Monday, August 8, 2011

Sounding Your Labor: Are you In or Out of Control?

If you are a "birth junkie" you've probably watched dozens of birth videos.  Or maybe you are pregnant for the first time and are pretty freaked out to watch them!  So many of the birth videos out there seem to play serene music as the baby is born, dubbing over the sounds the mother may be making.  The viewer is left with this impression that the birthing woman peacefully -- and quietly -- pushed her baby out.

When I was pregnant with my second baby -- first unmedicated birth though -- my friend Janet told me that "sounding" her labor helped her so much.  I don't know that we spent much time talking about it, but I must have remembered her telling me that because I was definitely "sounding" out that labor!  At one point, my midwife could tell that this was helping me so much and she calmly said, "Donna, you sound fabulous.  Keep doing exactly what you are doing."  This was huge for me because in my head I thought I sounded like a lunatic, and yet, I didn't want to stop doing it because it was helping me stay calm and focused and relaxed.

As the baby descended and was coming through the birth canal, I got a little panicked and wild.  I screamed "IT BURNS!" when the baby's head crowned.  The whole scene was followed by lots of euphoric crying, "I did it!  You're here!"  Needless to say, my first birth video looks nothing like the pretty ones I show in class!

Despite my midwife's words, I spent years feeling bad for sounding out my labor and especially for screaming the way I did when her head was crowning.  I felt that I should have been quiet and turned inward, welcoming my baby into a quiet dark room -- just like the women in the videos.

To this day, that birth video is still the most emotional to watch and listen to.  I just love it.  I love the way I sound when I hold my baby skin to skin, fresh from my womb.  I went from the most intense and painful thing I'd ever experienced to absolute euphoria and joy!  And I can hear every bit of it!

My 3rd baby, if you've read my birth stories, was the hardest of them all, simply because I didn't prepare on any level.  I was a know-it-all.  I hollered so loud when that baby came through, I scared the mailman right off our porch!  I yelled because it hurt, but looking back on it 10 years later, I think it's also because I was so angry at myself for letting myself  begin labor without even preparing for it.  I hate listening to that video.  I sound awful.  It is so obvious that I was struggling.  There was no euphoric "You're here!" when the baby was out.  I was just so unbelievably grateful that it was over.  Completely exhausted.

By the 4th baby, I was fairly comfortable with the fact that I am a what-I-call "vocal birther".  I had been teaching childbirth classes for a couple of years by the time I had her and talked about this in class.  I had attended a handful of births as well and learned quite a bit about this "sounding".

Several days ago, I asked on my Facebook page if anyone had any topics they'd like me to write about, and one of the midwives I work a lot with, Melody, asked me to write on this topic of sounding out your labor:  

"... Making noise and being "open" in labor! So many mommies think they didn't "birth well" because they thought they were loud or " out of control" when they are comparing with birth videos etc. It's not uncommon for women to apologize for how they responded or the noise they made. I would love to see a post on this topic!"

I could relate to this sentiment because I felt the same way with two of my babies.  The truth is actually quite the opposite.  I spend 12 weeks teaching relaxation - physical, mental, and emotional.  Sounding is so closely tied to physical relaxation.  When a dad calls me when they are in labor, if I can hear the laboring woman, I can tell how well she is handling contractions.  How?

OK, from your computer, do this with me.  Reading this on your phone in Walmart at the check-out?  You might wait till you are in the car!

Take a regular breath and let out a high-pitched "aaahhh".  This is the sound that many women make on TV when they are in labor.  It's high-pitched and obvious that she is in pain.  In fact, we are all in pain from listening to her!

Now take a good deep breath from the abdomen, open your throat, and let out a low-pitched "aaahhh".  Let your shoulders drop.  As the laboring woman peeks in her contractions, this sound will like get louder and longer, and hopefully lower.  The lower the sound, the more open her throat, the more relaxed and deep her breathing, the more her shoulders and jaw drop.  Without the noise, she simply cannot be this relaxed.

A person can lay perfectly still and quiet and be completely tense.  Noise is good.  It's good for mom.  It's good for baby.  If mom is taking these good, deep, long breaths during contractions, baby is getting good oxygen.  If she is chest-breathing and letting out short, high-pitched sounds, baby is not getting good oxygen and mom is tensing up in the shoulders, the jaw, and the abdomen, and therefore the uterus.  Sounding is even good for your midwife!  It helps her know how you are doing and perhaps how she can help you.  It also helps her know where you are in your labor.  By the 3rd baby, David knew exactly when that baby was on it's way out by the sounds I was making!

Think O-P-E-N and L-O-W sounds.  Should the mom sounding out labor feel bad about the sounds she's making?  No way!  Giving birth is, in the words of my last midwife, Barb Pepper, "animalistic".  She'd tell me to make some noise, let it out!  It's normal, it's healthy, and it's expected.

So what about those birth videos?  What should we do about them?  They are great visually, but they do women a disservice by editing the audio.  Hearing birth is equally important.  This is one reason I strongly suggest my students watch Orgasmic Birth.  We get to hear birth and lots of it!  It's real.  Don't be afraid of the name, if you haven't seen it.  It's a fabulous film on many levels, but for the purpose of this post, we're just focusing on the sounds of a laboring woman.  Dads should watch this movie too.  Many men are uncomfortable with the sounds their wife might make in labor, and it is so important that they become acquainted with these sounds and welcome them.  Recognize the high and low pitches and help her stay low and open. 

Most importantly, this is your labor.  No one will ever give birth exactly like you.  You can't do it wrong.  You may not be a "vocal birther" like me.  You may be very quiet and do all your relaxing through your breath.  That is OK too.  Find your ritual and run with it.  If sounding is a part of that ritual that helps your through labor and birth, great!  "Sound" loud and proud, Mama!


Regina said...

I have wondered if it might change birth to birth, or if I will be the same as I was with my last. I was completely silent and needed complete silence. Obviously just during contractions. In between, I was talking and laughing, but everybody knew once I closed my was over! Silence!
I actually enjoyed it like that, but of course I know no different. I felt kind of bad too, because if someone even made a tiny accidental noise I would get angry! Ha! It really allowed me to focus and relax, and I felt really accomplished after each contraction. The laboring was great, and really so was the pushing. Although I do plan to do a few things differently.

Oh, and I heard that sounding out labor, even singing, can actually help open the cervix. Do you know if that is true?

Shannon said...

thank you! my doc said my groaning was not helping...well, it was helping me, but she made me feel self-conscious and i stopped! thank you for this post! next time it will be different!

Janie said...

yeah my bradley teacher talked about "keeping in control" by not getting too loud or screaming. and I just about got in an argument with her right in the class.

R times 5 said...

After watching the video of my latest birth I felt embarrassed about the noises I made and still feel somewhat ashamed of them even though I know that it was perfectly natural. At the time I was completely in tune with myself and I am proud of myself. I brought my beautiful lil girl into this world lol. I hope I can stop the negative feelings that come when I think about it. I'm working on it :) Thank you for this blog, it helps to read things like this.

Angie said...

With my first child I was pretty quite. I did not sound it out, until pushing time. I remember my OB giving me the "okay" to push and a loud scream, the I'm in pain type, erupted from me. Mid scream I stopped and almost laughed at myself. Right then I thought, "why am I screaming, this feels wonderful to push!" Especially after being told not to push for over 30 min caues doc wasn't there yet. Instantly I realized I was screaming because that is the image (from movies I'm sure) I had. I think I expected it of myself to scream. With the next push I felt a low growl come forth and I was selfconscious about it BUT it felt wonderful so I kept it going. My second child I had learned so much more about what natural childbirth can and should be like. When contractions started getting intense I let those groans go. And the selfconscious part was not an issue with my husband, doula and midwife encouraging me to sound it out. With my third I was just as you described. I considered myself a know-it-all, been there done that and did little preparation for labour and delivery. Silly me. That labour was my fastest, and hardest, cause I would NOT RELAX! When labour started it kicked right into high gear. I was so scared I had hours of tough labour to go, which had NOT happened with my first two. When I felt the urge to push, only a few hours after active labour began, I realized I was close and melted into relaxation. Those strong tones came rolling out. The difference was night and day for me. I learned two big things with that labour. One, always do a refresher course (reread my birthing books, take a class and PRACTICE my relaxation before hand). Two, sounding out my labour is invaluable to my relaxation.
Loved the post and will be sharing!

Manda said...

My partner and I watched that film when I was pregnant and I remember thinking that some of the women sounded so sexual and I felt a bit weird about it. When I was in labour I ended up sounding exactly like that -like I was having an orgasm (although I really really wasn't, I don't know if I buy the orgasmic birth thing, for me anyway). I didn't feel self-conscious at all and couldn't have stopped making those noises if I wanted to! It wasn't until after my daughter was born that I even thought about them. I did birth at home in exactly the way I wanted to though, so this might have helped me let go and be worry free!

Jessica said...

I also used a lot of low groaning while in labor rather than high pitched sounds. If I did start to make higher pitched sounds, my husband would remind me to keep my chin down and concentrate, which would bring me back to my low moaning. It definitely feels like you LOSE your energy with high pitched sounds, but with concentrated efforts, you seem to maintain energy with low groaning. Low groaning and completely relaxing my pelvic floor were my main concentrations during labor!

tvjunkie said...

Thanks for posting this! I'm pregnant with my 3rd and this will be my first unmedicated birth, and we'll be at home. This is definitely an insecurity of mine that I'll have to work through to prepare for my birth, and I'm glad you've educated me! I find watching videos w/o sound difficult. I want to hear each woman's reactions. The ones that I hear (instead of just music) I find more informative and it makes me excited for my own birth... that it doesn't have to be the screaming in pain kind.

Do you have any advice on delivering the placenta? That's one subject that seems to get over looked when it comes to natural birth, and I'm very curious.

Anne B. said...

Thanks for this post. I instinctively moaned during labor; though I had never really heard about this. It just felt right. At first it was a very high-pitched tone with a lot of fear in it. My doula came alongside me and hummed in a low tone. I matched her tone and it was so empowering. I had never heard of vocalizing in labor as a comfort technique, but it made all the difference for me. You've inspired my own post:

Krista said...

I love that you talk about this, Donna. I have to confess that when I took your class, I dismissed this in my head, so sure that I would be a "quiet birther." But then I discovered how it is physically impossible (for me at least) to remain relaxed during the peak of a contraction without making a long, low sound. Thanks to you, I knew it was totally normal and carried on with my loud noise-making. :)

Susan Skok Martin said...

I'm a Bradley teacher in LA. I definitely talk about this and work on it with my couples. I want the dads to be able to recognize a high pitch and help bring the mom down, and to know that some women really need to vocalize at some point during labor (I sure did!) - moms and dads just need to know that this normal and can be really beneficial.

That being said, some laboring moms are really quiet and introverted and may not need to vocalize; it needs to be organic and not planned. Moms who do need to vocalize need to know that this is normal, definitely okay and should not be shamed by their medical caregivers (which is probably just a result of that particular caregiver's discomfort).

Loved the post - Thanks!

Shawna said...

That's so funny...the way you described your second birth is EXACTLY how I felt! None of my contractions were bad, and I was just low moaning and doing great. Then I scared my self the way I screamed when she crowned! I didn't even push her out intentionally- she just came and it shocked me...and I hate the video because in my memory it was this easy perfect birth where I screamed briefly, but in reality -as I am reminded when I watch the video- it was not really graceful, and I was thanking God (Actually I think I called him God Almighty) when it was over! But I do remember being more euphoric than I have ever been, and that is not something I experienced with my first natural birth. I am glad to have that part on the video, to exonerate the screaming! But I enjoy looking back on the beautiful still photos WAY more than the video!

Shawna said...

And, I would like to add, the moaning is the reason I wanted to birth in the privacy of my home. I knew I would do it, and I did not want anyone to hear it and inhibit me!

Heather @ Doula Dreaming said...

This is a fantastic post, and I'll be bookmarking it for future reference. :)

My second labor/birth was a VERY vocal experience. I moaned and I groaned, and just generally carried on (not in an out-of-control way; it was more that I just needed to hear the sound of my own voice, if that makes any sense at all.) I honestly believe that doing so helped me release the tension in my body so I could work with my contractions, instead of against them.

Cherith said...

With my first birth (at home) i was a "quiet birther". I was concentrating so much on breathing and relaxing that i felt like there was no room for noise. I am a quiet person in general anyways. If i stub my toe, or experience any type of pain my first reaction is to become quiet and concentrate on taking a long, deep breath. For me that's how i work through discomfort. But who knows, maybe with baby #2 coming i will feel differently and become more vocal.