top of page

The mind game

What you have in common with Serena.

Another impressive win for Serena Williams in a tense match at Wimbledon. You can't deny her physicality and her talent. But she lost the first set and more than once her mind was getting in the way of her body's ability to perform. And the same applies to you too.

It's not that you need to be an athlete to birth well. Being fit helps, particularly if you have a long birth - but in reality your body will get on and do it. It puts in hours of practice all through your pregnancy. That's what Braxton Hick's are - stretching and toning your uterus from the first weeks of pregnancy, whether you feel them or not. Just like other bodily functions, your body doesn't need instructions or permission. It is an involuntary action.

Mammals in the wild just do it. They don't attend classes or write birth plans. They don't have the thinking brain to get in the way. Unless they are under threat, and then the body stops the contractions (or if birth is imminent, it speeds it up). Here's an amazing video of a tiger giving birth to twins in London zoo. (Any excuse to watch cute animals being born.)

During birth the more primitive part of our brain takes over to do it, and the thinking brain shuts down. (That's why we go into 'labour land' and find it hard to talk.) However we are human, and we are thinkers and it is really hard to shut off that part of our brain. The late Tricia Anderson, midwife, tutor and researcher, called stimulation of the neo cortex 'the handbreak'. But it's more than just overthinking that gets in the way.

Birth, and Serena's tennis performance, is effected by our mental attitude, that little voice in our head that tells us we can do it, or it's all too much. Did you know that research has shown that the amount of pain women feel in labour is related to how much they think it's going to hurt? So if you think it'll be too much to handle, it will be; but if you think you will cope, you will. Athletes spend a lot of time doing mental preparation such as visualisation and hynposis. Are you seeing some similarities too? Whether it's hypnobirthing, sticking up affirmations, or this lovely pregnancy colouring book from Sarah the Doula, it will help you cope with labour.

Pregnant with my first, and realising that the only pain relief I was happy with was gas and air, I turned to the knowledge from my psychology degree. Having studied holistic psychology I knew the power of visualisations - theoretically. And I knew how relaxation could help keep my rational brain calm so I could 'let my monkey brain do it' (Ina May Gaskin). So I made up a simple visualisation and practised and practised. On the day I surprised myself by not even using the gas and air. This gave me confidence to give birth to my other four children using the power of relaxation, visualisation and breathing.

You can be sure that Serena will have been doing the same. During the tough moments of the match she will have repeated her affirmations, calmed her breathing, or focused on a visualisation.

It's not just our brain that is affected by our thoughts, but our muscles too. When we are feeling good, in the zone, our body responds, and moves without thought. When we are feeling negative or under pressure, we trip or pull a muscle. Serena lost the first set with a double fault. Pressure.

The pregnant uterus is the biggest muscle in the human body. Labour is muscle action. Contractions/surges are the muscle fibres tightening and then relaxing, but staying a little shorter as they pull open the cervix, and then push the baby out. We want our uterus muscle to work well.

A birth prep client I had is a singer. She uses muscles in her larynx and diaphram (and others). If she is tense the notes don't come out well. So before she goes on stage she does some simple relaxations exercises, and gives herself a pep talk. This helped her realise she had skills she could use to help her cope with her baby's birth, whatever happened. The same for the horse riders, roller skaters, and pub darts players among you.

Serena, and my singing client, didn't do it alone. They both have a team around them to help them focus, to keep them relaxed and to teach and coach them. If you are pregnant, look at what you know about your body, and how you relax. Get some afffirmations. Do some hypnobirthing by class or CD. Practise relaxations. And get yourself a coach - aka a doula.

What mental prep have you done? What helped you to have a positive mental attitude?

If you'd like to know more about my birth preparation and doula services please check out my website.

38 views1 comment

Recent Posts

See All

1 Comment

bottom of page