Hi I’m Kate, a member of Team WellBe. I recently gave birth to my first child, a beautiful baby girl named Audrey.
When I found out I was pregnant, I was overjoyed, but I was also at a complete loss for how to proceed from there. Unlike my wedding, which I’d thought about long before it happened, I had never really considered what I wanted my pregnancy and childbirth experience to be like; all I knew was that I wanted to do what was best for the baby. After doing a bit of research and talking with mom friends, I ultimately decided that I wanted a holistic pregnancy and a hospital childbirth, with the former allowing for as little medical intervention as possible when it came time for the latter.
During my third trimester, I enlisted the services of a doula to support my holistic pregnancy, and that was incredibly helpful. Still, there was so much I had no clue about, and so much that I learned throughout my pregnancy and hospital childbirth. Here are six things I wish I’d known beforehand:
1. Sleep as much as possible in the time before your due date.
My vision of a holistic pregnancy meant not being induced, so I did a lot in the weeks leading up to my due date: I took warm baths, went for long walks, ate my bodyweight in dates. But one thing I didn’t do was to take advantage of my ability to sleep. It’s no secret that having a baby means you sleep less, but one thing that’s not as well-known is the fact that having a hospital childbirth means even less sleep during labor and those first few days.
My water broke at 7:30 PM and I gave birth at 6 AM, and I wasn’t able to sleep at all during the intervening hours because of all the beeps and boops in my room, not to mention the blood pressure cuff around my arm that inflated every 15 minutes. Then once the baby was born and I moved up to the recovery floor for two additional nights, both baby and I were continually awakened by hospital visitors: nurses checking our vitals, meds being administered, specialists coming through for check-ins and to get forms signed.
Had I known that a hospital childbirth would have meant beginning motherhood with such extreme sleep debt — I probably slept a total of 12 hours during those three days at the hospital — I would have gone to bed earlier and skipped the alarm in the last weeks of my pregnancy. (For those who experience third-trimester insomnia, a magnesium supplement is a great natural choice for improving sleep.)
2. You need a “pain brain” plan.
I had the intention of concluding my holistic pregnancy with a natural childbirth, but I was open to an epidural if the pain was too intense. What I didn’t think through was how I would make that decision once contractions began. Having never before experienced contractions, I had no idea what to expect; I guess I assumed that they wouldn’t be so bad, or that in the calm moments between contractions I would be able to assess, with a level head, whether or not I wanted pain management. But in my case, neither of these things happened: my contractions were some of the most intense pain I’ve ever felt, and I had no break between them at all — as soon as the peak of one contraction began to subside, another would begin.
Both of these things meant that I was not in any shape to make a decision about whether or not to get the epidural. Eventually, after about four hours of labor, feeling dizzy and nauseous and completely overwhelmed, I managed to mutter the words “Get me an epidural NOW” to my husband. For me, this ended up being the best choice. The epidural got rid of almost all of my pain, allowing me to be present and actually enjoy the rest of my labor, and I went from three cm to fully dilated in under two hours after the injection. Still, I wish I’d been able to make that decision from a less panicked place. If I have another child, part of my holistic pregnancy will include creating a specific plan with my husband on how to make decisions in a hospital childbirth setting once the pain begins.
3. You will (very likely) have some negative doctor experiences.
At my hospital, I didn’t see one doctor, but rather a group of five, one of whom would deliver my baby, depending on who was on call. For most of my pregnancy, every professional I’d worked with — my doula, my acupuncturist, my fertility specialist, the other doctors in the practice — had been a positive addition to my holistic pregnancy journey. But when I was about seven months pregnant, I had a check-up with one doctor who completely changed that. He was condescending and dismissive, only wanted to address my husband rather than me, and became angrily defensive when I pushed back on an answer. It was an incredibly upsetting experience (commonly called “gaslighting” which we discussed when we interviewed women’s health doctor Taz Bhatia, MD).
I was eventually able to shake it off and comfort myself with how low the odds were that he would be on call when it came time for my delivery, but it left me feeling traumatized for several days. Had I been more fully prepared for a negative experience like this, I think it would have affected me less. Now, having had the combination of a holistic pregnancy and a hospital childbirth, I understand more fully the hurdles you encounter in the world of conventional medicine. Some doctors are just backwards jerks, and this doesn’t need to impact your vision of childbirth or your holistic pregnancy choices: understanding this earlier would have helped me more effectively and healthily respond to the doctor in an empowered way.
4. The nurses are the ones who matter most.
One thing that would have made the weeks after that awful doctor’s appointment more manageable would have been knowing that it doesn’t matter that much which doctor is on call. For me, it ended up being one of the doctors in my practice who I really liked — thankfully — but after my hospital childbirth experience, I truly understood that the nurse you’re matched with matters much, much more. Our nurse, Jena, was with us from the time I entered triage at 9 PM until I was moved to recovery around 8 AM the next day. Besides my husband and my doula, she was the most important person in my childbirth experience; the doctor only arrived at the very end, after three and a half hours of pushing, when it was time to deliver the baby. Truly understanding the importance of the nurse over the doctor would have changed my outlook greatly as I prepared for a hospital childbirth.
5. You should designate someone else to deal with all the “stuff.”
I wanted my holistic pregnancy to culminate in as holistic a childbirth experience as possible, even if it was going to be at a hospital. For me, this meant keeping the lights dim and the room warm, sitting on a birthing ball through contractions, having my husband or my doula use lavender-scented massage oil on me, using aromatherapy through some essential oils with a diffuser, and eating organic honey sticks to keep my energy up. That’s a lot of physical stuff, and there was no way I was in a state of mind to remember any of it during labor. I ended up not really using any of it besides the birth ball and honey sticks, but may have done so if somebody had remembered to offer them to me. If I were to have another hospital childbirth, I would make sure to designate either my husband or doula to remember all of the physical items I’d requested, and to make sure to ask me if I want them periodically.
6. Your body is often smarter than your mind (or machines).
I had a lot of fear around the size of my baby — I’m barely 5’1” and very slight, my husband is a sturdy 6’7” — and my body’s ability to birth her. This fear was compounded when a 36-week ultrasound showed her weighing 6 pounds 7 ounces with four weeks to go. Even though I remained relatively small throughout my pregnancy, I was convinced I would have a giant baby, and that my narrow hips would require a C-section. In the end, my baby was just a smidge over 6 pounds and I was able to deliver vaginally with no intervention. All along, my doula had reminded me that my body was wise and would create a baby my body could handle, but I didn’t believe her, choosing to trust my anxiety and the ultrasound machines instead. If I were to go through this experience again, I would be much calmer, trusting in the intuitive wisdom of my own body.