Let’s face it; planning the birth you truly want to have is tough enough. There’s a lot of work you have to do to educate yourself, un-learn the myths and misconceptions, shift your mindset, do deep inner work to release fears and anxieties, and then there’s also that search for the care provider who will actually support you in that birth.
But trying to plan your birth your way and not having the support of family and friends at the same time?
That’s so much harder!
I remember all too well what it’s like and let me tell you, when I was planning my first homebirth there was no end to the calls from “concerned” family members.
In the end, I gave in.
I live with that regret every day that I didn’t listen to my heart and do what was right for me.
When I got pregnant with Mckayla it was after a lot of soul searching and working on my mindset for birth.
Knowing that the system routinely traumatizes those who birth inside it, and while knowing that I didn’t want to risk another trauma did help steel myself against criticism, it was still hard to do when it came to my family.
The truth is that we are social beings, and we seek to be in connection with those who should care about us.
While the opinions of strangers on the internet can be easily ignored, the opinions of family and friends can hold a lot more weight.
This is true not just for birth, but for anything from how we choose to parent, what careers we consider, or even whether or not we go after a dream of building our own business.
The lessons I learned when planning my birth have also applied to my building my programs and putting the education on birth out there in a way that is more accessible. I know that a big part of the reason I went after my dream of creating Empowering Moms (and believe me, I didn’t have much support from family or friends) is because I had also gone against convention with my birth choices.
No one in my family had ever had a homebirth.
They were horrified when I told them I had zero intentions of having my baby in the hospital.
They couldn’t understand what would possess me to be so “reckless”.
If you’re reading this, then chances are that you’re experiencing a lot of the same resistance and criticism that I did.
You’re not alone.
Most of my clients have also had less than supportive family members and friends. That’s usually why they hire me to coach them through it.
Here’s what I tell them, and what I’m going to tell you.
You have to do what is best for YOU
No one else can live your life, and no one else can birth this baby for you. That means that you are the only one whose opinion truly matters when it comes to what that birth experience should look like for you.
You can debate with them all day long about the safety of homebirth, or vaginal birth after cesarean, or vaginal breech birth, or any other number of “controversial” birth choices. But it doesn’t matter, because those aren’t the real reasons you’re choosing the kind of birth you want to have.
If it was about safety only, well there is no 100% safe way to give birth.
Even in the hospital, things happen that can cause birth to be unsafe. Furthermore, the things that make birth safe for one person may not feel safe to you. I knew instinctively that I would feel safer at home than in the hospital, and so the result is that I had birth trauma in the hospital because I didn’t feel safe or supported in that environment.
Someone else might not want the kind of birth you want to have, and that’s okay. You also don’t want their birth experience, because it’s not something that speaks to you.
In the end, if you feel that you are called to birth in a way that works for you, then that is the right choice. As a mother, you will have to make decisions for yourself, your kids, and your family. This is your initiation into that new role you are taking on.
So release the thoughts that you should do what others say is “best” and tap into your intuition.
Ask yourself: What do you want?
Remember they have good intentions
I know it’s frustrating to have to constantly defend your choices to friends and family.
They just don’t seem to get how badly you want to birth this baby your way, and they keep trying to tell you how “dangerous” your birth choices are. They may even tell you a “healthy baby is all that matters.”
First of all, take a deep breath and let that go.
I heard a lot of this when planning my births. The same idea that “most small businesses fail” is echoed with the sentiment that “mothers and babies die in childbirth”. The difference though is that when you’re pregnant it can feel like there’s a lot more at stake if you make a riskier choice than what most people say is safest.
But here’s the thing, there is no risk-free way to live, unless you’re intending to live a life full of regrets.
Try to remember that your family and friends haven’t read the same birth blogs you are reading. They haven’t taken the same classes and they may have had completely different desires for their own births.
A sister who expresses her deep love of Pitocin may have also chosen to have an epidural.
That doesn’t suddenly invalidate your feelings that Pitocin is evil incarnate and you would sooner plan another cesarean than be subjected to it again.
A mother who tells you that she couldn’t have gotten through labour without all the drugs may have had a typical birth in hospital with lots of interruptions, vaginal exams, and maybe even lacked the education to understand how to work with her body for a less painful labour.
That doesn’t mean that you will also have a horrifically painful birth.
The truth is, your family and friends don’t understand. They are also coming from a place of fear and mistrust because our birth culture is built on a lot of fear and mistrust of our bodies and of birth.
That isn’t your truth though.
So accept that they love you and want the best for you, and then assure them that you know what you are doing. Thank them for their concern, and then do your own thing anyway. Sometimes they need to see the proof for themselves.
I intentionally spent less time around people who didn’t trust birth when I was pregnant with my second baby because I already knew that spending all my energy trying to convince them wasn’t a good use of my time.
I didn’t even tell them my due date or when I was in labour. They found out I had my daughter at home after the fact, and many of them came around after that to accept my choices.
Consider the consequences of NOT following your desires
It can be really hard to not have acceptance from those who are closest to you.
You may feel like you’re disappointing them, scaring them, or worrying them too much.
As women, we’ve been socialized to put the feelings of others before ourselves, even when it’s to our detriment.
This is why I ultimately had Hunter in the hospital.
My family, friends, and even my husband all said they didn’t feel comfortable with me having my baby at home.
At that time I hadn’t learned how to set firm boundaries and still felt responsible for making them comfortable with my choices.
The result is that I wound up sacrificing what I wanted and ultimately suffered the consequences of that.
I learned a very harsh lesson that I want to pass on to you: if you feel that you are going to regret making a choice that makes other people happy, then you probably will.
Living with deep regret about your birth is painful, trust me. I think about what was stolen from me and my son whenever I remember his birth. I want you to look back on your experience knowing that every single choice you made was what had felt right to you, and that you can own that experience.
Birth Trauma often occurs when you are backed into a corner and forced to make a choice you don’t want to make, even as you can see another alternative that is being denied to you.
Being told you are “not allowed” is trauma.
So before you take into consideration what your friends, family members, or even your spouse wants for your birth, really think about what impact that will have on you.
I knew that going back to the hospital for my second birth was absolutely out of the question for me. Even when labour stalled and my midwife went home, I knew that the desire to stay home was stronger than what convention had determined to be the “appropriate” thing to do.
So in the end I labored mostly on my own and didn’t call the midwife until the fetal ejection reflex kicked in and I knew there was no stopping my baby from coming.
I had only voiced this intention to birth unassisted to one person: my doula. My husband hadn’t even known of my backup plan until the day my daughter was born. It turned out he was fine with it, but if he hadn’t been then I would have sent him off on some “very important” errands that would keep him out of my birthing space. Some women just won’t let anyone stop them. I think the reason for that is that they know exactly what’s at stake.
Why did I choose to send the midwife home? Because I knew that the regret I would feel wasn’t something I could live with, and this was my last baby. I knew she was healthy, I knew I could birth on my own, and I trusted my instincts that were telling me to not call the midwife back until the end.
But what if the doubts creeping in are your own, and it feels like you’re being pulled in two different directions by your deep desires and your fears?
Get the Right Support
Sometimes, all it takes is having that one person who truly believes in you.
I was fortunate the second time because I happened to be a birth advocate and had started building connections to the larger birth community. In those early days my network was much smaller than it is now, and yet having those few close friends was crucial to helping me block out the messages I was getting from my family.
It’s not easy to find this support if you don’t routinely hang out with birth workers.
Most women have not been taught enough about birth physiology and they are coming from a place of fear.
The most popular pregnancy book out there for moms is also the worst for this! Everything in that book leads to more fear and creates a lot of doubt that you are the one who knows your body best. Instead of helping you trust your intuition, there’s a lot of advice telling you what you “should” do.
Mainstream mommy groups on social media operate in a similar manner. Sometimes you’ll be lucky to find someone like me in the forums and we’ll tell you that you are the best one to decide what is right for you, however most of the time you’ll get more of the same conflicting bits of advice. You may be made to feel bad about wanting to decline a test or plan a less conventional birth.
Hiring a midwife can help, however there are limitations depending on what kind of insurance your midwife carries or what the guidelines are for their practice. In an integrated maternity care system it’s often the doctors who determine what midwives are allowed to tell their clients. Most often, true informed choice is not possible in this kind of system. There are outliers, of course. These “rogue midwives” often have to be careful how they say things and they may support your choices at home when no one else is watching and do a lot more interventions in the hospital where there is a nurse or someone in higher authority to dictate the way they practice.
A doula is a helpful witness and advocate, and yet they often face their own limitations. There may be issues of liability, depending on where they were certified and what they are allowed to say or do. I have seen clients get fired by their doulas for planning an unassisted birth, even when that client did everything possible to seek out a midwife. The client knows that a hospital birth is not an option for them, and yet they can’t find a midwife able to attend them at home. The shock of having their doula suddenly refuse to support them in their birth can be devastating.
What this means is that you really need to know who to trust and who to look to for support. Find that one rebellious friend in your life (or make a friend with those traits) and go to her for that support you need. If you are lucky enough to know a doula (or several) who will support you from afar, then that also will help remind you why you deserve to have the birth you want to have.
Sometimes, it takes that one person to tell you that you can do it.
If you are currently struggling to find that person, then you aren’t alone. Many of my clients also don’t have that support accessible to them within their family and friends. Thankfully I knew this struggle all too well and when I began to form connections in the larger birth communities I realized that this level of support was what was missing! I created the Take Charge of Birth Program to fulfill the need for support and education, and my clients can come to me each time the fear, anxiety, or overwhelm of planning their birth creeps in. I get them to come back to their birth from a place of power, and often my support is just what they need to go forward and have that amazing birth of their dreams.
Bottom Line: You can’t control what others will do or how they will react when you tell them your birth plans. You also aren’t responsible for their feelings. What you are able to control is what you choose to do and whether you will follow the crowd or forge your own beautiful path forward into motherhood.
This is your birth and your baby. No one else has any right to tell you how you should feel, what you should want, and what you need to do. You are the one who will live with the memory of that birth for the rest of your life, and your body is the one that will birth this baby. If something doesn’t feel right to you, then it isn’t right. If you have a deep desire to choose something different for yourself, then trust yourself. And remember that you can also change your mind.
Those who truly love you and want the best for you will eventually get over it after you’ve had that amazing birth your way. Those who don’t get over it were making it all about themselves and if that’s the case then I would suggest setting some firm boundaries because they may also have these same feelings about your parenting choices or even whether you return to work or start your own business from home.
I’ve had two kids and supported hundreds of mothers in their own parenting journeys. Many were complete strangers on the internet, and all of them were made stronger for listening to their own inner voice.
So listen to yours.
What is it saying, and who can you reach out to for support?
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