A lot has been written about pregnancy and birth, much of it contradictory, but one thing all the books agree on it the importance of preparation. We tend to focus a lot on the outcome of the birth (and you will often hear people say “the most important thing is a healthy baby, regardless of now it came out). But the process of ‘giving birth’ for the mother, and of ‘being born’ for the baby, are nonetheless very important events. The way you enter the world has more bearing on the rest of your life than you might think, as I discovered when I looked into the circumstances of my own birth.
You might have heard about the concept of rebirthing – in a nutshell, it is all about how what happens during those hours of labour and entry into the world is repeated during our later life. I found it quite astonishing to see how I was repeating the patterns set from my birth. So, for example, I tend to prefer working in isolation, am comfortable in my own company and find it hard to accept help or work well in partnership. How interesting to draw a link, then, with the circumstances of my birth, where I was separated from my mother for long periods and only given back for sporadic feeding. I learnt from the very first days that I had only myself to rely on, and over 30 years later I am teaching myself about accepting help and working as part of a team.
According to the psychiatrist Dr Stanislav Grof, the creator of a form of breathwork aimed at achieving wholeness and integration of mind and body, there are four significant aspects to birth:
1. Amniotic Universe – The only world that life knows at this point. Blissful feelings of peace and joy in a healthy womb.
2. Cosmic Engulfment – No exit. Equilibrium disturbed, contractions begin. Unbearable feeling of being stuck in hell with no way of escaping.
3. Death versus Rebirth Struggle – Second clinical stage of childbirth; intense struggle for survival. The pathway starts to open.
4. Death versus Rebirth Experience – The child is born – ‘I survived’. Intense ecstatic feelings of liberation and love. A new world begins.
If you’re pregnant and approaching the birth, you’ve probably thought a lot about how you will deal with your labour and what pain management techniques you may choose to use. But it can be enlightening to view the process from the baby’s point of view as well. Having spent eight or nine months feeling safe and protected in the womb, you start to feel uncomfortable – there isn’t enough space any more and you know you need to leave. You have no concept of how this will happen, whether it will be easy or hard, or what will happen on the other side. You have no patterns yet to follow, only your instinct.
You can tune into your baby during periods of relaxation and be on the alert for the signs they are giving you. It might feel silly to you but try to talk aloud to your unborn child, let them know you’re there and are listening to them. Tell him or her that you are really looking forward to meeting them and you will be receptive to their signals that they want to make an appearance.
A friend of mine once told me that the most surprising thing to her about giving birth was that a baby came out! She had focused on how she would experience the sensations, deal with contractions, etc, but couldn’t quite believe that there was another person suddenly there. Had she thought about the birth as a partnership with her baby, with each playing their own special role, it might not have been such a shock to the system.
Birth is still one of the few truly magical processes left to us and symbolically surrounds us in many ways. The very act of waking from a night’s sleep is a rebirth of sorts, leaving our warm, safe bed for a day of unknown experiences. Or think about the seasons and the way nature constantly renews itself. I find it a wonderful reminder that we actually ‘know’ so much less about the way the world works than we think!