by Guest Blogger Emily Young
I don’t know about you but since I was a little girl in knee-high socks and found out that “the baby comes out of there?”, I got the strong message that giving birth to a baby was scary, difficult and painful. The culprits to my warped understanding were far-flung and numerous. From members of my own family to ridiculous Hollywood movies portraying the scene of a woman laying down on hospital bed scream-swearing at loved ones and hospital staff.
One of my life missions is to pull apart these beliefs and shine light on them…exposing them for the mischievous little imps that they are.
I now think that with a little practice and a smattering of education, it’s possible to enter into the world of childbirth empowered and powerful. Let me share why…
First of all we need to shatter those pesky limiting beliefs. A growing body of research (1) supports the notion that our beliefs about pain have a powerful influence over our birth experiences.
A typical scenario for how these beliefs might come about is this…let’s say an authority figure in childhood (parent, teacher, Hollywood) portrays birth as difficult and painful, which primes us to see evidence of this in our world. This is how the brain works…it looks for patterns. And then as we grow up and think about having children, it’s always in the back of our minds that we somehow have to “get through” childbirth. So we find a partner, get pregnant and are now on a road of no return. Our fears about our own abilities during birth are often fuelled by the medical establishment who in various ways reinforce our beliefs, both during pregnancy and on arrival at the labour ward. I am reminded of a quote by my fave psychiatrist, Kelly Brogan MD (2), who states
“Even the donning of a hospital gown on arrival puts a woman in the role of a sick patient rather than a conduit for life’s most transcendent contact with creation.”
And typically friends, family members and random people on the street will put their 2 cents worth in about their own births or stories they heard yada yada yada ad infinitum. Sound familiar? So this hypothetical woman goes into labour with the firm belief that this is gonna hurt…big time…and that she should just think herself fortunate if her baby comes out healthy. That’s the main thing, right?
Well, I’d like to propose the possibility that women can hope for (and get) more than a healthy baby …that is, a positive and empowering experience of birth. Let’s chip away at the “pain/difficult/scary” belief…
Grantly Dick-Read MD (love that name), in his ground-breaking book (3) “Childbirth Without Fear” told the story of a woman, living in a slum tenement in London during World War I, who had refused anaesthesia during labour. When asked why, she replied “It didn’t hurt. It wasn’t meant to, was it, Doctor?” I found this story ASTONISHING…how could this be?
And this placed the first seed of doubt in my mind that childbirth is, by default and without question, painful. Dick-Read explained this phenomenon with a concept called the Fear-Tension-Pain Syndrome. Meaning that preconceived beliefs and attitudes cause anxiety before labour and subsequent fear during labour. Fear and anxiety, in their turn, cause muscular tension which leads to less than optimal physical conditions for birth; for example, slow and delayed dilation, leading to pain.
So how on Earth do we magically “un-scare” ourselves? “It’s too late!” I hear you cry. “We already KNOW that it’s painful!” Ignorance appeared blissful for this WW1 lady…but we are not ignorant.
Let me introduce another, more contemporary player in my narrative to help us with this conundrum…(4) Mr Tony Robbins. Love him or roll your eyes at the big, white, perfect teeth and square jawline, his authority on the subject of peak human performance, from relationships to business success, is indisputable. He’s dedicated his working life to this very subject and learned from the crème de la crème of psychological science. Myself and my family owe a lot to this bloke… not least his strategies for getting what you want in life.
However, I don’t recall him coaching pregnant women for childbirth…so what does Mr Robbins know about all this? Bear with me…(pardon the pun)…according to Tony, there are (5) 3 main things you need for success (for our purposes – an empowered and positive birth experience)
- an effective strategy (check!)
- quality physical and mental states
- a story that serves us, rather than limits our capabilities
…we’ve got access to the strategies, right? Hypnobirthing techniques, surrounding ourselves with supportive people who believe in our goals, creating a calm environment for birth…and so on.
What about the “physical and mental states”? Well, this can involve our posture, our movements, the words we speak, how we breathe and where our thoughts are at. Are we focused on fear about the birth or are we visualising a calm and beautiful yet powerful experience? Obviously our hypnobirthing techniques can help us to create and maintain a positive mindset, but ultimately, our physical and mental states are reliant on our our determination and motivation.
There is a growing scientific community dedicated to showing how our thoughts influence our physiology. (6) Bruce Lipton is one of many scientists researching the effects of belief on our cellular biology. And how we hold our bodies also affects our physiology by the messages it sends to the brain. Again, Hypnobirthing fosters these physical and mental states.
And our stories…what of those? Let me illustrate their importance with a personal experience. When I was pregnant with my first child, I went along to a routine examination with an obstetrician and he asked me how I was planning on “doing this whole thing?” In response to my reply that I was aiming for a natural birth without medication, he snorted and scoffed and said that if it was him, he would have a caesarean and read a book through the whole thing. (Is that even possible?) Now, whatever your reactions to this response, this was his STORY of how he would give birth.
The point is that his story would have resulted in several things. It would have affected all of his decisions around his prenatal care. It would have affected his behaviour patterns and the way that he talked about the imminent birth. And it would have framed his experience and perception of the birth. Your story creates your reality. His story certainly wasn’t my story and it doesn’t need to be yours. Forget other people’s stories…your story is your OWN.
I am throwing down the gauntlet. Rewrite your story…and get clear on it. Talk to your inner self. Who is she? There is divine feminine wisdom in there…oh yes there is! Somewhere. What does she want? Does she see childbirth as an example of peak human performance? Do you want to go with the flow? Or create a more proactive and controlled experience?
The important thing is to feed the images of your story…nurture them, grow them….because they are YOURS. And then you can draw on this story to inspire yourself in the lead up to the birth and, with a little providence, for the rest of your life.
Oh… and book yourself into a Hypnobirthing Australia or Hypnobubs Online course to help create and maintain that positive mindset, give yourself tools for birth, support and knowledge. Give yourself every advantage in preparation for a positive and empowering birth.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Emily Young is a mother, writer of many things psychological and avid consumer of health and well-being related information. Her latest obsessions are neuroplasticity, male-female dynamics, birth psychology and how nutrition affects mental health. She is currently adventuring in Germany with her musical husband and 2 (highly creative and Hypnobirthed) children.
Dick-Read, G. (1961). Childbirth Without Fear. The Principles and Practice of Natural Childbirth. William Heinemann Medical Books, Ltd., London. 4th ed., p.13.
Lipton, B. H. (2008). The Biology of Belief. Unleashing the Power of Consciousness, Matter and Miracles. Hay House, CA.
(1) http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/02646830310001622132 re pain belief and experience
(3) http://krishikosh.egranth.ac.in/bitstream/1/2027627/1/HS607.pdf (childbirth without fear)