Go ahead and scream: Theater-based vocal training may be useful in childbirth

April 10, 2023
A woman yells while in labor. Image credit: iStock

Loud and deliberate screams in the labor and delivery room could actually be the result of theater-based vocal training that may be used to help women with pain management during childbirth.

Researchers at the University of Michigan have been studying the application of the Fitzmaurice vocal technique, originally developed by a U-M alumnus for actors, to help women have a more positive birthing experience.

The Fitzmaurice training was originally developed for actors, specifically for “tremor work” to deconstruct dynamic efforts designed to produce a tremor in the body. The mental and physical process starts in the arms or legs and then leads to a release of energy and tension, which encourages loud screams or moans.

U-M alumna and creator of the technique, Catherine Fitzmaurice, said she designed the training “to support people in finding and using their unique voices—in healthy, clear and creative ways—while developing greater freedom and presence.”

Kris Danford, former assistant professor at U-M’s School of Music, Theatre & Dance who is currently at Penn State, completed the Fitzmaurice training and was inspired to work with colleagues at the U-M School of Nursing to apply the method to childbirth. They produced a study, Impolite Birth: Theatre Voice Training and the Experience of Childbirth.

Two workshops were conducted in 2021 with pregnant participants from London to Ann Arbor discussing how the use of vocalization and sound can positively impact the experience of giving birth.

“Within the health care system, female vocalization is often met with judgment,” Danford said. “We found some providers were even telling patients to make only certain types of sounds, but helpful vocal expression isn’t always the calm, low, serene sounds that many childbirth educators promote.”

Jeremy Sortore, assistant professor at the U-M School of Music, Theatre & Dance, teaches a four-course vocal training class at U-M using the Fitzmaurice technique.

“It can also be an energizing tool to help actors have big experiences that they’re not necessarily in control of within a safe container,” he said. “It’s about developing your capacity to be with what is and respond truthfully in the moment.”

U-M School of Nursing colleagues included in the study: Ruth Zielinski, professor; Lee Roosevelt, assistant professor; and Alexandra Vroom, graduate student.