Birth Altar set up on hospital metal tray with a sheet & a scarf

Hi Friends,

I had homebirths with my first two children and then, unexpectedly, found myself in need of a hospital for the birth of my third child. (Cholestasis of Pregnancy, a failure of the liver to remove toxins which can cause the placenta to collapse, especially at the end of pregnancy, thereby necessitating an induction of labor.) I entered the hospital having had two prior unmedicated five-hour homebirths, one of which was unassisted until the last two hours. I knew from experience what would make my birth go smoothly. I didn't think much of it at the time but the hospital staff said they had never seen the room transformed the way I did. The birth itself was induced by Pitocin but that is the only substance I took into my body; I was unmedicated except for the Pitocin, and the birth proceeded much the same as my births at home, despite the change in environment and the intensity of the medical need (and stress) of the induction. What follows is a go-to list for taking charge if you or someone you know is ever birthing in a hospital either by choice or by necessity. And, p.s., I am unequivocally grateful to the hospital and its staff for having the ability to induce my labor and the environment to care for my daughter.

Practical things you can do to be in the driver's seat of your hospital birth:

Visual: For some, the sights in a hospital room can be jarring and off-putting. The gear, while there to help if you or your baby needs it, can be fear-inducing when you don't need it. You are allowed to change the aesthetic of the room. Bring extra receiving blankets and cover signs and metal equipment. Bring your own images on paper and tape to the wall: words that inspire, such as "open," "laugh," "love," and "now," as well as images, such as animals in nature, nature itself with its majestic and expansive presence, as well as photographs of your family, ancestors, and women and children.

Sound: You can bring in a portable music box (ipod or cd player) and play music that is familiar, comforting, inspiring, uplifting, invigorating, relaxing and spiritual. I recommend bringing in a selection for the various stages of labor. When you listen to music that you associate with other areas of your life, you are immediately transported there and your body will respond to the sense memory of your associations.

Taste: Most hospitals will let you bring in your own care package of food and beverage: nourishing, organic juices and smoothies, electrolytes, broths, and other light fare can replenish you during early and mid-labor. This is also nice to have for your birth partner(s) and for after delivery. Eating customary food makes your body and mind relax into the familiar.

Touch: You can birth in whatever outfit you feel comfortable in. Bringing in my own nightie, robe and slippers made me feel less like a patient and more like myself. I also wore the bead-blessing necklace that was made for me at my shower and one of my favorite bras. (If you follow my blog, you know how I feel about my bras!)

Altar: I packed an entire bag dedicated to the altar I knew I would create in the hospital room. I brought framed photographs from our wedding, a photo of our other two children, and one of my mother, god-mother and sister. I also brought in various statues and figurines of birth and mothers with children. I placed candles and sage on the altar despite the rule against not lighting them; having them on the altar even unlit brought their healing properties into the room.

The Mind: One of the most important things to me in laboring in the hospital was not to hear any numbers associated with my progression. I didn't want to be checked, but if the doctor felt that was in order, of course I would oblige; I only asked that she keep all prognosis to herself. I knew that if I heard my dilation was at "six" and felt like I was further along, I would experience frustration. I wanted to stay connected to the process I had established at my first two births which was the notion of opening to ten without intrusion and then pushing the baby out. I wanted to keep my mind out of it. The attending physician respected this request and although she checked me a couple of times, she wrote her notes down and kept the numbers to herself. She spoke in vague terms and I appreciated it.

Hostess Gift: When we arrived at the hospital with altar items, music, artwork, and a lunch box, we also brought in a tray of cookies for the nurses' station. This started things on the right foot and set the tone for a partnership between us. I sing the praises of the hospital that housed our birth.

So, dear reader, use whichever tips resonate for you, enjoy the process and make it your own. Pregnancy and birth are a great place to begin to hone your unique internal mother's intuition.

Zena Lakota, hours old



New Mother's class starting March 19! 310-566-7690. Yoga of Parenting on March 26 at Exhale Spa, Santa Monica.

Jessica Williams

About Jessica Williams

Jessica Williams created L.O.V.E. Parenting with a series of techniques for effective communication, deepened connection and more joy in parenting and life. Jessica is also the creator of with the best of today's progressive parenting experts together in one program. Jessica is a featured expert internationally on both's Ask An Expert and the upcoming Jessica is a regular contributor to Mothering Magazine's All Things Mothering, LA Parent Magazine, LA Mom Magazine & DailyBuzzMoms. She has been interviewed on television and radio and taught workshops at family wellness centers, schools and doctor's offices. Her BirthKit has helped women have a transformational & empowering birth. Jessica maintains a private coaching practice in her native Los Angeles where she lives with her husband and their three children. "Truly amazing woman. I love her advice."-Carrie-Anne Moss. "All you have shared has helped tremendously."-Lisa Bonet. "I am experiencing nothing short of a miracle thanks to your laser beam approach." -Andrea Bendewald.

Posted by: Jessica Williams
Last revised by: Jessica Williams on March 9, 2011.