Positive pregnancy – why does it matter? Or does it even matter? I flinch whenever I hear someone call birth experience a first world concern, mocking women for wanting a positive birth. Of course, any woman would choose a traumatic birth over infant death but are you saying that’s the only choice she should have? Why is it so bad not only to admit we want better but to aim for and even demand it? Sure, a positive birth won’t make us bigger women or better mothers. We know that. Usually, though, women know that a positive birth experience is the better outcome – physically and otherwise – not only for them but for their babies too.
And can pregnancy be divorced from birth? We can think of them so separately. Yet, just as we can be pretty birth-negative in our culture (“You’ll be begging for the drugs”, “First-time mum? You’ll need to be induced for sure”, “You’re too small-boned to deliver naturally”) we can be unwittingly bump-negative too. Pregnancy gets viewed as an illness. Women spend those nine months disliking their growing bodies, accepting and dwelling on physical discomforts and worrying about the labour to come.
At 38 weeks, I’m coming to the end of a pregnancy in which (goodness knows!) I have not always remained positive but have learned a lot. I don’t pretend that reading around, listening to others’ experiences and being down this path a couple of times makes me an expert by any means. I’m just adding my voice to a conversation we need to keep having around pregnancy, birth and parenting.
Here are a few of the lessons I’ve learned so far about protecting and retraining your mind for a positive pregnancy.
1. Spend focused time alone
This list isn’t in any particular order but if it were, this point would need to be at the top. Time alone is gold – time to pray, to focus, to listen, to reflect, to seek, to meditate, to find sanctuary.
Find a time where you can disconnect from screens and other distractions. Granted, this might be easier if it’s a first pregnancy but I’ve found it no less vital the second time around. In the early months, Talitha’s nap time allowed me this dedicated time as well as a nap myself. Nowadays, it’s last thing at night but that makes it no less valuable.
Without it, I feel disconnected from my baby and my body as well as from God. Growing a baby is quiet, lovely work and with too much noise it’s easy to get frantic and lose patience. There is little left to give to anyone or anything else. What this looks like for me is me snapping at my husband for not telepathically knowing what I want him to do and say and ending up wanting to run away from a toddler who won’t listen to me in the supermarket aisle.
2. Surround yourself with positive birth stories
In the introduction to Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth, she quotes Stephen King: “Believe me: if you are told that some experience is going to hurt, it will hurt. Most pain is in the mind, and when a woman absorbs the idea that the act of giving birth is excruciatingly painful – when she gets this information from her mother, her sisters, her married friends, and her physician – that woman has been mentally prepared to feel great agony.”
Listening to positive birth stories is not about living in a dream world and crossing your fingers that all will be well. It’s about re-educating your mind to believe in a natural process you have learned to fear because everything you saw in the movies and heard from your friends and family told you that you should. We’ll be going to our local Positive Birth Movement meeting again tonight, mainly to hear birth stories that are more beauty than blood and gore. If you’re looking for something to read, check out websites like BellyBelly that take a positive, gentle approach to birth.
3. Create rituals
This is related to the taking time to be alone point. It’s not always possible to do that at times when we need a little break. This becomes more true once your baby is here so you might as well get in the habit of finding a place of calm without requiring the perfect circumstances to do so.
Most of us already have rituals that we can tie refreshment into. For instance, every time you make a cup of tea, you could say a quick prayer or repeat a statement of affirmation or breathe or even just take a moment to work your pelvic floor muscles!
I’ve taken to practising my upward and downward breathing (from KG Hypnobirthing) with my two-and-a-half-year-old. She thinks it’s funny but often it’s just what I need to regroup for whatever we’ve got to do next.
4. Make informed choices
There’s a really weird language around pregnancy and birth where we keep saying that our health care providers have done things to us or allowed us to do certain things or said that we have to have whatever. I’m not saying that we should live in suspicion and question everything but there’s no reason to go into pregnancy and birth with blind faith. This is your body and your baby. Whatever happens needs to be your choice.
Refer to the Association for Improvements in the Maternity Services (AIMS) website, attend an antenatal course (though, do be careful when choosing one), read books that inform rather than scare, find a doula, consider an independent midwife, do what you need to do.
For me, one of the reasons I’ve felt so much more in control this time around was that I felt free to accept or decline any procedure or test I was offered, either by saying that I’d go away and think about it first or by simply and politely doing so. By the way, I don’t think most midwives and obstetricians are out to get anyone. It’s ultimately a pretty caring profession. Medical (and parenting) decisions are yours to make but courtesy and kindness go a long way.
5. Plug into a community
When we moved to Bristol four years ago, I felt quite alone. I was working freelance mainly from home and struggling to meet new people, let alone make meaningful connections. I fell pregnant just a few months after we’d moved and suddenly felt a great urgency to meet other mothers. I needed to share this intense experience. It was unexpected, really, and in some ways that need to share and connect is why I started this blog.
After weeks are collecting the courage to do so (I can be a bit shy), I started going along to a women’s group at my church. They were incredibly kind to me, warmly welcoming me and even making meals for us even though they barely knew me. I later met women through antenatal courses, baby meets, breastfeeding groups and even, yes, online. Already having this community of women around me has made this pregnancy even more positive than the last. My baby and I have flourished under their love. If I were to do it again, I would have gone along to La Leche League meetings when I was pregnant with Talitha.
6. Be proactive
Probably the single thing that most impressed me from Spiritual Midwifery was how much talk there was about not complaining. In fact, Ina May recommends you try to stop complaining during your pregnancy not only as a tip for birth but as a lifeskill.
I am so prone to moaning about things and not doing much to change them but I’ve been reflecting on that habit lots in the past months. One of the great things it led me to was a good osteopath. Last time I went on and on about my pelvic girdle pain (SPD) and just assumed it had to be that way. I had a futile visit with an NHS physiotherapist who didn’t really look at me.
After a friend who’d also suffered told me she’d had great success in her second pregnancy with a private physiotherapist having checked out The Pelvic Partnership, I decided to go see Claire Howard-Robinson at The Yew Tree Clinic. I haven’t been totally pain-free but then I should really have had more treatment than I’ve been able to afford. On the whole, though, I’ve been amazingly comfortable.
If something is bothering you, maybe trauma leftover from a previous birth, drama in your relationships or distrust of your health care providers, seek help rather than letting it fester.
7. Get your birth partner involved
Whoever your birth partner is, really involving them in the pregnancy can make the experience so much easier and richer for both of you. For us, this meant having Laurence go with me to NCT classes and Home Birth meetings last time. This time we went to a hypnobirthing course with Katharine Graves and to Positive Birth Movement meetings. KG Hypnobirthing has especially been useful as we practice it frequently, which allows us to both connect with what’s happening. Well, realistically, it’s giving him tools to be involved, even though I suspect that reading the scripts bores him a bit!
Other ideas for involving a birth partner could be praying together, letting them feel the baby move or talking about your birth plan.
8. Talk to your baby
You’d think that having had a baby before, I’d be totally at ease with this, but I wasn’t. If anything, I felt so distracted by life with my toddler that it was hard to take the time to focus on the new baby.
Talitha has actually been the one to help me get there. From very early, she was surprisingly aware of her sister, talking sweetly and naturally to her. Nowadays, she’s always calling my attention to her. If we’re going somewhere, it’s never that just “Mummy and Talitha” going; it’s always “Mummy, Talitha and baby”.
So bit by bit, I learned to talk to her, to acknowledge her and to marvel at her. I need to give her a good talking to about turning at the moment, though, because I found out yesterday she’s back-to-back!
This seems such an obvious point to make when it comes to thinking about how we can embrace pregnancy as the positive thing it is. Last time around we had a BabyBash which involved barbecue, bodysuit painting and birth date betting (boy, did I live to regret the last one!). It was a great chance to get together with our friends and welcome this new phase of our lives with them.
This time we’ve gone a lot more low-key. I considered having a Mother Blessing or Blessingway but it just didn’t end up happening. Instead, Laurence and I had a morning of him drawing patterns on the bump with henna. I love it. It’s like walking around with a celebration, especially whenever I see it in the mirror or Talitha raises my top up so she can look at it and talk to the baby.
10. Focus on the present
I remember spending most of my last pregnancy wishing time away. I was so impatient to enter this new phase of life, meet my baby and become a mother. That’s not been the way this time.
Most of the time I’ve not really thought about it and when I have, I’ve just felt I had too much to do before the baby comes. I also didn’t feel ready to be a mother of two. Despite any residual uncertainties, though, I’m now at the point where I just want it to happen so the key is not to get hung up on the due date and not to get (more) impatient. So I’m extending my to-do list a bit and making plans with Talitha for weeks 41 and 42.
But I’m also just trying to enjoy these little kicks and squirms. I don’t expect to have any more children after this baby so I need to remember all these little lasts.
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