Where to start? In the past 40 plus years I, as Director of Common Knowledge Trust that produces Birthing Better Childbirth Preparation Online Course, have listened to tens of thousands of Birth Stories from all over the world … and in many countries where modern medicine is not available. Birth Stories coming from traditional communities where there is no medical care are very different from those told by modern women because there is no where to go if there are problems. So, I’m going to leave those stories aside for now. I’m going to start at the beginning of my journey into childbirth … the early 1970s.
In the Beginning, there was this question so often asked by too many pregnant and birthing women and expectant dads-to-be … ‘What about …’? In order to understand the context of that profound question, we have to look at the present history of childbirth.
In 1970s birth practices in the US were positively changing. Families today take for granted many of those positive changes and believe birth was always like it is now. But so much has changed. I know the truth of this because I had my daughter just as many of those changes were occurring. When I gave birth 12 years later birth was incredibly different from when I first gave birth. But this series is not about me but about us.
Changes in the 1970s
Here are some of the childbirth changes that were not available to families in the US prior to 1970. Take a look at what has been accomplished.
- Birthing in the same room as where you labour.
- Not being strapped down with feet in stirrups.
- Not being shaved or given an enema.
- Fathers with us to help as well as other support people.
- Being able to move around.
- Being able to deliver in various positions.
- Use of water to ease pain. Birth pools, showers, baths.
- More attractive rooms. Birth stools, birth balls.
- Being able to eat and drink.
- Bringing in music and other personal belongings.
- Moving furniture around in the room.
- No mandatory episiotomies.
- Vaginal births after cesareans.
- Not being knocked out for the birth.
- Delayed cutting of the cord.
- Baby on belly after birth.
- Baby staying with parents instead of being whisked away.
- Being able to breastfeed after birth.
- No formula or sugar water given routinely.
- Family staying rather than just ‘visiting hours’.
- No routine circumcision.
- Early discharge.
- Birth Centers
- Midwifery training.
- Legalization of midwives and home birth options.
And there were many more. What an incredible change occurred during the 1970s from just a few years from my mother’s generation after WWII and throughout the 1950/60s.
However in the 1970s as today there is a lot of variations on these themes.
First Birth Story early 1970s
… how The Pink Kit skills worked. (Birthing Better was previously known as Birthing Better with The Pink Kit Method®. It’s now presented in online birth classes.)
This particular woman had a history of terrible menstrual periods. She would be in bed for a week of each month with pain, fainting, and heavy bleeding. She was terrified of giving birth. She loved being pregnant because she didn’t have periods!
She wanted two people to be with her to support her. Her doctor was fine with that but the hospital had a policy .. one person.
Birth is personal and political
Now she was faced with a political issue about policy. This is not uncommon within the many ‘What about …’? stories. Recently I’ve been corresponding with a woman who is pregnant with twins and is not only seeking a natural birth but one at home. So, like the woman in this first story, the woman with twins has lots of questions that start with ‘What about …’?
The woman in this first story actually got pro-active. There was a second hospital. At the second hospital, it was ok to have two people if the labour wasn’t long although they had to stay in the room at all times and couldn’t hang out in the corridors. Not ideal but better than the first hospital. That’s the reality. You have what you have. At least this woman had some ‘choice’.
How would the Pink Kit skills fit into their birth? Well, the couple was learning the skills at home as they are designed and enjoying doing that. Her husband, like so many fathers-to-be, absolutely loved there would be very specific and practical skills he could use to help her when she was in pain. They loved, as does everyone, that hundreds of ordinary mothers and fathers developed all the skills. Learning from other families meant the skills would work!
Because of her history with intense and debilitating menstrual cramps, her obstetrician was concerned and wanted her monitored and using pain relief. This is all political. ‘What about … ‘? what did she want?
Pink Kit = Birthing Better
She and her husband started learning the Pink Kit skills very early in their pregnancy not just not from 24 weeks onward. Even so throughout her pregnancy, she was so terrified. Mid pregnancy her husband had a back injury that laid him up for weeks and then he had a spinal fusion at the end of her 8th month. ‘What about …’? Life goes on even when you’re pregnant. That’s what you have.
In other words ‘What about …’? always falls into the reality of life.
She didn’t want to do the Internal Work starting at 32 weeks. Although her husband was very gentle she won’t have it, but she would let her best friend do it on her with her husband present because she believed it was important. The sensations were uncomfortable for weeks and stimulated her future fear of pain and caused her to tense up ‘down there.’
So, ‘What about… ‘? her ability to relax down there? It was a struggle and a challenge. With emotional and physical disciple she used the Internal Work as ‘practice’ to relax. Boy, she had to work hard.
When labour started at about 9:00 pm, she tried to sleep but wasn’t very successful. Her mind was racing and she had a lot of fears of what was about to happen. What about … all her skills? Good question! In hindsight, she said that she didn’t use them at all at this point and regrets that on looking back. Her husband tried to get her to use her Directed Breathing, the ‘What do you want to do now?’ technique when labor niggles, relaxing around the pelvic clock, deep touch relaxation … anything. But she said that she just absolutely got stubborn and refused to even try. She realized after the birth that she had a habit of giving in and giving up. So she had a miserable night and so did her exhausted husband.
He eventually went to sleep feeling guilty about leaving her alone and she was resentful that he did. Which in hindsight after the birth she said was another of her habits …. to make it so hard for anyone to help her that they finally got tired and then she’d feel resentful.
Birth is amazing at bringing out all our habits. And that’s what we all have to deal with. So, what about…. the PK skills? She says that her biggest mistake was not using the skills right away and not working with her caring, loving and skilled husband. She did not repeat this mistake at her next birth 3 years later.
Birth is never what you expect
Her husband was 5 weeks post-operative from major back surgery and he was concerned about how she was dealing with this very early phase of labor. ‘What about … ‘? his ability to really help her if she needed to literally lean or hang on someone? ‘What about ….?’ all the skills they had practiced with their friend and now she wasn’t willing to even try? After the birth, he realized that birthing women have to want to use them and then do so. He couldn’t make her be willing to use skills no matter how hard he tried.
By next afternoon not much had changed. She wanted to go to hospital and get checked. She was in a miserable mood and he was nervous. She called the hospital and they told her to come in and be checked. ‘What about …’ that experience?
After the birth, she talked about this first hospital visit and how it was made worse by the fact that she was not using any of her Pink Kit skills. The midwife was rough when she did the vaginal exam. This made her hysterically cry. The midwife was impatient and told here … ‘you’re only just beginning to soften your cervix and aren’t dilated at all. The woman believed that she had been in labour since the night before and boy was she was pissed off!
The midwife called her doctor. Her doctor told her to go home! She was angry with everything and everyone! She only lived a few blocks from the hospital so she and her husband trudged home. She was absolutely miserable.
Use birth skills
On the way home, they talked. ‘What about …?’ Well, they talked about the fact that labour wasn’t progressing, that she was tired and he was exhausted by trying to help her without much success. Then they talked about their immediate reality. This was what was happening. Could they do anything to help her cope and feel more comfortable? Her husband always believed they could just use the skills or at least try them!
She said that reluctantly she was willing to work with one of The Pink Kit skills … how to deal with niggling labor and that’s asking this question … ‘What do you want to do now?’ This is a great skill to use when labour isn’t yet progressing. At first, she said: ‘I don’t know’. Her husband gave the response he was encouraged to give ‘That’s not an option’. In other words, he was not willing to tolerate her not making some decisions. He kept asking ‘What do you want to do now?’
Well, one of the greatest birth skills is to make a decision. In reality, even if you refuse to make a decision you are still making a decision and doing something. So why not choose?
‘What about … ‘? the next few hours after she was willing to answer that question: ‘What do you want to do now’? Well, first she chose to take a longer walk rather than going directly home. She said afterward that inside she was hoping the labour would just get going but nothing changed. After the walk, her husband asked the same question: ‘What do you want to do now?’ He required that she make a decision.
For the rest of the afternoon and evening, he continued to ask that question and begrudgingly she made a decision. After the birth, she said that doing this turned out to be the most transformative aspect of birth. She realized that she had lived a large part of her life letting things happen to her and the question was forcing her to take responsibility. Her husband, after the birth, said that during the afternoon and evening she went through every single ‘I can’t, don’t know, why bother’ that tended to be her response when things got tough in her life.
He knew this was hard but he also knew that she had to do something, anything so why not use the skills they had taught themselves?
‘What about … ‘? the rest of the afternoon and evening? Surprise, she got so good at deciding what to do next, she had a list made and they went through it. They laughed a lot. She relaxed. She began to use some of the skills between and with the contractions. Afterward, she said that the contractions were a bit annoying but nothing like what they had been the night before when she was just stressed, tired and anxious.
After a warm bubble bath, they both had a good night’s sleep. She said she’d sort of wake up a bit with each contraction but she used her Directed Breathing and Pelvic Clock and went back to sleep. Afterward, she said that doing things for herself was really calming and empowering.
Just keep using your birth skills
In the morning the contractions had changed a little bit. They were deeper, lower, longer and a bit stronger. ‘What about …’ that morning? Well, they used their skills. She even went into the bathroom and checked herself. She said she could feel the baby’s head and the tissue over it but couldn’t really tell. how dilated But for her this was a major achievement. Her husband felt so proud of her. He was beginning to see her positively change and become totally involved in the experience that was happening.
That second day, she had her list of what she wanted to do and they just went about their day doing those things. Afterward, both of them said that this was an incredibly beautiful time together.
By afternoon the contractions were definitely getting stronger and more intense. She often had to stop during a contraction. Her husband watched her face and listened to her breathing and if he heard or saw any tension he immediately breathed with her or told her which different parts of her body (inside) to relax. But he knew this wasn’t really strong labour. However, he was really impressed by how she was coping.
Normally, if she experiences this amount of pain with her period she would be writhing around on the floor, white as a ghost. Instead, she was coping well and feeling very happy.
Life and birth
Late in the afternoon, she decided she wanted to go back to the hospital and be checked. She was certain labour was now progressing. ‘What about …’ this experience? Well, she arrived and asked the midwife to call her doctor. She decided she didn’t want to be checked except by her doctor. The midwife objected strongly and argued with her but she really insisted. The midwife called her doctor who said she’d come in soon.
While she waited for her obstetrician, she sat on the bed with her husband and worked through each contraction. Her doctor arrived within the hour and did a very gentle internal. She was barely 1 cm dilated and 50% softened!
‘What about …’ her response? Well, at first she was absolutely livid! She said ‘What have I been doing all this time?’
Her husband said that he was a bit surprised as well but that’s what the reality was! The doctor told her this was not uncommon for a first baby and she could go home again. The doctor left her and her husband alone to make a decision about what they wanted to do.
Adapt your birth skills
After birth, they said that this was another turning point for them. They said it was all about ‘What about….’? This was how it was. She had now been ‘in labour’ (from her view point) for almost 2 days. Her doctor told her it was ‘false labour’. She could have spit tacks at that term. On the other hand, she had deepened her skills and she had a husband who loved using them.
It is all about reality. All you ever have is the reality of the moment and what you do to live that reality. The more you work with what you have and the less with what you want, the better the experience.
Funnily she said, she relaxed and was just getting up to get dressed when the contractions really changed. Just like that from one contraction to the next, there was a huge change. At this point, it was early evening of the second day.
They told the doctor they would like to stay. The doctor was fine with that. So, ‘What about …’ the rest of the evening?
Well, her labour picked right up. In fact, within 20 minutes her contractions were 3 minutes apart and one minute long instead of 20 minutes apart, irregular and very short. Afterward, she and her husband said that they had now such a good habit of using their Pink Kit skills after two days of using them, it was very easy to just work together moment-to-moment.
After another hour she felt nauseous and went to the toilet. Meanwhile, they hadn’t told anyone that labor contractions were changing. They didn’t think about telling anyone because they had spent the past two days together without anyone else around except their friend. No one came into the room to check them. When she vomited, she also got scared. Afterward, she said that nausea triggered old feelings about her menstrual problems.
She said her husband was amazing and she actually complimented herself on letting him help her. Great progress really.
‘What about … ‘ what happened next? The midwife happened to come in to see how they were doing and found the woman sitting on the toilet with her husband kneeling on the floor between her legs really helping the woman to stay calm. The midwife could hear from the sounds she was making … ‘grunting’ that she must be close to delivery.
The midwife rushed out to get the doctor who was just leaving the hospital. Meanwhile in the bathroom … Afterward, the woman said that she was absolutely faced with a moment to moment decision to dig deep, use her Pink Kit skills to overcome her fears with all the intense sensations or she was going to freak out totally. She said her head was so clear and her inner dialogue so caught between her ‘negative voice’ (which she had been taught to recognize in The Pink Kit) and her management voice (another valuable Pink Kit skills). She said these two parts of her were at war. She had to keep choosing whether she was going to let the negative voice rule or use her skills as a manager. Moment-to-moment she was constantly faced with Now.
While this was going on in her head through each intense contraction and very short space between, what about … her husband?
He’d never been to another birth. All he knew was that for 2 days she had been having these sort of mild contractions and in one and a half hours she was doing this! Afterward, he said that the change was SO quick and so dramatic that the only thing he focused on was keeping her in ‘management mode’ rather than freaking out.
He said, he didn’t feel afraid at all … not even of her pain but he knew she WAS in lots of pain and his job was to keep her coping and managing at all costs. He figured he’d let the professionals do what they had to do. The midwife came in and she didn’t have any concerns about what was happening but also didn’t help. The midwife, however, did tell them before she went out to get the doctor ‘You’re doing so well!’
He said his wife was really tensing up her hands and he made her look in him the eyes and said to her: ‘You can’t do that right now. You must get rid of your tension.’ She said: ‘I CAN’T.’ Then he said, inspiration struck him and he told her ‘Just throw the tension out your hands!’ With that she started to flick her fingers and shake her hands and as she did that, she started to cope better with her breathing. (See … knowing a set of skills inspires you to find others at the time!)
‘What about …. ‘ the time frame? Maybe 15 minutes had passed!
The doctor came in as the woman started to push. Keep in mind this was her first birth but the woman had done the internal work although reluctantly.
The doctor suggested she get up on the bed. After the next contraction, the woman managed with the help of her husband. Given the last two internals, she was thinking ‘Oh my god, what if I’m only 1cm still’.
Instead, the head was showing! She had another ‘pushing’ contraction and the baby’s head almost crowned.
Birth skills lead to humor
The doctor said: ‘Your baby is almost here’. The woman had that wonderful space between ‘pushing contractions’ where you can chat etc. She looked at her husband then reached down and touched her baby’s head then looked up at both the doctor and husband and said: ‘Is this all there is to giving birth?’
Everyone laughed and within two more contractions she had given birth to her son.
‘What about …’ how she and her husband felt afterward? First, the doctor and midwife were totally amazed at how well they did. The woman told her husband she couldn’t have done it without him. He told her how proud he was of everything she had done. She complimented herself and then told everyone what she would have done better next time (this is a very natural Pink Kit response. It’s not self-criticism, it is actually self-learning and needs to be honored, respected and investigated later … even over the next year this self-learning grows)
From the time the couple arrived and decided to stay in hospital to their baby born was a little under 2 hours. This woman is one of 30% of women who dilate right at the end of labour instead of 1cms/hour.
I’m another one of those women. My births were different. Five hours + and very progressive but with little dilation until the end and then pop open and baby is out in a few pushes. This is one of the things Birthing Better families have learned over the years and why it is so very important to just keep working with your baby’s efforts.
‘What about …’ after the birth? Well, since this couple was one of the early Pink Kit (now known as Birthing Better Childbirth Preparation) families to fully incorporate learning, preparing and utilizing their skills they experienced what so many of us have since … a total transformation of our lives.
This couple said that once they started to use their skills and work with what they had when they became conscious. Once they were conscious then they could adjust to what was happening. Sure they had moments when they were a bit confused but they defaulted to skills and sorting it out rather than defaulting to feeling out of control and overwhelmed.
Birth skills are Life skills
This spun off into early parenting and into their personal relationship. They were always able to step back and sort things out.
Their second Pink Kit baby was born 3 years later with so much more confidence and joy and still the same amount of preparation (including the internal work) but this time with both of them working from the same page!