BR Remembers 1970 Pregnancy, When Parents Trained for Labor like Olympians


I didn’t know what I was doing was called Guided Imagery at the time, but I first experienced it during some childbirth education classes I attended with my husband when we were expecting our first baby.

It was 1970, and people were very intense about what was referred to in hushed, reverent tones as Natural Childbirth. We joined the ranks of loony expectant parents who trained like Olympians for the perfect, medication-free delivery. 

I can¹t believe we did this, but we obediently followed a protocol suggested by our nurse-educator. In order to approximate the discomfort of a contraction, my husband Art (who, for the record, was not a sadist) would grip my Achilles tendon and squeeze it with increasing intensity for 20-30 seconds, and then let up. It hurt like hell.

I would do my breathing (a series of fast little pants, followed by little whooshy out-blows between pursed lips). While panting and blowing, I would try to think of something else - happy times at the beach, blueberry picking with my sister and brother in the woods behind our house, having an agile, wiry, unimpeded body back after the baby was born, things like that.

I discovered when the actual delivery was underway, that the uterine contractions for three quarters of my labor were a piece of cake compared to our nutso little dress rehearsals with my foot.

What I didn¹t know was that I would be immersed in a hypnotic state during most of the delivery anyway, boosted by the floods of trance-generating hormones washing through me and my little resident. This made focusing on something else a lot easier. I could be on two separate awareness tracks - one that registered the discomfort and scariness of this crazy, increasingly speedy train ride I was on - the locomotive of childbirth - while the other part of my brain was at considerable remove from the whole show, aware of all of it, but only distantly, with other attention-grabbers on the front burners of my mind.

Pregnant women awash in their own hormone soup are perfect inhabitants of the trance state, grabbing a free ride on the biochemical flood tides in their bloodstream. And triple that for giving birth - that¹s just a Niagara Falls of neurohormones, that shift consciousness and allow us to ride the waves of childbirth contractions like a surfer, staying on top of them with detached skill. Six weeks of childbirth training goes a long way under these circumstances.

So, needless to say, thirty years later, I had the best time writing guided imagery for pregnancy and childbirth, drawing on my thoughts, feelings and experiences during those hyper-memorable times.

For instance, I loved the idea that when you¹re pregnant, there isn¹t a moment being wasted, even when I was staring off into space, or watching junk on TV, because all the while, my body was feeding, oxygenating and growing this little human.

Every passing day was a win, resulting in all kinds of progress in growing this little being. How cool is that? So I wrote lines that reflected that:

"...And you may have noticed how easily your attention is drawn inwards a gentle preoccupation with the soft dark chambers of your interior where sweet secrets of new life lay folded tucked away, safe and cozy, your whole body smiling as it senses how each beat of your heart surges nourishment and strength infusing this new being with everything it needs."

When I would get anxious about the delivery, I took comfort from the notion that generations and generations of women had done this before me and would continue to do this after me, that there was a whole army of humanity behind this baby. So, I incorporated that into my imagery, too.

"...Sensing the presence of smiling ancestors leaning over and softly whispering this child¹s name transferring to this baby their highest hopes and deepest intentions to pick up their banner and carry the best of what they stood for... crooning soft lullabies in low, loving voices and carrying gifts and offering guidance and blessings."

And I wanted the imagery to support the idea that a relationship between mother and baby was already forming. So I added images like these:

"...And knowing that your heartbeat, your voice, your body heat, your gait, your touch, your laughter and your love can be apprehended at some level by this little being tucked away, so safe and warm, inside of you. And you can send your greetings, your wishes, your blessings to this child who, like you, waits and listens."

Like many, I had experienced miscarriages, and like just about everyone, I worried about having a healthy baby that was carried to term. I took comfort in the stats, knowing that probability was on my side. I wanted to have the comfort of that thought embedded in the imagery as well:

"...[Knowing] the mobilization of every cell in your body…to support the divine alchemy inside of you, to hold and nourish this precious new being, every fiber, every cell, every neuron, every biochemical message, utterly synchronized with one overriding mission and goal to keep mother and child safe and strong."

In short, rarely have I had such a good time putting together a guided imagery narrative. For most of its creation, I was working on the island of Martha¹s Vineyard, where, during my morning walks, I passed a beautiful, dignified nesting swan on Sengekontackett Pond. I considered her my totem, spirit animal, muse and inspiration, and I saluted her every time I passed her by. I imagined she saluted me back.

I was gratified as a grandma-to-be, to offer this imagery to my pregnant daughter and two daughters-in-law. Hopefully, it was helpful and they felt the swan¹s blessing.

If you know someone who could use a little extra support during their pregnancy and labor, feel free to check out the sound sample, which I think comes from the childbirth track.

Take care and be well.