Last Sunday, I traveled to Columbus, Ohio with a new friend to “find my village” at one of January Harshe’s Birth Without Fear meet-ups. The meet-ups are a lot smaller and far more intimate gatherings (30-40 people) than the conferences January also puts on throughout the year, but the authenticity and intensity of her speeches are of the same caliber.
She spoke of her 6 labors and 6 deliveries, of loss, of being humbled by parenting and life in general. She impressed upon us the importance of finding our villages of women for support and camaraderie and to not be complacent with only having those kinds of villages exist on screens- that we need more real life interactions to be healed and whole again. She explained what it meant to truly live and birth without fear.
“To birth [and live] without fear doesn’t mean that you won’t be afraid. It means you allow yourself to process everything: let the fears come up, assess where they came from (is this my instincts? is this something I read from a book or heard from a friend or read online?) and then walk through them one at a time.”
The 5 Most Impactful Lessons I’ve Learned
from January Harshe
1. Let your husband be your bulldog.
“Let your husbands hold space and hold ground.”
Husband, spouse, significant other, wife, doula, whoever you’ve chosen to be your support person during labor and delivery, choose wisely, trust them, and let them advocate for you. As a person who loves you and has (hopefully) spoken with you in depth about your wishes and feelings regarding choices during labor and delivery, let them fight for what you want or need. You’re busy preparing to push a human being into the world; let them hold space, stand their ground, get things done while you focus on laboring.
January asked the husbands in the room, “Do you care about making friends in the hospital? No? Good.” Even if your husband is generally a passive and non-confrontational person, he can turn papa bear in a heartbeat if you let him defend you and your baby and your choices as a family if the need arises. Don’t take away his power by always deferring to the staff or second guessing him. It’s okay to let go and trust him to do what is best for you and your family together, just as you trust your care provider to act effectively in an emergency medical situation.
2. Choose your providers wisely. If your care providers are not working for you, fire them. And speak up about it.
“It doesn’t matter how we give birth or where we give birth; it’s about how we were treated.”
The biggest misconception, I think, about preparing for an informed labor and delivery, is that you are preparing for battle against the hospital or your doctor. When in reality, you should be choosing a hospital/birthing center and a doctor/midwife who will not only support your choices but respect you and your choices and continue to give you options if things don’t go as planned (as often happens). You have rights and options, and if you’re not aware of them before you go in, you most likely won’t be spoonfed them in the hospital; so, do your homework. Note your preferences ahead of time, and communicate those with your care providers and your spouse. And if your care provider is not reasonably on board with your wishes, it’s time to find a different care provider.
“They [the care providers] don’t have to go home with that birth experience. Speak up. Tell people about your care providers if they weren’t good. Don’t let some other woman unnecessarily suffer from your silence.”
You can prevent others from experiencing poor treatment or even birth trauma by speaking out about bad experiences with care providers, whether they be doctors, midwives, hospital staff, or doulas. If someone you know has chosen a provider that has raised red flags in the past, speak up. Do it kindly. Be gentle about it. But speak up.
3. It’s about choice, being respected throughout the entire process, and given options. Love and respect your body.
“You are not a study. You are not a statistic. Who knows your body better than you? No one. No one.”
You have a right to informed consent. Aside from an emergency situation, you have every right to know what is happening and given a chance to make choices and have options before decisions are made. It’s okay to say, “Why do you want to do that?” or “Why is this considered necessary?” If you want something different than the norm, you have to stand up for yourself and ask for it. You have a right to refuse certain things as well. You don’t have to consent to an episiotomy. You don’t have to consent to cervical checks or pitocin or cord traction. You don’t have to have your baby receive the antibiotic eye ointment or a bath immediately post birth. You don’t have to be strapped down during a cesarean section.
If these things are happening without your consent, that’s not okay. That’s abuse; that’s a major contributor and trigger for birth trauma. It’s still YOUR body. Demand that it be respected.
4. It’s your child‘s birth story.
“Even if things didn’t go as planned, this wasn’t your birth story; it was your birth experience. Someone else was involved in the decisions: your child.”
A lot can happen during labor and delivery that we can’t predict. Labor can stall for days. Labor can speed up and progress faster than we’ve ever experienced before. Labor and delivery can occur unassisted completely unintentionally. Things can happen that put us in a critical situation that may end up resulting in a surprise cesarean. Regardless of what happens, it’s still our birth experience. It’s still our child’s birth story. It will forever be unique to them, just as they will be unique among their siblings and the rest of the world.
But we have to let go that it’s completely about us as mothers: as if everything we did or didn’t do during labor makes the end result fall on our shoulders, good or bad. As important as our birth experiences are to us, we weren’t the only ones there.
5. Prepare for postpartum. Change the conversation. Reach out for and accept help.
“We plan and plan and plan and plan and plan for the birth and then forget about postpartum. We forget that once you get home…there’s life.”
So much happens once that baby comes home. You’re left holding this tiny little human being and thinking, “Whose idea was this to put me in charge of this person?” Sleep, activity, what you eat, what you wear, even how you use the bathroom: everything changes. Being prepared for those changes can help relieve a lot of anxiety and stress. Have on hand what you think you might need to care for not just baby but yourself. That includes your physical and your emotional and mental needs.
If you are concerned that you have a higher risk for developing postpartum psychosis, depression, or anxiety, it is important that you inform your care provider, spouse, support people (family, friends, “your person”) of this fact and potentially even schedule yourself an appointment ahead of time to see a therapist soon after baby is born. Even just preparing a list of resources that you or your spouse or support people can refer to if necessary is a good idea to have around so that you’re not trying to figure it out while you’re in a downward spiral.
We can improve postpartum for other women by changing the way we talk about it. Normally, when we see a mom with her new baby we ask about the baby and silly questions like, “How are you sleeping?” and “How are you?” (And she will say, “Fine,” even if she isn’t.) Instead, we should be asking about the mother herself: “How’s postpartum going for you?”and then truly take the time to listen to her response and relate to her experience and reach out however we can if need be.
We can also improve a new mom’s situation (or our own) by addressing a specific need. You know what I say when people ask if we “need anything?” I say no. But you know what? If someone brought me a freezer meal, I would not turn it down. I’d pop that sucker in the freezer in a heartbeat and give them a hug and genuinely say, “Thank you so much for thinking of us and caring about us!” If someone asked to visit us and the baby and then did my dishes while they were here, I might protest a little, but I would be beyond thankful. I’ve even heard of people having a list posted so that when people ask what they can do to help, there’s actually some options listed. This is especially a nice idea for families who’ve had their second or third (or fourth or fifth or sixth) kid, who may not need anything else for the baby, but their toddler desperately needs some one on one time with grandma out at the park.
I left feeling utterly exhausted from the emotional release I had when sharing my experiences while I was there. I shared about my struggle with secondary infertility and my fears of postpartum with this baby. I sobbed as I spoke of the losses I’ve had and most of all the hurt that came from another woman who had belittled my experiences by comparing them to hers. And I expressed my concerns at how little the younger generation seem to know about the physical functions of their own bodies and how that has impacted my life to want to change career paths from high school educator to someone who educates women on the power of their bodies through labor, delivery, postpartum, and lactation.
I left feeling renewed, lighter, stronger, and finally prepared to #birthwithoutfear in just 8 weeks or so from now.
I left feeling fearless.
Thank you, January. ❤