Childbirth and ‘Flow’ Experiences

One of my areas of interest within childbirth education is about the importance of birth as an experience. I know this isn’t necessarily a popular approach—more popular is to focus on evidence-based care, because using the dreaded “experience” word implies something too esoteric or “woo-woo,” OR it implies that women value the “experience” over a healthy baby (the very notion of which is so insulting to mothers that I can hardly stand it). However, I tend to think that an overemphasis on evidence-based care simply isn’t enough to explore and describe all that birth means for women. Women deserve even more than evidence-based care! (I actually have an article brewing that addresses this subject.) All too often women’s plans for beautiful births are dismissed with comments such as, “all that really matters is a healthy baby,” or “birth is just one day in a woman’s life.” I believe that wanting a healthy baby is a given and that giving birth is also a transformative rite of passage and life experience that has value in and of itself.

In the textbook Childbirth Education: Practice, Research, & Theory the concept of birth as a peak, or “flow” experience is addressed several times:

The joy and personal growth that can result from successfully meeting challenging experiences has been described as ‘flow experiences’…such experiences are generally better understood in athletics than in childbirth because the public understands athletic events to be character building and an effort or a struggle that requires skill, practice, and concentration and is not without pain. As such, athletic accomplishments are widely recognized for both the product and process…Society focuses the celebration of birth almost totally on the product–the baby–and is rather neutral about the process as long as the mother emerges healthy.

The book also shares the research that when mothers were interviewed postpartum who had had epidurals, their comments following birth focused almost totally on the baby. Women who had relied on relaxation and other non-pharmaceutical coping methods talked about the baby AND about the emotional and psychological benefits of their birth experiences. Women in both groups expressed satisfaction with their birth experiences, but for those in the epidural group “the element of personal accomplishment or mastery was missing in their comments.”

I believe that starting out the parenting adventure with a sense of “personal accomplishment and mastery” is a tremendous gift and I wish all expectant couples had the opportunity to experience birth in this way. In my classes, I strive to emphasize that both process (giving birth) and product (healthy baby, healthy mom) are important, and indeed, are inextricably linked.

7 thoughts on “Childbirth and ‘Flow’ Experiences

  1. Sometimes too I believe the “healthy baby” term is applied without thought. When I experienced my unnecessary c-section with no labor at 38 weeks for suspected “big baby”, this was kind of thrown at me. “What are you crying for? It’s your baby’s birthday!” the anesthesiologist said. I was very scared for myself and my baby. I had planned a natural childbirth and felt that was safer than surgery, until our OB convinced us that in our case it was not.
    Anyway, my daughter was born “healthy”. However, she had troubled passing meconium and was given an enema. She had so much fluid in her lungs and belly she was suctioned through the night and several times during our days there. She was slow to breastfeed because she was so drowsy. She now has eczema, which research shows is more prevalent in c-section babies along with asthma. There is no family history of eczema. So, yes, she is healthy in terms of having survived and thrived, but had she been born naturally or at least vaginally, would she had needed those things. They were wrong on her size too. We spent 5 days in the hospital because they suspected pulmonary embolism for me, which I hadn’t been informed was a risk. Again, when a nurse caught me crying, I was asked, “Why are you crying?” like there was absolutely no reason I should be.
    Experience is very important. Leaving birth feeling like things were “done” to you and you had no control over them is misery. It leaves you feeling inadequate, violated, and sad. However, someone else could have a similar experience for reasons they felt were necessary, and if they feel they were fully informed and were a part of making the necessary decisions surrounding their birth, they often seem to view the experience in a more positive way. Same with other interventions, procedures and experiences.

    • Wow, Kelli. What powerfully negative experiences for you 😦

      Your closing example brings me back to the “woman’s right to define her own experience” things I’m always talking about!

  2. I am in the process of writing a post about Thing 2’s birth and how it didn’t really have any impact on me at all. I feel very disconnected from his birth.
    I feel connected to him, but the birth was almost a non-event. I will have to link back to your post!

  3. great article, again
    It’s indeed sad how the medical world and even the world at large spend little or no energy on the process of birth. After giving birth myself, I was eager to tell my daughter’s birth story and how it made me feel, but nobody was interested.

  4. Pingback: Thesis Tidbits: Exceptional Human Experiences | Talk Birth

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