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Mind Over Labor

Rachel O'Reilly

By Aaryn Leineke

It takes a long nine (+) months to grow your precious baby, and before you know it, your due date arrives. Excitement and anxiety build throughout pregnancy and then--BAM! Labor. There can be fear, doubt, and disbelief about what it takes to endure the long and grueling hours of birthing your baby.

Mind Over Labor, by Carl Jones, is an interesting perspective on birth that I respect and have all my mothers buy and use as a resource when preparing for their big day. Grab the book and read it or add to your registry. It’s about the belief that your body is not only capable of giving birth, but made for it. The act of bringing a baby into the world can be restricted if you don’t have that belief, or support from yourself and those around you. Each stage of laboring brings on new waves of doubt and pain, but it can also bring relief. One word I’ve used many times when I’m with a laboring mama is surrender. Contractions (also known as surges) will come, there is no escaping nor stopping them. Most of all, we want to shift the mindset to welcome and be excited for them, rather than wish they would end.

Yes, we women are made for birth, but over time, birth has become something to be feared, covered-up, sterilized, scheduled and held to “normal” standards. When you see birth broadcast in the media it’s usually a frantic, traumatic emergency situation with lots of screaming. Mothers are often rushed through hospital doors in wheelchairs or on gurneys. For many mothers who are educated and prepared for labor, birth doesn’t look anything like this, and in fact, can be a beautiful experience.

I find myself speaking to women and men in their 20’s and 30’s who have no idea what to expect when expecting. It concerns me when women say things like: “Women have been doing this for thousands of years, I’ll figure the labor thing out once it comes...” with no research or mental preparation. They’ve never had the birth conversations with their mother, grandmother, or other female relatives. They’ve never heard their own birth story, nor their siblings. They’re not even sure if they were vaginally or surgically born. I always encourage expecting parents to reach out to their own mothers or family members to learn more about how they were born. Insights about their own birth or births in their family can be eye-opening, and starting conversations like this can be a great way to prepare for birth.

I would like to emphasize how important it is to have the support of family, loved ones and especially your partner during this preparation process. If there are people in your life that have strong opinions that differ from yours, don’t waste time trying to convince them of your beliefs, or feel you need to entertain their opinions. It is crucial to have your partner on the same page as you, as you both become educated on what it takes to birth a baby, physically, scientifically, emotionally, etc. When someone is asked to support a loved one through a very emotional and, in many cases, painful time, their first instinct is to react with a fight-or-flight mentality. With birth, if you don’t understand the noises that a mother is making, the fluids that are coming out of her body and intense emotions that are flowing, it can be more challenging - when in fact, these things are all normal.

One interesting case for me as a doula was being with a strong, confident mother who was laboring really wonderfully, doing her best to ask good questions and pushing herself as far as she could. Her loving, sweet husband was by her side letting her know she didn’t have to go through this. He said, “You can have medication anytime now.” It was a gut wrenching experience because instead of encouraging her, he was suggesting interventions that weren’t necessary. This was all out of love, so the father’s intention was not to do a negative thing; it was just a lack of education on birth itself. Birth doesn’t have to be considered as suffering. It could in many ways appear that way, and when you see the person you love more than anything else in life in what appears to be pain, you want to do anything in your power to fix it. The choice is always the mother’s, and I’m someone who truly supports any choice a laboring mother desires. But, from experience, if your partner by your side does not believe in you, your body, and the powers of your mind then how could you do it all on your own?

Epidurals, Cervidil, Pitocin and Fentanyl are all wonderful drugs and tools that have helped so many women bring their babies earth side. They all have risks (all medical interventions and drugs do), and once you start one medical intervention the statistics show that the possibility of needing an additional medical intervention increases by 50% or more. Does that mean you shouldn’t use them? No, I would never suggest that. But, it’s just another thing that’s good to educate yourself on. Most of all, it’s okay to try and be that natural laboring “hero” and when you cannot take it any longer, never feel bad or guilty if and when you ask for help.

I would suggest finding the time to prepare a Birth Preference Plan and to get your partner involved as much as possible. Share the plan with all of those that you would like by your side during your birth and immediate postpartum care. An example of a Birth Preference Plan from Marin General hospital can be found here. It’s such a beautiful thing to see hospitals like Marin General encouraging women to have a voice and use it. The nurses will read your hopes and desires, and will be extremely supportive of hearing you and your partner’s wishes. They are there to support you, and when you and your baby are healthy, the suggestion to use interventions can be avoided if you wish.

Here are a few wonderful books and movies that are good tools to use for educating yourself and your partner on birth:

Birth Partner by Penny Simkin

Mind Over Labor by Carl Jones

Pregnancy Childbirth and the Newborn Simkin, Penny

Spiritual Midwifery by Ina May Gaskin

The Business of Being Born, Director Abby Epstein