Sure, having a baby is no day at the beach. Even so, there are a few things I've learned on this vacation that definitely apply to childbirth.
#1. You will make different choices if you are worried about how you look.
Vacation: I remember vacationing during my adolescent years. I wouldn’t think of leaving the hotel room without first applying makeup and styling my hair. I once took went out on a canoe in my bikini while everyone else was wearing boots and sweaters. Fast forward to this morning when we had a chance to swim at a hotel pool. My kids were so excited! I was too, but, unlike them I was painfully aware of my florescent white legs and tamale induced pudge (one month in Mexico will do that to ya). If I was still worried about what people would think about me, I’d have been sitting in a chair by the pool watching everyone else have fun. Instead, I jiggled right in and had fun splashing with my kids.
Childbirth: The same goes for birth. If you are worried about how you look (to your nurse, doctor, husband, doula, mother in law, etc), you will make different choices- and I doubt they will be better choices. One of the most helpful things you can do to make it through painful contractions is to vocalize the pain. Deep, moaning sounds help you release tension instead of tightening up your muscles and holding your breath when a contraction hits. You will sound weird to some people. That’s okay, do it anyway. It will feel great! A lot of my awesome dads will moan and groan with the moms to encourage them to just let it out. This is one of the issues that I bring up when I ask my clients who they will invite to be present during labor. If you don’t feel comfortable around a certain person while walking around semi-nude and moaning, that person should not be in the room.
#2. Bring along the random things that keep you the most comfortable in your home.
Vacation: I travel light- mostly because I am too cheap to pay baggage fees. One time I layered several outfits on myself just to avoid paying the Spirit Airlines carry on fee. I was both impressed with myself and very sweaty. However, for this long trip I made the wise choice to bring the things that make me most comfortable in my home. I brought my bed pillow and my chair pillow, several essential oils, and a heating pad. My husband laughed, but I was so grateful for those things, for their practicality and their “home away from home” vibe.
Childbirth: If you choose to give birth in a hospital, know that your room is not designed with comfort or sentimentality in mind. The sterility of your surroundings hardly helps you relax. The floors are cold and germy, so bring some comfy slippers to wear during labor. Do you have a pillow you can’t sleep without? Bring it. I bring an essential oil diffuser for my clients and they love it. Is there a scent you love? Bring it. Can’t sleep without a fan? Bring it. Take a minute and think about those little things you can bring with to keep yourself as comfortable as possible.
#3. It’s unnatural to call it a “failure” or a “success.”
Vacation: Vacations rarely play out exactly as planned. You usually have to face some unexpected conditions, or let go of an unrealistic expectation or two. Even though I spent months planning this sabbatical, there are so many things that are outside my control. We are supposed to be in Bolivia tonight, but due to an out of stock travel vaccine we couldn’t get Bolivian visas. We already had plane tickets and lodging in Bolivia. Ugh! So frustrating! Yet, we did not fail at vacation. We just adjusted our plans and made the best out of it.
Childbirth: How sad it makes me when I hear women speaking of their births as successful or failed. Your labor may not have gone as planned, but you did not fail. There are many factors outside your control, which is why I like to help people write Birth Preferences rather than Birth Plans. Hoping for a “successful _______ birth” puts pressure on you that isn’t helpful and sets you up for needless guilty feelings. Prepare, prepare, prepare and then accept that your labor and delivery will likely not go exactly as you planned.
#4. Set apart some private family time.
Vacation: I love going to see my in-laws, but the catch is that my husband spends very little with the kids and I while we are in his hometown. He can’t make it down the block without being stopped by a cousin or childhood friend. It’s like he is the unofficial mayor of the town. That might be an exaggeration. But on Christmas Eve the real mayor was sick and my husband was called to go pray for him right away. Now, after a month with his awesome family, we are in Mexico City just spending together before we reengage with the real world.
Childbirth: It is a common belief among midwives that in order to have the smoothest natural birth possible, the same conditions that made you comfortable during sex should be present during labor. Privacy, intimacy, trust, and low lighting (for most people) all contribute to a labor that hums along. Strangers (nurses, students, on call doctors) coming in and out of your fluorescent lit room, while your mother-in-law questions your strategy can certainly stall your labor. There should be moments where just mom and dad are together, bonding as they face the excitement and tension of birth. If labor stalls and you find yourself in the situation like the one I described above, kick everyone out (yes, even the doula), lower the lights, and have some cuddles. The hormonal changes caused by having your partner’s body close to yours are a positive force in labor.
#5. Preparation can make or break your experience.
Vacation: Why would I go to my mother in law’s house, seated at the edge of the rainforest, without bringing bug spray and mosquito nets? I didn’t prepare very well I guess. By the time I was able to make it to a store big enough to carry repellent I had already been bitten by a mosquito carrying the Zika virus. A little bit of preparation could have saved me from a lot of pain.
Childbirth: When my first child was born, I had not prepared myself at all. I didn’t take classes, I didn’t have a doula, I didn’t even know what a placenta was. I screamed so much during labor that I had a sore throat for two days. When my second child was born, I was calm, focused, and utterly confident that my body could do its job. What made the difference? Childbirth education, prenatal exercise, and a husband who memorized a labor support handbook (he was pretty traumatized from baby #1). At the end of both labors I had a healthy baby in my arms, but the experience was worlds apart. Don’t procrastinate! Prepare your mind and your body for the labor you envision. And hire a great doula. I know one, if you’re interested.