Fathers at Birth: How to be the Mountain and the Warrior
A mountain’s presence is its power. It is rock-solid. Silent. Still. Majestic. Upright. Massively and indisputably present—always there. Yet it doesn’t do anything. It simply stands. Masculine energy is like a mountain’s stability. Seeing yourself as the mountain gives you a picture of the most important skills you need to be a partner who makes a concrete difference at labor and birth.
A mountain doesn’t need to do anything for its power to be apparent. If you push against a mountain, it does not collapse, get agitated, or try to control the situation. It remains unperturbed and steadfast. By being the mountain, you maintain your vigil and offer your partner the strength of your stable presence. This is the type of power Clair, one of my clients, experienced from her partner: “The thing that helped me most in labor was having my husband there, because I knew I wasn’t alone. Somehow, his presence gave me a sense of safety. It made me feel like it was safe to open and bring this baby into the world.”
Do not underestimate the power of your stable presence. It helps your partner feel safe, which in turn helps her open with less resistance as she labors and gives birth.
In a vital partner relationship, masculine energy flows from the male body into the female body. If you think about sexual intercourse, you have a picture of how masculine energy flows into the feminine body. During intercourse, the man’s energy—his seed and potential—flows into the woman’s body. The female body receives, contains, recreates, and redistributes the energy.
From this perspective, the two bodies are one body. Your partner draws from the reserve pool of your masculine energy and uses it to stabilize herself. Masculine power lies in the steadfast presence of the mountain as well as in the concentrated, wise potential of the seed. When combined with feminine power, it breaks out and explodes into new life, a new order.
Since your masculine energy is available on many levels, your mere attentive presence allows your partner to draw from it. Here is Miranda’s comment about her partner’s concentrated potential: “My husband was pretty quiet during labor, but I could feel all this love coming from him. I remember thinking, ‘I didn’t know he loved me so much.’ It helped me to get into this space where I could deal with labor.”
Olga shared: “My husband’s presence as the mountain was very real to me. Very tangible. Incredibly important. Others in the room could be busy doing whatever, but I needed my husband to be my rock and stay physically close and present. Being able to hear him breathe between contractions calmed me down and helped me rest.” Don’t dismiss the value of what you have to give simply by being there.
No one else can birth the baby for the mother. But being alongside her with your stable presence is a powerful component of your partner’s sense of well-being. It provides a firm base for her to rely on as she finds her path through labor—a path she must find for herself. Sean shared: “I was struck by how just being there and staying focused was about 90 percent of it. Just being stable and not wandering away, or vacating, or thinking I wasn’t important. It was amazing, absolutely amazing.”
It is not about what you say or do in labor. It is more about who you are. Be the mountain.
While masculine energy is like a mountain, feminine energy is like water. Because water is a fluid force, it changes quickly, without warning. It can surge and thrash one moment, and be reflective and calm the next. Your partner may exhibit water-like behavior during labor, but do not be misled. Flowing water carves through rock and surging water breaks through an impasse.
Charles expressed how the concept of mountain and water energy helped him respond to his partner during labor: “My wife thrashed and pulled and pushed, and then she would just collapse and rest. I had this image of a woman thrashing and subsiding like water flowing down a mountain. That image was critical because it helped me stay calm and hold the space while she thrashed. It kept me from getting mental about it or stepping in to try to fix it.” When you hold the space like a mountain, your partner’s water energy is free to find its course.
Labor and birth use assertive and authoritative power that arises in wave rhythms, like the surf of the ocean. The surging and primal energy of birthing takes many couples by surprise. As Joel explained, it can be quite astonishing: “I was surprised by how forceful and aggressive labor was. A human being gets pushed out, one wave at a time, from inside the person you care about. Birthing is a force to be reckoned with.”
The force of birthing is the embodiment of new life, which exposes the core of feminine power. Neither you nor your partner controls this force. Go with it and let it surge and flow. The mountain augments the flow of water.
Along with being steadfast like a mountain, you also need to be alert and responsive like a warrior. A warrior gathers all his energy into one stream, one focus, so he can perceive and respond to the environment of battle. He must remain attentive and available—in vigil—but he must also be prepared to serve and protect.
Seeing yourself as a warrior gives you a picture of the most important skills you need to respond to your partner and protect her. A laboring woman is vulnerable and needs to be protected. As a matter of fact, if the mother does not feel protected, her labor can shut down. My client Holly explained it well: “In labor, I am in a much more vulnerable state, and not just physically. My perceptual net is more expanded. I am more sensitive to how my husband is doing. And I am more sensitive to everything going on around me. I need to tune out distractions and concentrate. I need more protection, and I need my husband to provide a buffer for me.”
Your warrior presence provides a buffer of protection that liberates your partner from extraneous concerns. This is a great gift to your partner as it frees her to use her energy exclusively to open and give birth.
One way you provide a buffer for your partner is to operate as a warrior does, from a position of power. To do so, you need to unite your energies. Imagine being a charioteer traveling with a team of untrained horses running in random directions. The charioteer must use tremendous energy to manage the horses while he journeys. He risks getting sidetracked, distracted, agitated, exhausted, and lost.
Now imagine traveling to a destination as a charioteer who directs trained horses to move in ordered unison. He travels in the direction he chooses to go, and has more focus, ease, and power as he travels. This is how the application of uniting your energies works. When your energies are united, you are focused, responsive, and powerful like a warrior. This makes you vigilant in the heat of labor.
Each of us consists of several levels that are present in the here and now. We have a physical body, a breathing body, a mental body, an emotional body, an individual soul, and the pervading absolute that sustains and is beyond all those levels. When these levels are dissipated and fragmented, we disturb others and ourselves. When these levels are integrated and united, we have power and purpose. Our elevated sense of purpose elevates the purpose of those around us, gives them more power, and influences how situations unfold.
If you observe the body, you see three clearly defined sources of power protected by bone—head, chest, and pelvis. When these three sources of power are aligned, you draw on the strength of each of them to make you a formidable warrior. You draw from the rational strength of the head to make decisions. You draw from the instinctive strength of the gut to help you respond on the spot. You draw from the intuitive strength of the heart and offer the most inspiring force of all: love, devotion, and commitment.
When your sources of strength are integrated, you have access to your power, which makes you a vigilant warrior, offering the mother tremendous protection, support, refuge, and strength.
Being centered is a characteristic the mountain and the warrior share. When you are centered, you are calm and alert; you can observe and respond to the mother’s changing needs. When we tense up, it is often because we realize we are not in control. We do not know what to do, so we armor ourselves to maintain a semblance of order. This sometimes works as a short-term reaction. However, as a long-term approach in the vigil of labor, tension drains you and causes you to miss the mark.
Think of the difference between traveling with trained horses as opposed to being sidetracked by untrained horses. If your energies are dissipated and disconnected, the untrained horses sidetrack both you and the mother. If you are centered, you both have the advantage of traveling with trained horses. You must center your whole self, because you cannot be an effective birth companion if:
Your body is out of alignment, tense, and uncomfortable
Your breath is haphazard and restricted
Your emotions are pulling in different directions
Your mind is confused, distracted, anxious, or in turmoil
If you are distracted or disturbed, you distract and disturb your partner. If you are centered, it helps the mother to center, which greatly reduces anxiety and pain. Take refuge in the knowledge that the one element your partner needs is your centered, attentive presence. Your attentive presence is grounded in relaxation. And relaxation is grounded in alignment and fluid breathing. To help you become skilled in the art of centering, on the next page I offer a three-step, one-minute centering practice. I think you’ll find it a very useful tool to help you embody the mountain and the warrior.
On the spot, in less than a minute, you can coordinate and integrate the many facets of your being into a united force. By using the three-step, one-minute centering practice, you can quickly and effectively:
Align and relax your body
Allow the breath to flow and synchronize
Focus your mind and direct your attention
You do this by asking and responding to three important questions: How am I using my body? How am I using my breath? How am I using my mind?
How am I Using My Body?
Observe your body. Turn your attention in toward your body and occupy the space your body occupies. Drop your armor. Release and relax your body to the best of your ability on the spot. Align and balance the three body weights—pelvis, chest, and head. Scan your body and give it whatever additional support it needs to be comfortable.
Alignment and relaxation conserve energy and help you remain at ease. Misalignment puts unnecessary pressure on your nerves, organs, and joints, which increases tension and stress. Alignment and relaxation have a subtle yet powerful influence on how you perceive yourself, how you respond to a situation, how people respond to you, and how each situation unfolds.
How am I Using My Breath?
Observe your breath. Feel the flow of breath in your nostrils. Let your forehead be smooth, and soften your eyes. Release restrictions, pauses, and noises in the breath, and let it be fluid and rhythmic. Don’t force or control the breath. Think of the rhythm of ocean surf, and allow your breath to flow in and out. Since breath is the link between body and mind, breath has the power to calm the body and focus the mind. Your nervous system is intimately connected to breath, and how you breathe affects how your entire system operates.
How am I Using My Mind?
Observe your thoughts. Release random thoughts, critical comments, doubts, worries, and mind noise. Then focus the mind on the situation. Focusing the mind is an ongoing process and radically alters how you perceive and respond. It gives you the freedom to respond to a situation instead of reacting out of habit.
Mind has the capacity to concentrate, discern, and receive revelations. It is advocate, problem solver, and guide. But mind is a double-edged sword. It can play the role of a wolf that devours you or a trickster that deceives you. Mind is subtle and can travel anywhere, but body remains limited in time and space. Let your mind occupy your body and breath. Then focus it on the situation at hand. Distracting thoughts will continue to flow. Observe and release them.
The three-step, one-minute centering practice is the main one you will use to maintain your labor vigil. It lets you observe and respond to your partner’s changing needs. Use it whenever you need assistance or guidance. In less than a minute, you can align and relax the body, let your breath flow, and focus your mind on the situation at hand. Try using it now. You have begun the process of becoming the mountain and the warrior your partner needs you to be.
Excerpted from Fathers at Birth by Rose St. John
This article appeared in Pathways to Family Wellness magazine, Issue #62.
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