Before the birth of my first child, I didn't armor myself with knowledge like I should have. Instead of researching breathing techniques, pain relief options, and potential complications, I simply thought, "Yeah, it's going to hurt and there's nothing I can do about it." I didn't think about all the possible scenarios and how I could have given myself the ammo to deal with them. Instead, I gave that power to my obstetrician.
I should have done my homework.
I was bullied into a C-section after only 18 hours of labor. After the surgery, I was pumped with so many drugs that the fog made it difficult to even hold my firstborn. The nurse held my baby to my breast — only to begin the takedown of my nipples. This was not the romantic scene I had signed up for. And things only got worse from there. I felt anxious and depressed that I wasn't nursing successfully, and I had little confidence as a new mother. The C-section that I didn't ask for stripped the power from me completely, making me doubt my ability to mother my own child. I had never cried that much in my life.
When I became pregnant with my second, I was determined to do my research. And as it turns out, being prepared for childbirth has a direct effect on your abilities as a mother (or, more accurately, your thoughts on your ability as a mother). According to the Journal of Maternal/Child Nursing, the satisfaction of a woman's childbirth experience has vital health implications for her and her family, and whether a mother is prepared for childbirth can help increase this satisfaction.
Katherine Hinic, PhD, conducted a 2017 study on 107 women in the first four days postpartum who gave birth to a healthy infant, carried to full-term, and planned to breastfeed. The new mothers were given a survey to evaluate their birth satisfaction, stress, and breastfeeding self-efficacy to see how these outcomes connected to their preparedness. Hinic wanted to study this because childbirth is the initial task of motherhood and can greatly impact early parenting. Essentially, a positive birth can be associated with an "increased maternal sense of competence, self-esteem, mastery, confidence, and decreased anxiety."
The study showed that when women were in control and prepared for their labor, they were confident in their ability to breastfeed well. Thus, their overall childbirth experience was favorable, too. The study also demonstrated that women who had longer labors were not as satisfied with their experience. This, I will say, was actually untrue for my second birth. Yes, I labored from start to finish for 50 hours, but I was able to have the vaginal birth I had wanted so badly with my first. Because I was in control, I became a much more confident mother the second time around. I didn't doubt myself, nor did I feel any anxiety.
One surprising thing the study also demonstrated was that receiving pain management had no bearing on childbirth satisfaction. What did matter was whether the mother had the power to choose her method of pain medication. If the mother was prepared, was knowledgeable, and had the autonomy of choosing, then she had a better birthing experience. Thus, her competence in her ability to mother increased as well. Before my second labor started, I wanted to have a natural childbirth, but after 35 hours, I asked, in horrific pain, for that heavenly epidural. I wasn't disappointed — I was pleased that I was the one who made that choice.
The childbirth experience is often the most memorable time in a woman's life. While it's easy to assume (like me) that giving birth is ultimately out of our control, you can (and should) take steps to make sure you're prepared for whatever may happen to your body and your baby. As women, we aren't always granted the opportunity to go through the birthing process many times (if at all), so it's wise to empower yourself with knowledge.