Oh, you’re pregnant, how lovely. Can I ask what you're having? Oh, you just wait girl, labour is a bitch, that shit hurts. Okay, next...mine was 48 hours of pure hell. We have all been subjected to horror stories. It’s as if women like to out play one another. Seriously, when was the last time you hear a positive birth story? Have you ever? If you haven't, ask me, I have hundred's to share.
My wish for future birthing women, is that the use of fearful and non-supportive language would stop. Does labour hurt, yup, but pain is subjective. Labour is intense as f%#, but so are a lot of things we mindfully choose to do in life. Um, exercise, say running a marathon for instance, or hiking, or fill in the blank with anything physical activity, really. Crap, sometimes mowing my lawn hurts. However, the point is that the way we frame birth and the language we use around it – hurts.
I’m going to present you with two scenarios and you can see how a few simple words can impact a situation.
No joke, this is a real situation I’ve been in as a labour doula.
Eve is a first-time mother, she is in labour and having a little boy. Eve and her partner, Cedric, are very excited and open minded with their birth plan. They have taken a prenatal class and feel ready to cope with labour with their learned breathing techniques. After a morning of labouring smoothly at home, contractions start to come closer together – 4 minutes apart. Eve and Cedric know they are supposed to go to the hospital because their childbirth educator stressed that when active labour starts, they should consider transitioning to the hospital. Now they are very excited.
When they arrive, they are greeted by a friendly staff member that states the following. “Welcome to the birthing centre, I can see you are working hard with your contractions, we will get you into triage soon.” As Eve and Cedric settle into triage, they are greeted by the nurse who is accommodating and encouraging. When she sees Eve start a contraction she encourages her to breath through it and to move her body physically to help cope with the pain. The nurse asks them the typical triage questions, i.e. have you been out of country? Around anyone with an illness? Any allergies? However, another contraction starts, and Eve needs to concentrate and breathe through it stay in control. This time she relies on Cedric for help by squeezing his hand. Cedric calmly encourages her by stating, “good job, you’ve got this, breathe with me, in and out, in and out…” until the contraction ends. When it is time for a cervical exam, the nurse asks Eve to lay back and let he know when she is ready. The nurse confirms permission before proceeding with the exam by stating “You’re going to feel a touch, are you ready?” Eve’s labour keeps progressing and contractions are staying stable and steady in intensity.
Back to the birth plan. Eve and Cedric are planning to use as few interventions as possible but are open to what Mother Nature directs. Keep in mind Eve is a low-risk pregnant person; she really can choose anything she likes. The triage nurse is supportive of this and provides a few tips for Cedric to help Eve cope before they transfer to a labour and delivery room where Eve and Cedric will meet a new nurse and labour away until their baby is born.
No joke, this is a real situation I’ve been in as a labour doula….
Let’s pick up here… After a morning of labouring smoothly at home, contractions start to come closer together – 4 minutes apart. Eve and Cedric know they are supposed to go to the hospital because their childbirth educator stressed that when active labour starts they should consider transitioning to the hospital. Now they are very excited. When they arrive, they are greeted by a friendly staff member that stated the following. “Welcome to the birthing center, how can I help you?”
Eve “I’m in labour and would like to be admitted to the hospital.” Staff member, “first time mom, so you think you’re in labour, we’ll see.” Eve and Cedric enter triage and Eve is asked to lay down. The triage nurse does need to monitor the baby and get a read on where things are with labour – all normal. When Eve starts to have a contraction the triage nurse is actively asking her questions about her health history and basic intake questions. Again, all normal, but no words of encouragement, space to focus or support given. Another 4 contractions pass, and Eve is being asked to stay as still as possible as a cervical exam is needed to assess how dilated she is. No biggie, all part of the process (for some). The nurse states that she is 4 centimeters dilated and "stretchy", that the worst has yet to hit.
See the difference? As a labour doula when I support families in scenarios as such, I call it birth deflation. When a family comes in ready and willing to do the work, but are deflated at the front door. It's bull crap! Language matters a lot to a labouring mama. If she is encouraged and supported, labour is known to go faster. Her mind will stay in a more positive and accepting space. She will remain more welcoming of the process and les interventions are lower. More importantly, the associated and perceived level of pain is lower.
Labour is a vulnerable, yet empowering experience for a mama to navigate. Most of us will bat off negative thoughts a few times throughout the process, but the difference is that you OWN the negative chatter. As a labouring mama, you shouldn’t have to bat off and carry the weight of another person’s subjective thoughts, beliefs and values when it comes to birth. They aren't yours and they don’t help you by any means.
Again, language matters, choose your care team wisely, and if you end up with a grumpy old crab, water off a ducks back mama. Ask for a new nurse! You hold the power to decide who comes in and out of your birthing space. You might as well fill it will supportive people. ESPECIALLY if you are aiming for a natural birth. Not to discount epidurals, they are bad ass too. Just saying. However, this makes a world of difference for a natural birthing mama.