A more personal note for this post: our son Elias Adair was born on March 1st! He is healthy and soft and sweet and we are bleary-eyed and blessed. As we did three years ago with our first son Lucca, we chose a home birth with the assistance of our two wonderful midwives, and enjoyed a smooth, empowering, and celebratory day. Maybe you know others who chose to birth at home, or made this choice yourself, and feel it’s a choice that makes good sense. Or maybe you’re one of the folks who’s thinking “What?! Is she’s crazy?”
(If you’re thinking I’m nuts because home birth seems unsafe, I encourage you to research the issue; I think you’ll find that birth doesn’t need to be a medicalized event when expecting mothers are healthy and the births are considered “low-risk”–which they are the vast majority of the time. The film The Business of Being Born is great place to start, as is the local website Maryland for Safe Birth.)
But if you’re thinking I’m nuts because it sounds awful / excruciating / frightening to have a natural birth–which I can understand given our cultural stories about birthing–then I respond with one word: Yoga. (Surprise!)
Yoga, at its core, is about several things:
Finding our ability to be with what is happening
When we practice satya–being with what is–we stray from labels and language that limit us, working to observe with more equanimity and less black/white thinking. An example of satya in relation to birthing (taken from the practice of HypnoBirthing, which draws heavily from Yoga): the term “surge” is an alternative to the word “contraction.” In labor, some muscles tighten, in order to push the baby down, where other muscles and tissues open. When we focus only on half of this process–the half which involves contracting, we are likely to subconsciously contract–to tighten and hold, in body and mind. When we choose a word that describes more accurately the entire picture–surges of involuntary energy which contract and open us, we choose language that is much more supportive of our labor process. So our job in birthing is to manage to be with surges of energy, to surf waves of sensation as they rise, peak, and wane: very much like our practice in working with various yoga poses.
Being in this moment and not the next
There are actually many moments of complete rest available to us throughout birth, but only if we can really absorb the present moment. We don’t drift into fears of the next sensation or our inability to withstand it–the future–and instead stay rooted in the here and now. Another benefit of this practice is that when we are fully present, we are able to differentiate between the beginning, peaking, and falling of a surge–each of which are relatively quick in their own phase.
During my first birth, chanting the mantra “Om” became my unexpected ritual during surges; during this last one, ujayi pranayama or victorious breath, became my tool. Both of these practices were priceless ways to ground myself, regulate my energy, focus my attention and calm my central nervous system.
In our yoga practice, we get more and more adept at self-study (svadyaya), and at exploring a wide range of physical sensations. Little by little, we learn to withstand strong sensation without jumping to labels of alert or pain as we may have been otherwise conditioned to. In any given moment, we can feel which parts of us are tightening and which parts of us are calm–we don’t have to choose one or the other. We can feel what’s happening on a physical level, an energetic level, mentally, emotionally, spiritually… Again, this allows us to enjoy a consciousness that is much more expansive than our typical black and white way of operating.
For me, there was no better preparation for natural birthing than Yoga. I remember thinking after my first birth “Wow! All I did was Yoga!” It provided everything I needed to not only “get through” the process but to be aware and calm throughout it (dare I say enjoy it?). And I know that had something unexpected come up in either of my births, requiring a transfer to the hospital, Yoga would’ve been just as invaluable in helping me calm myself and accept that which I had not planned or hoped for.
Just one last note: I don’t stand in judgement of any woman who chooses a hospital birth or the medical interventions often involved therein. I do feel very strongly that natural home births, when appropriate, offer the highest chance of providing a more individualized, empowering, and calm experience.
Thanks for listening, and I’m always available to discuss the issue of home birth if you have personal questions.