I Was Not Prepared for My First Birth: 8 Things I Wish I Had Known


Those nine months just fly by. That’s plenty of time to prepare, right? Um, nope. And that’s okay! Here are a few tips that’ll help you to be okay with not being prepared for your first birth.

I was not prepared for my first birth. I thought I was. I read all the stuff, I had faith in my body and chose a good birth team. I thought, “I can do this!”

Sounds healthy, right?

It was healthy. Except for one little thing. I expected to control it, to DO birth like a champion! I can do it! You can do it! We can do it! To prove to myself and others that it’s not a big deal.

Except it is a big deal. A very big deal. In fact there is no bigger deal. What event is more powerful, more life-changing, more wholly unknowable–than birth?

Only death sits with birth in the realm of expansive knowing and mystery. That’s not a comfortable connection for a lot of people. But anyone who has worked with both the birthing and the dying can tell you there are striking similarities. So yeah, it’s a big deal.

How can you prepare yourself to be part of that?

In birthing and talking to women and reading about birthing, I’ve come to the conclusion that only by embracing the unknowable-ness of birth can you know birth.

So yeah, go ahead and do that.

Have you embraced it yet? No?

It’s not as easy as the other things I can recommend you do to prepare for a pleasant and safe birth. These are things you can check off.

  • Find a provider who supports your choices and regularly offers women the kind of birth you want.
  • Take a full spectrum childbirth education class.
  • Talk with your partner ahead of time about birth and what you want.
  • Consider hiring a DOULA.
  • Practice full-body relaxation.

Those you can easily DO.

Embracing the unknowable-ness of birth is a bit trickier. We’re about to cross into some high quality woo, here. So if woo makes you roll your eyes, try to translate my words into words that make sense to you. Here are my tips for emotionally preparing for birth.

1. Get to the point where you are OK with whatever needs to happen. It doesn’t mean you’re apathetic about what happens or you turn all the choices over to someone else. It means you trust your provider, your partner, and your body. And you know that we respect and revere birth because we can’t control it. We are lucky to live in a time and place where there is a lot of help (maybe too much) for things that don’t go as we’d like. It’s important to feel calm enough about your birth that, though you have prepared and planned and learned about your ideal birth, if it doesn’t work out that way you can adjust and keep moving. A little upset (like a last minute diagnosis, pressure to be induced, your water breaking on the worst possible day, etc) won’t throw you. You will go with the flow.

2. Remember you are not doing this alone. No matter what you believe about God or a larger spirit presence, you are not birthing alone. There are other women birthing at the same time as you. Hopefully you have a partner or support person who is showering you with love and care. Your baby is part of this intimate dance. Your baby wants to be born to you and you can talk to your baby. In pregnancy and in labor, listen to your baby. Meditate or pray, feel the presence and strength of everyone who is or has given birth, and talk to your baby. Draw power from some spiritual realm, whether that is up from the earth, down from heaven, or through the loving people around you.

3. Practice being in the moment. This is really difficult for us, but it’s basically what is meant by ‘meditate.’ Relax your body and let your mind rest. Pay attention to one thing. One. Your breath is a popular choice. The feeling of your butt on the chair. The way your daughter looks right now. In every moment you can, ask yourself, “What do I feel right now?” Even hard moments are not so hard when you focus on only what is immediately at hand. See #4.

4. Do not let your thoughts be tainted by what was or might be. I once heard this called “Shark Music.” If you imagine walking in the woods, there you are walking in the woods. If you imagine yourself walking in the woods while someone plays the theme song from Jaws, you’re going to have a lot more tense walk in the woods. So many things in our lives are tainted by the Shark Music of our past and our anxiety about the future–neither of which we can control. All you can do is what you can do right now. Right here. Turn off the Shark Music.

5. Be the doorman for negative thoughts. Imagine your mind is a big high rise. You’re the doorman. A lot of work goes on up there, a lot of good stuff. Healing stuff, creative stuff, productivity, spirituality. A lot of thoughts come into your big mind building. Many of which you didn’t invite. It’s OK. Your mind can handle them. Your job is to just let them pass. A big ‘ol scary negative thought comes to your door. What do you do? Just see it for what it is and let it go by. If you fight it, try to deny it entry, keep your eye on it, it’s just going to hang around outside, lurking at a table in the cafe across the street, causing you constant anxiety. Just let it by. And for heaven’s sake don’t follow it around inside. See it, acknowledge it, and there it goes. It will be dealt with by all the healthy thoughts that come through your door.

6. Trust. I like to feel in control. But feeling in control is something I had to give up to have a pleasant and certainly to have a spiritual birth experience. You can’t be in control of birth. Choose your caregivers wisely. Get educated. Do what you can, plan, and then relax. It’s not easy. You make the best decisions you can when you have to make them, and you let it go. Trust is believing that the best possible outcome will occur. You job is to let it.

7. Be grateful. It’s emotionally imperative to be grateful for what you have. It’s also virtually impossible not to be grateful if you are practicing mindfulness, being in the moment, and paying attention to what is good about right now. Focus on the good and how many wonderful things have already happened.

8. Act like you already have what you want. The law of attraction is also in effect in birth. Part of my preparation for my last birth was writing my birth story before my birth, in detail, the way I imagined it perfectly taking place. I also spent time writing thank you cards for the people who would be there helping me have a peaceful, happy birth. Before I even had the birth. It was another way of trusting. A law of the universe.

Remember: All your fears are lies. Especially in birth and parenting, you make a lot of decisions that are fraught with fear and love. If we can pick our feelings and decisions apart, focus on the love, and infuse them with more love, we will be calmer, more at peace, more relaxed, more likely to have the safe and happy birth we want. Bad things happen. But fear does not make smart decisions. Notice your fears, let them in, and let them go on. The fears are not real. Love is. Life can be beautiful, perfect even. Things can work out in your favor. It can all go as you hoped and planned.

Wonderful is not a ridiculous expectation.

Image credit: Flickr: CC/Kelly Sue DeConnick

8 thoughts on “I Was Not Prepared for My First Birth: 8 Things I Wish I Had Known”

  1. I love your comments about the unknowableness of labor and birth. As a midwife, for 37 years I lived my life around that unknowableness which is part of it’s wonder and beauty. It’s wonderful to release ourselves into something more wonderous, and gloriously bigger than we are.

  2. As a birth doula – I try to echo these points to the families I work with because they are TRUE, REALISTIC AND VALUABLE! You expressed them in such a way that I was really able to connect with and imagine in my own life and my own work – THANK YOU!
    I love point 5: Be the doorman of negative thoughts! That not only translates to birth, but just life in general and that really hit home! Thank you for your good work Lauren!

  3. Yes! To all of this. It really comes down to being mindful and open. Only thing I would add is that in regards to #8, always refer back to #1. It’s great to have wonderful expectations and a vision of your beautiful, “perfect” birth but don’t become so attached to the idea that unexpected charges become devastating. To many moms end up feeling like they failed at their birth, if the path didn’t match the plans made. It is only by knowing one’s self, through deep introspection can we find peace in what ever comes.

    1. I second this statement wholeheartedly. Thank you for contributing to this conversation, this is a very important clarification.

  4. Number one is defiantly the most important. So many of us focus on having the perfect birth experience for ourselves that we feel disappointed in ourselves if plans need to change. It is not only our experience but more importantly it is the baby’s experience and a safe birth without lifelong consequences is far more important than a spiritual birth experience for the mother. I’ve seen the opposite happen firsthand and it’s devastating.

  5. What a well-written article! I tried to reconcile before my first birth that in spite of all best efforts things may not go the way I think they should go. I never had anything really grave happen with any of my 3 births but any glitch that came along, I can honestly say that my doula is the reason that I could mentally adjust. My husband is a good and wonderful man, but my doula is the reason for my great birthing experiences. With my 1st I needed pitocin because after many, many hours I was stuck at 7-8 cm and after my midwife broke my water she saw meconium in the water. I immediately saw this laundry list in my head of all that “will” go wrong. My mom just so happened to call on my husband’s phone at that moment to say that my cousin (we share birthdays ) had just given birth in the same hospital with the same midwife so she was already here and would be waiting for me when I was done. I started crying telling here that I was going on pit and she in all her mother bear birthing wisdom (having had 4 hospital births and 2 home births herself) said it will be fine. Take the next step, trust in God , and you can do it. Words I needed at that moment. After one hour on pit, I was ready to push. I will say that that one hour was the worst of all my many birthing hours because there truly was no break to take a breath. I did it but I needed reassurance from my doula and my mom that this was do-able. Birth is such an emotional experience. Hospitals put on a big show for the physicality of birth but your head and soul is where birth happens. I just can’t say enough about doulas.

    1. How awesome, so you and your cousin that have the same birthday had babies born also on the same day. Wow. Birth can definitely have its scary moments and pitocin does make it intense that’s for sure. Sounds like you had a good support network though.

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