The Problem with Trusting in Birth

I hear it all the time in the birth world:

“Trust in your body”  
“Your body was MADE to do this” 
“Trust in Birth”

I don’t completely disagree with these statements. Trust is essential for mindful birthing.

But there’s a problem with telling parents to simply “trust in birth” or trust in their bodies during birth: Birth isn’t just about the bodies who do the birthing. 

Why? Because our culture, our history, and our politics all shape how we understand and experience birth. And these big, abstract concepts have concrete effects on each individual experience.  

Do you know the saying “no man is an island?” Birth can be viewed in a similar light: No individual birth is entirely disconnected from the culture surrounding it.

Rather than being an experience that’s solely affected by internal factors – the way mantras like “trust in birth” or “trust in your body” indicate – birth is affected by both internal and external factors. Here’s what I mean:

Our internal experience of birth is all about how we think and feel – both physically and emotionally. An awareness of your breath, body, thoughts and emotions are all examples of internal aspects of birth. 

But birth is also greatly affected by external factors – the things going on around us. In an immediate sense, these external factors include things like the model of care you’re birthing in, the care provider that’s available to you, the physical environment surrounding you, and the beliefs the people around you hold about birth.

Take another step back and even more external factors come to light: the history that shapes our birth practices today, our cultural beliefs about birth, reproduction, and sexuality, and the political climate surrounding these concepts – all of which affect our experiences of birth. 

Birth is not simply a matter of trusting. Birth is cultural, social, personal, historically situated, and political. 

When we tell parents to simply “trust in birth” or to just “trust your body, it was made to do this” we’re also telling them that the outcome of their birth rests on whether or not they trusted enough and on whether or not their body is good enough.  

And that’s an extremely harmful system of belief. These sentiments that effectively say if you can’t do this, then you’re not trusting enough, and your body isn’t good enough can lead birthing parents to blame themselves when birth goes differently than they desired. By telling birthing parents that they just need to trust more, we make all the other, bigger, external forces at play invisible in any given birth experience.

And that’s the problem with trusting in birth.

As a therapist, I see how devastating the impact of self-blame can be to new parents. Intense feelings of not being good enough can often be part of the picture when parents experience postpartum depression and anxiety.

So what’s the alternative? What can you trust in?  

Trust in your own resiliency to navigate and cope however you need to, regardless of outcome. Identify your internal and external resources for birth. Learn how to develop a trusting relationship and rapport with your care provider. 

These are just some of the primary goals in the Nona Method of Mindful Birthing. Becoming educated about all of the aspects that affect birth and learning more about building trust in your inner resources are the first steps to navigating birth. 

You can register for Nona classes here.

Or, are you a doula interested in providing mindfulness-based labor support? Check out our Nona Birth Doula Training.