Giving birth is probably among the most difficult, miraculous, terrifying, grueling, and amazing experiences a woman will ever endure. And while everyone experiences birth in a different way, you have to admit that delivering a baby earthside is nothing short of badass.
But even though so many of us have done the whole birthing-a-baby thing, certain aspects of it remain sort of murky and mysterious. We’ve all heard of contractions, dilation, effacement, crowning, and everything else, but it’s hard to totally comprehend how it all works, especially since we can’t, um, exactly see what’s going on inside of us during the momentous event.
But childbirth educator Liz Chalmers is hoping to change that. In a recent YouTube video, Chalmers, a mom of four and co-owner of Puget Sound Midwives and Birth Center in Seattle, gives the lowdown on how labor and delivery actually work — all while using nothing but a balloon and a ping pong ball.
Yep, you read that right.
Chalmers tells Babble that she’s been teaching childbirth education classes for the past 12 years (and using the balloon/ping pong ball demonstration for 11 of those years). The YouTube video in question was actually made for her niece Charlotte, who is studying to be a childbirth educator. But the video has since caught the attention of, well, just about everyone, and has gone bonkers viral, with over 36K views on YouTube so far.
Once you watch, it’s easy to see why. Not only do visuals like these make abstract concepts that much easier to understand, but Chalmers’ calming, no-nonsense approach to the subject of pushing a baby out of your vagina is actually really soothing to watch.
For starters, here’s what you need to know: The main part of balloon basically represents the uterus, the neck of the balloon represents the cervix (which is what does all that dilating and effacing during labor), and the ping pong ball represents the soon-to-be-born baby.
At the beginning of the video, Chalmers drops the ping pong ball (i.e., baby) inside the balloon and blows it up a little, magically turning it into a uterus. Soon after, she begins to show how contractions work, squeezing the balloon, just as a woman’s body does during labor.
Chalmers demonstrates Braxton Hicks contractions first, gentle squeezing the sides of the balloon. According to Chalmers, Braxton Hicks don’t actually help the baby move down the birth canal, but do help “practice” the uterus for the big event.
Full-fledged contractions are next, which are obviously stronger, and help move the baby gentle down the cervix. Chalmers explains that these contractions actually originate from the top of the uterus (fascinating, huh?). And as she squeezes the balloon from the top, you can see the ping pong ball move down the neck of the balloon (cervix) and watch the cervix start to thin out (efface) as well as open (dilate).
How freaking cool is that?
Of course, this is also the part where labor starts to hurt like hell for most women. But Chalmers has got your back. Like the gentle midwife she is, she guides us through these difficult contractions in the video with reassurance and ease.
“Just squeeze and let go,” Chalmers says in the world’s most calming voice. “Squeeze and let go.”
Soon, the bottom of that balloon is bulging and it looks like the baby is ready to be born. Then, as quickly as it started, the baby (errrr, ping pong ball) is born, rather dramatically plopping out of the balloon onto the table in front of Chalmers — at which point Chalmers lets out a little chuckle. And you can’t help but chuckle right along with her at that point.
Of the ping pong birthing moment, Chalmers notes: “It’s always just an absolute riot in class. Everybody just laughs and has a blast with it.”
Clearly, humor is important when it comes to childbirth. And in speaking with Babble, Chalmers says that a general positive attitude like this is essential for the birthing woman.
“My favorite mantra for birth is ‘I can do anything for a minute,’” says Chalmers. “Let your uterus squeeze, and let go. Then squeeze, and let go. One minute at a time, with a lovely break in between. A typical labor isn’t 16 hours of unremitting pain. It’s more like 4 hours of pain sprinkled over 16 hours, a minute at a time. We can do anything for a minute.”
Yes, we can. And even if that minute is the most excruciating minute of our lives, it is just what we women have to do sometimes, isn’t it? Chalmers says that she is glad this video is going viral because this message of calm and positivity is exactly what she thinks birthing moms need more of — that, and an abundance of support from those around them.
“Labor is one of our superpowers! Birth can — and usually does — unfold powerfully and effectively, when in a supportive environment, accompanied by people who understand the importance of environment for allowing the necessary hormones to flow,” Chalmers explains. “That is more likely to happen with good support. It is so much harder to squeeze that balloon when sitting in front of someone who is terrified of the balloon malfunctioning.”
Amen to that.
Women’s bodies truly are amazing, and all women need good support so that they can have the positive birth experience they deserve. And let’s hear it for women like Chalmers who are out there empowering and educating women to help make that happen.