Most of us hold an incorrect image of what childbirth looks like. Years of distorted education courtesy of the media, the image of a woman lying in bed, screaming and purple with pushing is what comes to mind when childbirth is mentioned. Education surrounding birth speaks otherwise though – being knowledgeable on birth helps you and your partner experience a profoundly empowering birth.
Dreaming of Baby speaks with Lael Stone, Childbirth Educator, Doula, Post Natal Counselor and Aware Parenting Instructor on the power of education for a beautiful birth.
Daniela: Good evening, Lael, and welcome to Dreaming of Baby! Our discussion today will focus on childbirth: specifically, childbirth education and being prepared for this life-changing moment. Before we start with our discussion, it would be great if you could introduce yourself and your experience in this field to our readers.
Lael Stone: Thanks, I am a Childbirth Educator with over 15 years’ experience. I have taught hundreds of couples about how to prepare for a positive birth and supported many mothers as a doula. I have also heard hundreds and hundreds of birth stories as a post-natal counselor and given birth three times myself!
What you need to know about childbirth
Daniela: Great, thank you for this impressive overview; we’re definitely in good hands today! To start with, what is that first thing you share with an expectant mom asking about childbirth?
Lael Stone: I firstly like to talk about the myths and stories we are told about birth. Many of the stories we often hear are dramatic and scary and nearly everything we see on television is full of drama when it comes to childbirth. I like to reassure women that their bodies know how to give birth. Their body is doing a great job growing the baby and it does know how to birth. Often, our fear and the birthing system get in the way. Start with a bit of belief in your body, and then work up from there. Birth does not have to be a scary painful process; it can be an amazing, empowering journey.
Lael Stone: “Birth does not have to be a scary painful process; it can be an amazing, empowering journey.”
Daniela: Reaching that point where concern and fear about birth are replaced by empowerment and belief at what your body can and is able to achieve can be a challenge. What can moms-to-be do to reach this point and feel more prepared?
Lael Stone: I find that education is key. Learning about how the body is designed to work. Understanding how your hormones are there to support you and then making choices on the right place to birth and the right team to have around you. In my experience, once couples understand how the body is designed to work and the tools you can use to assist, it removes a great deal of the fear. Unfortunately, we aren’t exposed to a lot of positive birth in our culture, so the fear is so normal for most women, until you can educate them on another option. I love hearing from couples at the end of my classes, “I had no idea that this is how birth actually works”, and you can see the fear and anxiety start to lessen as the unknown is often the scariest.
Addressing negative perceptions around birth
Daniela: The way you describe this continues to emphasize the importance of education. You note that many remark that they had no idea how things work. What negative perceptions on birth have you come across the most and what information do you provide parents-to-be in addressing these concerns?
Lael Stone: I think the media has a big part to play in it. On pretty much every show we see on television with a birth scene in it, there is a woman screaming, lying on her back and some big drama is about to happen. Now, even though we know this is a comedy show or not real, it still imprints in our subconscious mind and creates a negative association with birth.
For a lot of men, their big fears are that something will happen to the woman or the baby and they won’t know how to fix it. For a lot of women, they are terrified of the pain, because all we often hear is how painful it is. I often get couples to talk about their fears and then we break down each one and normalize what birth is, so they can understand how they can work with their fears. Many dads are worried about getting to the hospital on time etc. and when you show them what the birth process involves, we show how it can actually take a long time. There can be a lot of waiting (for a first birth that is). I try to normalize the process, so they can then know their options and ask for things to help them feel more in control. I also teach them tools to work with their body, such as breathing and relaxation so that we can stay calm and let the body do what its designed to do.
How to prepare for childbirth
Daniela: For the mom-to-be at home reading this and who may be feeling anxious about birth, are there any tips that you can share with her to feel more in control and ready for childbirth?
Lael Stone: Firstly, find a great Independent childbirth class that prepares you for all outcomes in birth. Such a class will teach you how to breathe and work with your body, but also explains your options around drugs and choices you can make in hospital. With knowledge comes power; understanding your options can make a world of difference. Read positive birth stories, soak up good information around birth about all the things that can go right. I would also recommend getting extra support for your birth. This could be a doula or an independent midwife, whose job is to support you and your partner for the entire birth as well as pre- and post-natal. Often, lack of continuity of care makes women feel unsupported, so having someone you trust with you and who can offer you their expertise and support, as well as your partner, often helps women feel safe and secure, so that no matter what unfolds in their birth, they can feel supported and make informed choices.
Lael Stone: “With knowledge comes power; understanding your options can make a world of difference.”
Daniela: If I understand well then, support, knowledge and informed choices are key in childbirth? Focusing on support, what should the partner be aware of in terms of assisting the mom-to-be in her journey to childbirth and during the birth?
Lael Stone: Great question; for partners, listen to her fears and hopes and dreams for the birth. Support her in her choices. If she wants a natural birth and you think it’s crazy, do some research and find out why it’s important to her. Go to childbirth classes with her and learn techniques to support her in labor, such as breathing, massage, using positions, reassuring words, staying calm. It’s a team effort and the more supported and loved a woman feels, the more she can relax and let her body do what its designed to do. Oxytocin, the hormone that creates contractions, is the hormone of love and when a woman feels safe, loved and supported in labor, her body births the best and does what it’s designed to do. When a woman feels scared and unsafe in labor, she will release adrenalin in her system which makes labor hurt a lot more and also makes her panic and not cope. So, for partners: bring the calm and the love and tons of support and reassurance. It does wonders.
Lael Stone: “Oxytocin, the hormone that creates contractions, is the hormone of love and when a woman feels safe, loved and supported in labor, her body births the best and does what it’s designed to do.”
The partner’s role in childbirth
Daniela: Thank you for elaborating on this. Partners have a great role to play in childbirth. In the unfortunate case of an emergency during childbirth, and with the aim of providing a complete picture for partners, what would be the partner’s role in such a case? As you noted earlier, this might be a recurrent concern for partners – so it helps that they’re also prepared.
Lael Stone: The thing to know about emergencies is that they are not as common as everyone thinks. Often, when there is an ’emergency cesarean’, it is more an unplanned one, where there isn’t a great deal of rush or panic. This is mainly due to baby’s positioning, or mum not dilating. In the event of a “true” emergency, midwives and doctors are very skilled at dealing with these situations, so you will be in good hands. In the event of an emergency, try and stay calm and remind mum to breathe. Big deep breathes in and out her nose to try and stay calm and reassure her that you are right beside her and she is being looked after. In a situation like this, partners are really there to offer calm, to help mum stay calm and know that the medical team is doing what they do best. For reassurance to partners, I always explain that doctors and midwives don’t want anything to go wrong and really don’t want the big emergency, which is why they monitor the woman and the baby closely. If something looks like it’s not looking great, then they are onto it sooner than later, so that big emergencies don’t have to happen. That can be reassuring to partners so that they can often discuss with care providers about what’s going on and make informed choices when it’s not a big emergency.
Preparing for the second round
Daniela: Thank you for sharing this very helpful and insightful advice. For the second-time mom who maybe did not experience the birth she wished for the first time round, how can she prepare and generate positivity for her second birth?
Lael Stone: I would start with doing a proper birth debrief with someone who specializes in birth trauma: a counselor or therapist who understands birth and can help the woman process what happened in the birth and what it is that she felt went wrong. That can often then provide the key to making different choices for the next birth. This can include changing care providers or getting extra support for the birth or doing more education to learn how to work with the body. I find that women really need the opportunity to talk about and grieve for the birth that didn’t go according to plan. Once women are properly heard, they can move forward. I also reassure second time mums that each baby has a different journey and each birth is different, so focus on what you would like for this experience and then put in place all you need to help achieve that.
Lael Stone: “Women really need the opportunity to talk about and grieve for the birth that didn’t go according to plan. Once women are properly heard, they can move forward.”
Daniela: It’s indeed helpful to know that each birth journey is a unique one. Thank you for the insight that you have shared with our readers today, Lael. On a final note, what is that one piece of advice that you’d always share with an expectant mom as she moves closer to childbirth?
Lael Stone: Stay open to possibility! All birth can be beautiful, but it comes back to you making it so. Your baby may have a different idea to you on how they want to be born and even though you don’t have control over that, you have control of the energy you bring to the situation. Stay open to all possibilities and remember that you are in charge of the energy. Stay connected with your partner, stay connected with your baby, stay connected with your body and then stay open to one of the most awesome experiences that you get to go through as a woman. Whether you are having a Caesarean or birthing on your lounge room floor – you are in charge of the energy – so bring the wonder and love to your baby’s birth!
Daniela: That’s beautiful and immensely empowering, Lael! Thank you for your time today and thank you for helping moms and their partners achieve a beautiful birth!
Lael Stone: My pleasure!