“HOW MUCH LONGER IS THIS GOING TO LAST?!?!”
This is a question I am asked often in the labor room. A woman working her hardest, contraction after contraction, hour after hour, gets to a point when she wants to know how much longer she has to work until she meets her baby. Actually, sometimes she’s so tired and simply wanting the work to be over she forgets she is even having a baby! For obvious reasons, the answer to this question is coveted intel. The truth is however, no matter whom the Mama asks–midwife, doctor, nurse, husband, doula, best friend, mother, sister, brother– as much as everyone wants to be able to say for sure, no one can predict how long or short her labor will be. The length of active labor, how swiftly transition will progress, how soon she will be pushing, or how many pushes it will take to bring her baby out of her body and into this world, we just can’t say and anyone who tells you otherwise is lying. That’s the truth, Mamas. We doulas, and your midwives or doctors can give you the statistical data on the average length of labors for first, second, and third time mamas, or ask you how your sister’s labor went (you’re more likely to labor like your sisters than your mother), but no one can tell you the hard-and-fast number of hours for what will be, what is, your unique labor.
Here is where yoga can help us, again. The word is spanda, sanskrit for pulsation. The Spanda Organization defines spanda:
is the original, primordial
subtle vibration that arises from
the dynamic interplay of the passive
and the creative polarizations of the
Absolute, and that by unfolding
itself into the energetic
process of differentiation
bringing forth the whole
Sounds kinda powerful, right? The recognition of pulsation, or spanda, is incredibly useful in our daily lives, and especially so in the birth experience. Applied, seeing the spanda of life breaks down like this: Something pleasant comes along, a pulsation. Feel and experience it, and know, like every moment of our lives, it is not forever. Something not so pleasant comes along, a pulsation. Feel and experience it, and know, like every moment of our lives, it is not forever. Working this practice of seeing our lives as strung together pulsations, pleasant or unpleasant, exciting or dull, inspiring or defeating, courageous or cowardly can help us celebrate and revel with joy and gratitude in the good when we’ve got it, and the stamina and courage to get through the bad when the going gets rough because we can recognize the good and bad moments for the passing pulsations that they are. We can see life as one big sea, and we ride the waves, come as they may. Like in labor, we may not know how long labor is going to last but we can find peace in knowing contractions come one at a time and they are not eternal. They build to about five minutes in length and then you get an, albeit brief, rest. Knowing labor will come in pulsations of work-rest-work-rest, you have the choice to trust the process or fight it.
This is why I wish every pregnant woman I meet had some surf time under her belt. Surfing is such a great metaphor for labor, and life for that matter! Since every woman on the North Shore doesn’t surf (hello, cold water and little waves) I’ll paint you the gist of it.
When you’re about to catch a wave, there’s a split-second moment when the wave pulls back a little. In order to not freak out and eat it (a.k.a. wipe out really badly) or bail on the wave (a.k.a. let the swell pass under you and “waste the wave”), you have to trust the movement of the wave. In that split-second moment of truth it feels like the wave might swallow you in backwards towards the sea whence it came. If you don’t go for it, you can find yourself in an awkward position when the wave breaks. This looks like: You + surf board flipping bottom-over-teakettle into the salty spin cycle. It’s really scary under water and you then to boot, you bob to the surface with your hair pasted to your face like seaweed (oh wait, that is seaweed). Not so smooth.
But, and this is where the magic (a.k.a physics) of waves and surfing come in, if you can muster the courage to go with the flow of the wave’s powerful energy, you can align to it and you’ll feel, instead of continuing to suck backwards, the wave unfurls towards the shore. With a little knee-bending you can pop up and ride that briny marine-green swell! On a surfboard! And so… You are surfing! GOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAAAAAAL!
No doubt, a lot of trust is being asked of you in that split-second moment of ride, eat it or bail. Managing the very powerful, and sometimes scary, energy of the wave takes trust and courage. The difference lies in the answer to this question:
Can you get out of your head and into your body enough to ride the pulsation/wave/contraction/whateverlifethrowsatyou?
As for your midwife, doctor, nurse, husband, doula, best friend, mother, sister, brother… We do our best by showing up for you, with whatever skills and purpose we have at your birth, to support your safe passage across the somewhat topsy-turvy, often long, and amazingly wide ocean of labor, one wave at a time. The good and bad news is no one can labor for you. Likewise, no one can know the super sweet feeling of holding your baby that you (not your midwife or doctor) delivered into this world. That’s a task only you can complete, Mama. Like how the wave can only take you for a ride if you align to it, we, your birth team, can best help you ride the waves of labor if you make the choice to keep coming back to your body, trust the pulsation and go with the flow. I mean spanda. You can do it! When those pulsations come, leave your mind at the door and surf that beast!