Friday, March 09, 2007

Mindful at birth

This keeps happening to me but I don't mind.

I prepare to teach a private class, call the client up early in the morning to confirm our meeting and the address only to find out: guess what? they had given birth in the night!

I am stunned but so happy for them. Birth had been speedy, smooth and drug-free. Above all, birth had been a happy and satisfying event that validated their needs and their visions. One had been a hospital birth and the other, a home birth. With both these women, there had been long correspondences before we decided to arrange for a class. There were some issues that were residual which I thought best to be resolved before labour. I'm glad to see it worked out well for them.

Time and again though, in all the births I have seen, the women I have worked with, I've learnt one thing: the power of the mind/emotions that are linked to progress in labour. You'll never find this in a medical textbook though and there are probably many doctors out there who will pooh-pooh the very idea. But midwives who have worked with many women over the years have observed this. Ina May Gaskin writes about this several times in her books - that labour can be slowed down or even arrested and will not progress unless mental and emotional roadblocks are cleared. From what I've seen, I tend to agree.

This brings what I know about the need for safety in birth to a different level. We're told that we need to find a safe place to birth, that we need to create a nest where we feel safe, comfortable. In all likelihood, that place is our home and if we are in hospital, then we would need to re-create that space in the delivery room. So we do the works - we write the birth plan to set the parameters down. We dim the lights, turn up the aircon temps, play music, dab essential oils etc. We are told of the need to let the primitive mammalian brain take over in labour, not stimulate the neo-cortex.

But that's just the physical space. What about the mental space? The emotional closet we carry around with us? That space is harder to define and for some, harder to create.

In my classes, I emphasise the need to de-clutter mentally. Yes, we need to think about birth, what we want, what we had and how we get there. But we also need to think about our relationships - with our partners, our parents, our children, our friends etc - and if there are issues and hiccups somewhere, either do something tangible to resolve it (some women feel better confronting the issue and grappling with it) or 'let it go' (some women may write, draw, paint, break, think, talk it over and let it go). Whatever and however they choose to do it.

I think it's important to prepare for birth in that way. But too few women do. Many women work and lead very busy stressful careers and they hardly have time to be introspective or reflective. Which is a pity. While it is good to do yoga or pre-natal pilates etc or some form of physical exercise, its also just as important to prepare mentally but no one ever sees the importance of that!

I hope more women come for prenatal class early on - say around the 24th week - learn about their bodies, about their options, write a birth plan, find (or change!) a good doctor etc and generally get the groundwork done.

By the time they hit the 32nd week, I hope they slow down, do some navel-gazing, deep breathing, some hoping and dreaming and visualising. I hope they feel inspired, sensual and grounded, understanding that they are connected to a whole line of mothers who have birthed before them, even as they feel their babies slide and bump in the swollen hardness of their bellies. And this kind of knowledge, the sureness they have of their bodies, the intimate connection between their babies and them, will help them birth well.

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