Exploring fears, brick by brick
In 2014 I shared an opening activity, What's in Your Head? I use this as a way to help families share their concerns and fears about pregnancy, birth, babies, feeding babies, and becoming parents. It helps folks see they aren't alone in the things that might be keeping them awake at night.
Looking for variation, I recreated this idea with Legos -- little plastic building toys we have amassed numerous buckets of over the years. All of these were pulled from our private collection, although the compromise with my kids was to put them in tiny zippy bags so things wouldn't get lost. The first time I did this activity, I passed the Lego head around and had each person pull out a zippy bag and share what they thought the toys might represent. In my next series, I decided to include a card with a general worry that related to the item in the zippy bag. I had participants look at the item first and see if it reminded them of any concerns they had, and if they were stumped, they could read the card. Then we go around the group and share our items and what they might represent.
I have always loved music. I love when families incorporate music into their birth experiences. In fact, the other day I was at a postpartum visit where Mom and Grandma were asking all sorts of important questions about life with baby, and Dad interjected, seriously: "I have a question..." Long pause. "Should I be playing her country music around the clock now?" I laughed, and answered back with a question of my own, "Do you listen to country music? I wish I would have known that before I agreed to be your doula." They do listen to county music, and their baby's birth happened over the weekend of Stagecoach Festival, an important event in their lives as music lovers. As a Music Therapist and Birth Doula, Kate offers compelling reasons and creative ways to bring music to birth -- I know I can't wait to learn more.
Music is an accessible, adaptable, and valuable tool for comfort during birth because music is a whole-brain- whole body experience. A holistic resource like music can reach the many needs of a family in labor: physical, neurological, spiritual, emotional, social -- even environmental by shaping the birthing space. There are so many reasons music for birth is just.so.awesome! And the music we choose for birth can be really impactful and powerful. As leaders in health care, music therapists have demonstrated how accessible and enriching music can be for improving quality of life, rehabilitation and healing. As a doula and music therapist, I’m entrusted to bring the music to the birth environment and I use it as therapy -- a prompt for change, discovery and self-expression. To be clear, music therapy for birth comes in many forms. I use my voice, my body, and at times various instruments through live musical interactions whenever appropriate. Yet, most often during the labor and delivery stage, music enters the space as pre-recorded playlists. Music is more portable and higher quality than ever before. So every time my phone beeps or buzzes in the middle of the night, I make sure my speaker is charged, my client’s custom birth playlists are downloaded, and that I am ready to help deliver one of my favorite birth bag resources: the music.
So for the birth workers and parents out there who are considering using music as birth support, I’ll share my top three reasons why the music you choose in childbirth matters.
1. Music can support comfort and relaxation during birth to reduce pain perception, optimize hormone release and steady breathing. I was privileged to attend a birth where the mother, so calm and so peaceful, took deep, slow, controlled breaths and did not need to push her baby into this world. Instead, the power of her breathing and the rhythm of her pulsing contractions, very simply, very gently, guided her baby out. Her vocal and guttural instincts were validated through the singer and supported by her beautiful lyrical mantra. The rhythm of the music helped the mother’s body entrain and progress, to open and release her baby gently into this world. Music has been shown to support, entrain and influence many dimensions of childbirth. So if there is music out there that will support this, do you think there is music out there that might work against the birth process, making birth more painful, longer and unsteady? Most likely there is, but this will be different for every person. This is why it’s important that doulas and birthing families recognize how every song you plan to use makes the birthing team feel, move, breathe and think -- tall order and a big responsibly. It is important to know favorites and to know what music typically is not preferred. It’s also important to know the difference between just streaming any “birth” playlist, and using carefully chosen songs to purposefully impact birth.
2. Music supports ANY type of birth. Regardless of what type or style is preferred, music can be incorporated into any birth plan and pairs nicely will ALL childbirth techniques. I collaborate with couples to create the most customized and comfortable playlists for birth no matter what type of birth they have planned. Many of my tips for using music work no matter how families plan to birth; active breathing, passive hypnosis, partner supported, even planned surgical deliveries. Everyone’s birth rhythm is different. This is why the music should reflect the goals for birth and the stage of birth. Feel like movement will make a difference? You’ll need a steady rhythm or a beat. Need to sleep? Try a single instrument or vocal tone to help lull the brain to deep relaxation. Epic contractions? Why not try that romantic soundtrack for support of vocal moaning? As a music therapist, I provide guidance in making the best song choices from preferred and familiar music to shape birth playlists to suit birth plans and personalities while maximizing the therapeutic potential of the music to support birth at home, in hospitals or during cesarean sections. In fact, music in the operating room and a doula by your side can make cesarean births calmer, more memorable and family centered.
3. Music will create unforgettable bonds with baby before and at the time of birth. As a whole brain stimulus, music is a window into great realms of creativity, self-awareness and healing. I’ve witnessed families experience the importance of prenatal sound together in music, making art, moving through the stages of grief and life and love; all initiated by a song. At the moment of birth the music can become part of the baby’s and parents' permanent memory landscape, a neurological imprint if you will. A carefully chosen playlist of songs can help families revisit the memories at any time, rejoicing in the happiness or healing from difficulties that were faced in labor. Along with supporting the biological imperative of bonding after birth, music can also etch the vibrations of your family birth song in your minds and on your heart, forever. Parents are always reporting back to Creative Childbirth Concepts® that they continue to use their custom playlists as they transition into the reality of raising a baby. Together they continue to explore and use their favorite music as a resource for parenting. Parents report music was an integral part to their therapeutic prenatal preparation. Their music playlists were magical in how they connected them as a team, shaped their environment and created lifelong memories as a soundtrack to their birth. The music helped heal their past birth experiences. The music helped them anticipate their fears and anxiety and work through them by supporting imagery and reflection. The music was “theirs” and the music was therapeutic. It CHANGED their births. This is why I believe the music we choose for childbirth matters.
I believe in the power of music at the moment of birth. I believe in the power of music for supporting the prenatal experience. I believe in the power of music bonding, to process fears, to address anxieties. And I believe in you: I trust that those of you who use music, make music, and incorporate music into birth already are capable of making awesome choices and using intuition when working in the moment. I trust that those of you who are invested in learning more will seek knowledge and integrate it into the best music choices possible. But I also believe it’s important for you to know that there is a growing number of perinatal music therapists out there who are here to guide you whenever advice is needed. We really do want to help make birth better through music. Connect with me and I’ll share my favorite birthing music with you!
It’s your birth. Be Creative.™
Kate Taylor, MA, MTBC is a birth doula, board certified music therapist and owner of Creative Childbirth Concepts® in Chicago IL. Kate provides perinatal music therapy services and assists families through labor and delivery as a birth doula. Kate provides creative supervision for music therapists and mentors birth professionals around the globe. She is passionate about educating others about music for childbirth and helps empower families through music, movement and other creative arts during infertility, pregnancy, birth, even during new parenting adventures. Visit www.birthmusic.net for more information or connect on facebook with: Creative Childbirth Concepts® Music Therapy & Doula Services. In depth YouTube interviews, blog radio interviews, and audio podcasts of Kate are also available for you to learn more about her music therapy assisted childbirth practices, doula work and personal journey as a birth worker.
Your Brain Shapes Your Pain
As I compose this, my washer is going full-steam-ahead with a vomit-covered, king-size comforter in it, my 8 year old lies on a well-protected couch (his bowl on the towel-covered ottoman), and Kipper -- a long ago forgotten, feel-good kid show -- streams on the TV.
My little guy is sick.
Standing vigil with him last night, I was reminded we can make our pain worse or we can make it better, and a lot of that power lies in our brains. Like many of us, he doesn't enjoy being sick. He tried to rest, but when his stomach started to rumble, he grew restless, rocking his legs back and forth with anxiety and anticipation. Not wanting to wash any more linens, I encouraged him to move to the bathroom, where he would pace back and forth in front of the toilet in his attempts to avoid the inevitable.
"I don't like to throw up," he said, tears sliding off his cheeks.
"I know." I gently rubbed his back. I wasn't sure how much of his pain was from his stomach, and how much was from his brain. Sure, he was coping, yet he was also masterfully avoiding his body's natural impulses to move through this illness. Fear -- he was scared.
"When you worry so much about being sick, it can make your body feel worse. I think if you can take deeper breaths and try to let your arms and legs be lazy and heavy, then you can really hear what your stomach is saying." We both sat on the edge of the bathtub as I mirrored the deeper breathing and lazy legs while continuing with my fingers on his back.
We repeated this ritual many times in the night, and a shift occurred: knowing he could calm parts of his body and mind led him to feel more secure in what was actually happening in his tummy. He was able to better feel the illness, as it would come and then go, and this helped him rest in-between.
See any similarities to labor here?
Really what this describes is the fear-tension-pain cycle. In my classes we demonstrate this with a very long piece of elastic tied in a knot -- like a very, very long piece (10 yards?). I offer it to three different participants, so when held, it makes a giant triangle in the middle of our classroom. I then assign each of the three to be either "fear," "tension," or "pain," and have them relax their arms so the elastic falls to the ground, and we read over a few situations. As one trigger point becomes activated, that person pulls back on his or her piece of the triangle, then the next trigger is activated, and we see the result when the third person has to hold his elastic tightly to prevent it slipping from his hands. As we get to the problem-solving part, that person relaxes his or her part of the triangle, until it is loose and dragging the floor again.
"Mary is laboring at home. During her contractions she leans over her dresser and her partner applies pressure to her lower back. She would say her pain level during contractions is a 3-4, and she feels she is coping well. Soon she reaches the point where it is time to go to the hospital. She and her partner gather their things and head to the car."
What's going on here? And how can we short-circuit the fear-tension-pain cycle? The biggest difference is, Mary's coping strategy has changed -- she is no longer upright and mobile, being comforted by her partner's hands. Now she is sitting, strapped into the car, and on her way to the hospital.
A change in the level of PAIN, brought TENSION to her body, and FEAR about the future. Mary's partner can help her through this verbally -- reminders to relax and release tension, seatbelt caused hindered mobility, labor not necessarily picking up but changing sensation from changing position, etc. Relaxing can reduce the TENSION, while knowing this information can speak to the FEAR, thus helping to change the intensity of the PAIN, interrupting the cycle.
Let's look at another situation (without the pictures -- as a side, I am currently reading Unfolding the Napkin, and I decided to follow the author's advice about processing visual information and creating my own pictures :)). Mary is now in the hospital. She is coping well by sitting on a birth ball and rocking through her contractions. She hears a scream down the hall and suddenly she has a FEAR response; consequently, she TENSES, and her PAIN increases. What can help here?
Address the FEAR with words. Remind the woman, just as she has a birth team taking care of her, the lady down the hall also has professionals aware of her situation. The screaming might not actually have anything to do with a level of pain or danger -- it may just be how that lady chooses to cope, maybe she is just a screamer? Hands-on touch can offer physical reminders to relieve TENSION in areas of her body, and her PAIN level can go back to where it was before her scare.
My little one is on the mend, the laundry is done, and I got a nap this afternoon. Watching him struggle was intense as a mom, just as it is when we are with laboring moms. It was an amazing tool to offer him, navigating through his own experience of the F-T-P cycle, by helping him recognize ways to make himself feel better in his body, by simply using his head.
I am currently 37 weeks, 6 days pregnant. This means, like Arnie Grape says, "I could go at any time." In the past have I ever gone this early? No. But two nights this last week I started having irregular contractions in the evening -- more than those warm-up Braxton Hicks, but less than what I deem to be "true" labor. And it has given me a little bit of anxiety as to the realization that yes, someday soon, this baby will have to come out.
I have taught families about birth for years! I have touted the benefits of minimal-intervention during birth as long as mom and baby are okay. I have been excited for birth, pledged my allegience to birth, shared my mammalian theories about birth, and basically been on fire for the wonders birth can bring -- simply from a new, sweet baby, all the way to that complicated glimpse into what we are capable of as women. Birth has been my world -- it has been something I believe in, something I put my faith in, and something I have experienced as an incredible part of being a woman.
Yet here I sit, getting heart flutters and panic, as I experience a contraction that feels a little stronger than normal. When I get those nagging self-doubts or scary flashes of fear, I push them right out of my mind -- I can't even entertain them. If I had business with them, if there were something fruitful to come from their company, then there would be a purpose in having them hang around. But I know this much about myself: Negative thoughts are part and parcel to my brain and its chemistry, and they mostly have no function to fulfill.
To counter my own inclination of dwelling on the negative, I have found some solace: When I think about the women I have supported during their own experiences of birth, I find my confidence in birth being rebuilt.
There was Karen, who birthed her second son at home in a horse-trough-looking tub, all 12 pounds, 2 ounces of him, like nobody's business.
Amanda, who exercised her right to attempt a vaginal birth after cesarean (VBAC) in a local hospital; she walked into the hospital (no wheel chair for her!) at 7 centimeters open and soon after birthed her baby in a squat, close to the floor (I don't know if she even sat in the bed at all before the baby was born!).
Kim, who had her baby in the car on the way to the hospital with just the support of her husband.
Tara, who labored at home with a walk to Jamba Juice while she and her husband shared the story of how they met years before, as co-workers, at that same Jamba Juice (he snuck a kiss in the walk-in fridge!). Their baby was born a few hours later, peacefully and in the water.
Another Tara, who labored hard for almost two days to bring Brian Patrick into the world, on St. Patrick's day, no doubt, after being thisclose to having a cesarean birth.
Leah, who didn't let her fears get in the way of the hard work that birth is.
Kim, who was on bed-rest -- she ate breakfast, had a conference call for work, realized her water broke, went to the hospital and had a baby within an hour, had a follow-up call from someone at work regarding the conference call, and then had Thai food for lunch!
Laura, who experienced the worst kind of tragedy during pregnancy which she used for strength to have a home-water-VBAC -- I will never forget the words she kept chanting during transition, "The only way out is through. The only way out is through."
There are so many more. I remember them all. One thing I will say about birth -- no matter how you have a baby, no matter where you are or what your personal experience will be made up of, birth is a day of hard work. Regardless of whether a woman has a spontaneous, normal birth, an epidural, a cesarean birth (or whatever combination), it is generally not a day at the spa. But one thing I have always said, it is mostly a mind-game: You can psyche yourself up or you can psyche yourself out. I, for one, am working on the former, and I am so grateful for all those families who have allowed me to witness their power and strength, because right now, that's exactly what I need.
Having the Next Baby
I was recently asked how people in general have the courage to go through birth more than one time.
♥ four young boys and a boy dog (offspring)