Greetings everyone! Things have been busy. We are harvesting the last from our garden, and apart from feeling a bit under the weather (more on that later), everything is great! I am astounded and thrilled by the huge number of messages I have received, mostly on the subject of home birth.
The following is my response to a heartfelt message from someone wanting advice on how to deal with anxiety during pregnancy and birth. While I am certainly not an expert on anything except when it comes to my own experience, I have tried to reply as honestly as I can.
How wonderful that you are putting so much thought, care and attention into planning for pregnancy and birth. This is so important, and I think that perhaps not enough women read, research and take responsibility for this process. When I was pregnant with my first child, I spent the entire 10 months of pregnancy devouring every piece of material on childbirth that I possibly could.
That said, I think one’s first birth experience is uncharted waters: it is impossible to explain intellectually the intensity and immensity and profundity and entirety of birth. Birth is down in the dirt, bloody and primal. But I truly believe that so much about giving birth without drugs and interventions is psychological. And unfortunately, in our culture, we are constantly bombarded with the concept that birth is excruciating, horrible, disgusting, etc, which tends to affect our attitudes about birth, and to create a lot of anxiety. From my own experience of giving birth at home to 5 children, I feel very strongly that birth is safe, normal, and beautiful. But this does not mean that I never have fear, or that my births are necessarily serene events. Well, I do think my birth experiences have been very peaceful–but unconventionally so! There is always a lot of chaos, and I do tend to scream and holler…etc. I think many women who want a homebirth tend to expect a very zen-like experience, and are perhaps surprised and frightened by the intensity. So it is important not to harbour too many expectations about birth–but I DO think that we should hold the expectation that birth is safe and normal. My first birth experience was 30 or so hours of full-out “labour”…and it was wonderful! First babies sometimes take a bit longer (2nd was 4 hours, 3rd was 10 hours, 4th was 1 hour, 5th was 2 hours!–you never know).
In terms of your experiences with anxiety: to be honest with you, I have also experienced anxiety, and in fact, this is one of the central reasons for why I ended up choosing to give birth to all 5 of my children at home without a doctor or registered midwife. I have been a rather high-strung person (decreasingly so, I think/hope), and while I have never liked hospitals very much, as I became more knowledgeable about the hospital birth experience, I realized that I needed to have full control over my body and my environment, and that only I will dictate who is around me while going through such a totally intimate and private event–and I still believe very strongly that if I were ever at hospital giving birth, that my stress and anxiety would be so great, that I would probably end up with a c-section. I am always astounded and impressed when any of my friends or acquaintances are able to give birth in hospital without medications or surgery, because I don’t think I would be able to do that! (I receive lots of undeserving kudos for my bravery–not so! The opposite!) I also believe very strongly that the grand majority of all “complications” arise from simply being in the hospital and all of the associated interventions that go along with that. It has been noted countless times that animals often are unable to birth even when being observed, and I think that we also need, above all, privacy, comfort, quiet, darkness, peace, and sovereignty while birthing (or whatever your version of that might be–Felix’s birth clearly involved his siblings jumping all over me, but for us, this is normal and comfortable!).
Pregnancy changes us. Birth changes us. Not only is pregnancy the ideal time for reflection and real work on our selves, but it is essential that we take those short 10 months to get in touch with our capacity for love and self-love, and to quiet our minds. And I think that if we are able to make choices that lead to a peaceful birth with few or no interventions, that birth can heal, or be a catalyst for healing–myriad sorts of wounds. I highly recommend taking some time every day to simply sit and be with your thoughts without judgement, to keep a journal, and to engage in some kind of specific form of physical activity every single day. Start a yoga or Pilates regime–even just from home with a video or a book. Exercise has been shown to reduce anxiety significantly–perhaps even more so than pharmaceuticals (which, obviously, are a really bad idea during pregnancy!). Find a way to be in nature every day as well–walks are good.
During the birth process itself, a certain amount of fear, trepidation and anxiety is completely normal. It is wonderful that your fiancee has friends who are midwives. If you choose to hire one or both of them, make sure that your philosophies are aligned, and that they understand completely your expectations of them. If you think you will be involved with doctors during your pregnancy, make sure you are literate when it comes to the various procedures and tests that have become standard, so you can truly make informed choices. Learn their language, and know that you have the final word–that no one can force you to undergo any procedure you aren’t comfortable with.
I don’t think women really need midwives or doulas or birth attendants for any reason other than to be told that what they are experiencing is normal (which is very important!). I am so glad that for my first birth, my traditional birth attendant was there. And I will love her forever, for doing nothing except bring me water, and put cold cloths on my forehead, and when I cried and said I can’t do this, this is too hard, this hurts too much, is this normal? She said You *are* doing this, Yolande. Yes it’s hard. Yes it hurts. Yes, it is more intense than anything you’ve ever felt before. You are bringing your baby into the world. Keep breathing. Surrender.
I had two births with my birth attendant, and then the last 3 on my own–with my amazing husband and family, of course. Although this may sound strange, my husband is not there as emotional support for me, but rather for practical reasons, and of course, because he is involved in this new being, his child. But he couldn’t possibly understand what it feels like to give birth, and I don’t expect him to comfort me, or to comprehend what I am feeling (although he has certainly been debriefed by me about the basics, and what to do in certain situations). So, he wonderfully and kindly takes orders from me and does what I need him to do. Essentially, during the birth process, he is my midwife; my servant, as it should be. It is after the baby is born that things get emotional, for everyone, of course! During the birth, I am in my own head, lizard-brain, talking to myself. During the birth process, attitude is everything. Words spoken aloud can shift how you’re feeling inside. This may sound quite goofy, but my mantra during birth is “yes”. Always, always, “yes” and “I love you, baby”. It is easy to drift over to “no”, during birth. I insist, during the birth process, that I maintain a sense of gratitude for the privilege of giving birth to this baby. When things get hard (which they do, always), I remind myself that I am going to meet my baby soon. I love you baby, I love you baby.
Although this is a huge generalization (and I certainly do not mean to offend anyone), I have observed that people who experience anxiety tend to be highly sensitive, intelligent, aware, and loving. I think you may find that you have the capacity to harness your anxiety and transform it into energy: the energy to research the facts, to grow your baby, and to trust the process of pregnancy and birth. This will take a lot of work and determination, but I think it is very possible for you to create your family and emerge from the whole process much stronger and calmer and more enlightened.
I have blathered on quite a bit here, but I hope some of this resonates with you.
Take good care of yourself,