Though I haven’t had an operating-room birth or an unassisted road-side birth, I have given birth in just about every other location with just about every type of birth attendant. For those who may want to know how my births compared, I thought I’d give my pros and cons for each scenario. Before I do, however, I’d like to emphasize that I don’t think birth location is as important as who you choose for birth attendants. I believe most women can have a positive birth experience in any location as long as the people they are surrounded by are kind, supportive, and capable. See my post on this topic here. Keep in mind that these were my personal experiences, and I do not intend to imply that my experiences would be expected to occur in every hospital, birth center, or home birth.
That’s when I dropped my pants.
Funny how few circumstances there are when going bottom-less in front of other human beings is totally appropriate, but childbirth is one of them. I was ready to get in the tub. So I settled into the warm water, my husband held my hand, and Cherise knelt beside us and started pouring water over my belly. A few moments later, Mary came and stood at the foot of the tub. She must have known somehow that I was still feeling guilty about giving birth on Christmas, and she knew I needed a way to let that guilt go. The words she said to me… oh those words… those beautiful, beautiful words. Perhaps I’m not quoting her exactly right, but she looked straight into my eyes and said words very similar to this:
There is no greater gift to God’s service than what we’re doing right here right now.
As soon as her message penetrated my heart, it was as though the guilt instantly released its grip on me, and I began to cry. It was a massive, monumental, beautiful release. I sobbed, “Thank you…” and Mary didn’t skip a beat before responding, “Thank YOU.” Cherise and Mary both encouraged me to cry and let it out. This was the first time I had ever cried in labor, and it felt good. Releasing those trapped negative emotions allowed my body to move forward, and the contractions became even stronger.
My midwife partners and I at the The Farm learned by observation and experience that the presence of even one person who is not exquisitely attuned to the mother’s feelings can stop some women’s labors. All women are sensitive. Some women are extraordinarily so. -Ina May Gaskin
Apparently, reading Ina May Gaskin is a great way to boost oxytocin levels. My contractions had fizzled out when I curled up in bed to read, but within twenty minutes or so they were back. I kept reading for a while, but eventually I turned off my lamp and slept through the waves. As I slept, I noticed the contractions, but they were never strong enough to wake me completely.
Sometime around 4:00 a.m. my husband got up with an earache. I decided to get up too and start timing my contractions again. It was not the ideal time for him to be sick (ha, is it ever?), but I did my best to make him more comfortable with all the various natural remedies up my sleeve. It was looking highly likely that we would be having a Christmas baby, so he promised he would focus on supporting me despite his aching ear.
I really didn’t want to call my midwives. It was Christmas morning! And I especially didn’t want to bother them if it was just a false alarm. I waited until contractions were coming between 5 and 10 minutes apart and lasting a minute. And finally I bit the bullet and paged them. Amy was the one who called back (she was on-call until 7:00 a.m.). I told her I felt like maybe I was holding my labor back because I wasn’t yet at my birth location, so I felt like I should probably come in. She said that was fine and that she would meet us at the birth center.
Back in 2010 I wrote a post with some of my hopes for the upcoming birth of my 4th baby. It turned out that many of the things I wanted to experience with her birth didn’t work out. I did get to experience a near-painless birth, but it wasn’t anything like what I had envisioned. So here’s what I’m hoping for with birth #5…
1) Mother Blessing Celebration
With my last births, my co-authors gave me a “virtual mother blessing” and sent me a bonsai tree and beads for a birthing necklace along with lovely messages and prayers for me. It was wonderful. But this time I want a real-life mother blessing celebration with all my hippy/birthy friends (who can make it) physically present. I want henna on my belly, and flowers in my hair, and candles and the whole nine yards. Getting this child here has been a long and agonizing process, and I know I will need a lot of love and support to complete this journey and bring this child earth-side.
Take a deep breath.
This was my go-to stress-coping strategy for decades. We hear it all the time, right? Take a deep breath.
So when, after having four kids, I felt like I was drowning every day, when the weight of the world was just too much, I opened my mouth, and I took a deep breath. And another. And another. And I kept taking deep breaths because I didn’t know what else to do. And when I started feeling like I couldn’t get enough air, I just tried harder… more deep breaths… more gasping for air… more forcefully. And then the panic set in. And still I opened my mouth, sucked in my belly, and gasped for air.
It was a long time before I finally realized what my body was trying to tell me. It wasn’t that I couldn’t get enough air. That’s not why my deep breaths never seemed to satisfy. The problem wasn’t that I needed more air. The problem was that I needed to exhale.
When we are under stress, our nervous systems cannot distinguish between a financial crisis or a bear attack. The response is the same: fight-or-flight mode. When the threat is more abstract, as most modern crises are, rather than actually life-threatening, we need a way to tell our nervous systems that the fight-or-flight response isn’t necessary.
About a week ago, I saw a TED Talk video that I haven’t been able to stop thinking about. In this 20-minute video, Amy Cuddy shares a “free, no-tech life hack.” Her research on body language demonstrates that we can infuse ourselves with greater confidence and serenity in the face of a challenging situation simply by changing body positions. She calls them “power poses.” Here’s the video, if you’re interested. Totally worth your time.
I wish every laboring woman could have a doula’s support. Here are four great reasons why…
1) Doulas are nothing new.
A lot of people, when they first hear about doulas, think… oh, that’s new. But it’s not at all. For thousands and thousands of years women have been supported by other women during childbirth. We watched an awesome film at our doula training called “The Timeless Way” which showed the history of childbirth starting with ancient artifacts and moving to more modern depictions. I was struck how the very same image was represented through sculpture, wall carvings, pottery, and art over and over and over again. It is the “classic birth triad”—an upright laboring woman supported from behind by another woman, with a midwife in front ready to catch the baby. It has only been in the last century that this “classic birth triad” has all but disappeared. Doulas are not new. Modern obstetric practice is what has strayed (very far, I might add) from the time-tested norm.
Over winter break, we headed north to the land of cold where most of my family lives to hang out for a week. While I was there, I did some trauma release work with a a beloved neuropsychologist family member. In her practice, she does almost exclusively EMDR work. EMDR stands for “Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing.” EMDR is a therapeutic technique, sometimes utilizing alternating left and right tapping, eye-movement, or auditory beeps, in which the client is able to desensitize past traumatic experiences and be released from their present ill effects. You can read more about EMDR and how it works HERE.
The ACE (adverse childhood experiences) study published in 2002 found that there is a “powerful relation between our emotional experiences as children and our adult emotional health, physical health, and major causes of mortality. . . . One doesn’t ‘just get over’ some things” (ACE study). If you are experiencing poor mental, emotional, physical, or spiritual health, it’s likely that a traumatic event from your past (or an ancestor’s past) could be a major contributing factor. If you suspect you’re suffering from past traumas, traditional “talk therapy” is unlikely to bring the full healing you seek. I invite you to explore more effective trauma release methods, like EMDR, Emotional Freedom Technique, energy healing, meditation, etc.
My Dream Team
I’ve done quite a lot of trauma release work via EMDR, energy healing, EFT, and meditation over the past year+. But during this past EMDR session, I was guided to do something I’ve never done before, and I think everyone should do it. I designated a “Resource Team,” which I quickly mentally renamed as my “Dream Team.” A Dream Team consists of three groups: Protectors, Nurturers, and Inner Wisdom Guides. You pick who to put in each of your groups. You can pick as few or as many people as you want. They can be alive or dead, real or imagined, whoever you want. You can even pick one person to fill all three roles if you want.
Eight years ago today my second baby came into this world upside down, or “sunny side up” as some people say. And she has indeed been a ray of sunshine in my life.
She was posterior (facing my front side) rather than the normal anterior position (facing my back). Her posteriority (I think I just invented a word!) brought with it some surprises. I had fully expected my second birth to happen very quickly. My sister’s labors were each roughly half as long as the previous. My first daughter’s birth lasted less than six hours, so I was expecting my second to come in less than three! I suspected she might be posterior, however, when that supposed-to-be-fast labor turned into an on-again-off-again roughly 28-hour labor.
This morning, a friend posted on my facebook page wall:
“Do you have a full list of things you recommend to bring for people who choose to have a hospital birth? I would love to pass a list on to my sister and friends who are pregnant, if you have one.”
I told her I didn’t have one, but she had given me an idea for a great blogpost. I should preface this by saying that I didn’t bring any of these things to my hospital births. But if I could go back in time, I would! Ten years of studying childbirth have taught me a lot!
Aside from the usual change of clothes, toiletries, and baby gear, here’s what I’d recommend you pack in your bag to ease your hospital birth and postpartum experience.
A week or two ago I had a little epiphany. Ever since, I’ve had that song stuck in my head… “I wear my sunglasses at night…” I’m a child of the 80’s. Actually, that’s the only line of the song I really know, so I’ve just had that one line repeating over and over in my head. Ha. What is that song even about?
Seriously though, if we’re going to wear sunglasses, we really should be wearing them at night (unless we’re driving, of course). And because of all of this pondering about light and sunglasses, I’m becoming convinced that every woman transferring in labor to a hospital should wear amber (blue-light blocking) eyeglasses. At least until she gets situated and comfortable and labor is continuing to progress.
Let me explain…
It might help if you read these posts first:
Before my most recent birth, I made a list of “Hopes for next time.” I outlined the ways I hoped to make my fourth birth even better than the previous three. (Most of the items on my list didn’t happen. Oh well.) My first pregnancy was the beginning of my childbirth obsession, but I had no idea back then just how deep the things-to-learn-about-birthing “rabbit hole” was going to go. Now ten years down the road, it goes deeper still.
If I were to write another “Hopes for next time” post, I have another item I’d now be putting at the top of my list: singing.
In 2003, when I was pregnant for the first time, the only prenatal classes my doctor’s office informed me about were those offered at the hospital where I would give birth. The class we took did give us a few helpful tools, but I wasn’t overly impressed. So much has expanded in the world of natural childbirth education since that time. Today I’m excited to share an interview with the lovely Sarah Clark about the recently-created natural childbirth preparation program Birth Boot Camp. Sarah is a mother of four, a natural childbirth instructor, and is on the management team for Birth Boot Camp. She blogs about natural birth and motherhood on her personal blog Mama Birth and writes for Mothering.com.
How did you become involved with Birth Boot Camp?
I had been a natural childbirth educator for a few years when a friend of mine, Donna Ryan, approached me about working with her on a new project. (Donna had been my inspiration for becoming a childbirth educator and was actually MY instructor when I was pregnant with my first child. Her class helped me have a natural birth with a very long first labor.)
So, in a way I feel like I just got lucky. Donna asked me to join them, and I flew out to Texas to start working with her and the other board members to get everything ready before the launch. I started out helping with writing some of the materials and relaxation practices, and I also help Donna in training our new instructors. I met some fabulous women, many of whom I now consider good friends, and we have all been working very hard ever since.
“Some of the best birth footage out there–a must-see for anyone even remotely interested in the subject.” -Ceridwen Morris, CCE, childbirth educator, and co-author of From The Hips
When I received an email last week asking if I’d be interested in reviewing the film Birth Story on my blog, I immediately responded, “Yes!” I received my copy of the film over the weekend. My husband watched some of it with me, in between doing the dishes. I was impressed at how much it didn’t seem to freak him out. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised. He’s been married to me for almost twelve years, after all.
We must not, in trying to think about how we can make a big difference, ignore the small daily differences we can make which, over time, add up to big differences that we often cannot foresee. -Marian Wright Edelman
Back in January of 2010, I got a surprising email from a local friend. I discovered:
1) She was pregnant with her first baby.
2) She had been following my birth blog.
3) She had chosen a practice of fantastic nurse-midwives.
She also said, “I’ve loved reading about your home birth… I just am not ‘courageous’ enough to go that route on a first (maybe our next?).”
All of these discoveries made me giddy with excitement.
Then at the end of April, she and her husband attended my “Birth Coach Boot Camp” where I shared what I believed were the best ways husbands can help their wives in childbirth. Her due date was right around the corner, so I sent her home with my birth ball and my copy of The Birth Partner, by Penny Simkin. And then we waited.