I had the most incredible birth. I’ve been mulling over why this is ever since. I think that preparation, dedication, and education had a big part. I worked hard for this birth. But I think my emotional state going into the birth was even more important.
Three tiny birth stories and the moral
My first birth was fairly traumatic. Actually, it was fine. But I was fairly traumatized. To cut it very short: 1. I went into it way over-confident and 2. I didn’t have much time to process the birth before my postpartum anxiety/OCD set in. It was difficult to think about. So I went into my second birth over-prepared, wanting a healing birth–wanting to do it right this time. I ended up with a pre-labor cesarean for breech. More lessons in letting go.
This last pregnancy, I was pretty much over the need to feel in control. I joined a fabulous group called Homebirth Cesarean, for women who planned homebirths and ended up with surgery. I also became a childbirth educator through Birth Boot Camp. The knowledge and wisdom I gained from the women and work involved in these two groups really helped me see that I am just as powerful as birth. They helped me let go of expectations and feel overwhelmingly positive about myself and what might happen. They, along with my own personal spiritual practices (see below), got me to the point that I was OK with whatever needed to happen. And that made all the difference.
I learned that there was life-changing power in my first two births. It was OK, how they turned out. And it was OK that I had a hard time. They made me a better, kinder, more mature person. They made me a mother.
Labor, like life, is about 10% what happens to/in your body and 90% how you deal with or feel about it. I got to the point that I was emotionally ready to deal with whatever happened. I saw that whatever happened, it would be OK. It would be for my profit and learning. Probably not immediately, but it would grow. I was equipped to think only positively about my birth.
And so my water broke as I got out of bed in the morning. It was, logistically speaking for our family, “the worst possible day.” But I was so happy. I was excited to be in labor, it was beautiful outside and I felt calm and content, ready to do my thing. I knew it would be hard, but I also knew it would almost certainly be over before the sun set. I was so grateful for how it had all worked out so far. I trusted myself, my husband, my midwife, my doula friend, God, and the universe to bring me through. I was having fun. Labor was going to be fun!
And so it was. I had fun. I imagine it’s the way people who like extreme weightlifting or running ultra-marathons have fun. You’re impressed with your body and you want to do it. It’s hard, but it’s really cool too. A cheering section helps if that’s your thing.
My contractions started when my husband came home from work. It really seemed that I started them with my mind. (A little stairs walking, pelvic circling, and retreating into my bedroom birth cave helped, too.) I didn’t start labor earlier because I didn’t want to be contracting alone with the girls. But I didn’t worry about it at all. I’m not sure now why I didn’t, except that emotionally I was very calm. I just knew it would all work out. That it wasn’t ridiculous to expect things to be wonderful.
Here are my personal tips for preparing your mind for labor.
- Practice pep-talking yourself. When you’re going up hills on your bike, when you are trying to get a lug nut off the old Civic, when you have to wait in line 10 minutes with a headache. “I can do it. I can do it.” I trained my kids to say “You can do it Mama, you can do it!” when I’m going up hill with the stroller. When I thought I would lose it during contractions at the end, I moaned loudly through them and said “I can do it” rapidly and repeatedly between them.
- Get to the point where you are OK with whatever needs to happen. This doesn’t mean that you are apathetic about the outcome of your birth. It doesn’t mean you don’t plan, prepare, and learn about how to have the birth you want. It means that you aren’t filled with anxiety or fear about all the what ifs. You realize that part of the power of birth is that you cannot control everything.
- Meditate or pray, and talk to your baby. Listening to the spirit helped me to feel more generally calm and positive. My baby was also a constant source of comfort. I felt that he was saying “I got this, Mama.” It’s important to realize that you are not doing this alone. Your baby has a role to play along with your caregivers, your family and your God.
- Be the doorman for negative thoughts. Make your conscious mind the doorman for your thoughts. You let them in, and they go on their way. You don’t follow them to the bathroom. If you try to fight the negative thoughts, to prevent them from coming in, usually you just end up seeing them through the glass doors all day as you go about your work. They just won’t leave because your attention to them makes them stay. Just notice those thoughts and let them pass through. Try to stay in the moment. Just be happily pregnant and deal with the here and now.
- Trust. This is especially difficult for people like me who like to feel in control. You can’t be in control of birth. The question then becomes: who do you want to be in control of it? It’s easy to trust the medical system because if something ‘goes wrong’ it will in no way look like your fault. Unfortunately, for a low-risk mom, it’s not the safest birth. Just the safest for you as far as blame goes. Trust means that you make the best decisions you can about where and how you give birth, and then you let it go. “Everything will be OK in the end. If it’s not OK, it’s not the end.”
- Be grateful. I find it emotionally imperative to be grateful for what I have. I feel a welling up of positive emotion when I make myself aware of how many good things have already happened, of all that’s sweet in my life. Focus on the good. Go ahead and talk to your positive thoughts as they come in the door.
- Act like you already have what you want and you are more likely to get it. Part of my preparation for my last birth was writing thank you cards or planning small gifts for all the people that helped me plan and have the birth I wanted. Before I even had it. It was another way of trusting. A law of the universe.
- Plan a party. When you are practicing your coping techniques or thinking about your labor, imagine it as fun. It can be a great atmosphere if you pick the right people. You are bringing a baby into your family. You’re working together to do it. How fun! Plan some music, snacks, decorations, even jokes. It’s a birth party! Whatever is fun for you. If you are a social person, and like distraction during hard times, make sure you have someone there you can talk to between contractions. For me this was not my husband. He just wasn’t the right conversation partner-I needed a girlfriend. And don’t forget to be excited about the after party! I enjoy thinking about what I want to eat and who I will send out for balloons when the baby comes. Have some bubbly on hand.
- Do something to bring it on. When you are ready for labor, and you feel your baby is ready also, do some natural induction techniques. Consciously start or speed up your own labor so that you feel you are doing it. You wanted this. You made it happen. This can help prevent the runaway train feeling some women get, feeling that their body is doing something to them. You are ready for your baby, let’s get this party started.
- Remember that all your fears are lies. Especially in birth and parenting, we make a lot of decisions that are fraught with fear and love. If we can pick our decisions apart and focus on the love, infusing them with more love, we will make better decisions. Bad things happen, but fear does not make good or smart decisions. Fear is not real. Love is. Life can be beautiful, perfect even. Things can work out in your favor. It can all go as you hoped and planned. With love, wonderful is not a ridiculous expectation.
- The cd Music to Inspire Positive Thinking. I downloaded it as I entered my birth cave, and I’ve enjoyed listening to it since. I don’t know what the deal is, but it’s very comforting.
- Various birth affirmations. Just google and it will be opened unto you. Here are some quotesy birth affirmations as an example.
- Doing a bit of birth art with prompts from Birthing From Within.
- Talking a lot about birth with people who like it.
- This poem:
by Thomas R. Smith
It’s like so many other things in life
to which you must say no or yes.
So you take your car to the new mechanic.
Sometimes the best thing to do is trust.
The package left with the disreputable-looking
clerk, the check gulped by the night deposit,
the envelope passed by dozens of strangers–
all show up at their intended destinations.
The theft that could have happened doesn’t.
Wind finally gets where it was going
through the snowy trees, and the river, even
when frozen, arrives at the right place.
And sometimes you sense how faithfully your life
is delivered, even though you can’t read the address.
Reprinted from Waking before Dawn, Thomas R. Smith, Red Dragonfly Press, 2007.