One thing I say A LOT is that birth is full of surprises. (Hey! Like life!) And even though you do the hard work of getting ready for this big unknown, it's inherent in the process that you won't be completely prepared. The process of birth itself teaches you new things: new things about yourself, about your partner and about parent-hood. You learn as you go.
So, you can't know all the things there are to know before labor begins. It's an impossible task. But you CAN grab ahold of a useful mindset to take with you into the journey.
So how can you get ready for labor with this in mind? How can you walk into the unknown and bring flexibility to the twists and turns of the path?
Like a ninja, how can you be fully aware of each moment and respond well?
1) Switch from outcome-focus to process-focus
Focusing on the process means letting go of the white-knuckle hold of the outcome. While your preparation and planning may have centered around a particular goal: minimal intervention, less pain, vaginal birth, unmedicated birth, etc, there are no guarantees. Some babies require intervention to stay safe. Some labors need some help to keep them progressing. Some mothers become exhausted and overwhelmed by the pain.
So giving yourself a little wiggle room for the possibilities, think instead of HOW you want to move through the birth. What do you want to be the guiding motivation in each step, rather than where do you want each step to take you?
Which brings me to the next actionable method for maintaining flexibility:
2) Find another, personal measure of success
Rather than fixating on Vaginal Birth or Natural Birth or High-Tech-All-The-Bells-And-Whistles Birth as your criteria for a successful birth, think instead of a PERSONAL measure of success. What would that look like to you? What would you like to BRING to the birth to make it successful? What can you draw out from yourself in the midst of any circumstance?
One student told me “I'll know my birth was successful if I connected with my partner as much as possible through it.”
Another client has said, “I measured how well I was doing by how honestly I was expressing myself and how much permission I gave myself to do whatever I had to in order to get my baby out.”
One said simply, “I just want to stay present to each minute in labor and not get ahead of myself.”
There is magic in this concept.
You can choose your measure of success that's more focused on what you are learning about yourself as you become a mother. You know it's a good, useful measure if it can apply no matter how the birth goes down: scheduled birth by cesarean, 4-hour labor in the bathroom, 3-day induction, etc. You can still bring this characteristic or trait to all of the possible birth scenarios.
3) View birth as an uncharted country
So you may have an idea of what you want to bring to the labor, but you can also expand this even further. Birth may teach you about life in a way you can't even anticipate. What will birth teach you?
I often ask these questions at the postpartum gatherings of my childbirth classes. (I don't allow birth stories.)
“What do you know about yourself now that you didn't know before?”
“What new freedoms do you have from rules you used to follow?”
“How did you honor your baby in your birth? What would your baby thank you for?”
Although you've never given birth before (or at least, haven't gone through THIS birth before), you may feel like you don't know what it's like and others do. But truly, no one knows how YOUR birth will go. Every birth in the history of women has been a unique planet. No one has ever been to yours.
4) Tap into your inner warrior
If birth is a Rite of Passage, then you are the Initiate.
Many women I work with imagine that they just need to be strong enough to get through the birth. But hell, that word “strong” is so loaded. People vary on what that even looks like in their minds, too. Some imagine that strong means stoic. Some imagine it means not asking for help. Some think it means being composed and controlled. What pressure!
If I'm not going to lie to you, then I have to tell you a secret:
You may lose it a little.
You may be out of control and sweaty and messy and crying out. In fact, go ahead and plan on it.
But think about the warrior who goes off to battle. She may cry for home, smell disgusting and even pee on her saddle. She still comes back a warrior. She still went in and gave it her all and comes back triumphantly with her baby and her battle scars.
And here's how the warrior manages:
(Print this out. Put it in your pocket. Tape it to the wall in your labor room)
She does whatever-the-fuck the moment requires of her. Over and over she will ask herself, “What is to be done next?”. This is how you get through uncertainty.
That's what parents do. And you're a good parent.
I hope this inspires you. My goal is that you feel some freedom from the never-ending search for enough knowledge and enough preparation. (Remember that's impossible.) Taking this spirit of flexible adaptation helps you roll with the events of your birth.
Remind yourself on the day of your birth you are ALIVE today. You get to experience all the ups and downs and experiences and emotions of your life. What a blessing!