One phrase that I find myself using often during a birth is “Do this for your baby. This is all for your baby.” The first time I said it, I was at a birth where the mom was having a particularly difficult time. She had planned a homebirth, but due to some complications, needed to transfer to the hospital to be induced. The situation and setting were far from what she had hoped for, and she was started to panic a little as the contractions increased in intensity. It seemed like she was disconnected between what was happening in her body and the point of it all, which was, of course, to bring her baby into the world. In this case, they knew that the were having a boy and had already chosen the name Ezra. As I helped to calm her down and relax her, I would quietly say, “Do this for Ezra. This is all for Ezra.” While saying this to her did not make any remarkable changes in her labor, she did seem to turn her focus from feeling out of control to having something to redirect it to—meeting her baby boy.
While I’m not exactly sure why this popped into my head when it did, it reminds me of a few other principals from childbirth education. The first is the pneumonic device for pain in labor, where each letter of the word “pain” stands for a different word that describes how labor pain is different from other kinds of pain. The letter “p” stands for “purposeful,” meaning that while other kinds of pain might indicate that something is wrong in the body, labor pain actually means that something is very right—that the body is working hard to get the baby out. When I drew attention back to the focus of the baby, it didn’t change anything about the pain itself, but it did help my client to remember why she was going through the pain and to remember that the end result would be well worth it.
One of my favorite prenatal yoga teachers, who has served as a mentor to me in my own teaching practice, regularly has her student practice something called “keep-ups.” Keep-ups are exercises that last about 3-5 minutes and are designed to get pregnant women into a mild state of discomfort in order to bring awareness to how she responds to being uncomfortable. For example, the exercise might be as simple as holding your arms out perpendicular to your body for 3 minutes. It quickly becomes challenging and a woman needs to use coping mechanisms to push through the discomfort. She may choose to breathe more deeply, sway her hips, or use encouraging, gentle language with herself. Towards the end of the keep-up, when it seems like students may really be struggling, my teacher often says, “Imagine that you are doing this in honor of someone that you love.” For me, this is often the point at which I can get myself back in the game. I focus on the faces of my son or my husband, and suddenly I have a renewed sense of strength. Again, bringing the attention of the laboring mom back to the whole reason she is doing this can be powerful and give her a much-needed second wind.