Saying the Great YES! A challenge of birth By Georgina Kelly In order to give birth and in order to passionately say “Yes”, we need to open ourselves up wide. Our womb, the repository of life, needs the door unfastened to give birth. Our heart, the core of our being, needs to be unlocked to say a heart-felt “Yes”. Recently I read the phrase “saying the Great Yes” in a poetry book called “Women in Praise of the Sacred” and I experienced deep feelings of resonance. Jane Hirshfield1 writes that the poets included in her book all shared themes evocative of a “spirituality of affirmation” – releasing their hearts in a trusting gesture to others and experiences. I thought at once of women birthing, and the times when many spoke or moaned “nooooo” when the sensations intensified and became seemingly overpowering. As a midwife I might, at this point encourage the woman to welcome these rushes (‘contractions’), to say YES! as they approached and meet them with appreciation. There is such a shift in every way when a woman manages this. There is a release; the energy changes. If anyone else is present, they are simultaneously inspired to echo the “YES” in their own heart. There is a revival. A Spiritual Practice I believe “saying the Great Yes” is indeed spiritual practice, a spirituality of affirmation, especially in our lives as women. We women can open our hearts and greet the opportunities for enlarging and knowing found through a connection with our cycles, our pregnancies, our birthing, and our mothering. It is in these times that we can become more self-aware, enjoy a heightened consciousness, and transcend our familiar experience of self with new understanding being linked to changes in our female bodies. 2 Through the initiation of childbirth particularly, many of us are lifted up high on the power-full wave of nature, dumped and churned about, then, still breathless, thrown upon the shores of a new and glorious land. For some women, it is a wonderful, fulfilling and intense pathway where subsequently our eyes see everything in a new way – above all, our selves. Our transformation, however we birth our babies, is inevitable. No matter how we experience the journey, there is the promise that we can discover our potential for growth and maturity when we dismiss our expectations and embrace the uncertainty that nature and life offers. I believe in the intrinsic Mystery of Birth; a place beyond rational understanding, where knowledge about our selves and existence may be made known by revelation, an epiphanic experience. Through a spirituality of affirmation, we women are capable of intimacy with the sacred deep in our wombs, and can begin to appreciate the interconnectedness and the aliveness of everything. Saying “No” to a Gift In our society when we talk about birth, we talk about “pain relief”. I would like to offer a different perspective inspired by the language of the Spirituality of Affirmation and “saying the Great Yes”. We have an aversion to pain and an aversion to the very thought of pain. We do not see it as positive or helpful or necessary; and are fearful it will lead us to suffering. As Kabat-Zinn explains, it is not always pain per se that can create suffering; it is the way we see the sensations, how we judge them and how we react to them that determines our experience.3 Many pregnant women in our society dread the pain that they may experience in birth, and fear that they will suffer, “lose control” and be unable to cope. The options our culture offers are an attempt to eradicate or lessen the pain through pharmacological means; or to deny them through forms of distractions. Distraction may work as a coping mechanism in the early part of labour, yet, in the midst of birth, the power that rises up in the body refuses to be suppressed. Our body demands that we take attention so we can enter into a relationship with it. Furthermore, deadening or relieving the physical sensations of birth may steal from the riches gained in passing through the rite of passage to Motherhood. Our culture informs us that the pain of birth is pointlessly brutal. The Fairy Tale symbolises this phenomena where many characters reject what they mistake as repulsive or insignificant. This is because it appears in a form that is not easily recognised. They are not aware that they are saying “no” to a meaningful gift or profound secret.4 If our pain is perceived as an unwelcome curse, we will gladly have it taken away. When we do, we can not fathom what our body is doing as her voice is silenced. With our pain numbed or gone, we lose the cues and the simultaneous know-how to birth our babies. Without our pain, our teacher, we must depend on our attendants to tell us what to do. We can not entirely reach down into our core and summon all our potency. Resultantly, we do not have the chance to explore this wild land and discover how resourceful and creative we can be. This gift, the opportunity for self-knowledge, is rejected along with our pain. Sensational Birthing and Mindfulness A Spirituality of Affirmation would encourage us not to try to relieve the pain, but to fully engage with it. This encompasses the practise of mindfulness, which is developing awareness of the physical and emotional experience. We need to “put the welcome mat out”5 for the sensations we experience in birthing; to be receptive to its teachings; to discover what is actually happening; to know what positions or movements are needed and how we should be. Mindfulness in birthing will lead to revelations about our body and our self which distraction or pain relief can never do. The inherent preparation for mindfulness in birth is initiated in pregnancy. Whilst pregnant we are reminded that we are in our body; the dramatic changes and physical sensations grab our attention deliberately. When growing our babies, our body tells us when to rest, when and what to eat and drink; what environment to avoid and what to seek. We need to take heed for the wellbeing of our baby and our self. Thus, we reconnect to our body, our earth nature, and modify our behaviour to grow our babies lovingly. Many women come into a new and confident relationship with their bodies during this time as they witness their physical transformation with wonder. Pregnancy is the time to become more acquainted with our inner voice or subjective knowing – an imperative preparation for birthing and mothering. In birth; more than at any time; we cannot afford to override our body’s messages to us. They teach us what to do to get our babies born. The sensations we feel whilst birthing our babies – the twinges and niggles, the tightenings and throbbings, the stretches and openings, the thrusts and bearing down, the burning power and pain, the rushes, urges and energy – these are the words and poems of birth – the body language. We need to listen actively and respond; to join in the conversation and be connected. Our body and our baby become other aspects of our selves, along with our mind. We work together in unity, prompting each other in harmony – a trinity of sorts. Mindfulness is about being attuned to the very present, moment by moment. We avoid clocks and watches and counting how long the birth is taking. We need not worry about how we will cope with the next phase in the journey. We only know in that very instant what we need to do – we may want massage and touch one minute, the next minute touch seems excruciating, and all we want is solitude. Therefore, we can have no real plan except to welcome the moment. Larry Rosenberg writes that mindfulness is a practise of intimacy; of being one with what we are observing or watching.6 We are not objective observers of our experience – we are “fully living out our lives, but are awake in the midst of it”. With mindfulness we do not make judgements about what is being experienced. We don’t evaluate thoughts that arise, or our selves – it is simply about being watch-full and saying “yes”. By doing so, we affirm the experience and we affirm birth. We give birth. The giving is an act of creation and an act of offering. When we give, we let it pass out of our hands. It is not an act of handing over responsibility to someone else. It is simply saying that we let go of expectations and control and let the birth force pass through us. In transition, as the neck of the womb is nearly fully open, and the baby is soon to commence travelling through the birth canal in the “second stage”; it can seem to some women like they are “splitting in two”, or “going to rip apart”. To connect with this intensity is to allow oneself to be ultimately vulnerable – to permit an emotional and psychic rupturing that lays one bare. Out of this experience, a woman is able to metaphorically die to her old self and life, and embrace and affirm the new. When the widest part of the baby’s head stretches the perineum and vaginal opening to its utmost, we say that the baby is “crowning”. This is the widest and most open we women can naturally be – a majestic instant before our baby is at last fully visible; the pause before he or she is birthed along with all our anticipation, hopes, and love. It is the supreme “Yes” moment. Consequences of Saying “No” In our lives, we do not find satisfaction when we attempt to be in total command of our situation, avoid fears and pain, or make everything safe and comfortable. When we spend our lives saying “no” to what life offers, our creativity dries up and we become stilted and one-dimensional. Saying “no” causes us to close down, to be in opposition and to resist. We can not birth our babies this way. When we resist sensations, we tighten up our muscles instead of “letting go” in surrender. We slow down the process of birth. When we are fearful, our shoulders hunch which affects our breath and causes rigidity in the rest of our body. The energy is trapped in our chest and throat.7 When we are saying “no” we hold our breath or hyperventilate – causing the sensations to be perceived much more intensely and painfully. When the baby has entered our birth canal, we need to have a relaxed and open throat to allow our baby to be born, as tightened throat muscles correlate to tightened pelvic floor muscles. Therefore we can begin by saying the Great “Yes” through making lots of instinctive and sonorous sounds, chanting, humming, deep sighs, or by literally saying “Yes”. If we say “no” when our baby is in the birth canal, we develop resistance and our pelvic floor muscles and perineum tense up and delay our baby’s appearance. Whilst birthing my first child, I spent over four hours in the second stage with very little advancement of my baby. The energy dissipated, my rushes finally rushed off, and I didn’t feel like I was any longer in labour. I had lost the urge to push – which was the phase I had been dreading without properly addressing, all through my pregnancy. I made token efforts to push but felt like my baby was stuck. I said “no” to the impulse to push, so it vanished. Fortunately I was at home with my partner, Nagadeva, and my closest friend, Sarah, a midwife. They both gave me the time and the freedom to work out my fear. I ultimately became conscious of my need to confront my anxiety and trust my self to push my baby out. I chose to whisper an intense “Yes”, the “Great Yes” in my heart, and instantly the rushes returned with power. Tilda was then born very quickly after this into the hands of her father. Saying the Great Yes to Life In a general sense, opening up, saying “Yes” in a deep and heartfelt way and “giving birth” to that which is new, describes a development of transformation common to us all. I would describe them as conterminous; that is they share a common boundary and co-extend in space, time and meaning. This process of transformation through the act of opening/affirming deeply/changing evolves into a transcendental process when applied to childbirth. It is the most sublime example, or the apotheosis of the Feminine. Through understanding the process of birth, and loving and trusting our bodies (which takes a lot of unlearning for many of us women), we allow ourselves to open up, to be vulnerable, and yet to not fear. When we experience the sensations, we don’t try and stop them or relieve them or have them taken away from us. We acknowledge our feelings, remembering that it is the power of our own bodies, the power of birth and the power of being a woman. We say in affirmation, the “Great Yes”. “Yes” to being a woman. “Yes” to the mystery we enter into. “Yes” to the pain of transformation and change. “Yes” to the wildness of our bodies and birth. “Yes” to moving deeper and deeper. “Yes” to meeting with our innermost nature and giving it a voice. “Yes” to the triumph of nurturing and birthing our creations. “Yes” to the birth of a new relationship with ourselves and with our babies. “Yes” to taking responsibility for our birthing and our babies and our lives. Saying the “Great Yes” makes us accessible and available to life, in the present moment. It is a spirituality of affirmation. It requires the practice of mindfulness so that we may be truly present to the experience. Out of this flows our confidence in pregnancy and the birth process, and our faith in our selves. When we speak out the deep “yes” from our hearts, we are celebrating our existence and all its light and shadows. This article was first published in The Mother magazine, Autumn 2004, Issue 11.” References (1) Hirshfield, J. ed. (1994). Women in Praise of the Sacred – 43 Centuries of Spiritual Poetry by Women. HarperPerennial: New York, pg 2. (2) Rabuzzi, K.A. (1994) Mother with Child – transformations through childbirth. Indiana University Press: Indianapolis. And Davis, E. and Leonard, C. (1996) The Women’s Wheel of Life – 13 Archetypes of Woman at Her Fullest Power. Hodder & Stoughton: Sydney, pg 2. (3) Kabat-Zinn, J. (1990) Full Catastrophe Living – How to cope with stress, pain and illness using mindfulness meditation. Piatkus: London. (4) Rabuzzi, K.A. (1994) Ibid. (5) Kabat-Zinn, J. (1990) Ibid. pg 295. (6) Larry Rosenberg, L. (1998) Breath by Breath. The Liberating Practice of Insight Meditation. Thorsons: London. (7) Davis, E. (1999) Heart and Hands – A Midwife’s Guide to Pregnancy & Birth. Celestial Arts: California.