If you received your education in Western Society you may have come across the term “tabula rasa” either in literature, philosophy, religion, psychology or social science classes in secondary or post-secondary school. Tabula Rasa translates from Latin into “Blank Slate”. It is the belief that all humans are born without a single imprint of knowledge on their minds but are instead clean, fresh, empty and ready to be written on. This belief, that originated in the mid-300s B.C., holds that it is a person’s experience of the world that wires their brains. In other words, whether our personalities are shaped by “nurture” (experience) or “nature” (genetics), tabula rasa suggests that it is “nurture” that writes on this slate.
But what does this old belief have to do with giving birth?
Far too often our clients and students express feelings of fear, doubt, and anxiety over how they will give birth. As doulas and childbirth educators we work with our clients to help them define their fears and resolve them. Over the years we have discovered many sources of fear that seem to be imprinted on the minds of expectant families.
Baby bumps are magnets
As soon as friends, co-workers, or even strangers realize that you have a baby bump, you become a magnet for scary birth stories. Sometimes without even asking, people start spouting off their stories of blood and gore, failed inductions, emergency cesareans, pain, panic and abusive medical staff. Did you need to hear that story? No. Was that story in any way helpful? Probably not. What it may have done however, is plant a seed of fear in your mind – one that may continue to haunt you for your entire pregnancy and ultimately during your birthing experience.
As professionals, we need to listen to parents when they share their birth stories.
Sharing stories of hurt, disappointment and trauma help parents heal. There is no doubt about the importance of processing one’s birth story. However, expectant parents, especially first timers, are not therapists.
While genetics may play some role in pregnancy and birth, it usually takes a backseat to how you FEEL about birth and how your labour unfolds. Just because your mother had caesareans, and her mother had caesareans, and your sisters, aunts, and cousins birthed their babies a certain way does not mean that you will birth your baby the same way.
Every woman, every baby, and every pregnancy is different.
There are also many external factors that can effect a birth experience and outcome such as location, support team, interventions or new ways of using interventions, policies, technology, medications, education, etc. – and these are constantly changing.
In my experience over the last 5 years of being a doula, I have seen major changes in how births are managed and how immediate postpartum care is handled. I am always learning and impressed with some of the improvements I’ve been fortunate enough witnessed.
Your birth is NOT your mother’s birth - it will be your own.
Can somebody please have a good birth experience on this television show or on any other show for that matter?! No, of course not, because that wouldn’t be good for ratings!
Let me tell you a little secret: birth in real life can be boring, a good boring. Television and movies are meant to entertain, that means they need to scare you or make you laugh or both. Our culture has raised little girls to believe that birth is super fast, extremely painful, and the partner will get slapped or blamed “YOU DID THIS TO MEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” Well I have yet to see anyone get slapped!
In our Hypnobirthing® Childbirth Education classes we watch some birth videos. Most of our students are absolutely shocked at how “boring” and normal the experience can be – it really helps them shake the version of birth out of their system that they have been accustomed to seeing on television and in the movies.
Did you know: When we experience stress and anxiety it can have a physical impact on our bodies?
When your mind is stressed you create high levels of catecholamines. One type of catecholamine is adrenaline which causes fight, flight or freeze reaction and is not helpful during birth. In Hypnobirthing we give you the tools to learn to keep your mind calm both during your pregnancy and ultimately during your birthing. Staying calm and relaxed promotes the production of endorphins – the body’s natural pain medications, and oxytocin, the “love hormone”.
Fears you take into your labour may become a reality, a self-fulfilling prophecy
Throughout your pregnancy you are going to get tons of unsolicited “advice” – something that continues into parenting. You need to focus on your own hopes, goals, and philosophies around birthing and parenting and start filtering the external messages you are receiving. Start setting up good boundaries for yourself. If someone starts to share a birth story with you, you can ask them not to. I know as Canadians we fear offending others. Try saying something along the lines of “I would love to hear your story! But can we wait until after my baby is born, that way we can grab a coffee and I can share my story with you?” In HypnoBirthing class we hand out these fun little buttons that say, “Please! Only happy birth stories… My baby is listening.”
Remember, when it comes to this pregnancy and your upcoming birth
you are a blank slate.
It’s okay to let go of that other birth story you heard about, saw, witnessed, or even had before. You’ll be better for it.
Every pregnancy is a fresh start.
Sarah Baker is a the co-owner of Lifetime of Love Doula Services. She has been supporting families for almost a decade as a birth doula, postpartum & infant care doula and childbirth educator. She is mom to three boys, twins and a singleton.