It probably goes without saying that the past several weeks of the Covid-19 pandemic have brought a furious storm of information, along with the need to figure things out on the fly and make decisions at warp speed. This is especially true for those preparing for birth or helping others prepare for birth.
As a nurse and a Birthing From Within mentor, I have of course been trying to gather and distribute accurate, reliable, and helpful information to families and to other birth professionals. At the same time, though, I know that what birthing folks need right now goes far beyond information gathering. This is where my Birthing From Within training comes in, offering modes of preparation besides “knowing the facts.”
Nina Martin wrote in her March 19th article in ProPublica:
“Spoiler alert: If you’re currently pregnant, the birthing experience you expected pre-covid-19 is likely to be very different from the one you actually get. Your postpartum period will be even more isolated and stressful than it otherwise would have been. Obstetric providers are having to reinvent maternity care in real time to protect you and your baby as well as themselves.”
There is undeniable truth to this gloomy assessment. That said, it’s worth remembering another truth, in which Birthing From Within is rooted: the experience of birth will ALWAYS be different from what you expected – and frequently different even from what you had initially wanted.
As Birthing From Within mentors, we help parents “watch for the surprise”: “What will be the one thing you never expected in your birth?” The point is not to guess at what the surprises will be. Rather, the point is to prepare for the experience of being surprised – because no matter how much you prepare, there will always be a surprise. In other words, to prepare for birth is to prepare for experiencing that for which you will feel unprepared. This truth is intensified by the current crisis, as uncertainties multiply beyond the always-present uncertainty of how your labor will play out, and risks reach beyond the physiological challenges of birth to parent and baby.
In the last several weeks, I have seen more families seeking to formally prepare for birth than I have ever seen in my 20-plus years as nurse. It seems to me that there is a new collective awareness that birth will bring the unexpected, and it is a motivating force to help parents want to be as ready as they can be.
But what might it mean to be prepared for the unknown, or for the things that you are hoping won’t happen?
Our initial instincts may be to simply avoid thinking about our worst fears of the unknowable future, in an effort to “be positive.” But as we have discussed before, it can actually be healthy to take a good look at our fears. Identifying your fears, even saying them out loud, gives you the ability to take the next steps of gathering information and then acting upon that information if necessary.
So…what are the things you are most worried about right now? Is it not receiving the proper care; being separated from your partner(s), your doula, or your infant; catching the virus during your hospital stay; not knowing how to ask for, give, or receive help? Try to identify one or two things that seem to be creeping into your mind the most, perhaps the things that you are trying to avoid thinking of. Consider – what about that situation seems the most unsettling to you as you think about it right now? What resources (psychological, personal, or practical) do you already have that might help you in such a situation? What else might you find yourself wanting or needing, and how might you cope with that experience?
I recently saw a chart on social media that identifies different states of mind that we may find ourselves in as we face the Covid-19 pandemic: Fear Zone, Learning Zone, Growth Zone, Action Zone. I’m not reproducing the chart here because I don’t exactly agree with everything that is written on it, and I also don’t agree with the outcome-focused idea that one’s goal should be to always move away from fear into the other zones. But I do find the idea of “zones” of thinking/feeling to be a useful one. As you prepare to give birth – under any circumstances, but especially in the midst of our current crises – you will definitely find yourself moving between different states of being. It’s fluid – we often move from fear to action and back again within the same day, or even within the same hour.
Rather than having the impossible goal of always existing in a theoretically “higher” state of being, consider simply watching your own movement between different states, and what types of thoughts and feelings come with each state. You may find eventually that you are sometimes able to nudge yourself to shift states – even if only for a moment – by simple physical movements such as taking a deep breath or placing your hand on your heart, or by acts of social connection such as making a phone call or reaching out for a hug.
Being able to identify your emotional state – what zone you are in – can be part of your awakening as a parent.
What is happening in this moment? What is needed in this moment? If I can’t have or provide precisely what is needed or wanted, what’s the next best thing? What can I do right now to cope with or support this situation? These are questions that we can always consider, even when we can’t control what is happening around us.
We often speak in Birthing From Within about internal hunter/huntress and warrior archetypes. These are the parts of you that are able to dig deep to find and act upon your inner wisdom. You may discover such wisdom in your ancestors and their stories, or in your religion, or in your lived experiences – or somewhere entirely unexpected.
Within this wisdom is the love that you have for yourself, your infant, your partner(s), your family, and for the collective consciousness that urges us on, even in the direst of circumstances, to look to the future with hope that we will be delivering our children into a better world.
If you are an expecting or new parent who would like to receive the gift of Birthing From Within, you can learn more and find a childbirth educator or doula here. If you are a birth professional who would like to explore how the Birthing From Within approach can enhance your practice, you can learn more and register for online training here.