meditation? hallucination? you decide.

To prepare for OBoy’s birth two years ago, DanO and I took 10 weeks of birth education classes for Bradley Method birth. The Bradley curriculum main points seem to be husband coached childbirth, empowering information, and practical relaxation techniques.

‘Husband coached’ means the birth partner is there for every contraction, supporting the mama (often literally) and checking to make sure her needs (water? blanket? food? lighting? noise? pillows?) are met.

The empowering information provided DanO and I with a healthy, positive view of what birth looks like and what down right amazing things God designed our bodies to do to make birth happen. I learned so darn much from these classes – how long contractions are (I can survive anything for 90 seconds at a time), how labor usually progresses (none of this “HE’S COMING!!” stuff you see on TV), what’s really going on in there as baby descends, and what occurs when things are allowed to flow naturally. I am so thankful for the positive stories and perspectives that we heard from our Bradley teachers. It was enough to cancel out the mainstream view in my head that birth is something to fear and to numb away.

(To me? Birth feels like living. So very much living. So much instinct and “aliveness”. (What? It’s a word.))

And the relaxation. Let’s talk about that for a minute, can we? During our birth classes, especially as the 10 weeks were nearing their end, we spent time ‘practicing’ labor.

How the what do you practice that?!

I know, right? But we did. We practiced comfortable positions to labor in. We practiced husbands supporting the full leaning weights of their wives. We practiced releasing the tension in every.single.muscle. in your body (don’t forget your face!). We practiced husbands putting counter pressure on mamas’ hips and lower back. The really hard part, though, (I’m serious) was practicing mental relaxation.

Husbands were given an image that they were supposed to talk to their wives about – describe to her, for example, a scene where she is standing under a waterfall and the warm water is cascading over her body.

…meanwhile DanO and I practiced not breaking out in the giggles.

Waterfalls? Really?

DanO and I were all about the information, the laboring positions, the muscle relaxation, but we were both pretty darn sure there would be no waterfall meditation going on at our son’s birth. Not really our style, you know?

But then there I was, July 16th, 2009, making my way through the ER doors at 1am, and when a contraction hit I stopped, leaned on DanO, and found my brain thinking “Gosh I want to be in a deep, clawfoot bathtub right now. I want to be in a deep bathtub and I want it to be hot. I want to be in a hot bathtub on a warm day, outside. Hell, I want my hot bathtub on a warm day to be outside in a quiet, sunny field of daisies.”

(You know that scene in Finding Nemo where the starfish is on the tank wall, Darla is poking on the glass so she falls down, and the fish is repeating “Find a happy place. Find a happy place. Find a happy place…”

Yea, that.)

Ladies and gentlemen, my happy place for OBoy’s birth:

Ok, that’s the best I can do. You get the point, though.

For contraction after contraction, I meditated on a calm, relaxing place (aka the bathtub in my brain), only with no temptation to giggle this time. It was amazing! The mere act of focusing on something intensely (other than the fact that my uterus was evicting its 8lb occupant via my lady parts) is a powerful pain management technique. I never asked DanO to describe the scene to me because focusing my thoughts on a pleasant image was so naturally occurring I didn’t even have to try. I would look specifically at the daisies for one contraction, focus on my toes being just above the hot water for the next one. I imagined what was way off in the distance and even remember examining the clouds in the sky.

I, the once-skeptic of mental image meditation, am now a firm believer and even an evangelist.

After OBoy’s birth I started using Bradley pain management techniques all the time. Stubbed my toe? I relaxed every muscle and pictured the bathtub in a field of daisies. Burned my tongue? Bath in a field. Pelvic pain during OBrother’s pregnancy? Tub. Daises.

I shared this method with my friend Maggie of {Gussy Sews} as we were flying in the smallest plane I have ever been on. While things shook and vibrated and jolted enough to make me nauseous, Maggie and I pictured ourselves getting hot stone massages on a warm beach.

Y’all, meditation is legit.

(She also squeezed my hand until it was blue, but, you know, what are friends for?)

This time as we approached birth, I knew having a place in my mind to turn into during contractions would be important. And maybe because it had been an impossibly cold winter followed by a poor, miserable excuse for spring, this time I wanted somewhere hot, nay: tropical, to visit in my mind.

Enter: Santorini, Greece

{photo credit}

No, I’ve never been there (unless watching Mama Mia counts?) but the image is a familiar enough one to me. I had DanO pull up some pictures on his phone when we were in the hospital to give me more details to examine during contractions. Blue roofs, white stucco, crosses on domes, interesting architecture, striped sheer cliff walls, ocean as far as the eye can see. I emerged myself in the Santorini in my mind.

(It’s like a vacation – only cheaper! only covered by insurance!)

Of course, I couldn’t leave my trusty bathtub behind, so quite specifically my mental image was me in a clawfoot tub of hot water on the balcony of a stucco building overlooking the ocean.

And because the final few minutes of OBrother’s birth were so very intense, as far as my mind was concerned, he was born right here:

{photo credit}

Not too shabby a place to have a baby, huh?

24 Responses to “meditation? hallucination? you decide.”

  1. FourInchHeels

    AHH!! I took a photo about 20 feet away from this very rooftop. It’s my happy place if ever there were one .. gorgeous weather, gorgeous water, (gorgeous cruise ship lying at the bottom of said body of water, placed there the day before [whoops]), delicious coffee. Santorini ftw! https://fbcdn-sphotos-a.akamaihd.net/photos-ak-ash1/v283/57/43/15712456/n15712456_35076918_6339.jpg

    And, because I know you enjoy pretty Greece pictures — the churches on the island all have bells, and this one is just oh so serene and calming https://fbcdn-sphotos-a.akamaihd.net/photos-ak-ash1/v283/57/43/15712456/n15712456_35076926_8828.jpg

  2. Mo

    I needed this post, like really needed it. My first birth we tried the Bradley stuff, self taught as there aren’t any classes in Canada, and it was very informative during pregnancy, but during birth, I lost my sh*t. I freaked during each contraction, learned that my husband can’t really handle me freaking like that, and to top it all off i had intense back labour. The only saving grace, it was a short labour. I am now 21 weeks along with #2, and starting to get concerned about labour this time around. I always thought having those things to focus on were silly; like when you’d see a lady on tv screaming at her husband as he shoves a picture in her face to focus on, that might work for me this time! Thinking of a place Ive been, or always wanted to go, I think I’m going to try that, along with lectures to my hubby, starting now, about how he needs to focus on getting me to relax instead of almost passing out from how intense everything is!
    Great job on keeping your cool, and thank you so much for sharing your experiences!

    • Sarah S

      I just have to say, with my first with the Bradley classes I lost it during labor. The contractions were overwhelming, I wasn’t prepared for the pain and I spent a lot of time (with back labor!) trying to escape the pain. Moving around, yelling, anything that I thought would ease the pain. In reality, that only prolonged it. With my second, I re-read the Bradley stuff but I also watched a lamaze DVD and used their information on focus points for my second labor. I had a picture of the beach that I put on the floor in front of me and with each contraction I just stared, focused and thought about that place. When I felt like I was going to climb out of my body from the pain, I grabbed my hubby’s or doula’s hands and just looked at my picture and breathed. It went so much better. Second labor is also better because you know what to expect. Good luck!

  3. brittney

    Okay, so I was so excited about your birth story posts, and I really love this one! Our birth classes made us giggle with the meditation aspect, too, and I always felt so silly. I didn’t have a natural birth the first time and didn’t have to use these techniques, but it is nice to know they are actually legit. I’d really like to go without an epi this time around (pending I don’t have a birth experience like I did the first time around) so it’ll be nice to know there really is something I can do to help get me through it. Anywaaaay, thanks for posting this! I always enjoy how applicable your posts are to life!

  4. Tiffany @MomNom

    While I’ve never had the luxury of meditating during labor (two c-sections. emergency) I do practice meditation almost daily and I can believe every last word that you typed. You honestly don’t understand the power of meditaton until you find yourself fully in it, in the moment, and then you’re shocked.

    Great post. PS. I want to go to Greece. Wanna?

    • AllisonO

      I told DanO that for Isaac’s 25th birthday he (Isaac) should take me there. You know, as a gift for birthing him.

  5. OurGrowingGarden

    Interesting Tiffany. I need to practice meditation for my next one. I had induced labor due to gestational hypertension and the pitocin was absolutely unbearable. I really thought I was going to die from the pain. I had my water artificially broken bc after a half day of induced labor I just wanted him OUT. Next time, hoping to go more natural, but I’ll take an epi if I need it again, but without pitocin, who knows, I might could have handled it. Great post.

    5/25 My Extreme Couponing Trip to WalGreen’s: SUCCESS.

  6. molly

    Hey, you stole my pictures of Greece! Yes, I’ve actually been there. Na Na Na Boo Boo.

    I think I am done evicting babies from my ute. But even so, this is a nice post and a nice thought that women can do (or go) anything (anywhere) we want.

  7. Kim

    How amazing! I didn’t concentrate on a specific place when I was laboring, but on a opening like a flower — like Ina May said in her books. I laughed when I read it, but then, in the heat of it, I was all “be a flower, be a flower. Oooppppeeennn.” I love your idea!

  8. Susan

    Ack! I imagined that balcony with a bathtub and then had a flash to one of those commercials! Sorry!

  9. Sarah S

    Not a bad place indeed! Hubs and I took Bradley classes with our first and while I loved just about every aspect of the class, the whole “relaxing” through a contraction never made sense. In fact, I think during my first birth I blurted out “How the F*** am I supposed to relax through this?”. For my second natural birth, I had much better luck focusing my mind on something – a picture of the beach – rather than trying to relax my body during a contraction.

  10. bethany

    Sounds absolutely incredible. Reaffirms my eventual decision to go natural. I’m only 20, but I’m pretty sure I’m going to be such a hippy mom. natural and what not. I don’t know if i’d even have my baby in a hospital. I like the idea of a birthing center, but that might change when the time comes.

    You are a rockstar of a mom, Allison. Don’t ever forget that! All three of your boys are very lucky to have you.

  11. Alison

    I love this post. We also took Bradley method classes with our first, and I had naturally deliveries with both of my boys. Some of the techniques do seem silly while your practicing, but then work wonders during labor.

  12. Mendie

    That blue water is amazing, good choice! I am trying to relax for my upcoming first delivery and have my happy place in my head, seems like I’m visiting it more and more often the closer we get!

  13. Ashley

    I am a Bradley teacher and I get to look at all those rolling eyes and listen to the muffled giggles when I talk about these kinds of relaxation techniques. Physical relaxation seems to be easy. mental relaxation … much harder. Glad to hear it worked for you :) congrats on OBrother. He is adorable!!

  14. Hannah

    My face and shoulders held everything during contractions. It was great to have my husband and doula remind me to relax. I couldn’t do the meditation, but the relaxing every.single.muscle really worked for me. Bradley really does have a lot of good things to learn!
    I think OBrother should take you to Greece for his 25th birthday! Sounds like a fantastic present. :-)

  15. marisa

    you are so right. i went natural with my son (his name is Isaac, too!) and mental relaxation is what i tell EVERYONE who asks me how i was able to do it without an epi. so much of getting through those contractions is all in your head. i didn’t take any classes, but I’m definitely planning to take some Bradley when I’m pregnant with the second.

    your boys are so adorable! :)

  16. Beki - TheRustedChain

    I used “self hypnosis” for pain management during all three of my deliveries and I’m a huge evangelist for it too. Same idea, I believe.

    All three babies were born with no drugs, very little pain. It was the most empowering experience of my life.

    • AllisonO

      Yes! No drugs, very little pain. I don’t know, but what it was wasn’t pain. Yes, pushing is a crazy intense feeling, but contractions weren’t painful per se.

  17. Jen

    Awesome post. I wish I had done Bradley classes or been more informed on pain management before my kids. I tried to go without meds but it took me till the third kid to be able to. I didn’t know there was more to it then just saying “no thanks, I can do this myself.”

  18. Diedre

    I didn’t take any classes except general childbirth education. My birth plan was basically: “Let’s try everything else before we try the drugs, but we can try those too if nothing else is working.” (I made it without the drugs!) I didn’t have a generic relaxation image (aka happy place), but I did have two more specific images that helped me at different points.

    During the contraction/dilation process, I reminded myself of that youtube video of an elephant giving birth. First of all, the elephant was shuffling and swaying around just like me. Secondly, if entire elephants can be born through vaginas, then certainly mere humans can too. I kept thinking of that huge elephant vagina and willing mine to be huge too.

    At a later point I was instructed to not push, and I used an image from canoeing. When a speedboat passes you on a lake and its wake is coming in parallel to your canoe, you need to just relax and sit there and do nothing as the wake rocks your boat and passes through you. So that was my image, I just rocked through the contractions and didn’t push.


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