Spoiler alert—you already know how to use these. But in the quest to be the most prepared we often overlook what we already know soothes and focuses us. It’s worth playing a bit to bring awareness to what helps you feel unplugged from the world as you get lost in an experience. The more you investigate these tools, the easier it will be in a time of stress (like childbirth) to use them intentionally to move yourself quickly into that unplugged state. For some it is birth affirmations or mantras, for others it is slow walks outside, listening to certain music, dancing, or imagining the ocean. Here are five I’ve seen used over and over again. They are easily adaptable in the moment and great for your mental and physical health to practice during pregnancy.
- Find your word. One that remind you of a time you accomplished something difficult. A trigger word that delivers you to a visualization of a trophy moment in your life. Finish a marathon? Pass a hard test? Survive a difficult conversation? A tough hike? Your PhD? Sit quietly and go back to that time—visualize it. What did it feel like in that moment? What words do you associate with it? I think of how I feel when I’m worn down on a hike, and I buckle down, double-triple down, sink into my boots and take another step. There is a place for me where the world falls away and I see the trail and feel my strongest self rise up in my body. My word is Asolo—the brand of boot I wear and conveniently I can say it in a way that emphasizes the solo—I got this—it is mine I can also make it sound like asshole-o—which for some reason feels empowering to me. What is your word? If you have one that covers it, awesome. You might need more than one. Pick them and try them out each day. Say the word. Go to the place. Can you imagine being at the height of a contraction and cueing your own strongest most capable self with just a few syllables?!
- Touch and be touched. The physicality of labor is a mighty thing. Pressure courses through your body and most women want counter pressure someplace to balance against. Some of the innate bodily moves I’ve seen:
- assuming the 7th grade slow dance position then hanging from your partner’s or support person’s shoulders during contractions—pulling down to match the intensity of what you feel. Let them know you need them to stand tall and strong like a Stonehenge-level monolith—they will never have felt this level of your strength before.
- Pressure against the small of your back or your hips—have someone push and guide them with simple cues, “higher, lower, softer, more, etc…”
- Pressure on the kneecaps pushing towards the pelvis. This opens the bony structure of the pelvis but women do it naturally by sitting and pulling their own knees towards their pelvis (give it a try, it feels amazing). Lots of women get into the hands and knees position which accomplishes the same.
- Rest when there’s rest to be had. You don’t need to wonder if you’ll know how to rest—you’ve been doing it your entire life. But do take the rest when it comes—something which we have all definitely been trained out of. Restful moments arrive in equal measure to and are as predictable as your contractions. The work (aka the contraction) will come and it will always–sometimes for a long time, sometimes briefly, but always–be followed by periods where your body is at rest. Follow that rhythm, use that space, let it be there for you.
- Breathe when you need to, how you need to. This may seem unhelpful in light of the fact that most media represents birthing as a time of exaggerated breathing patterns that you need to learn. Not so. When you were born, you likely arrived, looked around for a while and took a breath in that first minute of life. You have been breathing without guidance ever since. Harder physical exertion? Bigger breaths! Sleeping or eating? Slower, drawn out breaths! You can pretty well rely on this because your body knows when it needs air and how much air it needs and is driven by our most primitive brain to manage it all. As a doula I saw hundreds of births with directed pushing and directed breathing. Medical personnel telling mothers how and when to breathe. As a midwife I am quiet and mostly non-directive and I have seen that women always change their breaths to match the length of their contractions. They do it perfectly without any guidance. After long contractions their mouths open wide and they suck in loads of air, flooding their bloodstreams with oxygen which goes right to replenish stores for the body. It moves through you and right to baby, whose heart rate slows a bit at the peak of those long contractions to distribute the oxygen in a measured, efficient way. Our birthing behaviors are tied into the thousands of ways mothers and babies are crafted for survival. This is the perfect example of that system at work. Can you use hee hee hooooo breathing to help direct your energy during a contraction? Sure thing! If it feels good, go with it. But recognize this as a tool that uses breath as a focal point, a good thing—but not the same thing!
- Smile. When we smile it reverse-triggers us to a certain perception of the moment we are in. Try it now. Light up your face with a smile. Put your hand on your belly and connect your smile to your body and to the baby. I learned this from a mom who told me she intended to smile and feel joyful at the “working parts” of her labor. And she did. It was stunning. After the birth, I asked her if she felt as happy as she looked. She replied, “heck no, Jodilyn!” and went on to explain it was all pain and pressure, but she could feel herself smile and felt this joy popping through the pain. Those pinpoints were critical to her, she felt them as the truth of her most inner self popping through just when she needed it most. It was magnificent to see and I’ve seen it many other times since. It’s free, accessible, and you don’t need to ask anyone for help to get it done.
What are your words? What are your tools? Share your tips and stories in the comments!