Just yesterday, I taught a “Comfort Measures for Labor” class. It’s a short and sweet intensive class that examines the mind/body connection and the power of relaxation, rhythm and ritual as coping tools for labor and delivery. We practice the #1 comfort measure – breathing. And the class ends with a labor boot camp circuit: a hands-on practice session where we put it all together: massage, position changes, music, and breathing.
I knew over half of the group yesterday, as many of the couples had been in my classes before and were wanting that extra practice before the big day. But there were also some veterans in the group – three couples were there to use the class as a refresher because it had been a couple of years or more since they’d given birth.
As they were moving from station to station practicing different positions, I’d change up the breathing we’d practiced earlier. This was to simulate the intensity of the contraction. I’d have them do one of three levels of breathing: deep belly breathing throughout (early labor), light and shallow chest-only breathing while holding one frozen bottle of water (active labor), or chest-only breathing combined with vocalization, while holding two frozen water bottles, one in each hand (transitional labor).
I noticed right away, how the first-timers were very uncomfortable making any kind of noise while practicing transitional labor breathing. Even when I told them I would make more noise than all of them combined, they still were close to silent. But not the 2nd timers! All three of these couples quickly sunk into a remembered rhythm in their bodies, their breathing and in the noises they were willing to make on each exhale.
Now, for sure, practicing breathing and positions with a group of relative strangers is goofy! It’s a little bit ridiculous, actually. And – it’s also very true that holding one or two bottles of frozen water will never, ever be close to what a contraction feels like! But practicing with ice (or even better, ice water) gives your mind and body something to work through as you practice different positions. This can be very helpful in preparation for the real-deal.
I found it interesting how both Mommas and partners who’ve gone through this before were so willing and able to drop back into that experience. And even if they felt a little or a lot uncomfortable, they remembered how much it helps to make noise when we feel tension in our bodies. Vocalization is such a great way to release and let go, which is so important as we move through our labor experience.
When I was having my third baby, I started to want to vocalize through the tougher contractions. I’d not done this before with my first two, so this was new to me (even though I teach it all the time!) But instead of going for it, I was making these small “ooooooooooooooh” noises with each exhale.
My husband, sitting in front of me, took one look at my contorted face and said, “You look constipated. Are you wanting to make some noise, like this?” And with that he opened his mouth wide and started bellowing, “OOOOOOOOOOOOOOH!!!” I quickly followed suit, opened my own mouth wide and really made some noise.
And it felt good.
We kept it up through each contraction, basically screaming at one another through the peaks, and then we’d dissolve into laughter when the contraction was done, because… It was ridiculous! But oh, so helpful! Without even realizing it, my husband had become my “birth partner in crime” and given me the permission to do whatever I needed to do to continue to cope with my contractions. What a gift!
In my classes, I encourage partners to be on the lookout for any rhythms, rituals, and vocalizations that Momma is doing – and then do them bigger and louder so that she feels free to express herself fully in finding those coping and comfort measures that work best for her.
While it’s often true that the veterans in the group are the ones that are willing to make the most noise during a childbirth preparation class, that’s not always the case.
A handful of years ago, there was a woman in my class, let’s call her Nancy, who must have had some sort of background in theater. Whenever we would do a practice session, she would become a method actor. Watching her was like watching someone in a movie. She didn’t care at all that there were at least a dozen other people in the room. She was amazing! Not over the top, just fully committed to her role of “laboring woman in the throes of giving birth.”
She gave it everything she had. Nancy’s partner had to work like crazy just to keep up with her! I’ve always wondered how she might have worked through her real labor. Was she as loud and expressive as she’d been during our practice sessions? Or was she more quiet and reserved as she found different coping rhythms and rituals that worked for her?
In my mind, I imagine her roaring through her pushes: freely expressing herself without inhibition, her encouraging partner by her side – not embarrassed, not shushing her – giving her the permission to release and let go of each and every contraction through her voice. In all my years of doing this work, I’ve ever seen anyone else so willing to dig deep and make some noise during our practice sessions. As far as I’m concerned, the Oscar goes to… her!
And to all the other Mommas and their supportive partners out there, loudly or quietly, finding their own rhythms and rituals as they bring their babies into this world.
What about you? Were you loud or quiet as you gave birth? What were your rhythms or rituals that you did spontaneously in birth that helped you cope with your contractions? Were you surprised the coping and comfort measures you chose?