We've all heard those awful, painful stories of birth, of big babies and bulging bottoms, but does it really have to be like that? Programmes like One Born Every Minute might like you to think so, and those horror stories from your step-mother's best friend serve to only continue what has become in our culture The Thrill Surrounding The Fear of Birth.
On the other hand we hear of 'ecstatic birth' and even 'orgasmic' birth experiences, and enough women have babies without needing pain-killers to make you wonder 'Who's really telling the truth?'.
So what's the secret? Why do some women have beautiful experiences while others are left traumatised?
Having experienced a bit of both, I'd say there are definite steps birthing couples can take to improve on their experience - and hopefully avoid saying afterward, 'I wish I'd known then what I know now'.
- 1 Find out what your options are. Did you know it's your choice where and how you have your baby? A lot of people don't seem to know this which seems baffling to me now, but thinking back to being a first time mum, I can see how you just get floated along on this system of checks and check ups, growth charts and scans, and sort of assume you are going to be taken care of.... DON'T. Rule number one is get with it. Ask questions. Find out what a birth centre is, how a home birth works, and what your hospital provides. It's your choice.
- 2 Talk to your midwife/s. And if you don't get on with them talk to another. Midwives are not there to instruct you on what to do, they are there to SUPPORT you in your birth, whatever your choices, if you know what they are. Ask them what their role will be, if you will have one midwife throughout your pregnancy and birth or 10, if there's a pool, what your choices of antenatal care are, about baby positions, about birth plans, about what can go wrong and how to help avoid it in the first place.
- 3 Talk to your partner about the birth - how would you like it to be? What are their expectations of the birth? What are your expectations of them? Talk about any dreams and any worries.
- 4 Research. LEARN about birth. Learn what makes a great birth, learn what makes a bad one. With knowledge you will be far more in control of your experience, you will take ownership of it and be less vulnerable to the F word - FEAR.
- 5 Do a good birth plan. Birth plans - pah what are they for? Well, they have a purpose. Ask your midwife about what should go in there to start off with. Develop it with your partner and your birth companion, mothers and midwives. And then make sure that your birth plan is read and respected by the right people.
- 6 Build your team. Who do you want at the birth? Who is your birth companion? Don't just assume it's the child's father, as they might also need supporting, and they might love you to pieces but that does not make them the best person to be your right-hand person in the birth room. Are you going to hire a Doula? (What's one of those?) Are there people who think they are going to be at the birth but actually you don't want them there? Your team is important.
- 7 Don't make assumptions. Ever. About yourself, your partner, your birth, your midwives - anything.
- 8 Look after yourself. Don't put crap into your body. Eat fresh things. Gentle exercise. Walk every day. Get your body healthy and happy. Drink water. Jiggle to music and sing. The more you look after yourself physically and mentally, the better you are going to dance to the song of birth (and you'll learn awesome things along the way, like apparently if you eat loads of curly kale toward the end of pregnancy your baby may not need a vitamin K injection!).
- 9 Believe in yourself. Enjoy it! Your body is made for this. You are a woman. You are strong. This is what your body is designed to do (amongst other amazing things). Take ownership of it. Ok, so your body knows, but does your head? How are you going to get your head in line with your inner animal? Because we all know they don't always agree. Listen to yourself, listen to your body, listen to your fears and hopes and dreams. Try meditation, yoga. Look into breath work or Hypnobirthing. Write down affirmations. Believe.
Ultimately, birth is your rite of passage - make it yours and not someone else's. Your baby was made with love, so bring them into the world with love.
Katie Brooke is a mother, illustrator and author of 'Whoosh! A Little Book for Birth Companions' published with Pinter & Martin, £9.99www.birthcompanion.co.uk