During a client’s first pregnancy, I’m continually trying to think of the best way to help her prepare for this life-changing event. Over the months, we certainly talk on the phone about her physical changes. But her emotional changes, her expectations, values and priorities are of even greater importance.
Often, a woman’s inner wisdom is at odds with the societal standard, and my job is to help strengthen her confidence. I have to help her to trust her body’s ability to birth and shut out the voices shouting, “You really should have that test” “You’ve never done this before” “Everyone has a Diaper Genie” “Buy bottles in case breastfeeding doesn’t work.” The competing voices can almost drown out her “I can do this,” and weaken it to become “I’m naïve to think I can do this.”
To have an ideal first birth, a number of factors have to be firmly in place. A perfect example was recently outlined by a local midwife, who wrote “I know if I have a 28 year old woman who has not been sexually abused, who really wants to be pregnant and does so easily, is a successful artist working in a home studio, does no prenatal screening, eats healthily and exercises moderately and regularly, and plans a home birth with the support of her partner, that she is going to have a wonderful labour and birth.” This hypothetical woman would have a strong sense of self, a willingness to make choices outside the societal norms, and would make the job of the doula and midwife look easy.
How do we help the woman who is over 35, perhaps embarking on this pregnancy on her own, or becomes pregnant shortly after entering a new relationship, or is finally pregnant after enduring years of fertility treatments? What if the woman has been subjected to emotional or physical abuse in her life, has been marginalized in her life or job, or is still struggling to define her boundaries?
In the North American society of 2006, the nine months of pregnancy seem far too short to deal with all these issues. The woman often spends her pregnancy on an external journey of moving house or renovating, buying a new car, buying baby gear, fighting for maternity benefits, choosing and attending the right classes (prenatal, fitness, yoga, etc.), and preparing to entertain any number of visiting family during the postpartum period. Society places little priority on the inner journey of pregnancy.
Where is there time for introspection? Where is there time for long walks on the beach with wise women or a supportive partner? Where is there time to read novels that quietly address the emotional issues at hand? Where is there time to dance, to sing, to draw, to express the inner journey?
Perhaps the best preparation for birth is to use the nine months of pregnancy wisely. Relish this period, which bridges the gap between two dramatic stages in a woman’s life. Both literally and figuratively, take time to follow eastern philosophy and “breathe for the hollow organ.” Breathe in deeply, wait, be still, exhale, then wait for the body to take the next breath. Live in the moment. Listen to your body and get out of the fast lane of the 21st century.
This inner journey of pregnancy can be profound. If a woman listens to her inner wisdom, surrounds herself with strong women and men who will support her choices, honours her body’s need for stillness, and sees time as her ally, she may yet have the birth that she wishes. It can also change her entire outlook on life. And, ultimately, it can give her the confidence to raise children with grace, laughter and understanding.
Jacquie Munro, founder of the "Slow Birth" movement, is an experienced doula and childbirth educator and is well-known for her individualized, intuitive approach to supporting families in the childbearing year and beyond. Since 1987, she has provided support at over one thousand births, at home and in hospital, and taught thousands of expectant parents. At home, Jacquie lives only a bike ride away from four generations of her family. You can usually find her at the park or beach, playing beside her twin grandsons who call her "Deecy".