Looking for metaphorical images to divert attention during childbirth
February 7, 2012 4:55 AM   Subscribe

Please suggest, preferably with specific links, images that are metaphors for birth to be used for focusing on and creating visualizations during labor.

Baby Xalf is arriving next month! One of the many comfort measures suggested in Penny Simkin's The Birth Partner is Attention Focusing, which "diverts the mother's mind from her pain by having her concentrate on something else." Baby Xalf's mom has lots of ideas for what something else could be, but I thought I'd try to create some other options by printing up ten or so images of inspiring metaphors for pregnancy. I have some obvious ideas, like space shuttle launches or locomotives, but I'm open to more subtle ideas (especially ideas that are not so stereotypically male!). Links to specific images are great, copyright free images are greater.

P.S. Please don't be shy about sharing relevant personal experiences from your labor.

P.P.S. I am absolutely prepared for this idea to not in fact be of any help to Baby Xalf's mom. We are practicing lots of other comfort measures.
posted by Xalf to Health & Fitness (29 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: One of the visuals that was used a lot during my labor by my birth team was to focus on *opening.* It's cheesy, but the image of a flower opening is a lot like what the cervix is trying to do during labor. This is the important thing during labor - to get the cervix to open as much as possible. So, if you can find images of flowers opening that might be useful during active labor than a space shuttle!

(Also: congrats! And if by "next month" you mean "early March," may I say that my own son was born a year ago on March 9th and it was a pretty excellent day for a birthday. I recommend it.)
posted by sonika at 5:05 AM on February 7, 2012

Best answer: Disclaimer - I've never given birth

But there's this quote from Girl with a Pearl Earring that has always struck me. When speaking of the mistress of the house who has had around 6(?) children already, one of the maids comments that she "pops them out like a chestnut from its shell". It seems like a really appropriate and actually lovely description.

Mind you, not the fresh chestnuts coming out of their spikey shells, (which I don't think conjures up a nice image) but the roasted ones.

I don't know if locamotives and space shuttles are that great. They seem too forceful and are tied too much with the precursor to pregnancy, uh if you get my drift. ;)
posted by like_neon at 5:11 AM on February 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

Bless your heart, that is such a sweet idea, but personally if my husband had tried to distract me with pictures during labor I would have just laughed or become really irritated, depending on when they appeared.

When our first child was born, both my husband and mother were in the room, and looking back I feel that expended a lot of energy interacting with them and trying to keep them engaged in the process. There was also a student nurse present, who was very kind but really wanted to learn through conversation, asking questions, etc. So there was a lot of talking and distractions, but I didn't enjoy or particularly want them and spent a lot of time feeling really grouchy (which my mother still reminds me of, but that's a question for another day).

With our second, I was much more focused on myself and basically ignored Mr. Darling, and my mom was down the hall in the waiting room with Little Darling #1. That made the process much, much easier. It helps that Mr. D is quiet and introverted. He's also pretty intuitive and allowed me to take the lead (as is the case with most things) in asking for what I wanted. I was quiet, everyone else was quiet and I was able to guide myself through contractions by giving into them, not fighting the pain, and becoming enveloped in myself.

So, maybe bring the pictures if she likes the idea now, but be prepared to scuttle them ASAP if she doesn't respond positively in the heat of the moment.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 5:18 AM on February 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: One visualization that helped me was imaging the contractions as waves that build, crest, and break. Waves that you ride instead of struggle against. I also tried to imagine that each contraction was a squeeze that brought my child a tiny bit closer to being born.
posted by christinetheslp at 5:24 AM on February 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Also, things like trains and shuttle launches are really sudden and violent...that's not what I would have wanted to think about when I was having back labor and feeling like my spine was going to twist loose from my body.
posted by christinetheslp at 5:25 AM on February 7, 2012 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Before labor my greatest physical challenge was a mountain biking trip in Moab, UT. I am not a mountain biker, so it was extremely difficult for me and I learned a lot about endurance. It was really useful to me in labor because it gave me pretty scenery to visualize (literal peaks and valleys) but also I could remember the feeling of just putting one foot in front of the other to make it to the end, even though it felt impossible. That kept sort of a rhythm in my head I could breathe to as well. I brought pictures along from my trip but I didn't end up using them, just closed my eyes or stared at the ceiling and visualized it.
You can find videos of mountain bike rides on youtube for imagination material but the product of my labor needs my attention right now so I can't provide links.
posted by waterlily at 5:29 AM on February 7, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks for the great suggestions so far. I'm hearing the criticism of the locomotive and the space shuttle loud and clear! Sorry about that.
posted by Xalf at 5:29 AM on February 7, 2012

Best answer: I have some obvious ideas, like space shuttle launches or locomotives,

IMHO, way too abrupt an image for a time that is very much not about the journey of pregnancy, but the immediate and all-encompassing physical transition of vaginal birth. We're looking for flowers opening, drops radiating in puddles, waves, tides, moon waxing, sun rises... that sort of thing. Slow, full, open sorts of images.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:30 AM on February 7, 2012

Apologies, Xalf, I cross posted with you!
posted by DarlingBri at 5:31 AM on February 7, 2012

I'm really not sure what you mean about specific links. Also, space shuttle launches? Generally the idea with labor visualization is to relax, especially to relax the cervix, not to literally distract. It sort of helped me to imagine the cervix as a the neck of a soft cashmere sweater stretching over the baby's head. It was also helpful to imagine the baby and think of touching his soft skin - much more helpful than I expected. The more complicated visualizations I practiced weren't helpful at all, but YLMV. Congrats!
posted by crabintheocean at 5:33 AM on February 7, 2012

Motherprayer discusses images used throughout European history for women to focus on. (Also incantations, invocations, books placed on the abdomen, pictures of sort-of troll things that are protective against baby-snatching demons ... it's great.) I don't remember off the top of my head what any of the images are, but she discusses specifically historical examples of hanging (or drawing) pictures in the room for laboring women to focus on, even in medieval times when paper/parchment/whatever and ink were dear.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:43 AM on February 7, 2012

No images, (not into that sort of thing) but my husband bought me a New Yorker magazine and I read the short funny bits and cartoons between contractions. Sometimes something to distract you is a good thing. This was with my fourth child, unmedicated natural birth in a birthing room.

When the contractions got heavy I was watching the clock on the wall creep along and just concentrating on breathing and getting through each contraction. I was too intensely focused on what was happening in my body to focus on any metaphor at that time.

Whatever works for you, and best wishes on your new baby. You will be fine.
posted by mermayd at 5:48 AM on February 7, 2012

Best answer: How wonderful that you want to help with visualizations! I'm assuming that Baby Xalf's mom is intending a natural unmedicated labor, and that's great. Visualizations can be incredibly helpful in a natural delivery. I'd suggest first off realizing what labor contractions are: the lengthwise muscles of the uterus contract (kind of like making a fist) so that the "crosswise" muscles at the bottom of the uterus -- the cervix -- can expand. It's rather like a mighty machine, that can't be stopped. Now if the woman tenses against it (from fear or anxiety or whatever) it's like the machine parts are still going, but squeakily and roughly. If the woman can go with it, it's like the machine parts are shiny and well-oiled and moving beautifully and gently and smoothly. When I was laboring (25 years ago! can't believe it!) I alternated between visualizing a flower opening (as Sonika suggested) and visualizing that smooth oiled-machine thing. Maybe it's because I operate large machinery (which needs periodic greasing) for a living, I don't know -- but see if that sort of imagery is helpful to Ms. Xalf. And Mazel Tov to you both!
posted by RRgal at 5:51 AM on February 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm in total agreement with Sweetie Darling. My first delivery was exhausting, with husband wanting to be involved. Second one, he wasn't even in the room and it was amazing. Just me, alone for most of it, fully focused on my body and the process. It was calm and quiet and really lovely. Third one I also kept quiet and calm. Your most important function on that day will be to 'English Butler' the situation. Be quiet and invisible unless you are needed.

I do hope that you and yours aren't trying to go drug free. Child birth is beautiful and is best enjoyed with a properly timed epidural. You don't want it too early because child birth progresses best when mommy can move around and you don't want it too late because if you miss your window, you can't have one. A comfortable mommy enjoys the process.

I chose to labor for 4 hours before having the epidural. It was perfect. I did not try to distract myself from the pain at all. I dove into it, felt it completely and was thankful to my body for knowing what to do and doing it properly. I was not afraid of the pain and for the second and third deliveries, the quiet allowed me to truly focus on the process. I only had to push 2 times for 2nd delivery, 3 times for 3rd and I'm a small person. The last stage of the last two pregnancies, I had the worst of it, with the epidural, for around an hour, if even that. I wasn't exhausted afterwards. I was able to be up and around right away.

My advice- Don't think about what you can do to help distract your wife from the pain. Focus on the baby that is coming and make everything as stress free as possible. Not the answer you were looking for, I know, but if someone would have tried to show me a picture during labor I would have banned them from the room.

You cannot distract someone from pain but if they are not afraid of the pain, then it is easier to bear. Focussing on the child and knowing that the pain is temporary helps the most.
posted by myselfasme at 6:11 AM on February 7, 2012

Best answer: Can I suggest on a meta-level that whatever images you choose, you run them by your wife beforehand and ideally practice relaxing to them by integrating them into some sort of regular guided meditation program? If my experience is anything to go by, your wife may not have the critical thinking skills available during labor to appreciate the finer metaphorical subtleties of how having a baby is like a locomotive launching. What you want is for the image to be able, in a visceral Pavlovian kind of way, to trigger feelings of relaxation that are already primed and set up.

Also, as others above have said, good birth metaphors are likelier to focus on what the mom's doing- guiding, opening, cradling, dissolving, releasing- than on what the baby's doing (shooting forth, launching, etc.).
posted by Bardolph at 7:21 AM on February 7, 2012

I found that the active labor stage and the pushing stage really required different things of me. Getting through the contractions means relinquishing control, but then when it's time to push, you have to take control again. Labor requires you to relax your body and mind; pushing can be just plain hard physical work.

Something that helped me during labor was to think about welcoming the contractions, riding the waves of pain, etc. If you're scared or you tense up, it will be harder. Think open, open, open. I just kept thinking, "Every contraction brings me closer to meeting this baby."
posted by eleventy zillion at 7:38 AM on February 7, 2012

I just kept thinking, "Every contraction brings me closer to meeting this baby."

I did this too. This is perhaps the most ridiculous labor visualization ever, but it totally helped me. With each contraction, I visualized Tyra Banks saying to me "Congratulations. You are one step closer to having America's Next Top Baby." I didn't think of this ahead of time, it's just what popped into my head as I was riding the waves of the contractions.
posted by sonika at 8:59 AM on February 7, 2012 [8 favorites]

Best answer: Visualizations during labor were not my thing (my conscious brain sort of turned off and I just went with my instincts instead) but one thing that I heard about in a pain management birth class was a visualization of a pat of butter melting in a pan, apparently that helped other women and I liked the idea of it. Warm, melty, etc. Like others have said relaxation is key. I also liked the warm sandy beach with waves cresting and breaking metaphor. Definitely helpful to think of contractions as waves that you ride rather than something that you fight against or endure.

Stats: Totally unmedicated labor at a waterbirth center, 74 hours in labor including 11 hours of pushing. And honestly pain was never really that bad, it was more the exhaustion that was hard to handle.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 9:31 AM on February 7, 2012

Best answer: In my prenatal yoga class we spend a lot of time visualizing a spiral and making a spiral shape with our hips. That's a nice "opening" image, and moving the hips in that way is supposed to help with the pain during contractions.
posted by jrichards at 11:16 AM on February 7, 2012

I do hope that you and yours aren't trying to go drug free. Child birth is beautiful and is best enjoyed with a properly timed epidural.

You only speak for yourself here, and I think your tone is inappropriate. I'm glad that worked out for you, but my "drug free" birth was beautiful and enjoyable for me and I'm glad I made the choices I did. I'd never dream of telling anyone else "I do hope you're not going to use drugs"
posted by crabintheocean at 1:20 AM on February 8, 2012 [6 favorites]

My mom has told me she envisioned herself as a pat of butter melting into the bed. I assume this is similar to the "try to relax everything in your body, starting with your toes" exercise, but with a more visual element.
posted by meggan at 2:11 PM on February 8, 2012

Response by poster: Based on everyone's great suggestions, I've come up with a set of pictures that are primarily from our own experiences. Don't know why I didn't think to use our own pictures earlier. They include us in bike riding gear from a recent trip, a lighthouse we climbed to the top of on the same trip, her in front of a locomotive(!), a picture of our cat (our first baby!), and others that would take too much explaining. I'll throw in this flower opening and this wave too.

Like I said at the outset, I'm fully prepared for this to be nothing more than a nice gesture. And of course, I will run them by her before the delivery. I'd like to say that I'll report back on how they worked, but I'll probably be too busy.

And re telling me that you "hope" we are planning a non-medicated birth, I adopt crabintheocean's response.
posted by Xalf at 5:39 PM on February 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: "hope" we are not planning a non-medicated birth, I mean
posted by Xalf at 5:50 PM on February 8, 2012

Best answer: The pictures sound nice (that flower is quite beautiful actually). But based on my own experience, I don't really think I could have looked at actual hard-copy photos. Labor (especially the peak-intensity crescendo of end-of-first-stage labor right before the pushing urges start) puts a woman in a sort of inward-gazing mental state, and it may be far easier for many or most women to listen rather than look. I would suggest showing Ms. Xalf the photos before labor begins, and then softly murmuring to her when she is actually in labor to encourage her to visualize them in her mind.

In an unmedicated labor, there will come a time when Ms. Xalf is reduced to an animal state. It's beautiful in its own way, but it is really light-years from any "normal" cognitive state. She may grunt and her eyes will probably glaze as she "turns inward", and I think it would be most helpful at that point if you softly describe waves or flowers opening (or smooth greased moving parts!) or whatever. And I assume you're aware that second-stage labor (the pushing part) is a completely different entity altogether. It's much shorter than the first-stage opening part, and really not painful, and produces an entirely different consciousness. It's also where the true wonder of non-medicated delivery lies -- she will actually FEEL Baby Xalf slowly moving down her birth canal with each push, and that's where she will probably find it most helpful if you leave the flowers & waves thing behind and get more "real", and gently & enthusiastically talk about how Baby Xalf is getting closer to arriving in the word, and is going to be in her arms soon. It will be awesome!
posted by RRgal at 6:09 AM on February 9, 2012

Response by poster: No surprise, we never looked at the pictures during labor. Ms. Xalf moved pretty quickly into forceful contractions with very very short breaks between them. She was in the zone and wasn't interested in anything much except for being touched in exactly the right places and exactly the right way. It was incredibly impressive to watch. Especially since Baby Xalf is such a big one: 10 pounds 4 ounces!

If her labor had gone differently, we might have used the pictures, but I can't be sure. I'm still glad I got them if only because it was a fun surprise when I presented them a few weeks before labor.
posted by Xalf at 11:25 AM on April 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

Hooray for Baby Xalf - what a beautiful, beautiful baby!
posted by sonika at 12:52 PM on April 19, 2012

Yay, congrats!
posted by rabbitrabbit at 1:13 PM on April 19, 2012

Oh CONGRATULATIONS! What a beautiful, well-baked baby!
posted by DarlingBri at 1:20 PM on April 19, 2012

Darling baby - congratulations to both of you!!
posted by Sweetie Darling at 9:29 PM on April 19, 2012

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