Before you become a mom, your idea of birth is likely influenced by popular movies and TV. Birth is typically portrayed as some sort of high-speed, action movie experience. From beginning to end it will last all of 30 minutes, and during this time, you will be lying flat on your back with your feet secured into a pair of medieval torture stirrups. There will be beeping and monitors flashing and lots of people in scrubs frantically scurrying around. But the only sound you will hear will be your own voice screaming in agony while a nurse/drill sergeant yells, "PUSH!" There will be some blood and mess (off camera), your husband will likely pass out in a dead faint, but in no time at all, you will be handed a perfectly clean two-month-old baby. You'll share a tender moment or two, put on your pre-pregnancy jeans, go home and make a lasagna.
Want to know the real truth? Birth is nothing like this. On the contrary, birth is undefinable. Labor can last anywhere from a few minutes to a few days. It is possible to labor in a hospital bed with your feet in stirrups. But it is also possible to labor at home or in a birthing center while walking around, sitting on a birth ball or even relaxing in a Jacuzzi. Depending on the circumstances of your birth, you can have a high-intensity birth, a gentle quiet birth or something in between.
Tanya, mother of two, tells about her birth experience, "My first baby was born in a hospital. I had an epidural and narcotics. I didn't like the way it felt. My labor was very long and uncomfortable. I did not feel in control or in tune with my body. For my second birth, I wanted to do things differently. I hired a midwife, took natural childbirth classes and prepared to give birth at a birthing center associated with a hospital near my home. But lo and behold, my baby came suddenly and without warning in the middle of the night, and I ended up having him at home on our living room floor with the help of my stunned husband and our excited Chihuahua. Believe it or not, it was a beautiful experience. What I learned is that no matter how much you prepare, you cannot plan birth. This was not the birth I planned for. But it was my birth nonetheless."
Childbirth education and birth planning are important because the choices we make can affect the type of birth we ultimately experience. On the other hand, birth planning can only take you so far. Even with the most scrupulous birth plan, there are many complications that can occur during labor. Malposition of the baby, failure to progress, placenta previa, uterine rupture, cord prolapse, preeclampsia and drop in maternal or fetal heart rate are just a few examples of birth complications that require immediate intervention and sometimes Cesarean section. Not to mention cases like Tanya's when birth happens so rapidly that you cannot take the time to drive to the hospital or birth center.
DONA certified doula Rosemary Walker-Beyer says, "Labor and birth are a wonderful preparation for motherhood. During childbirth you realize that even with careful planning, you are not always in the driver's seat. When teaching new mothers about birth I like to quote what my prenatal yoga teacher once told me, 'Be like the willow tree and know when to bend and not break.' Be flexible. Expect the unexpected. The ultimate goal in birth is a healthy baby, no matter when or how he emerges."