Friday, September 16, 2011

The Language of Labor

So, most of us are probably familiar with the term "the language of love". I firmly believe that there is also a "language of labor", a universal language that is shared by women during birth. I have had this belief for a long time, but recently had a birth that reinforced the feeling.

Marta was having her first child. She recently moved to the United States from Central America. When she first arrived, Marta spoke very little English. During her pregnancy, she was extremely proactive in learning English and from one prenatal visit to the next, her English skills flourished. Additionally, she had a great support system that included a couple good interpreters. When I got a phone call from Marta's family that she was in labor, I was so happy...I had really wanted to be her midwife. I speak some limited Spanish and am by no means fluent, but love the language and the culture. Marta arrived to the birth center, surrounded by rain, fog and her family. It was as if she was enveloped in a mist of soft, moist light. I only had to take one look at her to know that she was not far from birthing her little one. She had that aura, a vibration pulsating off her body. And, not surprisingly, remembered hardly any English. Yes, she had her family to help interpret, but honestly, we did not need them too much. We; Marta, myself, the nurse and my student, were able to speak the language of labor. The discourse that occurs through touch and look. She needed hands to hold, eyes to look into, and the comfort of closeness. Then there was the sound of crowning, that primal sound, the one that comes from our ancestral voice....that sound is universal and needs no translation. It is a sound that anyone in the room will feel in their bones. And then, the squishy, pink baby followed by the sounds of a Mother greeting her child for the first time. Marta had a gorgeous, chubby baby girl.

Many times, I feel that we do too much talking in labor...too much stimulating of the frontal lobe and pulling women out of their instinctual selves. Don't get me wrong, it is vital to be able to communicate. I am just proposing that we should be thoughtful in our use of verbal language around birth. That we should use language with a sincere purpose and weigh each word before speaking it. What are your thoughts and/or experiences with this?


  1. Although I am not yet a midwife and still in nursing school, I am an avid consumer of all things childbirth and midwifery related. I've watched many videos of midwives at home births and seen a lot of different approaches to being "with woman". I've also had the opportunity to shadow several midwives - both at home and in the hospital. Although I'm sure my perspective is ultimately limited- I think it really depends on the woman. I think ideally the communication would be just as you described - an ancient, instinctual, non-verbal dance between mama and midwife. But for that to happen the mama has to trust her body and her midwife enough to go inward, to listen to her primal voice. I believe ALL women have this capacity inside of them - but not all women are able to trust enough to hear it.

    I saw one birth where the mother looked like she was trying her best to go inward but the midwife was chattering away beside her - all praise of course- but still stimulating that frontal lobe, until the mother finally shouted in frustration -"be quiet!!". But I've also seen some women who are struggling with their fear of the birth process and benefit greatly from regular, gentle verbal encouragement - they can do it, they just need to HEAR that they can.

    So I think each woman may need something different. But I have to say, there really is something magical about the non-verbal dance...

  2. Danielle...yes, absolutley every woman needs different things/support methods during birth. It is our job as care providers to be able to give them what works for them. I had the pleasure of attending a lecture by Naoli Vinaver, who put it in a great way, saying that as midwives we need to be like fill each space in the way that fits best for each woman. I often keep this visual in mind as I support women and thier families.