What Does Coping Well Mean?

“I believe with all my heart that women’s birth noises are often the seat of their power. It’s like a primal birth song, meeting the pain with sound, singing their babies forth. I’ve had my eardrums roared out on occasions, but I love it. Every time. Never let anyone tell you not to make noise in labor. Roar your babies out, Mamas. Roar.” –Louisa Wales

Occasionally, I hear people telling birth stories and emphasizing not making noise as an indicator, or “proof,” of how well they coped with birthing–“I didn’t make any noise at all,” or “she did really well, she only made noise towards the end…” Women also come to classes looking for ways to stay “in control” and to “relaxed.”

This has caused me to do some thinking. Though relaxation is very important and helpful, to me, the goal of “laboring well” is not necessarily “staying in control” or “staying relaxed” or “not making any noises.” Instead, I view “laboring well” as involving: listening to yourself; respecting your own needs and acting on them; working with your body; finding your rhythm; trusting your instincts; following your body’s urges/signals; accessing your inner wisdom; finding your unique way along the path; journeying with openness, curiosity, acceptance, excitement and joy; and responding to coping strategies that spontaneously arise from within.

I have been reading Penny Simkin’s The Labor Progress Handbook and she addresses this subject as well:

“Childbirth education programs first emerged in the 1940s, when much less was known about the powerful, multisensory ways in which women spontaneously cope with labor. Much has been learned since then, but older ideas have left their stamp on Western culture…Many people still think that ‘coping well’ means that the woman remains silent and does not move during contractions. Often, caregivers, partners, and the women themselves believe that women who are physically active and vocal are coping poorly, and may strive to help these women to be quiet. However, we now know that women with kinesthetic and vocal coping styles often find much more effective relief from pain and stress when they move and make sounds, than when they try to use the quiet, still techniques of early childbirth methods.”

During my own births I found movement and sound to be of tremendous importance. With my first baby, I felt more inhibited and primarily coped by humming. I spent a lot of time kneeling on the ground with my head on the bed. With my second, I was alone with my husband for most of the time and was much more vocal–“talking” myself through contractions. I also moved around a great deal and found it very important. Talking (well, really rhythmic word repetition) and moving, for me, are parts of “surrendering” to the power, process, and intensity of giving birth. This fits with my personality as well as in “normal” life I talk a lot (talk-to-think) and I also have a lot of physical energy that leads to my “buzzing” around the room a lot or stepping back-and-forth as I speak.

Edited to add that the Feminist Childbirth Studies blog linked to this post with an interesting and insightful further development/exploration of this subject in the post characteristics of a ‘good’ labor and birth experience?

I revisited this topic in a later post: The Power of Noise in Labor

Birth art sculpture depicting pushing the baby out. Roar, mama, roar!

8 thoughts on “What Does Coping Well Mean?

  1. Pingback: Additions to “coping well” and “losing control” « Talk Birth

  2. Pingback: characteristics of a ‘good’ labor and birth experience?

  3. Pingback: The Power of Noise in Labor « Talk Birth

  4. I literally roared Gabriella out, and Anna and Simon (then 5 and 3) remember this part of watching me give birth very clearly. In that roar, though, was so much that needed to be released … it had been the longest and most strenuous of my 3 labors, and it was finally ending. Simon’s birth had been complicated by a shoulder dystocia, and I was carrying a lot of apprehension about the moment of pushing this third baby out — my midwife and I had discussed our plan if there was another hang-up (there wasn’t). I also remember feeling like there were a lot of things I wanted to say to my family and attendants (tell them where to stand, let them know I was about to have the baby, etc.) but I was without language in that moment. A roar took care of everything, all at once. :)

  5. Pingback: Tuesday Tidbits: Birth Power | Talk Birth

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