The birth of a baby is a momentous, meaningful event. A special time in our lives that touches us all deeply in different ways. Unfortunately, many mothers enter the last stages of their labour feeling fearful and overly anxious. Find out a midwife’s tips for finding sacred joy during childbirth.
Yet to have a baby in 21st century New Zealand is actually the safest time in our history.
New Zealand’s maternity services are renowned for their great outcomes globally. Despite this planning for birth has become an experience that requires navigating a sea of worrying stories. Unfortunately mothers enjoy to tell the story of how difficult or traumatic their births were.
It is rare that women share positive and life affirming experiences.
For example my own mother had labours and births that passed without concerns. I often asked her as a young midwife if she shared these positive experiences with her women friends. She told me that her friends were not interested in those ‘types’ of stories and she did not want to upset friends who seemed to have had a difficult time.
It’s ironic that we have become a culture hypnotised and in love with drama.
Despite what stories circulate midwives experience birth as an affirming, meaningful and profoundly joyful moment in people’s lives. That is what keeps midwives inspired. In a recent study at AUT University (Auckland) it was the joy of practice that sustained midwives in their work (1).
It may surprise you but midwives and doctors are deeply affected by the births they are invited to attend.
The joy at birth is amazing, thrilling and immensely moving for everyone. In my own research I found that joy at birth overwhelms us all. This is seen in our tears of joy, hairs on the back of our neck standing up in awe often leaving us speechless and overcome with emotion (2). This was not just mothers and their families but midwives and doctors who told stories of how they felt privileged to be at birth.
My study showed how people at birth often feel connected and reconnected with each other in ways that they previously did not realise. After all the birth of a baby is the birth of a mother and the birth of many other relationships; siblings, grandparents, aunties and uncles to name a few.
At times mothers and/or babies need assistance and midwifery/medical intervention yet this need not distract from the celebration and the joy of the occasion. It is not just normal non-medicalised births that are joyful.
The feeling in the room, wherever and however a baby is born, is like no other. The ‘drama’ of birth does not require blue lights and emergencies with women screaming in pain as shown in many TV sitcoms!
The time a baby is born is dramatic but in a truly celebratory way. As one grandmother said to me at the birth of her grandchild, “it’s like a smile all over my body” and a midwife exclaims, “birth is just lovely, I love the world when I drive home from a birth”. Nonetheless the media have created a virtual culture that appears to increasingly remove the magic and preciousness of birth.
A Midwife’s Tips for Finding Joy During Childbirth
1. A women’s ability to birth is severely affected by fear.
Fear can affect our hormonal systems. A rush of fear related hormones can create a disruption of your womb contractions which interferes in the opening of your cervix for example.
This in turn can make labour more painful and slow the progress leading to interventions and potentially negative birth experiences. It is often these negative experiences that are shared by word of mouth amongst friends, work colleagues, family and in the media and across social media sites. This fuels what seems a growing anxiety about birth and creates negative expectations about what birth is.
As you can imagine this becomes a potential vicious cycle which needs to be addressed.
In the 5 p’s of normal labour and birth you can find out more about how anxiety can lengthen your labour.
2. Turn towards your inner feelings about birth and what it means to you.
How you tune into birth is how you and your birth partner(s) understand and therefore approach birth.
If you and your birth partner come to birth in a fearful mood you will understand birth as a time of risk, danger and something frightening. Feelings of anxiety will dominate the occasion.
If on the other hand you come to birth with a feeling of joy and hopeful anticipation, birth becomes transformed into an occasion of joyous possibilities that will carry you through labour and birth.
I have seen this so many times as a midwife. Undeniably there are times when labour and birth can be difficult yet joy in my professional and personal experience is always there; it just awaits your willingness to tune into that special moment and allow joy to take you on an incredible journey into parenthood.
In preparing for the birth, you may like to find out more about HynoBirthing (the Mongan Method).
3. It’s beneficial for us all to come to labour and birth positively.
When others arrive at birth as birth partners, friends or health care professional they too need to come with feelings of responsibility, sensitivity, calmness and a generosity of spirit. Everyone needs to come to birth with a feeling of joy and celebration and leave the fear and anxiety out of the birthing room.
To be at that moment when a baby is born demands that we are open, receptive and have a willingness to act respectfully even when medical interventions are needed.
When your baby is born this may be about speaking quietly and not having loud disturbing conversations on the phone. It can be taking care not to be hurried about weighing the baby and being protective of the special space around the occasion so that other family and friends don’t come crowding into the room until the time ‘feels right’.
Don’t let the noise and needs of others in that moment take away your own intuition to be quiet and still. There is time enough for all this; don’t rush – slow down and savour the moment! This is a precious unrepeatable time. Touch, feel, smell, listen to new life. Experience the beauty and health promoting effects of skin to skin contact with your newborn.
Find out more about positive pregnancies in Promoting natural childbirth.
Last thoughts on labour from a midwife
Enjoy the celebration and the wonderful feelings of intimacy, tenderness and loving at the moment of birth; for as long as you can. Joy is the true drama of birth. For it is the joy at birth which will bring tears to your eyes and a smile to your lips when you recall those moments in years to come.
For more expert advice on preparing for labour, check out our pregnancy section.
- McAra-Couper J, Gilkison A, Crowther S, Hunter M, Hotchin C, Gunn J. Partnership and reciprocity with women sustain lead maternity carer midwives in practice. New Zealand College of Midwives Journal. 2014 (49):27-31.
- Crowther S. Sacred joy at birth: a hermeneutic phenomenology study [PhD]: Auckland University of Technology; 2014.