Most women spend a lot of time learning about pregnancy and parenthood when they find out they’re pregnant. But many women fail to do that same research about how to be their own advocate during birth. It’s important to have people you trust guiding and advising you during your birth. But nothing compares to making your own choices based on your own research, education, and preparation. Here are a few ways you can prepare to be your own best advocate during birth.
Do your homework.
Centuries ago, young women learned about birth through watching their female relatives have babies. They often attended their mother, aunts, sisters, nieces, or cousins’ births when those women would go into labor. These days, however, most women are completely unaware of what labor and the birthing process are like until they go through it themselves. It can be a shocking experience if you don’t educate yourself. Just as you would spend time learning how to change a diaper, make baby formula, or take a Lamaze class, you also need to do your homework when it comes to what will or may happen during the birth of a child. The more you know, the more prepared you’ll feel to ask for what you need when you need it.
Research your options.
There is no one right way to do anything. This is true for many options you’ll have during the birth of your baby. You should educate yourself about the various options you’ll have during the process of labor and delivery. Try to decide ahead of time what you would prefer in as many scenarios as possible.
Do you want a hospital, birthing center, or home birth? Do you want to be allowed to eat and move around as you wish? Will you choose pain medication, or do you want to have a medication-free birth? How do you feel about delayed cord clamping, skin-to-skin, placenta encapsulation? What interventions, if any, are you comfortable with? Will you want to decline eye ointment, Vitamin K, or the Hep B shot for your newborn? All these questions, and more, are questions you need to understand and have some answers to before you go into labor.
Make a birth plan.
Creating a birth plan is key to being your own birth advocate. Layout, in as much detail as possible, what you want to happen during your labor and delivery. Make a contingency plan for what you want to happen should your original plan go awry.
For instance, I made a detailed plan for my birth center birth. But I also planned what I wanted to happen if I needed to go to the hospital. I also made a plan for what I wanted if I needed a C-section. I made several copies of my plan and gave them to my husband and midwife. And then, when I eventually had to be transferred to the hospital after 40+ hours in labor, I gave a copy of the plan to the nurse. I was able to advocate what I wanted to the team of professionals helping me, and they had it neatly laid out on paper so that everyone was on the same page.
Hire a doula.
During my first pregnancy, I was talked into hiring a doula at the last minute. I wasn’t sure exactly what a doula could help me with. But as a first-time mom, I wanted all the help I could get. It turns out, hiring a doula was probably the smartest investment I made for myself for my first birth. Besides my husband, my doula was the person who kept me motivated and believing in myself through a very foreign experience. She played my chosen music, she prayed over me, she encouraged me to drink and eat, and she constantly assured myself and my husband that we were doing an amazing job. She also knew all of my birth plan details and was willing to help me make sure these things were done accordingly.
Involve your partner.
If you have a partner, make sure that he/she is involved in advocating for your needs during your birth. Partners often feel helpless during the labor and delivery process. Giving your partner the task of ensuring your birth plan is carried out as best it can will help them feel like they have a “job.” And you will be able to relax and concentrate on birthing your beautiful baby.
Clearly communicate your desires to your birth team.
If you don’t write down your birth plan, at least have a detailed discussion with your birth team before the big day. Sit down with your partner, your midwife or doctor, your doula, and whomever else you choose to have in the room with you. Clearly communicate your wishes for the birth and any contingency plans that may come up. Let everyone ask any questions they have and take notes if necessary.
Don’t be afraid to speak up.
You’ve done all the research and consulted with your team of experts. You’ve written your birth plan, and you’re as ready as you can be. When the big day comes, don’t be afraid to speak up to make sure you’re getting what you need and your plan is being followed. If you have questions about a procedure, ask them. If you have doubts about a course of action, raise them. Or, if you need to consult with your doctor or midwife, or partner before a decision is made, do it. Especially speak up if you feel you are being forced into an unnecessary intervention.
Unfortunately, these happen more often than they should. After I was transferred to the hospital, I chose to continue toward a vaginal birth. At one point, the doctor told me that unless I had my baby in the next hour, he would section me . . . because he had a flight to catch. I very calmly, but very firmly, told him that if he came near me with a scalpel without a legitimate medical reason, I’d have his head as a trophy on my living room wall (don’t judge, I was nearly delirious with pain and no sleep!). It’s no surprise that the doctor did not like me very much after that, but I had my baby vaginally, safely, and without unnecessary interventions.
Being your own advocate during birth is one of the most important ways you can prepare to become a mom. Making the best choices for your child comes first from making the best choices for yourself. With a team of professionals and your loved ones surrounding you, feel confident in knowing that you are capable of fighting for your best birth experience.