With the awareness of natural birth and its benefits spreading across the globe, more and more women are also turning to natural remedies for pregnancy symptoms. From chiropractic adjustments to herbal tinctures and teas, natural relief for physical ailments in pregnancy is now readily utilized. As the world-wide consciousness shifts, so does the awareness of emotion.
Emotional blockages can to more difficult pregnancies and labors, as evidenced in the FEAR-TENSION-PAIN cycle, where an emotion (fear) causes the body to react (tension and pain).
Midwives everywhere can attest to instances where emotional anxiety and stress in the mother led to a difficult delivery, with outcomes varying from simply having a long, drawn-out labor to an emergency c-section. This isn’t to say that all less-than-ideal outcomes are caused by emotions or beliefs, but there is significant evidence being built in the science and birth communities that high levels of negative emotion or belief has a great impact on our bodies’ abilities to perform optimally.
Just about every woman has them or will get them at some point in pregnancy. During pregnancy they can appear on the abdomen, thighs, breasts, and buttocks. Whether it's genetics or skin health that causes them, no one is quite sure. And although some women take them as their "badge of honor" and have a very positive view of their bodies postpartum, most women would rather not have them. There are about a million and one different supposed remedies for stretch marks available on the market today - from DIY "natural" creams and lotions, to essential oils, to expensive serums and pricey potions.
All claim to work, but do they really get rid of the "tiger stripes"?
There's a myth, or rather a mindset, being perpetuated heavily in our birth culture, that you have to "do" things to make labor happen. That it won't just happen on its own.
Women say things like, "I never went into labor on my own, so at 41 weeks I was induced."
"Baby's head wasn't engaged by 39 weeks, so doctor induced me."
"I have ZERO signs of labor! What can I do to make my body do what it's supposed to?" (said at 38 weeks).
The mindset is a belief that if we don't DO something, or if our bodies aren't matching the expectation and experience of ourselves, our doctors, our mother-in-laws or other family, or that one blog we read, then it's "broken", "not working", and "needs to be fixed".
Here's the truth.
Your body is WORKING PERFECTLY if you're dilated to one centimeter at 41 weeks pregnant.
This happened with my firstborn. I was dilated to one centimeter until FOUR HOURS BEFORE HE WAS BORN. FOUR HOURS - that's how fast my body changed!
Your body is WORKING PERFECTLY if you are dilated to a four or five towards full term and still aren't in labor.
A woman I know was dilated to a SIX with her third baby for SEVERAL WEEKS before labor started.
Your body is WORKING PERFECTLY if you have contractions on again, off again, painful and regular, every day or every other day for a couple weeks with very little change in dilation or outward progression.
Often times this is called "prodromal labor" or "false labor". Baby's position, your body's alignment and readiness, the hormone receptors in your body, your stress levels, your nutrition, etc. can ALL play a part in the incredible dance of labor.
I get it. You're exhausted. You're excited. You've waited nearly nine months for this baby to come, and you are READY, dang it. As someone who has personally waited as long as 42 weeks + 3 days for one of her babies to choose her birthday, I GET IT.
But so does your midwife when they say WAIT. And often accompanied with that WAIT is the much-needed, rarely-honored advice to REST.
Why is it so important to rest? Why SHOULDN'T we bounce on the ball, drink castor oil, try that herbal remedy and this farmwives' tale, eat pineapple and spicy food until our tongues and tummies burn?
Well, mostly because all of those suggestions done together will exhaust your body and give you bad digestion or even diarrhea. So if you are successful in starting labor, you'll be so worn out you may not be able to run the final marathon!
This is one of the questions women commonly ask once they are introduced to postpartum belly binding. (Still aren't certain what belly binding is or why you would want to do it? Click here to learn more about belly binding.)
The basic answer is YES! You can learn to belly bind yourself postpartum.
Whether your budget doesn't have room to hire a professional belly binder or there aren't any in your area, you can definitely learn this incredible skill and receive the benefits of belly binding postpartum.
However, word of caution: belly binding is tricky to learn, though the technique is simple once you have it down. And since you'll be binding yourself in the first days and weeks postpartum, you'll be tired, bleeding, leaking milk, sleep-deprived, and prone to hormonal mood swings. This makes belly binding yourself difficult, but not impossible, and there are a few things that will make it all the easier.
Whether you're binding yourself or having a professional belly binder come to your home after you have your baby, it's important to have enough material to be properly bound.
The most common mistake I see being made, especially when women DIY traditional belly binding, is not using enough material when they bind. Whether they made it themselves or bought it online, so often they end up with something that looks like this:
Uncomfortable and ineffective, even potentially harmful. And there's one main thing you can do to improve your experience belly binding - have enough fabric. A professional belly binder should provide the material for you. But what if you're planning to bind yourself? How can you know what kind and how much fabric you need? Keep reading!
Almost every doula brings a bag with her to every birth. But what's in that magical Mary-Poppins-like pouch? I can't speak for everyone, but I'll give you a glimpse of the most common items you'll find in mine - the items vary from time to time, but these essential things can always be found inside.
Why do you have that in your bag?
Some of these items might seem a bit strange, or maybe you don't know why a doula would want them at a birth, so here's a quick run-down:
This is the most common question I'm asked by women when they first learn about belly binding. They range from 3 weeks, 3 months, or even years postpartum. The benefits of postpartum belly binding are many (read about the benefits here!), so it's understandable that these women want to take advantage.
The first question I ask is: what is your motivation?
Is it weight loss? Belly binding doesn't exactly do that, and if that's your main motivation, then belly binding isn't for you.
Or is it support? Belly binding DOES do that!
If your goal is supporting your body to facilitate healing, then belly binding might be for you, but there are a few more things to consider.
Here's what I tell those women who ask me, "Is it too late to belly bind?"
"What can I do to prepare?"
"How can I feel less pain (emotional/physical) during labor?"
"What do I need to know?"
These questions, and others like them, are the most commonly asked questions by any woman as she finds out she is pregnant and prepares to bring a baby into the world. The questions a woman asks preparing for birth reveal her expectations - both positive and negative.
Most of the answers they receive, while wonderful and helpful suggestions, miss the mark. And because women most often don't focus on the root of the feelings or questions they have, these limiting beliefs remain, masked by the preparations, efforts, resources, and energy expended to making sure the birth goes smoothly, positively, trauma-free.
And so many times, these women are disappointed, even left with the lasting mark of birth trauma and injury. Even when the experience goes "text-book" perfect, baby is born healthy, vaginally, according to "plan", these women are left with the impression that something was still wrong with the experience. These feelings are compounded when something traumatic happens and the plan goes awry to some degree, either small or great.
Why does this happen? We reach, we prepare, we strive for the positive experience, and we are left afterward, still processing. Still wondering if we did something wrong. Or if there was something more we could have done. And if we decide to give birth again, we ask the same questions, and the process is repeated.
Not everyone feels like something went wrong after their experience. Many actually improve their impression of the experience and feel empowered, healed, and uplifted by taking the action they did to prepare during pregnancy. So why doesn't every woman feel this way after a birth experience they prepared extensively for?
The key, and what needs to be the first answer to every one of these questions, is this:
"What can I do to prepare?" Let go.
"How can I feel less pain (emotional/physical) in labor? Let go.
"What do I need to know?" Let go.
Let go of what, exactly?
Illusion of and desire for Control.
The home birth.
The unmedicated birth.
Avoiding a c-section.
Having a healthy baby.
Having your favorite doctor or midwife at the birth.
Getting a good nurse.
The perfect birth with no complications.
Starting labor on your own.
Everyone else's opinions, stories, and ideas.
Summed into one word: Expectation.
Letting go of expectation is scary. What does it mean, anyway? Does it mean you stop preparing for your VBAC, your unmedicated birth, your peaceful and positive birth, your ideal experience? Does it mean you DON'T listen to the suggestion of others and prepare for the experience you want to have? Does it mean you're not allowed to want a certain outcome?
I'm not saying this at all. What I am saying is, when you let go of expectation and step into a place of nuetrality, whatever happens at the birth can be experienced as positive, necessary, even joyful and celebrated.
How is that possible? How can one step into a "nuetral" place when it comes to something as emotional as birth? I have a method I would like to share with you today, a method that will allow you to explore and let go of expectation.
First, make two lists on a piece of paper in a quiet space. For the first list, ask yourself, what am I afraid of, or what am I avoiding? When you look at your birth plan, or your choice of birth location and care provider, what do they indicate about what you hope to achieve with your birth? Many women, no matter where they deliver or what they want for their birth, are working hard to avoid a c-section, an induction or episiotomy, a forceps or vaccuum delivery: in other words, intervention. For the second list, ask yourself what your ideal birth would be like, the one that you're preparing to have. If you're not able to have your ideal birth in "real life" due to health concerns and risks, still consider your ideal birth and write those things down on the second list. Most women want to feel happy, peaceful, calm. They want themselves and their babies to be healthy. They want to feel supported and safe. And they base every decision off of what they want to avoid, or what they want to experience. Include any items that are on your birth plan. Make these lists for each aspect of what you want and what you would rather avoid.
Second, ask yourself what would happen if the things on the "avoid" list each happened. Go one by one, addressing each item on the list, and then look at them as a whole - what if they ALL happened? Imagine each scenario in as much detail as possible, really visualize, imagine, go in depth. This is a good time to notice how you're feeling. What thoughts go through your mind? What do you feel? How would you handle it in the moment? What would your husband/partner do? What would your postpartum experience be like? Explore those feelings and allow yourself to feel whatever comes up as you do so. Write them down on a different sheet of paper.
Third, ask yourself what would happen if the things on your "ideal birth" list (or birth plan) DIDN'T happen. Do just as you did for the avoid list, imagining each scenario as it would happen without your ideals, your plan. Again, what thoughts go through your mind? What do you feel? How would you handle it in the moment? What would your husband/partner do? What would your postpartum experience be like? Explore those feelings and allow yourself to feel whatever comes up as you do so.
But WAIT A MINUTE, some of you are saying. If I visualize/focus on what I don't want, won't it come true?
NO. When you explore all of your feelings about a situation or circumstance in this way, you actually DISARM it. Your subconscious is incredible - it can't discern between the real and the imagined, what is true and false. Your conscious mind does that when you consciously recall or think about something. So when you think of something this way, your subconscious experiences it for real, and then IF, by chance, any of it actually happens in your birth, your mind (and body) won't respond with the extremes of emotion that would be there, because to your subconscious, you've already experienced this, and you lived, and you're able to relax more and feel clearer when making decisions in the moment.
When you AVOID thinking about these perceived "negative" things completely, that's when they are more likely to happen! Because when you aren't aware of your thoughts, or you're suppressing them, then you're actually putting more energy towards "not having a c-section," for example, or "not feeling pain in contractions." The key word here is "not" - your subconscious doesn't register this word, kind of like your kids when you tell them not to do something - most often they keep doing it, right? So if you're focused on what you don't want, even subconsciously, your mind is more likely to make decisions that would actually cause that to happen.
By opening up your subconscious and exploring the thoughts and the feelings there, you will begin to prepare for the experience in a different way - as it could happen. As it has potential to happen. You'll educate yourself on what might happen if it goes wrong, and your options in those scenarious. Your birth "plan" will expand to include, at least in your own mind, what you would want if you had to have a cesarean, or how you would handle a major emergency happening to you or your baby. And through this process, you will find peace. You will relax.
Remember after this experience to do the opposite! Visualize everything going right. Imagine how you will feel when you have that ideal experience. Go through the same steps, write out your positive feelings. You may want to do this in two or three sessions, depending on the time you have. For some women, it will take several hours.
Finally, adopt a new mantra for yourself: "I let go. Whatever happens will be the perfect experience for me. I make the perfect decisions for myself and my baby." Breathe deeply and know that it is true - whatever happens has a purpose. And if it's not what you expect, there is still good to be found in it, or because of it. This exercise will prepare you to trust your intuition. Having explored the darkest sides of yourself and letting go of expectation, you will strengthen your ability to make clear decisions in the moment.
You may find that you have to do this several times in your pregnancy as you make new decisions and learn new things about the experience of birth.
There are ways to increase the effectiveness of this exercise. Repetition of birth and pregnancy affirmations is one way, and a very common method employed by women today. As a doula I have my clients identify one word or short phrase that embodies how they want to feel during and after the birth experience, and they use that word as they visualize and prepare. This has always successfully helped them feel that way during and afterward, even when their birth goes other than the way they hoped. (Examples of words include peace, ease, love, joy, fun, excitement, etc.)
There are also ways of clearing out additional emotion and resolving limiting beliefs or fears in regards to birth. If you would like to know more, visit my page discussing the benefits of Bio-Energetic-Synchronization Technique (B.E.S.T.) and schedule an appointment at my office today!
Lastly, this exercise is only one of many methods you can use, and the recommendations made here are by no means comprehensive, and they may not apply to you. If you don't do this, will you still have a "good" birth experience? You can. Plenty of women do. If you DO do this, will it guarantee a good experience? No, I can't promise that. This is just one recommendation I can make for you to help yourself let go of expectation and give birth, and hopefully have a positive experience along the way.
Questions? Want to know more? Feel free to contact me!
The more you dig in the world of pregnancy and birth, the deeper you will get into theories and ideas around birth. Eventually you get beyond the articles about epidural pros and cons, dangers of pitocin, the magic of natural birth, the politics of midwives vs. doctors, etc.
Beyond these is an Alice-in-Wonderland type world where everything you know about birth is turned on its head and your beliefs are deeply challenged.
My initiation into doula work was brought on by my fall "into the rabbit hole. I have had three beautiful babies, and the preparation for each one took me deeper and deeper into unique cultures, concepts, and ceremonies for birth. Natural Childbirth. Placenta encapsulation. Lotus birth.
Pushing the boundaries of my beliefs has expanded my world-view, my trust in my own intuition as a mother, and my belief in the goodness of pregnancy and birth. So I've gathered a list here of "radical birth practices" that you can explore, and perhaps even apply to your own pregnancy or birth.
Each point is a link, so click on it to be directed to more information.
Birth - fetal ejection Reflex (not actively pushing) - Click here for VIDEO
Water-birth - Click here for list of VIDEOS
Raw Placenta Smoothie
Placenta Prevents Postpartum Hemorrhage
Lotus Birth - Click here for VIDEO
Check your own cervical dilation in labor
Pain-free, even orgasmic, birth
Unassisted or free birth
Birth outdoors, in a backyard or in the wild - VIDEO
Did I miss something? Add it in the comments below!
*These statements are not meant to be taken as medical advice. Be sure you do your own research and take responsibility for the decisions you make in your birth experience. Not all of the methods on this list are for every woman, and only you (and your care provider) can decide if your health permits exploring these "radical" options for giving birth.
Wife. Mother of three. Doula. Lover of cats, books, and chocolate. Filled with hope for humanity and joy with every new baby!