I can still remember the moments that followed my first positive pregnancy test. Alone in the house, I stood in front of the long bathroom mirror, and contemplating my reflection, I had two clear thoughts.
Thought 1: Oh. My. God. There’s a BABY in there.
Thought 2: Oh. My. GOD!! It’s got to get OUT!
The rest of my very long pregnancy was largely spent in preoccupation with these two thoughts, mostly the second one. I was 31, in love with my partner, and thrilled to be expecting. At the same time, I also felt like someone who had got drunk and agreed to do a parachute jump, only to find when they sobered up that backing out simply wasn’t an option, and that – worse still – the plane had already left the ground.
Back then, I spent the entire pregnancy feeling like I was several thousand feet up and about to freefall against my will. But now that I’ve had that baby, plus two more after that, plus spent four years running an organisation set up to inspire women with confidence in their pregnancy – plus written the Positive Birth Book - well, let’s just say I’m a skydiving pro these days.
If there’s one thing I’ve learnt, it’s that knowledge is power. If you are pregnant, you ARE going to give birth. There’s no getting out of it. So learn all you can, not just about the physical experience of pregnancy and labour, but also about your choices, options and rights in the birth room. Here are my five top tips to maximise your chances of a positive birth…
Challenge your fears and assumptions
If you’re a woman who’s grown up in the Western world in the last thirty years, chances are you’ve seen a heard a few scaries on the topic of childbirth. Maybe it was that helpful film they showed you at school that made Alien look like a picnic in the Spring sunshine. Or was it the funny way your aunties whispered about ‘down there’, and shook their heads in the style of Les Dawson just after the next-door neighbour had twins? Wherever you got the idea of how you think birth will be, it’s time to forget all that, and replace it with some positive thinking.
Talk to other women, read and watch positive birth stories.
In my first pregnancy, I was literally so scared of giving birth that I didn’t even dare watch a single film of it. You might be feeling the same. But if you choose carefully, you can watch some really inspiring films of labour that might just encourage you to feel that it’s not going be that bad. This is a lovely ‘entry level’ birth film: www.youtube.com/watch?v=lS-L731mzWU. You can also find lots of inspiration on the Positive Birth Movement facebook page, website, and at our groups where women often tell their stories to help others feel more confident. Oh and please, switch off One Born Every Minute! Watching woman after distressed looking woman in the stranded beetle position is not going to do much for your enthusiasm. Birth is hard work on a bed on your back – so again, challenge your assumptions and find out what the women who love giving birth are doing instead.
Make a clear birth plan, Plan A, B, C, and BPC!
You might be discouraged from making a birth plan, because, ‘birth is unpredictable’. Well first of all, you need to know that this is not entirely true – there are in fact lots of steps you can take to maximizing your chances of having the birth you want, and thinking through your choices and options is a vital part of that process. Make a Plan A – a clear idea of what you really want, and don’t be afraid to dream about that and aim for it. However, you can also think through the choices you might make if birth deviates from your hopes – and make a Plan B (and even C and D) for those scenarios. And even if you want a home birth in a tent at the bottom of your garden (yes, it’s been done!), I still recommend you make a plan for your BPC (Best Possible Caesarean). There are lots of caesarean choices – for example immediate skin to skin with your baby - that will make you feel more at the centre of the experience and leave you feeling more positive afterwards. You can use these specially designed icons (free to download at www.pinterandmartin.com/vbp) to create a Visual Birth Plan, fun to do and quick and easy for your care providers to read.
Learn about the Love Hormone
Oxytocin – sometimes known as the Love Hormone – is produced by your body when you feel safe, happy, warm, cosy and emotionally liberated. You produce it when you are falling head over heels in love, when you are having really good sex and when you are breastfeeding. And guess what, Oxytocin is the most important hormone in the birth process. The good news is, you can make your own abundant supply, but the bad news is, Oxytocin is also known as the ‘Shy Hormone’. Essentially, if you think about the circumstances under which you would have the best sex of your life, versus the circumstances where you would, quite frankly, rather die than have an orgasm, you are already half way to a degree in Oxytocin Studies. Before you get distracted, let’s get you that certificate…
Oxytocin likes: darkness, safety, quiet, warmth, privacy, love. It likes massage, people who whisper, “You’re beautiful”, tea lights, and compilation playlists.
Oxytocin does not like: interruptions, bright lights, strangers, cold, fear, unfamiliarity. It does not like people chit chatting while it is trying to get in the zone, or TV’s on in the background, or rough poky fingers.
Wherever you decide to give birth, you need to be thinking about how to create the best environment for oxytocin production – you can’t give birth without it!
Know that you have choices and rights
Brace yourself for a shocking revelation: in every single pregnancy and birth situation, you have a choice. The end. It really is that simple. What happens to you, your body and your baby in pregnancy, labour and birth, is completely, totally and utterly, Up. To. You. And whilst there may be times when you are more than happy to hand over the reins to the medical professionals, there are many other choices to be made in pregnancy and birth that are not ‘life or death’ decisions, and in which you can take an active, informed role. Not only this, but you have rights in childbirth just as you do in all other areas of your life. Too often women talk about ‘not being allowed’ to do certain things when they give birth, but in fact, this language is outdated. You ARE allowed to make whatever choices you feel are right for you, your family and your baby. It is your body, your baby, your choice. Don’t fancy another vaginal exam to check your progress? You can say no. Want to get off the bed? Don’t ask, just do it. Need an epidural right now? You have a right to have pain relief when you request it. Many women report that just knowing that they are in the driving seat when it comes to birth choices, makes them feel less intimidated and scared, and more empowered and positive.
Milli Hill is the author of the Positive Birth Book, available now on Amazon and from all good book sellers, and the founder of the Positive Birth Movement, a global network of free to attend, antenatal discussion groups - find your nearest at positivebirthmovement.org.