I have had the honor of being asked to speak at an upcoming birth empowerment conference on March 7th so I've naturally been brainstorming about what it is I have to say. When it comes to birth there is SO much to talk about, which is why I'm grateful such an amazing opportunity exists for moms in the Omaha area. After a lot of thought about what I feel like Ive learned through the past few years in my birth work I really felt lead to speak about positive beliefs and how they can effect the actual physical process of labor.
Ill start by asking you a question, the same question Ill ask during my speech: When you hear the word "contraction" what is the one word that comes to mind to describe it? If I were a betting women Id bet you said "pain, painful, intense, hard, ouch" or some other negative term, even if you've never actually felt a contraction! Now if I said what's the first word that comes to mind when you hear "exercise" what would you say? "hard work, endorphins, sweat, release, exerting, important, healthy, etc". Occasionally someone will say something negative about exercise, but most people at least think its important if not enjoyable. They also think its hard work.
The thing is when you get down to the physics of what is actually happening during a contraction it's quite literally just a muscle in your body doing a hard, marathon style work out. That's it. Just a large (the largest muscle in the female body in fact) working out for a long time. So why is it Americans often choose to go to the gym and often enjoy their time there but the thought of a contraction is terrifying? It's all just a work out right?
Fear. But where did it come from?
Beliefs. Our beliefs control our emotions. Our belief that contractions are painful causes us to fear them. Our fear produces adrenaline (we are mammals so we are in fight or flight mode), and our adrenaline inhibits oxytocin which is the necessary hormone for labor contractions. There is an entire cycle we go through and it literally controls how our labor will progress.
What controls how our beliefs are formed about birth?
-Society, celebrities, Hollywood, horror stories, family members.
- beliefs about self (inadequacy, broken, unworthy, not strong, Ill be a bad mom)
- Higher faith system (religion, belief in birth, birth affirmations, etc)
-Personal experience (previous births)
So how do you combat this system of false beliefs that can have a negative impact on your birth?
1.) Research, educate, learn, prepare
Take a time intensive childbirth class to learn as much as possible about the birthing process. Take the mystery out and begin to understand the mechanics. The more you understand the more you'll trust the process.
Start reading positive birth stories and fill your mind with what birth can be like. It takes 10 positive things to cancel out 1 negative one in your mind. You're going to need a lot of brain rewiring about birth after years of over medicalized birth shows, movie scenes, and horror birth stories. Begin to realize the beauty so many others have experienced in this process.
Research your options and evidence based practices so you know what the research says about birthing options, complications and possibilities. That way if you're faced with a choice it's not a foreign concept to you.
Invest time in this! How much did you invest into your wedding in time and money? Will you birth not be just as important? Invest in it! Spend time learning what you can so you can feel confident in the entire concept. Invest money in a good education and birth team.
2.) Build your birth team
Find a provider you can trust. If you aren't 100% sold find someone else. Make sure you are on the same page whatever that page looks like. You want an elective c-section? Find a doctor that does an amazing c section. One with high rates is a good indicator he's had a lot of practice. You want a water birth? See a midwife at a birth center or research home birth. Whatever it is you want your provider needs to want for you as well. Don't start out on opposite ends of the spectrum because their fears will overflow onto you. In the medical world there is a provider for every person, but not every provider will be right. If you don't trust them up front you're already starting off with fear in your birth space.
Hire a doula. She will be a wealth of resources, support and comfort. Shes someone who knows what birth is in and out. She can walk you through what to expect and help ease your fears as she comforts you in your surges. She will recognize the fear and help you face it so you can move forward.
Protect your space. If your mother-in-law causes you to have high anxiety then don't invite her into your birth space. If your mom frightens easily at the sight of you in pain, don't invite her into your birth space. If your best friend is super chatty and you know youll need quiet then dont invite her into your birth space. ANYONE that will cause you stress or fear on any level should not be allowed. The impact they can have on your experience and labor isnt worth the risk.
Connect with your hospital staff. If a member of the hospital staff is really discouraging or stressful then dont hesitate to ask for someone else.
3.) Rely on your higher belief system.
When you have faith in something bigger than yourself it can get you through those scary or fearful moments when you feel out of control or when things go "side ways". It doesn't necessarily have to be a religious belief it can be faith in birth itself, faith in quantum physics, faith in mammalian ability, the universe, whatever. If you can believe in something that is bigger than just you those moments of fear during labor are easier to get past. So how can you utilize this?
Prepare your partner and doula ahead of time to help guide you through your own faith practices at crucial moments during your birth as needed.
Set up prewriten prayers, affirmations, proverbs, verses, etc to have on hand to glean from during a difficult moment or a time of transition or disappointment.
Have your favorite music picked out that speaks to you both in spirtitual nature and otherwise. Something musically that can help you connect to your higher power can help you recenter without having to think too much. Other songs you connect to can also provide encouragement and distraction.
Remember to bring any comforting faith items that mean a lot to you.
If you have less of a religious belief system and more of a "birth process" belief prepare birth affirmations ahead of time that speak to those deeply held beliefs.
When you're feeling out of control your belief that there is someone or something else that is in control can provide a huge relief and recenter those negative beliefs and hormones that begin to surge.
Its not necessarily the emotions that we need to focus on during the birthing process, but the beliefs that lead to those emotions which are formed long before the labor has begun. Even fear itself shouldn't be feared in birth, it's something most women face during their labor. Transition is literally the moment when a mother is created. Its a physical metaphor for an emotional split her body will endure the rest of her life. Fear in that moment is expected and normal. Its how we set ourselves up ahead of time and how we deal with it in the midst of it that can make all the difference. Perception is often reality. Know the truth, believe the truth, receive the truth.
I had a mother email me the other day asking what exactly it might be like to have a doula. It was a hard question to answer because, well, every clients birth is so different. Their needs are so different so I am not always the exact same doula. I have to be fluid enough to cater to my clients desires. But it was a great question. I answer the generic "elevator speech" all the time. But it doesn't paint a good picture about why someone would want to invest several hundred dollars into a doula does it? So here is what I wrote to her. A story of a fabricated (although all parts were taken from all my births) birth to explain what that personal experience COULD look like.
You text me. Its 9:13 pm. You've start having contractions but they are manageable so we just keep in touch. I give you a few ideas to try via phone to make sure it's "the real thing" and help you get prepared for the coming active labor.
Once you're in a good labor pattern things start to pick up. You're having a hard time concentrating and feel like you need some ideas and help so you call me in. I arrive at your home with my doula bag and quietly come in. After your contraction ends I gently put a hand on your shoulder and ask how it's been going. You say good but that your back is really hurting and your tired but can't get comfortable in a sitting position.
I bring you my birth ball and set it up beside your bed. I stack some pillows in front of it and sit you down to see if that is comfortable. You immediately relax happy to be off your feet and in a position that isn't uncomfortable. You rest your arms and head on the pillows on the bed and sit comfortably on the ball. You seem to drift away immediately. I turn on some relaxing quiet music, diffuse the scent of lavender (which you said was your favorite in our prenatal meeting) to relax you and get you a water bottle. I make sure you've eaten recently to keep your energy up and you haven't so I make you some oatmeal and you say that sounds good.
I also heat up my rice sock and have dad place it on your lower back. I give him some massage oil and show him how to do a slow, calming shoulder massage like we practiced in our prenatal meetings. He stays with you while I make the oatmeal and you rest. After you eat he says he needs to take a shower and finish packing the car so I take over the massage. Things have picked up a bit more and your back is a bit more uncomfortable. You got a good nap on the ball but want to move again. We go into your living room and pace the floor until another wave comes. I guide you to the kitchen counter and you lean over it for support. I do a double hip squeeze pushing your hips in just slightly and it relieves a lot of your pressure and takes the edge off the intensity. After the surge as subsided I tell you how amazing you're doing and that your body is working so well. I remind you you were created to birth this baby. I remind you to take another sip of water to stay hydrated. We do this for a while then dad comes back. The two of you pace around the room together and instead if the counter with the next wave I direct you to lean on him so you melt into his chest and he holds you up while I squeeze your hips through the intense part. He tells you how lovely you look.
At this point you feel like things might be slowing down and you're scared because you don't want them too. I remind you that it's probably normal but suggest we go for a walk outside to see if that kicks things up again. Once outside I suggest trying to walk with one foot in the curb and one in the ground. This motion typically causes babies head to rotate on the cervix which causes oxytocin rushes which cause contractions. It works and things pick up fast. Half way back to the house you decide you are ready to go to the hospital and are done walking. Dad runs back to get the car while I stay with you. You lean into me when you feel a wave and I talk you through it. You're getting scared because things picked up so fast and you start breathing too hard. I look into your eyes and say just breathe with me." Together we take slow deep breaths and that calms you down enough to get to the end of the contraction. I tell you your body is working great, we are going to leave soon and you're doing fabulously. This helps. Daddy pulls up and I help you in and follow close behind.
We arrive at the hospital and youre starting to get the urge to push. Dad stays with you while I run in for a wheelchair because you don't want to walk anymore. I've been to this hospital before so I know where to go. Dad starts to wheel you in while I get my bag and your overnight bag in as well. Once we are in a room lots of questions need answering and you can no longer speak so dad has to answer. I stay with you. You want to get on your hands and knees so I adjust the bed so you can climb on and get comfy. You still like counter pressure and hip squeezes so I use my rebozo (a long scarf) as a tourniquet around your hips and pull tight so you still get hip squeezes. Once admissions are complete dad returns to you and I show him how to do what I'm doing. He takes over and I go turn off the lights, pull out my electric candles, diffuse more lavender, play the music you like and keep reassuring you.
Since we arrived you're having a hard time staying on top of the contractions. They are getting so intense you start to panic again and you look at me and say you can't do it. I take your shoulders in my hands and say
"can't do what? Girl you're already doing it! You've BEEN doing it. You are so close to having your baby! You're hitting transition now, this is the tough part but it's so short and then you'll be pushing and meet your beautiful daughter. I know you can do this."
You close your eyes and moan through another contraction. I can tell your grunting at the peak and run and get the nurse. "She's starting to push". She tells you to stop but you can't. I tell you a trick about leaning into the peak but not actively pushing to take the edge off the pressure. She checks you, you're 10 cm and we are all just waiting on the doctor. Once he arrives you start listening to your body to push. No one counts or forces you to flip on your back because you've already spoken with your doctor ahead of time and discussed mother directed pushing and mother chosen positions. In your birth plan that we worked on together this is also written. As you push to comfort I can tell your baby will start crowing soon. I offer to do a warm compress for you to help minimize tearing. You want that and your doctor is fine with it.
While doing the compress I can tell how close you are. "I see the head! You're doing great mama!" I remind you that as baby descends you'll feel "the ring of fire" but it'll be brief and probably not as bad as your last contractions were. As long as baby is ok I remind you to let baby sit and stretch your perineum to avoid tearing. Your husband has a cool wash cloth on your head and is whispering sweet encouraging words to you. Babies head comes out quickly followed by her body. You roll over and doctor places her on your chest for the first time. You and dad enjoy those moments together. Once you're ready to nurse I help you attain a latch, make sure you have food set up to eat and something to drink. After you are all settled I leave and check in you all again the next week.