When was the last time you heard a story about a peaceful birth? Do those two words even go together? A new mom could probably count on all her fingers and toes all of the horror stories she has heard about birth. A first time mom, facing the unknown experience of birthing a baby is so susceptible to the comments of others. The fear gifted to her by “well wishers” actually helps perpetuate the story that birth is a painful, scary experience.
What if it’s true that “birth must be painful” is a man made construct? Simply put, the pain of childbirth comes mostly from fear which (based on the horror stories of others) physiologically causes the body to work against what it wants to do to birth a baby. Many are familiar with the instinctual response of “fight or flight.” As a basic survival instinct, when a person senses a threat, real or perceived, their body throws out adrenalin so that they can either run for safety or stay and fight. In fear, blood is sent away from the uterus and to the extremities. There are many stories about women laboring continuously at home but the minute they get to the hospital, they become afraid and everything seems to stop.
It’s like trying to drive with the emergency brake on. You know you want to go forward, but something is holding you back. In birth, that something is usually fear. So how does one combat the fear? Understanding what the body can do and trusting in the process can take one quite far in allowing a peaceful birth. Knowledge is power. There is much written to support the fact that the body’s natural pain killers – endorphins – are available to birthing women as they let go of fear. By understanding what their body can do given the chance, many allow the natural process to occur without suffering.
When a woman chooses natural childbirth, they often hear the words, “Don’t be a hero.” But in choosing not to have medical interventions, they are not choosing to be a martyr. They may feel pressure and burning. The body isn’t doing something to you; it’s doing something for you. When one runs a marathon and crosses the finish line in pain, they feel the rush of knowing that they have accomplished a great feat. By allowing the body to go through the course set for it from the beginning of time, babies are born alert and mothers recover more quickly. Another great feat has been accomplished.
By pre-screening the childbirth education class you choose to take, you assure that you are getting a class that feels right for you. You can take the one offered by the hospital where you plan to give birth, or you can choose among other private classes. If you want a natural birth without medication, you want a childbirth educator that will encourage the things you want. Look at your options and remember – you are the consumer.
Also be conscious about the caregiver (doctor or midwife) you choose as well as the setting (hospital, birth center or home). Does the place you are choosing have the same balance of caution and trust that you have? Some women choose the help of a doula, a person who is certified as a labor support person and has been trained to “mother the mother.” The continuous presence of a support person, other than the partner, has proven to shorten labor, decrease complications, decrease the need for cesarean section and provide emotional support for the birthing mother.
Other natural methods, besides the presence of a doula, can alleviate the need for medication and allow the body to do what it was meant to do. These include warm water, conscious breathing, relaxation and visualization or self-hypnosis and fear release techniques.
Waterbirth is the process of giving birth in a tub of water that is body temperature (98 – 102). The warmth often helps the mother to relax, encouraging a quicker and easier birthing. The baby comes into a familiar environment and begins to breathe when he/her mouth hits the air. For more information on waterbirth an excellent web site is www.waterbirth.org.
Breathing and relaxation allow the body to work with the natural mechanisms put in place to birth your baby. Training the body to relax months before labor will help the mother automatically go into a relaxed state, allowing the body to do what it wants to do. Many women hold their breath when they become frightened, which is counter-productive to both the baby and the mother. Learning to breathe and relax counter this reaction.
Getting clear about specific fears prior to birth can also help the mother to release those fears that aren’t based in today’s reality. Are they based on stories that aren’t relevant to you or stories you heard from your mother or grandmother? Bringing those fears to consciousness is the first step in letting them go.
What does a peaceful birth look like to you? Answering this question is the best “medicine”, as you relax into the process of bringing your baby into the world. Gather information and make an informed choice. A peaceful birth is one of the most empowering things a woman can experience. I wish one for you.
Editorial provided by Shelley Albini, who is a Childbirth Education Practitioner teaching Hypnobirthing in Connecticut.