Setting Boundaries During Pregnancy and Labor
Could we all just take a moment and collect all the things that are offensive, awkward, or just plain unnecessary that we hear spoken to us during pregnancy and labor?
"Are you sure you aren't having twins?!" (Code for "You look extra fat for a pregnant lady")
"Maybe next time you'll think about having that epidural." (Code for "Your choices make me uncomfortable. Please adjust accordingly.)
"I would never ______ during my pregnancy. You know that can hurt the baby." (Code for "I like to control other people so I feel safe")
If we, the collective humanity of women, had a nickel for each of these, we would be rich beyond measure. These are not just examples, I have heard all of these. I know you have too, or possibly, spoken them. These offenses are verbal, but there could be physical or relational pain being caused by others as well. And, unfortunately, it can be the ones we are closest to whose sting feels the worst. There is a legitimate hormonal roller coaster going on inside you, and you need some strong boundaries during pregnancy and labor to take care of yourself during this journey.
How do we set boundaries during pregnancy and labor that will protect our own hearts and minds from internal and external sabotage?
1. Have a mantra on the ready- one for others and one for you.
A mantra is a phrase you say repeatedly. You can have a mantra to say to others, and one (or several) you say to yourself.
Here are some examples of a mantra you could have ready for rude comments:
"We're okay, but that's not okay." or just "That's not okay"
"That is not helpful, that is hurtful."
"I will welcome a conversation with you, but I don't like that comment."
Here are some things you can say to yourself:
"I am beautiful"
"It will be ok"
"The truth is I am needed, loved, and capable."
Having something ready to say will help you quickly detach from internatilizing and stewing over what is said. Practice your mantra so you will be ready.
2. Keep yourself and the baby safe.
A boundary is simply what is okay, and what is not okay. The safety of yourself and your baby rises to the top and trumps every other thing that is happening in your life. Pretend you are standing in a hula hoop, and the only things that get in the hula hoop help keep you and your baby safe.
Abuse of any kind is not okay. Harassment of any kind is not okay. If this is a boundary you need to set, do it. Your collective tribe of women is supporting you and cheering you on. You leave, you get safe, and you stay there.
This could look less like abuse, and more like a boss who refuses to let you take time off after the baby. This could be pressure from your spouse to not gain too much weight or bounce back too quickly after birth. It could even be unsafe for you to continue in your book club because you are full of so much anxiety when you get home week after week. The spectrum of safety is very wide, but the boundary is this: What is unsafe for me or my baby is not okay.
3. Create a birth plan and decide who your support team will be.
Do you want your mother in the birth room? Some women do, some don't. I said I didn't but then wanted her there for every moment! Do you feel supported going into birth? I and my husband knew we wanted a doula- for my support and his. When we made this decision I felt relieved, safe, and loved- all the feelings that come from setting healthy boundaries. Do you want to hire a videographer to capture your journey to parenthood and make a beautiful birth film? Do you want to have a golden hour after birth? What kind of birth plan do you need to think through so you feel safe, supported, and loved? A birth plan should not too rigid nor too vague. A good birth plan sets boundaries of what is okay, and what's not okay.
4. HALT before you explode on someone.
Am I HUNGRY, ANGRY, LONELY, or TIRED? This is a boundary you set on yourself. The boundary is this: you take care of basic needs before your rational thinking goes out the door. This may seem obvious, but the truth is many women are not taking care of their basic needs. For a great, brief article on this self-care tool, go to https://bradfordhealth.com/halt-hunger-anger-loneliness-tiredness/
Setting healthy boundaries during pregnancy is going to be a gift you give yourself, your family, and your baby. When you can say what is okay and what is not okay, you are on the path to bravery, vulnerability, and courage. For more on boundaries, check out Brene Brown's talk on this subject here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5U3VcgUzqiI
Chelsea lives and writes from Boise, Idaho. She is a part of the team at Skypark Films, a video production company specializing in birth videography.