My Third Is Now Eleven. Wait – What?

Supergirl

It is my girl’s birthday today. She has turned 11 years old and I wonder, “How in the hell did that happen?!”

Last night, she feigned interest in listening to me read some Harry Potter to her younger brother, attempting some wacky dance moves instead. But she gave herself away when she shared, “I love it when you give all the characters different British accents!” (Well, how else are you supposed to read Harry Potter? I mean, seriously!)

After the chapter was over, I drew her in close and told her the story of her birth. You would think that given the fact that my whole professional life revolves around birth that this is something I’ve been doing with each of my children since they celebrated their first birthdays – but you’d be wrong. It’s not that I haven’t shared their birth stories with them, it just hasn’t become an annual birthday thing.

But even so, my daughter supplied the last line of her story which is: “I came out just like “Supergirl” And she did, with her hand and arm outstretched over her head, like she was flying through the sky. The memory of this makes me laugh now – but at the time, it wasn’t so funny. While a newborn’s closed fist is pretty tiny, let’s just acknowledge that in birth every centimeter counts, and I didn’t necessarily appreciate her grand entrance… although this has proven to be something that she’s quite good at.

This led me to wonder again about the topic of nature vs nurture. And I can’t help but think that the essence of who we are already seems just about fully formed before we even make our entrance into this world, grand or otherwise.

I think back to when Lucía was yet to be born. She was an eagerly anticipated baby and my pregnancy had been pretty smooth. Her older siblings were 6 and 3+ years and with one in Kindergarten and one in Preschool, I didn’t have much time to sit and dream about this little peanut growing inside of me. I was a very busy Momma already! Thankfully, I had a straight-forward pregnancy and I was boring and healthy throughout. Sure, she caused me some pretty bad heartburn (cum gastric reflux), but otherwise I was able to exercise well into my pregnancy and I felt great.

I had anticipated going past my due date with her, as I’d already done that 2x before with her older siblings. Apparently, all my babies all like to bake from somewhere between 40 and 41 1/2 weeks. (*Fun Fact- Did you know you can feel your baby’s hiccups best through the their back?) I knew from where I felt the increasing hiccups with baby #3, (due to my increasing sweet tooth!) that when I went to bed the night before my due date, it was with a baby in the best possible position for birth: head down.

During the middle of the night, I woke up, completely startled and awake, but by what? I didn’t have to pee (for once!), so I settled back to bed thinking that maybe it had been a bad dream. That bad dream became a reality when I realized the next morning that my baby had flipped overnight into a head up position – and that’s what woke me up!

I can’t even tell you how angry I was in that moment. “You have got to be kidding me!” I thought. I marched upstairs and grabbed a bag of frozen peas and promptly put it on what I thought must be her head. Then as they thawed, I switched out the peas for a bag of frozen corn, and back and forth – peas and corn, peas and corn –  all day long. But that wasn’t all! Oh, no! That night I propped myself up in this crazy position in bed with my butt waaaaay up in the air so that her head would be extremely uncomfortable compressed in my ribcage and – I waited. This was going to be an epic battle of wills.

I could tell this little person was not one to be trifled with, but neither was I! Sure enough, after a few hours, I felt a huge sea change happening and she settled back into my pelvis – head down. “Hah!” I thought, “Sometimes you have to teach them who’s boss even before they’re born!”

But, seeing as I’ve already spoiled the ending, you know that it was she who got the last laugh as she was born. I guess she showed herself to be a little bit of a boss that day as well.

And the two of us have had that kind of relationship ever since. It’s not bad, it just gets complicated from time to time. If we were dance partners, it would be to disastrous results because we both want to lead, all the time. I have come to find that this daughter who is so unique and absolutely her own person is also the one who is most like me – and as it turns out, parenting oneself can be mighty challenging at times.

She got a lot of my good stuff, but unfortunately, she also got some of my bad stuff,too.

She’s a lot of fun and really funny. But she’s also impatient and unwilling to ask for help. She is intuitive and one of the most street-smart and savvy kids I know. She’s compassionate to a fault but wants love and affection – on her terms only. I love her fiercely, but I’m only allowed to tell her that when she’s in the mood to receive it. She’s going to do big, big things with her life – as long as she doesn’t burn out in a blaze of glory first!

Lucía is but one of the four reasons I get to hold the title of “Momma.” She pushes my buttons – sometimes all at once! But she is also the one who teaches me the most on a daily basis about how to try and do this mothering thing better than I did the day before.

She is my Supergirl. And she is 11 today. How the hell did that happen?!

What about you and your babies? Do you think they are the same little people on the outside that they were when they were in utero? How much of who they are reflects nature vs nurture? I’d love to hear your comments about this! Please leave them here.

On The Night You Were Born…

writer

Last week, I wrote about wanting to clone myself because I have so many things I’d like to do and just not enough “me”s to get it all done! I just want more time to help women process their birth stories, is that so wrong??? But because cloning is not possible, I’ve tried to do the next best thing and ask a small beta group of Mommas to test out my “Retelling and Reclaiming Your Birth Story: An Exercise to Give Meaning to Your Experience.”

Today’s guest blog post comes from one such beta tester, Jessica Hardin. Her beautiful birth story is written as a letter to her now 5-month old son, George.

I’m honored that Jessica shared her story with me, and now with you. If you’re interested with help in processing your own birth story, please take part in this quick 4-question survey for your FREE download. If, after you’ve gone through this exercise and you’re wanting to share your birth story with me, I’ll follow up with a personalized email reflection.

Here’s what Jessica had to say about going through this experience of writing her birth story and my written reflection back to her: “Thanks for your thoughtful response – even 5 months later it’s still nice to hear these things. I’m happy for you to run the story. I enjoyed writing it and without your encouragement, I may not have.”

Reframing birth stories is something I’ve been doing for almost two decades. I feel it’s one of the best ways to help women give meaning to the transformation that happens during birth. I’d love to help you reclaim this experience as your own.

Grab a cup of something delicious and read on. And thank you, Jessica for sharing your birth story! Eventually, it will live here on a new page, “Real Birth Stories,” as an expansion of offerings here at Birth Happens.

Jessica’s story begins with an induction process called a “membrane sweep” performed at her clinic appointment. We get to read about her early labor at home, trying to figure out when to go to the hospital.  With the assistance of her doula, Megan, her midwife, Linda, and the continuous love and support of her husband, Greg, Jessica continues to labor without medication. It’s not until late in labor through the challenges of pushing that her own physical and emotional limits are tested. Jessica’s story is shared here as she’s written it, word for word. I love this birth story – it’s raw, real and provides insight into the struggle between expectations and realities of birth.

“When you were about two weeks old we read the book, On the Night You Were Born. I cried, you ate. This story felt real – on the night you were born the whole world changed. At least my world.

On the night you were born I felt scared. I felt loved. I felt supported. I felt powerless. I felt weak. I felt strong. I felt present in a way I had never been before. You were in my body one moment, and then you werent. I felt as if I had to push through flesh, flesh that had no opening for you to come. I didn’t know how to, but I did.

The night you were born started the night before. You were due on January 8th. We went to see the midwives, they suggested sweeping my membranes and scheduling an induction because it took about a week to get on the schedule. I agreed, I was afraid of an induction so I agreed to the membrane sweep. I expected it to hurt, it didnt. I texted our doulas, they told me not to get my hopes up.

Your Dad and I had a day together. We ate at Pok Pok, eating my favorite – the boar collar, too spicy for your Dad. We came home, trying to get all the oxytocin flowing – Dad gave me a massage, we watched movies that made me cry and laugh – we ate more delicious food. We walked to the brewery nearby and bought a growler. At this point, you were just theoretical. Birth would start, but I didn’t thinking imminently. Then around 10 pm, I started getting crampy. I thought that when people said that labor started at night it meant I would be able to sleep. But that’s not what happened.

The cramps progressively grew until morning. Dad went to sleep. Id lay down, doze off for 20 minutes then awaken from the cramps. Get up, pace the hallway, breathing more loudly every time I woke up. At some point, I started having to move my body differently, swaying, stopping when I was walking. I woke your Dad––probably around 3 am, maybe later. I walked the hall, heaving breath with rhythm. At some point, I started throwing up. Id walk the hall, stop at the sink, heave into the sink and with each heave came some of my mucus plug, dropping on the floor in the kitchen. I remember hearing that vomiting was goodfor labor. I showered, and then repeated the whole sequence. Repeat. Repeat. Dad and I talked several times about calling the midwives, when was the right time? We didn’t know. We finally called the midwife on call, she asked me to rate my pain. In hindsight, this seems so silly – 10 doesn’t happen till much, much later – for me when I was pushing you out – I thought I was 6 cm. I didn’t know any better.

***

You’re next to me now, in a buzzing bouncer, ready to eat, kicking and punching the air. My heart swells thinking of the night you were born, and the beauty that is you now.

***

Just after sunrise our doula, Megan, and her student, Claire, arrived. They had coffees, and fresh attitudes. It felt like something new. We labored in the house a bit, then we decided to go to the hospital. Megan advised on how to manage the car ride – she packed some puke bags, told me to face backwards. I did. It was hard. We arrived and I had contractions while waiting to go up to labor and delivery. Laboring in public – all of a sudden being seen – didn’t matter at all. All that mattered was coping, keeping the contractions moving, manageable.

We were checked in quickly to a suite – I was nervous about getting a room so I was relieved. The windows were big, the room was grey-bluish. I remember feeling like, “Okay, Im here to do this.” The nurse seemed nice, but not like a participant in the birth.

I changed, arranged some food, drink, and bags in the room. I found out I was 6 centimeters. I felt like I had accomplished something by laboring at home for that long. Then I waited. It was normal for contractions to slow down when you arrive at the hospital, right? The contractions continued but didn’t get any stronger. The nurse strapped a monitor to my belly – the fabric around my belly made the feeling of contractions worse. The doula had kept track of time so told me if was time to take it off, even though the nurse hadn’t returned. I was grateful to be relived of it, to be free to move around.

Time passed, it was still light out. There was a number of interactions with the nurse and the midwife, and the midwifery student. The one I remember most clearly was about the monitor. The nurse wanted to keep me monitored the whole time, the midwife said it was unnecessary. I was grateful that the midwife interceded.

The tub was set up, it was calming, soothing. I labored in the tub. Things plateaued. In hindsight I see this time as a time to recoup energy, to rest. At the time it made me nervous that I wasnt progressing.As it got darker, I was also worried about being exhausted. I hadn’t slept, or eaten, I was afraid of what was to come. I walked, and talked – to your Dad, the midwife, and the doulas – should I get an epidural? What if I didn’t have the stamina to make it through to the end?

I decided to get an IV of fluids in the meantime while I sat in the tub as a way to generate some energy. I was eager for things to progress and worried about what was normal – I was worried when things didn’t keep moving at the same pace. I was so worried I couldn’t rest as much as I would have liked.

I got out of the tub when the fluids were done. I decided to be checked again to see how much I had progressed. I was 8 centimeters.

To get things moving, our doula Megan advised us on positions and then things started grooving. I used the bar, I knelt on the labor bed, I cried, I yelled, I panted. I worked. The anesthesiologist visited––he liked to talk to patients even if they weren’t planning on having an epidural, just in case. I remember holding on to the top of the bed, kneeling, panting and looking at him from the sides of my eyes. He told me I was doing great and he hoped I didn’t need the epidural. I felt strong.

I remember most vividly kneeling on the bed, facing the top of the bed, holding your Dads hands, or forearms. I breathed, loudly. At some point I started to think of you, the thought of meeting you made me cry. I cried out loud, overwhelmed with emotion and the physicality of our bodies working together. I locked eyes with your Dad. He was present, the most present I’ve ever seen him. He looked into me, intensely, with empathy,, with admiration. He was right with me – my steady mirror – showing me I was strong, letting me be weak, tired, and scared all at the same time. I cried more. I felt I could do this. This was birth. This is what I imagined and prepared for. I felt prepared, crazy pain, intense consuming emotion. I felt supported and rhythmically connected to you. I felt support.

Then I hit 10. The midwifery student checked. 10. I did it! It felt anticlimactic. I did all this work, now I had to wait. The room flipped, the bed changed, the pediatric machines came out of the cubbie. The pediatrician arrived. The midwives stayed––they had only been checking in before this point. Two nurses stayed. Then I was there. Waiting. No more contractions, just waiting.

 I thought you were imminent. I thought it was over. Birthing classes didn’t really focus on pushing, and I had heard things like it was a relief, or it was like passing a bowel movement. I thought the hardest part was over.


I don
t really remember when it started. I remember sitting on the toilet and lots of people staring at me. I remember being foggy, confused, anxious, and vulnerable. The pain was a sensation I didn’t know how to cope with. I was waiting for a physical feeling that was clear, but I didn’t have clarity – I didn’t understand the physical sensation. It was noise. If contradictions were rhythm, pushing was cacophony. It was overwhelming sensation.

I started to lose that feeling of support. There were many voices directing me telling me how to push, how to vocalize. In hindsight, I see there might have been some personality differences between me and some of the staff. At the time, I just thought something was wrong with me. The new midwife student was too directive, the new labor nurse was the same. In hindsight I wished I had cleared the room, but I was too foggy – too otherworldly.

After sometime on the toilet, I was moved to the bed. Im not sure how long I was there – faces all around me. Telling me only to push with contractions (I couldn’t feel the contractions even though I didn’t have any drugs), and to use my voice differently. I was yelling, like as if I was in acute pain – they wanted me to deep belly yell – yell in a way that moved your body. I couldn’t feel rhythm, only noise.

At some point they gave me oxygen, they were worried about you. They monitored your heart dropping. They were going to put a monitor on your head, but they didn’t. The midwife said we might have to have interventions – a vacuum extraction or forceps delivery – I wasn’t exactly scared – but flooded. I had never considered these interventions. I was terrified.

Whatever it took to make the experience over is what I wanted. There were lots of voices, coaching but I couldn’t listen. Then I heard the midwife – she said we had two pushes or we would have to bring in the OB. She put her hand on your head and for the first time, I could feel where to push. I pushed. I pushed with no agenda, no sense of what next, only to feel. Feel something directed. She said she had to do an episiotomy. She apologized, saying she only did a couple of these a year. It was because of the way you were coming out. You crowned. They asked me if I wanted to feel your head. I didnt. They asked again. I refused again. I couldn’t bear the thought of curling my body around to touch your head, I couldn’t stand to be in my body.

It burned, like fire, I asked for help. I could feel the desperation in my face. I had to wait until the next contraction. I cried, I felt like pleading – as if Megan would be able to fix it. I remember saying, “Help!” Then the moment passed and I could push again. A few more pushes – pushes that consumed me. Linda, our midwife said, “If he comes and he isn’t crying well hand him over the pediatrician.” I was so afraid you would arrive and be damaged, hurt.

Then white noise. You came out, and there was a warm rush, a gush. You cried. White noise. They put you on my chest, they didn’t know if you were a boy or a girl. They chicken-winged you while you were on my chest. A boy. Your chin quivered. Your cry pitched. Your chin continued to quiver. I stared at you. Still connected to me. I was afraid to move you, for fear of what tugging on the umbilical cord would feel like. Your Dad was over my shoulder. Linda shushed you. I felt like I had no idea what to do with you. A baby, my baby. Quivering, crying. I asked why your nails were so purple. I was worried from the start. Megan helped you move to my breast and within minutes you latched. I watched as if I wasn’t in my body. Quietly inundated. Legs still spread, but the sensation was over.

The next hours are even more blurry. There were injections, I pushed the placenta out. The midwifery student showed it to us -it was purple, red, large. They inspected it. They gave us a little while before repairing me. They stitched me up. It hurt, I squeezed your Dad. I remember feeling like a helpless puppy, looking at him for sympathy. He gave it, and told me he was proud of me. They took you, weighed you, checked you out. You were perfect. Linda talked to me after. She said, “Most women, 85%, experience pushing as a relief. The others sense it as the worst pain they have ever experienced.” She said, “That was you.” I felt validated. Not alone.

Then the room cleared. It was quiet, just us three. It felt empty. Another nurse came, she helped me dress. I was confused by simple questions. She put me in a wheel chair. I was bloody, my legs bloody, my fingernails dirty, meconium stuck to my torso. I was covered in birth. She wheeled me through the halls with you in my arms. I felt so proud, so different.

We arrived in the postpartum ward and I felt so overwhelmed by the experience – surprised with how scared I was, how much I felt I had hit my limits as a body, as a human. I told your Dad I wouldn’t do this again [days later I recanted and started planning our next baby]. I was shaken, and still frightened, like I had touched the line between life and death, like I didn’t know if my body was safe.

You were with us, but I felt I didn’t know what to do with you. Luckily, you slept. It was probably after 10 pm when we were settled into the postpartum suite. I was still foggy. The nurse helped me pee, I passed a clot. I cried because I was scared as the warm mass dropped. I was scared. I bled in bed, I passed another clot. I was afraid. I had lost a lot of blood. I slept. Dad woke up with you when you woke. The next morning they gave you to me and you ate. We were together.

The postpartum room felt sweet. I laid in bed, food came, pain meds came, you were right next to me. I learned that I had lost a lot of blood, which helped explain my confusion. I learned my uterus was boggy– it slowed down because the labor was long. I was in pain from lacerations, I couldn’t move my core. I bled. I slept. It was hard to move. But you were there, quiet, interested in eating and sleeping on my chest. I felt complete in the bed – I didn’t need anything but help being with you – food, clean cloths, a shower, the loving and proud gaze of your Dad. We settled in.

For days and weeks after I felt embarrassed. Embarrassed that I had felt inundated, embarrassed that I was scared and unable to dynamically feel through the pain of pushing. I felt embarrassed that I needed help. For feeling helpless. I didn’t feel like the rock star of the birthing stories I had read.

For the next few weeks I felt I couldn’t talk about the birth without crying – both from shame, pain, and fear. The fear lingered. Meeting my ends felt like being on a different plane, one that I didn’t consent to. I wanted to feel like I succeeded, like I rocked it. But I didnt. I just did it – ugly, dirty, beautiful, and blissful. Bliss in the sense of out-of-body-ness, sappy loveiness, complete sensation. Flooded, inundated, sensation.

The birth continued for months – recovery was manageable but a daily physical reminder of the trauma of birth. The episiotomy meant I used a sitz bath for a few months. I managed my body carefully, with food, baths, and eventually exercise. Caring for my body made caring for you hard.

But with the help of your Dad, and others, it was possible.


If I get to do this again, I will try to remember that even if I feel I cant cope, I am still birthing. I can still move through it. The unknown is part of the process of bringing life into the world. I will remember that rest is a gift, not something to worry about. I will remember to trust myself.”

2016-05-01 14.35.30 HDR-2

PS – Here’s a video clip of the reading of “On The Night You Were Born” Jessica refers to in her birth story. Enjoy!

To Clone or Not to Clone?

Dolly

That is the question… Well, not really.

I’ve often wished that I could clone myself – not for any weird reasons, I think there really should only be one unique version of us in the world. It’s just that there’s an awful lot I’d like to accomplish in this one, wild life I’ve been given and sometimes it feels like too much for just one of me to try and get it all done.

One thing I really wish I had time for is helping more Mommas process their birth stories.

On a small scale, I’m already doing this. My families know how much I love birth stories. When my classes gather for reunions, I spend time listening to the birth stories of everyone gathered. I’m on the lookout for key information to help them reframe their births, if needed. I want them to know where they were strong. I want them to acknowledge who supported them and how, specifically.  And I want them to be proud of their level of participation in this life-changing event.

In short, I want all women to have a birth story they can look back on as a positive experience. One that informs who they are now as a woman, mother, partner, friend, and professional. I want all women to recognize what they’ve gone through in the ultimate Hero’s Journey that they’ve traveled in a matter of hours or days, that marks their lives as forever different, forever changed in ways both obvious and hidden – even to themselves.

So… nothing too important!

I’m happy to say that most of the women I’ve had the honor of working with over the years have a positive birth story to tell – despite it looking anything like that on the surface. The majority of this has to do with her individual attitude, flexibility and openness to responding to birth as it unfolds in real time. But, I’d like to think that they learned a little bit about this from being in my classes. I’d like to think that the preparation I offered around expanding expectations, and embracing vulnerability before birth helped them process the reality of their birth experience.

But what about the women who haven’t had a positive birth experience and haven’t been in one of my classes? Maybe their birth happened just last week, or maybe 20 years ago. All too often, these women are told that a “healthy Momma, healthy baby” is all that matters and they don’t get to finish processing this event in a way that allows them to move forward in their parenting journey. It’s my theory that these women continue to process their birth stories (as I feel they must, until they can come to some form of closure) with unsuspecting and extremely vulnerable pregnant women.

I hear about it all the time in my classes. Mommas will complain how all they hear are the “horror stories” that other women, many of them complete strangers, tell them about their own birth experiences. I think this is happening on a subconscious level. I don’t believe for a second that a woman processing her birth is intentionally trying to scare pregnant women with a negative birth story. I just think it’s the loop that they find themselves in as they try to make meaning from this experience that was life-changing, but not in a positive way.

Oh, how I wish I could meet all of these women! I’d love to be able to sit with them and listen deeply to their stories. I’d let them process as much or as little as they felt comfortable with sharing. And maybe in the retelling of their story, I could try to help them reframe and then reclaim their birth story as their own. I’d love for them to see, maybe for the first time, where they were strong, who supported them and how. Maybe they could finally begin to integrate this experience into the woman they are now. Maybe, in the process of this reclaiming, they could finally stop that negative birth experience processing loop with younger, vulnerable pregnant women.

To that end, about six months ago, I created a document that I’m calling: “Retelling and Reclaiming Your Birth Story: An Exercise to Give Meaning to Your Experience.”

I’ve had a few Mommas from my classes go through the five step process and a few have agreed to share the results here as future posts. It’s been a desire of mine to share some birth stories on my blog. Real birth stories from real women but with an eye on being able to acknowledge birth as a positive experience, even if it didn’t go according to plan.

I think my invitation to retell and reclaim your birth story can be helpful as a tool to get the details of your birth down in a way that has structure. This can be a beautiful gift to your child. You can remember and reflect on their birth-day every year, and they’ll have something to refer to in preparation for the time when they’re ready to have children of their own.

I’d also like to extend this offer to any woman who’s had a negative birth experience that they’re still trying to process. I believe it can be a tool for healing and integration. I’m not a professional counselor, I make no claims about this. But in the busy-ness of our daily lives, we have forgotten the power of story and how it can transform us.

I think every woman deserves that opportunity for transformation.

If you, or anyone you know, might benefit from taking part in this exercise, please take this short four-question survey and I will send a pdf file of the “Retelling and Reclaiming Your Birth Story: An Exercise to Give Meaning to Your Experience” out to you as soon as possible. Please feel free to share this offering far and wide – I’d love to help as many women as possible!

Thanks for your support. And thanks for allowing me to try and accomplish even more with my one, wild life (this way I don’t have to clone myself!)

The Power of Story

Hero's Journey

I am a really, really big NPR geek. It started when I was a stay-at-home Momma after the birth of my first baby. My girl never slept during the day through that whole 4th Trimester – unless I was holding her. (This was sixteen years ago! Long before the ubiquitous smartphones and Netflix that today’s parents have access to.) So, I strapped my kiddo to my chest and went about my day with NPR and talk radio as my constant companion. I’ve never been as educated about world events than I was during that time in my life, and it felt good to still a part of the world during those cold winter months that followed my baby’s October birthday.

I think it was then that the power of story really began to take hold of me. I’ve always been an avid reader and a well-written story has the power to completely transport me to another world. I can visualize the events as if they’re a movie being played inside my head. It’s super cool! But I think there’s even more power in the spoken word and last night I got to experience that power in person. 

For those of you non-NPR geeks, The Moth is all about true stories, told without any notes. A dream of mine, which may not surprise any of you, would be tell a story on The Moth Mainstage at some point in my life. I don’t really have an actual “bucket list” but if I did, this would be right at the top. I bought tickets for this event seven months ago and last night I sat in my seat and waited for the storytelling to begin with the same excitement reserved for seeing an all-time favorite rock band.

The stories that make it to the Main Stage are ones that have been finessed and the storytellers have been well-coached so that their 10-12 minutes long story has, as all good stories do, a beginning, middle and end. The narrative should be easy for people to follow and it must be compelling in some way. Humor is welcome, but not necessary. Feeling as though the reader has taken you on a journey, is.

At the end of last night’s two hour show, I felt full. That’s the only way I can describe it. My heart was satiated and I was content. Five amazingly brave readers, in front of the largest Moth crowd ever assembled, told us their stories. Some were laugh-out-loud funny, some were so intense that I found myself holding my breath, waiting to hear what happened next. All were moving in the way only story can move us.

And this got me thinking about the power of telling our own stories. About how vital it is for all women to be able to tell their birth stories to someone who is willing to listen with that same rapt attention. Someone who resonates with shared experience, who gasps at the exciting parts, laughs at the funny parts, and cries at the parts that are still painful and raw.

When I teach my classes we discuss how often pregnant women feel “assaulted” by others, oftentimes complete strangers, who are compelled to tell them their birth story. It’s rare that those stories are ones full of joy and excitement, wonder and awe. No, too often these stories are filled with pain, regret and disappointment.

And it’s my theory that this sharing of “The Negative Birth Story” is an unconscious deep-seated desire to process this life-changing event with someone, anyone, who’s willing to listen. I believe these women have been told, over and over again, that they should, “Move on!” or “Healthy Momma, healthy baby – that’s all that matters, right?” They are told, in effect, to shut up and stop telling their story. Often by those who are closest to them and the birth they just experienced: their providers, their friends and family, even their partners.

But these stories need to be told, they must be told. For how else are these women supposed to assimilate this event, if not by telling their story? Birth is the most profound story that can ever be told. It always has a beginning, a middle and an end. There are most certainly obstacles that need to be overcome and it is for sure a hero’s journey in the greatest sense of that phrase.

I think “The Birth Story” fits perfectly with Joseph Campbell’s, “The Hero’s Journey.” When a woman says “yes” to pregnancy, she’s answering the call to adventure, even if she’s reluctant at first. She might need some form of supernatural aid to assist her in this process and she’ll most likely check in with guides and mentors, those who’ve made this journey before her to make sure she’s on the right path as she moves from the Known to the Unknown.

The start of her pregnancy marks the beginning of her transformation process, but she’ll still stumble through many different challenges along the way. Maybe she’s sick in the beginning, maybe she hates how her body is changing. Anxiety might be ever-present on this journey. Maybe she and her partner experience relationship issues. Maybe there’s an unexpected health issue for her or the baby, or both. She’s faced with serious questions: What’s the “best” way to bring her baby into this world? Who will she be once this journey has ended? 

But the biggest challenge for her will come during the birth itself.

When I found this particular image of The Hero’s Journey above, I knew I wanted to use it because it calls the big challenge: the abyss – where death and rebirth will occur, where revelation can be found. So appropriate for what happens to a woman when she is in the throes of labor. She will be challenged physically, emotionally and spiritually as never before. 

This can be an incredibly transformative experience for a woman if she feels like she had supporting, loving guides who accompanied her on this most intense part of her journey. If she feels like she was never alone, and was given the tools to make sense of this metaphorical death and rebirth, then she can emerge on the other side of her abyss experience, truly transformed – feeling like the hero that she is.

There needs to be some time for atonement – but not in the sense of reconciliation. No, atonement in the ancient sense of the word: unity. A time to re-unite oneself, body and spirit, in the immediate hours and days following the birth. This is the time where a woman can assimilate who she is now – who she has become since her journey began nine months prior.

She needs to relive her journey vicariously, give it words and tell the story, her story, so she can accept the gifts of the goddess. The baby, her partner, their new family, her new self – are the rewards for the Hero’s Journey she’s just completed. When we downplay that essential piece of atonement, of telling the story, we rob the woman from ever being able to find closure – personal unity. She is compelled to continue to try and find meaning and resolution from her journey, seeking out those who will help her process this life event.

The power of story is palpable. The words, both spoken and left silenced in our hearts, need to be heard before final transformation and closure can occur.

For all women reading this who are feeling the deep need to tell their birth stories (even if your birth happened years ago!) there’s a way to do this. The Birth Story Project is an online forum where you can write your story, even anonymously, and be heard. Where you can string your words together to help your new Hero-self make meaning of the intense journey you’ve been on.

You don’t need to be a writer. You just need to be yourself, letting the power of what you’ve experienced be transformed into your story. You won’t be on the receiving end of any comments from readers, that’s not how The Birth Story Project works. So be prepared to leave it all on the page for your readers so they can be carried along, transformed with you, by your words. And see if this helps you reach atonement – unity – in your new identity as mother.

You are a hero. Your story is important. It needs to be shared.

Have you ever told your birth story, fully and completely, to someone who not only listened, but heard what your heart had to share? How has the telling, or the not-telling, of your birth story affected you?

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?

Comparisons… Why do we do it to ourselves?

Comparison

Comparison is the thief of joy.

So said Teddy Roosevelt, our 26th President. I’m guessing that he was not talking about women and their birth experiences, but this quote absolutely applies to what can happen when we compare our own birth stories with others.

Recently I facilitated a postpartum support group for new parents and their babies. And on that particular day, the group was made up of new Mommas and babies all of whom were younger than six months of age. Some of the babies weren’t even two months old yet! So for these women, their births were fairly recent and I wanted to explore with them their expectations about birth and their actual birth stories to see where they had merged and where they were completely different.

As I imagined, all of the women present stated that their births did not match their expectations at all! But, as I also imagined, this did not mean that they had negative birth experiences. Just births that ended up being very different from what they had expected.

One of the stories that struck me the most was a young Momma who said that she’d had to have an epidural – which was not what she had expected to choose before the birth. She had planned and expected to go through her birth completely medication and intervention free. But what she hadn’t expected was a baby in a posterior position, a really long labor (close to 40 hours from start to finish!) and the intense combination of exhaustion and back pain that led her to ask for the epidural.

In her re-telling of her birth story, I was able to see that this decision to use the epidural as a tool in her labor and delivery allowed her to rest, progress in her labor and eventually deliver her big and beautiful baby boy vaginally. As she was telling her story, though, I could sense some sadness about having to make this decision to use the epidural. I explored this a little bit more with her and what she told me next, made me understand why she was having such issues about her experience and why she was feeling unhappy about how her birth had turned out. She offered this as an explanation:

Out of all of my friends, I’m the only one who had to have an epidural. I’m obviously not as strong as they were, or I would have been able to do this without drugs.

I had to ask a few more questions about her friend’s births before she was able to see clearly and then reframe her own birth story. “All of her friends” were graced with babies who were in the anterior position for labor and delivery, they all progressed fairly easily and ended up with labors that were 12 hours or less from start to finish.

But in her hurry to compare herself and her birth with those of her friends, she failed to recognize what made her story different from theirs. In her comparison, she didn’t recognize just how much more time and work she had needed to put in, and unfortunately this comparison robbed her of being proud of her hard work and effort toward the birth she was working toward. Instead, she only focused on the fact that she had somehow “failed” because she had “caved” and gotten the drugs.

When we spend our time comparing our birth stories to others, we deprive ourselves of owning our own story and finding and celebrating the accomplishment and joy in what we have just done. We’ve brought a brand new human being through our body and into this world! Whether that be through vaginal or Cesarean Birth makes no difference to the magnitude of our accomplishment. Holding up our birth story in comparison of those around us only highlights the details of what they got – and what we didn’t get. When we engage in this negative comparison, we only see our births as less than, instead of all the ways in which it was so much more than. It diminishes our own story. It shrinks it. It makes our birth experience less than the miracle that it was.

This “Comparison is the thief of joy” addiction that we all seem to have starts long before you’re pregnant, and if you can’t get hold of this and start working on weaning yourself off of this addiction, it will follow you straight into the early weeks of postpartum and then into the days, weeks, months and years of parenting that are to follow.

If you’re not careful, you’ll find yourself comparing stories of breastfeeding, baby’s sleep habits, infant development, and one parenting decision after another – until all the joy of having this baby to love and care for and raise into a productive human being has been stolen from you. You’ll be filled with self-doubt about every little decision you make. Your insecurity about making the “right” decision about what pre-school your child should go to will cause you to lose sleep when your baby is only 18 months old – a full year and half away from even being able to attend pre-school.

Stop for a moment and be grateful. Be grateful for the opportunity to have a baby inside of you, growing and developing in that perfect environment that you’ve created without even thinking about it, without analyzing and struggling over just how to achieve it, without comparing it to other women’s ability to create a more perfect environment. Just breathe and be grateful for this new life inside of you.

This little person who is coming to teach you so much about yourself – who you are and what you believe and how you will be as a new parent. Understand that for your baby, there is no comparison.

You are, by virtue of being their mother and father, the very best they could hope for. They will not be spending their time as your new little baby comparing their experience with others.

They will be doing what new little babies do so well – living moment by moment, not worried about what might have been or concerned about what could be better. This is their experience right here, right now. They have no need for comparisons. And neither do you.

Do not let anyone steal your joy.

Did you find yourself comparing your experience with others when you were pregnant? How about your birth story? It’s fun to hear others stories at times, but when it’s a negative comparison, it doesn’t feel too great. Has comparison been an issue for you as a new parent?

Either/Or? How About Yes/And?

Yes:And

During introductions on the first night of class, Janet* sat up, told us her name, and added: “I’m planning on getting the epidural – and you can’t talk me out of it!” She pointed straight at me when she said this and I threw up my hands in mock defense replying, “I’m not going to try and talk you into or out of anything! That’s not my job! My job is to provide you with as much evidence-based information as I can, so you can make the most informed decisions for yourself.”

Her statement was not a surprise to me – most women come into a Childbirth Preparation class thinking that every decision they make about birth is “Either/Or.” Never is this more true than in the case of pain medication and birth. Most women believe that it’s either “Get the drugs!” or “Go without!” I try, when I’m able, to coax them away from this Either/Or thinking toward a more Yes/And approach to how they’ll give birth.

I’m not always successful.

We form opinions in almost every aspect of our lives. Some are based on past experiences, or what friends and family have to say, and sometimes our opinions are based on actual facts and evidence. We tend to read, listen, watch and agree with information that supports what we think we already know. This is called confirmation bias. It makes sense, then, that we might go to a Childbirth Preparation Class unconsciously seeking out the information that already supports our established point of view, while ignoring the information which does not.

This happens all the time with different couples in the same class. As a Childbirth Educator, it’s important to teach from an evidence-based, benefit/risk stance in order to speak to everyone in the room from a place of non-bias. This allows me to hope that when challenging topics are discussed, my couples are better able to take in all of the information – even if it challenges their established point of view – so they can make the most informed decisions for themselves.

I have evaluations from the same class that read: “Appreciated the support of an unmedicated birth” and “Felt supported in my decision to have an epidural.”  Every time this happens, I have two reactions: I’m glad that my presentation seems to be well-balanced, but I’m also a bit puzzled. I’ve shown the same movies, cited the same studies, shared the same stories – yet these two different people have walked away with their two very different perspectives validated. It’s fascinating to me!

It’s also the reason why I encourage my students to have realistic expectations about the birth they’re hoping to have, as well as the actual birth they might end up having. I want to discourage them from ignoring any information presented in class just because it doesn’t line up with their established point of view about birth. If they end up shutting out information that doesn’t support their personal views, there is the possibility for great disappointment as their birth unfolds. This is what happened to Janet.

Janet wanted a very controlled birth experience and was planning on getting an epidural the instant she started to feel uncomfortable. This is not conjecture on my part – she was very vocal about this in class. While I applauded her ability to know herself so well and to be willing to voice her opinion in a class where many others had reported wanting to try for an unmedicated birth, I was also concerned about her hardline stance on this subject.

There are many different ways to increase comfort and the ability to cope with contractions in labor: breathing, position changes, hydrotherapy, birth balls, heat/cold, massage, encouragement, etc. We spend time practicing these techniques. I want every woman in my class to recognize these good self-care practices and learn to use them outside of birth. I also emphasize the need to rely on these methods in the early phase of labor when medication is not a realistic option.

Janet wasn’t very keen on practicing any of these comfort measures – especially the breathing. She would laugh, roll her eyes or talk through every practice contraction. I was concerned that she’d put up a wall and wasn’t letting any other information in. She saw no need to practice any other labor coping tools – she was going to get an epidural, after all. Eventually, I called her on it. “Janet, if you or anyone else in here is choosing an epidural for pain relief, I want it to be the best epidural that’s ever been given to anyone, anytime, anywhere!” And I meant it! “But, sometimes, the epidural is not all it’s cracked up to be and you might really need these tools as back up to continue to cope with your contractions.” I’m pretty sure she rolled her eyes at me.

Fast forward to our reunion together many months later. When I asked Janet to share her birth story, she wasn’t happy. She’d gone in for an induction and was put on a Pitocin drip to try and get her labor to start. Her contractions began soon after and she was making good progress. Her L&D nurse asked if she was ready for an epidural. Janet had shared her desire to get an epidural as soon as she felt uncomfortable, but she decided to hold off for a bit longer. Soon after, her contractions kicked in and she was in hard labor. Janet called the nurse back so she could get the epidural, but unfortunately, the anesthesiologist had been called into a Cesarean and wouldn’t be available for at least the next hour.

Janet’s labor was on the fast track and she ended up progressing from 4 cm to 10 cm in about an hour – all without the medication that she’d been counting on. Because of the induction and epidural, she was confined to bed and on continuous monitoring, so position changes were limited and using the tub or shower for pain relief was out. And because she never practiced the breathing – in or outside of class – this incredibly useful comfort and coping tool was of no help to her.

Janet suffered through her labor feeling helpless as this especially fast and challenging labor overtook her. Because she saw this as an Either/Or decision, she felt like there was no other way to cope with her contractions when the epidural “failed to deliver.”

I really want women to have positive birth stories – experiences where they feel confident and a sense of pride at what they’ve just accomplished. This doesn’t have to be an Either/Or experience. She can feel this way with or without medication and intervention, through a vaginal or a Cesarean birth. But Janet had suffered through most of her birth because she had placed all of her trust in the promise of a perfect epidural. She paid very little attention to practicing the other non-medicated coping techniques because they seemed to be in opposition to her plan of getting an epidural.

Women feel they need to “make the decision” about medication before labor even begins. When it comes to medication in birth, thinking about this as an Either/Or proposition is setting women up for disappointment.

Women wishing for an unmedicated birth, might find that after a particularly challenging and long labor, they need to make a different decision. In the retelling of their birth stories, these women will say something like, “And then I caved and got the epidural.” Like they somehow failed birth by asking for pain relief when it became necessary.

On the other hand, there are women who joke about the other coping techniques practiced in class, thinking to themselves, “As soon as I feel real pain, I’m getting the epidural. I won’t need any of this stuff.” Their disappointment is very real when the epidural doesn’t provide them the relief they were counting on. Now they feel forced to endure contractions without access to other tools to help them cope.

In both cases, the ideal birth story has gotten in the way of being able to adequately prepare for the actual birth story. One is disappointed that she “wasn’t as strong as she thought” while the other “never wanted to be a hero”.

Birth is something that very rarely goes “according to plan.” Preparing for birth means going into the experience willing to be open to all of the information provided (as long as it’s evidence-based!) Especially the information that might challenge you and your established point of view about birth. Women need to realize the importance and appropriate use of coping techniques – medicated and non-medicated – as valid and useful tools that can help them have a more positive birth story to tell for years to come.

So in birth, it’s very rarely an Either/Or proposition as much as it is a Yes/And proposition. “Yes, I have an established point of view about the use of medications in birth. And I realize that I might need to shift my point of view on the day I give birth to reflect what is happening in real time. I will try to remain open to all comfort and coping techniques available to me – medicated and non-medicated – so that I feel best prepared to cope with my labor however it unfolds.”

Did you have an established view about medication and birth? Were your beliefs challenged at all during your pregnancy and birth? When you gave birth, did you have to make a different decision around this particular birth choice?

*not her real name.