Just as I found myself rebounding from the first-trimester pukes and comfortably settling into the “honeymoon” period of the second trimester, my brain just had to go and remind me that before I got too comfortable, it was time to put on my big girl pants and start thinking about actual life things with baby. (Cue the “objects in mirror are closer than they appear scene in Jurassic Park.) From creating a baby registry checklist (A snotsucker? I’m sorry, what?) to shopping around for a pediatrician, the decision struggle is so, so real.
When my doula asked me what my birth “vision” was in one of our first phone calls, I replied with a nervous laugh, “Uhh … I don’t know, to survive it––I guess?” The importance of––and I cannot stress this enough–– where and how you want to be treated for maternity care cannot be understated, especially in this time of isolation.
While your research efforts and due diligence have a time and a place during the course of your pregnancy, so does your mama-to-be instinct. So before you get to work, drown out the noise and ask yourself the following 3 hallmark questions.
1. What is my ideal birth experience?
The difference between a birth center and hospital facility is one of the keys. to. life. Choosing one or the other simply depends on what’s right for you.
In a typical birth center setting, you’ll likely be seen by a lean rotation of midwives and nurses. You’ll get to know them, they’ll get to know you––a huge draw if you’ve been finding yourself getting bumped around from physician to physician. If you’re keen on support and having familiar faces surround you on the eventual big day, a birth center may be a good option for you.
It’s also worth mentioning that their educational materials and classes are typically top-notch (hello, on-site lactation counselor!), and on par with that of a healthcare facility. There is a catch, however: pain relief is only offered in the form of warm water and/or nitrous oxide. There is no one there to administer an epidural and in the event you have a high-risk delivery, you’ll be ambulanced to the nearest hospital.
Hospitals, on the other hand, have quick, easy access to a variety of modern pain relief options. If you’re set on having an unmedicated birth, your decision will be honored (there are some birth center/hospital hybrids out there that also offer a tub!) but if, God forbid, something unexpected happens to you or baby, you can be assured that your care needs will be met in a timely manner.
Of course, hospitals have a rap of being sterile and chaotic, conjuring images of rushed activity and unsettling beep sounds. Not to mention, it’s not a given that your OB/GYN will be on-call when it’s your time.
2. How far am I willing to travel?
The distance from Y [your place] to Z [the birth destination] may seem minor in light of everything else until suddenly––and painstakingly––it becomes major. The truth is, there are zero indicators that point to how long your labor will actually last. It’s easy to conflate early labor with active labor when that particular stage can last days (!).
And remember, most places won’t even admit you until you’ve met the 511 rule: contractions every 5 minutes for 1 minute at a time over the course of 1 hour. If your labor has been excruciatingly long or excruciatingly intense, a 45-minute drive to your birthplace can feel like, oh, I don’t know––45 hours? Add to that, traffic and bumps and dips that riddle your route, and suddenly that ‘oh, shi*’ handle in your vehicle suddenly comes in very handy.
3. Do I want a Doula?
First of all: what the heck does a doula do? As it turns out, they’re non-medical professionals trained to support you before, during, and after childbirth. Nurses and midwives may be there for you in the lead-up, but their goal is ensuring baby’s safety and wellbeing during the actual childbirth experience, while doulas are there to solely take care of and look after mama, through and through.
In other words, a real life fairy godmother. Let it be known, however, that not all doulas are certified so if that’s something that’s important to you, you can start your search on the DONA registry.
Doulas can often determine where you’re at in the labor process and facilitate certain exercises to help you cope from contraction to contraction, guiding the most malpositioned baby all the way through the pelvis. A good doula will also find a way to create a team-like partnership with your support person, so their presence feels equally valued.
… Here’s the thing
Here’s the thing: While I received all of my prenatal care at a birth center and mentally primed myself for an unmedicated birth in a blissed-out atmosphere, my excruciating back labor brought me to a nearby hospital at the last minute. And you know what? Thanks to the amazing staff that did their best to create a chill vibe, it’s also where I decided to get my postpartum care.
My point is that sometimes your plan has other plans at the last minute––and that’s okay, too. Trust your instincts. Feel your way through what’s best for you. Mamahood is the ride of a lifetime—and it’s only just begun.