Birth Affirmations Deconstructed


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This is written with a slant on homebirth experience because I am a homebirth midwife, but I spent all my formative years attending hospital births as a doula and you can use all of this regardless of where you are—though if you take my advice on 2b you may find yourself with a room full of happy nurses waiting for their turn…

I am often asked how to write birth affirmations, and when and why women use these during labor. My short answer the same as I give for most inquiries like this—here’s some thoughts, if it resonates with you, use it.  If it doesn’t, don’t.  If you want to skip the opines and deets just scroll down for the list of categories.

A woman in labor using affirmations is not what home birth is “supposed” to look like.  And while one key element of planning for a homebirth is imagining how it will look, feel, smell and be—none of that matters if how it looks, feels, smells, and is—does not resonate with who you are in the world.  Not who you are when you are birthing.  Who you are.  You will bring your whole old self with your whole history and your whole emotional range of expression into birthing with you and while we don’t know what this will look like in that space, I know it is not going to look anything like the women on YouTube, not because they did it wrong (they are each fabulous!), but because you are not them.

Firstly—what I’ve seen:  everything from professionally printed flags in the Tibetan Prayer Flag style like those pictured above, to posters made at baby showers and blessingways by loved ones, to post-its literally in the hundreds everywhere we look in the house, to hand written in barely legible scripts on a notebook pad arranged in no order at all, by topic, by preference, by level of stress they help cue to calm.  So how you display them is up to you.  They can be just for you, for your team, or for the general viewing public (say visitors to the house including your mailman and your mother-in-law).  Creative, beautiful, scribbled.  You decide.

Secondly–what I’ve read:  and here I want to create a little order to the chaos.  And to acknowledge that I have read the ones that are shared with me—and often detail deep hopes of the heart and a higher vision of purpose for birthing.  I have not read the private pages—the journal entries and sayings and quotes that mothers often read to themselves in the space between contractions.  Love letters to themselves so deeply personal I have not intruded upon.  But I can imagine what I would say if I got to write a love letter to a woman in labor.  And you can write one to yourself, too.  So it’s there, if you need it.  My most cherished memories of births are sitting quietly with a mom who has instructed me to read her affirmations to her at the peak or the ebb of a contraction (it’s hard to know ahead of time when you will want to hear them but it’s usually one or the other). Reading slowly to her the words which she has gathered, and which represent some rooted connection to her deepest inner world and strength.  I always cry when I read them.  Not sobbing, but just tears leaking.  Because I get a glimpse of the heart work at play in this space and it is sacred and beautiful and painful and trustworthy.

I wanted to organize categories and sources for you to sort through.  Take what works.  Leave what doesn’t.  Share yours if you will, I would love to read them.  Call me if you want me to read some to you while you close your eyes and imagine how you will bring your whole complete flawed sacred self into birthing.  Is that too creepy?  You can ask a partner or friend or child to do the same.  Or even better—actually best--read them to yourself in a voice memo.  Then lay down and listen to them.  Feel the conviction of the woman speaking to your heart. Then when you read them in labor, the feelings you want to elicit in that space will be right there at the surface ready for you.

1.       Source for quotes.  Common places are: Psalms, the bible in general, the Quran/Koran, proverbs, Bartlett’s book of quotations, Rumi, online pregnancy, birth, and mothering groups, Oprah, Louisa Hay, your favorite author, movie, or TV show (yes we see quotes from Star Wars and Star Trek quite a lot!), etc…I also want to acknowledge the role of art.  From beautiful self-made creations in water color, charcoal, or oil, to coloring pages from books with mandalas in them, I see a lot of art used as a mechanism to fulfill all of the categories below.

2.       Typical categories of affirmations.

 This is adapted from Dr. John Rossiter-Thornton’s prayer wheel. 

a.       Count your blessings:  Affirmations that give thanks or praise.  There are loads of articles about why and how gratitude work for us human people.

b.       Songs of love: Affirmations that express your love for your world, your community, your family, your baby, your self (not necessarily in that order).  This might include having a play list of love songs you like to sing along to.  Do NOT be afraid of karaoke in labor—there is time to have fun!

c.       Requests for protection and guidance.  This is a calling out for safe passage, a reminder that there is a physiological system which works safely and well and you want to share this journey with a religious, spiritual, ancestral, or emotional guardian. 

d.       Forgive yourself and others.  Affirmations of forgiveness are about release—making space inside your self for what is coming.  It is an act which promotes creative energy and reduces space for consumption (of your heart, your mind, and frankly your time—you know I’m right!)  You are about to hold the entire emotional world of another human in your hands and power—prepare space to allow baby their own thriving, emotionally healthy discovery of humanity—free from the burden of your hold on past grievances. Forgiveness does not say that what was done to you is alright. Forgiveness acknowledges that what has hurt may be the garden where all your future flowers bloom.

e.       Ask for your needs.  Ask for others.  There is an intensely powerful connection between a pregnant person and the earth and spiritual power.  We feel acutely directly connected to a higher source as we are witness to a miracle in every second of pregnancy.  That’s a full 24,192,000 seconds.  We feel in every single one how we are growing, nourishing, and preparing for a new life. And the labor—don’t get me started.  The birth?  That moment where we see the light in a newborn’s eyes, you will feel her heart beating against your chest—thump thump thump thump.  It’s powerful.  Seek to have your needs met in this space.

f.        Fill me with love and inspiration.  These will be quotes that just fill you up and make you soar.

g.       Listen.  Affirmations that remind you to listen to your inner self and the wisdom from your environment, your faith, your family, your ancestors.

h.       Your will is my will.  Affirmations of surrender.  So much of labor is surrender.  For many that means to a higher power.  For all—it is faith that your body and your baby will do this work for you.  You can surrender to the powers you feel within your body.  The sensations of baby moving, rotating, shifting downward, resting.  The strength and power of your contractions.  The pain.  It is all so temporary and all-encompassing. Surrendering yourself to the physicality of this process, totally out of your control, will help you through to the other side, where you are holding your baby in your arms, knowing that you allowed him to do this thing for you, and he relied on you to do this thing for him.  It’s so deeply intimate.  When you think of a moment in your life where you were wrapped in intimacy—a conversation with a loving friend, mentor, or a moment with your partner—I suspect that surrender is high on the list of words you might use to describe it.  

Affirmations do not guarantee a perfect birth. They do offer you the opportunity to spend meaningful time creating a resource list which reinforces all you are dreaming of and believe possible for yourself.

A note for those who have a cesarean even after designing a complete master list of affirmations, practicing them daily, and using them throughout:  You did not fail to surrender, you succeeded in making the best decisions you could along the way with the information and resources you had and you met your baby in an unexpected way.  You do not relinquish the work and connection of those 24,192,000 seconds or the work and connection of birth, or the work and connection of parenting now because of this mode of birthing.  It is not what you wanted.  It can be a time that you can easily make sense of and move forward from in good emotional and physical health.  It can be a time of great doubt, shame, and turmoil.  It can be both of those on alternating hours or days or months.  There is no right way to do this work.  But do join ICAN online (free on facebook), share your story, seek comfort from your peers and professional help if that is not enough to see you through. 

You are seen. You are loved. You are heard.