Research on Pregnancy and Child Birth Choices: Thinking of Labor as an Endurance Event?

James Lewis and I have been doing research on how socioeconomics affect pregnancy and birth choices.  Meghan Corbett has just recently joined our research team and efforts.   So far we’ve talked to pregnant women, midwives, doulas, public health workers, moms, and those working with young fathers and women who were pregnant teens and mothers.

Most recently, I was able to visit and observe a doula led hypno-birthing class.  It was the first class of a series of five 2.5 hour classes.  I attended with friends of mine who are a couple and  are recently pregnant.  They are trying to collect as much information about pregnancy and birth options as they can.  I thought it would be interesting to attend with them as I could then also get their initial reactions to the information being relayed as parents to be.

Before attending the class, the doula friend debriefed me about hypno-birthing. It is a method of relaxation techniques that help to calm the laboring woman so that she can approach pain from a relaxed place and not from a fright or flight standpoint.  Fear  detours oxygen away from the muscles that need to be stretching for delivery, therefor causing more pain.

When we got the the class, the doula introduced us to the approx 10 couples in the room. Then, they each went around and said how many weeks they are, why they are there, and what they people around them think about birth.  For example,  the doula wanted to know if all of their friends had had epidurals.  Or, if everyone they knew were die hard about home birth.  She said that what surrounds us is often a huge contributor into making our own birth decisions.

On this note, everyone went around the room and told their story.   Here are some of the things that I heard: ” I was looking for something to overcome the fear of labor- pretty much all of my friends have had epidurals and all of them have been really scared.”

“My friend who is an anesthesiologist thinks I’m an idiot (for having a natural birth)- she’s having all of the drugs.”

“This is what your body is designed for- it made perfect sense (to have a natural birth).  There’s nothing that resonates more than that.”

” I always wanted a natural childbirth. When I found out I was pregnant I lost my courage. My husband reminded me that I could do it.”

“My mother had a peaceful delivery with me and I think hearing that has helped me not be afraid.”

When I first talked to my doula friend about what it is that a doula does, she basically said that she’s in the business of the mental game.  It’s her job to keep the mother calm and focused on her birth plan.  She compares labor to being an endurance event- you have to break it down into negotiable pieces.  When I ran cross country competitively in high school, my Dad used to chase me on his mountain bike.  He would pick out a girl in front of me and tell me to go get that girl.  Then when passed that girl, he would tell me to go get the next one.  It was a much more digestible way to progress in the race.  If he had just yelled “Anna- go beat that girl up in the front!” I would have looked at the pack in front of me and been completely overwhelmed.  My doula friend helps laboring women see that they can tackle each contraction at a time, that the pain is manageable, that they can breathe, that they can stay calm and centered.   She helps them win the race and not let fear dictate their birth experience.

When I left the class with my newly pregnant friends, the expectant father and I asked the mother to be what she thought.  He said that everything that the doula had said made “sense” to him- it seemed totally “logical.”  Reason was a handle for understanding in this totally unknown adventure.   The mother to be responded that she needed time to think about it.  The whole thing is overwhelming, and she is swimming in a sea of negative birth stories that tell her to be very afraid….