Are You A Bass Or A Soprano?


Did you scream your head off during labor? Were you Katherine Heigel in Knocked Up, screaming expletives and yelling for nurses to “get out!” Hollywood has forever made birth look like a frightening event with all of the screaming its chosen to include in its birth scenes. We all know we need to release energy when we are hurt or frustrated. How many of you have begun singing “opera” to stop yourself from yelling at your kids when you’re about to blow your top? Don’t you yell F*%$! when you drop a can of beans on your foot? Yes, we need to let it out vocally. It’s not a choice, it just comes.

I know we can have a much calmer birth than Katherine Heigel’s and still make the necessary vocalizations. I believe it’s the end all, be all in terms of comfort measures. The go-to tactic to get you through. My first birth’s labor took me by surprise. I know they tell you it’ll feel like a Mack truck is driving through you but you don’t believe it. How can you possibly understand what that means or feels like until you experience it anyway? I prepared by reading Hypnobirthing. I totally vibed with the idea that we need to take the fear out of birthing, but apparently I didn’t do the necessary practicing because this theory sure as hell did not work for me. I watched Hypnobirthing videos on YouTube and swooned at the peaceful, quiet births. It didn’t look like it hurt! What? Crazy! I thought if I listened to the visualization CD I’d be golden. Um, no. Not that easy. I will say that it does work for some people, but I suspect they dedicate many hours to practicing meditation and visualization. Many hours. When the pain got intense, I was screaming and it was out of my control. I was flailing, a victim of what my body was doing, not a part of it.

For my second birth, I decided to do it at home. However, for a long time I dreaded that I would scream and beg for an epidural and embarrass myself on national television. Yes, my birth was also being filmed for A Baby Story. (link below) After a productive meeting with my doula/birth assistant, Rita Di Rito, I came up with a plan. I knew it would hurt. I learned that the first time. No illusions anymore. I knew some kind of sound would seep from between my little lips. But this time, I would decide what sound would come out. I would not be the victim, I’d be in control. This was the best decision I made for that birth, other than the decision to do it at home. I made low, throaty ahhhhhs that got louder as the labor progressed, but never got above a certain octave. I was a bass. I knew from experience and read that if I became a soprano, my shoulders would tighten and climb to my ears, and my whole body would go into a fight or flight mode, sending all the blood to my limbs, away from my uterus where I it needed it most.

It worked like a charm. Making those sounds ended up tricking me into meditating. It was like I took a bypass around Visualization Village and “listening to my breath”, but still ended up in Meditation Town. What a pleasant surprise! Afterwards I read more about vocalization and learned that our cervixes actually relax and open when we make these low tones. Then I remembered Buddhist monks and their chanting (listen to Tibetan monks in particular). Duh! Of course! The sounds I made were like a chanting monk’s, and they meditate to find their way to enlightenment. I had a much humbler goal, but that chanting did the trick sure enough. And all without having to dedicate hours and hours to listening to CDs and practicing body scan techniques. I never once thought about wanting an epidural. I was never scared. I knew there was a cameraman was in the room but it didn’t pierce my focus, dare I say, my meditation.

Thank you to my friend Courtney for letting me use the photo above. I was grateful and honored to be at her birth to take photos for her. She was amazing and was a great bass vocalist.