Let’s try finding 5 steps to birth happiness and see how we do.
The house is quiet; the rhythm of your baby’s sucking lulls you into a reflective mood. (Finally, after 8 weeks you can feed your first baby without focusing on every detail of the feeding.) With your baby in your arms, your thoughts return to the birth…
1. Choose Experience Over Technology or Degree.
You’ve given birth with the most prestigious doctor or hospital in your area. Or, you’ve chosen the most popular midwife.
How was your experience as a birthing woman?
I’m not talking about the “Consumer Experience” of having chosen the “Right Brand” of doctor or midwife or unassisted birth philosophy.
Was your transformation into motherhood celebrated and supported well?
Were you heard and your questions and desires taken into account?
Were you able to focus on internal or external sources of strength?
Was there a comforting voice and, if wanted, a guiding touch of someone who respected you?
Do the people you are seeking support from hold you in high regard?
Tip: 9 months and 8 weeks ago, when you first met with a provider for your pregnancy and birth care, there were some instincts to heed. Make your choices on what will make you satisfied when you look back at your birth:
Whether you used their services for gynecology or not, feel your body’s reaction when you ask them,
How do you support women with my birth plan, women who want _____?
How do you support my first moments with my child?
How does your birth team (nurses, partners, apprentices, etc.) fit in with decision making when you aren’t there? Have they experienced births with women who have my desires or situations?
Would you give birth yourself this way? What would you feel is the best way to give birth?
Do you allow my baby to have their blood back after birth or do you clamp the cord in less than two minutes?
There are more questions than these, of course. Make up your own questions according to your values. Be realistic. Don’t assume that all nice birth providers share your values. You can share a smile and even a laugh without them knowing how to support your birth choices. They can have the best credentials and know a lot, but if they aren’t interested in knowing you, you might not have a particularly personal experience. You can choose someone with a good credential, but pick a good person with a good credential. 😀
Which brings us to #2.
2.) The second step to birth happiness is to match your expectations with reality.
You left your first, second, third, or ninth prenatal with a confidence and glow. You really felt supported and heard. How did this feeling play out in your birth experience?
Sure, there are going to be some challenges in birth. Birth is a demanding physical activity.
I just went on a Boonie Stomp in Guam with a group of island hiking enthusiasts. I only had thin canvas shoes, $17.00 at K-mart on the island.
Fortunately, the thin shoes were perfect because they let my feet mold to the rocks and had a good tread for our path.
Unfortunately, they didn’t have levitation powers to keep my left foot from going right through the false floor of dried palm leaves down a break in the heavily foliaged cliffside above the waterfall.
Fortunately, I happened to be holding a young and sturdy tree trunk at the moment.
Unfortunately, the walk my son’s neighbor’s remembered as easy wasn’t so easy as we climbed down rocky (not quite slippery) and steep hillsides (not quite cliffsides).
Fortunately, the noble young men on the tour held my hand for dangerous crossings (Should I say embarrassing? Oh, no, I graciously accepted their nobility they offered the elder and, ahem, most inexperienced in the group! Stepping off the cliff wouldn’t be a point against competency, would it??)
Cooling off in the falls was delicious. The sights and sounds of rainforest all around us with only our shoe prints to reveal the date from any date in history.
And though the hike back up the rocky slope (with ropes) and then further up through the high, grass covered hills was gorgeous but hotter than the ocean breeze would make it seem. The nausea of tropical heat almost ruined the memory of the walk. I peed behind a knoll, drank more water, and rested in the speckled shade under a single tree. What more could I do but walk? So I turned my face to the breeze and felt the joy. I choose to ignore a small physical discomfort I could do no more about. I felt instead, the satisfaction of having the hike completed well, even though I wasn’t done walking yet. I felt the state of mind I desired and let it come on early. Suddenly the rest of the walk was easier.
— Point? There will be unexpected happenings when your body interacts with nature and when your nature interacts with other people.
Fortunately, a bit of graciousness and communication can bring many diversions back on track for a positive memory. A bit of acceptance for the heat and humor for the hole in the trail keeps the beauty of the island and the joy of fulfilling a task by physical exertion. The dream of seeing a waterfall didn’t fade under the realities of the hike to get there because I kept fluid and open to the immediate situations and didn’t judge them or try to exert my ego about whether my dignity or even my life was endanger.
I was grateful for serendipity (or divine protection!) as I was for the first offer of unsolicited help that I have received for being an elder in the eyes of a young man. By staying in a gentle state of bliss even while facing the realities of the climb, the memory emerges as a positive experience treasured far into the future.
Which brings us to Birth Happiness #3.
3.) The third step to happiness in birth is to bring a nurturing, third party person with you when you talk to your midwife/doctor about your birth ideas/plan/choices. This is useful because nurturing hormones are already in action in the pregnant body. A pregnant woman can easily skip her own needs to keep her provider comfortable (read: and not having to face change or her personal request). In such a protective natural state, a woman sometimes (not all lionesses do) translates making the doctor or midwife’s experience with them easy as equal to keeping their baby’s birth safe. If only this were true.
A respectful third party person who is there for you and your wishes can observe the conversation, the question and answer session, with an objective perspective.
A mature, objective person can find and work with the positives and help both parties understand the words, needs, and intentions of the other. A few questions, like, “When you say you only do episiotomies when necessary, in what percentage of your patients do you find cutting the vaginal opening necessary?” There is a vast difference between 1% and 20% that reveals an underlying view of how a woman’s body works (or doesn’t) when she is too busy to advocate for herself.
A mature, objective person is not out to “catch the provider at mischief.” But rather will help you get a realistic idea of how a birth will be managed or be supported with this person or practice and in this birth place.
You may not be able, for some reason or another, to find or choose the best provider for your plan, but you can become aware of who you are working with and then choose the words and approach to bring in the support, tools, and information you need to navigate the course you are on.
Birth Satisfaction is greater with a doula (doo-la).
A doula is a person who is not a provider, student provider, apprentice, nurse, or family member, or even a girlfriend. A doula is objective and doesn’t offer medical advice. The doula listens to you and helps you communicate your needs in a respectful way to the providers of your care. The trained doula is skilled in comfort measures for labor and knows about options without pushing a personal agenda on you or your birth. The doula respects your partner and loved-ones.
While I don’t know of a study on happiness and having had a doula, I do know there are several studies showing that doula care reduces
- postpartum depression
- negative rations of/negative feelings about the birth experience
Statistics on many variable are remarkable for births supported by a doula. No harm was recorded by having a doula. Of course, pick a doula who fits Happiness step #1, an instinctually good match. Here is an excerpt from the DONAInternational.org website on doula benefits:
- tends to result in shorter labors with fewer complications
- reduces negative feelings about one’s childbirth experience
- reduces the need for pitocin (a labor-inducing drug), forceps or vacuum extraction and cesareans
- reduces the mother’s request for pain medication and/or epidurals
- Feel more secure and cared for
- Are more successful in adapting to new family dynamics
- Have greater success with breastfeeding
- Have greater self-confidence
- Have less postpartum depression
- Have lower incidence of abuse
Tip: Find a doula group where you can meet several doulas at a monthly or weekly public meeting. Or meet with 3 or more doulas personally if time allows and public gatherings aren’t available or available yet, in your area. Doula organizations like DONA or any number of local or national groups can help you find a doula to match your personality, needs, and location.
You may pay for a doula. Quality is not measured by expense. Follow your instincts.
4.) Breathe into Happiness.
The door to happiness is in your chest. You open it by breathing fully and stretching the muscles around the lungs and ribs. You open it by replacing old stale blood. Breath in deeply and fully so all your organs, including your brain, get a blast of fresh air.
Side thought: Why do room fresheners sell? Perhaps because we want to breath fully. Artificial gel inside a plastic mushroom discourages me from deep breathing as I typically try to hold my breath and leave the room or car as fast as I can. For that matter, I notice smokers light up to take a deep breath through the cigarette. What’s around their neck?
The amazing discovering of transferring an oxytocin high through the sense of smell, or the organ of smell, tells us that bliss is contagious and brought in on the breath.
Tip: Let’s get some happy scents in the room with an open window or with flowers, herb sachets, essential oils or cooking healthy foods) Or, go smell a happy person…
And 5.) The fifth step towards Happiness in Birth is to be grateful to others.
By moving the expression of your heart in the direction of others, you transcend the loneliness of a “me-centered” experience. The grateful one is filled with the grace of many. It’s not just appreciation for what another person has given you, its even gratitude to all the people in the roles they played in while serving you in your birthing.
Each person has two points of giving, the contribution, imbued with the mood they were in while they did their action, and the point between you two as the combined energy of both your states, moods, and beliefs about your relationship and the task at hand (birthing, in this case).
Now multiply that with as many people as were with you, and then give each combination of pairs, trios, quads, and all groups a point of expression with its own personality, it would seem. That point of expression might be felt as how people calm down when a particular person enters the room, or how the room tenses up, in the case of a chronically stressed person entering.
By opening sending gratitude (a smile, a thank you, and especially an acknowledgement of the individual worth of the individual spoken aloud) the expression of emotion for the group, not to mention an individual within that group) is lifted and oxytocin flows in.
To sum up our 5 steps to Birth Happiness
1. Trust your instinct when choosing a provider.
2. Be present with real life and let go of expectations.
3. Hire a doula (then they may help with #1 and #2) for your birth.
4. Breathe fully. Now and while in labor.
5. Be the love you want to feel in your birth.
The most important thing is love.
Education about birth can help you with #3 but you can see from this list, that emotional intelligence is more important than intellectual preparation when it comes to happiness. Knowing the elements of safe birthing will help you with choosing a provider and asking questions. Emotional intelligence will help you not get trapped by wishes when reality doesn't match your dreams.
Body preparation will help with #2, so that your dream of a pleasurable birth or at least a birth you can cope with is more likely to happen. Daily Essentials and other preparation for a balanced body with flexible sacrum and hips will help prevent some common causes of surprise in labor — back labor, stalls in labor, a long labor, a more painful labor than seems likely, and so on. Spinning Babies: Parent Class has the solutions to many of those issues for most women.
Your state of mind helps your body relax into pregnancy. Protecting yourself with a strong core will not longer seem valuable and you can open to the instinct within yourself.
You are a competent birthing woman. The path to happiness is not really a path to anywhere, because happiness is yours within you right now. Moving to happiness from anger or depression or despair or even disbelief, requires a change of blood chemistry that you have done before when you have encountered unexpected joy on a gloomy day. Happiness may be brought on by breathing, belief and habit. and a physically accessible way to get back on track when challenges do appear. Get in the habit of happiness and what ever birth experience you have you will find moments of joy that can turn to a lifetime of happy memories.