You would think after having six babies, I’d have this birth thing down pat. And sure, in many ways I do because of those experiences, the time I’ve put into researching how labor and our bodies work, practicing breathing and relaxation techniques, and establishing a close relationship to my midwife and support system. Knowing what to expect in the process certainly gives me a confidence and familiarity.
But, with that familiarity comes the knowledge of what is to come because I’ve been there, done that, a few times.
In many ways, my first natural birth was nice because, as they say, “ignorance is bliss.” I just went with the flow of it as a whole new experience.
Now, I know that labor is intense. It tests my emotional and physical strength more than anything else I’ve ever experienced in my life. I know what feelings the rock-hard belly contractions produce, the tightening deep within as my body opens for the baby, the radiating pain through my back and hips. I know the stretching and burning that feels like I’ll rip in half as the baby crowns.
So how do we push past this fear and intensity?
During labor, we have to reach the point of letting go. We have to fully allow the process to happen in order reach the other side. We can prepare all we want physically, spiritually, and emotionally before labor, but I’ve found that this point of surrender can only happen in the moments of labor itself. This is where having a doula or another supportive person is so crucial — to help you recognize if you’re holding back and encourage you to let go, knowing relief is around the corner.
A few months ago during my sixth birth, I was super excited when labor actually started on its own because I had been induced in one way or another in every previous pregnancy. My water broke a little after midnight, and finally around noon, contractions started coming quickly and intensely. There was no easing into these contractions — right out from the gate they were 3-5 minutes apart and caused me to stop, sway and breathe. Immediately I hit the, “I don’t want to do this!” phase.
I felt the fear of what was to come overwhelm me, plus her position really interfered with the progression of my labor. The contractions were very strong, yet would stop and start, stop and start, for hours. I was discouraged and frustrated. I wanted things to move faster and get this over with — yet I still was resisting the feelings that would allow that process to happen.
Finally, around dinnertime I told my midwives, “I just need to cry and sleep.” And that’s what I did. I let some tears fall and released some of those pent up emotions I’d been holding on to. I laid down to rest and recharge, and within an hour things had picked up again. That was the turning point in my labor — finally, my emotions were out of the way and I could get down to the business of birthing my sixth baby. It was still every bit intense as I remembered it being, but there also was a beautiful gift of peace of knowing what is ahead and knowing what to do with all those feelings. I knew to trust my body and listen, and I knew that the more I pushed through all that I felt, the quicker relief would come.
Our thoughts are so powerful! When I was stuck in the “I don’t want to do this” mindset, my body followed and resisted. When I pushed past that and embraced the journey that we were on for all that it is — intense, beautiful, wild, scary, empowering — the birthing goddess within me emerged and strength took over. I gave birth to my biggest baby without a tear in my bath tub. My midwives kept saying how amazing it was to watch my instincts take over.
I’ve seen this happen in other births as well, both my own and others I’ve witnessed. Jessica of The Leaky Boob recently gave birth to her seventh baby live for the whole Internet world to see. I watched for hours as she danced, breathed, and swayed through her contractions with grace. Still, while pushing took longer than she had hoped, I heard her midwife say, “You’ve got to decide you want to do this!” And again, that’s what Jessica had to do. She consciously decided and said out loud, “Okay, let’s do this and have a baby.” What happened? She moved positions and gave birth shortly after.
So as you prepare for your birth ahead, remember this phase. Remember that your thoughts have power and you will gain strength as you push through it — both physically and emotionally. Allow yourself to feel all that you are feeling and then surrender, because just around the corner there will be a beautiful baby in your arms. And as a bonus, the oxytocin high is another nice reward for all your efforts!