Isn’t it such a great thing that we were given a full 9+ months to prepare for the babies that end up in our arms? Even third time round, it took me about this long to realize an actual baby is about to rock our world. Writing down some of the things I love to tell new mamas about this life-changing event has been a really neat way for me to process my own upcoming birth-story in the making.
As we prepare for baby #3 to make an appearance anytime in the next month or so, I continue to have thrilling chats with newly pregnant girlfriends about pregnancy, birth and life postpartum. And as we chat, I realize how much information is out there, and how much is so damaging, so frightening or just unnecessary.
I know what you are thinking. There really are scores of “what to expect when you are expecting” articles on the web. While true, I vividly remember them getting me down with all of the negativity on what could go wrong. I also remember many biased articles, judging the way “others” give birth. In many posts, they didn’t even talk about the big looming “B-word” at all. They were too busy focusing on prepping the cute nursery, buying darling maternity clothes or on remembering to take “bump pix” rather than the elephant in the room (pun intended), which is that thing we are taught to fear since we were little girls, namely birth itself.
So, this here would be the type of high-level cheerleader phone call I would have loved to get from my big sister, as a newly pregnant, first time mama. She is no medical expert, just a friend who has been through this a few times. Here is what she’d have said to newly pregnant me:
Birth is hard work, birth hurts a lot, and you can do it.
This is a quote I read in Birthing from Within. I love it so much because there is nothing hidden and no promises of that so-called orgasmic birth, and yet it is packed with so much encouragement. All first-time mothers prepare for this event full of so many unknowns. None of us know what awaits us. And yet, we have to believe our mothers and sisters and girlfriends: we already have everything it takes to deliver a small human.
Everything you are putting inside your mouth nurtures your baby and helps you fight morning sickness. As you eat, imagine feeding baby’s brains, baby’s developing organs, all ready and formed by 12 weeks. Don’t get all hung up on what the modern woman should or shouldn’t eat during pregnancy or the perfect prenatal vitamin. Sure, don’t gorge on rotting street food if possible, but rather than focusing on the ‘should nots’ and ‘must nots’, focus on a high-quality diet rich in protein, healthy fats and vegetables rather than giving in to the pregger’s stereotype of stuffing your face with processed foods and carbs. A good diet will help prevent things like anemia, preeclampsia, fetal distress in labor, postpartum hemorrhage, babe’s learning disabilities later on and so much more*. I was ravenous while carrying our first-born, and yet feel I didn’t need to eat as often during this pregnancy. Listen to your body and if you can, aim for 80-100grams of protein daily and drink 3-4 liters of water. Hydration is crucial and helps alleviate so many symptoms. For all three pregnancies, I personally chose a high quality women’s multivitamin (ensuring it is food based, with sufficient folic acid) instead of a prenatal one and popped a few cod liver capsules for mama’s skin elasticity and fetal brain development. Third time around, I threw in a trusted probiotic to cultivate beneficial gut flora, which is one critical way to help your infant’s health life, especially if born vaginally.
Enjoy the pampering but pregnancy really isn’t an illness or a condition. Exercise daily if you are able, because it will get harder to stay fit as you become more pregnant. Fit mamas often find birth easier, experience less complicated deliveries and are able to manage their postpartum weight loss a little easier too. Invest in a decent sports bra (that converts to a nursing one while you are at it) and possibly a maternity support belt and then again, listen to your body. Unless you are an athlete, your body will probably not allow you to run a marathon when full-term. Because I enjoy running when not pregnant, I tried to exercise daily in addition to a light three times weekly run until around 25-27 weeks. Other good ideas for us pregnant mamas are pilates, walking, squats, swimming, biking, prenatal yoga. Don’t be who you are not, if you aren’t into fitness, easing into physical activity is probably a good idea. Walk, walk, walk!
Your body WILL change.
You know, it’s funny but I can’t even remember hearing about this before I got pregnant. Your shape will probably change forever: you might pee without wanting to, you may leak breastmilk at inopportune times, you might have tiger stripes of honor all over your body from hosting and nuturing this new life. It’s so hard in our modern Western culture to accept this beating we take to our bodies. Great love is so often born of great sacrifice and I think the sooner we embrace that, the easier it will be to accept the bodily changes of motherhood, that are just a crazy fact of life. Especially with a little bright-eyed and bushy pony-tailed little girl watching my every move, I find it so important to continuously check in and process the way I feel about my body.
Women’s bodies were designed to grow a baby, to give birth, and to sustain life outside of the womb.
Even in labor, naturally secreted hormones respond and help us cope with pain. Consider oxytocin, which is naturally secreted during labor, causing the uterus to contract. It also helps baby’s lunchpack (aka the placenta) to detach from the uterus, and is responsible for that feeling of euphoria after natural childbirth and the special bonding with this precious new life – which in turn, aids in establishing a good breastfeeding relationship. Healthy levels of naturally secreted oxytocin also reduce the chances of postpartum bleeding and hemorrhage. Then, there is prolactin, most known for its effects after birth in establishing mama’s breastfeeding journey. Did you know that it not only helps us protect the baby by putting it first, but also creates a sense of satisfaction and wellness? Oh, oh and I almost forgot my favorite – I’d like a permanent perscription, please – beta-endorphin is released by the brain in response to pain and stress. Think of it as a natural pain killer. Yes PLEASE!
Childbirth is not normally a medical event or emergency and it rarely requires medical intervention.
Midwives will tell you that birth is normal until proven otherwise. Medical doctors might say that birth is abnormal until proven otherwise. How these two caring professions approach birth so differently! Well, science tells us that interfering with this natural functioning of our bodies through external interventions (think epidurals, pitocin, cesarean sections..) does deliver different results. And yet, how casually does our modern culture take these surgical interventions! Sure, baby will usually still come out, parents and families will be just as thrilled. Each birth is an astounding miracle, no matter how it occurs. Absolutely! And yet, synthetic oxytocin, administered from a drip, enters the bloodstream rather than the brain, so it isn’t able to deliver that birth high. Beta-endorphin levels are reduced when drugs are used for pain relief. It shouldn’t come as a surprise to any woman out there: evidence shows that increased interventions lead to complications. A seemingly harmless epidural, regularly leads to the need of pitocin to keep contractions strong, which in turn put mama and baby at risk for maternal and fetal distress – making them prime Cesarean candidates. Putting the casualties into numbers (based on this brand new study published this month (Nov. 2015) by the WHO), the results are frankly appalling. In the United States, 14 out of 100.000 mamas die due to complications of pregnancy and childbirth. That is a huge deal. US American women have twice the likelihood to die in childbirth than their Canadian counterparts. Just baffling and scandalous for a developed country.
Every woman should research and decide for herself what constitutes her optimal birth setting. The ideal birth will look very differently for each mama.
For me, the evidence spoke clear enough to desire the safety of a birth center, that freed me of the temptation all women will have in labor to “ask for the drugs, dang it!” and run that risk of complications. It was a super comfortable, home-like setting where I felt cared for and safe, and not like I was birthing in a zoo with too many bystanders. After reading about how the pelvic outlet of a laboring mama is 28% wider than if she were in the lying-flat position (!!!), I knew I didn’t want to birth on my back. I also wanted the safety net of professional expert birth attendants (midwives) who knew what to do in the case of an emergency or when to call for help. AND, I loved not having to wash the sheets and drain the birth pool! But, other women equate the hospital and doctor’s knowledge and authority to a safe place and, you know, that is probably where they should give birth. Other women yet, only feel safe within their own home setting and prefer to opt for a home-birth. I love how our former midwife Aubre Tompkins put it, that most of us do indeed have the power of choice. Just like in all things surrounding parenting, we are presented with a choice and must choose not based on other people but what fits our own family values. But we owe it to ourselves to choose with full consciousness of implications and to assess how we will be supported the most in this process. Hire a doula if you need outside help and emotional support and consider how powerful it is to have a relationship with the person catching your baby.
Take the time to educate yourself and don’t rely on people around you to give you all the answers.
You’d be surprised how many people think it is a good idea to drop by the emergency room in labor and let the doctors tell them what to do. Information is power, girlfriend. I will say that my birth and postpartum experience was truly only as good as the hours spent in classes, books, and gleaned from trusted friends’ testimonials. I count 24 hours of class time to prepare for our baby #1. While you might not need quite that many, they helped me understand how my body works in labor and delivery, how to care for myself and baby’s physical and emotional well-being, how to breastfeed and transition and thrive in our couple with a new addition.
House-keeping: Mental, physical and spiritual preparation.
We often laugh about women ‘nesting’ at the end of their pregnancy, referring to a primal urge to deep clean and set up a safe area for the new baby. What we don’t often think about, is how critical it is to clear and prepare the mind for this transition. Birthing a child is very much a spiritual act. I love writing out everything that makes me afraid and following through to the worst case scenario. How important is it to face fear straight on in order to be free of what holds us captive. Consider asking yourself what is that one deep question you have and following it all the way through to the answer. As Birthing From Within states – if that question is answered in a book, it isn’t deep enough of a question. I personally love spending time praying over this new little life, asking God who this new child is and how He has called us to steward him/her. I remember one mother encouraging me to pray with courage about the labor I longed for and then to release all fear and expectation regarding possible outcomes. This ended up being one of the most freeing things I had heard from anyone about labor and delivery.
Labor doesn’t end in the delivery room.
I love how author Lisa-Jo Baker writes that labor and delivery that doesn’t end in the delivery room. In many ways, the physical pain prepares us for so many other types of heartache and reward we get to experience as mothers. This is by no means a painful death sentence to a mundane life of staring at a screaming infant for the rest of our lives either. As I am slowing figuring out, our womanhood, our dreams and gifts and our projects and longings don’t end there in the delivery room either…
This post was written from my personal perspective as a mother of soon to be three little ones and from assisting several sweet mamas through the miraculous birthing process as a doula. I also cheated and asked for a bit of input from our birth community in what they would have loved to know as first time mothers.
In terms of my birthing experience, my first two children were unmedicated births, born vaginally at a birth center in the United States, without the presence or need of doctors. Today, we call these “community births”, as they are assisted by midwives. That term would include home-births and stand-alone birth center births (birth centers unattached to a hospital, but with close access in case of emergency).
Our third baby is a little boy, born in full health at 40 weeks after a long posterior labor but a shotgun delivery. You’d think I’d be less in shock third time around, but no!
Birth.. it’s always a miracle. And it never ever grows old.
* Taken from Birthing From Within
Pain in Labour – Your hormones are your helpers
WHO Trends in Maternal Mortality: 1990 to 2015
Our maternal mortality rate is a national embarrassment
The Power of Choice
Hormones during labor image
Great new mama reads/flicks:
Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth by Ina May Gaskins – Very detailed guide on everything you might need to know about birth, includes birth stories.
The Business of being Born (documentary) – A must-watch for all newly pregnant mamas. The main reason we chose a birth center birth.
Birthing From Within by England & Horowitz – Don’t let the alternative spirituality in this volume discourage you from the wealth of knowledge and reassurance for new parents.
The Birth Partner – Revised 3rd Edition: A Complete Guide to Childbirth for Dads, Doulas, and All Other Labor Companions by P. Simkin? – Wonderful guide for dads and doulas on how to prepare, what to bring to the birth, coping measures and so on.
The Vaccine Book by Dr. Sears – The least biased book on why to choose to vaccinate or not.
The Breastfeeding Book by Dr. Sears – It is hard to study up on the theory of something that is learned on the job, but I found this to reassure me, give ideas on holds and latches and remind me of problems I should look out for.
Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child by M. Weissbluth – Helpful pointers about childhood sleep. One of the less biased, more science-based volumes, less parenting/agenda based.
Baby Catcher: Chronicles of a Modern Midwife by P. Vincent – Helpful account of all different variations of birth.
Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom by C. Northrup – Guide for women and how their body changes through the years.
Surprised by Motherhood by L-J. Baker – Amazing gift of encouragement for any new mama in the trenches, particularly postpartum 6 months and onwards.
Stay away from fear inducing stories:
What to Expect when you are Expecting
Online Birth Forums
Discouraging birth stories (especially leading up to birth)