The last birth I attended at the Genesis Birth Center in Johannesburg, South Africa, was a waterbirth with a midwife. This was the first waterbirth I attended, and it was very exciting! Perhaps what will stay with me even longer from this birth, though, is the power that visualizations had in helping a mom come back from a very difficult place in her labor and helping her to achieve the birth experience she was hoping for.

At this birth, I met the mom for the first time when her cervix was 7cm dilated and she was already in the birthing pool. She was having trouble coping and was gulping laughing gas (commonly used outside of the US for pain management) during each contraction. Everyone in the room felt a bit frazzled, and it was hard for me to connect to her initially because she was so stressed out. I talked her through a couple of contractions, encouraging her to let her body open up with each one, sending the energy down to her cervix, visualizing it opening up with each sensation, and moreover, that each contraction was important as it brought her closer to her baby. She opened her eyes and stared at me and said, “I don’t know what you mean!” After an attempt at an internal exam, the midwife told the mother she had to get out of the pool because her cervix was still 7cm – it had been 5 hours. For various reasons, mom was fighting each and every contraction and completely unable to relax and let each one do the work it needed to do. “Come out baby!” she shouted.

We all moved to the bed – Genesis has king sized beds in each room for labor, delivery and postpartum- where the midwife did a 20 minute tracing and administered a temporary muscle relaxant to help the mom sleep a bit and let her body do the work it needed to do. As a doula, it was difficult to build an instant rapport with her when coming in to the process so late. In the middle of a contraction I suddenly thought about what a doula mentor of mine told me about the importance of the image of light in labor. I began to talk her through the contraction and used the image of a ball of light growing in diameter with each breath during her contraction, and she began to nod. “Yes,” she murmured, “this is working.” With each contraction, she would roll her eyes open and nod to me to begin. The visualizations became increasingly complex as I watched her respond to the work we were doing together, creating a world where her body responded positively to each contraction and she was not afraid or shut down. Within an hour and a half of this work, she was ready to get back in the bath and push.

Her healthy baby boy was born within about 40 minutes of pushing! I feel so thankful that we were able to discover the power that light, and the image of light, had for this mom and for her family. At the risk of being cliche, I would say that it felt like the mom and the entire team really did come out of a dark place and into the light!