It is never too early to connect with our little ones. They feel all we feel as they grow and develop in pregnancy. It is natures way to prepare them for the world. We are in the most intimate relationship way before we can see or hold them.
When parents discover how conscious babies are from conception onwards, there can be some mixed reactions! Maybe the pregnancy was a surprise, or a much wanted one that came at a time of grief or financial or professional pressure. Parents may feel ‘guilty’ that they are stressed or anxious or that their body isn’t ‘the perfect peaceful temple’ for their baby. There are so many demands in people’s lives and connecting with a baby, especially if this isn’t the first-born, can seem overwhelming.
Parents may feel that conversations with baby is on their terms. For the baby though, continuous communication isn’t an optional extra; They are literally plugged into mum and they receive all of her unfiltered! Babies FEEL us, and their nervous system is shaped accordingly.
This isn’t intended as a guilt trip but to tell Parents loud and clear that babies are crying out for CONNECTION not PERFECTION!
As vital to them as free flowing milk, truthful, heartfelt communication creates unshakeable bonds. Partners play a key role by supporting and nurturing mum through the highs and lows. This will be experienced as a supportive buffer for both mum and baby, bringing less fear and greater ease and security.
So how are you feeling today Muma?
How would it be to gently open your heart, shed a tear if you need to and tell your little one how you are feeling?
Are you adapting to the idea of being a mum?
Excited but worried about some aspects?
Not confident in your abilities to love THAT much?
Fearful that you wont get somethings right?
It is powerful to remember that regardless of any of your own misgivings or feelings of inadequacy you are the very best parent for YOUR baby, you can learn together and they are totally open to connection with YOU…with all of YOU!
Is our own birth influencing our attitude to pain relief in pregnancy?
When I work with mums to be or those trying to conceive I take time to explore their own birth story. Our own entrance into the world can leave lasting impressions that set a tone or mood around birth. Do we have an inherent belief in our capacity to birth or do we assume interventions will be needed? Perhaps there have been miscarriages or other challenges in the family and it is important for us to differentiate our story from what happened to others.
Women need all the encouragement they can get in the birthing arena. Time and time again I hear of mums who assume that they will need the epidural and are surprised when their body takes over. Looking at the statistics though it seems as though women do not have the self-belief, support or wish to attempt to have a natural physiological birth. In the US over 73% of mothers choose an epidural and around 68% of first-time mothers in Ireland. Although an epidural may be presented as a more comfortable and pain free way to give birth, it also comes with risks and a need for continuous monitoring. It also tends to lengthen labour by up to an hour and a half.
Epidurals were first introduced in the 1980’s for those wishing to avoid a full anesthetic for a c-section delivery. They have since become increasingly popular as the paradigm of “pain relief” has won popularity over the “working with pain” paradigm, writes Rhea Dempsey in her article ‘Pain is My Friend’.
The cascade of intervention is a term used to point to how early routine interventions may have unintended and unpredictable consequences. Seemingly small interventions will need to be “solved” with further interventions, which may in turn create even more problems.
The introduction of an Oxytocin drip for example may sound innocent enough as after all Oxytocin is naturally present in our bodies and is commonly known as ‘the hormone of love.’ What women may not know is that the artificial version inhibits the release of endorphins that can help us tolerate labour pains. Pitocin can also interfere with our own naturally arising Oxytocin which is critical for the post-natal bonding and the production of breast milk.
The implications of interventions, if not deemed medically necessary, need to be thoroughly understood and evaluated. Pains are likely to rapidly escalate when interventions are used in ways that are a lot harder to tolerate than pains that come on gradually:
When waters are broken pre or during labour.
When Synthetic Oxytocin or (“Pitocin”) is used to strengthen or induce contractions, this can accentuate pain as well as distress for baby.
Static monitoring is hard for most to tolerate.
Sudden drops in blood pressure are possible with interventions
A longer labour is likely
Urination and pushing baby out may be difficult. A catheter may be needed to empty the bladder.
Electronic fetal monitoring and intravenous fluids may also be required to monitor, prevent or treat these effects.
Vacuum extraction or forceps may be needed to help move the baby out. If these are ineffective, a c-section may be needed.
I hope you are all breathing easily…
It may be hard to read all of this at once and for many thousands of women there are other ways. Exploring the physiological purpose of pain in labour opens joyful possibilities.
When women come to see me post-natally for birth recovery sessions or to settle their baby, they often speak about how they felt out of control. “It all happened so quickly”, “ I felt afraid and had no choice but to do what I was told.” Common stressors include being left alone for periods of time, not knowing what was happening, having to birth without a loved one, being treated dismissively, not being shown how to do something, not being believed or acknowledged in some way.
Simply put women may feel that despite their beautiful baby they were cheated of an empowering birth. Many want to move on and not talk about it and it is not until they become pregnant again that they realise their first birth is still impacting them.
So how did healthy mums end up having such a disempowering experience? Some of this is because we are not birthing in ways that recognize the subtle needs of our nervous system. it is only natural to contract and become overwhelmed as the pain seems to escalate. We just don’t know if we will be able to manage it, if it will ever end or intensify.
When I speak to mums they often tell me they were feeling ok up to a point and then they lost connection. Perhaps the midwife that they connected with changed shift or their partner became fearful… there was some ripple that disturbed them.
At every twist and turn if a mum is surrounded by health care workers who feel that pain should be avoided and taken away that will make it a lot harder for a mum to work through the intense moments. At these critical moments of self-doubt, I believe women don’t necessarily need pain relief; instead they need deep human connection. Mums need to be surrounded by those that believe in them and be reminded that her body is designed to birth. Positive human contact helps us stay expansive and connected whilst fearful states makes us contract.
For those wishing to labour as naturally as possible attention should be given to the support team and make sure that the mum has a birth advocate who is clear on the birth plan. Engaging a Doula, a birth companion to reinforce your choices throughout the process has been shown to give excellent outcomes. From the outset it is helpful to opt for the care provider who is most suited to your desired outcome. In order to limit the impact of ‘the cascade of intervention’, (see next blog Is our own birth influencing our attitude to pain relief in pregnancy?), it is worth weighing up all possible scenarios ahead of time and knowing what the options might be. Being well informed about your choices and the impact upon your baby is vital.
For many of us sweating, stretching and defining ourselves through exercise and sports is crucial for our emotional and mental well-being. Jane Fonda coined the term ‘going for the burn’, to point to the release of endorphins, the after-glow, the feel good factor of a satisfying work-out.
When it comes to childbirth, there doesn’t seem to be the same cultural encouragement to do what our bodies are designed to do. There is an assumption that being with pain in childbirth is something to be avoided. The question is not “will you use pain relief?” but “which one and when”. Choosing to birth without pain relief could be seen as extreme as opting for dental work without anesthetic.
Mums may decide ‘to wait and see’ or ‘give it a go’ but if they are with a team who believe it is their job to offer pain-relief, it will take a strong person to resist.
Being with pain in childbirth is very different from being with any other type of pain. Reading the standard definitions below it is a wonder that it is called pain at all:
“Highly unpleasant physical sensation caused by illness or injury.”
“Pain is an unpleasant sensation and emotional experience that links to tissue damage.”
“Pain is an uncomfortable feeling that tells you that something is going wrong.”
‘Illness, Injury’, ‘tissue damage’, ‘something going wrong’… those are not the sensations that women speak about in normal labour.
Independent birth educator and author Rhea Dempsey reminds us that a growing number of women want to experience natural physiological childbirth. They don’t want to by-pass, avoid or be saved from pain they want to engage with it. Rhea reminds mums that there will be a series of “predictable low times of self-doubt where they may lose all belief in their bodies capacity to birth naturally.” If there is a map drawn out and these crises of confidence are discussed ahead of time, it will make it so much easier for a woman to ride the waves.
“In many cultures across time”, Rhea writes, “the challenging journey of pregnancy and birth, was celebrated and honored as a transformational process, ‘ a rite of passage’.”
Each birth is unique and I am not suggesting that we should all bite down on our sticks and tolerate unendurable pain. My wish is simply for families not to miss out on the joy and power of birth.
Normal physiological pains of childbirth are accompanied by the release of powerful hormones. For women who have the right support, they will find that as they meet the pain, (call it a wave if you like!), they will experience the release of endorphins and oxytocin. High levels of oxytocin drive the contractions, the resulting sensations or pains are progressive and useful. For the birthing woman who has the chance to stay in her ‘zone’ she will discover that her body will enable her to birth from a much more instinctual place. Remembering too that she will soon meet her baby.
For those that choose or need medical interventions, there are many ways to engage more fully with the process. Birthing in a way that includes the baby’s experience of birth as well.
In 1999, when I gave birth to my first child who was inconveniently posterior I pushed myself through a 36hr labour with zealous determination. If anyone has ever experienced a posterior labour they will know that the pains are relentless, often not the kind that feel productive.
From the outside looking in, I had the birth that I wished for, a ‘natural birth’ at home,with excellent care from my partner and the midwives involved. From the inside though I took months to recover. I drove myself so hard. I forgot that there was even a baby coming at all, that it was about love, about my partner, and becoming a mother. With the intensity of the pain, I lost my softness and galvanized myself like steel. As long as my son’s heart-beat was traceable, I just had to see this through. I heard people whispering in the kitchen, wondering about my stamina which enraged me enough to fight on!
But why the battle though? I see now that this ‘ battle’ was about triumphing over my own birth. Proving to the world, that I could birth MYSELF naturally. Whatever it took, I was NOT going to falter. On and on to the same music while everyone was collapsing. I was a lone warrioress. As well as forgiving myself, as I totally depleted myself in the process, I have to fully forgive and embrace some others as well.
I was sixteen when my mother first told me how I was born. She looked away from me as she told me that she had had to have an emergency c-section with my brother. The longitudinal incision was life-saving as he was overdue and the waters had broken a week before. Eighteen months later when it was my turn, it was decided that it would be safer to open up the same scar. As a theatre sister and doctor’s wife, my mother told me she felt ashamed and humiliated about the way the ‘babies had to be born.’ She would have known the nurses and doctors, as friends and colleagues, which would have added to her embarrassment. She spoke of feeling a ‘failure as a woman’. I was angry and disturbed that my birth was linked to such feelings. We fell silent and as she turned up the volume on the television, I felt as though I was drowning in failure and shame. Sadly at this time, I wasn’t mature enough to offer her any comfort; I became the baby who was lost and disconnected.
Many years later in 1990 when I began exploring the lasting impressions that our own births can have on us, I began to see how my early birth impressions were influencing my life, relationship with my mother and others (see this blog post). It was nearly as though I was wearing my birth story on my t-shirt and I wanted the world to rescue me!
So although I am very proud of my son’s birth, there is a piece missing. I wasn’t even holding my son when I called my mother straight after the birth…I just wanted her to hear that women’s bodies can give birth naturally, that they are strong and designed for this. In that conversation I felt as though I was helping her heal some of her unresolved feelings.
As with all of these things there are layers and little did I know at this point that I would have to face an even bigger challenge in the postpartum phase. Back then I thought it was all about the birth, the event, the achievement. *See my blog on Post-partum care.*
So thank you fellow warriors for reading thus far and yes, of course I need to fully honour how transformative my son’s entry into the world really was. To complete the story, I want to firstly pick up my son and reclaim my softness as I hold him tight. I’m sorry I had to be so steely hard but we did it together! I want to fully honour my mother too and forgive myself for rejecting her when I heard about her feelings of failure.
It can be a wonderful thing for birthing parents to write their mothers a letter. This is mine.
Dear Mum, (Geraldine)
Today I want to celebrate your bravery. You told me so many times how you hated to be on ‘the receiving end’ of hospitals, even though by all accounts you were an incredible theatre sister! You lived through the death of your young brother, a war, an emergency c-section and a thousand challenges. I can only imagine how terrified you must have felt during my brother’s birth and then having to face into mine too. The big scar once again, feeling so on show, it must have been your worst nightmare.
I am so sorry that you had no one to listen to you and help you after you gave birth. Carrying those feelings alone must have been so painful for you, no wonder it felt so hard for us to laugh and fully connect. I see now that it was your feelings of failure and shame that I wanted to push away; not YOU.
I am sorry too that when I cried so hard and so long as a baby, that you thought I didn’t want your milk. That must have been soul-destroying especially when you were feeling so vulnerable. I know now that I was angry that I was dragged out when I wasn’t ready and I didn’t understand why it had to be like this. It wasn’t about you at all. I know now that I was crying and crying to build connection with you. I am so sorry that I must have added to your feelings of inadequacy.
Today I thank you for doing your very best with the support that you had. We lived though that birth together and because of that you will always be by my side in my work with mums and babies. You were always brilliant with babies so calm and strong. I know that those feelings of shame and inadequacy didn’t start with you and not one bit of it was your fault. I am strangely proud of all that happened between us and when I picture your scar, I feel it on my own body too, as a badge of honour. I have even imagined that scar to be like a gorgeous amethyst crystal cave, a magical portal I had to come through in order to discover my own calling in life.
I am flooded with gratitude, I will never turn away from you again. Thank you for showing me the bridge back to you and for helping me soften more and more as a mum with my own growing family!
Medical technology allows pregnancies to be more closely monitored than ever before. Although it brings parents reassurance and sometimes identifies the need for essential lifesaving care, it also comes at a price. Screenings offer a certain kind of knowledge, a knowledge that must, I believe, be complemented with birth preparation that builds confidence in a woman’s own capacity to have a safe, positive and powerful birth. Babies have been born safely for millenia, in all kinds of circumstances. Birth is, after all, a natural and not a medical event.
In a culture where medicalised birth is the norm, it is easy to hope for the best and unwittingly hand over the responsibility to others. When speaking of a ‘natural birth’ some consider any vaginal delivery to be natural, regardless of whether there was an induction, an epidural or another intervention. Others consider childbirth to be natural only when there is no medical intervention at all. A low-risk mother will have the option to attempt to have a ‘natural unmedicated birth’ whilst other options will need to be discussed with high-risk mums. Although there is no right or ‘wrong’ birth, it is a topic well worth exploring beforehand.
Each couple will have their own ideas of what a safe, positive and powerful birth might be. In another blog I write about how our own birth experience can influence our confidence and belief in ourselves in many areas of our lives. ( See blog Giving birth to the mother you want to be).
Five tips for a safe, positive and powerful birth
1. Inner Knowledge and preparation is powerful. The more you know about the physiological, psychological and emotional aspects of labour the better. When facing the unknown it is reassuring to know that most women encounter predictable crisis moments when they loose confidence and need support. You are never alone! ( See my two part blog Being With Pain in Childbirth Part One and Part Two).
2. Writing a birth plan with a healthcare professional is one way to spell out your preferences and to focus on significant choices that you may need to make at each stage. You might even be able to predict what you will find hard. Even though some labours just don’t go to plan, by choosing to stay connected and in touch with your baby, you are still having what I believe to be a safe, positive and powerful birth. With good support you will make the best decisions in the moment. Requesting a mobile rather than a static fetal heart monitor is one example of maintaining agency in a medicalised environment. Even if interventions are needed do your best to stay connected with yourself, your partner and most importantly with your baby.
3. Stay as active as possible before the onset and during labour. Knowing your body and how it likes to stretch and be eased will help both your mind and body. Notice what helps you feel loved and seen by your partner? What will give you a boost when you need it? Your own body sensations can be very anchoring throughout labour. Dont avoid them!!
4. “ Just say YES”! To the sensations and emotions… Birth is a marathon and although many couples feel shy about bringing someone else into their circle, a specially trained birthing partner or Doula is invaluable. Notice old habits that creep in like ‘I don’t want to bother anyone’, “ I don’t want to be seen, I’d be embarrassed…” or “I have to do it all myself.” The support is for you and your baby. Your baby senses how much easier it is when YOU can learn to receive.
5. Last but not least remember that from the moment of conception you are in relationship with a human being that instinctively knows how to birth! Babies rehearse their moves in the womb and have a whole-bodied sense of how to birth! We are not as in control as we may like to think. It is their birthday after all, their ‘opening night’, their first performance!! Did you know that babies actually initiate labour?
In Pregnancy and pre-natal sessions, I support parents to build confidence in their bodies and understand the babies’ perspective. Building trust, self-compassion and communication with our babies as well as with any others we intend to birth with, are the cornerstones for a safe, positive and powerful birth.
Once we have actually become pregnant, (which may have been extremely challenging in itself), we tend to be eager to look outward to learn about our pregnancy, to know about how our baby is growing and what to expect at every stage. Although it can be reassuring to look at apps and books and compare notes with others, it is easy to become disconnected and overwhelmed. Pregnancy is a heightened state, with less filters. A time when you may just not be able to ‘do it all’! Watch out for those busy speedy feelings and see if you can take a breath and slow down! Click here for CALMS PDF for simple relaxation for new mothers and mums to be.
What are the most important things to remember during pregnancy?
Remember – From conception on, you are in a total sensory relationship with your baby. The circuitry of your baby’s brain, their personality and their capacity to cope with stress is influenced not just by genes but by you, their first environment.
Remember – You are your baby’s first home. In the same way that a plant flourishes in an optimum environment, by seeking out good support, you and your baby will develop and thrive for many years to come.
Remember – Being pregnant is both a huge responsibility and joyful opportunity to gather layers of support around you and even to address some of our own unmet needs.
As soon as a pregnancy is announced mums are bombarded with advice and suggestions from all directions. Everyone has their stories and opinions. It can feel as though your little bump is publicly owned! You are ‘in the club’ and as a new member you get exposed to the highs and lows of other people’s pregnancies and labour stories. It can feel as though it is less about YOU and more about their need to tell someone about their experience! Support during your pregnancy is very different from advice!
So what do YOU need to nurture yourself, your baby and your own innate knowing? In the Prenatal Pregnancy and Birth sessions that I offer, I encourage couples to explore how they can create the most nurturing environment possible. This isn’t about wrapping ourselves up in cotton wool but about being self-reflective, remembering our fun side and our own inner knowing! We can ask ourselves …
Do I really need more information or more encouragement? What would help to build trust and confidence in your own body? Some movement, positive touch, some good company? Some laughter?
Contact me to find out more about simple ways to deepen your connection with your baby and your partner. Until we meet try simply resting together, breathing and reflecting on this miracle of life inside of you.
For some of us it takes a lifetime to come to terms with our very first relationship. Our feelings about our mother can hold the key to our life outlook and habitual feelings. Through no fault of their own our mothers may not have been able to connect with us in a way that we needed.
Fraught with confusion, this relationship may feel tense, distant, dutious, angry, needy, or as though WE had to take care of THEM from very early on. Or perhaps you are one of the lucky ones who managed to mature alongside your mother with mutual respect and kindness. I include my mother Geraldine’s picture here as her ancestry is the reason why I HAD to come to Ireland. In time I want to share the story of how her death was the final jolt that urged me to return to therapeutic work.
The field of pre and perinatal psychology has been pointing to the consciousness of babies since 1980’s and before. APPPAH, (The Association for Prenatal and Perinatal health ) emphasises that when society fully recognizes that babies are capable of feeling, learning, remembering and communicating before, during and after birth, this will dramatically change the ways in which we connect and interact with babies during pregnancy, through the birth process, and throughout infancy.
IN the 1980’s Harvard trained psychiatrist Thomas Verny, who later founded APPPAH, published the ‘Secret life of the unborn child’. He pointed to research that proved what parents and babies have instinctively known for generations… “ pregnant women and their unborn children can sense each other’s thoughts and feelings;
“ Early experience from conception on, materially affects the architecture of the brain. From the journey down the birth canal to afternoons at the park, a child will register every experience in the circuitry of his or her brain.. …
..” Everything the pregnant mother feels and thinks is communicated through neurohormones to her unborn child… the nicotine and alcohol…anxiety and depression or maternal stress alters the wiring of the brain and nervous system
Dr Allan Schore, a Senior Neuropsychologist speaking on attachment, states that we literally download our nervous system from our care-givers. These insights should elevate prenatal care and the support of pregnant mothers to the highest priority. Physical and emotional wellbeing of pregnant mothers directly impacts the wellbeing of their babies, protecting this special period for parents is one of the most significant ways we can influence the wellbeing of our society.
Birth is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for all of us and identifying our own Pre and perinatal imprints offers invaluable insights into our ways of being in the world. Parenting, that starts in the womb, is a unique opportunity to support the development of a caring and compassionate human being. A positive womb and birth experience is every baby’s birthright and creating a healthy womb, helps to create a healthy world!
Reaching a state of satisfaction and wholeness for us as human beings is no small thing. The Buddha reminds us that it is part of the nature of being alive to experience life as too hot, too cold, too full or too empty. Whether we are talking about a work schedule, a social calendar or our bellies, or even our metaphorical glass, finding that sweet spot where we can be powerfully present and yet able to rest in relation to ourselves and others, is a moment by moment aspiration for each one of us.
Seeing the value of coaching or some personal therapy is becoming widely recognized. We develop in relationship to our caregivers from our earliest beginnings. Although ‘society’ may tell us that doing it all alone and being super independent is the ideal, it is clear, especially in these times of Covid, that none of us are designed for social isolation. We need and deserve reflection, validation and compassionate connection. In order to thrive I believe we need to give as well as to receive. In that process of offering something of ourselves to others we feel restored and satisfied. Contact me to arrange a free call. The Craniosacral work that I offer both online and in person, is body centred and supports the core of our nervous system. Life can be fragmenting in a million ways; when we return to a calm relational state with another heartfelt human being we can relax, rest and recalibrate and find our own impulse towards a multitude of personal goals #covid19support#therapy#mindfulleadership#anxietyrelief#beingthebestyou#