I mentioned recently in my Instagram stories that I’ve become a Maternity Patient Partner. This is a voluntary role with Healthwatch Essex, with the goal being to help improve antenatal and maternity care, and everything in between.
On Saturday I was invited to one of our local hospitals to help ‘review’ the maternity department and offer feedback which will contribute towards an action plan for improvements.
During my time with the hospital and the other ladies involved, one of the things we talked about a lot was birth trauma and how far-reaching the consequences can be. A positive mindset during labour is vital not only to the outcome of your delivery (stress can slow labour down), but also in the longer term, affecting things like breastfeeding success rates and how a mother bonds with her baby, as well as the potential onset of PNA, PND, and PTSD.
The other ladies and I discussed our personal histories and it led to me writing this post about how best to prepare for a positive labour and delivery.
My Experience of Giving Birth
Twice now I’ve pushed a tiny squalling person out of a hole that is allegedly designed for the purpose – except the maths doesn’t quite work…
On the first occasion, my experience was…let’s just say I wouldn’t choose to repeat it – for so very many reasons, but for this one in particular:
The horrifying moment a doctor, fearing for my distressed baby’s wellbeing, turned to the midwife positioned at the foot of my bed and instructed ‘cut her’. Indeed.
How to Have a Positive Birth Experience
The arrival of my second baby couldn’t have been more different. I was terrified of a repeat performance, especially given the complications for my first daughter following her traumatic arrival; and yet, despite the excruciating feeling of being torn open (quite literally) – I feel sad that I may never experience that again. Sounds mental, but here’s the thing:
I felt in control and empowered; everything was exactly how I wished for it to be – and that makes alllllll the difference to a labouring woman and how she perceives the pain of giving birth.
(And let’s be frank, although there’s rumour of some women reportedly orgasming in the throes of labour, the truth is that having your foof ripped open from the inside out is not and never will be pleasant.)
So how is it that I now genuinely regret the fact I will likely never again go through that agony?
Because I made peace with it.
Here are my top tips for ensuring you can do the same, regardless of how your baby enters the world:
Understanding what’s happening is the first step to tuning in, listening, and working with your body. It may be tempting to bury your head in the sand; but this is one instance where ignorance is not bliss.
The pain is coming (sorry), so you may as well prepare yourself and make sure it’s on your own terms. If I had my time again, I wouldn’t hesitate to try hypnobirthing, alas it wasn’t a ‘thing’ when I was pregnant.
Having a clear idea of your preferences and how you feel regarding medical intervention and drugs is wise; having a strong expectation of how things will play out is, um, perhaps best avoided. It ’s also not a terrible thing to have your partner fully briefed in advance so they’re able to advocate for you if necessary.
So go ahead and make a birth plan if you wish – but remember to be realistic and adaptable in order to avoid disappointments, because flexibility is your best insurance for an experience similarly positive to my second.
When things don’t go perfectly, you may feel overwhelmed with feelings of sorrow/guilt/failure. I know because I’ve been there: pretty much everything that could go wrong, did go wrong for me first time around.
Birth Afterthoughts is a fabulous service offered by many hospitals; it provides a full debrief of your delivery, and was an invaluable resource for me. Going through the notes from a traumatic labour and delivery with a midwife can facilitate a huge shift in your feelings about the experience.
It can provide a better understanding of what took place and, crucially, it can validate your trauma, allowing acceptance and closure.
A perfect second labour also helped to heal the trauma for me, but that’s quite a drastic course of action to take (and a bit of a gamble!).
So, natural or section, pain relief free or alllll the drugs – when it comes to giving birth these are not the reasons labour can be traumatic; it’s the loss of control that’s frightening. Having little understanding of what’s happening to your body in those critical moments and even less autonomy can be pivotal to how you perceive labour and delivery.
Any new experience can be a source of anxiety, but when pain and fear like you’ve never known are added into the mix, it’s no wonder that trauma is so prevalent. We’re literally putting our lives – and those of our unborn babies – into the hands of strangers. And that’s kind of daunting.
So with all this in mind, why on God’s green earth would I lament never going through labour again? Well, it’s because my second baby proved that an empowered delivery can make you feel like a freaking superhero. And nothing else in life (not even new shoes or a viral post) will ever come close to that.