During our initial phone call, many first-time mums nervously laugh, then ask me if I can just order them a fast birth "and one epidural in the parking lot, please." It sounds like a drive-through order.
"Why?" I ask myself. Really fast births don't allow the body to churn out all those wonderful pain-relieving endorphins (boy, do you want them!) Fast births don't allow any time for the brain to keep up with what the body is doing. Actually, my least satisfied client had a 45-minute labour and birth. She said, "I waited 40 years to give birth, and THAT'S IT??? It was so fast, I missed it!"
Fast births may increase your level of fear, or result in a greater likelihood of heavy bleeding. If your body naturally gives you a fast birth, that's just fine. But, I wouldn't willingly force a normal labour to move faster than it should. And, for those wanting to order "one epidural, please" in the parking lot...with a fast birth, there's just no time.
So, what to do? Wouldn't you rather have a birth that's just right for you? Not too long, not too short, just right. Kind of like the chair, or the bed, or the porridge in The Three Bears. Just right.
Isn't a lovingly prepared meal that's simmered on the stove much better than fast food? It's harder work, there's some prep time needed, it takes more time to cook, but it's SO worth it.
We're given nine months to prepare for birth - a good long prep time. But so many people just fill that time with classes and shopping and renovations and new cars and new homes, and paint (always paint.) All this, for one tiny being who just wants a warm body to hold him, and a couple of breasts!
Women often forget to take long slow walks on the beach, doing the inner work of pregnancy. Old fears, habits, and family dynamics bubble up as each week progresses, and need to be addressed. After twenty-one years of attending births, I see that unresolved issues can often stop a labour in its tracks.
One woman made it easily to the pushing stage, then everything stopped. No matter what she did, there was no urge to push, nothing, for two hours. After a while, the doctor said, "We'll just leave. You might be worrying about something, or have something to work through. Why don't we leave you alone with your partner for a while? Just come get us when the baby's coming."
We were called back half an hour later. She had been holding onto a secret since the age of 15. Once she released the secret to her partner, the baby came in just a few pushes.
The hormones at play during late pregnancy and labour have taken millions of years to develop to perfection. Hormones soften the body, making the joints feel like they are attached only by elastic bands. The uterus becomes more responsive, letting each woman know if she's done too much that day, or not had enough water to drink. Women start to wake up more frequently in the middle of the night, in preparation for those moonlit nights with the baby.
The baby is an active partner in the birth, burrowing and stretching. One woman the other day said that she kept imagining a cartoon mole, pressing and wiggling deeper. Other women have said it feels like a pearl diver, pushing off the side of a rock, diving deeper.
Each labour takes as long as the body needs. Time is needed to allow the hormones to work, in concert, undisturbed. If there's a slow beginning to labour, the body has its own reason, or the mind is keeping a lid on things.
Yesterday's birth was another amazing story of trust and slowness and, ultimately, surrender. (Months earlier, she had been interested in that epidural in the parking lot, but she had educated herself, and now she wanted a slow birth.) She started to feel things a few days before the baby finally came. With the help of long phone calls to me, pep talks, warm baths, lots of distraction, and good food, she made it through the days.
"This is not labour yet," I kept reminding her. "Think of these infrequent cramps as your new normal." She used her hypnobirthing techniques of relaxation and fear-release to accept the pace of her body and baby. We talked about the logic of the body, what to expect, how endorphins work, how all the hormones work in concert to move her through to the birth. She leaned on her loving partner to lift her spirits. When he needed a boost, he called me. "Jacquie, what do I do next?"
Then, in the afternoon of the second day of prelabour, she called again. "I'm getting discouraged." She was finding it hard to surrender to the process. I encouraged her to move, to crank up the salsa music and dance, swirl her hips in the shower, to let go. I encouraged her to trust her body, to release any tension, and let the baby come.
An hour later, I called back, because I had the feeling that something new was happening. She said, "Something's happening!" (Yay ESP!) So, I drove over quickly. She was really in labour now.
I found her at home, smiling and calm. "I'm at peace." Her dancing and swirling had moved her into active labour. She was finally able to accept, and surrender to, the "surges" that were coming every three minutes. Within an hour and a half, we were at the hospital. She was already 8-9cm, and ready for a lovely soothing bath.
"Gotta get one of these tubs," she said, as she laboured in the water. "I feel confident. I feel safe. I feel secure," spoke the hypnobirthing tape from the corner of the room.
Four hours later, the baby was born. Quietly. Slowly. Gently. A lovely pink bundle of a baby girl.
Slow birth works, just like slow food. Plain and simple. Just a glorious mix of natural ingredients, without any additives -and so very, very good.
- Jacquie Munro, Vancouver Doula, Slow Birth, Slow Planet
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".