We have become so civilised and socialised that we go through the day forgetting we are mammals. Birth is a great leveller, because labour asks us to let go of self-consciousness and tap into our inner mammal.
I was confronted, horrified and mortified by the birth video shown in the antenatal classes at our local hospital. I don’t know why this video was considered appropriate to show a group of nervous and inexperienced adults who had never seen a real birth before – only dramas on TV. The only birth that looked like something I could handle was the one where the woman had an epidural and I had already decided I didn’t want to have a needle in my spine or risk the effects of an epidural on my labour.
Even the birth described as a ‘nice, gentle water birth’ was way too much for me. Labouring women looked sweaty and messy, their bodies were heaving, their sounds were animalistic and almost sexual. I felt like I was prying on some very private moment that I wasn’t meant to see. I certainly didn’t like the idea of behaving like this myself! It was terrifying to think of losing control like that in front of other people (this should have been a clue that I needed privacy!).
No matter how much I prepared for my first birth with reading and learning, I was still uncomfortable with the raw, animalistic nature of birth and I couldn’t imagine myself in this state. I needed to feel completely safe and unembarrassed before I could really immerse myself in labour.
During my second birth I was able to trust, relax and let go completely. The experience was powerful and pain free for me and a straightforward, safe and much faster birth for my son. I didn’t need to rehearse or learn how to give birth. It was instinctive. This is how it is for other mammals – most of the time. And this is how it may be for humans – most – but sadly not all of the time.
If you want your baby’s birth to be natural, normal and safe, then it is wise to understand and accept the nature of birth. Birth is raw, physical, animalistic and instinctive. Your mammalian body does know what to do but it needs the right conditions. You need to make sure your human self-consciousness doesn’t get in the way. To birth your baby, you need to feel safe enough and comfortable enough to let yourself move instinctively, to feel able to tear off your clothes, to moan and groan, to be loud, or to be inward, withdrawn and private, and to do whatever feels right for you. The hormones that drive labour have evolved to work when you feel safe, unobserved and willing to give yourself over to birth. The bottom line is you need to feel comfortable with being a mammal!
If you are uncomfortable watching a DVD of a woman in labour then don’t avoid them. Watch a whole lot more, but do choose your viewing wisely. Gentle natural births that show women moving around, making labour sounds, or entering into deep states of relaxation, and being supported and nurtured by carers and partners can give you a positive and realistic image of what labour can be like. Water births are probably the least confronting to begin with. Animal births may be a good way to ease yourself into watching births too.
In contrast, viewing frightening, stressful births and emergency scenarios do more harm to you than good. Don’t imagine that reality birth shows will help you prepare for an emergency, just in case one happens. The only thing that will help you in an emergency is knowing that you can trust your carers and that you will be treated with love and respect as well as medical expertise. Focus on ensuring you have that relationship of trust, respect and nurturing with your carers and supporters instead. This will serve you well, no matter how your baby is born.