Not right as in opposite of wrong. Right as in, not left.
There are 2 sides (or hemispheres) of the brain. The left side is the logical half; the part that analyzes, holds facts, and is good at math. The right side is the creative half; the part that processes emotions, guides intuition, and understands rhythm. And it’s the right side that guides birth.
That means that birth in an art.
Science is very much involved of course; evidence-based findings SHOULD be the cornerstone of every midwife’s, obstetrician’s, nurse’s, and doula’s practice. But when you take away the artistic, intuitive component of birth, it doesn’t work correctly.
For example. Leading up to my first birth, I assumed that because I was a midwife the whole process would come more naturally to me; that could not have been further from the truth. The knowledge I had about birth sent my left brain into overdrive, and my poor little right brain lost a lot of its power. I spent so much energy analyzing my contraction pattern and every nuance of the baby’s heartbeat that my intuition was silenced, my labor stalled at 7 centimeters, and it took a lot of science (in the form of pitocin, internal monitors and an epidural) to get it going again.
Unfortunately, it’s really easy to switch over to left brain birthing. Even something as simple as your partner saying, “what would you like to do now, honey?” as well-intentioned as it may be, can start to get those left-sided neurons firing. “Oh gosh, I don’t know what I want to do now! I think my childbirth educator said that at 6cm I should take a bath. Or was it 7cm? Am I 7cm yet? Wait when was the last time I had a vaginal exam? Where did my doctor go?” And so on.
Certainly I believe in learning as much as you can about birth during pregnancy, in the form of reading and childbirth preparation courses But a major component of these classes needs to involve helping women trust their innate ability to give birth. The facts about labor are essential, but they are not enough to get a woman through birth, especially in a medical setting. When you are 8cm dilated, I don’t want you to be hearing my voice describing the signs of transition. I want you (and your partner) to have a “tool bag” of coping skills that will allow you to stay in the right side of your brain. I want you to feel confident enough to trust that your right brain knows just what to do.
Something that can really help with this is discussing your birth preferences with your partner and labor team ahead of time. If, for example, your partner knows that you want to try spending time in the shower, they can say, “let’s go try the shower.” If you’ve changed your mind and that idea sounds horrible, you can certainly say that (it’s not like you’re going to lose the ability to think and talk). But that’s much more gentle on your brain than asking it to analyze the next course of action.
This is not to say that people shouldn’t ask you questions during your labor; you should be an active decision maker throughout your birth. And there are times when very frank and analytical conversations need to take place. But whenever possible, you need to be allowed to stay in your creative, intuitive brain-space.
There are ways that the art and science of birth can work together harmoniously. Let’s take epidurals. They are not perfect and should not be “routine,” but they have a place in birth for sure. For some women the pain (and fear of pain) in labor may be so great that it overrides the workings of the right brain. An epidural can help a woman like this get beyond the pain, stay relaxed, and let her body do its thing.
But we do need to take a few steps back from the medicalization of birth, to get us out of our left brains a bit. Spend some time thinking about your right brain’s favorite activities: music, visual art, mediation, yoga, dancing… the list goes on. All of these things can be done during labor (even in a medical setting, even when interventions are present). Practice your preferred art throughout your pregnancy so that you can more easily tap into into during your birth.
And above all, trust yourself.
Your body knew how to grow this baby. It knows how to give birth. And it won’t be long before that sweet little baby will be sitting across the table from you, making his/her own art project, totally unaware of just how powerful his/her little right brain is.