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
When I had my first baby I thought was well prepared. 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, and I wasn’t well prepared to advocate for myself against dismissive health professionals. My birth partners were also not well equipped to advocate on my behalf. My 72 hour labour ended with a forceps delivery in theatre, a lot of yet to be revealed 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 concept of having to watch me go through birth again too much to handle and his initial reaction was to say that he could not be my birth partner.
Whilst I had come away from my first birth feeling fairly positive about the way the final outcomes had been handled, the further away from it I had gotten, the more angry I had become at my treatment, and the more shocking the memories that popped up.
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 in control, listened to, respected and knew what I wanted. So, how did we get from where we were to here?
When I discovered I was pregnant for the second time I was in a very different position to the first time around. This time I had a close group of friends who had also had children at similar times and this group included a wonderful woman who was a breastfeeding counsellor and led the local peer support group for women who experienced birth trauma. I had a lot of long talks with her and began to more fully debrief on my birth experience, pinpointing what had happened and exploring why, as well as exploring my preferences.
If you are preparing for a second or later birth and you particularly wish it to be different from earlier births, you may find a similar process useful. Sometimes this can be with midwives in your local trust, if that feels useful to you, or you may have a peer support group like me – mine was NCT led. Doulas, hypnobirthing teachers and other birth workers sometimes provide this service too. It may be a difficult and emotional experience, but it may help you identify key things which will inform the care you want for your next birth.
Whilst I had thought I was prepared the first time around, I really wasn’t. The antenatal class I took was pretty in depth, but it lacked coping strategies for panic and keeping me calm which I desperately needed. I feel like information was so packed in that it was difficult to process and it didn’t suit me or my husband. I am 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 had been exposed to had been either negative experiences, or ones in which women were routinely told this is how things were 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 locally introduced me to a range of people who talked about birth in a way I had never really heard before. Even through the sling community and the training I did I was exposed to a different viewpoint and different resources.
There are many many, many resources out there for birth now. You can read widely, from opinion pieces to clinical studies and find as much information as possible which 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 has 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.
I considered a doula for a long time for my second birth, but for us it was valuable having our birth environment limited to us and a trusted friend. Doulas offer experienced support for all aspects of birth, and 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, but in reality hypnobirthing gives you 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. They helped him feel like he had a place in this birth, and tools to be a strong advocate, and tools to help him 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 am a passionate advocate for families being given the information and tools to feel fully supported in a society which so often doesn’t provide this.