Guest Blog: Kulshan Gill

Kulshan Gill hails from Alberta, Canada, and is one of our recently certified Calm Birth instructors. 

As part of the certification process, Kulshan wrote an essay on the importance of Calm Birth in society. We were so taken with it, we asked if we could post it on our blog-- and to our delight, she agreed!

Thank you, Kulshan, and congratulations on your certification! We can't wait to see what you do with your ambition!

 

Importance of Calm Birth in Society.

 

In many cultures across the world, Pregnancy and Childbirth is a time of celebration and welcoming new life. It establishes new hopes and dreams for the future, a new era, start of a new generation.

 

From past centuries to modern times, pregnancy and childbirth are occasions to validate fertility and prosperity of a clan, a tribe or as a nuclear family. It’s one of nature’s miracles where not only the woman can be in touch with her core being and centre of creation but also everyone around her establishes a connection with a new developing life.  Pregnancy is also a time to nourish, to rest, to reflect and create positive communication between the mother and her unborn child, which after childbirth will develop into a deeper trust between mother and child. After all, prenatal care sets the stage of a child’s future physical, mental and emotional health. Women generally tend to take better care of themselves during pregnancy; thereby bringing along a great opportunity for them to also learn more about their changing body.

 

For centuries, women helped other women through pregnancy and childbirth, be it midwives, doulas, physicians, mothers or grandmothers. They provide physical, mental and emotional support during this time. However, we have come a long way with changing times and lifestyles. Today, women are considered more or less equal counterparts in running households, managing successful careers, becoming political leaders etc. With this evolution, the traditional role of women has also seen a drastic change. There is an increasing number of evidence that shows women, in the present time and age, are far more stressed and burnt out than their counterparts in a traditional household role centuries ago. This effect is being seen in women’s health with difficulty in conception, difficult labour and childbirths, and increased numbers of premature births and caesarean sections. Studies show that women who are highly stressed or are not supported during their pregnancies have a higher rate of adverse outcomes and unhealthy babies.

Even though modern medicine has developed new tools and technology, and maternal care has improved from what it used to be, we still lack the care which addresses the holistic mind body balance during this beautiful phase in a woman’s life. Medicine has come a long way in providing excellent care for physical symptoms but somehow it has fallen behind in providing mental-emotional support. This is evident with the rising rates of post-partum depression. Medically, mental health can be taken care with pharmaceutical aids but it only goes so far. This is when programs such as Calm Birth play an important role in the wellbeing of the mother and baby.

 

Calm Birth is an evidence-based program which uses proven mind-body and breathing techniques to bring a sense of calmness and relaxation to the mother and baby. It also helps with alleviating anxiety, fear and pain associated with pregnancy and childbirth. Practice of meditation during pregnancy creates a sense of self- awareness for the pregnant woman and also makes her feel empowered. This helps her go through the process of pregnancy and childbirth with more ease. Women develop a strong connection within themselves, which in a lot of ways improves the quality of health for them and the baby.  Techniques taught during the program such as Practice of Opening and Womb breathing are not mere exercises: they enhance the overall potential and experience of giving birth. As they become more centered and develop their awareness, women experience a renewed sense of energy and vitality in their bodies. Calm Birth meditation is not only for the mother, but an opportunity for both parents to experience the strong mental/emotional connection and sense of bonding with their unborn child.

Currently, Meditation – Mindfulness practices and their benefit on overall health and wellbeing is being extensively researched, despite being an ancient practice in certain cultures. This ancient wisdom provides a new dimension to childbirth. The present day childbirth education classes provided to new parents limit the education content to a very medically oriented physical sign/symptom model of care. To provide a more holistic approach, it is imperative to incorporate program such as Calm Birth. It should be part of childbirth education. Such programs empower women to trust their innate ability in bringing new life into the world, and to trust their creative potential and establish awareness in pregnancy and childbirth for generations to come. Calm Birth is a platform which provides a woman with the right tools to explore her true creativity, her womanhood and the feminine energy goddess she holds within, to create the human being and the human race.

Kulshan Gill is a Certified Life&Wellness Coach. Her educational background also includes training in Family Medicine from India and Bachelor of Naturopathy from Canada. Her special interest and main focus of practice is in Mind-Body medicine, Stress management, Meditation & Women's health. Learn more about her and her practice at divinelotuswellness.com

 

APPPAH: A Love Letter

Oh, APPPAH!

In spite of your lengthy name-- the Association for Prenatal and Perinatal Psychology and Health, to be exact-- your mission is simple: to empower families and those who support them. We are endlessly proud to be part of your mission and your family! Each year that we attend your conference and follow your progress, we are astounded by your accomplishments and your ever-reaching goals.

Your conference in Seattle this year spoke to me (Anna, hello!) profoundly, although I could only attend one day. Walking into the conference hall at Bastyr University was like walking into my grandmother’s kitchen: a flurry of activity punctuated by the warmest hugs I’d received since I moved to this cloudy city three months ago. Everyone shared a sense of purpose and curiosity, yearning to share what they knew and learn what they didn’t. The familiar faces were as comforting as family, the the new faces all held the promise of expanding my mind and heart...

The gathering of like-minded individuals is always powerful in its own right, but this year’s conference seemed especially poignant: as Calm Birth grows as an international program, it seems that APPPAH is doing the same, and with profound benefits. What other regional conference gathers people, from all walks of life, fascinated by the confluence of psychology and  pre and perinatal healthcare? I spent time with individuals from Budapest to San Salvador-- including the mayor himself, and his extraordinary wife-- all united with a passion for bringing power and heart to the neglected, the traumatized, and, yes, the hopeful new and growing families.

Me, Zsuzsanna, Sandra Bardsley, and Gabriella 

Me, Zsuzsanna, Sandra Bardsley, and Gabriella 

Is anyone more important on this planet than those who are forming our very future? APPPAH says no, and we at Calm Birth agree. While there is no easy solution to the challenges faced for parenting and childbirth professionals, the confluence of the passionate experts represented in APPPAH goes to show that an easy solution isn’t what’s needed: it’s many people working together, like bees in a golden hive.

I remember how, during my first conference in 2013, I could not quite believe that the people I was meeting actually did what they claimed to outside of the gathering. Did sweet, humble Sandra really meet with the UN on a regular basis? Did Gabriella, a fiery woman not much older than me, really run a prenatal-to-childhood care center in El Salvador? Was Kate, with her gentle speech and big brown eyes, really going to design an online certification course for students around the globe? How could these calm, kind, compassionate, but evidently normal people that I was talking to have delivered thousands of babies, written books, and changed the lives of so many people?

This year, I was still hit with that astonishment, but also with the understanding that it was entirely possible that these people did what they said, and more. The world is changing, and the individuals who are effecting change aren’t cloistered in some lonely wooden tower: they are part of society. Their hands soothe the aching backs of laboring women and the fragile heads of new babies, and then they take those same nurturing fingers to their keyboards and disseminate their knowledge so that even more people may benefit.

An image from Kate's fabulous PowerPoint

An image from Kate's fabulous PowerPoint

 

Yes, Kate really has created an online pre and perinatal educator course, and in the meantime, she has helped families heal trauma through somatic therapy. Yes, Jennie Joseph really did create a prenatal care center that has drastically lowered the rate of pre-term delivery in at-risk people, simply because they have someone to talk to-- and yet she was here, at the conference, explaining how others could do this, too. Yes, Vincent Filetti developed the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) scale that is implemented in therapies around the world, but he also took the time to speak us because he, too, sees the value of extending this to the prenatal period.

 

Why does it astound me so that people can, indeed, “do it all,” as well as “be it all”--  compassionate, intelligent, kind, charismatic, authentic? Perhaps because, as a relatively young person in the world of childbirth, taking this all on seems daunting. If I didn’t have any role models, I would certainly never believe that it was possible to be a global force for healing, even though I am already reaching people around the world through our Skype teacher trainings. At this distance, it can still feel intangible. Anyone with a mission to help effect positive change, whether it’s as a parent, a business owner, a student, a teacher, a midwife, or simply as a human being trying to follow the Golden Rule, has been hit with the thought: “I can’t do this alone.” And it’s organizations like APPPAH that reminds us that we don’t have to. We are all working together to build a better world. This isn’t just the best way to do this-- it is the only way.

After the conference: Gabi, Zsuzsanna, myself, and Nayib the Space Needle! Yes, we did make it to the top-- a nice surprise and a great metaphor! 

After the conference: Gabi, Zsuzsanna, myself, and Nayib the Space Needle! Yes, we did make it to the top-- a nice surprise and a great metaphor! 

 

Whether you are a birth professional, a parent, a psychologist, or just curious about how early life experience impacted you and how you might heal it, I highly recommend joining APPPAH’s mission. You will learn, you will grow, you will heal-- and, by doing so, you will be contributing to a better tomorrow.


Thank you, APPPAH, for your decades-long dedication to those who can’t speak for themselves. We look forward to a long and bright future together.

From the Office of His Holiness the Dalai Lama...

Recently, I wrote a letter I'd been meaning to send for quite some time. Although Calm Birth is based on ancient and modern practices, I've been achingly curious about what His Holiness the Dalai Lama, who thinks more about meditation than anyone on the planet, might have to say about the application of meditation to the prenatal period.

I drafted a letter, expressing my gratitude for the Dalai Lama's tireless work and influence on the planet, and I told him about the Calm Birth program. I concluded by asking what types of practices he might recommend for pregnancy and childbirth.

Much to my delight, I received a response from his religious interpreter within the week! Without any further ado, here is the letter:

Dear Anna

Thank you for your letter addressed to His Holiness the Dalai Lama, with an introduction to your Calm Birth and asking for some prenatal meditations. We appreciate your compassionate work in helping pregnant women within whom begins the human life on Earth! As His Holiness the Dalai Lama is very busy and is not able to attend to all the letters and requests received at this Office, I beg you to bear with me. I have been asked to respond to your questions.

Please do keep up with your good work for humanity, particularly involving nurturing our babies, the future seeds of humanity.

Your work definitely aligns His Holiness' vision for a better world, better tomorrow for our younger generations and the future generations, as he often says, "The first teacher of love and affection in our life is our beloved mothers before we ever heard anything about these values from our spiritual teachers!" Over the last numerous years, in accordance with some credible scientific findings, His Holiness has been urging the need for women taking more active role in building a compassionate world owing to your more acute sensitivity to others' pain and suffering compared to the male species of human beings. His Holiness also states his view that if we have more women leaders of the nations around the world probably there would be less warfare, fighting and conflict amongst the different countries, regions, or communities because of the propensityto empathy and affection, though some women may be exception!

As you are aware, His Holiness the Dalai Lama's message to the world, to everyone of us, is that we must take to heart, with the sense of oneness of all humans on Earth, how to nurture compassionate human beings right from the beginning, which is what you are doing, for a peaceful and happy future of the world and humans in it. Such an upbringing of our children, the seeds of our future, could produce generations who would shoulder the responsibility for our human society as a whole, not only one's tribes and race, etc., by working constructively and for the whole world holistically, including our ecology in which humanity survives and thrives.

In a nutshell, the key message of His Holiness for all of us is the cultivation and development of compassion which he believes is the fundamental teeming ground for care-giving and kindness to others--including our external environment with which we in inextricably bound--with the sense of brotherhood and sisterhood. This message echoes in almost all of His Holiness' public talks, spiritual discourses and religious teachings these days everywhere he travels.

Therefore, though you already have a number of meditations for your clients and their babies, the driving intention for all of them should be genuine universal love and compassion embracing entire living being who are same as us in cherishing joy and happiness and wanting to avoid any problem, pain and suffering. Within this motive the mothers-to-be should care for their precious little babies inside them and focus on in and out breathe to relax their mind; once their emotionally calm and settled they could use tong-len meditation using their breath as the vehicle for sending their untainted love and compassion to the baby and taking any ill-health or harm of their babies onto the mothers themselves.

So, I would suggest you to design simple and practical meditation exercises for your project. I hope you could include those meditations which help promote the overall well-being of the mothers-to-be and their unborn children, which are practical, and suit them. If you could train them to maintain their clarity and luminosity nature of their mind without having to exert much physical pressure, I would think it would also help the baby's physical and mental well-being. So, any meditation that can boost the overall well-being, physical and mental (emotional/psychological/spiritual) of both the pregnant woman and her child would be advisable.

Thank you for your kind attention and I hope this makes sense to you as a professional. The details of what/how to use the meditation techniques on the ground, you would know better.

Please feel assured of His Holiness' prayers and blessings for your good health and success and all-round prosperity.
With warm regards,
Tsepag
Religious Interpreter to H. H. the Dalai Lama


I was so happy to read this: not only does H. H. the Dalai Lama support prenatal meditation, he also expresses the possibility of cultivating compassion from within the womb. By using the third practice on our audioguide, Giving and Receiving, perhaps this benefit will be received. The words of this letter resonate profoundly with our own teachings in the Calm Birth method, and it is refreshing and wonderful to know that we are all on the same team of bringing babies to this planet in more empowered ways.

Thanks to H. H. the Dalai Lama and his religious interpreter for this thoughtful letter, and may we all birth in a better way.

Healing Breastfeeding Grief

Prenatal Meditation for Energetic Communication with Baby

The following is an exerpt from Hilary Jacobson's book, Healing Breastfeeding Grief, now available for download or purchase from amazon.com. Hilary is a longtime Calm Birth instructor as well as breastfeeding aficionado and strong supporter of women's empowerment.

 

hilary

 Anna Humphreys is a doula (CD DONA), an infant massage teacher, and an instructor in Calm Birth—a form of prenatal meditation that is based on Tibetan Buddhism, and that develops both mindfulness and an energetic connection between a mother and her child. Calm Birth features two CDs, Calm Birth and Calm Mothering, and also a book, Calm Birth: New Method for Conscious Childbirth, all of which can be purchased online.

Currently, Anna is completing her BS in psychology and preparing for postgraduate studies. She plans to explore how prenatal experiences affect infants, and to study the impact of prenatal meditation on the baby and parents as well as its possible value for society as a whole.

Anna teaches Calm Birth to mothers in her community, and reaches mothers around the world through Skype. 

Hilary: What motivates you to do this work?

Anna: I am a “meditator baby.” My parents met at a meditation retreat, and my mother meditated twice a day during her pregnancy with me. When I began to meditate at age nineteen, it immediately changed me—turned my world around! I recognized that I had been hardwired for meditation in the womb, and that I love it.

I sincerely feel that as a meditator baby, I am blessed to have come into this earth without too much pre-existing trauma. I want to share these blessings through my work with families, and also through research.

Hilary: What makes Calm Birth different from other forms of meditation or mindfulness practices?

Anna: Calm Birth teaches many components of mindfulness that are known to reduce stress and stop the fight-or-flight response, but Calm Birth is unique in that it has been developed especially for mothers. For instance, the relaxation part takes you deep into the anatomy of your entire body including your womb, and it puts you in touch with your baby’s presence. Then, there is a strong emphasis on breathing into the energy center in your abdomen, breathing into your womb, connecting with your baby with your breath, and sending your baby energy with your breath, and bonding that way.

Hilary: Have you seen concrete benefits for your clients?

Anna: My meditation students sometimes ask me to act as their doula, so I can see the benefits of Calm Birth first-hand.

Many of the moms who are attracted to Calm Birth had a traumatic first birth, with postpartum depression and breastfeeding problems, and they want to feel empowered this time. These mothers often say that they felt held in their power center during this birth experience and were able to respond to whatever came up during the birth process.

Just recently, one mother told me that as long as she stuck with the breathing, she did not feel any pain. She felt sensation, but not pain. If she was distracted from her breathing focus she felt pain that could be overwhelming, but she could transition out of the pain when she focused on her breath again. By being able to return to her center, and to her breathing, she said she was able to have the birth of her dreams.

Another mother had had four previous natural births, but she needed an emergency cesarean birth or her fifth. Afterwards, she was separated from her baby for three hours. Yet, she still tells me that this was the best birth she had had. She says that because she meditated throughout the pregnancy, and during the emergency situation was able to stay in her center, and stay with her baby, and breathe energy to her baby, she thinks that Calm Birth helped them establish a deep bond.

It’s also good for mothers to know that if they have a cesarean birth, their immune system has been strengthened by meditation, and they will have more resistance to bacteria in the hospital.

And then there are also many first-time mammas who, whether their birth was smooth or challenging, tell me how wonderful it was to have bonded with their child during pregnancy, because they felt very close with their baby after the birth.

Hilary: What does Calm Birth offer mothers who are experiencing breastfeeding grief?

Anna: There’s the nutritional aspect of breastfeeding, and the closeness, but for people who can’t have that, for whatever reason, it’s empowering to know that there are still ways you can be physically and energetically close to your baby.

Hilary: Which is what I emphasize in this book.

Anna: Exactly! That’s why I think you work is important, because it is not just seeing breastfeeding and bonding one right way. It’s about acknowledging the grief that comes with these challenges, but ultimately discovering how those challenges can bring us closer with our children, and ourselves.

Hilary: Could a mother come to you after birth and learn the meditation practices that are helpful after birth, called Calm Mothering?

Anna: Absolutely, it’s never too late. Whether your child is two weeks old or twenty, you can learn these practices, enhance your own sense of self, and bond with your child energetically. If a woman is having breastfeeding issues, the Calm Mother breastfeeding practice can be really empowering. Just relaxing your body can help your milk flow. And if that doesn’t happen, you can still “breath-feed” your baby.

The Calm Mothering breastfeeding practice that I teach is called “Breast-Breathing, Breath-Feeding,” and it’s perfect for nourishing yourself and your baby from your heart and from your deep energy center.

Hilary: If you could speak now to mothers who are suffering, if you could reach out and talk to them, what would you like to say?

Anna: The words that come to mind are just be gentle. Be gentle with yourself; be gentle with your child.

 

Dearest Doula

Like most of our Calm Birth instructors, Anna Humphreys, our co-director, is multi-faceted in the birth world. Anna has been a doula since 2012, and she was recently interviewed for the Dearest Doula podcast

Anna's interview with the lovely Nathalie Saenz focused primarily on Calm Birth's history, practices, and benefits for pregnant partners, womb-babies, and birth workers. "Calm Birth has helped me tremendously as a doula and a human being," Anna says, "And I hope that I can help other people find their inner calm with meditation!"

This 40-minute podcast is perfect for a car ride or a mellow time at home. Listen here and enjoy!

dearestdoula


Introduction from a Gem

The new edition of the Calm Birth book is slated for publication in June, and we couldn't be happier! As a special treat, here is a sneak preview: Sandra Bardsley, the president of the Association for Prenatal and Perinatal Psychology and Health, wrote this shining introduction. Sandra, thanks for all that you do-- we love you!

 

The writings of Grantly Dick Reed and Fredrick LeBoyer were very familiar to me when I was pregnant and delivering my own children.  My births were easy and fast.  Unfortunately, fairly soon after those deliveries and early in my nursing career, I saw the influence of their the natural childbirth pioneers’ teachings diminish as the medicalization of birth became more predominant in our culture.  Women seemed to loose their innate power and internal focus.  Fear became prevalent in obstetrics.


Dissatisfied, I left hospital OB nursing and went on to study traditional midwifery.   Then, following a challenging automobile accident resulting in severe head and spinal chord injuries, my carreer path once again changed.  I needed to shift the focus of my work.  I wanted to stay in the area of obstetrical management and so I decided to become a childbirth educator with Lamaze International.  I also became educated as a lactation consultant and a doula trainer.  Each of these paths gave me opportunities to observe my clients’ responses to pregnancy, labor, birth, and early parenting.  I noted that women and their support persons were thrilled with the safe births of their babiesy, but many women later admitted to me that they were somehow dissatisfied and depressed.  I also noted that the family/partner bond was often weakened.   Both the woman and her partner were not learning how to maintain their power during times of stress.


I began searching for ways to help my clients.  I saw that the majority of childbirth classes of the time focused primarily on physical and intellectual preparation (what to eat, which exercises, what to read, who to see for your care, and how avoid pain using medication and interventions, etc.).  The main focus in childbirth education seemed to be that of helping women move away from awareness and the feelings that were going on in their body.  True, efforts were being made to include the partner in birth preparation, but the increasing use of medical technology at birth was adding confusion for them.  I could find no techniques for exploring feelings during pregnancy or methods to connect and develop a partnership with the unborn baby.  Very few emotional or relationship awareness techniques were available for childbirth preparation.  I continued to search and experiment with teaching methods that would focus more on these two areas.


One thing I began to notice among my students was that the more often a mother focused on her unborn baby during the pregnancy, the more secure and confident she became in herself.  I continued to study ways to tap into and magnify that awareness.  I observed the natural desire of the mother to tune into her unborn baby to meet his or her, needs.  I also observed that not only was the mother striving to protect the baby, but somehow tuning into the baby was helping the mother be more relaxed and calm.  I found this fascinating and wanted to learn more.


After the book “The Secret Life of the Unborn Child” by Thomas Verny, MD, was published, I became aware that the the Association for Prenatal and Perinatal Psychology and Health (APPPAH)  Pre and Perinatal Psychology Association of North America (PPPANA) was being organized.  I became fascinated with what I read concerning this work.  I joined the group studying and learning about the consciousness of the unborn baby.  The name of the organization was later changed to the Association for Prenatal and Perinatal Psychology and Health (APPPAH).  This organization continues to study this field of science in support of the unborn and newborn human being and society.


Following over 30+ years of research by APPPAH, science is now able to confirm for us that the baby is a conscious, sentient being, right from conception.  We know that the baby is holding primal, spiritual awareness from conception throughout the pregnancy as his or her body is forming in the womb.  Developing a true partnership with her unborn child becomes a great asset to the Mmother, because she taps into her own innate connection with spirit inherent wisdom as she connects with the baby's spirit.  In his book “Childbirth Meditation”, Robert expresses it beautifully when he statesAs Robert Bruce Newman beautifully states in this book, “When a pregnant woman turns her attention to what is innate in her, she touches upon her primal awareness, a deep basis for bonding with her wombchild.  She knows that the profound awareness nature of her child and her own primal awareness nature are one.”


As a result of my own growing awareness of the conscious baby, I incorporated more relaxation training into my classes.  That was helpful, but superficial—there was a missing element of deep spiritual connection with the wombchild.  During the 1990's, I had another wonderful breakthrough in my search for more ways to teach emotional and relationship awareness.  I met Robert Newman and learned about Calm Birth meditation practice.  I took teacher training classes with Robert and began to practice the methods of Calm Birth meditation with the Mmother's and their partners who were coming to my business, Co-Creations for Joyful Births.childbirth classes.


This life on earth is full of anxiety and stresses, big and small.  How one reacts to the stresses of life is largely dependeant on being able to shift one’s attention from the perceived outer havoc and chatter of one’s mind, to inner peace. (from mind to awareness).  – sifting from mind to awareness. I immediately noted that in teaching Calm Birth meditation to pregnant women, they were able to renew their inner strength and handle stress throughout pregnancy, labor, birth, and early parenting.  I also noticed that, no matter what medical interventions or stresses may have occurred for the baby during labor and birth, the babies themselvesy appeared to be more calm and less stressed as well.  The MotherBaby mother-baby dyad and family partnership appeared strongly bonded with Calm Birth meditation.


Calm Birth meditation became a two way communication of great value.   In preparation for the possible stress of labor and birth, the Mmother breathes into her center and focuses on her unborn baby.  This connecting with primal awareness strengthens and calms her.  At the same time, she is inadvertently teaching her developing baby how to also prepare for and handle possible stresses of birth and mortality.  Through Calm Birth meditation the baby becomes stronger and prepared psychologically for earth life, while the mother is also strenghthenedstrengthened and relieved of stress as she reconnects with her own primal, spiritual awareness.  Following the birth, lactation (breast-feeding) offers another opportunity for both the Mmother and Bbaby to reconnect with their innate awareness and primordial wisdom, thus helping both to keep intact their primal connection to spirit through centering and relaxation.  


I grew to love Calm Birth meditation and noted its great value for both Mmother, Bbaby, and the partner.  I love how it works on a quantum physics/energy level as well as meditation science to access energies that are invisible, but very much present.  I love how it draws the woman into her own experience and power, instead of using hypnotic techniques to move away from herself and her own power.  Indeed, the MotherBaby ismother and baby form a unified dyad and I see the Calm Birth/Calm Mother meditation practices producing a firm foundation for greater health and stability for both Mother and Babyboth. I saw it build a stronger bond between partners, thus ensuring the baby a safer family unit in which to grow. 


I truly hope you will enjoy reading this book and learning the practice of Calm Birth and Mothering Meditation.  I have seen it repeatedly bring stability and healing to mother, baby and partner.  May you find much joy and many blessings as you learn the Calm Birth method and develop a partnership with your unborn child for healthy pregnancy, labor, and early parenting. May these blessings continue into every breath of life.


Sandra Bardsley, RN, LCCE, FACCE, CM

President, Association for Prenatal and Perinatal Psychology and Health    

Separating Fear from Childbirth

By learning to recognize and release our mind through meditation, we learn to recognize and release fear from birth.

The skill of separating mind from awareness is a pillar of Calm Birth. At no time is this more important than during childbirth, when we tend to associate the intensity of labor contractions with suffering. We may perceive the new sensations as something to back away from, as a pain that indicates (as pain normally does) that something is wrong.

We see birth in the media as an emergency, to be dealt with swiftly, violently. This effects our perception on how birth is meant to feel and look.

And yet, as a study out of Norway found, woman who fear birth typically spend more time in labor. Fear during childbirth may impede the release of hormones that promote bonding, relaxation, and a smoother labor. Perhaps fear of labor is inherently unnatural—from a physiological standpoint, this seems to be the case. How could fear of be natural, if this emotion disrupts the optimal hormonal flow? How do we move beyond the fear and trust the natural process?

TIME magazine featured an article on the Norwegian study. Unfortunately, this report only focused on the negative aspects of fear prolonging labor, without suggesting solutions for how women in this pivotal time of life can learn to avoid fear. If we are told not to fear, that fear will only make things worse, and we learn to fear fear itself. Yes, I just used “fear” four times in a sentence. This word is grossly overused in today’s world: we fixate on fear as an inescapable force; thus it can impact our lives, from decisions to the duration of labor.

But fear does not have to rule our lives or our births. There are ways to move beyond.

So how do we escape fear? We certainly can’t deny its existence: the emotions that we ignore tend to fester until they demand to be known. This is why, in the Calm Birth practices, we learn to create mindful awareness with our thoughts and emotions as they manifest. We learn to recognize fears as they arise, to release them, and to return to our breath and inner wisdom.

In this way, we train ourselves to face unfamiliar circumstances in empowered ways. If we feel emotions that hinder us, we have the skills to return to inner awareness.

The mind may associate the unfamiliar with fear. Awareness, that omniscient presence behind every thought, reminds us that we have the power to birth and to live with calm confidence. Mind will always return and take us away from the moment. Awareness will always bring us back to center.

Developing a regular practice of meditation during pregnancy has been associated with a decrease in fear of birth. And, although other birth preparations (such as having a doula) may help reduce fear, meditation is a tool to carry into any birthing situation.

Fear serves us when we are in danger. During birth, we must learn to trust that these sensations, though unfamiliar and intense, are safe. They are transforming us as we bring new life into the world. This is to be celebrated!

When it comes to childbirth, preparation is key. Prepare with Calm Birth, and you will have the ability to process emotions as they arise, to face new challenges, and to carry these skills into every breath of life.

APPPAH World Congress 2015

            The Association for Prenatal and Perinatal Psychology and Health (APPPAH) is a hotbed for childbirth professionals, therapists, researchers, and anyone who is actively working to bring awareness of the conscious prenate and baby into the modern medical paradigm. Since nearly its inception, Calm Birth has been supported by APPPAH’s constituents, and for good reason: this method offers a simple and intuitive way to support parent-infant bonding well before birth! The bi-annual APPPAH congress always provides a vibrant touchstone to strengthen existing connections and spark new friendships.

            I (Anna Humphreys, co-director, hello!) attended the world congress two years back, as relatively green doula and Calm Birth administrative assistant, as well as a new member of APPPAH. I’d been lucky enough to spark a friendship with Sandra Bardsley, APPPAH’s president, and was attending primarily as her assistant, while still representing Calm Birth. The conference flew by in a flurry of smiling faces, knowledge expansions, and long walks on the cold Monterey beach. I had never felt so understood by a large body of people: at lunch, we would explain who we were in terms of our birth stories; everyone had new perspectives on how to face the challenges of the maternal care system; and nobody blanched at the word “placenta.” Coming out of the five-day APPPAH cocoon, I knew that I would be returning in 2015.

            This year, Betsy Smith, CNM, and I were invited to present a poster at the conference. I had performed a literature review spanning the breadth of studies that explored the impact of introducing a meditation technique during pregnancy (more on that in a future blog), and so Betsy and I combined the results from that research with information about the Calm Birth practices. Our presentation took place during lunch on Friday, the first official day of the conference. After such a stimulating morning, presenting a poster felt like a lot to wrap our heads around, but, over a lunch of sesame tofu and arugula salad, we presented our findings and method to an intimate audience that included authors, therapists, and a lovely woman named Nina who teaches Hindi mantra practices to pregnant and preconceptive partners. A lively discussion ensued from our preliminary presentation.

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            I want to pay homage to each of the speakers, and I wish that it were possible to truly express how each one expanded my thinking! Friday evening, Thomas Verny, author of The Secret Life of the Unborn Child and APPPAH’s first president, addressed the capacity of cells, bacteria, and other life forms outside of the brain to learn and remember: doesn’t this, he postulated, imply that humans and other beings are imprinted with the periods of life that we can’t consciously remember? Dr. Verny’s talk strengthened the collective understanding behind the mechanisms of cell remembrance.

            Dr. Gerlinde Metz, from the University of Lethbridge, presented her research following the epigenetic transmission of stress down through four generations of rats, concluding that, indeed, stress leaves an imprint on genetic expression that is passed down to even non-stressed progeny. I’ve been quite interested in the impacts of prenatal maternal stress on offspring (you can read my paper on it here), and was already familiar with Dr. Metz’s work, but hearing her speak deepened my understanding that not all animal testing is inherently cruel. In fact, when I spoke with her after the talk, Dr. Metz informed me that these rats are treated better than many domesticated animals: researchers have to isolate the stressor, meaning that the rats cannot have been stressed by anything beyond the brief, controlled instance of trauma. I was happy to hear this, and I do hope that we’ll be moving into a future where animal testing, when necessary, treats these creatures with love and respect. It seems that science is veering closer and closer toward compassion for the beings who cannot speak for themselves…

            In fact, compassion was the common thread I found among everyone at this conference, presenters, administrators, volunteers, and attendants alike. Whether people were from a foreign country or lived right in the Bay Area, were reserved or extroverted, or were researchers, somatic therapists, or experts in electromagnetic frequencies, the bridge that unified us all was compassion for humanity, and the hope that the prenatal and parental-infant healthcare system can be improved. This hope radiated through talks by Robbie Davis-Floyd, Ph.D., an anthropologist who lectured on the application of ceremony and ritual to modern birthing culture, and Raylene Phillips, MD, a neonatologist out of Loma Linda, California, whose post-partum skin-to-skin initiatives have resulted in outstanding breastfeeding success at her institution. Piece by piece, every one of APPPAH’s members are bringing compassion and understanding into their respective fields.  

            APPPAH’s 2015 conference seemed to bring more scientific understanding into what the founders have known for decades. Every day, it seems, another researcher publishes findings linking adverse prenatal experiences to undesirable outcomes later in life, or correlating positive prenatal care with greater health and well-being. In only two years since the last congress, I have witnessed exponential growth in both the membership and the conviction that these people and this work can truly change the modern childbirth paradigm. From many corners of the world and every walk of life, APPPAH’s members are actively seeking to help the world, and with that much intention, tenacity, and love, it working wonders. Margaret Meade said that a small collection of people, working together, is the only thing that will change the world. APPPAH started as one such small group, and its expansion is only going to further its mission. APPPAH, thank you for all that you do: we are proud to be part of your organization, and look forward to many years of collaboration to come.

            

Calm Birth for the Partner

Fatherhood can be so sweet!

Helping a mother have a healthy pregnancy and empowered birth receives a great amount of attention in today’s world. The blessingways, baby showers, prenatal vitamins and yoga, and even the special clothes made for the growing body all do their part to honor the mother. This helps her feel special, secure, and prepared for birth and motherhood.

But what about the dads, parental figures, and birth partners? What do we do to honor them, to help them feel included and loved in this process? How do we help them bond with the unborn child?

This Father’s Day, we present you, the father/partner, with a variety of ways to participate in the practice of Calm Birth. You can be actively involved in this empowering preparation for each stage of pregnancy, birth, and beyond.

For all three meditations, having you place your hands on the belly can help you feel a deep physical and spiritual connection with the baby.

Placing your hands on her belly can help facilitate a growing bond

Womb Breathing and Giving and Receiving can be done with you sitting behind the mother, and Practice of Opening can be practiced with you lying behind, in a “spooning” position. Be sure to use pillows, cushions, and backjacks to support your body, so that you can enjoy the relaxation, as well.

 

 

Practice of Opening can be highly beneficial for helping you tune in to the mother and baby’s growth and function. The physical and energetic boundaries between you, mother, and child can become blurred as the bodies relax.

Womb Breathing is the more active “practice,” the one that you will want to be familiar with in order to assist the mother by reminding her of her breathing during labor. This meditation also helps you ease your own anxiety about the pregnancy or impending birth, and to breathe into your own energy center. Womb Breathing is a way to establish a regular meditation practice. Do it for ten minutes in the morning and again later in the day, and practice this breathing whenever you remember during daily activity. This way, you will be very familiar with the meditation and be able to support her from a level of experience. The best way to support your partner’s prenatal meditation practice is to join her!

Giving and Receiving is, to me, an ideal meditation for the birth partner. When you want to do something to support the mother, child, or both, but aren’t quite sure what to do, this compassionate breathing technique can work wonders for you and the people you are practicing the healing meditation toward. It’s an empowering technique for you, as the partner, to send positive energy toward your loved ones, in any situation.

If you are physically separate from the mother, all of these practices can help you cultivate a deep spiritual bond, no matter how far apart your bodies may be.

When labor comes, here are some ways that you can incorporate the practice into the birth experience:

-If early labor is happening and it’s taking time for the mama’s body to find its rhythm (irregular contractions), suggest relaxing together to Practice of Opening. This can help the contractions become more regular, halt false labor, or simply provide restorative rest so that she has more energy later on.

-If you’re birthing in the hospital, offer to play the CD in the birth room– make sure you bring a CD player or mp3 speaker if one is not provided! Sometimes she will just want one track on repeat, or to play the whole CD, or to not listen to it at all but practice the Womb Breathing to music or her own rhythms. In any case, it’s nice to have the CD on hand.

-Inform the nurses that a childbirth meditation is being practiced, and ask them kindly to enter and exit the room mindfully and quietly. This is something you might also want to write into your birth plan.

-If a time comes when it seems like your partner could really use a rest, offer to lie down and spoon (hospital beds are usually big enough!) to Practice of Opening. I have also used touch relaxation to this track, massaging the parts of the woman’s body as they are being mentioned on the track.

-When it feels right and the mama is demonstrating a loss of connection to her breath or body, softly remind her to return to her Womb Breathing. If this doesn’t work during contractions, it can be a very helpful reminder between them. Practice it yourself, as well. Embody Womb Breathing.

-Remember that this is a big day for you, too! You can practice Womb Breathing with your baby, or you can even use Giving and Receiving to empower your own experience.

An important thing to remember is that if the laboring mother isn’t interested in doing what you suggest, please don’t take offense! Trust that she knows her body and its rhythms, and that she loves you and is glad for your presence, even if she rejects your ideas. Don’t be afraid to suggest something that she wasn’t interested in later in the labor, but if she’s repeatedly rejecting it (and this goes for anything, not just Calm Birth) don’t push it– she knows what to do.

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In the spirit of the holiday, I want to end on a bit of a personal note and thank my father, Robert Humphreys. His enthusiastic, doting participation in my own gestation, birth, and infancy, all the way through my life today, has made an immeasurable impact!

Among the plethora of blessings I received from my dad, meditation is the legacy I am most deeply thankful for. Dad was an enthusiastic participant in every step of the pregnancy, and he and my mother meditated together each day. I feel that meditation deepened our bond while I was floating in the womb, and the tradition of spending quiet time together continued well into my childhood. I relished the early mornings, when the room was still so dark that the world felt like a secret place that only the lucky few knew about. The alarm would quietly sound and my dad and I would wake up, leaving my mother and baby sister undisturbed in our family bed. Wordlessly, the two of us would sit up gently, putting blankets around our shoulders, close our still-sleepy eyes, and sit in silence for twenty minutes. I didn’t understand the meaning of what we were doing quite yet, but I loved the routine. Starting each day like this was the promise of wonderful things to come.

Without establishing thus morning routine at such a young age, I’m not sure I would have the affinity I do for meditation. I almost certainly wouldn’t practice it with such regularity, unquestionably beginning each day with a return to my center. My passion for what I do, helping share meditation with pregnant women and their partners, is based upon a childhood of quiet mornings, of dreamy meditations by osmosis while I was in the womb, and of a father embodied the joys of a regular routine.


Happy Father’s Day to my dad, and to all of the amazing dads and partners out there! You are absolutely perfect for what your child needs to become who he or she is meant to be. Be gentle with yourself, and know that you are a vital part of the pregnancy and birth process, just as you are to the life of your child. Enjoy each moment.

Meditation: Not Just for the Mind

Physiological Benefits of Prenatal Meditation

Meditation is becoming a widely-accepted tool to enhance health, reduce stress, and bring a more positive overall experience to life. Calm Birth meditation applies these benefits where they may be needed the most: during pregnancy and childbirth.

Some of the physiological effects of meditation include:

  • Lowered adrenaline and cortisol levels. These are the stress hormones that repress immune system function; having a balanced base level of stress hormones allows the body to have an empowered immune system.
     
  • Elevated levels of the hormones DHEA and melatonin. Among other life-enhancing properties, DHEA elevates mood and increases vitality. Melatonin is a sleep and relaxation aide. Both of these hormones assist in optimal immune system functioning. DHEA and melatonin are among the most researched of all major human hormones. They have been proven effective in the treatment of cancer, heart disease, AIDS, lupus and other disease conditions. Melatonin is the most potent and versatile antioxidant known.
     
  • Increased bone marrow T cell (lymphocyte) and interleukin-2 production to optimize immune system effectiveness.
     
  • Elevated serotonin levels for natural calm beneficial to pregnancy, birth, and health in general
     
  • Elevated endorphin levels assist in pain management, decrease in fear, and feelings of joy
     
  • Many people birth in hospitals or birth centers encounter unfamiliar bacteria and possible intervention. Empowering the immune system through meditation is a profound way to help prevent infection and speed healing.
     
  • The stress-reducing benefits of meditation are clearly profound on a physiological level, but having the added bonuses of elevated mood and better sleep can make pregnancy a more enjoyable experience. Imagine being able to relax and marvel at the wonders of pregnancy, sinking into a state of calm and union with your baby. Meditation is a simple but profound method to enhance all aspects of your pregnancy, birth, and life itself.


Literature Review: “Prenatal Meditation Influences Infant Behaviors”

The first study, to my knowledge, of the effect of prenatal meditation’s effect on the behavior of the infant was released last year by an obstetrician in Hong Kong. This experiment recruited 64 pregnant Chinese women to learn meditation, with 59 women in a non-meditating control group. The meditation practices included mindfulness, compassionate meditation, mindful breathing, and progressive relaxation, which are also, fittingly enough, techniques that we implement in Calm Birth®.

Maternal salivary cortisol levels and mental-well-being were assessed periodically throughout the pregnancy and after delivery. As expected, salivary cortisol was lower in the meditation group. This measurement is fairly common in studies concerned with prenatal stress. What Dr. Chan did that sets this study apart from the others was to take a measurement of cortisol from the cord blood after delivery and compare the meditation group’s cortisol levels to the control group. He found that the cord blood cortisol levels of babies from the meditation group were higher than those in the control. While this may seem counterintuitive, a higher level of cortisol is actually beneficial in this case: it means that the babies were well prepared for the natural stress of birth, which prepares them to be alert upon entering the world. A more balanced endocrine system, which develops in a less stressful environment, enables an individual to have more appropriate stress responses, instead of a consistently elevated level of cortisol.

At five months, infant temperament was assessed using the Carey Infant Temperament Questionnaire. Statistically significant findings indicated that infants of the meditation group had more positive responses to new stimuli and “better temperament.”

The findings are clearly in support of prenatal meditation having a positive effect on the mother and offspring. This study is exciting, and hopefully will be the first of many. A plethora of research has indicated the negative effects of maternal stress on the child, but now scientists are beginning to explore the nonpharmacological interventions to counteract stress and prepare women to birth and live in a more balanced way.

Calm Birth has long been supported by scientific evidence, but studies like this reaffirm the importance of meditation in childbirth. The age of empowered birth is here, and we are happy to help usher it in.

If you want to know more about Dr. Chan’s study, you can read the full text at this link:http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0163638314000733

Reference: Chan, K.P. (2014). Prenatal meditation influences infant behaviors. Infant Behavior and Development: 37(4), 556-561.

Welcome

Welcome to Calm Birth®. Whether you are a pregnant woman or her partner, a health practitioner or a nonmedical supporter, a grandparent, a child, or an inquisitive soul, this meditation program will enhance your experience of life. Calm Birth offers you and your loved ones or clients a gateway into living, breathing, and birthing from a place of empowerment.  

As spring unfurls its pastel petals and sun-soaked leaves, birth is happening everywhere in the natural world. The buds that were once only the hint of life’s potential quietly expand, holding the promise of something that the sun has never before seen. They grow and grow in their soft green wombs, and one day, when the time is right, they begin to open. The buds push apart gently at first, revealing hints of the majestic reds and gentle yellows that have been developing in the absence of light. Each bud unfurls in its own way, in unique perfection.


Suddenly, when they can’t take it any longer, flowers everywhere burst into light, at last feeling the warmth of the sun, moon, stars, rain, and wind that created them, sight-unseen. Their joy at meeting the world is apparent as it is reflected and magnified by everyone and everything that they encounter. The journey of the new being is only just beginning, but what a marvelous beginning it is.

We who work with CalmBirth® see the wonder and beauty of every birth, no matter how the process unfolds. We know that any experience can be an empowering one, and we believe that preparation is key to experiencing birth with that sense of calm, grounded power. The application of meditation to childbirth is paramount to women and their partners accessing their innate inner wisdom as they bring new life into the world. In this blog, we will explore deeper aspects of the Calm Birth practices, share experiences and stories from our directors and guest bloggers, and ponder the potential of applying meditation to pregnancy and childbirth.

Every spring, we watch nature seemingly begin again, but nothing is truly new: in each season, nature incorporates the wisdom of the past into the creation of the present. May we do the same with our own future generations. May we learn, grow, and together discover and practice what it takes to birth in a better way.

Please send me any questions you might have or topics you’d like to know more about. I really look forward to sharing this blog with you.

Warmly,

Anna Humphreys
Co-Director
7 May, 2015