The usual line-up of classes to prepare for birth includes the stages of labor, learning coping techniques, preparing to breastfeed, becoming familiar with taking care of a newborn, learning infant CPR and child safety... but it doesn't usually focus on one super critical aspect of preparing for parenthood.
We offer a class for expecting parents called Decision-Making Skills for Labor and Beyond. Although it might sound a bit off the beaten path, we think it's just as important as any of those other topics mentioned above. So important, in fact, that we decided to create an entire class dedicated to helping Orange County and Long Beach families become more prepared in this area.
This might sound strange. After all, wouldn't it be more helpful for parents to learn how to breathe through contractions, or about the possible pain relief options in labor, or even how to soothe a baby?
Our perspective is that without a solid foundation for making decisions as a parent, the other things don't matter all that much. Because in order to know what might help you during labor and as you care for your baby, you need to ask some important questions - of yourself and others - along the way.
One of our doula and childbirth education clients even said this class should be required for all parents to take before they have a baby!
Here are 4 reasons why decision-making is one of the most important skills you need for birth (and parenting):
Research shows that parents who are involved in decision-making during labor feel more positively about their birth experiences (even if things didn't go as planned).
In turn, positive feelings about birth improves parents' abilities to bond with their babies. (Read more here, here, and here.)
Your journey is unique. If you rely on others to make decisions for you, those decisions most likely won't take your own unique history, perspective, and values into account.
We work with a lot of clients who experience anxiety during pregnancy. One big reason for that stress is that there are so many unknowns when walking into pregnancy, birth, and being in charge of a newborn baby - especially when doing those things for the first time. When parents don't feel comfortable making their own decisions, the default decision that will be made for them is at the whim of other people in their lives (care providers, family members, books written by experts, members of Facebook moms' groups, etc.). But because each family and each birth and each baby is unique, those decisions may not be well-suited to their values and priorities.
It's impossible to make all your decisions ahead of time when it comes to birth.
There are as many scenarios for the way birth can unfold as there are actual births (see point 2 about uniqueness). So even if you're taking a comprehensive childbirth class and reading ALL THE BOOKS and creating a birth plan, it's just not possible to prepare for every single scenario beforehand. Since we can never completely control the birth process (even with highly medicalized care available to us), it's basically 100% guaranteed that some decision or another (or likely many decisions) will need to be made in labor.
It's also impossible to make all your decisions ahead of time when it comes to caring for your baby.
Many families who spend time preparing for birth feel that when it comes to caring for their baby, they'll just run everything by their pediatrician and follow all their advice (see point 2 again). You don't have to prepare for how to handle every question or situation that might arise about your baby's health and well-being, so long as you are prepared to thoughtfully consider your options when those things come up. And to be honest, there is a lot of grey area when it comes to taking care of a baby! Your care providers may give you options, leaving you to - guess what?? - make a decision.
Relying on others to make your decisions for you can lead to a lot of confusion and frustration.
We hear this all the time from new parents. The thing about birth and babies is that everyone you ask seems to know the solution for any problem or issue or question that arises... but each of those solutions can be vastly different than others! When you rely on advice or information from others rather than making purposeful, thoughtful decisions yourself, it's easy to quickly become overwhelmed by all the conflicting advice and information out there.
So why worry about this ahead of time?
Being in labor and being the parent of a newborn are intense. Think about some important decisions you've made in your life. At the time, was life giving you a little peace and quiet, slowing down a bit to allow you the time and space you needed to really think things through in a helpful way? If not, do you wish that had been the case?
Well, labor and parenting don't always allow for much peace and quiet. Sometimes they can be intense, stressful, strip you of sleep, make it tough to get what you need physically, or put you in a place of worry or fear (for yourself, your partner, or your baby). Those factors combine to create a very difficult situation for making thoughtful decisions - especially decisions that can have a big impact on the progression of your labor or the health of your little one.
Learning and practicing decision-making skills BEFORE finding yourself in that environment (and possibly/probably sleep-deprived) can provide huge benefits that will pay off down the line. Even if you have a doula!
One of the things we talk about in our childbirth classes is what to do in labor when you don't know what to do. Birth is a rite of passage that still contains so much mystery.
Being prepared for the inevitable moments when the next step forward isn't exactly clear is one of the most compassionate things you can do for yourself as a new parent.
Our decision-making class is all about practicality. It's drawn from our real-life experience with parents in labor, as well as our in-home support of parents in the early hours, days, and weeks postpartum. We've seen up close and personal how hard it can be for parents to make decisions in these situations where anxiety, sleep deprivation, and taking in lots of outside advice can complicate matters.
Over our years working with families as they welcome their babies, we've developed strategies to help parents learn to feel comfortable assessing the situation, taking in the opinions and advice of care providers and loved ones, and making decisions that are right for their families based on the information they have at the time.
Many clients have told us that the most impactful part of working with us as doulas has been our assistance in the moment to help them through complicated decisions. Of course, in-person support can't be replaced with a class! But we thought we'd at least offer an option for parents who have chosen not to add a doula to their birth and/or postpartum team.
When parents feel equipped to make complicated decisions for themselves and their baby, they can feel a sense of relief knowing that they're as ready as can be for one of the most challenging parts of becoming a parent.
So take the time to add decision-making skills to your toolbox of labor preparation - you won't regret it.