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How to prepare for when birth doesn’t go to plan

It’s never nice to think about your birth plans going out the window. Perhaps you don’t want to entertain the possibility of outcomes like:

  • Medical interventions (an episiotomy or emergency cesarean)
  • Your baby being whisked off to NICU after delivery
  • Physical damage to your body
  • Emotional trauma. 

Fair enough! Who would?

But you don’t need to be fearful of giving birth. Thanks to the miracle of modern medicine, it’s very safe (and very amazing!). You can enjoy the process and protect yourself from birth trauma or disappointment. We talked to Nadine Richardson, childbirth educator, doula and creator of the She Births program, about what to do if your birth plan goes to sh*t. She says it’s important to “prepare for all, but expect the best”.

Be informed 

“Preparation is key,” Nadine shares. “It’s important to begin with a conscious, educated and informed birth plan.”

Whether your plan centers around an intervention-free birth or reads like a laundry list of all the pain relief you’re keen to try, that’s your choice. But either way, it’s important to understand what potential medical interventions may involve. This can help you avoid getting a rude shock on the day (for example, if giant metal tongs are thrust up your vagina).

Nadine also recommends “a good, solid childbirth education program”. Hospital birth classes are a good place to start and are relevant to the hospital you’ll be birthing at. But you may benefit from doing an external birth class as well to discuss labor and birth strategies in more detail. 

Be open-minded 

While it’s so useful to have a birth plan in place, try to stay open-minded about how your birth will pan out. 

Nadine encourages women to acknowledge what they’re scared of and ask, “How would I make my most fearful outcome a beautiful birth?” 

Discuss this with your partner or birth support person so they can help you tread the line between sticking to ‘The Plan’ and going with the flow.

Read positive birth stories 

BILLIONS of women have stories to share about birth. This can be a good thing and a bad thing.

Good: You can learn and be inspired by how other mamas made it through.

Bad: You can be totally spooked by your neighbor’s uncalled for ‘horror stories’.

Nadine says to, “focus on positive stories.”

“Be discerning around what stories you listen to,” she advises. “And yes, that means shutting people down before they launch into their horrendous birth accounts. Just say – ‘I’m so overwhelmed with all the birth stories I’ve heard and I really couldn’t hear another one right now’. These people are just debriefing and projecting.” (And you don’t need that kind of energy around you right now.)

Get a sweet boost of pre-birth encouragement from these 10 positive birth stories, or by checking out stories on the She Births website.

Use positive affirmations

Positive affirmations are used in Calm Birth, HypnoBirth and She Births practices. The idea is that you repeat positive statements to yourself during pregnancy and labor. This rewires your brain’s neural pathways, replacing negative thoughts with positive ones. So “F*CK THIS HURTS” becomes “I CAN DO THIS I AM A GODDESS”!

Nadine suggests repeating affirmations when you’re relaxed, such as when having a hot bath or after a meditation. But she also recommends practicing while on the move.

“Birth is so physical,” Nadine says. “It helps to practice positive affirmations while you’re walking up a hill or doing physical activities.”

Here’s one of her examples: I’m strong and supported. I’m calm and relaxed. (Repeat while scaling that massive hill in your neighborhood.)

Know how to advocate for yourself

“70% of birth trauma comes about because of the way a woman was managed or spoken to,” Nadine says. “The way information was shared. If the perception of choice, options and space was given.”

While it’s important to listen to medical advice, you do have a right to speak up for what you want for your body and baby. Your partner is a key advocate for you in this area. 

“When sh*t hits the fan, your partner is your #1 rock,” Nadine explains. “They hold the space for you. It’s still rare to have a Category 1, complete rush emergency cesarean situation. There’s usually time to pause and think. Your partner will be the one to ask, ‘Can we have a minute to get our heads around this?’” 

Let yourself feel the feels

No matter how your birth happens, just know that you’re incredible. You’ve done an amazing job not only growing this baby (and HELLO – avoiding soft cheese for nine months! Major sacrifice) but literally delivering them into the world safely. 

How you experience your birth is important, and valid. Allow yourself to feel whatever it is you feel – be it euphoria, disappointment, grief, fear, relief, sadness, frustration, anger, happiness or gratefulness. Or maybe all of the above. 

If you’re yet to give birth – don’t be afraid of it! It’s going to be a memorable and amazing experience. Stop googling ‘ways to keep my baby inside me forever’, and work on overcoming this fear.

If you’ve experienced birth trauma or have been distressed by your birth experience, it’s important to get support. Chatting to a therapist can really help. Or consider contacting PANDA for advice, or the Australasian Birth Trauma Association for peer mentoring.

Share this article with mama who’s prepping herself for labor.

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