The amazing Sarah Buckley is on my mind a lot lately. She’s not the only one to talk about “undisturbed birth”, but she’s certainly one of the most thorough and engaging to speak on the subject. “Undisturbed birth”, “physiological birth”, “birth left alone”; those are just a few formal ways of describing what our bodies were made to do in birth and how and why the physiology (hormones, etc.) works the way it does to ensure perfection almost every time. If there were more women birthing with this knowledge (either learned, or by accessing what we already know intuitively), I know the world would change.
Talking about this topic in birth has become my life’s work. I realize that this information is not as well-known or mainstream as it needs to be; and truthfully, it makes my life as a birth attendant that much more fulfilling to see women honoring their wisdom in birth. So, we tell women the truth, we educate them and support them and inspire them with what we have to share. We watch birth videos and look at birth photos and read birth stories, and most women are thrilled to know what’s possible. There is a weight lifted off the shoulders of most pregnant women when they realize it’s about connecting with what’s already there. It’s about the things and people (regardless of whether the birth is at home or hospital) that will impede the process; and all about the biology to why, with the “right” conditions, birth should (and will) flow quite easily.
All this talk about the birth process; all the characteristics that favor an “undisturbed” labor and birth, which in turn favor bonding between mom and baby, which is crucial for both of them. These moments are the hallmark, the apex; the way, frankly, that the human race has survived. But it got me thinking…what can I do, what can WE do, to have an even better chance of an undisturbed birth? Besides everything we already know, what else can be done to tip the scales in favor of birth being able to be left alone?
This is not a new concept, and I am not taking credit for something that women have been doing since probably the beginning of time. What I am going to take responsibility for is bringing focus to this in my own community, and here in our online world, where it may be less obvious to the masses. Let’s face it; most women see a doctor when pregnant in this country and have far from an “undisturbed” experience. And most midwives aren’t too far behind and are attending what more closely resemble hospital births, albeit at home. Too much fear, maybe not enough knowledge. But I digress; I believe that any woman can experience an undisturbed pregnancy. She could do this on her own, or with her family. She may choose to involve a caregiver or birth attendant, but not always. Because just like an undisturbed birth, the secret lies within her.
If we are going to share the secret, though, what is it? What makes an undisturbed pregnancy?
As I take birth education to a new level in my community, I have some ideas to get us started. The first component is an often new responsibility to most women. A true commitment to her own “prenatal care”. In the words of Anne Frye, “prenatal care is something the woman does for herself during pregnancy”. I am challenging us all, whether mamas or birth attendants, to take this to a whole new level. This means a true focus on nutrition and honoring the unique demands that our bodies make on us in pregnancy. Not waiting for someone else to tell us we need more of this or less of that, but to listen within (feeling free to accept other’s knowledge/information on a discretionary basis.) There is a communal wealth of knowledge among women, so “undisturbed” does not mean alone (it may to some, but certainly does not mean that for all) and calling upon other women may bring us exactly what we need. But at no time do we look outside of ourselves for the answers.
And what else is “prenatal care”? If you have a caregiver that routinely “does stuff” to you at a prenatal appointment, I urge you to re-consider how these “disturbances” may affect you and your baby. There’s something about someone telling you about you that has the potential to be disempowering. So, if you can see how you can easily be in charge of your “care”, where do you go from here? First, touch your belly. Starting at the very beginning of pregnancy, all the way to the end. You will connect with your baby in the most amazing way as you learn to feel parts, feel your baby move and can identify the limb, know where to listen for the baby’s heart rate and find it yourself. I am proposing that it is THIS type of responsibility that will start to reform the way women go about their pregnancies. And again, it’s not about doing it alone, or thinking you know everything. It’s about not giving this responsibility to anyone else; and even if you want or need help with certain aspects, that you are right there alongside the person who’s instructing you. Same goes for your own vitals; do you know your normal blood pressure and pulse? Urine strips are overrated, but if you looked at one would you find it helpful? What would it teach you about yourself at that particular moment? Is any of this necessary? Maybe, maybe not.
Beyond the physical, there is a lot of other “stuff” that goes into an undisturbed pregnancy. Connecting with your baby on a spiritual and emotional level, committing to that prenatal bonding and nurturing that will extend into birth and afterwards. Doing your own work (again, with guidance if desired) on your own birth. Births you’ve seen or heard about. Your relationship with your mother. Your relationship with your partner. All the deep dark places that may still hold fear about birth or about mothering. Acknowledging the unknown at the same time that your honor the legacy of all the women that have birthed before you. Doing your work, muddling through at times, but knowing that only you can do this work. Honoring the transformation of you and your baby on all levels.
As guides or educators or birth attendants, our ability to observe and support women in an undisturbed pregnancy comes from a unique blend of holding space and allowing space. Let me explain what I mean; holding space means that we structure the support to meet the woman’s needs. We provide her with all the information we have to make a decision, and find other less obvious ways to reflect to her her own power. We do what is asked of us and no more. Allowing space is sort of the follow through; now that she feels secure in her resources and choices, we let go, just as she also lets go. We literally allow her the space to do exactly what she needs to do, with love and without judgement. To me, this is the recipe for supporting a woman in creating an “undisturbed pregnancy.”
And in an undisturbed pregnancy, most women will naturally bring this confidence and power with them to the labor and birth. It will be inevitable, because for many months, she will have practiced and honored what is in her. Whether someone is by her side or not is irrelevant, really, because she holds this power within.
The power within.