Thursday, October 2, 2008

on singing through labor

Several weeks ago every night before bed I was reading Ina May Gaskin's guide to childbirth. I wish I could find more books like this. I'm reading Penny Simkin's guidebook at the moment and it is good, helpful, but not as engaging a read. One of my learnings from Ina May was about the connection between the loseness or openness of the jaw/mouth and of the looseness/openness of the pelvic region and cervix. She advises even silly exercises in labor to loosen the face, and encourages low deep sounds rather than pinched tight sounds. As someone whose jaw is frequently tight and who can imagine setting her jaw when in pain I started to wonder how I'd manage this. Then she shared a story of a woman whose labor was stalled and who was extremely tense, particularly through her face. Ina May remembered that she was a trained singer and suggested she sing. This opened her up tremendously and she was fully dilated in short order.

I made a mental note then. I have sung through many moments of my life. I love to sing with my sister. My sister will be at my birth. This could work... And perhaps... without even thinking about it, it could loosen my face and jaw.

Then we went to see a play called "Birth" which is a bit like the Vagina Monologues in that it is compiled from several interviews with women about their birth experiences. No one in that play was singing through labor, but one woman was reciting the mantra "My Body Rocks!" over and over again. I think I'm a bit inhibited for such a mantra, but... I'm not too inhibited to sing all manner of things (maybe Kev or Katherine should write me a particular song for labor with such an affirming mantra built in... hmm...) After the play there was a talk back time and a woman in the audience asked ask us if we'd seen the video of the woman singing during labor. So I went home and searched you tube and found it and was reconvicted in my desire to try this.

I indicated a few weeks ago that this would be the subject of a forthcoming post and I intended to link to the you tube video (just so you won't think I'm totally crazy) and today, due to the cancellation of an evening school commitment I finally have time to post. I went looking on you tube and found another such video and this one tapped into the one concern I have about this plan. I almost feel like I need to develop a LONG set list of songs I'm prepared to sing because I can never remember lyrics at just the right moment, can never think of what to sing next (even though I'm always singing to myself- deciding I want to sing sometimes wipes the brain clean). I suspect that in active labor, when this might be most helpful, I'll be especially unable to think of what to sing next. The second video I found she seemed to have the same problem... but... with help from her husband (I presume) she got back on track.

So, friends, let's start creating the set list. What would be good songs to sing during labor? Anyone want to write a song for me? If you don't know my musical background--- I know a fair bit of classical repertoire, lots of church music of all stripes (i really love american hymn tunes- esp. of the appalachian variety), I know lots of women's music- ani, indigo girls, sweet honey in the rock, some sarah maclachlan, some patty griffin, some nancy griffith, and lots of others- i know a fair bit of leonard cohen, some beatles... aw shucks... I'm familiar with a lot of music. Grew up on Peter, Paul, and Mary. When I used to sing in a coffee house in high school I'd sing songs I had composed (mostly too melancholy for birthing, I think- teenage angst), old folk songs like "500 miles", "Both Hands" by Ani DiFranco, "Me and a Gun" by Tori Amos (um... talk about melancholy). And others I'm sure. I've got lots of songs I've used as lullabies too..


And whoever it was that thought that singing through labor would require meds, remember, we're hoping for a home birth. I'm hoping this will help keep me home and prevent the need for meds.

I can't figure out how to embed You Tube videos today... so... links for you- to the woman who could have used a set list here, but you get the idea that this could work from her. It seems more real than this one, but isn't this LOVELY? It gives me hope.

I KNOW I'll be learning the Dixie Chicks song "Lullabye" and will be brushing up on their song "Godspeed" as well.


Juniper said...

oo! what a great post! I havent been to the videos yet, but I'll be sure to head right over.

I'm not a singer like you, but I loved humming ALONG with Bobbi McFerrin while I labored. Medicine Man was the BEST for that - I listened to it like a gazillion times. Could you sing that one?

I'm sure you'll get lots of good ideas, but thanks for a lovely post.

Desert Mama said...

I also am not a singer like you, but I could totally see this working really well for you. Just make sure you choose music of different styles - I found my tastes in things would shift radically in labor - and I think it's normal to get very sensitive to sound, light, smell, etc. - so I'd make sure those with you have a variety of music to choose from in suggesting to you, so that if something grates on your nerves, you have something else. And it will be beautiful.

Heidi said...

This is pretty cool. Adam suggests "You Are My Sunshine." I think a list of hymns would be good -- you could get a nice emotional range, and hymns are all pretty easy to sing. You could even just have a hymnal with you!

Mama V said...

Yes, Sarah! I stink at giving suggestions, though.

Wait! Just thought of one: "I Want Jesus To Walk With Me" is blues-y and has some good rises and falls to reflect contractions...

Good advice, desert mama. I definitely found that needs and moods and preferences shifted throughout each phase of labor both times. Remind Kevin of that so that he doesn't take those sudden emotional/hormonal shifts personally. :)

It's also funny how some of the coping mechanisms (such as positions, distractions, etc.) that I thought might work for my personality proved to be not-so-useful in the heat of the moment during each labor. It'd be funny if you ended up being one of the silent birthing types. :)

After early labor I wasn't able to sing, much less concentrate on lyrics. But moaning and vocalizing along with the rise and fall of contractions: oh, yes! Doing so somehow helped me cope and express and meet the pain where it was and relax through it. It was simply impossible not to vocalize both times. So "singing" to an extent worked for me! And the best part about birthing at home is the ability to let go of any self-conscious concerns about feeling silly while singing/moaning.

BTW, keeping your head down (chin to chest) during pushing (whether or not you moan/sing/grunt/whisper/yell) helps to focus the energy downward and not strain your neck muscles and vocal chords. I learned that the hard way the first time and had to constantly remind myself the second time around.

Looking forward to reading your birth story and how it all plays out in the end!

Sneaksleep said...

It just seems so obvious that you would want to sing through labor, I don't know why I didn't think of it before. I'll let you know if I come up with any suggestions for your set list. ;-)

steve said...

For whatever reason, this post reminds me of the song "dancing through life" from the musical "Wicked." =)

Iris said...

All I wanted during my labor with my daughter was John Coltrane- can't really sing along, though.

(doing my best Sarah Palin) I'll get thinkin' about it and get back to ya!

TWIG said...

When I was pushing through some of the hardest biking on my week-long cycle through Iowa (the last 90 min of every day, pretty much), I had a good time with:

Dar Williams' "Iowa" (obvious, but I was feeling pretty close to the 'hills of iowa', and there's that nice vocalize "i-i-i-owa" bit.

Ooh, what about that Aphrodite song from ROAD TRIP? "Take it and start a brand new day with it"? A lovely way to welcome a new life. Plus, lodged way deep in the brain, so maybe it'll stick during the tough times.

I'll keep thinking. What a good introduction to your babyblog.


Sarah S-D said...

funny, d'a, i've been singing iowa on and off for the past week. i don't know all the words, but... sure could add it to my list.

THANKS FOR THE COMMENT (and the honor last night).

oh, and i have blocked out "road trip" completely for numerous reasons. can't remember that song at all.