After we found out I was pregnant there were a lot of beautiful, wonderful moments of celebration, reflection and trying to enjoy our last days just the two of us. And then there were several moments when it all hit us – “holy sh*t, I have to push a baby out of me!” It’s a less than glamourous realization that doesn’t tend to make it into the curated feed of all those #pregnancygoals posts on Instagram and it’s one that hit both Paul and I at very different points in our journey.
These moments – no matter how different they may look for everyone – are incredibly important. For us, they lead to some important #realtalk, great learning and amazing discoveries that really helped us to prepare for the events of the day. Let’s get real for a second – there’s nothing you can do to truly prepare you for what the moments leading to the arrival of this new little human will be like. But that doesn’t mean you can’t go into the experience with as many tools as possible so you can walk away feeling empowered.
Tours, tours, tours
Okay this feels like a pretty obvious place to start but it was so key on the big day. When I first got pregnant I was pretty set on having a hospital birth, epidural and all. But the more I learned about birth and the further I ventured into pregnancy my stance on that softened. Then I toured a Birth Centre and completely changed my tune. I fell in love with the Birth Centre, hard. It was exactly what I wanted for my birthing experience – a serene space, lots of options on where to labour (there was a tub and a shower in each room, along with birthing balls, a set up for slings and different chairs) along with a sound system you can plug into. Once we walked through the space it was decided – this is where I would give birth (which also meant a commitment to an epidural-free birth… I really changed my perspective on birth after going through this place). That said, being the realist that I am, I was adamant that we still tour the hospital *just in case*. I figured that if we ended up in a situation where we needed to be at the hospital, we’d likely be stressed out and I didn’t want to add trying to figure out where the heck the birthing wing was and wondering what to expect when we arrived there, to that stress. And I am so glad we did – as you may remember, we ended up going straight to the hospital. In a day full of the unexpected, it was one less thing to worry about – and when you’re about to push a human out of your body that’s a pretty big deal.
Nervous about birth? Take a course on birth!
I’m not talking about the general hospital/midwife course that quickly covers everything from labour to newborn care in just a few hours – take that one too (seriously so important). But take some time to learn about birth specifically – from the different stages of labour (yes, there’s more than just pushing!), how to manage the pain, how to be a support person if that’s your role and what birthing interventions are and how they may feel.
This came to us in a panic moment. As the days sped by I had begun to feel really great about the whole birth thing (much to my surprise!). Paul on the other hand was becoming increasingly panicked about what the process would bring – both for me and for his role as a support person. So we talked to our midwife about our concerns and she recommended a course specifically designed to teach you all about the birthing process. The one we took was an online course offered through the Centre for Growing Families (they have an in-person one too!), which covers everything from perceptions of labour and birth to pushing out baby as well interventions that may arise.
This was singlehandedly the best thing we did to prepare for birth. It was incredibly enlightening too – I didn’t realize how bleak Paul was feeling about the birthing process until that first class when we had to share words that came to mind when thinking about birth. The course helped alleviate his fears and concerns, enabled us to better connect in our birth preparations and ultimately made us feel so much more empowered going into the day. I continuously credit this course with allowing me to feel good about my birth, even though I experienced just about everything I had wanted to avoid and that’s truly because knowledge is power.
We were asked before the big day if things ultimately went off “plan” what would need to happen to allow us to feel positive about our birth experience and I’m not sure I would have been able to answer that question with such clarity if it hadn’t been for this course. My goal was to feel like the birth – and all the decisions around it – was happening through me, not to me. When I was presented with each new piece of information and intervention during Eli’s birth I was so relieved that instead of trying to learn what they were and what they meant, I could focus on processing the information emotionally. I felt empowered to ask questions, and even asked for five minutes to process before the c-section, which allowed the experience to feel significantly less traumatic.
Chose your team wisely – starting with your healthcare provider
Listen, it’s okay to be picky here. You’re going to spend a lot of time with this person (especially nearing the end of your pregnancy) so you should absolutely feel comfortable with them.
I knew from the beginning I wanted to go with a midwife – my mum had an amazing experience with her midwives and raved about the wonders that are midwives as I was growing up. And she was totally right. When I told my Nurse Practitioner I wanted to go this route she told me something I didn’t expect – if I didn’t click with my midwife it’s okay to ask for a change. It was such a simple piece of (seemingly obvious) advice but it hadn’t occurred to me that I could make a switch if I needed to. Thankfully I lucked out with an amazing midwife.
Our appointments were always wonderful – Paul and I would come equipped with a list of questions and always had time after the routine check-ups to sit and talk through them. Our midwife reassured us, taught us so much, and truly helped us to prepare. This is purely anecdotal but I had so many friends who felt disappointed with the care they received during their pregnancies and I feel so grateful to have received such attentive care.
One of biggest reasons I went with a midwife was the consistency in care through birth and postpartum. I’d heard countless stories from friends about how they spent months with an OB GYN during their pregnancy only to be delivered by someone they didn’t know, who wasn’t in tune with their pregnancy journey. Midwives work in teams of two – so you have a primary midwife and a back-up midwife – and they pair up with another team of two. The reason they work this way is that on the day of one midwife will take care of the majority of the birth, but will call in their partner when active labour starts. When I asked why they did this my midwife quite simply said, “because we go from having to care for one person to two.”🤯 DUH! In case your midwife is off, you’ll call the back-up midwife and they will call someone from the other pair. Because of this model, you will have appointments with all four midwives throughout your pregnancy so you feel comfortable with anyone who may be at your birth in the event that your midwife is off.
After you give birth is where midwives really shine. You’ll be seen three times during your first week postpartum (I can’t remember the exact cadence), usually at home, and then once a week at their office until six weeks (vs just being seen at six weeks postpartum). Midwives can help with breastfeeding issues, sleep questions and the general “omg my body is doing the WEIRDEST thing right now, is this normal?” (btw – it often is!). As first time parents these appointments were so reassuring and helped us troubleshoot things we hadn’t expected to navigate (like a yeast diaper rash – yeah did not know that was a thing), while giving me important insight in postpartum recovery (there is so. damn. much. your body does in those first six weeks regardless of how you gave birth). I’ve also been so fortunate to have stayed in touch with my midwife and received incredible insight on some things that left me feeling pretty lost.
The midwifery model is truly incredible.
Another key member of our healthcare team was our birth doula. Admittedly, I was very skeptical about doula’s as a whole. As someone with midwives I didn’t really understand what they would bring to the team. The birth course I mentioned was run by a doula and after taking it I began to come around to the idea – her knowledge and instincts just blew me away. When I considered her stories and the fact that my mother is no longer with us and that my sister lives on the other side of the country, I knew it was the right choice. So a doula was recommended to us and she was incredible.
I’ve mentioned this before but as much as we prepared, we never considered a scenario where our midwife would not be with us for the entire day; having our doula there completely changed the day for us. She helped to ease my mind during moments of worry, was right there with me as I breathed through contractions, helped me make the decision to get an epidural and reassured Paul and I that the emergency c-section was the best way to bring Eli into the world safely and happily. I was especially grateful to have another strong female voice I could lean on during birth and afterwards. She beautifully staggered her first postnatal visit so that she would be there between visits from our midwives, which meant for the first three days we were home we always had someone checking in on us. I understand that not everyone has the means to pay for a doula, but if you’re able to make it work it was the thing I was most skeptical about and one of the best decisions we made.
… but not too much! But seriously, not too much. I started out reading the classic – “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” and it was terrible. I’m not sure why it’s considered the holy grail of pregnancy books – it was condescending, downright terrifying at times and felt so out of sync with me. Admittedly Paul and I bought a ton of books when we found out I was pregnant (we have a mini library thanks to Amazon) but it took me a while to find the ones that worked best with me. This is totally a trial and error process but I found a daily pregnancy book that I LOVED (I would read the week ahead every Sunday) and used two apps – Ovia and the Bump – for curated content. I also read some of “Hypnobirthing: The Breakthrough to Safer, Easier, More Comfortable Childbirth”, which my midwife both recommended and told me to take with a giant grain of salt (one of the many reasons I’m a big fan of hers). The basic concepts were great and leads me right into the last thing we did to prepare…
Meditation is something I had been doing on a semi-regular basis before so this wasn’t entirely new to me. Personally I’m a big fan of the app Headspace (Andy’s voice is SOOOO soothing – I love hearing “Hi, and welcome back to Headspace” in his perfect accent). We began using this more regularly in the latter months of pregnancy and then found out they actually have a pregnancy pack! Despite the best of intentions, I didn’t finish the pack but I used their visualizations during labour and they were so helpful. I also have a go-to in/out breath phrase from a Thich Nhat Hanh meditation that starts with, “breathing in I see myself as a mountain/breathing out I feel solid” and eventually moves to an [inhale] mountain [exhale] solid, rhythm. This mantra allowed me to stay calm, surprisingly quiet (Paul kept telling me I could make more noise) and focused on getting through the rise and fall of each contraction. Now I’m not saying “meditation made this all so easy – labour’s great!” because that would be ridiculous. But it helped me to stay strong and gave me something to focus on other than the pain, while reminding me that I am in fact a pretty strong woman.
Given birth yourself? How did you prepare? Anything else you’re wondering about our preparations? Let me know in the comments below!👇🏻