Surfing the waves of contractions, photo by Folkert Gorter
Active labor. Contractions are hard and occasionally whipping up higher than expected. Massage and hip squeezing isn’t working. The birthing mother’s voice is getting higher and tighter.
As a doula, sometimes in these situations I reach for a visualization. And for active labor, there is no better metaphor than waves. There are so many ways to use this metaphor. Here’s an outline you can use and embellish as you like on the spot.
Here comes the wave… Take a deep breath… Now dive under this wave and through it and through it…. and now you’re coming out on the other side… swim up… Take a breath… Let it go
It’s OK if there are moments of silence in between your words or sentences. You don’t have to be talking the whole time. Speak slowly and use a low, calming voice. If she follows your lead, her own imagination will be filling in most of the details. You are just there to give her a bit of guidance. By focusing on this image of a wave, she can more easily let go of other thoughts that might have been causing anxiety (like, “How much longer will this go on?” and “I’m afraid of the next one.”) Our minds will fill with thoughts if we don’t give them something to focus on.
If you’ve never talked someone through a visualization, it can feel strange to do it the first time. I think we fear that everyone will look at us strangely and wonder why we have started talking in a sing-song voice about waves. In reality, my experience is that everyone in the room is usually happy that there is something besides pain and, often, the blips of machines on which to focus. Often the birth partner and nurses in the room will quietly take part in visualizations and, if it appears to calm down or help the birthing woman, they will even take it up, adding their own voices to the visualization. You may feel funny at first, but if you give it a real try, I guarantee you will be pulling this trick out in a lot of births.
What’s your favorite visualization?