Pain Happens: Suffering Shouldn’t

By Charlene Hamilton ~ Birthing From Within Mentor ~ Heart of Birth

When we hear someone talking about wanting a “pain free” birth, or hear someone describe birth as “orgasmic” or “ecstatic” we may wonder “What in the world are they talking about? How can labor not hurt?” And when we hear someone talking about how wonderful their epidural was, or saying how that can’t imagine why a woman would put herself through that much misery, we might ask ourselves “Yes, why would you go through pain voluntarily?” Pain is a loaded, symbolic word that people naturally shy away from, because pain is, usually, our body telling us something is awry.

But what both sides are really speaking about, what every birth provider wants to eliminate, whether they practice in home, hospital or birth center, is not truly pain, but suffering.

Suffering is when the experience of pain overwhelms us, when we start telling ourselves negative stories about what is happening, and our coping skills are overwhelmed.

We have, all of us, experienced pain without suffering. How many of us have cut ourselves shaving, and it didn’t start hurting until we saw the blood? Or the bruise on some body part that you discover later, but you have no idea when or how it happened? It’s a bruise, pain signals from the damaged area had to go from there to the brain, but you weren’t aware of them. What about smacking your thumb with a hammer? The ‘coping skills’ people use for that (yelling, swearing, hopping up and down, grabbing the affected hand) are so common, they’re used in cartoon and comedy. We’ve gotten through broken bones, bruised shins, cuts, bumps, scrapes, scraps and other painful mayhem by drawing on our own inborn coping skills, and our body’s natural response to pain.

meworkin1Take, for example, getting a tattoo. It hurts, right? Getting little needles poked into your skin at high speed is not going to be without pain. And yet people do it all the time! How? If you watch someone getting a tattoo, you often see the same coping skills that women use in labor; deep or naturally patterned breathing, eyes closed inward focus or eyes focused on a specific point, or external distractions. And if you talk to someone after a tattoo, they may describe feeling “euphoric” or “floaty” or even “orgasmic”. That’s because they were able to use their body’s natural response to pain, endorphins, to get through.

Or what about a marathon runner? Labor is often compared to marathon running- lots of hard physical work, ups and downs and breaks, and an exhausting but exhilarating finish. No one denies that marathon runners go through physical pain when running, and yet no one suggests that they should take medication at the soonest opportunity, or that they are suffering for “no reason” or are “trying to be a hero” or just out to “win a medal”. In fact, their perseverance, focus and drive are often lauded and celebrated.

So how do those runners get through their marathons without suffering? Training and education. They’ve done things to help their body prepare physically for the marathon, they know how their body is going to respond to the challenges of the event, and they’ve learned skills that will help them meet each challenge as it comes. And they, too, rely on endorphins to get up and over the pain.

Both the tattoo recipient and the marathon runner have also been able to overcome fear.

When we experience fear (even when we know we are ‘safe’, like watching a horror movie), our body floods us with hormones that get us ready to either run like heck, or put up a fight. And those hormones override endorphins, because if we’re going to be running or fighting, we need to not be loopy on natural painkillers. During labor, that Fight or Flight response directly interferes with the birth process and can cause increased pain.

So a key element to childbirth preparation is learning how to recognize and face potential fear triggers in labor, learning what your own reflexive, already existing coping skills and resources are, and learning to draw on those coping skills at any point during labor.

By educating women about labor and birth, by validating their concerns and helping them recognize their coping skills and resources, by giving them tools to respond to the pain of labor without fear, by giving them skilled support in labor (and not expecting partners to be professional Coaches, and allowing partners to be supported in what is their birth, too!), we set women up for having a labor and birth without suffering. Then the doorway opens for experiencing the pain of labor as something other than a negative- orgasmic, ecstatic, powerful, intense & amazing.

What is Birth Story Listening®?

By Doree Handford~ Birthing From Within Mentor ~CD ~ A Parents Paradise

Everyone who has gone though a life changing event will have moments throughout it where they will question what was done to or for them during the experience. A couple examples would be; I wish I (they) could have done… it would have been better this way... if only I have made this choice or done that… or something along those lines. It may be small or it may be something that replays in your mind over and over.

When you are asked about your story it is easy to change it based on who you are telling your story to. You will tell certain friends or family all the details while leaving out upsetting or surprising information to other people. Most people will listen, give advice or amp up the injustice that has just occurred to you. All well meaning, and loving, but it doesn’t change your thoughts or feelings of the story.

Birth Story Listening is a gift to anyone who has had a baby. Once becoming a parent it is hard enough to find a moment to pee alone, let alone a moment to process the journey you have just taken. We will take one moment of all the moments in your journey to becoming a parent, and help you to process it.

A birth story listener is a active listener who can help you navigate what you are telling yourself because that moment happened and guide you to see your story in another way. If there is something you are still struggling with, schedule a session, it may be just what you need.

Best Feeding: The Modern Fairy Tale

By Amity Kramer ~ Birthing From Within Mentor, CD(DONA) ~ Thresholds

The fairytale is this: there’s a pregnant mother daydreaming of her round-faced baby suckling on her enlarged breast and then drifting off to a deep and restful sleep. She knows that breast is best; she of course, will do what’s best. Months later, the new mother sits with that round-faced baby in her arms. But, instead of suckling and drifting off to sleep, there are tears and frustration. They find themselves in a cold, dark forest. Ok, maybe it’s not a real forest, but that’s how it can feel for the woman struggling to feed her infant.

That cold, dark forest is where parents can find themselves when breastfeeding doesn’t go as planned. It’s scary when a baby isn’t nursing and thriving. When the natural process of breastfeeding isn’t working, parents and especially moms, can become consumed wondering what’s gone wrong.

Nursing is how mammals feed their young and babies like all mammals humans too have an inner map of how the process works. That is all true; nursing is an AMAZING thing- when it works. Most new parents are not adequately prepared for the unexpected. Having a limited belief that bottlebreastfeeding is the ONLY right way to feed a baby can backfire causing new parents to believe that all a mom needs to do is try harder or do more and the process will work. It’s helpful for new parents to know a few ways to care for themselves in the face of early feeding challenges.

No one wants spend the precious weeks postpartum wrestling with the self–judgement that often comes along with feeding issues. Why is this happening? What should I do? What’s wrong with me? These low points are about as far away as possible from the fairy tale picture once imagined. What can new parents do to embrace the light and love in difficult times?

One way to shed some love on hard situations is to best-feed your baby. Yes, you read that right, best-feed. There are two parts of best-feeding. The first is to understand that NO ONE is a perfect parent. Best-feeding is doing what is best in real-time for your family as opposed to what you may have thought was best before becoming a parent.

breastThe second part of best-feeding is to look at all of the ways that breastfeeding is beneficial and mimic the ones that can be replicated with whatever current feeding methods are being utilized. The possibilities of what to feed an infant include: breast milk, donated breast milk, purchased or homemade formula. Feeding systems offer even more possibilities: a bottle, syringe, nipple shield, or tube system with a finger or mothers nipple. For mothers dealing with repeat breast infections, or low milk supply feedings may include manual compression of the breast and additional time spent pumping after a regular feeding.

Anyone feeding a baby can best-feed; changing a chore of basic calorie transfer into a opportunity to connect. Here is how. Before a feeding simply take a slow breath and then ask yourself “How can I improve this moment?” Answering this question will provoke action. Maybe a mother will use the bathroom before a feeding to be more comfortable. Maybe a dad will get skin-to-skin with baby. Or both parents powering down the smart phone and listen inward. Talk. Sing. The answer will continually change, making each feeding a doorway to new possibilities.

It’s important for families to know that feeding issues don’t discriminate; it doesn’t matter if a woman read books or took a breastfeeding class or really, really wants to breastfeed. Being informed is an important way to promote a healthy feeding relationship, but it alone cannot guard a family from trouble. It’s possible for a woman to do everything “right” and still have problems that even the best lactation consultants in the city are unable to fix.

Best-feeding isn’t a magic ticket into bliss but it can help implement changes to the original feeding plan while holding onto important bonding opportunities that feeding your baby can provide and allow parents to enjoy the privilege of nourishing their child.

Why Take A Childbirth Class?

By Georgie Coote ~ Birthing From Within Mentor, CD(DONA), NBCR ~ Newborn Sole Birth Services

I was recently told that only 10 percent of first-time parents choose to take a birthing class. I was shocked, and a little discouraged, having taken my first steps on the journey to become a certified Birthing From Within mentor.
Let’s look at some of the reasons parents-to-be might not take a class.

1. I can find out everything I need to know online or from books.

That’s a lot of research! You also have to be careful where you read about something. If you start reading other peoples’ experiences on a birth forum because you are worried about something yourself, invariably, you will get a one-sided view. It’s always the dramatic events that get talked and written about. You may get the perspective that something is far more common than it is.Books

There are many great books on childbirth, but taking a class and seeing concepts come to life speak to many different ways of learning. Particularly in Birthing from Within classes, mentors do minimal lecturing and use visual aids, art and role plays to facilitate learning.

2. The medical staff will tell me what to do during labor.

Of course the staff have a lot of experience, but not having an informed opinion and the ability to talk through options knowledgeably may put you in a vulnerable position. You will remember the birth of your baby for the rest of your life. Even if you make a plan, birth can be unpredictable. Feeling that you made informed choices can make the difference between a positive birth experience and a traumatic one.

3. I don’t have time.

When your baby comes you will wonder what you did with your time before! Being busy at work can feel like the most important thing right now, but planning for the birth of your baby and spending time bonding with your partner in classes can be one of the greatest gifts you give your baby. Taking time out to really connect and find out what you both need to know – to give birth and be a strong partnership – will be invaluable. Taking group classes also gives you a chance to meet others giving birth at the same time, form strong bonds and a support network for after the baby is born. Many a playgroup were born from birth classes!

For those short on time or who need something to fit into an irregular schedule, private classes are also an excellent option.

4. I am planning to have an epidural. I don’t need to know how to cope with pain.

Even if you have plan to have an epidural, in early labor you will still have to cope with the pain of contractions. Your labor may even progress so quickly that you have very intense contractions before you arrive at the hospital. In my birth classes, we highlight not only what you already use to cope with pain, but we also stress and practice different pain-coping techniques, positions and aids that will make you more comfortable and confident. We also work on reducing fear by having a deep understanding of the stages of labor so that when you are in it, you will recognize where you are every step of the way.

Birth is a challenge, it is likened to running a marathon, needing physical and mental stamina to get you through.  It is a natural process and understanding the physiology of how your wonderful body works to birth your baby will give you confidence.

Group classes are also a fantastic way to meet like-minded new parents who will be a support for you for many years after your baby is born.

There are many types of classes, each offering something different.  It may be beneficial to take more than one class to get a different perspective on birth. If you only have time for one, research carefully to choose one that sounds like it would be a good match for you.  Consider weekend intensive classes, weekly series classes over a number of weeks or a private class.

Why Birth Art?

By Barrie Rein Thunemann ~ BFW Mentor, MA, ICCE, CD ~ Full Moon Birth

A core component of every Birthing From Within childbirth preparation class is a process called “Birth Art”. For many parents, when they hear that they’ll be making art in a childbirth class they may be confused. “Why are we making art, what does making art have anything to do with birthing a baby?” For many of us our last memories of art come from high school art classes with specific assignments, directions as to the right and wrong way to create and grades being given on the final product. It’s natural to feel a bit nervous when these type of memories are what we associate making art to be all about!

So why birth art? When Pam England, author of “Birthing From Within” and the creator of the Birthing From Within method of childbirth preparation, was contemplating how to design her classes she was faced with an interesting question. “How can I help new parents prepare to do something they have never done before?” In fact, that is a question most people who have taught childbirth preparation classes have asked themselves at one point or another. When a new couple or parent is facing labor, birth and parenting for the first time they are truly looking into the unknown. So how can we give new parents an experience in their childbirth classes that will help prepare them to meet the unknown? One of the ways that Birthing From Within does that in it’s classes is through the creation of birth art.

BA1So what is birth art? Well it’s not the kind of art we did in high school and it’s not the kind of art where we are trying to create a specific end product or image. It is a process whereby the participant allows herself to enter into the creative process and be surprised by the creation. It is focused on the process of making the art itself without regard as to what it will look like at the end. Oft-times when I lead parents in a birth art assignment I may say things to guide them like, “Start with a color you feel drawn to and see what the color wants to do on your paper”, or “What would you draw if you knew you couldn’t get it wrong”, or even “What would you draw if you weren’t afraid?”

When parents create birth art they are practising being in the present moment, figuring out what to do when they don’t know what to do, and accessing their creative, unconscious mind. These are all things women do in labor. By making birth art parents actually have the opportunity to practice the skills needed to navigate labor and birth and perhaps even, discover something new about themselves in the process.
Pam England writes in the book “Birthing From Within”:

“One kind of learning comes from books. But the learning necessary for you to participate  completely in your birth must come from you. In making birth art or journaling, just bringing an image to light can be surprisingly revealing (and sometimes healing). Listening to it speak to you can tell you even more. Dreams, reverie and art all carry messages from the unconscious…”

The birth of a new life is the ultimate act of creation, by making birth art prenatally parents get the opportunity to access their creative selves and gain some familiarity with the territory. When a Mom is in labor perhaps she can say to herself in that moment, “What can I do now in this moment where I don’t know what to do, what can I do next?” This is why we make birth art.

Now that you know this is not anything like your high school art class, perhaps it might be worth a try? What might you discover in the process?