1. Get pregnant
2. Find a doctor
3. Write a birth plan
4. Give birth at the doctor's preferred hospital
In general, this is the order in which most women approach their pregnancies and birth experiences. But, in my opinion, this is completely backwards.
Consider how we usually approach other major life decisions. For example, how did you decide where to attend college? Realizing that factors such as cost and distance from home come into play, we still usually select a school based on our long-term goals. Our process looks more like this:
1. Decide on a career
2. Determine what undergraduate/graduate work needs to be accomplished to pursue this career
3. Research and choose a school with a good program in this field
Generally speaking, we make the most important decisions in our lives based on the end goal. So my advice to women who want a positive birth experience is to begin with the end in mind.
1. Have a birth plan - what does my best birth look like?
2. Research and choose the location that is most likely to achieve this experience
3. Research and choose a caregiver that supports this plan
My next post(s) will discuss points #2 and #3 but right now I'd like to focus on #1 - dreaming about the best possible birth experience.
I believe it's important to visualize and articulate the most ideal birth experience for you because this goal can and should inform all the other decisions you make regarding your prenatal and labor care. In order to do this, though, you must begin by reflecting on how you perceive pregnancy and birth. What comes to mind when you hear the term "labor"? What worries you the most about being pregnant and/or giving birth? How do you feel about becoming a parent?
While there are probably many resources to facilitate such reflection, I highly recommend the book Birthing from Within, written by a registered nurse and certified nurse midwife. This book treats childbirth as an act of self-discovery and provides some phenomenal (often artistic) exercises such as journaling, meditation, and painting to help women analyze their thoughts and fears surrounding pregnancy and birth, as well as a discussion on labor techniques and the role of the doctor/midwife and father.
As you analyze the values and desires you have about giving birth, you can then begin to decide what type of experience you want to have and determine what factors need to be in place to achieve this goal. This includes your opinions about various drugs, labor positions and birthing options (such as waterbirth), who will be present, and how you want to deliver your baby.
I highly suggest talking to other mothers about the choices they made, why they made those decisions, and what they may have done differently. Watch the incredible documentaries The Business of Being Born and Orgasmic Birth. Read books about pregnancy and birth (my absolute favorite is Ina May's Guide to Childbirth, which is definitely bent towards natural birth but includes birth stories, practical advice, and the full range of information regarding birth practices).
The point is, be informed about birth before you make decisions related to it. Even if you are already pregnant and seeing a doctor, if you discover new information and want to make a different decision about your care, you can change your mind.
For all of you moms out there - what other advice or resources do you suggest for yet-to-be-mothers? What do you wish you had known before you were pregnant/gave birth?