Following Your Instinct During Labor
Today, as I read through The Birth Partner by Penny Simkin, I was struck with a thought about instinct and ritual during active labor…
Penny writes, “This is when laboring women become more instinctual, more focused, less verbal. You might think that when labor is steadily advancing, women would find it more difficult to cope. But this is not the case when women feel well supported. They find it easier to cope once they release the need to be in control and let their bodies take over” (page 78-79, emphasis added). I love this. I’ve felt it. I’ve felt completely and wholly supported by my surroundings, and have felt the instinct, the urge, and the protectiveness of my body that unmedicated labor brings. It’s wild- literally- almost like I was an animal.
I didn’t feel it during my first birth, because I was medicated. I was in a sterile, busy, chaotic environment, had a steady flow of visitors (both family and medical staff), but never felt the need to be protective of my laboring body.
I wonder… Is this good for women? To not feel instinctual? To not feel protective of their body while they labor? I wonder how it affects their relationship with their baby? Breastfeeding? Bonding?
Many women who have experienced birth with an epidural will tell me that they breastfed and bonded with their baby just fine thankyouverymuch. But having been there, and also having experienced natural birth, I truly wonder if my relationship with my daughter in those early weeks could have been different, somehow better, if I’d had an unmedicated birth with her.
Penny talks about ritual as a repeated, comforting, rhythmic action during active labor. Most women practice breathing before labor during child birth classes, or plan to think of a special place or memory during their contraction as a means of distraction. This is good, and can be very helpful during labor! But what’s beautiful, as Penny points out, is when a woman no longer thinks through her contractions, but instead listens to her own body, and “(she) has reached deep within herself to find her own instinctual way of coping” (page 78). When distraction doesn’t work anymore, a woman’s body is working very hard, and she must be able to trust her own instinct and embrace the contraction as something good and fruitful.
How will she handle her contractions? Will she let them take control of her, or will she take control over her contractions? How can we, as supporters during birth, help mom stay on top of her contractions and truly support her every need?
Maybe one reason I’m drawn to rhythm is because I can distinctly remember my unrehearsed rhythm during my pushing phase with my second child. Between contractions I would rest, close my eyes, and twist my husband’s wedding band around his finger. He later told me I nearly rubbed his finger raw! While I remember doing this between pushes, I don’t remember thinking it out, ‘Hey, I think I’ll twist his ring around his finger, maybe that’ll help?” No, it was purely instinct, a way that my mind chose to help me cope. My husband saw that it was helping me, and let me continue, even though he probably would have preferred I stopped!
In my training to become a doula, we saw a video of other spontaneous ways some moms used to cope with their pain: some women sang, some tapped a rhythm with their hands on their thighs, some practiced patterned breathing.
As a labor companion, a servant to a mother in labor, it is my job to help remind her to surrender herself to that instinct. Before labor begins, I like to ask how she plans to cope with her labor pains. Moms who have had children before or who have been through a good childbirth class have realistic expectations and are aware that labor, for the most part, is painful. (Not all the time though, as there are women who have claimed to have pain-free labors- I’m one of them!)
I encourage my clients to truly consider what they need to feel supported and taken care of. This is very hard for some women, especially those with previous children! But it’s important for me to know how to be support a mom, so that I can help her reach that place, so that they might be able to surrender themselves. It is in this surrender that she will find the peace and the strength to birth her baby naturally.