• maria armstrong

The Inner Work of Birth

Updated: Jan 21

A book by Nora Tallman, CNM


Coping with pain is a significant aspect of childbirth and usually suggestions for getting through labor are mechanical and physical. Many books and classes focus on doing this or that position or technique, and there is sound science behind all of it for sure. However, not many of them dig deeper into what it means on the inside when we are trying to cope –when we hit a wall and try to find the way to move beyond it with courage: the path, the struggle, the transformation.

My births were easy compared to some of the births I have witnessed. Still, nothing I did to get ready prepared me for how every fiber of my being would respond. Similarly, nothing I tell my clients can prepare them for this either. Each labor is a deeply personal journey of self-exploration. That said, it helps to read about the inner work we will encounter and Nora Tallman gives us just that in her book.


Intention matters when setting out on any path, and a core part of preparing for the pain of childbirth is a labor of the heart, mind, and soul. We have innate strengths and capabilities for doing this work and, paradoxically perhaps, it is acceptance and surrender that allow us to move through it all. This is something that our babies, the other participants, do so very naturally: They are open to the process. They have no other choice. We don't either.


We all encounter a moment, a wall, during labor where it feels impossible to move on, and in that moment all we can imagine is the terrible things that happen beyond it. The real work of labor, however, is not about trying to get comfortable –there really is no such thing at some point, but it is about embracing all of what we feel so that when we hit that wall, we can remember that the wall is not the end.

Our satisfaction from our birth experience is not dependent on getting the birth we want, but rather wanting the birth we get.

Acceptance and surrender are maybe especially important for when things go differently than anticipated so that we don’t drown in feelings of blame and guilt and so that, in the end, "our satisfaction from our birth experience is not dependent on getting the birth we want; but rather wanting the birth we get."


As a doula, my job is to be with my clients when they face their wall and remind them that they can move through it with courage. I am to remind them that I am Courage – I and all the other women before them with me. No position change or trick will do in that moment. No one can move beyond the wall for them. We have to courageously respond with willingness to our process and accept. The rite of passage is in the journey, not the birth itself, because birth relates to the inner experience of a process, a transformation. I don’t know any other book that brings all of this out so very beautifully.




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