What to Do When You Hit a Wall in Labor

Here is an affirmation for when you feel defeated. Anyone who has experienced childbirth can tell you that it’s hard. Here is an affirmation for when you feel defeated.

Natural birth proponents often compare drug-free birth to running a marathon. It’s not easy, but you can do it, and you feel great about it afterwards!

One of the aspects of this analogy that isn’t often discussed is the proverbial wall. At some point, runners have been working long enough to hit a physical and/or mental wall. A similar experience happens during labor. At some point, it seems like more than you bargained for. More than you imagined. More than you can handle (especially for long labors that are accompanied by maternal fatigue and exhaustion).

What you do when you meet these walls makes all the difference in what happens.

Related: My Journey to Becoming a Doula

Imagine a game where the person you’re controlling must walk down a path. She encounters a wall in her way. What are her options? Climb over it. Walk around it. Punch through it. Tear it down. Stop, and yell at it. Dig a hole. Give up. Assume it’s a mistake in the programming and complain.

All of these options require your energy and emotional power. Most of them are ways of fighting the wall. They assume that the wall is a bad thing, meant to ruin you.

In labor, fighting the wall causes pain and difficulty. When you turn on “fight,” your body turns off birth.

Many labors are slowed by these walls. They may be emotional and completely invisible to everyone except the laboring mother. They may also be undesired variations of labor, interventions, really super freaking hard contractions, or someone in the room. The trick is to stay right here, right now, and fall through the wall.

Take a deep breath as you walk up to it, say a little prayer (or a little swear), and just go right through it.vThis requires faith, trust, and a bit of magic.

In my birth classes, we talk about birth as your superhero origin story. You really didn’t know how powerful you were until this.

Harry Potter fans will remember the wall at Platform 9 ¾. The only way to get where you want to go is to believe in yourself (or something!), just keep going… and fall through the wall. The magic is in the mystery. You don’t know what the wall means or what it’s made of. You don’t know what’s on the other side.

Your willingness to go there, plus your trust in your ability to deal with the wall, are the magic that get you through.

Just like Harry and Hermione, who had never seen such a thing in their lives, you have to run straight at the wall and believe.

My friend whose husband is deployed is living by a mantra scrawled on an index card and taped to her fridge. “When you’re going through hell, keep going.”

When you hit the wall, keep going. Recognize it as just a wall. A marker. A place of magical possibility. In labor, it means being open to going wherever birth takes you and your baby. This means not fighting contractions. It means having a mental birth plan that allows flexibility.

Related: Birth: How Leaving Home is the First Intervention

No, it’s not ridiculous to expect it to be wonderful, but it’s more wonderful to know it will be okay if it goes ridiculously far from what you expected. That’s where the real power is. Birth is meeting a series of walls and observing how you approach and get past them. What powers and magic will you find in yourself?

In life, it’s exactly the same.

The two strongest lessons I’ve learned from birthing and parenting are wonderfully paradoxical.

  1. I’m more powerful than I understand.
  2. I can’t control anything.

The walls will pop up.

It’s okay to stop and wail at the wall for awhile. But eventually, you will be called to move forward. All the magic and power is in your willingness to do just that. Find the courage to move forward and you’ll find what you need.

As John Aster and Goethe said, “Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.”

Or, if you prefer, this one from Barbara Winter:

“When you come to the edge of all the light you know and are about to step off into the darkness of the unknown, faith is knowing one of two things will happen: There will be something solid to stand on, or you will be taught to fly.”

Happy flying!


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