I gave birth to my fourth this past Friday. It's a boy! He was born on Friday morning in a very natural-birth friendly hospital. This birth experience was the closest to what I wanted ever since I got into natural childbirth. In fact, I think, this was pretty much it. I wanted a hospital setting, just in case anything goes wrong, but I also wanted a hands-off approach. I wanted to be supported during labor, but not have anyone speak for me. I wanted freedom to move around and to choose the positions which were most comfortable. I wanted to wear my own clothes. I wanted to be surrounded by people who have seen birth without interventions, and who believed that it was possible.
I am so happy that I got all of those. I am also grateful that this is my fourth baby, and by now I had no fear of giving birth. I trusted that my body could gestate this baby and that giving birth to him would not be traumatic to either one of us. I knew that I could do it, but it would be hard work. I did not think that giving birth is the most painful experience of my life, just one of the hardest.
A few things I did to prepare myself.
Read, read, read. With my first, I read "What to Expect When You are Expecting", and ended up with all the interventions which are so casually mentioned there. I recommend all Ina May books, starting with "Ina May's Guide to Childbirth". Watch The Business of Being Born to get a feel for the alternatives. Trace the development of current childbirth practices through Pushed and Birth Day. Find out what midwives really do in Baby Catcher. See the natural childbirth through a frum perspective in Labor of Love. I got most of these through my library, so if it's not your thing, you can always return it.
Take in positive birth stories. Read about them, listen to them, seek them out. My grandmother lost one of her babies in childbirth (carbon monoxide poisoning from a wood-burning stove) and she proceeded to tell me the story in great detail when I was just a few months' pregnant with my first. She was still shaking and crying, fifty years later. My mother did not have such a good birth story either, especially since it emphasized me choosing to get born prematurely, and me shooting out of her and tearing her up. That hang-up came out in this labor: when it came time to push, I lost it. I kept going through my mind, telling myself that I have to get this baby out, and then feeling that I am pulling back instead of pushing. I kept searching myself for what is preventing me to embrace what I have to do here. I felt that nobody is catching the baby, that the baby will "shoot out" (this is after three kids who definitely did not "shoot out" and neither did this one!). Afterwards, my husband was saying how interesting it was that this was my concern, but now I realize that some part of my brain got branded with this horrible possibility that a baby can "shoot out" and rip his mother. So I tried exposing myself to positive stories as much as possible, people relishing the experience, women trusting their bodies, having fun with their pregnancies, feeling empowered by childbirth rather than defeated.
Do psychological cleansing. For that I recommend "Birthing From Within". Yes, some of the ideas might be kooky, but the principle that psychology profoundly affects how one perceives childbirth is worth exploring. It also allows to zero in on what the hang-ups one might be having about childbirth, what one assumes it will be like, and what can be done to work through them. I liked the idea of birth art. In fact, this time around about a week before I gave birth I got this image into my head. I am not an artist, in fact, I paint so infrequently that when I finally sat down to execute the picture, I discovered that a bunch of my acrylics have dried out. Nevertheless, the picture was gestating in me, so to speak, and one I completed it, I went into labor the next day. I used it during labor and it helped me focus.
Research what's safe. This is where it is important to separate fact from fiction and to realize where one's wishes might contradict reality. For example, during the last two pregnancies, I had low platelet count towards the end. It was not too low, but I was notified that if I wanted an epidural, it might be an issue. Thankfully, I did not want an epidural, so that was not a concern. I ate and drank during labor (water, tea, juice, crackers, toffee which I made as my labor was getting started and we brought it to the hospital to nurses' desk). I went to the bathroom often so that my full bladder would not get in the way. I skipped an IV and even a Hep Loc (IV access) this time.
Get support. I hired a doula, who was essential this whole experience She walked with me, squeezed my hips during contractions talked me through transition, kept me focused, suggested breathing patterns when the going got tough, fetched pillows, water, washcloths etc. She was the calming presence that I craved. I am usually a do-it-alone kind of gal, but for labor, she was the steady support that I needed.
Expect the unexpected. I have a birth plan. I created it with my second, tweaked it with my third, and... forgot it at home with my fourth! I was just ready to go with the flow, let happen whatever happens, and not expect things to go one way or another. In order to give birth, one has to let loose, let go, and for me, the meticulous planner, this was the ultimate letting go. Thankfully, the hospital was so laid-back, that it did not matter that we had no birth plan; they have seen it all, and just let me be.