12 Secrets for A Gentle Birth
This is a collaborative effort on our group’s part regarding what we felt were the most important secrets to a gentle birth.
Trust – Kim
Surrender – Pam
Vulnerability – Alicia
Love – Renee
Laughter – Persis
Focus – Tracey
Preparation – Melanie
When I think of comfort, images of warm socks, gentle embraces, soft lights, and relaxing music come to mind. We all desire comfort – it’s a basic need. Nowhere is comfort more important than during labor and childbirth. Being able to relax during labor is so important and is greatly facilitated by various comfort measures. Some of the things that labor and birthing moms’ may find helpful are their own lounge clothes to labor in vs. hospital gown, cozy socks, a variety of favorite music, the smell of lavender in oils and candles, a special photograph, their own pillow, blanket and lip balm. However, the most important comfort measures come from the people who are loving and supporting the mom such as a partner and doula. Gentle touch and encouraging words are the ultimate comfort tools.
Good ‘ole Miriam Webster defines vulnerability as “the susceptibility to physical or emotional injury or attack, or to have one’s guard down.” But when it comes to birth, vulnerability has a much deeper meaning. To be vulnerable in birth requires not only letting down one’s guard, but embracing the idea of allowing a process outside of one’s control to take over. When surrounded by people and an environment that are not familiar, it is very easy for a laboring mom to have a “fight or flight” response. This natural reaction is only intensified when a woman has pre-conceived notions of what she should look or sound like in birth, or if she has a rigid plan for creating her “perfect” birth experience. While it may not come naturally to some women, spending time during her pregnancy working towards letting go of some of her inhibitions, and choosing to allow herself to be vulnerable in front of others can be absolutely invaluable in creating a gentle birth.
Any woman that chooses to bring a child into this world has COURAGE. COURAGE is the firmness of mind and will in the face of extreme difficulty. COURAGE is the ability to let go of the familiar. Most woman in this country do not face birth with COURAGE because we have been taught from a very young age that birth is scary and painful. When a woman goes into birth with these thoughts in her head, her body can tense up and slow down or even stop labor. This makes it even more important for us to educate ourselves on birth so that we can face it with COURAGE. Once we do this our bodies will be able to relax and open up so we can have a more gentle birth.
The old ways of walking, dancing and squatting through labor and birth are coming back!! As a doula for 6 years now I have seen the benefits of moving throughout birth and encourage mothers to do so from early labor all the way to pushing.
Slow dancing in the arms of the partner or doula, a woman feels loved and supported and her hips, moving side to side help to ease her baby down. Kneeling over the back of a bed, rolling on a birthing ball, kneeling on all fours and doing pelvic rocks are just a few ways to “move your body to move your baby” in the words of Gail Tully, BS, CPM, CD(DONA), There are times when a mom may not feel like moving, it’s easy to get ‘stuck’ in a position and afraid that moving may intensify her labor. Changing positions, even when you don’t feel like, it can help more than you may realize. The slight change of turning from the left to the right side, even with an epidural in place, can help a baby line up better for birth. Many mothers find that rocking or swaying during surges actually help to ease the pain. Have you ever seen a cat, dog, cow, or horse giving birth? They move. Sometimes very little, but they seem to know what they need to do and use their bodies assist in the birthing process. We are no different. If we listen to our bodies we will move with them..
The website www.spinningbabies.com gives helpful tools and advice about how to move through birth.
Laughing is certainly one of the last things most women would imagine doing during a birth. However it may be, in this modern age, the best kept secret to a gentle birth. The benefits of laughter in general are extensive. Laughter reduces stress hormones…hmm, no stress certainly sounds gentle. Laughter allows muscles to relax and eases tension… relaxed muscles are a real good thing in labor. Laughter increases circulation and the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to your tissues. Laughter triggers endorphins…hey! aren’t those the “pain killer” hormones?. But what’s so humorous about birthing? Ever seen Monty Python- The Miracle of Birth? Seriously, a dose of humor is a vital tool for coping with the pain of labor. This natural muscle relaxer will certainly aid you in a faster, safer, gentler birth. So for all these reasons and more, lighten up!
Giving birth is a normal physiological event and healthy part of a woman’s life cycle. To be able to relax during labor is important because it allows us to get out of our own way and just let our body birth. It needs no help from the outside; it is perfectly capable of giving birth on its own, as labor and birth are automatic, hormonally driven healthy, processes. Labor is hard work and the physical and emotional feelings that usually surface during birth are often unfamiliar and can therefore be scary and create a sense of anxiety in the mama. Anxiety increases pain. Pain increases anxiety. But relaxing the body as well as the mind can allow these intense emotions to just pass thru and not get the best of us. Birth requires our total focus and total strength. Learning to ride the waves of contractions, to dance with the pressure and intense sensations thru calm, natural breathing, closing our eyes, visualizing gentle images will enable our bodies to birth with gentleness.
It’s no secret that a woman’s body goes through a lot of physical preparation in the weeks and months leading up to the birth of her child. She can assist this process by taking care of her body, getting plenty of rest, and maintaining a well-balanced diet. What’s just as important, however, yet many times overlooked is mental preparation – doing the work of her mind that will be necessary to achieve the birth she desires. That work begins long before the first contraction ever starts. This includes open communication with a trusted caregiver, partner, and/or anyone else that will be present during her labor to begin to develop her wishes and goals for birth. A good next step is to take a well-rounded childbirth education class which will allow her to learn about and explore all of the options available to her. Finally she should seek out and address any fears and concerns she has about the birth process and then do what’s necessary to release those inhibitions, realizing that nothing in birth is certain, but if she keeps an open mind she can deal with whatever she might face. Only then can she let go and truly just be – be the strong warrior woman that lies within all of us, and go on to enjoy the benefits of the work of her mind that she was willing to do. This is what a gentle birth is truly all about, regardless of the uncertainty of labor!
Trust during labor and birth needs to be placed in 3 areas: in yourself, in your provider, and in those who are there to support you. When you trust in yourself you believe in your body’s ability to give birth. You have faith in your instinctual voice and in your body and how it is telling you to move, breathe and sound in order to allow your birth to progress. When you trust in your provider you know that they believe in the birth process as you do. You both acknowledge that you have hired them to be there in the exceptional circumstance that you need their medical expertise and not to take control of your birth. They are there to follow not lead. Finally, when you have trust in the support people you surround yourself with during birth, you know they will be there to protect and hold both the emotional and physical space you create during your labor. They are able to support your choices and any suggestions made are geared to your goals not their own. When a woman has trust in herself and her preparation for birth, in the provider she has chosen and in the people she has invited to witness her birth she is able to feel safe and protected and know that she can relax into her birth and just let it happen.
As a woman moves through her pregnancy towards birth, her FOCUS shifts from the day to day mundane to the task ahead of her, the task which will bring her child into the world. This shift in FOCUS is necessary – and involuntary – as it forces the mother to pause and reflect upon the things which are truly most important. When her womb begins to let her know her babe’s time has arrived, she can only hold on for the ride as the birth energy repeatedly moves through her body. The energy of birth is sizable, sometimes feeling overwhelming for the mother, and riding the waves requires the mother to FOCUS, which can take great effort. Some women FOCUS outwardly, zeroing in on sounds around the room or in another nearby space, but many women find it more effective to FOCUS inwardly on the rushes of energy as they surge through their body. Every woman experiences her births differently, as each of us are unique women birthing uniquely new people, but the universal experience of birthing women includes that of FOCUS on the task at hand.
A woman in labor must have LOVE. Love for herself as a woman and mother, love for her baby, or love from her partner. Here’s what some real moms have to say about why they needed LOVE during labor and birth:
“My LOVE for my baby is what helped me make choices during labor that were better for him, even if they were harder on me.”
“LOVE is the strongest emotion that we have, and it’s important for a baby to come into the world feeling that emotion versus anger or turmoil.”
“During a birth you are completely vulnerable. If you don’t have LOVE during the labor then it could be embarrassing /shaing to the woman instead of the beautiful thing that it’s meant to be.”
“It’s very scary to go through and you need LOVE and support to let you know that it’s okay and you WILL make it.”
“I could actually feel my husband’s love in the form of pain management. It was like an all over warm feeling.”
“After my birth, I had a new-found LOVE for myself and what I was capable of.”
“I didn’t have anyone I LOVE there for my labor. I was lonely and scared, but my LOVE for my baby got me through it. Really, it was all I had.”
I looked up the definition of confidence and found these phrases: Trust or faith in a person or thing, a trusting relationship, a feeling of assurance and belief in ones own abilities. And I thought about how all of those things enter into a woman’s confidence in birth. She needs to trust the process- that her body already knows how to birth. But she must go beyond just trusting this but she needs to fully embrace it and believe it deeply. She needs to have confidence in those who surround her- her support team: her partner, care provider and perhaps a doula. If she does not have full confidence in this team, it may cause her to waiver in her own belief. She needs to have confidence in herself. That means preparing by taking classes, reading good information and looking very introspectively regarding her desires and expectations. If she goes into her labor and birth with doubts and fears, she is sabotaging the outcome. Confidence is what helps her let go and just birth.
The word surrender is frequently used to describe being defeated, giving up. But, it also can mean to yield or resign oneself to something. The latter is a very different way to surrender. In labor and birth, a mother can spend most of her physical and emotional energy trying to control or even just manage her contractions. Fear plays a part when a mother resists the intensity of labor. Trust in her body and in birth as a normal function of her body, allows her to move beyond that fear. It allows her to surrender to her labor. It’s not about giving up anything except the fear. It is about giving in to the reality of the moment. In this moment there may be pressure, exhaustion, even pain. But it probably also includes support, love, and eager anticipation. The next moment will be different. It may hold ease, relaxation, rest. Surrendering to the reality of each moment frees a mother from her story about what is happening. And because suffering only exists in the stories we tell ourselves about something, surrendering to the reality of each moment enables a mother to have pain without suffering. It’s just what is happening now. It is temporary. Birth isn’t about making something happen – it’s about letting something happen.