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 don’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.
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 www.mamabirth.blogspot.com
(Photo courtsey Birth Boot Camp, all rights reserved)