Thursday, March 24, 2016

Meditation in Birth Preparation

   There are many ways we prepare ourselves for the birth of a child. We choose a care provider, take vitamins, drink plenty of water, research our options, pack a hospital/birth center bag, or buy a home birthing kit. We wash tiny clothes and soft blankets, and get everything set up just right before the baby comes. Some of us hunt down doulas and interview them until we find just the right one whom we 'click' with, some take birth classes and tour hospitals. But how much can we really prepare for the act of labor itself? No matter how many times you go through it, each is a crazy, completely unique ride all its own, but there are things you can do like exercises to strengthen pushing muscles, chiropractor adjustments to keep the hips aligned just right to physically prepare you for labor, but what can you do mentally about that mystery date marathon coming toward you? Each woman is different, but I prefer a couple different approaches: reading empowering, birth-centered material like Ina May's Guide to Childbirth and The Birth Without Fear blog, and meditation.
Psalm 139:14- My meaningful affirmation visual
   I just lost a chunk of you with that last one, didn't I? Nah, you probably didn't even click on the link when you saw the title if you were raised the same way I was. In my upbringing, meditation was bad, evil, "New Age" voodoo. While this may be the concept that comes to mind for some people when meditation is mentioned, it's actually a very common practice from the beginning of time. In fact, there are at least 28 scriptures in the Bible that specifically call on Christ-followers to meditate- Meditate on Him(Psalm 16:8), Meditate on good things(Philipians 4:8), Meditate on scriptures(Joshua 1:8), Meditate for wisdom(Proverbs 6:6), Meditate for peace(Luke 12:24-27), and so much more. So why do we flinch at the use of this word in so many contexts?
   According to the dictionary, meditation is to think deeply and carefully in silence; a method of relaxation by focusing one's mind. What about that is evil? Quite frankly, I have found meditation to be very helpful in my life. I've dealt with anxiety and depression since childhood, and have found that aside from prayer for peace, meditation and relaxation techniques are the most helpful thing I can do to cope with the tough days. I have found it to be very helpful during the third trimester of pregnancy, and during labor and delivery as well. For me, it looks something like this: a focused time each day of purposeful physical relaxation(SO helpful later on during contractions) while listening to a play list of songs I find encourage and minister to me specifically. Lately it's been in the form on lying on my side in bed during the kids' rest time, running my essential oils diffuser with relaxing, uplifting scents that are proven to stimulate the limbic region(aka "happy center") of the brain, turning on my music playlist, and just focusing on relaxing my body completely, starting with my face and working down one body part at a time. It helps that unless I'm interrupted by a toddler who is sure he must have missed the 'okay to wake' alarm or the dog who thinks a wasp tapping on the window is an ax murderer I am almost always asleep before I hit my toes. We don't realize how much tension we hold in our bodies until we are purposefully relaxing them. Especially during labor, the tension in our faces, necks, shoulders, and thighs all add significantly to our pain levels, and can even inhibit labor progress by preventing the cervix from dilating or contractions from being as effective as they could be in moving the baby down.
Practicing this kind of purposeful relaxation in the last weeks not only helps keep your blood pressure lower, but it trains your mind and body to work together to purposefully relax when asked to do so. By adding in elements of sound(meaningful, relaxing music), smell(calming, relaxing, or energizing essential oils), and sight(a picture of your baby, an affirmation, a scripture, etc), you can create an environment where your brain and body have extra help remembering that relaxed state. It helps me deal with contractions and labor so much. Even when in transition or going through particularly difficult contractions, I can take a deep breathe and help my mind immediately grasp a favorite, encouraging, empowering line from the song playing-


"This mountain that's in front of me will be thrown into the depths of the sea, for through it all my eyes are on You, and through it all IT IS WELL."

"You make me brave, You've called me out beyond the shore into the waves, You make me brave, No fear can hinder the love that made a way."

"I'm no longer a slave to fear, I am a child of God."

"You will lift my head above the mighty waves, You are able to keep me from stumbling, In my weakness You are the strength that comes from within, Good Shepherd of my soul, take my hand and lead me on." 

"It's nice to know I'm not alone, I've found my home here in Your arms."

"When my world is shaking, Heaven stands, When my heart is breaking I never leave your hands."

   Yep, terribly evil, mystical stuff there. Sarcasm. I am fluent. In all seriousness, as some one who has dealt with anxiety my entire life, I dare you to try it when you are feeling overwhelmed. As a doula I urge you to try adding to this to your birth prep routine in the third trimester. As a Christ-follower, I challenge you to really grasp what meditation is and use it as a tool to take some time and just rest with God in your day. He calls us to rest. He calls us to cast our cares on him(1 Peter 5:7). He calls us to find peace and quiet in His presence(Psalm 62:5, Psalm 116:7). As shown above in many verses, He calls us to meditate on His goodness, His blessings, His word, His love, and HIM. So take the time to purposefully be quiet, focus your mind, and relax. Meditate. For so many reasons. 

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