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With my first baby I was determined to do everything right and have the ‘perfect’ birth. I went to NCT classes, read the monthly pregnancy magazines and watched every birth programme I could on TV. I wrote a three page long birth plan, that at best was hoping for miracles, and my bag was packed following an impersonal list in a pregnancy book (who has ever actually used a natural sponge in labour?). Really though I was incredibly ill prepared for what I was about to experience, unfortunately I didn’t realise this until afterwards. My birth was long, difficult and painful. I had every intervention I said I didn’t want in my plan. I learnt a little from this experience and when I was pregnant with my 2nd I had a much better birth plan and a more useful bag packed, fate intervened though and I ended up with an unexpected emergency induction for pre-eclampsia.
Pregnant with my third baby I wondered if the phrase ‘third time lucky’ was really true. With more than a little bit of trepidation I started to plan for the birth at around 6 months pregnant. I listened to a hypnobirthing CD nightly and read lots of Ina May Gaskin. By now I’d honed my birth plan down to one A4 page that really clearly expressed my wishes in a realistic fashion. I gathered bits for my ‘birth kit’, things that never appear in the sample lists you read in books and magazines – soft socks for my feet (they get chilly in labour!), my favourite aromatherapy oils (lavender and geranium) and a battery operated aromafan so that I could scent any room to make it smell like home, battery operated candles, so I could create a calm ambience wherever I was, photographs of a favourite holiday spot for me to focus on, bendy straws, a big hairband, rehydration salts and lots of food! This time my preparation meant I was looking forward to birth. Ideally I would have loved a doula with me too but sadly at the time there were none working locally, a very different story now though, doulas are hugely popular and available in most areas.
My labour began two weeks after Christmas and with my battery candles casting a warm glow over the room, aromatherapy oils scenting the air and relaxing music playing I laboured for 5 hours, enjoying every minute of it. My 11lb 3.5oz son was born into my own hands underwater, I didn’t need any help or pain relief. After his birth I felt elated and couldn’t wait to do it all again, it wasn’t just the birth that was easier though, my emotional state, postnatal healing and breastfeeding were so much much easier too, birth is about so much more than ‘just one day’. I repeated the experience two years later when my 11lb 1oz daughter was again born into my own hands in water, this time after a labour lasting for only 30 minutes. Both births were at home.
Had I just discovered the secrets to an easier birth? Was it really all in the preparation? Both in the physical and mental sense. My last two births were so strikingly different to the long, tortuous, painful experiences I had endured with my first two children. The only difference was the preparation I had done, the researching my rights, understanding normal birth physiology, having faith I could do it, having a husband who knew my wishes, a decent plan that the midwives could follow easily and a few little items to make the environment more birth friendly.
Based on this my top tips for an easier birth would be:
- Choose good antenatal preparation classes you want classes that answer your questions and leave you feeling empowered and confident in your abilities to birth, in whatever manner you choose.
- Consider a doula or extra birth partner to support you, research shows births with doulas are faster, less painful and less likely to result in a C-Section.
- Understand your rights, question everything! (The acronym BRAINS is useful here: B = What are the Benefits, R = What are the Risks, A = What are the alternatives, I = What are your instincts telling you? N = What happens if we do nothing?, S= Remember to smile!)
- Write a good birth plan, keep it short, one page of A4 maximum, bullet points are good, start with a list of what you really do want and what you really don’t want, keep it realistic, keep open minded and don’t state the obvious (e.g.: ‘I’d rather not have a C-Section’), lastly make sure it’s read and print at least 3 copies, one for your partner to keep, one for the midwife and one for spare!
- Pack a good birth kit; think about the environment, battery candles for dimmed lighting, sunglasses to keep the light out, a battery aromafan to scent the room with smells you love rather than antiseptic! A photo of somebody or somewhere you love to concentrate on, an IPod with your favourite relaxing music, some magazines, some food.
- Turn off One Born Every Minute and immerse yourself in positive birth stories, the Positive Birth Movement is a Great Start: http://www.positivebirthmovement.org/
- Be open minded, in HypnoBirthing they say to be “prepared to meet whatever turn your birthing may take”, remember there is no such thing as a perfect birth, just a birth that’s perfect for you – however and wherever you may be.
- Believe – trust in yourself, you CAN do this!