After having a deep discussion about pregnancy with an acquaintance who already has two children, I recommended that she watch the film The Business of Being Born to better understand my philosophy of childbirth. She came back to me and exclaimed, "Why didn't anyone TELL ME this when I was pregnant?!" Like many women who are given the opportunity to rediscover childbirth in this new form, she felt an array of emotions, including shock, anger, hope and regret regarding her previous birth experiences.
But what should every pregnant woman know before she gives birth?
Educate yourself. If you are expecting, start by doing your homework. Read objective and informative resources on childbirth. Learn to make educated decisions for yourself and your baby. There are choices to make throughout pregnancy, birth, infant feeding, circumcision, vaccinations, diapering, infant sleep, parenting. Learn your options ahead of time, during the nine-month stretch before your baby arrives, and continue educating yourself along the way. Consult your doctor, midwife, and caregivers regarding important decisions, but do not rely on them to make decisions for you or because that is the procedure your caregiver regularly follows. You are an individual, and every individual/birth/child/patient is unique.
Begin by watching The Business of Being Born or by reading Ina May's Guide to Childbirth, both of which will help you explore your options in childbirth and give you a better, more realistic understanding of true natural birth. These two resources will also prove that birth does not have to be filled with fear and pain, but can actually be a beautiful, memorable transition.
Continue by learning everything you can about breastfeeding now. While breastfeeding is natural and normal, it does not mean that it is always easy. If you already know important things like how to properly latch, common comfortable positions for nursing, and how often infants infants feed, you will be well on the way to breastfeeding success. Take an afternoon to go to a local La Leche League meeting, speak with women who successfully breastfed for more than a year, watch a baby latch on to the breast and nurse--these things will be invaluable in the days following birth.
Remember, you can read every book on parenting, sleep, birth and breastfeeding. However, you will not truly get it until you are actually experiencing everything first-hand. Your baby is unique and so are you. All the information you soak up when you are pregnant will be put to the test, and you will not really get it until you are right there. In the moment. You will be thankful you did your homework, and, years down the road, your life will be richer and fuller than you ever imagined it could be.