If you have ever been part of a birth or been invited into the sacred space of a laboring woman, you can think back to the mood of the room.
Perhaps the room was filled with joy, concern, confusion, connection, boredom (let’s be honest, birth often takes longer than we expect.) Whether it’s acknowledged or not, the emotions in the room have a great impact of the process of labor.
As Rhea Dempsey points out, our culture believes birth should be convenient, comfortable and controlled. Many families and birth teams do not see birth as a normal event and are on edge waiting for something to go wrong. The more managed the labor, the more reassured mothers and observers often feel.
But for low-risk women, this management of labor often complicates the natural process and introduces risks that require more intervention.
This is why birth education is so important. Because natural birth is so rarely seen or talked about, few people are familiar with what birth actually looks like in its raw form. It is common for women to be pregnant after the estimated due date passes and it is normal for women to move constantly, lose her sense of modesty, become less communicative, breath heavily, grunt, vomit, need a lot of hands on support, for the sensations to intensify — all of which may catch supporters by surprise if they are not used to seeing birth.
In other settings, these signs may imply that there is cause for concern. Tension can skyrocket in the room when it becomes obvious that a woman is uncomfortable and that labor is intense.
Most see the only relief available as chemical, but often what women need is support. As Rhea says, the intensity of labor is not a signal that anything has gone wrong, rather the body performing optimally. But when a women looks into the faces of the people supporting her and sees only distress and pity, she is much more likely to feel in distress and pitiable.
Thankfully, the opposite is true, as well. No, I am not suggesting calloused indifference, but rather support and compassion.
Think of an athlete training for an exhausting event. When we see someone whose body is being pushed to the limit in order to cycle up a mountain or swim a mile, we don’t watch them thinking, “This is so sad. Someone should stop them from going through this misery.” We look at them and think, “This is incredible! Her body is doing amazing work!”
When I was in labor the first time, I remember getting to a point where negativity crept into my mind and I started to doubt my ability. Rhea calls this a “crisis of confidence” and explains that usually this is short-lived in labor, but that the response of the birth team greatly affects the outcome. At one point, I told my husband, “Oh no, this is getting intense.” I looked up at him to see how he would respond and I will never forget what he said:
“That’s great, that means we are getting closer to meeting our baby. You are doing such good work.” And he smiled at me — a genuine, comfortable, reassuring smile that completely changed the way I viewed myself.
In that moment, if I had looked into his face and seen pity, I would have fully embraced it and lost my confidence. But because he saw that all was going right and that I was actually good at the work of labor, I saw that, too.
Birth is not a spectator sport, rather everyone present becomes a personal trainer of sorts. Familiar with the event, respectful of the mother’s goals, armed with tools and techniques to support her, their contribution can be immense. In every setting and every birth, women need to feel strong and capable — and every person in the room has the power to add to that feeling.
photo courtesy of Marc Majcher