Friday, May 11, 2012

What is Natural Parenting: Preparing for Birth

This is one in a series of posts about what Natural Parenting looks like in our family. See the rest of the series here.

This was an easy one for me. I have been interested in birth, both personally and professionally, for several years now. I was working as a health researcher on topics related to maternal and perinatal health at the time I became pregnant and had read various clinical guidelines regarding intrapartum care. Now, these weren’t particularly “natural”, nor would I put it on my list of recommended reading for a newly pregnant woman, but it did give me a good understanding of how birth “works” in the English medical system. Since we have midwifery-led care for the majority of women here, there is generally a good emphasis on physiological birth and woman-centred care. It also flagged up a few things, such as routine managed third stage of labour (i.e. shot of Pitocin to help deliver the placenta), that I knew I would want to research more and think about in greater depth.

St Gerard Majella
patron of expectant mothers
On the personal side, I had been following various blogs on natural birthing topics for several years. Favourites include Stand and Deliver, First the Egg, Talk Birth, and Birthing Beautiful Ideas. (I was actually reading Rixa’s dissertation on Unattended Childbirth in North America when I became pregnant. A really fascinating read if you are interested in birth culture and sociology sort of things.) My mind was made up even before I was pregnant that I would strive for a natural birth. A big part of this, for me, was to plan for a low-intervention birth, doing as much preparation that I could. I wanted to know what experiences of natural birth were like, both physically and mentally, as told by women who had already done it. I assumed that my experience, while unique, would in some ways be similar to the experiences of other women, and therefore things wouldn't be as much of a surprise during the event. 

While I was planning my low-intervention birth, I was also mentally preparing for needing to change these plans during labour. I came to realise that the most important thing for me to have a positive labour and delivery was to be able to be an agent in my own birth. I didn’t want other people to make decisions for me (unless in a very severe emergency!). I knew that I might not be able to use my rational brain as much as normal during labour, so if I wanted to be able to make my own decisions, I would have to go into labour with a lot of knowledge.  If a midwife or doctor was going to tell me that X was happening during my labour, I wanted to already know what that meant and what some of the courses of action might be. I obviously would trust my care providers to have my best interests at heart, and I didn't feel the need--or like it was possible!--to become an expert on all things birth-related. At the same time, I wanted any informed consent to be truly informed, and I felt that I could better get that information over the course of many months from many sources, rather than during the intensity of labour. 
So I read. A lot. I drastically increased the number of birthing blogs that I read during my pregnancy. I read several books, but made sure that the books I chose had a philosophy that was encouraging of a low-intervention birth (I didn't want a book to set out to scare me!). Some books that I found useful were
  • Blooming Birth by Lucy Atkins and Julia Guderian—I remember this having a very realistic and approachable tone, with lots of practical tips for birth preparation
  • Birth Reborn by Michel Odent—this was more for philosophy and getting into a positive mindset about birth than for practical tips, although his ideas (found here and elsewhere) about having a safe, relaxed space for birthing definitely influenced / increased my desire for a homebirth
  • Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering by Dr Sarah Buckley—this book uses medical science to look at some common interventions in child birth, to help parents come to the decisions that are right for their family. It is definitely pro-natural birth (some might say biased), but has good information. Sceptical me did have to take some of the anecdotes on more mystical elements of childbirth with a grain of salt, though. 

Jon and I also attended an antenatal class run by the NCT, a national charity. This was a 16-hour class (spread over several sessions!) on various aspects of labour, birth, and parenting a newborn. There were 5 other couples expecting their first baby as well. The NCT generally has a very pro-natural childbirth stance (some say too much so), but our class had a really good approach of discussing the pros and cons of various interventions without pushing an agenda. For example, the leader did a very useful role-play activity to show who all the people in an operating room at a Caesarean birth are. One of the fathers laid down on the (operating) table, and the rest of us stood around him, acting as doctors, nurses, and midwives. The goal was to help lessen a parent’s anxiety if they needed an emergency Caesarean and all of a sudden had a load of people running into the room. On the other hand, we also talked extensively about homebirths. It was this class, more than anything, that helped Jon become comfortable with the idea of a homebirth.

Our Lady of Guadalupe
In preparation for what I knew would be a physically strenuous labour and delivery, I tried to keep active throughout pregnancy. I am not really an exerciser, but I do like to walk (and since I don’t have a car, I need to walk a lot, too!). I tried to continue walking as much as possible without wearing myself out. I was blessed with a fairly easy pregnancy and, once I got the iron situation sorted out, more energy than I expected. Although, when I went on maternity leave at 36 weeks, I may have taken a bit too much advantage of the possibility of lie-ins and lazy afternoons on the couch, and probably could have kept going a bit more. (I also blame this lazing about for Gus’s posterior positioning—I should have been scrubbing the floors to keep him in position like old-time midwives used to say!) While I think keeping active is one thing that I’d be more conscious of in a next pregnancy, I have a feeling it wouldn’t be too difficult with a toddler/pre-schooler to look after!

I thought about hypnobirthing or hiring a doula, but I decided against both of them. There were no local hypnobirthing classes at the time, and I didn't think I would have the discipline to listen to the tapes every day. (Plus, I think Jon would be very skeptical about hypnobirthing. While that wouldn't stop me if it was an idea I was committed to, having Jon's full support during the labour and delivery was more important to me).   We didn't get a doula because I wasn't sure if I would like another person there during the labour. I think I would seriously consider getting one for a next birth, though. I think the whole day was quite draining for Jon, so it would be good to have some support for him. He was an amazing support person for me, but there were times when I knew what I needed to do, but I needed to hear it from someone else in order to get up the energy. The midwives weren't the right support at the time, and Jon didn't have enough knowledge about birth to know specifically what to say, so I think I would like a doula to fill that gap.


  1. You were so prepared - I love it! Your prenatal class sounds like it was great. I'm jealous!

    1. It was a great class! It was pricey, but I knew that Jon wouldn't be interested in reading much info about childbirth and such, so it was worth it to make sure we both had some idea about what was going to happen!

  2. I did a fair amount of reading in preparation for Annabelle's birth, but I haven't read any of the titles you mention. I'll have to look into those if I can squeeze any more onto my pregnancy reading list! I'm really enjoying this series, and you have inspired me to pick my long neglected series back up and finish it, too. :)

    1. Thanks, Melissa! I really liked your post about childbirth education this week as well!