Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Slow Denial

I promise my clients that I will always tell them the truth about what's happening during pregnancy and labour...but I must admit that I do downplay things during prelabour. Now, this is only to help the clients to make it through the crazy unexpected early stuff that really, REALLY, isn't labour.

This is the denial phase of labour.

Too often, people have the TV image of labour - your water breaks, off you go to hospital, get the drugs, and the baby is born on the bed (surrounded by gowned and gloved anonymous people). This may be what 90% of births are like...but they're not the kind of births that my clients have. They dare to be different. They live in denial. This is Slow Birth at its best.

Grandmas-to-be call and inadvertently pressure their children, "Why aren't you at the hospital yet?" Friends call and say, "I had my baby last month, and it was hell. Just go in now and get the drugs!" Labour will never progress with all those phone calls coming in. So, please, unplug the phone. Or, at the very least, record a new voicemail message that says, "No, we haven't had the baby yet, and we'll record the great news as soon as we meet our baby!" Then, turn off the ringer...and live in denial. (Oh, and you can strap on your TENS machine at this time, if you like!)

Denial works! One woman had her mum over for lunch when she was in early labour, and didn't even tell her. Then she headed out to rent a DVD, and planned to watch it that evening...and didn't even believe it when I showed up and said, "Now - you're really in labour. You'll have your baby in the car if we don't hurry!" (She had her baby a couple of hours later.) Denial worked so well for her (too well!) that we didn't have to play that game when she had her second baby.

A wonderful client had her baby last night (Tuesday night). Her "denial phase" started on Monday night. She called to say she was having mild cramps at 8:15pm. Now, I had a feeling that this might morph into labour, but I wanted her to be able to have a good night's sleep. So, I said that this could become labour, but it also could just be part of the normal changes that occur in the last few weeks of pregnancy. "Deny it, have a lovely bath, then climb into bed," I said. "This might stop, and the baby might not come for another week." She answered, "I do denial well! Sounds good to me!"

The next morning, she called to say that she'd done a great job of denying the contractions through the night, and managed to sleep quite well. Yes, the contractions had come every 10-15-20 minutes, but she pretended that this was totally normal, and she didn't waste any emotional energy on the contractions. By morning, she was feeling good, sounding bright and energized. Denial had given her a good night's sleep.

To make sure that she didn't have to do another night in labour, I suggested a good long bath after lunch. Her husband turned on music, and she had relaxed in the tub and chatted and laughed with her husband and sister. They made a great memory. They were living outside of time. "The bath was a turning point," said her husband. They didn't have to deny the labour any longer. After the bath, the contractions were 5 minutes apart and getting stronger and longer.

Are you noticing that this is a Slow Birth story? By playing the "denial game", they didn't focus on time, and allowed the body to rest and do its thing at its own pace. They were connecting as a family, and rediscovering that it's okay to trust the body's rhythm.

After the bath...after becoming so relaxed and soft, her labour began with strength and power. It wasn't long before we all headed to the hospital. The denial phase had lasted about 18 hours. We didn't count that as part of her labour. We started the official labour clock at 2pm. She started her labour happy, rested, emotionally strong, thanks to denial.

For the remaining 9 hours there was no need for denial. She could just inhabit her labour and let it advance slowly, at its own place. She danced, bathed, lunged, yoga'd, bounced the ball, stomped her feet, and sang. She only had one medical assessment during all that time. No one declared her "fully dilated", no one offered drugs, no one made her get on the bed...she just WAS in labour, without time, without judgement.

And her baby came with joy, her two feet planted on the ground. She was lovingly supported by one proud and amazed man, and four smiling women. Yes, she stood to have her baby, and clutched this little girl, called Lily, to her chest, laughing, "I don't believe it!"

Slow Denial had worked its magic!

- Jacquie Munro, Vancouver Doula, Slow Birth, Slow Planet


Michelle Bell said...


This is an awesome post. I absolutely love the idea of slow birth and letting what happens, happens. I've acted as labour support and doula for many girlfriends and am currently training in the US to be a direct-entry midwife.

I know I've had plenty of phone calls of "I think I'm in labour! Should I go to the hospital?". My response, after figuring out what's going on, has almost always been to come over and do a puzzle, help fix dinner and just relax.

Thanks for your excellent blog. You give me great things to think about, and I hope to learn so much!

Anonymous said...

Beautifully written. I had never heard of this but I was in denial for the first part of all three of my births. The last one, I was in denial so long that I denied it until I hit transition and delivered 20 minutes later.