Labor and birth are taught as a continuously
unfolding process that grows out of pregnancy. Stages of labor
are referred to only if women have questions about them from various
books. Phases of labor is a more appropriate term and may be used
in lieu of "stages," as "phases" imply a "traveling
through" rather than something that is set or "staged,"
and static. An association may also be made for a woman with performance
anxiety about birth, as a "stage" is also a place for
theatrical performance. However, it is questionable whether either
of these terms is needed for description of labor, as both tend
to artificially divide a whole into parts.
In classes, women are introduced
to labor as a phenomenon which begins with early labor, which
may go on for days or weeks. Early labor is generally considered
as 1-4 cms. dilation for a first baby and 1- 5 or 6 for a subsequent
baby. Women are encouraged to go about their daily lives, with
some adjustment or relaxation, but to do all their normal activities
in between contractions, letting the contractions come and go,
centering attention on the contraction as it comes and returning
to daily activity as it wanes.
Labor gradually grows more and more
painful, creating an increasingly intense focus. When a woman
can no longer go about her daily activities in between contractions,
she is considered to be in hard labor, focusing all of her energy
between and during contractions on her body giving birth. It is
during this later phase of labor that women are encouraged to
vocalize as needed or desired.
The phenomenon of "transition"
is not described in classes, as it has not been my experience
that such a phenomenon exists. If women are not taught to expect
a period of panic, nausea, and unexpected changes in perception
which are labeled "transition", they ordinarily do not
experience it. As a woman expects her labor to increase in intensity
until the baby is born, she normally travels through the said
"transition" period, in a continuous manner to her initial
style of coping. Description of transition is an artificially
divided piece of labor as described in childbirth literature.
One of the greatest dangers of the
myth of "transition" (Transition is described as a "panicky"
time, one in which the woman will experience confusion, nausea
and loss of control) is the proclamation by well-meaning childbirth
teachers that it is the hardest time, and from there on it is
easy. Women of first babies are led to believe that it will not
hurt to push (second phase) and that it will even feel good and
Many a first mother is mentally ready
to quit when she finds it is not true for her, since she had not
prepared herself for pain or hard labor beyond this point. This
delusion has caused many arrests in this part of labor, and is
not realistic preparation.
Pushing during labor is taught as
something which may or may not happen without conscious effort.
A woman may feel as if her uterus is doing all the work, while
she rides through the contraction. Or she may experience a need
to consciously exert the effort of pushing deliberately in order
to birth her baby. An outgrowth of vocalization is often a natural
bearing down, or pushing sound, which can help to expand the diaphragm,
creating a pressure on the top of the uterus, helping to push
the baby out.
To help stimulate a lack of inhibition
about sound and to simulate the effect of the pressure of a contraction
and the releasing energy of sound, the following exercise is done
Class members are instructed to
take a deep breath and to hold the breath and begin to bear down,
(pushing as if going to the bathroom). Holding the breath and
pushing simulates the pressure of a contraction building.
When there is a sign of increased
pressure, and class members are working hard, instructions are
given to very suddenly open the throat, to release constriction
of the throat completely. If the exercise is done correctly, the
person doing the exercise will spontaneously emit a very open
sound. The greater the inner build of pressure, the greater and
longer the sound. This exercise usually needs to be done several
times before a person will permit themselves the lack of inhibition
necessary to experience it.
Women are also encouraged to use
the natural body function of moving their bowels in order to experience
the difference in quality between holding their breath and pushing
feces out, and opening their throat and using sound to help to
During a contraction, the pressure
is many times the intensity of such an exercise and is readily
apparent, so that the open throat can be an immediate response.
As a woman emits sound, her pushing will come from the diaphragm,
pushing down on the uterus (i.e. effective pushing as opposed
to ineffectively pushing with the stomach or thighs). It is this
combination of letting go, while pushing, that can create the
easiest and least resistant passageway for the baby's descent.
The baby's descent (or second phase
of labor) is referred to as a period in which a change in quality
of experience will evolve as the baby moves out of the womb and
into the vagina. Women are prepared to expect it to be a very
"active" time, as opposed to the more "passive"
yielding state that can take place during first phase of labor.
Pushing the baby out is a period of active yielding, and needs
to be respected as such.
The energy of birth is an aggressive
force. It takes enormous energy to create and move a human body
from the plane of nonphysical existence (prior to conception)
to emerge into the plane of physical experience (birth). It is
important that a woman not be afraid of aggression in this context,
as it is a healthy aggression like the turbulence of rainstorms,
the barreling of thunder clouds as they clap together. Again,
the belief in a "gentle" birth cannot preclude this
aggressive thrust of life, without the possible side effects of
psychophysiological dissonance in labor.
With the terrible beauty of the thunderstorm
comes the quiet, the gentle, the stillness of fresh wet grass
under opened sky. The gentleness in nature is a response to the
aggressive beauty and yielding of the earth.
As a woman learns to weave aggression
into her natural and culturally conditioned gentleness, she releases
herself from the restrictive role of the feminine in our society.
She liberates herself to the strength and power found in tenderness.
Giving birth can be one way for a woman to reveal to herself her
individual tapestry. It is not the only way. It is simply one
of nature's gifts of self-discovery.
At birth, self-discovery has just
begun, and the workings of the maternal-infant relationship trace
the deserts, forest floors and rivers of a woman's heart. If she
has begun the journey in a positive manner, she has that much
fortune of a good beginning.
Copyright 1995 by Gayle Peterson. All rights
reserved under international copyright conventions. This excerpt
has been reprinted with permission from Shadow and Light Publishers.
This article may be printed out for personal use but may not
be reproduced in any manner, including electronic, without
prior written permission from the publisher.