They're not magic, but they work.
I’ve been suspicious of the concept of “birth affirmations” ever since I found out they were a thing. I guess I pictured women in the throes of labor, peacefully repeating positive sayings to themselves, somehow tricking their brains into forgetting that in fact, they were in a horrible amount of pain.
That might work for some women, but I didn’t think I’d be convinced that, say, whispering “This is not pain, this is power” was going to make me feel anything other than frustrated and invalidated.
But that’s not what birth affirmations are. They’re not hypnosis, and they’re not magic. Actually, they work for the same reason that Cognitive Behavioral Therapy works — which is one of the most evidence-based, effective forms of therapy there is. And there’s something interesting about being human: Whatever we encounter, we might experience very differently than someone else, depending on our core ideas about the world.
For example, if you believe that you’re unlucky, and that the world is a horrible place, and then you get a flat tire, the experience will probably confirm your theory that bad things just happen to you. But what if you get a flat tire and your core beliefs are totally different? What if you believe that inconvenience and adversity are a secret blessing, because they train you to be more resilient? Same flat tire, totally different experience.
The genius of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is that it identifies the most common thought “distortions” — the unhelpful ways we think about the world — and trains you to replace them with healthier patterns of thinking. Then, when you run into trouble, you’re much more prepared to cope with it in a healthier way.
Birth affirmations work the same way. You can’t totally control what kind of labor and delivery you have, just like you can’t decide you’re not going to randomly get a flat tire. What you can control, with some practice, is how you frame the narrative.
You can replace “This is too much for me, I can’t do this,” with “Good, strong, contractions are how I’m going to meet my baby.”
You can replace “I’m so weak, look how I’m already falling apart!” with “This is my baby, my body, and nobody can do this better than I can!”
You can replace “I can’t keep doing this, it’s never going to end” with “That’s one more contraction I never have to go through again,” and “I can go through anything for sixty seconds,” or “I only have to get through the next contraction.”
You’re going through the same experience, but the way you’re telling yourself the story makes all the difference.
Birth affirmations are personal. What works for one woman might not work for you. It all depends on how you see the world and what you’re trying to correct about how you encounter your experiences. So take some time to think about what kind of thoughts tend to steal your peace, and focus on addressing those.
Here’s a list of birth affirmations from Scripture, from the saints, and from women who’ve been there, to get you started:
- Joy comes in the morning (Psalm 30:5)
- I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me (Philippians 4:13)
- You are fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14)
- But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary. (Isaiah 40:31)
- Jesus, I trust in you.
- “Sheltered under the name of Jesus Christ, I do not fear these pains, for they do not last long.”(St Lawrence)
- “The more beautiful the work, the more terrible and powerful will be the storms that rage against it.” (St. Faustina)
- No one can do this better than I can.
- Women around the world are laboring with you.
- My body is made to do hard things.
- I can do anything for one minute.
- Courage is feeling the edge of yourself and moving beyond it.
- Labor is hard work, it hurts, and you can do it.
- It hurts because it’s working; this is productive.
- I can do this–I am doing this.
- This won’t last forever. One contraction at a time.
- Fear is natural. Courage means facing the fear.
- My body is powerful enough to survive/accomplish this.
- God created me for this.
- This isn’t easy, but I can do hard things.
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