Monday, April 2, 2012

An Empowered Birth

A month ago I wrote a post about being a mom, and today I want to talk more about one of the most pivotal moments of motherhood: birth.

Duh duh duh.

Let me start by disclosing a few things:
1. I've only given birth once; I'm not an expert. I'm just opinionated and good at Googling.
2. I really love science. I think modern medicine is a wonderful blessing.
3. Every woman, pregnancy, and situation is different and therefore requires different things.
4. Even the most carefully laid birth plans are subject to some measure of fate. Birth can be a wonderful, transcendent experience, but in the end I believe a healthy baby matters more.

My Experience:

When I found out that I was the only one of my siblings whom my mother gave birth to without any pain medication, I came to a few conclusions: 1) I really was my mother's biggest pain, 2) my mother was amazing, and 3) I was going to do that, too. So when Nathan and I decided we were ready for a baby, I started researching my options so I would be ready.

The more I learned, the more I was astounded at the sheer amount I didn't know about birth. Before Googling "natural birth," I had no idea that some routine medical procedures increased the risk of complications; I had no idea what the difference was between midwives, licensed midwives, and certified nurse midwives; I had no idea what "transition" was ... and on and on. I devoured this new information like a pregnant lady devours Panda Express egg rolls (or store-bought egg rolls if Panda Express is closed, despite the fact that their sign said "OPEN" = pregnant lady rage).

Me, preggo, researching in my sherpa boots.

While the amount of information available was sometimes overwhelming, for the most part it was empowering and exciting. Because I was educated about my options, I could choose from those options the plan that was right for us. This is my first tip to having an empowered birth experience: Research your pregnancy and birth options. Explore different perspectives and gather information from a variety of sources. Sources of information I recommend: birth accounts from women who share your values, reputable internet sources (I loved, books (I read The Baby Book by Dr. Sears), and films (The Business of Being Born was awesome). Learning about different perspectives and procedures helped me feel confident about my final decisions. Instead of blindingly trusting the popular opinions of our culture or feeling unable to question a healthcare provider, I was able to formulate my own opinions, using my healthcare provider as a trusted consultant (as opposed to cowing before the authority our society grants their additional education--won't go there in this post, :) ). Education is power--don't be the player who doesn't know the rules when you should be the referee. Don't be afraid to ask your healthcare provider "why?" "what are my other options?" "what are the risks?" etc. Remember that your doctor/midwife works for you, not the other way around.

Melting Pot ... thank you, Zofran for allowing me to partake without barfing.

When I found out I was pregnant, I already had some decisions made about what I wanted:

-I wanted a Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM) to attend my birth.
-I wanted to give birth in a hospital.
-I didn't want any pain medication.
-I didn't want any unnecessary interventions.

I really feel like choosing a great practice of CNMs was the best decision I made in that I found a healthcare provider who supported and facilitated my philosophies surrounding birth. They didn't have an agenda they tried to pressure me into--their purpose was providing care, safety, and expertise while also doing everything they could to preserve the experience Nathan and I wanted. This is something I think is so important to having an empowered birth experience: Choose a healthcare provider whose values align with your own. Whether it's a granola midwife or a traditional OBGYN, don't be afraid to ask your potential healthcare provider where they stand on the issues you think are important.

Remarkably not wearing lounge pants.

Because my CNMs valued the same things I did, I never had to fight for my preferences. I knew they would never try to pressure me into being induced unnecessarily, they wouldn't offer me unsolicited pain medication, they wouldn't give me an episiotomy, and they wouldn't make me hurry or slow down to fit their schedules. I loved my experience with them.

Kind of hate this pose.

Do what you can to promote the success of your birth plan, but also be prepared for a different experience. Don't set your heart on a natural birth and then do nothing to prepare for the intensity. Research the different classes available--for whatever kind of birth you want! Even if you're planning a traditional hospital birth, it helps so much to be informed about what's going to happen or what could happen. Tour the hospital/birth center. Do a hospital run rehearsal.

While Nathan and I took a Hypnobabies class to help prepare for the physical aspects of labor, we procrastinated packing the "go bag." A week before my due date I started getting contractions during our ward's Valentine's Day activity, and I realized we still had a few important things on our shopping list (baby blanket, onesies, snacks for labor--because a midwife will let you eat!). So instead of heading home right after the party so I could start to relax to my Hypnobabies tracks, we headed to Walmart (I cringe when I think of how ghetto Graham's life would be if I would have given birth there). By the time we got to Walmart, my labor had intensified more quickly than I'd anticipated. When we got home--things were even more intense. Nathan was left to gather the things on my list on his own. I was in "the zone" and so not available to give guidance on what to pack--so Nathan ended up throwing everything he could think of into a cardboard box that we hauled into the hospital.

In labor ... unable to walk ... relegated to the Walmart scooter. Too excited to comprehend the shame.

Take responsibility for your role in the process. I think one of the most important elements of having an empowered birth is your attitude about your role. If you go into the experience believing your doctor, the nurses, or simple "fate" is in charge--that's how things will go. However, if you claim your rightful role of conductor, in charge of one of the most beautiful orchestrations on the planet, you will have a much different experience. Being the conductor doesn't mean being the crazy woman depicted in all the movies--it means knowing the score beforehand; hiring skilled and trusted "musicians" who play your style of music; rehearsing; keeping your cool if a violin string breaks or a cymbal player comes in on the wrong measure; and trusting your own innate, God-given ability to conduct the symphony your body was made for. After the final note is played, you'll have something in your arms worth more than all the standing ovations in the world.

Best feeling in the world.

Educate yourself and make informed decisions. Choose a healthcare provider who shares your values. Be prepared. Embrace your role. Be empowered.

Fellow mothers: What did you learn from your birth experience? What helped you feel empowered?
Future mothers: What are your thoughts? What kind of birth are you hoping for? Any questions? :)


  1. I loved all your pix - I haven't seen most of them.
    Oh, to have had the internet 25 years ago!

    One thing I learned when I had YOU was that when I birthed Katie (2 years prior) that I had majorly torn. Your Dr. could see the scar (and inside also). No freaking wonder that I experienced excruciating pain for 2 weeks whilst going to the bathroom. I think that I just always trusted the doctors. Even now, when I get a crappy haircut, I don't go back and demand something better; I just live with it until the next haircut.

    When I had you, I really wanted to go without meds; I did it; I didn't feel the need to do it again. I think woman are afraid (including myself) that the pain will get so bad that it will be too late to lessen it - too much crappy TV.

    One thing I did learn from my mom's experience: She had Guy and he had had his umbilical cord wrapped around his neck and she came home WITHOUT him. Even as a 10 yr old sister, it affected me so much that when I had Nick 4 weeks early and they wanted to send me home, I refused to leave. I just hung around in empty beds, sneaking a shower here and there. For a whole week!

    We still joke about Nick just plopping out - he was 4lbs 13oz. And Dan coming 3 weeks early because he is just so impatient to get on with life.

    Now, if I can just get Nick and Dan to turn out as awesome as their big sisters...

    1. Thanks for sharing, Mom! Watching my birth video before Graham was born was so awesome--you were so together! You're amazing--and I don't think I could come home without a baby either.

  2. Your mom is so right...all of our children would have turned out amazing if we had the internet and information so easily available back in the dark ages when we were young. But I also think it's interesting that in this day and age, maybe because of the internet, new parents do so much research! heck..I remember hearing about pregnant women in China, working in the rice fields and their babies just dropping gently into the water as the mother's continue to work. Seemed simple enough to me (except for finding a rice field).

    Research for us back in the day was Dr Spock or talking to your friends/family. When I had my first (beautiful and talented child) while living in Colorado I had to schedule an epidural if I wanted one as opposed to gossip I had heard about hospitals in Utah where you just show up and the anesthesiologist is waiting for you with open arms and large needle to stab you in the back with. thanks, I passed on that.

    But I do agree that you need to find a doctor (or midwife, I'm not opposed to that!) you feel comfortable with and that will listen to your concerns and give you options. Amazingly enough two of the best OB's that I went to had both formerly served and worked in the military! Yet..they didn't try to boss me around or make me salute them. They laid out my options and asked me what I wanted to do. Wow. That was awesome. I opted for natural births with just a slight hint of pain relief in the form of a shot at the peak of my pain--with the exception of my 2nd child who I had completely and totally natural (umm..well I did have clothes on, if you count a hospital gown as clothes..TMI!).

    I don't discount those that had pain meds, hey it's their body, their child, their right to sit in the hospital bed watching You've Got Mail while chatting with their husbands and sharing recipes with the nurses. I decided that I would avoid all that and be a 'pioneer' woman so I would get better mother's day gifts as I shared with them the pain and grief I went through to get them into this world! each his own.

    1. Haha! I think I want to try the Chinese method! Let me know if you find the rice paddy.

      And I agree that those who chose to get pain meds are just opting for a different experience--not an inferior one. I love something my midwife said--she compared giving birth to climbing a mountain. Some people choose to hike the whole way--loving the feeling of physical accomplishment and strain. Others take a helicopter ride to the top--which is more relaxing and offers a great view. Both methods get you to the top of the mountain--just in different ways.

  3. Thank you so much for this post! Childbirth has always been a fascinating subject for me. Unfortunately for me, I was completely POWERLESS in having my first child, and subsequently my second. I am so grateful for the technology that allowed the doctors to see Brinley's birth defect early, and have a plan in place to successfully deliver and 'fix' her. I will forever be indebted to the wonderful, masterful hands that got us through the most difficult experience of my life.
    Props to you for doing a medicine-free birth!

    1. This is why I'm so grateful for modern medicine! It helps sweet babies like Brinley be born safely! Doctors and hospitals definitely have an invaluable place in many births.

  4. Awesome post, Kimber! I love reading and talking about birth. For me, it took 9+ months of learning to trust my body to do what it was made to do. And, some where during that time I also had to learn to just trust my instincts. The biggest thing for me was having a supportive spouse. I'm so grateful that Logan was willing to research about birth with me. This helped me feel like it was more of "our" decision than "my" decision to birth naturally, and it truly felt that way.

    As far as birthing, I distinctly remember my laboring hours and it was a time that I was just so in tune with my body and the little baby inside me. I will never forget those moments, even though they hurt a bit, because it really put me closer to understanding the Savior. I felt the spirit so strongly, and I owe a lot of that to not being under the influence of medicines so I could actually FEEL all those emotions at once.

    Ultimately, I think each woman is different and needs to make the best INFORMED decision for her and her little one. However, (this is where my opinionated self comes in), I do believe more women should be open to trying a natural birth.

    1. I completely agree! My experience was similar--definitely some pain there, but so much intense awareness. I loved it--especially the clarity and freedom I had. And with you, I do hope natural birth continues to be an option more women are interested in!

  5. I totally agree that being informed is one of the best ways that you can prepare to have a baby. I feel like I had researched a lot about your traditional childbirth--you know, with contractions and dilation coming naturally--and I felt pretty prepared for what was going to come. However, when my water broke and I wasn't having any contractions and I wasn't at all dilated, I didn't really know what my options were and because of that I had to take my doctor's and nurses' advice as gospel. I do wish that I had been better prepared for that so that I could have made more informed decisions. That being said, I also very strongly agree that no matter what you have planned, you need to be willing to go with the flow and do what is best for you and your baby.

    1. That sounds tough, Jenn--for sure a complicated situation when things happen that you haven't or can't prepare for! You are so good at going with the flow! I want to come see you and little Calvin again!

  6. My labor experience did not go according to plan. But what made it all wonderful anyway was that I had prepared myself psychologically. I wanted to try for a natural birth, but in the end I was induced, got an epidural after 14 hours of labor, and had an emergency c-section in the end. I couldn't even see my son for 15 minutes after he was delivered, and I couldn't hold (no, lay next to) him for another few hours. It was not ideal, but it got him here safe and sound, which was my biggest concern. I think what made the difference was that before I went into it, I had prepared myself for the possibility of my plan not working out. I had done research on all kinds of birthing, so when they told me I would need to have a c-section, I knew a little bit of what to expect. I didn't feel defeated because I didn't have a natural birth. Disappointed, yes, but not defeated. I think preparing myself psychologically and emotionally helped me realize that in the end, I was just as good of a mom as if my baby had been born naturally. Rather than having the complications defeat me and my sense of self-worth as a mom, I feel like I defeated the complications and the danger they posed to my baby.

  7. I was not prepared for Terisa's birth at all. I ended up having an emergency C-section, not because the doctors were greedy or lazy, rather, Terisa decided coming out with one foot down and the other against her forehead was a cool way to do it. It was a scary and very painful experience. It disrupted our bonding, as I spent the first week of her life stoned out of my mind on pain meds. What I learned, however, was invaluable. I became a maniac about having a VBAC when I got pregnant with Jenna. My C-section made me appreciate the natural process that is birth. I was absolutely amazed after I gave birth to Jenna. What an exhilarating experience! I felt powerful. I felt womanly. I was induced, but had no pain medication. I had Krista so fast (even though she was 9lbs 3 oz!), there wasn't even time for an IV! Emma needed to be induced three weeks early for the obvious reason that had we left her in there, she would have only added exponentially to her already 9lb 10 oz frame! Again, no pain medication, and I even had my other three girls in attendance. Isaac is the only one i had a little pain medication with, and not because I was giving birth, but because I was giving birth AND passing a kidney stone at the same time. Gadfries.....Anywho, after Terisa's pregnancy and birth, I educated myself, and that is what I think every woman should do. Read, read, read, and talk to other women about their POSITIVE experiences. Every time I meet a woman pregnant with her first child, I relate all of my positive stories. I will NEVER forget the 'friend' who told me about her sister the nurse who watched a woman in labor choke to death on her own vomit during labor. Gee, thanks for THAT.
    I personally advocate for a natural experience as possible. However, I have a friend with an extremely low tolerance for pain, so her choice to have an epidural was right for her. There is no reason to judge others about their birth choices.
    I think the best thing is to do is as women we must talk to each other, compare notes, share the positive, and support each other.


  8. Just a word of caution. While the internet does offer some amazing information, it also offers a whole lot of misinformation. So make sure the sources you use are reputable. I recommend the Mayo Clinic and American Academy of Pediatrics.

  9. I really like your analogy of the conductor. That really struck a chord with me. :D

    As a future mother, I have often felt like there was so much out there to know, it was difficult to know where to start. So this post has given me a lot of ideas for where to start. I plan on looking up everything in this post that I've never heard of, and I'm sure that research will prompt looking for even more answers. Thanks!

  10. Love your maternity clothes.

    I am so glad that I've done birth two ways: with and without an epidural. How could I know which kind I liked better if I didn't try both? For me, I found so much more clarity and fulfillment in my experience when I had an epidural. But I don't regret my natural birth either.

    You are such an awesome example to me. You research the heck out of stuff! I love your pieces of advice.

  11. Found your blog! And I love it!!!! I went with a group of CNMs that deliver at Texas Children's. In the end, I decided to have a medicated birth, but I'm so glad that I went with this group. They took such good care of me. I can give you more details if you want. :-)


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