Many of us as birth workers are dedicated to normalizing fierce embodied birth sounds from the clients we work with.
And I see an interesting trend, especially amongst those supporting and advocating for undisturbed physiological birth:
I am noticing that we as birth workers are perhaps inadvertently planting seeds of trauma in our clients when we prescribe a “right” way to make sounds in labor, either prenatally or during the process of labor itself.
I have worked with hundreds of people helping them process their challenging birth experiences and find new meaning, understanding, and perspective around their stories. Most people’s birth traumas have to do with a rupture in their relationship with other people in the room, but also with themselves. One way that this seems to be showing up more commonly is when parents report that the nurses, OBs, midwives or doulas are telling them that the sounds they are making are not helpful. They sometimes tell parents to make lower sounds, (eg, “moo like a cow don’t squeal like pig”), or say that their sounds are too high-pitched. Birthing people can internalize these well-meaning recommendations as evidence that they are not doing things right, that they are failing at this birthing thing, especially when they just can’t figure out HOW to make a deeper sound.
I wonder, how do we know that high-pitched sounds aren’t helpful? When might they actually be helpful? And, if we feel as birth workers a strong feeling or intuitive hit that a different sound (or position, or amount of people in a room) would be helpful, how can we offer another possibility for coping in a more relational rather than prescriptive way?
As a doula-birth worker and childbirth educator I am guilty of prescribing to the parents I work with that “deeper, lower sounds, those in the pelvis and perineum, will help direct all of your energy and focus and power toward where the baby is going.” It is logical, understandable, and also normalizes that sounds in general can be helpful in labor. However, I now believe it is more helpful to normalize ALL sounds in labor. And they all might be helpful at different times.
All kinds of sounds at all kinds of pitches can be expressions of personal or ancestral trauma being released. We do not tell someone that they should mourn the loss of a loved one in a certain way or with a certain kind of crying being “more effective.” It depends where the vibration of the sound needs to go to be released in the body.
And while we can practice making sounds prenatally to normalize them, we also know that sounds can’t necessarily be “faked” in labor. We can’t say “make sounds lower” if the body is not wanting to do that. We can create an atmosphere of non-judgement and freedom such that the body is invited to make those sounds, but they cannot be imposed on someone.
I think the anatomy and physiology is interesting here too. The deep muscles of the neck and throat are connected fascially with the respiratory diaphragm, and on down through the psoas muscles (long muscles along the front of the spine), and pelvic diaphragms. What if there is tension in the neck that a nice high-pitched cry would help release? A high-pitched cry may then release the entire line of fascia and the psoas and pelvic muscles just soften in response, and baby may find a smoother path.
Some people scream their babies out. Some people sing their babies out like a soprano opera singer. Some people growl or roar their babies out. Some people sigh their babies out. Many people it’s combination of all of these things. Let us bring some more space and expanded possibility around how a birthing body expresses and releases during the birth process. Let us also respect our own intuitive nudges as birth workers that a different sound or position or touch could be what the moment needs, and offer suggestions without an attachment to the outcome of our suggestion.