by Laura Shanley
(This article was originally published in Innerself Magazine)
Childbirth — the word alone makes most people cringe. Instantly, one imagines a frightened, tearful woman lying in a hospital bed surrounded by masked men and women and perhaps a family member. Monitors are beeping and people are yelling “PUSH! PUSH!” as the poor woman struggles with all her might to expel her baby. Her forehead is sweating and periodically she cries, “I can’t do this anymore!” Medical personnel assure her that she can — but if she can’t, they will be more than happy to assist her with drugs, forceps, scissors, and a knife, if necessary. Thank God for modern medicine. How did we ever survive without it?
The truth is, we did survive and can continue to survive, quite well in most cases, especially when it comes to giving birth. First, however, we must rid ourselves of the belief that childbirth is a painful, dangerous ordeal that must always be supervised and assisted by “skilled professionals.” I chose to believe otherwise, and this is my story.
I first became interested in childbirth when I was about six years old. After listening to my mother’s explanation of what actually happens in birth, however, my interest was short lived. “After they shave you, the doctor makes a little cut to make more room for the baby,” she said. That’s all I needed to hear. If there were to be any children in my future, someone else was going to have to give birth to them.
As I grew older, movies and television helped fill in all the gory details. Obviously, I reasoned, pregnancy was a disease complete with vomiting, backaches, swollen ankles and strange cravings. If you survived it, you could look forward to hours or maybe days of excruciating labor pains, followed by weeks in the hospital. Motherhood was becoming increasingly unappealing.
My perception of childbirth changed, however, when at the age of 18 my husband-to-be, David, presented me with a copy of Grantly Dick-Read’s Childbirth Without Fear. Dick-Read was an English physician who used chloroform to ease labor pains, as was the custom in the first half of the 20th century. But one night, something happened that forever changed his perception of birth.
He went to the house of a poor country woman who was about to have a child. When he felt the birth was near, he offered her the chloroform, but the woman refused to take it. This was the first time he had ever seen a woman refuse it, and yet the woman remained perfectly calm and the baby was born easily. As he was leaving, he asked her why she had chosen to give birth without an anesthetic and she replied, “It didn’t hurt. It wasn’t meant to, was it, doctor?”
Over the next few years, Dick-Read encountered other women who appeared to have little or no pain in childbirth. What, he wondered, could explain why some women suffered and others did not. He went on to study it extensively.
He discovered that the women who suffered the most in childbirth were the ones who were most afraid. Fear, he learned, has a profound effect on the body. When a person is in a state of fear, messages are sent to the body telling it to either fight the perceived danger or run away from it. Blood and oxygen instantly rush into the muscle structure, which in turn gives the body the power it needs to survive. Any organs that are not needed for either “fight or flight” are consequently drained of blood (and oxygen) so that it may be diverted elsewhere. This explains why people turn “white as a sheet” when they’re afraid. The body assumes that the face is not in need of blood and oxygen as much as the legs, for instance, which when given the extra “fuel,” enable the endangered person to run.
In addition to the face, blood is also drained from the brain, the digestive organs and the uterus. Dick-Read found that the uterus of a frightened woman in labor is literally white. Without the fuel it needs, the uterus cannot function correctly, nor can waste products be carried away. Therefore, labor hurts. The solution — eliminate the fear and you eliminate the pain.
Dick-Read’s theories made sense to me. Maybe childbirth wouldn’t be so bad after all, I thought. Less than two years later, David and I moved in together and I got the chance to see for myself.
In addition to Childbirth Without Fear, we had also been reading the Seth material (by Jane Roberts) and other books that dealt with how our beliefs create our reality. Little by little, we were beginning to create the life we desired. Why, we wondered, shouldn’t we be able to create the birth we desired, as well? In November, 1977, I conceived.
Everyday I repeated my belief suggestions, “I believe in my ability to give birth safely and easily at home,” I told myself. “I believe I’m not afraid, I believe I’m safe, I believe I’m innocent. I believe I’m deserving of a good birth.” I examined every aspect of my consciousness looking for any beliefs that might prevent me from having the kind of birth I desired. I also practiced giving birth frequently in my dreams.
Consequently, I had almost none of the so-called symptoms of pregnancy. I vomited only one day, and that stopped when I realized I still had some fears about becoming a mother. “I’m not afraid of being a mother,” I told myself, and I never vomited again.
I went into labor on the afternoon of August 20, 1978. The contractions weren’t completely painless, but they weren’t anything that I couldn’t easily handle. Around midnight, David and I called up three of our friends who had asked to attend, along with a film maker who wanted to film the birth. Within a half an hour, everyone was there, and we proceeded to talk and laugh and generally enjoy ourselves. We didn’t time contractions or check to see how dilated I was. We simply relaxed, had fun, and trusted that when the time was right, the baby would be born.
At about 1:30am, my water bag broke and I reached down and felt the baby’s face. I walked over to the bed, got on my hands and knees, and was about to turn over when I heard an inner voice say, “Don’t turn over.” I didn’t, and a second later my beautiful baby boy, John, literally flew into David’s hands. The birth had been a tremendous success. Fifteen months later, I conceived my second son, Willie, and also delivered him, feet first, at home into my own hands. Eighteen months after having Willie, I conceived my daughter, Joy.
This time I thought I might like to be alone for the birth. I had come to trust my body completely. On the morning of November 17, 1982, I went into labor. My sons were sleeping and David was at the campus library. I took a shower, got out my little bathtub, and got down on one foot and one knee, the position that felt right to me this time. When I felt her head crowning, I gave one push and she slipped gently into my hands. She looked right up at me and gave a little cry. The thought went through my mind that she was the most beautiful gift I had ever received.
After cutting the cord, wrapping her in a blanket and delivering the placenta into the bathtub, I went over to the couch to lie down. Soft bells and the sound of ocean waves filled my head. I felt positively blissful. An hour or two later, I got up and took a shower. Then Joy, John, Willie, a friend of mine and I all walked over to the campus to see David. The temperature was in the 70′s and I felt as if I were floating on air. This, I thought, is how birth is supposed to be.
A Relaxed Birth
My last child, Michelle, was born on April 5, 1987. That morning I awoke feeling mild contractions. David was up reading the paper, but I decided not to tell him that I was in labor. As I lay in my bed, I breathed deeply and said belief suggestions. I told myself, “I’m moving out of the way and allowing my body to give birth.” Suddenly I felt myself slip into a state of complete relaxation. I had absolute faith that the consciousness within me that knew how to grow my baby perfectly, also knew how to get my baby out. My job was simply to relax and allow it to happen.
An hour later I decided to get up and take a bath. I walked across the hall, turned on the bath water and sat down on the toilet. As I looked between my legs, I saw my water bag beginning to protrude. It popped, I gave a little push, and my little girl slipped into my hands. “David,” I called out, “will you come here a minute?”
David came down the hall and was amazed to see Michelle sitting on my lap, peacefully nursing. “You’d better find a scissors,” I said, “and turn off the bath water, please.”
My story is not unique. Throughout history, women have given birth successfully without medical assistance. In fact, the infant mortality rate in this country rose sharply after women began giving birth in hospitals. Even today, numerous studies show that for the majority of women, homebirth is actually safer than hospital birth.
Childbirth is a natural process which works best when it is interfered with least. Or, as Grantly Dick-Read writes, “If left alone in labor, the body of a woman produces most easily the baby that is not interfered with by its mother’s mind or the assistant’s hand.”
Most childbirth “professionals,” however, those whose income and self-esteem are dependent upon women turning themselves over to the “authorities” in labor, would have us believe otherwise.
The truth is, with the proper beliefs, any woman can give birth easily, either by herself or in the company of a partner, friends or family. What better place to start believing in our own abilities than with the birth of a child?