You often hear the question “am I allowed” asked in the context of birth, particularly in the hospital setting.
Am I allowed to get off the bed? Am I allowed to have something to eat? Am I allowed to change position? Am I allowed to make a noise? Am I allowed to ask for drugs? Am I allowed to refuse an intervention?
It can also start in the last weeks of pregnancy in terms of what you will be “allowed” to do: They won’t allow me to go over my due date, I am not allowed to have a home birth, I am not allowed to try for a VBAC.
We are so conditioned by our cultural (mis-)understanding of labour and birth that we forget that labour and birth is not a medical procedure. It is not an operation. No-one “delivers” your baby except you.
The hormones of labour and birth put you in a vulnerable position and the need to feel safe is paramount. Many of us feel safer in hospital than at home because it is a medical environment IN CASE WE NEED IT.
But we seem to have lost sight of the fact that we should be allowing it to happen “normally” until such time as an issue occurs that may need a little bit of intervention. Because we are so used to following medical rules when we are sick and reliant on the expertise of the medical profession, that we automatically switch into passive mode as soon as we walk through the doors – or perhaps even earlier.
The increase of Midwife-Led Units in the UK is a wonderful testament to a recognition that we need a different environment from the hospital to best help labour and birth progress normally.
But sometimes the biggest barrier is not the perception that the medical profession allow us to do something but more that we don’t allow the possibility in our own heads that we CAN have a normal birth. That we CAN cope, that labour doesn’t have to be excruciating pain, and that our bodies innately know what to do, if only we gave them the chance to do it.
Take yoga. Many people say to me: “Oh I’d love to do yoga but I’m not flexible enough”. But what they are missing here is that flexibility is a result of practising yoga. In fact the thing you need the most to benefit from yoga is FOCUS.
So take a deep breath now and lift your arms out each side up to shoulder height. Have a stretch. Now breathe and leave them there. After a while it will start to ache a little bit, and you will start to feel all sorts of sensations in your arms, shoulders and upper body. But if you can just breathe and observe the sensations, you can still keep your arms there. You just have to allow yourself to feel that sensation, even though it is a bit unpleasant.
Feeling and observing these slightly unpleasant sensations helps us to strengthen our focus. Let me be clear I am not talking about stretching yourself to the limit and fighting through the pain – no, far from it. Rather I am talking about not recoiling from things that we don’t like or are unused to, and allowing those sensations to exist in our body. Chances are they will subside after a while, or if not then no harm done, just come back to neutral. But each time you flex your muscles in this way, your body learns that this is actually not so uncomfortable after all, and in fact you can put up with it just a little longer.
From a yoga point of view this is an obvious link to being in a pose that feels a bit uncomfortable, and just allowing a focus on the sensations, to let them sit for a moment before coming out.
In labour and birth this also can be applied to contractions. They can be uncomfortable and strange and painful, but if we can allow those sensations to happen, and try to avoid recoiling, or tensing up in response to them, but in fact embracing them, and focusing on them, we might find they are not actually as bad as we expect. We might even then allow ourselves to start listening to our bodies, and move, or get into positions that make it feel a bit better, or help us to allow the sensations to be in our body. So we can then acknowledge that the sensations are not those of injury but those of life.
This also then follows through into parenting. We all lack confidence as new parents and it doesn’t matter how many books we read or classes we attend, no-one – NO-ONE – can ever know what it will be like until they are there. At 3am with a screaming baby. But if we allow ourselves to just let the crying happen, without judgement, if we allow ourselves to feel the sensations that result from it: impotence, ignorance, fear, loneliness – and allow those feelings to pass, we too might be able to focus on what might be a better way to deal with it next time.
This is really what Active Birth is all about: allowing ourselves to feel the sensations, and to take responsibility for them and how we respond to them – be that through having an orgasmic birth, or an epidural. If we can allow ourselves to be led by our body and instincts, then they are pretty good at telling us what we need.
So why not just send allow yourself to fantasise about the impossible. Just spend a moment focusing on what it would be like if you could allow the impossible to happen? And think how much closer this might come to reality if you allowed it to happen.