Are you wondering whether you need to prepare for birth?
I’ve heard doulas and midwives say that it’s often the 18-year olds who know nothing about birth that have the best births.
So what does this mean for the rest of us when it comes to preparing for birth?
Does this mean we don’t have to prepare for birth?
Or that preparing is a BAD thing?
One could argue that the more you prepare for birth, the more you know about what *could* go wrong and then it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
I think there might be a case to be made that there is no need to prepare for birth…
If you are a physically fit 18-year old and you have NO preconceived ideas about birth. I would even go so far as to say that you probably know nothing about birth and haven’t really given it any thought.
In other words, you’re a blank canvas when it comes to birth.
No negative ideas about birth.
No conditioning or beliefs to battle against.
No fears to wrestle with.
This could well be the secret to a great birth.
But what about the rest of us? What about you?
Do YOU need to prepare for birth?
The chances are that you’re NOT a blank canvas when it comes to birth.
You’ve probably seen depictions of birth on TV and in the movies… and thought OMG!
You’ve probably heard friends and family talking about birth… and not always in a nice way.
You’ve probably heard birth horror stories… that you can’t forget.
You’ve probably read stuff on social media or mumsnet that fills you with dread.
So you’re now probably asking yourself this…
Do I really need to prepare for birth?
Short answer? Yes. You do need to prepare for birth.
And here’s why.
Childbirth is hard work, hence the name ‘labour’. The “hardness” of this work will depend on where you’re starting from.
At this point, it’s probably more useful to compare childbirth with something else so that you can get your head wrapped out what kind of work we might be talking about here.
The obvious example is a marathon, but I’m kinda bored about writing yet another marathon comparison piece to justify the idea that we need to prepare for birth (let alone expecting anyone else to read it).
So I’m going to pick trekking in massive mountains and I have story to share with you.
A while ago I went travelling around Pakistan for a couple of weeks. A friend of mine was organising a travel group and I thought “why not?”.
While we were there, my friend announced that we’d be doing a 2-day mountain trek near the Himalayas (so not some nice gentle hills then!). This was not what I was expecting. I didn’t “do” trekking. I had a long time ago when I was 18 and doing my Duke of Edinburgh Gold Award (a 3-day trek carrying all your stuff) and the one thing that stayed with me was this: the need to prepare.
I had to acquire the right kit
Shoes, waterproofs, rucksack, compass, cooking kit etc . And I couldn’t just buy them and turn up. I needed to wear my boots in. I needed to know how to put together my cooking kit (in the dark and rain if I needed to), I needed to try my bag out and know that it wouldn’t dig into my back. Well, you get the idea.
I needed to know where I was going
As a group, we needed to plan our route so that we knew where we were going. Pretty obvious really.
I had to get my body ready
Walking for up to 12 hours a day isn’t the kind of thing you can just start doing out the gate and expect your body to co-operate for any decent period of time. We went for mini-treks in the lead up to practise. It would be madness not to.
I had to get my head ready
Walking for 12 hours means having to deal with the gremlins in your head.
When I was at the back and everyone else would stop for a break just long enough for me to catch up. I felt useless and rubbish (and I wanted a break too!) I felt like I just couldn’t take another step but I had to keep on going and park all thoughts of being useless and rubbish (they weren’t helping)
When my group leader told us that we’re not even half-way there yet and I felt like collapsing in a heap. Instead I had pick myself up and carry on.
I couldn’t just just give up on half way up a mountain and flag a cab down. THERE’S NO-ONE AROUND!
I had to dig deep and crack on. No matter how much my legs were hurting and how broken I felt.
And then finally, when we reached the point when we could stop, eat and put our tents up… and it started raining.
I just wanted the earth to swallow me up whole. But I couldn’t… I had to dig deep again.
It probably won’t come as any surprise to you that since that delightful trekking experience, I didn’t go trekking again.
Until my mate announced half-way through our Pakistan trip that we’d be going trekking.
I have to admit, I was papping it …. just a bit.
When I trekked it was in the UK and we were within sniffing distance of civilisation because the UK’s pretty tightly packed with humans. The northern mountainous area of Pakistan is the opposite of that.
For a start it was high. Altitude-sickness high. Snowy-caps-and-glaciers high.
And it’s deserted. There is NO ONE. No humans, no litter (from humans who might have been there in last month)… and NO PHONE RECEPTION!
Just the smell of yak shit and lavender (a combo that will live with me forever).
I thought I was doomed.
The morning came when we started out and things started badly. We had to cross a fast-flowing river using the bridge from hell. I’m serious. Here’s a pic.
Now there was this other guy in the group. He was my mate’s cousin and a Pakistan national, so in my mind a local, but he wasn’t really. He was a city boy from Lahore… so not a local AT ALL!
And to prove it he turned up for this 2-day trek wearing shiny black office shoes and his brand new ruck sac. I am not making this up! Shiny bloody office shoes??!
I cannot tell you the relief I felt when I saw his shoes.
As we trekked onward and upward, it was proving to be hard bloody work (as you’d expect at 4000m+)
Now, to my relief I discovered that even though I hadn’t been trekking in 15 years, I wasn’t fairing too badly. I had been doing Capoeira, a Brazilian martial art, for 5 years and this meant that I was pretty fit and my legs were little powerhouses.
Like a teacher’s pet at school, I was able to stay right behind our trek leader for most of the trek. He even suggested that I become a trek leader as I was a natural. Ha!
Mr Shiny Shoes was a different story.
The more we progressed, the slower he went. His shoes failed first, so he switched to his trainers (!!). He was struggling with the physical demands of trekking so much that someone else had to carry his bag.
He slowed us down so much that we weren’t able to get to the camping spot in time before nightfall and we had to camp on slope. Yes a slope. To be honest it felt quite flat when we stopped. The mind plays cruel tricks when you’re climbing vertical mountains.
It wasn’t flat. At all.
I spent all night, not sleeping, but sliding down to the bottom of my tent.
But the view in the morning was worth it! (you can even spot the river we crossed looking all tiny at the bottom)
Anyway, enough with the trekking story.
There are few lessons from here that I think we can apply to birth.
5 lessons about birth we can learn from mountain trekking
So here are the 5 lessons I learned from mountain trekking that can help you to decide if you need to prepare for birth:
1. You need to have the right kit
… and know what to do with them. You might need to buy the birth pool, or the TENS machine or whatever else you think you might want. Not only will you need to learn how to use it, but you need to get used to it and be able to use it under pressure (in the dark, when you’re tired/hungry/exhausted etc).
2. You need to know where you’re going..
In other words, it helps a ton if know about birth and what awaits you on this journey. When you have an idea as to what to expect, it can help you to alleviate fears of the unknown, but also to prepare adequately.
3. You need to get your body ready
Prepare your body for the physical demands of labour. Build up your body strength and stamina, and give yourself the chance to be able to dig deep time and time again.
Birth is knackering. It will demand so much of you physically. Your biggest muscle is going to be powering through for hours. And you might start in the middle of the night. Maybe the hospital might not let you eat, so you could be doing all that physical work on an empty stomach. Yikes! Not sure about you, but I get super grouchy and emotional if I haven’t eaten. Add hardcore exercise to that and I’m a mess.
Imagine being woken up at 1am and told you’re hiking up a mountain NOW! Go!
Uhhh? And yet that’s what it will probably be like. Labour doesn’t wait for you to get up and have your breakfast before kicking off. Most labours start at night.
4. You need to get your head ready
I’m not going to lie, giving birth is not a walk in the park. It’s more like a bloody mountain trek!
You have to keep digging deep, despite the gremlins.
You have to keep going despite your body aching like crazy.
You have to keep going even if the midwife tells you “you’re only 6 cm” (!!) and you thought you were at 9cm (this is why I asked not to be told how dilated I was)
You have to keep going even if you’ve knackered and want to go to sleep.
You can’t get off and flag a taxi… you’re in it until the end.
When you’re up against it like this, your mind can wreak havoc with your emotions. You night think you’re useless, or that you can’t cope. Or that things are all going wrong.
None of this might be true. But if you’re not used to focusing your mind and batting away these gremlins, then they might get the better of you.
I’d much rather practise taming my gremlins BEFORE birth, not try it for the first time DURING birth.
5. We’re all starting from different places
This is probably the most important lesson.
What is right for one person, won’t be right for another. As in my story, my lack of recent trekking experience didn’t affect me as much as I thought. Doing a martial art helped to make up for it in terms of fitness and mental toughness. Unlike Mr Shiny Shoes. With birth it’s the same. We’re all at different levels of
- physical fitness
- emotional resilience
- mental toughness
- awareness and knowledge about birth
And what about our blank canvas?
Do we have lots of negative pre-conceived ideas about birth that need to be challenged or changed?
The physically fit 18-year-old who knows nothing about birth will have very different needs to the 30-year-old whose sister had traumatic c-section and whose mother told her how giving birth was the most painful experience of her life.
The physically fit and mentally tough army cadet will have very different needs to someone who is over-weight and who struggles with anxiety.
So, do YOU need to prepare for birth?
Take a look at where you are and what your needs are. Be honest with yourself.
Don’t compare yourself to others. You don’t know their full story. And when other people give you advice, beware. They don’t know yours.
You need to figure out what your gaps are so that you can find the best way for YOU to prepare for birth in a way that will help you.
Alexia supports families planning pregnancy and birth. She helps them to overcome their fears and feel calm and confident about birth and pregnancy.
Alexia also trains birth professionals in the Fearless Birthing, a unique approach to birth preparation that is ideal for those who have fears around birth.