The Mind, the Body and Labor

Posted on June 17, 2009. Filed under: Birth |

All of my posts up to this point (excluding my birth story) have been technical and informational and easily referenced. Today I decided to do a different sort of post (thanks Kelly for pushing me in the right direction!) and talk about how the mind and the body are one and the same during labor. In doing this, I have to sort of abandon the statistics and facts and focus on thoughts and feelings and experiences instead. I have an accounting degree. I like numbers and facts and research but I have also come to realize that is not what birth is about (maybe that’s the problem with obstetrics today???).

Birth is an evolution. It’s about bringing a baby into the world, making a mother and a father and the world adjusting to accommodate them all. But what is an evolution? It’s a process of gradual, peaceful, progressive change or development, a motion incomplete in itself, but combining with coordinated motions to produce a single action. How perfectly does that describe birth? I think as perfectly as it gets when one enters it with a mindset of confidence and trust and understanding.

I have talked about fear in birth before. This is what drives so many to epidurals in the hopes that pain reduction or lack of pain will ease the mind of it’s fears and provide a more satisfying experience. With knowledge and confidence and trust of the body and of birth itself, the fears dissipate and instead the evolutionary process of birth can begin gradually and peacefully, the way it was intended to happen. Now, I am not suggesting that by attaining this level of comfort that those hard precipitous births won’t happen, they will on occasion, but they won’t be scary. And how about combining with coordinated motions to produce a single action?! It’s so amazing, especially in a natural birth where no drugs are making the baby groggy. The baby will push with it’s feet to help move it’s self down and it will turn and rotate and flex and extend all while mom’s uterus is contracting and pushing it along.

When a woman who truly trusts birth and her body goes into labor, she often describes labor as work but not necessarily painful.VBAC moms who didn’t labor the first time will describe their contractions as exciting because they are getting the chance to birth their baby. There is an attitude that these women have that all women should have. It’s that I CAN attitude.

When we don’t have that confidence and trust it can really cause problems. There is a fear, tension, pain cycle that can get ugly and vicious and overtake us completely.This is what is going on when we hear a woman screaming for an epidural at 2cm dilated. Instead of relaxing and enjoying the time between contractions and breathing and relaxing through them, they are fearing the next one and tensing every muscle and when it does happen it consumes them. If we have a good support team and attentive partner, it’s so much easier. The ability to relax between the contractions, get a shoulder rub, a sip of a drink, a smooch from the partner, a laugh, some eye contact all helps to ease the fear and tension. When the contractions comes back on staying on top of it, getting the rhythm, breathing, being reminded to not tense certain areas of the body, that the peak is coming soon and it’s a downhill ride from there make each one easier to get through. The mind and the body start working as one, in peace.

Ina May Gaskin talks of mental hang ups stalling labor and when those hang ups are brought to the surface the labor continues and the baby is born within an hour or so. I have had clients who were worried after many hours of labor, that something was wrong and that the baby wasn’t going to come and after a pep talk and reminder that everything is working the way it’s supposed to, get her second wind and get ready to birth her baby. Penny Simkin addresses how a history of sexual abuse can deeply affect labor, especially in a hospital birth. All of these thoughts should be discussed prior to labor because the do tend to come out one way or another. Discussing these thoughts with the partner also help to bring up any hangups he may be having and you better believe his mental hangups can affect the energy in the labor room. The way he holds his body, the tension, the nervousness can all be felt and distract the laboring woman from her work. The partner may naturally fill the role or sometimes have to have a little help from the support team but most can stand up to the challenge as they know the mom intimately in a way that no one else does.

Laboring women have a heightened sense of everything.The energy of a room, the ambiance, the atmosphere, the temperature, the sound, the smell, they all can be felt and if anything is off it can disrupt her ability to labor effectively and peacefully. In hospital births it’s often times the frequent interruptions by the staff, no matter how well meaning. In my own birth plan we requested that no one enter the room if I was in the middle of a contractio (peak and see then wait to enter!) and that if already in the room not to speak to me until after the contraction was over. They were surprisingly very accommodating. Maybe it was the fact that it was midnight on Friday but it worked. We were given our space to labor and I really appreciated it.

Some women use mediation, some use self hypnosis, some learn the art of deep relaxation of the body. All of these methods work, it’s just a matter of finding one that works for the individual. The key is to do some soul searching prior to labor, to really think about your thoughts and fears and feelings. Address them, learn, educate, surround yourself with a supportive team and trust. The body will do what it needs to do, our minds just need to relax and let it.

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4 Responses to “The Mind, the Body and Labor”

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yes Yes YES! :O) This is SO huge. I found all of the lists and books and ideas I had let fall by the way side as I went into labor were of no use. Not because mentally prepping for what your body is going through will not help your birthing experience in the long run, but just that you’re not actually going to be whipping out your birth plan while in transition. I think stop watches and fetal monitors really inhibit our birthing as they quantify rather than qualify birth.
I tell people I slept through most of my transition and they as if I had en epidural…er…umm…nope; I was just really tired and I knew that my body was going to do what my body was going to do so I took naps between contractions. This was a great post, thanks, Amy!

I agree with the stop watches and fetal monitors also. I tend to turn the monitor away from my clients so that none of us are tempted to ‘monitor watch’ and I also turn the volume down. I am a terrible contraction timer as well. I pay attention but I really only time them in earlier active if they seem to be spacing or short. I also had a client sleep through pushing. Her contractions spaced to 5 minutes apart, she slept in between and woke when it was time to push. She was AMAZING.

With Jordan, my husband kept telling me when a contraction was coming(it would show up on the monitor a few seconds before I felt it). He was wonderful with me, but that was one of the things I told him to stop doing while we were there.(that and he kept telling me how CLOSE I was, for OVER AN HOUR…I told him he had to stop that too…lol)

Poor guy, like you don’t know they are coming! Yes, these things have to be addressed though and what didn’t work for you the first time won’t work the second time either. I only say ‘you are so close’ when the baby is crowning!


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