By Ibone Olza, MD, PhD, perinatal psychiatrist
This is the conclusion of our study, that sums our work of four years in the European project COST Birth – for which I had the privilege of directing a wonderful multidisciplinary team of midwives and psychologists from several countries. It is an open access article, it can be read and downloaded here:
Our main finding was that giving birth physiologically is an intense psychological, transforming experience, which generates growth and empowerment. That is, women who live their births trusting their bodies and supported by competent midwives who understand and protect the depth of the birth experience, come through stronger, feeling capable of almost anything, ready for motherhood.
A few examples from the study: the most common behavior at the onset of labor appeared to be continuing with the usual routine. There were many descriptions of wanting to remain at home, taking a shower, being aware of others’ needs (like older children or even pets) and waiting happily:
I was lying all night and with my labor pains and my dog came and lay by my feet…it was an incredible feeling, it was in September, all the apples in the trees…it was all so silent...
As the labor intensified, women withdrew into an inner world where time seemed to be suspended. Women described how this inner space allowed them to concentrate on the laboring process, and this facilitated the feeling that they could manage.
Nothing else matters and the universe kind of shrinks to this particular, you know this particular job that you have to do which is you know about birthing your baby.
When starting to push, time was no longer suspended and women became more active.
When I started to push, it was as if a curtain was drawn. A totally different perception, suddenly I was awake, alert and quite aware of timing’.
Directly after birth, women described feelings of pride and joy in achieving and experiencing natural childbirth, as well as the intensity of their feelings of childbirth as being their greatest, unparalleled achievement.
So I was brave, I was strong! … So I was like, ‘Yes, I have done it! Yes, I can do it!’ I was so happy. I honestly never had this kind of joy since I was born. I don’t know where this joy came from. I don’t know how to describe the endless joy that came in me.
What is most prominent in the birth experience as a whole is the sense of victory, the feeling of ecstasy when the baby is born. That feeling is unique, and in the last birth I was without all medication and therefore I could enjoy this feeling much better. Well, I enjoyed it completely.
I truly hope this research will support the change in birthing practices that so many healthcare professionals are already working towards. This study also helps us to understand the feelings and experiences of mothers who have not had this type of birth, so we can better understand what they are missing.