My friends threw me an amazing baby shower when I was pregnant with my first child. During the festivities one of my experienced mom friends passed out note cards and had each guest write words of advice, blessings, and fond wishes for me and my baby-to-be. Reading those cards aloud is by far one of my favorite memories from pregnancy, and their childbirth advice made me feel ready for labor and delivery. Well, as ready as any first-time mom can feel, anyway.
Some of their advice was pretty simple, like, "When all else fails, just keep breathing." Those words of wisdom seemed obvious at the time, but ended up being a necessary reminder when labor grew particularly intense. Others were more practical, like, "Remember you are in charge." It can be difficult to say "no" or ask "why?" or even to request that someone leave the room when you're in labor, but you have a right to give birth with dignity and to have your wishes respected when medically possible. Other pieces of advice were surprising, like, "Getting induced doesn't have to suck." I later discovered that induction wasn't the scary, horrible experience I feared it would be, either.
Most importantly, I learned that my birth experience didn't have to depend on a highly specific birth plan or set of unreasonable and unreachable expectations. Whatever happened I knew I could birth my baby, and with the support of my friends and family and their mantra-like words of advice I felt empowered to have my baby on my own terms.
The hospital where I delivered had a strict policy against having food in the delivery room. I'm so glad I listened to my friend's advice and brought snacks with me anyway. If I hadn't I would have been forced to deliver without having eaten in over 24 hours. That's just wrong.
Always bring snacks.
"Getting Induced Isn't The End Of The World"
I was terrified of being induced. When I reached and passed my daughter's due date, my midwife recommended I consider induction, for her safety and mine, but I was so scared of induction that I was willing to try just about anything to avoid it. Now that I have been through both I wish I had gotten induced sooner, honestly. I am so glad that my friend told me about her positive induction experience so that I could come to terms with having to be induced, too.
"You're In Charge"
I went into my first labor with a very specific birth plan and a solid set of expectations. While having a plan is great and it's empowering to know what you want and why, I don't necessarily recommend moms-to-be go as overboard with the planning like I did.
Still, my friend reminding me that I was in control helped me feel empowered to do things during labor that I might not have otherwise been able to do, like request a new nurse when one shamed me and ask for some damn privacy when I needed it.
"Just Keep Breathing"
Having someone tell you to keep breathing through contractions and labor pain is sort of cliché, but I found the reminder to keep breathing when things got tough or seemed too hard to manage to be totally necessary. "Breathe in, pause, breathe out" became the rhythm of my birth experience, and actually helped to calm me down and keep me focused on the ultimate goal: meeting my baby.
"Epidurals Are Amazing"
I went into my first birth experience thinking that epidurals were for weak women who couldn't handle labor. I learned that epidurals are sometimes just what a mom-to-be needs to feel empowered and capable of making it through labor relatively unscathed. I am so glad I had friends who let me know that getting an epidural was not a sign of failure or "weakness."
"Listen To Your Body"
When a friend told me to listen to my own body over the monitors during labor, I have to admit that I thought she was being a little too mystical for my taste. Then I felt contractions ebb and flow during labor and knew what she meant. I knew when things were right, and I also knew when things didn't feel right. That intuition proved important in letting my health care providers know there was a problem before the monitors started sounding. It was pretty epic.
"Don't See A Change In Plans As A Failure"
One friend told me to make a "birth idea" rather than a birth plan. She advices me to know what I wanted and didn't want in a general sense, but not get too hung up on the details. And when my "ideal birth" went out the window, I finally understood what she meant. Nothing happened as expected, but it was entirely OK.
"Do What You Need To Do"
One mom friend told me to let my needs take over during labor. If I needed to scream, swear, or kick my husband out of the room, so be it. So when a nurse tried to shush me for screaming too loud, I channeled that friend and told her to go somewhere else if I was being too loud.
"Set Reasonable Goals"
I still remember one piece of seemingly silly advice from my own mother about childbirth: don't bring pre-pregnancy jeans to the hospital. They won't fit and, as a result, you'll feel disappointed when you should be feeling powerful.
And, in a way, my mom's advice was about much more than just a pair of jeans. I needed to manage my postpartum expectations and be kind to myself, always.
"You Can Do It"
Above all other advice, I needed to hear that others believed I was capable of bringing a baby into the world. I needed to have the confidence in myself to feel ready to give birth. Now that I've done it three times, I know that I can do it and that I'm far more powerful than I often give myself credit for, but back then my friends' faith in me gave me all the courage I needed to push my baby into the world and in my arms.