Childbirth as Meditation: Experiencing Full Attention


Updated 2/18/20

Keep walking, though there is no place to get to.
Don’t try to see through the distances.
That’s not for human beings. Move within,
But don’t move the way fear makes you move.

When you begin mindfulness meditation, spending 2 minutes of ‘just being’ is a noticeable struggle for most of us. And yet labor, especially from the position of the partner or support team, demands us to ‘just be’ for perhaps 48 hours or more. Helping families prepare for this prolonged engagement is an important part of childbirth preparation.


Birth and being present

In my childbirth classes I show 8 minutes of labor in real time. Not the edited professional birthing videos produced to condense 36 hours of an experience into a 6 minute ‘birth story’, but a home-made scratchy video of a mom in the second stage of labor. She hovers in a hands and knees position and is so still that you begin to wonder if the screen has frozen. Then a midwife moves across the room exchanging a cooled rice sock for a heated one. She then sits quietly, sock dangling like a heavy hammock between her hands which rest on parted knees. She looks gently at the mother’s hips, which are not moving except for the barely perceptible rhythm of her breath.

The partner, who is off camera, and the midwife move in towards the mother like a three person waltz and their hands and the heated sock reach the mother’s hips at precisely the same moment. The music of the mother’s voice begins. She is softly singing, in fact moaning, a single note that rises to a crescendo as you see the dark hair of her baby come into view. The baby disappears as the curtains of the mother’s body close back around the baby and the mother returns to stillness.

The midwife seats herself again, sock in hand and the partner again falls off camera. 150 seconds pass and the same movements unfurl like a time elapsed blooming of a morning glory flower, opening, and then closing. The midwife, the partner, the moaning, the bulging bloom of the baby, the closing, the resting. It’s like a Buddhist tea ceremony. That precise. That quiet. That slow.

When I show the video, I notice the class participants in front of me. They fidget, they check their phones. They’re relieved that it’s black and white. They look through the class content to see what lesson comes next. I try to gently ease them into the reality that birth looks like this. For an average duration of 1400 minutes. It’s also why childbirth classes can be stressful.

I fully appreciate the struggle and have infinite compassion! I am grateful for my work and to my clients that give me the opportunity to be ‘trained’ in this full attention. In my own life, it falls away and I have to reconnect with that skillful attention every day. I’m a regular student of patience. I can do it with ease with my clients (so thank you for that experience) but when observing my child put on shoes, I am aware of how painful this being present can be!

Preparing for birth challenges us. We learn to trust in something greater than our schedules and our to-do lists and our thoughts and plans. We learn to observe without fixing. We learn to accept sensations that are new and often overwhelming. We learn to move into our deepest fear, that place of stillness and uncertainty, and rest there. But it’s not easy. Thankfully, we don’t need to BE anything but who we are, and can cultivate gentleness and compassion for all the reactions that may come up. Boredom, impatience, fear. A softness can surround those thoughts.

Practicing this patience, this mindful attention, creates more ease in childbirth, but moreover, it builds a deeper trust and patience that we will need as parents. We will be called upon to cultivate this acceptance in the wakeful pre-dawn hours, the hours of cluster feedings when our baby seems intent to stay suckling for a lifetime, when we watch our baby pull up and fall back over and over again as they learn to cruise and walk. And, when it takes your child forever to put on her shoes! We learn to accept and embrace each moment and we learn to trust that all is, indeed, well. And with gentle attention, we notice its perfection.

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