The First Birth Matters (More Than You Think)


Birth is sacred.  It is the transition from couple to family, from woman to mother, from one to two.

Birth is also, for most of us, a touch scary.  It is still, after all these millennia, a mystery in many ways.  And so, it is somewhat natural to dismiss the first birth.  People often say things like, “Well maybe with the next one I will … (try to go natural, have a home birth, take a birth class, hire a doula, etc.) but with this birth we will just see what happens.”


While I understand the sentiment I must issue a warning cry against simply dismissing the first birth as inconsequential.  Perhaps more than any other birth that a women will experience, the first is deeply life changing and has a lasting impact on the rest of our births.  

Why does the first birth matter?



The emotional impact of birth is one that simply can’t be explained; it must be experienced.  A joyful and triumphant birth can make a woman feel like she is capable of anything.  Yes, thousands of women do it every day;  birth though, is by design life changing, overwhelming and it leaves a deep mark on our souls.


By contrast, a woman who feels violated, dysfunctional or like a failure because of her birth experience will find it hard to move past those emotions.  Keep in mind too that often the words that care providers use to describe what is happening, (ie, “You are failing to progress, your pelvis just isn’t big enough to birth, you won’t go into labor on your own”) will become the voice in your head.   

The emotions surrounding birth can cut deep for either the negative or the positive,  Never underestimate them or the power of your care provider’s voice of support — or negativity.



Many first time moms who are ill prepared for birth (and many who are well prepared) will find that their birth will impact them not just emotionally but physically also.  How can the physical impact of a birth influence your next birth?

Think for a moment about a cesarean scar.  Cesarean scars don’t actually occur in nature despite their constant presence today.  While the surgery to perform a c-section can be done quickly and rather safely, that doesn’t mean it is without consequence.

Women who have a cesarean section run the risk of many more birth complications (and those risks only increase the more cesareans she has).  All too often I speak to women who went into their first birth with some hope for the best but little other preparation.  They leave the hospital with a scar on their tummy they weren’t expecting and a great big surprise awaiting them when they attempt a VBAC with their next baby.

Sadly, VBAC is difficult in our current obstetric climate and that first cut can make it much harder to avoid another one.  That is a travesty, but it is the truth.  (Personally, one of my favorite resources concerning the many risks and benefits of VBAC is found on this birth blog and written by a VBA3C mom, Abbey Robinson, whom I have also had the pleasure of meeting.)

Sadly, sometimes when we dismiss the first birth as just a “trial run” it sets up all of our future births to be much more difficult and our ability to find a care provider to attend us more complicated.

I distinctly remember preparing for the birth of my first child with trepidation and a little bit of fear.  What did I fear?  For me it was simply the great unknown.  What would happen?  What would it feel like?  Would I be able to do it?  How would this all play out?  There was a lot that was just beyond my understanding.  

I also remember preparing for my second birth.  I had a little fear- but fear of very different things. Subsequent births often bring of fears of repetition of what has happened in previous births. Those emotions and those physical consequences can’t be erased.  They live on with us.

Do yourself a favor and prepare as much as possible for that first baby.  EVERY birth matters. EVERY.  SINGLE.  BIRTH.  MATTERS.  But perhaps none more than the first.  

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About Sarah Clark

Sarah Clark is a mother of four, a blogger, a natural birth teacher in Sonoma County, and a teacher trainer for Birth Boot Camp, a company specializing in online and in person natural birth classes for couples.  You can find her at

(Photo courtsey Birth Boot Camp, all rights reserved)

27 thoughts on “The First Birth Matters (More Than You Think)”

  1. I read this article from my viewpoint…. A first time mother who will give birth anytime soon to my baby, whom will not live for very long once born. I found out two weeks ago he/she is incompatible with life. I have had the choice to terminate and induce early, which I still haven’t completely dismissed, but after having 2 weeks to get over the shock, I am mostly now set on having labour start naturally as I originally planned and have always believed in. Your article is so relevant to me, because in my situation there is that temptation to try hide from the utter sadness of this birth by medicalising it, going into hospital and having all the drugs and numbing possible. But I realise that this may not be the way ‘forward’ and through this, for me. It might even be more traumatising. This is still a birth and it still matters. It’s been hard to swallow that, but I think in the long term, sticking to my heart’s beliefs on birth and trust in my body could be a better way to process my grief and move onwards to future births.

  2. I will be thinking about and praying for you, clovebucket. I cannot comprehend going through something so difficult. I really wish I could do anything at all to help ease your pain.

  3. Very insightful comments. My heart goes out to you all. The first birth is so important. It affects your view of birth, your feelings regarding its competency, affects your fears and expectations, and as you know, has affects on not only you

  4. clovebucket – I felt the same way with my first birth and was under huge pressure by all the delivery staff to medicate myself so it wouldn’t be so bad (emotionally). But to me it didn’t matter that I wasn’t going to get to take my baby home with me, it was still my first birth and I wanted to experience it, not tuck it away to be forgotten. This would be my only first birth, first baby, etc.

  5. Thanks, LochLomond. “One can prepare as much as one likes, but sometimes things are out of our hands.” My little one was born premature. My one and only :) Her birth was scary. I felt violated by most of the medical staff. I’ve accepted that my birth experience was *absolutely necessary* to save both mine and my daughter’s life. I’d rather go in well informed, yet suffer a traumatic birth, than think I could go through a homebirth and leave my husband to mourn the loss of his wife and daughter. My midwife was awesome, and reassured me I was making the right decision to use the medical interventions I did. The trauma of that experience has made me reconsider my original plan to have multiple kids, though I won’t say anything is set in stone. …everything in its own time.

  6. I’m due to have my sixth birth in two months. With my first, my husband really wanted to have a midwife-attended birth in a birthing center. I took the position of, “Maybe next time. I don’t know anything about birth this time, so I want to be in a hospital where they can tell me what to do.”

    It’s not exaggerating to say this was the biggest mistake of my life. Not only did I set myself up for an over-medicalized and traumatic birth experience by going in unawares and expecting my doctor to “teach me,” I cemented for myself that I will never be able to have the kind of birth I want. That completely unnecessary scar on my uterus forced me into one difficult (and dangerous) situation after another, until I was so traumatized by the medical care available in my city that I will never be able to give birth without fear and mistrust. I will never be able to go into a hospital without terror that they are going to hurt me.

    I have nothing but sympathy for those who have commented here that they were prepared, educated, and informed, but whose births did not go well and required medical intervention. I’m very sorry for that — I’ve actually been there, too. But it’s not the same thing. It’s like the difference between getting sick with a terrible disease, and getting mugged and having your guts slashed open in the subway (only worse, because you trusted the attacker with your life). I’m not saying one situation is harder or worse than the other, I’m just saying that they are very different. Warning women not to go into their first birth with eyes closed, blind to the potential for abuse (or just the poor treatment that comes with assembly-line birthing) should not be a slight to those women who genuinely need medical assistance. I think pretty much everyone agrees that access to emergency medical care in childbirth is just as important as access to low-intervention assistance. It’s all about the right care for the right birth.

  7. LochLomond you typed my thoughts. I hope articles like this reach those who would take their first birth for granted, but they are also painful for those of use who know full well the importance of a natural birth, of a first birth, and tried, intended, dreamed of a perfect, peaceful first birth and it simply didn’t go that way. More emphasis on how to mitigate the possible negative outcomes of “imperfect” births would be helpful, and so many of these risks are not necessarily so. My girl was unexpectedly born by c-section and we bonded quickly and easily, milk flowing, nursing strong. Knowing the importance of a natural birth did make us very sensitive to her high-needs so months after the birth we stayed very attuned and surrendered totally to her need to bond and feel grounded. Maybe she would have needed this anyway.

  8. I think it is so important for mothers and mothers-to-be to realize just what modern medicine has done FOR us, not solely focusing on what doctors do to us. One hundred years ago, 1 in 100 women died in childbirth and 10-30% of infants never saw their first birthday. Today, maternal death rates have declined 99% and infant death rates have declined 90%! While I understand the desire to have the “perfect” birth, surely having a healthy baby is much more important. I was lucky enough to have a very easy and uneventful pregnancy up until 36 weeks. At that point, I was measuring rather small for my dates and an ultrasound showed that my baby was lagging behind in the growth of her body. A week later, she hadn’t gained any weight and met the criteria for IUGR. Another week later, blood flow to the baby and amniotic fluid had both declined to the point that my OB felt like the baby needed to be delivered or risk intrauterine death. I went straight to the hospital and began the process of induction, knowing I had a reasonably high (20-30%) chance of needing a c-section. Now, prior to all of this, I had visions of waking up my husband, telling him I’m in labor, timing contractions, rushing to the hospital, calling our family & friends, pushing for an hour, then holding and nursing my baby as soon as I delivered her. Obviously, this wasn’t exactly the way it happened, but did I spend my time grieving over my fantasy that didn’t happen? No, of course not- I spent every minute of my induction and labor praying that my baby would be ok. At that point, when your child’s life is on the line, how he or she arrives ceases to matter, or at least it should. I can’t say that I particularly enjoyed the induction- sitting in a hospital room, wearing uncomfortable monitors, having to stay still to keep the baby on the monitor, having to drag cords and IVs with me to the bathroom, but if that’s what it took to have a healthy baby, I would do it ten times over. And despite the induction, we had a WONDERFUL birth. The OB even let my husband deliver our baby. He often tells our little girl that he was the first person in the world to hold her. Doctors are not monsters trying to rob mothers of a positive birth experience. Most of them want to honor the wishes of the mother, as long as they are reasonable and safe. Proponents of home births criticize physicians for “medicalizing” childbirth, but it is through these medical interventions that the death rates for mothers and infants have dropped so drastically. What would you do if you were having your baby at home and something went wrong- bleeding, prolapsed umbilical cord, the baby was stuck, etc. In most cases, you couldn’t make it to a hospital in time to save the baby and doulas & midwives aren’t equipped to deal with serious problems. Women transitioned to giving birth in hospitals years ago for a reason! It will always be better to mourn the loss of your birth plan than the loss of your baby

  9. I’m very glad I decided to go with a midwife-attended homebirth for my first. She turned out to be two weeks late, nine pounds, “sunny side up” and born after I begged for drugs and after three hours of pushing. Perfectly healthy, just not an easy birth at all.
    In other words, I would have almost certainly ended up with a c-section and wouldn’t have been able to have my other three at home, too.

  10. I will say that I was prepared for birth, had a completely natural home birth with midwives with my first, and felt like a failure afterwards anyway. My first birth was traumatic, for me, for many reasons, but many of those reasons were due to me having too high of expectations of myself, and feeling like a failure for not meeting those.

  11. Part of those expectations came from reading too many natural child birth books about how if you are free of fear then labors can and should be pain free, silent and even orgasmic.. While I believe those things can happen, setting yourself up to expect that, and then “failing” to achieve that set me up for feelings of inadequacy, shame and guilt over my own “failure” in this area. I also came to realize that my midwives were not as supportive and helpful as one would hope from homebirth midwives. My second birth was very healing in many ways–although I did not achieve any of my “ideals” that time around, either.

  12. Let me state a disclaimer upfront. I am a working acute care nurse; I have never worked OB/GYN. From a specialty standpoint I cannot speak according to those terms, but I have seen multiple births in a civilian and military hospital setting during clinical rotations for both paramedic and nursing schools. And I have two children, so I do have some experience.

    I decided after seeing my sixth birth that I would do things differently. I saw firsthand how the providers see birth and how the family sees birth. Many times it is not with the same priorities. As a healthcare professional, our priorities are to ultimately keep our patient

  13. Zanb, it’s really not fair to solely credit medical advances with the lowered maternal/fetal mortality rates, especially since hospital births are now more likely to result in complications than low-risk homebirths. Nutrition and lifestyle changes over the past century are a huge part of why we have healthier moms and babies. You say “Women transitioned to giving birth in hospitals years ago for a reason!”, yet that reason was because high-society women (the only ones who could afford hospital care at the time) were generally in poor health because of their lifestyles. We no longer wear corsets that cause alterations to our pelvises, we

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