So there I was, laughing through the height of labour and dancing to Reggaeton in the shower of the birthing suite… and no, I wasn’t high on the laughing gas.
I was drug-free and pain-free, high on a naturally-created boost of oxytocin, endporphins and other feel-good chemicals that had probably been heightened by my laughter.
During my pregnancy I trained in Laughter Wellness, which uses the power of laughter, deep breathing, rythymic exercises and positive reinforcements to mindfully and purposefully build positive energy. I’d been well aware that some of the major “happy hormones” produced by laughter are the same that are elevated in labour. I knew that laughter helps us to relax and get our nervous system out of fight-or-flight mode (which can slow down the labour process), and that because of the hormones it released, laughter is a bit of a “natural pain killer”.
You’ve got the power, don’t ya know?!
It seems absurd to me that people opt to be a victim to such a natural and incredible process when they could be so empowered, calm and confident. I guess maybe some don’t know that it’s an option to feel good and to have choices during the process, hence, they leave themselves at the mercy of fear, the survival instinct, pain and/or drugs, and medical professionals who just want to get the baby out and get on with their day. NEWS FLASH – While you can’t be in control of what happens during birth, you can choose to feel good, you can have a strong and positive mindset, you can be pain-free without drugs.
Another thing many people don’t realise – birth can be a traumatic experience for THE BABY too, leaving deep-seeded emotional and mental scars (before life has even begun). I feel that a good parent does what’s best and healthiest for their child. I wouldn’t like to have a screaming match in front of my kid, because I know it can cause them a lot of confusion, fear and hurting from the vibes and noise and emotion of the argument. A baby gets anything its Mum has – all the food, all the drink, all the drugs, the medicine AND the biochemistry, it’s all passed on. However the mum feels, they feel. Like most mums, all through pregnancy I did what I could to nourish him and make sure the womb and his world were a happy and safe place, naturally I wanted to bring my bub into the most peaceful, happy and welcoming space I could manage too.
So what was my experience with birth and labour? Was it all that it was cracked up to be?
I’m not going to share my whole birth story here, that’s for another time, however I have detailed below the three ways in which I used laughter during the birth.
Laughter type 1 – laughter session
At 2:30am, cramps in my lower back started. Because of what I had learned in the SheBirths course, I knew it was probably the start of pre-labour. I’d actually learned that there was such a thing as pre-labour (often cramping/mini-contractions or discomfort as the baby’s head moves down ready for birth and the ligaments in your body stretch and make way) in the course, which could last anywhere from a few hours to THREE DAYS! I’d learned that the labour could be brought on more by encouraging/boosting the necessary hormones like oxytocin, which is released by laughter and stimulates contractions, and it could be hindered and slowed down by certain things too. For now, it was time to rest and save my energy for what was to come, so I went back to sleep.
An hour or so later, I woke from the cramps again. I put heat packs on my lower back and lower belly and rested as much as I could, but around 4:30am, the mini-contractions were making it too uncomfortable for me to lie still. If I was awake, uncomfortable and felt like moving, I thought a laughter session (Including laughter, mindfulness, chanting, movement, breathing) could help to pass time, distract me, reduce the discomfort and hopefully bring on the actual labour sooner.
It was January – holiday season – and my in-laws house was filled with family, so there wasn’t anywhere for me to go to let out a full volume laugh without waking anyone. I went into the bathroom, Youtubed a Laughter Session and followed along as quietly as I could. After the half hour session finished, I decided we were close enough to sunrise to wake my partner and let him know that the baby was coming!
Laughter type 2 – watching comedy
Hours later (perhaps around 11am), I was somewhere between the pre-labour cramps and official labour beggining. We’d driven to the beach, done a massive walk in the morning sun, had breakfast and returned home to a completely empty house – not even the dog was there. My partner turned some stand-up comedy on for me. As he ran back and forth to the microwave to warm the heat packs I was alternating on my lower back, I moved restlessly from couch to fitball to standing, trying to focus on the TV and not the mini-contractions. While this worked a bit, I was watching comedians I wasn’t familiar with and was waiting for them to “make me laugh”… so it was very hit and miss and so I didn’t get the same effects I do when I intentionally and purposefuly laugh.
Laughter type 3 – balancing
While I had tried to “giggle between contractions” earlier in the day (like Anne had told me she did), it had felt unnatural to me, so I gave up on it and focused on the breathing techniques I’d learned from She Births. As the contractions got stronger in the late afternoon and evening, I started to use laughter as a bit of a coping mechanism for the intensity. It’s hard to explain what the feeling of having contractions is like – yes, your muscles are contracting, but your body is taking over, doing what it was designed to do and it is so intensely doing it’s own thing that you could very easily feel scared at being so out of control of what’s happening. That’s where a lot of women lock up in fear and end up lengthening their labours and often damaging their bodies more than necessary because they are in resistance to what is inevitably going to happen – that baby is going to come out!
I’m sure you can agree that sometimes when things are crazy, maybe a bit scary, a bit painful or totally out of your control, you find yourself laughing. You might be fearing for your life on a crazy rollercoaster, but you are laughing. Life might have seemingly thrown you the biggest curve-ball EVER, but you find yourself laughing. WHY? Well your body knows how to self-correct and reset your system. It’s unhealthy to stay in a state of stress, and by laughing, your body and nervous system can return to a relaxed state that is optimal for critical thinking and decision making, creativity, effectively digesting food, restoring and repairing cells etc. etc.
Back to the birth – I can’t actually remember now whether I chose to try laughter or if it just came out as a reaction to what was going on, but it felt good, so I kept doing it. The midwives found it quite amusing (and I think one even said it was a bit creepy) and I laughed. When the doctor was being very difficult to deal with and trying to use scare-tactics to make me choose to take petocin (a synthetic oxytocin injection), I laughed. With each intense wave of contractions, I laughed.
As the laughter and the breathing techniques were great for a few hours, but weren’t seeming to progress the birth, the midwives suggested some other things, and I gave some other techiques a go. While I was having a grand old time in the birthing suite, laughing, swaying/rocking my hips through contractions, dancing etc, I do wonder whether I had ramped up the feel-good vibes and relaxed myself so much that I had delayed what needed to come in to finish the job off – adrenaline. Adrenaline helps with those final pushes but it is reduced by laughter, and MAN, once it came through, I was literally trembling with it in the lead up to each contraction.
So, if I give birth again, will I laugh again?
YES – however, in relation to the adrenaline, I will be doing some research into whether I should hold back on the laughter from a certain point in the labour, and perhaps even hiring a doula who is on board with the laughter plan who can help me decide when’s the best time for it etc.
I would definitely recommend doing a Laughter session during pre-labour, it really helped in all the ways I thought it would (mentioned above).
Check some sessions out ahead of time so that you know what you are in for.
Below’s a laughter wellness session I filmed while I was pregnant.
PS. Laughter Sessions during pregnancy are awesome to keep you feeling good, keeping you happy and helping with digestion (helped me with indigestion while I was pregnant)!
What was your birthing experience like? Would you include laughter in birth? I’d LOVE to hear from you below!