How can I stay positive about our upcoming birth?

November 8 2010 | Guest post by Therese Charvet
Offbeat Home & Life runs these advice questions as an opportunity for our readers to share personal experiences and anecdotes. Readers are responsible for doing their own research before following any advice given here... or anywhere else on the web, for that matter.

Here's the latest installment of our Ask The Midwife feature, with answers from our resident midwife … aka MY MOM. 🙂 -Ariel

Waterbirth Photography
Photo by Jackie Willome, used with Creative Commons license.

I'm having my second baby at the end of November and really want to have a non-medicated birth. I have a 14 month old son who was a forceps delivery. He was fine but it really did a number on me and took me a good 8 weeks to recover physically and even longer to recover emotionally. I have a great midwife this time around and really want to have a more positive experience but when I get tired or down I start to have a lot of self doubt. Do you have any resource recommendations or tips on staying positive? Most people I talk to take the "all that matters is that you have a healthy baby, so quit worrying" attitude, but I feel like my son's birth really affected our relationship negatively from the start and I don't want to repeat that.

It sounds like you want to have a positive attitude about your upcoming birth despite the difficulties you had with your first birth. Good for you for knowing you have a choice about this. Writing about, speaking about this intention is an important step to making it so.

First question is: have you had a good opportunity to cry, scream and grieve about the difficulties of your first birth? These strong emotions may still be held in your body and need release so you can meet this new pregnancy/birth in a positive way. It may be as simple as asking a friend to give you 2-3 hours when you can tell the whole story, feel your feelings, and let your emotions be heard and witnessed by someone non-judgmental who will let you say and feel what you need to. So hopefully you can find a good friend, a therapist or a grief-support group somewhere for this release. You’ll feel much better once you unload the story and feelings.

In addition to getting these old feelings out of the way, I suggest you write up some "affirmations" (short statements that declare you are strong, your body is strong, prayers for a wonderful birth etc) that help you cultivate a positive, confident attitude. Post these around your house and say them aloud every day and every time the negativity starts to niggle at you. Hopefully your midwife is also affirming your strength and reminding you that this birth and baby are likely to be very different than the first.

But of course, there’s no guarantee everything will go smoothly. Giving birth is a great mystery. So it is also important to temper your optimism with a realistic attitude about how much around birth happens without you having any control over it. Ya just never know!! This is one of the biggest teachings of the blood mystery called motherhood — surrendering to the mystery, but somehow staying empowered and positive as you do it.

The ability to "go with the flow" and learn from this transformative, amazing (if challenging) experience called pregnancy and birth is how you are growing your womb-an wisdom. You have already been through the initiation ritual into motherhood that was your first birth. You found yourself to be challenged emotionally and physically, but you have grown as a result. Look for the pearl of wisdom you gained from it and move on.

Hopefully this next birth will be smoother, easier, less challenging. But whatever happens, you are strong enough to deal with it and will keep learning and growing in life-affirming ways. May the goddess be with you and please let us all know how it all turns out!

  1. Wow, I know how this mom feels. It took me almost 7 to 8 months to really stop feeling guilty about the circumstances surrounding my son's birth and the after effects and to really enjoy him as the little person he is. And if we are pregnant again down the road, this time I have all these experiences to take with me to learn and grow from!

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  2. I'm not sure where you are in the country/world, and it's kind of late in the game for this suggestion; hospitals in the Twin Cities offer classes like Birthing with Confidence, Hypnobirthing and others that focus on positive thinking. The midwives here are very supporitve of these ideas. This is my first pregancy, so I don't have memories that I'm trying to let go of. I agree that positive affirmations and thinking have really helped me to eliminate fear about giving birth. It is much easier to ignore the "helpful" stories and comments from others.

  3. OH! I think I double clicked the comment button. I'll try again.

    While it may be too late to take classes at a hospital or birth center, like Hypnobirthing, I have found that positive affirmations and visualization I have learned, eliminated any fear I had about giving birth. I'd say overload on the positive! The odds are in your favor for a natural "special circumstace" free birth. If something comes up, you will have the confidence to deal with it.
    I wish I had already given birth and was saying "Hey! it worked for me!" but I'm thinking positive. Good Luck!

  4. Thanks so much for answering my question! I just found out that the baby is no longer posterior (which was getting me down) and am getting really excited to meet this little bebe! I am trying to stay as positive as possible (which is hard since I'm a huge pessimist) and I feel good most of the time. It's those times at night when I'm feeling tired and overwhelmed that the doubt and fear creep in.
    I will definitely keep you all posted on how it goes 🙂

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  5. I had a pretty traumatic birth experience for my first which ended in an unnecessary cesarean. I was filled with determination to have an intervention free birth for my second.

    Near the end of my second pregnancy I had this instiable desire to hear beautiful birth stories with positive outcomes. The book that came highly recommended and one which I pass this recommendation forward is called Ina Mays Guide to Childbirth.

    The first chapter is filled with misty eyed, beautiful stories. The rest is filled with confirmation that you and your body were built for this birthing stuff!

    Enjoy!

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  6. I'm going to go out on a limb here and mention my distaste for the obsession I see in a lot of circles around "positive thinking." Barbara Ehrenreich puts it better than I ever could in her book Smile or Die (reviewed here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2010/jan/10/smile-or-die-barbara-ehrenreich), but I'll take a crack at it anyway. 😉 ETA: Apparently the book is also known as Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America in the US.

    I think sometimes it's important to own your fears and your doubts rather than just pushing them down in favor of "thinking positively." That's not to say you should be miserable, of course – I think talking to a professional about your previous traumatic birth experience is a great idea. Another option would be to look at the things that cause you the most fear – for example, it might be the chance that you'll need another forceps delivery – and research things like the rate of incidence, the actual effect on the baby, etc.

    However, "staying positive" for its own sake does little to help, in my opinion. I can see how that would set one up to feel like a failure if something *did* go wrong – I'm picturing a new mom lying in bed, eyes wide open, thinking, "If only I'd been more positive…"

    I would like to acknowledge, of course, that Therese did mention that thinking realistically is for the best.

    Let yourself be. You have my permission. 😉

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    • Dina, I agree it is important to deal with the fears and doubts, and I think Therese addressed that part well, with advice to process the trauma—so important—and to be realistic about possible outcomes. But note that the original questioner *did* ask for "tips on staying positive."

      And I too get frustrated when positive thinking is applied poorly. The questioner notes it isn't helpful when people say "All that matters is you have a healthy baby, so quit worrying." People need to have their fears recognized, but positive thinking doesn't have to be about pushing them down—there can be a balance.

      Cognitive behavioral therapy gives us lots of data that replacing negative thoughts with positive ones can actually lessen depression and anxiety. Optimism and resilience can also be learned by focusing on positive things—but no, positive thinking isn't magic.

      Part of Ehrenreich's point (in the book you site) is that positive thinking doesn't cure cancer, and can make people with cancer feel blamed—very true. For me personally, positive thinking didn't prevent a crappy birth, it pissed me off when people implied it could have, and I needed to express the pain before I could move on—but eventually, positive thinking helped me move on, too.

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      • I'm speaking as much to the question as I am to the answer 🙂

        CBT isn't really about replacing negative thoughts with positive thoughts, though. I'm currently undergoing it as part of my phobia treatment, and my therapist has specifically said it's not about replacing negative thoughts with positive thoughts, but rather with *realistic* thoughts. ETA: So in my case, I'm not saying, "Every time I get a needle I will feel great!" but "It will be unpleasant, but it is only momentary and I can have an ice cream sundae afterwards." In the case of someone with depression, it would be not "Every day of my life is going to be fantastic and full of rainbows" but rather "I will have good days and bad days, but the bad days will pass and I will be fine." (I'm guessing, I'm no clinician and I haven't been through CBT for depression.)

        Ehrenreich's book, from what I understand (I haven't yet read it, so I'm going off of interviews and what my brother has told me… it's next on my list, though!), discusses a lot more than just the breast cancer link – it was just the catalyst that got her to write the book!

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        • As someone who is pregnant again, has dealt with extreme anxiety, and soldiered through 3 days of hellish natural labor, only to have it all end with the epidural and pitocin I'd worked so hard to avoid, this topic is really interesting to me.

          My version of positive thinking was not: "This birth is going to painless, and full of joy and laughter!" It was: "Millions of women have done this before me. My body is made to do this. I am strong, capable, and determined."

          I lasted many, many more hours than I ever would have if I was instead thinking: "This hurts like hell. I'm going to end up needing pain relief anyway. I can't do this."

          Even though I didn't get the outcome that I wanted, I believe I avoided a c-section that probably would have happened if I'd given up sooner and acquiesced to a cascade of interventions meant to force my baby out before he was ready. (I'm not saying here that c-sections aren't necessary and life-saving for many people. Just reflecting on my personal situation.)

          Anyway, I think the problem here is that we all have different definitions of positive thinking. My version of positive thinking IS realistic thinking.

          Oh and I recommend getting a doula. I didn't have one the first time and sorely regretted it.

          • Yeah, I'd say that sounds like realistic thinking, not the "positive thinking" that I see all over the stupid place.

            Although I would think that saying, "If I need pain relief, that's okay" wouldn't go amiss, either. But I think that depends on your philosophy around birth and whatnot. I know a lot of people who have beat themselves up because they "failed" and went for the pain relief. (And that doesn't always lead to a "cascade of interventions"! We just hear about the cases in which it does much more loudly, I think.)

            Then again, I haven't had kids yet, so maybe I should just shut my mouth… 😉

    • I agree with your feeling on staying "positive". I am someone who always thinks of the worst possible scenario in a situation which doesn't really help matters in the end. When I asked about tips for staying positive it was meant more as suggestions to staying realistic I suppose. I know that labor isn't a walk in the park, and anything could happen, but after experiencing 3rd degree tearing, hemorrhaging, and loss of bowel control for a week due to nerve damage, it's hard for me to not fall into a state of dread and anxiety at the thought of the birth of my daughter rather than joy and excitement.

  7. Although I understand that these pearls of advice may resonate with some mothers-to-be, I'm feeling that it smacks a little of pop psychology. Although I'm taking the classes, enlisting the midwife, and all-around staying positive, no amount of strategic misspelling of words and feel-good admonitions will quell the natural/healthy fears that most women have for a healthy pregnancy and positive birth experience… especially in a culture where medical interventions are so widespread.

    I guess I was just hoping that this article would be a little more practical and a little less… wishful. Loving the comments, though!

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  8. Hi All,

    Just wanted to say that we had a beautiful 8lbs 8oz baby girl November 27th. Lilah was born at 4:28pm after about an hour of active labor and 8 minutes of pushing. It wasn't completely intervention free. My water broke sometime the day before and I had tested positive for Group A strep (something rare I'm told)so I did receive antibiotics but other than that it was all natural. I think not having the epidural really helped me recover faster and also helped Lilah have a better start (it was also 10X easier to push!). She latched right away and is nursing wonderfully (unlike her brother). I did have a 2nd degree tear but that's nothing compared to the 3rd degree tear I had with my son. Having the midwife, her student and my husband in the room was so much more relaxed and calming than having nurses and doctors running in and out the whole time. Overall, it was a great experience and I would definitely recommend going the midwife route for anyone with a normal, low risk pregnancy.

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