For many women, getting pregnant and giving birth can be a totally life-changing experience — usually a positive one.
On the flipside though, the pregnancy and birth experience can be quite "traumatic" for a lot of mothers, especially those who have been subject to unnecessary hospital protocols or medical procedures.
In fact, research shows that 1 in 4 women may be “feeling haunted by their childbirth experiences.”
So what's an expecting woman to do when such unfortunate incidents happen? Better yet, is there a way to prevent them?
This is where the concept of "gentle birth" comes in.
What is a gentle birth? According to Velvet Escario-Roxas, a certified birth doula, gentle birth and breastfeeding advocate, the term "gentle birth" refers to a “safe, positive, empowering experience during the process of labor and delivery for happier, healthier babies and families.”
Certified childbirth doula, hypno-doula and placenta encapsulation specialist Irina Otmakhova has a more detailed definition on her website: “The birth can be gentle when the mother’s rights are respected and her birth preferences are met by her birth attendants. Her birth plan may include the details on the kind of interventions she chooses to have (or not to have any at all!) and who she would like to have by her side as a support team.”
This means that gentle birth is really focused on the rights of the mother (and her baby), and the kind of support they both receive.
“Gentle birth was actually a common thing in the Philippines, until there was too much medicalization of births,” Escario-Roxas adds.
2011 CNN Hero of the Year awardee Robin Lim or “Ibu Robin,” as she is fondly known to many people, has been an advocate for gentle birthing for a number of years now. “Every mother counts,” she says in a 2012 article about her advocacy and work. “Gentle birthing and community health care is a human right.”
In the same article, it is stated that the most important components for a gentle birth are (1) a baby should not be separated from the mother, and (2) the mother’s wishes should be respected. It should be the least traumatic as possible for both mother and child.
“Being born without trauma is a foundation for having an intact capacity to love and trust,” Lim explains.
Otmakhova’s article further states, “Birthing gently means to choose a birth practice that aligns to the maximum with what nature intended for the mother and child to go through in the birthing process, reserving medical interventions to the cases when they are truly needed.”
How do I prepare for a gentle birth? For women who wish to have a gentle birth, Escario-Roxas and Otmakhova give the following pointers:
1. Know that as a woman who gives birth, you have rights. Learn more about them, and don’t be afraid to exercise them.
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2. Be inspired by other women’s gentle birth stories. If you’re looking for accounts of Filipino moms who have had gentle births, Normi Alvaira Herrera and Martine de Luna have their own inspiring stories to share.
3. Attend childbirth classes. Information and knowledge is power. This way, you will be familiar with the physiology of labor and birth, and learn the pros and cons of hospital procedures that are usually done when a woman gives birth.
4. Avoid watching mainstream media birth shows. These usually present childbirth as an “emergency.” Women should be encouraged to see that the birthing process is one of the most natural things in the world, and that their bodies are equipped for it.
6. Read books about gentle birth, like Birthing from Within, Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering, and Active Birth.
7. Make sure that your healthcare provider will listen to you. Don’t be afraid to ask him or her questions and, if necessary, replace him or her with another provider who is more understanding and supportive.
8. Choose who will be part of your birth team. Aside from your husband or partner and your healthcare provider, you might want to consider hiring a doula — a trained birth professional who can provide physical, emotional and informational support to the mother before, during and just after birth.
9. Come up with your birth plan — and stick to it. Make sure that it includes postnatal procedures as well, like the Unang Yakap protocol, and your plans to breastfeed. Share it with your birth team and enlist everyone’s help to make sure that the plan is followed as closely as possible.
10. Believe in yourself and trust your body. Stick to going for a natural birth as much as possible, and avoid any medical interventions unless they are absolutely essential.
11. If in case it is deemed necessary for you to have a C-section, request for the hospital personnel to follow the protocol that supports a “gentle Cesarean birth.”
12. Get support from other moms with similar beliefs and opinions about gentle birth. The Gentle Birth in the Philippines online community is a good place to start.
Ultimately, of course, a woman’s decision to have a gentle birth lies entirely with her. Once you’ve made that decision though, it should be respected and upheld by the people around you. Remember, you have the right to bring your baby into this world in the manner that seems most natural and fit for you — and for many women, gentle birth is the way to go.