Ashley's birth

For Matt and Ashley's first and second babies, I had the privilege of coaching them through the wild ride of labor here in Northern Illinois. After baby #2, they relocated to a super remote village in Northern Canada, which is where they found out they were pregnant with #3! I was so excited for them, yet also sad for the distance that would keep us from working together again! Hoping that Ashley would be able to have another smooth birth experience, I emailed Matt some documents with info for helping him to be the sole support person for Ashley this time.

A couple of weeks after I sent those documents, on February 9th, I received wildly frantic and excited texts and Facebook messages from each of them describing how their third daughter had come into the world!  

Here is Ashley's story:

Living in the remote North of Ontario we flew to be near the hospital and were staying in our friend’s home as our third daughters due date approached. The early morning of February 9th around 2 AM mild contractions kept disrupting my sleep and I realized I could be in early labor. I woke Matt and told him, “I think we might meet our baby today” Contractions were not happening regularly so, thinking we had a full day ahead of us, we went back to bed to get whatever rest we could before things picked up. 

Around 5:00 AM I was awoken by a strong contraction. Upon hearing my grumbling, Matt came to be at my side and when the next contraction hit I told him I felt nauseous. After the contraction subsided I walked to the bathroom. Another contraction hit and I doubled over onto all fours and called to Matt, “Something changed, we need to go to the hospital NOW!!”. “Now?” He questioned. From his vantage point I had just been sleeping, how could I possibly be ready to go to the hospital. But, no, this was different. Something changed. “Start the car!” And so he went upstairs to get the car ready. As I heard him walk outside my water EXPLODED all over the bathroom floor! An intense urge to push followed along with an involuntary deep moan. 

When Matt came downstairs I frantically told him, “My water broke, the baby is coming NOW.” He said “We have to get upstairs, you NEED to get in the car!” I told him I couldn’t as another contraction washed over me, he pleaded with me to not push. As soon as the contraction was over he said, “Now is your chance, you need to get up those stairs!” In my head I thought, my husband has no clue what is actually happening. “Okay”, I said and I crawled my body toward the stairs. Another contraction came and Matt said, “Shh! You are going to wake the kids.” (Birth coach level expert.) So I kept as quiet as I could (whilst a child attempted to exit my body). As soon as it was over he encouraged me to go upstairs, “Now! Go Go Go!” and I climbed the stairs steadily on hands and knees. Not a move I would recommend to any woman in pushing stage - and certainly was not in my birth plan. When we reached the top of the stairs I immediately had another contraction. Matt was absolutely begging me not to push. My poor sweet husband had no category for what was happening. I screamed, “Call the paramedics!” 

Our hosts, Frank, who was just about to head to work before his living room turned into a birthing center, and Cheryl called the paramedics. Matt still adamant about driving me to the hospital coached me to the front door. After another contraction, however, Matt realized the baby really was coming which meant he was now Dr. Matt. As soon as the next urge to push came Ava Faith was born into his arms. Relief was mixed with panic as we saw our perfect baby girl for the first time. She was motionless and not yet breathing. Drawing from his medical knowledge which apparently was gleaned while watching 101 Dalmatians, Matt patted and rubbed her back with a towel. We could feel her quick little pulse. Within thirty seconds she made her first respiratory noise, another 30 seconds later she took a full breath and her skin quickly became pink, those were the longest 60 seconds of our lives. 

Meanwhile, the emergency operator instructed to tie off the cord with a string and Cheryl quickly came back with green yarn and tied the umbilical cord. Ava arrived in the entryway, I will never be able to look at a welcome sign the same way again. 

Smiles of relief for a healthy baby and for an incredibly faithful God.

Smiles of relief for a healthy baby and for an incredibly faithful God.

With our hosts, Frank and Cheryl in the entryway after we arrived back from hospital. 

With our hosts, Frank and Cheryl in the entryway after we arrived back from hospital. 

I absolutely love this wild story and am so thankful for their happy ending! I love Ashley's sense of humor (she is actually quite the jokester even while in labor!). I love this sweet family and am so happy to have been included in their journey.

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.

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!

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

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.

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.

A Birth Story

Madeleine’s Birth, written by Kim
28 June 2010


I got a call at around 5:45 on the morning of June 27th, saying that you had been having some consistent, albeit not too painful contractions since 2:30! You and Rob were both taken off guard because you were expecting the contractions to be coming more like 20 to 30 minutes apart, as opposed to the 5-6 minutes apart that you were experiencing. Since it was obviously early labor (and would be for a long time!), you labored at home with Rob all day.

I got another call that evening a little after 5. You said the contractions were becoming more uncomfortable, and we decided that I should come to your house in a half-hour or so. Christina (the doula-in-training) and I arrived there at around 5:45, and your contractions became more spaced out—up to nine minutes apart! We had a hunch that the new people in the room caused your body to slow down a bit, so you and Rob went for a walk at around 6:30 to try and get things moving again. It seemed to work, because when you got back at around 7:30 you were saying that your contractions were “not fun.” You were coping very well, though, standing up and pacing through each one, sometimes leaning on Rob or against a wall. You also started experiencing nausea around this time. Rob offered to get a saucepan in case you had to throw up. :)

At around 9:00 the contractions were getting more painful and closer together, so we decided to head to the hospital. We walked into the emergency room entrance, and the guy at the front desk tried to make you sit down in a wheelchair to go up to the maternity ward, but your contractions were much more painful when you were sitting, so you fought it. He eventually gave in and let you walk. When we got upstairs, they checked you in to triage, and our nurse, Gina, checked your cervix. Unfortunately and surprisingly you were only 1 to 2 centimeters dilated. This was super discouraging news, but you took it really well. After talking it over with Rob, you decided that you wanted to go back home to continue laboring there.

Shortly after we returned home, your body decided it was time to get down to business. Your contractions almost immediately picked up in both intensity and frequency (though they were never a consistent amount of minutes apart). At around 11 pm you noticed some bleeding when you went to the bathroom. Rob called Dr. Kruskol, who reassured you that it was most likely from the vaginal check at the hospital. You continued laboring upstairs with a fan blowing on you, while munching on frozen blackberries—it was HOT! We placed the exercise ball, which Rob had thankfully blown up earlier in the day, on the end of the futon. You got into a rhythm of lying down on the futon between contractions, and standing up and leaning over the ball during them. You and Rob were both so very tired, since you had been awake and in labor for almost 24 hours. You wanted so badly to be able to lie down during the contractions, but the pain was just too much! You had to stand up in spite of your exhaustion. You were also struggling with nausea, but were never able to throw up and relieve the sickness you were feeling. This was definitely active labor, and you were handling it so well in spite of the heat, your tiredness, feeling sick, and the intense pain.

At around 1 am, I suggested a shower to try and help with the pain, and you reluctantly agreed, but because of the heat it wasn’t much of a help. You and Rob got out after a short 10 minutes or so, and your contractions were becoming closer together, averaging at 4 to 6 minutes apart. We headed back upstairs, but after a several minutes of very frequent and intense contractions, we decided it was time to head back to the hospital.

We entered the emergency room entrance for a second time, and this time you could not talk them out of making you use a wheelchair. So you sat down, but every time a contraction hit, you made the guy pushing you stop the chair so you could stand up and lean on one of us for support. At around 2am, we arrived in triage and Gina checked you again—you had progressed to 7 to 8 centimeters dilated!!! There was a lot of blood, and your very intense contractions were right on top of each other. Your body was quickly approaching full dilation!

We were sent to room 2606, and you were hooked up to a fetal heart rate monitor and a capped IV was put in your arm. You were feeling a lot of pressure and shortly thereafter you began to feel an urge to push. Gina checked you and you were at 9cm. She told you not to push, but you couldn’t help it! I helped coach you through those contractions with light breaths, and finally, at around 3am, you were given the go-ahead to start pushing! That strong urge to push had gone away, though, and you were unsure about how to do it. But after a few good tries you were really making progress. Gina was checking you during one of those initial pushes, and she said she felt the baby’s head move down over an inch! Despite your tiredness and the extreme pain, you had so much power and strength!! The pain of pushing actually seemed to frighten you, but the nurse and I assured you that it was normal, and you buckled down to get your baby out.

At 3:12am Dr. Kruskol checked you and confirmed that you were fully dilated, and the baby’s head was moving down through your pubic bone. We could see her hair and her wrinkly little scalp! You were so focused and determined. Finally, at 3:36am Madeleine was born into the world, and was placed on your chest right away. All the pain and pressure of labor was immediately gone, and you were completely enraptured in your new little one. “Oh my god, she’s so little!” were your first words after seeing her. Rob cut her cord, and you and Madeleine were both anxious to breastfeed as the doctor was stitching you up. When he was finally through, you and Madeleine settled in for a nice, long nursing session. She latched on immediately and nursed contentedly for at least an hour—the first hour of your family’s new life together.

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.

The Doula: A Hindrance to Family Bonding?

 

“Not only was it nice having someone familiar with the processes…in the thick of labor, I knew my wife felt so supported by Kim. It made all the difference, and I'm going to insist Kim be there for our next child.” ~Seth, on having a doula at his son's birth
I had a couple recently who expressed interest in having a doula, but were concerned that having another person there might take away from the intimacy of the experience. She said that they had been together for a long time, and had a very close relationship, and that was the one thing that made them a little bit hesitant about the whole doula thing.

I really do think that theirs is a totally valid and legitimate concern. Giving birth to your baby is one of the most memorable things you will ever do, and it's something that you will remember for the rest of your life! Having a doula there, or anyone else besides your partner, is truly a big decision that requires a lot of thought.

While in the end, it is totally up to you to decide, I thought I’d blog a little about my thoughts on the topic.

If you are giving birth in a hospital, there will likely be many professionals buzzing about you. Some you choose, like your doctor (who is usually only with you for a fraction of the time you are in labor), and others you don’t, like your nurses. A doula is a professional, just like a nurse or doctor, who will be there for your birth. The differences are that you choose who your doula will be, and that her sole purpose is to make sure you are okay. She doesn’t work for the hospital—she works for you.

As a doula, I encourage laboring moms to stay at home in early labor, where they can relax in a familiar environment and work with their partner to get into the rhythm of labor together. I ask that each mom calls me when she thinks she is in labor, so I can start making arrangements for my family and be there when she needs me, but I will not come until the mom feels like labor is getting more intense and could use some extra support and encouragement. So if the mom is having a “textbook” labor, there will be plenty of time at home with just her and her partner.

When I do join the couple, at home or at the hospital, if they seem to be coping well and getting through the contractions just fine, I will gladly step back and let the dad continue supporting the laboring mom as he has been doing. I feel very strongly about not intruding on the bond that exists between the couple, and I strive to maintain a calm, peaceful, and reassuring presence throughout the labor and birth. Part of this is remaining calm and peaceful myself, and a big part of it is encouraging others in the room to respect the bond between the couple, and the intensity of the mother’s experience. I do this by speaking in a soft voice and encouraging the nurses to do the same, and asking the nurses to wait until the mom is not contracting to ask her questions or perform procedures when possible. This actually frees up the dad to give more of his attention to his lover, because he doesn’t have to worry about creating and sustaining that calm atmosphere, especially at a hospital birth.

If you are hoping for a natural, drug-free birth* in a hospital, I believe the role of a doula is vital. Sadly, most medical staff at the hospital are not very familiar with unmedicated birth, and don’t realize the importance of uninterrupted quiet and peacefulness so that the mother can maintain her focus to get through the contractions. When I was in active labor, I remember several times nurses bursting into the room, talking casually and loudly with one another and to me. It was a struggle to remain focused, to say the least. As I said earlier, Greg did a great job interacting with them—encouraging them to lower their voices and not to talk to me during contractions, but that did take his time and focus off of me. As a doula, one of my goals is to free up the dad to be available for the mom as much as possible.

Obviously, when labor is getting very intense and comfort measures or relaxation are not working as well as they did earlier, I will be available to offer new suggestions. I have been well-trained on a number of different positions and coping techniques. I can apply pressure in certain areas of the back that would feel especially good if she is having back labor, and I can show the dad how to do these techniques as well. It can actually be very exhausting to give constant pressure or massage if the mom needs it, so I can take turns with the dad, or we can work together to provide double the pressure.

There are countless benefits of having a doula, and I understand that a potential drawback could be having a "third wheel" along for the ride. I definitely respect couples who would prefer to work through the process of labor and birth alone. At the same time, though, I feel that I offer a level of service that would not detract from the most memorable day of their lives, but would enhance it.

 

 

Becoming-a-Doula Journey

I don't think I've ever been more excited about much in my life than I am about becoming a doula (besides getting married, having a baby--you know, the biggies). My experience with pregnancy, labor, and birth was just so incredibly positive, and I love sending those "good vibes" out to other expecting mothers.

During pregnancy, whenever I got together with a group of women, the conversation would inevitably turn to birth stories, most of which were scary and un-encouraging. I remember one woman saying, "The pain was so bad, I thought I was going to die... and if I didn't die, I was sure I would go crazy and end up in a mental institution!" At eight months pregnant, that was definitely not what I wanted or needed to hear. So it has been my mission, since the birth of my baby girl, to combat all those negative, fear-inducing horror-stories with one of hope, beauty, and joy.

After I had Lucy, I was unable to stop thinking about what an incredible experience the whole process was. When she was about 6 months old, I abruptly came to the realization that I should become a doula! My husband, Greg, was also very excited about the idea. So I did some research and decided to pursue certification through DONA (Doulas of North America)

On July 31-August 1 of 2009, as a part of my certification, I attended a weekend-long conference in Chicago. It was amazing. I learned a TON, and it was SO refreshing to spend a weekend with other like-minded women! I am now officially trained and ready move forward with the rest of my certification.

Another requirement is attending three births. My good friend, Chrissy, is pregnant (YAY!) and due in March, and I'll be serving as her doula for the birth of their baby. What a privilege! I get all choked up just thinking about it :). I am still looking for two other mamas who don't mind a somewhat inexperienced doula serving them. Of course, I won't charge for these first three births.

I am so hopeful and encouraged as I continue this process. I am thoughoughly enjoying every step--the reading, the training and community classes, and especially the networking and connecting with other pro-women professionals and friends.