Athletic women come in all sizes and enjoy different sports or fitness programs. Athletic women enjoy being toned and fit. Through personal fitness, many women have developed determination, commitment to their task, and an ability to hit the wall and go beyond. Often they consider themselves tough and rigorous. Women who enjoy fitness as a way of Life rather than being ‘athletic’ also admire their shape, sense of being in ‘tone’, flexibility and strength. So why would an athletic woman (including women who just stay fit) need to know anything about childbirth? Isn’t the goal of preparing for childbirth about ‘getting in shape?’
One famous woman athlete made a public comment that if she had gone through labour before her competitive event she would have done better in the competitions. Obviously, childbirth gave her insights that would have improved her performance. Many athletic women may not know that you are more likely to have a caesarean than most women. We’ve all heard stories that dancers and horsewomen are more likely to have a caesarean; however, it’s true for many athletic women. Yet, somehow this seems paradoxical. How can being in shape lead to more medically assisted births?
Childbirth at it’s simplest is an exercise in plumbing.
An object (baby) has to come out of a container (woman). In order to do that the object must come through a tube (pelvis), open a diaphragm (cervix) and aperture (vagina). The container has a Mind and if the process of the object coming through is perceived of as painful, then the Mind can respond to those sensations by tensing up the body. Tension in the body can interfere with the need of the container to relax and open in order for the object to come out. Being ‘toned’ is a form of tension. This means that there is entirely different preparation for giving birth than staying in shape or being in training. One husband of an athletic woman said after her caesarean: ‘I thought childbirth was about muscles pushing a baby out. Now I understand it’s about creating space so the baby can move through her body.’
Each sport or fitness program uses different muscles, yet it is not just the muscles that can produce tension. Connective tissue or fascia can hold tension as well. In our plumbing analogy, the tube (pelvis) is surrounded by connective tissue which is part of our body’s soft tissue. Soft tissue is anything other than bone. For example, tension in the connections between the bones in the pelvic girdle (tube) can prevent the bones from being mobile. Our baby’s bones in their head are designed to mold and over lap; however, we can create more space inside this tube when we know how to keep our pelvis mobile. In childbirth, the sacrum is the bone that needs the most mobility. It’s also the bone that is used to stabilize our bodies as we weight bear and tends to being immobile. We can also reduce ‘back labour’ by learning how to create sacral mobility. One ice skater said after 3 caesareans: ‘Once I learned to mobilize my sacrum in labour, I had no trouble giving birth to my fourth child naturally. No one told me I had to do that. No one told me I had to do the Internal Work (birth canal or aperture) either.
The soft tissue in our birth canal may also be quite tight. Many women are told to do ‘pelvic floor’ exercises. These certainly are good to strengthen our insides; however, they are not appropriate birth preparation exercises. Instead pregnant women need to learn how to relax inside the pelvis and the muscles of the birth canal.
For many athletic, relaxing is not in alignment with their personal self perception.
One competitive cyclist said: ‘I considered myself very, very tough and I was. I had developed skills and management skills for my chosen event; however, without a whole new set of skills for the event of giving birth I didn’t have a clue and ended up with a caesarean and sense of personal failure. When I discovered The Pink Kit Method for birthing better™ I learned the necessary birthing skills and my husband learned how to coach me.’
The Pelvic Clock exercise from The Pink Kit is one of the many you can teach yourself at home to prepare for childbirth. When used in labour, the Pelvic Clock technique helps you to focus on relaxing where your cervix attaches inside the pelvis. This assists in dilating the cervix. You can use the same concept to mentally relax around the cervix directly which also assists cervical dilation. NOTE: If you are pregnant now, you can do the Pelvic Clock exercise below, but only do the cervical relaxation the last two weeks of your pregnancy as specific preparation for birth and then feel free to do it throughout labour.
1) Do this exercise in a number of positions: standing, sitting, lying down or partially kneeling. As you know, different postures engage different muscles and aspects of the connective tissue.
2) Draw a line around your body, starting midway down your pubic bone, around to the top of where your legs meet your hips and then to your sacrum. This will be about 1 ½ inches above where the little bumps are, at the beginning of your bottom crack. You have drawn a circle around your pelvis. Inside this circle, inside the pelvis is approximately where the top of your vagina (the soft tissue around the cervix) meets the inside of your pelvis. In labour the contractions draw this tissue into the pelvis, opening the cervix which is in the middle of the tissue. Where the tissue meets the pelvis is like the rim of a clock face and the cervix is like the area where the hands of the clock join. Uterine contractions open the cervix so that there is no longer a clock face, rather a large opening for your baby to come down and into your birth canal. The tugging open of the cervix is what is ‘painful’ in labour.
3) Give your clock face names. Name the pubic bone 12:00, one hip 3:00, the sacrum 6:00 and the other hip 9:00. Now go around the clock and soften (inside) at each o’clock (you can always include 1:30 etc). It’s helpful to say to yourself while you lightly touch that place: ‘Soften inside my pubic bone.’ Pause before you go on to the next place in order to let your mind find that place in your body and for your body to respond. This is yoking your mind to your body.
4) After you have gone around the outside of the Pelvic Clock and if you are two weeks away from your due date, then you can do the same softening around the cervix which is in closed and in the center. The cervix is made up of 50% muscle cells and the rest connective tissue, so it does respond to intentional relaxation.
5) Doing both of these things in labour between contractions and even during contractions has been one of the great focus tools that women who have prepared with The Pink Kit have used. It’s an ideal tool for husbands/partners to know. They can feel it in their own bodies and can remind us to ‘relax at 6:00’ if we have back labour, for example.
Notice this difference, just tense up inside, hold the tension while you go around the clock again. You can feel the difference.
Over the past 30 years, The Pink Kit Method for birthing better™ has helped many women athletes to have a positive birth. The information originated in the United States in the 1970s and came to New Zealand with the founder of the Trust, Common Knowledge, in 1995. Since then the multi-media kit The Pink Kit: Essential Preparations for your birthing body through the website.
A number of New Zealand athletic women have used The Pink Kit and found it incredibly helpful. They have been body builders, aerobic competitors, rowers, horsewomen, dancers etc. Each has a different experience and different story of their birth. Some found that their sport had prepared them for the challenge of labour while others were surprised at how challenged they were by labour.
Often athletic women have athletic partners.
When both expectant parents have prepared for birth using The Pink Kit, having a skilled partner as birth coach has been wonderful for the woman. Men do have the same bodies and can feel inner tension in the same manner than women can. When these women found labour challenging, they relied on their partners to help them work through each contractions with the common knowledge skills they had taught themselves. One woman athlete said: ‘when labour got intense, my husband reminded me that I had put in the effort to my sport and that I could do this. He inspired me to keep going instead of using pain relief and he was there every contraction, doing the work with me.’
With the new skills, you can find in The Pink Kit, athletic women and their partners can meet the challenge, achieving a positive birth experience in all situations. Learning new skills become fascinating rather than conflictive. In fact, you’ll get back into shape sooner after birth when you have learned to relax to give birth. There will be less trauma for you and your baby.