November 24, 2011

The Pregnant Yogini: The Mystery of Labour, Birth & Life.

As the weeks continue to fly by, the reality of labour and birth are looming on the horizon.

In an attempt to ‘prepare’ I’ve been busy poring over books, articles and web pages, trying to uncover what it’s all about.  If there’s one thing my research has revealed it’s this: there’s no telling what it will be like until it happens.

Some women describe the pain as excruciating, unimaginable, unbearable. Others seem to breeze through it with a smile on their face. A natural birth without drugs is a possibility, but so is the potential for medical intervention, including a caesarean. How do I prepare for something that’s so unknown? Well, I get all the information I can, have a bunch of options up my sleeve, and work out what I need on the day.

This preparation I’m going through – collecting and practising a myriad of options and skills for whatever the outcome – is so similar to what we do in our yoga practice and in our everyday lives. Often, we don’t know which tools from our yoga arsenal we’re going to need until we need them. Let’s face it: no matter how much we try to control life, we have no idea what the next day will hold. Or even the next breath for that matter.

So we practice. We keep our body fit and agile with asana, learn to influence the state of the nervous system and the mind with the breath, and study our mental processes. Then, when we’re faced with the unexpected, the inevitable – be it stress, a physical challenge, an emotional upheaval – we can sift through the practices and techniques at our disposal and put them to work. We might find ourselves skilled practitioners when we need it the most.

In any case, my preparation for labour and birth is similar. Luckily, many of the skills I’m learning  have parallels in yoga and so feel very familiar. The ujjayi breath, meditation, chanting or verbalisation, physical movement and mindfulness can all play a role.

My preparation has also led me to consider the concepts of vairagya (non-attachment) and santosha (contentment). My midwives are encouraging me to prepare a birth plan. It might include the level of medical intervention I prefer, who I want in the room, and what props and aids I might like at my disposal to make the whole experience a little more comfortable. I have an idea of what I’d like: a drug free birth using meditation, mindfulness and breathing in the early stages of labour, and active methods including movement and vocalisation as things progress.

Regardless of what I would like in an ideal world, the bottom line is: get the baby out safely. In reality, anything could happen on the day, and I have to be ok with that.

Hence the relevance of vairagya and santosha. As I prepare for and even imagine the labour and birth that lay ahead, I need to recognise that a specific plan for a specific birth may simply be irrelevant when push comes to… well, push I suppose. Here’s where vairagya comes in – I can work towards a particular plan, but without attaching to it. As soon as I attach and say ‘this is how it must be’, I’m setting myself up for disappointment and potential grief.

You often hear that women didn’t have the birth they planned for and expected. Their new baby has entered the world, but for some reason didn’t get the memo about mum’s preferred course of events. When things don’t go to plan, women might walk away feeling as though they’ve failed. Better to practice contentment, knowing that their baby arrived safely and recognising that certain choices had to be made on the day that no one could foresee.

Only four months until my due date. Until then, I’ll keep collecting and practicing and practicing some more. I’ll be as ready as I can be for whatever lies ahead.


Photo credit: Barbara Burgess

Related articles:

The Pregnant Yogini: From Headstands to Headaches.

The Pregnant Yogini: I Worry So I Do Yoga.

The Pregnant Yogini: The Halfway Mark.

The Pregnant Yogini: Every Experience Is Unique.


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