I believe that all women, consciously or not, participate in a collective knowing about the empowerment we might claim in birthing our babies. But instead of empowered birth, as birth anthropologist Robbie Davis-Floyd has so thoroughly researched, the majority of women have a birth experience that is demoralizing and dispiriting. And that gets parenting off to a less-than-peaceful start!
Principles for Empowered Birth: Part II
- You now act as her womb: it’s up to you to cocoon her from phone calls, texts, tweets, visitors, and all other contact—anything characteristic of the modern human, especially lights and language. All such stimulation brings adrenaline to her system. You yourself should use the very minimum of softly spoken words with her—again, so as not to call forth the labor-slowing adrenaline.
- Rather than humanizing birth, as some reformers call for, Michel Odent suggests we need to dehumanize birth, or rather, mammalianize it—by taking away everything that distinguishes humans: rationality, speech and technology. Cameras are big culprits; the camera-face a woman feels she must put on will right there interfere with the process! Odent confidently declares, “Go ahead, let everyone into the room, chat, watch TV, run the cameras—and she’ll give birth after thirty or thirty-six hours of labor. If you respect the physiology, that same baby will be born in less than five hours.”
- If your woman enters the hospital for birth, she will greatly benefit from you softly but confidently crooning a little mantra of mastery to her (such as, “You are the owner of your moment, right here and now”). As labor has been steadily progressing in the comfort of your home, once in the unfamiliar environment of the hospital, neurophysiologically speaking, she has a short window of time in which to feel at home there. See that you transform this foreign place into your place in short order—not more than fifteen minutes. Hospital intake forms can wait; her hormonal profile for an effective labor should not.
- If, as suggested, you have a woman attending you who herself has successfully birthed, she has a knowing within her of how to nurture you during labor. She stays calm, collected; she does not massage you (unless you ask her to); she does not give verbal affirmations and praise—which wake up your rational mind and bring adrenaline. She understands that this is a matter of sheer, mammalian physiology: just as you don’t mess with the laws of gravity when skydiving, you don’t mess with laws of physiology when birthing!
- Men, the prerequisites for you being there in a way that truly nurtures your partner and your soon-to-arrive child are: a) can you keep your adrenaline level low; b) can you keep your natural impulse to fix things in check; and c) in your honest heart of hearts, can you feel confident that witnessing your partner birthing will not carry negative consequences for you in your future sexual relationship with her? This is so politically incorrect, so countercultural—the great unmentionable. But those who are profoundly familiar with the process have seen it time and time again—the woman giving birth just when the father has left to buy a paper or get some coffee. Along with the welcomed opportunity for men to attend the birth of their children came, it seems, the automatic expectation for them to do so. We have to remember that up until a nanosecond ago in human history, birth has always been strictly women’s business, and many men may feel utterly out of their element with it. An excellent discussion of these issues can be found here.
- For some men, however, their natural
impulses toward protection and mastery become beautifully channeled for birth. A midwife friend tells of the father whose wife was in labor at home, when his family (who lives in the same apartment building) came pounding on their door to rail in outrage about their choice for homebirth (which they’d only just found out about). The father calmly yet determinedly posted a note on the door: “We need your silence and your prayers.” Strong. Silent. Gets it.
- Remember, after the baby is born, the mother is still in labor. Don’t disturb the atmosphere or do anything! Let the cord continue to give the baby all his or her rightful blood. Don’t wash the baby. Let the silence, the darkness, the reverence continue. This ensures the healthy delivery of the placenta and the peaceful beginnings of the bonding process.
Trust – The primary application of this principle at this step is perhaps best summed up in the title of one of my favorite books on the subject, Andrea Henkart’s Trust Your Body! Trust Your Baby!—a collection of chapters designed to cultivate your faith in the wisdom of the multitude of processes within you that are designed to birth a baby safely and with relative ease. It points out, “The uterus already knows how to birth a baby. The mother takes classes only to ‘learn’ to accept the process and trust her body.” Rather than a lifelong learning of such trust via routine exposure to birth, as in other cultures, we spend decades gathering antitrust beliefs and attitudes promulgated by our technomedical model, particularly regarding our bodies as machines prone to malfunction.
- Various modalities for clearing counterproductive emotional imprints and implicit beliefs can be helpful in cultivating trust in birth; Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) is a particularly user-friendly such tool.
- Mantras are wonderful for recalling ourselves to our trusting nature. A helpful one is “I surrender to Life, to my body and my baby.”
- Trust that your baby has chosen the correct time to be born.
- Often a woman’s apprehension about birth has less to do with labor and more to do with what comes after: when we say “Trust your body,” some women say, “Sure, but I won’t know what to do with a baby!” Relax—you’ll learn, you’ll teach each other.
Simplicity – The requirements for a successful birth could not be simpler. Anyone who’s been present at the birth of a colt, calf or kitten has witnessed the needs of a mammalian mother (which we are): safe privacy, period. What could be simpler than a farm? Find a farmer and unlearn what you know about birth! For animals, it’s like real estate—location, location, location: their favorite barn stall or dresser drawer, because familiar is safe. The more familiar we are with the territory where we birth, the more at peace we are and the fewer interventions we’ll need; indeed, what we need is less—less language, fewer questions, lower light: simplicity. If we could just remember and connect with our mammalian nature, birthing would be so much simpler.
- Remember that childbirth is not a performance. It is an act of utmost sacred intimacy. No superficialities allowed, only gravitas—the dignified simplicity of authentic being.
The lasting joy of simplicity is astonishing; just as the residue of a disempowering birth can stay with you forever, so too does the empowerment of a simple birth. It sets into motion a kind of "fractal wave" that continues within the inner life of the mother and thus enriches the child. This is an auspicious beginning for parenting a peacemaker!
I'm the author of Parenting for Peace: Raising the Next Generation of Peacemakers, and the adoption expert on Mothering's expert panel. I write and speak on prenatal, child and parent development and I have a private practice coaching parents-in-progress. I raised two humans, earned a doctorate, and lived to report back. On the wings of my book I've been visiting many wonderful groups and conferences around the world, and I'm happy to be sharing dispatches and inside glimpses with you here on Mothering.com! As well as good old parenting stuff. As a special gift to Mothering readers I'm offering "A Unique 7-Step Parenting Tool."