Holistic Stages of the Birth Journey: Part 1
We all hear plenty about the medical view of birth and its three stages (1st- dilation, 2nd- birth of the baby, and 3rd- the birth of the placenta). This view is not incorrect, but it is limited. Here is a holistic look at the birth process, with its many separate and important stages. You'll also find tips for partners, cool birth facts, and ideas for comfort measures along the way. This holistic journey was adapted from the teachings of our dear Whapio. You can find her at The Matrona,
The holistic stages of the Birthing Journey include:
Embarking, The Foothills, Entering the Veil, On the Mountain, The Summoning, Quietude, The Tides, The Breakers, Emergence, The Return, Acquaintance, Communion
This stage is from the end of pregnancy into the early birthing process. This is when you begin the journey. You may feel excited, anxious, nervous, unsure, impatient, and full of anticipation. Your chosen birth partner, the Guardian, will be feeling all kinds of their own emotions, as well. Your role as the person giving birth in this journey is to allow yourself to surrender to this process, knowing that your Guardian will be with you, protecting your values and wishes. Together you will embark on this journey to meeting your baby.
What Embarking May Look Like:
Nesting, completing tasks, sudden burst of energy.
Beginning to feel like something is happening, something is different.
Cramping, mucous plug release, lower back ache, loose stools, restlessness.
Sensations (tightenings) that may come and go, eventually getting stronger and more regular.
What to do:
Don’t focus on it until you have to!
Stay home: rest, eat, drink, go about your day (walk, cook, board games, funny movies, etc.)
If it’s night, stay in bed and in the dark, resting or sleeping between surges if you can.
Alert your doula that things are happening, request TENS unit and birthing pool be dropped off if needed.
Eat: protein, bone broth, healthy carbs, and drink water!
Bath and/or shower
Cuddles from pets or children
Spinning Babies stretches as needed or desired, or any movement that feels good.
Music you love, cuddling, massage from partner, etc.
You may begin to climb the mountain and then find yourself on a plateau, where you don’t gain any altitude. That’s normal! These first stages are all about your body warming up to the birth process, and feeling it out. It doesn’t need to be linear, or unfold according to any timeline. The best thing to do is to keep yourself nourished, and feeling safe and loved. You will get up the mountain eventually, and for now you can enjoy this more leisurely pace, resting up for the big hike to come.
What’s Happening in Your Body:
The hormone oxytocin (the love hormone) is what triggers the uterus to contract. The more you feel safe, loved, and relaxed, the more oxytocin will be released. Each contraction pulls up the long muscles of the uterus. This slowly pulls up and stretches the bottom of the uterus: the cervix.
Before the birth process begins, your cervix feels a bit like the end of your nose. It is likely closed, and about two centimetres long, and it is usually turned toward your tailbone.
What’s happening during Embarking and in The Foothills, is that your cervix begins to move forward, and soften, and shorten. It will feel more like your bottom lip, and be soft and stretchy. It will shorten until it’s even with the walls of the uterus. When all of that work is complete, the cervix begins to open.
Entering the Veil
During Embarking, you were likely chatting about what you felt, what still needed to be done to get ready, and making sure everyone around you was comfortable. While in the Foothills, you may have felt yourself drifting off a little from reality, feeling day-dreamy. Your concern for the world around you faded, and eventually you find that you have to check out completely in order to deal with the powerful sensations of the birth process. This is when the medical view would say that someone is moving from early into active labour (usually when the cervix has opened to about 5 or 6cm).
Entering the Veil requires you to surrender to the process. You know you must go inward to find your strength, your rhythm, your way of coping with the intensity of the sensations.
In order to be able to surrender, you must feel safe and cared for. It is important that the people supporting you take care of the little things (keeping you hydrated, helping you find maximum comfort, answering phone calls or questions from care providers, etc.) This may be a good time to invite your doula to join you, if they haven’t already, so you know your partner will have someone there to guide them as they support you.
Recognize your partner’s inner strength, and let them know that it is safe for them to enter the veil, that you will handle everything around them so that they can focus on working with their body to bring your baby down.
Cool Brain Fact:
For most humans most of the time, our brains are in Beta mode. This means that our brain waves are moving quickly, as we are processing thoughts and information. In the Foothills, your brainwaves slowed to Alpha, which is the day-dream state. After you Enter the Veil, you have access to Theta and Delta states, which are the subconscious and the unconscious. You are truly checked out of your human brain, and into your instinctive mammalian brain. (Sometimes you are pulled back into Alpha or Beta to answer questions or process a suggestion, but ideally your care team will help to limit these interruptions).
On The Mountain
This is the physically challenging part: the strong, regular sensations keep coming, and you keep breathing and swaying and moving your way through them. There are likely no plateaus anymore, and the little breaks between your strides up the mountain are shorter. They call this ‘active labour’, because that’s what it is! Your support people can help you by giving counter-pressure on your hips and/or lower back if that feels good, and helping you to relax between each wave. Follow your body’s intuition to find what works best for you, always being open to this changing as you go along. What feels good for a while may become irritating at some point, and your team will adapt and support you.
Feeling safe, the birth space is protected by the Guardian.
Invite the midwives to join, or prepare to go to your baby’s birth place.
Sips of water between each sensation.
Empty the bladder regularly, to make room for baby to come down.
Continue to eat small bites now and then, if that feels good, for energy.
Make noise if that helps you, deep/low sounds can help keep everything loose.
REST in between sensations. Completely relax all muscles and take the breaks.
Your body will be giving you endorphins, which are strong natural pain relieving hormones.
What’s Happening In Your Body:
Your cervix is opening to allow your baby’s head to pass through. This can come with intense feelings as the uterus contracts and those muscles pull up, and as this part of your body stretches open, possibly for the first time. Your baby’s head rests on the cervix, with or without the bag of waters in between, which triggers the release of more oxytocin, which causes stronger and longer contractions. This stage is when the cervix opens from about 5cm to 8 or 9cm.
You may not have witnessed birth before, and this stage may look very intense. Trust that your partner will ask for help if needed. What they need from you is complete presence, and that you protect their birth space and believe in them.
This is the part of birth you see in the movies, when people are yelling or swearing and everything seems very intense. You are reaching the peak of the mountain. This is the most intense part of the birth process, and thankfully the shortest. You may feel nauseous, have body shakes, feel overwhelmed, and say things like, “I can’t do it anymore, it’s too much”.
Your support team will remind you that you’ve come so far, and now you are near the end. You can take these last few steps up the mountain, just take them one at a time.
You are being summoned to find your inner strength, to complete this phase of the journey. You are close to meeting your baby!
What’s Happening In Your Body:
This is the final opening of your cervix (to about 10cm), called ‘transition’ in the medical realm. Contractions are likely coming very frequently, and lasting more than a minute, which doesn’t leave much time for rest at this point.
The nausea and shakes are normal, caused by the strong influx of hormones circulating in your body. Draw on your inner strength, yell it out if you need to, and find what you need to focus on in order to get through this part (your breath, an affirmation, your partner’s eyes, etc.).
Be their link to this side of the Veil, grounding them with your love. Be present in whatever way they need: comforting touch, eye contact, encouraging words. If you’re feeling uncertain, look to your doula. If the doula is smiling and nodding, be reassured that all is well.
...to be continued in Part 2!!