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Agency vs Control in Labor

Updated: Dec 2, 2023

Control is a topic that comes up a lot in my conversations with women around birth and even during the early days of breastfeeding. I wanted to write about it and offer another perspective on the topic because control in the 'wrong hands' leads to tension, avoidant behaviors, and often times decision making that is rooted in fear.

Control in the 'wrong hands' means our attention and energy is hijacked by a coping strategy that is unconscious yet alive in the body-mind as a result of past painful or de-stabilizing experiences. Control patterns are so integrated into our character or personality that we often times see them as quirks, or endearing qualities. They serve to shield us from the unpleasant sensations, memories, and emotions that arise from time to time by diverting our attention toward things like food, screens, shopping, and other activities that serve to remove us from our feelings and body sensations.

As a woman / person prepares for labor and birth, it can be challenging for the control parts of the psyche to contemplate the idea of surrender and letting go, because for many of us who have experienced wounding, neglect or abuse, surrender and letting go can feel like helplessness or hopelessness and a threat to our survival. You see, control patterns are not there by chance, they have been constructed by the intelligence of life to protect and ensure that the 'bad thing' that happened won't happen again.

Although these patterns served a real purpose at a time in our lives, they can really get in the way of our capacity to connect deeply with our most authentic self. Such patterns cut us off from the mystery of life and cause us to mistrust the intelligence of our body. Because patterns of control are by nature a dominating kind of force or energy, they also strengthen the seeming split between the mind and body, creating a disconnected experience of self. In labor, control patterns are easily triggered and often hijack our potential for 'presence of mind' and result in debilitating mistrust of the natural processes happening in the body. Then, there is little space to breath and express feelings and emotions that help us to come into sync with our deeper experience.

Control patterns get formed from a lived experience of not feeling 'in control'. These lived experiences often take place in very early life before we were able to make sense of what happened. The unmet feelings and emotions that we experienced then, continue to be alive in our bodies, like shadows, eclipsed by the beliefs that were formed at the time. For example, I may decide that it isn't safe to express my feelings if whenever I cried I was punished. The upset I felt remains, and the beliefs that get formed create a map designed for protection and survival.

Life in all its mystery and magic, orchestrates itself to ensure ample opportunities to heal our past wounds and to come in to true alignment with our authentic selves. As we step across the threshold in to labor, we meet (sometimes for the very first time), the parts of ourselves that were cast into our shadowy depths. These parts are the keepers of our essential self, and they want to come home. The body in all its wisdom wants to tell its story, with sound, movement, stillness and breath. When we understand and commit to this deeper internal exploration as we prepare to birth our babies, then we are more able to acknowledge and turn toward the feelings and sensations that arise with a greater sense of presence. When this happens, intrusive thoughts are seen and begin to lose their power.

When we move from the 'idea' of what labor might be like, into the actuality of it, we find ourselves embedded in the experience, we are the experience itself, like a river. Every nook and cranny within is prodded and touched. The intense emotions and physical sensations that many experience, seem to include everything we have ever felt in our lives. Trying to control the fierce energy of labor is futile, its like trying to dam a waterfall. The irony is that the idea of surrender to the uncontrollable current of labor, leads us to the very heart of ourselves where we find our agency. The agency that arises out of the experience of surrender is anchored in the authentic power of ones Self, and is directly aligned with our deep intuitive capacity to trust and respond from the source of ourselves. It is the ultimate power, and when we speak from this place, everyone listens!

Our bodies are the keepers of our stories, even as far back as when we were in our mother's wombs. The body talks to us with feelings, sensations and breath. Sometimes, when there is a history of big painful experiences, trauma energy is sitting there waiting to be felt, released and integrated, so it can be helpful to reach out to a somatic therapist for support. You can begin to notice the areas in your life where your minds says 'it shouldn't be this way' or where you notice a 'no' to life. What is underneath that stance? Start to pay attention to the sensations, where is your breath? Are there any emotions that need space to be felt. As you begin to turn towards the experiences you normally have turned away from, know you are aligning with your power and this will disrupt the maps of control and connect you more fully with your agency.

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