A YOGIC GUIDE TO CHILDBIRTH: 3 UNEXPECTED WAYS TO PREPARE OURSELVES
By Kimberly Johnson
How do we prepare to lose control?
Preparing to lose control is an oxymoron.
How can we prepare for an event that is unique, instinctual and altogether unpredictable?
Childbirth educators themselves vary in their opinions. Some teachers want women to have exposure to birth photos and birth videos. They want women to have as much information as possible on outcomes and how to troubleshoot for them. Information is the basis of informed choice and consent.
Who doesn’t want women to have that?
Each birth method has its own stance, special breathing techniques and distinct roles for each person involved—like the father as coach. Some methods emphasize internal process-oriented work—recognizing birth as an internal rite of passage, they encourage women and couples to identify and face their fears.
The problem with prescriptive approaches, however, is that mothers who emerge from these techniques adopt a stance, and how they feel about their births are often directly related to how their birth measures up according to the method they studied.
The truth is nothing can truly prepare you for what will be one of the most momentous and memorable experiences of your life.
In America, giving birth is actually getting more difficult for us. Unless we are very resolute from the beginning, pregnant women are riddled with choice. In general we see choice as a positive thing. But what I see in my practice is that women are drowning in choices. We spend most of our pregnancy and early motherhood making choices. Decision after decision after decision.
We may have chosen a doctor because they support our ideal birth scenario, but that doctor doesn’t take our insurance. We may find a decent practice that accepts our insurance, then are not assured that a doctor from that practice will be at their birth.
Hospital or home-birth? Midwife or doctor? Doula or no doula? Bathtub or no bathtub? Vitamin K—yes or no? Vaccines—yes or no?
It doesn’t stop.
It’s complicated because these are ideological choices and self-definitions. There are also practical and economical considerations, as well as relationship negotiations. The entire pregnancy can be consumed by choice-making.
Rather than enjoying pregnancy and learning to experience and ride the tidal changes that are occurring internally as preparation for a smooth transition to motherhood, we can feel forced into a constant stream of executive functioning.
Front brain neocortical activity rules at a time when women should ideally be resting back into the reptilian, instinctual back brain.
All birth educators agree that women birth better when they feel relaxed and safe.
This constant stream of choices keeps women in a state of vigilance and decision-making, which is the exact opposite of what we need to birth well.
And if we are still working, we save up time off for after the birth and so expect to transition from full-time work one day into a deep internal state the next day. That would be difficult for even the most developed of nervous systems. And with the amount of stimulus that is increasing exponentially for all of us, we cannot expect our nervous systems to have that level of resilience without some preparation.
Three unexpected yogic ways we can prepare for childbirth:
This is advanced childbirth education and might not be for everyone. But even one of these could be enough to expand our capacity beyond what we think we are capable of. And getting beyond thought is an essential ingredient of a transformative birth experience.
1. Develop and explore a rich, uninhibited and nurturing sex life.
I could write a whole book on this! Here are a few ways you can begin:
- Push your edges with inhibition. If you are accustomed to making love under the covers, in the dark or with your eyes closed, experiment with allowing some light in. Take baby steps. Start with candles or low light. If prefer your eyes closed, talk about this with your partner and agree to open your eyes every once in a while. It won’t work to change these habits all at once, so start slowly with what feels the most interesting.
- Free your voice. Allow yourself to make audible sounds. Get used to hearing unexpected sounds that arise from sensation and from your unconscious. That way when you are birthing, your visceral sounds won’t be so surprising.
- State your desires. Express what you like and what you don’t like. Develop your ability to say “yes” and to say “no” and to identify what those feel like in your body. If this is an area of challenge, which it is for most women, then for a while “maybe”s may have to be “no”s. Get your partner involved by explaining that this is a process so that you get even more in touch with what you really want and love. Getting out of confusion and the tendency to just go along with things when they are okay, will help you to gaining clarity and find the power to express what you want in your birth experience.
- Challenge your role as giver. Practice receiving pleasure without having to give any back. Establish a space where you will receive—possibly oral pleasure or g-spot stimulation or orgasmic meditation. Make a pact with your partner that after you receive, you will not reciprocate. (You can set up another time when you will be the sole giver, if you feel like you need to or want to.) You will simply sit or lie together and breathe and absorb the experience. This will help you get used to surrendering to a visceral process that is happening that you are not controlling.
- Explore female ejaculation. The experience of ejaculating can be an orgasmic experience with a downward earthy quality. Often, it requires a bearing down of the pelvic floor that is similar to what is required in pushing a baby out. Both the process of exploring possibly new territory, together with the physical sensation of something exiting the body (that is not urine, menstrual blood or feces can be give you a familiarity in this area that is referenced somatically later on. Feeling the liquid that oozes or squirts out can also be a reference point for the fetal ejection reflex. This reflex is a phenomenon that occurs when a woman is relaxed. In the pushing phase, the baby literally shoots out due to the reflex, without a woman having to use force.
2. Engage in a silent meditation retreat.
Pregnancy is a time of innumerable changes. Cells multiply at mind-blowing rates. Our physical shape changes daily. Our hormones, blood composition and cell make-up shift faster than we could orchestrate or keep track of. What a marvelous time to sit still and observe these changes!
In a 10 day Vipassana retreat, our concept of time changes. Hours extend feeling like years or hours pass by in an instant as if we were sleeping—maybe we were! In the flurry of preparing the baby’s room, having baby showers and finishing projects, a meditation retreat is a time to sit and absorb the internal changes that are occurring on a soul and spirit level as well.
This experience is an enormous gift to yourself and your baby—a chance to commune deeply before he or she enters the physical world. The bonus, besides the enormous internal cleansing, that a silent sit offers is that if you can survive 10 days of intense sitting practice, you know you have the stamina for the birth process.
A super-long birth would be three days, and you meditated intensively for 10!
You know that you have done something very difficult, that at times felt impossible. Not only did you complete this rite of passage of a silent meditation retreat, but you emerged on the other side with more wisdom and insight. What a boon!
There are Vipassana meditation retreats all over the world and they are free. They are completely donation-based. The center tells you how much their own expenses are for your stay, but your contribution is anonymous.
You may be thinking, “10 days, are you nuts? I couldn’t be silent for 24 hours.”
First, don’t underestimate yourself. You can do what you see a purpose for and set your mind to. The Vipassana centers also take special care of pregnant women. If 10 days is too much, they also offer three day programs. In addition to the mental stamina and emotional fortitude you will gain, you will also have time to pause and connect to your baby. Can you imagine if all pregnant women did a meditation intensive when they were pregnant?
What a great foundation that would be for our children!
3. Get internal pelvic floor bodywork.
Ideally women would have internal pelvic floor work before conception. But the reality is that the importance of pelvic health for women is just now emerging. Between 38 weeks and 40 weeks, with the permission of your doctor, is an excellent time to discover and rehearse the birth experience.
Imagine how helpful it would be too locate and use pushing muscles before you were trying to push a baby out.
Imagine learning about and feeling different kinds of sensations that happen when you are giving birth—the difference between rectal pressure and vaginal pressure, for example. You may have studied or heard about the difference, but that is very different from feeling the sensations. Receiving internal work can also allow you to release and soften the muscles that need to expand for your baby to come through.
I have also worked with women able to clear fear and intense emotional experiences that were blocking them from going into labor.
Internal pelvic floor work is an excellent option for late terms pregnancies—not necessarily in an attempt to bring on labor (although that could be an added bonus), but to allow for whatever anxieties, fear or blocks may be present to be attended to. This is best done with a Sexological Bodyworker or Somatic Experiencing Professional with hands-on experience who will be able to handle obstacles with expertise.
If you are a long-term yoga practitioner, dancer, horseback rider or Barre method junkie, you may have trained your body into years of pelvic floor lifting, toning and maybe gripping. That may have made those muscles very strong and tight. But—just as a bodybuilder’s bicep muscle can permanently bend his arm—if you only move a muscles in one way, it loses the ability to move the other way without a degree of leverage or manual support.
I truly believe that one pelvic floor session, with internal manual work, can decrease the possibility of tearing dramatically.
Chronically tightened pelvic floor muscles need assistance in order to release. Imagining releasing them is not enough. This is something I did not know until after I tore badly. I speak to many dancers and yoga practitioners who are completely surprised—they trusted their bodies, and felt a betrayal when they tore. This is an important message for yogis and other long-term practitioners to hear: you can avoid birth injury with preparatory internal work.
Birth works on us at every level. It is a window into the unseen worlds.
We can gain tremendous spiritual insight through the process.
Sex, meditation and internal pelvic floor bodywork also offer a window into the unconscious, and thus challenge us to face more of ourselves than we even knew existed.