A Thought on Birth: From Turmoil to Tranquil
In my previous post I mentioned that THOUGHTS matter – they matter BEFORE, DURING, and AFTER labor. Our mind is powerful! Our thoughts and attitudes play a huge role in impacting the pregnancy journey and the birth process, and that impact takes shape long before delivery day.
What emotions come to mind for you when you hear the words childbirth, labor, or delivery?
Do you immediately jump to the association of fear and pain? Do you cringe at the thought of pushing your baby out and wonder how on earth you are going to be able to do that? Do you find yourself being filled with anxiety and turmoil?
Do you find yourself filled with a deep appreciation for the raw strength of the female body? Do you embrace a tranquil, joyful acceptance of the process? Do you see the inherent beauty in birth?
Many women in the United States embrace the former set of thoughts and beliefs because we’ve been surrounded by a culture that has treated pregnancy and labor as a form of disease and as a process to be carefully managed from external sources rather than adequately and realistically preparing the headspace of expectant moms and equipping them with internal strength. We’ve all seen the dramatic portrayal on television and we’ve heard the stories of struggle from friends and family. Especially now, at a time when we can have instant access to any information we want at the click of a button, we’ve somehow managed to make pregnancy and labor an event that is separate from us rather than a part of us.
Being pregnant can be scary. Facing labor, especially if you’re a first time mom or if you’ve been left with traumatic experiences from previous births, can be scary. Not knowing what to expect can be scary. Simply knowing that your body is about to give birth to a human can be scary.
I get it! I’ve been there too. I had to look my own fear straight in the face when it came to the birth of my son.
But what if I told you it was possible to approach this process with an entirely different perspective? What if I told you it was possible to find joy in labor? What if I told you it was possible to embrace a calm attitude and to find comfort in the process despite the intensity of sensation?
The Fear Tension Pain Cycle
If you’re wondering WHY it even matters, here is why: Our body responds to our mind!
A fearful mind = a tense body
A tense body = a body in pain
A body in pain = more fear
This observation of human physiology has been called the FEAR – TENSION – PAIN cycle.
Heightened anxiety levels prior to and/or during labor lead to fear, fear creates aberrant and unnecessary muscle tension, and that tension then interferes with and slows down the natural processes of labor because the body can’t open the way it is design to. As the body resists labor it experiences pain, and the pain then feeds and perpetuates the fear and anxiety that was initially felt. It becomes a vicious cycle that keeps moms ensnared in the myth that childbirth is always scary and horribly painful.
This cycle encourages the body to release copious amounts of ADRENALINE into the bloodstream. Adrenaline is our primary fight-or-flight hormone, which means that it preps the body for danger in order to escape a situation. The problem with this is that a mom in labor can’t escape labor. She needs labor to unfold, but the body is trying everything it can to prevent that from happening… it shunts blood and oxygen away from the uterus, it increases breath rate, it creates erratic contractions, and it makes for a longer labor. Aside from the physical impact adrenaline can have on the birth experience, it has also been shown to decrease the release of other necessary hormones, hormones that are designed to have a positive impact on birth (more on that later).
What many people don’t realize is that it’s not as simple as how we approach birth once we first start feeling contractions. The fear-tension-pain cycle often begins before we even conceive. It begins with our deeply held beliefs and attitudes around birth. It begins with outside, additional stressful events in life. It begins with our lifestyle and how we manage and adapt to our stress.
Changing the Cycle
Achieving a deeper appreciation and open acceptance for the beautiful and natural process that childbirth is takes months of dedicated training and sometimes even a hard look at our life. Birth isn’t so much about getting something OUT is it is about going INward and coming HOME to ourself. It’s about looking at our fears and our stresses, facing them head on, and reclaiming our strength so that we can walk the pregnancy and birth journey with ease and confidence, knowing that we can find comfort in not only our team, but also in ourselves.
A fearless mind = a body at ease
A body at ease = a body in comfort
A body in comfort = a fearless mind
When we create for ourselves a state of fearlessness, we create a cycle of fearless-ease-comfort. Reduced anxiety levels and increased confidence decrease the likelihood of aberrant muscle tension, less tension then frees up the body to open as it is naturally designed to, and a body that is no longer resisting the process of opening experiences less “pain” in the traditional sense of the word, but instead something more akin to intense sensations that the birthing mom is well-equipped to cope with.
A system that is not in fight-or-flight releases OXYTOCIN and ENDORPHINS into the bloodstream. Oxytocin, often called the “love hormone”, works for us rather than against us in labor. It creates strong, powerful contractions that help to dilate the cervix, it helps move the baby through the birth canal, and it helps decrease bleeding at the site of the placenta. Endorphins are our natural opioids; they help the body cope with and manage pain. What’s amazing about endorphins is that in a natural, unmedicated birth the body continues to release more and more endorphins as labor progresses so that the mom can deal with the intensity of labor. Endorphin levels actually have one of the biggest influence on pain levels during labor, but it’s impossible to have high adrenaline and high endorphins – it’s one or the other. We have the power to choose which hormones we want flooding our body, and it starts in the mind.
How to do it
Training the mind can take place anywhere, anytime, and in any situation. It involves consistently practicing bringing yourself into a state of deep relaxation, focusing on the breath, acknowledging (rather than attaching to) limiting beliefs or fears, and fostering an inner trust and knowing in the body. It’s a practice in meditation and self affirmation.
Here are some tools you can explore and look into in order to help you flip the cycle:
– Prenatal Yoga
– Breath Training
– Lamaze Classes
– Bradley Method
– Chiropractic Care
– Birth Affirmations
** Part of training the mind is acknowledging that sometimes things happen and birth may not go according to plan, and that is OKAY! We have to liberate ourselves from being so tied up in our birth plan that it becomes a binding contract in our mind of how we need it to go to feel okay. It’s easy to feel disappointment when you have worked so hard for the “perfect birth” but then had to change gears for the safety of you and/or your child. It’s easy in those cases to feel like maybe you didn’t try hard enough, or maybe you messed up along the way, but none of that is true. There are some things we have no control over and every birth has it’s own story.
Structure your life with people and things that support you and your values.
Dr. Jordan Adams