Keeping the birth space a safe, quiet place
Noise. It’s like a belisha beacon, or a loud game show buzzer jumping out of the screen every time I watch a birth on One Born Every Minute or a birth on television, or even homebirths where people chatting away while mum’s in the pool, I even saw one when a telephone rang just as the mother was birthing her baby. The noise sets my teeth on edge. Instinctively it just feels wrong, I want to “shhhh!” them. Why do people feel the urge to fill that birth space with chat?
Last weekend I finished my Doula training with Michel Odent and experienced Doula Liliana Hammers. I was mesmerized listening to Liliana’s accounts of how even when awoman shouts out or asks questions, she treats it as rhetorical, just quietly shrugs and smiles with a calm reassurance, not even necessarily answering the question. This does take skill and at one point I realized that Liliana would make a fantastic counsellor. Very often in counselling, clients ask a question as part of their own internal process. Entering into an internal space, with the unspoken support of someone nearby, allows them to connect safely with their emotions and to ask questions of themselves. Asking a question out loud doesn’t always mean that they are asking you for the answer, but seeking that answer from within themselves or even expressing an observation. Silence is often used as a technique to allow someone to become still and to engage with the feelings that arise in that moment, free of judgment.
Why are people so uncomfortable with silence in a birth space? And why do they feel the need to talk all the time. So often people feel compelled to speak when there is silence and to fill that birth space with the clutter of words and noise. Very often this is what happens at births, people seem to find it difficult to just sit and to be. Some midwives are chattering away, interrupting the mother, some fathers or birthing partners use humour to break that silence as it feels uncomfortable and humour is an instinctive way to ‘break the ice’. Sometimes there evens seems to be a bit of a social event going on around the mother.
Why not chat away, interrupt, engage the mother with conversation? During the birth a mother goes into an internal birth space, it’s a different state of being than she is in every day life. Naturally, she quietens down her chattering mind, her neo-cortex, the same part of the brain that shuts down as you drift off to sleep at night. Michel Odent told me he called it “falling into sleep and falling into labour”. To allow the right birth space is to allow the mother the same space as she falls asleep in every night. Secure, dark, unobserved, protected and quiet. If someone were chattering away to you, or standing over watching you while you were trying to get to sleep it would be difficult wouldn’t it!
Very often midwives used to knit so that they could just be in the birth space, occupied with something that allowed them to be present without making their presence felt. This strong, calm, non-judgmental, quiet reassurance helped to hold the mother in that birth space, without the need for interruption.
So when it’s silent be silent too. If the mother makes noise, or asks questions that seem irrational and unlike her, don’t always feel like you have to reply or even give words of reassurance. Bite your tongue, be strong, present and calm. Consider that nothing needs fixing, everything is fine and that by wading in with words you are disrupting something that needs to be uninterrupted and undisturbed . Sometimes that quiet, calm presence, and that reassuring shrug and smile are all that’s needed for the birth space to be a perfect space for birth.