Virginia Bobro, co-owner and senior trainer for Birthing From Within, shares her thoughts about trust and birth, coupled with excerpts from Pam England's new book.
Instead of focusing on the adage, 'Trust your body,' trust that you can meet whatever challenges come your way. - Pam England
“Trust Birth" and "Trust Your Body" are common cliches, often tossed around casually in many childbirth circles, and also sometimes hotly debated, especially among those who have had or have witnessed difficult births. But what does it really mean to trust? And how might trust be helpful or unhelpful for pregnant people in their preparations for birth and parenting? Using excerpts from Pam England's new book, Ancient Map for Modern Birth, let's think a bit more deeply about the role of trust in childbirth preparation.
We know that hope and optimism are good for our bodies, minds, and relationships, and this remains true for expectant parents as they look forward to meeting their baby and moving into an exciting new stage of life. A positive outlook can reflect and build inner strength, courage, and resilience. It’s certainly true that expectant parents who feel relaxed and hopeful about birth and parenting are likely to enjoy pregnancy more than those who don't. When expectant parents are mistrustful of themselves or others, they often feel overwhelmed by anxiety or paralyzed by a sense of hopelessness, rendering them unable or unwilling to ask for or receive help. They may research or plan obsessively in an attempt know and control all potential outcomes, or, on the flip side, they may give up and sink into inaction, feeling that nothing they do could possibly make a difference.
The potential pitfalls of excessive mistrust and pessimism are relatively easy to see; what may be trickier to understand is that excessive trust and optimism can also present significant difficulties in the form of complacency or passivity. If a parent is committed to thinking, "Everything will work out," “I trust birth,” or “I trust my body,” then what is their motivation to take a childbirth class, or learn how to cope with pain, or ask questions, or explore fears? (Avoiding thinking or learning about cesareans, for example, is a common side-effect of unbalanced optimism - one that might verge on naïveté in this era of the 30% cesarean rate.) This is equally true - and equally risky - for those committed to unquestioning trust in their doctors or midwives. In all of these cases, the concept of “trust” closes the door on growth and curiosity, blocking opportunities for building knowledge, flexibility, and inner strength.
Let's also keep in mind that phrases such as "I trust birth" or "I trust my body” may have very different meanings for people who have experienced birth than they do for people who haven’t. Often this nuance is missing when the phrase is used or debated. Thus, if a midwife or doula tells a first-time parent that they can safely trust the process of birth, the parent may mistake that statement as an implicit promise about the outcome of the birth: "If you just trust enough, then your birth will be easy and uncomplicated." (And what an attractive and appealing idea! Who doesn't want the "secret recipe" to a perfect birth?!) Most birth workers have no intention of conveying such a simplistic meaning when they talk about “trust,” but parents often internalize it in this way. This miscommunication becomes problematic if the birth is then hard, or long, or complicated - as births often are - and the birthing person feels confused and ashamed of what they may interpret at their failure, and betrayed by the person who encouraged them to “trust” in the first place.
In Chapter 6 of Ancient Map for Modern Birth,, Pam England writes, "This kind of birth trauma may be lessened by being mindful about the language we use to inspire, support and educate pregnant [people]--in particular by avoiding absolute language or outcome-focused messages. It is essential that any conversation about trust and birth be honest, compassionate, and realistic, not idealized, horrific, or oversimplified...Trusting your body is helpful and important; the problem arises when you believe that if you just trust enough, or in the right way, that you will have an ideal or natural birth. No amount of trust or preparation can guarantee an easy birth."
That’s why, in preparing for birth and parenthood, it is so important to really feel into the concept of trust and what you are telling yourself about yourself as a birthing person and parent. How do you know whether you are trusting enough or too much? And what, exactly, ARE you trusting when you "trust birth?" Are you inspired to learn and grow, to think about the edges of the experience, to mobilize inner and outer resources to cope with unexpected challenges? Are you interested in paying attention to the messages from your body and your intuition? Are you willing to grow fearless about facing the unknown?
You may want to dive a bit deeper into the Trust pool, and ask yourself these questions:
How are you trusting that birth is, at its essence, a Mystery-- unknowable and uncontrollable?
How are you trusting that you can access resources, internal and external, to help you cope with the intensity that birth can bring?
How are you trusting yourself to ask for and receive help and support?
How are you trusting that your body (no matter how carefully you take care of it) is fallible, imperfect, and surprising, and that your body has a wisdom all its own that may never be completely understood or explained?
How are you trusting that you are doing your best in each moment, and that the outcome of your birth does not reflect your value or worth as a human being or parent?
Look within, reflect on these prompts as you take a walk, eat a nourishing meal, or fall asleep. Share your thoughts with your partner, friend, or birth companion. Perhaps you will feel inspired to journal or paint your images of how you are trusting birth.
Stay tuned for Part 2 in this blog series on "Trust Birth," where Pam and I will provide tips and tasks for exploring trust during pregnancy, plus some yummy trust-building affirmations.