I wrote this on August 15, 2015. My son was 5 days short of being 1 month old. It's a little glimpse into my postpartum journey.
*I will warn you readers now, if you are easily offended, don't like gross bodily things, or have never had a baby, tread forward with caution.*
Can we talk a moment about our bodies as women? And how magical and amazing and absolutely gross we are?
I've seen a lot of controversy on the interwebs about the "How I got my body back after baby" idea. It is extremely irksome to many that a woman should be ashamed of their post-baby body and that they should want to go back to the way it was before said baby took over.
But that is just the thing, the baby does take over. When I became pregnant I didn't choose for my entire right arm to painfully numb and slightly swollen every morning. That is just one of the side effects of being pregnant. I also was quite pleased with the size and shape of my breasts pre-pregnancy, I didn't need them to get bigger. But baby did and still does.
And speaking of breasts, just one of the many places that leak. Gross. Yes, it's lovely and oh so special that I can feed my child on demand and yes, breast milk is the liquid gold of good food for baby, but all that aside, they still aren't within my control. They are huge, like cantaloupe huge. They get hard, painfully hard. And when that happens I don't care who is around, I will massage and hold them in my own hands for some sense of relief. And at 3 o'clock in the morning and I'm feeding on one side and I can feel the other side drip milk from itself, another thing outside of my control. Gross.
Get my body back? Yeah right.
When I went into labor, my water didn't break like most think it would; in a gush, all at once and in some embarrassing public place. Mine trickled out, so slowly that at first I was wondering if I was occasionally peeing my pants. Gross. And once we finally decided to go to the hospital after several hours of active labor, we were moving me from the check-in room to the delivery room, I stood up and lord have mercy. The amount of fluid that came out of me was one of the most shocking disgusting things that I had experienced. And completely out of my control. It just kept flowing, so much fluid. So gross.
I know that is beyond the notion of "too much information" but I'm now postpartum and am dealing with a whole new set of body issues that are out of my control. My uterus went through hell after delivery and it's still recovering. I joke with my sweet baby that when I change his diaper, I should change mine as well. And I thought my monthly period was bad. Gross.
I am also taking iron supplements to help get my energy back, which in turn makes me constipated, which means I need to take a stool softener, which again is something that I'd rather not do, but my body is saying otherwise. Gross.
The small fact that my belly is still moving back to some sort of resemblance of pre-baby, is so far from my concern. With all the other crap that my body is doing, my belly doesn't matter. It will never be the same, I carried my son for 9 months in that belly. The small valley of stretch marks below my belly button, I need to get used to them, appreciate them as battle scars and be proud of what they represent.
All of this foreign activity in my body is just par for the course, I'm not the only woman going through all of this. I do not have it the easiest but certainly not the worst either. If there has every been a time to sit and value all I have been through and appreciate how powerful and yes, gross my body is, it is now. And again, like labor, this gross-ness will not last forever.
I'll have my body back, in it's new glorious mama form soon enough. And with much less leaking.
Remember the feeling of peer pressure and judgement growing up? I remember when I first noticed how what you look like, how you dress, what you carry with you started to define who I was to everyone else. I was in 5th grade and those Esprit canvas tote bags were THEE bag to carry. And you knew you were going to be in the Cool Crowd if you got a new set of Multiples to wear on the first day of school. I also remember thinking a few years later, "I can hardly wait until I'm grown-up and I won't have to care about what other people think."
Ha. Yeah right.
Cue parenthood. I could say "Cue adulthood" but it's worse in parenthood, specifically motherhood. What is it about seeing another woman being the mom she knows how to be that puts so much judgement on them and second guessing on ourselves?
The pressure to be This kind of mom who only does This thing or who would never do That thing all the while trying to navigate the foreign world of a newborn is enough to send anyone to the nuthouse. The Beatles had it right "Live and let live." Why is that so hard? I mean, we all know what's best, right? And our own mothers know the most, right? So why not tell it to anyone that will ask, right?
Uh no. A BIG FAT NO. No no no.
Commiserating is one thing. Bonding, listening, sympathizing. But it's that unwelcomed-didn't-ask-for-mind-your-own-beezwax talk that really gets my goat. I blame social media. Our parents didn't have the world at their fingertips and we turned out just fine. And just as important, so did they. They didn't have Google and Facebook and Mommy Groups, they had a phone and pen and paper. Ahhhh, simpler times. But truly, without the immediate reaction from someone else or the yahoo answers from some fool who claims to know all, our parents managed not to kill us and raised pretty rad humans.
I left all the breastfeeding groups I was a part of on facebook because of the amount of backlash I got when I said I fed my son formula. I didn't make enough milk, I didn't use the resources at hand to solve the problem and I HATED pumping. So when I went back to work I sent formula with my son to daycare, he was fed and cared for, that was all I wanted. But I had women who didn't know anything of my situation saying "You're poisoning your child." "I can't believe you don't think breast is best." "You clearly haven't done your research on the benefits and risks of what you are doing." Thanks for nothing, ladies. So, Deuces. I'm out. And the relief I felt once I no longer saw those posts pop up on my page.... it was the same sort of relief in my head and heart as it was physically when I finally got to stretch my legs out straight after giving birth. You know that feeling, the best, most relieving, so damn tight stretch of your life.
The pressure of social media to do what everyone else thinks is right for you and your babe is ridiculous. It's like someone is going to come take away your Mom Card if you let baby sleep in a rock and play longer than so many hours a day. Friends, I'm here to tell you, that ain't going to happen. You are going to be a mother forever. No matter if you breastfeed for a month or 3 years, if you co-sleep from day one until kindergarten or if babe is in their crib at month 2, if you follow baby led weaning or if those pouches of fruit/veggies have been your saving grace multiple times (Ahem. Me.) I did breast, formula, side-sleeper, co-sleep (that 4 month sleep regression is a real B), only 2 hours of PBS in the morning to watching Finding Dory 3 times in 1 day, from as many Goldfish crackers he wants to a real balanced healthy meal. I did what works for us and my kid is pretty fabulous. Funny, articulate, healthy, huge, lovable, empathetic, curious.
My mom told me once that when I was still an infant she told the pediatrician that she was unsure how to be a good mom. And he said "You've never been a mom before. But baby has never been a baby before. They don't know when you screw up." Fact. Love your baby, feed them so they grow and are healthy, keep them safe, and do all you can to hold onto your sanity. If mama ain't happy ain't nobody happy. The rest all falls in line.
*Author's note: If you feel like you are struggling in motherhood, are unsure of who you are or how to parent. Or if you just need some extra support, please reach out. This website is a good place to start www.ppsupportmn.org/postpartumsupport You can also check out my Resources page. We are here for you.
I was chatting with a fellow doula when I was new into my doula career about how to prepare for everything that can happen during a birth. She said "You know, the more I do this, the more I realize I don't really know anything." We laughed. There is a large part of this that is true, you can read all the books, go to all the workshops, talk and listen to all the experts and you still have no idea what is going to happen in any particular birth.
I'm not making a good point in selling the idea of a doula, am I? Let me explain. So you're getting ready for that big yearly conference and you're supposed to present the project you have been working on for the last four months. You prepare, you practice your speech for your spouse, you rewrite your notes on different note-cards just in case, you have the right amount of jokes and anecdotes to make it seem casual yet professional, you even buy a new shirt for the occasion. You are set, confident and sure that the CEO is going to offer you a promotion. And then you get there, the podium is practically right on top of the front row, the projector doesn't work, and you grabbed the original set of note-cards, not the ones with the best and most recent edits to your presentation. Crap. Yet you proceed on because you are a professional, you have enough of this in your memory, albiet a bit shaken at first, you get back on your feet and do a decent job of presenting your information. No promotion, but the CEO does shake your hand and offers a few words of "Job well done."
Being a doula is our job. We are prepared and we have the tools and the experience to be there through it all. But ultimately the baby is the Captain of this journey and we have yet to find the technology to communicate with them while in the womb. All we have are guesses and scientific studies and knowledge of what has worked in the past. The podium may be two feet from the front seat and the projector may be busted, but we will stand there and communicate with those staring at us because that is what we came here to do. But the last birth we were at there was no podium, the projector wouldn't shut off and the audience was much more talkative than anticipated. Yet, we use the tools we have to do the best job we can. Each birth. Each time.
Every birth is different. I think that is common knowledge. Especially for anyone that has gone through it more than once. Epidural and cesarean at the first birth and home VBAC (Vaginal birth after cesarean. They exist, I promise.) the second. I tend to tell second time parents, that your first birth, as wonderful as it was, reread the story then put the book on the shelf. This next birth isn't just another chapter, it's a whole other book. It's a new baby, new parents (you're a different person than you were when you gave birth the first time), maybe a new venue and/or care provider, it really is a whole new story. You and baby are still the co-authors but the story is as different as Stephen King and Danielle Steel.
As Different as Snowflakes. Each birth is beautiful, each birth is unique. Each is a story like no other.
"I'll be there for you. These five words I swear to you. When you breathe, I want to be the air for you. I'll be there for you."
You're welcome for that little earworm. And my apologies if you're not a Bon Jovi fan. You're missing out.
But seriously folks, you're probably here reading to figure out how a doula can help you in your birth. What are the benefits of hiring one? What will you get out of it? Why can't my partner just do it? All valid questions, all real answers. I've said to people when asked something similar that if you don't hire a doula, you're going to have a baby just fine, you're not going to know what you're missing. But if you do hire a doula, you can't imagine going through the experience without one. Birth is life-changing and being supported through that change helps immensely.
So lets talk numbers first. The risk of the birthing person needing to use Pitocin go down, the risk of having a cesarean go down, the use of any medication for pain relief go down, and the chance of being dissatisfied with the birth experience go down as well. And to top it off, the chances of having a spontaneous vaginal birth go up. To be specific
But there is so much more than just numbers. Imagine watching your loved one in pain and exhaustion and you are nervous on what to do and how to help. A doula eases all of that for you. One of our many roles is to make sure that you, the partner, feel secure and strong in your role as Co-Captain of this ship. It is your journey too, you deserve to feel empowered in your knowledge to help comfort your loved one, to assure them that are doing a wonderful job. I think that when a birthing person says after the birth that they didn't know who was rubbing their back or putting a cool cloth on their face, it was all so nice, then the partner and the doula made a great team. High five, Partner! We did it!
Doulas also come with a whole bag of tricks, literally and figuratively, to get you through your labor process. We have positions for you to do to make space for baby, walking, lunging, sitting, (did you know laboring on a toilet is actually really good for you?) counter-pressure spots to show partner to how to do to ease back labor, a tool called a Rebozo that does wonders, heat packs, ice packs, food, tea, birth balls, breathing techniques, etc. (Oddly enough the thing I use most at births are hair ties/bobby pins and chapstick. No joke, every birth.) Usually you will go over much of those laboring positions with your doula before you go into labor, so you're prepared.
A doula is also there as the voice of reason in what can sometimes feel like chaos. Especially for first time parents, you've never done this before, you've never felt a pain/pressure like that before, you've never heard those noises come from your loved one before. It's all on the spectrum of normal. When a wrench is thrown into your plan, a doula is there to help you navigate your choices. I encourage my clients to continuously ask "Am I safe? Is baby safe?" Simple yes and no questions and the answers will help you make your next move. And sometimes that move is nothing. You can continue to labor and just do what you were doing. A doula will help you decide which steps to take.
A doula is there for the expectant parents. Not the medical staff, usually not the other family members (unless previously discussed). You hire a midwife or an OB to help get the baby out. You hire a doula to help ease your mind and your heart. I often tell expectant parents that a laboring person is internally focused on what their body is doing, partner is focused on their loved one, a doula is focused on both. A doula protects your space and your time and your emotions. It's a lot to take in and it can be overwhelming. So much so that the only place the emotions have to go is out your eyeballs. A doula will be there with a tissue when that happens.
At some point in labor, the laboring person will hit a wall, figuratively speaking. (Although sometimes a laboring person actually hits the wall. In a rhythm. That is normal too.) A doula is there to get you up and over that wall and to catch you when you jump. Every time.
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You know the phrase, "Do something you love and you'll never work a day in your life?" I worked for over 20 years in things I thought I loved; theatre, books, coffee, camp counselor (although that was pretty great and if I could make a living doing it, I just might. You just play games all day. Paid to be a kid? Yes please.) I digress...
I worked for years and years trying to use my degree, trying to maintain the number one sales spot in my company, trying to find my niche. And I was really good. I could sell you anything, convince you to buy this book, make you try this coffee blend, get you to donate to charity. Yet everything had that feeling of punching a clock, I liked what I did, I was good at it, but it wasn't fulfilling. It paid the bills and it had me thinking I was going to be in retail for the rest of my life.
And then I gave birth. It has been said that birth changes you. No truer statement has ever been said in my life. I have never worked so hard at something yet felt so powerful and in control than I did while I was in labor. I know what you're thinking, "Crazy doula. In control? Pashaw. I hear labor is the worst. You're nuts, lady." Maybe I am and maybe I am. But I was educated, supported and respected which lead to feeling absolutely in control. I was so in the zone that I even pulled my son out myself. Reached down and pulled him right up to my chest. It felt like the right thing to do.
Months into my son's life, I could not stop talking about how amazing my birth experience was. My doula opened doors for me that I didn't even know existed. "They're not allowed to not allow you." was said to me over and over again. And it was true. Is true. Now, seeing as how I can't give birth over and over again (I suppose I could, Hello Dugger Family! but I can't really.) becoming a doula was a desperate itch that needed to be scratched. I needed to become immersed in the birth world, I needed to help other women learn of their power and their choice. And to bear witness to expectant parents becoming new parents, in that moment, all is right in the world.
I doula (yes, I turned it into a verb) because giving birth is something that needs to be supported. It is an absolute roller-coaster of emotions, for both partners, and someone needs to be there to catch them when they fall. To let them know it's OK to let go. To help them understand everything that is happening. And to assure them they are not alone. I doula because it is one of the purest moments in my life to witness such an intimate transition into parenthood and it feels good to be allowed in.
It has become my calling to be a birth doula. It is the first job that I have had that feels just right, like Goldilocks and the porridge, this job is just right. It doesn't feel like work, it feels like I am fulfilling my life's purpose.
Sarah: Birth doula, wife, mother, coffee and wine drinker, lover of beer, books and tattoos.