Everyone knows that transitions are hard. Moving, changing jobs, getting married, having a baby, losing a loved one, ending a relationship, starting a new school, a new diet, a new parenting technique. Your body knows that transitions are hard and initiates your usual stress response. Muscle tightness, increased adrenaline, anxious thoughts. What if it doesn’t work? What if I fail? What if something goes horribly wrong? What if it’s just too hard?
In labor, the period of completing cervical dilation and getting ready to push is called transition. Toward the end, around 8-9 cm dilation, about 2/3 of women feel a change in themselves. The contractions feel stronger, harder, longer. You feel like giving up. You feel tired, done. On second thought, you don’t really want to have a baby at all and will just go home now. NOW, DAMN IT!
But the only way out is through.
Transitions are hard for two reasons:
A. Entry into the unknown
What we don’t know or don’t understand frightens or concerns us. The crap you know is better than the crap you don’t know. The anxious thoughts come taxiing down the runway. You feel ready to take off into full blown doubt, shaking with fear. The unknown is infinitely harder to control than the familiar. And oh, how we need to control it.
Change is hard because it is shakes us from our usual m.o. We’re going along quite nicely, all the familiar issues in hand, and then: Oh no, this isn’t one of the usual problems….This isn’t how I usually feel… Routines and expected things are comforting to our primitive brain. We got this. A change pushes us out of the plane before we’ve checked the parachute for the 14th time. Changes are hard to control. And oh, how we need to control.
What you can do to make transitions easier:
1. Let it go. Transitions are hard because of the loss of control. In labor, at some point, you have to give up your need to control the situation. It may be the moment you walk in to the hospital when you say “give me the drugs! get this thing out!” Or it may be sometime when you decide to just let the intensity wash over you instead of fighting the waves. You cannot control it and it hurts when you try. You are now handling it by not handling it. Do not do. Just be.
2. Let it be hard. It’s OK for things to be hard. Everything that is worthwhile is hard. You can do hard things. Birth is hard, no matter how it is accomplished. You will feel that it was worth it. If not immediately, eventually. You will be glad that you did something hard.
3. Go easy on yourself. Do not compare yourself to anyone, even your own self. Just take it one minute at a time. What can you do right now to feel better? Maybe not good, but better. Give yourself the time to just be, let the new way of being slowly reveal itself to you.
4. Be grateful. Focusing on the positive always improves internal environment and external outcomes. If gratitude can heal you from cancer, it can help you over a rough patch, too. Think of everything wonderful that has already occurred. Of how lucky you are to be surrounded by love or health or support. Think of how incredible it is that your life is delivered, even though you can’t read the address.
5. Lean on someone. We’re here together for a reason. We’re social animals that rely on each other. Women, especially, find physiological stress relief from the support or other people. People who help others feel good about themselves. Help someone feel good about themselves by letting them help you. Really help you. In labor this could mean being a leaning post, a shoulder to cry on, a couple people to pull off a giant hip squeeze, or someone to listen sympathetically to your cursing. I recommend a good doula.
BONUS: And remember that whatever you are going through: this, too, shall pass.