What makes a great birth? Sticking to your birth plan to the letter? Avoiding all interventions? Being free of pain? The answers can be as varied as the moms and dads you ask. After the birth of my first son, I was most definitely on a birth high. When my loved ones, friends, and doula asked me how I was doing, I remember that I couldn't help but go on and on about how empowered I felt. EMPOWERED. It seems that was the only word that could describe what I was feeling.
But how could this be? My birthing wasn't "perfect." In fact it was quite challenging at times due to a special circumstance. It wasn't pain-free. (Although I labored fairly comfortably for about 80% of my active labor.) And a few times I strayed from my birth preferences. If you would have told me at the beginning of my pregnancy that all of these things would happen, the word I would have used would be disappointed, because I had high expectations for this birth. But when all was over I wasn't disappointed, and I hadn't lowered my expectations either. Instead I was ecstatic. Let me tell you why and how you too can empower your birth.
What is empowered birth? This was the question that I had to ask myself, especially since my birth plan and my actual birthing were not one in the same. Empowered birth may be defined differently depending on who you ask, but in general most would say it involves parents having a choice in their birthing and being supported in these choices. After some time and self-reflection, I came to the realization that the following five thing allowed me to make my birthing experience instead of instead of having it made for me.
1. Releasing fear: When you trust your body and trust in the normalcy of nature's design for birth, you no longer worry about how you will birth your baby. For healthy mothers having normal, healthy pregnancies, the body knows just what to do without unnecessary meddling. I realized my job was to relax and allow my body to birth my baby, just as mothers have and still do all around the world. When I wasn't worried about "doing it right", I was able to immerse myself so deeply in the process and connect to my baby and my body. Through this trust and relaxation I kept at bay the cycle of fear-tension-pain that causes most modern day labors to be agonizing experiences. Did I have pain during my first birth? Yes, I did have some. But in reflection mine was short lived and ultimately due to a variation in baby's position. Not once did it even cross my mind to ask for pain relieving medications. I believe this was because I didn't fear the sensations and was so in tune with my body that when each surge came I was intently focused on the task at hand. And for my second birth, I don't recall any pain. There were moments of pressure, tightness and some discomfort, but nothing I can really call pain.
If you have had a previous birth or pregnancy that has been difficult or traumatic, it will be essential for you to have had an opportunity to process the experience. Many times these experiences will lead to fear and limiting thoughts that can overshadow a new birthing journey. Meeting with a perinatal support group and/or a trained counselor can begin that journey of healing.
2. Finding confidence: Releasing fear is the first step to finding confidence in your ability to birth. Without fear you find that you not only trust your body, but also your mind and your instincts. When you trust your mind and your instincts, you begin to consciously create your best birth. For my own childbirth preparation, I chose to learn HypnoBirthing®, The Mongan Method. When I did research on it's philosophy and its outcomes, my instincts lead me right into the classroom. In fact, 91% of HypnoBirthing mothers reported that they felt very confident in their ability to birth their babies after taking the course! I was one of them. As my pregnancy went on, I was confident in my choice of birth preferences, in my choice of birth provider, in my preparation for the birth, and in my ability to birth.
3. Discovering personal power: When you feel confident in your ability to evaluate your choices and make an informed decision, you have just discovered your own personal power. Many women who have had traumatic birth experiences often report that they felt that they had no control in the situation. For me knowledge was power. I researched evidence-based practice and chose a birth provider who routinely implemented these practices in their care. Remember that you retain the right to accurate information about your situation, the right to adequate information about all of your options, and the right to decide which course of action (or inaction) is right for you and your baby without coercion. With this autonomy, you can make informed decisions in conversation with your birth provider.
4. Building a nest of support: While pregnancy and birth is an experience that centers around the family unit, it is also an experience that is affected by the network of support around the expecting parents. Let's face it, it really does take a village. The people you let into your life during this time should recognize your personal power and be supportive of your decisions. This network includes your family, friends, and care providers. Surround yourself with people who acknowledge your power and cheer you on. Avoid interactions with toxic individuals who could cause doubt or fear to creep into your mind. Seek out a care provider whose philosophy of birth and track record match the type of birth for which you are planning. Start your conversations about birth preferences early and have them often. Observe how they respond. Do they engage you in the conversation to learn more, do they give a quick yes and then move on, or do they dismiss your desires and concerns? Remember you are not bound to the first care provider you choose. If you begin to feel that your provider's plan and your own plan for your birth are not lining up, it is in your best interest to seek out another provider who will meet your unique needs.
5. Accepting wherever your birthing journey leads: When one has been active in the creation of her birthing experience using the suggestions above, it is most likely that her birth will be beautiful and empowering. On rare occasions special circumstances might arise that could cause a birth to deviate from the original birth plan. These births can also be beautiful and empowering. It's in these situations where your trust in your care provider and your confidence in yourself becomes very important. When I was faced with special circumstances during my own birthing experience, my midwife gave me an clear description of what was going on, laid out all options, made her recommendations, and then gave me the ability to make the choice that was appropriate for me and my baby. I felt in complete control throughout the entire experience. Additionally, the skills I learned through HypnoBirthing® taught me to accept whatever turn my birthing took with calm focus. In her book Mother's Intention: How Belief Shapes Birth, Kim Wildner reflects the feelings my husband and I experienced, describing, "...they accept the turn their birthing takes because they know they've encountered a situation, not created it." We took ownership of the choices we made and felt comfort in knowing that we had made the best choices for us and for each turn of our birthing journey.
Empower your birth, empower your life. One of the most surprising realizations I had after the birth of my first child was how taking control of my birthing experience impacted other aspects of my life. Marie Mongan, the creator of the HypnoBirthing® program, said, "When you change the way you view birth, the way you birth will change." I found that by changing the way I approached my birth, I also began to change the way I approached my life. Don't let the empowerment you create in birth go by the wayside once you have given birth. Release fear that may be holding you back in other areas of your life. Trust your ability to mother your child. Have confidence in the paths you pursue. And use your new found empowerment to see how truly amazing you are.
Do you have an empowered birth story? Or are you actively in the process of creating one right now? What makes your list of must haves for achieving an empowered birth? Would you do anything different next time? Let us know in the comments below!