I worked as a doula doing mostly hospital births for many many years (around the range of 12 years). I saw many women go into the hospital wanting as natural of a birth as possible – and I saw some mothers come away triumphant and others come away defeated.
While births are always unique and it is not possible for me to give you the exact recipe of how to have an empowering birth in a hospital, there were come common factors that I saw that gave women the BEST chance at having a birth they had hoped for.
1. The first thing is to hire a care provider that they love and that has a reputation of being respectful. It is so important to go into this with the attitude that you are a TEAM working towards the same goal…not that the doctor/midwife and hospital are the enemy to be conquered. Having a great RELATIONSHIP with your care provider and trusting them to respect you and your baby is the best start to a joyous pregnancy as well as a birth free of animosity and stress.
2. Take a good childbirth preparation class! What makes a good class? One that’s not in the hospital. I know that there are good classes that may be in the hospital…but those are the exception rather than the rule. It’s not the instructors’ fault, they are often restricted in what they can teach by the hospital. The class should run a minimum of 12 hours….not a quick little 2-4 hour class.
3. Hire a doula that you (and your partner) trust and adore. Interview with several – in many ways it’s like dating again! When you go out on a date with “the one”, you should know it. It should be someone you look forward to seeing! Someone you are excited to share this experience with. Someone you trust…someone that makes you feel good when you are around them. It’s also super important that your partner have the same level of trust, as many find that the doula helps dad MORE than she helps mom through this process!
4. Only invite people to your birth for YOU…not for them. Don’t invite someone because you feel obligated, or because you think it would be neat for them. The only people who should be at your birth are people with a PURPOSE! They should be there to photograph, or to rub your back, or because they make you feel safe…it should be for you, not as a gift to them.
5. Regardless of where you intend to birth – go into this rested!! The worst thing a mom can do if she thinks labor is beginning is to “try to help it along”. I saw mothers who would walk the neighborhood or mall, scrub the floors, make love with their husband…not because they wanted to but because they want to encourage labor to keep going. If it’s labor…IT DOES NOT NEED YOUR HELP!! We have a hard time STOPPING labor when you don’t want it! If you think labor has begun, then this is the beginning of your baby’s birth story!! Make it the BEST story you can by filling it with pampering and joyful things for you – take a bath, sip some tea, watch the sunset, watch your favorite movie…but most of all, take it easy!
6. Stay in the moment! Did you know that pain relief is not the most common reason that epidurals are requested? The most common reason for a first time mom is 1) fatigue (see #3 above) and 2) fear of what’s to come. They get an internal exam and are found to be 5cm and they think, “I can’t do this for another 10 hours!! I’ve been doing this for 10 hours and I’m only halfway there!” or they think, “If it feels like this at 5cm, how will I do 9cm??” They can do *this*…they can do *here* and *now*….but they want an epidural because they fear what is to come. Stay in the moment…take each one as it comes! STAY here and now…don’t jump ahead in your labor.
7. Pick and choose your battles. I often see frustration when someone chooses a hospital birth but rejects all that a hospital means. If you want to avoid everything a hospital does, then why are you birthing in a hospital? If you feel a hospital birth is safer, then why are you demanding that they don’t do the things that they do with hospital births? And how can you possibly be making it safer by taking them out of their routine, out of their comfort level, and trying to demand that they abandon all of their protocols and procedures? And if you think that all of the protocols and procedures aren’t helpful, then why are you birthing there? If you choose a hospital birth then I hope that you also understand that the hospital is doing what they feel will make your birth safer. If there’s nothing you want from the hospital….then again I ask, why are you there? You are there for a reason so why create animosity for them trying to do their job?
8. Remember that this is YOUR baby! May seem silly to you that I say that…but it always amazed me how easily “ownership” of the baby is handed over to the hospital. I hear women complain that the baby will be taken from them immediately….but they can’t TAKE the baby, you must GIVE them the baby. I’ve seen a healthy baby laying in the warmer, nurse leaves the room, and a cleaned up mom say, “When can I have the baby?” only to have dad say, “Want me to go get the nurse?” Why would he need to get the nurse?? It’s HIS baby…he can pick his baby up anytime he wants! Why would he need permission to pick up his baby and hand his baby back to the mother?
9. If this is your first time breastfeeding….schedule an appointment to see a lactation consultant. Make sure it’s actually a lactation consultant, not a nurse who likes helping moms breastfeed. Is she an IBCLC? (stands for International Board Certified Lactation Consultant) That’s a good question to ask….”are you an IBCLC?” See if you can find an IBCLC who will come out to your home a few days AFTER the birth to evaluate how things are going. And while we’re at it…I wouldn’t have ANY formula in the house!! You can buy formula 24 hours a day in a store – and a baby is NOT going to starve to death in the 30 minutes it takes for dad to run down to a store and buy it if you fear for the baby’s safety or if your IBCLC believes formula is needed – there’s no reason to have it. That’s like getting married but having the divorce papers drawn up ahead of time “just in case”.
10. Enjoy your blessings!! Your gorgeous baby, the beauty of having your family together…