"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!
Wife. Mother of three. Doula. Lover of cats, books, and chocolate. Filled with hope for humanity and joy with every new baby!