Community Advocacy and Support by and for Young Mothers

Birthing Power by Joan

Birthing Power
by Joan

Having a baby can change your life in incredible ways, either positive or negative. If you've decided that you want to have a natural birth, there are many things you can do to make it a powerful and joyful experience. The first thing you need is to know your rights.

You have the right to enjoy your pregnancy. A lot of folks view teen pregnancy as a punishment, "you messed up, now you have to suffer the consequences." It may mess with their minds to see you enjoying in your pregnancy. That is their problem, not yours.

Even if your entry into sexual activity was not the world's best idea, that doesn't make your pregnancy a punishment. In fact, you can use your pregnancy as a stepping stone to pull yourself out of any self- defeating behaviors you might have and take charge of your life. So many women say, "I was wandering through life/hooking up with the wrong kind of men/a mindless party girl/on drugs/whatever . . . then I got pregnant and it turned me around."

Pregnancy can guide you into all kinds of positive changes. A healthier diet, better exercise, organizational skills (especially if you have to go through all the paperwork it takes to get government assistance), decision-making skills, stress-management skills, a deeper spiritual life, and even career choices. A friend of mine went from party girl to midwife all because of an unplanned pregnancy.

Look at your pregnancy as a blessing and enjoy it. And if people see you glowing, they'll just have to deal with it.

You have the right to decide how you want to give birth. It is your birth and nobody else's. If you want to have a natural birth, go for it! Even if other people you know tried it and "couldn't," you don't have to travel with their baggage. Read everything you can get your hands on, talk to other women who have had natural births, and find a really good childbirth class. Tell yourself that you can do it.

You have the right to decide where you want to give birth. Not everybody goes to a hospital to have a baby. In fact, if you want a natural birth, a hospital would be the most difficult place to try it. The most natural place to give birth is in your own home, and it is safe. You can get plenty of information about home birth in books and on the Web. Also, you can try an independent birth center if there is one in your area. A birth center isn't the same as a home birth, but it's still radically different from a hospital. If you do choose a hospital birth, have a birth plan and a solid support system in place.

You have the right to know what is going on with your body. This is true for both your pregnancy and your birth. Write down any questions that come to your mind, and ask about them when you have your prenatal visits. The right kind of caregiver will be glad to take the time to answer your questions in language that you can understand.

When you are in labor, ask questions about anything that you don't understand. You need to know everything that they are doing or proposing to do. And remember, you have the right to refuse any medical procedure at any time.

You have the right to reach out for support. Gather people around you who will support your choices and work for your good. Women do better in labor when they are in an environment that feels safe. Wherever you give birth, having loving people nearby will give you feelings of comfort and confidence.

You have the right to be treated with respect. Believe me, I have seen medical staff get some ugly attitudes with birthing women. Some of them may try to look down on you based on your age, marital status, skin color, economic situation, or whatever. If you're on government assistance, some staff will have the feeling that they don't owe you anything because their tax dollars are going to pay for your birth (I've actually heard nurses say that!). But remember, if the hospital is receiving Medicaid money, then your tax dollars are going to pay their salary.

A part of the problem is this: Even if you have already shopped around for the birth attendant you want who respects you and treats you right, there's no telling which nurse you'll end up with when you get to Labor and Delivery (yet another advantage of home birth!). Here is where your support people can help. While you are busy with the business of giving birth, they can address any problems of shoddy treatment from the staff. They should not be afraid to speak up. If a particular nurse is impossible to deal with, you can request a different one.

You have the right to give birth with dignity and power. Being a teen does not automatically mean that you'll be helpless and unable to cope with labor, no matter what you may have heard.

I was born one week before my mother's 20th birthday. When my mom came to the hospital and said that she was in labor, they told her that she wasn't and sent her back home; they didn't even examine her. They didn't believe that a 19-year-old could be in labor with her first baby and not be hysterical. (She didn't go home, though; she waited in the car for a while and then went back in. When she finally got somebody to examine her, she was almost ready to start pushing.)

The image of the woman in labor who is a frightened, quivering wreck does not have to be you. Dont let anyone tell you that you're supposed to suffer in labor to atone for your sins. Find a good natural childbirth class. They'll teach you a lot of techniques to help you deal with labor. The more you learn, the more confidence and dignity you can have.

You have the right to make your voice heard. Even when a birth is dignified and powerful, it may still be loud. My midwife told me that as I was pushing my baby out, I was roaring like a lioness. When that power is moving through your body, you may need to express it vocally. Go ahead and do it. Don't feel intimidated or think that you have to maintain a quiet hospital atmosphere. It is your birth, do what your body tells you to do.

You have the right to be with your baby. You have the right to question any procedures that are suggested for your baby, and you don't have to let anyone take your baby away from you. Any test or procedures that you choose to have done can be done with you there watching. And you can keep your baby with you at night if you choose.

You have the right to decide what your baby eats. If you want your baby to have nothing but the breast, tell them! Include it in your birth plan that your baby will get no bottles, no pacifiers, no sugar water, nor any formula. Find out beforehand if they have any breastfeeding educators on staff to help if you have any problems. If they don't, make sure that you know someone you can call to give you advice if you need it. La Leche League (1-800-LA-LECHE) can give you the names of local breastfeeding experts whose phone numbers you can keep on hand.

You have the right to be the best mother you have ever seen. Teen mothers can be responsible, mature, loving parents. If you follow the path of natural mothering-- breastfeeding, holding your baby as much as s/he wants it, sleeping with your baby-- you will see a powerful, loving bond forming between your baby and you. Even if the things you're doing are different from the norm, just follow your instincts. It is not true that you will "spoil" your baby by giving the baby too much love. There are lots of books and Internet sites where you can learn more about attachment parenting and how it benefits both you and your baby.

Becoming a mother is an amazing journey. You can't predict exactly how it will go, but if you prepare yourself and make thoughtful choices, you'll end up in a good place. Have a nice trip!