Hey, pregnant mama! Isn’t the internet great? You can find information at insanely quick speeds, connect with people across the world, access support at the drop of a hat…it really is pretty incredible when you think about it.
While the internet can be one of your greatest sources of strength and information during pregnancy, it can also be a source of stress, anxiety, and overload, especially at a time when you’re probably feeling worn down in the first place. It’s hard enough to go grocery shopping and deal with the unsolicited opinions and advice from folks, but the internet can be an unfettered pipeline of information and opinion overload from what types of swaddlers to register for to the unending debate over the “right” way to give birth. (Spoiler: there’s no right way. You do you, sister.)
So, what’s a girl to do? How do you navigate this inescapable world of opinions and suggestions and fear mongering and unintentional shaming (or is it actually inventional?) and also have time to enjoy your pregnancy? This is a lot easier for some mamas to manage than others. Lots of women know early on how they want to birth, who they want to be there, and what type of diapering system they’re going to go with. Cool, that’s great! However, many women feel unprepared for the baptism by fire that comes from being a birthing woman in today’s society. There’s a lot to know, there’s a lot to learn, and most of it is somehow politically charged. These are the days we live in, folks, and its so normal to feel anxiety and fear. So, so normal.
So if you’re in this boat, here’s my advice…and please know that I see the irony in offering advice to people who feel overwhelmed by advice. So, here we go!
Know that our culture has not set you up to succeed. Neither girls nor boys are taught enough about their bodies and reproduction. The most many of us have ever seen is a birth video in health class. Maybe. If you’re an expectant mother or father, you really haven’t been taught to navigate the tricky medical system, so give yourself a break. There’s no way you can know every single thing people expect you to know overnight. It just isn’t possible, so cut yourself some slack and do one thing at a time. Maybe just starting with simple things, like who you want in your birth room or whether you’d like to find out your baby’s gender can feel like you’re starting a foundation of a plan.
Take into account the culture. When people share their opinions with you and tell you that you “have” to do something this way and should “never” do something that way they are seeking affirmation of their own decisions. Let me say that again. People share their opinions because they want to validate their own choices. Now, obviously this isn’t 100% across the board. There are probably many people who love you and are sharing advice because they want the best for you and your family…but that stranger in Starbucks who tells you that you’re a child endangering psycho for wanting a home birth or that if you get an epidural you’re not a “real woman” is just pushing her agenda so she can feel okay about the choices she made. Maybe she’s struggling with her own birth experience and hasn’t completely processed it. Either way, that’s just like, her opinion, man.
Write yourself a permission slip. Seriously, do it. I know it sounds silly, but I swear to you it will help, especially with decisions you’ve made that may be unpopular for whatever absurd reason. If I were pregnant right now, I know for sure mine would say, “I give myself permission to not feel guilty over the decisions I make. I don’t have to make people happy with my birth.”
Or maybe you’ve decided that you want to get an epidural and that is the best choice for you even though everyone in your immediate family has had an unmedicated birth. Your permission slip could say, “I give myself permission to get an epidural because it is the best choice for MY birth.”
Maybe you’re completely overwhelmed by all of the books and websites everyone is telling you that you “have” to read. Write, “I give myself permission to read only one book about birth.”
Whatever it is you’ve decided, write that stuff down, sign it, and hang it up somewhere you’ll see it every day. Words are powerful, my friends, and permission slips help.
And speaking of books, there are a lot of good ones out there. There’s no way you could read and digest every great birth book in nine months. No stinking way. I am a huge believer that knowledge is power, but I also know that not everyone is ready to sit down and read 80 childbirth books. Regardless of what anyone else says or thinks or knows, this is your show. Ultimately, you get to choose how much you read or learn or do.
All that being said, I think it’s important to be an educated consumer and remember that every birth book and method is biased toward one thing or another. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, just something to remember. If you’re having trouble narrowing down all of the options for you, my number one suggestion is The Birth Partner by Penny Simkin. It is the most thorough, unbiased, book on birth that I’ve ever encountered. It reads more like a textbook, so you’re not going to get the touchy feely stuff from this one. It lists medications, how they’re used, and what the side effects might be; and has an entire section for the different stages of labor which includes what the mother might feel physically and emotionally, what her partner might do, and what a doula might do. It also has sections on epidurals and c-sections. It’s all the facts, none of the politics and I can’t recommend it enough, just make sure to get the most recent edition!
At the end of the day, there’s so much to know and so little time. Let me say again, that feeling anxiety and stress and pressure is so normal. Everything you’re feeling is valid. You’re allowed to feel annoyed or stressed or worried and you’re allowed to walk away from things that aren’t building you up. You are doing a monumental task of growing a human inside your body, a courageous task of raising a new person in this world. You are allowed to separate yourself from situations and people who do not honor the work your body and soul are doing right now. Remember that protecting your own well-being is protecting your child. It really, really is, so allow yourself the grace and gumption it takes to say no thanks to advice and not to feel guilty. Maybe write a permission slip for that one and come join us over on the Bright Birth Facebook page. It’s a safe place to vent, get input (that you actually ask for!), and make friends who are in your same boat. I hope to see you there and in the meantime, take deep breaths and lots of naps!