As a doula, I have heard many conversations about Cesarean and vaginal birth that end in, “As long as mom and baby are healthy, that’s what matters.”
I cringe inside when I hear this. A healthy mom and baby is obviously everyone’s goal. An empowering birth, where the mother is an active participant, an educated decision-maker, and can look back on her birth with joy, is something that matters.
Empowered birthing matters.
How you EXPERIENCE giving birth matters. A lot.
It goes without saying that sometimes emergencies happen, and birth isn’t always sunshine and butterflies. However, parents’ choices are often not considered or even offered in the absence of an actual emergency.
It is easy in today’s birth world to feel like childbirth is being done to you rather than feeling like an active participant. The experience can leave you feeling confused and angry about why your birth plan went off the rails. You may wonder if there was a good reason for an unplanned c-section or other procedures during the birth. You can even find yourself trying to heal from a traumatic birth, instead of fully enjoying your newborn.
In this blog, let’s talk about what we can do to set ourselves up for an empowering birth, one where we call the shots, so we can look back on it with happiness and peace.
1. Take a childbirth education class
Being confident as you enter your birth space significantly impacts whether you feel empowered during your birth. Having a good childbirth education class under your belt will give you a huge confidence boost. You will understand the physiologic process that is happening and have coping tools ready to go as you progress through labor.
Childbirth education is one of the most significant influencing factors for feeling prepared and confident or sideswiped and uncertain when things get intense or unexpected things come up.
2. Read and listen to birth stories
Listening to birth stories will make you aware of things you never knew about birth. You’ll learn more about what you might like or even what things you might want to stay away from.
Most people will tell you to only listen to positive, empowering birth stories as you prepare. We like to suggest listening to stories that were hard for the birth giver, challenging, and might not have gone positively, too.
Listening to a wide variety of birth experiences, as we do on our VBAC podcast, will educate you even more. A wide variety of birth stories will help you understand birth at a more in-depth and more intimate level than if you listened to only positive stories. If something triggers you when you are listening, check out the next tip!
3. Dig deep and find your fears
I highly recommend diving headfirst into your fears to find out where they are coming from. Fears and unprocessed trauma can hinder the natural birth process and even prevent birth from starting.
Additionally, fear of childbirth can increase the number of unnecessary cesarean births, especially those which are elective (Aksoy et al., 2014). Perhaps even more concerning is the fact that moms with clinical anxiety are at increased risk for postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety.Sally Dear-Healey, Ph.D
Talking about your concerns with someone who supports you and your birth choices is essential. Even something as simple as writing down all of your feelings about the things you are worried about and burning them up will help your brain process through and move beyond your fears.
I made an excellent fear release video on YouTube to guide you through a fun fear release technique.
4. Hire a doula
Sometimes you don’t know what you don’t know. Having a doula will help you fill in those gaps and accomplish many things on this list, helping you create a truly empowering birth experience.
Studies have shown that even just having a doula in the birth room makes it more likely that you will have an empowered birth experience. There are also many other great benefits of having a doula.
5. Research your birth location
Hospital? Home Birth? Birth Center? Many different locations are available to you for birthing. Choosing a birth location where you feel 100% safe and confident will allow you to relax and let those labor hormones flow.
When considering potential birth locations, ask about each location’s policies and standard practices, especially for a VBAC. Find a place where the usual course of care is in line with the type of birth you want.
6. Ask all the questions
There is a lot to know about childbirth. I have given birth four times, and even with each pregnancy and birth, I had even more questions than the time before. Ask your questions.
Ask questions as soon as you think of them when you are with the person you would ask them to. As you go through your pregnancy, write down questions and bring them to your appointments.
Get your questions answered quickly where possible. You never know when a question will bring up a red flag that might make you want to change your plans.
7. Find a provider who is an expert in your type of birth
One of my favorite quotes comes from a friend of mine, Lauralyn Curtis of The Curtis Method. She says:
If there is one thing you can do RIGHT NOW to ensure your best birth experience, it’s this: choose a care provider who is an EXPERT in the type of birth you are planning. If you plan a safe, skilled Cesarean birth, you should hire someone who is an expert at Cesarean Sections. You wouldn’t hire a doctor to perform that procedure who said, “Well, actually, I’m not really comfortable with that type of birth, but I’ll let you do it if you want, I suppose…”. If you’re planning a safe, natural unmedicated birth, you should hire someone who is an EXPERT at supporting natural birth. A doctor with a 30% C-section rate is not a natural birth expert. Neither is a doctor who does routine episiotomies or doesn’t understand how to catch a baby unless mom is lying on her back.Lauralyn Curtis
Finding a supportive provider who understands and routinely practices the type of birth you want will help you have an empowering birth experience.
8. Know your birthing rights
Inside the labor and delivery room is not the time for you to ask about your rights in childbirth. Hospital birth is very systematic at best and abusive at worst. Knowing your rights as a pregnant person is imperative to being in control of your experience.
The Know Your Rights: Legal and Human Rights in Childbirth course at Birth Monopoly is a valuable, in-depth course covering birthing rights for both birth workers and parents.
9. Write up a birth plan
I always say a birth plan’s power isn’t in the written document itself but in the knowledge you gain while researching your options along the way. Birth plans should be concise, direct, and to the point in identifying your most essential childbirth preferences. Keeping your plan to one page with bullet points is best received by hospital staff and quick and easy to read through.
Knowing what is most important to you in childbirth will help you create your birth plan. Leave out the everyday practice things at your birth location and focus on keeping a respectful tone. Simplicity goes a long way!
10. Learn about fetal positioning and pelvic mechanics
We all know that the best position for a baby to be in before birth is head down. Some complications can happen when a baby is in a transverse lie or breech position. BUT, head down is not the only thing that matters. Masking sure that your baby has plenty of room to rotate and move into the best position is something that many people don’t consider.
Learning how to create room in the pelvis and all the connective tissues will ensure that your baby will be able to twist and turn its way through the birth canal. To do this, I always recommend the Spinning Babies Daily Essentials to my doula clients to encourage optimal fetal position and create space in the pelvis.
11. Be patient
One of my favorite articles to send to parents as their due date approaches and passes is The Last Days of Pregnancy: A Place of In-Between. The last days of pregnancy are full of emotions, hormones, biological and physiological processes.
With people continually asking you, “Have you had that baby yet?” and the ever-increasing pressure to induce, it’s no wonder that parents can have a hard time coping.
We don’t scientifically understand the complex hormones at play that loosen both her hips and her awareness. In fact, this uncomfortable time of aching is an early form of labor in which a woman begins opening her cervix and her soul. Someday, maybe we will be able to quantify this hormonal advance — the prolactin, oxytocin, cortisol, relaxin. But for now, it is still shrouded in mystery, and we know only how to measure thinning and dilation.Jana Studelska CPM/LM
The hardest thing to do is wait, but waiting and letting things unfold on their own, will allow a more physiologic — and empowering — birth process and help avoid interventions that leave you feeling disempowered.
12. Research common interventions
An intervention is anything that is done to intervene with the birth process to assist with or prevent delivery. I have seen interventions change the course of labor in both positive and negative ways. Knowing when an intervention is necessary or not can be a challenge, and interventions empowering birth or disempowering birth depend on many factors.
I highly recommend using the B.R.A.I.N. acronym to determine whether a specific intervention is right for you. Making an informed choice facilitates empowered birthing.
The B.R.A.I.N. acronym asks five questions:
What are the Benefits?
What are the Risks?
What are the Alternatives?
What is my Intuition saying?
What happens if we do Nothing?
Merely asking these questions can help you feel empowered during your pregnancy and birth by enabling you to make informed choices.
13. Trust yourself
We talk about intuition a LOT, and trusting your instincts is especially important in pregnancy and birth. Trusting your intuition doesn’t always have to be a touchy-feely vibe that surrounds you with a blanket of peace.
Depending on yourself and acting on that intuition can look like:
- Asking questions when something doesn’t feel right
- Looking at the big picture rather than what is happening at this moment
- Check-in with what you are saying to yourself
- Ask for reassurance from others
- Not second-guessing yourself
- Forgive yourself
- Allowing yourself to feel negative emotions
- Being kind and loving to yourself
Learning to trust yourself isn’t always easy, and pregnancy can make it even more difficult, but I encourage you to practice some of the things from the list above. The one that sounds the most uncomfortable for you? Try that one first. Loving yourself, trusting yourself, being forgiving of yourself is in and of itself empowering.
Want to know even more about how to have an empowering birth after Cesarean?
How to VBAC: The Ultimate Prep Course for Parents provides ALL the information you need for an empowering birth in one place, backed by a community of support to rally with you all through the process.