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!

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)

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.

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 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.

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.

My Dilemma

My daughter turned two just before Christmas, and I can just feel it. Everyone is waiting for another big announcement.

It's true that my husband and I are starting to think about number two. But ideally, before I get pregnant again, I'd like to know where and with whom I plan to give birth.

With my first pregnancy, it was a given. We chose OB's for our prenatal care and gave birth in a hospital--any other type of birth was just not on the radar. I used the nine months of my pregnancy to get informed about birth, and decided I wanted a natural birth for a slew of reasons... but I really didn't know a lot! I had no idea that the c-section rate for our country (and my chosen hospital) was over 30%. I didn't know what pitocin was. And I thought doulas were for women who weren't confident in their husbands ability to support them in labor.

Against all odds, I was blessed with an amazing birth experience in the hospital, in spite of its routine procedures and distractions. My labor started spontaneously at 38 weeks on the nose, and I was able to stay at home until I was 7cm dilated, enabling me to have a truly intervention-free birth!

Since becomming a doula, though, I have realized many sad realities of the way birth is treated in our country--both through reading books and from firsthand experience as a doula. So despite my great experience in the hospital the first time around, I am plagued with the knowledge of what could happen should things not go as smoothly for me as they did the first time.

I've thought and thought about my options (and regretted the lack thereof), and I just cannot decide. Some days (usually after attending a hospital birth) I think, "No way. I am not doing that again." Other days, I feel like homebirth is just not worth the hassle.

So I thought it'd be helpful to write out a list of pros and cons. Here they are:

Hospital Birth.

Pros:

  • I've done it once and had a great experience. I could probably do it again.
  • I really do like my OB's, in spite of the way they sometimes practice.
  • The hospital is equipped with a level 2 nursery should my baby need immediate medical attention.
  • Both my doctor's office and the hospital are a mere 3-minute drive from my front door.
  • Insurance would undoubtedly cover our expenses.
  • Maid service.
  • Room service.

Cons:

  • One in three pregnant women who walks into our hospital walks out with a scar on her stomach. C-sections have many risks, the greatest of which is maternal death (which is why our nation's maternal mortality rate is shockingly high).
  • Pitocin (which is not even approved by the FDA for non-medical induction NOR have any studies been published on its long-term affects on mom or baby) is given without a second thought to a large majority of laboring women.
  • Because I will probably be diagnosed with gestational diabetes again, the doctors will threaten induction at 38 or 39 weeks. Now I know that I can refuse to be induced, (and I believe that in most cases induction is more risky than waiting for labor to begin on its own). But I've seen how much stress is caused by women butting heads with their doctors at the end of pregnancy. It can be so so stressful and terribly unhealthy.
  • If my water breaks before labor begins, I will be on the clock. (They say a woman has 24 hours to deliver after her water has broken because of "risk of infection.") What she usually doesn't know is that if she is at home, and there are no doctors sticking their fingers up her vagina, the risk of infection is next to nothing. AND labor almost always starts up naturally within 48 hours.
  • I will be cared for under the medical model of care as opposed to the midwifery model of care.

Homebirth.

Pros:

  • My primary caregiver will be a midwife. This in itself is a very enticing factor.
  • I will be cared for under the midwifery model of care as opposed to the medical model of care
  • Statistically, planned homebirths are just as safe for babies, and are actually safer for moms.
  • Countries where homebirth is normal and common have WAY better outcomes than we do in the United States.
  • I will be able to spend my entire labor in the comfort of my home.
  • Family members (my mom & my sister) will be able to be a huge support and help to me during my labor.
  • I could labor and/or give birth in a tub.
  • I will be in my own clothes.
  • I will be able to eat and drink freely.
  • My daughter could be involved with the birth, depending on the time of day.

Cons:

  • Having to deal with the hassle of well-meaning albeit ill-informed friends and family members.
  • If my baby needs intense and immediate medical care, I won't be at a hospital. (Although midwives are equipped to deal with most medical emergencies and our hospital is a mere three minutes away).
  • The closest legal midwife is about an hour away. That means driving an hour for each prenatal visit, and risking that she may not make it in time if I have a quick labor (which I likely will).
  • The closest "underground" midwife (that I know of) is about 30 minutes away. If I choose her, our chances of insurance covering the birth are slim to none. Plus my husband is uneasy about hiring an underground midwife (despite the fact that these midwives are legal in over half of the 50 states).

So there you have it. Honestly, I'm not 100% comfortable with either option, and ideally would choose a birth center for our next birth if it were an option. (The closest one is in Oak Park--an hour away, depending on traffic). There, I would be cared for by midwives in a home-like setting, in a facility that would be able to handle any unforseen medical emergencies. Another option would be seeing an OB in Sandwich (30 minutes away) who is not quite as intervention-happy as the OB's here in DeKalb, and would truly support me in my desires for a natural birth. (The C-section rate at his hospital is 24%). I could also see midwives who practice at a hospital in Aurora.

Aargh. I hate having to make this decision. I guess I'll do a little more reading and interview a few more midwives and that OB from Sandwich, and trust that my path will be made clear. There's really no rush to make a decision... at least not for now :)

 

 

 

I Think This is Why I Love Birth So Much

It's totally unpredictable. And you can't control it, no matter how hard you try.

I got a call last Sunday morning from a client's husband saying that his wife's water had broken. And she wasn't due until the end of September. Surprise! Luckily, I wasn't in Chicago visiting my sister, or in another state visiting friends. We were in town, so I dropped everything, grabbed my doula bag and put my DONA pin on my shirt, got my family situated with basic instructions and frozen pizza, and headed out the door. And despite the many interventions used to get this baby out, I loved it. It definitely wasn't an ideal birth, but I loved that I got called when I least expected it, and stayed up all night when I wasn't planning on it, and witnessed the absolute miracle of a child being born on a Monday morning when I otherwise would have been sleeping.

When people ask me why I am a doula, or why I love birth so much, I usually say something like, "I just love to push my body--it's such an empowering accomplishment!" or "I love trusting that my body can do what it was created to do!" But last night I was lying in bed thinking about it, and I realized that the real reason I love birth so much is because you can't control it. Unlike almost everything else in this on-demand culture, labor and birth cannot be manipulated to happen when and how we want it to. Not that people don't try, but when they do, a less-than-ideal outcome usually results.

Labor connects us with our bodies in a very unusual way. It just happens, and it doesn't stop until the baby is born! It takes a great deal of determination, focus, and self-discipline to come to grips with this fact, to turn inward, and let your body do what it was made to do. No matter how little sleep you're running on. No matter what time of day or night. No matter if you had plans to go shopping that day. Birth demands that you drop absolutely everything and come face to face with who you are in your deepest, most intimate parts.

At the birth last week, the mom said, "I wish I could just take a break from labor for a little bit, go out and grab some dinner, and then come back." I totally empathized with her, but the reality is that she couldn't! And that's the beauty of it.

There is a power in being powerless. In trusting that someone much greater than you has you in his hands. There is a beauty in giving up the control that we so desperately struggle to have every single day--in joyfully submitting to the power of labor and the divinely inspired design for birth. It is so empowering to be free of fear, in spite of the pain and your lack of control, and to embrace every single moment with thankfulness and trust.

And this is why I love birth so much.

You Can Do It.

Let's face it: birth is scary. It's unknown. If you've never given birth before, and you live in America, you will, without a doubt, have apprehensions about your ability to birth your baby. I did, for sure. And I don't know any other mom who didn't question herself as she approached her due date.

Why is this? Why do we question our bodies' abilities to give birth, when millions of other women have gone before us and have done just fine?

There are lots of reasons, I think. There are the notorious and unhelpful horror stories told to us as pregnant women, about how unbearably painful labor is. There is the media. The countless pictures of "perfect" bodies we encounter every day certainly do not serve to help our self-images or to boost our confidence in our bodies. There are our doctors, who treat us as if we were a problem to be managed medically, and not as the powerful and truly capable women we are. And the list goes on...

But here's the good news--what no one tells you and what they don't want you to know:

YOU CAN TOTALLY DO IT!!!

If you're educated about the process, well prepared, and have a good support system (doula!), it's not nearly as scary as they say it is. Labor is totally manageable.

I was talking to our local Bradley Method instructor, Susan Booker, about it after observing one of her classes. During the class, she walked us through an average labor--how long your contractions are compared to the amount of resting in-between. I learned that in the typical labor, your uterus is contracting only 11% of the time. ELEVEN PERCENT! So when you hear one of those horror stories about the 20-hour-long labor, she was actually only having contractions for a little over two hours. The early ones don't even hurt! And by the time your labor is really getting going, you have hopefully gotten yourself into a good rhythm and wonderful endorphins are pumping through your veins. You've had a chance in early labor to experiment with what feels good and what makes it worse. And your loving and supportive partners are surrounding you, helping you get through every second.

And contractions aren't normal pain. As many natural childbirth advocates say--it's "pain with a purpose." Labor pain is not sudden or severe, like getting your hand smashed with a hammer or stubbing your toe. It is intense, and in the heat of labor it's honestly quite crazy. But your contractions ebb and flow like a wave. They start soft, build up and then peak, and once you've made it over the top, you sort of float back down to several more minutes of rest and relaxation as you prepare for the next one. As your labor progesses, the contractions get "longer, stronger, and closer together" (as my childbirth ed teacher, Beth, always said), and you get less time to rest. It gets so, sooo hard. But that means it's almost over :) As soon as a laboring mom feels like she doesn't know how much longer she can go on, she's usually minutes away from pushing her baby into the world.

I remember when I was pregnant, worrying about whether or not I would be able to give birth without an epidural or other interventions, talking with my good friend, Lauren (seasoned momma of 4). I told her that Greg and I were going through the Bradley book together, and had been practicing relaxation every night before bed. She said casually, "Oh, you're gonna be fine." I was so surprised at her surety! Her almost nonchalant confidence completely went against all the doubt that had been instilled in me, and gave me that much more belief in my body's truly awesome design.

And I did it. I totally did it! And it was AMAZING!! I have never experienced a higher high than what I felt after going through labor and giving birth to our beautiful daughter.

So don't listen to the doubters and the nay-sayers. Our bodies are powerful and beautiful and totally capable.

You can do it!

The Big Essay

Down to the wire, I'm getting all my papers and documents in order to send in to DONA after my final birth, which is coming SOON!!! I co-hosted a shower for Chrissy this past Saturday, which was so fun and made me realize how soon her baby is coming!! We'll have our final prenatal meeting within the next week or so, and then we wait... I CAN'T WAIT!!! I'm so excited that my final certification birth will be for one of my best friends--I know she's going to do great!

So I started and finished my big essay today, which will be handed in with a plethora of other documents. Here is it:

The Purpose and Value of Labor Support

A. The benefits of labor support to the mother and her family

For the laboring mother, the advantages of having a doula are great. The mother feels more comfortable with her labor knowing that a kind and knowledgeable woman is constantly by her side. She is able to relax more freely and let go of fear, which decreases pain and speeds up labor. Statistics also show that having a doula present can decrease complications, such as the need for oxytocin and cesarean section.1 In one study, having a doula present showed an 11% decrease in the use of oxytocin and a 10% decrease in cesarean sections.2 Doulas can also greatly benefit the mother’s partner. Though he may love his partner dearly and want to support her as best he can, he has never been through anything like this and may not know what to say or do to help her best. When the couple chooses to have a doula, “the pressure on the father is decreased and he can participate at his own comfort level.”3 And astonishingly, having a doula even has benefits for the baby. In one study, 51% of babies whose mothers had a doula were breastfeeding at 4-6 weeks, as opposed to only 29% of babies whose mothers did not have a doula.4 Furthermore, significantly fewer mothers suffered from post-partum depression, and more reported a positive birth experience in the weeks following their baby’s birth.4 It is very clear that doulas are extremely helpful for not only mothers, but also for their partners and their babies.

B. The purpose behind providing labor support

The birth of her baby is arguably one of the most memorable and life-altering days of each woman’s life. Throughout history, women in labor have without question been supported by other women throughout the journey of childbirth.5 Sadly, the normalcy of this natural and beautiful support system has disappeared from the highly sterile and cold environments of American hospitals. The doula recognizes the need for women to be supported emotionally and physically during labor, and her goal is to provide this support to any woman who desires it. She also understands the need for families to experience intimate connection on the day of their baby’s birth, and her services empower them to have that connection.6

C. The doula’s responsibilities

The doula’s primary responsibility is for her client. She must do everything in her power to ensure that her client has all the support possible, and everything she needs for the most satisfying birth, according to that mom’s expressed desires. As a professional, she also has certain responsibilities she must abide by. She must possess a strong work ethic and sense of commitment to each client. For instance, she should return calls promptly, be committed to sticking to pre-arranged meeting times, and make every effort to assist the mother during the prenatal weeks, labor, and the first few weeks following the baby’s birth. She should have a respectful and courteous attitude toward her colleagues and her clients, and should respect each client’s privacy. She must also remain up-to-date with new developments in her field by continuing education, actively networking with others, and being involved in related organizations. Her fees must be fair, and she should strive to offer discounted or volunteer services when possible.7

D. The doula’s role

The role of a doula is very special and unique because of the intimate nature of the birth process. She offers a minimum of one prenatal meeting, though usually more, to get to know her clients, establish rapport, educate them on the birthing process, and to learn what she would like her birth to be like. During labor, she is with the mother at all times (except for short bathroom or food breaks), providing any support the parents need. This could be giving a massage, counter-pressure, hot/cold compresses, or instructing the partner on how to do these things. She provides reassurance that her body knows what to do, and encourages the mother to trust in the process. She could help with visualization or relaxation techniques that have been discussed at a prenatal meeting, or facilitate the spontaneous coping methods the mother may begin. The doula does not perform any medical tasks, but may guide the mother to ask questions or speak up to her care providers. She provides “support, information, and mediation or negotiation.”8

1. Table 1 in DONA’s Position Paper
2. Klaus ’86, Table 1, in DONA’s Position Paper
3. DONA’s Position Paper, page 2
4. Hofmeyr ’91 & Wolman ’93, Table 1, in DONA’s Position Paper
5. DONA’s Position Paper, page 1
6. DONA’s Position Paper, page 1
7. DONA’s Code of Ethics
8. DONA’s Standards of Practice

I Love Birth.

My doula certification is coming along--I have one more birth to attend, a couple of papers to write, and a few hundred pages left to read. I have learned so much, and am realizing I have so much left to learn.

But mainly, I'm realizing more and more, that I love birth.

I love that everything about it is unpredictable--so different from everything else we can control in our day-to-day lives. If a mom is well prepared for labor, she will know that ultimately, she must surrender to the power of her surges. She must have complete trust in her body and its ability to birth her baby, and let go of any fear. It's scary at first, to relinquish control, but in the end, it is so empowering.

I love how the intensity of it brings out the reality of who we are. There is no hiding. No pretending. As labor progresses and becomes more intense, the modesty of the laboring woman becomes less and less of an issue, along with any walls she has built up around her personality. The underlying message through the groans, the breathing, and the depending on those around her is, "This is who I am!" This is the most vulnerable she will ever be.

I love that, in the best births, it's about community and togetherness--people gathering around the laboring mom as she works through the most intensely beautiful experience of her life. People imparting to her strength and courage, and helping her to draw those qualities up out of the core of who she is.

This is beauty. This is community. This is what we were made for.

And I love it.

My First Birth: A 36-Hour-Long Lesson

Posted with permission.

"I will never give birth without a doula."
~Jennifer, after the birth.

Jennifer's water broke at 3am this past Thursday. 35 intense hours later, her son, Andrew, was born. Here is what I learned.

1. Doulas are crucial for not only unmedicated births, but also--maybe even more so--for births where interventions are used.

Jen and Keenon had been preparing for a natural labor and delivery, and Jen had been reading and practicing Hypnobirthing, which uses relaxation, visualization, and meditation to cope with the pain of labor. Many hours after the broken bag of waters, though, her contractions were just too weak and far apart to be helpful. But the doctor was very patient, and waited until 6:45 pm to start augmentation with pitocin. It took an hour or so for contractions to really get started up, but when they did they were pretty painful, continuing to get stronger and closer as time passed. Jen did an amazing job of staying focused and breathing through each contraction, and Keenon was such a strong support to her. I suggested different positions and tried to create a relaxing environment for them to labor in. When things really started getting intense, she settled in the bed for some concentrated focus and relaxing. I was reading a meditation script to her, which helped get her focused, and after that she came up with her own ritual (a sign that she was really coping well). She started repeating in her head, "in love, out pain" with each breath, as I stood by her side and repeated that mantra out loud. After about eight hours of laboring with pitocin, the nurse checked her and she was still only 1cm dilated. This was awful, disheartening news. The good news was that her cervix was 100% effaced, or thinned out, which is what we had been accomplishing for the past eight hours. This was probably a low-point in the labor--Jen was so discouraged, and in her discouragement expressed that she just wanted to get a c-section and be done. Keenon was also in a state of disbelief, and very concerned for his wife. I knew, though, that they were speaking out of pure emotion, and in the end would most likely regret it if that was what happened. The nurse (who had been rather prickly up until this point) really came through, and with me, encouraged an epidural, some rest, and to go from there. Which brings me to point number two...

2. Epidurals can be very, very helpful.

Under normal conditions, I believe that women have an innate strength to get them through labor, if they are well-educated, prepared, and have a strong support system around them. This was not a normal circumstance, though, and the options were either an epidural and some rest, or a c-section. Thankfully, they decided an epidural would be the best way to go, and this was given at 3:30 a.m.

3. It is impossible to sleep in the waiting room, no matter how tired you are.

Heather (Jen's best friend, who was also a part of the support team) and I left the room so Jen and Keenon could get some much-needed sleep. We begged the nurse for some hospital blankets and headed out to the waiting room. After 2 hours of twisting and turning from floor to chair to small-hard-couch-thingy, we headed back to the room to see how things were progressing.

4. When working as a doula, I hold up just fine on zero sleep.

I walked back in the room, bright-eyed and feeling like a million bucks (well, almost). The nurse came to check Jen at 6am, and she had progressed to four centimeters! The baby was also moving down. This was awesome news! We still had quite a ways to go, but we were making progress. Friday morning was less intense than the night before, but still required constant vigilance and attending to Jen. I felt totally awake and sustained by the prayers of friends who were praying for me and for Jen and Keenon. What a blessing.

5. The "24-hour rule" can be bent if both mom and baby are doing well.

Typically, after the bag of waters breaks, the clock starts ticking--doctors say they will have the baby out 24 hours later one way or another because of the risk of infection. But as we were well past the 24-hour mark and there was no talk of c-section, I was hopeful that her baby could still be born vaginally. (After the birth, I asked a nurse why they let her go so long without operating, and she said it was because the baby's heart rate was strong and Jen was doing really well. It would have been nice to know this was a possibility!)

6. Emotions are ten times stronger when running on no sleep and adrenaline.

We didn't know this at the time, but around 11:00 the doctor had told the nurse to get the papers ready for a c-section and to bring them in for Jen to sign, but to check her one last time just in case. So she came in, checked her, and said, "I don't feel any cervix!" I couldn't contain myself--I was so happy I started crying. They asked, "Is that good?" I said, "Yes, this is so good! We made it! You can start pushing!!" It was a beautiful moment. Our awesome new nurse started rushing around to get the room ready for a baby!

7. Women can be strong. So, so strong.

Before she was checked, Jen started feeling the contractions getting stronger. She started having a urge to poop, and I was suspicious that we were nearing the end (having felt that same sensation not too long ago myself). She started having to really focus on her breathing during each contraction, and soon, it seemed like she didn't have the epidural at all. She also started getting pretty emotional, and losing her focus (which we later discerned was a sign that she was in the transition stage of labor--between 7 and 10 cm). Thankfully, her friend Heather knew just how to calm her down and talk her through it. Then I informed her that the pushing stage was going to get very intense again, and that she was going to have to draw from all her inner strength. The room was ready, the spotlights turned on. Heather and I each grabbed a leg while Keenon stood by her head, and the nurse coached her on how to push. She was in so much pain, and could feel everything, but she was so strong for her baby. For two hours, I counted to 10 for each push, which was 3 or 4 times per contraction. She was exhausted, but so focused, and took advantage of every second between contractions to rest. After almost a day-and-a-half of no sleep and barely any food, I was blown away by her strength. She pushed Andrew out into the world at two o'clock pm.

8. The minutes after birth are the most beautiful, spiritual, and love-filled moments ever.

Their new baby was placed on Jennifer's chest. There were tears, kisses, and so much love between their new family. I was crying and taking pictures, doctors and nurses were bustling around attending to Jen and the baby as she held him. But they were in the zone. Nothing could distract them from the miracle of what was happening. I am so blessed and thankful to have been a part of this incredible journey.