To the First-time Mom,
You peed on a stick. You turned away and distracted yourself for the excruciatingly long 3 minutes the instructions tell you to wait. Time's up! With a cautious glance, you look down to see those two lines. BAM! You're pregnant! This might be a long-time coming. This might be a welcomed surprise. This might be complete and utter shock. You Google "home pregnancy test accuracy" (while simultaneously chugging water and peeing on another stick). Still positive. You're having a baby!
So now what?
You are bombarded with information. There are countless books, phone apps, trackers, tickers, websites and well-meaning friends and family members offering unsolicited advice. You might buy a popular book that gives you weekly updates of your baby's progress, comparing her size to fruits and vegetables. You might start your baby registry only to realize you have never heard of half of the recommended items. You might join an online expectant mother forum only to be lost when it comes to its cryptic language (what the heck do DH, LO, LMP, HPT, DPO, BFP, and rainbow baby mean?*). Is your head spinning yet?
There is a lot of superficial chatter about pregnancy, especially with your first Everyone will give their opinions about what they think the gender of your baby is, about how old is" too old" to breastfeed, about how women who have natural births "don't get a medal for it", and so on. Opinions are like.... belly buttons; everybody has one. Hey, this birth junkie has plenty! But right now is about you. And what I want to tell you is that your first birth matters. Your first birth affects your physical and emotional states. It will affect all subsequent births. It sets the precedent and defines the birthing experience for you going forward. I don't want this to intimidate you, but instead empower you.
I compiled a short list of helpful to-dos for a first time mom, which more of a practical big picture focus (i.e. not just telling to take your prenatal vitamins and drink 8 glasses of water daily - though I agree that both are also important):
1) Self-assess. Have a conversation with yourself. This can be in your head to avoid any funny looks. In all seriousness, quiet your mind, turn your focus inward and get in touch with your feelings and hopes around this birth. Here are some questions to ask yourself:
- How do I feel about this pregnancy? Am I happy, scared, upset? Is there existing anxiety or trauma that I need to work through in order to better prepare for this pregnancy?
- Where do I want to birth? In a hospital? Birth center? At home?
- Who do I want to attend my birth? How important is privacy?
- How do I feel about pain? When I'm in pain or sick, what comfort measures help me feel better?
Answer these questions honestly. In doing so, you can formulate your plan of attack for this pregnancy and birth. Try not to let cultural pressures dictate the way you should birth. Tap into your true nature and be honest with yourself about what you want and how you feel.
2) Assemble your support team. A support team generally includes your partner and your prenatal care provider, as well as possibly family, friends, and/or a doula. Think about the type of birth you hope for and then select an OB or midwife who supports your desires. I cannot stress this enough! If plans change during labor, with a truly supportive provider, you will feel more comfortable with the decisions being made. If you want to interview care providers, you can schedule meet-and-greets, which are generally free. Under most insurance plans, switching providers during pregnancy is relatively easy.
Hiring a doula can be invaluable to any birth. A doula is "a trained and experienced professional who provides continuous physical, emotional and informational support to the mother before, during and just after birth; or who provides emotional and practical support during the postpartum period. Studies have shown that when doulas attend birth, labors are shorter with fewer complications, babies are healthier and they breastfeed more easily." - DONA International A doula does not take the place of your partner, but rather supports him or her, as well.
A woman in labor should be respected, empowered, and an active part of the decision-making process. Your support team should only assist in this goal, not hinder it.
3) Educate yourself. Learn about the physiology of childbirth. Learn what helps with labor progress and what can hinder it. Learn about labor induction and augmentation methods (their benefits and risks). Learn about labor pain coping techniques. Am I losing you? "Who has time for this?" you ask. Stay with me.... Learn about your rights as a patient. Did you know you can fire your doctor and nurses anytime?
Below will be a list of recommended books. This can be easy! Read a chapter every couple nights before bed. Even if your birth plan is to go with the flow and do everything the care providers suggest, having the knowledge about your body and the process will help you better understand your medical care. It just might help you avoid any unnecessary procedures (think unnecessary csection). I personally don't know any mother who says they knew too much about their maternity care.
4) Let go. You can read every book, plan out every detail, cross all your Ts and dot all your lower-case Js. But then you'll reach a point where letting go will be just as beneficial as all your preparation. I urge you to surrender to the fact that your body and your baby will know what to do. Tune into your body and follow along. My favorite piece of advice when pregnant with my first was this: "You'll find joy in the flexibility."** Things can change. If you can roll with it (while being an active and informed participant), you'll be able to find joy in the birth.
*Hopping down from my soapbox*
Look, you are about to experience something incredible. Your world will be rocked. Your views altered. Your heart filled. Your baby will arrive earthside one way or another - out of your vagina or out of your abdomen. (Did you just flinch when I said "vagina"? Don't be scared, it's pretty awesome!) However she arrives, you'll do great! After all, I'm just another well-meaning mom offering you unsolicited advice.
Ina May's Guide to Childbirth by Ina May Gaskin - I think every L&D nurse and OB should be required to read this book. This book made me want to shout "I am woman, hear me roar!" The information is timeless and empowering (promise me you'll read the whole book and not let the "granola" parts scare you! Promise??)
Pregnancy, Childbirth, and the Newborn by Penny Simkin, Janet Whalley, et al. - This book is thorough and necessary! It's written in such a way that it supports Ina May's book and also focuses on modern obstetrics and hospital procedures.
The Birth Partner by Penny Simkin. - This should be required reading for anyone supporting a woman in labor, and, frankly for the mom herself! It's easy to read and presents a slew of practical information.
(No, I'm not making a commission off of the sales of these books! Too bad, though.)
* Curious what these mean? DH = dear husband, LO = little one, LMP = last missed period, HPT = home pregnancy test, DPO = days past ovulation, BFP = big fat positive (pregnancy test), rainbow baby = baby born after a miscarriage
** I have to credit my wise cousin Sara who offered up this piece of advice. And it won't be the last time I quote her. She rocks.