From the moment a woman sees those two pink lines on her home pregnancy test, she begins making choices and decisions that affect her child. From baby shower registries to prenatal vitamins, women become information seeking machines, dedicated to the mission of being the most prepared, educated parent they can be.
Who knew you could spend 4 hours deciding which car seat is the safest? On top of all the other important decisions that parents make in the months leading up to their child’s arrival, perhaps none are more significant than the choices they make regarding birth.
In sharp contrast to the time dedicated to preparing for their new arrival in every other way, many women have no idea how much control they have over their actual birth. Most expectant moms make their first prenatal appointment with whatever obstetric group serves the closest hospital, and then carefully follow the recommendations of their care providers without realizing that the standards of maternity care vary greatly between practices and hospitals.
You have choices, mama. And those choices matter.
What are my choices in labor and birth?
If we want to understand why these choices matter so much, we first have to know what they are. Educating yourself on your rights and options and then taking the time to thoughtfully choose the path that feels right for you is one of the most important decisions you will make in your pregnancy. It cannot be emphasized too strongly that you are in charge of your own birth.
You have a right to labor and give birth in the way you choose.
If you want to give birth in a hospital with pain medication, then you can do that. If you want a water birth in a birth tub on your back porch, you have a right to make that choice. If you want to have a natural birth with no interventions in a hospital – that’s right, you get to do that. Taking the time to fully explore the options that are available to you is your right and responsibility as a parent.
You have the right to be supported and respected.
Does deciding what kind of birth you want to have mean that you will get that perfect birth? No, no one can guarantee how a birth will unfold. But regardless of your birth goals, you have the right to be supported and encouraged in your decision and you should not feel the need to defend your position to friends, family or your medical team. No one gets to have an opinion on your birth choices but you.
You have the right to choose your birth provider.
Most people spend more time vetting their mechanic than they do their doctor. Your doctor or midwife works for you. If he or she cannot be respectful of the way that you want to birth, it’s time to find someone who will. Don’t be afraid to ask pointed questions. We commonly use the word “allow” when we refer to what a doctor will commonly permit during labor. “My doctor won’t allow me to go past 41 weeks.” Let’s just stop that train right in its tracks. A provider can advise and suggest as fervently as they want, but the pregnant woman is the one who ultimately “allows” procedures and interventions during pregnancy, labor, and birth.
You have the right to refuse or request interventions.
The ultimate goal is to partner with a birth provider who understands and respects your wishes and supports your birth plan. In reality, sometimes that isn’t possible. The standard of care is not universal from hospital to hospital or even from doctor to doctor. One provider might be fine with “allowing” you to labor for an extended period with no cervical change and his partner might want to put you on Pitocin to augment your labor after just a few hours with no progress. It is your right to say “No”. If you and the baby are healthy and fine, you can decline any and all medical procedures that you don’t want or feel you don’t need. Knowledge is the key to confidence. If you are confident that your choices are the best ones for your baby, you and your partner will have no problem saying “Thanks, but no thanks.”
You have the right to change your mind.
About anything. You can switch gears or change your viewpoint at any point in your pregnancy and you shouldn’t feel pressure or guilt from yourself or anyone else to birth in a certain way. You can choose an induction, an unmedicated birth or decide to forgo a VBAC attempt the second it no longer feels like the best option for you and your baby. Have a plan and stick to it, until it no longer works for you.
Speaking Up and Taking Charge
Every pregnancy is unique, just like the woman and the baby she is carrying. When you make choices that impact your birth, it can feel scary and overwhelming. Every mother makes the best choice she can with the information she has. But the more information you have, the more choices you have.
So while you are choosing baby names and picking out nursery paint samples, carve out some time to educate yourself on your choices in childbirth. Birth can be one of the most empowering experiences of a woman’s life. Make the most of it by fully embracing the power and strength you were born with and by taking the lead in your own birth story.