We all think we want to be in control. Especially in important situations which feel risky. So it is completely understandable that mothers often feel they need to control their birthing process. As an advocate for women and for choice, I deeply desire that women should own their birth experiences.
But maybe control is not a helpful approach for birth. Or for life in general. My experiences of birth, parenting and yoga practice have helped me appreciate the value of setting an intention. Mindful birth preparation and yoga practice is a powerful means of discovering the inner values which can guide our birth and parenting experience.
I have worked as a midwife on the high risk labour ward, and I have witnessed many situations where a baby’s heartbeat drops alarmingly and medical professionals rush in to carry an emergency delivery, whether by ventouse, forceps or c-section. Sometimes it is life saving. Rarely could it be said that the mother is in control of the procedures.
Induction of labour
Induction of labour is an invasive process, by its very definition. Once the process begins, control is largely taken over by medical protocols, designed to offer the best medical outcomes for the greatest number. Again, sometimes induction saves lives, although it is incredibly difficult to say how often this is true, since the knowledge depends on a combination of statistics and hindsight.
Even where birth is medically straightforward, women often feel stripped of both choice and dignity. Being required to wear a hospital gown and stockings or to undergo vaginal examinations can rapidly remove any sense of being in control. Even where a home birth is planned, many women worry about being cared for by midwives they have never met before, or about being transferred into hospital if labour stalls, or pain becomes overwhelming. Parents struggle to disentangle the complex web of hospital “rules” and medical necessities. Campaigns to improve these situations are crucial, but sadly we currently birth our babies in a world which is far from ideal.
No guarantees of control
So I am not going to lie to you: I do not honestly believe that a mother can guarantee always to be in “control” of her birthing process. Even if you can afford the very best private antenatal classes, a doula and a private midwife – all of which are excellent, by the way – you may still be unfortunate enough to have raised blood pressure, gestational diabetes, a breech baby or some other complication which may result in advice to accept interventions which may not have been your first choice. Of course, it is important that you feel able to make informed choices, but unpredictable events may not always fit within a predetermined plan.
Should we expect to be in control?
But should we even expect to be in control? Really, when you think about it, we don’t ultimately control very much of what is important in our lives at all. Our health, the behaviours and choices of the people closest to us, our finances …. We can influence these things, sure, but ultimately they are outside our control. Maybe birth is a bit like that too – something we can guide and influence, but not totally predictable.
Parenting and letting go
And our children cannot be rigidly controlled either. Little babies will naturally follow their own unpredictable schedule when it comes to feeding and sleeping – a source of much distress to new parents who have been skilled at managing complex professional situations. As children grow, so do their beautiful and unique personalities. Parenting can be viewed as a constant journey of learning, guiding and letting go.
Setting an intention and practicing yoga
But control is not the same as intention. When I begin each day, I try to set an intention to live that day peacefully, or with kindness. I do not know what unexpected events may arise during the day. But I can still do my best to face those events kindly and peacefully. I cannot control another driver’s decision to cut aggressively across my path, but I can choose how I respond. I do not control events. But I completely own my intention.
When I practice yoga, I may not be able to balance or bend my body as I would ideally wish. I cannot control the shape of my bones or my flexibility today. But I can set an intention to be present and accept myself as I am, with love and gratitude. In recognizing my imperfections, I choose to embrace reality. And that is powerful.
It is the same with birth.
Intention and preparation for birth
Regardless of medical complications or “risk factors”, every mother is free and responsible to prepare for birth with the greatest care. The journey to parenthood is a deep and powerful discovery of being, with huge potential for spiritual growth and empowerment. The intention-setting process is likely to include positive birth education, working closely with a birth partner, and exploration of personal and cultural values.
Your birth intentions will reflect your unique identity as a couple and a family. Freedom of movement in labour may be important to you, or to wear your own clothes, or to feel free to cry out, or to remain completely silent. You may want to consider how you feel about your baby’s placenta. Maybe you will choose that your baby be born into silence, or to the sounds of particular music special to you. You might consider who will first hold your baby, and what will be the first words he or she will hear. Perhaps particular religious or cultural practices will be important to welcome the arrival of this new person into this world. Above all, you will set your intention that your birth will be calm, or joyous, or gentle…. And you will develop and hold full awareness of these intentions.
Yoga and meditation practice
A yoga and meditation practice is especially helpful at this time, as it will help you to develop awareness of your body and to focus your attention. First learn to settle the mind and focus on the breath when everything is steady and calm. Then you will be able to hold onto your intention through the stormier waters of labour. This will help you to remain fully present, supported by your trusted birth partner, able to make well-informed choices as events unfold.
A physical, mental and spiritual journey
Birth preparation is a physical, mental and spiritual journey. Choose your companions and supports with care. This is where pregnancy yoga, hypnobirthing and antenatal preparation classes can all be invaluable in guiding your exploration. Clear and evidence-based information will empower you at every stage.
No promise of control
I cannot promise you control over your baby’s birth. And in fact such control may not even be desirable, since it would be a poor preparation for the beautiful chaos of early parenthood. But by releasing the idea of control, and opening up to intention, birth can become a wonderful journey of self-discovery and the gateway to parenthood.
Karen is a mother of seven, a midwife and a health visitor, based in Essex, UK. She is a teacher of Pregnancy Yoga and Postnatal Yoga. Karen is deeply grateful for the opportunity to accompany and support women on their journey to parenthood. Karen’s Pregnancy and Postnatal Yoga classes are held in Stock, Essex. For more information, visit https.//www.thecalmspace.co.uk