As we all know, our lives as birth workers are full of curve balls. Just as we settle into a calm and restful sleep, the phone rings. Just when we think a birth is going well, we encounter a shoulder dystocia. Just when we settle into feeling our family is entirely supportive of our work, we realize they are suffering from it in some way we cannot control. There are plenty of opportunities for us to find ourselves caught in an unexpected vortex or reeling around an unannounced turn in the road.
When stressful events happen too fast and there is not enough time to "rest between the contraction" or "find the counter vortex" or "take our foot off the gas pedal", our bodies build up sympathetic charge that remains locked in our bodies. In the wild, animals have ways to physically release this buildup of sympathetic charge after a stressful event, but as humans our more modern brain often stands in the way. The excess sympathic charge can build up over months, years, or decades, leading to disease, unhappiness and ultimately burnout. When we live in states of ongoing stress for long periods of time, our parasympathetic systems override the built up sympathetic charge and it’s like we have the gas and the brakes on at the same time. At any moment the brakes might release, giving way to explosive behavior, uncontrolled emotion, or even complete collapse.
Somatic Experiencing practitioners are trained to help people to effectively release the excess sympathetic charges that have built up in our bodies over long periods of time. They are trained to help people tap into the areas of the body where trauma is held and help the nervous system to renegotiate and release that trauma. This type of professional help can be extremely valuable for midwives in many situations.
There are also simple exercises we can learn to do to improve our resiliency. By practicing with intention, we can tap into the innate capacity of our nervous systems not only to release excessive charge that has built up over time, but also to avoid its buildup in the moment. While these exercises require focused attention at first, our bodies can quickly be trained to call on the tools in moments of stress with little effort on our part.