I Was Not Prepared for My First Birth: 15 Things I Wish I Had Known

Here are some ideas to help you accept that you’ll never really be totally prepared for birth.It seems like nine months should be long enough to prepare for birth, but it’s not. In fact, even though there are days you think your pregnancy may never end, the time comes where you can’t even believe you got there that quickly. And don’t be surprised if you think you have it all planned out and then it goes absolutely nothing like you expected. That’s all part of the journey, Mama, and you’re in good company.  That said, we’ve put together some bits of information we’ve gleaned from other mamas so you can actually expect some of the unexpected after all.

I was not prepared for my first birth. I thought I was. I read, had faith in my body and chose a solid birth team. I thought, “I can do this!” I had heard that I was as prepared as I could possibly be, and I was ready to give my body and brain and heart the opportunities to do what they knew intuitively how to do.

Sounds healthy, right? It was healthy. Except that I expected to control it, to DO birth — like a champion! I wanted to prove to myself and others that it wasn’t a big deal because that’s what my body knew how to do without me even needing to do it.

Except it is a big deal. A very big deal. There is no bigger deal. What could be more powerful, more life-changing, more wholly unknowable than pregnancy and birth? There was one person, and now there are two. You were not a parent, and now you are. The weight of that came in on me as I went through labor and couldn’t believe how the magnitude of this new life given to me changed me in inexplicable ways.

So, can you prepare yourself? Can you be ready? Don’t despair; none of us can ever be fully prepared, but that’s the beauty of birth and mothering. We don’t have to be. We do the best we can, giving our bodies the opportunity to prove itself the champions that they are, and somehow, magically, you and that baby take this world on together like nobody’s business.

Related: How Becoming a Doula Is Helping Women Overcome Birth Trauma

Only by embracing the unknowable-ness of birth can you know birth. So that’s what you should do. Know that it’s okay to not know it all, and that so many sweet and soul-fulfilling lessons will come through being part of the process of birth and motherhood itself. Embrace the adventure of it.

Have you embraced it yet? No?

That’s okay, because I have some ideas to help you.

First off, do the things you can do. Here are the things you can do to set yourself up for a safe, pleasant birth.

  • Use a midwife. Unless you risk out of midwifery care, a midwife is usually best.
  • Take a comprehensive (long) childbirth education class.
  • Discuss with your partner ahead of time about birth and what you want.
  • Hire a DOULA.
  • Practice full-body relaxation.

Those are things you can check off, things you can do to prepare.

Embracing the unknowable-ness of birth — to prepare emotionally — is trickier. Here are my tips for changing your mind to change your life (birth).

1. Get to the point where you are okay with whatever needs to happen.

This doesn’t mean you’re apathetic about what happens or you give up all your power. It doesn’t mean you let someone else make all the decisions.

It means you can trust your provider, your partner, and your body. You know that we respect and are humbled by 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. Sometimes this just means we try to control more and end up with anxiety.

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. When you experience an upset to your plans (like a last minute diagnosis, pressure to be induced, your water breaking on the worst possible day, etc) it won’t throw you. And if you go into labor knowing that the most important outcome is the one with that babe safely in your arms, the things that ‘throw’ you will not throw you quite so far.

2. Remember you are not doing this alone.

Even if you don’t believe in any kind of God who cares for you, you are not birthing alone. Many women are birthing at the same time as you and have done so for millennia. Hopefully, you have a partner or doula or mom or midwife who is showering you with love and care. If not, feeling alone is not required.

Meditate or pray, feel the presence and strength of everyone who is or has given birth, and talk to your baby. Your baby is part of this intimate dance as well. Your baby has to work, too. He wants to be born to you. It helps you both if you can talk to your baby. In pregnancy and in labor, listen and talk with 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.

Being in the moment, for modern, industrialized, digitalized people, is really difficult. 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. That said, pay close attention to my next piece of advice.

Related: 5 Ways You Can Practice Yoga Every Day

4. Do not let your thoughts be tainted by what was or might be.

Thoughts of past or future do not help calm and quiet your mind. If you let your brain analyze everything, it gets you riled up.

I once heard this thing 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 are tainted by the Shark Music of our past and our anxiety about the future. And we can’t control the past or the future, not right now we can’t! So just be. Right here, right now. Turn off the Shark Music and let something that soothes your mind and brain play through, while the words, “You’ve got this,” help you dwell not on the past or the ‘what-ifs’ but the ‘right now.’

5. Be the doorman for negative thoughts.

Imagine your mind is a big high rise apartment building. You’re the doorman. A lot of work goes on up there, most of it good stuff. Healing stuff, creative stuff, productivity, spirituality. Your thoughts are the people that come into your big mind building. Many of these thoughts you didn’t invite. It’s okay. You’re just the doorman. You are not your thoughts any more than the doorman is responsible for everything that people do in that high rise.

Your mind can handle your thoughts. Your job is to just let them pass. A big ‘ol burly negative thought comes huffing up to your door. What do you do? Just see it for what it is — notice, and let it go by. If you fight it, try to deny it entry, keep your eye on it, or try to figure out why it’s there — otherwise 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 and positive mind rules that form the structure of your mind tower.

6. Trust.

I’m happiest when I feel in control.  Most of us are, because we know how strong and confident we are in our daily lives. But feeling in control is something I had to give up to have an easy (yes, I think I can say that) and pleasant birth. The need to control certainly wasn’t going to help me 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.

You make the best decisions you can when you can, and then you let it go. Trust is believing that the best possible outcome will occur and that you will be provided with the support and ability to deal with whatever does happen. I’m a firm believer in we make the best decisions we can with the information we have at the given time, and to think that I can do anything differently is not trusting myself.

7. Be grateful.

It’s emotionally imperative to be grateful for what you have. If you want to be happy, you have to be grateful, to be glad 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. Gratitude goes a long way when you’re in the throes of a hard time, and there really is something to be grateful for all the time. Find it, focus on it, and let that gratitude fuel you through the hard.

8. Act like you already have what you want.

The law of attraction is maybe even more powerful in birth, and certainly can power your experience of it. Consider writing your birth story before the birth, in detail, the way you imagine it perfectly taking place. Maybe also write thank you cards for the people who will be there helping you to have a peaceful, happy birth. Before you even have the birth! It is another way of trusting. A law of the universe, if you will, and a vision board, so to speak, in your mind of how it will all go down.

9. Realize that men at birth is very new.

Millenia of birthing experience, and only in the last 50 years have we allowed dads in the birth space. They don’t know what to do. We don’t know what we want them to do.

You may have an idea, and a birth class will help you iron that out. But be patient with the dads and realize that there are many ways to be supportive. They don’t necessarily have the same hormonal instincts kicking in as we do, but many do the best they can trying to be what you need. Don’t be afraid to be honest with what you need and be bold in telling him.

10. Take a birth class.

Learning about your options and how it works is not emotional preparation for birth. But because of the way our human thinking minds prevent our bodies from doing their thing, learning this stuff will help.

Perhaps you’ve heard of the fear-tension-pain cycle. You have fear about something, it creates tension in your body. This tension inevitably leads to pain. The pain creates more fear. Nowhere is that more obvious than in birth.

So take a class to take the fear out of it. The worst that will happen is that you learn nothing new, and that can only increase your confidence in what is about to happen.

11. Change your relationship with “pain.”

My chiropractor told me this after my first birth when I was preparing for #2. I didn’t really get it at the time, but here’s what I can tell you.

Just calling it “pressure” or “waves” instead of pain does not change anything. You have to think of the whole thing differently. You have to imagine that the intensity of labor is a healthy thing, a normal and good sign that your body is healthy and working optimally. You have to be comfortable with being uncomfortable.

12. Be comfortable with being uncomfortable.

Modern, industrialized people are very comfortable. Physically, anyway, we don’t have to bust our butts just to get the water every day. Our beds are nice and soft, we have aspirin and iburophen, we can avoid most bug bites and injury. We’re not used to physical discomfort.

Because of this, we most often think of the discomfort of labor as bad. A test. A trial to be gotten through or avoided. We fight through labor, and at the end, we feel like we’ve been in the ring.

You can do it and like it. You can birth a baby and feel good while you’re doing it. Like working out—it’s not comfortable, but it feels good.

13. Know that a doula or midwife cannot save you.

If you hired a midwife and a doula, that’s great. Good choice. Just don’t fall into the trap of thinking that’s all you need to love your birth. A good midwife or doula can go a long way in helping you to feel good about birth and yourself, but you do the work. No one else can birth this baby for you, just like no one else can do your squats.

14. Learn to mentally relax.

This means doing meditation exercises, physical exercise that quiets your mind, or something along the lines of yoga nidra.

Figure out (by practice), what it means and what it’s like to stop your wild mind.

15. You can change your experience by changing your memory of it.

Whether you use this idea to heal from a past experience or from a birth that didn’t happen in a loving way, it will change your life.
If you learn more about life, about yourself, about birth, it can change how you see events from the past. It can allow you to forgive others and yourself. Forgiveness is healing—primarily for you. If you have forgiving to do, do it before your baby is born so you can both start fresh.

Remember: All your fears are lies. 

Especially in birth and parenting, you make a lot of decisions that are fraught with fear and love. Which decisions are you making because of fear? Which because of love?

Bad things happen, but fear does not make smart decisions. Notice your fears, let them in, and let them go. The fears are not real, not right now. Love is. Life can be beautiful, perfect even. Things can work out in your favor. It can all go as you hoped and planned and dreamed.

Wonderful is not a ridiculous expectation.


8 thoughts on “I Was Not Prepared for My First Birth: 15 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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