Expecting the Unexpected in Birth
How Do You Plan For a Mystery?
Time and again I see women during pregnancy bustling to get the best information, find the right technique, and check off the many items of their “to-do” list. As a birth doula and bodyworker, I am often part of this equation. In addition to having the great honor of supporting close to sixty births as a doula, I also managed a maternity practice at an integrative family practice for a few years. I had the great joy of supporting women’s journeys from their first prenatal visit through postpartum. One commonality? When it comes to birth you can almost always expect the unexpected.
It is innate and normal to want to experience ease during pregnancy, birth and postpartum. Does this look like having a healthy pregnancy, a textbook low intervention birth experience, and a content baby? Well, these factors can and do contribute to a satisfactory experience. They are worth taking time to gain valuable information about and learning your options. That said, what if I told you that you could check everything off your list, and not get any outcome that you wanted? Or what if I told you that you could leave your list completely undone, and get every outcome you wanted? Birth outcomes do not necessarily correlate with how women feel about their birth experiences.
What if you need a cesarean to help birth your baby into the world? What if you had fun during labor? What if labor brought up painful memories? What if you can’t sleep postpartum? What if being a Mom feels easy in the first few weeks? Are you confused yet by reading all this? Overwhelmed? It’s all a possibility. What is not possible, however, is preparing or “planning” for all the hundreds of possible outcomes during this transformative time in your life in the way we usually approach effective “planning.” You are not planning a wedding, a vacation, or a career. Giving birth is not formulaic. There is no magic equation!
However, there is plenty of magic, and the power and knowledge to give birth and take care of our babies is literally written into our bodies. Our fellow mammals know this very well. What we can dois get in touch with our instinctual knowing, and get as comfy as we can with the unknown. How can you do this? First of all, do yourself a favor and put down the books, the what-ifs, the devices and the google searches for periods of time. The evidence based studies will still be there later, I promise!
Here are my top suggestions for planning for the unknown:
- What do you think of when you hear the word JOY? Do THAT! Do it a lot! The pleasure hormone, oxytocin, is responsible for uterine contractions, bonding and milk production. Adrenaline, (the fight or flight, run from the tiger hormone) has the opposite effect. Find the awe and joy in your body, in feeling your baby move and grow. If this is your first child, this is also the end of an era. Live it up!
- Indulge your CREATIVITY. Whether it means pulling out the box of paints you haven’t touched since college, writing in your journal or playing music – creativity is one of the primary ways we can get out of our left (cognitive, logical, analytical) side of our brain and into our right (creative, intuitive, feeling) brain. Birth unfolds with the most ease when we are in our primal, instinctual brains. Today’s world is dominated by the left brain, so it can be challenging yet so important to engage in creative play. Both the creative and birth process typically defy logic and are inherently non-linear!
- Many forms of MOVEMENT also spark our inner creativity in addition to oxygenating our cells, stretching and engaging our muscles, and helping us get out of our thinking minds. Whether it’s yoga, walking, hiking, dancing, or kicking a ball around with your child, do it. Many of these activities also increase oxytocin, especially the act of making love!
- There are a few elements I see as non-negotiable, must-haves during labor. Those are CONNECTION and COMMUNICATION. While hiring a doula helps facilitate this during birth, I encourage you to practice prenatally. Many women find connection to themselves through mindful breath awareness practices. An ideal time to practice breath awareness is when you are stuck in traffic, running late or have a physical ache or pain. Our connection and communication with our intimate partners and family is also of paramount importance. Any challenges in these arenas are likely to arise postpartum. Equipping your relationship with tools ahead of time can create more ease. There are many ways to connect and communicate with your baby prenatally. Evidence tells us that unborn babies have a great capacity for learning. Simple ways to create connection are talking with and singing to your baby. Try talking to your baby even if you are stressed and telling them what is going on and how much you love them. You are in this together!
- View your birth as an INITIATION, or rite of passage. Birth is a HEROINE’S JOURNEY, as we see represented in mythological stories across cultures. Challenge is an essential element in any initiation.Pregnancy is a time to notice and feel our emotions with the same tenderness that we feel when we tend to our babies. Tend to yourself. Let it be ok to grieve or cry, to feel anger in a safe way and set healthy boundaries, to feel and notice your fear when it arises. As we become more accepting of the varied expressions of life, we expand our capacities for joy and awe. Let your emotions inform you as to what is most important to you and where your unmet needs might be. Just as no two women are completely alike, no two births or initiatory journeys are ever alike either. Try and refrain from comparing and contrasting your journey with another woman’s journey.
Whatever tools you find most relevant to your birth preparations, and however your birth unfolds, I hope that you feel supported, connected to your loved ones, and that you have many moments of feeling awestruck by this momentous and precious time in your life. May you find a deep peace within the unknowns of giving birth. Out of this place of not knowing, you and your baby will be birthed anew.
There is nothing more receptive and flowing than water, yet there is nothing better for polishing stone. A mother’s nature is paradox. Your strength is in your gentleness. Your authority is in receptivity. Your power is in letting go. – Vimala McClure