Listening in the birthing space is important, it is a skill. “Active listening” is trying to get a sense of what someone is saying or experiencing, checking back in with them. The idea here is to try to avoid judging, criticizing or defending, and instead, it’s about understanding the context in which it is coming from. Using all senses within the body to take on what is being said. Watching for gestures, reading the eyes, listening to the tone, observing the muscles within the body. You can sit with a labouring woman and watch her reaction to each contraction, for some it is the raising of shoulders, tightening of the toes, gripping on the floor, or raising up onto tippy toes. Each movement resembling the inner working of the mind-body. We see active listening through gesture, movement and touch.
This kind of listening in the birthing space does not need feedback in a vocal context, it can be simple eye contact, the nod of the head, or a smile. By providing this form of feedback it allows the birthing mother to be more at ease, able to communicate effectively, openly and honestly. As a birthing partner or caregiver, you must learn to listen without feedback, it is a matter of understanding. Active listening is simple, you take what is being told, allowing you to understand the changing feelings and thoughts a birthing mother has. For some women, there are stages throughout their labour, where both noise and touch can aggravate them. Taking them away from their concentration of listening to their body. The mind goes within, the body reaches out for concentration and calm. Moving through each contraction, the surge of intensity peaking, then subsiding.
When a person feels heard due to the response from their caregivers and partner, this allows them to go deeper inside. Looking out for non-verbal cues, as communication occurs on various levels. During labour mum may go inward, therefore, the verbal communication has gone. For some standing on the outside looking in, it can seem like mum has gone into a trance, or perhaps a deeper state not seen before. She does this as the beta-endorphins, the body’s natural opioids, are released within, naturally easing pressure or pain, to allow each contraction or surge to slip on past, as labour builds. This is the time to be an observer, there is nothing to fix, nothing to take away, this is the transition into motherhood. To sit and watch as labour progresses or to stand close, allowing for eye contact, so she knows you are there, she has your support, and she can continue to go deeper within.
For some a gentle reminder of the breath, gently in through the nose and down to where the pressure is felt, this signals the cervix is opening and baby is moving down. With the birthing environment, dimly light, soft music, and a sense of calm, mum feels safe to continue. Gentle reassurance with soft words, or a gentle reach of your hand onto hers. For some partners, they feel like they need to change the moment, move mum out from her current position, move the pressure she is feeling. This can help, however, breaking the mind-body connection can affect the progression of labour. It is like someone waking you from a deep dream, you can startle, feel unhappy as the mind had you in an altered state of consciousness. The hormones flowing through a mothers body during her labour wane and come in and out. Peaking when she needs them to move her through, the body and the baby connecting.
In Chinese medicine, we look to use all of the body to read what is happening both internally and externally. The colour, the suppleness of the skin, where the wrinkles sit and the gestures. Sitting watching and listening to the spoken word, offers far more than letting your mind run ahead. Think slowly with the thought of why? Why does this person look and behave like this, what are their gestures and facial features tell you. As labour progresses the birthing mother will move inward, she may reach out for a hand to hold, ask for pressure to be placed on an area of her body. As a contraction surges, be mindful to let it take its course and then reach out with your eyes to see if anything is required. Eye contact, the eyes are the window to the soul. You can see fear, surprise, sadness and happiness through the eyes, a perfect marker for an active listener.
As an active listener, use your communications skills, whether verbal or non-verbal with care. Trust in the birthing mothers ability to flow with her needs, it is not a time to force. Forcing can ultimately lead to intervention and changes you may not want to occur. Trust in the birthing mothers ability, her instinct and yours.