What You Really Need To Learn To Plan a Better Birth

If I were to ask you what book to read prepare for pregnancy and birth, which one would you recommend?

Chances are that unless you’ve spent a lot of time in a birth community for Empowered Moms, or happen to have doulas for friends, you might tell me about the most popular pregnancy book in the Parenting section of the book stores.

It’s the most visible book in most book stores when you search the Pregnancy section.

Your mother probably read it, and her mother before her.

It’s been passed down for generations and there are now, at present count, 5 editions of it.

They even made a movie with that same title!

I’m talking about “What to Expect When You’re Expecting”, of course.

This is the book that most new parents get automatically as a gift from well-meaning family or friends.

It’s also a book that birth advocates, midwives, and doulas hate so much that some of us will even buy them in thrift stores or off of the buy/sell websites for dirt cheap just so that there’s fewer copies out there.

So, what exactly is wrong with this book?

Well, if you’re looking for a book that tells you everything that could possibly go wrong in pregnancy, I suppose it does its job.

It also tells you how your body will change and how your baby will grow each month.

In those ways, the book does its job.

What it doesn’t do is give you a good idea of how birth actually works.

It doesn’t tell you how to find a supportive care provider.

It doesn’t tell you the risks and benefits of interventions and routine tests in pregnancy.

There’s no discussion of your rights to informed consent.

The information on midwives is barely 3 pages long.

To sum it all up, if you’re looking for another book to tell you to just do whatever your doctor tells you (and it is heavily implied that obstetricians are better than midwives because they can handle emergency situations and perform surgery), then “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” will fulfill that role.

But it’s not going to give you the empowered birth you want to have, and you could very well be advised not to skip the cesarean chapter because it’s more likely you’ll end up getting one.

So what will help you have an empowered birth?

The Right Education

The third element for an empowered birth requires you to think beyond that one book, and actively seek out the resources and education that will help you sort through the many, many options for birth.

With the Right Education, you will know which birth classes to enroll in and which ones to avoid.

You’ll skip the self-doubt that leads to many parents seeking help in the mainstream parenting forums that constantly have questions such as:

“Can I have a vaginal birth with a breech baby?”

“Can I say no to this induction that my doctor is scheduling for 41 weeks?”

“Am I allowed to eat or drink in labour?”

“Am I allowed to decline this test I don’t want?”

“Do I have a choice on whether or not I get to birth my baby the way I want to?”

I have seen these questions asked too many times over the past 8 years, since I first became a mother. I’ve also seen these answers in response:

 “I heard that if you don’t induce after 40 weeks there’s a higher chance of stillbirth.”

“A vaginal breech birth is so dangerous! Why would you even try?”

“Why would you want to decline that test your doctor wants you to have? Don’t you care about your baby’s health?”

“Of course you need an IV in labour! They wouldn’t offer it if it wasn’t necessary!”

“You should just ask your doctor and do what they say. They went to school and know better than you.”

The problem is that none of this is true!

Even if their doctor told them that the placenta breaks down after 41 weeks, it’s not based in any concrete evidence.

Hospital practices vary depending on where you live, even in the same city.

In the same hospital, two doctors could have two different opinions on any given treatment or recommendation.

Even more problematic: hospitals rarely see a truly physiological birth where the birth is undisturbed and able to unfold without any interference.

When you consider that most mainstream birth sites, books, and classes do not teach anything other than what to expect in a hospital birth, where there is more intervention as a matter of how they practice, then you can see that accessing that information is just going to lead to a medicalized birth experience with little to no autonomy and a “doctor knows better than you” mentality.

Unless you have a certain set of tools, or someone to show you the way, it can be incredibly difficult to determine what’s true and what isn’t.

So, what are the things you need to learn?

You Need to Learn Your Rights

You need to know your rights to Informed Consent and Refusal inside and out. You need to know that the maternity care system is heavily influenced by patriarchal values and that there’s an implicit bias toward any woman or birthing person who dares to question the “all knowing” doctors.

You need to know about Obstetric Violence and how often it happens in maternity care. You need to know what it is, what it looks like, the subtlest signs that it could creep up in the course of your care, and how to protect yourself from it.

You need to know what to do and say to ensure that your rights are respected and you are not bullied by the system into doing anything you don’t feel right about doing.

If you read about the Right Mindset already, then you may have a foundation to build off of in knowing that you are your own best decision maker for your care. That will help you, however until you understand your rights fully and have done your homework enough that you could spot a misrepresentation of those rights, then you could still be led to believe that you don’t have a choice in how you birth.

Cristen Pascucci of Birth Monopoly has created countless blog posts and editorials that fully explain your rights to informed consent. Inside my Empowered Birth Library, I have housed the links to some of her best articles that fully illustrate how to exercise your rights in your pregnancy, as well as several other web links and summaries of each article or publication so that you have multiple sources from reputable websites and organizations and don’t have to go searching through Google pages trying to find it all.

Having that baseline of knowledge is powerful in helping you to step fully in your role as the capable Decision Maker for your Empowered Birth.

You Need to Know How Birth Really Works

Inside the mainstream parenting forums there are essentially 2 camps of parents who want a natural birth:

  1. The parents who want to “try” for a natural birth, but don’t really think it’s possible and may end up changing their mind and going for the medical birth.
  2. The parents who desperately want to avoid the medical interventions, are scared of the epidural, desperately wish to avoid a csection, and may even wonder whether they should just have a homebirth.

There is a third group, however they are considered on the “fringe”, and chances are that if you’re reading this and don’t see yourself as wondering about homebirth but are actively planning for it, then you’re in that fringe group.

I was in that third camp when I was pregnant for the first time with my son. I actively searched for everything I could find on “natural birth” and homebirth in particular.

The problem was that even though I considered myself to be the queen of the Google search back then, I didn’t know enough about what to Google, or how to word my questions.

As a result, I got mostly links back to more mainstream parent forums, a few parenting blogs, and a lot of misinformation.

I did manage to find one good blog to read back then, but mostly I found my articles through the Facebook news feed and was only able to read whatever my midwife group had shared on their page.

I am very much aware that if I had not chosen a midwife group with a very active Facebook page, I may not have ever learned about Improving Birth or Evidence Based Birth.

I was fortunate to have chosen midwives because they did teach a lot more about how birth works than the hospital-sponsored birth class that I was attending a few times a month, but those classes were not enough.

I created the Empowered Birth Library to house the many articles and resources I have come across over the past 8 years, because I remember how difficult it used to be to find out everything I needed to know about planning a birth that works with our own physiology.

In addition to the usual natural birth articles, I also found articles and videos on breech birth, vaginal birth after multiple cesareans, birth at home with twins and triplets, and so much more than I could ever have found in the 4 books I had checked out of the local library (including “Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth”). 

Inside this library is the full education that I only wish had been available when I was having my first baby. My friends who have seen the incarnations of it over the years have said the same, and some have used the articles I shared from it to go on to have empowered births of their own.

Understanding how our bodies work is crucial to being able to make choices that are right for us. Ina May Gaskin still said it best: “It’s easy to scare women. It’s even profitable to scare women. But it’s not nice, so let’s stop it.”

The maternity care system in the patriarchy was built for profit and got as powerful as it did by scaring women and birthing people into believing their bodies were defective. It got its start in the industrial revolution and men (because the doctors were all male) then set out to “prove” that our birthing bodies were inefficient machines that needed medical management.

We were stripped of our midwives, isolated from our support system of other women, and told that we were broken and couldn’t birth without “help”. The babies were pulled from bodies with forceps, with mothers unconscious, and now they are often cut out for “failure to progress”. Our labours are induced, and weeks before that date we are told that we aren’t dilating yet, so therefore we’re likely to not go into labour on our own.

Reading even just a handful of the articles on “Waiting for Labour” linked to inside the Empowered Birth Library will show just how wrong that thinking is, and reassure you that your body is working perfectly and you can go ahead and refuse those vaginal exams.

When you know how your body works, it’s not so easy for the medical system to scare you into making a choice that isn’t right for you.

You Need to Know All Your Options

There is no right or wrong way to birth and no two births are the same.

You are not your sister, your mother, or your aunt.

What you want for this birth is the only thing that matters, and when it comes to options for what you can ask for it’s less of a menu and more of an all-you-can-eat buffet!

You can customize your birth however you like, but to do that you need to know what the possibilities are.

This is extremely difficult to do in a mainstream parenting group or through reading one or two books, and unless you’ve spent almost a decade reading everything on birth and have doulas in your friend circle to collaborate with and share more articles and videos with, it’s not likely that you’ll have an idea just how many options there actually are.

One of the things that I do with my clients is to help them decide what their ideal birth would be. We don’t focus on how they can get what they want just yet, but instead look at what the ideal is. Once we have that idea on paper we brainstorm the possible ways that birth could happen. Often I have that baseline of information and experience to let them know that other parents have done what they want to do, or part of what they want, and then that opens up an opportunity that they couldn’t see before.

Inside the Empowered Birth Library are not just articles, but stories in the news and on blogs that show all the possible ways that people have birthed their babies. I especially like the ones that are so “out of the box” that they make the news headlines.

Stories of mothers birthing breech babies on the side of the road in their cars, or of choosing to fire their care provider while pushing and catch their own baby!

The community of doulas and midwives have these stories from their clients, and I’ve gathered them over the past 4 years and housed them inside the Empowered Birth Library to pull out whenever a mom needed encouragement that she could have that birth she wanted to have.

Stories are powerful. They show you that anything is possible, and as a result you dream bigger and do the “impossible” in a whole new way that is uniquely your experience.

You Need to Know How to Ask the Right Questions

It’s not enough to just grab all the information that you’re being told by other people. The real power comes in being able to recognize good information from the bad.

This is not so easily done when your main source of learning is a mainstream parenting group and the simple question “can I have a bath after birth” is met with several different answers, all contradicting each other.

When you ask a much more controversial question such as “can I have decline this induction, and also I have gestational diabetes and am planning a vaginal birth after 3 cesareans” you’re basically setting yourself up for an onslaught of horrified comments about how you’re being reckless for even considering going past 39 weeks, let alone 41. I use this exact example because a good friend of mine actually did have a vaginal birth after 41 weeks and after 3 previous cesareans, and she was an older mother, and she had gestational diabetes.

The reason she got to experience this amazing, empowered birth that led to her working with me in birth advocacy for 5 years?

She educated herself on her options and she knew enough to recognize when the care providers who told her “NO” were not telling her the full truth.

She got extremely good at reading through the articles and learning what was fact and what was based on a very tiny percentage of negative outcomes that had nothing to do with her actual experience for her pregnancy.

It took her 3 prior cesareans and a lot of time researching her options before she even got pregnant again for her to achieve that amazing VBA3C, and when she and I met I started gathering a large collection of articles on VBAC in every kind of circumstance I could find.

I may have avoided having my own cesarean experience, but the women I chose to surround myself with when I was working as a rally coordinator for Improving Birth had already had those experiences themselves and had so much to share with me on how they would choose differently next time. I learned of the best articles for VBAC and extended my interest to breech birth as well, and today that section of the Empowered Birth Library is one of my favourite areas to pull links from when helping to inspire moms who desire a VBAC of their own.

I do not take all the credit for tracking down these resources. If it wasn’t for the friends I’ve made in the birth communities I would not have found half of them. Truly, it’s been a collaboration and many doulas, midwives, and nurses have contributed to it by sharing their wisdom online and then circulating that wisdom over social media. I simply collected them all, put them into an archive and categorized them so that they could be found and accessed whenever I wanted to read them. For 4 years it was my Best Kept Secret. I’ve pulled articles out of it for doulas, midwives, nurses, and any mother who has come to me seeking information has received a handful of articles that I have saved in this archive.

But I don’t wish to keep it a secret anymore.

Is “Dr. Google” Not Turning Out the Results You Want?

With the Empowered Birth Library, you’ll never have to blindly search for anything ever again!

We’ve got a bunch of great resources to get you started with some of our favourite blogs, websites, video channels, podcasts, and more!

The beauty of this Empowered Birth Library is that it continues to grow each week.

The Transforming Birth Luminaries in my community share resources with each other both publicly and within our own group, and as a result of our willingness to give to each other the Library will only continue to expand and enhance the way we pass on our wisdom.

The Empowered Birth Library is how you can get that Right Education off to a good start, and receive that baseline knowledge you need to have a truly collaborative sharing of ideas with your care providers and with your doula. It builds off of what we share inside the Facebook Group for Empowered Moms and creates a solid foundation for making decisions around the final 3 elements of Right Environment, Right Care Provider, and Right Support.

Bottom Line: Having the right information at your fingertips can be a powerful tool to help you achieve the empowered birth you deserve. When you already know your rights, have researched all of your options, and know the evidence for maternity care practices you are in a better position to advocate for yourself and come to your appointments with your chosen care provider already knowing what you want to happen. You stop asking “am I allowed” and start telling them how you would like them to support you. Essentially, when you have that solid foundation of the right education in your birth options you are better prepared to Take Charge of Your Birth! When you know where to look for that information it is much easier to get that foundation than if you’re Googling blindly, reading mainstream birth books or asking the questions in the mainstream parenting forums. When you combine the support of the Facebook Community for Empowered Moms with the Empowered Birth Library, you are two steps closer to getting the kind of birth you desire to have.

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

You can connect with her through her Facebook Page, her group, and via email at: Carly@EmpoweringMomsBirth.ca

This blog post is part 3 in a 6-part series on Empowering your Birth. You can find the previous posts here:

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