By Britt Fohrman
Having a vaginal birth these days is not quite as simple as just deciding to do so. Between the way the medical system defaults to managed, medicalized and often surgical births, combined with the predominant ways we use our bodies in modern society (aka sitting in chairs all the time!), paving the way for a vaginal birth often benefits from some conscious preparation. Even reprogramming.
And why not prepare for the welcoming of your baby? I really don’t love the term “delivery” because your baby is not a pizza, and to me, it takes the emotion and significance out of an event that you both will remember for the rest of your lives, consciously or not. On the day of your birth, your baby is welcomed. Or at least that’s how many of us would like it to feel, right? Tuning in to the felt sense of the word and gesture of welcoming might give you a peek into how I look at birth and invite you to head into the experience.
If you are to prepare for birth as a welcoming celebration or ritual, you might consider preparing the environment within which your child is arriving. Many people think of low lights, LED candles, and serene flute music playing in the background, along with lavender in the aromatherapy diffuser. But these elements mean nothing if the terrain through which your baby is journeying is full of tension, fear, resistance, and shame. So with that in mind, let’s talk about your vagina for a moment.
First, let’s tune in to how you feel about the word “vagina”. If you were going to have a once-in-a-lifetime party, would you want to have it in a place that has a name you don’t like or feel comfortable saying? “I got married at (some generic, boring name)” just doesn't have a celebratory ring to it.
So when I am working with people preparing to give birth, I ask them to feel into the word that they most enjoy using to speak about their genitals. Finding a word that feels like our own definitely helps us talk about the planning of this party with a bit more excitement and less ickiness.
I don’t like the word “vagina”. People think of it as a more “accurate” or “neutral” word, but I disagree. First of all, the vagina only describes the tube that connects the opening of the vulva to the cervix. Anyone that has given birth, or witnessed a birth, knows that it’s more than the tube that gets involved!
Plus, “vagina” is a very patriarchal, hetero-normative term that is translated as “sheath” as in the sleeve within which one’s sword is stored. Well, I don’t know about you, but I certainly don’t feel relaxed at the idea of a sharp metal object stored inside of my most tender parts! In this definition, it's inferred that the most valuable element is the sword, his sword. But I like to think of our genitals as existing first for us; this is where we can take our power back into our own bodies and minds.
In my work with pregnant people, I ask them to practice getting more comfortable using their own words for their genitals. For some people this is easy and fun, and for many, it takes a bit of opening… but isn’t that what this is all about anyway?
If you cringe at thinking about speaking openly about your vagina/ lady bits/ vulva/ vajayjay/ chocha/ panocha/ cunt, then I bet you would cringe at the thought of giving birth. Cringing while thinking about giving birth can naturally lead to cringing during childbirth, which can lead to tremendous tension and resistance that could make it even harder to get your baby out of the birth cave ;-)
If you are giving birth in the hospital, you might notice that they use medicalized language to talk about everything. (When you pee, they call it “voiding”) That doesn’t mean you need to play along. In fact, you can set a more personalized tone in your birth space by sharing through your “Birth Preferences” what language you would like your team to use when they are staffing your baby’s welcome home party. Though you might be hosting this party in their space, they are renting the space to you for that time, so you have every right to guide them with the language that feels most appropriate to you and your body.
I like the Sanskrit word “yoni” as it is literally translated as “The Source” as in the source of ALL LIFE. Another translation of yoni is “Home of divine procreative energy”.
A little more honorable than sheath, right?
In certain circumstances, with particular company, I also like the word “pussy” It’s playful, flirty, and primal, all of which evoke another layer of energy that could be helpful when trying to coax a human out of a cozy, warm place with endless access to nourishment.
The words help us activate our power, as well as our sexual and sensual energy. When we have words we can confidently use to talk about this part of our bodies then they have a voice. When we don’t speak about something, it’s as though it doesn’t exist. And many of us don’t speak about vaginas because of shame and trauma and/ or conditioning to relinquish our power. And yet we perpetuate the shame, trauma and disempowerment by leaving them out of the conversation of what happens in birth, sex, and life as a female-bodied being.
Another way to activate the power between your legs is by practicing conscious breathing, yoga, and other forms of gentle movement. In my Preparing Your Vagina for Birth class, we weave these tools into our conversations about our bodies, to bring these concepts to life on the physical plane… where the birth is happening. How can we expect this part of our bodies to open, soften and stretch if we’re holding a lifetime of tension in there?
Here’s a simple yet powerful birth preparation practice for you to try:
Place 2 yoga blocks on your mat, at the highest height, just a few inches away from each other. Sit on your blocks in a squat with one under each sitting bone. You can have your feet as close or as wide as is comfortable for you. Feel free to turn your feet out or keep them parallel. Try a few different configurations until you feel which alignment helps you feel the most relaxed in your hips and the most spacious in your pelvic floor. Let the blocks hold you as you connect to your breath.
Slow down your breath and drop it down into your belly, and all around your baby. Take your time. Feel your belly expand as you breathe in. Feel your belly soften as you breathe out. Give yourself a few minutes to drop into a calming rhythm where you are just focusing on your breath. It’s totally normal if your mind wanders, just keep gently redirecting your focus back to your breath in your belly. You can even think about sharing the relaxation of your breath with your baby. After a few minutes, start to drop your breath even deeper down, within your pelvis. Feel that same gentle expansion on the inhale, and softening on the exhale, but now inside of your pelvis.
As you do so, allow a little smile to come to your face. Imagine that your smile is directed more inwardly rather than out into the room around you. Direct your smile into your vagina. Let it be an inner smile of encouragement, appreciation, even admiration. Imagine how your vagina would like to be seen, spoken to, taken care of and touched in the time around your birth. Start to cultivate that energy within yourself right now. The more you tune into this positive, loving frequency, the more programmed your system is to stay in that energy during your birth.
If you feel that you need to take a break from your squat, slowly ground into your feet and thighs and stand up on an inhale, do a few juicy circles with your hips, and then sit back down on your blocks.
Take a deep breath in through your nose and then open your mouth wide and chant the word “YES” three times, once on each exhale, in as low of a tone as you can. Say it with that same smile. Say it as if you are saying it to your baby. Then try chanting the word “WELCOME” low and slow. Imagine the tone of your body reflecting that energy of welcoming. Imagining that you can communicate how welcome your baby is, directly through your body.
Finally, as you sit here, envision your baby sliding smoothly from your womb, down the birth path, through the soft opening of your vulva and into your arms. Stay with your breath as you visualize the welcoming of your baby. If you start to refer back to scary images, or past birth experiences, see if you can keep coming back to wiring yourself to believe that your body can indeed open for your baby and that your baby knows how to open you from the inside. After all, the planet is overpopulated and we’ve been doing this for a really long time!
When you feel complete with this part of the practice, ground into your feet and thighs again, and stand up. Widen your feet about one leg’s length apart. Bend your knees and hinge at your hips to bend forward with your hands on your blocks. Release your spine as far forward as is comfortable and easy for you. Take a minute or two here to lengthen your legs and breathe into the space between your sitting bones, the same space that you were opening and toning into while you were squatting on the blocks.
Do this practice daily, even just for 5 minutes! You can also take a minute every time you sit on the toilet to tune in, breathe down and release any tension in your pelvic floor as you release your bladder or bowels.
If you’d like to explore more of what I have shared here, please check out my 3 part series Preparing Your Vagina for Birth. I also offer a series called Yoga for Your Yoni which offers this work to all women wanting to strengthen their relationship to their yonis and whole pelvic floors.