Temerity Jane’s post today got my wheels turning about how to effectively get the experience you desire from your birth. It’s a topic I’ve been meaning to write about for AGES. Talking about it on twitter was not doing the topic any justice, as 140 characters were simply not enough for my
wealth of knowledge thoughts, and I fear I was unintentionally coming off as a douche. Worrying about your upcoming birth and delivery is ABSOLUTELY valid. It’s a big deal, and a day that you will remember for the rest of your life. Also, while modern medicine has its advantages, sometimes the laboring woman herself feels left out of the picture.
Any of you that have been reading here for a while probably realize that for the past 6-7 years (I lose track), I’ve been a birth doula and childbirth educator. Every Monday night since Joan and Kate were wee, I’ve taught classes about labor, delivery, breastfeeding, etc. I also give tours at our hospital. And, of course, I spend time in said hospital whenever one of my clients is in labor.
I can only speak from my experiences here in Minnesota (though I’ve worked as a doula in at least 4 different hospitals, one being at Georgetown University in Maryland) (long, cool story there, for another time). Keeping that in mind, here are a few guidelines for anyone looking to give birth (like, most of the internet) at a hospital anytime soon.
1. Don’t be a “good patient.” That’s right, just don’t. Don’t worry about what the nurses think, or if they are talking about you in the hallway (they’re usually NOT), or if you’re being “that mom”. Their job is to make sure that you and your baby reach delivery as a healthy duo, but their job is also to help you have a good experience. It’s ok to be “annoying” and make them do their job.
(For the record, nearly ALL of the nurses I’ve worked with really DO want to give mom the experience she desires if possible. I have not witnessed any catty “making fun of laboring mom’s CAH-razy requests” in the hallways. Probably, if you are asking for something, you are not the first, or even the first THAT WEEK.)
1a. Don’t stay with a doctor that you discover you don’t like. If, at any time during your pregnancy, you realize your views on birth are not compatible with your doctor’s, SWITCH providers. It’s not too late, even late in pregnancy, and it will be SO WORTH it. “Sticking it out” with a doctor that you no longer love or trust is not a good idea.
2. Know what you want. Your providers cannot give you what you want or need if you do not know what you want or need. Identifying what your strong desires are (and aren’t) is the first step in having those desires met. (In TJ’s case, she’s not so worried about the birth as she is about the baby care afterward. But she has very CLEAR ideas of what she wants for her baby, which is the first step in getting what she wants.)
3. Tell your doctor. Tell your nurse. Tell your next nurse. Tell the baby’s nurse. Write it down, have a birth plan, discuss it in the office before the birth, ask to meet the baby’s doctor, etc. Again, don’t worry about being “that mom” (see number 1). They cannot meet your expectations if they don’t know what they are. Also, for specific worries (like, “will my baby be given a pacifier without my permission?”), find out what the standard of care is. You might be worrying about things that are unnecessary (“We don’t give babies paci’s. If your baby needs a paci, you need to bring one with you to the hospital.”) A hospital tour is a great way to figure out which of your concerns are valid and which you can safely lay to rest. (Bring a list of questions. You won’t remember them all once you get there if you don’t write them down.)
A good example of this is when I found out, after a 28 hour labor, that I had to have a C-section with my 3rd baby. I strangely had peace about the surgery, but I had SPECIFIC DESIRES for my baby, so I asked (as they were prepping me for surgery) to speak to the baby’s nurse. I requested that my baby not be bathed and dressed while I was in surgery and that her dad would hold her until I was ready. I also didn’t want the meds in her eyes before her first feeding. I WAS ok with them weighing her, because I knew as I was in surgery I’d be curious about her weight. The nurse agreed that all of these things could be met, and they were. Had I not asked, or had I not spoken directly to the baby’s nurse, or had I not been very specific, some of this might have been overlooked.
(Of course, there are times when a mother’s wishes cannot be met, which is frustrating and sad and can be really hard to get over later, when mom is still upset about her birth day. From what I’ve experienced, however, as long as the request does not interfere with mom’s or baby’s health, the request will be honored. It’s okay to be ADAMANT about your wishes if you are being told No. Ask to speak to someone else, ask who makes the rule, ask, ask, ask. They should be able to a) give you a reasonable, rational explanation for why they CAN’T do something or b) meet your request.)
4. All of us are New Moms at some point. It’s scary and intimidating. And it’s frustrating when people chuckle at your thoughts about birth or baby care, making you feel like you are just so CUTE for thinking that way, you NEWBIE. (Insert head-pat here.) Even though you’re a new mom, you DO have good instincts about yourself and your baby. Trust them and listen to them. The rest will come with time. Whether this is your first or your sixth baby, it’s still YOUR baby and YOUR body and YOU know what’s best. I promise, you do.
One final tip: interview a doula* or the person(s) that teach childbirth classes in your hospital. These women will have a really good idea of what exactly goes on in the labor and delivery unit. They’ll be able to address your concerns and answer your questions, as well as give you some helpful tips for navigating your hospital experience. They might even be more forthcoming with their answers since they won’t be talking to you within earshot of other L&D nurses.
*Of course, since I AM a doula, I’m all for hiring a doula. We’re very familiar with the hospital setting and all the little quirks of The System, the doctors, etc. We’re good at helping you get your questions or requests expressed. We know the ins and outs. And if having a doula is not for you, I think even just TALKING to one that is familiar with the hospital you’ll be delivering at is very helpful. Most of the time doulas are not employed by the hospital (but contract privately with their clients), so they are not bound by “work politics” when telling you how things really go down at your hospital.
So many women– waaaaay too many– have a Bad Birth Experience. I really wish that this was not true, but we all have read the surprising number of horror stories that exist out there. And every hospital, every region of the country, every OB has a different standard of practice. Studies show that if mom feels loved and nurtured on her delivery day– no matter what the outcome, or how close to her “birth plan” it went– she will remember the day fondly. Having your desires respected and your wishes followed is VERY IMPORTANT in helping you feel nurtured, and therefore in helping you have a positive experience.
So, for those of you who’ve already walked the childbirth walk, what tips would you add to navigating the hospital experience? (Please leave horror stories– i.e. my SIL’s mom’s neighbor– out for now.)
P.S. Hands down, no question, THE best resource for new parents (or even experienced parents, for we didn’t use it until baby #3 and now have NO IDEA how we survived without it for the first two), is The Happiest Baby on the Block. I think the DVD is better than the book, as you see Dr. Karp in action. Seriously, rent/borrow/buy this DVD. GENIUS information for how to help your crying baby that really works.