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Your Birth Experience Matters

August 19, 2010
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Yesterday I talked to you about choosing a care provider for birth. I touched on why it’s important . . . you don’t want to be changing providers at the end of your pregnancy because you just found out that your ideas on birth and your provider’s don’t mesh.

But does your birth experience really matter? Isn’t the goal a healthy mom and healthy baby? What if I told you that your birth experience affects your health and the health of your baby? Yes, the EXPERIENCE matters. Today we’ll talk about how it affects your mental and emotional health. Later this week we’ll talk about how it affects your baby’s health.

“Appreciate that your birth experience, whether wondrous or unpleasant, will be remembered for the rest of your life.”

~The Birth Book, by Dr. William Sears and Martha Sears

The best way to make your experience a pleasant one, is to educate yourself about pregnancy, labor and delivery. Why? Because when you’re educated, you are an active participant. Being an active participant in your birth can directly affect how you feel about your birth experience. In addition, the more you know about how your body works, the less fear you will have. Fear makes labor harder and less pleasant.

Let me give a personal example. I planned and prepared for a natural unmedicated birth with my first baby. I fully educated myself. I switched to an OB who is very supportive of natural birth. I chose a hospital that has a good record for supporting natural birth. I hired a doula. I also chose to augment my labor with Pitocin and eventually chose epidural anesthesia. Those last two things were NOT in my plan. However, I was knowledgeable enough to know they were needed. I hated that I didn’t have the natural birth I had looked forward to for almost nine months. But I didn’t feel violated or cheated, because I made the decisions with my doctor.

I use the words ‘violated or cheated’ because I’ve heard SO MANY women use those terms when describing their birth experience. Terribly sad. And happens way too often. Maybe you’ll be one of the lucky ones where everything works out perfectly, despite being uneducated about birth. But, what if you aren’t lucky? Then what?

Many of these women are left to feel that their bodies don’t work. What if they had a difficult time getting pregnant as well? Maybe they weren’t even able to get pregnant on their own. And what if they have trouble breastfeeding their baby too? How does it affect a woman, for the rest of her life, if she feels that her body is broken? That it didn’t work the way it was supposed to?

Even worse, some of these women feel as if they’ve been violated. I’m not going to explain this thoroughly, but the birth experience is strongly sexual in nature. I mean really, the baby gets in through a sexual act, comes out through a sexual organ and the hormones that are naturally released by your body are the same ones that peak when having sex. Many women report feeling sexually violated through a poor birth experience.

Some doctors (and some of your friends and family) would like you to think that you can’t possibly know enough to make decisions about your own labor and delivery. You didn’t go to school for this. They did. For many years and many bucks. Fortunately there are many good sources of information available to the common woman. It’s possible for a woman to know as much or more than her doctor about labor and delivery. What doctor has time to keep up on all the latest research and findings? Not many. They are human beings like the rest of us. Sadly, (for most doctors) your birth experience isn’t nearly as important to them as it is to you.

The good news! Women who have taken the time to educate themselves often share memories of a pleasant experience. Even if the experience wasn’t pleasant, they are at peace with it, knowing they did all they could do to make it a pleasant experience and have a healthy baby.

I am in no way saying that you can prevent all bad things from happening just by being educated. Sometimes things happen in birth that cannot be changed, despite our knowledge or that of our doctor’s. We live in a broken world. We can’t change that.

However, we are ultimately responsible for our birth choices. No One Else. THAT is why it’s so important to educate yourself. You still may end up with a disappointing birth experience, like I did, but at the very least you can walk away from it KNOWING that you did everything you could to make it the best you could, given the circumstances.

If you’ve had a poor birth experience, one that still bothers you to this day, there’s a great article on the La Leche League’s website that may help you on your road to healing.

How were you affected by your birth experience(s)?

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