Making Predictions During Birth – About as Magic as the 8 Ball!

Magic 8 Ball

Did you ever have a Magic 8 Ball? I did. I loved that thing. I loved being able to ask a question, any question, and have the almighty oracle predict my fate. Inside the little window floated a single die, with twenty possible answers to life’s biggest questions. Some of which included: “Signs point to yes” and “My sources say no.” When the Magic 8 Ball was certain, yes or no, then that was it. But sometimes there would be the confounding response of “Cannot predict now.” That always meant another hard shake of the ball and the search for a more straight forward answer. No matter how many times it took to get one!

I think too many of us are looking for straight forward answers to one of the biggest questions of all time. We want so badly to be able to predict what is by it’s very nature unpredictable – birth.

Today, I want to speak directly to those of us who work with pregnant and birthing couples.

Could you stop setting them up? Stop making predictions? Please, I’m begging you!

I recently had a reunion with some of my families. More than once I heard the report that someone on their birth team tried to make a prediction during their birth experience. I groaned and asked, “Why do they do that?”

One new Momma said, “so then, the nurse said to me “You’re really cooking! I bet we’ll have a baby before lunch!”

A second Momma said “the doctor came in and told me to get ready for a really long night, because he didn’t think I was going to have the baby until the next afternoon!”

Guess what really happened with these two women?

The first Momma’s labor came to a complete standstill about thirty minutes after her nurse had predicted a late morning baby. She started watching the clock and when the lunch hour came and went unceremoniously, no baby to be found even considering entering her birth canal, she became despondent and discouraged. She started to freak out that something was wrong with her body – with her baby. Given the strong connection between the mind and the body of a birthing woman, it’s no wonder all of this extra anxiety shut her body down for hours! It took an incredibly long time (and a new nurse at shift change!) before this woman’s labor started moving again. She ended up giving birth close to midnight – twelve hours longer than had been “predicted.”

The second Momma and her partner settled in for their “really long night.” But soon after she started second guessing her ability to handle the contractions that felt like they were right on top of one another. Instead of recognizing that her labor had kicked in big time and she was almost fully dilated, she thought that she was “just wimping out.” She was feeling very disappointed in herself and her ability to cope with what she’d been told by her provider was supposed to be early labor. Imagine the surprise when her husband had to run out of the room to grab someone to come catch the baby! It had only been about ninety minutes since she was last checked. So much for their marathon labor!

Birth is unpredictable. It can slow down, and appear as though it’s stopped altogether. It can speed up in the blink of an eye. The issue is not the unpredictable nature of birth, it’s our intense desire to make it predictable that’s the problem! There are way too many unique variables in every labor experience to make it impossible to predict consistently what will actually occur.

But we all still do it! Why?

Pregnant Mommas and their partners hear the due date and create an expectation that this is the day the baby will arrive, instead of recognizing their due month as closer to the reality of when the baby will actually be born.

As a Childbirth Educator, I’m guilty of it as well. I teach, as most do, textbook averages for birth. But do I explain that as a first time Momma, it’s completely within the range of normal to have a birth go super fast? Do I adequately prepare them for an ultra marathon labor experience? We all need to be more on top of this, so our students understand it is possible to have active labor begin almost immediately! And it’s also possible to be in early labor for three days before any changes in their cervix occur. As Childbirth Educators we need to provide our students with realistic expectations of the unpredictable nature of the birth process itself.

But once they’re at the hospital, too many nurses and providers think they’re doing a service for these women when they try to predict what will happen next. I know that this is not born of ignorance. These are professionals who have been at this job for a long time – decades in some cases – and they’ve seen an awful lot. The laboring woman in front of them is presenting as many have before her. The mind just wants to go there. “Here’s a pattern that I’ve seen before. So I’m going to predict what will happen next.” And in a lot of other areas of life, this might not be a bad policy. But not when we’re talking about birth.

This unpredictability of birth (and our refusal to embrace it) is what trips all of us up when it doesn’t have to. In fact, I would argue that we’re missing out on the most important aspect of birth while we’re busy trying to predict what will happen next.

As expectant couples, you go into birth with a rock solid Birth Plan that you wrote a month before your first contraction. But due to circumstances you could never have predicted, your birth has gone rogue. If you’re still clinging to the plan of your ideal birth (as opposed to participating in your real birth) you’re setting yourself up for disappointment instead of moving through your birth as it unfolds. When you’re able to adopt this attitude of flexibility, you’ll be surprised at what you’re really capable of! “Wow, this is not at all what I expected, but look at us and how we’re handling this completely unpredictable experience together!” It matters how you respond to your birth in real time, as it really happens. Not based on what you had predicted (hoped, wished, or expected) would happen.

As Childbirth Educators and Doulas, we are hurting ourselves and our couples when we try to make predictions about how we think our couples will move through their births. Let’s not prejudge how the people we work with will cope with their labors. Let’s give them all the benefit of the doubt in that they will have births that are, by nature, unpredictable. Let’s try our best to prepare them better for that reality.

As for the L&D nurses and providers who encounter these women in labor and try to make predictions about what will happen next, please understand how much that undermines a woman’s confidence in her ability to know her own body. For the woman before you, it doesn’t matter one little bit how many times you may have witnessed what she’s currently experiencing. She doesn’t need predictions from you about how much shorter or longer her birth might be. She just needs your support and your listening ear – right now. Even the least experienced laboring woman will be able to provide you with clues about what is actually happening in her body. And this is so much more valuable than what you think might be happening in her body.

I completely understand why we do this whole thing of planning and discussing averages and making predictions – all of us are wanting to avoid vulnerability. But vulnerability and birth are inseparable. They have to be. Birth without vulnerability lacks the key ingredient that’s necessary for deep and lasting transformation to occur.

All of us who work in this field should be experiencing that transformation on a regular basis. That’s why most of us got into this whole thing in the first place – the beauty, the mystery, the surprise, the unpredictable nature of birth stirs something in our soul. After each encounter, we should leave that new family feeling grateful we were once again able to witness their transformation – and be transformed ourselves at the same time. This is how we can continue to best serve our families, when we recognize the sacredness of our own work with them and strive to preserve that sacredness for our families no matter how unpredictable their birth ends up being.

There is magic in birth – it’s just not of the 8 Ball variety.

Experienced parents: Did you try and make predictions about your pregnancy, birth or parenting? Did any of them come true? Did anyone on your birth team try to make a prediction about your birth? How did his make you feel?

Help! I Need Somebody! Help! Not Just Anybody!

Help!

I’m in a group of Mommas who realized something many years ago – we all had ADs: “Alpha Daughters!”

They were just Kindergarteners at the time, but most of them had older siblings and had been coming to the playground for years. They thought they ruled the school! We all realized their wonderful potential, but we also knew they might try to dominate everyone around them if we didn’t provide them with some positive guidance. The idea of “Girl Power” gatherings was born. With the enlisted help of the Mommas (and Dads, too!) we brought our girls together on a semi-regular basis for activities that encouraged friendship and connection.

Over the years, these gatherings have fostered positive self-esteem and a sense of community. I’d like to think that our trips to the Oregon Food Bank, creating gift packs for the homeless, and writing notes of hope and encouragement to children spending Christmas in the hospital helped these girls recognize their value and power in creating positive change in the world around them. These gatherings fostered compassion and empathy – values that are too short in supply.

This year, the ADs are turning ten. With so many of them involved with extracurriculars, finding time to gather became a challenge. So, we created an 8 week curriculum based on our original idea of the “Girl Power” gatherings and each week, one of the Mommas would come up with an hour long session to connect these girls to something larger than themselves.

Recently, it was my turn to lead an activity. I’d had some time to prepare, but was still wrestling with which activity to choose: Helping them to find their voices and be assertive (rather than passive or aggressive) or discussing why it’s so hard to ask for help. I asked my daughter and her BFF which one they’d prefer. Immediately, they both answered, “How to ask for help!” Their response was not completely surprising to me. After all, I know their Mommas! Both of us happen to be strong alpha females in our own right and I’m pretty sure our daughters come by this trait naturally!

I wanted to discuss this with the girls at an early age, because I don’t know many women, let alone mothers, who find it easy to ask for help. “DIY Office” might work a fair amount of the time, but “DIY Motherhood” is a recipe for disaster! Especially when we’re brand new to mothering, when so many of us desperately need extra help but never ask for it!

I asked the girls what they felt like when they had to ask someone for help. Here are some of their responses:

Weak.  Stupid.  Scared.  Angry.  Incapable.  Dumb.

Then I asked them what it felt like when someone asked them for help. The difference in responses is amazing:

Smart.  Strong.  Good.  Happy.  Helping.  Admired.  Loved.

As we talked, we realized something – the idea of asking for help has been skewed from a very young age. We don’t consider anyone who asks us for help to be weak or stupid or incapable – so why do we hold ourselves to such a higher (and unreachable!) standard?

Asking for help is not a one-way, solo act. There is both giving and receiving involved. We’d already discovered how good it felt when we were asked to help someone else. Now we just needed to uncover all of positive character traits involved asking for help ourselves.

Asking for help requires us to be:

Open.  Aware.  Smart.  Strong.  Compassionate.  Knowing.  Worthy.  Willing.  Capable. Trusting. Understanding.

These were the words that I brought to the discussion. Then the girls started adding their own words to the white board:

Brave.  Risk-Taker.  Open-Minded.  Balanced.  Knowledgeable.  Reflective. Caring.  Loving.

Finally, I added the word “Vulnerable” to the list. It might not seem at first blush that this is a positive character trait, but I believe it to be one of the very best character traits anyone could possess when asking for help.

Feeling vulnerable is a prerequisite emotion when you ask for help – these two things walk hand in hand. But it’s not a bad thing! If your feeling vulnerable, you’ll need to be open and trusting. This is a great litmus test to decide who to ask for help about anything! New motherhood, for example.

Recognizing that parenting a baby is way bigger than anything else you’ve even considered doing in your life before now is the first step to realizing how much help you’ll need. Especially in the very beginning! When everything is so new and you’re so sleep-deprived, and you have bodily fluids leaking from every possible orifice, and you’re trying to get back to the woman you were before the baby came, instead of embracing the mother you have become. Why does it have to be so hard to ask for help, when every other mother before you remembers how hard it was for her, too? You’re not alone in these feelings of raw tenderness, of everything teetering on the edge, threatening to fall if even one thing shifts.

Use your feelings of vulnerability to guide you to the right sources of help. If thinking about asking someone for help makes you feel on guard and braced for attack, pay attention! Asking for help must come from someone who will make you feel better for the asking, not worse. Recognize that asking for help means you’re a strong and capable woman who understands her own limitations. You’re open to feeling worthy, cared for and loved. You’re asking for help from a person you’ve identified as a reliable, trusting source willing to be there for you in a way that is compassionate. Someone who will help you feel good about yourself and your ability to mother your child.

The obvious person to turn to first, is your partner. Parenting is a full-time, 24/7 job and trying to power through solo so you can maintain the veneer of “DIY Strength” is a huge detriment to you both! Your partner can lessen the load of new motherhood for you but they need to be able to claim their role as equal parent. Give up the sense of control you think you need to have over how they do things and let them parent their baby intuitively, without explicit input and direction from you. The whole family will thrive if you ask your partner for help.

But as new parents, you’ll likely need to outsource some of this help to support you both. If you’re family lives nearby they might be your next choice – but not always. Bringing a baby into the world causes changes throughout an entire family, like a pebble being tossed into a pond. Sometimes our own parents are exceptional choices for additional help, but sometimes they won’t be. If after making the ask, you don’t feel like the help was freely and willingly provided, and you’re not feeling strong and competent in your new parenting, than they should not be considered a trusted source of help for you as a new parent.

Which of your friends already have a baby? Do you respect them as parents? Will you be able to be authentic with them in the parenting arena? Can you freely share each other’s parenting successes, but also your parenting failures? Because my dear Mommas, there might be many successes, but there will definitely be many failures, too. Surround yourself with sources of help who will laugh and cry with you as you make your way as a new Momma – so that you know you’re not alone and that it will all be okay.

If you’re the very first in your circle to have a baby, then your task is a bit more daunting: you need to go to a new parenting support group and find your tribe. They are out there, I promise. But they won’t be walking up to your door and ringing the bell. They want to help you, they just don’t know you need any help yet.

The beauty of attending a new parenting support group (either private or hospital based) is that there is a range in ages of babies represented. So that means you might come in feeling like a rookie, looking to all the veteran parents out there who’ve made it through the trenches and have lived to tell the tale, soaking up all the wisdom they’re willing to share like a sponge. But guess what? It won’t be long before a new batch of rookies comes in to take your place and you realize that you are now a veteran in this role of parenting. It’s now your turn to answer the call for help.

And being able to help a new parent on their journey, even as you are plugging along on your own, holds the possibility of making you both feel smarter, stronger, and happier for the opportunity.

What words hold you back from asking for help? How are we, as women and new mothers in particular, made to feel that asking for help is a sign of weakness or imperfection? How could your life be easier today, if you stretched yourself a little and asked someone for help?