You’re engaged! Congratulations! You start flipping through wedding magazines and the questions start pouring in. When’s the date? Where’s the venue? Bridesmaids colors? Who are you going to ask to stand up with you? Music, flowers, photography, reception favors, showers, the list goes on and on. You create a Pinterest board, maybe even a couple to keep organized. The months leading up to the wedding you are consumed with every last detail, and then the big day is finally here. All that planning has paid off. It’s a beautiful day and you start a life of wedded bliss with the congratulations of your partygoers ringing in your ears.
Beautiful. As it should be.
Then surprise! You’re pregnant! As you look at each other in shock, surprise, happiness, maybe even a little bit of nerves how much your lives are about to change, the questions start pouring in. When are you due? Have any names picked out? Boy or girl? Are you going to find out? A friend or relative might loan you a copy of What to Expect When You’re Expecting, but after that, where do you turn? People find out you are pregnant and the birth horror stories start rolling in. How many hours of excruciating pain they thought would never end. Not being able to eat or drink anything. Maybe you really want to give birth unmedicated but those close to you have had epidurals or cesarean sections. Maybe you want to give breastfeeding a try when the baby arrives but you don’t know how to get started. You watch A Baby Story or movies on TV and the birth scenes seem scary and intense. It all starts to seem so overwhelming. What’s a girl to do?
Turn off the TV.
Pick up some books.
Educate yourself about your options.
Find some support.
Just like wedding planning, sit down and think about your priorities. Who do you want surrounding you on this special day? Do you want an un-medicated birth? If you want to try pain relief, what are your options and what are the risks? What about a cesarean section? What about recovery time? Maybe you’ve heard about water birth. Perhaps having a high level nursery or NICU in the hospital you deliver is important.
First, answer for yourself, do I want to give birth at home, or at a hospital?
If it’s at home, look into your options. If your pregnancy is low risk, chances are you are a good candidate for a home birth. In Illinois, home births can be attended by Certified Nurse Midwives (CNM’s). There are a few home birth practices in the Chicagoland area. If home birth is not an option, look into the hospitals that are in your area. Here is one important consideration: not all hospitals are created equally. It is possible to walk into your nearest hospital if you are intent on an un-medicated vaginal birth and happen to give birth that way, but it is a gamble many women regret, especially if they didn’t have the education and support to research their options during pregnancy.
So look around. Ask friends and read online message boards where people locally gave birth. What was their experience? How were they treated by the staff? Were their wishes respected? Google your area hospitals’ cesarean section rate.
Next, do I want a midwife or an OBGYN as my care provider?
In the Chicagoland area we are lucky to have both options to provide care for pregnant women.
Certified Nurse Midwives, as mentioned earlier, nurses with a masters degree in midwifery and follow the midwifery model of care. From the American College of Nurse Midwives site, their philosophy of care includes:
Watchful waiting and non-intervention in normal processes
Appropriate use of interventions and technology for current or potential health problems
Consultation, collaboration and referral with other members of the health care team as needed to provide optimal health care
What does this mean for you? Simply put, letting nature take its course during the process of labor and stepping in only when a problem is indicated with technological support and assistance from collaborating OBGYNs. If your pregnancy is low risk, you are usually a good candidate for midwife care. Midwives can and do use pitocin, epidurals, and IVs if needed, but will also try alternative induction methods, hydrotherapy with showers or tubs, intermittent fetal monitoring, and so on.
Higher risk women and women unable or uninterested in midwife care work with OBGYNs, or doctors trained in pregnancy and women’s health. They perform cesarean sections and other surgeries related to women’s health and manage high risk factors like gestational diabetes or other health conditions during pregnancy. It is important to note each midwives and OBGYNs personal philosophies operate on a spectrum. Some OBGYNS are more naturally minded like midwives and willing to let nature take its course, while others are more mindful of the “clock” of labor and want things to occur in a set time frame.
Ask around, schedule meet and greet visits early in pregnancy, and ask each potential provider their philosophy of care and also get a feel for the hospital where you will deliver. Tour local hospitals, ask about policies such as rooming in after birth, if formula or pacifiers are handed out, and lactation support. During appointments, ask questions. Formulate a birth plan of how you’d like your birth to go (while being flexible, as birth is unpredictable). Read up on evidence based practices. Lastly, if you find your care provider and you aren’t on the same page with your wishes, seek out a provider who will be on board with your goals and care.
Now ask yourself, where did I put my library card? It’s time to read some books.
I have a list on my Resources page of books and websites I recommend to get started, but here are a few worth repeating:
Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth by Ina May Gaskin
The Birth Partner by Penny Simkin (perfect for husbands!)
The Thinking Woman’s Guide to a Better Birth by Henci Goer
The Nursing Mother’s Companion by Kathleen Huggins
For women reading up on VBACs, a history of abuse, or other issues, contact me for recommendations.
There is also The Business of Being Born on Netflix (also perfect for husbands!) to better understand our current medical system.
Lastly, surround yourself with SUPPORT.
Women have historically surrounded themselves with other women during childbirth and during the postpartum time to help each other through it, and today should be no exception. Take breastfeeding classes, childbirth education classes, find online communities in your area.
Then, hire a doula, me! As outlined in my previous blog post, I support you and your partner with prenatal and postpartum visits, throughout the birth process, offering resources, explaining your options and choices, and working as a team with your care provider to help you achieve the birth experience you want. The goal is to feel empowered as you become a family, and I can help you do just that.
The hours you spend during this time researching options and answering questions will add up to inform one of the most important days of your life. Just like you remember how you felt on your wedding day, you will remember how you felt when you gave birth. This the foundation for how you will parent, educate and advocate for yourself and your child(ren). It is worth it. YOU are worth it.