I'll never forget the birth of my baby boy. I can remember the moment I was told I had to be induced due to complications, the lighting, the music playing while I laboured, the view out my window, the hallway I walked down, stopping for each contraction, the Swiss ball I bounced on, the colour of the room, the faces of the nurses, my midwife and her suggestions, the feeling of birthing him, the face on my husband as he handed me our son, the doctors checking in on us, the hospital food, the struggle to breastfeed, the cries as an NGT tube was inserted to feed him, his first bath, the parking space we pulled out of taking home our boy.....I can remember it all. The good moments, the negative comments, the unnecessary suggestions, the support, those first skin to skin moments....nothing is forgotten. Well, maybe I can't recall the pain of the contractions or pushing but I know it was intense and real.
A mother doesn't forget these things. There is a long-term impact of the birth experience. The memory of the experience is vivid and can have a long-term impact. I read a study by Penny Simkin 'Just Another Day in a Woman's Life? Women's Long-Term Perceptions of Their First Birth Experience Part. I' and was intrigued by her findings.
"Women who had the highest overall satisfaction ratings tended to describe the births in terms of feeling personal accomplishment or accomplishment as a couple."
A support team that can encourage the mother along the way with positive words, birth affirmations and general support through the tough moments can create a sense of team work, allowing her to feel like she is accomplishing something each step of the way - and she is - she's birthing a baby!
"The issue of control seemed important for all women. Highly satisfied women tended to feel in control, those in the less satisfied group still recall having little or no control."
When a woman feels powerless or afraid or tense her labour significantly slows down. If she feels like she has control to move around in positions that work for her and has control over her body it's empowering. Releasing fears to ask for help or the 'do it on your own' mentality can allow a woman to feel comfortable to let the birth team around her support. She doesn't have to do it alone or feel like she has to cope and hide her emotions.
"Many of the women thought that the birth experience increased their self- esteem or self-confidence."
After reflecting on the birth many women see and are reminded of all they did and confident that they could do it again. It's a major event and coming through on the other side is an empowering thing; whether it be a vaginal or cesarean birth, the mother welcomed the baby into the world and there is power in that. Sometimes it just takes a gentle reminder to bring it all to the forefront of their mind after the whirlwind that labour can sometimes be.
"Everyone remembered specific things about the doctor and the nurses. The satisfied women's memories of their team were more likely to be humorous or positive."
I've been around doctors that are very matter-of-fact with little compassion or nurses that are cold and to the point. I've also seen doctors who sit on the edge of the bed and explain all the options with care and concern. And I've witnessed nurses that are the sweetest little things helping the mother feel at ease. I've seen midwives that are gentle and respectful of the mother's needs and wishes and I've seen the opposite where ideas are imposed and pushed. Those comments that are made - by ANYONE part of the birth team can either be very damaging or very helpful, it just depends how they are presented.
As a doula I'm very aware of all of these things. Of course, I'm not perfect so there are things I still need to practice and improve on, especially for my clients sake. I strive to help create an atmosphere where the mother can feel her accomplishments along the way through encouragement and support. I want the mother to know that she is in control; it's her body, her baby, her birth and I'm there to support whatever she wants. And I love reflecting on a birth, listening to how the mother perceives it all and how she feels empowered from the experience. And, I like to try and help decipher what doctors and nurses are saying through open discussion. I'm protective of my client making sure to help process the info they've been given and by golly, if there are scary things said or fear instilled, I'll do my best to diffuse the situation and try and help bring back the calm to help mama relax and make her own decisions.
"I found that if these particular factors were present, women are more likely to feel long-term satisfaction. If she is treated without respect, if her efforts to maintain dignity and control are rebuffed, or if she is taken advantage of, the negative impact is permanent. But, if she is nurtured, treated with kindness and respect, and feels like a participant, the positive impact is permanent."
As I go into a birth I ask, "How will she remember this?" and I keep checking in with that question to hold myself accountable to help her have the best birth possible for her and her family. Thank you to all the birth workers out there who desire to help women feel empowered through such a life changing event.
mama bird doula