Posted on

The Importance of Why

One of the beauties of a strong and vibrant community of birth workers is that our conversations quickly delve into conceptual yet crucial topics such as human rights in birth, the effects of language and persona on confidence, power dynamics in the laboring room.  This talk brings us, as birth professionals, to a higher plane in understanding advocacy and the metaphysical aspects of labor.  However, when we share information with expecting clients, particularly in a group setting, it’s important that we are able to seamlessly shift from our hive minds, as birth workers, into the realm of creating a foundation of knowledge with our clients.

Offering too much all at once, although helpful for some who have researched a lot on their own, may feel overwhelming to expectant parents taking their first birth class.  When people experience information overload, they have a greater tendency to tune out, picking up and processing only bits and pieces, and ultimately feeling excluded from the greater conversation.  As childbirth educators, in order to successfully create a foundation of knowledge, we must understand the information our clients are bringing to the class space and we must assume nothing until we have reason to do so.  When we effectively and collectively have formed a knowledge baseline, we meet the parents where they are and have the ability to elevate them to a place of confidence and a space of safety in exploring their own priorities.  This will eventually help them utilize their rights to informed consent OR refusal, and communicate those preferences to their providers.

A simple online search for a birth plan will turn up all sorts of templates with prompts such as “I would like to…” and options including “walk and sit up during labor,” “avoid an epidural,” “have skin to skin right after birth,” and more.  Knowledge of these options are important and parents have the right to request these things.  However, what I have noticed in teaching birth classes, is that often parents are accepting that these are helpful things to do without having any understanding as to why.  Without knowing why, for example, movement in labor is important, clients are left without the confidence to back these preferences and without the ability to assert that these choices are honored.

As educators, we need to be ready to answer the question, from a research based standpoint as to why epidurals may not be the recommended first option against labor discomfort (and, on the flip side, why in some cases they may be beneficial), why movement and the use of gravity in labor is beneficial, why skin to skin has benefits for both the new parent(s) and the baby.  The greatest service we can provide our clients is in helping them understand why certain preferences have benefit so that they can make a conscious choice as to their priorities.  When we simply relay information and lay out techniques, we have merely bombarded expectant parents with more information – information they can often get from a simple google search.  By helping them understand the physiological process and how certain preferences may support or detract from that and how they can affect labor and birth, we are truly creating an environment of empowerment and learning.  The art of childbirth education is in the why.

Posted on

Ten Tips to Change the Course of Your Birth

By Brittany Sharpe McCollum, CCE(BWI), CD(DONA)

 

A positive laboring experience has the potential to increase satisfaction with the overall birth process, deepen parent and infant bonding in the first few weeks, and set the stage for a healthy transition into the postpartum experience (Simkin).  One’s outlook on their birth, however, has less to do with how the process happens or whether it goes “according to plan” and more to do with how involved the laboring person feels in the decision making process and supported they feel in using their voice (Elmir).  Although prenatal preparation, such as nourishment and hydration, movement, and conscious decision making regarding providers and birth support, is an incredibly important component of a healthy birth, it is also important to remember that circumstances and choices made during the process can also help to keep the labor on a positive course. Here are a few tried and true suggestions for preparing for an empowered and healthy childbirth experience.

 

Keep it to yourself.

As the saying goes, “A watched pot never boils.”  Texting friends and family or posting contractions on social media is a quick way to invite anxiety and fear into a birthing space.  Unfortunately, many people – even those whom have given birth before – are not aware of the normal physiological process of labor, the myriad fluids that the body excretes, and the wide range of normal in length of time of labor.  This means that a flood of questions will need to be fielded (or ignored) if the first contraction is shared with too many people whom have too little info about the variations in healthy birth.

 

Distract yourself…

until you can’t be distracted any longer.  Paying too much attention to the pattern of contractions or the variations from one wave to the next only wears the laboring person out mentally and physically.  Think of early labor as the end of pregnancy and conserve mental energy, relax the thinking brain, and get last minute loose ends tied up instead.

 

Call your doula. 

A doula can offer suggestions and guidance for coping with labor even before they arrive in person.  The reassurance of this professional birth support can help decrease fear and anxiety in partners, friends, and family members so that they are able to offer the best support possible to the laboring person and the hands-on comfort techniques, position change suggestions, and encouragement can help create an environment of serenity, confidence, and progress.

 

Make an evidence-based decision when/if your water breaks.

Yes – your water may not break!  Or it might, at any point in labor.  If the amniotic sac releases before consistent contractions and after 37 weeks of pregnancy, it is given the name “Term PROM” (premature rupture of membranes with a baby greater than 37 weeks gestation).  Although the majority of people have their water break at some point during consistent contractions, about eight to ten percent of people have their water release first.  Unlike the movies, where the water breaks and hard labor begins immediately, research shows that between 77 and 95% of people will begin labor within 24 hours.  Nope, not necessarily 24 minutes.  And studies also suggest that inducing labor with PROM is just as valid a choice for most people as is waiting up to 72 hours for labor to begin on its own.  To read more about the research and extenuating circumstances, check out this thorough article at Evidence Based Birth.

 

Get in the tub…and then out of the tub.

In the vein of Michel Odent, the tub will either get your labor moving or slow your labor down. When used early on, immersing oneself in water can be a great way to relax and allow for some rest before things get more intense.  However, used for too long of a time in active labor, water immersion may keep things from progressing and slow the pace of contractions at a time that is not ideal.  The use of the tub in transition?  Go for it!  The relaxation at such an intense point of labor may help move the birthing person right into pushing.  And evidence shows that water immersion can have a significant effect on decreasing one’s perception of pain.  Bottom Line: The tub may be best used at the beginning and towards the end of the first stage of labor and can be a great tool for managing discomfort.

 

Know your rights. 

Know your rights.  Know your rights.  Know your rights.  It can’t be said enough.  No matter how one chooses to give birth or what the circumstances leading up to the decisions are, it is crucial that the laboring person be aware of their rights during labor so that they can remain as in control of the decision making and as involved in the process as possible.  Research shows that it’s not how someone gives birth or whether things went “as planned,” but how someone feels about how they give birth which is tied to their feelings of control over decisions made in labor (Listening to Mothers).  And without a solid knowledge of what one’s rights are (and whether they in fact line up with birth place policy), it can be quite challenging to…

 

Use your voice.

Birth place policies are set up to serve the mode of birthing that is least liable for the birth place and most common among its clients.  If a laboring person is doing something differently than the norm in that space, they must understand that staff may not be familiar with the evidence-based way of supporting those choices and clients (or their personal birth support team – friend, partner, family, doula) may have to do a fair amount of assistance in advocating for the birthing person’s wishes.  Practicing asking questions and stating one’s choices is an excellent activity in preparing for birth.

 

Move your body.

Changing position and laboring and birthing upright have the potential not only to shorten the duration of labor but can also lead to more positive birth experiences (Dekker).  And here’s a not so little secret – upright birthing positions and movement in labor are possible even with pain medication!  Knowledgeable clinical staff and non-clinical support people can help, if assistance is needed, the laboring person into a variety of postures, both with and without pain medication, including but not limited to hands and knees, lunges, and seated positions.

 

Stay hydrated by mouth.  Although intravenous fluids have benefits when epidurals are given and when severe dehydration occurs, hydrating orally is an option supported by professional organizations worldwide.  “The American College of Nurse Midwives, World Health Organization, National Institute for Health and Care Excellence guidelines in the United Kingdom, and the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists guidelines in Canada all recommend that people be able to choose whether or not they want to eat and drink during labor” (Dekker).  Although IV fluids increase hydration, they also increase the birth weight of the baby which can lead to the appearance of excessive weight loss after birth and subsequent pressure to supplement human milk with formula.  Adequate fluid intake by mouth has been shown to be just as effective as IV fluids at shortening labor duration by about 30 minutes, while also helping to decrease tension in the throat and mouth and encourage feelings of normalcy in birth.

 

Understand the limitations of research.  Research is one part of the three components of evidence based decision making (the other two being client’s values and provider’s recommendation/experience).  Recently, a large study, called the ARRIVE study, looked at the effects of induction at 39 weeks on birth outcomes and called for the recommendation of induction at 39 weeks for healthy low risk pregnancies.  Henci Goer, medical analyst offers some fantastic insight into this research, discussing the limitations it has in regard to values and intentions of the laboring person in preparing for their birth.  Factors that may affect if this study applies to a specific person is whether they are planning for a medicalized birth, their desired use of pain medication, the prioritization of freedom of movement, and more.  An excellent infographic by Goer can be viewed at ARRIVE Study Infographic.

 

Let your intuition guide you.  No one knows the body and the baby better than the person experiencing the pregnancy and no one can speak for anyone else’s values or philosophies, which are a key component of true evidence based decision making.  Prenatal preparation and awareness of the importance of an active birth – as the laboring person defines it – offer a strong foundation for moving forward through labor and integrating the birth experience into a healthy and positive postpartum.

 

Sources:

Declercq, Eugene R. et al. Childbirth Connection. “Listening to Mothers III: Pregnancy and Birth.  Report of the Third National U.S. Survey of Women’s Childbearing Experiences.” May 2013. http://transform.childbirthconnection.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/LTM-III_Pregnancy-and-Birth.pdf.

 

Dekker, Rebecca.  “Evidence on: IV Fluids During Labor.” Evidence Based Birth. 24 May 2012; updated 31 May 2017, https://evidencebasedbirth.com/iv-fluids-during-labor/.

 

Dekker, Rebecca.  “Evidence on: Premature Rupture of Membranes.”  Evidence Based Birth. 20 November 2014; updated 10 July 2017, https://evidencebasedbirth.com/evidence-inducing-labor-water-breaks-term/.

 

Elmir, R. et. al. Women’s Perceptions and experiences of a traumatic birth: a meta-ethnography. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 2010 Oct; 66(10):2142-53.

Goer, Henci.  “Parsing the ARRIVE Trial: Should First-Time Parents Be Routinely Induced at 39 Weeks?” Lamaze. 14  Aug 2018,

https://www.lamaze.org/Connecting-the-Dots/parsing-the-arrive-trial-should-first-time-parents-be-routinely-induced-at-39-weeks

 

Odent, Michel. Childbirth and the Evolution of Homo Sapiens. Pinter & Martin Ltd; 2nd Revised ed. edition, 2014.

 

Simkin, P. Just another day in a woman’s life? Women’s long-term perceptions of their first birth experience. Part I. Birth, 1991 Dec; 18(4):203-10.

 

Simkin, Penny. Pain, Suffering, and Trauma in Labor and Prevention of Subsequent Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. Journal of Perinatal Education, 2011 Summer; 20(3): 166–176.

 

Posted on

Birth Class is Life Class

By Brittany Sharpe McCollum, CCE(BWI), CD(DONA)

 

Childbirth is a life process, offering an unparalleled opportunity for personal growth, transformation of identity, and instinctual guidance.  Commonly, people come out of their birth experiences with vivid memories of key moments occurring during the experience, moments that left them feeling particularly cared for, listened to, or verbally encouraged with just the right word.  These twinkling reminders of the long-lasting impact of the labor and birth process provide an intimate look into the impact of childbirth on the overall perspective of the individual experience.

 

All too often, though, we hear of the other side of things, of people feeling traumatized by their birth experiences.  Postpartum Support International states that Postpartum Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can be caused by real or perceived trauma during delivery or postpartum and the World Health Organization has called for increased scrutiny of disrespectful childbirth practices around the world.   What are the factors that make a birth experience positive even when the “birth plan” goes out the window?  According to Kate Kripke, founder of the Postpartum Wellness Center of Boulder, “if at any point during [the] experience [the] sense of safety and security [feel] truly threatened, [the person] can come out of it being traumatized.”  The Birth Trauma Association adds that “factors such as loss of control, loss of dignity…feelings of not being heard or the absence of informed consent to medical procedures” all contribute to feelings of PTSD.  And Postpartum PTSD can affect both the person giving birth as well as the partner.

 

Penny Simkin, founder of DONA, states “It is clear that the birth experience has a powerful effect on [people] with a potential for permanent or long-term positive or negative impact” (Just Another Day…)  Knowing this, how can laboring people and their partners develop the tools to not only understand the birth process but also to maintain a sense of control over the experience, to come out of it feeling empowered, excited, and prepared for the parenting challenges that lie ahead?  One clear answer is to take an independent childbirth class.

 

Independent birth classes are facilitated by instructors that are not employees of a place of birth.  They offer information that is usable in all birth settings and instructors, trained and certified by childbirth education organizations, are not obligated to provide information strictly in line with the policies or routines of any labor institution (which may vary greatly from one place to another and are often based on assumption of patient interests, liability for the provider, and ease of management for staff).  In the episode “Childbirth Education for Pain Relief During Labor” from the podcast Evidence Based Birth, PhD nurse and founder of Evidence Based Birth, Rebecca Dekker states “Research shows that these classes tend to teach people to be critical consumers of their healthcare, and they also tend to focus on a normal birth philosophy – helping you prepare to have as normal a birth as possible.” A well constructed childbirth class will focus on providing expectant people with a toolbox of resources for communication with providers, tools for advocating for one’s birth wishes, and a solid foundation of their rights throughout the process.  Rather than focusing on teaching someone the ins and outs of birthing in a specific place, an out-of-birth-place class focuses on encouraging someone to have a positive birth experience in their own terms.  This means that it is not about telling someone how they should give birth but providing them with the tools to make their own decisions, develop their own priorities, and be part of the labor and birth process in whatever way feels best to them.  Research has even shown links between childbirth self-eficacy (defined as as one’s belief in one’s ability to succeed, as self-defined, in specific situations) and improved parenting outcomes (Tilden).

 

Through discussion and shared information, one may find that they begin to develop priorities and expectations for a labor process that feels less intimidating, more manageable, and even something about which to be excited.  In addition to those skills, people open to being active physically throughout their birth and avoiding or minimizing the use of medical pain relief, will develop resources, such as position and movement suggestions and relaxation techniques, that research has shown can decrease the likelihood of requesting epidurals and narcotics for pain management and shorten the amount of time spent in labor.  However, childbirth education is not just for those looking to avoid pharmacological methods for pain relief.  Those desiring an epidural or narcotic or nitrous oxide to assist them through labor will find that they are better equipped to make decisions with their providers and ask questions along the way to ensure that the care they are receiving is truly evidence based.  The development of a usable and effective birth plan – something that can easily be aided the bounty of information provided in a birth class – can help expectant families sketch out a basic idea of what their priorities are and the steps necessary to be more confident in having those desires met.

 

Birth plans are often thought of as the solidifying factor for birth not going as one has planned but if a birth plan is developed in a way that allows room for flexibility, opens up communication between the client and the provider, and emphasizes active participation in the birth, it can be a fantastic tool for assisting in a positive birth experience.  Many educators will encourage their clients to utilize a list of questions similar to those developed by DONA founder Penny Simkin, which are based on gathering all information necessary to consent or refuse a procedure.  Reminding providers of the client’s desire to make informed decisions can be a useful part of the birth plan and can be further discussed in the class.  For more information on birth plans, check out this article at A Child Grows – https://www.achildgrows.com/2017/05/24/creating-an-effective-birth-plan/.

 

In a society lacking support for pregnant families in exploring their options and asking questions that demand objective, rather than subjective, responses, the birth class plays an essential role.  Often pregnant people are subjected to bits and pieces of birth stories from friends and strangers, sensationalized images of childbirth on television and in movies, and quick advice from well-meaning acquaintances. The birth class provides that crucial safe space for sorting through the litany of information that is acquired on a daily bass – from Hollywood, from social media, from co-workers – and a positive environment for exploration of one’s beliefs, dissection of the myths surrounding childbirth, and a contextual understanding of birth stories shared by family and friends.

 

Perhaps the best part of developing these tools is that they are usable in all aspects of life. The skills developed in a birth class that supports people in asking questions and understanding research-based decision making are transferable to any situation where advocacy comes into play.  From prenatal visits to labor decisions to postpartum support to pediatrician appointments (as well as visits to the vet, doctor’s appointments with ailing friends or family, and confidence in breastfeeding in public, and the list could go on!), these tools help a person develop their voice, which is a tool that, once found, can never be taken away.

 

All of the above – the understanding of communication, knowing one’s rights, gaining knowledge of informed consent, the development of a birth plan, the exploration of resources commonly relied on for managing labor discomfort, and a shared safe space for sorting through it all – make childbirth education classes a crucial part of the preparation for a healthy birth and a peaceful transition into postpartum life.  A birth class truly is a LIFE class – whether it’s discussion of alignment of the body, learning about the rights one has, or connecting with a partner in touch measures that are intimate yet not sexual – childbirth education classes have the ability to create a foundation for moving into the postpartum period feeling secure and confident in transitioning to a new life phase.

 

Sources:

 

The Birth Trauma Association. Birth Trauma Association, 2018,  http://www.birthtraumaassociation.org.uk/. Accessed 30 June 2018.

Dekker, Rebecca. “Positions during Labor and their Effects on Pain Relief.” Evidence Based Birth, 12 March 2018, https://evidencebasedbirth.com/positions-during-labor-and-their-effects-on-pain-relief/.

Dekker, Rebecca. “Hypnosis for Pain Relief During Labor.” Evidence Based Birth, 19 June 2018, https://evidencebasedbirth.com/hypnosis-for-pain-relief-during-labor/.

Dekker, Rebecca. “Childbirth Education for Pain Relief During Labor.” Evidence Based Birth, 30 May 2018, https://evidencebasedbirth.com/childbirth-education-for-pain-relief-during-labor/.

Hotelling, Barbara A. “The Nocebo Effect in Childbirth Classes.” The Journal of Perinatal Education, 22(2), 2013 Spring, pp. 120-124.

Pearson, Catherine. “Inside the Painful, Lonely Experience of Birth Trauma.” Huffington Post 7 June 2016.

“Postpartum Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.” Postpartum Support International, http://www.postpartum.net/learn-more/postpartum-post-traumatic-stress-disorder/.

“Prevention and elimination of disrespect and abuse during childbirth.” WHO, 2018, http://www.who.int/reproductivehealth/topics/maternal_perinatal/statement-childbirth-govnts-support/en/.

Simkin, Penny. The Birth Partner: A Complete Guide to Childbirth for Dads, Doulas, and All Other Labor Companions. Boston, MA, Harvard Common Press, 2008.

Simkin, Penny. “Just Another Day in a Woman’s Life? Women’s Long-Term Perceptions of Their First Birth Experience. Part I.” Birth, 18:4, 1991 December, pp. 203-210.

State of New York, Department of Health. Your Guide to a Healthy Birth. 2935.

Stoll, Kathrin H. and Wendy Hall. “Childbirth Education and Obstetric Interventions Among Low-Risk Canadian Women: Is There a Connection?” The Journal of Perinatal Education, 21(4), 2012 Fall, pp. 229-237.

Tilden, Ellen L., Aaron B. Caughey, Christopher S. Lee, and Cathy Emeis. “The Effect of Childbirth Self-Eficacy on Perinatal Outcomes.” Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic, and Neonatal Nursing, 45(4), 2016 July-August, pp. 465-480.

 

Brittany Sharpe McCollum, CCE(BWI), CD(DONA) began her work as a childbirth professional after the birth of her first son in 2006.  She is a Birth Works certified childbirth educator, a DONA certified birth doula, a certified breastfeeding counselor with Nursing Mothers Alliance, and has completed birth doula training with Birth Arts International.  Since 2007, she has been supporting expectant and new families by encouraging them to become knowledgeable, confident, and resourceful recipients of care.  Assisting families in creating birth and parenting experiences about which they feel positive, confident, and informed is at the heart of Brittany’s work. Her approach to birth and parenting focuses on building awareness of one’s intuition and combining it with learned knowledge in a way that is respectful of the needs and abilities of each individual. In addition to her work with expectant parents, she facilitates pelvic bodywork and fetal positioning trainings and conference lectures for birth professionals.  Brittany lives in Philadelphia with her husband, two sons, and daughter. Check out her website for upcoming classes, workshops, conference events, and more at www.blossomingbelliesbirth.com, follow her on Instagram @blossomingbelliesbirth, and stay in touch on Facebook at Blossoming Bellies Wholistic Birth Services.
Posted on

Ten Tips for a Healthy Postpartum

by Brittany Sharpe McCollum, CCE(BWI), CD(DONA)

In an ideal world. the fleeting days of new parenthood are spent cocooned in a warm family bed
with meals being prepared and all the family’s basic needs being met. However, the reality is
that enjoying the early moments of new parenthood can be a challenge. In a society where
family and friends are often working or living far away, being a new parent can feel isolating and
overwhelming. Some simple tips for reclaiming the traditional postpartum period as a time for
bonding and nourishment may help to ease the transition into the new family dynamic and
encourage a healthier place for both the mind and the body in this phase of the childbearing
year.

Prepare for the postpartum while still pregnant. Anticipate your needs by talking with friends
and family members about what helped them most in their postpartum. Prepare foods that can
be frozen for quick meals and ask a close friend to organize a meal train and/or postpartum help
from those close to you.

Be assertive. Let your partner, family, and friends know clearly what your needs are and how
they can meet them. Request the help before it reaches a point where feelings of frustration
have taken over.

Make a daily list for family and friends. People love to stop by to see the new baby and often
want to lend a hand while they are visiting. Having a list of chores posted on the door that
friends and family can easily see – throw in some laundry, empty the dishwasher, pick up some
veggies at the farmers market – makes it easy to accept the help that people offer.

Make a list for yourself. As you think of tasks that you need to complete such as answering
emails or returning phone calls, write them down. Set a goal of completing one of these tasks
per day. Checking them off will offer satisfaction while the list will keep your thoughts organized
and manageable.

Let go of expectations. Recognizing that the main goal of the postpartum period is to heal the
body and bond with the baby helps a new parent let go of the constant to-do list that is often in
the back of the mind. Give yourself permission throughout the day to just rest and nestle in with
your baby.

Eat real food and stay hydrated. Nourishing food is the backbone of a healthy postpartum.
Encourage friends and family to bring over favorite dishes. Write down a few foods that you can
make and eat with one hand (smoothies are great for packing in lots of nutrients all in one
place). Eat the colors of the rainbow and focus on foods that can either be grown, hunted, or
fished (as in, stay away from foods with ingredients you can’t pronounce and unidentifiable
contents). Make sure you are taking in about half your body weight in ounces of fluid per day to
keep your body from retaining excess water (yes, you read that right!) and to help balance
electrolytes and hormones.

Set aside 20 minutes per day for yourself. Take time each day where the baby is well cared
for by someone else (a partner, a friend, a trusted neighbor) and grab a shower or bath, a quick
nap, or do some gentle stretching.

Take time with a partner or close friend. Spend time doing things that connect you to the
person you were before your little one arrived. Watch a movie, cook a meal together, play a
board game.

Sleep when your baby sleeps. It’s a cliche but a true one for sure. Babies sleep for roughly
16 hours per day but the sleep is inconsistent and often while eating. Allow yourself to rest with
your baby for at least a half hour every day and take a longer nap at least three times per week.
Even just a short time with your eyes closed and your body relaxed can leave you feeling
rejuvenated and energized.

Move your body. Get outside with your baby for a walk around the block. Dance in the house
with your baby in a wrap or a carrier. Breathe deeply and stretch your muscles.

Take care of the physical, emotional, and spiritual aspects of yourself and let others care for you
too. Your body and your baby will thank you.



Jequier E. and Constant F. “Water as an essential nutrient: the physiological basis of hydration.”!
Eur J Clin Nutr. 2010 Feb;64(2):115-23. doi: 10.1038/ejcn.2009.111. Epub 2009 Sep 2. 18 Feb
2018.

Margaret R., John L. Cox, Stella Neema, Paul Asten, Nine Glangeaud-Freudenthal, Barbara
Figueiredo, Laura L. Gorman, Sue Hacking, Emma Hirst, Martin H. Kammerer, Claudia M. Klier,
Gertrude Seneviratne, Mary Smith, Anne-Laure Sutter-Dallay, Vania Valoriani, Birgitta Wickberg,
Keiko Yoshida. “Postnatal depression across countries and cultures: a qualitative study.”
The British Journal of Psychiatry Jan 2004, 184 (46) s10-s16; DOI: 10.1192/bjp.184.46.s10. 18
Feb 2018.

Popkin, Barry M., Kristen E. D’Anci, and Irwin H. Rosenberg. “Water, Hydration, and Health.”
Nutr Rev. 2010 Aug; 68(8): 439-458: doi: 10.1111/j.175304887.2010.00304.x

Kitzinger, Sheila. Rediscovering Birth. UK: Little, Brown and Company, 2000. Print.

Posted on

Semetics of Birth

 

Semantics of Birth

 

 

 

Brittany Sharpe McCollum, CCE(BWI), CD(DONA)

 

Language has incredible potential to build community, strengthen concepts and definitions, and create empowerment. With these great strengths comes the conflicting  potential to to segregate, disempower, and induce fear. Just recently in a class I facilitated, an expectant dad brought up the hypocrisy of the term “natural birth.” As a class, we chuckled and briefly discussed what reality would be like if birth was the norm and interventions were not. People would be coming to class, heading to hospital labor rooms, preparing for birthing, actually interested in “birth” and looking to avoid “intervention birth.”

 

The way we discuss contractions as pain and tension, versus discussing waves as sensation and release are building a framework for how one approaches these challenges of labor. When asked what labor feels like, legendary midwife Ina May Gaskin states “Contractions are intense sensations that require all of your focus.” Pain brings on feelings of tension, the term contraction builds a tightness in the pit of the belly. When we open the mind to new terminology, we approach a new space of understanding, perspective, and, ultimately, ability.

 

When I practice visualization techniques with my clients, one of  my main goals is to help them recognize the control they have over their bodily response – the great impact the mind has to positively affect bodily function. We dive into green pastures, softly cresting and ebbing waves, and the rustle of leaves surrounding us but not before, first, thinking intently upon our favorite treat. Imagine warm, slightly fudgy, chocolate cake, layered with whipped dark chocolate frosting that careens down the side and forms soft peaks overtop. The smell of cacao that wafts up when the fork sets slowly through the pillow of cake and draws it upwards to the mouth. The sensation of chocolate and fudge blanketing tastebuds. The final tongue swipe that pulls the last bit of icing from the lips.  You may already have watering of the mouth which  is a bodily response showing how powerful language can be.

 

As a society, as a culture, if we are able to reorganize the language norms surrounding labor, we gain the ability to approach birth fearlessly, with empowerment, relaxation, and excitement.  Yes, birth is challenging,  and yes, birth can be uncomfortable.  Birth is not all roses, but discomfort is manageable. Tightness is temporary. And the ebb and flow is exhilarating.

 

Let’s say for a moment that larger society phrased things differently – midwives catch babies, women give birth, couples are clients. The empowerment, sensation, and potential that comes from the change in perspective that language can offer is astounding. When we discuss our births with our children and our friends and in our birthing circles, let’s talk about waves, and sensations, and challenges. Let’s leave behind contractions, pain, and tension. In doing so, we can further encourage women to embrace their births and their bodies, rise up to take back the fluidity of labor, and settling in to enjoy birth as an extraordinary rite of passage.
Posted on

Workshop Review: "Three Days of Love"

by Brittany Sharpe McCollum

One woman’s first hand account of her beautiful experience attending a Childbirth Educator Workshop held in Cherry Hill, NJ

My South Philly backyard has become Monterrosso and this cheap glass of Chianti is now straight from the hills of Tuscany. It’s amazing what three days of love can do.

I have always been intrigued by our behavior when we walk into a room of strangers, all seated neatly in a circle. We smile, say hello, then look in our bags as if there is something important in there that we are so relieved to pull out. ‘Ah, yes, chap stick is just what I needed’ or ‘Oh, yes, just checking, uh huh, it’s still in there, no need to bring it out.'(That is my personal favorite) And to think, this was us, when three days later we were spilling tears and sharing stories as we hugged each other goodbye.

It seems impossible to give this time the credit it deserves. It was a space so different from the everyday life of work and even home. I have never before been in a group setting where I felt love from everyone. Not just existence or presence but radiated love.

It’s hard to say whether that feeling is due to the serendipity that led us each to Cherry Hill for those three hot July days or if it is that way for each group in Birth Works workshop. I am sure it stems from both the fate that brings people together and the sound philosophies of BirthWorks that led us all there.

My nature does not position me as the class clown, the center of attention, or the nerd (although sometimes I find myself leaning in that direction). By choice, I am somewhat in between these three. When I was urged to rebirth through the turtleneck exercise by a lovely woman with a longing for the mountains, I said “no,no.” Then I found myself saying “okay”. She later whispered, “I knew it was for you”.

I wriggled. I squirmed. I worked through that tight, dark, warm space like it was my life. And, in a way, it was my life. I pressed myself haphazardly against the rug. Soon I fell into rhythm, a dance. The birthing dance, perhaps, that good old pelvic rocking with which we are all so familiar. And I worked that collar down, down, down, over my hair, over my forehead, over my eyes. And I kept my eyes closed. There was no alternative. I was birthing and that is intense and focused energy. My eyes remained shut until that last piece of sweet-smelling cloth worked its way under my chin. And I could breathe. And nothing felt better than the hug I received, that initial human contact, as my eyes opened upon the room.

It just happened that that day was my birthday. Really, it was. And it just happened that I had been born by cesarean. And it just happened that that exercise occurred to the minute of my birth years earlier. I believe my re birthing has now set free generations and generations of my daughters to come. Yes, lovely woman, that was mine.

We all may not have had that sort of healing during our time together but I do believe that we all breathed a little deeper, felt a little stronger, and smiled a little truer. Imagine if 12 women from around the country, strangers days before, can pour love upon each other, enough to flush the cheeks and raise one’s head, what we can do as a world of sisters pouring love upon one another… That is birthing. That is growth. That is beauty and wisdom. Only good things can come.

If you have a BirthWorks Workshop experience you would like to share for our blog, please send it to kathleenr@birthworks.org