I remember the first birth I attended as a midwifery student. It was this mom’s first baby. At one point during transition, she was in the bath and she was moaning as loud as she could. I began to feel uneasy that she was experiencing so much pain. My instinct was to try and help her “calm down”. My preceptor however just sat with her and encouraged her to express herself. After the birth, I shared with the midwife that I was sorry this mom had struggled so much in the last stages of labor. My preceptor asked: “Do you think that because she was screaming she was not in control of her labor pain?” I was surprised by her question. Yes, I had to admit that I had thought that. But, in truth, this birthing mama had just followed her instincts and expressed each wave of contractions in her own unique way. She later confided in us that her moaning really helped get her through the birth pains.
Just over a year ago, I was a doula for a sweet young mom. She sailed through her induction and even invited her acupuncturist to the birth. As she pushed, she told us that her baby wasn’t moving down. The midwife kept telling her to push and that she was doing great. But, she continued to tell us that it wasn’t working. Her words were interpreted as discouragement. But this young mom was giving us important clues to her birth that we ignored. The birth ended in a shoulder dystocia, with an OB performing the McRoberts manoeuvre and giving her a huge cervical laceration. After the birth, the mom asked, “Why didn’t anyone listen to me?” She had pushed for so long without any real help. She gave us important clues that we ignored.
Are we really listening to birthing mothers? Do we misinterpret the sounds they make? Do we ignore the words they say? Are we missing important clues by assuming that birthing women are not in control or not able to participate in feeling their way through the birth process? Are we letting mothers down by not validating and encouraging verbal participation in their births (whether through sounds or words)? Have we forced birth sounds and birth words into a box so that we don’t truly hear what women are communicating at their births? Worst even, are we putting words into the birthing woman’s mouth?
In a recent discussion on The Birthing Site’s Facebook page, we were asking moms if they spoke words like “I can’t do this anymore!” at their birth. Many women said they did. But, what surprised me was that some women said they only spoke those words because they felt that’s what was expected of them, that they didn’t really mean it, that they didn’t really know why they spoke those words. Wow. Think about that. What are you saying at your births? What are you hearing at other women’s births? Have we lost the art of listening to birth and expressing birth? Are women feeling hindered to speak a unique and truthful birth language of sounds and words during childbirth?
We must not assume. We need to ask ourselves:
Does screaming at a birth really mean a loss of control?
Do words like “It doesn’t feel good, Ouch! Don’t make me do that!, I can’t do this anymore!, Don’t touch me!, I can’t feel the baby moving down!” really mean that mom is discouraged and can’t clearly express herself through the pain? Are her words evidence of cultural expectations?
I encourage you to give every birthing woman the gift of listening and believing. Be slow to assume and quick to learn about each woman’s unique birth language! Have confidence in your own birthing language and choose support people who will listen and believe!