There’s no exact formula for creating a positive birth experience. It can happen anywhere and by any method. The way we birth our babies is oftentimes less a deciding factor in whether we will perceive it as positive than if we felt in control of the process as it unfolded. If we felt supported rather than coerced, empowered instead of frightened.
Even if our birth preferences change during labor, a hospital transfer happens, or complications suddenly arise, these things don’t inherently make our experiences negative. If a woman can go with the flow of labor and understands that birth is unpredictable, she’s more able to accept the birth she has as ultimately positive. Preparation increases our chances of having the birth we desire but deviation from those preferences should never be seen as a personal failure.
We need to hear more birth stories that are positive, not because they’re perfect stories and without sacrifice, but because the women in those stories chose a positive reading of their experience despite all else. To shift the culture of fear and doubt around becoming a mother, I would like to offer up three positive stories of birth from three very different perspectives.
In order to cover the most ground and throw the widest net possible, I will share a home birth, a birth center birth, and a hospital birth in the hopes of showing how the circumstances and location of birth matter less than supportive prenatal care providers, preparedness, and your overall attitude.
Valeria Ann’s Hypnobirthing, Birth Center Birth
My birth story starts well before I physically gave birth. I always knew I wanted to try for an unmedicated birth, but at the same time, I felt an incredible amount of anxiety and fear about it.
After weeks of obsessive research, I came to realize that my fear wasn’t based in reality. I began the process of reprogramming my thoughts and fears regarding birth. I filled my mind daily with positive affirmations, and I avoided any media or stories that depicted birth in a negative or fearful light. I found an evidenced-based midwife who supported me. When the time came, instead of feeling fear, I couldn’t wait to experience every single moment of labor.
I was 38 weeks pregnant when my water broke on a Saturday evening. Instead of rushing to the hospital as often depicted in movies, I decided to rest and went to sleep. Sunday came, and my contractions were still not picking up. We arrived at the birthing center at 2pm to discuss my options. We decided to go back home to try a series of natural induction methods in hopes of avoiding more invasive ones. I was in full-on labor by 6pm when we returned to the birthing center.
I welcomed the contractions, or pressure waves as we called them in my Hypnobabies class, knowing that each one had its perfect purpose. I kept my headphones on and listened to Hypnobabies tracks to stay focused.
I trusted that my body knew exactly what to do. My role wasn’t to control the experience but to fully surrender to it.
My pressure waves were POWERFUL, and at times I wondered if they would ever end. It was hard work but being mentally prepared in advance for this helped tremendously. I trusted that my body knew exactly what to do. My role wasn’t to control the experience but to fully surrender to it.
“Just breathe her out,” my husband whispered in my ear, and with that very breath, my daughter swiftly made her arrival. I kid you not! She was born at 10pm in the comfort of a lightly dimmed room and warm tub. It was intimate, and it was beautiful.
Someone once mocked my decision to try for a natural birth. She said that I don’t get a trophy for giving birth without an epidural, and she was right. I didn’t get a trophy. What I got was much more profound. I got to experience the miracle of life in its most raw form. Committing to this journey taught me how to transform fear into faith and gave me confidence in my ability to overcome all of life’s obstacles.
Rachel’s Grounding Hospital Birth
To say the birth of my third child, my second daughter, my first hospital birth, went a bit differently than I expected would be the understatement of a lifetime. However, I’m choosing to write and reminisce about this birth versus my former two, because a) it’s the most recent and therefore clear in my otherwise scattered mama brain, and b) it did give me an abundance of perspective which I desperately needed, although I was unaware of this at the time.
I was 39 weeks and scheduled to be induced after having a partial placental abruption that my midwife and doctor both considered serious enough for a hospital transfer. It was absurdly early on a Tuesday morning, and I had ALL the nervous jitters. I’m not a hospital person by nature and am by all accounts considered a “crunchy mama” or “granola” or whatever.
I have very few positive associations with hospitals, so I was very out of my comfort zone and leaning heavily on prayer. This was during slightly relaxed pandemic times so my husband was permitted to be alongside, but no one else. Not my midwife, nor my older two children, which did break my heart. I had placed all our favorite icons along the window ledges. Pictures of saints like Holy Mother Olga and the Theotokos, Helper in Childbirth reminded me they were looking after me.
I have very few positive associations with hospitals, so I was very out of my comfort zone.
I filled out paperwork, met with what felt like 5,000 nurses and doctors in training, as well as the guy who gave epidurals even though I was quite determined to have another natural birth if possible. And just like that, the induction process was on its way.
Visions of holding my newborn girl and eating all the delicious hot food I wanted gave me the strength to get through it. My contractions began slowly, and after the shift change, I met the nurse who would be alongside for the actual birth of our baby.
She was kind yet firm and seemed like she’d been doing this her whole life. I felt like I was in very good hands. The contractions became stronger, and the heating pad I brought on a whim quickly became my best friend as I was experiencing back labor for the first time.
That epidural guy started looking pretty good, and in several moments of weakness, I brought him up to my husband. “Well, maybe I should just get the epidural, I mean he’s right across the hall.” However, I stayed strong and continued with alternating between the birth ball and standing supported over the bed during the ever-increasing contractions.
Finally, I desperately needed to use the restroom and found myself over the toilet and hearing a very loud “kaplunk.” Startled, I realized my water had already broken and another huge contraction was taking place.
It all happened very quickly after that, with the nurse rushing in and encouraging me to get back in bed. “I can’t make it all that way,” I said in reference to the 10 steps that looked more like 10,000.
In one excruciating push, out came a head and a very tiny body over the toilet in my hospital room. The nurse and I together caught her. She had arrived! At last! My doctor hadn’t even made it in time, and my firm yet kind nurse had caught my sweet bundle. I was slightly in shock at first and made my way gingerly to the bed while holding sweet Photina.
Hospital birth wasn’t the nightmare I had been imagining. My nurses and doctors were respectful and supportive.
I looked up at my husband, who had his jaw dropped at the sight of our little girl in my arms and the very exciting entrance she made into this world. All in all, my hospital birth wasn’t close to the nightmare I had been imagining. My nurses and doctors were respectful and supportive. I knew they were there to make my birth experience as comfortable as possible while in the harsh confines of a hospital.
I hope to have the warm comfort of a homebirth experience just once more if possible, but now I know a hospital birth can be good too. I know that medical professionals really do care, and I feel safe in their care. Photina Renee is my double rainbow miracle baby, and I feel so incredibly blessed to get to be her mother.
Courtney’s Redemptive Homebirth
Captivated by the little gulps and smiles as we nurse, side by side through the wee hours of morning, I give thanks for the redemptive home birth experience of my second birth.
My first, like many, was a cascade of interventions, even with the clearest of intentions (or so I thought) for a natural home birth. Due to my rural location, and going two weeks past my due date, my first pregnancy ended with fearful midwives, coercion, and a traumatic induction. These things caused a postpartum hemorrhage, followed by bonding and nursing issues, postpartum depression, anxiety, and rage. But that’s a story we hear far too often. This one is different.
For nine months and two weeks, I carried our second little love, taking care to trust it, my body, and God’s plan. Each second of each day, I held strong to intentional practices, researched each possible intervention and their listed side effects (pitocin and postpartum hemorrhage, surprise surprise!), and learned about physiological birth.
Witnessing the beauty and wisdom of natural processes from the sheep in the fields around our home carrying and birthing their own little lambs to the magic and wisdom held in every single seed sown in my garden both by me, intentionally, and those carried by the wind, my confidence grew. They surrendered to the unknown journey ahead of them, blooming where they were planted and optimizing the circumstances in which they found themselves, and I knew I must do the same.
I knew I must surrender to the unknown journey ahead and optimize my circumstances.
Winter made way for spring and summer swiftly followed. Each season bringing new lessons to be learned. The process perfectly played out, just as I read undisturbed, natural, and free births could. After all, we are natural ourselves, not just experiencing it, living in and amongst it. We are nature. Natural.
So I approached my second birth celebrating the natural order of life. This meant celebrating life in all its seasons and welcoming death as a possibility. Once I had accepted that, the joy of surrender and limitless possibilities, courage and conviction settled within, and I prepared daily for my birth. Yoga/stretching, meditation, affirmations, positive stories, and empowering music were my methods of preparing for this new life in a new way.
When my “due date” came and went, I held strong, trusting my instincts and my body. I agreed to an ultrasound at 41 weeks to “check the fluids, fetal growth and positioning along with placental placement.” I agreed in order to buy myself time and calm my midwifery team. I declined near-daily monitoring after that, committed to maintaining a peaceful and positive experience, not one of stress, traffic, hospitals, and cold, sterile rooms and faces.
As I settled my first child in the early hours, 42 weeks pregnant to the day, the first surge gripped my womb like a wave with an ebb and flow. They came 45 minutes later, then 30, 25, and 10.
I reminded myself of the power of breath and how to harness the downward energy of each breath through each surge. Then in a flurry of energy, stopped sharply with each rolling wave of intensity, I watered my vegetable patch, baked two loaves of bread, made berry compote, mopped the floors, and cleaned the bathrooms. Then I went upstairs to rest.
I trusted my body, trusted my breath, and most importantly, trusted the process of birth.
I sat on my birthing ball and rocked, bounced, and stretched before crawling to the side of my bed to meditate, breathe, and endure. I called my midwife and doula when the surges came every 15 minutes, and they arrived a few hours later, as agreed, when I was 2cm dilated and surging every four minutes. This was my only internal check. We applied my tens machine as I settled in to a loud, low breath, focused meditation that carried me through the rest of the birth.
I allowed an external fetal check from time to time, but declined several as I would have to change positions to allow access. I was in the zone and empowered, trusting my body, trusting my breath, and most importantly, trusting the process of birth.
My daughter was born, naturally, in the bed she was conceived in. Her mother was born there too, rebirthed, with new power, perseverance, perspective, and a positive birth experience. It was redemptive.
As you can see above, these three women experienced very different labors and yet all were able to come out feeling that they had succeeded in their own way. When you’re deciding where and how you want to birth your babies, it’s important that we don’t see some types of birth as better than others. A hospital birth is not less of a triumph than a home birth.
As women we must look inside and be honest with ourselves about what makes us feel safest, supported, and excited for birth. We must also remember that even if you have had traumatic births previously we always have the power to do things differently the next time around. When women give themselves permission to define birth on their own terms, and in a way which is in alignment with their needs, we see less trauma and fewer struggles in postpartum. By sharing these stories, I hope you can feel more able to be the hero of your own birth story.
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