Updated: Jun 10, 2019
We can read about the names assigned to each stage of labor in books. We hear the measurements based on cervical dilation in the classes. We can hold a printout of contractions on a strip of pink paper in our hands.
But, that’s not what I’m here to talk about.
We are more than labels, more than a number, more than the minutes between contractions. Dive deep into the transformative journey of birth undisturbed with these 7 awe-inspiring stages of labor.
1. Coming into Existence: Pre-Labor
This is where the story of labor really begins. It looks different for everyone, but it is an important and often overlooked step. The mother begins to shift, and hints of her pending labor makes its self quietly known. Her sense of preparation and desire for “all to be in order” may heighten. Nesting in full gear, as an anxious energy invades her awareness. She may dance back and forth with this energy, testing the waters again and again. This is the beginning of the end.
2. Launching Her Ship: 0-4 cm
Giving way to denial or doubts, a realization that her journey is here overcomes her. The clouds of pending labor move out and her path is laid forth in front of her. Alerting her chosen caretakers and witnesses, she often chooses to remain at home alone with her partner to familiarize herself with these new sensations. She may become talkative and chatty, often relays information about each wave of contractions to her partner. Excitement and nervousness fill the air as she sets out on her journey. Staying centered, she slowly pulls away from the shores of the ordinary. As waves begin to shift into stronger, more intense waters she must sail forth into the unknown. The journey that lay ahead cannot be predicted or gauged by anyone or anything, for the ordinary understanding of reality does not exist there.
3. Crossing Over: 5 cm
This phase is where the midwife may arrive for a home birth, and in the case of a hospital birth, many will make their way to the hospital at this time. She begins to move deeper inward, as she draws closer to the barrier that separates us all from this world to the next. Once settled into her place of delivery, she can begin to pull away from the present reality to the place where life comes forth. Some may know this as labor land. It is a place she must journey into alone. Some will dance along this line, again testing the waters until finally surrendering over to the powerful energy. Brain patterns begin to slow and align with those of the Earth and a grounded, self-directed state becomes her. She is no longer chatty. A serious and profound demeanor fills the air and it is perceivable by all those who bare witness to her journey.
4. Sailing: 6-8 cm
She begins to process the separation of her old self and her new self. Standing in the deep awareness of this shift, her sails rise, and she lets go – giving way to the energy. This is where transformation begins to happen and the inner work at place here cannot be comprehended. Craving privacy, warmth and quiet security at that time, it’s important that those attending her do not disrupt her from her sacred travels with questions or interruptions. It’s common for her to enter a trance-like state and call her partner close to her at this time. Entering the beyond, pain becomes irrelevant. She is not lost, for she has found her way and her journey begins to approach its shores.
5. The Landing: 9-10 cm
Deep in her inner knowing, her awareness of the end phase brings her face-to-face with her transformation. All her reserves and focus are needed at this time in order to come out on the other side. It is often described as the breaking point for many, and a place of complete surrender. This is where her old self is left behind, and the new self is reborn. Her care provider and witnesses are not there to rescue her but to hold steady on the other side of the storm. This is what she has journeyed for. Wild-eyed and braver than ever before, she reaches her full openness.
6. The Calm: 10 cm
A calmness overtakes her upon reaching the eye of her storm, and rest is at place. In Western society, this phase of labor hasn’t been well acknowledged. However, it is one of the most important parts. Quietly drifting towards the shores of home, her body demands rest, so energy can be regained. The calmness is sometimes very brief and sometimes up to an hour. Waves have ceased, and she may even drift momentarily into sleep. There is more than regrouping and rest at place in this state of openness. She has reached her destination, and like a traveler reaching the peak of a mountain, she takes it all in before calling forth her child and together making their way back home.
7. The Other Side of Transformation: Pushing
Without notice, she returns. Awake, alert and vibrant. A rush of adrenaline flows through her, pushing her through the other side of the storm with a strength unknown to her before this moment but not alone this time. She has returned from her journey – a new person with baby in hand.
It’s important to appreciate that birth unfolds in its own unique and mysterious way for everyone. Not one birth is alike, and not one type of birth is any better than another. Every birth – whether it be an induction, a natural birth or cesarean birth – journey’s through its own stages of awe-inspiring transformation with it’s pieces each fitting into the puzzle just the same. Forever changed, a new person steps forth with a new life in hand.