Though Baby Bear is still only 10 months old, his first birthday is looming. Every time I see a pregnant woman, I feel like she and I are compatriots, both starting our motherhood journeys. Then I realize that baby months are like dog years and 10 months are practically a lifetime. I mentioned it in greater length already, but it really does feel like it’s just been a blink of an eye since he was born.
In starting to mentally prepare myself for what I know will be an emotional day (mostly for me, no doubt), I’ve been thinking a lot about my labor and delivery. Now that my hormones have regulated and I can reflect on those days with more clarity, I decided to put together a list of recommendations based on what helped me feel most prepared for the big day.
Birth Wishes Disclaimer
I’d like to preface this guide by saying that this is a judge-free zone; this mama is supportive of whatever kind of birth is best for you. In fact, my motherhood mantra is “whatever works.”
Regardless of how you want to bring your baby into this world, I hope you feel supported and empowered. At the end of the day, what we all want is a healthy baby and a healthy mom.
That said, I do think it’s helpful to do a little research so you know what options are available to you, especially should any complications arise. If nothing else, this preparation helps you understand the various and acronym-heavy labor and delivery terminology. It also helps you and your partner think about what you value most in terms of your birth experience. Trust me, you won’t want to discuss your plans in throes of contractions.
I also think it’s helpful for you and your partner to document your birth wishes and discuss them with your provider and support team. The more educated and vocal you are about your wishes, the more prepared you will feel.
Understanding that I had to be flexible, it was my goal from the start to have a natural, un-medicated childbirth. While that is somewhat reflected below, I fully believe that the following suggestions are valuable to any expectant mom (and her partner).
Okay, disclaimer done. Let’s continue.
Labor & Delivery Prep Recommendations
Here are my suggestions for how you can achieve a positive birth experience.
1. Hire a doula
A doula is a trained childbirth expert who provides emotional and physical support before, during, and after a baby’s arrival. I loved my midwives, as mentioned below, but I knew they probably wouldn’t be in the room with us the entire time. As first-time parents, both Papa Bear and I felt we could benefit from having someone with experience on hand throughout the entire labor to help guide me through contractions, advocate for us if we needed help understanding potential issues, and provide reinforcement for Papa Bear.
In addition to day-of support, our doula, Audrey, met with us during a few prenatal visits to discuss our birth wishes and go over exercises to help baby get into position, pain management techniques, breastfeeding, and what to expect with a newborn. These visits were also an opportunity for us to learn more about each other so we would feel more comfortable during labor (I knew she would see me naked, after all). She also visited us a few times after Baby Bear arrived to help with belly binding and breastfeeding.
Most importantly, Audrey was incredible during my labor. She played an integral role in helping me achieve a positive birth experience. Over the course of those 36 hours, Audrey traded back and hip press responsibilities with Papa Bear and took many turns pouring water over my belly in the tub. She also helped me find my voice when I was having complications delivering the placenta and everything turned into a fog. She was an incredible asset and I can’t recommend her enough.
If you choose to ignore every other item on this list, I hope you do yourself a favor and find a doula. DONA International is a great resource if you want to learn more about the benefits of birth doulas or would like to find one.
Chicago recommendation: Audrey (Thomas) Lava of Breathe Love Doula
2. Take a birth class
There are a million varieties of birth classes available in any major city. At the suggestion of our midwives, Papa Bear and I attended a six-week course that focused on, among other topics, evidence-based practices, emotional health, and partner communication. We also took the recommended breastfeeding and bringing baby home follow-up classes.
The biggest benefit of a birth class is that it arms you with information about current protocol, including possible interventions, risks, and options, and helps you think about what you want out of your birth experience.
Another huge benefit is that it is great for your mental health. In a birth class, you are surrounded with other soon-to-be-parents who can relate to all the anxieties you feel about the huge change you are about to encounter. Plus, we ended up making two very good friends in the class, and that’s always a bonus!
Chicago recommendation: The Power of Birth class at Chicago Family Picnic
3. Use a midwifery group
Now, there are many reasons you may want or need to see an OB for your delivery, and that’s totally cool. My previous provider, whom I loved, was an OB. Seeing as how he’s about 80 years old, though, he wasn’t in the business of delivering babies anymore so I had to seek someone new. Luckily for me, there is a highly rated midwifery group right down the street from my apartment. After taking their tour, it was an easy decision to make the switch.
The midwifery model of care takes a holistic approach to women’s health and really centers itself around a woman’s emotional, physical, and social well-being. Generally speaking, midwives handle low-risk pregnancies and are known to have fewer medical interventions (including Cesarean births). Not only were these qualities attractive to me in hopes of having a natural birth, but I was also drawn to the idea of being treated more as a partner instead of a patient throughout my pregnancy and postpartum periods.
I also loved that the midwifery group practiced the latest in evidence-based care. In fact, their standard protocol was almost a perfect match with my birth wishes. I never felt judged or worried after my prenatal appointments, even when I was gaining more weight than expected and was freaking myself out. It was a beautiful relationship, and one I would wish for any woman.
Chicago recommendation: Midwifery Group at Swedish Covenant Hospital
4. Read Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth
Okay, here’s where we get a little crunchy. Ina May Gaskin is arguably the most famous midwife in the country and was a founder of The Farm Midwifery Center, which is basically an out-of-hospital birth commune (I told you it was going to be crunchy). She says childbirth is something women are built to do and is a proponent for treating birth as the spiritual experience it was meant to be. Now, a lot of what she says should be read with a grain of salt, but she emphasizes positivity and that’s why her book resonated with me so much.
I also recommend this book because more than half of it is just different women telling their (positive) birth stories. Pregnancy literature is saturated with horror stories about what might go wrong and how hard labor is. Everyone knows things could go wrong and that labor is hard. Those books made me feel discouraged and like I was facing a mountain. Ina May’s book made me feel excited about the labor and delivery. It made me focus on the connection I had with my baby and think about the beauty of labor. It made me feel strong, powerful, and, well, womanly. Every woman should feel so empowered before she gives birth.
Book recommendation: Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth by Ina May Gaskin
5. Be active & exercise
This is a no-brainer, but it bears repeating. At the risk of sounding overly emotional, I enjoyed exercise more while pregnant than I ever have because I couldn’t help but think about the physical connection baby and I shared. Each breath I took was for both of us; each movement I made could be felt by both of us. Though I hadn’t been a yogi before pregnancy, I will say that prenatal yoga was an especially good way to focus on this relationship.
It was also helpful for me to view exercise as training for the most difficult physical challenge I would ever face. Once I was out of the exhausting first trimester, I hit the ground running (well, more elliptical riding and walking). Staying active throughout my pregnancy helped me feel ready for the physicality of labor and definitely contributed to my being able to keep going after such a long time.
Chicago recommendations: Women’s Workout World (gym), Bloom Yoga (yoga), North Shore Channel Trail (walking path)
6. Make a kickass playlist
This is a small glimpse of my own labor playlist.
If your labor and delivery unit allows you to play music, I highly suggest grabbing a Bluetooth speaker, subscribing to Spotify (I have the Premium membership for $9.99/month), and putting together your own labor playlist.
Choose music that makes you feel inspired (“I Believe I Can Fly”), sentimental (“Can’t Help Falling In Love”), amused (“Beelzeboss (The Final Showdown)”), like an badass (“I’m Shipping Up to Boston”), happy (“Could You Be Loved”), relaxed (“Aloha Oe”), and like the powerful woman you are (“Run the World (Girls)”).
As you can see from the sample in the picture and my above recommendations, my playlist included quite a random collection from across nearly every category, from opera to disco to rap. Each song was carefully chosen to make me feel as pumped up as possible. For the most part, I had some kind of special memory tied to each song, which made for a nice little distraction during contractions. As labor progressed, I started paying less attention to the world around me (including the music), but one of my favorite labor memories was being in the birthing tub, having a very zen moment, and hearing the suddenly loud and…uh…vulgar words of “Down With the Sickness.” My nurse looked at me like I had two heads, but it made me laugh when I didn’t think it was possible. The only song I ended up telling Papa Bear I “just couldn’t listen to right now!” was “Tearin’ Up My Heart.” Sorry, *NSYNC. I was in a zone.
Feel free to take or leave the above recommendations; together they helped me feel excited and ready to welcome my baby, but everyone is different.
Again, the most important thing is that you feel supported and empowered throughout your pregnancy, labor, and delivery. You are birthing a human being into this world! No matter what, surround yourself with positivity. It’s a beautiful time in your life and should be celebrated as such.
Do you have any other suggestions? Please comment!