Birth Affirmations- Encouraging for labor or post-birth baggage?
Photographer: Ashley Short
Birth Affirmations are known for bringing us “warm fuzzy feelings.” But what if I told you that they could actually be emotionally scarring? That there are healthy affirmations and damaging ones?
So many of these phrases sound pretty and even look pretty when displayed with cute graphics. We use them to decorate our birth space and to give us something to focus on during labor. We study them during our pregnancy, we memorize them and have our doulas softly speak our favorites when we’re laboring away.
But are these affirmations the ones we really NEED to hear, or are they the ones we WANT to hear?
Birth itself is incredibly unpredictable. We can plan for it for months, but in the end, most of the journey is out of our control. We don’t really know what the outcome will be, so how do we know what affirmations we will need?
Even more, what if the affirmations we’ve told ourselves end up being the very thing that hurts us if the plans change? Imagine this: You’re planning a beautiful home birth, the tub is full of warm water, the birth team is in place, and everything is going as perfectly planned… until it’s not. Maybe the baby’s heart rate drops, the mother’s blood pressure gets out of hand, or the midwife isn’t legally able to attend a breech birth. For whatever reason, a transfer, C-section, or NICU is required and you’re suddenly hearing those thoughts in your head:
“I was made to do this.”
“Your body will not grow a baby it cannot birth.”
When assistance in the birth is needed, what do you think a woman will believe when she hears herself think, “She believed she could, so she did?”
Speaking on behalf of so many women that want to say these things, but can’t, I will you tell. Women with traumatic birth experiences often believe they failed. They feel they didn’t try hard enough, didn’t prepare enough, didn’t believe enough, or didn’t have enough faith. That they weren’t strong enough. Somewhere in there, she will blame herself. Because…. “Absolutely nothing is impossible for a strong-minded woman. Impossible is just a word.”
And society- our natural childbirth community- they will validate those thoughts. Because… “Your body is not a lemon.”
Often, if they express feeling broken or guilty, they will be dismissed, because the only thing that matters is… “Healthy mom, healthy baby.”
But affirmations be can so good. So how do we know which are the healthy ones? I suggest this: look at the affirmation and ask yourself, “Could I say this to a woman who is experiencing stillbirth?” It sounds extreme, I realize. But we need to be speaking wise words that ARE helpful to ALL laboring people. We could all be told that “This is hard, but you are handling it beautifully.” Everyone could use validation. “You are strong. You are brave.”
Sometimes, we get lost in the “pretty” and forget how amazing the simple things are. Being reminded, “Breathe,” is sometimes exactly what we need. “You are not alone.”
My favorite affirmations are those that be used in ANY life situation, not just birth. “I’m stronger than I think” is encouragement we could all use on any given day, especially during our parenting journey. My very favorite affirmation is “I can do anything for 60 seconds.”
I realize that birth affirmations are never one-sized-fits-all. It’s important for us to find one that speaks to our hearts. One affirmation may seem safe to one person but may be offensive to another. They should address your fears, but in a rational individualized way that encourages you that you can handle your situation. For birth workers, it comes down to respecting our clients. As we are hired to serve our clients, we should do so in a manner that shows them respect and honor in their current situation and meets their future needs. Sometimes, they may not know what their needs are, but as their birth worker, it’s our job to try to anticipate those needs and meet them. If we are able to do so with something so subtle- simply refreshing a few of our affirmations and encouragements- why wouldn’t we want to give it a try?