After nearly 10 years as an L&D nurse, I have learned that each and every labor and birth has a lesson to teach. (Trigger warning: cuss words)
Lesson #1 – If You’re Not On Mama’s Team, Then Get the Fuck Out
The birth room belongs to the woman giving birth. It is her room, her day, and her life. Every person that walks into her room should share the common goal of making her feel more comfortable, more peaceful, and less afraid. Birth is not a spectator sport.
I am the guardian of the room, and of the woman’s birth space. In her room, typical rules that operate in society are turned upside down. I don’t care if you’re the oldest, most esteemed, most powerful person in the family. I don’t care if you’re the one who pays the bills, or the one who holds the grudge. If you are not pushing the baby out, then your opinion doesn’t matter.
Learning to protect the space for women during the process of giving birth has taught me to protect the space for myself and the people I love. I’ve learned to lay strong, powerful boundaries. Birth is sacred. Manipulation, hidden agendas, condescension, intimidation and passive aggression have no place in this sacred space. If you don’t have the mama’s best interests in mind, you’re not allowed in her room.
Lesson #2: Where the Mind Goes the Body Follows
Labor and birth are an intensified version of a normal bodily process. The cervix opening and the baby descending are intense physical, emotional and physiologic events. Sometimes a woman goes from walking around to pushing out a baby in less than an hour.
Because labor is so intense, its possible to witness cause and effect unfolding at warp speed. A woman gets angry, sad, or panicked, and I literally see changes in her baby’s heartrate. Women are often unable to progress in labor in the presence of a person who makes them uncomfortable.
I’ve also witnessed the sheer power of physical connection when a woman is touched by someone that she loves.
When a laboring woman’s partner is afraid, or tired, or is starving, a woman picks up on it and it’s difficult for her to relax. On the other hand, when her partner touches her, or wraps her in his arms and tells her I’ve got you, she physically melts in front of our eyes. I’ve seen so many women go from “failing to progress” to pushing out a baby in the blink of an eye, with the help of their partner’s love.
One of the most profound experiences I’ve ever witnessed was a woman in labor with her second baby. Second labors after one uncomplicated birth tend to unfold quickly. For some reason this woman could not progress past seven centimeters. On exam her baby was floating in her pelvis, with plenty of space to move and descend. Her contractions were “adequate.” Her physicians were puzzled as to why her labor was taking so long to progress.
I sat with the woman and asked if something was bothering her. Her mother confided in me that her husband had been shot and killed during her pregnancy. She was having a hard time feeling ready to give birth to this baby without his presence. I sat with her for a long time. We talked about her husband and how she missed him, and we had a good, long cry. After she grieved for her husband, she was finally able to surrender to labor. She pushed out a strong, healthy baby. Her husband was gone, but she needed to feel his presence and honor his life before she was able to give birth to their baby.
Lesson #3: It’s So Much Better When We Do It Together
My very favorite births to attend are those where a woman has a whole team in place to serve her. I love working with supportive families and experienced doulas who can anticipate a laboring woman’s needs. It’s a sigh of relief when I walk into a room and see a woman surrounded by a circle of women who are supporting her. Everyone has a job, and everyone is needed … to hold her, squeeze her hips, wipe her forehead with a cool cloth, give her sips of a drink or speak words of strength and support: You are strong. We believe in you. You can do this.
Birth is one day in a woman’s life, but her child’s birth will change her forever. When she is surrounded by love and support, her memory of bringing her baby into the world can become a source of strength and resilience in the throes of early motherhood.
Lesson #4: You Can Go Your Own Way
You might hear someone say that a woman doesn’t win a prize for giving birth a certain way. I disagree. When a woman gives birth ON HER TERMS, she will feel victorious. She will win strength, she will win confidence, she will win courage.
If you are surrounded in labor by people who respect you, believe in you, and honor birth as a transforming life experience, then you will gain strength that will guide you throughout your experience of motherhood. If you tune out the noise and listen to your heart, you will always make the next best decision. You will learn that no matter what happens, you can be resilient and adaptable. Your birth will make you into the mother your baby needs.