Updated: Feb 11
Dear Mother, I want you to know that you are not solely responsible for your birth outcomes.
How much does a women contribute to birth outcomes? It's impossible to know. Her physical and biological history play a role. Her emotional readiness contributes in a big way. And her own personal empowerment and education can be game-changers. But it's not everything.
On one end of the spectrum, I see women who jump into the deep end of pregnancy with both feet ready to "take it on." These are the STRONG women who take all the classes, read all the books, eat the best they can, stay physically active, listen to their guided meditation tracks, create their methodical birth plans, and hire the perfect team. Sometimes their births go off without a hitch. Other times, they don't. So was it all for naught?
On the other end of the spectrum, I see women who enter the unknown waters of pregnancy with a very relaxed or laissez faire approach, who believe "what will be will be" or "I'll let my doctor decide what's best." These are the FLEXIBLE women. Sometimes their births go off without a hitch. Other times, they don't. So are they vindicated?
If you can't control birth outcomes from either end of the spectrum, what's the best approach? Right in the middle, where strength and flexibility meet.
I will always encourage my clients to be proactive in their pregnancy, to work toward their ideal birth outcome, and to dream as big as they can. This creates strong women. But in that process, they must also prepare for the hardest aspect of all: letting go. They must prepare to surrender. They must prepare for a variety of outcomes, but only after they've done their part. This creates flexible women.
My yoga mentor, Syl Carson, teaches that yoga develops stamina, and stamina is the marriage of both strength and flexibility. Now I’m beginning to realize that stamina can take place both physically and emotionally!
When a woman full of stamina--both strong AND flexible--gives birth, she is able to accept what is. It doesn't mean everything is smiles and laughter. Strong and flexible women cry, grieve, mourn, and hurt just like everybody else. They wade through messes and deal with whatever shizzzz life throws at them. But they don't fixate on what isn't.
In that surrender, she discovers peace, because she knows in her heart that she earnestly DID do all she could do. It wasn't all for naught--her diet mattered, her physical exercise mattered, her knowledge and preparation still mattered! That's when she realizes there are other forces at play, other factors that contributed to her birth outcome. By admitting that she isn't all-powerful she paradoxically discovers her power.
Who or what are those other "forces" or "factors"? One big factor is her birth team.
The professionals that you hire to surround you, support you, and see you through your birth experience is a vital one. I teach my clients to build a birth team full of professionals that values what they value. You must feel safe around them, both physically and emotionally. You must be able to be vulnerable with them. If you are struggling to voice your opinions in a prenatal exam, well guess what? You'll have a MUCH harder time voicing your opinions when you're in labor, when you're exposed, overwhelmed, and raw. Pay attention to how you feel around your providers. Do they look into your eyes? Do they listen to your concerns? Do they offer evidence-based practices, do they come highly recommended, do they specialize in the kind of birth experience that you're seeking? These are the first and most important questions to be asking.
Then, if adverse outcomes occur, you have once again provided yourself with peace of mind that both you AND your birth team did everything they could, that it was no one's fault, that there were indeed other forces at play.
Who else, then, contributes to or influences your birth story? Hear me out on this one. This is where we have to leave evidence on the sidelines and just lean into our intuition a little bit. Let's talk about your baby. This is where we open the door to the great "what if." Because we have no way of knowing just how much our babies contribute to their own birth, it ought to leave us in a place of neutrality, quite similar to how many might feel about God. We can neither prove no disprove the existence of God, so instead we get to imagine and wonder and postulate and hope. There's so much beauty in that space. I find this same beauty as I ponder the role that our babies play in birth.
Consider the study of astrology which sheds some interesting light here. When you are looking at someone's natal chart, you must know their exact birth location, and the day, hour, and minute of their birth. This allows you to see the precise layout of the stars at the precise moment of their birth. And from that star map, an entire personality and life reveals itself.
Does this mean that if a baby was born by emergency c-section, induced, or came ten weeks early and had to stay in the NICU, that their stars were wrong? That their clock is off? Are only those babies that came vaginally, with no meddling, born at the "right time," or else we've thrown off fate? I have a feeling that even within adverse birth outcomes we are seeing evidence of the newborn's influence.
I believe that the second, the minute, the hour, and the day of your baby's birth is neither right nor wrong--it simply is. And whatever is, is perfect. I do not believe in a predestined reality, where every detail of our life was decided upon long ago. Rather, I love to lean into the idea that we choose and create our own reality moment to moment, largely based upon our ability to be present. When we fixate on what "coulda, shoulda, woulda" happened, we are no longer creators but victims. We can't control the events of life, or the outcomes of birth, but we can control our response to those outcomes.
I have seen it over and over again that the nature, pace and rhythm of each birth story is a unique reflection of the baby's personality. Or is it that the baby's personality is a unique reflection of the birth story? Yes.
My first baby, my daughter, came a week late (which is terminology I no longer give credence to, because...well...ask Gandolf) and her labor was by far the longest and most difficult. Today, I see in my ten year old daughter's personality a cautiousness in how she approaches life. She is slow moving and very methodical about everything she does. She is not a risk taker. She likes to feel out the situation before stepping her toe in. Pretty much, this describes my labor with her.
My third child, a son, came after weeks of prodromal labor. When he finally made his debut, he arrived in just under two hours. We had the birthing tub only halfway filled! It was so fast and furious that I was in absolute shock when I realized I was already pushing. He was my biggest baby, a delicious 11 pounds, and was born en caul. This son of mine, now six years old, is aptly named after a viking, for his passion and exuberance for life can not be underestimated. He is truly a warrior (I'm actively teaching him the difference between violent warriors and peaceful warriors, if you catch my drift) and yet he is deeply sensitive. It's as if he wanted to bring his security blanket with him in all his adventuring. And don't I see that personality reflected in his birth story!
But even if it's not the baby's personality itself, than the birth story can certainly reflect a theme within you and your baby's life, acting as a profound learning opportunity that sets the stage for greater learning down the road. Each birth story is a creation story! It impacts who we are, both mother and child, and how we see the world, just as civilizations are impacted by how the earth was created, and how the human race came to be.
If you have agonized over a birth that didn't go as planned, or felt beside yourself when your due date came and went weeks ago and you're still burgeoning with your unborn child, it's time to stop and reflect. One exercise that my clients have found profoundly beneficial is to ask themselves two questions and write out their responses:
Q: What did/does my baby's birth story expose about me?
Some answers might look like: my need to control everything, my lack of confidence, my inability to advocate for myself, my push-over nature, my need to please others, my inability to go with the flow, my need for more education, etc.
Q: What did/does my baby's birth story expose about my baby?
Some answers might look like: my baby’s personality is ______, my baby is trying to help me get the message ______, my baby is learning at a young age how to ______, etc.
When you can answer those two questions, you will suddenly see the birth story through new eyes, as if you finally clued in to the moral of the story. “Ah, there’s something about this difficult experience that benefited us (both my baby and me)! There’s something that was exposed, that gave us new awareness, that has the potential to transform us!” Because awareness inevitably leads to transformation.
This is healing. This is coming to terms. This is the discovery of inner peace.
Babies are laboring right along with you--toiling, pacing, breathing, waiting, aching, straining, yearning, feeling the pulse and rhythm of each and every wave. This is their birth, after all! Doesn't it seem logical that they also contribute something significant?
I don't believe we should spend a single moment regretting the nature of our babies' arrivals to this planet. In the same breath, I can also espouse how sacred each birth story is, in all its messiness and unpredictability. I encourage my clients to remain as hands off as possible, which evidence-based practices equally support, allowing labor to run its course as it will. And if interventions become necessary, then we shout “hallelujah!” because it’s incredible to have interventions available when you need them. In this way you are allowing your baby to co-author their birth story.
For those currently in the trenches, whose birth story is still unfolding, can you surrender to the journey? Are you willing to get out of the way and let the story unfold, even if it goes against your birth plan? Do everything in your power--eat the foods, do the deeds, hire the team--and then let the story be written.
For those who are looking back, seeking to make peace with a birth that didn't go as planned, just remember that no matter how your baby arrived, the story is the story. Start looking for the hidden message and the potential transformation that's buried somewhere in the narrative. Don't spend another moment wishing you could change it, but rather let it change you.