When you fall pregnant and begin to dive into the world of birthing on social media, you'll likely come across big phrases such as 'empowered birth' or 'owning your birth', in particular from sources that support or encourage a natural birth. But what does that actually mean? And why is it so important? I will try to explain it in this post as really, it is a key to how you will likely experience giving birth and going into motherhood.
If this is your first pregnancy and you don't know a lot about the process of birth, pregnancy in itself and what you know is mainly influenced by word of mouth from relatives, family or how birth is generally portrayed in the media, you'd be forgiven to feel quite overwhelmed and yes, likely scared. So the first thought that may come to your mind is 'I know nothing so let's hand it over to the experts and I'll be in safe hands.' And following that you may arrange an appointment with a private obstetrician or trust that the doctors and midwives at the local hospital will tell you everything that you need to do and consider. You feel quite relieved that 'they've got it covered for you' and trust them 100 percent in that they will always give recommendations that are in your and your baby's best interest. That's their job, right? As you approach birth you decide to 'go with whatever is necessary' as birth cannot be planned and if you're lucky, you may end up with a relatively low intervention birth without really understanding how or why and if you're not so lucky, you'll experience a highly emotionally traumatising birth as you felt completely powerless in the process and more like a spectator. All you wanted was a healthy baby and well, that's what you got but the way you're feeling and how this is affecting your start into motherhood is a completely different story.
Let's rewind. Consider going into pregnancy thinking 'I don't know much at this stage but one thing I know is that growing and giving birth to a baby is one of the greatest and transformational things my body will do. I want to learn and understand as much as I can to feel involved and know the choices I make are right for me and my baby.' You realise that how you will travel through giving birth is likely going to have a big impact on how confident you will feel as a newborn mother and therefore want to avoid any unnecessary intervention. It begins to dawn on you that in order to feel involved, confident about your decisions and emotionally prepared for what's happening, YOU will need to take some responsibility for this. But that's ok because it's all about YOUR body and YOUR baby! Who else could be the expert on what is right for you? You begin researching provider options, look at private versus public, review their birth statistics and in the end choose the provider who you feel will most likely support YOUR approach to birth. Because the more you read and learn, the more you realise there is more than one way of approaching pregnancy and birth, there is no golden or 'risk free' path that will lead you to the perfect outcome. So you might as well make it your OWN, face your fears and likely learn a lot about yourself in the process that will serve you very well as a mother - who else has to become the expert in what's right for YOUR baby and how you want to parent? That's right, it's YOU.
Now that this journey has begun it is starting to feel exciting for you. So much to learn! And how fascinating the process of birth really is, you realise that it is a completely natural function of our body just like pregnancy and want to understand it as much as you can so you can work WITH your body. You begin to realise that your care provider is making the majority of recommendations not based on yourself as an individual but mostly on statistics, meaning that some of the things they want to do you feel are not necessary. Or at least you are asking questions and truly want to understand why something is recommended...you're now becoming quite the expert on identifying risks vs benefits when it comes to your pregnancy care. Wohoo, this feels good, like you're actually a part of the process and know what's going on. No decision is made before you have checked in with yourself and are comfortable with the way forward. As you are in your second trimester you begin researching for a doula as having independent support by your side can only be a positive for both you and your partner at this time of many unknowns. It feels good, exciting even as you go with her through the process of identifying your preferences for birth whilst also learning about standard intervention protocols and even caesarean births. You are beginning to feel prepared for whatever lies ahead, knowing that you will be able to still make a choice even when things do not go as planned...and as your doula told you, no birth is ever going exactly as planned.
In your third trimester your active birth preparation begins and by now you are deeply immersed in books about birth coping techniques or have signed up for an independent birth education course. You know that to have the birth you're hoping for, you'll have to be prepared, have to work for it, have to face your fears. That's feeling a bit daunting at times but you're not on your own as your doula has your back and guides you through this important process. You're beginning to feel EMPOWERED. There is the word! You are feeling strong, prepared and know you won't just have to place yourself into the hands of others but can be an active decision maker when the day of your baby's birthday arrives.
On your baby's birthday all your preparation is coming together. You know how to navigate the early stages of labour, what helps your body to release more oxytocin and you're feeling calm. You know you can call your doula to be by your side when you feel you need extra support. You arrive at the hospital in well established labour and your practiced pain coping techniques are actually working for you even though it is still the hardest thing you've ever had to do. But you feel strong, so strong. When decisions need to be made you know why, you know your options and you make choices that are YOURS. Your care provider respects you for being an informed patient and knows they have to explain things and consult you
about everything that affects you or your baby. You will remember this feeling for the rest of your life, how you OWNED this process and felt safe within, trusting your body and your strength. As your baby arrives in your arms you feel confident about being able to trust your instinct and in being able to learn everything necessary to satisfy your baby's needs.
How do YOU want to feel during the process of pregnancy and birth? Which approach do you think will give you the best start into motherhood? Let's be clear: a woman who feels empowered does not always have an intervention, drug free birth. This is NOT what this is about. This is about how you FEEL no matter how your birth journey unfolds, about maintaining POWER even when things do not go the way you had hoped. This is what shapes women's emotional experience when giving birth and what will stay with you for the rest of your life, no matter how your baby arrived in the end.