(#5) Is Birth Like in Movies & TV?

Short answer? For the most part, a resounding, "Heck no!" Moving on to the #5 topic in our “Preparing for Your Best Birth” series:

#5 Prepare Your Mind: Get a realistic view of birth and understand it as a natural, healthy process

Think about any births you might have seen in movies or on tv. My group birth classes always need to start by dispelling these myths and reframing the way we think about birth.

Picture this, for example: A pregnant woman with a large bump wheeling along her grocery cart into line when suddenly you hear a loud "pop" and there's a huge gush of fluid all over the floor, in a most embarrassing way. As soon as it happens, suddenly everyone thinks it's a huge rush and emergency to get her to the hospital and someone calls 911, or her beloved nervously rushes her to the car.

The real deal:

  • Labor doesn't usually start with the water breaking. It only starts this way 8-10% of the time.
  • Once the water does break, it can be an absolutely normal day or two before contractions even start. There's no rush to go to the hospital or birthing center (with a few exceptions)

Give me another example, you ask? You betcha. After that rush to the hospital, the mother arrives at the hospital and they cut to her on her back, in a hospital bed, contorting her face in such an intense way that you'd think she's pushing a baby out of that part of her body. You'd also think in this moment that a first time mother's labor as well as pushing stage is incredibly fast (hence the rush to the hospital at the first sign of labor).

The real deal:

  • Labors for first time moms are usually long, lasting (on average) 12+ hours, and can easily last for a day or two. Before you panic at the idea of such length, it's important for me to point out that the biggest variability in this wide range of normal is the time spent in "early labor", when the sensations in the body can be ignored and managed quite easily — very gradually growing in intensity over time, allowing the laboring woman time to get acclimated to the sensations.
  • The pushing stage can last anywhere from 15 minutes (less common for 1st time moms) to an hour and sometimes more. To reframe this in a way that helps it feel more manageable and feasible, mom is only pushing/exerting herself during the urges and contractions, with breaks in between in which to recuperate, recharge, possibly even grab a catnap. Often for moms whose pushing stage takes longer, her contractions are spaced farther apart, so that she's having fewer opportunities to push and more time to rest.

In my classes, I go through a few of the many miracles of our and baby's anatomy that can also begin to consider birth in a different way that it seems so much more manageable and can reduce fear and tension. So much about our anatomy is miraculous and can help us understand why we (along with our active-participant babies) can totally DO this!

Further Mind & Spiritual Preparation

Beyond understanding birth in a (likely) new way, there are further steps that can be equally important and can help this reframing to take deeper root. Here are a few of those:

  • Prayer – this involves surrender to and trust in a greater power outside of us (if you are not a person of faith, perhaps spend time considering what it means for you to surrender and trust this natural process)
  • Meditation / Mindfulness – If you are Christian, I have a scriptures for labor reference sheet here; it also has some Orthodox Jewish scripture traditions detailed at the bottom of page 2
  • Affirmations – A client of mine liked these by Mama Natural—there are both secular and Christian/scripture-based options. Hypnobirthing can also be a powerful option, and centers a lot around affirmations. When I purchased the 3rd edition, it came with a birth affirmations CD; hopefully the current edition does as well. Some of my students have done the Hypnobirthing Home Study or the Hypnobabies Home Study.

The real deal:

Birth is a game of patience.

Birth is what a woman's body is created to do.

Birth is healthy.

Birth is normal.

We can trust this process!

I highly recommend reading the positive, empowering birth stories and other great info in Ina May's Guide to Childbirth -- it's my top birth education recommendation for expectant mamas that can help us begin to think about birth in a different way. It did that very thing for me in my first pregnancy, thanks to my girlfriend's encouraging me to read it.

Next up on the list, we'll discuss preparing your mind and body further through childbirth ed classes.

Further reading: