I’ve danced in the hot desert while watching 3-story sculptures burn to the ground. I’ve been to raves where I danced amidst towering sand dunes. I’ve danced in the wilderness. On a mountaintop. By the sea. I’ve attended parties where I was blindfolded and “free-danced” all night. And yet, nothing scared me more than the doing the “Labor Trance” dance.
Entering the “Labor Trance” is something that nearly every woman experiences. Billions have done it. And it overwhelmingly leads to the birth of a healthy baby. And yet, the prospect of going in labor—entering this unknown realm that promises physical pain and gut-wrenching screams—is enough to make any woman wish that her baby would find another way out.
Contending with the act of birth is so difficult because we have to surrender to a greater force. When labor starts, we cannot stop it. Sure, we can slow it down—with our fears and anxiety—but only for a short time. We can’t make it go away. Once the process is set in motion, our only choice is to give in, to flow with it…to agree to go wherever it takes us. Once our contractions become regular, we have to succumb to entering a “Labor Trance” and staying in this strange, otherworldly realm until our baby is born.
Once I begrudgingly accepted the necessity of labor, I knew that music would play a big role in the experience. What else could I rely on to make the experience a trifle less scary? Music seemed to offer a soothing balm to all of my third-trimester fears. But when I sat down to create a Labor Playlist, I was absolutely baffled. Would electronic beats, played softly, do the trick? Or should I play lullabies to calm my baby? Or maybe music sung in a different language—world music from Zimbabwe or Tahiti? Then I thought I should go the ancestral route and play Indian chants (and perhaps call upon the spirits of my grandmother who had birthed 12 children!) It’s easy to forget about Zen—but wouldn’t bamboo flutes and soft chimes be gentle enough to ease a new babe into the world?
After much deliberation, I settled for western musicians playing Indian-inspired mantra and Zen. Snatam Kaur. Krishna Das. Deva Premal. Caitlin. Jane Winther. Dean Evenson. The instruments were otherworldly: singing bowls, the santoor, delicate flutes, and the harmonium. During early labor, the music helped me find my center and regulate my breathing and stay in the present moment. But as the contractions grew in intensity, my carefully selected playlist, ceased to matter.
In the end, it was the sound of my baby’s heartbeat, the rhythm of my contractions and my primal moans that became the only soundtrack of note. It turns out, we make our own music during labor. It is created spontaneously, with every contraction, we find a new way to release the pain with sound.
And when I had sounded every note on the scale, from guttural grunts to high pitched squeals, Ayla crowned. This time, I held my breath. Silence. I pushed once more and her tiny body slithered out of me. I held my breath again. Another beat of silence. Then Ayla took her first breath. The sound of life—my firstborn baby’s life—turned out to be the sweetest song I’d ever heard.
Taz's Labor Playlist
Movements by Blue Sky Black Death
Drolma La by Morgan Doctor
Ek Ong Kar by Snatam Kaur Khalsa
Comptine d'un autre été by Yann Tiersen (from the Amelie soundtrack)
Is it Love? by Wah!
He Ma Durga by Donna De Lory
Paradise by Vieux Farka Toure
Spirit of Water by Dean Evenson
Tracks 1 and 2 from the Jala Compilation by Shiva Rea
Hanuman Chaleesa by Krishna Das
Pachelbel Serenade by Michael Maxwell
I Found a Reason by Cat Power
Sushila Raman and Vas are two female vocalists whose otherworldly music worked at various points during labor