In late 2015, I excitedly waited for that little pink strip to materialise on the pregnancy stick and happily found myself in the ‘club’. After almost a decade of helping other families navigate their way into motherhood, it was my turn. I was 30 years old and about to experience birth.
‘With child’ ‘Up the duff’ ‘Bun in the oven’ ‘Expecting’ ‘In the family way’
None of these commonly used phrases could sum up the emotions I felt as a midwife, pregnant with her first child. Millions of women had been through this before me and will continue to for millenniums after I have finished my reproductive days. Yet, I found it hard to believe any of these other women mattered. All I could think about were the changes in my body, how I was feeling and how my baby was developing. And so began the reading.
Preparing to be Parents
The information pregnant women now have access to is phenomenal, overwhelming really. Many find it empowering. There are apps for everything; conception, pregnancy, labour, feeding etc. However, for a great number of women, the constant bombardment of information can increase anxiety levels and this is before ‘helpful’ people (often strangers!) start telling you about their own pregnancy and birth horror stories. My advice to you – Listen to your body. You are an expert on your body and you will be the expert on your baby. After all, your baby won’t have read that latest manual that you are currently ploughing through!
I tried not to read too much, tried not to buy too much. After all, what does a newborn baby really need but the love of its family and some milk to fill its tiny tummy. But the marketing of new baby products is intense. A trip to a high street parenting shop to check out prams sent us into a dizzy spin. It seemed, to be the perfect parent you must buy cots, cribs, buggy’s, slings, bottle warmers, Moses baskets, swing seats, high chairs – the list goes on.
Did we buy it all? No. Did we buy more than we needed? Definitely! Secondhand selling sites became our new best friend and we were lucky to receive a lot of handouts from friends. Newborns grow so quickly that often you only have a few weeks of use out of certain items before they move on to the next stage.
Working when Pregnant
The pregnancy progressed, working full time was hard. Hard to concentrate through the nausea and vomiting in the first trimester, a brief reprise in the middle of pregnancy and then hard to sustain the energy through the third trimester. Satisfied that we had everything prepared to meet the immediate needs of a newborn I began to prepare my mind and body for the labour and birth.
At the time I was working on a birth centre. On a daily basis, I observed women giving birth to beautiful babies in a serene calm environment, using water with minimal to no medical intervention. I understood the mechanisms of how women give birth but this did not mean I was physically or mentally ready for my own labour and birth.
So how does a midwife prepare for her own birth?
I wanted to give myself the best chance of having one of these lovely birth experiences. I ate well, I did regular gentle exercise, after all, labour is probably the most physically demanding thing most women’s bodies will ever go through. We attended local childbirth classes, the postnatal support from these women has been invaluable. I did birth hypnotherapy classes and regularly listened to the music/mantras through my third trimester. I bounced on the birthing ball, prepared my perineum with massage, mixed aromatherapy oils and downloaded relaxing playlists. I took raspberry leaf tea towards the end of pregnancy to soften the cervix, did nipple stimulation and hand expressed my colostrum. I ate 6 dates a day from 36 weeks gestation to aid spontaneous labour. See my article Eating dates could improve your labour and birth for more information on this. I talked to my community midwife about a home birth and made preparations as I knew home was where I’d be most comfortable. I finished work at 35 weeks, took time to relax, caught up with family and friends and the excitement set in.
In the end, my birth experience did not finish (or even begin) at home. I was lucky to experience some of the NHS’s finest midwives, doctors, healthcare assistants and nurses. Three days after my waters broke on a scorching July day, I gave birth to an amazing little bear cub by caesarean section. He weighed well over 9 lb!
So was the preparation worth it? ABSOLUTELY. I knew I had done everything possible to improve my chances of a straightforward birth. I used the breathing techniques, music, massage and hypnotherapy despite being classified as ‘high risk’. I may not have had a ‘normal’ birth but it was a positive birth and a moment in time I will never forget.