This week I was thrilled to spend a day listening to Ina May Gaskin tell stories. What a gentle and fierce woman. What a storyteller and what humour!!
There were many, many gems and nuggets of wisdom in her stories and I have been pondering a few things particularly.
First the idea of helping a woman feel grateful during labour. I quote Ina May: “A whining woman does not give birth easily, we need to help women feel gratefulness in labour. Gratefulness produces oxytocin”
Going into labour with an attitude of gratitude will help a woman to labour well. Wow I love that concept!! I have been thinking about gratitude a lot this summer. I get that and it makes so much sense to me. A woman’s mindset is different when she is in thankful mode, she stays positive and emotionally open and her body opens. “A woman who lives in a state of ‘poor old me’ struggles and does not labour well” said Ina May. This is usually something that someone is pre-disposed to right? This kind of woman typically goes through life whining and feeling sorry for herself, it is not usually something that just started during pregnancy. Can we help change that negativity by simple gratefulness? Even positive women struggle when they go into labour and find it hard to stay positive and grateful.
So I have been thinking about how we as birth workers can help women move into a space that is more positive for labour and birth? Gratitude is a great life skill after all.
I discovered Brené Brown this summer and she talks about how practicing gratitude in moments of vulnerability can help to shift your perspective. If ever there was a moment in your life that is vulnerable and when you feel emotionally wide open it is when you are in labour. Brown talks about the practice of naming what you are thankful for when you feel depression or anxiety creep in and when you feel you are going to your dark space. The darkness seems to dissipate in the light of the gratitude. It works! Before we go to sleep my husband and I have started naming 5 things we are thankful for that happened that day. What starts to happen, when you know that exercise is coming, is that during the day you start to see things you are grateful for. It starts to change how you look at life.
Maybe we can encourage our pregnant mama’s to keep a gratitude journal through pregnancy. Name 5 things every day you are thankful for. I am pretty sure it will revolutionize how they experience their pregnancy and how they go into labour and birth. If we can help women focus on being grateful during labour it will increase the production of oxytocin and dissipate adrenaline helping the labour process. I don’t know about you but I am going to start a little experiment with my present clients to see how this works in practice.
Another theme that came out in Ina May’s story telling was how we need to help woman laugh during labour. “Laughing produces oxytocin and also helps the process” she said. Ina May told many stories of how she as a midwife observed that when the birthing process would stall or women were stressed she would somehow make them laugh and the process would continue. I so recognize this.
I have been noticing in my doula work just how powerful laughter is. It relaxes and opens you up. Knowing my client a little bit more personally (than the other care providers) somehow gives me a unique way to speak into the situation with humour. Laughter is the best medicine and lifts the anxiety, lifts the stress and makes way for oxytocin to do its work for a better birthing experience. As a doula I have a unique role because I stand outside the medical responsibility for the birth. I stand outside of the relationship the couple have and am not part of the dance they may have in how they communicate around stress. Those two things are invaluable. That sometimes allows me to reach the birthing woman when the partner can’t or to bring the couple together in laughter so they instantly relax and feel a connection with each other again.
This all sounds a bit pre-determined and makes me sound as if I am a very funny person. I can assure you it isn’t and I am not! It is a natural and gentle process that happens because you have gotten to know your clients a little. It is something I have been observing recently. The more births I support the more themes I see during birth that are similar. Ina May talked about laughter as if it was some kind of wonder drug. I like that. It really often is like the oil that keeps the whole process working well.
This reminds me of a quote by Anna Verwaal “A woman, as long as she lives, will remember how she was made to feel at her birth.” What a difference it would make if gratitude and laughter were an integral part of labour.
If we get to know our clients better, their fears, their hopes and dreams we can be more relevant to them during labour. We can’t speak to a fear we don’t know about and we can’t counter act negativity if we don’t know where it comes from. We are less likely to be able to make a meaningful joke with someone if we don’t know a little bit about what makes them tick.
So yes, lets get to know our clients, lets make them laugh, lets help women birth with gratitude and see what a difference it makes. Thank you Ina May, I love it!
At the end of the day we all brought a bead to share to make Ina May a necklace to remember us by (seen in the photo.) One woman had a blue and white bead and Ina May said quietly and kind of under her breath “Oh I love blue and white, food always looks so good on blue and white” And my heart did a little skip and I smiled with delight. My Grandma and my Mum always said that. I felt a little bit of nostalgia and was deeply grateful for a wonderful day with this wonderful wise and honest woman.
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