In preparing for birth, the main thing I did was talk to those of my friends who did go natural. Hearing their experiences and their approaches was absolutely the most helpful thing I did. I will refer to several things I found crucial for my own labor that I learned from them throughout this series. And this post is one of them.
I want to start with The Bradley Way. I learned about this method from a friend in my ward. I bought and recommend anyone interested to buy the book for themselves. It’s called Natural Childbirth the Bradley Way. Now, I have no intension to outline the entire method for you. But I do wish to highlight the major takeaways for me that I found extremely valuable.
- Contractions: The book goes step-by-step through the stages of labor and the entire bodily process of giving birth. Being educated on what my body would do and what the baby would do was extremely comforting. It goes back to the whole idea of giving birth instead of having birth happen. That way I didn’t just hurt. I could understand what pain meant. That being said, everyone talks about contractions. Contractions are the thing to look for to know you are in labor, right? But what is a contraction? What does that mean? What does it feel like? How will I decipher between a real one and a false one? These were the questions I wanted answers to. The book explains that contractions are your uterus muscles flexing and relaxing, trying to open up your cervix. When your cervix is open all the way, baby heads down the birth canal. It compares the process to pulling a turtleneck over your head. This leads me to the next important thing I learned:
- Relaxation: The book says that the body is ready and trained to do its job to get baby out. However, our job is to get our mind out of the way. What I mean by that is that it is a natural reaction for women to want to fight the body. That’s because contractions are painful. When they talk about the pain of childbirth, it’s mostly the contractions they are talking about. When we experience pain, any kind of pain, we tend to tense up. This tension actually hinders contractions from being most effective. Instead, you need to relax. Every single muscle in your body needs to relax, so that uterus muscle can do its thing. This, for me, was what I meant when I said that having a natural birth was the most mentally difficult thing I have ever done. It takes SO much concentration to relax, which sounds like an oxymoron, but its true. The book has a lot of information on this idea. I have a million things I want to say about it, but seriously, get the book. They are the experts. My summary is not expert. But let me at least say this: the key to relaxation is your coach.
- Birth Coach: For me, this was my husband. I never could have made it without him. “Crucial” doesn’t even begin to explain the importance of the role of the coach. The book talks out specifically to the coach throughout the chapters, helping them understand what they can do and what they need to understand about what is happening to the woman in order to know how to fulfill their role. This is why I said earlier that both man and woman needs to study. You both need to know what to expect from labor and from each other. Now, it is a common “expression” that the woman is going to yell at her husband during labor. If you are like me, I did not want that to be my reality. I’ve never yelled at my husband and I never intend to, and I wasn’t going to let the stress and/or pain of labor give me an excuse to act like a beast. What I did learn, however, is that during labor, at a specific stage I’ll get into a little down the list, women get particularly focused. If anything breaks that focus, she will lash out. So this common “expression” of women lashing out at their husbands actually comes from a man not knowing what the woman needs. No one can coach someone through something if they don’t know what is going to happen and what is going to change. And you don’t have to be an expert or a midwife or a doula to be able to do that. You can be an average Joe, or Jane or DeWayne. Just read the book.
- Birth Plan: When it comes to having a baby, there are a lot of decisions that need to be made, which I had no idea about. Other literature I read on labor go through some of these decisions and the pros and cons to each choice, but this book helped me see the bigger picture. For example, it talked about some common practices such as stripping membranes in order to get labor going. What I didn’t read anywhere else but here was that if you agree to have your membranes stripped, there is no going back. If your body still doesn’t go into labor on its own, you will have to be induced. There is no other option. And being induced can actually make your contractions even more painful, because they aren’t natural. Don’t get me wrong, if that’s the course that has to happen, all the better. Thank heavens for medicine for it is truly miraculous. But if you want a complete, absolute natural, don’t-mess-with-this-body labor and you and the baby aren’t in medical danger for waiting, don’t agree to have your membranes stripped. Who knew? *I’ll include an important note here. The book was written in like 1970, so somethings can be a little outdated. Don’t let this book be your only resource. Read around so you can read with a grain of educated salt.
- Emotional Sign-Posts: This is a term used in the book. I saved this one for last because this was perhaps the MOST MOST MOST MOST MOST important thing about birth I needed to know. If I hadn’t known about the sign-posts, I would have given in and gotten the epidural before the end. Again, read the book for more clarification, but let me summarize. It says there are three emotional sign-posts: Excitement, Seriousness, and Self-Doubt. The Excitement Sign-Post is when you realize you’re in labor. You may be feeling contractions alright, but dude, it’s exciting! For real. Next, is Seriousness. It’s when you notice that you really can’t focus on much else but getting through a contraction. During the Seriousness sign-post is usually when the woman is easily irritable, mainly because she doesn’t want her concentration derailed by anything. Finally, the Self-Doubt Sign-Post. This was so important to know about. You will hit a point where you start to think I can’t do this. And you believe it, too. This is natural. Don’t let the nurses or anyone else talk you into an epidural now. When this Sign-Post happens, you are close! If your approach to natural birth up to this point has been to just try it and see how far you go, you’ll fail. You’ve got to be in it to win it because you’ll reach a point where you truly feel like you can’t do it anymore. But you can, and you will, and that’s the coolest part.
So these are just some examples of things that were helpful to me. There is much more the book has to offer. And remember, every labor experience is unique. The book emphasizes that over and over again. My experience may not be your experience. And that’s really the point, isn’t it? Learning enough to know what applies to each experience is really what this is all about.