During my first pregnancy, I'd only heard graphic and horrific stories of birth and what to expect. For an impending mother, these were the last things I needed to hear.
I decided I wanted my experience to be different from those I'd heard about, so I did a calm birthing course to help me approach labour feeling empowered, confident and positive.
As I reach full-term now with my second pregnancy, it's time, once again, to reflect on the things that helped me achieve my first amazing birth - and hope for a second one to join it.
1. Stay positive
It's so important to approach labour and birth in a positive mind frame; it's truly amazing how what we believe and expect from something can change how we experience and react to it.
Childbirth is daunting and extremely hard work, both physically and mentally. When you're bombarded with traumatic stories of birth, your own thoughts and expectations of childbirth can sway in the same direction. Equally, if you have given birth before and did unfortunately experience first-hand one of these distressing stories, it's hard to expect anything else but the same.
It's crucial to remember that all births are different. Seek out positive birth stories and try to approach the impending arrival with confidence in your body and your mind to overcome anything it is faced with during those intense hours.
2. Remember to breathe/imagine/count during contractions
By this, I mean that you should do whatever it is that you find works for you. I found that counting my breaths would remind me that the contraction would end at some stage. I would think "If I can get to 20 counts, it will be gone." And that's what worked for me.
One of my friends coped by imagining her baby making its way out to her, and another friend managed by swearing and yelling at anyone who approached her. Each to their own. Find what works for you and embrace it.
3. Know the stages of labour
If you have an understanding of what to expect it can be less confronting. I decided not to read about all the possible complications that one could encounter, as it made me worry. Instead, I read up on the three stages of labour and the usual steps you move through in a typical labour (if there is such a thing!).
Knowing a little bit of the biology of it all helped me as I was aware of what the contractions were doing physically to my body, and why they were necessary. I tried to keep calm and remember that the more relaxed I could be, the greater progress my body would make.
I remember thinking at one stage that this was it for me. I was done. There was no possible way that I could mentally or physically have this baby anymore. I looked at my midwife and husband and plainly stated "I can't do this." It was at that point I thought maybe I was in transition, as I had read that was normally the moment where mothers would lose all hope or lose their minds. It gave me just that little bit of encouragement to push through (yes, literally).
4. Be open with your support partner
It's important that your birth partner knows what will help you during labour. It's stressful for them too, and they can become overwhelmed with what they're observing.
In my case, my support person was my husband. Don't get me wrong - he's an incredibly loving, kind and smart man (I did marry him after all). But he is a man. I made sure I was clear about the things I wanted him to do during labour, and what I needed from him in the way of encouragement and support. He ended up doing an outstanding job, and not once did he complain about how sore his hands were massaging my back. Lucky for him.
5. You cannot fail
Regardless of how much one can prepare themselves for labour and birth, some will still be confronted with unexpected challenges. I headed into labour with definite birth intentions, but I wasn't bound by them. In the case that things didn't go to plan, I was okay to accept that changes may have to happen. I may not have that water birth, I may have a caesarean … I may even give birth in the car on the way to hospital.
It was important for me to remind myself that in the case my birth plan didn't eventuate, I hadn't failed. Failure wasn't a word I wanted to enter my mind. My body would do the very best it could. If I needed intervention, or if I just WANTED intervention, that was fine.
Everyone has their own stories, whether it be a water birth, the planned caesarean, the induced birth or give-me-every-type-of-drug-you-have birth. I will take whatever path I need to safely bring my baby into the world happy and healthy. I will approach labour and childbirth hoping for the best and excited. I simply cannot wait to meet my little soulmate.