A good look at the beginning of birth.
Understanding how birth unfolds is empowering. The more we fully understand what may be happening with our body, mind and soul – and with the baby – throughout this natural process, the less apprehension, the less fear, the less tension, the less pain… and in turn the more confidence, the more comfort, the more fulfillment we may feel and experience. In olden times, perhaps it was the old wise ones, the sisters, the mothers, who shared this wisdom with the new mother. Today, it may be the birthing class, the midwife, the doula, the information and encouragement found on the internet. Though this wisdom is innate and intuitive, women naturally seek care and confirmation, and ideally are allowed to find or create an environment of support and safety, all of which are a unique formula for each individual woman and situation. The bottom line is this: the more comfortable and confident the woman is entering labor, the more she is able to trust, release, surrender and let go throughout the birthing process.
Thus, spending the time to understand the Sacred Transformation of birth – the stages of labor as we often call this – is time well spent.
Before diving deeply into a solid understanding of natural progression of birth, let us begin with something not often discussed. As midwives, we hear these questions frequently and understand these concerns:
What happens when birth begins? How do I know I’m in labor? What do I do now?
For the next several posts, let’s look at just that: the beginning of birth. The onset of labor. What to expect, how do you know, and what can you do!
Well, most of us still find ourselves surprised, uncertain, confused, even scared.
Is this happening? Is this alright? Is this normal? Is this okay? Is this it?
So now, let’s work together to help elevate those concerns, and continue to elevate your confidence for when the time comes. The more you know, the more confident you may be, and thus the more you will be able to let go and enjoy this intimate, intense, amazing journey.
Normal due date, time frame.
When will it happen? When should I plan on it?
Ah yes. Our human tendency to need to know. Today especially, tight schedules, spelled out plans, marking it on the calendar, working around it and counting on it seems essential. But… nature doesn’t always happen in accordance with these things.
The first thing to look at is your due date. Relying on ultrasound testing for date predictions is not always a reliable source. If you had been menstruating regularly before childbirth and were able to have your estimated date of birth figured upon your current cycle dates, chances are your due date was figured somewhat correctly. However, between irregularities in cycle length, and each of our individual gestation tendencies, the due date can always be somewhat ambiguous. We would like to think the baby will trigger the onset of labor when your baby is ready to be birthed. Most babies will be born between 37 and 42 weeks gestation. That’s not that helpful, is it, when you’re planning, scheduling, and truly just excited beyond belief and for good reason?
The first advice then is this. If you have been working on your intuition and your connection with the growing life within throughout your pregnancy (and many women begin working on this even before), remain in tune and in touch with your baby and listen or feel for certain signs. Listen within for the signals that he or she is getting ready. In the meanwhile, you will probably be aware of any concerns, like a noted reduction in movement. You also may feel that your baby is fine or distressed. Rather than letting your emotions speak in these situations, here is a good time to be certain we’re tuned into both our inner wisdom and the bigger picture. Step outside of your emotions and allow the truth a space to speak with clarity. Should you have any concerns, contact a knowing, caring, wise source. You are not alone – don’t hesitate to reach out. Asking questions and connecting is a part of life, and birth.
All that said, the majority of babies are born around the 40-week mark, and most births do occur pretty close to that due date.
The onset of labor.
So, how will you know when it’s time? Once again, the more in tune and in touch you are, with both your baby and yourself, the more certain you may be of knowing when it’s time.
There may be emotional and intuitive signs and feelings, and perhaps that wonderful, somewhat spacey energy that may come a day or so before the onset of labor – the nesting instinct, as you may find yourselves dreamily bustling about in your own little world (just the two of you?) getting the last minute things done in preparation for baby’s arrival.
There are no reliable noticeable physical signs to give you the heads up (or probably down in this case). So, once again your best bet is to be aware, be in touch and in tune with your body and your baby. And be prepared… even for the unexpected.
Because truth is, no matter how in tune and in touch we are, most of us are caught off guard. Birth happens, no matter what we plan on, schedule, look for, or count on.
And so it starts…
Did you know that the onset of natural term labor is initiated by a series of reactions triggered at first from your baby’s lungs? The lungs are the last organ to fully develop, and when they are ready, they release a protein which is in turn absorbed into the uterus creating hormonal changes and the cascade of events begins which initiates birth.
“We found that a protein within lung, surfactant, serves as a hormone of labor that signals to the mother’s uterus when the fetal lungs are sufficiently mature to withstand the critical transition from life in fluid to airbreathing,” said Drs. Carole Mendelson, professor of BioChemistry and Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Texas.
You see? Your baby knows. Trust, and work with him or her as your baby is clearly an integral part of this process. This is not, as the term used to be, delivery. That words takes the energy away from you and your baby, both the active and responsible parties in this process, and gives the credit to a third party (the old fashioned view of the doctor) who “delivers” the baby out of your body. More than likely, and unless there is some medical reason or desire for intervention, no one will “deliver” your baby other than you and your baby working in unison.
Typical signs, symptoms
If you are at or very near term and have any one of these signs or symptoms, chances are very good that labor is commencing. Birth is beginning.
- You may be close to labor when you feel the lightening. Lightening is the process of your baby settling or lowering into your pelvis just before labor. Lightening can occur a few weeks or a few hours before labor. Because the uterus rests on the bladder more after lightening, you may feel the need to urinate more frequently.
- You may first notice the onset of labor with passing the mucus plug, the seal at the cervical opening between your yoni and the uterus. When your cervix begins to open wider, the mucus is discharged into the yoni. It may be clear, pink, or slightly bloody. Birth may begin soon after the mucus plug is discharged… or up to one or two weeks later.
- Your first sign of labor may be when the amniotic sack or bag of waters, leaks or suddenly breaks with a gush. This occurs in 10 – 20 percent of births. A rupture of membranes does indicate an opening into the sterile world that your baby has been within. As such, if your water breaks, it is advised to keep an eye on hygiene and put nothing into your yoni (likewise, at this point cervical exams are advised to be kept to a minimum if at all). Though the rupture of membranes may be an indication of birth beginning, some women will progress rapidly into active labor, while others may not go into active labor for another 24 hours or so.
- You may begin birth with contractions. Your uterus tightens and relaxes as it gets ready to push out your baby. If your contractions are irregular, do not become more intense, and go away when you change positions, this may be pre-labor or Braxton-Hicks contractions as they are called. This is your body warming up. If your contractions get stronger, more regular, more intense, and come closer together, the birthing process is most likely beginning.
- You may feel your contractions at first in your lower back, therefore back pain can be a sign of labor. Again, look for regular contractions, increasing in frequency and intensity.
What to do then?
At first signs of labor, or impending labor, the usual advice is to do nothing. Rest, even sleep, if you can. Eat, drink, work, go on with your day as best as possible. I know that’s not easy. Because once you feel the birth is beginning, you’re probably going to be very excited.
The suggestion of resting, even sleeping, is a good one. You may want to take a bath, and let the soothing warm waters relax you. Yes, you can normally do that even if you have lost your mucus plug or your bag of waters has broken. Birth can last for a full day, even two, and may be exhausting. The more refreshed you are going into labor, the easier this will be on you, and your energy level could have an impact on the rate at which labor progresses. The same advice holds true for keeping well nourished and hydrated. You may need all the physical sustenance you can create and reserve to power you through this incredible journey.
The reality is that birth may take a while, and it may progress quickly, too. There is no one right way or better way – only your way. Please remember that. You cannot control, force or rush it. This is a tremendous lesson in patience, trust and going with the flow. No wonder we often call the birthing process the preparation for motherhood, right?
So, take your time. Settle in. And begin to thoroughly enjoy the awakening. This may be the time to softly, gently begin the celebration of the Sacred Transformation.
Now is the time to take a moment to honor this occasion. You may wish to create a ritual. With yourself and your baby. In gratitude of this soul level connection. With your partner. With your family. With your support person(s) or attendant(s) present if you so choose. Light a candle, say a prayer, chant, sing, turn within and get in touch with your baby. Turn without and connect with your beloveds and those here to witness this happening. Perhaps an alter, music, drumming, sharing prayers, whatever feels right for you. You may want to take a moment for yourself and your baby first before sharing this deep connection with anyone else. Perhaps go through the following meditation in your own space, and then reach out beyond to your great connection, the bigger picture, of which you are a small but beautiful part, going through this transformation.
A guided meditation to begin with.
A ritual to consider for embarking on this amazing journey, initiating this juncture with honor and respect and love is a moment of meditation or prayer.
The following may be a good way to center, ground and connect as the birthing begins to unfurl. You may wish to print this out and keep it with your birthing supplies as a reminder to stop, slow down, look within and connect as birth begins. Change it as you like, too. Read to yourself, aloud or in meditative silence. Share it, or keep it between your baby and you.
I am sitting. My feet are firmly planted upon the ground. My knees are soft, my hips are relaxed, my spine is erect, my sternum is strong, my shoulders are relaxed, back and down. My arms are at ease and my hands are resting on my lap, one hand facing downward to connect with the earth, one hand facing upward to connect with the heavens. My neck is long, chin slightly lowered, and the top and back of my head is lifted upward. My gaze is soft, my eye brows easy, my jaw relaxed, my tongue is resting on the roof of my mouth.
I am focusing on my breathing. With every in-breath, I am receiving light and energy from above, through that point on my head lifting me, connecting me. I breathe in light, filling my soul, filling my belly. Into my heart this light flows, concentrates, and radiates outward. Filling me on the in-breath, radiating on the out-breath. Again, and again, and again.
Through my feet, at the bubbling spring where my feet connect with the earth, I feel the energy of the earth pulsing. This is the Earth Mother, connecting me, feeding me, nourishing me, comforting me, strengthening me. This energy from deep within the Earth enters through the bubbling spring and flows into my blood. With each beat of my heat the energy moves within in me, spreading throughout, starting with my feet, my legs, my hips, my pelvis, my back, my belly, my baby, my organs, my chest, my shoulders, my arms and hands, my neck, my scalp, my face, my brain. Filled with the energy of the Earth, welcoming me, joining me, empowering me with the energy of the Eternal Mother, a part of which I now am becoming, belonging, joining. She nurtures me through this journey as I in turn nurture her and myself and this baby and all of life.
And so the energy of the divine radiates through my heart, through my breath, and the energy of the earth fills me, nourishes me, empowers me. I am connected. I am complete. I am whole. I am a part of the great cycle, flowing.
And now I place one hand on my belly, upon my baby, and one hand on my heart. I feel these energies flowing, merging, growing, connecting, intensifying, becoming as they are meant to be. The great connection, joining of souls and energy and life. And for a moment, I just sit here and feel that great energy flow, and I am at peace, knowing we are connected through body and soul, knowing we are here together now, working together, creating together, growing together, flowing together.
I breathe deep and with the energies within me, and the power without, our blood merges, our oxygen shared, our souls join in harmony for this great effort.
Breathe in with me, dear one within me. I breathe for you, my love. Breathe together with me. Breathe in the divine. Breathe in the earth energy. Breathe in unison for the air you will soon be breathing on your own, here beside me, my fellow man, my soul sister.
I have been honored to have been chosen as the vessel within whom you selected to begin your life. The time has come to bring you forth. I am here with you. We will work together. We will honor each other. You will be born as you have desired, as you have planned.
And so it shall be.
Again I fill myself with the divine. Again I fill myself with earth energy. Again, I share this with you. And together, we connect with love.
And so it begins…