Culture And Traditions
7:55 am
Sat July 30, 2011

Songs For The Delivery Room: One Woman's Playlist

Originally published on Fri July 29, 2011 2:06 pm

Pregnant? Making a mixtape to accompany your labor is not likely your first consideration. It certainly wasn't mine back in the snowy winter of 2010. But many hospitals and birth centers promise you CD players or even iPod docks in the delivery room. Medical professionals encourage you to bring music to help you bear the experience.

When I'd reached the waddling, almost-ready-to-pop phase, I went to a preparatory class at my midwives' office. They showed us a video of a woman giving birth. As she moaned and pushed, we could hear in the background the voice of Enya singing. Remember? From 1988: "Sail away, sail away, sail away."

The pregnant woman had chosen the repetitive, reverb-ridden Enya to help her get through labor. And I was struck not only by the fact that this video was (hopefully) quite old, but also by the fact that the song represented everything I did not want to hear when I gave birth.

Giving birth is athletic. It's intense. For some people, it's terrifying. For some, it's exhilarating. We don't often get the chance to compose a soundtrack for life's most profound moments. But given the opportunity, I did not see the point in calm, supposedly soothing music.

I wanted a beat.

So I dove into my CD and MP3 collection in search of rhythmic songs. I wanted music that felt powerful and profound, songs that would keep me moving while I was in terrible pain. You could call it the ultimate workout tape, minus the C + C Music Factory ... plus, a baby.

Here's what I came up with:

"Wavin' Flag" – K'naan – Troubadour

"Ten Thousand Words" – The Avett Brothers – I and Love and You

"All at Sea" – Jamie Cullum – Twentysomething

"Crystalised" – The xx – The xx

"The Park" – Feist – The Reminder

"California" – Low – The Great Destroyer

"I Am Waiting" – Ollabelle – Ollabelle

"Rise" – Eddie Vedder – Into the Wild soundtrack

"Perfect Circle" – R.E.M. – Murmur

"The Blower's Daughter" – Damien Rice – O

"London Skies" – Jamie Cullum – Catching Tales

"Speeding Motorcycle" – Yo La Tengo – Fakebook

"Hard Sun" – Eddie Vedder – Into the Wild soundtrack

"Dry Your Eyes" - The Streets – A Grand Don't Come for Free

"Home" – Zero 7 – When It Falls

"I Wish You Well" – Bill Withers – The Best of Bill Withers: Lean on Me

The point is not the list of songs I happened to choose, but the concept. Composing a labor mix is a chance to be creative, both about music and a vision of giving birth. And in my opinion, defaulting to the easy-listening stuff is sort of like seeking oblivion, rather than embracing one of life's most excruciating and amazing experiences.

In the end, my mix wasn't actually all that creative. Some slow songs even crept in, songs that embarrass me now. So I'm looking for readers and listeners to offer some better examples. Who gave birth to heavy metal? Avant-garde jazz? Beyonce? The Beatles?

Share your stories here or write to All Things Considered. And dads, you can write in, too. Surely you had opinions!

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

MICHELE NORRIS, host: It is common these days for women giving birth to play DJ. Hospitals and birth centers recommend bringing music along for relaxation. Delivery rooms offer CD players or even docks for your iPod. All of which gives moms and dads too the chance to compose a soundtrack for the birth experience. As part of our series on women and childbirth, NPR's Alison MacAdam has her own story.

ALISON MACADAM: I hadn't given much thought to a birth soundtrack until I went to a preparatory class.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ORINOCO FLOW")

MACADAM: We watched a video of a woman in labor. As she moaned and pushed, you heard this playing in the background over and over and over.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ORINOCO FLOW")

ENYA: (Singing) Sail away, sail away, sail away. Sail away, sail away, sail away.

MACADAM: The soothing repetitive reverberations of Enya. Obviously, this video was dated. You could tell from the hairstyles. But this song represented everything I did not want to hear while giving birth. Labor is athletic. It's intense. For some people, it's terrifying. For some, it's exhilarating. And I wanted a beat.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HARD SUN")

MACADAM: I wanted to challenge the idea that you can engineer a calm environment for labor and that music might soothe the pain. And I wanted to inspire myself to keep going.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HARD SUN")

EDDIE VEDDER: (Singing) There's a big, a big hard sun beating on the big people in the big hard world.

MACADAM: Not all of the music in my mix is as grandiose as this Eddie Vedder song. I slapped a CD together pretty quickly. There's a song by a Somali-American hip-hop artist.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WAVIN' FLAG")

K'NAAN: When I get older, I will be stronger. They'll call me freedom, just like a waving flag. And then it goes back...

MACADAM: And some poppy jazz by Jamie Cullum.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LONDON SKIES")

JAMIE CULLUM: (Singing) Will you let me romanticize...

MACADAM: And The Avett Brothers, a combo of country, bluegrass and rock.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TEN THOUSAND WORDS")

THE AVETT BROTHERS: (Singing) Ain't it like most people? I'm no different. We love to talk on things we don't know about.

MACADAM: I did break some of my own rules making the mix, a couple of cheesy, easy-listening songs sneaked in, but what matters most: the mix worked.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I AM WAITING")

MACADAM: At first, when I was in labor, I didn't even notice my husband had turned on the music, but slowly, whispers of it reached me.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I AM WAITING")

OLLABELLE: (Singing) I am waiting. I am waiting. Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah.

MACADAM: Waiting, an understatement for what I was doing. Now, I don't normally listen to lyrics, but this song by Ollabelle I had chosen for its soul and for its words.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I AM WAITING")

OLLABELLE: (Singing) Waiting for someone to come out of somewhere. Waiting for someone to come out of somewhere.

MACADAM: And when someone, my son Abraham, came out of somewhere, it seemed we had timed things perfectly. We reached the end of the CD, a triumphant finale.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I WISH YOU WELL")

MACADAM: I still get shivers thinking about cradling that tiny, beautiful boy and hearing Bill Withers sing...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I WISH YOU WELL")

BILL WITHERS: (Singing) I wish you flowers, sunshine and smiles.

MACADAM: Alison Macadam, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I WISH YOU WELL")

WITHERS: (Singing) I wish you children that grow to make you proud.

NORRIS: You can find Alison's entire labor mix at nprmusic.org, and we want to hear your stories about giving birth to music. What did you choose? Surprise us. You can write to us at npr.org.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I WISH YOU WELL")

WITHERS: (Singing) I wish you well.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Singing) Oh, I wish you well.

WITHERS: (Singing) I wish you well.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Singing) Oh, I wish you well.

WITHERS: I wish you well.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Singing) Oh, I wish you well.

WITHERS: (Singing) I wish you well.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Singing) Well.

WITHERS: (Singing) I wish you good friends that always treat you well. Want to wish you ribbons to tie around your hair. I wish you truckloads of cheer. Many...

NORRIS: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.