Hard Labor and Transition- Letting Go

To Begin-
I got to be a small part of a home birth yesterday. There is a reason why I am so passionate about this subject. I know of nothing else that can move you in such a profound, transforming way. For so many you mention birth and the words that spring to mind are pain, suffering, epidural, surgery, necessary evil,etc. But what birth often is and what it is capable of being are two very different things. The power of it is amazing. To be a part of it makes me laugh and cry and just be so glad to be alive. Birth is beautiful, divine and splendid. I know of nothing else that brings us so close to the veil that separates life and death and at the same time is positively euphoric. Birth makes me grateful to be a woman so that I can experience something that rocks me to the depths of my soul. I wish I could put into words the wonder of untouched, natural birth. I stand in awe of women who let go of themselves and their fears and their pains so that they can be a part of this process.
Hard Labor-
I am working through in this blog my thoughts on the emotional purpose of labor. It is something that I have thought about so much and I hope as I put it into words it makes sense. I started with Early Labor and today we are moving on to hard labor and it's purpose.
Early, easier labor is softer and slower with longer breaks to give mama a chance to tie up loose ends and prepare for the baby physically.
As we get into hard labor we are no longer worried about the laundry or dinner. The woman in hard labor often closes her eyes during contractions. She may keep them closed even in between. She sometimes can not talk between her contractions and may not even want to be touched. She is often quiet and still. The waves come closer and stronger together till you start to care little about what you are wearing (if anything) and what you look like.
I heard a natural birth mama say once that you meet a part of yourself you didn't know was there in labor. This describes the process so perfectly. A woman in hard labor is meeting herself. She is finding her strengths and her weaknesses. As she closes her eyes, she turns into herself. This is the time that she must face any demons that she may have and let them go.

A natural birth mother is often surrounded by loved ones. Sometimes a husband who has trained with her for this event. Maybe she has hired a doula to help her emotionally and physically. She may have a midwife who stands as quiet support and guardian of the event. She may be surrounded by family members and children. No many how many or how few people are there she must, on a very primal level, deal with it on her own. Nobody else can take the difficulty away from her. It is a burden that she must carry herself.
This may sound like no fun! Why bother with this whole process which can certainly be painful and long? When we remove a woman's pain, we also stop her from making an amazing self discovery which is hard to find- and it is specifically designed for woman. The discovery is this: she is capable of ANYTHING. When we numb her we take away the epiphany of birth and the lesson that she must learn to mother- it may be hard and even seem unbearable- but you can do it- and it will be worth it.
Transition-
Hard labor often leads to transition. The time just before pushing when rapid dilation occurs and contractions are right on top of each other. Not all women experience this- maybe one third have a difficult transition from labor to pushing. Those who experience it will never forget it.
When I took a childbirth class before the birth of my first child, transition was the thing that I was most afraid of. Why do women fear this? It sounds crazy for one thing and you hear stories of women doing what could be called nothing less than freaking out. Ask a group of women how many of them want to lose total control of themselves emotionally, physically and mentally and see if anybody raises their hand. This is a prospect that simply scares women to death. We don't want to "lose it". One of the beauties of birth is that sometimes it makes us do just that.
I can honestly say that with the birth of my first child I experienced no noticeable transition. I never yelled at anybody in rage. I did not freak out or "lose my cool". I was kind of proud of myself. I did it and I kept it together. I wouldn't even describe it as painful. It was hard but doable.
But not so with my second. As it came time to push I was in agony. I can honestly say that I have never been in so much pain ever in my life. Honestly, I don't remember exactly what I said or did (labor la la land as it is sometimes called) but it certainly felt like death was a possibility. I freaked out. I yelled. Everybody around me was quietly encouraging while I shouted back that I could in fact I could NOT DO THIS. This baby was never coming out.
Midwife- "Touch the babies head- it's right there, you baby will be here soon"
My head- "That is not my babies head! You are LYING TO ME!"
Midwife- "You are doing a great job"
My head- "Why isn't anybody helping me!!!!"
Midwife- "Here she comes"
My head- "I CAN"T DO THIS! WHAT WAS I THINKING!!!"

Like many others before me I experienced the exquisite self-doubt, pain and basic craziness that sometimes occurs just before a baby is born. And then - as quickly as it had started, it was over. An amazing baby in my arms... (I will talk about this later- the climax).

The Point-
What is the purpose of this overwhelming part of labor? I know that some believe that labor is painless if done right or that it is not supposed to hurt and only does if you fear. I don't know if this is true or not. I do know this: sometimes it is painful - and when it is, it has a purpose. Sometimes that pain is telling you to get up and MOVE. Swing your hips, walk, shower, whatever- it (the pain) is telling you to move so you can move that baby down. (Check out this link with pictures of positions and the purpose of movment in labor http://www.transitiontoparenthood.com/ttp/parented/pain/positions.htm )
There is another purpose though that is hard to quantify or describe. Losing control and letting go of our decency, our inhibitions, our good manners, everything we have learned about swearing, and our modesty, is an important path to motherhood for some women. Maybe we don't all need to learn this, surely some women already recognize that they have no control over their lives. But- many of us need this lesson. We will not always be able to control everything. Sometimes our lives spin out of control. Sometimes we need to let go and just let life happen. This is probably why when we lose it in labor- the real work gets done and things really move fast and happen. For labor to work you (the mother) sometimes just has to get out of the way and let it wash over you, even when it pounds you into the ground. You let it. This is when you learn something about yourself.
I wish I could actually describe what this means. I don't know if there is a phrase in the English language that describes this for women. It separates the men from the boys? Doesn't quite fit. Somehow this creates a great sisterhood of women around the world, across cultures and borders. We fought a battle, and in order to win, we had to stop fighting alltogether and just let it take us down. (Again, only male gendered war phrases seem to apply). Never the less, the scary, crazy part of labor has many beautiful lessons for the birth of a mother. When I say that I wish more women could experience this, I mean it. Do I want them to suffer? Of course not! I just wish we could all go on this journey and experience it as I know we are supposed to. Birth should be drunk deeply, felt in our bones, and it should make us howl with joy and pain. It should take us to another level physically, emotionally and spiritually.
Ladies- embrace it. This is a gift given us- Let us not miss out on it so that we can be more comfortable or so that we save face with those around us and stay in control. Open up and let it move you. You deserve the beauty that it can bring into your life and your being.

Comments

Rachel said…
This was interesting and I agree with a lot of your posts, especially about experiencing birth the way "nature intended" being profound and transforming.

I've had 5 births and 5 different experiences; spontaneous labor, unmedicated birth, and inductions. I definitely feel my "natural" (no pain meds) births were my "best" experiences, but when I hear strong anti-pain med, anti-induction opinions it makes me feel like too much emphasis is being put on the experience rather than the outcome. I know that a disappointing birth experience can be devastating, when a mother has built up in her mind her plan for her baby's birth (that happened with my first, although it wasn't devastating, it was definitely disappointing), but I also know that your perfect labor/birth experience means absolutely nothing if it doesn't result in a healthy baby.

I also find it somewhat dismissive and insulting to assume that every woman CAN have one woman's version of an ideal experience, or even WANTS to. I've heard similar sentiments that women who opt for induction are "selfish and impatient" from women who have never had the experience of suddenly and unexpectedly losing a baby in the last weeks of a pregnancy, and who dismiss the importance of peace of mind to pregnant women, like me, who have.
mamabirth said…
Rachel-
Thanks for your perspective and comments. I am just amazed that somebody I don't know is reading this! Crazy-
I hope it goes without saying that I would never encourage a woman to endanger her baby by going natural or refusing induction. I know many women who have lost babies and their perspective on birth is totally big picture- what most matters is the baby. I believe this to be true also. I have talked to women who have to have inductions, c-sections, ect for real medical reasons. I think they are performing a totally selfless act- giving up something important to them for what matters most.
I also know that many, many women are induced for no medical reason, often at the encouragment of their care providers for the sake of convenience and planning. I think this is usually done at a care providers suggestion and is NOT done with the best intentions for mother or baby.
I don't expect everybody to value natural birth- it is blindingly obvious that that is not the case in our current culture. What I want to do in part in this blog though is talk about some of the intangable things that birth does for a woman. Often natural birth advocates talk about c-section rates, infection, birth weight, etc, but neglect the spiritual and emotional component that is important but hard to quantify. I hope this can be a place where women who have never even considered that birth can be beneficial to them realize that it can be.
The health of the baby is the most important. Often though when we muck with birth, the baby is the one who is most hurt by it.
Thanks for reading and sharing-
Sarah
It's interesting, b/c I have planned 3 out of hospital births and ended up at the hospital all 3 times! To be honest, my best overall experience was my 1st birth...my last minute planned c-section. I knew the Dr. and all my wishes were respected. My second birth being the transfer c-section was awful. I find my self even disappointed with my 3rd birth...the VBA2C I fougth so hard for. I think a lot of it has to do with not having the right support though. I just find myself frustrated and not knowing what the heck to do next time, ya know?! I am humbled and know why women make the choices they do from an unnassisted childbirth to a planned c-section!
mamabirth said…
Hey There J-
I think that sometimes women are happiest with the births where they feel the most supported, respected and in control. For some women this is a planned c-section, for others a home birth. Many women are dissapointed with hospital birth because of the assembly line quality that often goes along with it. A midwife assisted birth on your own terms in your own space can be a better experience for many women. That being said, it is diffrent for everybody and we as mothers always have to take final responsibilty for everything. EG, chosing a midwife, doula, ect, doesn't mean things will go a certain way.
I would hope that women would do what they believe is best for them and their babies. This is so diffrent for everybody. It has been diffrent for me with each child. Sometimes it is a progression from one birth to the next as we grow in confidince in ourselves and our bodies. Ideally though this choice can be made with as little fear as possible, as so many of us make choices in this arena based on fears and what if's.
I obviously believe that a natural birth is ideal for both mother and baby in most situations. I know that I am in a minority. One thing that I learned from birth, though I had good experiences, is how much of it is out of our hands. I remember just feeling so lucky after the birth of my first child knowing that things could have gone so diffrently for many many reasons. Some of the things that could have gone wrong would have been based on my decisions, some based on things totally out of my control.
I am cerainly not trying to offend or judge anybody or their choices. I also just feel like I need to say this stuff. Partly for me (I need a place where I can talk openly, because, usually I just have to keep my mouth shut) and partly because so few women have any idea that birth can be something that far transcends pain.
Sarah