Childbirth. What happens in your body when you hear that word? Does a smile grace your lips? Do you tremble? Does your heart start beating a little faster? Does your breathing change?
Childbirth. Where does your mind go? Do your thoughts start racing? Do you feel a peace come over you? Do you think of the stories shared by women who came before you?
We—each and every one of us—hold certain beliefs about birth. You may not be consciously aware of what these beliefs are, and you may not realize how much these held beliefs influence your experience of pregnancy and childbirth, but they absolutely do!
A small study conducted in Australia and Sweden by a group of researchers in 2012 found that women’s attitudes and beliefs about birth influence the mode and experience of childbirth. Women who viewed birth as a natural, normal function had the highest percentage of unassisted vaginal deliveries (44%), compared to those in the "fearful" group (27%). Comparisons between the groups of women “revealed differences in emotional health, birth preferences, and feelings about pregnancy and parenting and experience of birth.” Yikes!
Where Do Beliefs Come From?
Our individual beliefs about birth influence the choices we make for our birth(s)—everything from the provider we choose, to the way we talk about the actual experience of being pregnant. This is so important to understand. Only after understanding and accepting where we are, will we be able to make positive change to impact our experiences for the better.
Our culture is one steeped in fear, apprehension, and even denial of pregnancy, childbirth, and the physical and emotional changes that take place during each process. When a movie involves a woman giving birth, she is inevitably lying in a bed, screaming for it all to end, sweat pouring down her face. The people in the room are all a-buzz, yelling “puuuush”, fainting, or wearing looks of utter terror. The things we see and hear in the world around us—from the time we are infants—contribute to and become our belief systems. Once these belief systems are formed, we go throughout the world, seeing only information that confirms our beliefs.
But guess what?! We have the power to change our beliefs. When we consciously choose to change our thoughts, our brains naturally become more receptive to new (other) pieces of sensory information that may have been blocked by our previously held beliefs. As stated by the authors in an article entitled The Biochemistry of Belief, “when we change our thinking, we change our beliefs. When we change our beliefs, we change our behavior.”
In other words, our thoughts become our reality. Y’all, this is POWERFUL stuff!
What are YOUR Beliefs? (exercise)
Ok, cool. Now we know that our thoughts and beliefs affect our reality. So, do you know what you believe about birth? Below is a little exercise I like do with some of my clients at our first prenatal visit together. Right now, I want YOU to give it a try:
What you’ll need:
- Blank piece of paper
1. At the top of your blank piece of paper write the words “Birth is…”
2. Set your timer for 30 seconds
3. In those 30 seconds, write down as many words as you can to complete that sentence. Don’t think about it—do it stream of consciousness style
4. When the timer goes off, put your pencil down. Look over your list and see if you can pick out any themes
5. How might these themes impact your experience of pregnancy, birth, and the postpartum period?
Now that You Know, What Can You Do?
Are your beliefs about birth not so positive, and maybe you wish you didn’t know, ‘cause now you’re freaking out even more? Well let me remind you about something—knowledge is power! It takes courage to look inside and become self-aware, and it takes even more courage to make change. But YOU CAN DO IT!
Below are a few ideas I have to help you on your way to a more positive, empowering birth experience:
Childbirth Education Classes
Knowledge is power, right? This is taking it to the next level. The more you know about the physiology of birth and your options surrounding each aspect of your pregnancy and birth, the more informed choices you can make for your care. There are so many wonderful classes out there! Everything from childbirth hypnosis (Hypnobabies, Hypnobirthing, etc.) to The Bradley Method, and everything in between. Snoop around online, as your friends and family, talk to your medical provider, ask people involved in your local birthing community. Read a little bit about each method, and select the one that resonates most with you.
Anything you can do to center and ground yourself while connecting with the life growing within you can only help. The mind-body connection is powerful and needs tending to. Many pregnant people find a lot of comfort and community in attending prenatal yoga or other fitness classes; meditation is proven to lower stress levels and promotes healthy living.
Reading Positive Birth Books and Stories
Remember how sensory information we take in shapes our beliefs and behavior? Now that you’ve chosen to change your unfavorable beliefs—or to strengthen your already positive beliefs—it’s critical to surround yourself with positive, uplifting stories of pregnancy and birth. The more you see birth as a normal, natural phenomenon, the more likely you are to make decisions based in evidence instead of fear. Some good ones: Birthing From Within, Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering, Spiritual Midwifery, and The Birth Partner (for spouses/partners). There are also some incredible blogs and podcasts out there: The Birth Hour and Birth Without Fear are two many of my clients have found useful.
Hiring a Birth Doula
Okay, I may be a little biased on this one, but a birth doula can be a wonderful addition to your birth team. A doula is trained in pregnancy and birth, and works with you before birth to create birth preferences, provide education and resources surrounding birth options, and helps you work through the emotions that inevitably come with expanding your family. It is important to find a doula you feel comfortable with. The connection you have is what makes your relationship effective. Interview several doulas to find one you really mesh with. The Utah Doula Association (local to Utah) and DoulaMatch.net are great resources to find doulas in your area.
You have the power to make your birthing experience a positive one! What will you do/have you done to make a positive impact on your pregnancy and birth?
Haines, H. M., Rubertsson, C., Pallant, J. F., & Hildingsson, I. (2012, June 24). The influence of women's fear, attitudes and beliefs of childbirth on mode and experience of birth. Retrieved March 09, 2018, from https://bmcpregnancychildbirth.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1471-2393-12-55
Rao, T. S., Asha, M. R., Rao, K. S., & Vasudevaraju, P. (2009, Oct. & Nov.). The Biochemistry of Belief. Retrieved March 09, 2018, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2802367/