“The more cultured the races of the earth have become, so much the more positive have they been in pronouncing childbirth to be a painful and dangerous ordeal.”
-Grantly Dick-Read, Childbirth Without Fear
In my experience as a doctor of chiropractic, a doula, and a healer, I’ve had the opportunity to work with people through some challenging times in their lives (traumatic injuries, chronic injuries, emotional wounds, childbirth, etc.). I’ve realized that pain, the unknown, and being uncomfortable are something that our society does not welcome with open arms. Not only does majority of our population avoid the unknown, the uncomfortable, and anything “painful”, but we also have not been mentored in legit coping mechanisms to deal with adversity in life, whether it be physical or non-physical.
I have experienced a lot of (what I like to call) shit in my life. I choose to share it with people when the timing is appropriate and when I feel they may benefit from hearing my personal story. Throughout my 32 years here on earth, I’ve dealt with divorce as a young child, asthma that landed in me in ICU numerous times, a friend’s suicide, heart break, betrayal, manipulation and abuse, personal illness, and the list could go on. However, I chose not to focus on how fucking hard life can be.
I choose to focus on THIS MOMENT IN TIME. All we have is NOW!
Years ago, I remember being strapped to a gas mask, IVs in my arm, blood being drawn in my other arm, and alone in a dark room. I was young. I was half awake and half asleep. The world was still and full of light. I was being torn in many directions from all sorts of stimuli. Something inside of me told me to STOP AND BREATHE. And in that moment, I knew I had a choice...
I could either freak the fuck out, which I now know causes a Fight/Flight response in my body (and that would not help the situation at all), or I could BREATHE. I chose to breathe.
One breath at a time.
Soon it became two breaths, then ten, and soon for a whole minute.
Hours later, I was breathing on my own again.
Life has promised us nothing. Yet, we assume we will have later or tomorrow or be saved by some external medical device.
No matter where you are or what you are going through, the one thing you have is your breath. In a particular moment in time, your breath can drastically change based on the positive or negative self-talk you have, based on outside influences, or even internal physiology influenced by outside triggers.
Life is full of stimuli. A stimulus is something that evokes a reaction, both physical and non-physical in our bodies. Think about how your breath changes in response to a phone call, a TV show, or even during a workout. A stimulus can be a person, place, thing, or thought. All have the power to ignite a response within our body and the underlying physiology.
One of the major stimuli in childbirth is a contraction. A contraction, or surge, is an involuntary muscle contraction, similar to your heart beating, which is designed to stimulate movement so that your body can birth your baby. In almost all of my workshops, classes, or one-on-one meetings, couples equate childbirth to pain. And this is usually due to what they have heard or seen in movies in regard to contractions. Contractions do not necessarily equate to pain. We have already programmed that formula in your head.
I get that there is hesitation, fear, and uneasiness with the unknown. If you are participating in CrossFit, think about the first time you did Fran. If you run long distances, think about the first marathon you ran. Are you a dancer? Recall your first performance. Soccer player? Think about play-off games. All of this is full of nerves, a dose of fear, and some heavy adrenaline.
What if I took away the word pain? What if I told you that real ballet (toe) would never be painful? What if I told you that 150 wall balls would never hurt? What if I told you that running the LA Marathon would feel good?...Does that change the way you view those particular events?
What if you grew up seeing movies that showed childbirth as calm and women were able to manage their discomfort with massage or movement?
What if your mom told you stories about a pain free childbirth?
What if your whole lineage of women before you gave birth at home with the support of a midwife and support staff?
What if people did not come up to you and share the unsolicited horror experiences?
What if there were no pain medications available?
Take a second. Clear your mind. Seriously, get everything out of there that you’ve ever known. Even if you’ve had a baby before, this is a new pregnancy and will be a different birth. You have a blank canvas. Think of the endless possibilities. Think of all the possible avenues that the birth process could take or unwind. There is no birth that is the same.
All women's bodies knows what to do. The maternal instinct is superior to anything I’ve ever witnessed. And with enough time, nature will take its course. (And, if we need medical intervention then it is available).
I’d encourage you to start to play with your perspective. Between the point of the stimulus and your reaction, there is SPACE. This is the space for you to decide which avenue to go down. You can choose the pain and suffering route. Or, you can decide to embrace psychological autonomy and choose to breathe through each surge one at a time. You can make a game of the postpartum period and establish allies. Practice taking a PAUSE, an extra breath, and then making a conscious choice. And remember, a contraction is not a negative, it is a positive function of women's bodies to facilitate childbirth and help mom to breathe baby down.
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
-LINDSEY MATHEWS, DC