Students file into the classroom. You can tell they’re feeling nervous by how they speak in hushed tones and the way they look sideways at each other. The room I teach in is behind locked doors, so even though they’ve all been standing together in the lobby for 5-10 minutes, everyone keeps to themselves.
By the end of our time together, these same families will be lingering after class ends. They’ll wait to walk out together, laughing, hugging and wishing each other good luck on their births.
But in those first few moments as they file in, I sense their concern that they might not belong, that they won’t fit in with all the other people in the room. They’re thinking:
“Everyone else probably knows more than I do.”
“I’ll bet no one else feels as nervous and afraid about giving birth as I do.”
“What if they have it all figured out, but I don’t have a clue?”
“What if I’m the only who wants a birth that is…”
I want them to see how alike they really are. That they are all feeling the same feelings. I want them to know just how much they belong – no matter what their personal ideas of pregnancy, birth and parenting might be. This coming together can only happen when each of them feels free to express themselves and their individual desires for the type of birth that they really want.
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 each of 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 like. I feel like pregnant folks 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 person to choose a Cesarean for reasons that are deep and painful to reveal to anyone, even themselves, without being judged by those around them? How do they stake claim for an unmedicated birth, when everyone else around them says, “Don’t be a martyr – take the drugs!”
All birthing folks should be encouraged to strive for a birth that has the least interventions possible – not because it’s the “best” birth, but because it’s what’s safest for most birthing people and their babies. But people need to come to that conclusion on their own freely (and if the circumstances of their birth experience allow it to be so – which doesn’t always happen!) They need to be internally motivated for the birth they’re hoping to have. And they need to be prepared for all the myriad ways their birth might differ from their plan.
If there’s no internal motivation for the choices around their birth, the laboring person runs the risk of feeling shame and judgement should they make any decisions that differ from this ideal during the actual birth.
I want people to be open to all the possible ways one can give birth to a baby. I want them to stand up and ask questions of themselves and their medical team. I want their eyes and ears wide open to take in any information that might conflict with their initial beliefs about birth (as long as that information is evidence-based!) I want them to strive for what they feel free to express as their 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 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 person who freely makes an authentic and real choice that rings true to their deepest desires will never be disappointed in themselves no matter what the circumstance. They’ll only push according to the bar they’ve set for themselves and they know they can adjust that bar to be higher or lower depending on their circumstances without feeling judgement.
If a person freely expresses their true desire to have a birth that is medication and intervention free, then they need to be prepared to work hard through each contraction. They must find their rhythm and a way to relax in between contractions. And they’d better be practicing outside of class time, as the short practice periods during class will not cut it.
If a person freely expresses their true desire to have an epidural for pain relief in their birth, then they still need to be prepared to work hard through each contraction. When they feel an epidural has become medically necessary for them to continue to cope with contractions, they need to understand the potential drawbacks of an epidural so that they’re fully prepared for what might follow on the heels of receiving one. When they’re given all the information necessary, they can confidently make the best choices for themselves during the actual birth.
When you give people full information and the permission to make their choices freely, they can own their decisions and this makes a difference on how they’ll remember this experience for years to come. Ultimately, I believe it can make a substantial difference in how they feel about their birth experience overall.
Freedom of choice – true freedom of choice – allows a person to make the necessary decisions their birth might require. Having full information and making decisions based on their own internal motivation, free from outside pressure is the best way I know how for a person to feel positive about their birth – even if they have to make decisions that are contrary to what the “perfect” birth might look like.
And because ya’ll know I love music… Check this out, have a little dance party, and don’t be afraid of your freedom to do what you want when it comes to your birth!
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?