Conscious Birthing: What is it and how do I do it?
In my practice as a Birth Doula, Prenatal Yoga Teacher and Birth Educator, I am devoted to helping women prepare for a conscious birth. I used to focus more on “natural birth” but after years of attending all sorts of births, I started to see how limiting that focus was.
Any birth can be conscious, and beyond mom and baby being healthy, its how we feel about the way we showed up and felt during and after the birth that matters.
Most of the women I’ve worked with over the past 15 years, devote themselves for months to do everything possible to ensure for a homebirth or natural birth in the hospital. Some realize that dream and others do not. I have come to see, through my mammas, that not having a natural birth is not a failure. No matter what they do or how patient they are, some still end up with epidurals and surgical births. What continues to inspire me is that many of these women will adapt their “natural birth” tools and practices to help them navigate the unexpected twists and turns of a more medicalized experience. I have also been with women planning for medicalized births who go through them in such beautiful, graceful ways that the fact that interventions were involved was dwarfed by the love, connection, awe and power present in the room. I have come to understand that any birth can be conscious, no matter where it happens and how much it stuck with the mamma’s original plan.
What is a conscious birth, you ask? It can be many different things, and its up to each of us to define that for ourselves. For some women their bodies are on high-speed auto-pilot and their mind is wiped clear by the pure intensity of birth, so there are no conscious thoughts, and the part that is “conscious” is the way that they prepared, how they chose their team and what choices they made in the flow of their births.
Another way of looking at conscious birth, which is what I’m going to discuss in more depth, is how a woman shows up for the experience, body, mind and spirit.
Its when she recognizes that her response to the circumstances and sensations is really the only choice she has in the moment. As birth educators and doulas, we talk a lot about how we are not in control of our births, or anything, for that matter. When we try to be in control, we are resisting what is unfolding right in front of us, within us or around us. In a conscious birth, the mother is fully present, aware of her body, baby, breath and thoughts, and chooses to remain connected to her chosen focus. (And often here the doula’s and/or partner’s role is to help bring her back to this intended focus anytime it is lost). Each of us will find a different focus, and all of those focal points are valid.
As part of my commitment to raising consciousness around birth, I facilitate a brief circle at the beginning of my Prenatal Yoga classes for women to share a response to a birth story I share or a thought provoking question that I ask. This evening, since I was experiencing a bit of writer’s block for this post, I polled my Prenatal Yoga students about what they wanted to be conscious of in birth.
Here are some of the things that they named as possible focal points:
My connection with my partner
My power as a woman
Surrendering completely (physically and mentally)
The beauty of birth
My inner strength and conviction
Self Awareness or how my thoughts are effecting how I’m feeling
I was nearly jumping off my bolster with joy as I heard all of these amazing ideas! There were lots of heads nodding as many of the women shared, and clearly some of the mammas struggled with picking just one thing. Like them, I could expand on this list for days, but I’m going to leave it at that and invite you to write a list of your own. Just as you’re writing your Birth Preferences (I prefer to use the word “preferences” versus “plan” as the latter evokes much more fluidity and openness), you can write out your intentions for where you are aiming for your consciousness to reside leading up to, during and after birth. This is a big part of what we teach in hypnosis based birth preparation with the use of affirmations, and its the primary focus of my Prenatal Yoga classes.
Prenatal Yoga can be a wonderful way for pregnant mammas to cultivate the consciousness that they want to bring into birth and parenting. In the context of prenatal yoga we have the opportunity to tune into our bodies, breath, hearts and minds to find our own way through pregnancy, birth and mothering. When we tune in, the answers come from within and we become more empowered and self-sufficient in birth.
In every one of my prenatal classes, we practice the Thai Goddess pose to become familiar with intense sensations and cultivate new skills for being with them. (See photo of woman sitting on heels) We chant, laugh, silently recite affirmations, test out various self soothing techniques, all within the context of this very intense pose where the stretching and opening of your feet serves as a metaphor for the stretching and opening of your birthing body. The Thai Goddess not only teaches us how to be with intensity, it helps us see how we unconsciously respond to intensity, so we can consciously redirect our focus, if need be.
So, if you’d like to give it a try, I invite you to take about 10 minutes to do this simple practice. First, sit in any comfortable upright posture (photo of mamma sitting in Baddhakonasana/ butterfly pose), with your buttocks supported enough so that your hips are higher than your knees. Close your eyes, tune into your breath and bring it into your belly, around your baby. Notice how your breath flows in and out, and how relaxed you can be in your body. After a few minutes of centering yourself, come onto all fours and move around a little (two photos of woman on all 4’s). Do whatever feels good, inviting the movement into all of your joints and especially down your spine, into your pelvis and hips. Imagine how you might move with your baby and the sensations of birth. Connect your breath to your baby in your belly, as you did in sitting. From all fours, now curl your toes under and sit your buttocks down on your heels. If there’s a gap between your buttocks and heels, place a pillow or folded blanket between them, so that you come completely soften your buttocks. This is really important, as during birth its ideal if you can totally melt your butt, to make it easier for your baby to come through your pelvis. Now that you’re in the Thai Goddess, stay here for a minute and just watch yourself reacting to the sensations. Notice if your breath shortens, or if certain muscles clench. Also watch your mind. Do you judge the sensations? Do you start to come out of the pose before the minute is up? Make sure to hold yourself in compassion as you witness your reactions.
Once your first minute is up, come forward onto your forearms into Polar Bear pose (photo of woman on forearms and knees) and tap out your feet, then wiggle your hips side to side, to release any tension that might have built up, and let out a cleansing breath with a big audible sigh through your mouth. Now its time to try the Thai Goddess a second time. This time, choose the focal point that you’d like to have in birth, as mentioned above. This is where you get to practice cultivating the consciousness you want to employ during birth. Do you want to focus on how much you love your baby? Do you want to focus on the sensation of breathing? Maybe on the feeling of your hands rubbing your belly? Get creative and try it as many times as you like, figuring out what feelings, ideas, activities or images help you relax and settle during the minute in the Thai Goddess. After sitting in the pose for the whole second minute, come into Polar Bear again and notice how the chosen focus was helpful for you, or not. Complete your session with a minute or two in Child’s Pose and thank your baby for inspiring you to grow and awaken.
You can practice this every day, as many times as you like. Your partner or doula may even want to practice with you!
May your birth be infused with all the love that created your baby.