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I smile and nod during my childbirth prep classes but don’t really believe any of the tips will work. What should I do?

Excerpt from Asking for a Pregnant Friend: 101 Answers to Questions Women Are Too Embarrassed to Ask about Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Motherhood

Most of the messages society gives us about childbirth boil down to, “It will be the most painful experience of your life — you’ll hate your partner — you’ll probably poop — and your vagina will never be the same.” So, yeah, it’s pretty hard to trust that anything short of narcotics will get you through.

When I was pregnant, I religiously practiced HypnoBirthing techniques and told everyone who asked that I believed this method would work. But I was doubtful, like really doubtful. Even while preaching its benefits, I would think, “How is a bit of breathing and meditation going to get me through the whole pushing-a-human-through-my-vagina thing without screaming for drugs?” But despite the doubt, I kept practicing. I kept asking, “Well . . . what if? What if this actually works?”

Watching HypnoBirthing birth videos actually chipped away at my doubt more than any other aspect of preparation. Witnessing these women have intense experiences with calm, and without drugs, helped me hold on to that “What if?”: “If they can do it, what if I can too?” And then I went into labor. Holy guacamole, was it the most intense emotional and physical experience I’d ever had! But the childbirth prep techniques worked. I didn’t use them all, but certain ones came to me at different times. It was like my body and subconscious mind were in cahoots to get me through the experience. I would be wondering what the heck to do, and all of a sudden an answer would come. “Keep doing your surge breaths…Sit on the birth ball and swirl your hips…Have someone press on your back . . . Tell Eric to stop sleeping because it’s filling you with rage-envy. . .” The answers kept coming and held me in the space of knowing I could get through it. I did ask for an epidural, but everyone ignored me and I forgot about it when the next contraction came.

With all that said, my birth could have played out very differently, even with the same amount of preparation. I had a cervix that seemed happy to open, a uterus that really wanted to get the baby out, and care providers who didn’t push intervention. I say this because I’d never want a woman to feel like she failed if she’s vigilant about childbirth preparation but ends up needing interventions she hadn’t planned on. And sometimes we change our mind during birth. We decide an epidural is the best thing for us, or that Pitocin is essential to get things going. None of that means all the work you put into childbirth preparation was a waste.

There is a common misconception that childbirth preparation classes, especially those more focused on unmedicated birth, have the sole purpose of getting you that unmedicated birth. I believe all childbirth preparation classes — at least those focused more on calm and empowerment than fear — help you do the following:

  • Foster a greater bond with your baby during pregnancy.
  • Develop a deeper understanding of your body and the process of birth.
  • Receive tools to stay calm and focused whether you’re having an unmedicated birth, a medicated birth, or a cesarean birth.
  • Feel empowered to guide your birth journey, instead of feeling like you’re at the mercy of others.

You don’t have to have complete faith that the class you’re in will get you an unmedicated birth. You just have to remind yourself that you’re doing yourself and baby a huge service by putting thought and preparation into your birth experience, even though you have no idea how it will unfold.

What to do

Find a childbirth preparation method and a teacher you resonate with, as all methods and teachers are not created equal. You’ll have a much better experience if you put time and effort into researching the various methods available and call up teachers you’re considering. I recommend calling or video chat because it’s easier to get an accurate read on someone when you’re speaking with them. If you prefer online classes, look for a free introduction video you can watch before committing. You can find my on- line course here: udemy.com/course/childbirth-preparation-a-complete -guide-for-pregnant-women/.

Once you find the course for you, fully commit. Try all the techniques they recommend and continue practicing those that resonate with you. And remember, you don’t need to believe that everything you’re doing will guarantee an unmedicated birth. All you have to believe is that all this preparation will serve an important purpose, even if you don’t know exactly what that is.

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