By Cathy Daub PT, CCE/CD (BWI)
Teaching about birth is straightforward: the challenge is to get women to trust and believe in their own ability to give birth.
Being present at a birth, we soon become aware that an emotional, trans-formative, sacred experience is happening. It is in this emotional state that a laboring mom feels her hormones raging from deep primal sounds to high “Ooos and Ahhs” at the first sight of her baby. Her hormones of love and bonding are at peak levels and looking into her baby”s eyes, she is likely experiencing time as standing still.
Over the many years I’ve taught childbirth education classes, it always fascinates me to see birthing parents walking in, expecting me to teach them how to give birth. And what do they hear from me? “You were born with the knowledge about how to give birth. Birth is instinctive!” They think, “What? My body already knows how to give birth!” This is empowering for pregnant women and their partners to hear, but it takes time and repetition for this concept to sink in. I go on to say “We are here to help you to have more trust and faith in your body’s instinctive knowledge that already knows how to give birth.”
Because birth is an emotional experience, it makes sense that preparation for childbirth provides an emotional preparation. Although some basic information is needed, it is the emotional preparation that she will find the most helpful during labor and birth. Birthing parents who do not receive an emotional preparation for birth, may not be adequately prepared for the emotions that may surface during labor and birth.
What might a childbirth class look like when there is only academic overload?
Typical childbirth classes tend to provide heavy left brain academic information overload. This in itself can add to the stress and anxiety a pregnant woman may already be experiencing in her body and can be a disadvantage when she is in labor. For example, imagine a pregnant woman hearing in class, “This is how many centimeters you need to dilate before your cervix opens; you can time your contractions to see how long they last and how far apart they are; you might have false labor with contractions that can leave you exhausted by the time real labor begins; your baby’s best position to enter the pelvis is occiput anterior; when the contractions become too strong, you can request an epidural; with an epidural you can’t walk anymore; there are stages of labor, the first being your cervical dilation, the second is the birth of your baby, and the third is the delivery of your placenta; the stations of the pelvis go from -4 to +4 when the baby is on your perineum; when you get to 10- cm remember to breathe more slowly.” This information overload undermines a woman’s confidence in her ability to give birth.
What does a childbirth class look like with emotional preparation for birth?
Contrast this with an emotional preparation for birth. For example, imagine a pregnant woman in class hearing, “All women are born with the knowledge about how to give birth. Birth is instinctive and what is instinctive doesn’t need to be learned. In our classes we are going to help you have more trust and faith in your body’s knowledge that already knows how to give birth. (Pregnant women hear a voice inside them saying, “My body is wise!”) All you have to remember to do is keep your hands relaxed, find an optimal position and breathe slowly through each contraction. When your hands are relaxed, your whole body including the pelvis is more relaxed. It often feels good to move around in labor. The more you move, the more you are allowing your baby to move and come down through your pelvis in a good position. Your pelvis has plenty of room to birth your baby and moving your pelvis continues to create more room. What are some fears you have about birth? You can feel safe here. Expressing fears helps you to release them and not bring them to your labor. What are some beliefs you have about birth? Are there any you would like to change? Who are you inviting to be at your birth? It is important to feel love and compassion from those around you because then you can relax more when you feel safe and supported.
An emotional preparation for birth is best accomplished through a human values approach to childbirth education and doula services. For example our infallible truth is that all women are born with the knowledge about how to give birth. An infallible truth is one that does not change over the past, present, or future. This is an ancient truth for how could the earth have been populated since ancient times without hospitals or childbirth classes?
During labor, it is essential that the neocortex or thinking brain is quiet. When it is quiet, a woman can access her primal brain that already knows how to give birth. Ways in which she can know she is in her primal brain is that voices begin to sound far away and she may feel, as Michel Odent MD says, as if she is on another planet. A woman in this state needs to be protected from any environment that is trying to stimulate her neocortex such as people asking rational questions, putting on bright lights, or making her feel she is being observed.
Though a childbirth preparation class needs to have some information, it is the emotional preparation that many women find most helpful in labor and birth.