Birth is influenced by a variety of aspects, some seen some not, some commonly known & understood, other less so. The extent of influence depends on the individual woman and baby, I believe this is why each birth is different. In this blog I’m going to look at each influence in turn.
The health, diet and fitness of mother and baby are what most healthcare providers are concerned about. Yet the level of fitness is only one factor that has an influence over labour from a physical point of view and can also include anatomy and body mechanics. We’ve all heard the term ‘child-bearing hips’ but does hip size really make a difference? Actually hip size doesn’t directly relate to pelvic inlet & outlet sizes, which are what is important in relation to child-bearing. Of the four types of pelvis found in women it is said that nearly half of Caucasian women have a gyecoid type pelvis (1) which is optimum for ease of childbirth. A quarter of women, myself included, have the android pelvis which has a smaller outlet (lucky us), this being more common in tall women and African-Caribbean women, it can have quite an influence on length of labour so understanding of how to work with, rather than against, those particular body mechanics is really important. The anthropoid and platypelloid pelvis’ are less common and each have their own particular influence on labour patterns.
Other physical factors influencing labour are the soft tissues – tone and symmetry, previous birth history (giving birth literally changes the shape of your uterus), general wellness, disease / illnesses, allergies, etc…the list goes on…
Psychological: mind / emotions
This section could be seen as perhaps having the most influence over the birth experience after the physical. Your psychological self-awareness and how you feel can have a big impact on your birth experience. Fears and anxieties are best tackled and tamed before going into labour as otherwise they have a way of coming out in the middle. Setting yourself up for success by creating a strong mind-body connection and clear intuitive voice, engaging both sides of your brain and being connected with your body and your baby are all positive ways to engage the psychological.
The sometimes forgotten partner in all this is surprisingly the baby! Unless there is a need for artificial induction, labour begins when the baby is fully mature and releases a hormone from their lungs into their mother’s blood stream that triggers the birthing process. Baby is an active participant in the physical process, wriggling and literally spiraling their way down the birth canal. The size / shape/ weight / position / health of the baby all have their influence on how labour progresses. You could say that the baby has a pie all of their own: with instinct, mind, emotions, ancestors, culture & spiritual connection.
Underneath the thin layer of neocortex there lies a large instinctive mammalian brain. This part of us has never read a pregnancy or labour book but it knows how to give birth. If it’s possible to let go of our need to control and understand, and be able to trust the process and our bodies, then this is where birth happens from. Our instinctive nature is the part that closes the door, turns off the lights and rocks in time to our own inner rhythm. It is the place of deep knowing, past the questions and doubts and worries. It is the spirit of the goddess that lives in our bones, the one who knows, who is wild and free.
Ah, well, after reading the last section on ‘intuition’ you may well wonder at this section and why it’s here at all. If we can birth through instinct alone why do we need childbirth preparation at all? It’s a good question, and as a childbirth educator it’s one I have asked myself. The answer that came is that although we do have an incredible power of intuition there are many women, especially those of us who live in the western world who have not had much experience of connecting, let alone following, the wild feminine intuitive voice within. We have grown up in a culture that distrusts a woman’s body not worship it. For example if you notice that there are many adverts for sanitary products which portray the monthly bleeding cycle as something to be ignored and life should carry on as normal, not surrendered to the pull of the moon. The neo-cortex may only be thin but it is extremely powerful. Our mind has such a strong influence on our body that perceived fears can actually stall or stop labour. This is called failure to progress and is one of the most commonly quoted factors leading to medical interventions during labour. Our mind literally gets in the way of our instincts. So childbirth preparation helps us to understand the process of birth, how the dance of hormones between mother and baby can be understood and facilitated and how to prepare for birth, while at the same time preparing to let go of everything and surrender to the instinctive process.
Location / provider
Where you are, who is looking after you, how you feel about them, do you feel safe and warm or cold and frightened – all of these factors have a direct influence on your mental state which in turn affects the release of hormones which affect labour.
Who is with you, do you trust them, are you being cared for in a way that makes you feel totally safe, can you let go of all inhibitions and shake your hips? Think about tossing a pebble into a still pond and the many rings of ripples that emanate out from that: in the middle ring is the birthing mother, her baby and possibly her intimate partner. Together they are dancing the labour dance, the most intimate and sensual of dances – sometimes slow sometimes fast it is a dynamic process of being in the moment. Outside there is another ripple of support: the midwife or medical providers & doula, they are close but not right in the middle. They hold the space of intimate support around the birthing team. Outside there is another ring of support, perhaps it is the friends and family close by or only a phone call away, the ambulance or emergency care staff ready at any moment of need. Outside that, another ripple of support: the extended friendship network, and family, the community and groups. And outside that another ring of support: the wider human community that (maybe unconsciously) relies on the continuing of the human race through childbirth. And outside that another circle of support: you can call this what you like, it could be seen as the energy of life, chi, spirit, the universe or god. All these circles of support are there holding the space around the mother and baby as they labour and birth.
The spiritual is a personal thing, something often found for oneself as we navigate the way through life. In the context of birth our belief and faith can become clearer as we come face to face with the power of creation through childbirth. Some women talk of how the energy of birth comes through them and they feel like a channel for its energy as they birth. Other women find faith through prayer.
The ancestral aspect of birth is not often talked about in my culture. In the modern-day world of nuclear families and lack of contact with our societies elders we literally live in a ‘modern’ world. Some people turn to the wisdom of other old cultures to find this sense of ancestral wisdom that can be felt to be lacking. I guess what I’m trying to say is that there are two aspects to the ancestral. Firstly, in our collective ancestral history, that old knowledge and wisdom that comes from living a long time and experiencing a lot of life. Secondly of our own personal ancestral line, the individual aspects of our history that we carry. We are, in fact, the end product of a long, unbroken line of sexual encounters and relationships stretching right back to the very beginning of the human race. Imagine this line of mothers standing behind you, their hands on each others shoulders. The birthing woman carries their unique mitochondria in each of her cells and is passing on this genetic history, and the energy it carries, to her child.
Again there are two aspects to this: collective and personal. First one relates to where in the world you are and what is the prevailing culture around you. What is the mainstream like, how does the media portray labour and birth and parenting, what do the shops sell in way of products for new mothers, what does the culture think and say about birth? Then there is the counter-culture, is there alternatives to mainstream and if so what does that say about birth? Both of these are different depending on where in the world you are and often influenced by what social class you are in.
The second aspect is about your personal culture, the one you learnt growing up in your birth family and the one you have adopted through friends and perhaps your place of work. What was your own birth like, were you breast or bottle fed all have an influence.
And then there is the slice of darkness, the invisible, the mystery, the part of the pie that is by its very nature unknowable. It is the great mystery of life and beyond the edges of our consciousness. It is that we cannot see or hear or touch or taste or ever know. I shall leave it at that and accept it just as it is. The unknown.
1 : Spinning Babies Birth Anatomy, accessed online 9th June 2016 at: http://spinningbabies.com/learn-more/birth-anatomy/
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