Having given birth three times, I can now look back at each experience and see how my psychological state directly led to each of the three different outcomes. My first time giving birth was the hardest for sure, but I now believe that it didn’t have to be. I had a great source of power that I didn’t know how to tap into—the power to create both negative and positive real life results using nothing more than my own thoughts.
Here are some of the NEGATIVE things that I repeated to myself during my first pregnancy and labor and the resultant effects:
1) “It’s my first time having a baby so I have no idea whether my body will be able to do it.”
The idea I was nurturing with this mindset was that my body was probably deficient in some critical way. The possibility of having a peaceful natural birth without complications honestly seemed to be a far-fetched off-chance--too much to hope for. Thoughts of my own imaginary incapacity fed fears of catastrophes unknown—the death of my baby at worst, an emergency C-section and feelings of failure at best.
With images like those floating around in my head I arrived at the hospital in a state of frightened uncertainty and anxiety. My labor stalled and the interventions (IV, electronic fetal monitoring, Pitocin, epidural) started coming on one after another.
2) “I don’t think I’m going to be able to handle the pain!”
The hidden message there was that I should definitely expect huge amounts of terrible pain. It's just not true! The feelings of opening and giving birth can be very intense, but pain is not necessarily part of labor. In fact, some women (myself included) have experienced heights of emotional joy and physical release during natural birth that actually feel almost orgasmic!
But I'd never heard of birth orgasms or Ina May Gaskin--I was a first time mom and I did whatever I was told. When the nurse instructed me to lie on my back so that the electronic fetal monitors would get a continuous read, I agreed without hesitation.
Little did I know that lying on your back during late pregnancy and labor constricts major blood vessels and can cause needless pain and even lead to passing out! Our bodies tell us not to lie on our backs by sending a strong “THAT HURTS!” signal to the brain. We’re supposed to listen to that signal and adjust our positions accordingly.
Because of my own unconscious expectations of ‘unbearable pain’ however, I stayed on my back rather than simply changing to a more comfortable position. Not fun at ALL!
3) “I’m going to embarrass myself, I just know it. I’m afraid of what I’ll say when I'm in labor!”
This fear of mine, that of offending my husband or birth attendant during birth, led me to feel a sense of separation from sources of support. Instead of reaching out for a hand, I felt a profound feeling of loneliness during my labor. Not only did I feel scared and lonely, but I also used precious energy to control my outward appearance out of fear of being "inappropriate". What I really could have used was some love and attention from my husband and a cup of cocoa!
Instead, I put my own needs and concerns LAST even though I was the one giving birth. My needs and concerns should have come FIRST! And so should yours.
Now, you may be thinking, “Okay. So I’m now conscious of my negative self-talk and have decided that anxiety sucks. What should I do instead?”
Well, for starters, you should be gentle on yourself. Don’t judge yourself for having worries or being scared. A little fear is actually quite healthy! Just remember that the patriarchal culture around us has painted such an ugly, misogynistic image of birth (the contorted faces of raging women screaming at stand-offish husbands who are fainting in a corner) that it makes sense when our minds go down the same road if left unchecked.
It’s time to get empowered! Let’s not leave ourselves to our own psychological devices, but instead try consciously affirming what we DO want by replacing the negative thoughts and expectations with positive ones.
Here are several positive birth and pregnancy affirmations for you to try; and remember you can always invent your own! It helps to write them down or display your affirmations in your home—that way they really catch your attention.
1) I’m going to say ‘YES’ to my body because my body knows JUST what to do.
2) I gladly accept all sensations as my body opens.
3) I’m the queen of this birth and I already love my baby!
4) My body is the perfect shape for giving birth to my baby.
5) I am one with all the mothers who came before me.
6) Giving birth is safe and natural.
7) I am a part of nature, and nature’s wisdom is in me.
Thank you for this article. I teach birthing classes and I have the mamas stand with their feet apart, hands on hips and say "I am a strong woman and I can birth this baby " then I have the partners stand and tell them "you are a strong woman and you can birth this baby". Then I give them that for homework.
Wow, this is really inspirational. I wish all first time mothers would read this post. You are so right about not lying down, even for monitoring. Lying down means the uterus is pushing baby uphill, hard work. Sitting on a birth ball or comfy chair is pushing downhill, easy. Labour during the first stage is not meant to be painful and you explain that beautifully. Three hundred years of putting us down with regards to childbirth has eroded our confidence. We need to take back labour by learning the secrets to keeping labour natural and safe that have been lost in time. www.painfreelabour.blogspot.co.uk