BEING FULLY PRESENT FOR YOUR BIRTH
Have you been searching for a way to cope with the 'realness' of childbirth, with all its challenge and all its glory?
Mindfulness may just be the key.
Coping with the trials of pregnancy, labour and parenthood is no easy task. And yet, there may be a way to ride through these experiences with a greater sense of inner stability and resilience…so that everything becomes a bit more easeful.
Robust scientific evidence supports the value of mindfulness for helping people to cope with this transitional point in their lives…and in fact any life event or challenge. The learning you gain now, during pregnancy, and the mindfulness skills you use during labour, can indeed benefit you for the rest of your life.
Some of our greatest stress in life comes from things not going quite to plan, and from us believing that we won’t be able to cope if challenges do present themselves (which inevitably, they do!). Labour and birth is a prime example of when things may not go according to plan – the plan that we desire, or the plan based on what others suggest is the ‘ideal’ way to birth our babies.
As a fight back to birth historically becoming a very medicalised process, there now seems to be a huge pressure for women to have ‘positive’, ‘natural’ and ‘relaxed’ birth that is free from intervention and artificial pain relief. This all sounds wonderful right?! And it is, until something doesn’t go quite to plan. Until the experience on the day is not entirely ‘positive’ and ‘relaxed’ despite our best efforts. Until perhaps some unplanned interventions are needed, which of course does happen for lots of women, for lots of different reasons.
A mindful approach to birth will help you to cope with the uncertainty surrounding labour and birth. It will support you to let go of your expectations and be more comfortable with ‘not knowing’ how things will unfold. It does not tell you what you should or will feel in the moment as it accepts that we can’t know this ahead of time. This uncertainty will feel okay because you will have learnt the skills to support yourself, to manage unexpected experiences and feelings, and to be fully with your birthing body, whatever happens. This is perfectly summed by Nancy Bardacke in her book Mindful Birthing: - “Mindfulness doesn’t give you the birth experience you want — it gives you a way to fall in love with the birth experience you get.”
Importantly, with the values of self-compassion and non-judgment being core features, the mindful way of approaching birth reduces the risk of post-birth self-criticism, dissatisfaction and feelings of failure that can arise when our labour does not fit with the ‘natural’, ‘positive’, ‘intervention-free’ trend. At a time when you are feeling vulnerable and tired, when you need all your strength and energy for looking after a newborn (and yourself!), who needs all that extra self-judgement about how you bought your baby into the world?!
To sum up, both mindfulness and hypnobirthing aim to give pregnant women a greater sense of control and confidence with labour. Both approaches also appreciate the link between less stress and a more easeful birth. However, there are some important differences in how these two approaches try to achieve this and in how applicable their teachings are for life beyond birth. Of course there is nothing wrong with trying out both approaches during pregnancy to see which one fits you best, with an awareness that the two methods may seem contradictory at times.
Hypnobirthing techniques attempt to induce a deep state of relaxation in which you can access positive birth-related language and imagery. This positive language and imagery aims to change your perspective of, or simply distract you from, challenging experiences during labour.
When preparing for labour, hypnobirthing will suggest you practice saying positive phrases/’affirmations’ to yourself about what you will feel like during labour and how you will cope with birth. It may also suggest visualising having a calm and relaxed labour.
Hypnobirthing teaches you how to change the way that you breathe in order to bring about feelings of relaxation which can support those labour-progressing hormones to be most effective.
Its underpinning intention is to re-condition or ‘un-do’ the supposed association we have learnt (from television and conversations with our friends and family) that giving birth is difficult, frightening and unbearably painful.
Mindfulness will teach you how to pay greater attention to your experiences, rather than to distract yourself from them. You will learn how to simply notice what is happening (in your body and mind), as it happening, in the present moment. It uses very simple attention training skills and the only equipment you will need are your own senses – your own body.
This greater self-awareness affords you the chance to step back and relate to your experiences in kind, accepting, patient and non-judgemental way. It does not actively try to make you feel relaxed or overly positive about your experiences. A mindful birthing approach holds the opinion that whatever you experience in labour (pleasant and unpleasant) is perfectly okay – a natural understandable human experience. Nevertheless, mindfulness is proven to reduce emotional stress and this can support those labour-progressing hormones to be most effective.
Mindful breathing does not involve changing your breathing, but instead it teaches you how to watch your body breathing naturally. It also teaches you how to use your breath and body as a way to anchor yourself in the present moment, so you can observe your other experiences (e.g. thoughts, emotions and bodily sensations) from a place of stability.
With mindfulness you will be learning how to be more ‘awake’ and ‘alert’, even during moments of challenge. A mindful birthing approach accepts that some ‘pain’ or intense sensation will inevitably be present during labour, and it teaches you a way to be with that discomfort so that it feels manageable. It also teaches you how to work skilfully with any emotional discomfort or unhelpful thought processes that may naturally arise when thinking about labour and when in labour (e.g. anxiety, fear, self-doubt etc.).