An empowered birth.

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I write the above title slightly sheepishly and with a caveat. This is not a how-to guide nor a prescription. The ability to look upon my birth as empowered is not something I took into consideration at the time, and came with its own set of hurdles for me to get to the point I am at today. It is a story for another time, but suffice to say that I count myself as the luckiest woman to stand here today with my daughter.

When it comes to birth, I now believe that knowledge is absolute power and, above all, knowledge is the power to assert during labour and empower in new motherhood. An empowered birth is not necessarily a drug free and entirely natural labour. You want a pain-relief free water birth with candles? Go for it. You need to be epiduraled and highly medicalised to feel safe? The world is your oyster. You've had a rough time of it and want to advocate for an elective c-section? Please, take it.

But, I believe, an empowered birth needs knowledge to help women overcome those times when things may not be entirely going as expected. When birth feels confusing and women feel powerless it can have a knock-on effect on those first precious days of new motherhood, a rough start which can domino into weeks and months, the ripples can be felt years later.

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NCT and hypnobirthing were my tools of choice, along with a nice healthy dose of reality. It made for a labour that was an almost reverent experience. I felt powerful, Earth mother incumbent, and with each contraction I was awe-struck and amazed. My body was doing this. And I knew exactly how. I have the fondest of memories of being in our bedroom, surrounded by candles and my most favourite music, breathing through contractions knuckles white gripped onto the fireplace, and feeling those flutters of magical excitement. I was going to meet my baby.

And on the flipside, when I arrived at hospital, when I found out that things weren't quite right in there (spoiler, she was fine), knowledge gave me absolute control when, actually, I had none. Clothes were being ripped off my body, waters were being broken and alarms were ringing all around. And yet, as terrified and unsure as I was that things were going to turn out ok, outwardly, I was cool as a cucumber. I remember turning to the consultant next to my head with complete calmness, and said “I'm going under, aren't I?”. I knew what was coming, and that was my saviour.

And these instances happen daily in the most seemingly insignificant of ways, and the impact is profound. The most straightforward birth from the outside can be traumatising and life-changing for one mother. When we put so much stock into researching the perfect pram, car seat and baby bath, shouldn't we be doing the same for our own bodies, our own safety? I am almost entirely certain that things would have been different for me had I not gifted myself these small powers.

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Here’s how I armed myself for an “Empowered Birth”.

  • I implore you, read the books. I recommend 'How To Grow A Baby, and Push It Out' by Clemmie Hooper as a straightforward and up-to-date pregnancy book, all written by a practicing midwife. She covers all common situations and it was a great springboard for further research when needed (it was particularly good when faced with a breech baby). Ina May Gaskin's 'Guide to Childbirth' was a great read to feel empowered. Its such a woman-centric approach to birth (as it should be), and the second half gives an informative breakdown on what happens and why.

  • Hypnobirthing really changed the way I look at birth. I'm sure, if you can afford it, a class is the best way to go about it. However, I couldn't at the time, and so instead opted for mp3s I downloaded and listened to from about 32 weeks, and it really was instrumental in all aspects of labour to birth. I loved Hollie de Cruz's downloads on her site (she has also just released a book).

  • Mindful research. Aimless googling and finding yourself on mum forums always aggravates, not soothes, worries in my 3am, sleepless night experience. Instead try research-based sites such as AIMS for factual and level-headed advice.

  • Any kind of informational antenatal course. I had a little evening session from a friend who happens to be an NCT teacher and it was invaluable. There are so many out there, midwives offer free ones during your appointments, and knowing so much about something that is actually shrouded in so much mystery was so empowering.

  • And finally. Try, as much as you possibly, possibly can, to let go. Seeing things just as they are with positivity and light, giving yourself space to envision just what your incredible body is doing, and listening to your gut. Whether things go exactly as you imagined or plans change, let them. Listen and then advocate for yourself, even if that means letting go of your birth plan. Above all, remember, that sometimes its not about the 'perfect' birth. The perfect birth is truly the birth that was best for you and your baby on that day.