Perceptions of Birth: Expansion vs. Contraction

Images, ideas, and stories of birth surround us everyday. What we are sometimes left with is a skewed and mostly inaccurate conception of the birthing time.  Consequently, we are not able to be open to the experience that is wanting to flow through us. Can it be different? YES!        It’s all about Awareness–  see where you are putting your focus and attention, see the limiting concepts you have in place or have adopted from our culture, and if what you see isn’t aligned with what you want- ask for it to be different. Have a willingness to release the old ideas and embrace something new.  This blog post is a start… a beginning to the seeing… a way to begin to Open ourselves to the endless possibilities of a new way of birthing…


Look at the picture above. When you focus on the black portion of the picture, you perceive an image of a vase; when you shift your focus to the white portion of the picture, you perceive a completely different image of two faces. What you put your focus and awareness on thus becomes your reality. When you focus on the black, this is a picture of a vase- that is the reality. When you shift your focus to the background, there is a figure-ground shift and this becomes a picture of two faces looking at each other- that becomes your new reality.
This principle is true in every part of our lives- what we focus on expands, our thoughts create our reality, energy flows where awareness goes, what we think about comes about.
How does this play out in the birth journey?
Imagine that you are in labor… you or your partner is timing each contraction, you are aware of how often you are having contractions and how long each contraction lasts. Your partner says, “Boy, that one seemed stronger than the last one, huh?” and you become aware of how strong each contraction is compared to the others. Someone you encountered along the way (a book, a friend, childbirth educator, care provider) had referred to contractions as ‘labor pains’ and that idea took hold in your subconscious mind. So your awareness is not only on the contraction but on the sensation that you experience as ‘labor pain’.  Someone may even ask you to rate your pain on a scale from 1- “not feeling much at all” to 10- “the worst pain you’ve ever felt”
But wait a minute…. in labor, you experience ‘contractions’ for only 45 seconds to a minute out of every 3-5 minutes. So what is the experience during the remaining time, when you are not ‘in contraction’? Most of labor is the time in between contractions.  During a 12 hour labor, in which contractions are coming every 4 minutes and lasting 1 minute, the time spent ‘in contraction’ is only 3 hours. What happened during the other 9 hours?
If our focus determines our perception, by placing our focus on the contractions our perception and experience of labor is contracted, closed, and limited.  We encounter this state of being in Contraction whenever we experience stress or fear. In Contraction, we are closed off from our external environment, protective of our bodies, and ready to fight or flee the perceived danger. When we are in a state of Contraction we are disconnected from ourselves and all others  and our physical body is being flooded with stress hormones (which interestingly can slow or halt the progression of labor.)
State of Contraction:
  • Closed-off
  • in Fear
  • Limited
  • Disconnected
  • useful for protection and survival
Let’s make a shift together now… a shift of awareness that takes us from what has been the foreground of our awareness in birthing to the background. It may take some time to adjust your focus, and that’s ok.  What is then the background of the birth journey? Most of your journey will be spent in this background place. Just as in our figure-ground perception, it is the opposite of where our focus has been placed- contraction- so let’s call it Expansion.
Imagine that you are on your birth journey… you and your partner are relaxing comfortably and enjoying this quality time together. Your partner says, “Wow sweetie, you are breathing and relaxing so well!” and you become more and more aware of how soft and relaxed your body feels.  Someone you encountered along the way (a book, friend, childbirth educator, doula or midwife) referred to the rhythmic sensations of the birth journey as  ‘waves of energy’ and that idea took root in your subconscious mind. So your awareness continues to float in this space of expansion, even as occasionally a wave will move through you, always bringing you back to this peaceful space. You are supported by your carefully chosen birth support team  who protect your birth space with positive, affirming words and actions allowing you to stay in this beautiful experience of expansion as you birth your baby.
When we are in a state of Expansion we are open to all possibilities, our bodies are able to relax and open, our hearts are open to experience peace, love and joy. We are connected mind-body-spirit and our physical bodies are flooded with the hormones responsible for feelings of trust, love and well-being (which interestingly are also the hormones responsible for birthing a baby.)
State of Expansion:
  • Openness
  • in Love
  • Limitless
  • Connected
  • useful for Growth and Reproduction
Everything about the process of becoming a parent is about Expansion. Expansion is the energy of Creativity, just as we need to be expansive and open in order to receive new creative ideas; we need to be expansive and open in the creation of new life.  At the first thought of conceiving a child we open ourselves to new possibilities; at conception we expand our senses and open our body to merge with another; throughout the pregnancy our belly expands with the growth of our baby and we open our mind to new knowledge; our body opens in new ways during birth; and our heart expands with pure love.
In what other ways can you expand your awareness and allow a figure-ground shift to take place. Birthing is a fertile time of becoming…. opening…. creating… allowing… surrendering… to who we really are.
Enjoy the journey~ Catherine

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