I know I’m a total Birth Nerd but is there really anything more astounding than the act of growing a human being and birthing them gloriously into the world? I don’t think so. For over a decade now I have had the absolute pleasure of bearing witness to scores of women making the brave transition from maiden- into motherhood. No matter how often I am honoured to be invited into peoples’ birth spaces, I feel the magnitude of nature and of a woman’s full expression of power, every time I see a tiny body emerge earth-side and with it, the rising of a newly born mother. I get goosebumps just thinking about it!
And yet, for far too many people childbirth is far from such a positive experience. Some are too afraid even to conceive, filled with fear and self-doubt, deeply affected by harmful lies that birth is inherently dangerous. Others have lived experiences of adverse birth outcomes, iatrogenic harm and/or obstetric violence and carry the trauma for the rest of their lives. In recent decades the number of women and birthing people experiencing trauma as a result of a negative birth experience has risen significantly with current rates estimated at between 20%-40%.
It is so deeply saddening to know that so many women and birthing people are denied a positive and uplifting rite of passage into parenthood.
As a Doula and 3-Step Rewind Practitioner I have supported a range of people to give birth with a sense of empowerment. Many people who ask for my support either have a history of Birth Trauma, are pregnant again and want to avoid any potential for further harm, or they are aware of the potential of birth trauma and want to take precautions to ensure their birth experience is positive.
I wanted to share with you the main steps I have observed my clients taking in order to create a positively transformative and cathartic birth experience so that you too might create a birth experience that is transformational for all the right reasons.
1 - Journey your path to emotional healing
If this is your first baby and you are aware you have deep fear about your birthing time, it is important to spend some time being, perhaps with an appropriate/ professional support person exploring where that fear comes from, how it’s serving you and what you need in order to release it. Some of my clients have used journalling or talking therapies to help reveal the source of their fear. Many, realising that the fear they feel is not their own, that it comes from others, from a cultural fear around childbirth and from individuals who hold unresolved trauma. Depending on what you may uncover will determine which pathway is best for you from here. You may find that protecting your self from others’ negative tales about birth is enough to give you the space you need to build resilience whilst you research/ plan and create a courageous vision for your birth; you might explore hypnobirthing to give you the tools to recognise and move through fear as/when it arises, you might read positive birth stories to find validation and encouragement in others’ experience or listen to evidence-based podcasts to learn about the most recent research around childbirth. You might realise you’d benefit from some counselling or therapy and thus choose to reach out to a Perinatal Mental Health Specialist.
For those who have birthed before and have difficult memories of their prior experience, or even active PTSD, it’s really important to get the right support. Have you made your midwife aware? Is your Midwife trained and skilled in providing trauma-informed care? If the answer there is no, have you thought about requesting new Midwife or switching provider altogether? You might want to explore which non-verbal therapeutic techniques are available to you and feel like a good match. EMDR and 3-Step Rewind would be appropriate interventions for someone with Birth Trauma. Or you may prefer to speak with a Birth Trauma Specialist/ Psychologist such as Emma Svanberg or Mia Scotland
Whatever it is you feel you need, go get it! You matter. Your mental health matters. And you totally deserve to find a way to transform emotional pain into peace.
2 - Protect your bodily autonomy
And what of consent? It is paramount that consent is gained for any medical intervention or care plan. I would question the validity of any consent gained from a labouring women who is in a compromised frame of mind (ie distracted or frightened by pain) or has not had time to fully consider the pros and cons of any medical intervention. During my time as a Student Midwife and Birth Doula I have listened to many women share with me their realisations post-birth that they did not fully understand to what it was that they were consenting.
In a 2017 study by Reed, R., Sharman, R. & Inglis, C., 748 women were asked to describe what they found traumatising about their birth. The results were collated into four main areas, including feeling violated and that priority was given to the care providers agenda over the birthing woman’s needs (i.e. birth plan/ preferences). Women felt they were subjected to unwanted or unnecessary medical interventions in order to satisfy the needs of their care providers; being treated as an experiment or resource (someone to ‘practice’ on or learn through).
You are not a practice doll. Your body is YOUR body an no one else has the right to use you as they see fit. You have full ownership and autonomy and you get to decide if, who, when and where at every turn. You have the right to individualised care that recognises your uniqueness. You have the right to feel safe and respected. Consent lies at the heart of all respectful care and nothing should be done to/for you or your baby without your consent, based on informed decision making. Care providers hold the responsibility to gain content prior to offering any intervention or treatment. You have the right to decline anything offered. Informed decision making implies you have been made fully aware of the risks and benefits of any recommended care pathway and are able to make a choice free from coercion or threat of consequence/ sanctions. Saying yes once doesn’t mean ‘Yes, every time’. You can change your mind and retract your consent at any time. One way you might like to ensure you are making an informed decision is to use the BRAIN acronym when discussing your Birth Preferences with your midwives/ Obstetricians:
B – What are the benefits?
R – What are the risks?
A – What are the alternatives?
I – What is my/ your intuition saying? Will this lead to further intervention?
N – What happens if we do nothing for now, and wait before reevaluating?
Knowing your birth preferences in a variety of birthing scenarios ahead of going into labour will enable you to better negotiate these if the situation arises. You may need to do a fair chunk of research to figure out if your hospitals current guidelines reflect the most up-to-date research and asses any ‘risks’ through your own subjective lens. Unless you are familiar with evaluating the credibility of research papers, you may want to enlist the support of a Doula or Midwife to find relevant evidence to inform your decision-making. People I work alongside have found Dr. Sara Wickham’s body of publications very helpful in this instance.
3 - Understand birth unfolds best when it is undisturbed
Birth is governed by the mighty-but-shy hormone, Oxytocin. Bright lights, strangers, feeling observed/ threatened, loud or sudden noises, sensing danger and large, open spaces are all enemies of Oxytocin. Choosing to birth where you feel most at ease, most relaxed and will be the least disturbed, where you can feel free and uninhibited to move and express yourself however you want to, is so important. Much like love-making, birthing women and people require privacy, safety, dim lighting and only the gentle, loving presence of those they trust the most. When birth unfolds in this way, it is more likely to progress quickly and more comfortably, possibly even ecstatically.
Natures own drugs (minus the side-effects and come-downs!) endorphins and oxytocin surge to minimise pain and increase feelings of love and enjoyment. You can give your endorphins a boost with a TENS Machine. Gentle, loving touch/ massage, hypnobirthing, skin-to-skin with your partner and clitoral stimulation will also help to boost oxytocin. Birth Trauma is associated with births with higher rates of medical intervention. If you are free of any medical ‘risk’ or you’ve weighed up your options and have decided a Home birth is best for you, you’re already well on your way to a transformational birth as you’ll be minimise the cascade of medical intervention, promoting an undisturbed birth and you’ll be giving your body the best chance of releasing all these brilliant feel-good hormones
4 - Allow yourself deep rest and supported recovery throughout your 4th Trimester
The way I viewed the first 12-weeks after a baby’s birth changed dramatically after I read Heng Ou’s The First 40 Days. This book is a simply stunning examination of the traditional Chinese practice of postnatal confinement – or Lying-In – and it’s benefits in enabling a new mother to recover from childbirth, restore depleted nutrient levels, learn to care for her baby, rest and, ultimately, mitigate against Postnatal Depression. There are many cultural variations on postnatal confinement but all have similar key elements; easy-to-digest, nourishing foods, a focus on nurturing the mothers and tending to her practical and emotional needs, supporting her with caring for her baby, alleviating her of household chores and promoting physical recovery with massage and gentle exercise.
If and how you create a Lying-In period is totally up to you. Just like with your Birth Preferences, you may wish to research what will best suit you and your unique needs. Whilst there is a lack of scientific data around the benefits of Lying-in (really only because it hasn’t been studied rigorously enough), anecdotally and traditionally it is believed to have enormous benefits to mum and baby.
Personally, I am SO glad I really honoured that precious time with my second-born. It was blissful beyond measure and despite birthing during the stress of the Pandemic and feeling hugely isolated, I felt nothing but joyous. And that’s why it forms such an important part of how show-up for new parents in my role as a Doula.
If you’d like to get a head start on planning for your postnatal period (or 4th Trimester) you can download my free planning guide here. Or why not give me a call or drop a DM and we can explore together how you might benefit from being supported through your pregnancy, birth and 4th Trimester by a Doula.