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Can birthing really be a “wonderful experience”?

Posted by Lara Salahi  December 12, 2012 08:24 AM

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Tucked into page 267 of the birthing book that has found a place in my bottom bedside drawer is a packet of questions I received from my obstetrician on at my first visit.

Thirty-something weeks later, the answers are only half-filled.

I’ve strategically shoved this packet in an already read book so I wouldn’t feel obliged to crack it open any time soon. The overall placement is also strategic. It’s become challenging at this stage in my pregnancy to bend and reach the back of the lowest drawer -- a good enough excuse to fill it out some other day.

The dreaded packet is my birthing plan.

A birthing plan is a worksheet, oftentimes given to women by their hospital or practitioner, which provides a list of questions regarding labor, delivery, and postpartum options. Most of the questions are open-ended, so it gives a woman the chance to describe her choices in as much or as little detail as she’d like. Of course, not all births go according to plan, but this document is a good way to communicate our wishes beforehand -- if we know them, that is.

It has taken me well over six months to gussy up the nerve to look at my hospital birthing plan, and over a month to start filling it out. I’m still not done. Mostly because I’m stuck on one of the most important questions: “How do you envision your labor and delivery?”

At first read, I may have channeled other women who've thought about H-hour(s):

Quick.

Painless.

Push present.

I’m only guaranteed one of the three, I hope. I’ll let you guess which one. The other two are possible, but getting there as "envisioned" varies with each woman.

Indeed, if you asked supermodel Giselle Bundchen, who recently gave birth to a girl, her birthing plan may have read something like: “Home birth. Private. Natural.” Certainly she found the experience she envisioned would work for her.

Of course, one form of birthing does not supersede others, and women do not receive a Purple Heart for choosing one method over another.

Take my birthing class instructor. A registered nurse at a community hospital, she uses phrases like, “a simply beautiful labor,” and “a wonderful experience,” to describe some of her patients’ labor and delivery – both medicated and unmedicated.

Really? Labor? Wonderful experience? For whom?

I wondered, for my pregnancy and myself: What method would make this process ‘wonderful’ and ‘beautiful’? Could a natural birth be right for me?

But combing through subsections of all the natural birthing methods also made me think: Are we putting too much effort into creating the perfect plan? Should we even consider birthing an “experience” that we can control?

According to Jacqui Pilla, a former hypnobirthing practitioner and current Birthing As Nature Intended childbirth education practitioner, the key to a fulfilling birth – no matter what method is used – is to trust our bodies.

I met Pilla, who practices at A Birth Within in North Andover, at a local pregnancy expo. I kept her card because it interested me. It was the first I’d seen that read, “birthing by hypnosis.”

Hypnosis as a birthing method had never crossed my mind.

I’d like to maintain some measure of control throughout the process, even if something unexpected occurs. I don’t equate hypnosis with control. In fact, hypnosis comes from a Greek word meaning “sleep.” While the idea of sleeping through labor sounds tempting, it’s just not realistic.

But Pilla sees it differently. Hypnosis is not the exaggerated practice we see on TV or at magic shows. According to Pilla, hypnosis is synonymous with achieving full relaxation while being fully aware of what is happening.

The technique is not just for women who opt for a natural route, said Pilla. Some women want to reach a certain point of their labor using the method and then complete their birthing process with medication.

“Each client that comes in has a personal vision or experience of what they’d like their birth to be,” said Pilla.

Not knowing what to expect is one of the most challenging ways to approach birth, said Pilla. The goal of any experience is to feel in control and comfortable enough to get the body out of fight or flight mode, she said.

“The uterus is a muscle and like every other muscle in the body, when we tense up we release stress hormones and can make things feel more painful,” she said. “The more relaxed you are, the more likely you will let your body do the work.”

Relaxation techniques involve practice, but any woman, even those like me who are skeptical at first, can achieve it, she said. She then signed me up for a practice session.

No promises on my end.

As for the question that has been haunting my final few weeks: “How do you envision your labor and delivery?” I’m learning as much as possible about the different methods to choose an ideal approach for me. Still, these few months of birthing classes and researching methods has taught me that a birthing plan should probably be written in pencil rather than carved in stone. While I’m crawling my way to a plan A, I know I also have to be open to a plan B and C, whatever that may be. And just because there are some things in the birthing process that we can’t control, doesn't make it any less of an experience.

“The only thing predictable about birth is that it’s unpredictable,” said Pilla.

I’ll get back to you on the “wonderful” and “beautiful” part.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the author

Lara Salahi is an award-winning multimedia journalist whose specialty is reporting health and medical stories. She has worked in local, network, and cable television, international print, and documentary film. She More »

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