“There are three things that are givens about labor. It’s hard work. It hurts a lot and you can do it. That’s the bottom line. All the rest you learn about is icing on the cake” (from Birthing from Within by Pam England)
"A watched pot never boils" (said Grandma)
(Yes, you and your labor are the pot in this analogy).
Ok, here's the low down.
Early labor, especially for a first time labor can take hours, even days. This is the time where contractions are mild and generally manageable and not so close together.
It’s an exciting time – you feel the sensations and recognize that soon your baby will be here – imagining baby in your arms by that evening! Amazing!
Except now it’s a few hours later and the contractions are still quite far apart – but they feel pretty intense- “surely things have progressed a lot by now – surely it can’t be that much longer to wait?”
Other thoughts arise.
“If they’re this intense now, what’s it going to be like in a few hours? How am I going to manage”
This introduces stress and anxiety that can affect progress in labor.
You think about going into the hospital. Like I definitely must be close to giving birth?
Maybe you do even go into hospital, to be examined and told:
"you’re not in labor” ("um, my body begs to differ”)
or you’re “only 1 cm” (don't get me started on the use of the only in this scenario!)
This news can feel deflating and can impact on your confidence in your body.. when your body is doing exactly at it needs to, opening up and moving your baby towards you at its own pace.
It's so hard to be patient at this time. After all this time, you finally get to meet your baby!
It can feel scary to be on the edge of this physical challenge, especially when it’s your first encounter with it. Your mind races ahead and you worry about how you’ll manage contractions in an hour from now or four hours from now.
A mindfulness practice can help you to stay in the moment, to be present with what’s unfolding right here, right now, without worrying about the future).
But something else that can help - denial!
Or how to distract yourself from early labor for as long as possible!
Be in denial - distraction in early labor
Something I’ve used myself and suggest to clients is to plan a birth project for early labor.
Basically the point is to distract yourself for as long as possible from the labor and thereby also stopping the worry and allowing time to pass without you watching the clock too much. Letting your body get on with the work of labor without the mind trying to interfere!
I got this concept from the book Birthing from Within by Pam England. She says that a good labor project involves:
- Physical movement
- Contact with normal daily life
- Mental engagement in a way that blocks obsessive thinking about the labor process.
What does flow state have to do with it?
This list reminds me somewhat of flow state, which Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has written comprehensively about. Flow is, he says, “a state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience is so enjoyable that people will continue to do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it.”
Some characteristics of that state include
- A balance between challenges and skills
- Distractions excluded from consciousness
- No worry of failure
- Sense of time becomes distorted
- The activity becomes an end in itself.
It doesn’t have to be some grand feat, or involve crazy physical movement (not a possibility at this stage of the pregnancy game!), but consider the above list, and some of the suggestions below – to determine whether that activity could provide a flow state for you, even for a short time.
Some of these you would want to have practiced before labor begins – so that you can easily drop into an effortless mind space. In fact, I believe Csikszentmihalyi has said that we are more likely to access the flow state when engaged in tasks we’ve already practiced.
Ideas for an early labor project
Colouring – for example an adult colouring book (or a kids one!)
Zentangling – this is something I discovered during pregnancy with my second and formed part of my own labour project (the picture - top right in the photo) I made on the day my son was born is now hanging in the hallway) . This site has some useful information
Baking/cooking – some specific recipe maybe for eating after baby is born.
Crafting in some way -eg collage
Organising photos into an album
Doing a jigsaw
Painting or drawing (for the beginner in this zone there are for example, some great paint by numbers kits out there that could do the job!)
Ironing (flow state- is this just me?)
The important thing is to pick something that works for you – what is an activity that you become so absorbed in that you totally lose track of time?
Of course it’s also helpful to talk a walk, to eat light, maybe watch some TV, rest when you can, but a well thought out labor project can really help to pass the time!
Would love to hear any ideas for labor projects- maybe there’s something you did- maybe something springs to mind as you read the list above and the description of flow?
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