I remember the 2005 silent birth stories that accompanied Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes’ due date. Now that fellow Scientologist, Kelly Preston is on on the verge of some contraction action, the stories have resurfaced.
And there’s no small amount of outrage and head-scratching. From the headlines, I was under the impression that this was just a dreadful idea. Making noise can actually be really helpful for a laboring woman, and, in the absence of pain meds is almost universally done.
But I realized I didn’t know that much about silent birth so before I started publicly mouthing off, I looked up at the official Scientology website and was amazed to learn that some aspects of the practice were actually not half bad!
According to scientology.org: “Silent birth is all about providing the best possible environment for the birthing mother and her new baby. Its origins … are firmly rooted in a fundamental and abiding principle that women, particularly expectant mothers, be given the utmost in care and respect.”
Ok. So that sounds good? Right? I like it.
But here’s where it starts to get a little weird:
“A silent birth is labor and delivery done in a calm and loving environment and with no spoken words by anyone attending. Chatty doctors and nurses, shouts to ‘PUSH, PUSH’ and loud or laughing remarks to ‘encourage’ are the types of things that are meant to be avoided.”
I actually think rooms should be quite for women in active labor. I think doctors, midwives, nurses, residents, doulas and labor partners should all be pretty much quiet during contractions to allow mom to focus. In between contractions chatting is common but let mom lead the way here. If she wants to make a joke about her pruned fingers from the tub, fine. But sometimes other people’s wise cracks are really not appropriate, this isn’t a social gathering.
So… I do tell labor partners to err on the quiet side. In hospitals I’ve seen nurses and residents and even sometimes doctors come in with clipboard and start asking all kinds of annoying, sometimes even stressful questions and mom is right at the peak of a very hard contraction. Or there are family members pacing and watching movies or making calls.
I think emphasizing the importance of not blabbing and channel surfing is very good.
But total silence?
Not being able to say things like, “I love you.” “You’re so tired I know but you’re really doing it.” “I’m proud of you.” I’m totally with the Scientologists until they ban encouragement. Funny how they put encourage in quotes– it’s as if to say, whatever dumb affirmation you’re about to spout ain’t gonna do jack. Which may well be true. But still.
There has to be a place for quiet but powerful words of support.
L. Ron Hubbard wrote, “Everyone must learn to say nothing within the expectant mother’s hearing during labor and delivery. Particularly during birth, absolute silence must be maintained and the more gentle the delivery, the better.”
The reasoning is that at key heightened moments of “pain and unconsciousness” the mind is very vulnerable to spoken words. If you say things during birth, they can some how be mentally recorded and then have an adverse affect on the baby later in life. This is based on nothing but maybe the imagination of a science fiction writer. It’s not scientific. There’s no research supporting such claims.
But the newborn is, in fact, very much comforted by the sounds of the mother’s voice. The baby has been hearing it (and possibly dad’s and siblings’) voices before birth. Connecting to those sounds during after birth is arguably a very nice thing. There has actually been some research on this.
So, yeah no screaming attendants. We’re on the same page about that. And, in general, quiet on set. Unless you have something nice to say…
But then what about mom? Can she make noise?
According to the Scientologists: “The point of silent birth is NO WORDS. It does not mean a mother cannot make any sound during childbirth. It is doubtful that any woman could give birth without making any noise at all.”
OK. The Scientologists were not at my birth when they wrote this exception– had they been they may have banned sounds altogether. I was not quiet!
Not every woman makes a lot of noise and that’s fine but it can be really helpful. I’ve seen and heard so many women do it, I can almost do a perfect imitation of the sound. It’s low and animal and builds with the contraction. It’s not a scream. It’s not a complaint. It can be more on the chanting/signing side. Or just a long moan. Some women make noises with just very loud exhales. It’s like you’re blowing that pain out of you. And it can really take the edge off. Or at least holding those sounds back can be unbearable for the women who want to make them.
There is some research showing the opening of the throat corresponds with the opening of the pelvis– so letting those big open-mouthed sounds out is kind of like letting those big babies out. Say ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.
Still, the way people talk about Silent Birth I’d always assumed poor old mom had to bite her lip. I guess she’s allowed to eek out of a few whimpers. I say take this small exception in the Silent Birth literature, Kelly, and run with it.
Finally, the church seems pretty flexible on a mother’s birthing choices even though they’re notoriously anti-meds:
“…a woman’s choice for her delivery is completely up to her and her doctor. There is no requirement to adhere to any specific routine…. Doctors respect the right of a mother to choose her birthing experience. Silent birth is not a medical model but a religious and philosophical approach based on L. Ron Hubbard’s research into the mind and spirit. The Church has no policy against the use of medicines to help a person with a physical situation and these principles do not preclude a mother from receiving any medical procedure needed to safely deliver the baby, including Caesarean section.”
We’ll probably never know whether Kelly Preston wailed and hollered in labors got an epidural. She’s an actress and a hard-working woman; I have no doubt she’d make some killer labor sounds if she has the opportunity. I wish them the best.
photo: Albert L. Ortega / PR Photos