Group Dynamics and Birth

Group Dynamics and Birth

    Group Dynamics and Birth

    Birth happens to the mother, but also the father, the baby, and the group involved. The mother will be that much more connected if she doesn’t feel alone in the process. It is the level of support she receives, and control over the situation she feels, that dictates the outcome of negative or positive feelings afterward. Whether the birth went as planned or not, if she felt that she made decisions based on knowledge and instinct, she will feel empowered no matter the outcome.
    Alternatively, if a mother feels she was coerced into doing something to her body and her baby that doesn’t jive with her instinct, or if she clashes with someone in her birthing group, she will be distracted and frustrated with the outcome. It’s a matter of fitting in with the dynamic as well as feeling in control of her own situation. A person’s identity comes as much from internal belief, as well as external social standing, which is measured based on observation of people, and both identifying with and not identifying with others.
    The fact is, conformity is powerful. If the group is leaning one direction, individual behavior will follow that lead whether the mother feels it is right or not; she will feel the need to conform in her decisions. It is only after the fact that a mother may realize she made what she thinks is the wrong decision because of the influence of the group. It is vital for a mother to feel supported during birth, to feel that the group is behind her and understands her wants and needs and expectations. So that even if those expectations are not met, she feels empowered in the decisions that were made.
    So in this chapter we’re going to take a look at the entire picture, encompassing your support team and your personality during the most important moments. Hopefully in this way I can help you address how you felt at the major junctions and in the end. And just so you’re aware, the scenarios I present might not fit your exact situation, so feel free to mix and match or exchange entirely for something that works better for you. I’ll try to cover all of the bases.
    Let’s start with the social organization of a group. Have you ever watched a group of chickens? (Yes, I’m comparing your birth to chickens.) There is a pretty obvious set of rules among the flock. Someone is on top.
    If that someone’s authority is challenged, they can either be victorious or be overthrown, but usually it ends in quite a few wounds. If there is more than one rooster present, you can definitely bet that one of them is surrounded by beautiful hens and the other is separated and sulking. He is also probably a few feathers shy of fluffy. Even among the hens you’ll find some hens with full feathers and no injuries and some hens with blood spots and bald spots.
    Pecking order is extremely important, and it can change with a gust of wind. In the case of a birth, a group might form based on chance (the nurses who happen to be on shift when you give birth) but also by choice (the doctors or midwives you’ve agreed to work with). It is through interaction with these people that a pecking order, rules, and attitudes are formed. And continuing interaction creates more data from which to glean information which over time allows for changes to all of those factors. Pecking order is continually updating as the birth occurs. To start with, you will hopefully feel in charge.
    But if things start to deviate from your original plan, you might feel that you are losing hold of the top spot. Sometimes that is exactly what needs to happen. If you have complete faith in your birth team, having them take control will feel empowering. If you don’t quite trust them, but you are still allowed to make the decision to hand your care over to them, you should still feel like you are in control. Or if a nurse thinks she knows better and starts stepping in, depending on your personality you might immediately shut her down or you might take the beating and hate yourself for it later. Ultimately, the mother should run the show, but you should also have a team backing you that knows what you want and will help you get there, no matter what.
    Of course, this isn’t always possible, so we make do with what we can. I am always a proponent of making change to what and when you can. If that simply wasn’t possible, or just didn’t happen because you were distracted (I mean, you have plenty of excuse for having been distracted), acknowledge what happened and forgive yourself. Remember that you can’t control other people. If you did everything you could on your part, then don’t blame yourself for mistakes made by others.
    Also important to a birth is finding cohesiveness with your group. If this doesn’t continue to occur, you might feel that rifts enter the equation. That is when decisions made by you, the mother, will feel forced or under-appreciated. These rifts can be a change in pecking order or a change in the norms previously set unconsciously by the group that now make you uncomfortable because your behavior is influenced by those around you. If you feel pressure, even if it’s passive pressure, you will lean away from your personal goals. The question is whether or not you were able to make informed decisions with the backing of your birth team, or make decisions under peer pressure that, in retrospect, didn’t align with your hopes.
    Cohesion in a group can create motivation and keep the ball rolling, but the opposite is also true in that performance can cause cohesion. You’ve probably felt this in situations before. If a sports team is melding well together, they can accomplish amazing feats. And if a sports team is scoring goals left and right, they will feel that much more connected. It’s also true that you will find more satisfaction with a cohesive group, as well as better emotional adjustment, a feeling of accomplishment, less anxiety and tension, and an ability to cope with stress—all of which are very important in a birthing environment.
    On the other hand, cohesion makes peer pressure all the stronger. Consider mob mentality, when a group can become incredibly violent or forceful at the drop of a hat without intending it. In the moment, you might feel you are meshing well with your group, but after the fact you might find that your decisions were skewed unintentionally based on the group opinion. That might mean you had a safe and good outcome, but for months afterward, or until you get this written down and out of your heart and head, you might have some frustration surrounding your birth. That is exactly why I want you to write your birth story.
    Getting things down on paper will allow you to find the decisions that maybe aligned with what everyone else thought would be good but in the end were not quite what you wanted. No matter how your birth turned out, know that this happened to your body. If you are holding your baby in your arms as you read this or remembering a baby that you never got the chance to rock to sleep, birth happened to you.
    That said, please don’t lay any blame. You might feel you are at fault for what happened, but even if you are it’s not going to be healthy to continue beating yourself up. The point of this exercise is to write down what happened and reflect on how you feel, then move on to find some sort of healing. Your desires were, and are, important even if they weren’t necessarily the best choices.
    If you feel the need to atone for mistakes, or to call someone out for their role in your birth, do so. But before you act rashly, take the time to clear your head and take logical and purposeful steps toward something better because complaining over and over without action is pointless. Go ahead and contact the right people, maybe leave reviews or give feedback to others, share your experience, but avoid being rude about it. The sharing itself might open doors to make improvements to the system. I would whole-heartedly advise you to do something. It’s amazing what communication can accomplish. Even if nothing comes of it, the act of stepping out will allow for release on your part. Outcomes may have been positive or negative, decisions as well, but now it is all in the past. Writing is your way to remember them and then let them go. Action is your way to create change, for others and yourself.


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