Not long ago, I saw a brilliant example of a mum instinctively using relaxation, rhythm and ritual (what Penny Simkin calls the '3 Rs of Childbirth') to cope with the strong sensations of labour. Anyone who came in the room while she was having a surge would have been forgiven for thinking that she was 'not coping', as she used all of her body and voice to show just how hard she was working. However, as soon as each contraction was over, and the muscles of her uterus relaxed, she blinked and smiled around the room and said, 'It is lovely though, the rest you get in between, it is wonderful.' She then appeared to be in a state of total bliss until the next surge came and the hard work started all over again.
Initially, to me and her birth partners, this dramatic shift between intense discomfort and absolute rest was pretty funny to observe. It was a total and immediate change, and the first time it happened, we all (including mum) got the giggles. But when she was still making this transition, with every surge, 8 hours later, it was less funny and more awe-inspiring. By drawing on her apparently natural ability to live in the moment, and, I'm sure, a wealth of juicy endorphins, she was able to feel her rest periods as keenly as her contractions, with apparently no fear of what was going to happen next. It was incredible to watch, and a great example of how you don't have to birth silently to be coping well.
Writing on Mindful Birth, Nancy Bardacke breaks down the time spent with the uterus contracting compared to the time available to rest in labour. A widely-accepted (if imperfect) definition of active labour is when a woman is having three contractions every ten minutes, with each contraction lasting a minute, and with this pattern happening for over an hour. This, in theory, means that in a text-book first stage of labour, there are seven minutes available out of every ten to rest. In an hour, that would give us a potential 42 minutes of rest! I appreciate that, in reality, it's not that simple. But it's certainly interesting to consider.
This mum was an absolute trooper, and I was delighted when I came in the next evening and found out that, after all that work, she'd had an uncomplicated birth about an hour after handover. I wish I could bottle what she had - a kind of eau de mindfulness - and pitch it to mum's across Yorkshire. Unfortunately, I'm neither scientist nor magician. So the rest of us will just have to put in a little work, and try to master what she did naturally through regular practice in the lead up to our births!