Today I was invited to my old prenatal yoga class to share my birth story and bring the baby so mamas to be could hold her while we all ate snacks. It was a nice moment of community, and something I really liked about that class when I was attending regularly.
Having a consistent physical practice really helped me during pregnancy. I was not a woman that enjoyed pregnancy very much, to be honest. I know some women do and I am legitimately happy for them. My body, being so short and carrying the baby so far forward, had a lot of uncomfortable symptoms. Prenatal yoga saved me from insanity a lot of times.
It also helped me prepare for birth as an athletic event. Birth is a lot of things -- physical, definitely, and emotional. It can be spiritual, and communal too. To help address the fear of the pain and hard work of labor and birth, I treated it like a sporting event. I knew it would be hard, and long, and painful, but I also knew that it would eventually be over, and I also knew that I could do it.
Roller derby endurance practices and long bouts skating doubles, CrossFit WODs and competitions, and my yoga practice all helped me hone my mental game. I approached labor as I would another endurance event: it had a start, middle, and ending, I could measure my progress, and I could moderate my breathing and effort for these different stages.
It sounds crazy, but it really helped. In early labor, I knew to rest and prepare myself for the harder stuff. I drank a bunch of water cut with Pedialyte (I like it better than Gatorade), I ate scrambled eggs and pancakes, and I wrote my birth plan. In active labor, I had a breathing strategy, I went deep inside myself and met my contractions, rather than running from them. I embraced exactly where I was, even when it hurt. And in pushing, I waited until a contraction hit and pushed with it, instead of against it.
My mental game helped me to stay centered and present for labor and birth. I didn't get so overwhelmed I couldn't function. My labor stayed progressive and on track. I was assertive when I needed to be with my doula, medical staff, and family.
We don't have any control over birth and labor, but to the extent that I could influence the way things went, I feel that a strong mental game really helped me have such a positive and empowering birth. I wasn't afraid during labor and birth at all -- and that's huge for someone prone to anxiety and worry.
So if you're a mama-to-be, or a friend or partner to someone about to give birth, maybe spend some time working on your mental game before your baby comes. If you go into birth mentally prepared, you'll be doing yourself a huge favor. Staying grounded and calm (well, as much as anyone can) has positive outcomes for both mama and baby.
Some resources that helped me: Birthing From Within by Pam England (amazing book -- super woo, but if you can overlook that, a lot of good messages here), a solid prenatal yoga class, hiring a doula, and reading up on sports psychology.
Remember: labor is hard work, it hurts, and you can do it.
You can totally do it.