I have had two babies, and two very different births. In both of these circumstances I had very typical pregnancies, and gave birth to large babies. (9lb 3oz and 9lb 13oz) My first birth was a difficult and traumatic experience, and my second was very different. Preparing for my second birth was also very different.
My first birth
I thought was well prepared for birth when I had my first baby. It turns out, I really, really wasn’t. I wasn’t well prepared for the feelings of pure terror I had when I arrived in hospital. Nor was I well prepared to advocate for myself against dismissive health professionals. My birth partners were also not well prepared to advocate on my behalf. My 72 hour labour ended with a forceps delivery in theatre. As well as a lot of unrevealed trauma for both me and my husband and a wonderful baby boy.
Just over a year down the line I was pregnant again and suddenly facing these memories resurfacing. My husband too found the idea of seeing me go through birth again too much to handle. Their initial reaction was to say that they could not be my birth partner.
I came away from my first birth feeling fairly positive about the final outcome. However, with hindsight I became more angry at my treatment, as more shocking memories resurfaced.
In the end, I had an incredible, beautiful homebirth. My husband was with me for the whole experience, and the midwives arrived for the last few minutes! My son slept upstairs with my mum. It was healing for all of us. I felt prepared, in control, listened to, respected and knew what I wanted in this birth. So, how did we get from where we were to here?
Birth debrief: preparing to let go
When I discovered I was pregnant again I was in a very different position to the first time around. This time I had a close group of friends with children of similar ages. This group included a wonderful woman who was a breastfeeding counsellor and led the local peer support group for people who experienced birth trauma. I had many long talks with her and began to debrief my birth experience. I pinpointed what had happened and why, as well as exploring my preferences.
If you’re preparing for a subsequent birth and you particularly want it to be different from earlier births, you may find a similar process useful. Sometimes this can be with midwives in your local trust or you may have a peer support group like mine. Mine was NCT led. Doulas, hypnobirthing teachers and other birth workers sometimes provide this service too. It can be a difficult and emotional experience. However it may help you identify key things which will inform your preparation for your next birth.
Educate yourself: essential birth preparation
I’d thought I was prepared for birth the first time around, but I really wasn’t. The antenatal class I took was pretty in depth. However, it lacked coping strategies for panic and keeping me calm which I desperately needed. Information was so packed in that it was difficult to process and it didn’t suit me or my husband. I’m not sure what alternatives there were, but knowing what hadn’t worked meant we could work on filling in the gaps.
Many of the birth stories I heard were negative experiences. Others involved care providers routinely telling birthing parents ‘this is how things are going to be’. Positive and empowering stories were definitely exceptions. I read, and I found new resources. ‘Tell me a good birth story’ was an amazing resource which showed me a range of positive births. The Positive Birth Movement groups introduced me to a range of people who talked about birth in a way I’d never encountered before. Even through the sling community I encountered a different viewpoint and different resources.
There are many, many resources out there for to support birth preparation now. You can read widely, from opinion pieces to clinical studies. You can find so much information that is relevant to your circumstances. The explosion of social media has meant that many more voices now have a platform. There are amazing video series on Instagram and YouTube, for instance.
There’s also been an increase in small businesses offering local birth education. Where even 6 years ago there may have been one or two classes, now there could be 5, 10 or more local to you. Information and knowledge give you choices and power.
Practical help: prepare for positive birth
In preparation for my second birth I considered a doula for a long time. However, for us it was valuable limiting our birth environment to us and a trusted friend. Doulas offer experienced support for all aspects of birth. In a medical model which currently doesn’t have continuity of care, a strong connection with someone at your birth could make a big difference.
My biggest area I wanted to change was my fear around birth and medical procedures. Because of this I looked into hypnobirthing in great detail. We had dismissed it first time round as something which was too alternative for us. In reality hypnobirthing prepared us with strong tools for coping with the unpredictability of birth as well as the pain. My husband took some convincing, but in the end we took a private hypnobirthing course one-to-one in our home. Whilst I found the tools valuable throughout pregnancy and labour, it was my husband who took most from the classes. The classes helped them feel like they had a place in this birth. They had tools to be a strong advocate, and tools to help me.
Find what works for you
All of these were things which lead me from a difficult first birth to a wonderful second birth. I, personally, needed to understand what had happened and what could have been different, understand what was going on with my body that led to those circumstances, get my mindset right and find tools to help cope with fear. In my circumstances, that meant that when I gave birth again I felt in control, I was able to advocate for my choices and felt empowered to do so, and felt comfortable and (mostly) unafraid.
Birth can be unpredictable. You cannot plan exactly how it will go. But an understanding of your wants, needs, body and the ins and outs of birth can give you tools to have the birth that works for you, whatever that looks like.
About the author
I am Em and I am one of the owners of It’s A Sling Thing! I am wife to Paul and mum to Xander and Nate. I’m passionate about supporting families with the information and tools they need to feel fully supported in a society which so often doesn’t provide this.