The students file into my classroom. They’re nervous. You can tell by their hushed tones and the way they’ll only look sideways at each other. The classroom where I work is behind locked doors, so even though they’ve all been standing together in the lobby for 5-10 minutes, not one person has busted out to chat with anyone else. Everyone keeps to themselves. That’s okay by me. By the end of our four weeks together, these same couples will be lingering after the class ends. They will have already turned in their evaluations but they’ll wait to walk out to the parking lot together, laughing, hugging and wishing each other good luck on their births.
In those first few moments as they file in, I sense their concern that they’ll somehow not belong, that they’ll not fit in with all the other people in the room. They’re thinking:
“Maybe everyone else knows more than I do.”
“Maybe no one else feels nervous and afraid about giving birth.”
“Maybe everyone else has it all figured out and I don’t have a clue.”
“What if I’m the only who wants a birth that is…”
I use a lot of humor in that first class. More than anything, I want them to see how alike they really are. How much they all belong – no matter what their personal ideas of pregnancy, birth and parenting might be. This coming together can only happen when they feel free to express themselves and their individual desires for the type of birth they really want.
I don’t want them going for the type of birth they think they’re supposed to have because that’s what all the books tell them. I don’t want them chasing after a particular type of birth because everyone in their book club has done it a certain way. I don’t want them trying for the birth their mother wishes she could have had.
I want them to sit with this group of other soon-to-be parents and know that there are lots of different choices about how to have a baby, and that’s okay. My goal is to make sure that I’m meeting them wherever they are and giving them permission to freely claim what they want for their births.
I encourage them to get real with themselves about their expectations of birth and what their participation in that birth will be. I feel like pregnant women know all the right words to say about having the best birth possible. They can write a Birth Plan that has all the right phrasing and necessary elements for the “perfect” birth. But does this reflect what they really want for themselves? Have they felt free to claim their real desires?
Is it okay for them to say that they want an epidural? Or do they have to feign zero interest in pain medication because the “best” birth is an unmedicated one? Can they talk about being induced because they’re sick and tired of being pregnant at 41 weeks and 5 days and not expect to get any heat for it? Is it possible for a woman to choose a Cesarean for reasons that are deep and painful to reveal to anyone, even herself, without being judged by those around her? How does she stake claim for an unmedicated birth, when everyone else around her says, “Don’t be a martyr – take the drugs!”
We should encourage all women to strive for a birth that has the least interventions possible – not because it is the “best” birth per se, but because it’s safest for most Mommas and their babies. I’m not arguing that point. But women need to come to that conclusion on their own freely and if the circumstances of their experience allow it to be so. She needs to be internally motivated for the birth she is hoping to have. And she needs to be prepared for all the myriad ways her birth might differ from her plan.
If there’s no internal motivation for the choices around her birth, the laboring woman runs the risk of feeling shame and judgement should she make any decisions that differ from this ideal during the actual birth. I want women to be open to all the possible ways one can give birth to a baby. I want her to stand up and ask questions of herself and her medical team. I want her eyes and ears wide open to take in any information tha might conflict with her initial beliefs about birth (as long as the info is evidence-based!) I want her to strive for what she feels free to express as her own desires for this birth.
When we set an intention that is externally based on what others think we should be doing or how we think others might want us to respond or behave, we’re trapped. We’re not being true to ourselves and we’ve created a prison of sorts. We don’t feel free to break through and claim our voice to express what we really want.
This can become a big deal when we think that there way is one “right” way to give birth. If our birth looks any different from that one “right” way, it somehow falls short. It becomes a negative reflection of who we are in that we weren’t able to live up to the expectations that we placed on ourselves based on external motivations. On the other hand, if our motivation is internal and not a result of outside peer pressure or false expectations, when the going gets tough our reserves will be there to help us get through.
A woman who freely makes an authentic and real choice that rings true to her deepest desires will never be disappointed in herself no matter what the circumstance. She’ll only push according to the bar she has set for herself and she knows she can adjust that bar to be higher or lower depending on her circumstances without feeling judgement.
If a woman freely expresses her true desire to have a birth that is medication and intervention free, then she needs to be prepared to work hard through each contraction. She must find her rhythm and a way to relax in between contractions. And she’d better be practicing outside of class time, as the short practice periods during class will not cut it.
If a woman freely expresses her true desire to have an epidural for pain relief in her birth, than she still needs to be prepared to work hard through each contraction. When she feels an epidural has become medically necessary for her to continue to cope with contractions, she needs to understand the potential drawbacks of an epidural so that she’s fully prepared for what might follow on the heels of receiving one. When she’s given all the information necessary, she can confidently make the best choices for herself during the actual birth.
When you give women full information and the permission to make their choices freely, they can own their decisions and this makes a difference on how she’ll remember this experience for years to come. Ultimately, I believe it can make a substantial difference in how she feels about her birth experience overall.
Freedom of choice – true freedom of choice – allows a woman to make the necessary decisions her birth might require. Having full information and making decisions based on her own internal motivation, free from outside pressure is the best way I know how for a woman to feel positive about her birth – even if she has to make decisions that are contrary to what the “perfect” birth might look like.
Did you feel free to express your true intentions and desires about giving birth? Were you supported in those desires? How did this affect your overall experience of giving birth?