Joyful Birth and the Mind-Body Connection- Guest Post by Rachael Heiner

I once had a woman tell me that she knew birth would be horribly painful and WAS.  

No surprise, right?

Though I will say that I am not a huge believer in painless birth, there is a HUGE connection between how we FEEL about birth and how we then EXPERIENCE birth.  I believe, in my soul, that proper preparation and birth education can make labor and birth a JOYFUL and wonderful experience for the mother and her partner.  

Today's post is from one of our fabulous Birth Boot Camp instructors, Rachael Heiner.  She is not just passionate about natural birth- she is actively doing something about it in her community. I feel blessed to know her and so many women like her who are out blazing trails and touching hearts.  

You will love her thoughts on the mind-body connection in childbirth-


In our culture, fear and lack of education come together and culminate in women going into birth afraid, unprepared, or ready to alter their birth experience to avoid what they think it's going to be like.  Though it may be slowly changing, natural birth is not considered the normal thing to do.  If you're planning on having a natural birth experience, the root to getting it and having it be a good birth experience is twofold.  The first piece is educating yourself - knowing what to expect, what is normal, and how to make choices about your care if things don't go quite as planned.  Any good birth class should provide you with the basic information you need about your labor and birth, and I am proud to provide students with not only my own knowledge, but the beautiful workbook full of information we cover as well as extra information for our students to read at home.

The second piece to planning your birth experience is learning to view your body and mind as a whole package, and understanding how your thinking can affect your physical state.  Though the focus of Birth Boot Camp is not solely on relaxation, we do a relaxation exercise at every class.  There is a good reason for this!  I know that for some people, coming in and laying in the dark listening to the instructor read the scripts can be awkward and feel kind of silly at first.  When I was pregnant with my second baby, we did a class that focused on mental preparation and included relaxation, and I remember wondering how it could possibly work.  Since then, I have thought a lot about birth, relaxation, pain, strength, and the mind-body connection.  At one of our classes, our instructor told us "Thoughts are real, and they produce results.  For every thought, there is a physical response in your body."  I had never thought of it that way before, but it makes sense.  Much of the time, our physical reactions are small or even imperceptible, but over time they add up.  

One of the best examples of this is an exercise we did in class that I plan to repeat in my classes because it was such a simple but telling representation of how our mindset affects our physical being.  Our instructor asked for a volunteer, preferably one of the husbands. She was not a big woman, shorter than I am at 5'7'', somewhat petite. She had the husband come to the front of the class and stand with his arm stretched out to his side at a 90 degree angle. He was instructed to try his hardest to keep his arm up, and not to let her pull or push it down. She then had him repeat aloud the following mantra:

My arm is straight

My arm is strong
I am good

After he repeated it several times, she grabbed his arm and tried to pull it down towards his side. It barely moved.

Next, she had him stand in the same position, with the same instructions, and repeat the following:

My arm is weak

I am tired
I am trying not to move my arm

Then, she reached up and pulled. What do you think happened? His arm moved, and it moved A LOT further than it did the first time she tried. Despite the fact that he was trying his hardest, the negative, dis-empowering words he was speaking directly affected his ability to hold up his arm.  So, what happens to pregnant women who spend their pregnancies letting people tell them how much it's going to hurt, how they won't be able to handle it, how there are drugs that can take the pain away?  They are setting themselves up, and not for something wonderful.

Going into my first labor, I was terrified of what the experience would be like. The second time around, I had a lot of exposure to positive stories, to tools and techniques for making it a better experience for myself, videos of women having wonderful and amazing birth experiences. My perceptions changed. Instead of being afraid, I'm was excited about what the experience could be for me and my baby.  Through improving my thoughts about birth and visualizing what I wanted my birth to be like, I was able to develop a strong trust in my body and believe that I could have the natural birth I so strongly desired.  I told myself every day that I was strong, that my body knew what to do, that I could do this, and in the end, my body knew what to do so well that I didn't have to think much at all during my birth.

When we practice relaxation scripts and build the connection between our minds and our bodies, we are simply training ourselves to voluntarily enter a state that many of us find ourselves in on a daily basis. Have you ever been driving home from work to suddenly realize you're pulling in to the driveway? Become engrossed in a task and lost track of time? Gotten caught up in a daydream or become so immersed in a book or TV show that you emotionally react to it?  If you train your body to relax in response to certain cues, you'll be better able to relax during labor and let your muscles work to birth your baby instead of tensing up at perceived pain.   

When it comes to childbirth, I believe that using our mind-body connection in a positive way can make all the difference.  When we take steps to empower ourselves through education, relaxing and visualizing our births, reading positive birth stories and facing any fears we may have, we are able to get rid of negativity and set ourselves up more fully for an empowering, positive, natural birth experience.    

Rachael says, " I am excited to be one of only two instructors bringing Birth Boot Camp to Washington State at this time.  I have been slowly getting involved in my local birth community over the past year because I am passionate about birth and birth education.  I believe that we need a huge shift in how we view birth and how we educate young women about their bodies and their options in our culture.  One of the reasons I like the Birth Boot Camp curriculum so much is because it really provides couples with a well-rounded toolbox for creating the mindset you need going into your birth. 

I have two sons, one born in the hospital and one born unexpectedly at home, and teach Birth Boot Camp in Bellingham, Washington, about 1.5 hours north of Seattle.  I also run a pregnancy/birth resource and birth story website called Born in Bellingham for my area.  Basically, I just like to spend all my spare time thinking about how to help women have the best births possible." 
You can find Rachael and her fabulous Bellingham natural birth classes at or on facebook at


Joy@WDDCH said…
This is a great post for women who say, "I WANT a natural birth BUT if it gets too tough I have the meds to fall back on". You either want it or you don't. And most of these women do end up getting drugs. (I was one of them with my first two births! It wasn't until I educated myself and became determined to avoid drugs unless emergent that I DID have my natural births!)

Our minds are powerful. If you are determined to avoid drugs you CAN do it. Only rarely does a situation come up where medical intervention is seriously needed.
Unknown said…
I love the fact that you went for a natural childbirth
... have you heard of laboraide though? maybe next time you might want to have a less painful natural birth?
Unknown said…
This is much easy to describe that natural birth is good but i have seen my wife in pain and i was just suggesting second time to avoid natural birth of our child but i really surprised when she decided to go again for natural process.. She is really brave..