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".
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!