When I was pregnant with my first baby I set out with one mission in mind:
I wanted a relatively pain-free birth, and I wanted to do it at home where I felt safest.
My reasons for this were pretty simple back then.
I hate needles
I didn’t want to stay overnight in the hospital eating gross hospital food and being disturbed every few hours.
I DEFINITELY did NOT want a C-section!
I wanted to be in my own space.
I don’t like pain.
That last one might seem contradictory, but in my quest to avoid the dreaded hospital interventions and needles, I learned about the Fear-Tension-Pain cycle of childbirth. I hadn’t read the birth books that I have now, but I had enough understanding after reading a blog post from “Giving Birth Naturally” (that site is no longer up) that referenced Grantly Dick-Read’s research and discovery of this phenomenon.
Basically it was put to me like this: you feel unsafe/scared. You tense up. You can’t relax. You feel more pain as a result.
It was that basic level of understanding that led me to seek out ONE of the 5 Elements that would become the foundation of my Take Charge of Birth system, and as a result I planned a homebirth.
Unfortunately, the other 4 Elements were missing, and I learned (the hard way) that without all 5 Elements it’s not so simple to Take Charge of Birth.
For the purpose of keeping this post short, I will be creating a series on the 5 Elements to an Empowered Birth, using the concepts I’ve learned over 6 years and integrated into the Take Charge of Birth system.
I will cover more of what I have learned over the past several years throughout this series and you’ll learn exactly what Elements are needed to Take Charge of Your Birth!
Here’s the thing:
If you don’t have all 5 Elements fully optimized to fit your needs, values, and preferences, then there are not enough books on birth out there to help you have an Empowered Birth.
The 5 Elements cannot simply be understood as a checklist, but as a wholly integrated system with everything connecting and leading to a bigger vision, what I call the Birth Vision.
And that is what I failed to see in my first pregnancy when I was planning out my homebirth.
I wouldn’t say it was entirely my fault though; the fact is that I didn’t know what I didn’t know at that time. And how could I? There was NOTHING about these 5 Elements put together in ANYTHING I had read!
I learned about yoga.
I learned about breathing methods.
I learned about hypnobirth.
I learned that Orgasmic Birth was a thing.
I learned about red raspberry leaf tea.
I learned about evening primrose oil.
But I didn’t learn about the 5 Elements until after all the things I had thought would give me an Empowered homebirth failed me.
So what are the 5 Elements?
Broken down simply, the 5 Elements are…
The Right Mindset
The Right Education
The Right Environment
The Right Care Provider
The Right Support
Why You Need All 5 Elements
THIS is what I was missing when I was planning my homebirth.
I had “sort of” had a bit of the Right Mindset, but not to the level that I needed to Take Charge of My Birth at the level I wanted to.
I had “sort of” had the Right Education because I did take a childbirth class outside of the hospital-sponsored ones and I had learned a bit about the Fear-Tension-Pain cycle…but I didn’t know much about my cervix, the mind-body-connection, sphincter law, or the intricacies of physiological birth.
I also didn’t know my rights to Informed Consent and Refusal at the level I needed to know them, nor did I understand that the Maternity Care System was not set up in a way that facilitated physiological birth.
I had NO IDEA that there was a huge game of politics being played behind the scenes, and ultimately I got caught up in the middle of it. Had I known about this game, I would have asked more questions the right way, but these things just were not taught in the “Natural Birth” parenting forums where I had spent much of my time.
In the beginning, I had the Right Environment. I had planned a homebirth, so that was one thing in my favor. I had understood enough to know that I needed to birth where I felt safest.
But what happened when that “safe space” was taken away?
I started reacting from a place of fear rather than acting from a position of empowerment.
I started asking for permission instead of knowing that I could say no to ANYTHING I didn’t want to do, including questioning the validity of the recommendation to birth in the hospital.
I had that gut feeling that everything was fine.
I was even TOLD that I could have my baby at home!
But weeks of having my confidences undermined and not knowing enough to ask the RIGHT questions and have the RIGHT discussions had worn me down.
And immediately after that birth I came to the most haunting realization of my life.
I could have had him at home, my way, and avoided all that fear if only I had known what I know now.
Sadly, that feeling didn’t go away even after I had my daughter at home.
It wouldn’t go away even if I had 2 MORE kids at home.
You never forget the birth of your child. It sticks with you.
I know what was stolen from me with my son’s birth, and I developed the Take Charge of Birth System because I couldn’t watch silently as mothers with desires similar to mine, who were desperate for a birth where they had control, were ultimately failed by the system.
I couldn’t bear to hear any more stories from moms who, after learning about birth physiology and the way the system actually works, would cry and tell me “I thought it was me. I thought I was broken.”
To quote Ina May Gaskin, “your body is NOT a lemon”.
I have seen mothers who were told they couldn’t birth vaginally go on to have a vaginal birth after multiple cesareans!
I have seen mothers who were told they “just don’t go into labour on their own” rock a homebirth past 40 weeks with a healthy baby. Their bodies and babies just needed a few extra weeks, and that was normal for them.
I have seen mothers who were induced go on to have homebirths and express amazement at how relatively painless those births were in comparison to their hospital births!
The Right Education makes a huge difference, but without the Right Mindset you may never get there, and you won’t know what the Right Environment is for you without shifting your mindset and learning everything you need to know to make that Birth Vision possible.
The final two are trickier to accomplish than having the Right Mindset, Right Education, and Right Environment.
It’s easy to go out and decide “I want to Take Charge of My Birth”.
It’s easy to go read a bunch of books on homebirth or “natural birth” and pour over the blog posts.
It’s even easy to decide “I want to birth at home” or “I would feel safest in the hospital” or “I think I want to try a birth centre”, or any other idea that comes to mind (there’s way more than just those 3 options).
It goes back to that old saying that we can only control ourselves.
We can’t control others.
The Right Support Matters!
If you hire someone to paint your house whose preferences are to paint it beige, like they do every other house they’ve worked on, but your vision is far more colourful, then how likely is that person you hired going to be able to recreate that vision in your head?
They’re used to working with one brush and one colour, and you’re asking for the house from “Up”! That takes way more work on their part, doesn’t it? They may not know HOW to do it. They might even try to convince you that a beige house, like what they’re used to painting, is the far “safer” choice.
This was my big mistake when I hired my care provider for my first pregnancy!
The first visit was with an OB practice, so I knew right away that I didn’t want the epidural they were “selling” that first day. My aversion to overly-medicalized care was enough for me to know I needed to change care providers.
Unfortunately I thought “midwives are all the same and will all give me what I want”.
I had no frame of context or understanding that the Midwife vs OB decision is far more nuanced than that.
As a result, I chose a midwife practice that didn’t fully align with my Birth Vision that I was dreaming up in my head.
To go back to my house analogy, I was asking the painters who didn’t do “beige” but had a few more colour pallets in their portfolio to step WAY outside that box and paint my house in a way that only a few members of that team could realistically accomplish.
And, they had a boss that I had never met, and that boss preferred that clients stick to the pre-approved colour pallets on offer.
After the birth of my son, the one midwife who understood my Birth Vision and believed in it told me that for my next birth I needed to choose my care provider more judiciously. It was in learning from her that true midwifery was “dying” in the wake of regulations and protocols that were placed on the practice that I started to understand that I needed that 4th Element of Right Care Provider.
Finally, the Right Support outside your Care Provider is crucial to an Empowered Birth.
Even with the Right Mindset, Education, Environment, and Care Provider, having people who you see every day and interact with on a more personal level are the biggest determinants for whether or not you choose to follow your dreams or give in to the fears.
I did NOT have the Right Support at the end of my first pregnancy.
I fought off the voices of concern and caution as long as I could, but in the end when my midwife called me up at 39 weeks to help me plan my homebirth I had already lost my nerve because outside those frustrating appointments I was also getting more fear and less support for my desire to continue to avoid the hospital.
The second time around, I surrounded myself with other women who understood birth. I still had those family and friends who didn’t get it, who were worried about me planning a homebirth without any apologies or room for discussion. The difference was they weren’t the only people I had around me anymore. I chose to surround myself with the Right Support.
The Right Support also includes your birth partner, and a doula! You need people to support you during labour, especially in the early stages when you need to let the Oxytocin flow and reduce Adrenaline and Cortisol. The Right Support from a doula will keep you focused and calm as well as your partner. Without it, you can invite unnecessary anxiety into your environment and fear is the enemy of Oxytocin.
Consider how other mammals act when they are birthing. If the attendants watching rush in to try to “do something” to help, their labour often can slow, stop, or there may be complications. Animals may even reject their young because the Oxytocin that was meant to bond the pair after birth was not at high enough levels.
Bottom Line: Without all 5 Elements present, birthing the way you want can be a struggle. Without the Right Mindset, your fears can overtake you and you risk giving in to pressure. Without the Right Education, you may unknowingly introduce external factors to your birthing space that work against a physiological birth, or you are unknowingly coerced into following a certain policy because you didn’t know you could say no. Without the Right Environment you may not feel safe enough to birth, or the place of birth won’t be set up to facilitate the birth you want to have. Without the Right Care Provider you risk being “bait and switched” either near the end of your pregnancy or even during labour and birth, or your confidences will be undermined as your concerns are dismissed, or you’re led to believe you couldn’t possibly know your own body and have instincts! Without the Right Support, the time you spend away from a care provider will be spent surrounded by misinformation, doubt in your ability to birth your way, or even direct undermining of your efforts.
When you optimize the 5 Elements, you increase your ability to trust yourself, your body, and even the people you have hired to support you. By having a solid Birth Vision, you can refer to it as your roadmap of where you ultimately want to go, and any detours you need to make along the way can be easily integrated into that plan. Once you have that Birth Vision, you can optimize the 5 Elements to an Empowered Birth: one where YOU are the Decision Maker in your care!
The Next Post in this Series is now Up! Read about the 4 Beliefs for the Right Mindset
For more on the 5 Elements, be sure to follow this series of posts and join the Facebook Community for Empowered Moms where I teach about a number of topics related to pregnancy, birth, postpartum, and breastfeeding each week in my Live videos and posts.
For more on the Take Charge System and how Empowering Moms Pregnancy & Birth Coaching can help you optimize the 5 Elements to Empowered Birth, Click the button below!
Carly Bonderud is a birth educator, advocate, and coach who specializes in helping moms/birthing people achieve an empowered birth and postpartum. She has been an advocate since 2014 and started with Improving Birth in her home community of Abbotsford, BC, and quickly gained recognition by the greater birth worker community in the Lower Mainland, Fraser Valley, and even other parts of Canada, the U.S., and the U.K.
She is the founder and CEO of Empowering Moms Pregnancy & Birth Coaching and also runs the Facebook Community for Empowered Moms: Empowering Moms in Pregnancy, Birth, Postpartum & Beyond