1. There’s no right way to give birth. Throw moral superiority out the window. Women who have epidurals aren’t weak and women who have drug-free births aren’t strong. Every woman needs to do what feels best for her, deep down in that quiet place that knows what it wants if you get really still and listen.

    Here I am, getting still and listening during my labor with Jo. Or perhaps I’m just very stoned. Photo by Candace Palmerlee.
  2. How matters a lot more than what. There’s pretty much nothing I’d rather listen to than a birth story. So I’ve heard A LOT of them. And the consistent thread is this: The way a woman feels about her birth has lots to do with how things happened and much less to do with what happened. It’s easy to see birth as a binary with Drug Free Birth on the Winning side and C-Section on Losing. It’s that kind of black and white thinking that can leave women feeling less than open to options that might be helpful or necessary when the time comes. I’ve seen epidurals work wonders. I myself, hoping for a homebirth, said “I love Pitocin!!” during my labor with Cal.
    CalBirth2
    Pitocin ain’t too shabby. Photo by Candace Palmerlee.

    I’ve witnessed rad homebirths and victorious C-sections. I’ve also listened to women talk about hospital and home births as traumatic. If you want to love your birth, focus on supporting yourself around the game-time decisions you’ll inevitably have to make during labor, and let go of the end game. Not surprisingly, you will be much more likely to feel good about your birth if you experience it as something you actively did and chose, rather than something that was chosen for and done to you. To that end, bring someone with you to your labor who will listen to you and help you understand the ins and outs. Which brings us to #3:

  3. It’s more about who you’re with than what you want.  I always figured that the largest factor contributing to a woman having the birth she wanted was her commitment to that kind of birth. After birthing twice and working as a doula, I know that idea is complete crap. What matters more than any commitment is having a care provider at your birth who has a depth of knowledge and experience about the kind of labor and birth you want. Labor without drugs–things like how to help a you relax through your contractions, how position changes and movement can hasten your labor and delivery, and when to use certain techniques and not others. Labor with drugs–things like how to dose pitocin so it doesn’t overwhelm you with contractions but so you’re not laboring forever and what types of pain relief are most useful when. Here’s the other kicker: if you’re having your baby in a hospital with an OB or midwife, it’s most likely that you won’t see them until you start pushing. Until then, the person who is going to help you is a labor and delivery nurse who is assigned to you (or nurses if you have a long labor that spans a shift change). I was really surprised to learn this, and I decided not to put all of my eggs in my OB’s basket, since she would, at most, be attending the last few hours of my first birth. Turns out, with Jo, I pushed for less than 15 minutes. They pulled an OB out of the hallway. I still don’t know her name. But I’ll never forget the calm, constant, trusting presence of my doula, Candace and the kick in the pants that was my labor and delivery nurse, Jackie.
    If not for my doula and L&D nurse, I would have never taken this walk outside after nearly 25 hours of labor. But I did. And while my face here looks pained as hell, I remember it as my most transcendent experience of labor.

    You might luck out and be assigned to a labor and delivery nurse whose skills match with what you want. And you might not. My advice? (As if you had to ask…) Do your research about the skills that the labor and delivery nurses at your hospital have. You and your partner can beef up your skills at a birth class geared towards your goals. And you can invite a doula who has the skills you want to your birth. You should also really like your doula and feel safe around her. Which is the perfect segue way to #4:

  4. The safer and more relaxed you feel during birth the better. Trust your instincts. Go with your gut. Cause in the end, you birth with your instincts and your gut. It’s good practise, cause that’s often where you mother from too.

    Blissful, transcendent photo by Candace Palmerlee
  5. There is no plan. While I’m a fan of “the birth plan,” I’m not a fan of calling it a plan. (“Birth hopes” maybe?) If my births and every single birth story I’ve ever heard is any indication, birth follows anything but a plan. I know it’s a bit of a downer, but I’m going to call a spade a spade: no matter how many books you read or classes you take or visualizations you do, unexpected things will happen during your labor and delivery. Things that you don’t like will happen. And while that might sound terrifying, getting comfy cozy with the practice of planning for (ha!) and adapting to uncertainty is one of the most helpful things any woman can do to prepare for her birth. How the heck do you do that? Control the things you can: read the books, take the classes, and invite the people to your labor and delivery who you trust in times of uncertainty. Then throw your hands to the sky and let go.