As a certified nurse midwife, birth concierge and lactation consultant, I’ve been working with moms and babies for my entire career. But nothing – not even 20 years of experience in the field – could prepare me for the experience of having my own child.
What has stood out most since becoming pregnant with and then delivering my beautiful baby boy is the incredible amount of advice that’s coming at me, from all directions. My pediatrician, my family, my friends, my online network – everyone has an opinion, and they don’t always align.
Trust me, I get it – I provide medical advice for a living! It’s natural and helpful to both share and receive advice. But it’s also overwhelming. Having lived through this recently, and with the lens of medical provider, I am sharing the most crucial pieces of advice I’ve learned, in hopes that it can help others find clarity in their own journeys:
- Trust yourself. This is number one for a reason, because the litany of advice you’re getting WILL mess you up at some point. The single most important piece of advice is to simply trust yourself and to understand that your gut instinct is most often the best instinct. Listen to others’ advice as much or as little as you want to (“sleep when the baby sleeps”, “swaddle with arms in/arms out,” “make sure you take the right childbirth class”) but ultimately, trust yourself that you know what’s best for your child.
- Experience can be just as important as expertise. As a newly pregnant woman, I sought out the doctors with the lowest infection rates and the highest rates of vaginal deliveries. What I quickly realized was that data is just one piece of the puzzle. I wanted good outcomes for my baby, of course, but I also learned that empathy, compassion, and gentle reassurance from a care provider means so much when you’re becoming a mom. It’s important to find the provider that makes you feel the most comfortable – for whatever reason – as that experience of trust between the two of you will be crucial in the months to come.
- Having a birth plan is a bit like picking your child’s career path. It’s probably not going to turn out quite how you expect. There are infinite trajectories for a woman’s labor experience, and you never know how things will eventually happen. This is not to say you shouldn’t write a birth plan, just to be realistic with your expectations, and trust your provider and delivering facility. If you don’t, then you may want to reconsider who you’re working with in the first place.
- Route of delivery is less important (in the long run) than you may expect. I never thought I’d have an IVF, high-risk pregnancy with growth restriction, an abruption, c-section, hemorrhage, and NICU stay. I had an image of myself squatting to the floor, independently reaching for my baby surrounded by a circle of women. Instead, my several-day induction of labor ended with a cesarean section on a Tuesday night. It was terrible, right? No! It was perfect. I mourned the loss of my vision for my natural-birth, but the second my baby’s little lips touched my cheek, I didn’t care how he got there. All that mattered in that moment was that I could feel his wet little face against mine. Time stopped. The record scratched. Nobody was there but my little Teddy gently resting on my chest. I look at my scar every day, thankful for my sweet baby, and feel grateful for our modern tools, including surgery, so I could bring my child into the world.
- Plan beyond the pregnancy and delivery. As a midwife, I knew the stages of labor, how to interpret lab values, and when someone needs a cesarean section. But after 48 hours of an infant’s life, I had NO idea what to do with a baby. This is common, even among non-medical moms. Many women get so focused on the pregnancy and the delivery plans (picking out paint colors, for example) that they forget about the much longer and more important phase – raising a newborn. The cure? Over plan to need lots and lots of help. Know whom you’ll call after birth when you need help with breastfeeding, such as a lactation consultant, and find a support group that you’re already comfortable with before you give birth. Know that you’ll most certainly need help, and be ready with the steps to take when your brain is overwhelmed in momma mode.
Motherhood is the hardest job in the world. Nearly 20 years as a midwife, nurse, lactation consultant, and educator did not spare me from moments of panic that would arrive, and ultimately, postpartum anxiety in my first few months.
The influx of advice and recommendations, which all came from a wonderful place, sometimes contributed to the feelings of guilt that led to anxiety. That’s why it is so, so important to remember that at the end of the day, you know what’s best for your child.
Trust yourself and find the right providers whom you can trust. You’ll be amazing, I promise.
by Stacey Woods, Perinatal Program Specialist, Arizona Mother-Baby Care