Ten Ways to Screw Up a Perfectly Good Birth

How to screw up a perfectly good birth

When you love a good birth as much as I do you are always asking people to tell you their birth stories. I have heard tons first hand, read many more online and personally be present at almost a dozen. I don’t pretend to have all the answers or believe there are not exceptions to the rules, but for the most part when someone tells me their birth story and, let just say, it happened to be different, harder, scarier, sadder, etc. than expected, I can also always pick up on a few reasons way.

Of course, I keep these things to myself to not seem insensitive to their feelings, as I have been down the same roads as many of them myself, but I always keep a mental note pad of things to teach my students to avoid.

So here are my top ten procedures, beliefs, or actions that can possible take your birth from that magical experience everyone in the natural birth community is always talking about to just another one of those stories we all learn something from.

1. Don’t wait for baby to come on her own

One of my number one rules to tell anyone preparing to give birth, whether they decide to go all natural or just want to have a simple good birth with or without pain meds, is to not get induced unless SERIOUSLY MEDICALLY NECESSARY. This means you or your baby are in danger unless baby is born soon.

Remember, due dates are just an estimate to track babies growth for general milestones in utero. It was never meant to be a due date like that on your electric bill. Let your baby come when she is ready. She will come!

I was 10 days past my due date with my first baby. I knew he would come. He did come. He was perfectly ready on that day. Not the day before or the week before. It took patience and trust. Doing this one thing will increase your odds of a normal vaginal delivery significantly.

2. Artificially break your waters

This is one of those things that happen, especially at the hospital, almost as a matter of routine, now a days. You are in labor on your own and as if you just can’t do it without some intervention, a doctor or nurse, and sometimes even a midwife will come in with her long crochet hook (not the official name) and pop that bag of water to “speed things up”.

While breaking the waters (amniotic fluid) can be used to progress things when at a stale mate, why rush it? Your body or baby did not naturally break the waters so it must not be time for that to happen. Allow your body and baby to time that event.

Read more about the risk of an Amnitomy here.

Use the breaking of the waters as a last resort before a transfer or C-section, not as a routine procedure to use after a stall in labor. I have personally experienced my waters being broken artificially and very early, which lead to my baby’s heartbeat showing signs of subtle distress ultimately leading to a C-section. Again, this is where you just need to let nature take its course.

3. Push before your ready

This one is a real kicker. Here you are, having a perfectly good birth. You have labored all the way to fully dilated and you are ready to push, right? Maybe… but maybe not! You just don’t feel that urge, or pressure, or maybe you do a little but it is not overwhelmingly taking over your body. The nurse starts counting to 10 and telling you to hold your breath and bear down. While so many things are wrong with this picture, let’s stick to the pushing before the urge part.

First, understand that fully dilated and ready to push are two separate events. One comes when contractions have completed the process of opening the cervix to its full potential. The other comes when baby is engaged into the pelvis in such a way as to cause the “fetal expulsion reflex“. It your baby is not engaged, she may not be engaged for a reason. Pushing as hard as you can will not help to do much more than tire yourself out if her head is not properly aligned, which sometime can just take a few minutes of waiting.

So do that… wait. Wait until you it feels right. You will save yourself potentially hours of pushing and, well um, hemorrhoids. Nuff said!

4. Have an unsupportive provider

I once read a doulas perspective on why she would not accept clients who were under the care of certain providers. She boils it down to not wanting to climb an uphill battle through the entire birth only to be defeated in the end. Now, while not all doulas have this policy, I understand her points.

You say you want to a natural, intervention free, good birth, do you? Then why choose just any old provider. And not just any old provider, a provider that you have to fight with at every turn. Who doesn’t trust you, your body or birth for that matter. Who talks a big talk one minute and is back peddling the next. You know who I am talking about. It just doesn’t feel right. You are constantly second guessing your decisions when at appointments. You leave knowing that you will not use this provider for your second birth. But, because you have already paid, invested your time, feel trapped, etc. you just stick it out for this birth. Personally, very familiar again!

Know that you can change providers at any time. It is never too late until you are delivering with someone who is undermining your birth plans. Take this doulas advice and switch providers now, if you are really serious about doing it natural or even without lots of unnecessary interventions. Call your provider and talk to them about a partial refund. See if you can find another provider that will accept you now and maybe work out a special rate plan for your situation. Tell the truth, too. Don’t make up excuses for him. Say it straight.

If I was at a nice restaurant and ordered something I did not like, you better believe I’m sending that sucker back. Do the same thing with your provider if needed.

5. Don’t be informed

I know this one pretty well, too. I hired a midwife. Check. I watched a “Business of Being Born“. Check. I read “Baby Catcher“. Check. Now all I need to do is have a good birth. Wait… is that it?

Okay, I will concede that birth is a natural process and does not need to be taught and will happen whether you are ready or not. But since we don’t spend our growing up years seeing babies be born, or even ever attending a birth before we have our own baby, there is not a lot of passed down knowledge happening here. Plus, throw it a provider that is managing your labor like it is a sporting event and your lack of knowledge might come back to bit you in the butt.

So what do you need to know? More than I can talk about in this post, but not so much that you cannot learn it with a little work. Start first thing by dropping any pride about what you think you know about good birth and humble yourself to seek information and advice from others. This may be a few good books about childbirth by people who are passionate about good birth and the truth or seeking out stories from women who have done this before (the way you want to).

Next, seriously consider joining an organized childbirth class. Most are set up to give you a good foundation for your birth and help you become an informed patient/client rather than one just doing what you are told. Plus they are really fun, too!

6. Believe that you can’t have a good birth

Here is one that you may or may not even know is happening to you. You say you are going to do it natural and you talk a big talk, but deep down inside, or maybe even lurking on the surface, you know you will probably cave and get that epidural in the end.

You go into the hospital knowing that is it always an option. You choose a birth center with pain management options just in case. You ask your midwife about what happens if you decide you want to go to the hospital because “you just can’t handle it”. Be honest with yourself here. Do you really believe you will do this?

No doubt everyone goes into their first birth, or first natural birth with some trepidation, but that does not have to equal self-doubt. Make the choice to believe in yourself, your body and your baby. You can do this and you will. Just stop second guessing yourself. And stop reading the online stories that make you feel those feelings that you know don’t support your decision. Fill your pregnancy with positive people, positive talk, and positive attitude. This will not guarantee you will have a good birth, but it will stop you from doing yourself in with negative beliefs.

7. Invite unsupportive people into your birth room

Let’s just say that you are all into the natural birth thing and you have attending classes and even picked the right provider for you. You are set for a good birth experience. Then you decide to invite your posse including your sweet but concerned mother, your sweet and very vocal mother-in-law, and your sweet but positively pro-epidural sister to join in your special day.

Birth is going smoothly at first, but when things start to pick up you panic. This is very normal for all laboring women, no matter what birth number this is. You may flippantly say you are “done”, you “can’t do it” or you “want an epidural”. You may half mean these statements or just feel like you need to say them so others can understand how hard this is. All very natural, especially towards the end of labor during “transition”.

But the first time you say something negative, mom, mother-in-law, and sister jump all over the opportunity to “help”. Mom calls the nurse in to get the epidural started. Mother-in-law tells you “you don’t need to be a hero.” Sister states matter of fact, “I told you so”.

Be careful. This pressure can persuade you to give up on your plans. You may be strong enough to tell them to be quiet, but you may not in the throes of labor.

Choose your birth entourage carefully. Make sure those that attend your birth are behind your plans and are prepared to support you. Tell them about the possibility of you saying things you don’t mean or want. Help them understand how important this is for you. Finally, if they don’t get on board, let them wait in the waiting room.

8. Go to the hospital too soon

Here is another of my “must tell” pieces of advice to expectant parents. Don’t go to the hospital too soon. Sometimes moms-to-be are afraid they will not make it in time. Others are just too darn excited to wait at home thinking that getting to the hospital will make things happen faster or more real.

You should speak to your provider and your proximity to your facility does matter, but in most cases stay home until contractions are coming regularly, and I mean regularly, four minutes apart, lasting for a least a minute each, and this goes on for over an hour. This does not mean after two contractions that are 4 minutes apart. This would be more like 12 contractions that are 4 minutes apart.

Go then. If this is your first baby, you will still probably wait at the hospital, but here is the key. If you get to the hospital in active labor then you are far less likely to get unnecessary interventions. The nurses and doctor are more likely to take you and your labor seriously. Sad, but true.

So instead, go back to bed, go for a walk, take a shower, hire to doula to come and comfort you and help you know when is the right time to head out is (if you are not planning a homebirth), and just know that getting to your birth facility will in no way may baby come any faster or slower.

9. Fear birth and believe that birth is fraught with danger

If I had a nickel for every time I heard “if I had had a homebirth, my baby would have died” or “the doctors saved my babies life” with no real evidence to support or even evidence to support the doctors putting you in danger in the first place, I would be a rich… well I would have a few dollars.

My aunt tells the horror story about my cousin having the cord around her neck. Not a really big deal in most cases as baby is not breathing from his mouth. My mother-in-law talks about her “dry birth” experience with terror 40+ years later. But the people that had a good birth are usual not the ones sharing the stories, unfortunately. So all you really have is a collection of bad birth stories.

You go into birth with a fear list a mile long from “what happens if I poop on myself” to “what if baby is in trouble and I am at home”. You may even choose a homebirth, but these fears rest in your mind ready to undermine your good birth. And they do. Fears creep in when you are most vulnerable (labor) and kick in with a fury.

You need to deal with these fears now. First, admit you have these fears to someone else. Your partner, a supportive friend, your loving provider. Then start filling your mind with positive stories, videos, books and even consider joining a group of like-minded women, whether it be a childbirth class or a natural birth group like Austin Home Birth (even if you are delivering in a birth center or hospital). Put your mind at ease and let go of the fears that may be holding your good birth back.

10. Trust more in others than yourself

This one goes hand and hand with not being informed. I did this with my first birth, too. I hired a midwife, done. I don’t need to do another thing. She will take care of the rest. No birth class, no reading (except for the fun stuff). Really, the only thing I thought of was decorating the nursery.

You have to be responsible for your own birth. You cannot blame ignorance on anyone else but yourself. Now, I am not saying that you are in 100% control and nothing bad can happen if you are just prepared. That is foolishness to think that you have control of it all, but I don’t blame my first midwife for her intervention. I don’t really even blame myself. But I do take responsibility.

It was a real lesson that primed me for motherhood. You cannot trust other people to make the right decision for you. Sure, take what they say into consideration, but then make your own informed decision.

Gather the information. Research your choices and yes, choice a provider that you are in sync with, because there is a place where you cannot know everything and you need someone to trust, but also trust yourself, and your intuition. Give yourself credit; you know more than you think.

Bonus: Be full of yourself

So I had to add this one to the list. Don’t fall into the “elite” attitude that I see so prevalent in the natural birth world. I used to be one of those people who knew it all… well, until I gave birth, that is.

I “knew” if you had a C-section, it was your fault. I “knew” if you had a homebirth you were making the “right” decision. I told everyone I knew about why their birth went wrong or how to have a good birth. I knew it all!

I gave birth via C-section with my first child after “knowing it all”. I was humbled very quickly. I apologized to the people I judged and hurt. I learned a lot from that experience and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. (btw, that is me looking so “lovely” and heavily drugged after my C-section with my first son in the picture above).

But take a lesson from my book. Being humble now is way better than being humbled.

This list includes just some of the things that I have learned that can undermine what you truly desire for your birth. My prayer is that everyone has a good birth experience, whether home, hospital, birth center, drug-free, pain management or C-section.

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