Holding on, letting go

White books in a row

There is a type of woman that I recognise as soon as she walks in my door. She reminds me so much of myself pre-motherhood. The younger me who thought she had it all figured out; before the chaos that inevitably accompanies children roughened up my smooth edges.

Poised and confident, this client is what Psych 101 taught me to call a “Type A“. Driven, successful and ambitious, this is the lady that gets things done. In many ways, this personality type is a childbirth educator’s dream. She is always on time for my classes, she takes notes and asks intelligent questions. Her birth plan is done and dusted by 34 weeks, and she is religious about eating healthily and attending her weekly preggie yoga or aerobics classes.

But there is a downside to this personality type when it comes to labour and birth – can you guess what it is? Life has taught these women that hard work = success, and they cannot imagine why this law of the universe wouldn’t carry through to the birth of their first child.

As labour progresses, and this woman is confronted by the hard work she must do and the unknown now staring her in the face, she often resists and tries harder to control her body with her mind. This attempt to control what is happening does the body no favours, and often results in a longer, harder labour. I believe it was world-famous midwife Pam England who wrote that she knows she is in for many hours of work when she arrives at a mom’s house and finds her sitting neatly on a chair, with a beautiful white nightie on and her hair perfectly in place. She knows this woman has many hours of unravelling ahead of her, before she will let go enough for her baby to be born.

If you recognise yourself in my description, please: don’t stop doing any of the great things you are doing! There is a school of thought in birth circles I call “Just go with the flow”. This relaxed attitude which teaches no childbirth preparation is necessary (just trust your body) may well play out just fine in a country like the UK where midwife-led care is the norm, and many birthing units do their best to create dark, private and warm environments where moms labour best. But in a country like South Africa, where the C-section rate in some hospitals is 90%, this is a bit like sending your child into McDonalds and telling him to buy himself a healthy lunch. As well-meaning as the staff there may be, they only know how to prepare burgers, chips and ice-cream. His chances of finding a nutritious meal there, no matter how hard he tries, are just about zero.

The point of my story is that careful preparation is key, as long as you can let go and release yourself to the power of nature as you labour and birth your baby. This becomes easier when you are surrounded by people you love and trust: your partner or a trusted family member, medical staff that support your birth wishes and a doula who makes you feel like a goddess.

A course like HypnoBirthing is also invaluable as it teaches you how to relax your mind in a controlled way. An instruction like “just relax” drives us Type A’s crazy; we just can’t do it. In fact, trying to relax when we don’t want to makes us more anxious than before. HypnoBirthing teaches you how to practise relaxation techniques on a regular basis, so that your mind and body are conditioned to respond to auditory, tactile or visual cues. Without you even having to engage your conscious, hyper-controlling mind, your body will automatically move into a deep state of relaxation as you have trained it to. Expect labour to be intense – it almost always is – but with the right team and tools, it can be one of the most joyful and uplifting experiences of your life.

Holding on, letting go – finding the balance between these two states of being is the trick to birth and to motherhood in general.

(Photo credit: Gentle Welcome. Photos may not be reproduced without written permission)


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