Labor is a microcosm of life. It brings pain and pleasure, sadness and joy. Labor will put you in touch with both your strength and your dependency and offer you an opportunity to learn more about yourself. Sometimes we are happy with ourselves, other times we are not. Labor is not a time to judge ourselves but a period for reflecting on our movement through life at a given moment. It is not possible to control labor, it is only possible to follow the process and to meet whatever it may offer. Labor is also teamwork. It is a mother and baby learning together how to push and how to be born, how to yield and separate from the union of pregnancy. You are not in control nor are you out of control during labor. The best way to approach labor is with an attitude of learning rather than controlling –Gayle Peterson, An Easier Childbirth
One of the things I explore in birth classes is feelings about wanting to be “in control” or “staying in control” during birth. I ask couples to consider what “losing control” would mean to them and what the benefits of “losing control” might be.
I really enjoy this section from Childbirth with Insight by Elizabeth Noble about control and birth:
[with regard to prepared childbirth films and classes] …are instructive rather than enlightening. They confirm a particular teaching method by advocating roles and techniques. Such films obscure the fundamental holistic experience of birth. Couples are not aware that the power of giving birth involves individual surrender to its uncontrollable nature. It is understandable that expectant parents become anxious about their abilities to maintain the kind of control that is expected of them, given that no such control of natural forces is possible–or desirable.
The actual experience of contractions, like other intense bodily sensations, is extremely difficult to describe…The more completely an expectant mother can experience labor as a unit of body and mind, the more easily she can flow with the process of birth…the more a woman tries to be in control, the more she fears the inevitable loss of control…
Women will sometimes mention “fighting” the contractions or struggling with them. Or, sometimes trying to “escape” the contractions. Both of these approaches are efforts to stay “in control.” It is very difficult—if not impossible—to describe in birth classes what labor is “really like.” Birth is a lived experience, not a rehearsed one! (Though, I really believe that practicing different skills and doing some labor rehearsals in class are really valuable at building confidence, which in turn hopefully leads to a confident, adaptable birth experience.) I struggle with wanting to give people in my couples plenty of “tools” they can use in labor, while also communicating the vitalness of “surrendering” and “flowing” with birth. There is no “right way” to give birth and I find that couples sometimes want to learn definitives from me—right ways—while really the best advice I can give them is to go with the flow and respond to their instincts and inherent body wisdom. (Of course, for this, they need to be in a birth environment that is conducive to the freedom necessary to do so…)
Here is another quote I enjoy about the value of surrender in birth:
“I am starting to see that a woman’s strength in birth is also in the letting go and allowing herself to tumble fearlessly with the current, never losing sight of the belief that, when the energy of the tide is through, she will find herself upright again on the shore.” –Maria (at the blog A Mom is Born)
While I have never labored or birthed in water, or been a particular fan of swimming or being in water, water metaphors about birth always feel really right to me from my own lived experience.
And here is another post I wrote called “fears about birth and losing control“