That seven letter word, EMPATHY, has been ringing in my mind lately. I am being challenged with how to use it in my personal life, and have reflected on how it can be used when it comes to birth. The word “empathy” means to think about something from someone else’s perspective. Daniel Tiger says it best when he explains that empathy is when we, “think a-bout how someone else is feel-ing” (excuse me for pulling this chant from my mommy brain). Empathy is not to be confused with “sympathy,” which means to feel sorry for someone. People do not want others to feel sorry for them, and we certainly do not appreciate it when others make judgments about what THEY think we should do. We all want to be listened to, validated for our feelings and concerns, and have others understand why we make the choices we do, even if there are other options or opinions available.
Often times in life we may hear various birth stories and may be tempted to judge their experience from OUR lens, rather than THEIRS.
What areas of birth are YOU deciding on right now? Are YOU receiving empathetic responses from your family, friends, doula, or care provider about your birth plans or your birth experience? What areas of YOUR life do you wish to receive more empathy on from others?
The next coping method is rhythm. You may have seen some women literally rock it out to songs like “The Tootsie Roll” and “Watch me Whip” (see additional resources below for these videos). You can totally do this to add some rhythm and fun into your labor. Here are a few additional ideas to give you a variety of smooth and soothing options for your birth:
~ Your body can sway in various rhythmic ways while sitting on a birth ball, standing up, squatting, leaning over something, or even slow dancing with your partner. Having a rebozo wrapped around you for various positions and movements can also provide some additional comfort and relief!
~ Not only can your body take on a rhythm but even your breathing patterns can do this too! There are different variations of long, slow breathing, where you may inhale through your nose for 8 seconds or more, and repeating the same count as you breathe oxygen down to your baby using an open throat. Your breathing pattern may change to shorter counts of inhaling through the nose and breathing down your open throat, but regardless of the number of breaths you take just be aware of your body’s need for rhythm. (Caution: When finding a rhythm, beware of breathing patterns that restrict oxygen flow or don’t seem to flow naturally.)
~ Some moms even find the need to be vocal in labor, and your sounds can even take on a rhythm. When being vocal, it is important to remember, though, to keep your mouth open and aim for low sounds (like oooohhhhh). This helps your jaw to be relaxed, your throat to remain open, and your cervix is encouraged to open. High pitched sounds (like eeeeehhhhh) cause your jaw to tense up, your throat to tighten, and therefore your cervix may remain tight and closed (try this yourself to see the difference.) Midwife Ina May Gaskin is known for making some of these connections between an open mouth and open cervix (for more information on this view the link in the sources section below).
~ Another example of rhythm can be various positive affirmations in labor, which you can either say yourself or have someone else say them to you, and even sway or breathe along with the words. Some examples of affirmations are “I CAN, and I WILL,” or “My body is OPENING, my baby DESCENDING.”
~ Other examples of rhythm can be seen in various touches, which can also be done in conjunction with your breathing pattern. For example if you breathe in for 4 counts, your arm or back can be stroked upward along with it, and then if you breathe out for 4 counts, the stroking would follow downward in a rhythmic pattern. You can do various types of touches, depending on the mother's needs in labor. There are various types of massages that can be performed (to the neck, shoulders, back, legs, arms, hands, feet), as well as light touch massage with just your fingertips or a rebozo being felt. Some benefits of the light touch is that it naturally produces endorphins that help your body manage discomfort, and also aids in relaxation and oxytocin bring able to flow freely (for more information on light touch massage view the link below).
~ Another rhythm can be made by your birth partner or doula by conducting their hand with your breathing, so with the above example, the hand would sway upward in the air 4 counts, and then down. Penny Simpkin even shares an idea of wearing a ring while “conducting” as an attention grabber and visual for the laboring mother while she breaths.
~ To add variety to this topic of rhythm, you can even visualize various things in conjunction with your breathing, like a kite flying higher for 4 counts, and then lower, or even a boat riding over a wave and then down (whatever you like).
~ One final example of this topic can be brushing a mother’s hair in a rhythmic fashion, which again can be synched with her breathing.
This final coping mechanism just reiterates that you are repeating some kind of action over and over. All the rhythmic examples above can provide a ritual during labor if you do them repeatedly. Performing rituals in labor can be an important coping mechanism for many moms who need to take the focus away from their discomfort, and they direct it toward this predictable activity that they do during labor. Birth can be intense, and sometimes leaves a mother feeling like they have lost control of their bodies. However, rituals allow a mother to feel in control and take charge of her body during birth.
There are a few things for you to consider about rituals. One important thing to remember is that rituals may need to change, and that is ok. Just listen to your body and find what works for you when you need it. Also, sometimes a mother may need help from her doula or birth partner to help her FIND a ritual during labor, especially if she has been doing a ritual for awhile and develops the need to change it to a new one. It is important to be aware of her options so that you can help her find what she needs. And finally, some rituals will require literal, consistent support. I heard a story about a mother who relied on her husband to press on her back during contractions, and when he stepped away for just one contraction, the mother lost that predictable movement that was helping to keep her calm, and she was unsure how to cope. Never underestimate the importance of a ritual for a mother!
My goal in sharing this is to provide you with options for your birth! I think these techniques can be utilized in all birth situations, whether you are planning a natural childbirth, or up until you feel the need to explore other options for pain management. Some of this information can even be useful for keeping your mind and body calm for a cesarean. As a doula, I have personally witnessed moms finding great success in these techniques, and I hope it provides confidence and coping for many more moms in the future! If anyone has some sentiments from their own birth using relaxation, rhythm and rituals I would love to hear your stories in the comment. Please share this information along, and thank you for reading!
Penny Simpkin (2008) The Birth Partner (3rd ed.) Boston, Massachusetts: The Harvard Common Press
Ina May Gaskin-open mouth, open cervix http://www.yogamatrika.com/2013/08/15/spread-your-lips-for-a-better-birth/
"Watch me Whip" birth video http://www.nydailynews.com/life-style/pregnant-woman-whip-nae-nae-hospital-induce-labor-article-1.2385708
"Tootsie Roll" birth video http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2015/08/20/tootsie-roll-pregnancy-pain-labor-baby-viral-video/32040059/
Sounds in labor http://wonderfullymadebelliesandbabies.blogspot.com/2010/03/open-mouth-open-cervix.htm
Birth affirmations http://desertbirthandwellness.com/pregnancy-and-birth-affirmations/
Affirmations and visualization for birth http://www.midwiferygroup.ca/downloads/third/Affirmations%20&%20Visualizations%20for%20Birth.pdf
Hypnobirthing (please message me for instructor information in Jacksonville) https://us.hypnobirthing.com/
Hypnobabies (please message me for instructor information in Jacksonville) https://www.hypnobabies.com/
Light Touch Massage http://www.hypnobirthinghub.com/blog/release-natural-painkillers-light-touch-massage/
By Anne Homan CD(DONA)
Are you tired and uncomfortable at the end of your pregnancy? Do you want to hurry things along so you will not feel pregnancy discomfort, and finally be able to sleep on your back again?
Are you hearing comments from people that are NOT helpful and only leave you feeling discouraged? Comments like:
“You have not had that baby yet? You must be exhausted!”
“You are not dilated at all yet?”
“You look like you are about to POP!”
Have you been feeling the pressure to be induced with no medical reasoning, but “just because” you are a magical 40 weeks? (This can be encouraged even sooner in some cases).
If any of these things speak to you then this read is for you. Numerous moms have described the things above (and more), and I have written a poem to encourage those who are at this stage in their pregnancy.
This poem is meant to remind you that birth is a normal physiological process, and assuming that there are no complications or health concerns for you or your baby, there is great purpose that takes place when you wait for your baby to come when he or she is ready. Also, it is easy to feel discouraged at the end of your pregnancy, or even at the beginning stages of labor, when your body does not perform to the expectations of yourself or those around you. Maybe you don’t seem to be progressing enough, and it is easy to feel like your body is broken. I would like to remind you that each body and birth is different, and I want you to stay encouraged through it all and trust the process, and trust in what your body is designed to do. So here is my doula encouragement while you patiently, confidently, and purposefully wait for your baby to be born!
In my early twenties I was far from pursuing an interest in anything birth related. I was a young wife, knew I wanted to have kids “someday,” and primarily focused on using my degree in early childhood education. My interest was children, and teaching hem things they needed to know in life…the most rewarding moments were seeing a “light bulb” go off in their head when they finally got a concept or had a moment of accomplishment due to what I had taught them! I taught for 2 years and then became pregnant with our son.
It seemed manageable in my mind but labor brought unexpected things that would continue to shape my thoughts on birth and this thing called doula support. I labored with my son for 45 hours, chose to transfer from a birth center to hospital, and deviated from most of my carefully thought out birth plan. In the end, my birth did not turn out like I thought it would, but through it all we were supported by a doula. I knew that a doula would help me with challenges during birth, but I did not imagine how helpful it would turn out to be for my husband! He was absolutely drained from lack of sleep and eating, and experienced great concern for his wife and baby for long hours. I am SO glad that we were both supported continuously through each unexpected step by this woman called a “doula.”
My births were some of the most monumental moments in my life that shaped me, and these women called “doulas” were very instrumental in the process as well. I began to read more about doula support and birth and my interest continued to peak. Among my reading I became aware of various birth choices, from water births options to VBACS, to mother centered cesarean options. I also became aware of other women who had their own birth stories to share, all being from a variety of situations. Of course I came across the seemingly perfect scenarios of babies being born with no complications, mother’s feeling in control and heard by their care providers, breastfeeding success, and smiles on everyone’s faces. However, I also encountered stories of women who felt unprepared and dissatisfied with their experience, felt pressured by care providers to make choices they were not comfortable with, did not feel listened to or respected in their birth plan, felt loss of control, alone and scared in their experience, dealt with postpartum depression, unsuccessful breastfeeding, and felt disconnected from their baby. Although this extreme description of birth does not belong to every woman, it does belong to many and these feelings are very real and deserve attention and validation!
Because of my personal experiences with birth and doula support, researching, and speaking with other moms, I decided to follow my interest in becoming a birth doula. I want to help pregnant women feel prepared and supported for their birth in every way possible. This includes them having a care provider who will respect their own unique birth plan. I want moms to have the information they need to make informed choices. I do not want a mom to feel pressured into having a birth that is my ideal, or anyone else’s. A mother should feel good about her choices, even if it means deviating from her initial birth plan while she is laboring. A woman deserves to have continuous care during birth that focuses on her physical and emotional needs, and advocates for her wishes. After birth, a mother deserves to still have the focus on her, making sure she receives postpartum support in reviewing her experience, feeding her baby, caring for herself and her baby, dealing with postpartum emotions, or needing to find other support resources in the community.
A Moment in Time Doula Services, LLC