Speak Up, Get Support, Turn Off The News: Expert Tips For A Successful Pregnancy
Pregnancy during a pandemic brought a whole new level of confusion and complication.
As part of our reporting on early childhood, we want to share tools and resources to help you navigate this WILD journey from conception to the fourth trimester.
So we recently convened a panel of SoCal experts to answer your questions about pregnancy, childbirth and what comes after.
- Brandi Jordan (she/her), doula, founder of The Cradle Company, and host of the podcast Dear Doula.
- Charlene Amey MSN, RNC-OB (she/her), Perinatal Manager, MLK Community Healthcare
- Denise Cervantes (she/her), parent coach and psychotherapist, Maternal and Child Health Access
Here are some highlights from our conversation about creating a network of support, getting the care you deserve and seeking out joy. We’ve edited these responses for clarity and length.
I'm Thinking About Getting Pregnant, And I'm Very Scared Of The Delivery Experience. What Should I Know?
(Thanks to a live audience member for this question!)
We are launching a new project to answer your questions about pregnancy, birth, and parent life in Southern California. If you’re currently pregnant, please take a moment to sign up by texting “heybb” to 73224.
Denise: As humans, we do something called mental filtering where it's really easy for us to remember all the bad things. Ask people about the positive things: What did you like about birth? What do you wish could have happened? Get support from somebody like a doula or a midwife to answer those questions about the birthing process, or join a home visiting program; there are many throughout L.A. County. Take a class. You can call and ask for your insurance about childbirth education. I think the more informed you are, the better you are able to make a plan about how you wish your birth to go and that just makes it makes you feel more in control about the process.
If you're seeing a provider that you don't feel comfortable with, that is not providing you the information or not supporting you through your journey, then I would suggest switching to a different provider.
Charlene: I don't necessarily agree with “speak to other people,” because you get lots of bad advice and that could scare you even more… Keep an open mind and be positive and ask questions. Don't be afraid to ask questions.
Brandi: When you think about birth, think that it’s a big act of releasing and it's hard to do that when you're in a state of fear… I validate that fear, you don't know what's going to happen, you don't know what it's going to be like for you. But I will say that although particularly in the United States, we have very much medicalized birth, it is something that people have been doing for a long time. It is a natural event that could possibly have some issues and the more you're educated, the less fearful you'll be.
What Should You Consider When Deciding Where To Birth?
Charlene: It depends on several factors. If you're a high-risk pregnancy, I think it would be best to deliver in the hospital. If you've had previous C-sections and you plan to have a vaginal delivery, then you should look for a facility that will accommodate those needs… They should feel comfortable with the provider; if you're seeing a provider that you don't feel comfortable with, that is not providing you the information or not supporting you through your journey, then I would suggest switching to a different provider.
Brandi: A lot of people who are considering a vaginal birth, without interventions, they might be considering having a home birth. For some people, they don't necessarily want the hospital experience, but they want to have access to those same things you might see in a hospital. A birth center is a place where you can go to have your baby, you will be being served by a midwife and they will usually have a team of a birth assistant and possibly a doula on staff. They're really focused on working with people who have low-risk pregnancies to be able to have what some would call natural childbirth, a birth without intervention. For many people, it's a great in-between. They don't have that clinical feel of being in the hospital. It'll have a very homey feel to it. You might have a private room with a nice bathtub. There are reputable birth centers in Los Angeles and L.A. County, but it really comes down to what your family needs, what your values are. You want to go visit them. You want to talk to them. You want to see that this space feels like a place where you feel like you could really be comfortable and relaxed.
How Should I Plan For Pregnancy When There’s Still Widespread COVID-19?
Charlene: For our organization [MLK Community Healthcare] we're allowing one visitor to come in. We also allow a doula that's not counted as your support person. If you're going to a hospital that will only allow one visitor, choose that support person wisely. You want to choose the person that will be there to support you and not just be there just for the birth. So that may not be your husband, you may want your mom there. It depends on the dynamics of your family.
Brandi: Our agency staffed in-home support and postpartum and we saw a huge uptick in people using our service during the pandemic, because grandma couldn't fly, you know, from New York to L.A. to be able to support like they might have planned prior to the pandemic. But more importantly, I think it normalized to having postpartum care that wasn't a family member. If you're thinking about it, book that person in advance, have that plan, even if it's for a week or two weeks.
Denise: We've also seen an uptick in the amount of people that are craving those home visitation support resources. The Welcome Baby program has been available in L.A. County for about 12 years. So, we're at 13 different hospitals throughout the county, you know, from metro L.A. all the way out to the Antelope Valley. During this time of pandemic, a lot of our services have kind of transformed into virtual services meeting one on one over Zoom. So you're connected with a personal parent coach, as well as a registered nurse who will meet with you along your journey and in up to three visits in the prenatal period and four visits with the parent coach in the postpartum period. You'll have one visit with a registered nurse once you're discharged home from the hospital. However, if you do need access to that registered nurse, as long as you're participating in the program, you'll have a medical professional there with you as well.
Stress Over Time Is Bad For Your Health, And When You're Pregnant, It Can Also Influence The Baby’s Health. What Can People Do To Keep Their Stress Levels Low During Pregnancy, And After Child Birth?
Brandi: Not [including] KPCC, but turn off the news. I think we sometimes feel like being plugged in makes you a good citizen, and that you need to know everything that's happening, but I think for a lot of people getting this constant influx of violence and things that are happening in the world, adds to our stress. It's just not healthy all the time. We don't need to be made aware of every terrible thing that's happening in the world, particularly when you're pregnant. Find things that are more peaceful.
Denise: I think a lot of times we don't really think about taking care of ourselves and what we need to do for us. That doesn't always look like a spa day or massage. It could be getting some time outside, getting some time away from your norm, taking time to meditate, taking time to de-stress and getting to do something that is enjoyable for you and that helps you to relax. It's not selfish, it's taking care of yourself.
Charlene: Relax, eat well and exercise. Don't focus on the external stimulation that will cause you the extra stress.
In L.A. County, Black Babies Are Three Times More Likely To Die Than White Babies Before Their First Birthday And Black Maternal Deaths Are Also Disproportionately High. What Advice Do You Have For Black Moms?
Brandi: I first want to just say to a Black mom who might be … thinking about getting pregnant [or who] is pregnant: I am here. I have three children. They are at home. They are healthy. I'm alive. They're alive. I think there's so much talk about the demise, that we forget about allowing people to have the joy of the pregnancy and not just focusing on the terrible things that can happen. Not to say that things don't happen. For my third baby, I was denied a hospital room in L.A. County because the doctor didn't believe I was in labor. And his exact words were: “It doesn't matter that you think you're in labor. It matters that I think you're in labor.” And so 45 minutes later, I had my baby. But it's because I had people around me who could advocate. I had a doula and I had a partner with me. I would just say to Black women, have support systems around you. If you get a vibe that people aren't listening to you, change providers.
I think there's so much talk about the demise, that we forget about allowing people to have the joy of the pregnancy.
Denise: I actually had a very similar experience with my second born. I'm not a Black woman. I'm a Hispanic, Latina woman. I knew that my baby was coming and the doctor proceeded to tell me, “I'm gonna go home, and I'm gonna take a nap for a little while, because this baby isn't gonna be here for a few hours.” And lo and behold, about half an hour later, here he was, into the world. You really need to advocate for yourself and if you're coming up against barriers, talk to somebody else, and keep talking to those people until they're able to listen to you because you know your body better than anybody else, even a known doctor.
Charlene: It's all about educating yourself, knowing warning signs and knowing the risk. I like to say, bring your support person with you when you take those classes so they're educated as well and they can look out for signs that something may be wrong. If you feel like there's something wrong, then nine times out of 10, there's something wrong. So speak up, don't be afraid to speak up. No question is a stupid question, speak up.
One Last Piece of Advice
Charlene: Nothing is in black and white. There's a broad spectrum to everything. Educate yourself. Get to know yourself. Get to know your baby. Make sure you have a supportive family or support system there for you.
Pregnancy and parenting is a learning experience. We don't have to get it right all the time, but we will learn as we go.
Brandi: Calm is contagious. Make sure that your environment is one that makes you feel calm, that your providers make you feel calm, that in postpartum you have people that are supporting you that create that sense of calm. That doesn't mean that you can't have your emotions and cry and have all the things that you know happen in the postpartum journey.
Denise: Pregnancy and parenting is a learning experience. We don't have to get it right all the time, but we will learn as we go. Babies are great teachers because they communicate to us throughout all cycles of their life. We just have to listen to what those messages are.
LAist early childhood engagement producer Stefanie Ritoper contributed to this story.