There is a yogic principle regarding effort and surrender (the yogic terms are Tapas and Ishvara Pranidhana, and the words "effort" and "surrender" are two simple translations) that I believe applies directly to birth as well as to our larger life journeys. During pregnancy, we make an effort toward health by eating and drinking appropriately (lots of water and healthy meals and snacks), getting enough rest and exercise, and preparing for the birth itself. Our effort in the preparation of birth should include reading positive birth stories, making informed choices about our health care providers and the "where" and "how" we choose to birth, and visualizing (or meditating on) our peaceful and healthy birth. By making this effort of educating ourselves of the realities of birth in this country, we are then able to feel confident in the birth itself. It leads us to the ability to surrender to the power of birth.
Surrendering to our body's innate wisdom of birth is the best way have a peaceful birth. Of course this doesn't mean that labor and birth will necessarily be easy, but we can work peacefully from a place of trust and knowing. Labor is so instinctual, so primal, and so out of control of the rational mind that the only way we can birth is by surrendering; surrender to the body knowing how to do this work; surrender to the baby knowing how to do this work; surrender to the currents of energy that help to open the cervix and bring the baby down and into this world. Even when birth involves Pitocin, Epidural or Cesarean, each element requires its own version of surrender. If that is your choice, be empowered by your choice, and surrender to its affects.
If we don't prepare for birth, if we hold fear or if we let others choose how we birth, it is impossible to surrender to that flow of energy and the wisdom of the body. If we give the power of effort to someone else (by letting others make decisions about how we birth), the power of surrender may also be usurped. There are many birth and doula books that encourage women to create a birth plan, imagining exactly how, where and when she wants to birth, and then they go on to say, "but don't get too attached to your birth plan because birth is so unpredictable." On the surface, this is an example of the effort and surrender model. However, there is one woman, Cynthia Gabriel, author of Natural Hospital Birth who disagrees. She says we should be attached to our birth plan because too often birth professionals, while their intentions are good, are not you. They don't know your body with the intuition and wisdom that you bring to the experience. They don't know how strong your resolve is for a natural birth, or a birth the way you've envisioned. They don't understand the experience that you are trying to create. They don't know how strong you are. The pressure from hospital staff can be so great in trying to do something the "help" the labor, when what is often required is patience and surrender. So here comes the third piece of the yogic wisdom; we must use self-study (Svadhyaya) to discern when effort is required and when surrender is required.
We must have faith in the body's power and wisdom. I must also acknowledge that sometimes the wisdom of the body says that a natural birth is not what this body or Spirit is ready for. The point is that we look within, we listen to our Inner Guide and make the choice of powerful birth from within. When we can fully embrace the power that is inherent in birth, women will know their true power in this world.