Labor as Marathon

Katherine, nailing it.

Katherine, nailing it.

Sometimes when I have clients who are athletes, or who have been athletes, or who enjoy working out in general, I share a passage from Penny Simkin’s The Birth Partner:

Childbirth has many similarities to a marathon, or other physical endurance event. Both include pain and psychological demands for the participant. Both require stamina and patience. Both become more manageable when the participant is well prepared and flexible and has the following:

·        Knowledge of what to expect

·        Prior planning with a knowledgeable guide

·        Physical health and fitness

·        Encouragement and support before and throughout the event

·        Confidence that muscle pain and fatigue are normal side effects of such effort

·        Fluids and adequate nourishment

·        The ability to pace herself

So many good things to talk about here!  But did you catch that 4th point?  Encouragement and support! So vitally important to both athletes and laboring mamas!

One of my high school friends, Katherine, is a runner. She’s crazy fast. I remember last Spring she broke some records and set herself a new PR after running a mile in 5 minutes and 2 seconds. A couple of days after she ran that race, I saw her and she was just beaming! Still!  Even after a few days! And being around her in that state instantly brought me back to the feelings I had after I had my firstborn. So as she was telling me about the race and just radiating pure bliss, I couldn’t help but tell her, “Katherine, that is how I felt after I had Lucy! You can have the same adrenaline rush after you have a baby!”

And just last week my family and I went to see Katherine and her brother run in a cross country meet at our favorite place, Afton. These high school students were amazing to watch!  And I couldn’t help but compare the physical challenge we were witnessing as they ran through the grass to what I see each and every time I help a mom in labor.

Katherine, of course, was leading the pack and nailing it, and yet as we cheered her on, she didn’t have the capacity to smile or wave or engage with us – she was so focused on disciplining her mind and her body to push through to the end. You could see pain on the faces of other girls, or hear them vocalizing with their breathing to cope with the strenuousness of the run. And in the end, they all conquered, aided by the cheers and encouragement of family and friends who came to watch. They all achieved what they set out to do. And my guess is that most of them felt amazing.

So let’s take Penny Simkin's wisdom to heart. Let's encourage women to embrace the physical challenge of labor as they prepare to give birth to their babies, as we would encourage a high school student as she trains and prepares for a race. Let’s not tell women scary stories that giving birth is horrible and traumatic, as we wouldn’t tell an aspiring runner how much we hated running in high school and how much it hurt. Let’s be kind to our fellow women and soon-to-be mothers, as we are kind and encouraging to our students and children as they work toward accomplishing something amazing.

Yes, giving birth is hard. It's crazy hard. But as Penny points out, it's a LOT more manageable (and sometimes even fun!) with proper planning, coaching, training, encouragement, support, and confidence in our bodies. Let's change the culture of fear into one of joyful confidence as we talk about birth with younger women!

Sarah's Birth: An Adoption Story

Several years back, I had the opportunity to attend a national adoption conference, and while there I sat in on a seminar entitled "Loving and Serving Birthmothers."  It has always been a desire of mine, as a doula, to serve a woman who has chosen adoption for her baby, and that session gave me some great ideas and advice.  Just recently I had the opportunity to put that wisdom into action.

A sweet high school girl from my church unexpectedly became pregnant last year, and I reached out to offer comfort and grace to her in the midst of what I knew was a stressful time for her and her family. We met for coffee a few weeks later, where I naturally offered to come alongside her and walk through her pregnancy and birth with her. She said YES!

Sarah and I met for coffee several times over the course of the next months to talk about life, Harry Potter, her upcoming birth, pros and cons of parenting her baby vs. placing her for adoption, and eventually who she wanted to choose as her baby's parents. We also talked through the ins and outs of having a baby (like I do with all my clients), all things postpartum (lovely!), and the option of pumping milk for the baby.

So when her water broke early on a Tuesday morning, she was prepared. I met Sarah, her mom, and the adoptive mother, Abby, at the hospital mid-morning, when not too much was happening with her labor. I smuggled her some french fries and we had a mini party in the delivery room (Abby, brought LOTS of snacks!).   

As Sarah's labor intensified, I began to actively coach her into a state of relaxation. Her response was amazing. She tuned in to my voice, and without question or doubt, listened to my suggestions to relax and surrender to the power of her body. There was no trace of tension or fear in her demeanor - she never once started losing control. She exhibited a quiet and fierce confidence as the waves of power took over her body, and labored beautifully. It was amazing to watch and a true privilege to enter into those moments with her.

(Photo by Jodi Dirks)

(Photo by Jodi Dirks)

When it came time to push, after only a few powerful contractions and with Abby holding a leg, a very blessed baby girl was born into two families.

Debi (Sarah's mom) and Abby rejoice in the first moments of baby Hannah's life. (Photo by Kim)

Debi (Sarah's mom) and Abby rejoice in the first moments of baby Hannah's life. (Photo by Kim)

After Abby got some skin-to-skin time with her sweet girl, Sarah was able to hold the baby she had worked so hard for.

(Photo by Jodi Dirks)

(Photo by Jodi Dirks)

I am so glad I had the opportunity to love and serve Sarah through this season of life.  Her bravery, determination, calmness, and selflessness throughout her pregnancy and birth was amazing to witness and a joy to take part in.

And it continues! Sarah was a superhero and decided to pump milk for the baby for the first several weeks. She and Abby have a very cool relationship and a very open adoption. Hannah will grow up with two mamas - the one who birthed her and the one who parents her. What a gift!

The best [postpartum] advice I've ever received.

"Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt."  -John Muir

When you are pregnant, especially for the first time, it seems you are a growing, moving target for unsolicited advice.  How to eat, how to sleep, what doctor to choose, what kind of birth to have, and the list goes on.  People also like to give out free postpartum advice, like "sleep when the baby sleeps," or "the disposable mesh undies will be a lifesaver," or "put some cabbage on those overly zealous milk machines."  This advice is all really good, practical stuff, and it is so, so important to have a sisterhood of women surrounding you with love and encouragement throughout all the tender moments of childbearing!

But today I'm just going to share one little tidbit of advice, given to me by a dear friend and neighbor, when I was in the throes of postpartum hell after baby number two.

GET OUTSIDE.

She came over to drop off some goodies, and being a mom to two little guys herself, her advice held some weight.

"Just ten minutes a day!" she said.  "If it's cold, bundle up. The fresh air will do you good."

My second-born was high-maintenance, to say the least. I recall pacing with him (crying) in my arms from the dining room, through the kitchen, to the living room, and back again, unable to look away from the piles of mess and dishes and clutter in each room I walked through. I was exhausted, in pain, and a hormonal wreck, and my messy house was just about to push me over the edge.

So I took her advice to heart, and despite the plummeting temperatures, I got outside. Not every day (though that was my goal), and she was right!!  It did me so much good.  Through the rhythmic moving of my feet and the in-and-out breathing of fresh air, my soul was reset. I was able to think and to pray and to just be. And though the house I walked back into was not the place of peace and cleanliness I felt that I needed it to be, it was okay. I was okay.

And now, four years later, as my kiddos are getting older and the temperatures are once again starting to drop, I remember that advice - just as good today as it was then. When life indoors is making monsters of my kids and me, we put on our coats and we go out. We walk, ride bikes, we climb and run and hike. Thanks to my good neighbor, Lori, I've learned that we are all happier creatures when we've been outside.

Let's change the way we talk about this.

I often hear people ask a woman, “Who delivered your baby?” to which the woman replies with the name of whatever doctor was present at her birth.  This is a typical conversation among childbearing women, one at which no one bats an eye. 

But I would argue that this language is not the best choice of wording when we talking about how we give birth.

A few weeks ago, I was talking with a pregnant woman who said of her first birth, “Dr. So-and-So delivered me.”

Delivered me.

I know she didn’t mean it like this, but it sounded as if she was in a situation from which she needed to be delivered.  This language infers that the woman is the passive party in the scenario, a helpless one at that, who needs a stronger, more capable person to free her from the burden of pregnancy and labor.

On the other hand, I love how midwives talk about the act of a woman giving birth into the hands of a competent provider. 

They say “catch.” 

“I caught the baby.”

I LOVE THIS. 

It puts the emphasis right where it belongs.  The mother as the active, strong, capable person delivering her baby into the hands of a gentle, caring midwife. The mother is the one who does the delivering here.

This wording implies humility and honor on the part of the provider.  It gives praise and acknowledgement to the one who did all the work and deserves all the credit – Mom.

So next time you cross paths with a freshly postpartum mother, ask her how her birth went, and ask her, “Who caught your baby?”

(photo by Kim. See more of Jenn's birth here)

Finnian's Birth: A Photo Essay

In 2015, I was invited to attend 14 births, all of which were filled with beautiful and awe-inspiring moments.  For most births, I am asked to capture some of those beautiful, intimate moments with my camera.  I love photographing births in any setting, but home births are especially fun for me.  The natural setting and lighting provides the perfect backdrop for capturing such a sweet, special day for the family, and little nuances and things a couple have done to make their house a home make the photographs even more special.

I was able to serve Jenn and Stephen at the birth of their first son, Seeley, back in 2013, and loved capturing the moments that made up her beautiful labor.  A couple of years later, I was asked again to help with the birth of their second son, Finnian.

Jenn is a labor goddess.  She is relaxed, calm, and in control.  It's amazing to watch.

Thanks, Jenn and Stephen, for inviting me into your space to help you bring Finnian in to the world.  It was a joy and a blessing to be there with you!

Auggie's Birth

Celebrating Auggie's birthday today, I cannot believe he's three!!  I have spent the last many months working on a drawing of a photograph captured by my doula the moment he was born, and reminiscing on his birth.  My memories of the whole experience are so vivid to me.  Here's a glimpse into what my 2-hour labor home birth felt like:

6pm - Watching Cars and eating English muffin pizza’s with Lucy (my oldest, who was almost 4 at the time) and Greg.  Having really strong Braxton Hicks and not wanting Lucy to crawl on/cuddle me during the movie.

8:30pm - Getting a killer massage from Greg after he put Lucy to bed.

9:30pm - Having a super weird sensation in my abdomen and heading up to bed. 

10pm - Lying down, contractions getting stronger.  Realizing this is it.

Calling Greg on my cell phone (he was downstairs playing poker on the internet) telling him he needs to call the midwife.  Greg comes up, asks me if I’m sure it’s labor, and I agree to wait for a few more contractions to confirm it’s the real deal.  Contraction hits.  “CALL STEPH” (our midwife).

Flurry of Greg getting the pool ready downstairs, coming up to check on me, and making calls, while I labor on the toilet and then on the glider in the nursery.  Oh my glory, these contractions are stronger than any contraction I ever had with Lucy.  Doula arrives; I am so grateful for her presence.  Water breaks while on the glider.  Time to head downstairs.

Practically running down the stairs to try to make it to the couch before another contraction hits, and barely making it.  It is so dark and peaceful.  The birth team quietly arriving, and I need to hold hands.  Holding Karen’s hand.  Then my mom’s.  I remember a contraction that I could barely stay on top of, it almost swept me away, and afterwards my mom commenting that she didn’t even realize I was having a one.  My doula sitting on the couch-turned-bed (futon) with me, and the gentleness of her knee touching my thigh literally making my contraction less painful.

Starting to feel lots of pressure.  Birth team suggests I head to the pool but I don’t want to move. Asking if it will hurt less in the pool, Karen laughs and mentions something about an “aqua-dural.”  Sitting up and have to hold my tush off the bed with my arms during a contraction because I am practically sitting on this boy’s head.  Steph is here, her presence unannounced. I say “hi” on my way to the pool.

Stepping into the pool, instant relief.  Greg getting in behind me.  Trying not to push because I hate the sensation of baby moving down.  My body does it anyway, and slightly panicked, I announce, “I’m pushing!” to which my midwife calmly answers, “okay, great!”  My sister arrives and I barely register she’s here because I am in such a zone. 

Feeling the burning ring of fire and realizing he’s almost out, and thinking “how could this be happening already!”  Greg reaching down, instructed by the midwife, and guides his head out as I feel a tremendous release.  Baby’s head is out.  Midwife tells me I need to push him all the way out.  More pushing and instinctively saying, “Where’s my Auggie? Where’s my Auggie?” as I reach down to pull his tiny, slippery little body up out of the water.

12:03am - Taking a moment to hold my baby close as I catch my breath after that whirlwind of a labor.  Then holding him out so I can get a look of his face, and thinking that he looks familiar.  Like I already know him.

An Induction Success!

**names and pictures used with permission**

Having been on call for the full "two weeks before and up to two weeks after," I was surprised that Chloe hadn't gone into labor yet.  A first time mom, she was very excited about her pregnancy, and did everything she could to make it the best it could be!  She was seeing a chiropractor, drinking red raspberry leaf tea, and eating dates daily

She was having minor cramping and Braxton Hicks-ish contractions on and off, but nothing serious.  At one appointment right around 40 weeks, she was 4cm dilated, 80% effaced, and the baby was at "zero staion" (code for reeeally low in her pelvis).  Still, no labor!

Her doctors were very relaxed with her, and gave her a full two weeks past her due date before wanting to induce her, and it was very low pressure.  She agreed to the induction, and as we were having a phone conversation about what to expect, I remembered the "stats" from her last appointment, and suggested seeing if her doctor would break her water before trying pitocin.  Typically breaking the water before labor begins is a bad idea for a variety of reasons, but since Chloe's body was SOOOO ready for labor (for my first-time clients, I am typically with them in hard, active labor for half a day before they are at 4cm!), and from my experience with how quickly labor progresses after the water is broken when baby is so low and well-positioned, I thought it might be a welcome alternative to starting labor with drugs.

They got to the hospital at 6am on Tuesday, February 3rd, and by the time they were all settled into their room it was close to 8 o'clock.  She was 5cm dilated and 90% effaced, and baby was even lower. The doctor came in to speak with them (Chloe had previously requested that they break her water in lieu of starting pitocin) and seemed hesitant to break her water, wanting to start with pitocin instead.  Chloe was strong and advocated for herself and what she knew she wanted, and her doctor consented to breaking her water, which he did at around 8am.  He told her he would see if she had any contractions in the next four hours, and then would come start the pitocin drip.

Well, she did have some contractions.  Many good, strong contractions.  I arrived shortly after 8 and she was already feeling them pretty well, although she was very relaxed and chatting through them.  Her husband, Matt, was rubbing her feet and making her feel as comfortable as possible.

Contractions quickly picked up in speed and intensity, and Chloe was handling them beautifully.  The most comfortable position for her was sitting upright or reclining in the bed.  I think because things were happening so quickly this was the easiest position for her to stay relaxed.  They were actually coming so quickly that the doctor called the nurse to see if she would consent to taking some IV fluid to slow them down.  She declined, as she was feeling well and staying extremely hydrated by drinking water and juice.  

As things were picking up, she said, in kind of a puzzled and surprised voice, "It's not pain, it doesn't hurt.  It's just very intense!"  Later, she said "I can understand why people would want an epirudal!"

At one point, toward the end, she vocalized, "It's so much, it's just so much!"  It was at this point that I knew she needed something new or different to help her cope with the intensity of her labor.  We had tried many positions, going to the bathroom, and vocalizing.  I remembered the previous offer of IV fluids and asked if she wanted to try that now.  She said that sounded like a good idea, and it really did help.  It gave her a fresh burst of energy and slowed her contractions down enough to where she was getting a slightly longer break in-between.

She became extremely inward, vocalizing and doing her best to relax through her contractions.  At one point, while in the bathroom, she suddenly got the urge to push, and I called the nurse.  Everyone came in, bustling about to get the room ready for a baby, while Chloe continued to do her thing.  The doctor arrived, and she began pushing in earnest at 2pm.  He was extremely impressed with her ability to move her baby down, and she was loving this new stage of labor!  She said it felt so much better to push!

Finally, at 2:41, Adara Rose made her entrance into the world after a 100%, drug-free labor.  Chloe and Matt made an awesome team, and it was a huge privilege to help them bring their daughter into the world!

Birth Matters

A few weeks back, my husband came home from having coffee with a friend, whose wife was almost full-term pregnant.  As we were tag-teaming taking care of kids and cleaning the kitchen, he told me that his friend's OB had scheduled a routine induction for his wife on the following Monday (she would have been 41 weeks along).  I immediately stopped what I was doing and asked him urgently, "Do they want me to send them some ideas for natural induction?" to which my husband replied that he didn't think they would be interested in that kind of information.  Since I hardly know these people, I didn't pursue it further.

But later in the day I was thinking about why I was so quick to want to help this woman that I hardly know avoid induction.  Was it because around 50% of first time moms who get induced end up with a cesarean?  Was it because of all the unknown (and known) risks of pitocin on baby, not to mention the fact that it makes laboring without pain medication next to impossible?

Yes, I think, it was those reasons.

But underlying it all is my deep conviction that birth matters.  Birth is such an utterly transforming experience, either for the good or the bad - or some of both.  And I want it to be good.  I so want birth to be positive for every woman.

Whether you realize it or not going into it, the birth experience you have will affect you in a profound way for the rest of your life.  Every woman I've talked to, no matter her age or how old her kids are, can remember exact details about how her birth went.  She can remember certain words that were spoken to her, whether she was treated with dignity and respect, or belittled.  And how we are treated in our most vulnerable moments... it sticks with us.  It becomes part of us.  It either builds us up as women who know we are capable and strong and able to conquer anything that gets thrown at us, or it subtly tears us down with lies that we are not good enough.

And so many women are believing these lies.  Insecurity and fear seem far too common in the women I interact with on a day-to-day basis.  These are huge issues!  And I just wonder... What if our society started treating childbearing women with more respect?  What if birth was viewed as a sacred right of passage instead of a scary medical event?  Would the trend among young mothers begin to be confidence over fear, strength over insecurity?  I do believe it would.

I think Ina May was onto something when she said, "When we as a society begin to value mothers as the givers and supporters of life then we will see social change in ways that matter."

I want to see it happen.

The Gift of Caring

I recently came across this quote by Henri Nouwen defining what it means to care.  

(I actually found the quote on a blog I follow, of a really amazing and beautiful mama of four who is struggling with deadly breast cancer.  I am so humbled and encouraged every time I read her words--I definitely encourage you to go read her story.)

 These thoughts, so potent and true, immediately reminded me of doula work, and the beauty of both caring for women and of receiving doula care.

Nouwen starts by going back to the root of the word care:

"What is care? The word finds its origin in the word Kara, which means to lament, to mourn, to participate in suffering, to share in pain. To care is to cry out with those who are ill, confused, lonely, isolated, and forgotten, and to recognize their pains in our own heart. To care is to enter into the world of those who are broken and powerless and to establish there a fellowship of the weak. To care is to be present to those who suffer, and to stay present, even when nothing can be done to change their situation."

To "participate in suffering" and to "share in pain" is probably one of the biggest gifts you can give a laboring woman.  Whenever I am attending a mom in labor, all her body language, her expressions, her movements, bring me right back to my labors, and I so vividly recall the intense and wild stretching and pressure and building and receding of labor waves.  I remember and in that moment I know where she is.  I match my movements to hers, my noises to hers, and encourage her partner to do the same.  And in those moments, she is not alone.  We are carrying her burden with her, supporting her with our presence, and entering into her world where weakness and surrender equal strength and victory.  We are wholly present with her, and that simple yet deeply profound act makes all the difference in how she will remember this story.

"To Care is the most human of all human gestures. It is a gesture that comes forth from a courageous confession of our common need for one another and the grace of a compassion that binds us together with brothers and sisters like ourselves, who share with us the wonderful and painful journey of life."

The confession of need is courageous, and humbling at the same time.  I know so well the look of a woman at the beginning of a contraction she knows will be strong, her eyes frantically searching for someone to support her.  Usually, she finds her husband or partner, and I use my words like a map, guiding them through the unknown terrain of labor.  If he happens to be away for a moment I step into an urgent embrace, and we sway and moan and make our way through the contraction together. 

"In the very act of caring for another, you and I possess a great treasure. One of the great riches of caregiving is that it embraces something more than simply a focus on cure. Caregiving carries within it an opportunity for inner healing, liberation, and transformation for the one being cared for and for the one who cares. And because we who offer care and we who receive care are both strong and vulnerable, though in different ways, our coming together in a caregiving relationship is an occasion to open ourselves to receive and unexpected gift."

One of the greatest and most unique things about caring for women as a doula is that I am not a medical caregiver at all.  There are doctors and nurses and midwives assigned with the task of ensuring physical health for mom and baby, which allows me the beautiful opportunity to just be; to focus on the emotional and the spiritual well-being of these vulnerable and courageous almost-mothers.  

It is my greatest belief about birth that it will shape you.  In the deepest, most profound ways, you will carry around your birth experience with you either as a dark and heavy burden, or as a memory of light and love and captivating beauty.  Or maybe a little of both.  I also believe that it is not the physical outcome of your birth, but the way you were cared for through it, that will determine how the memories of your birth will shape you.  So yes, with my clients we definitely prepare for and hope for and encourage and work toward natural birth.  But as a doula, my main goal is to ensure that my women are cared for and loved through whatever births they are given.

And in the giving of that care, I am on the receiving end, blessed with the gift of taking part in their stories.

*Photos taken by myself and midwife Karen.  See more of this birth here.

You Need to See This.

So one of my greatest friends is pregnant!  Again!  For the third time!



I was Chrissy's doula for numbers one and two, and have the great privilege of helping her and her husband, Seth, through their third birth late this coming summer.  She is awesome at labor, and Seth is an incredible coach.  I am so looking forward to seeing how this birth unfolds...



But for now, you have to watch their birth announcement video:



Thanks for the Journey

When I was in college, I swore that I would never have babies.  I wanted to adopt.  Because why go through the pain and torture of childbirth when there are lots of babies that need good loving homes?  Seriously, the culture, other women, and the media had all put an unholy fear of childbirth in my mind and I just decided that I didn't want to have any part of it.

Ten years later and my feelings about childbirth have been completely turned around.  I love childbirth.  My life has been completely and radically transformed by my experiences with it.  And I am so thankful.

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving and I find myself giving thanks for women. For our bodies. For the strength that I see in every woman as I watch her labor and work and dig down deep to birth the baby she was born to mother.  Thanks for the privilege of becoming co-creators with God as we grow and birth and feed our babies with our bodies.  What a holy miracle!  What an indescribable blessing to take part in this sacred walk of life.  We are more blessed than we know.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.  May you find some quiet moments in your day to still your heart and offer up thanks for this journey.

Blessings~

Kim

Reflections on my Fertility Journey

At this point in the life of our family, our household is a flurry of activity.  Our daughter, Lucy, is almost five, is learning to read, and developing into her own (awesome) person.  Augustine, our sweet baby, is an advanced-crawler and almost-walker, learning to sign and talk and is the sweetest little child ever.  I love this life, and am daily giving thanks for the two precious children entrusted to us.

Amid all this gloriously joyful chaos, it is too easy to forget the deep, dark valleys we walked through to get here.  My husband and I struggled through 15 months of infertility before each of our pregnancies (two-and-a-half years total of emotionally agonizing "trying").  We were blessed to have been able to get pregnant each time without medical help, although I did use herbs and acupuncture to help enhance my fertility along the way.  I am an expert at charting, thermometers, cervical mucous, ovulation, knowing the difference between the luteal phase and the follicular phase of your cycle, and how long each phase should be.  And in spite of the grief I experienced each time I completed a cycle without a pregnancy, I did come out of that time equipped with plenty of knowledge and empowerment when it came to knowing my body. (Fertility is now one of my favorite topics of conversation, coming in only second to pregnancy and birth. :)

So the reason I bring all this up now, when getting pregnant is not on my radar at all, is that I've gone on sort of a journey this past week.

I've been in physical therapy at Creative Therapeutics for low back pain for a good two months now.  I have been dealing with this pain ever since I first got pregnant with Auggie almost two years ago (although, thinking back, there was a tightness in a particular back muscle long before that).  I have been making good progress, although there is an incredibly deep and stubborn tightness that has been refusing to let go.  

At my session last week, my therapist, Lynn (who is awesome), had me lying on my side on a massage table in a dark, quiet room.  She was working her magic with all those muscles, when she asked the student observer to leave the room because she wanted to "go deeper" with me.  She had me close my eyes, go into my body and connect with the problem area in my back.  She asked what it looks like there:  dark, bright, cold, warm, etc.  It was difficult for me to get in touch with that part of my body, but when I finally did, I described it as a yellow, rotting color.  

"That's not good," she said.  

Then she asked how old I was, and counted back in fives from thirty.  "Twenty-five to thirty; twenty to twenty-five, fifteen to twenty," and on through in-utero.  She asked if any of those time frames stood out to me.  I wasn't sure, so she did it again, and I told her twenty to twenty-five stuck out.  She then counted back from twenty-five.  

"Twenty-five, twenty-four, twenty-three, twenty-two, twenty-one, twenty."  

"Twenty-four," I said.  

"Now picture yourself at twenty-four.  What did you look like; what was going on in your world?"

Overwhelmed with emotion, I realized, "...that was when I was wanting to have a baby, when we started our fertility journey, which took 15 months."

"Okay, now looking at your twenty-four-year-old self, what message to you have for her; what would you like to tell her."

Thinking.  

"God is sovereign...  He is in control, and will work everything out for your good."

Lynn then asked if there was anything I felt like I should do for my twenty-four-year-old self.  I wasn't sure.  But she told me to do something symbolic for her this week.

Which brings me to today.  This morning during Auggie's nap, I decided to make a drawing of myself, holding my uterus, and letting it go.  Surrendering all worry and fear and pain to my Creator.

Not for a moment did you forsake me

You are constant

You are only good

You are sovereign

All to Jesus, I surrender; All to him I freely give

I will ever love and trust Him, in His presence freely live

I am really so glad I did this.  I never realized that I was still carrying the weight and sadness of that time around with me.  It was so good and healing to express surrender through this drawing. 

{While I was working on it, I was suddenly inspired to start a fertility support group.  I will be planning and working out the details of that soon; if you are interested, please be in touch!}

Peace and Joy to you, my friends, and blessings on your journey, wherever you may be. 

A Summer of Births

We are well into a good, solid routine in the Wheaton house, which is a comfort to my soul.  With the kids and husband in a groove with school and work, and a baby who still naps twice a day, I finally have a little free time to sit down and write a little update about what I've been up to.

This past summer was awesome!  

It was crazy, joyful, and sleep-deprived for this doula.  But it was awesome.  I was so blessed with lots of amazing clients over the summer months, and it was so much fun to develop friendships with all of them, while working alongside them, watching their labors unfold, and helping them conquer their births.  Instead of trying to re-cap them all myself, here are links to a couple of their stories, written by them:

In May, Kandy and John welcomed their 4th baby, sweet Payson, after a speedy labor (that I missed!).  I did make it in time to get some pictures, help Kandy with some post-birth stuff, and hang out with my midwife-friends. Read the story here!

Later in the summer, I almost didn't take Matt and Ashley on as clients, because my schedule was so full!  I decided that I could squeeze them in, though, and I'm so glad I did.  Ashley rocked a natural birth, and it was a joy supporting her through her labor.  Here's the story!

There are many more amazing stories that have yet to be written (c'mon, clients!).  As soon as they are, I'll post them here.

Happy Fall!

Courtney and Jason, welcoming their little bird, Phoebe

Doulas are for Dad's, Too!

Yesterday we had a really good time celebrating Father's Day with Greg's family.  The weather was ideal, the kids were happy, and we just hung out at my in-laws doing nothing and being together.  (A day of doing nothing is bliss for this mama!)  It was also a good to to reflect on fatherhood; how my dad's love for me shaped me into the woman I am today and how my husband is such an awesome dad to our kids.  I also had fun reflecting on the proud new papas I have served as a doula!

It's always amusing to me that, at interviews, the dad is usually pretty apprehensive about hiring a doula, but after the birth he is almost more grateful than the mom!  I think that labor support, especially for first-time dads, is really hard.  They've typically never seen a birth before, so to see their wife or partner going through such an intense ordeal can be very taxing emotionally.  He often has a hard time knowing how to support her, especially if she starts asking for drugs when he knows that she really wants a natural birth!  I can't imagine what it must be like seeing the person you love most in the world experiencing the crazy ride that is childbirth.

This is why I love my job so much.  As a woman having gone through childbirth twice before, and as a trained birth professional, it is so rewarding for me to deduce what a laboring mom needs at a certain point, and gently instruct her loving partner to know how to best support her.

I remember at one of my very first births (this couple happened to be some of our best friends), they were working so well together, swaying and relaxing through some of her most intense contractions.  And I just stood in the corner, giving the dad an occasional calm smile letting him know that everything was going perfectly.  When she went into the bathroom by herself, I just gave him a little pep-talk on what to expect over the next hour or two (she was entering transition, so I told him she would probably get emotional and start having some self-doubt).  Within minutes after her coming out of the bathroom, she started crying and saying she couldn't do it anymore, and it was so beautiful to watch her husband calmly tell her that she could, and that she was doing great, and how they fell into their perfect rhythm together again.

And last week I was at a birth with a super sweet couple.  Young, newly-married, first-time parents, they hired me at the last minute because someone in their birthing class told them that they HAD to have a doula (yeah!).  The dad had been very quiet and reserved throughout our prenatal meetings, and continued to be so during the birth.  During her labor, I just did my thing, helping his wife, giving her words of encouragement and prompting him to do the same, telling them both what to expect through each stage of labor, and really just guiding them through the process.  Toward the end when things were getting quite intense, she really needed some eye-contact to keep her grounded.  So I did that for awhile and breathed with her.  Then she went to the bathroom, came back and was lying on her other side facing her husband, so I said, "During this next contraction, I want you to really focus on her eyes, and breathe with her in rhythm."  It think it was really hard for him--he was crying quietly from seeing his wife in such a state, and I could tell he wanted to withdraw from the situation because it was just so emotionally overwhelming.  But I gave him a tissue and prompted him to stay close to her.  And they both got into this amazing zone together, connecting in a deep and meaningful way.  What a privilege it was to have facilitated such a beautiful moment!  Afterwards, at their follow-up visit, she told me that her husband had been telling a pregnant relative of theirs how much of a help I was, and that they should hire a doula, too. :)

So as much as I am passionate about women and our amazing bodies and all things birth/mothering related, I think dads are pretty cool, too.  I love creating a space where a couple can really connect without worrying about outside distractions, assuring them of the normalcy of birth as they work together to bring their baby into the world.  Whether it's getting dad a coffee and a sandwich, or showing him how to put pressure on his wife's back in just the right way, my goal is to help him to be as integrated and as involved in the birth process as possible.


Reflections on Mother's Day

"No language can express the power, and beauty, and heroism, and majesty of a mother's love. It shrinks not where man cowers, and grows stronger where man faints, and over wastes of worldly fortunes sends the radiance of its quenchless fidelity like a star." ~Edwin Hubbell Chapin

Before I had kids, I had no clue.  I had no idea how crazy and exhausting and challenging this thing called motherhood would be. 

Shortly after Lucy was born, Greg told me that he wanted to have more babies.  Like soon.  And I said, "no way!  Are you kidding me?  This is so hard!  It's so much work!"  Well, eventually I came around, and Auggie came to be.  And it seemed that the work of raising babies didn't just double.  It tripled, maybe even quadrupled.  I have no idea how that works, but trust me, going from one kid to two is insane.  And I hear it's equally or more so crazy adding a third.

But pre-kids I also had no clue how HUGE my heart could get with this fierce and tender mama-love for my offspring.  It is truly like nothing else. 

Yesterday I was watching Lucy's soccer game, and my eyes were just glued to her, so proud of her, and wanting the world to see what an awesome little person she is!  (It was 4-year-old AYSO soccer, and her team was getting crushed, but still my heart could have just burst watching her run around in her light blue jersey and shin guards up to her knees.) 

And last week I was at a conference and struck up a conversation with a complete stranger.  We got to talking about our kids, and I just couldn't help myself.  I whipped out my phone to show her a picture of my sweet son, Augustine, and gushed, "Isn't he just sooo cute?!"

Seriously, what has come over me??  I am addicted to my kids!

And so recently, when I become overwhelmed with stress and busy-ness and just needing a precious hour to myself, I stop.  And look at these two beautiful kids.  And just realize what an awesome blessing and privilege it is to have been entrusted with their care.  I'm learning to be joyful, and not resentful, when my pre-school sweetheart squeezes her juice box and douses me and the entire interior of our car with sticky-sweet liquid, or when my little alarm clock (read: baby boy) wakes me up two hours too early.  There is joy in the endless duty of washing diapers, wiping butts, trimming nails, picking up toys, playing pretend, and entertaining a fussy baby during the "witching hour" while simultaneously preparing a healthy meal for the entire family.

It is a blessing, a sacred privilege, this wild ride that is motherhood.  Am I overwhelmed?  Yes.  But it is a joyful, heart-swelling, place to be that will be over before I know it, and I am trying my best to treasure every (hair-pulling) second.

Seeley's Birth ~ A Photo Essay

I got a call from Stephen at 5am on February 12th, saying that today was the day!  Jenn's contractions were definitely the real deal.  Thankful for an (almost) full-night's sleep, I got up and got ready to go.  I arrived at their house at 6:30, and Jenn was doing so well, chatting and watching Ice Age 3.  As soon as a contraction hit, though, I could tell this was active labor.  She leaned up against a wall, relaxed, and moaned through it.  It was dark and candles were lit; the perfect environment for labor.

Karen got there shortly after I did, and got her computer and paperwork all set up on the kitchen table.

Don't you think she looks like an angel?

Well, she is. A birth angel. ;)

Jenn had group prenatal meetings/childbirth education with her midwives and a group of women due around the same time she was.  They all wore these bracelets to remind eachother of their bond through each of their births.

So peaceful.  Resting between contractions.  All that relaxation practice was paying off.

Muffins Jenn had prepared in advance for the birth team.  Labor was in full swing at 9:05am.

Swaying with Stephen ~ he was her rock.

Doula at work!  Thanks, Karen, for this shot! 

As labor progressed, Jenn moved to the tub to help her relax more fully.

Jenn's mom arrived toward the end of her labor.  Her presence and hand-holding was such a comfort to Jenn.

Midwife Christina, checking baby's heart tones.

The final push...

Seeley Michael Carter was born at 2:01pm on February 12.  6 lbs 11 oz. 19 inches.

Jenn's labor was about 12 hours long, with only 30 minutes of pushing.

I am continually amazed at the intensity and amazing challenge of labor and birth.  During Jenn's most difficult contractions, Karen would pray, "Thank you, Jesus, for these powerful contractions.  Thank you that her body is doing what you made it to do.  Thank you!"  It was with much gratitude and leaning on God that Jenn birthed her baby into the world.  What a holy and joyful experience!

Breastfeeding in the Church

My family and I go to a pretty cool church here in DeKalb. I've been going since we moved to Sycamore when I was 12 years old, continued going when I was home from college on the weekends, and it's where Greg and I eventually ended up after we got married. It's been a really cool blessing to have been a part of the same community for over half of my life. They really are like family; they've seen me through my dorky and highly embarrassing junior high years (and loved me through them!), supported and cheered me on through college, and celebrated with us when we got married there in '04. How fun it is, now, to be growing my little family amidst the larger church family that I grew up in!

It's been interesting, though, to observe their reactions to my ever-increasing "crunchy granola" lifestyle. Kind of like a funny little social experiment that leaves me grinning (though sometimes frowning) on the inside.

Take the breastfeeding issue.

Thankfully, I haven't received any off-putting comments about my nursing (covered) during the discussion hour or in the service. But it's been amusing to observe the different reactions of people when it's time for Augustine to eat. When I'm in the sanctuary and he needs to nurse, it almost always happens right before the pastor tells everyone to stand up and greet those around you. Awkward! So there I am, sitting at the end of the aisle with my noisy eater suckin' away!

I get the impression that some people try to avoid eye contact or walk the other way, while those who know me well don't bat an eye. While I wish breastfeeding at church would be a non-issue, Greg brought up the point that some might just be trying to be respectful. Breastfeeding is, in fact, a very intimate and special thing between a mom and her baby. I can understand why people would want to give me space.

In spite of the funny and semi-awkward encounters I've experienced while nursing, I have noticed that it gets a little better with each passing Sunday. People are getting used to it, which I like. The awkward avoiders are becoming fewer, and I feel like people are realizing that this is just what we do.

I recently read an article in Christianity Today called "Breastfeeding in the Back Pew." In it, the author proclaims, "In a culture where breasts are perennially on display--but where breastfeeding is often regarded with disgust or at least embarrassment--allowing mothers to breast-feed in worship would counter how sexualized breasts are in modern culture. It would also communicate respect for mothers.... The earthy eloquence of breast-feeding, even in church, would also remind us of both the humanness of our Savior and of God's loving sustenance of us through all the seasons of our lives."

Amen and amen.

The End of my Sabattical ~ What I've Learned

My doula-work hiatus is almost over; I am officially on-call again after a six month break!  Adding another little life to our family has given me some fresh perspective on the whole process, from fertility to pregnancy to birth and postpartum.  Moving forward, I feel more equipped than ever to assist other women and their families through every facet of childbearing.

Fertility

After 15 months of trying to get pregnant, I experienced again the heartache of infertility (it took us the same amount of time to get pregnant the first time).  I did learn a lot about my body through the process, though, through charting my cycles with my husband using the Creighton Method.  In time, I was able to get my hormones back in balance through natural progesterone cream and eventually a stronger dose prescribed by my doctor.  I also believe that acupuncture and some traditional Chinese medicine (with Pat Faivre) was a huge factor in optimizing my fertility.

In total, we have spent two-and-a-half years trying to conceive, and though those have probably been the toughest years of my life, I'm grateful for them.  I feel like I'm better able to empathise with other women who struggle with infertility, and I now have a whole slew of resources to offer them.  And I can't help but think that if we got pregnant any other month, we wouldn't have a Lucy or an Augustine, and I can't imagine our family without them.

Augustine (3 months) and Lucy (4)

Pregnancy

About 36 Weeks Pregnant with Auggie

With my first pregnancy, I was in the 1% of women that just loved being pregnant (that the other 99% of pregnant women hate).  I had no morning sickness, felt more beautiful than ever, and savored every miraculous little kick inside my belly.  I still enjoyed being pregnant this time around, but it was a lot harder on my body.  Maybe it was that I was four years older?  Maybe it was the fatigue caused by chasing one child around while growing another inside my body?  I still had pretty mild pregnancy symptoms, but between daily back pain and sheer exhaustion, I gained an appreciation for why most women just want pregnancy to be over.

Auggie came a week later than Lucy did (39 weeks and 38 respectively), and I also had a lot more "false labor" this time.  So I was able to experience the waiting game that almost all pregnant mamas play (even if it was only for a week).  Not fun!  But like the fertility struggle, I'm now able to empathise a little more with those mamas whose babies just want to take their sweet time.

Birth

(My favorite!)

Oh wow.  I could write so much here!!  But I'll focus on two things:  having a homebirth vs. a hospital birth, and having a doula.

Sweet Relief!

I am so grateful to have given birth twice, once in the hospital and once at home, because I really feel like I can relate with moms who choose either.  If you would have mentioned homebirth to us the first time around, I would have laughed and said you were crazy.  The hospital was where we felt safest, and so it was the best place for us!  Just like it is for so many other families.  This time we felt more comfortable at home, and so that is the route we took.  They were vastly different experiences, albeit both miraculous and life-changing in so many ways!  And having the intensity of those labor surges so fresh in my memory will no doubt help me to be the doula I need to be for the laboring mamas I will be serving in the coming year.

And having a doula was amazing (understatement).  What a blessing it was to experience the other end of doula care!! Katie Seelinger was truly an embodiment of the word doula (servant).  She helped me through some of the craziest contractions of my life; I remember her touch (not even intentional touch!  I think it was her knee gently touching my leg or something!) literally made those contractions hurt less.  Her close proximity, encouraging words, and just her presence was a God-send.  She was also helpful in many practical ways!  When you have a homebirth there is kind of a lot to do.  It's like you're hosting an event in your house, but you are physically unable to be the hostess.  Katie was my hostess.  She cleaned, cooked, took some killer photos, and took care of anything else that needed tending to, so that I didn't have to worry about the details.  Having her there also freed Greg up to support me more fully, and eventually enabled him to spend some time bonding with his new son.  Thank heaven for doulas.  Wow.

Our team! Nurse Karen, Midwife Steph (in green), doula Katie, me and Auggie, Greg, Lucy, and sister Katie

Postpartum

Postpartum is not fun for me.  Actually, I hate it.  Hormones are raging, sleep deprivation is at a maximum, boobs are engorged, and perineal stitches are killing.  I realized after I had Auggie that my prenatal curriculum for my clients was way too lacking in the postpartum preparation department!  So incorporated into my final prenatal agenda now, is some crucial and practical advice for getting through those first crazy weeks.

We were all sooooooo sleepy thanks to our five pound bundle of joy :)

So here we go!  I'm so grateful for having a break from doula work, and for the experience of growing our family by one little member.  But I'm excited to jump back in!  I have learned so much, and am so excited to share the journey with whatever mamas come my way :)

Blessings! 

A Holy Privilege: Giving Thanks for Birth

It's 9 in the morning, the day before Thanksgiving, and both of my kids are sleeping. (Auggie is down for his nap, and Lucy is sleeping in).  With these few rare moments of peace, and preparing for Thanksgiving, I'm finding myself overwhelmed with gratitude for the two births that I've been given. 

Though Lucy was born in a hospital in the standard semi-reclined-holding-my-legs-back position, I would still say it was the most amazing experience of my life.  I had a drug-free, 10-hour long birth with her, staying at home for seven hours and arriving at the hospital at 7cm dilated.  The ways I pushed my body (or my body pushed me), were unlike anything I had ever experienced before, and unlike anything I could have imagined.  I conquered that birth, despite the distractions of being in a hospital and being cared for by less-than-sensitive people.  The sense of empowerment I felt after birthing her was incredible!  I felt so strong, like I could move mountains if I wanted to. 

Auggie's birth was also unreal.  I could not have asked for a better birth team or a more peaceful environment... although maybe I would have asked for a longer labor??  :)  Seriously, though, with Lucy's labor I enjoyed the challenge of staying in a rhythm with my contractions.  Aug's hit me so hard and fast I remember hardly being able to catch my breath!  It was awesome, though.  The experience of being weightless in a pool in my living room, in the midst of the crazy pressure I felt with those last contractions, was amazing.  I will never forget the moment I reached down and felt his tiny body, lifting him up out of the water to meet him for the very first time.

I have been blessed.  And my births have shaped me in ways I never thought possible.  And so I find myself giving thanks to my Creator for His wonderful design for birth, and how I have been able to experience Him more through these two babies being born through me.  What a holy privilege it is, whether in the hospital or at home, all-natural or medicated or c-section, to partake in Creation through childbirth.