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)

Auggie's Birth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Reflections on my Fertility Journey

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

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

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

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

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

"That's not good," she said.  

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

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

"Twenty-four," I said.  

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

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

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

Thinking.  

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

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

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

Not for a moment did you forsake me

You are constant

You are only good

You are sovereign

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

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

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

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

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

A Summer of Births

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

This past summer was awesome!  

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

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

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

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

Happy Fall!

Courtney and Jason, welcoming their little bird, Phoebe

Doulas are for Dad's, Too!

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

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

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

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

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

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


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.

A Summer in the Life of a Doula

Wow!  It's been a long time since I've posted here... probably because I've been at BIRTHS all summer!!  I had a wonderful three months of doula-ing, and last week was my final follow-visit for my last birth of the summer.  Here's a recap of what I've been up to (with names changed) ...

May's birth
In April (I know that's not technically summer, but it was such an awesome birth that I wanted to throw it in :), I had the privilege of attending an incredible and insanely FAST vbac (vaginal birth after cesarean)!!  May had gone into her first birth as most moms do, not really educating herself about labor and birth, and she ended up having "the works" in the hospital.  Pitocin, epidural, c-section.  I loved May so much because she took the traumatic experience of her first birth and used it to change and grow and become a stronger woman.  And let me tell you--she is strong.  Her entire labor was LESS THAN THREE HOURS and completely intense the ENTIRE time.  It was actually kind of funny, because we had spent so much time prenatally preparing for a totally "zen" type of labor, with calming visualization and relaxation techniques, and we used absolutely none of it.  But it was awesome.  She called me at about 1pm, saying that her water broke, I met them at the hospital at about 3pm, and baby was born at 3:22.  It. Was. Insane.  And completely beautiful. 

Christine's birth
Christine's water broke at 10pm about a week before her due date--the first week of May.  She and her husband, Jeremy, worked through early labor at home for most of the night, and met me at the hospital at 8am.  She was definitely in early active labor, having to concentrate through each contraction.  I loved supporting this couple because they worked so well together, Jeremy supporting Christine with the relaxation exercises they had been practicing at home during her pregnancy.  As labor got more intense, it took everything she had to make it through each contraction.  It was an incredible effort for her to even speak, she kept alternating between too hot and too cold, and was nauseous the entire time.  She experienced several moments of self-doubt ("I can't do this for hours and hours!), but pushed through it all with incredible endurance.  Early in pushing, the doctor took a look at her perineum and told us, "Look how tight this is, we are going to need to cut this."  Nevertheless, I coached Christine to keep all those muscles down there relaxed, and to keep her jaws and hands open (per Ina May's "Sphincter Law").  And wouldn't you know it, she opened up just fine, and birthed her baby without even a tear!!  The whole birth was just so rewarding.

Julie's birth
In early July, I had the amazing privilege of attending the second birth of my very first clients!  Julie's first birth was incredibly long (water broke, no contractions, pitocin, hard labor for 8 hours, only 1cm dilated, epidural, rest, FULL DILATION, and two hours of pushing!), and quite the initation to being a doula!  But while spending all that time with her we bonded quite a bit, and became good friends after that.  She was SO hoping to go into labor naturally this time around, but due to some complications in her pregnancy, her doctor wanted to induce her early.  This was my first planned induction, and it was quite different.  The pitocin didn't really do anything the first day, so they turned it off at night and gave it a go again in the morning, this time breaking her water.  That got things moving along, and soon contractions became really painful.  It was such a cool experience coaching her through these contractions, knowing what worked well for her with her first labor.  She eventually opted for the epidural again, knowing firsthand how difficult labor was for her with a broken water bag and pitocin.  Pushing went much smoother this time, and she pushed her second baby boy out in to the hands of his daddy!!  (The doctor had him put on gloves to catch the baby!  So crazy!)  In spite of all the unwanted interventions, it was so good to support Julie and Kevin through their second birth.  What an honor!

Nola's birth
This was probably my favorite birth yet.  It was also my longest (second only to Julie's first!), and most challenging.  Actually, there is so much that I want to say about it that I'll save it for another entry.  Stay posted!  It's a good one!

Jamie's birth
Finally, in August, I had my last birth of the summer.  Jamie had been hoping and preparing for a natural birth, staying at home for as long as possible, and laboring in their secluded outdoor hot tub.  Unfortunately, she had tested positive for Group B Strep, which meant that if her water broke, they would want her to get to this hospital right away.  Which is what happened.  When they got to the hospital, the nurse started pitocin, and I arrived shortly thereafter.  Labor wasn't too painful at first, but quickly intensified and she needed lots of support.  We tried different positions and relaxation techniques, and definitely utilized the shower a few times.  She was laboring beautifully, and was doing a great job with her relaxation, and getting into a rhythm as labor got more difficult.  She made it to 6cm, labored for a couple of more hours, and was still at 6cm.  She had had enough, and chose to get an epidural.  This allowed her to get some rest (it was about 11pm and she had been in pitocin-induced labor ALL day), and was completely dilated at around 3 in the morning.  She pushed like a CHAMP for 2 hours in all different positions, but the baby was not budging.  The doctor recommended a c-setion, which she agreed to, and after quite a rough procedure her baby boy was born (they discovered that he was OP, or "sunny-side up," which is why he wasn't moving through the birth canal.  Babies can definitely be born in this position, but this little guy didn't want to budge).  The doctor had arranged for me to go into the operating room to sit with Jamie while they stiched her up (since dad would go with baby to the nursery).  This was a very cool experience, as I got to be with her as she saw her baby and kissed him for the first time, and as dad got to hold him.  It was such a surreal and sweet moment.  And it was such a joy that I was able to be with her for the next few hours, rubbing her shoulders and neck, and just making sure that she knew she was cared for even though things obviously didn't turn out as planned. 

All in all, I'd say it was a pretty awesome summer in the birth department.  I don't have any clients lined up for the immediate future, and I have to say that it feels AMAZING to not be on call.  And while I'm taking a litttle break from births, I'm working together with some very talented friends on a super-amazing, top secret project, that will hopefully be ready for the public sometime late this fall...  I can't wait to show you!

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.

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!

Lucas, Your Mama is Amazing

 

This is me holding Lucas Isaac the day after his incredible birth. Chrissy labored like a pro for eleven-and-a-half sometimes peaceful, sometimes very crazy hours on February 24th, two weeks before her due date! Her labor contractions began at 5:30 a.m. and she called me around nine to let me know she was in labor. She sounded amazing--I could totally tell by her tone of voice that she was handling everything very well. She had a little bleeding so she decided to call the doctor's office and they told her to come in. So she did... and she was already several centimeters dilated!!! Dr. Atkins was really shocked by how well she was handling her labor at this stage!

After Chrissy called me to tell me the good news, I met them at the hospital at around 11:30. We got settled into the room and met our awesome nurse, Tara, who would stay with us for the remainder of the day. The next few hours were relatively uneventful, as Chrissy was doing a beautiful job relaxing through each contraction. At one point, Tara said to Chrissy, "we should bring a video camera in here and record you--this is how it should be done!"

At around 2:00, Chrissy was checked and she had reached 6-7 cm in dilation. I suggested a shower, because the contractions were getting more intense and water works wonders for bringing comfort to laboring moms. So she spent about a half-hour under the warm water as she entered the transition phase of labor, which is by far the hardest part. After the shower, she settled back into the bed for some serious hard work. We discovered that moaning with each out-breath helped her to deal with the pain, so Seth and I moaned with her as we stroked her body in rhythm. Chrissy became very serious and focused as the difficulty level was increasing rapidly with each contraction. She decided to go to the bathroom, and afterwards labored standing up with Seth, leaning on him for support. I cannot describe how difficult this part of her labor was. There were tears and moans and cries out to God for help. And he was surely there with us, helping Chrissy through the most physically and emotionally strenuous moments of her life.

She had reached 10 cm by 4:00 and she was ready to be done. "I'm so tired of this!" she said. "I just want it to be over!" By 4:30 she was able to start pushing, and she did an incredible job. During her first few pushing contractions, Dr. Atkins could literally see progress with each push! After she got used to the new and crazy sensations that come with this phase of labor, Chrissy got herself into a beautiful rhythm--pushing, pushing, pushing, and resting in-between. We could see his hair! He was so close! But the doctor couldn't get a good reading on the baby's heart-rate, and there were a few moments of concern... she ended up cutting a small episiotomy because this baby needed to come out. And sure enough, his cord was wrapped around his little neck, which is what was causing the drop in his heart-rate. Dr. Atkins quickly cut the cord, and Chrissy pushed her baby OUT!!! All was well and Chrissy was SO relieved that her labor was over and her baby was in her arms!

What an absolutely amazing day. I feel so blessed to have had the privilege of helping Seth and Chrissy welcome their firstborn into the world. They did an incredible job, working together through the difficult but joyful experience of labor. Seth was such a strong support to his wife, and Chrissy was so strong through it all. We have been blessed.

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.

The Doula: Who She is and How She Helps

"Doula" is Greek for "woman's servant." The term today has been adopted and changed a bit to mean someone who helps women in labor. She provides emotional support (caring words, encouragement), physical support (massage, gentle touch), and mental support (education) before and throughout labor and birth. She is well-educated about birth, natural pain-relief and comfort techniques, and how to make the laboring woman feel strong and in control of her body. Her calming presence during labor allows the parents to relax, knowing they have a caring friend who will not leave their side, and someone who will advocate for them throughout this new and often-times overwhelming event. She does not perform any medical tasks; her sole purpose is to be there for mom (and dad), and to make their birth experience as smooth and worry-free as possible.

When I was pregnant, I had a general idea about what a doula was, but I didn't feel like I needed one. None of our friends had had one, and I felt like Greg and I could do it on our own. Which we did, and it was amazing (see my birth story). BUT, looking back, I realize it could have been a lot better if we would have had that extra support-person. Greg was really busy while I was in labor, packing our bags, calling people to let them know this was the day, and dealing with hospital staff/procedures. Not to mention he was super nervous and--dare I say it--a little bit scared. I feel like it would have been a lot less hectic had a doula been there working with Greg to make sure everything got done and that I was being taken care of continuously (I spent a lot of time laboring by myself). Also, since we were only at the hospital for a few hours before Lucy's birth, we had the same nurse with us the whole time. Most of my friends, though, have spent many, many hours at the hospital and have had several different nurses who left them alone in the room so she could take care of other patients. One benefit of the doula is that she is always there, by mom's side.

There are also many very real, tangible, and actually quite astounding statistical benefits to having a doula. Studies have shown that doula supported women have:

Overall, a 25% decrease in the length of labor
50 % decrease in cesarean births
60 % decrease in epidurals
40 % decrease in the use of pitocin
30% decrease in the use of narcotics
30% decrease in the use of forceps*

Can you believe it?! I think that is just plain amazing.

Long-term, mothers with doulas breastfeed longer and with fewer problems, are less likely to suffer from post-partum depression, and in general have better feelings about themselves, their birth experience, and their new family. AND, their babies are more likely to have a greater appetite and fewer health problems at six weeks than their non-doula counterparts.**


*Mothering the Mother, How a Doula Can Help You Have a Shorter, Easier and Healthier Birth by Marshall H. Klaus, John H. Kennell, Phyllis H. Klaus
**The Doula Book by Marshall H. Klaus, John H. Kennell, Phyllis H. Klaus

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.

What's a Doula?

(This is Chrissy, smiling and 5cm dilated, as we arrive at the hospital.)

Back in ancient times, a royal woman had many servants who all attended to her in different ways. But there was one servant who knew her inside and out, talked her through her problems, comforted her when she was distressed, and was there whenever she needed her. This special servant was called her "doula."

The specific translation for the word "doula" is "woman's servant." It has been adopted today to mean "a trained and experienced professional who provides continuous physical, emotional and informational support to the mother before, during and just after birth" (from DONA's website). Let me just touch on those three points...

Physical.

Ever wonder why they call it "labor?" Because it's just that: physical labor. It is tough work! The closest thing I could compare it to would be running a really long race, only ten times harder. As a doula, I stay with the laboring mom from the time I arrive (either at home or hospital), until her baby is born and they have successfully breastfed. Throughout that time I encourage relaxation with my voice, soft touch, or massage. I suggest positions that are helpful, encouraging the baby to descend or to relieve back pain. I can also instruct the dad in different techniques, so he can play an active role in supporting his partner. And I'm there for support if mom needs someone to lean on or just a hand to hold.

Emotional.

Pregnancy and birth can be a very emotional time, especially for first-time mothers. Having been there myself, I can relate very closely with what each new mom is going through. I offer continuous emotional support throughout the pregnancy, and especially during the birth.

Informational.

There is so much to know about pregnancy and birth! There is way more information out there than can be soaked up in the short nine months of pregnancy. I have had extensive training and education about the birth process, and am equipped to answer your questions. I can make book recommendations based on your specific situation and desire for your birth. I also have a network of childbirth professionals to refer you to if need be. The more informed you are going into labor, the less fear you will have, and the better your experience will be!

If you're still not convinced about the helpfulness of a doula, check out these statistics:

Studies have shown that women supported by a doula during labor have:

~50% reduction in the cesarean rate

~25% shorter labor

~60% reduction in epidural requests

~40% reduction in pitocin use

~30% reduction in analgesia use

~40% reduction in forceps delivery

Long-term benefits:

~improved breastfeeding

~greater interaction between mothers and babies

~decreased postpartum depression

(Statistics from Mothering the Mother by Klaus, Kennel, and Klaus)