You’re probably familiar with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. I learned about it in teacher education, the idea being that we couldn’t expect a kid who hadn’t eaten or didn’t feel safe at home to care much about learning times tables. Your physiological needs are the most important. Left unmet, it’s difficult or impossible to attend to your need for friendship, self-esteem, or ambition.
I saw the famous hierarchy pyramid done with a birth lens on Brooke Radloff’s Center for Integral Pregnancy and Childbirth website and had an a-ha moment. It’s the reason so many people don’t have a birth experience they are excited about writ small! Let’s look at these needs!
Here’s an interesting fact you might not know: People in labor are still people.
They have the same basic needs of the rest of us, and they (gasp) retain their human rights and bodily autonomy. (That’s another post entirely.)
The most basic needs that must be met are physiological. This means that, IN LABOR, a body must feel that its bodily needs are being met.
Survival and Physical Needs in Labor include:
- freedom of movement
- good air
How many of those are present in the typical, modern hospital birth? Maybe half?
Let’s say those needs are met. Now we can try to get our level 2 needs met.
Safety & Security in Labor means:
- a birth place you feel good in
- a provider you trust
- confidence in the birth process
- low fear and anxiety levels about labor and birth
- the presence of people who make you feel safe and taken care of
If you can get those two base needs met, that’s amazing. Even just those set you up for a good birth. Having only level one and two needs met does not make a great life, but it can be enough for birth. You can do one day without any of the higher needs being met and still feel good.
Many people have a birth experience without a single level of needs being met. Some of those people even report that their birth was fine or OK. They love their babies. They move along.
Your experience giving birth matters. It matters because you are a person. And it matters because how you feel about labor, DURING LABOR, effects the way your labor progresses. People who feel calm and powerful and loved and safe have much faster, easier, and safer labors. It’s not only a mental health/women’s/personal/family issue. It’s also a public health issue.
Meeting the needs of steps 1 and 2 would be ‘enough’ to radically alter the birth experiences of most babies and parents. Best if we add on that love, though.
Love & Belonging in Labor looks like:
- unconditional and practiced support from a lover
- a good doula
- any family or friends present know how to behave
- a kind and attentive nurse
- a doctor or midwife who knows and supports your preferences
- all human interactions are kind
Though it’s level 3, and not as helpful if the needs of steps 1 and 2 aren’t yet met, this is one of the easiest aspects of the pyramid to control: Make sure the people who you ask to be there (including your doctor!) will help meet this need.
It’s unusual (but not rare) for people to feel they reached level 4, 5, or 6 in labor. Maybe that’s OK. Labor is hard, it’s meant to be hard, and we all struggle sometimes.
I will argue that more people would feel strong self-esteem in labor if they had a solid (independent) birth class.
Why you need Self-Esteem in Labor:
- Having labor skills will help you cope with the intensity of labor
- Being empowered makes it easier to do the work of labor that no one can do for you
- Labor is hard, and like any hard task, it feels good to know you can do it!
When you reach Self-Actualization in Labor you feel:
- acceptance for what is, for the way this birth is unfolding
- as if you’ve made a discovery about life, yourself, or your baby
Transcendence in Labor brings feelings of:
- being beyond the self
- labor connects you to your baby, the divine, the universe, everything
Regardless of what happened in labor, I’ve heard some people report feeling transcendent (level 6) the moment the baby is born.
Thinking about the labors you’ve experienced, what level of needs were met?
What could we do to get more needs met for ourselves and our clients? How can we take birth higher?
A long childbirth education class with a whole and empowering curriculum can go a long way. Birthing families need to know the options, the skills, and the physiology that will make a difference.
If you teach about birth, get printable birth class materials and childbirth education resources in the shop. And let me know what else you’d like to see to help us take birth higher up the pyramid!