By Lindsey Avink
Birth is transformative. Nails grow beautiful from prenatal vitamins. Our bellies stretch wider than we believed they could and leave marks forever. Later, we grow muscles from carrying carseats and wearing babies. And the breasts – who knew!
Yoga, squatting, breathing exercises, lotion on the tummy. We focus a lot on our bodies, but really, our minds work just as hard during labor. And birth will change our souls, just as it does our flesh.
For women wanting a natural birth, preparing your mind and soul is as important as doing those squats. These are my top five ways to get ready inside, gathered from having my own two babies and helping other women birth.
1. Provider, provider, provider
Choosing the best care provider is absolutely the most important thing you can do for your mind and soul. Research shows that women’s relationship with their provider is the number one factor in determining their level of satisfaction with their birth experience – regardless of outcome.
Who is the best provider? Whether you’re with a Midwife or Doctor, you need someone who has lots of experience supporting natural birth – not just someone who is “okay with it” or will “let you try”. These are red flags.
And there’s a catch. Not only do you need the best provider, but their group has to be just as great. It’s rare that physicians or midwives practice alone, and there’s no guaranteeing who will be on call on your baby’s birth day.
Depending on the length of your birth, you may see two or even three providers during the whole experience. I’ve seen a birth turn from mama about ready to be wheeled out for a c-section to a peaceful, vaginal birth – just because the new doctor’s shift started at 8 a.m. And vice versa.
Sometimes, this means having the courage and flexibility to switch providers late in pregnancy. This is hard, but if you want to birth naturally, it might be necessary. I once had a heroic third-time mama tell me, “I just need someone who believes I can do it.” Her first two births had been traumatic c-sections. She switched doctors at 38 weeks and went into labor at 39 weeks. Even though the birth was still hard ended in a c-section, she later said she didn’t regret one moment. Her providers believed in her and knew how to support her.
If it’s hard to figure out which providers are genuinely supportive of natural birth, turn to the doulas in your community. Doulas work all over and are willing to share their experiences and steer women toward the good midwives, doctors and hospitals. They are almost always self-employed, so their advice is generally objective.
2. Release expectations and embrace YOUR experience.
My sister’s birth was only six hours.
My first birth was only six hours.
I really want to have the baby before ____________ .
I really don’t want to have the baby until after ____________ .
My childbirth teacher said that active labor is shorter than early labor.
During birth, you can’t win the expectations game. Every birth is unique – totally unique. The experience, the timing, the feelings.
In my childbirth classes, I’ve stopped teaching the “stages of labor” and instead talk about the flow of labor as a circle. Some women move methodically around the circle – long early labor, shorter active labor, shortest pushing. Some women stay in one part of the circle their whole labor. Some women bounce all over the circle. It’s helpful to know the origins of our “stages of labor” – it’s made me think twice about the terminology. I’ve had clients look like they were in transition when they were very early on, and I’ve had clients smiling and chatting as they got ready to push.
Every birth looks and feels different
Due dates are another big battle. When will you go into labor?
The bottom line is there is no way to know. Due dates themselves are really only an approximate time – that’s it! 40 weeks gestation is just the average – half of women birth before 40 and half after, and more first-time mamas are likely to birth later. I’ve heard midwives say that 41 weeks and 3 days is a golden day for many first-time moms.
All that to say, your baby comes when your baby is ready. When we say that a baby is “late”, or “early”, it’s because we have a pretty small window of expectation for birthdays. Holding loosely to your due date is helpful. Maybe you can even refer to your due date as “sometime late May” or “early December”.
Let go of expectations and embrace the ambiguity of birth.
3. Find empowering birth stories
Women love to tell their birth stories – and I love to hear them! There’s even research that looks at birth satisfaction by the clarity with which old women recount their experiences. I remember my 90-year-old grandma’s eyes coming alive as she described the details of my dad’s birth.
But once you’re pregnant, it seems like everyone has a horror story. “Oh – my friend tried a natural birth. She wanted to die and said never again without the epidural.” This is her friend’s experience, and it’s real and should be honored.
But hear it with a grain of salt. Usually, we don’t know the whole story. Was her provider supportive? Was she made to stay in bed? Did she have the option of a birth tub or shower? Did she have a doula? And on and on. Don’t let negative stories become scary stories.
Instead, seek out your friends who have had natural births and ply them for the details. This is a great YouTube Channel with some beautiful birth videos. Prepare your soul by hearing positive experiences and being careful with the negative ones.
4. Read at least one (and maybe not more) good birth book.
I believe that we instinctively know how to give birth, but I also think that those instincts are a bit buried by our current birth culture. A good birth book can help you re-orient your thinking about pregnancy and labor. But like all books, there are bad ones too, so choose wisely. I’ll also say that sometimes we read too much, and start assuming that birth is an academic exercise. Sure, we need knowledge, but we birth with our bodies and our souls too.
Here are my favorites, in order.
Birthing From Within, by Pam England
Your Best Birth, by Ricki Lake and Abby Epstein
Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth, by Ina May Gaskin
The Thinking Woman’s Guide to a Better Birth, by Henci Goer
5. Practice listening to your body
Listening and responding to your body is really at the heart of birth. I teach about our birth-pain actually being a guide for our labor. Find what feels good, and do it! As we respond to pain by moving into positions that relieve it, we’re helping open our pelvis and letting the baby work her way down.
Practice this while you’re pregnant. Listen to your instincts, and don’t hesitate to follow them. Hydrate, be active, and rest as you feel the need. Trusting your body’s cues and believing in the power of your instincts will serve you well during birth.
Birth changes us; our children change us. The work of preparing our minds and souls for birth is just the beginning of stretching ourselves to fit our growing family.
What am I missing, mamas? How else can we get ready on the inside for the big task of birthing?
Lindsey Avink lives in and loves the west side of Chicago with her husband Mike and her kiddos – Caleb, 4 and Lily, 2. She works part time as a doula and childbirth educator and is fascinated by all things birth. In winter she likes to bake with sourdough, and in summer she likes everything. In all things, she is covered with God’s grace.