Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Know your window

"Due date" is a very misleading name. Everybody knows that this is only an estimation, nevertheless everybody are still surprised if the labour starts earlier and everybody gets impatient and frustrated if the due date passes and nothing happens. It is very easy to put a given date it in the calendar and forget that it was only a rough estimation.

The thruth is that most of the healthy babies are born within two weeks of their due date. This gives you a four-week window. You can put a thick line on your calendar over those weeks, saying "birth any time now". Now remember that the preparation deadline is the beginning of the window, not the middle.

Fixing the due date may get in the way of a natural birth. The labour is most likely to start when the baby is ready and the mother feels prepared, safe and relaxed. Meanwhile, many of us decide that we still have time - it's well before the due date, so we feel neither prepared nor ready. We get nervous as the date approaches, as there are still some loose ends. Then we get confused once the due date passes and nothing happens, then we get annoyed with everybody asking where is the baby and if we plan to be pregnant forever. Finally we get more and more anxious because the doctors don't like if the baby takes more time than the statistics suggest and start to talk about induction. This is how we wasted the window: for four weeks we did not feel relaxed enough to give the baby a clear signal that it is safe to come out now.

Erase "due date" from your calendar and put a thick line with "birth any time" over those four weeks. If this helps, divide your list of things to do into two parts: less important and crucial. Have the crucial done before the window opens and leave the less important for later - so you will keep yourself moderately busy while waiting. Plan your activities for the whole four weeks, always building in cancelling option - if arranging a meeting with friends, agree that you will call each other just before setting off, to make sure you are not in labour. Once you are done with the essential preparations, you should get a green light in your head. Now, when you feel a slight contraction, instead of thinking: "Not today, I hope! I've still got some things to do!", you should feel anticipation and excitement, you should say "Maybe I'll meet my baby tonight?...".

Finally, I should precise that by saying "due date", I mean the "estimated birth date" as defined in the U.S. or U.K. Some nations, like France, like to define those differently. I have heard that in some countries the doctors believe that a pregnancy should take "nine months or so" and do not stress women with deadlines like due date and induction date. Wise move.

Friday, 26 August 2011

Have a plan

It usually helps, to have a plan. Write down your wishes, make sure your birth companions will know what your preferences are. Do not restrict yourself to the best case. Things may go not as planned and you all will need to adapt then quickly and smoothly. You don't want to do too much thinking while you are in labour.

Write those dreaded words: "In case I need C-section...", "If forceps delivery seems necessary...", "If  I need pain relief". Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst. If you'll end up with a C-section, you will still want to have immediate skin-to-skin contact and breastfeed as soon as possible, right? Write it down then. Remember to be open-minded. Even if you want to go all-natural, you might at some point decide that you need "something", to get a short rest. This can be a trade-off - a bit of a drug  can offer you enough rest so you can find the energy to push.

The optimistic version is that everything will be great and you will have the time of your life, but if the optimistic version is the only one you accept and if it does not work, you will be bitterly disappointed. The last thing you want is lying down next to your perfect healthy newborn and crying for the birth that did not go as planned. Remember that this is a game and nobody can guarantee you will win your first-choice prize - you can only prepare yourself as well as you can, to be able to say afterwards that you have given yourself a fair chance.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Have no fear

Fear can stop the labour, or at least can block the euphoria hormones and cause pain. Fear is not a natural part of birth. When an animal is in labour and something scary happens, the labour will stop and the animal will run away, looking for a better hide and for a better moment. Women are not very different in that matter.

Your body needs to know that this is a good moment to open and let the vulnerable baby out. When you are anxious, your body does not believe it is safe and resists - finally the baby will be taken away by force and this must hurt.

We fear of what we do not know. Read as much as you can, but stay away from scary stories of your cousins. Read about waterbirth, homebiths, pain-free births, unassisted births. Learn how clever our bodies are, how our instincts work when given a chance.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Why would it hurt?

I have friends who also believe in natural birth. Most of them claim that it does hurt, though. I believe them. There is a couple of reasons why you might feel the pain during labour.

The most usual and most natural cause of labour pain is the position. Your body is trying to tell you that this set-up is wrong. Sitting and lying seem worst - although some women claim they like to sit and bounce on a birthing ball. A natural birth is usually an active one - you keep searching for the right position, trying to understand the messages your body is sending you. And sometimes the answer is even not the position, but the very act of moving, walking, turning around, whichever works.

Then, there is tiredness. Lack of rest and sleep can ruin your natural birth. When you are extremely tired, everything seems painful. You just wish to close your eyes and sleep and it cannot happen. This is why it is so important to be well rested when the labour starts. And this is why you are supposed to keep fit - if you are not in shape, you might get tired too soon.

Your feelings have a huge impact on how you cope. You must feel ready. If instead of excitement and anticipation there is stress and fear, the contractions will be more painful and less productive. If there is something inside your head telling you that this is not the right moment, that this is going to hurt, then your body starts to resist. A nervous person next to you or a painful vaginal examination can make your body shut down and stop the labour progress. This is why there are dimmed lights, your preferred music, your friends around you, this is why homebirth is a great option. You want to be relaxed and feel safe.

Finally, pain might be due to bad luck. The baby can be in a posterior position or you might actually have a body that perceives labour as painful.

My point is not that you will have a painless birth if you satisfy the conditions above. It is not that easy. My point is that if you do not try to eliminate all the causes above (uncontrollable bad luck excepted), you will most likely have a painful one.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Birth can be pain-free

I have heard that the word "pain" is counterproductive during the labour. I cannot agree more. Pain means that someone is getting hurt. Pain can be a signal from your body that something is wrong. Pain is not what you should feel when your baby is being born.

Natural birth is often compared to climbing a steep mountain. It requires much effort, but it is beautiful. You start to feel tired at some point, but you go on. Your muscles might start to ache, but you do not feel it - you are on your way. Your body starts to secrete endorphins - hormones of euphoria and happiness. At some point you might get more tired than excited, but it is too late to turn away, you need to go. You might get a couple of bruises, you might trip now and then. And you get there, you sit down, look around and rest. Fulfilled, satisfied, happy. A part of you realises that your body is tired and aching, but it seems very irrelevant at the moment. You made it.

Now imagine that you hate mountains. You were taken here by your friends, but you don't like walking, let alone hiking. You are not really in shape, you got short of breath already after the first mile. You pant, your body screams, you are in agony and you know that it is still far away. Your friends literally drag you, you painfully feel every stone your shoes. You make some twenty yards crawling on hard rocks that leave you bruises. You don't care whether you get on the top or not, you don't care about anything, you just want the suffering to cease.

Climbing the same mountain can be pain-free or painful. It will depend on how you feel on a given day, on whom you meet on your way. However, it mainly depends on you - on how prepared you are. And it all starts in you mind.

Monday, 22 August 2011

I want to share a secret

There is something most people do not know. A childbirth does not have to be painful. It can be beautiful and empowering. I know it because it happened for me. It was not sheer luck - I did my homework, I learned much about my body and it took me two pregnancies to get there.

I cannot promise you a painless birth, or even a natural birth. Every woman, every pregnancy and every outcome is different. I can help you, though. You have seen the movies with women screaming, sweating and swearing. You have heard horror stories from your friends. I want to help you to get rid of those images. They are not what you expect, they are not what you hope for, if you are reading these lines.

I had a beautiful natural birth. It was like climbing a mountain. It was like good sex. I made it. This page is being written because I believe I should share my story. I should share all I learned and experienced. I want to help you to create a more healthy and more true vision of birth. It all starts in the head.