I am sure that every pregnant person out there can agree that once you announce your pregnancy you are hit with a barrage of unsolicited advice. And something along the lines of "Oh you're pregnant? My cousin almost died in her pregnancy..." WHY? Why must you?
I want to make a maternity t-shirt that says "Only accepting positive stories" Just nip comments like the above right in the bud. People just love to scare the crap out of pregnant women.
Well, as a birth professional I am here to help you take control of your birth and your journey to it! Here is my Top 10 List of things that YOU can do to better your birth.
1. Inform yourself! Take a childbirth education class, read the books, watch the good videos, please take a class. Knowledge is power and the more you know about what your body will be going through the more apt you will be to make an informed, conscious decision.
2. Continue the workout routine you had before you were pregnant. If you were a runner, continue to run. If you did yoga, YES! Please continue to do yoga. If you were into weights, continue to do so, but also follow your care provider's advice on how much. Just don't start a new workout routine. You're growing a human, now is not the time to sign up for your first 5K. Fitness is important in pregnancy but also is the ability to let go, physically as well as mentally. This all being said, I think prenatal yoga is a fantastic thing for pregnancy, even if you've never done it before. And also, when it comes to caring for your body, follow your care provider's advice.
3. Get some sort of wellness/body care at least a few times, if not monthly in your pregnancy. A massage (really, we all should be doing those, bun-in-the-oven or not) going to a chiropractor is a great idea, again yoga is huge in this department. Your body is going to be moving a lot of itself around, making sure it is cared for is important. A chiro is a great tool to keeping your body aligned. Your hip may hurt for a reason you don't know of, a good maternal chiropractor can help with that.
This facebook post is a good example of the importance of chiropractic care www.facebook.com/mschaeferdc/posts/10100598181907309:0
4. Surround yourself with supportive, non-judgemental people, perhaps hire a doula. Throughout this transitional time you want to have people around you that lift you up, not say things like "Are you sure that is where the baby will sleep?" or "I can't believe your birthing at home." or "I can't believe you are birthing at a hospital." It can swing both ways. You want people around you that say thing like "I like that idea." or "You are doing such a good job growing this baby." And only give you advice when you ask. Goes back to that t-shirt, "Only accepting positive stories."
5. Eat well. This is not the same as eating for two. Eat well, lots of fruits and veggies and good protein. You know, the way we are supposed to be eating all the time, not just when we are pregnant. If you want seconds, have seconds. If you want ice cream, have ice cream. With pickles. But also be mindful that everything you eat, baby does too. Make sure you both are getting the nutrients needed for the next 9-12 months.
6. Drink water! You may be surprised by how thirsty you are. Start to carry a water bottle with you and have no problem asking anyone to refill it when you are out. Plus the uterus is a muscle and it will cramp (contract) when dehydrated. So drink drink drink!
7. Make sure you are aligned with your care provider. Meaning, you know where they stand on induction, episiotomy, eating/drinking during labor, pushing in up- right positions, etc. And know where you stand on those as well. You want to be excited to go into your place of birth and have your provider catch your baby. Not go in with your fists up ready to fight for what you want in labor.
8. Take a breastfeeding class. This is along the same lines as knowledge is power. I often hear "It's natural, I can do it." which is absolutely true. BUT, there is also so much information about breastfeeding that we just don't know if we've never done it before. Did you know the milk comes out like a shower head, not like a garden hose? Did you know that the amniotic fluid smells similar to your breastmilk, which helps baby find your breast more easily? See? Take the class, it's going to be so so helpful.
9. Make a birth plan/just-in-case plan/birth preferences letter. If anything it may help you figure out what is important to you. One page, like a resume, be as specific as you'd like, but also don't be afraid to put things down like "do not under any circumstances offer me narcotics." You can be firm, you can be strong in your wants and needs. The staff is there for you and the more informed they are of your desires, the more helpful they can be.
10. TRUST YOURSELF. There is an acronym in the birth community B.R.A.I.N. Benefits, Risks, Alternatives, Intuition, Next/not now/nothing. These are all the things that should be explained to you when choosing something in your birth; they should explain the benefits and risks of artificially breaking your water, the alternatives to that option and the "I" sometimes falls by the wayside. Your intuition is real, your mama gut knows. TRUST it. If there seems to be a red flag somewhere on your journey, take a moment and look at it. You have the time to take a moment. You have the time to say "I need a minute." Trust yourself, you and baby are the only ones experiencing what you are going through, listen to yourself.
Any questions or comments to this post, feel free to Contact me.
In my doula work I have witnessed 38 women become mothers.* With each birth it has been my honor to watch not only the birth of a baby, but the birth of a mother. It really is one of the most awe-inspiring things I have ever seen. And I think I've seen some cool things in my lifetime. Not much compares to birth.
This post, Mamas, is dedicated to you. The ones that have welcomed me into their birth story, that have allowed me to hold their hand and witness their vulnerability and their strength.
I see you, Mama. I watched you become one and I know the hard work you have been doing since day one. I remember your calm demeanor when I arrived to be with you. The look on your face that said "Oh I'm fine. But thank goodness you're here." The release of tension now that you had someone to hold your hand AND someone squeeze your hips, you and your husband are no longer alone. I did what I do in my work and I watched you move the way you needed. I breathed with you, I held you, I encouraged you to do what feels right. You moaned, moved, cried, laughed, asked questions, needed reassurance. It may not have seemed so at the time, but you knew what you needed to bring your baby. And you may think that you didn't do much, but I can tell you, Mama, you did it all. I followed your lead. Your strength and stamina were amazing. In tough times they say the only way out is through, you went into that tunnel and found the light on the other side. You harnessed a vulnerability that one rarely sees, turned it on it's side to be used to benefit you at that moment and YOU birthed YOUR baby.
Be it a cesarean birth or a vaginal birth, you birthed this tiny human, that you created and kept safe for months. You also became a mother. In an instant. Two new lives now lay in front of me; one brand new taking their first breath, the other the same body with a whole new purpose and view on life. Some say that transitional moments leave marks on your body, in many, many cases of pregnancy this is so honest and true. But some other moments also leave a mark on places you can't so much as see but much more feel. You, my beautiful powerful Mama, left a mark within me. To witness life, changes you. Every birth I watch, I am changed for the better.
I became a mother and because of my journey, I became a doula. And I thank you today and ever more for allowing me to be a part of your birth journey. You are the reason I do what I do. The power within you empowers me.
And Happy Mother's Day.
Love, Your Doula
*I use the word "mother" and not the term "birthing person" because I have witnessed only cisgender women give birth. I do however, fully support the LGBTQ community and all terms associated.
There is a common theme in birth, especially first time parents, "I have no idea what I'm doing." I like to think it's just initiation to parenthood, we all just kind of fly by the seat of our pants and thank goodness when everyone is still in one piece at the end of the day. But not knowing how your birth is going to go is part of the journey. The baby is really the captain, the Skipper, you're Gilligan.
Just as in life, not knowing can very easily be paired with fear. I know for me fear of the unknown is one of the biggest things that stop me from doing something. All the what ifs can be paralyzing. But I've said it before and I'll say it again, (hell, maybe I
should get it tattooed) knowledge is power. The more you know, well then the more you know. Knowledge takes away a lot of the scary. For most. Some people, ignorance is bliss, I feel that way about calorie and fat in-take in food, I just eat what tastes good. And no, I don't want to know about the trans fats, thank you very much.
Back to the knowledge and to the fear and to the what ifs. I try to explain to my families that there is a point in labor that is scary. It feels like there is a huge, insurmountable wall in front of you. With no idea what is on the other side. Well, this doula is here to tell you that on the other side is your baby. And that I will catch you when you climb that wall and miss your footing a few times. It can be a big, hard, scary climb but damn, the triumph at the top and the descent to the other side, there is nothing like it in the world.
That scary moment, facing that wall. The techincal/medical/real term for that is transition. It is the hardest part YET the shortest part of labor. When you think "I can't do it" you are so close to the end. And let me tell you, the role of your birth team is crucial to this moment. Imagine being told to jump out of a plane with no one else in the cabin with you saying "You got this! I'm right here with you! Lets do this!" It wouldn't be nearly as exciting if you had no one cheering you on. Don't get me wrong, I'm not all go-team-go-annoying-cheerleader in my doula work, but I do a heck of a job empowering that mama in that moment. Jump, Mama! Climb, Mama! I'm right here with you.
I think that if our brains had an actual off switch, we would go through labor much more smoothly. It's those pesky "this hurts" "how much longer" "I don't know if I can do it" thoughts that stop is from just riding the waves. Take this one contraction, ride it, breathe. Then rest. That's it. And then in a minute or two, do it again. Then rest. Don't worry about the rest of us. Turn your brain off and breathe.
A friend and mentor of mine said once "There is only room for one head in your pelvis and it isn't yours." Hilarious and spot on.
Breathe. Trust. Educate. This is your birth and you can absolutely face all the unknowns head on.
They say that birth changes you. One scientific study showed that giving birth actually does change the gray matter in a woman's brain.
Birth changes your relationship with your partner, with your other children and with yourself. No truer statement was ever said in my life, the birth of my son completely changed the trajectory of my life. And this post is his birth story.
I'm not going to give you the 9 month details just the labor and delivery part. I had my son 4 days before his due date, so the idea that first time mom's always go late did not ring true. I also had him on his oldest half-sister's birthday. I tried real hard to push him out before midnight, I did not succeed. About 3 weeks before I was due,I set a challenged for myself, to re-read all 7 Harry Potter books before he was born. It was in the heat of summer and it gave me something to do indoors besides TV. I made it about a third of the way through book 4. Maybe that was why he came early, "I'll show you mom. You'll never finish a book on time again! HA!"
My birthday is also in the heat of summer and we had lost power from a storm the night before so we went to my mom's from a little birthday brunch in the AC and then packed up the girls and went to hang at Lake Nokomis. The heat was so much and I was so pregnant, due in a week, and guessing I was going to go a week over.
(Author's note, I do keep using the words "due date" because it's easy. I am fully aware and in support of the concept of "guess date." Babies come when babies come.)
So we're at the lake, the girls are swimming and I am ignoring the tightening that keeps happening every now and then in my belly. But at one point I worked my way over to my husband and said "Either I'm occasionally peeing my pants or my water is slowly dripping out." Good thing my swimsuit was black.
My doula (and all doulas) said "Ignore the contractions until you just can't any more." So I did. I ignored everything so well I have no memory of what we did that evening. It was my birthday, I'm sure we did something. But I have no recollection of what it was. And thank goodness I've always been a good sleeper because I also don't recall having any contractions throughout that night.
But the next morning was a Sunday. After calling my doula and telling her what I experienced the day before, mild irregular contractions and some leaking fluid, she advised me to go about my day, continue to ignore them. So I did. A friend from college was in town, (a doula herself) and we had planned to meet for coffee. We talked birth, her job, what I was hoping for in my birth, reminisced about college, discussed family. I got up once to use the bathroom and oh goodness, the fluid. It's funny, it always feels like so much, it's not. Until it really breaks, but the trickle really is that, a trickle.
After we said goodbye and I went home, it was a picture perfect day. The sun was out, it wasn't too hot, the windows and doors of our house were open, there was a breeze, the local radio station, The Current, was on playing on our radio. It was a perfect day to go into labor. I think I got home about 10:30 or 11 am. The girls were at our house and we all were just enjoying the Sunday. I was still in the ignoring mindset, so I'd have a contraction and my husband would say "Honey, I think you're having a contraction."
I'd reply "No. Now shhhh. Give me a mintue."
"Sarah, you're doing exactly what she did in our class. This is a contraction." (also showing the importance of Childbirth Education!)
"No, it's just... just hold on." I was ignoring them, I was supposed to ignore them. I try to do as I'm told.
This went on for the rest of the morning until early afternoon. A funny little thing about my birth story is that I was really and I mean REALLY looking forward to drinking an entire Bell's Two Hearted beer after I gave birth. But I was in labor on a Sunday and at the time, no liquor store was open in MN on Sundays. (Dumb. They have since learned the error of their ways.) After one of my contractions my hubs says to me, "You know, babe, if you have the baby today, there is no Two Hearted. Liquor stores aren't open." Well, don't ever tell a laboring woman she can't have something. I spun on him and quite sternly said "Call your brother! Get him over here! He always has Two Hearted in his fridge. Get him over here!"
The men delivered. My brother in law showed up within the hour with 4 Two Hearteds for us to take with. I do remember being very grateful he came through but I also remember him not really knowing what to do with my moans and breathing and such through my contractions. (He's a pro now, two beautiful girls, my nieces.) But needless to say, he didn't hang out for long. Dropped off the beer, wished us good luck and then he was out. At some point, around 3 pm I think, things started to pick up. We called the girls' mom and she came to pick them up. And I continued to labor and breathe and move as needed. I do remember absolutely loving the breeze and the music. It was calming and familiar.
So, for those that haven't birthed yet, here's some nitty gritty for you; you do poop and puke before baby comes. Yes, as you push too, but it may come out both ends for a bit during labor. It's just your body making room for baby. No big deal. So I laid on the couch with some pillows and a bowl on the floor and cool cloth on my forehead, listened to The Current, and threw up and pooped when needed. It was real. Nothing glamorous, no special poses, no special lighting, I just did what felt right. My left side was my comfort throughout the pregnancy, so laboring on that side felt right too. My husband packed up our car for the stay at the hospital, timed contractions occasionally. And we called our doula. At about 7:30-8pm she listened to a few contractions over the phone and suggested it was time to go in. So we started to head out the car. But not before I took off my eye make-up. I knew I was in for a bit of a long haul and I didn't want to me all mascara smudgy.
I walked into the hospital and to the 4th floor. Maybe it was 2 or 3, whatever floor it was I took the elevator to it. And this was where it got annoying; people needing to ask me questions and questioning my answers.
I.E. Triage nurse: "When did your water break?"
Me: "Yesterday. I think."
Nurse: "Yesterday?! Why didn't you come in?!"
Me: "I didn't want to."
Seriously, why do they ask questions like that? 1. A laboring woman isn't going to be too pleased to have her reasons questioned. And 2. The fact that I didn't come in yesterday doesn't change the fact that I am here now, so get a move on!
So after they take all my info, I go into a triage room and they want to confirm that my water really has broken. Just a little strip of paper they place at your labia and if it changes color, water has broken. It was, like I had said. And then there was a cervical check. Knowing what I know now, I should have turned it down, but I said OK. And man alive, did she check me. Just shoved her whole big gloved hand right up there, no "OK, here's my touch." or "Little pressure here." Just up and in. And hard. So she immediately was on my Shit List. Good thing I didn't see her again. But yes, water was broken, I was dilated to a 3 (A three. Talk about disappointment. But as I have learned and experienced, the number means nothing.) and then they stand me up to go to a delivery room. And the gush of fluid that came out when I stood up, OH MY GOD. It went everywhere! I even said something like, "Oh god, there is fluid coming out. So much fluid. This is so gross!" I made everyone laugh. And I guess that cervical shoving nurse got hers because it went all over her shoes.
Anyway, I get in the room and at about 3 minutes in, I'm naked and wanting to get in the shower. (FYI for those getting ready to birth their first, don't worry about what you're going to wear. 95% of the time you want it all off anyway. It's too hot, scratchy, tight, etc. And it's not like those around you haven't seen that all before.) The shower was the one moment I had were I thought "I can't do this." It was really hard and I was in there alone, my people were in the bathroom but I was in the shower alone and it was tough. I do remember my doula saying I was doing great with following my body and my breath. During contractions I could not sit still. Which is good, when mom is moving, baby is moving.
45 minutes I was in the shower. They wanted to monitor the baby and the contractions. And the asked if they could do another cervical check. This one was much better. I was complete. Which goes to show you that I came in at a 3 and I think it was about 2-3 hours later I was at a 10. Time to push.
I remember my first few pushes were loud, I was doing that mama growl they talk about. Loud and guttural. I also got a vision of a ham all wrapped up in that string for meats, being thrown down a hallway. No idea what that means. And during my first several pushes, my eyes closed yet I would get a vision of red. Just bright fire engine red would flood my minds eye. (My doula said afterward that red is the color of power. Awesome.) She also corrected me on my vocalization. I had so much energy coming out of my mouth that I wasn't having enough to push. Keep my mouth closed and send it down to my butt. OK. I like to think I'm good at following directions. But I also have no problem speaking my mind. I think it was shift change and there were nurses in the room discussing me, my care, my labor. And I called them on it, "Are you guys on shift change? Can you go talk outside?" And they did. Speak up for yourselves, mamas. You're not sick, you're not a patient. They are there to care for you, not the other way around.
Pushing started at a little before 11pm. The day before was my birthday and the day after would be my oldest step-daughter's birthday. She even said when I found out my due date (July, 24th) "You better not have him on my birthday." OK, I'll do everything I can to keep him in there. Prepping to be in labor after the 24th, never once did I think I'd go early. So in between the first several pushes, I noticed the time and gave myself 1 hour to push out this kid. So we all could have our own birthdays. I did not succeed. He was born nearly 4 hours later. Oops.
I pushed on my left side for 4 hours. I think had someone firmly said "Sarah. You need to get up and switch positions. This baby needs a new pathway." I would have listened. But my team was soft spoken and like many women in labor, I DID NOT want to move. So my left side it was. For 4 hours. Eesh. My right hip kept cramping, I was sweaty as hell, and months afterward when I asked my husband if I pooped he responded with "Oh man, it was like a playdough factory." Great and gross. And thank you for not saying anything at the time.
The nurse was pretty hands-off which I appreciated (except, go ahead and wipe my ass, please.) And my husband said at one point "Sarah, his ear! I can see his ear!" and I seemed to come out of the internal trance I was in and thought "Oh thank God, his head is almost out!" I think a few more pushes, the last few with me reaching down to pull him out myself; yep, I did that. The OB even said when I reached down "Hold on, his arms aren't out yet!" I wanted my son and I wanted him now. Once his arms were out, I put the thumbs under his armpits and pulled him up onto my chest. It was glorious and absolutely prefect.
Riley Hennessy 8 pounds 3 ounces, 21 inches long. 7/20/15 2:54am
I was in labor for over 24 hours, maybe closer to 36. But I only really count from about early afternoon the day before. So around 12-15 hours of labor. Not bad for a first time mom. I'm telling you ladies, ignore those contractions until it's the only thing you can focus on. It helps make labor not seem so long. I was unmedicated, didn't ask for anything once. It honestly didn't cross my mind. I had a bit where I thought I couldn't do it, but it never became too painful. However, I have become a proponent of medication after birth. My placenta didn't release and the OB had to rip it out of me in chunks. Had I known, I would have asked for something for that. I wouldn't wish that pain on anyone. I do tell clients and anyone having any medical procedure done for that matter, "Stay ahead of the pain, don't chase it. If they offer you painkillers after birth, take them."
I am really damn proud of myself. I followed my body, I mostly stood up for myself, I pushed out my son without meds and pulled him onto my chest myself. I am a badass mother. And yes, I had that beer. It was delicious.
I encourage all expectant mamas and any mama who has given birth, own your birth story. Write it down. Tell those that want to listen. It is a monumental moment in your life and it deserves to be honored. You deserve to be honored. You grew an entire human and brought it Earth side. That is really fucking awesome.
"When you know better, you do better..." - Maya Angelou
Knowledge is power, the more you know then the more you know. I encourage my clients to take a Childbirth Education Class because I want them to be prepared for their birth. When buying a car, we research, we read reviews, we talk to our friends and we test drive and we make sure we are prepared with the knowledge to make the best decision for our family. Right? Then why don't we do the same thing when it comes to birth?
The female body is an amazing thing, yes, it can give birth. We have been doing it for thousands of years. It's our brains that get in the way, we think "This hurts, this is hard, how much longer, I'm tired, nervous, scared, etc." But if armed with the knowledge of "This is normal." or "I remember this from class." or "She said this could happen." all of that can make your birth go that much smoother.
Someone said to me once that they were so busy with X, Y, Z and they weren't sure they would have time for a birth class. I gently explained that I understand they are busy with life and sometimes life is a lot. But to not be willing to find at least one day to prepare yourself for the birth your child just starts your birth journey off on an unknown path.
The things you gain from your childbirth education class should make you feel empowered and prepared, not make you think "Oh crap. I am not going to be able to do this." Did you know that it takes your hormones about 20 minutes to catch up to the shift in labor and contractions? So when you think "I can't" give it a bit, because you can. Did you know baby needs to make two full rotations in your pelvis in order to make it out? You'll learn all about the HUGE role baby plays in your birth. Do you know the name of the hormone that is released to start labor? You will when you take a birth class! (Hint, it's Oxytocin.)
We don't do anything big in life; buying a house, a car, going on vacation, choosing a school, etc without research and studying our options. Childbirth shouldn't be any different. Prepare yourself, read, watch the videos, and take a class. Knowledge is power, be powerful in YOUR birth journey.
**if you need a birth class or are unsure of where to start, this doula and her classes are some of the best www.birthedmn.com/workshops/
I've been doulaing for about a year and half and I consider myself experienced. But on the flip side of that, I also consider myself a sponge, not a faucet, I'm always soaking up anything I can learn from each birth I attend. When we say every birth is different, we mean it. For real, the only one who really knows what is going on, is the baby. We have yet to find the technology to fully see inside the womb and check out what they are doing. Someday, I'm sure. But right now, we have the baby's heart rate and how the mom is doing. The rest is a shot in the dark.
I'm sure that isn't very appealing to those that currently have a bun in the oven, but it's the truth. "You mean I hire you and you still can't tell me exactly what is going on?" That is correct. We take the knowledge we have from our schooling, our hands-on experience, learning from other birth workers, from any and all books we can get our hands on and we apply that to your birth and see if baby complies.
I was recently at a long birth (long is a relative term, but it was my longest yet) and we had 2 midwives, went through 4 nurse shift changes, an OB came in to give her opinion, they had me as their doula, and a family member or two giving their two cents. Knowledge and opinions abound, yet there is baby all "Nah, I'm good. Give it a go if you want, but I'm gonna stay right here." Why, baby why?! And we jut don't know until baby comes out.
We can do all the things throughout pregnancy; yoga, chiropractic work, acupuncture, staying active, resting when needed, self-care, reading all the books, and the one who is really in charge is the baby. Did you know that it's the baby that initiates labor? They release a hormone called CRH (cortico-releasing hormone) which sends a message to the placenta who then talks to the uterus and your cervix and at some point the message gets to your brain.
*you can read more about it here www.kimjames.net/Close-To-Due-Date.aspx
This can all happen and you may have no idea. Because baby is the one driving this labor train and we are just along for the ride. And because science rocks.
They say to plan for exactly what you'd like your birth to look like and then be prepared for all of it to go out the window. I encourage my clients to take a birth class, because knowledge is power and the more you know, the better you will do. To be aware of all that can happen, to have an idea what is behind this birth door or what happens when we chose to open that birth window, it all can be your choice, if you are informed. Are you asking "Is it like anything in life, prepare for the worst but expect the best"?? Kind of. In birth it's more like fill your brain with all your options and prepare yourself to use the one you least expect.
Oh and hire a doula. They will help you make your choice and support you through every decision and every move that that baby in your belly makes. Baby drives, and you and your doula make sure you stay on the road.
Every time I go to a birth I leave in awe of the power of a woman. I am currently sitting in a coffee shop, trying to do the paperwork to complete my certification and I'm taking my notes from a birth and putting them in legible form for DONA. In going back and reading all that these mamas go through to bring their baby into the world... how we aren't in charge of EVERYTHING, I'll never know!
I've had births that go completely off the plan, some where the mama says after "I didn't think I'd do that!", a few that have been text book perfect, and a few that needed extra love to process. But every time the strength that these women show me, is so impressive. To watch someone completely focus on their body, to go within to find a new level of power, and to be sure enough of themselves to make choices, it is so inspiring. I leave a birth tired but unbelievably proud to be a woman.
I'll just leave you this, Queen B speaking the truth with "Run The World"
Sarah: Birth doula, wife, mother, coffee and wine drinker, lover of beer, books and tattoos.