Birth. We all came into this existence through a birth. If you are reading this article you are maybe also planning to give birth yourself. Or a loved one is. Or you’ve already given birth and might be curious on how to heal birth injuries or other bodily pains you’ve had since. The amount of physical and emotional pains and discomforts women can retrieve after a birth is immense. Incontinence, prolapse, vaginal pain, difficulties defecating, pelvic pain, weak pelvic floor, numbness in the lower abdomen, vaginal numbness, tension in the legs, pain in the groins, postpartum depression, regret, judgment, grief, anger, the list goes on…
This article will be about how to prepare for birth, and how to recover after birth injuries. I will also talk real and raw, so don’t be alarmed if you react to some of the words I share, like when I share a bit about my own birth giving story.
Let’s start with lesson number one when it comes to Birth Preparations:
You can prepare and that’s awesome and helpful, but it might still not go exactly the way you planned or expected, so stay humble while setting your intentions.
I am a mother myself, and I’ve worked as a birth worker where I’ve assisted mothers and couples giving birth. The ones who decide to bring along an extra support person for the birth are usually the very well prepared ones. They have read all the articles and books, done their breathing exercises, eaten healthy, maybe attended parenting or breast feeding classes, and made a list on their wishes for how they want the proceedings of the birth to turn out. I admire that preparedness and I see that it helps a lot to come prepared to birth. I was such a mother-to-be myself.
However, when giving a lot of time and effort into preparing, it is easy to fall disappointed if things don’t turn out the way we anticipated. My dream birth would’ve been a home birth, but we decided during my pregnancy that it felt a bit safer, and also cheaper, to go to the hospital. In Sweden you have to finance the midwife yourself when you choose a home birth.
When it was time for me to give birth, I was well read and prepared and knew how I wanted to face the birth. I trusted my body to handle the pain with the breathing and relaxing tools I had gained during my preparations. I also brought two friends as extra support for me and my partner and I felt safe with the midwife who assisted us at the hospital. We handed her my Birth Letter, where I had listed my wishes and intentions, information on how I react to pain, which words and actions that makes me feel safe vs. unsafe, and my preferences when it comes to pain reducing interventions. The midwife read it and was therefor informed on how to best help me during the birth. It felt more or less like a home birth, but in the hospital.
There was a feeling of proudness together with the very empowering feeling that I could be with, and feel safe with, the sensations of pain all through the main part of the labour. However it was overwhelming to me at the end, and I recall so well that little voice in my head which said; ”If you just push really hard now, it will all be over in a minute”. This is where my birth giving didn’t go the way I anticipated. I pushed really hard and my baby came out beautiful and healthy – but I tore a lot. It was because I didn’t allow the stretching to take its time. Yes, it is normal to tear, 90 % of first time birthing mothers tear, a little or a lot. My tearing was a 3rd degree one, and I know I could’ve prevented it myself by sticking to the trusting feeling and patience that I had up until that last moment.
Fortunately the midwife made the decision to not tell me what had happened, and she smoothly said that ”It looks good, and you’ll need a few stitches, but I am not so good at sewing, so I will get a doctor to do that part”. I could remain in bed with my baby who had already latched on to my breast and I was happily unknowing of what had happened. I’m still amazed to this day that I couldn’t feel the tearing, but you who have given birth knows that there are many sensations going on at the same time, and somehow this was blurred out into all the other sensations. The doctor, a woman also named Sara, came in and did a very good job. She and the midwife allowed the lights in the room to remain dimmed and only used a stronger lamp where it was needed. I was happy to be able to hold my baby and after the stitching was done we moved over to another room to get some rest.
It was not until the day after that I got informed on the extent of the injury and how many stitches I got. I was shocked since I thought I didn’t tear so much, but trusted that I would be able to heal. A nurse came in and insisted that I’d take pain killers, but even though I felt pain, it wasn’t more than I could breath with and handle. At the hospital I was told to keep the area clean, but didn’t get more information than that on how to recover and heal.
When we came back home I started my self care at once, since I already worked with and was well informed on how to heal after birth. I used gels and oils with healing and nurturing qualities, and I started gently padding the genital area with those. I placed the products next to the toilet, and applied the routine of adding them after every toilet visit. After a few days I could add a gentle pressure and massage, which allowed me to feel where there were pain points and were there were numb areas. With the gentle pressure and with breathing along with it, as well as some gentle ”hugging” with the pelvic floor muscles, I could reconnect to my genital area after the intense experience of giving birth. After a few months it felt more or less like before, without any pain or tension.
This is what many don’t know, and this is one reason to why it’s common that we go about with birth injuries and their side effects for many years. Because we don’t reconnect with the traumatized or injured part of our bodies and selves. We are not informed to do it, so how could we have known? This goes for caesarean births as well. We benefit from tending to the area and the wound, with a gentle touch that assists the body’s innate function of self healing. Gently padding and eventually massaging around the wounds helps us reconnect to the area instead of distancing ourselves from it, which we tend to do when there’s been pain or trauma involved.
What many women do after birth is to start doing kegels, pelvic floor exercises, with the intent to regain muscle control and strength in their genital area and to prevent urinary leakage or incontinence. Maybe also from the fear of getting less tight compared to before birth, concerned that it will affect the penetrative part of their sex life. I do not recommend kegels. Especially at this point. The reason to why you feel you don’t have enough strength or control of your muscles is not due to lack of training, but to a loss of connection with this area. If it was traumatizing or painful to give birth, we need to reconnect with ourselves, our breathing and our genital area which has gone through a lot. So many of my clients has said that they disconnected from their genital area after birth, since they are still in grief or fear over the pain they felt or the lack of safety they experienced.
If we don’t connect, if we ignore a part of ourselves, how are we going to be able to make any change towards a more relaxed and safe feeling?
If you’re experiencing pain or discomfort after you’ve given birth, I suggest you start with placing a hand on your lower abdomen, and connect with your breathing, allow yourself time to feel that you are safe. If you have had a tearing, stitching and/or surgery, get yourself a gel or oil with healing and nurturing qualities and start to gently massage the area. You can buy the products at your local or online health store, or you can find the ones I’ve used at my other website www.spiracare.se. You want to use clean and organic products, without perfumes, parabens etc.
Apply the gel or oil to the area and add gentle pressure adjusted to your level of comfort. Breathe. If you experience pain, discomfort or a feeling of being overwhelmed, reconnect again to your breathing. There is no time pressure when it comes to healing. There are no goals that needs to be reached. The only goal is for you to feel safe and relaxed in the moment, and that cannot be pushed. Make a habit of attending to your body and the parts of it which feels tense or painful. Your body is your friend and it’s working with you, not against you. If you support your body, it supports you.
If you’re experiencing vaginal dryness after birth you may also want to make yourself a tea or an infusion of the herb Lady’s Mantle (Alchemilla Vulgaris), which affects the lubrication, smoothness and softness of your skin and mucous membranes.
I promised you some ideas on how to prepare for birth as well, and want to leave you off with these.
Preparing yourself doesn’t mean you have to do everything right and perfect during your pregnancy or birth. Some women tend to punish themselves emotionally if they’ve eaten something unhealthy, if they didn’t do enough prenatal yoga, or if they had some negative thoughts or angry outbursts during the pregnancy. Don’t beat yourself up over any of these, but set intentions on where you want to go. The same goes for your birth. If you intend to use no pain reduction, and end up changing your mind once you’re in labour, that is not a failure, that is your right and nothing to feel bad about.
I believe we can create our own reality, and shape the outcome of our lives with our thoughts, words and actions. Although, that doesn’t mean everything happens exactly as planned. When things take unexpected or unwanted turns, we can choose to allow valuable insights from what happens, and keep moving forward. No one benefits from dwelling in the past, but everyone can benefit from receiving insights and learning from it.
Practically, I suggest you ask yourself what you are wishing for and expecting for the birth. For example you may wish for an all natural home birth without any pain reducing interventions, or you may wish for a hospital birth with all the pain reduction available, or something in between. Then do a self inventory of whether the expectations matches where you are at and what makes you feel safe. Many expectations comes from having heard stories from others. You may have girlfriends who’ve told you how painful it was and how happy they were to have the medical assistance. Or you may have friends who’ve told you how amazing their unassisted home birth was. Where are you? What makes you feel safe? Regardless of what others did or are planning to do. There should be no judgement about any of your decisions when you’re basing them on what makes you feel safe.
When it comes to the physical preparations for birth, many are hoping to not tear in their genital area and would like to prevent that. This can be helped by some preparations. You can for example massage your genital area and stretch your perineum during the pregnancy. When doing so I recommend you use a cold pressed organic almond oil, but you can of course use other oils as well, and there are even brands who have a dedicated perineum oil with blends that supports this intention. If you have a partner you can let him or her massage you as well. It’s not only about trying to stretch, since you won’t be able to stretch as far as you will stretch when giving birth anyways. But it’s more about to get a relaxed feeling and softening the muscle and skin tissues around the area. You can prepare also by doing relaxing and supporting movements, to keep you flexible and keep your blood circulation going.
However, the main factor to assist and prepare your perineum and pelvic floor lies within creating a birth environment that is as safe as possible, where you feel as safe as possible. This is because the body reacts with relaxation and flexibility to circumstances that are safe, and with tension and inflexibility to circumstances that feels threatening. With not feeling safe, your body will tense up and hinder the flow of blood circulation to the pelvic floor. It’s as if the body wants to prevent the birth from happening at that moment, waiting for a more safe moment to arrive.
With breathing and relaxing techniques which makes you feel safe, your body and your pelvic area can relax and open up more. That’s why I emphasize on finding techniques for relaxation and safety that works for you. I was very pleased with having the techniques I learned as a doula, which I applied through the main part of my birth giving.
In the near future we will publish a Vital Pregnancy Program at Vital Woman dedicated to Pregnancy & Birth. In the meantime, you can take part of the Vital Woman Program, where all the information, the nutritional part and the movements are designed to work for you whether you are pregnant or not, whether you’re menstruating or not, and regardless of your age. It’s a program for all women. You may also inquire us about consultations if you would like some extra support for your pregnancy and birth giving.
For our Swedish speaking readers, I would also like to invite you to a webinar I’ll be speaking at now on Friday the 8th of April. You can read more about it and register for it here.
Next week you will receive some words from Diana, so until you hear from me again I wish you a great time.