Fact: labour and delivery are synonymous with pain and fear. Every preggo knows this.
Especially for a first time mumma, the fear factor is usually pretty strong. And rightfully so - you're venturing into completely unchartered waters. There is no trailer, no dress rehearsal, for labour and delivery. AND society (TV, movies, etc) love to show us how messy/SCARY/painful/intense it is. The fear is real.
Even now, with the birth of my third babe on the horizon, there is definitely some fear (anxiety?) of the unknown. My first two deliveries went really well, but there is still a fear, an anxiety over the impending work ahead. And maybe that fear is even more real because I kinda know that it's not all blue skies, puffy clouds and storks.
It's a freaking lot of pain. And work. And sweat. And more pain. And with all of that comes fear.
But being fearful of birth is not exactly helpful. Right? We know this.
There are plenty of studies out there telling us about the negative physical effects that fear has on the body and on performance. I have yet to see a study examining a fear of delivery with delivery "performance", but I imagine most midwives and OBs wouldn't hesitate to say that a calm attitude about the whole process usually leads to a smoother delivery.
So the big question is
How do you get over the fear of birth?
Of course, there is a ton of advice, options and opinions out there. My advice: find what works for you. Hypnobirthing is popular, and I have lots of friends and patients who have tried this out, but I never felt it was for me.
So in the name of sharing and caring, here's how I prepare for birth. With 10 weeks to go, you could say I'm in the home stretch, so it's definitely on my mind.
As you may or may not know, I'm pretty big into prevention (reference: this entire site). And with prevention comes preparedness. Yes, preparedness. And they (probably women) say that preparedness breeds confidence. And with confidence comes less fear.
I am a preparer by nature. A planner. It's how my brain works best. And so, when I was pregnant with my first babe, I planned and I prepared. Not only did this give me confidence, but it also gave me a sense (an ounce!) of control - control over the tiny amount of control that one has going into a birth.
The planning for a birth is a bit of a joke though. Sure you can write out your ideal birth plan (blue skies and storks, right?), but we all know that it's not realistic (or wise) to narrow your sights on your perfect plan. It's good to dream, but it's better to actively prepare.
So how do I prepare for labour and delivery?
This way of preparing really started from a visualization technique that we learnt in our first prenatal class. The instructor suggested that during labour we visualise doing something that makes us really happy, and work through the task in a super slow, step-by-step way. It could be baking a cake. Or driving along a favourite country road. She presented many different relaxation techniques over the weeks, but this one resonated with me the most. Being a super visual person, this worked for me (or so I hoped!).
I've always been really physically active (mostly at a recreational level) and I've worked with elite and competitive athletes for almost fifteen years. I know sports. And I've watched and worked with people who do them really well. These are people who know how to prepare in the name of performance, competing at the highest levels of their sport, under huge pressures. Their ability to push the fear factor aside is awe inspiring.
Choosing a sport event to visualise as my happy task during labour and delivery was a no brainer. PLUS, choosing a sport event allowed me to keep the event in mind as I did everything to prepare for it.
So my first task was to pick an event.
STEP #1: PICK A SPORT EVENT
Since I was a kid, I've loved being in the mountains. Oddly enough, I don't live near any mountains (just hills), but I've always been drawn to them and feel such a high from being in them, close to them or on their very peaks. I've hiked in many mountain ranges over the years: the Rockies, the Appalachians, the Pyraneese, the Alps. I'm no mountaineer, but I appreciate the slow, steady, physical task of climbing a mountain. And the high of not only being on a mountain peak, but of making your way towards that peak step-by-step, is one that makes my heart sing à la Maria von Trapp.
A mountain ascent is a surprisingly good metaphor for labour and delivery too (the descent may be a good metaphor for the post-partum period :o). Each stage of labour is kinda like the stages of climbing a good size mountain.
Early Labour - this is the stroll through the woods after leaving your car - you're excited for the day ahead, you're energized! The terrain is flat and easy going! You're living your best life! There are little streams and chirping birds! You stop for selfies and sips of water! Life is grrrrrrreat!
Active Labour - this is the part where you are still in the woods and they're getting kinda old. Every step is uphill. And then you spend hours (and hours and hours) hiking above the tree line, or in and out, working hard, starting to fatigue both physically and mentally. Where is the peak? Can we stop for a break yet? No. You must push on. It is long. And only gets harder and harder. You're starting to think you can't do it. You never will make it. You're tired and you just want to run back down the mountain to the nearest hot tub for a soak and a glass of pinot.
Transition - this is the not fun part where you are most exhausted and probably in the most amount of pain, but you have to work the hardest because it is so. damn. steep. There is no turning back (not that you've been able to since committing to this hike 9 months ago). Hiking sucks. You're getting angry.
Pushing - this is the part of the hike where you can actually see the peak - the light at the end of the tunnel. With every painful step you can taste the bologna sandwich and trail mix that you will enjoy. The reward will be worth it. Oh and the view will be great too. THE END IS SO NEAR.
Peak - view + bologna sandwich. Which ever comes first. It was all worth it.
And so, I approached my first labour and delivery as I might approach a hike up a high, peaked mountain. A test of physical endurance and mental strength.
I suggest that if you pick a sport that you can relate to, and ideally one that brings you great joy. This is crucial for step #3 (below).
Okay, so how do you actually prepare for the hike?
Step #2: TRAIN for the event.
Hiking is hard. It will be easier if you are in shape to hike. Your hike will be easier, with reduced risk of injury, if you are physically prepared.
There is science behind this when it comes to birth - women who are in better physical shape tend to have fewer complications and require fewer interventions.
So get a plan and get moving. Strong core, strong butt, strong legs. Mobility and endurance are also key players.
STEP #3: Visualization
Just like sport, visualization can have a huge effect of how you manage your performance and experience pain. Visualize your ideal birth, the stages, the tools you'll try at each stage for pain management, the birth itself. Try out various relaxation techniques: some women swear by hypnobirthing, while others rely on their partners for calming guidance. Search for something that works for you and your coach.
step #4: Designate a support team.
You need someone who will be your cheerleader. How involved they are in your event is up to you, but pick wisely.
Your baby daddy or baby mumma may seem like the obvious choice here, but lots of partners are freaked out at the thought of seeing their significant other in pain. Most guys freak out at the word period, so consider how well they will keep their cool on game day. Have an honest conversation.
You want someone by your side who is going to be confident and calm when things get intense, and who is able to be your best advocate when it comes to making decisions. A doula is often a preferred birth partner since they've been to the game already. I don't know anyone who was not happy that they had a doula by their side on game day.
I had confidence in my husband, and he in himself, so we decided that he would be my coach and partner for my first delivery. And (phew!) he was! He was so good in fact that he was chosen for my second delivery as well. And I know he will be great for the third :)
The Birth Partner was our bible for our planned partner/husband-coached birth. It's a must read for all birth coaches.
Step #5: Know the rules
What ever sport event you have chosen, you need to know the rules. For my mountain hike, I needed to know the route, the altitude, the time it would take, the weather, etc.
When it comes to birth, the more informed you and your birth partner are, the more confidence you will have going into it. And remember, fear hides in the shadow of confidence. Educate yourself. Know what you want, and what you don't want. It's your body, your baby, and every intervention is up to you. Write out your birth preferences with your coach. Share them with the people (doc, midwife) who will be with you on game day, but know that the weather could turn at any point and throw you onto a new path. Be flexible. And keep the end goal in mind.
Step #6: have a game day plan
This is all the other stuff that you need to think about in preparing for your event. What will you wear? What will you eat? Who will bring you to the event? What gear do you need?
Who do you call to inform that things are happening (family, midwife, doctor)? And when? At what point do you go to the hospital/birth centre? Who will look after your other kid(s)? Who is going to be your advocate should decisions need to be made? Who is in charge of photos? Video?
Step #7: Post-event recovery
After your endurance event, it's really important to have a recovery plan. Nutrition. Rest. Rehydration. Support staff to tend to your aches and pains, and care for you.
After delivery is no different. Find your post-partum support crew. You NEED these people.
These are the people who are going to bring you food, hold your baby while you sleep/shower/eat/breath, do your dishes, take out your trash, come when you ask, leave when you say, wipe your tears (there will be tears) and give you tons of love. Choose wisely, and let them know the rules of the post-game celebrations.
You are in charge, but be OPEN to every ounce of help.
Other crew members to consider:
- a lactation consultant (we had a name posted on our fridge and boy was she needed!)
- experienced mummas who are at the ready for your texts or calls to help guide and support you
And that's it. That's how I prepared for my first and second L&D and it's how I'm preparing now for the third. It's worked for me, and I hope it gives you some confidence and helps squash any fear that might be holding you back from having a smoother, more ideal birth experience.
Good luck mumma!
(and yes, there is definitely some luck involved despite your best efforts ;)