On the subject of preparing for pregnancy, birth and parenting, I have seen far too many staunch homebirth advocates pull the “fear card” (for which they so criticize doctors) on women who are planning a natural birth, but have decided for whatever reason that birthing in a hospital is the best choice for them.
Empowering women to take control of their birthing situations is a noble cause, and I admire all of the women I personally know who advocate for home birth. I would have loved to birth at home myself, but chose a hospital for various reasons. I don’t think it’s fair or appropriate, however, to tell any woman where she should birth. It’s all about informed choice. It was for that reason that I wrote the following article for The Natural Parents Network several months ago. It is not meant to be prescriptive, but it is my way of sharing what worked for us. If you did not read it back then, now is your chance. I would love to hear your advice and stories in the comments.
I am a huge supporter of home birth, and a believer in the idea that we should trust the natural process of birth. I do not believe that a normal birth is a medical event, and I feel that in most cases, medical intervention is a detriment rather than a help. I also birthed in a hospital.
I sincerely wanted a home birth, but there were many reasons why I eventually decided that a hospital birth this time around was the wisest decision for me. I never intend to birth in a hospital again, but I know that I made the right decision for my first birth. For those mothers who desire a natural birth, but for whatever reason must have (or simply would rather opt for) a hospital birth, I want to share my story.
I should note first that I did not just “luck out” and end up in a particularly naturally-minded hospital – in fact I birthed in a military hospital, with the OB on call. I didn’t know which OB or nurse would be present for my birth until I arrived at five centimeters dilated. I still had a wonderful experience, and I hope that you can, too!
Here are the things I found to be integral to my success in having the birth I wanted, even though it was not in conditions that I considered ideal:
When preparing for birth in the medical system, any number of tests, procedures, and medications may be suggested. If you’re not well versed on normal (natural) pregnancy it’s hard to decide what is sound advice, and what is unnecessary or even harmful for you and/or your baby. When you’re proactive and know what to expect, it’s easy to respectfully decline anything that you do not feel comfortable with. Just because a doctor suggests something does not mean it’s right for you.
2. Learn to smile and nod.
Doctors will give all kinds of advice, and some may even attempt to tell you that you must do x, y, or z. Family friends, and even perfect strangers may chime in as well. Ultimately, every decision is yours to make. When it comes to decisions about your pregnancy, learn to trust yourself and your body and take outside advice with a grain of salt. Smile, nod, go home, do your own research, and make your own decision. Of course some will choose to share information with their doctor, in hopes of opening their eyes to alternative ways of doing things. I chose to avoid debate in my attempt at a stress-free pregnancy.
There are differing opinions on the usefulness of a birth plan. For me, it was indispensable. I was working with multiple OBs and did not know before my birthing day which one of them would be attending my birth. Because of that, I brought my birth plan to prenatal visits and had each and every doctor look it over and talk to me about anything I was planning that they were uncomfortable with. This was extremely helpful because I was able to share sound research to support my decisions in advance, so that when the big day came, there were no disagreements and no questions.
One doctor, for example, had never had anyone ask to delay the clamping and cutting of the umbilical cord. It was against his usual way of doing things and he was not comfortable with the idea at first. I had the opportunity to explain to him why I wanted to delay, and why it was actually better for my baby to do so. In the end, he was supportive of my wishes and I was at ease, knowing that everyone knew what to expect.
Even if you choose not to share your birth plan with the hospital you’re working with ahead of time, at least have it for yourself, so that you know how you will respond to every question you’re faced with during and immediately following your birth. This is especially important since many things aren’t presented as a choice, but rather as simply-the-way-things are-done. Everything is a choice. It is your birth.
In my case, I opted to wear my own clothes instead of a hospital gown so that I wouldn’t feel like a “patient.” I chose not to have an IV. I chose to eat and drink during my birth. I wanted the lights in my room low and for those who came in to use soft voices. I wanted my daughter placed on my chest immediately, and didn’t want her to be bothered with a bath on her birth day. Had I not specifically stated my wishes, I would have been told to put on a gown at arrival, given an IV, and subjected to the usual overhead lights and whatever noise level the doctors and nurses were used to. Every doctor has their way of doing things, and often they forget to consider that their way does not work for every patient. It’s okay to remind them. Make your voice heard.
4. Have a support team that is respectful of your wishes and that will put you at ease.
I absolutely love the idea of having another mother, another woman, there to ‘mother’ you through your birth. The idea of a doula is a fantastic one and I think that every woman who wants a doula ought to have one. I also know myself, and I don’t like people in my space. I’m not comfortable with having things done for me. It can be hard for me to accept advice and support and help without feeling patronized. I met with the only doula in my area and ultimately decided that anyone other than my husband would put me on edge rather than at ease. I chose to have only him at my birth.
I discussed my birth plan with my husband and we worked through a number of “what-ifs” together, in hopes of being prepared for anything and everything. He was wonderful, and I was pleased with my decision to make our birth just about us. Of course I know many women who adored their doula, or are so happy that they had their mom, their sister, their best friend, but everyone is different! Assemble your team, and make sure they’re there to protect your wishes.
5. Take a childbirth preparation course and/or do plenty of reading on birth.
Taking a childbirth preparation course or reading a book like Pam England and Rob Horowitz’s Birthing From Within will give you strategies that you can use to work through any discomfort that you may feel on the day of your birth. It will also help you to know what to expect during each stage.
Personally, I used the Hypnobabies Home Study Course and read several books such as Birthing From Within, and Dr. Sears’ The Birth Book. On my daughter’s birth day, I had intense “back labor,” but thanks to my reading, knew of several ways to ease the discomfort and work through it. Thanks to Hypnobabies, I was also well-practiced with a number of relaxation tools to help me remain calm until the discomfort passed. At one point during my birth, I began to think I may not be able to handle much more. Fortunately, I had read several times that this was a common feeling during “transition” (or as Hypnobabies refers to it: “transformation”), and knew that this meant my baby would likely be born very soon. Instead of becoming frightened and questioning my ability to continue without pain medication, I became more excited and worked through the intensity.
Natural birth may not belong in hospitals, but the two can coexist peacefully with mindful preparation
This post has been edited from a previous version at The Natural Parents Network