When I was pregnant with my first baby in 2003, my husband and I attended a birth class. It was a small class, consisting of just my husband and I and one other couple. The other couple was due two months before me and they were planning a home birth. I was floored! What? Excuse me? People actually have a choice to give birth at home? I thought a home birth was something that happened *on accident* when labor begins and goes sooooooo fast. You know – like they portray it on TV. My husband and I had done research and settled on a birthing center … attached to a hospital. We have learned since that first birth class that being active in choosing how we want to participate in birth makes birthing a better experience.
This choice that had been brought to my attention on where I could choose to birth opened my eyes to the fact that there are all sorts of ways of doing things surrounding birth that I was completely unaware. I had so much more to learn! The first time I heard the word “doula” was during these birthing classes. I learned you could move around during labor. You could eat and drink, walk and squat, sleep and get in a bathtub. One of the most shocking things I learned was about my husband. My husband was actually encouraged to help out during all of the labor and birth. He wasn’t supposed to just sit there and pass out cigars afterwards. Wow. How can this be? I had begun reading all of the books I was supposed to read. I was prepared and excited to meet my baby. I just had no idea that there were other ways in which we could be introduced.
Recently, this choice of where and how to give birth has been brought into the spotlight. This is in part due to media normalizing birth, as the popularity of Ricki Lake’s documentary, “The Business of Being Born” showed. This documentary follows women who are pregnant making choices about birth, in addition to giving statistics on a scope of issues (home birth vs. hospital birth, natural vs. caesarean.) While there are other films out there, this one was available to a wider audience, rather than to people already aware of choice in childbirth. I believe the increased awareness about choice is also due to the fact that more women are talking about birth and their choices with each other. Not only do my friends and I dish weekly about some aspect of childbirth, but also plugging “childbirth” into Google (or Facebook) brings up numerous blogs and websites, in addition to respected magazine articles and books. Growing up, I led a typical life in a small town in the Midwest. I was astonished when my aunt not only chose a birthing center within a hospital but also breastfed while on maternity leave. These two choices she made were so far out there to me as a pre-teen. It was so surprising to discover that I could have an active role in the birth of my children.
I’m so thankful I was able to ask questions and make decisions based on what I learned from many different sources. How many other women are out there, nodding dumbly to the doctor (or midwife or newspaper article) because they don’t know they can have an active role in their birthing decisions? How many other expectant, first-time mamas are like I used to be – ready to believe anything my doctor (or mom or in-laws) said without doing any other research because s/he had to know what was best; after all, s/he had been through childbirth before. While I’m not saying that your doctor (or your mother-in-law) doesn’t have information that is important to consider, rather there are usually safe alternatives that you can choose to make your birth experience more enjoyable to you and your babe.
I now have three children and each birth was a new and different experience. With each one, I have become more confident in both my body and my choices. I’m discovering things I’m excited to try during each pregnancy and labor/birth, but most importantly I am proactive about my births. I ask myself what I want and then find a way to make it happen.If I hadn't attended those first birth classes, (and read a few different books and talked with other women and midwives…) I would never have known that there are other ways. It’s up to you to decide how you want to celebrate the miracle within you. Ask; discuss; and ponder the different ways you can participate in labor and birth. Take control of bringing your sweet baby “earth-side” and creating the experience you want. Birth is a journey, but if you are knowledgeable in what you want, you’ll enjoy the passage even more.