Today we are diving into the land of fantasy. Katie was hugely influenced in her childhood by Avatar the Last Airbender. It’s a story centered around the four elements: fire, water, wind, and earth. There is also a side world connected to it called the Spirit World full of entities that possess different powers or abilities. In the beginning of the creation of the physical realm many powerful spirits chose to give up their mortality in order to create the Earth. The two we are discussing today are Tui and La representing the Moon and the ocean. They created a secret place in the North where they lived as two fish and were guarded by the Water Nation. They represent the necessary push and pull of life. We see this everywhere in nature.
Stephanie talks about centripetal and centrifugal forces, where one pushes and one pulls, and yet when they work together we are held in orbit. Without the push and pull we couldn’t exist. And the balance is so delicate! How have we not flown wildly out of orbit? What keeps this balance? Some other examples in nature:
- The symbiosis of trees exchanging carbon dioxide for oxygen
- Weather patterns
- Bodily cycles that involve contracting and expanding: breath, circulatory system, musculature, etc.
Birth itself is a beautiful example. Consider the uterus and how it is designed to be a contract and expand organ. When you’re pregnant, the mass of the uterus muscle is down toward the cervix which helps maintain the placenta and keep the baby in its place. During labor that muscle migrates or ripples, through each contraction, up toward the top. This process thins, effaces, and dilates the cervix making birth possible. This top-heavy uterus also applies downward pressure on the baby to aid in the delivery process.
Labor is typified by push and pull, both physically and emotionally. The word contraction speaks exactly to the physiology of what’s happening. Sometimes we swap that term for “expansion,” and yet the uterus is actually contracting during a contraction. We can reclaim the term and hold it more neutrally, or infuse it with power, rather than stigmatizing it as painful. However, in between contractions is when the softening occurs. Labor is the marriage of work and rest. Emotionally, you will have times have confidence and strength and exertion, and times of receiving, needing, and doubt. This is both good and natural.
Katie speaks the importance of this balance, to not try to push, push, push our way through birth or life. We are more conditioned to being strong than we are to being soft and vulnerable. Stephanie mentions how the phrase “empowered birth” too often implies “I didn’t need any interventions” or “I was quiet and internal.” But it can look like so many different things! You can ask for help, require interventions, and have things entirely against what you had planned AND it can still be empowering based on your balance of the push and pull. Let us have reverence for the complex and delicate process of birth, to release expectations and self-judgement. Psychology and science are starting to ask how our emotional and mental well-being interact with our physical well-being. For so long in our culture these areas were disconnected. We’re starting to understand that all the different aspects of who we are are interconnected.
Consider the process of birth, how the baby, in a way, takes two steps forward and one step back—a distinct forward and back. And though this can feel like a set back, it is a mercy! Every time the baby descends blood flows into those tissues. This prepares the body! Without that back and forth we would see much more damage to the body. Your body is wise. It’s protecitng you and your baby at all times in the best way that it can.
Katie shares about a doula that was supporting a client in labor. In the middle of pushing, the Mom asked everyone to step out so she could rest. Everyone honored her wishes and allowed her to sleep for about 20 minutes. Then the providers came back in and she pushed her baby out in one push! How beautiful that there was a visceral work and rest, even within the pushing stage!
Within the natural birth community it’s often posed that all medical interventions are bad. That has its own danger. There are absolutely times that these interventions are supportive, necessary, and life-saving! Having expert guides along your birthing journey is not dismissive of your body’s wisdom. You can have both kinds of expertise—internal and external. It’s not one or the other, my body knows everything or doctors know everything.
One way to find a balance between these two extremes is through the question, “Is this intervention being done to me or being utilized for me?” This is the difference between victimization and empowerment. It invites choice and intention, ensuring that YOU are choosing rather than being acted upon. And also looking at your mindset and cultivating resilience by letting go of rigid expectations. Birth trauma can happen through abuse and also from plans changing or expectations being dashed. Non-judgement invites true empowerment in the birth space. It surpasses outcomes, methods, or labels (VBAC, hypno-birth, home birth, etc.). Birth is an experience. It’s a process. That is all that is asked of us.
Balance is not defined by ease or lack of difficulty. In reality, balance is resilience. The moon and the ocean. The push and the pull. When we are unwilling to engage in the uncomfortableness of life, our own resistance creates pain. The only way we can thrive and prosper is through balance, the change of seasons, the light and dark, the give and take. How boring would life be without that pattern of high and low. Consider the echocardiogram that show us a visual of life—it’s a rise and fall, rise and fall, over and over again. Flatlining is death.
Whatever you birth was or whatever it will be, there will be bitter and sweet. But what is the story you’re telling yourself about that birth? How can you process through it. What parts of that story are true and not true? Through that processing, you can find balance.
For more information about Katie’s work, please visit freyabirth.com.