Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Rock on Warrior Moms!

I love meeting with mother's of new mother's. I love listening to their stories of labor and birth, and their grandmother's stories of labor and birth. This beautiful new mom, like most new mother's, was very nervous about the pain of labor. Her plan: an epidural. Her mother just laughed when I asked her what her labors were like: "Painful, so much pain." I laughed too. Then I asked her if she knew what her mother's labors were like (the grandmother). "Oh," she said, straightening up with pride, "she gave birth to eight children at home. She was a very strong woman. I was the eldest." I looked at this new mother and said "You are a strong woman too. You were in your grandmother's body, you are made from her cells. [reproductive reminder to those of you reading this- a female baby is born with all the eggs she will ever have already formed]. All of that genetic memory, that strength and confidence in her body, was passed to you too. You can do this, your body was designed to birth!"
When we discussed different pain options and we talked about what an epidural was- how it will feel, how it might change the rest of her labor, what other alternatives she might have- it was clear that she had never heard any of this from her care provider. Many mother's never do. All they hear is how painful and overwhelming birth is-and thank goodness for that doctor who rescued me with that epidural!
I am not a natural birth nazi- I promise. I don't preach about natural birth in my classes- but I do want women to make their decisions during labor from a position of knowledge and power. If a mother chooses an epidural, I want it to be because it was the best decision for her in her circumstances and her birth, not because she felt like she was lacking something or because she didn't have any other options. I have been at plenty of births where having an epidural was the best decision for that mother.
But in our culture of pain avoidance, we sometimes skip the whole conversation on the purpose of pain during labor. First, pain serves as a guide during labor. If a mother is allowed to respond freely to the changing sensations, she will deepen her breathing, move into different positions- rock back and forth, sway- all of which not only comfort herself but help the baby move effectively down the birth canal. In addition, there are natural feedback systems designed to function during labor- producing more oxcytocin and endorphins as the mother needs them- all of which also help her to bond with her baby after the birth.
Second, and the least talked about- is how the pain of labor is a Rite of Passage. The process of learning to listen to and respond to our bodies in pregnancy and labor builds confidence in our inner wisdom- our ability to meet the needs of ourselves and our babies by listening to the wisdom that has been genetically passed down from all of our grandmother's before us. In addition, we truly find out who we are when we are up against a great challenge- when we are forced to the edge of our limits (physically, spiritually, and emotionaly) we discover that we have within ourselves the wisdom and the resources to deal with whatever is on the other side- essential qualities for a new mother. We don't find ourselves when things are easy. We find ourselves when, at each crossroad during labor, we decide whether or not to stop or to push forward.
When we present a mother with the opportunities for self-discovery (instead of telling her that she needs to be rescued or limiting her choices altogether) we express our confidence in her ability to make the best decisions for herself and her baby. The process and pain of labor can be transformational. An tentative woman goes in, and a warrior mother comes out, with the confidence and ability to search for solutions, advocate for herself and her baby, and rely on new reserves of strength. These are the qualities we need in our mothers today. 

[I want to give credit to Kathy McGrath "Finding the Path" in the Journal of Perinatal Education for inspiring me on this topic, and to my husband, Shahram, for the title :)]

1 comment:

  1. I loved this, Sarah! Very true. Having had 4 very different birth experiences (you were there for #3), it's so accurate to say that negotiating them on my own terms, doing what was best for me & our baby - which varied greatly from birth to birth - gave me so much confidence in all areas of my life. Learning to listen to my body during labor and trusting the signals it gave me has helped me in many other areas - physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I now recognize the value of the physical signals I get from my body, and therefore respect and act upon them more.