“Imagine yourself in your special place.”
As I write today, I am making plans for our annual family visit to a very special place—Campobello Island, New Brunswick. It is a very small island in the Bay of Fundy with a population of little more than 1000 people, limited cell phone service, and very sketchy internet reception. There are few shops except for one very small grocery store.
At first glance, the island is by no means perfect. Despite the relative isolation, the island provides me with a safe space that gives birth to my own meaningful insight.
As I reflect, life is a search for metaphor. Could “my” Campobello Island compare to a sacred place like a family’s birthing space?
Childbirth educator and author Carl Jones states in his book, “Mind Over Labor” that “Reflection is a common byproduct of the regular use of imagery. A process of growth, it may lead to flashes of insight about subjects that concern you and your baby.” (1987, p. 65)
As CAPPA Childbirth Educators, we have learned “that women need support and encouragement to acknowledge the inner wisdom their bodies provide to birth their babies in the manner that is best for them.” (CAPPA Childbirth Educator Manual, 2016, p. 17) Like Jones, I believe that imagery is an important tool that can empower parents to tap into that inner wisdom.
This past year I have been teaching more at the “Iris Center for Mindfulness, Peace and Healing” in Fredericton, NB. Like Campobello Island, it provides me with an open space in nature where I can teach from my heart and learn from and with my students. The center provides a safe space for parents to let go, practice imagery and gather their own insight.
So, what does insight mean and how does it pertain to pregnancy, birth, and parenthood? The Oxford Dictionary defines insight as “the capacity to gain an accurate and deep understanding of someone or something.”
I am very blessed to teach in this beautiful place, but I have also taught in many places throughout my career.
As educators, we all know the challenge of finding a space to teach that is conducive to learning and that feels safe for our students to express their feelings and concerns. Likewise, we also know the impact the birthing environment has on labor, birth, and postpartum.
Carl Jones teaches “(the) birthing place need not be beautiful as long as it feels comfortable to you.” He asserts that “the unintrusive healthcare and genuine concern of the staff more than make up for the lack of homelike decor.” (Mind Over Labor, 1987, p.106) He suggests that imagery is a means of parental responsibility for finding that comfortable space.
As stated in our CAPPA manual (2016, p.20), educators offer more than factual information. We could have what we feel is the “ideal” place to teach but does that ensure learning? What is the ideal place? It is more than the facts or the dimensions. If we do not listen to the verbals and the non-verbals of our students, how are we making space for self-expression?
As I mentioned earlier, I have taught classes in many places — including a cramped room with no heating — but I did my best out of genuine caring for my families. As I reflect though, did I convey listening and under-standing or was I secretly feeling resentful and making the space even “smaller” with this energy?
Jones defines the “optimal birthing environment” with a list of criteria. (Mind Over Labor, 1987, p. 105) As I study his list, I find that overall, the underlying theme is that of informed choice. With this in mind, Jones finishes the chapter with a guided imagery exercise for the birthing environment. He explains to parents in this chapter that it “will help you tap into your inner resources in choosing and evaluating your place of birth.” (p. 108) The keyword here is “choosing”.
Jones describes several essential qualities of a good birthing place. These include safety, comfort, peace, freedom to choose and a positive attitude on the part of the healthcare team. As educators, we have the opportunity to empower our families to seek and to define those qualities that align with their values.
The New Zealand College of Midwives Journal, Practice Issue, Journal 48 cites examples of research that have elucidated many factors that impact birth, including “(a) range of social, psychological, environmental and cultural factors”. (Hodnett, Gates, Hofmeyr & Sakala, 2003; Nolan, Smith & Catling, 2009)
Childbirth education is evidence-based practice. I feel that imagery has the potential to recognize the psychological, environmental and unique cultural needs of our students.
“Now imagine the kind of birth you most desire.”
Dixon, Skinner & Foureur’s 2013 research on normal labor and birth revealed that, of the 18 women they interviewed for the study, each described their labor predominantly in terms of their emotions. They provided examples like “excitement”, “calm and confidence” and a “need to focus on themselves and each con-traction as the labour became more intense and painful”. (New Zealand College of Midwives Journal, Practice Issue, Journal 48, p.15)
Sarah Buckley explains in “Pain in Labour: Your Hormones are Your Helpers”, “There are certain conditions that will slow, or even stop the (labor) process. If the fight or flight hormones are activated by feelings of fear or danger, contractions will slow down.” (CAPPA Childbirth Educator Manual, 2016, p.89) Imagery can bring awareness to these feelings in planning for birth.
“For the time being, just let the images come without reacting to them…”
As educators, we are not clinicians. We employ mindful strategies like imagery to make these facts about the interconnectedness of birth more meaningful to our students.
“Pay attention to those images that feel right and those that make you uncomfortable.”
What are the implications for our practice as childbirth educators?
As childbirth educators, we have so many opportunities to empower. Teaching non-medical comfort measures like imagery as a life skill can be just that.
We provide safe spaces most importantly with thoughtful communication. We encourage and model collaborative communication within the healthcare team. Imagery can be such a simple way to do just that!
There is evidence that incorporating simple practices can influence a woman’s emotional experience of birth and likewise her labor process. (New Zealand College of Midwives Journal, Practice Issue, Journal 48, p.20) Simple and controllable measures like “keeping the lights low, staying quiet during contractions and not making eye contact” during the later phase of active labor or as women in the study described as “the Zone” that we can teach in our classes.
Jones explains that the “laboring woman is vulnerable, dependent, and highly sensitive to disturbances in her environment.” (Mind Over Labor,1978, p.22)
As I described earlier, “my” little island is by no means perfect and may not bring insight to everyone. How-ever, this short stay on the island is meaningful to me. It provides me with images that stay with me all year long. These images are affirmations of my well-being.
Can we help parents create their own affirmations? Jones thoughtfully guides parents:
“Tell yourself: I am able to birth in harmony with nature, in the best possible way for myself and my baby.”
“CAPPA Friends: We teach in harmony with our true nature, in the best way possible for ourselves and our students.”
- Sarah Buckley “Pain in Labour: Your Hormones are Your Helpers” 2012
- CAPPA Childbirth Educator Manual, 2016
- Carl Jones “Mind Over Labor”; Viking Penguin Inc. 1987. (All quotes in boldface are taken from a guided visualization on p.97)
- New Zealand College of Midwives, Journal 48, Practice Issue, p. 15-23
- Oxford Dictionary
CCCE, Childbirth Educator Faculty
Shelley Langmaid is a mother of three young children who has been teaching prenatal classes for two decades. Since she began obstetrical training, as part of her education at the Bathurst School of Nursing, Shelley has had a particular passion for family centered, holistic care. She holds a Bachelor of Nursing degree from UNB Fredericton and has been certified as a childbirth educator and a childbirth educator trainer by the Childbirth and Postpartum Professionals Association. A certified Roots of Empathy educator, Shelley goes into schools with parents and infants to teach school-age children about empathy. A long-time yoga practitioner, Shelley has also undertaken certification in yoga postures for pregnancy. Shelley and her family enjoy a tranquil life in the small community of Marysville, NB.