This time of year is often focused in our culture on gratitude and thanksgiving so let's talk about how this directly relates to the labor and birth process!
Our words and attitude are filled with power over our experiences, of course. They can affect how we perceive things to be, how we view them in our memories, but they can even affect the physical process and outcome itself. When we can train our minds and hearts toward gratitude, even in - or especially in - difficult or challenging moments, we can quite literally change the story.
How does this apply to labor and birth?
Labor is one of the most intense and challenging experiences of a woman's life but it can also be considered one of the greatest and most powerful blessings of her life. A posture of gratitude will actually contribute to the physiological process of birth, allowing her body to release more oxytocin, the hormone responsible and necessary for labor, for controlling bleeding after, and for bonding with her baby. This means that expressing gratitude during labor will actually facilitate a simpler and healthier birth and postpartum time! Not only that, it will greatly affect how she experiences her birth and remembers it later. What a beautiful thought it is to to envision how we can saturate our baby in gratitude and praise as he or she enters the world, rather than a climate of fear, anger, stress, or negativity.
This doesn't have to be complicated, though no doubt it can be challenging as labor progresses. Here are a few ideas to consider:
Simply saying or thinking, "thank you, Jesus" during a surge (contraction), either as it peaks or as it ebbs. You can thank God for the gift of your baby, for the design of your body, for the grace He is pouring out THROUGH that surge, for His Cross, or even just that that particular surge is over! It turns that surge and your labor into an act of worship, a beautiful surrendering of your heart and body to the Lord. If you are unable to or can't remember to say it yourself, your husband or doula can whisper those words over you as well. (And remember, you don't necessarily have to "feel" grateful to still express gratitude.)
"Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you."
1 Thes. 5:16-19
Offer a Psalm or Scripture of thanksgiving or an off the cuff prayer of thanks as you enter labor. Perhaps have one ready to pray that can be part of your husband's role during the birth and he can be the one to pray it for and over you.
"Give thanks to Him, bless His name!
For the Lord is good; His steadfast love endures for ever, and His faithfulness to all generations."
Make a gratitude list to keep with you during your birth, either to read, say out loud, or just have with you as a reminder. How has God shown His faithfulness and goodness to you during this pregnancy? What are you most thankful for about labor? How has your body worked for you during this pregnancy and will during labor?
"Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."
Is there a picture or an image that draws your heart to greater gratitude? Consider having it with you during birth. Maybe it's a picture of your older children, an ultrasound photo, a wedding photo, a picture of a happy family memory, a crucifix, or another holy image. Evoking those memories or thoughts draws out gratitude as well as comforting thoughts and memories that also facilitate oxytocin.
"And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus,
giving thanks to God the Father through him."
Are there songs of gratitude and praise that would be perfect to incorporate into your labor and birth? Add them to your playlist! Sing them during labor! (The Made for This Birth Album incorporates Scriptures, quotes, and prayers that can also evoke a heart of gratitude during your birth!)
"The Lord is my strength and my shield; in Him my heart trusts; so I am helped, and my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to Him."
Hanging affirmations in your home before birth and in your birth place create an environment of openness and gratitude. The words in us and surrounding us are so important. Visual affirmations remind us and our birth team of the language and encouragement that we want around us and will most help us. You can specifically choose ones that draw you to gratitude and thanksgiving. (Find our birth affirmations here. Use code thanksgiving through November 26 for 15% off!)
"Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ."
2 Cor. 2:57
Consider going to Mass if possible during early labor or if you think labor is starting soon. If you have a scheduled cesarean or induction, perhaps it can even work to make it on the way to the hospital. The Eucharist is the ultimate thanksgiving and offering your Mass and Communion in thanksgiving for this baby, labor, and birth is how we can unite it to Christ in a way like none other. Perhaps ask a priest you know to offer one of His Masses for your labor and birth!
"And He took bread, and when He had given thanks He broke it and gave it to them, saying,
“This is My body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of Me."
All that said, it's very important to note here that our acts of gratitude don't need to be false and should not be used to sugarcoat or gaslight a mother or baby who isn't being treated well. Cultivating a heart of gratitude should not be construed as a "just be grateful" type of exercise where we are ignoring very real issues, undermining what a mother is experiencing, or justifying abusive or coercive treatment by providers, family, staff, or anyone else.
Practice now in your pregnancy giving thanks even when it is difficult. A quick "thank You, Jesus" in moments of struggle, nausea, fear, pain, and frustration helps us to remember that He is here and also that His plan, even in those difficult moments, is for our good. Training our hearts, minds, and lips in that practice will prepare us to better approach the work of labor in thanksgiving and praise and help us to have the beautiful holy birth we long for.
Thank You, Jesus, for Your indescribable gifts. Thank You for the gifts of our bodies, able to bring forth life. Thank You for the design of birth and the ability to participate in a unique way in Your Passion. Thank You for the undeserved gift of this child and this birth. May this birth glorify You and be a sacrifice of thanksgiving and praise to Your Holy Name. Amen.