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There may be no greater test of your confidence and strength than giving birth, except maybe parenting, and public speaking! When it comes to preparing for birth, how do you find confidence? For some it comes more naturally, but if you don't have the confidence you want for your birth, can you actually build your confidence?
Today I want to share some different perspectives of birth through a research study with some interesting revelations, a couple of stories of my students who demonstrated confidence in asking for what they wanted, even in times of duress, and some thoughts from my experiences as a childbirth educator over the years.
The Research Shows...
First I want to share a study from 2013 that explored the factors that determined a woman's satisfaction with her birth. This study, published in Nursing Research & Practice, reviewed the birth experiences of first-time mothers and determined one main theme in common among the majority of mothers was: "To be empowered increases first-time mother's chances for a positive birth experience."1
Within that theme, they identified three categories that helped women achieve that empowerment:
1. being able to trust the body and face the pain;
2. their level of interaction between the body and mind in giving birth;
3. having consistency of support from their birth team.
I find it interesting to note that nothing here mentions knowing facts or statistics - the statistics for a c-section, at what stage of cervical dilation you can get an epidural, or how long each stage of labor is supposed to last. It's interesting because these facts and statistics are not what I find makes birth successful or positive for the mother's I work worth with, or when I had my children. These are the things that you might think you need to know to be able to advocate for yourself, but as the women in the study understood after their births, it's the ability to be empowered, to be the one at the helm of your birth, to have confidence in your birth, that determines how you feel as you reflect back on your experience.
In fact, some other interesting notes of this study is that women reported a feeling of loss of control was worse than any pain of labor.
But when they did have what they felt was a positive experience, they described it as a feeling of "indescribable happiness", does it get any better than indescribable happiness? They said it was "an experience without equal", a "feeling of power". The researchers noted the correlation that the feeling of empowerment, of control in birth was associated with those mothers who experienced the endurance and ability to cope with any pain in their labor that helped them achieve a positive experience.
So how do you gain this level of confidence before your birth so you can have control during birth?
I want to go a little deep into what you can take away from this study? Everyone around a pregnant woman is so caught up in birth being about the safety for mother and child, worrying about what might go wrong, and of course safety is of primary importance. But, birth is more than that, birth is a rite of passage, your whole pregnancy and upcoming birth are experiences that are changing who you are and no matter what, it will transform you into a different person, and it can transform you into who you need to be to parent the newest member of your family.
That transformation can be positive and empowering or it can be negative and distressing. So, now I ask you, who do you want to become after your birth experience? Someone with more confidence? Someone who sees her own strength? Someone who is reassured her birth went just how it was supposed to? You will remember your child's birth forever, what kind of experience do you want to remember?
This is true for each pregnancy and each birth you may have. Each pregnancy and birth and every child are their own unique experience physically, mentally and emotionally, and you need to view each one for the journey it is, and prepare for that unique experience. This preparation, done with the proper focus for you, is what will help you gain confidence in your birth.
How do you prepare in this way?
In the natural birth compass program, we use a framework based on a compass and a cycle that continues indefinitely throughout our entire life. And on that framework, on the compass, you have one direction you resonate with the most - you will resonate most closely with East, South, West or North. Once you identify your resonant direction, you can start to explore what that means for you in your day to day life, how it shapes your view of the world and how you are in the world, and with the right guide, you can understand how it will present in your birth.
Each direction has its strengths and challenges, its gifts and the area that require more awareness and preparation. For example, if you are an East, you are skilled at planning and clarity, you are determined and have great willpower, but when it comes to being flexible, to managing a change in plans, this takes practice as it's not in the nature of an East, if you're an East, you prefer to make a plan and stick to it.
If you're a South type, on the other hand, you can be flexible, you are open to ideas and are warm and energetic. But, South types might find their friendliness can make them vulnerable to suggestion and influence in the birth room because they so desire everyone to be happy in their presence, even if it means compromising and being flexible in an area they may later regret.
So from these two examples already, you can see how knowing your type can help you more confidently prepare because you can identify your specific strengths and think about how you can use them in your birth, and, perhaps even more importantly, you can begin to notice the areas of your type that could present as a challenge in your birth so you can better prepare for them should those challenges arise.
So for an East type, learning how to pivot in your everyday life, learning how to gracefully accept a change in plans can help you prepare for how to respond and how you might feel should you have any unexpected events or changes arise in your birth. While the South type can focus on getting really clear about what they want for their birth, the feelings and expectations they have, spend time getting really clear on their Birth Why so they can strengthen their own voice in their birth and reduce their potential to be influenced or pleasing to those around them, especially by those whom they see and respect as the professionals "in charge".
When you do this preparation work ahead of time, you will go to your birth with so much confidence in who you are, in how you will be in your birth, in how you can navigate anything challenging that arises. When you have this confidence, your birth team is able to help support and guide you because they are not put in the position of directing you, instead you direct them in how to best support you.
Now this doesn't mean that your birth will be perfect or won't come with anything unexpected, but you will be prepared to manage anything that isn't perfect. And remember from the study I shared with you earlier, what those women reported as bringing them satisfaction in their birth was a feeling of being in control of the birth so they could manage the pain and have support of the birth team, rather than the birth team having the control and trying to manage the pain for them.
Can this work for you?
I have seen this happen for my own students, one demonstrated this level of confidence when the vision for her home birth changed due to unexpected health conditions that arose during her pregnancy, resulting in her decision to transfer her birth to a hospital. Despite the change in plans, because she was confident and certain in all the other aspects of her birth, her transfer to a hospital birth was smooth and she even convinced the staff to be more flexible in their policies, allowing not one or two, but four support people to be present for the birth of her son, without needless bargaining, but by using clear and confident communication.
I also worked with one family who had a planned hospital birth where they allowed both the father and I to stay in the room when the laboring mom needed an epidural, although in most cases this hospital does not allow birth support personnel to stay in the room during the procedure, but we had no problem with this request, because this mother was confident and knew how to approach the situation from her unique areas of strength to work with her entire birth team.
This is the level of confidence that anyone can have, but it doesn't come from learning about the medical aspects of birth, the science of the hormones or dilation rates, it comes from knowing yourself and your inner power, your strengths and from understanding the areas of life that present as challenges to you so you can be prepared for them, whether it's preparation you do yourself or it’s preparation you do by bringing your birth partner's strengths in where your are lacking.
This is the gift of starting your birth preparation by starting with you and learning to understand yourself and your needs on a more profound level.
If you feel like you need help learning how to identify your strengths and challenges, I would love to invite you into our Natural Birth Compass Program community. Helping my students find their inner power is my specialty, we don't spend as much time on all the details of birth, all the science and physiology that is available everywhere, instead we focus on how to be in birth, and how to understand contractions based on the cycles of nature and birth as they present for you, and based on how your strengths and challenges show up in the contractions and the stages of labor, how it shows up in your communication with your birth partner and your birth team, and how it will continue to show up as you transition into parenting your newest addition.
If you would like to find more information about the Natural Birth Compass Program and how it can help you in birth, visit naturalbirthcompass.com/course
1Lena Nilsson, Tina Thorsell, Elisabeth Hertfelt Wahn, and Anette Ekström, “Factors Influencing Positive Birth Experiences of First-Time Mothers,” Nursing Research and Practice, vol. 2013, Article ID 349124, 6 pages, 2013. https://doi.org/10.1155/2013/349124.
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