What stories did you hear about giving birth when you were a kid?
If you’re like me, you heard a lot about blood and pain. You saw images of women screaming and cringing, with doctors managing them.
These were the messages, but it was not my experience of birth.
When my husband and I realized that I was pregnant shortly after we married and settled into a little house in Bali, we began asking a lot of questions. How could we best prepare for the birth of our baby? What were the safest, healthiest protocols to follow? Who could best support us through this transition into parenthood? Where should we plan to give birth?
As Americans living far away from our home land and culture—with all its cues about this powerful rite of passage—we consciously sought our own answers. We felt acutely both the freedom of choice and burden of responsibility. Here are some lessons we learned:
We need to feel safe to be vulnerable.
A birthing mother is literally opening up her insides to the world. This is a vulnerable position. Whatever helps a woman feel safe, loved and accepted helps her allow the opening of those most precious, sacred places in her body, heart and mind. This is true whether she’s giving birth, making love or creating art.
In birth, the cervix must open to allow the passage from the uterus, through the vagina and out into the world. In life, we clench, conceal and hide when we feel threatened, criticized, ashamed or unaccepted.
To feel safe enough, I had to do quite a lot of research about the physiology of birth. This helped calm my mind’s fears. I also had to face some dark corners of my past—including sexual abuse as a child—and admit their possible impact on my present. This helped quiet the fears in my heart and body.
Our best supporters believe in us.
The midwives with whom we chose to birth told us from our first pre-natal visit that we were ready to become parents. They encouraged us to trust our own intuition and face our fears. They answered every question patiently, thoroughly and respectfully. Every word reinforced the belief my body was brilliant, strong, healthy and capable of bringing our baby into the world in a loving way.
Giving birth is hard work. That’s why it takes ‘labor’. We were surrounded by midwives, doulas and friends who told us over and over again,’ You can do this! You’re doing great!’ Hearing that they believed helped me believe.
Discomfort is not necessarily bad.
Pain was one of my biggest fears about giving birth. I’ve always been sensitive, and the thought of having my most sensitive body parts torn asunder frightened me. Most people I knew in the States didn’t hesitate to have an epidural pain block, but some of my research highlighted risks for me and my baby that were equally scary.
Fears aside, I wanted to know what giving birth feels like. This is not something one has an opportunity to discover—or, alternatively, to forego—every day. There is value in all the sensations—both comfortable and uncomfortable—of life and of birth.
I gratefully received help coping with the more difficult sensations of labor and birth. Constant skilled attendance, loving support from my partner and midwives, meaningful music, soothing water, clear and simple information about our progress, and a bit of moxa on the feet did wonders.
The stories we tell matter.
Reading and hearing birth stories from dozens of women helped me prepare for the birth of our baby. These stories reinforced the message that I am capable of giving birth, that I will most likely live through it, and that my body knows what to do.
The best stories also planted the seed of an idea that birth is a sacred moment in the lives of mothers, fathers and babies. If we honor this moment for all it is worth, the psycho-spiritual benefits open to us are every bit as meaningful as the risks we face in allowing them to unfold without undue interference. Great rewards entail great risks—in love, in life, and in birth.
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