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Surrendering

Transition and Being Overwhelmed

 

Adapted From NATURAL HOSPITAL BIRTH by Cynthia Gabriel

 

The only way I know to get through labor pain is to surrender to it. If you are still thinking about how it feels, you have not yet surrendered. Achieving surrender is the hard part. When you feel overwhelmed by contractions, you have not yet surrendered. You are in pre-surrender. A miracle happens in the instant that you yield. You stop feeling overwhelmed. As soon as you accept that labor is overwhelming, it ceases to be so. It is a paradox.

 

Getting through the worst labor pain may be your deepest physical challenge as a woman. Few physical challenges that we choose voluntarily equal the sensations of labor. We may choose to tackle long distance hiking, climbing, sports training, strenuous farm work, but otherwise, serious physical challenges are usually out of our control and are associated with enormous fear, such as pain from a car accident or terminal illness. Birth and physical achievements are different from disease and injury in that the pain does not signal a problem. Labor can be more like the experiences of athletes who must find themselves an extra bit of strength to end a marathon with a sprint. You, like the runner, will learn about your own depths. You will find a flow from a reservoir of previously untapped strength, determination and endurance.

 

Yet before you find the flow, you are likely to experience overwhelming pain. Some women never experience unmanageable pain in their labors but most do at some point, often coinciding with transition, the final cervical opening from 8-10 centimeters. In a first labor, your uterine muscles have stretched far beyond what they have ever done before to get to 7 centimeters. But it can’t stop there. It - and you - must keep going. The last centimeters require more strength, more effort from your muscles (physical,

mental, emotional and spiritual muscles) than you have ever given to anything else before.

 

For some women, this feeling of being overwhelmed occurs earlier in labor. Perhaps you have been laboring for many, many hours, and you are bone-tired. Or the pain at 6 centimeters is really the worst you ever imagined, and now you are absolutely terrified of what will come next. If this feeling arises before 7 centimeters, it very well could be the worst pain of your labor, as your body prepares to undergo a rapid acceleration.

 

Whether a feeling of doubt arises at 3 or 9 centimeters, you will feel frustrated, overwhelmed, flooded, out of control - maybe panicked. You doubt that you can do this for one minute longer. For even a second longer. The next contraction may just kill you. Even if you ordered an epidural now, you’re not sure you could last the time it takes to get it started.

 

Relax. Take a deep breath.

 

At this point you have reached the climax of the thinking mind’s journey in labor. As long as you are thinking about how labor feels, you are unconsciously comparing it to what you expected or what you think may lie ahead. Saying goodbye to your thinking mind is difficult for many of us, especially those of us who use our brains to make a living. We pride ourselves on feeling competent and in control. Our culture does not give us many lessons in the value of surrendering to forces larger than our own logic.

 

This is the time you need your partners to be more focused, calm, and reassuring than ever before. You need reminders from your helpers to relax, take a deep breath, and focus on just this moment. You need to hear no panic in their voices. If you have picked your birth team well, you can entrust the work of thinking to them. Your job is something else entirely.

 

What is this intensity, this feeling of being overwhelmed? It is the gathering of the gales before you reach the eye of the storm. If you can believe this, you can get through it.

 

The sensation of each contraction feels like more than you can bear. Stop looking at the pain, and just fall into the eye of the storm. Let it consume you, accept it, trust it. Now, just at the time when you feel that you can’t. Pretend like there is no where else to go. Surrendering comes when you think you can’t go on. On the other side is a truly wonderful feeling of letting go, of finding that you can bear more than you had dreamed possible, and ultimately, making it to the end.

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