Mind, body, baby

Your head is connected to your body.

This is something that apparently didn’t occur to me when I had my first baby. I decided to try believing it for my second, and it turned out to be true. Stop the presses.

To be fair, we’re not used to thinking about things this way. When you fall off your bike and scrape your knee as a child, you can’t stop the bleeding with the power of your mind. When you slice into the top of your thumb cutting a bagel, no matter how hard you concentrate you’re still going to need a band-aid. And because we’re conditioned to think of giving birth as a medical situation – because, you know, it happens in hospital, attended by doctors – we assume that we can’t just think the baby out either.

Okay, so you can’t actually, necessarily, think the baby out. There are a lot of factors you have no control over in the great rollercoaster ride of giving birth, but there are also elements where your mind has more influence than you might understand. It’s just that birth has become so medicalized, so much treated as an illness – a great hurdle with which a woman’s body cannot cope unless aided by drugs, interventions, surgeons perhaps – that the fact that you do actually have some influence over your own body is often forgotten.

Worse than that, even, I had the vague impression that anyone who told me my mind could help me give birth was in league with the hippies. You know, the hippies. The crazy women who want to paint their feelings and eat placenta paté and wear their hair in a centre parting and probably give birth naked.

Well, I’m a civilised modern woman and there’s no reason not to use the drugs that the good Lord got the doctors to invent for us and I’ll certainly be keeping my clothes respectably on when I give bir…. oh.

You have to take your clothes off to have a baby. At least, the ones you’re most used to keeping on. You may as well divest yourself of all your other preconceptions, while you’re at it. Giving birth, as I have mentioned before, is an elemental, visceral, down deep and dirty business, and you have to get in touch with your inner cavewoman.*

Your inner cavewoman is a hippie. Of course.

So remember what the hippies say, and believe it with all your heart, because it’s true:

  • A woman’s body is designed to give birth. If this was not the case, the human race would never have made it this far.
  • Once labour has started, your state of mind has an effect on your cervix. It really does. 
  • Visualization and verbal affirmations do make a difference. Because your mind is connected to the rest of your body, and just as I can tell my fingers to type these words, I can control what’s happening inside. The problem is simply that we’re not used to telling our cervix what to do, and we can’t see the results in front of us, so we suspect that it’s all just crazy touchy-feely claptrap.

If you’re pregnant, read Ina May Gaskin’s Guide to Childbirth. Disregard the 80’s-esque photos and let the words sink in. Read the birth stories and remember that these are real stories of real women who simply chose to believe in their own bodies. Look into something like Birthing from Within or HypnoBirthing or (if you’re in Ireland) GentleBirth. They are not as kooky as you might think. In fact, they might not be kooky at all.

Read happy birth stories and stop watching all those TV shows where women give birth lying on their backs strapped to monitors in hospital beds, screaming in agony and finally, probably, being wheeled off for an emergency c-section.

Giving birth for the first time is a totally alien experience for most of us in the modern world, where birth tends to be hidden away from all but those immediately involved. It’s scary and weird and like nothing you’ve ever experienced before: a new human is about to burst forth from your nether regions, after all. Hire a doula, if you possibly can. No matter how well prepared you are, having someone who knows what’s going on – with your body, with the environment, with the medical professionals – who’s there solely for your benefit, is like having a GPS where previously you had only a candle.

 Trust your body. It’s trying to bring this baby into the world. Work with it, not against it.

Baby Dash, just born or thereabouts

PS: No, I’m not contemplating another birth of my own. A friend had a baby and it made me think, again, that’s all.

PPS: Of course, you can do all these things and believe in your body and be the biggest hippie on the block and still need intervention, and then isn’t it wonderful that modern medicine exists for just these times? I’m not advocating that you run off to the backwoods to have your baby beyond ken of mortal midwife, because that’s not terribly sensible. I’m just airing some thoughts and discoveries that I wish someone had stuffed down my own gullet the first time I was pregnant.

* I don’t think I came up with the inner cavewoman thing, but I can’t remember where I read it. If you know, and especially if it was you, please tell me and I’ll put in an appropriate link.

7 thoughts on “Mind, body, baby

  1. mindthebaby.ie

    Hey, you should write a book. Think about it…

    Lovely post. It seems almost too simple I know but I really think that we have media to blame for not making the mind/body connection. Women get most of their information about pregnancy, labour and birth from cinema, television, magazines etc when they’re not anywhere in the headspace for having a baby so obviously it just seeps in unquestioned and without a critical eye. I remember watching an episode of the Australian soap Home & Away when I was a tween where one of the main characters was having a baby and she delivered standing up holding on to the side of the bed and I remember thinking “that’s not how you have babies, that’s ridiculous!”. I don’t think I’ve seen such a natural birthing scene in mainstream media since. I watched the birth scene in Knocked Up when I was trying to conceive for the first time and still I didn’t question the absolute ridiculousness of it. So many people didn’t question it, the close up of the baby crowning became the stuff of gross out legend.
    The big question is how do we get in there first so that girls and women grow up to listen and trust their bodies to give birth? It’s a tough one but my what a wonderful place the world would be if that’s what women believed.

  2. agirlandaboy

    The most helpful thing I was told about childbirth (from my SIL, who actually ended up with two C-sections) was to visualize an open cervix. Who knows if it actually helped, but knowing I was at least trying to do something mental that might help…it did in fact help me at least mentally. Now, I’m ALL OVER epidurals and giving birth in a bed surrounded by medical professionals (I take no chances with babies), but I was also able to have two wonderful, non-interventiony birth experiences in a hospital, and I wish that was more the norm. I wish more hospital births were like mine and less about being pumped full of all kinds of different drugs and pressured into a timeline and orchestrated to cater to the whims of doctors and their malpractice insurance.

  3. amy

    Ha ha funny, I was just googling inner cave woman because I started to use it in an antenatal class the other day and I had no idea if I’d just made it up! and yours was the first article that popped up about it. very funny.
    Loved this article, why have I not see it before!
    It’s exactly the approach I take in my antenatal classes now that I’m finally teaching 🙂
    I still don’t understand why people think hippies are bad? they’re just people in touch with themselves and with the natural world. Could we start a campaign to out ourselves as New Hippies (make them cool and desirable….) Perhaps there’s another blog post in that!

    All the best


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