Last month’s Time magazine article the Goddess Myth revealed that many women feel like failures after giving birth to their children. Breaking under the weight of social expectations that there is only one way to bring children into the world (an empowering, drug-free, all-natural delivery where you will nurse right on the delivery table), many women feel disappointed and ashamed when things don’t go exactly like that. That is a tragedy. The most important outcomes of childbirth are a healthy mother and child, not fulfilling some superwoman fantasy created by other people.
I hope you will resist trying for perfection, and aim for what feels good to you (maybe earth mother rather than perfect goddess). Here are a few outside the box tips for having a good (not perfect) childbirth experience:
1. Be Flexible With Your Expectations of How You Will Handle the Pain
It’s hard to know how your body and mind will respond to the challenge of childbirth (they don’t call it labor for nothing), so keeping your expectations flexible can go a long way in not setting yourself up to feel like a failure. Many women start the labor process with the hope that they will not use any pain medications. There is a large variety between women in the degree to which they can tolerate pain.
If you are highly sensitive like me, it doesn’t mean you are weak or undisciplined. It simply means that this is the way your body responds to pain. Thankfully there are very effective ways to manage that pain available to you in a hospital birth (where most American women deliver their babies). The childbirth purists may criticize an epidural as “unnatural” but research shows that there are no long-term consequences to you or the baby from having your pain relieved this way. As my very wise obstetrician said, “having excruciating pain during labor doesn’t make you a better mother.” In other words, do what you need to.
2. Have a Support Person to Advocate For You
Any time you are hospitalized, it’s always helpful to have someone there who can run interference for you with the staff, and with childbirth it is particularly essential. The staff has their protocol to follow, and you will not be the only mother in labor they are tending to. So if your contractions suddenly change but there is no doctor or nurse in sight, your support person can go hunt them down.
You also may be a tad distracted by being in labor and not able to ask all the questions you need to about how the staff is managing your delivery (Pitocin or no Pitocin, internal monitor or not?) Your support person can be sure to ask the medical staff to explain why something is being done and what the risks/benefits are, so you can make informed decisions.
3. Your Support Person Can Be Anyone – Your Partner, Your Mom, or a Professional Doula
Nowadays it is common to have your partner join you for the labor and delivery. And yes it’s a great idea for dads to be present at the birth of their children. But not all men are able to cope with their partner being in extreme pain, or the ensuing mess. And you don’t want to end up in the position of caring for your caretaker, rather than yourself. So I suggest keeping an open mind about who you choose for your support person during labor and delivery.
Possible alternatives are your mother, your sister, or a friend. Or you can consider a professional doula, who is a trained birth companion who provides emotional and physical support. Don’t feel locked in by what people expect. You should feel free to choose the person who will make you feel the most secure and comfortable.
4. Ask for What You Need After the Baby is Born
And now your baby is here! Everyone may want to meet her but that doesn’t mean they have to if you aren’t up to it. Just as you don’t know how you are going to feel during labor, it’s hard to predict the shape you will be in after labor. My roommate in the hospital was up and hopping around the day after her baby was born. I was not.
Unfortunately visitors just showed up without warning and just stood there, expecting to be entertained. It would have been better if when my husband made the phone calls to let people know our daughter had been born, he told them that I wasn’t ready for visits in the hospital, but that we would call them as soon as I was able to receive them at home.
You can also choose the amount of time you are with your baby in the hospital. Of course you want to bond with your baby and there is plenty of time to do it during the day. But I encourage you to sleep at night and let the nurses do the night-time feedings. These few days are probably the last opportunity you will have to get a whole night sleep for quite some time. And these are probably the most qualified babysitters you will ever have access to. You are healing and need the rest to gather your resources for the new life you will be starting when you get home. It is not selfish to take a little time to care for yourself.
5. Ease Into Your Relationship With Your Baby
Finally, be gentle with your expectations about your emotions. Not everybody falls in love with their baby the moment they meet. With my first daughter, I was traumatized by a long labor and unexpected cesarean delivery followed by hours of the shakes and badly managed incision pain. I was in no shape to appreciate this new person. But over time, I was able to bond with my baby, and I feel confident in saying that today at 25, she unequivocally knows how fiercely loved she is. Your baby is going to be live with you for at least eighteen years and you will have millions of opportunities to connect emotionally. Trust that the love will come.
Remember, the best gift you can give your baby is a mother who is emotionally generous and accepting. So resist the quest for perfection and apply that generosity and acceptance to yourself.
If you have concerns you need to work out while you are pregnant, or are feeling out of sorts after your baby comes home, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org to talk about coaching that will get you on the right track to become the kind of mother you want to be.