In my childbirth classes when I cover “labor and birth 101,” I talk about the traditional stages of labor—early labor, active labor, transition, pushing, and third stage (placenta). I also talk about the “emotional signposts” of labor—excitement, seriousness, and self-doubt, as well as about the fear-tension-pain cycle and the excitement-power-progress cycle. Recently, I finished reading the book Painless Childbirth by Giuditta Tornetta and she elegantly described the three phases of first-stage labor in a three-word format that I found extremely accurate and helpful, as well as fresh and interesting. The first phase is distraction—during early labor, it is most helpful to continue to go about your normal life as if nothing is happening. Do not give your contractions any attention until they strongly request your attention! I tell my clients to just do what they would normally be doing—-if they would be sleeping, sleep. If they would be walking the dog, walk the dog. Watering the plants, eating dinner, etc., etc. Just keep up the normal routine until you need to give the birthing energy more attention. Without distraction as a tool, labor can become very long and exhausting—if you think of yourself as in labor from the second you feel anything, you are much more likely to experience a 24 hour labor than if you do not think of yourself as in labor until you are completely absorbed by its sensations.
The second phase is concentration—contactions have now become what Ina May Gaskin would term “an interesting sensation requiring my complete attention.” This phase corresponds to the Bradley Method’s emotional signpost of “seriousness.” I tell my clients that this is when she stops laughing at your jokes and stops even seeming aware that you’re talking. (She IS still aware however, and we will address this in a later post about undisturbed birth, prompted by another new book I am reading called Optimal Birth.)
The third phase is surrender and this corresponds with the transition portion of active labor and the “self-doubt” signpost. I think the concept of surrender during labor is one of the most profound and transformative elements of giving birth. If you can embrace the notion of “surrendering” to birth rather than staying in “control” of it, I think this can revolutionize your perception of what is happening in your body and your life. While hard to express in words, the experience of surrendering to my own body’s power was a transformative experience in my life (particularly since I am a “controlling” sort of person in “real life”—maybe this is why this term and experience holds such meaning to me). With surrender comes “flow”—there is such value and beauty and strength to be found in letting go and just letting it happen; letting “the might of creation come through you.” This was the most profound truth I discovered in each of my birth experiences.