For most of my life, I assumed that pushing a baby out of me would be the scariest thing I ever did. Understandable, considering where babies come out and the terror-filled depictions of birth I'd grown up watching on TV and in movies. Fortunately, in the years right before I got pregnant, I stumbled on several things that helped me reality-check my assumptions about birth. Turns out, there were actually multiple things in my pre-baby life that prepared me for pushing, both intentionally and unintentionally. (It also turns out that I've done plenty of things way scarier than push out a baby, like raising said baby.)
There were things I thought to do on purpose, like taking a childbirth class with a doula who talked frankly about things like ways to avoid tearing during birth. I also knew in advance I didn't want anybody telling me to push, 'cause I'm very insistent that people who don't know what my vagina feels like not tell me what to do with it. That was one of the main reasons I chose midwives whose philosophies on birth aligned with mine. Still, there were a lot of things that I did throughout my life without considering what it would mean for giving birth that totally helped, too. Things like yoga, and re-learning to respect my whole body, sex organs very much included.
When it comes to birth, there are always going to be some things that are beyond our control, and I certainly can't say what worked for me will 100 percent work for every single person who gives birth. However, the following things definitely helped prepare me for pushing, and helped me bring my baby into the world without tearing or hurting myself.
Being A Sex-Positive Feminist
As a sex-positive feminist, I know that my sex organs aren't dirty or shameful. I know that they are strong, flexible, and capable, and that the sensations I feel in my vagina and elsewhere are there to let me know how to keep myself safe and healthy. That knowledge helped a ton when it came time to push my baby into the world.
Though folks sometimes like to use euphemisms like “birth canal” when discussing vaginas during childbirth, I think that's totally unhelpful. It makes it easy to forget that the vagina a woman uses to have sex is the same organ she uses to push out a baby, which makes it easy to forget all the things we already know about what vaginas need to function like they're supposed to and without excessive pain or injury.
Remembering all the things I’ve learned about my body from having sex helped me realize that the same things that help my vagina relax and stretch during sex — privacy, affection, lubrication, etc. — help my vagina relax and stretch while pushing a baby out, too.
Getting to know how my own body feels and moves was really helpful while pushing, too. Touching myself while pushing also helped me keep relaxing and opening so that my baby could come out more easily.
After giving birth, I’m convinced that good yoga teachers must attend secret meetings with doulas or something. Practicing yoga for years before getting pregnant helped me develop mental strategies for breathing through and staying present and relaxed when my body is working really hard. Turns out, what's useful during an hour long workout, is useful at the end of a 22-hour-long workout, too.
Sounds weird, sure, but the urge feels the same in both situations. Though this was the first time I'd ever given birth, I'd already had daily practice with relaxing enough to let whatever has to come out come out.
I am a huge proponent of quality childbirth classes, especially ones that teach expecting parents how birth itself works, so you know what's normal (for real for real normal, not TV/movie normal) and what to expect. The class my husband and I took armed us with tons of practical tips we found useful during labor and birth, especially our teacher's tips on how I could identify when I felt the overwhelming urge to push. That helped my team and I work with my body, not against it.
Reading And Watching Affirming Things About Birth
Immersing myself in media about badass mamas birthing in myriad badass ways helped me claim my own inner badass mama, and trust that my body was capable of surviving pushing a baby out. That was crucial for overcoming a lifetime of messages telling me to fear giving birth, or to worry that I would be “ruined” after giving birth.
Though I did have a certain fantasy of how I'd give birth, knowing that there were lots of ways this whole pushing thing could go down was important for me. It helped me go with the flow and accept what was actually happening, instead of tensing up when things started to happen a little differently than I’d originally imagined.
(Brief interruption from Captain Obvious: tensing up is not good when you're trying to push something big out of a small, sensitive body part.)
Doing Kegels And Squats
Mental prep is super important, but so is physical conditioning. I'm definitely glad that I'd spent time keeping the relevant muscles in good condition. That was helpful while pushing, and postpartum.
Learning How To Control My Breathing
Another crucial lesson from yoga class. Breath is life, especially when you're bringing new life into the world.
Learning To Listen To My Body
Finally learning to really listen to my body during pregnancy was so useful while pushing. It helped me know when it was truly time to push, and helped me feel when I needed to slow things down for a moment so I didn’t hurt myself.
Third Trimester Impatience
I was really glad to have had a lot of experiences that came together right when I needed them, so that I could safely push my son into the world. But my third trimester impatience — also known as three-ish months of feeling like I DGAF how my baby came out as long as he got TF out already — was pretty helpful, too.