This post is written by Birth Kalamazoo's Beth Hawver, CD(DONA)
Reading Ina May Gaskin’s new book, "Birth Matters," I was struck by a passage in one of the birth stories. A woman recalls a moment during her labor when her midwife says: “Your body is about to teach something to your mind.” I kept thinking about those words, and their inherent power and wisdom. As a birth doula, childbirth instructor and natural birth advocate, this might just sum up most of what I try to communicate to women and families.
We’re always talking about letting go, letting your body take over and using the primal part of your brain. But how do you teach someone how to do this? In my own births, did I consciously let go, or did it just happen to me? I believe it was the latter. Most of us have rarely – if ever – been able to access that deep, instinctual part of ourselves. We don’t use it. We live in a thinking society that struggles to turn off our brain. When we do choose to turn it off, it’s usually in the form of mindless entertainment, numbing drugs, or giving our power away to someone else – not turning inward and within.
When I think about many women who enter their childbearing year, they so often turn their power over to others, fueled by fear of pain and lack of information. Those who become informed and know their options tend to have read books such as Henci Goer's “The Thinking Woman’s Guide to a Better Birth” and have usually taken independent childbirth classes full of information about interventions, choices and the natural process. But after all this necessary and vital preparation, how do you let it all go? Especially when it’s something you’ve never done?
I often tell women in my life how with labor and birth, most women need to lose control, and you never know what you’re going to get. This sounds confusing. Then why all this preparation? Why am I reading all these books and investing so much when I have no control over it anyway? I remind them about stacking their deck. Now is the time to stack the deck, not during labor. Every choice you make during those months your babe is in-utero, you are increasing your odds of getting the birth you hope for. Every time you eat that kale soup or Greek yogurt, every time you take a walk, every time you show up to birth class when your exhausted and really just want to stay home, when you change providers… With every informed choice you make – from caring for your body to knowing your options – you have contributed to your deck. You have increased the odds. Labor is the time to let go, and you need a safe place to do it.
It can be overwhelming to think about all the things you have to remember to do, to not do, the questions to ask, the positions to remember. But you don’t have to remember. You don’t have to know everything about labor and birth. You just have to do two things. One, surround yourself with people you trust and whom you can ask. Two, release. It comes down to protecting your birth space, which includes who you let in/ having the right people there, and being in an environment that gives you the best possible chance of turning your brain off and allowing the experience to catch you. Who can best hold that space for you when you drift off?
It’s not always quite so simple, but those two elements will certainly help you protect your space so that you can find your authentic self, your primal you. Mammals often birth in seclusion. They need privacy, darkness and safety to be able to release their bodies. Consider the things you might need to let go…..
Ways to encourage your primal self:
• Watch videos of mammals birthing.
• Stay in the moment. Let go of thoughts of yesterday or tomorrow. Focus on right here, right now. Focus on this breath, this birth.
• Meditation, guided meditation, positive affirmations, and simple mantras can be helpful. Reading an excerpt from “25 Ways to Awaken Your Birth Power” or repeating phrases like “Ooooooopen,” “Down and Out...” “Come baby, come…” can be helpful during labor.
• Quiet your mind’s chatter by having an object of focus: a song, birth art, a mantra, your breath.
• Surround yourself with others who believe in your power, trust birth, can answer questions, have seen the miracle unfold, and who can protect your space.