to. Do it at any point in the months and years following your birth experience. Maybe the right time for you would be a couple of months after birth or maybe it would be when you are thinking about, or when you are pregnant with, a next child.
If you do it but still have questions or your feelings about your birth experience change do it again. You can make return visits at my local hospital and there’s no time limit, so check with yours if you are not sure. It may not provide all the answers you are looking for, but it can help you understand what happened in your birth experience and why.
6. Post birth analysis with friends and family
The day of your child’s birth makes a mother and a father. For many men the experience of seeing their partner give birth can be deeply moving. If they are with you post birth, don’t be afraid to revisit the experience together. You may find things he needs to get straight, or you may find that his pride in you is one of the best feelings in the world.
Friends (although see point 7!) can also make wonderful sounding boards, particularly other mothers. It’s not insignificant that new mothers gravitate to other new mothers. Helping each other through the early months and listening to another’s birth story without judgement can be as therapeutic as sharing your own.
7. Keep mum
It feels good to share your story but think about who you share it with. My advice is to not tell pregnant women about your birth unless they specifically ask and even then assess the situation and edit appropriately. When I was pregnant it felt like a bit of a lose – lose with other peoples experiences. If they’d had a wonderful one I felt under pressure and stressed that I might not. If they’d had a horror story I felt terrible for them and my fear and anxiety levels went through the roof.
8. It IS a big deal.
Don’t belittle or underestimate the experience for you. Yes it’s normal, yes every mother has gone through it it some way or another but for many many women it is physically, hormonally and emotionally complex. Birth and early motherhood can profoundly impact a woman. For many it’s the moment their life changes.
9. Don’t put expectations on yourself
Contrary to society myths NOBODY knows how they are going to feel upon being presented with their baby. Maybe you will fall in love at first sight, maybe your baby will take to the breast or the bottle happily, maybe you will spend your days postpartum lying in a big fluffy white bed surrounded by flowers and chocolate and sunlight…
Or maybe you won’t. Give yourself time to fall in love. Don’t feel guilty if you feel shocked, sad, tired, anxious. Nobody is a perfect mother but most mothers are perfect for their little ones. Having said all that, if at all possible find that aforementioned bed with chocolates and flowers.
10. Take action
Do something positive if you feel you need to or if you want to. Start a blog, reconnect with family, volunteer. You never know where it might take you.
For me breastfeeding was a difficult and emotional experience, particularly in the days following the birth in the hospital where I felt hugely anxious, exhausted and sad (because I wasn’t feeling what I thought I was supposed to feel, see point 9!). I recently trained as a Breastfeeding Peer Supporter with the NCT and where it has taken me is back to the maternity ward where I spent those very unhappy first few days after giving birth. Going back in this positive role has had a profound effect on me and helped me overcome a few big bits of guilt and sadness that I’ve been carrying around for almost two years.
So there you have it my thoughts on claiming and reclaiming your birth experience. If you have any more, please do share them. I may consider doing it all again at some point so would love all the tips I can get!