I’ve often heard that labour is more like a marathon and that we should prepare for it like it is one. You don’t just show up to a marathon and ‘wing it’. You prepare yourself, physically and mentally.
It was the ‘mentally’ part that really surprised me when it came to preparing for my home birth.
I mean, I understood the physiology of birth and I knew how I could physically help myself prepare (plus I had Caitlin helping me with all kinds of amazing moves), but I had never really thought about preparing myself mentally.
When I had my son, there was so much focus on what would happen after he was born (he was a NICU baby) that when it came to labour and birth, I just ran with it.
Don’t get me wrong, I loved my first labour for everything it was, but I didn’t want to just ‘wing it’ the second time around. And I knew if I was going to have the healing birth I wanted, then I would need to prepare myself mentally.
Once we had decided we were going to have a home birth, and we had our Private Midwife, I got to work on preparing myself mentally for home birth.
These are a few of the things I did. They might be the same for you, they might give you some ideas of what to consider whether you’re having a home birth, hospital birth, or if you’re undecided, and hopefully they help you in some way.
1 – I Talked To My Midwife About Everything
My Midwife was my number one go-to person for everything. Every strange question, every ‘what if’ thought, everything.
Our meetings would go for hours, we would talk about my fears, what my last labour and birth was like, what I wanted this one to look like and how I felt about everything.
I have to admit, I was also very fortunate to have a Midwife as my best friend (Caitlin – the co-owner of The Empowered Mama Project).
I distinctly remember texting her one time asking if my baby could kick down so hard she’d rupture the membranes and literally kick her way out… it was a legit concern of mine at the time.
The most important thing was that I felt like I could talk to my Midwife and I trusted her completely. This was a huge factor in being able to prepare mentally for home birth.
My Midwife knew everything I wanted, she knew what was important to me, she understood my fears and knew when to step in and reassure me. She met me at my home, she met my family, I absolutely adore her.
This trust meant that when my labour day came, I didn’t have to worry about anything other than allowing my body to do what it needed to do. I knew that if my Midwife said we needed to do something, we needed to do it.
I knew if she said we needed to go to hosptial, then we needed to go. I trusted her completely.
2 – I Educated Myself
While I asked my Midwife what must have seemed like a million questions, I also spent a lot of time educating myself.
While I had a good knowledge of how birth works (and Obstetric Emergencies – thanks to being a Paramedic), what I wanted to know was why things happened in certain ways, and what the evidence said, what the best practices were, and what I could do with that information to help prepare myself for birth.
For example, I knew from the evidence that the cascade of intervention was something I wanted to avoid. That is, when one intervention (such as an induction) leads to further interventions (such as an epidural) which leads to further interventions (such as a caesarean).
I knew I wanted absolutely no interventions unless medically necessary. My Midwife also knew this, and supported my decision.
This is just one example of the many things I educated myself on.
I’m kind of embarrassed to say, but with my first birth, I had no idea. About many, many things. I was so focused on the health of my baby (long story, but he had a bowel obstruction that required surgery and a long NICU stay) that I kind of forgot about me.
I didn’t really have a primary carer for pregnancy and had no postnatal care.
I was determined for things to be different with my second birth, so I read a lot, I listened to a ton of podcasts, I consumed birth story after birth story, and I asked a million questions.
Arming myself with knowledge made me feel incredibly empowered and educated in the choices I was making, and made me feel like I was in control of my birth.
3 – We Planned, Then Planned More, Then Revisted The Plan Again
You know how you hear people say that birth plans are crap and that birth changes anyway so having a plan is useless. I used to be one of those people.
I was so wrong.
The meeting with my Midwife to prepare our birth plan was over 5 hours long. I can assure you, it wasn’t about the music that would be playing or the oils I’d be diffusing.
I mean, if that is important to you when it comes to your birth space, then that’s totally okay, but that wasn’t part of our birth planning session.
Our birth plan covered Plan A, Plan B, Plan C and the rest of the alphabet too. It looked more like a roadmap rather than a direct line.
Sure, the ‘plan’ was to have a home birth. But we spoke about at what point would we consider transferring to hospital (both my point and the things my Midwife would consider), if we were to go, who would come with me, who would clean up at home, who would bring what. If an emergency was to occur for me, what would happen, and if an emergency was to occur with the baby, what would happen.
We spoke about how the space would be set up, what my Midwife would bring, what we would need to supply and prepare.
We spoke about who would be there, what would happen during the different stages of labour, and what would happen in the hours after birth.
I cannot stress the level of detail we went to.
And if anything came up that wasn’t in the plan, I knew my Midwife knew me well enough and knew our plan well enough that I trusted her to make any decision necessary.
I knew the importance of being able to stay in my birthing zone, and not be pulled from that mindset in order to have to make rational decisions.
Having a plan set out definitely helped me mentally prepare for labour and birth and navigate the turns it can take with confidence.
4 – I Rallied My Support
Of course, I had my Midwives for support (I had two Midwives at my home birth as required in Australia, as well as Caitlin). But my support network went further.
My mum was a massive source of support, and I knew I could hand off any sort of tasks I needed to her. I also knew that a hug from my mum is one of the best feelings in the world and I was so grateful to have her with me through my labour and birth experiences.
I had my husband and Caitlin as my two main supports during labour and birth. My husband knew exactly what I needed of him and I felt confident in asking for what I needed as I needed it. Having Caitlin there too meant that my husband felt like he could take care of the practical things when he needed, and I still had support.
My birth photographer was one of my closest friends (who was also a professional photographer).
While she stayed back during the whole event, having someone I knew so well and was so comfortable with taking photos and documenting the event was such an amazing thing to do.
But that’s not where the support ended. I had friends and family that were on standby for help with my son, for bringing food and for generally helping in any way I needed.
It honestly surprised me how much support I had. I assure you, there are people around you who will support you through everything.
I also highly suggest keeping a list of numbers for support lines to call on hand. There are amazing organisations that can help you and can listen to you and be there for you.
In Australia, these are some fantastic organisations that can help:
PANDA – 1300 726 306
The Gidget Foundation – 1300 851 758
Australian Breastfeeding Association – 1800 686 268
5 – I Prepared My Space
I never really understood the importance of the birthing space until I started learning more about the hormones of labour and how important relaxation and feeling calm and comfortable was.
Preparing my birth space was such a joy, creating a beautiful space in our home, filling it will lovely items that made me feel so happy and so loved (I included a whole heap of photos of my husband and I from significant times in our relationship).
I love natural light, so I chose a space in our home that would have beautiful light. On the day our daughter was born, it was a beautiful overcast day (my favourite) and then as soon as she was born it started raining.
I was able to lay back in the birth pool, holding my daughter close and just listen to the rain. Absolute bliss.
Planning out my birth space meant that I knew I would have all the things I wanted and needed to relax, to get into the birthing zone and to just enjoy the process.
Because I didn’t want to think too much about actually setting up the space, I drew little diagrams of what I wanted it to look like, had a list of what I wanted and where and left that for my husband to set up for me while I was in early labour.
All of these things helped me to mentally prepare for my home birth, helped me to feel educated, empowered, informed, and in control, and helped me to be able to surrender to my labour and birthing process.
Now whenever anyone asks what they can do to prepare for labour, I always encourage them to spend time focusing on preparing mentally.
I am certain that because of this preparation, I was able to have an amazingly empowered birth.