Birthing a baby can be an empowering experience when the woman trusts her body, loves and wants her baby, and is comfortable with her sexuality. For many women, having a baby is their first experience of being connected to other women and with their own creativity. One patient said to me that she felt “one with every woman who had ever given birth.” This is the power of birth, even though women have learned collectively—though not necessarily consciously—to fear the birth experience.
Giving birth truly has the potential to transform the way in which we think about ourselves, even while many obstacles have been put in our paths to keep us from experiencing the power that is possible. Imagine if the majority of women who gave birth were to emerge from their labor beds with a renewed sense of the strength and power of their bodies as well as their capacity for ecstasy. When enough women realize that birthing can allow them to get in touch with their true power, and when they are willing to assume responsibility for this, women will be able to reclaim the power of birth and shift the role of technology to where it belongs—wise use in the service of those few women giving birth who truly require it.
The birth of a baby is an unforgettable experience that brings a woman’s entire maternal legacy to the surface. The time surrounding birth is imbued with the energy of new beginnings, growth, and change. It’s as though all the old inherited patterns in a woman’s life get scrambled so that they can be reassembled in newer, improved forms. Because birth can go a long way toward helping a woman heal her past, it’s important to plan for it carefully.
Choose your birth companions. You’ll want to think very carefully about who you want to have present with you during labor and after birth. Make sure you genuinely like everyone who is going to be present at the birth of your baby. This is no time for trying to make “peace at any price.”
Choose your caregivers. Most women are pretty clear about what type of caregiver they want for their labor. Some want a doctor, some want a midwife. I have taken care of many women who’ve had good experiences with home births attended by midwives, and have also taken care of women who feel safe only in a hospital setting. To labor well, you must be in a setting in which you feel safe and secure, regardless of what your mother or sister-in-law, your best friend, your doctor, or anyone else—including me—thinks!
If you choose to be attended by a midwife, keep in mind that there are big differences among them. Some work in hospitals and are very technology focused. Others support home birth. And some are in-between. You’ll need to interview the ones in your area to see who is the right “fit” for you.
When it comes to doctors, there are family doctors who deliver babies and there are board-certified obstetrician-gynecologists who are trained to handle any obstetrical emergency that might arise. Ask your prospective birth attendants what their birth philosophy is: do they believe that most women can labor and birth normally?
Regardless of whom you’ve chosen for medical care, I’d highly recommend hiring a doula, who can help mother you during labor and birth, and also ideally tend to you postpartum for a week or two at home. I certainly wish that this option had been available to me. A mate can’t take the place of a doula. A mate’s job is to love the laboring woman unconditionally, but not to be an expert in labor support! So do yourself and everyone else a favor. Free your loved ones from the technical details of labor support and let them put all their energy into just being there for you and with you!
Choose your labor facility. The midwives, physicians, nurses, doulas, and other birthing professionals who make up the Coalition for Improving Maternity Service (CIMS) have established what they call “mother and child-center criteria” which they believe all labor facilities should aspire to meet. Although there are currently only two birth services that meet these standards so completely that they have officially qualified as “mother-friendly,” when choosing your own labor facility you might want to consider some of the following criteria from their list:
- unrestricted access for the mother to the birth companions of your choice, including family, friends, midwives, doulas, etc.
- freedom to walk around and to labor in any position of your choice, unless medically counterindicated
- induction rate of 10 percent or less
- episiotomy rate of 20 percent or less (with a goal of 5 percent or less)
- cesarean rate of 10 percent or less in community hospitals, 15 percent or less in hospitals treating high-risk pregnancies
- a policy of not routinely employing practices not supported by scientific evidence, including: shaving, enemas, IVs, early rupture of membranes, electronic fetal monitoring – staffed by people educated in nondrug methods of pain relief
Keep your baby with you. Even if you are not able to find such a hospital or birth center, you can make sure ahead of time that the place you will be giving birth will support you in your wish to keep your baby with you after delivery. But do check this out in advance, because a significant degree of both maternal and newborn deprivation has been built in to the obstetrical care of mothers and babies over the last fifty years (as my mother’s birthing experiences attest), and it is a legacy that is still present in many settings. When a mother and her baby are separated at birth for any reason, the stress of the situation partially blocks the effect of the molecules of belonging, which can make it more difficult to bond with a child. You don’t want Cupid’s arrow to go off course! All that having been said, it’s important to acknowledge that relatively few people have experienced the kind of ideal birth and bonding experience described above, yet most of us love our children deeply and are in turn loved by them. A child’s sense of safety, security, and love is wired in by repeated experiences occurring during the course of an entire lifetime. Pregnancy, labor, and birth are just the beginning. Oxytocin will continue to pulse and create a bond throughout all the years of your relationship with your daughter. It pulses even when you’re just thinking about a loved one. The oxytocin pulse that is part of our inner wisdom helps sustain the nurturing bond between individuals as long as they both live.
Be informed. A very good place to start is by reading Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth. It is filled with uplifting and empowering birth stories that you can use to imprint yourself with the right words and affirmations about birth, and with good, solid, detailed information about prenatal care and labor. The guide is also chock-full of national resources that you can use to find the midwives, doulas, and birth centers that will provide you with the right atmosphere to birth normally.
Have faith. Professionals who support “Mother Bear” birth wisdom work in every hospital and clinic in the world. You’ll find them through the law of attraction once you start looking for them. Remember, “That which you are seeking is also seeking you.”
Learn More — Additional Resources
- Ina May Gaskin is one of the best-known pioneers of midwifery. Learn more about her work at www.inamay.com or by reading Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth.
- Coalition for Improving Maternity Service (CIMS) is a collaborative effort of numerous individuals and more than 50 organizations representing over 90,000 members. CIMS aims to promote a wellness model of maternity care.
- Doulas of North America (DONA) is an international association of more than 4,000 doulas nationwide who are trained to provide the highest quality emotional, physical, and educational support to women and their families during childbirth and postpartum.
- Childbirth.org, founded by doula Robin Elise Weiss, is a source of comprehensive information on pregnancy and childbirth.
- Birthworks believes in empowering women by developing their self-confidence, trust, and faith in their ability to give birth.
- Mother-Daughter Wisdom, by Christiane Northrup, M.D., Chapter 4, “Pregnancy: Trusting the Process of Life” and Chapter 5, “Labor and Birth: Accessing Your Feminine Power”
- The Wisdom of Menopause, by Christiane Northrup, M.D., Chapter 12, “Pregnancy and Birthing”