If you are currently pregnant or have had a baby in the past….the word transition takes on a whole new meaning. For most women this is the ‘big scary’ – the part of the labor that so many women fear so deeply that they plan to offer up their veins and their spine to prevent feeling it, often planning before labor even begins simply because they have heard enough about this from friends to scare them into doing whatever it takes not to experience it.

I hear so many women ask the questions, “How can I prepare to cope with it?”, “How can I avoid it?”…but I wish more women asked the question, “Why is it so difficult for so many women?”

I have seen women who apparently breeze through transition, and I’ve seen women who are traumatized by the experience. While there is no answer that is universal, there are often generalizations – and IN GENERAL I see two major contributing factors that most often determine the degree of difficulty a woman might have with transition.

The first (and probably most common) source of challenge is this: It is often the one time in her labor that she is truly fighting her body AS WELL AS being encouraged to fight her body’s urges by her birthing team. She has spent hours “releasing”, “breathing through”, “relaxing”, “letting go”…..these are all things that are commonly said to women as they labor for their babies. Drop your shoulders…open up for your baby….relax your jaw muscles as a relaxed mouth is a relaxed vagina…relax relax relax.

In transition, your body is beginning to tighten down, pressing the baby down with contractions rather than just pulling the cervix up against the head. If the urge to push is similar to the urge to vomit in that your body says “GET OUT!”, only pushing down rather than up…then we can say that in transition your body begins to gag. Her belly tightens up, she becomes “grunty”, her noises become primal and guttural and everything shifts downwards.

So the mother, laboring in peaceful relaxation, is suddenly writhing – with her team telling her to let it go, don’t fight it, RELAX! Except…wait a moment…her body doesn’t WANT to “relax”!! So she struggles, trying to relax…it’s not working, her body is tightening. She fights to relax…grunts down…gets mad at herself because she can’t relax! Until finally she yells, “GUYS…I CAN’T DO THIS! HELP ME!

What can’t she do? Her team usually looks at her and says, “You can do this…you’re almost done!” because they don’t understand that she is fighting her body’s urges, she can’t RELAX. Encouraging her to relax will cause her to feel like she’s not doing it “right”, that she can’t do it anymore.

There is often a period of time before she gets that uncontrollable urge to push in which she CAN’T relax…and I have to wonder why she is being told that she needs to. She breezed through labor because she relaxed and allowed her body to work, let her breeze through transition by allowing her to follow her body’s natural cues and work with her body instead of against it!

Another common reason I see women struggling with transition is expectations of control. She will say with an embarrassed look, “I was so out of control.”

What’s wrong with that? Feeling out of control is almost a necessity when it comes to birth – giving up control to your baby and your body, becoming primal, flowing with the feelings as they come. Being out of control doesn’t mean you didn’t do a good job….it means you did it exactly right! Being vocal, grinding your hips…all can be wonderful things in labor!

But I have noticed that there can be a difference in perception between losing control, and giving up that control. One is having it stripped from you as you scrambled to keep it – and the other is offered up willingly for your baby, feeling safe enough with your birthing team and your body and your baby to WILLINGLY give up that control, surrendering verses being conquered.

So a second time mom says that she is afraid she will lose control just like last time…I usually encourage them to prepare to GIVE that control up, willingly. Surrender to the primal, gift it to their baby.

Does this eliminate the challenge of transition? Of course not…birth is dramatic, and I think it should be. But I will say that when I encourage women to listen to their bodies (rather than relax), help mothers realize that they are safe and strong and capable and create an environment where the mother can be comfortable enough to give up control…..RARELY do I hear mothers say “I can’t do this”.

And for those mothers, transition is usually just a blurry line somewhere between labor and pushing, where she’s not laboring but not exactly pushing yet….rather than an entity all its own.