Preparing for labor? There’s more to do than packing your hospital bags and learning Lamaze! One of the best ways you can get ready to have a baby—on top of writing a birth plan, taking a class, and researching hospital policy—is to get to know yourself as intimately as possible.
Birth can be a whirlwind and I’m sure you’ve heard by now that it probably won’t go according to plan. You can’t control everything about your birth experience, but there is one thing you can control:
Knowing what to expect when it comes to how you’ll handle childbirth—however it happens—can bring a comforting stability and strength to your birth experience. It can give you confidence as you approach your due date, help you pack your bags and form better overall plans, and help you handle whatever comes your way.
Getting to know myself more intimately over the course of my pregnancy, and seeing that knowledge come to fruition when my daughter was born, was one of the most rewarding things about my birth experience. Every mother should have that kind of empowering knowledge.
So, here are five ways to get to know yourself better when preparing for labor.
#1 Reflect on past experiences of stress, crisis, pain, rampant emotion (both negative and positive), and challenge
Recall memories of circumstances that challenged you; how did you react, and why? Consider any crisis situations you’ve ever experienced. Were you calm? Were you a mess?
Knowing how you’ve reacted to stressful situations in the past can give you a better idea of what you’ll be like in any intense situations, like during transition, or if something goes wrong. It can also help you make choices about your plans, such as who to allow in the delivery room with you. For instance, maybe you need someone there who’s a pillar of stability, because you know you would freak out if something went wrong.
Consider what your temperament is like in everyday circumstances, too. I’ve heard L&D nurses say that most women act pretty much the same in labor as they do in everyday life.
Be honest with yourself in admitting your weaknesses and vulnerabilities as well as counting your strengths. Then, let this new knowledge about yourself filter everything you learn about childbirth. With each new lesson, take some time to imagine what it’ll look like for you as a unique person.
#2 Ask your friends and family what they honestly think you’d be like during labor and delivery, and why
Sometimes the ones who love us know us better than we know ourselves.
Plus, we all probably have grandiose ideas of what we want our birth experiences to be like. We probably picture the best versions of ourselves and we what we hope and wish for over the more realistic outcomes!
Family and friends are awesome for bursting our bubbles.
Ask your support team what they’ve observed in you during the time they’ve known you. You’ve already reflected on how you think you reacted to situations in the past; now ask them how they think you reacted.
Take what they say to heart, without judgment, and use it to inform your decisions.
#3 Watch birth vlogs and place yourself in their shoes
Watching birth blogs while preparing for labor helped me in two ways. First, seeing the birth stories of other moms unfold with my own eyes gave me exposure, a better picture of what childbirth looks like. It’s less intimidating when you familiarize yourself with it. Second, it afforded me opportunities to visualize scenarios and ask myself what I would do if I were in the same situation.
How others handle labor and decisions about medical interventions, who they allow in the delivery room with them, what they eat for their first meal after baby, what they use during their hospital stay, how they react emotionally to everything that happens, and so many other details are all useful chances to ask yourself, “Would I do the same thing? If not, what would I do instead?”
#4 Take a birth class and study your reactions to what you learn
Similarly, the more you learn about birth, the more chances you have to react to that knowledge—and then reflect on what that reaction tells you about yourself. Take a birth class through your hospital or birth center, or online, and reflect on it.
You and your partner can talk about what women often experience during different phases of labor, how it might affect you, and how you can best be supported along the way.
Maybe you thought you wanted to go without pain medication, but after learning more about labor, you change your mind and decide to plan for the epidural. (You should still be prepared for the off-chance that your epidural doesn’t take or fails on one side of you, though).
Maybe the C-section video freaked you out, like it did for me. If so, maybe you’ll decline the clear C-section curtain if offered one, or maybe you’d like to hear less of the nitty-gritty details of what’s going on. Maybe you’ll need to ask for extra reassurances and encouragement from your medical team.
If nothing else, knowing about birth can make it a less overwhelming and intimidating experience.
#5 Consider your packing preferences
Hospital packing lists and videos are going to tell you what you need to bring, but don’t blindly follow them! You’re a unique individual with your own tastes, and what works for one person may not work for you.
For example, I prefer pants over dresses, and though I brought a nightgown for my C-section—because everyone said I’d prefer it—I still wore my pants, even after surgery. People rave about the hospital mesh panties, too, but I knew I’d prefer my own clothing and I felt way more comfortable in my own stuff.
Birth may be a new experience for you, but you haven’t changed. You’ll probably still have the same preferences for how you want to feel and what you should bring. If you’re worried about being wrong, though, give yourself the peace of mind of packing what people say you should pack. If you need it, it’s there, and if not, no harm done!
Related reading: 6 Tips for Packing Your Hospital Bag
As prepared as you can be
You can’t prepare for everything, but you can prepare for who you are and who you will be.
Knowing yourself intimately can help you envision what birth may look like as you experience it. It can help you make a variety of choices and plans leading up to the big day, like who to include on your birth team, how to break the news of the birth to your loved ones, what to pack in your hospital bag, and so much more.
So as you’re preparing for labor, be sure to spend some time studying yourself in the weeks leading up to your due date.
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