On Being Human in Birth

human birth

If there were an award for outstanding work in helping humans to be human, Birthing From Within would win hands down.

So many childbirth classes work in black-and-white terms: proven ways to shorten your labor, or to birth with no pain, or even to enjoy orgasm as your baby emerges from your body. Such classes often shuttle between the extremes of oversimplified recipes for “getting the birth you deserve” and implicit encouragement to accept any sequence of events that results in “a healthy baby.” It is within this context that Birthing From Within childbirth educators and doulas invite parents to mine deeper truths in the middle ground between extreme attitudes and expectations – in other words, to explore humanness.

“Labor is kind of like gearing up for a big hiking trip: You pack a first aid kit and bear spray and come up with a plan for how to deal if it rains or snows. Then, you hope the weather will be gorgeous and everything will work out. Similarly, parents need to prepare for the unexpected. Understand that there will almost always be a surprise and that whatever it is you will find a way to negotiate it. That may require drugs or a cesarean or saying no when you are normally a polite person—and it always requires self-love and humility.” Pam England

Let’s look more deeply at the understandings of humanness that BFW can bring:

1. YOUR OB IS HUMAN

Birthing From Within might just be one of the most OB-friendly approaches to childbirth support around. Both demonizing and idolizing one’s OB can lead to misunderstandings, strained relationships, and compromised decision-making. In BFW mentoring, parents often role-play making decisions in labor, and they are invited to consider what the OB’s best intention may be in a variety of situations, and to remember that we all see things through our own lens. Remembering the OB’s humanity – and connecting it to our own – relieves both them and us from the expectation of infallibility. No human is immune to error, so reminding ourselves that the OB is human normalizes the understanding that mistakes are always possible.

Remembering this fact is generous to ourselves and to our doctors: it makes them shine brighter when they are brilliant, and may help to mitigate traumatic disappointment in both ourselves and them. Our shared humanness is the great equalizer in the birth room. Of course, there is a part of us that longs (strives!) for perfection; but in the end we humans are all fallible mistake-makers. And thank goodness for that, or we might never experience the wisdom born of humility.

2. YOUR MIDWIFE IS HUMAN

Midwives, with their up-close-and-personal presence, may seem easier to love than OBs. Sometimes a person who has a balanced understanding of the human fallibility of medical doctors has difficulties transferring this understanding to their midwives. But midwives are no less human than OBs. To love them truly, we must resist putting them on a pedestal, just as we must with OBs. No matter how highly we respect our medical caregiver, balancing that respect with an equally strong inner locus of control will mitigate the suffering that comes with the feeling that we have been “done unto,” that normal and abnormal circumstances in our lives are completely outside our reach. BFW invites parents to check their assumptions and fine tune their choices based on the guidance of their midwives or OBs, but also to dig deep into their own knowledge, desires and intuition.

3. YOUR PARTNER IS HUMAN

The experience of pregnancy, birth, and postpartum provides an initiatory experience often reported as being just as transformative for the birth partner as it is for the person giving birth. Your partner’s understanding of birth and of the role of Birth Partner has been shaped by images of birth they gained in childhood – sibling births, television and movie images, birth stories heard through their child-ears. BFW makes room for understanding that your partner’s learning about birth will not be identical to yours, and invites you to honor each other’s realities and acknowledge that as humans, we all have varied needs. For example, your partner may have challenges about the intensity, physical demands, or various bodily functions associated with birth. Balancing the needs of both parents throughout the initiation of birth can help them to transition into the practical demands that come with raising a family. BFW allows us to tell our partners as well as ourselves that we need only do our best – and that sometimes our best is not so hot. That’s the journey of parenthood – or rather, the journey of being human.

4. YOU ARE HUMAN

It might seem as though birth is just one experience in a life full of experiences. The truth is more complicated: often, the memories from the initiation of the birth experience remain alive for years. Rather than emphasizing ways to “do it right” – which carry the implicit threat they we might screw up and do it wrong – BFW invites you to show up at your birth as YOU. BFW mentoring processes invite you to practice tuning into your intuition from moment to moment, starting in pregnancy and moving through labor into postpartum. You may find, as you tune in, that your feelings and reactions are not what you expected – perhaps to the degree that you being to wonder, “Who am I?” as you travel your unique initiatory path. In this mindset, the outcome bows to the process, and hidden within that process you may find a new kind of medicine for life, a kind for remedy for fallibility: self-love that sheds the idea of success and failure in favor of deep truth and humility. And so, by opening to the inner work awakened by birth as initiation, you may just stumble upon a journey of transformation with lifelong benefits. Keep going.

5. YOUR BABY IS HUMAN

Our closest partner in labor might just arrive as a wisdom teacher. Your baby, like everyone else involved in the process, is human, which we know by now is code for “anything is possible.” Like any other human being in the world, babies do what they do, and this may mean a huge variety of paths that seem totally mysterious to us. A baby can appear to get itself into any number of jams on the way from conception to birth, and surprise us in any number of ways. Babies can pop out abruptly with no contractions, in the car, on the grass, after 39 hours of active labor in a hospital bed, with no medication, with seven medications, with a partner (or two!), upside-down, surgically, two months early, one month late. One of the first orders of business in the BFW mentoring process is acknowledging the fact that the only thing we know for sure is that we are stepping into the Unknown. Period. That bit of deep (and perhaps initially deeply unsettling) truthtelling is a true hallmark of BFW. We gift parents with the knowledge that the initiation of birth is big – really big – and that there is something deliciously mysterious about the fact that at the heart of it all, at every turn, a fallible being is in charge.

You may find that the invitation to be human feels unpleasant, given the culture of perfection, striving, and “getting to the top.”

Birthing From Within allows you to stretch out of the confines of that mindset and explore the rewards described by the ancient Persian poet and Sufi master, Rumi:

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning is a new arrival.
A joy,
a depression,
a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor..
Welcome and entertain them all.
Treat each guest honorably.
The dark thought,
the shame,
the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide
from beyond.
— Jalal al-Din Muhammed Rumi (translated by Coleman Barks)

Be grateful for whoever comes, because each has been sent as a guide from beyond. Not a perfect plan, perhaps, but a human one, and it just might work anyway.

“Your job is not to be perfect; your job is only to be human.” -Jacqueline Novogratz

About Kathie Neff

In 2009, with a pocket full of cash, Kathie stood at a crossroads. She would either attend a writing workshop on Whidbey Island, WA, or she would attend a Birthing From Within training in Colorado. Birth won. In this moment, she finds herself placing her toes into the writing pool once again. What better way to begin than writing about birth? When not working with birthing parents, or honing her re-claimed writing skills, you will find her enjoying adventures with the amazing tribe she calls family. In quiet moments you will find her on the patio, near the bird sanctuary in her back yard, with pour over coffee and a good book.

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