For the next three weeks, I will be “spotlighting” three different women and why I believe they are strong woman. When I asked them to participate in this series, all of them said, “But I’m not strong…?”. Which is why these posts are so important!
My first guest is a good friend of mine and fellow mental health practitioner, Stephanie Kemme Walter. I asked her to write about becoming a new mom and how it made her feel strong (or not). Here is what she wrote:
Dealing with Labor and Delivery as a First Time Mom
As a therapist and a new mother, I wanted to write about my labor and delivery experience. Specifically how to set realistic expectations and cope with the reality surrounding the miracle of birth.
I had a plan, granted it was a flexible plan, but it was a plan none the less! I wanted a vaginal delivery, I really wanted to go all-natural without any pain medication or medical intervention, I wanted to labor at home as long as I could to remove the temptation of an epidural, I wanted to use hydrotherapy (a birthing tub) to help manage my pain during labor, and mostly I wanted to prove to myself and to everyone else that I could do it without pain medication! For some reason, I was putting immense pressure on myself to be able to go natural because “millions of women before me were able to do it, so I should be able to do it too”.
Here’s what ended up happening – like many first time women in labor, I went to the hospital too early and was sent home. When I was finally admitted I was in the most pain I have ever experienced in my life, and had automatic thoughts that I wasn’t going to be able to get through it. All the techniques I learned to manage the pain of contractions were not working like I expected them to. I spent 7 hours in agony before finally getting the epidural, and 20 hours after that my daughter was born!
Now, 8 weeks post-partum, I still struggle with how I handled the laboring process. I ask myself questions like, “could I have gone longer before getting the epidural?”, “did I try my best to cope with the pain?”, “why wasn’t I able to relax during contractions and ‘give into the pain’ like my birth coach advised?” and so on and so forth….
Here I am, an experienced therapist, and I still fall into unhelpful thinking patterns that impacted how I felt about my birthing experience. I continuously have to remind myself that sometimes, even though we prepare ourselves thoroughly, we might need to deviate from our plan. This is called flexibility. After all, trees that don’t bend, break.
Here’s what I learned to help me cope with the aftermath of my experience. Hopefully these tips might help others who are preparing for, or trying to cope with, a major challenge in their life:
- Avoid MUSTerbation and SHOULDing all over the place. Yes, you read both of those terms correctly. The term refers to the words “must” and “should”. These words can have a negative impact on our beliefs, which can lead to self defeating behaviors. For example, “I should give birth without pain medications” or “I must follow my birthing plan”. If we believe these thoughts to be true, and something happens that make us deviate from them, it can feel like failure. So, do yourself a favor and stop “shoulding” all over the place.
- Use Visualization. If you are going to create a birth plan, visualize how you ideally want your labor and delivery to play out. This ideal scenario is your Plan A. Now that you have Plan A, go ahead and visualize alternative scenarios. Talk yourself through those “what-if” situations like “what if I have to be induced” or “what if I need a c-section”. The way to cope with the “what-if’s” is to visualize how you will respond in those less than desirable situations. For example, “If I am induced, I will be more open to receiving pain medication” or “If I have a c-section, I will cope by visualizing holding my baby in the recovery room”. Visualizing your responses to potential situations will not only relieve anxiety about labor and delivery, but it will help you take control of your experience. Even if your Plan A falls through, you still have your Plans B and C!
- Challenge Negative Self-Talk. Whether we recognize it or not, we all have an internal dialogue or voice in our head that determines how we perceive information or situations. If this dialogue is negative in nature, you are more likely to have negative feelings about your experience. This can be difficult to cope with because sometimes, we don’t even recognize our negative self-talk. When my contractions got really tough, I kept telling myself “I can’t do this”. After my delivery, I had thoughts that I wasn’t strong enough because I ended up getting an epidural. These are examples of negative self-talk. Challenging those thoughts means to replace them with something more positive.
At the end of the day, most of us just want to delivery happy, healthy babies. So, even though most of the time I don’t feel strong or tough, I have to remind myself that no matter what type of delivery I had, and regardless of what pain management I may or may not have used, I had to be one strong a** woman to grow another human inside me for 9 months and to birth that, sometimes not so tiny, human out of my body and into this world. And you are too!!
Stephanie Kemme Walter
Thanks for reading!