As birth doulas, we see women do amazing things. They struggle, they wonder, they bond, they nourish, they comfort, they love fiercely. The birth with all the power of humanity and in these moments they are vulnerable. They are scared, they are excited, tired, and raw.
Birth reveals much about us to ourselves and to those around us. As a doula, I’ve watched the power of the mind/body connection become more real and tangible than in any other area of the human experience.
The body responds in profound and sensitive ways to stress, thoughts, stimulation, and suggestion. In many cases, whatever a woman thinks about for her birth is exactly what happens. This sounds like it’s in stark contrast to the line that says “things never turn out how we plan”, but there is a difference between a plan and a thought process. So here is what I’ve learned about the mind/body connection in birth work.
Women need to be deliberate in choosing their thoughts for their birth. If they fixate on their fear, that fear will most certainly manifest itself. Fears are real and should be validated, but not given the benefit of too much consideration. For example, if a woman fears that her water will break and contractions will not start on their own, the body interprets this thought process as an instruction. Practicing mindfulness or meditation can go a long way toward honing the ability to be deliberate about thoughts.
The words that a care provider chooses to use during pregnancy and labor have a profound effect on a woman. The phrases “You are only at 4 cm” and “you’ve progressed all the way to 4 cm” convey the same clinical information: cervical dilation to 4 cm. But they communicate profoundly different messages that will be interpreted by women differently. One tells a woman that her body is essentially defective. The other communicates capability. When a woman thinks she is defective, her body may respond to this as stress, which fights with oxytocin. When she is given confidence, her body opens up to its capabilities.
Women should speak what they want for their birth. Affirmations work. Again, the body receives them as instructions and blueprints rather than formless thoughts or whims. Choose your words carefully because both your body and your mind are receiving them.
Women should communicate to those around her that she doesn’t care to hear all the bad stories. Birth stories are like war stories. The worse they are, the more we want to tell them. As soon as someone starts with “well when I had mine….” and you know where the story is going, it’s ok to politely stop the person talking, and ask them to refrain from telling negative stories.
Doulas have seen women dream that their baby has a shoulder dystocia and it happened.
We have seen women say they knew they were going to “need” Pitocin – and they did.
We have seen women say, during their whole pregnancy, “I’m going to show up at the hospital pushing” and they barely make it to the delivery room.
Doulas have stories to tell of women who spoke absolutely everything that ended up happening in their birth, down to the finest detail – both good and bad.
We know of women who desperately did not want a hospital birth, but felt they had no choice, yet they dreamed of delivering at home. Those births happened so fast that moms barely even had a chance to get out the front door.
You get what you speak. You get what you think. And you get what you fixate on. Print some affirmations and say them to yourself every day. You may be surprised to find just how much your mind influences your body.