By Suzanne Swan
Our beliefs, thoughts and emotions play an integral role in our actions and decision-making, they even affect our physiology every moment of the day. What we think and believe about birth matters. A positive image of birth is the cornerstone of a safe, happy birth experience. If you believe your body is meant to give birth efficiently, naturally and without complications and that birth is a joyful event, you are more than halfway to a safe, natural birth.
Echart Tolle writes about the woman and her pain-body in his book The Power of Now, “everywoman has her share in what could be described as the collective female pain-body (cultural beliefs)…often a woman is ‘taken over’ by the pain body…do not let the pain-body use your mind and take over your thinking. Watch it. Feel its energy directly, inside your body. As you know, full attention means full acceptance.”
When you decide to take personal responsibility for your well-being and health your body will replace fear, anxiety and pain with endorphins that will support and serve you and transform you into a happy relaxed person.
The fear-tension-pain theory explains how a mother’s personal beliefs about childbirth can influence her experience of giving birth (Grantly Dick Read, 1944). If a mother is concerned with the pain of childbirth and filled with fear, then the emotions of fear (adrenaline) prepares the body for flight by diverting the blood from the uterus (400% increase to the arms and legs) and the uterus becomes deficient in blood creating the experience of pain.
When a pregnant woman watches Emergency Rescue on TV she perceives that so many things can go wrong during labour. This reinforces an existing collective perception that birth is unsafe. The pregnant woman feels fearful and her mindbody activates a physiological response of flight/fight (sympathetic nervous system) and thus reduces her birthing hormones. This high level of anxiety creates a less than ideal environment for her growing baby. It is well known that her internal environment of tension is one of the contributing factors of creating pain during labour (Peter Jackson, 2010).
“When fear is absent, then the overruling power of the sympathetic nervous system is absent from the pelvic mechanism. There is a direct relationship between the emotional state and muscular tone. When the muscular tone is reduced then the cervix and lower uterine segment and outlet will offer minimal resistance to the muscle of expulsion in the birth canal” (Grantly Dick Read).
Fear Releasing techniques practiced in class include:
You can help reduce fear and increase the body’s natural opiates through the practicing the following techniques on a daily basis. Remember practice makes permanent
· Progressive muscle relaxation : The use of progressive relaxation systematically brings attention through the whole body, specifically releasing tension that restricts the optimal release of hormones. Remember what the guide said to the woman going down the rapids “As the water swirls you right into a big rock, just relax. It will swirl you up and over the rock and you won’t get any scrapes or bruises”. Birth is a lot like that river, when you notice yourself tightening around any thought, feeling, image or sensation, simply notice the resistance and let go to the flow. Trust gravity and go with the flow.
· Slow rhythmic breathing: When you meditate on your breath during labour, you release endorphins – the body’s natural pain killers. Research shows that when the rate and depth of breathing changes the body responds by producing a greater amount of its own opiates (Candice Pert, 2003).
· Practicing moment-by-moment awareness: When you concentrate on just the sensation in the moment, noting its qualities, you have reduced the possibility of pain by two-thirds. You have removed both the pain you remember from yesterday and the fear you anticipate for tomorrow.
· Creative visualisation: Visualisations can be used to create powerful and positive suggestions to the subconscious. Permanent change requires some creative reorganisation at the subconscious level…setting new directions, new ways to accomplish dreams in reality (Peter Jackson, 2010). Audio scripts are useful for doing both the progressive relaxation and visualisation practices.
· Acknowledging fear: Acknowledging fears and working with them prior to birth will mean that much less tension will be carried into labour. Learning to recognise, admit, and face your feelings will make your pregnancy a more positive experience. Worrying, rather than dealing with fear, makes the emotion grow totally out of proportion.
Try this: Every time you notice your head filed with fears about the baby or your new mother hood role, you have to remember to turn over the leaf. Each one of your fears is a leaf with two very different sides.
Side 1: FEAR - On this leaf you will find: “I will never be able to make it through labour and birth.”
Side 2: FAITH - On the other side you will find: “I will have the inner strength and help I need to have a good birth experience
· Affirmations: Affirm what you want and not what you don’t want, the subconscious does not understand the word ‘don’t’. Always phrase your affirmation in the present tense and in the most positive way you can.
Here are some affirmations created by a mother a few weeks before birth
The more I trust my body’s innate wisdom, the more my mind relaxes and my body opens
I am willing and open to experience the bliss of natural birth
Every breath is filled with love and peace
I am blissfully surprise by the sensations experienced during birth
I am filled with courage and faith
My baby and I trust and surrender to each other
Nature’s way is gentle and I move with the rhythms of nature
You can email Suzanne: firstname.lastname@example.org to request a referral list of pregnancy and birth counsellors to assist you to explore further any challenges or fears that are coming up in the pregnancy. It is much better to deal with your fears now than in the birth room!