Hopelessly Devoted to You…

Devoted

de·vot·ed
/dəˈvōdəd/

adjective
adjective: devoted
1. very loving or loyal.
“he was a devoted husband”
synonyms: loyal, faithful, true, staunch, steadfast, constant, committed, dedicated, devout; fond, loving, affectionate, caring, admiring
“a devoted follower of the writer”
2. given over to the display, study, or discussion of.
“there is a museum devoted to her work”

I love this dictionary entry for “devoted.” I would consider myself a very devoted Momma, partner, friend, daughter, sister, employee and Childbirth Educator. When I’ve found someone or something that I believe in, then it’s deserving of my full devotion. I resonate with both of these definitions, because I don’t think it’s enough to say that you’re “very loving and loyal” to a person or an idea. I think you need to show that devotion through action, which is where, “given over to the display, study or discussion of” comes in.

But being devoted to someone or something might mean saying or taking action that’s not very popular. Sometimes, being devoted means standing up for your own truth – even when others, maybe especially when others, try to tell you your truth is wrong or has no merit. Being devoted doesn’t mean that you always agree. Being devoted to a person or an idea, means you have to be the mirror at times. In wanting this person or idea to reach full potential, you have to be willing to shine a light in the darkness. Being devoted is both thrilling and frightening at the same time. But it’s not usually easy to be on the giving or receiving end of real devotion.

I can remember a few times in my marriage, where my incredibly devoted husband told me what I needed to hear. Let’s be very clear: it wasn’t what I wanted to hear, but it was exactly what I needed to hear. And I’m sure he can tell you some stories about my job as his personal mirror: “This is what I see. This is not who I know your best self to be.” Not easy discussions to have, but they can be game-changers, in my opinion.

When it comes to my work with expectant families I am devoted to the overall well-being of new Mommas, partners and their babies on their transformative journey of becoming a family.

But sometimes, that devotion can look a little bit more like “tough-love.”

I’m very devoted to the idea that women have positive and empowering birth experiences because I feel like this moment in a woman’s life can truly be transformative. It can set the stage for how well she moves into her role of Momma. It can either positively or negatively affect the couple’s relationship right from the very start. She can end up parenting from a place of inner strength, wisdom and confidence – or spend her entire parenting journey second-guessing every move. Her birth experience might only be a day in her life, but it can affect the rest of her life.

Wow – that’s big stuff.

And now for the tough-love talk. (Please remember that this is coming from a very loving and loyal place.)

Women need to start taking more personal responsibility for their births.

There are some providers, nurses and hospital policies that can get in the way of a woman’s positive and empowering birth experience. And there are plenty of other birth advocates decrying this very issue. But that’s not the whole issue. Women need to recognize their role in all of this. They need to take more personal responsibility for their birth experiences because if they don’t, birthing women, their partners and the families they’re trying to create together end up paying the price.

Women giving birth today, are doing so in a climate where information is everywhere and available all the time. Even though “Dr. Google” is not a great resource, it’s who they most often turn to for information – much of it biased, out-dated, and not evidence based.

Our maternity care system has become “us against them” when it comes to birth. I’m not sure it’s even possible to have a positive and empowering birth experience if you believe that having a hospital birth is going to suck. But if you really do feel this way, than take some personal responsibility for yourself and make different choices about where and with whom you’ll be giving birth. Your reaction might be, “It’s not that easy.” I know it’s not easy. I’m not saying that it is. What I’m saying is that it’s vital to own your role in the birth experience – even when it’s not easy.

When I was pregnant with my second baby, I had to make some big decisions. My beloved provider had moved out of town and our insurance had changed. So, I was going to have a choose a new provider and place to give birth.

Instead of doing my own research, I listened to a colleague and chose a midwife at a hospital that didn’t have the best reputation in town: too big and impersonal. Red flag #1 The clinic was pretty far away from where we lived, which meant my toddler and I had to deal with 40 minutes of driving for an appointment that lasted only 10 minutes. I hated it. Red flag #2 The hospital tour guide focused more on the big-screen TV than answering my questions about birth balls and squatting bars. Red flag #3 My midwife was part of a group practice, so it was not guaranteed that I would have her for my birth. Red flag #4 Now, none of these might pop up on your list as red flags – but they were on mine and I chose to ignore all of them. I knew, at several points along my pregnancy journey, that this was not the right choice for me, but I refused to take personal responsibility for this. And although my birth was quick and easy, my overall birth experience was very negative.

I hadn’t done my due diligence to make the best decisions for myself when and where I could. And it was this piece that I struggled with most in my early postpartum days with my newborn. I look back and realize my negative feelings around that birth experience had nothing to do with the birth outcome. It had everything to do with how I had dishonored myself and failed to make the best (although not easy) decisions I could to set myself up for the best experience possible.

Writing a Birth Plan is not enough. Having good intentions is not enough. Hiring a doula is not enough. You need to understand just how much work is involved in making this birth experience positive and empowering for yourself. No one will be making that happen for you. You need to make it happen. And that means getting real with yourself before you ever put pen to paper to capture your birth preferences.

Are you making choices that resonate with you? Don’t concern yourself with what your sister, BFF or members of your book club would choose. What do you want? Make some decisions for yourself. But don’t stop there! Get some quality, unbiased, evidence-based information that supports these decisions as being right for you. And then own those decisions – at least until you go into labor.

Once labor begins, you have to be prepared to make some decisions in real-time, as birth unfolds. Birth is too big to be planned out on an 8 1/2 x 11 piece of paper! And that scale you used to weigh benefits and risks in the classroom doesn’t get to come into labor and delivery with you. You get a brand new scale that you’ll have to use to weigh the benefits and risks all over again to make the most informed decision you can – while you’re in labor.

You must be a full participant in this birth from the very beginning all the way through to the end in order to feel that transformative strength and empowerment. My own personal experience, coupled with 20 years of working with thousands of couples, allows me to make this statement from a place of confidence: Feeling empowered and positive about your birth experience is less connected to how your baby is born, and more directly linked to how you feel as your baby is being born.

When you give birth from a place of confidence that you did everything you could in the moment to honor yourself and your process, it’s hard to feel anything but empowered. There are moments throughout your pregnancy and birth where you’re called to stand up and make a decision that might not be easy, that might not be popular, that might not even be what you wanted. But in honoring yourself in this way, you can claim full participation and own your birth experience.

When you do this, you show devotion to yourself, your partner, your baby, your family – and this is where it all begins.

What are you devoted to? Does this resonate with you? Are you still able to feel my deep devotion to you (despite my tough love)? I really do only want the best possible experience for you. And I can’t use this title for the post without giving you this link to the ever wonderful ONJ singing her heart out – enjoy, you’ll be singing it all weekend.

This was part of an exercise from The Writing Den, where we were asked to define what we are devoted to. Bringing more personal responsibility into the birthing experience is one of those things I’m devoted to. If you’d like to find out what your true devotion is, come join this group of committed individuals answering the call. It’s an inspiring place to be!

It’s a Question of Quality

Quality

Of these 3 options, which one is most important in your work right now:

Quality of Life

Quality of Work

Quality of Compensation

This was the latest prompt on my Quest journey and it comes from visionary, Sally Hogshead. (There’s still time to jump on board for all the goodness that Quest 2016 has to offer for anyone who’s wanting to do business as unusual for the coming year. Join in. It’s fun, thought-provoking, and free!)

I’ve answered all of the Quest prompts so far, but most of them have landed on the private Facebook page set up for our group. All have asked me how or what I want to do differently in 2016, but I wasn’t sure my answers aligned with this blog. But this one does. I’m always trying to talk people into becoming a Childbirth Educator, because I feel my job hits all three options.

Quality of Life:

I work only evenings and weekends. To some, this might sound like a terrible schedule! But when you have four kids you need to get really creative about how you’re going to work so you don’t end up with a full-time job you hate – just to pay the childcare bills. My job allows me to have the best of both worlds: I am there for school drop-off and pick-up, I attend field trips (at least those that involve theater or dance performances), I’m able to have a presence at my kids’ school, but I still have outside work – which matters way more to me than I would have guessed. My own Momma was a stay-at-homer and I grew up thinking that parenting was the most important job a person could ever do (for the record, I still feel that way!) so I expected to be content with doing the work of mothering “only” – but I was mistaken. I very much appreciate having out-of-the-home work, too. That was a surprise. I have a job that allows for true work-life balance.

Quality of Work:

I love my job. It’s constantly changing. Each and every classroom of students informs me and makes me a better educator. I’ve been able to grow and evolve over the years, expand my repertoire in and outside of the classroom, and have gotten to the point of feeling ready to write about this subject that matters so much to me. I’m encouraged by my colleagues and students to pursue writing my book to have even greater impact in my field of perinatal and parenting education. Close to twenty years in this career, and I still haven’t experienced any boredom with the subject matter. Likewise, I’ve never stopped feeling like I couldn’t continue to improve my presentation and teaching skills. I think this is extraordinary!

Quality of Compensation:

Well, the “joke” is that you’ll never get rich being a Childbirth Educator. This is true. It’s hard for any CBE to be able to work this job only and be able to support her family. Thankfully, I have a husband who works full-time, carries our health insurance, and is a fantastic co-parent in the off-hours when I’m gone. I don’t have the same worries others do when their work is sporadic and part-time. I’m lucky for that. And all things being equal, I get paid a decent hourly wage. It’s my job that pays for all the “extras.” I pay for Summer Camps, dance and saxophone lessons, acting classes and soccer. Having four kids means having lots of extras and I’m happy to contribute in this way. I know how much these extras enhance the overall quality of our family life.

If I were to focus on any of these options for 2016, receiving more compensation for my offerings would be great!  But I need to focus on what those offerings might be, first.

I’ve done some one-on-one phone consultations for people who are not in the Portland Metro area. Is this something I could charge for? It’s certainly something I enjoy doing, and it would only positively impact my quality of life and work.

The book I’m busy writing – it would be nice to be compensated for this offering, but this is unlikely to bring in much income in 2016. There’s still much work to do, as my focus has shifted and I’m more realistic about the timeline. But what offers ancillary to the book could I be working on that might bring in some form of compensation?

What about presentations and trainings? I love to give presentations and I’m good at it. Is this an area that I can expand, maybe even outside of my own field, and be compensated for it? I love to train new educators. How could this be rolled into my toolbox of offerings that would continue to feed all three options: quality of life, work and compensation?

All good things to consider as I move into 2016. I feel like this year I’m finally ready to take the necessary steps forward to increase the quality of my life, work and compensation.

How about you? What are you doing now that supports these options? What might you do differently in 2016 to better support one or more of these options?

Quest 2016 Begins in Earnest

Quest2016

I’ve signed up for another virtual quest accompanied by a group of wonderful creatives from around the globe with Jeffrey Davis at the front of the pack leading us along a path where we pause every couple of days to ponder how we might want to do things differently this year. He’s brought together 12 visionaries from all walks of life and work to create prompts for us along the way. Questions that might nudge us to dig a little deeper, think a little differently, and create with more authenticity. Today marks the beginning of Quest 2016. There’s still time to join if you are intrigued!

Today’s prompt comes from Susan Piver:

“What I most need to tell myself about 2016 is…” 

My answer is both simple and straightforward – as well as complicated and unclear. I am wrestling with what seems to be my life’s constant companion: impatience.

I began questing for real over 3 years ago when I met Jeffrey Davis​ via Karen Brody​ and a webinar that she offered for those of us in the “birth world” who were interested in writing a book. A book? Me? It was only a passing thought, a fanciful idea that I might have something to say about my work with families in that most beautiful place where vulnerability crashes through whatever walls they’ve built to transform them – body and soul.

I listened to what Jeffrey had to say, albeit with a bit of skepticism. I kept wondering if he was authentic – a quality that I place the highest value on. Jeffrey is, in fact, as authentic as they come. As are all of the people he runs with. I jumped in with both feet and began my quest of writing a book having no idea where it would take me.

But three years later, I’m still writing the damn book!

Most writers reading this are probably shaking their heads right now and laughing! The gift of coming into the world of writing (relatively) late, is that I have no real idea what I’m doing. I make it all up as I go along and this affords me a level of naiveté that those steeped in the writing profession are already wise to: writing a book takes a really long time. Writing a good book, even longer. And a great book? The only one worth writing, in my opinion.

So, in the grand scheme of things, three+ years is nothing. And I’ve written 70,000 words already while working part-time and raising four children. I’ve started this blog and have maintained it for a little over a year (admittedly, some months better than others). I’ve submitted an essay that’s been accepted internationally (Canada, eh?), and I have one in the middle of the editing process right now. Most importantly, I’m more clear than ever what the real theme of my book is as a result of spending a week with the YBNS crew at Mohonk this past October having nothing else to distract me from The Story. Not too shabby, when I see it all written out, and yet…

I want this book to be completed already!

I’m actually enjoying the direction that my life has taken as I began this quest so long ago. I love the people that I’ve met because of this and my life (and social media) have both greatly improved as a result. It’s just that I keep wanting to get my message out there – into the hands and hearts of my people.

My message is not for everyone, but for the right people, I know it will have an impact on how they view themselves as individuals, parents and as a family. (Such audacity! Another gift of being new to this writing gig!) My message is clearer for the time it’s been percolating – getting knocked around, battered and bruised for all the rewriting that’s had to happen. My writing is so much stronger for all of it – for the blogging, the teaching, but most of all, the learning.

Impatience is both a curse and a blessing. Impatience spurs me on and keeps me going especially when the daily demands of being pulled in so many different directions threaten to unravel everything.

But impatience can also be paralyzing.

What if someone else writes my book before I do? Which, even though I don’t think is really possible, I scan the bookshelves at Powell’s just to make sure. I wonder if I’ll know when I’m done. I’m worried about what the next best step is to getting this project off the ground.

I have dreams of being farther along, or better yet, finished and that then maybe this restless feeling I have will finally settle. But maybe that’s just it – maybe once I said “Yes!” to this quest, I actually said yes to traveling on a journey that never really ends.

Maybe that’s what I most need to tell myself about 2016 – that this is just the beginning of my lifelong Quest. Make peace with your impatience, girl, because it will never go away – not completely. Once this quest is done – the book gets written, dare I say published? – don’t I secretly, or maybe not so secretly, hope for another quest to begin? See, my answer is simple and confounding at the same time. As all quests must be, I guess.

The irony of this revelation is not lost on me – it’s what I encourage my families to do as they prepare for their babies birth: Be open, flexible, vulnerable, expect the unexpected and – be patient.

Good advice that I might want to start taking.

If you’re at all interested in following what happens with this particular quest as I dare to write this book, please subscribe or follow this blog. You’ll be my traveling companions. I couldn’t imagine making this journey without you!

Almost: Very Nearly, Not Quite

Almost

I’m almost done. October 31st – the last day of this year’s 31 Day Project. Last year at this time, more than anything else I felt a huge sense of relief that it was finally over. This year I feel different. I feel a sense of accomplishment. I hit the “publish” button pretty early in the day most of the time (I think there was only one evening that didn’t happen until 10 pm. Last year this was a regular occurrence. In fact, I posted once at 11:59!)

I’m the kind of person who makes rash decisions every once in awhile. Not big and bad decisions that end with regret, but ones where I’m not completely aware of what I’m saying “yes” to. Which, for me, is good. It allows me to be audacious and just do it. Then, my tenacity and unwillingness to ever quit something once I’ve started, keeps me going – even after I realize how much harder this thing is that I’ve gotten myself into. (I did the same thing when I signed up to walk my first marathon. “How hard can it be to walk a marathon?” Pretty hard, it turns out.)

That was last year’s experience: “I want to start a blog. I haven’t written one before. So, maybe the best way to do it is to commit to writing a post every day for an entire month.” What was I thinking? Well, this year I knew exactly what I was getting myself into and I think that might explain why it went so much more smoothly. I’d also like to think that the writing I’ve put into my book and the essays that have been published or are in the works, means that writing is easier for me now than it was a year ago.

But the best part of this whole process has been the process. There’s a lot to be gained by having a daily practice of writing (thank you, Saundra Goldman). And I think I’ll continue to try and write daily (that doesn’t sound like a firm commitment, does it?) But whether or not I’ll be hitting the “publish” button every single day is another matter altogether. My blog posts won’t be a daily occurrence and maybe that will be welcome relief for my FB friends who haven’t been able to keep up. (Do I have another 31 Days in me? I just might… But we’ll talk about that next year!)

I just came back from a weeklong writing workshop focused on the new direction of my book project and this will take center stage for me in the months to come. But I’m still committed to writing blogposts about bellies, birth and babies for the foreseeable future. These are the subjects that I’m most passionate about and I can’t imagine that I’m all done having something to say or learn about these topics.

Today, on the very last day of my 31 Day Project, it’s tempting to think that I’ve run out of things to write about. And this morning it almost feels that way. But the definition of almost is: “very nearly, not quite.” I love the wiggle room this provides. I’m going to take a few days break and see what comes up that needs to be written about the pregnancy year – from conception to the end of that 4th Trimester.

Thank you for reading my words and providing me support, encouragement, and comments along the way. And to all the other 31 Dayers out there – Congratulations! We did it!

Have you enjoyed this series of posts about the 4th Trimester? Was there anything that you wished I had written about that I didn’t? Please leave me some suggestions. Right now, I’m almost out of ideas. :O)

31 Days – What Can I Say? It’s a Calling.

CallingI sat in the darkened auditorium watching a series of slides: different women laboring hard to bring their babies into this world, while Tracy Chapman’s The Promise played quietly in the background. I felt like I had finally discovered what it was that I wanted to devote my life’s work to. This made no practical sense – as most callings never do. They are stirrings in your heart, your soul, your very being – that will not be ignored.

For some people, a calling might have to echo around for awhile before it gets noticed. But that’s not what happens to me. I’ve had the wonder of being receptive to such callings my whole life and when they first started happening, as a young girl, I would need a little bit of that echoing to occur. I’d need to hear it first as a whisper, then maybe a sweet conversation and then a stern lecture before I’d give it the attention that it deserved.

But after enough practice, I knew that when I heard, or rather, felt the first hint of, “What do you think about this?” that I should pay close attention and lean in, if only to see where it would lead me. Most of the major decisions in my life up to this moment have been the wonderful result of paying close attention to a calling.

Eighteen and half years ago, I was in a place of not knowing. I was in a job that I hated, and feeling stuck in that way that can be just so stubborn sometimes. I was interviewing all over the place to continue work in the non-profit sector. I would get called back to find myself one of two candidates being seriously considered for the job – only to lose out to the other person.

The doors weren’t just shutting on me, they were being slammed in my face. Or, so I thought. In retrospect (which is really the only way to look at things, right?), these doors were closing so that I wouldn’t be distracted when my real calling came. So that answering this calling would be easy because there were no other competing or compelling reasons not to.

But did it make any sense? No. I was at a doula training so that I could be at my best friend’s birth. That was it. She had asked me to be there, and I had said yes by signing up for a workshop in Seattle. I had no babies myself. I wasn’t even considering trying to get pregnant at the time. I had a healthy respect for pregnancy and birth as something that I would do someday, but I’d never even considered a job in this field.

And then… as I watched the images of women who were strangers to me work with such ferocity and strength at this task that seemed nothing less than miraculous, I couldn’t deny what was happening in my mind and heart. This was not a quiet, “What do you think about this?” moment. This was a screaming-jumping-up-and-down-with-a-bullhorn: “This is what you’re supposed to be doing with your life! Now – go find a way to make it happen!” moment. And so I did. But that’s another story for another time.

31days2015#4

This is also an answer to a calling. I’m called to write, and I’m in the middle of a book about this subject that has so captivated me for almost two decades. So, I answer this call by pledging to post on my blog for 31 days straight. Not an easy task, as I barely got through it last year. But just by sitting my butt down to write every single day for the month of October, I challenge myself to develop a practice that honors this secondary calling. One that is as valuable and potentially more impactful than what I’ve already been able to do through my job of guiding thousands of expectant families on their path toward becoming parents.

All I know is that when I’ve answered any calling in the past, I’ve never been steered in the wrong direction. It has always been a gift to me. I hope that in answering this call of writing specifically about that tricky transition into parenthood – the 4th Trimester – there will be gifts given to those who read my words. I’m using the prompts provided by the fabulous Kate Motaung at Five Minute Friday as a focus, but let’s be clear, I will be taking a lot longer than five minutes to write my posts! Please don’t feel pressured to keep up – there will be lots of them – but if you know of anyone who’s expecting or is right in the middle of new parenting whom you think might find some comfort in my words, send them my way. Thanks for your support as I try to answer this particular calling.

Have you ever experienced a true calling? Where, in the stillness, your heart leapt with the joy of a resounding “Yes!”? Did you follow that calling? I’d love to know.

Lucky Me!

Lucy Charms

This past week was a tough one, I’m not going to lie… All the after school activities were in full swing, which makes my job – evenings and weekends mostly – more challenging. Oldest daughter was back at dance five days a week, oldest son in soccer five days a week plus saxophone, and my youngest just started soccer as well – two days a week. (How many days of the week are there again?!) Currently, #3 is my favorite child – but only because she hasn’t started her acting classes yet.

I also had to work – a lot. My job usually has a pretty predictable and very do-able schedule even with a busy family like mine. Typically, I work a couple of nights a week, and two weekend days a month. But this past week, everything lined up in so that I worked Monday night, Tuesday night, Wednesday night, Thursday day and Thursday night, all day Saturday and all day Sunday.

(Did I mention that a friend of mine talked me into doing a “Fall Cleanse” with her and that it officially started on Saturday? The food’s good, and I feel great – but someone should have told me to hire a personal chef to get all the meals prepped! There’s no room in my fridge because of all the damn fruits and vegetables waiting to be eaten, and I still have 12 days to go…)

To say I was tired and had no time to do anything last week would be an understatement. So, why am I titling this post “Lucky Me?” Because even as I was dragging myself out of bed at 6:30 am on Saturday for a full-day workshop, I marveled at how very lucky I am to be doing this work in the world.

I celebrated my 17th work anniversary this past July. There aren’t a lot of people who can say that they’ve been with the same organization, let alone the same occupation, for that long anymore. And there are plenty of Childbirth Educators who change their focus and only work with expectant families for a short while. It’s something that works while their children are young, or until they go back to school, or move on to become a Lactation Specialist.

But there are some of us who are “lifers” – educators who continue in this work despite their kids ever-changing schedules, the craziness that it can cause right around the dinner hour, and the sacrifice of coveted beautiful September weekend days hanging out with the family. I won’t speak for other educators I know who are lifers – they have their own reasons. But I’ll give you mine.

The number one reason I’ve never lost interest or passion for this work is that it’s not really about the birth of a baby. I mean, it is about educating women and their partners about how to give birth to their babies, but that’s not all of it. A long time ago I realized that I had the unique opportunity to witness birth on a regular basis in my classroom. No, women were not literally having their babies during my class! But every time I teach a class I witness students moving through their fears and then being transformed or “born” into their new roles of parent, couple and family.

The other reason that I love what I do, is that I’m really good at it. That might sound arrogant, but I’m not trying for that tone at all. It’s just that there are aspects of my job that come together with my particular skill set to make it very well-suited for my personality.

One, I love to talk – a lot. I was always the kid in school who the teachers labeled a “Chatty Cathy” because I couldn’t stop talking to my neighbors. I like being up in front of a group – I’ve never had any issues with stage fright and I love to meet new people on a regular basis. And the fact that women’s bodies are capable of co-creating a brand new human being and bringing that new little person into the world is ah-mazing! The subjects of pregnancy and birth are never boring to me – it’s  always miraculous and awesome in the truest sense of the word. I love sharing my passion for this work.

Every time I teach a class and get to interact with expectant families is a gift – one that is  both given and received. And that reminds me of how very lucky I am to be doing this work.

Are you doing the work in the world that you are called to do, or are lucky enough to do?   What else could you be doing that would help you feel so lucky?

Rethinking Early Labor Series: PART III

Re-Think IIIn my last two posts, I discussed how laboring women and their partners are being encouraged to stay at home and away from the hospital for most, if not all, of their early labor. But the definition of early labor has changed. It is now believed that a woman is still in early labor until she reaches about 6 cm dilation. This means most women will be at home working for longer periods of time through the early phase of labor. It’s not enough to encourage women to stay home. We also need to provide some ideas about how to stay home and continue to cope with contractions of early labor without anxiety settling in. This is the final post in my three-part series, “Top 10 Things to Consider in Early Labor.” Here are the last 5 ideas from that list.

6) Clear your day. If either of you had been planning on being at work the morning that labor begins, call in and let one trusted person know that you might be in early labor. Ask them please to not tell the entire office your news as it might prove to be super early labor, or maybe just a good bout of practice labor  – and you don’t want to have to field a ton of phone calls, emails or texts from your excited co-workers.

7) Plan a date. This is the one thing that I get the most heat for encouraging people to consider, but I swear it helps you get your mind in the right place for the start of your labor experience. Most first-time Mommas have loads of time between when labor begins and when they reach active labor. And if you have something to look forward to as labor begins, you’re more likely to enter into early labor with a more positive attitude. This can definitely impact how well you’re able to handle your early labor. This labor day date doesn’t have to be anything special, but there should be some actual direction to it, a potential theme. I’m not sure it’s enough to say, “We’re going to watch a bunch of movies” or “We’re going to play board games.” Which movies do you want to watch? (Make sure they’re pretty emotionally charged – those that are can help boost your oxytocin levels by up to 47%!) Get out the board games and lay down a challenge. Card games that can go on forever are really great because they can be left hanging if your labor should pick up speed. If the weather is nice, plan a picnic lunch. If it’s not, picnic on your living room floor. Go for a walk – just make sure that you pass by your car every 1/4 mile or so in case labor changes dramatically. You don’t want to have to walk 5 miles back to your car with really challenging contractions if labor moves from early into the active phase while you’re out and about. This date should be focused on distraction and enjoyment. This is the last time you’ll be able to go out as a twosome without the baby or without paying for a babysitter. Don’t waste this opportunity. 

8) Consider hiring a doula. (This actually could have been #1 on my list of things to consider if I were rating them, but I wrote this list more chronologically in terms of what to consider as labor progresses.) Having a doula who is yours and yours alone ready to take your phone calls or texts in early labor or even stop by your house to check in with you can really make a difference in your continued ability to progress in early labor at home and away from the hospital. A doula’s expertise about what labor looks, sounds and feels like for most women will mean that she can normalize what you’re experiencing. She can also suggest comfort measures that can help you continue to cope and remain comfortable in your home for longer. When I’ve asked new parents from my classes what advice they would offer to expectant couples, they usually say, “Tell them to stay at home for as long as possible!” Having a doula to check in with might allow you to do just that. And doulas only get better as labor progresses! If a doula is not possible for any reason, who else can you check in with during this long and sometimes frustrating early phase of labor? What does your provider have to say about contacting them in early labor? If you contact the hospital looking for guidance they will often either refer you back to your individual provider – or tell you to come in to be checked. This defeats the entire purpose of trying to stay home in early labor. An unnecessary trip into the hospital is a real bummer and can start you down a path you might be trying to avoid. Do you have a friend or family member that’s given birth before that you might be able to touch base with for reassurance that you’re moving in the right direction even if it feels long and slow-going? Enlist their help to be that touchstone for either you or your partner during this early part of labor. Remember, reassurance is key during this early phase.

9) Use those comfort and coping techniques that you learned about in an evidence-based childbirth preparation class.  Initially, you might find that focused and intentional breathing are all that you need to get through the peaks of contractions. But don’t forget to think about using different positions, sitting on the birth ball, getting into the shower, vocalizing, looking at a focal point, enjoying lots of massages, using rhythmic movements and getting plenty of encouragement from your birth team members as ways to help you continue to move through your early phase of labor and into the more active phase. Understand that you will need to do some of the hard work of labor before any medication will be a realistic option for you. Pay attention to this section during your classes, even if you are “planning on the epidural.” You’ll need to use some of these techniques at the end of early labor while you’re still at home, for sure while you’re making your way into the hospital and definitely when you first arrive as you move into active labor.

10) Wait until your contraction pattern gets to at least 5-1-1, maybe even 4-1-1, before you head into the hospital. What does this mean? You want to wait until you have a labor pattern where contractions are 5 or 4 minutes apart when measured from the beginning of one contraction to the beginning of the next contraction, each individual contraction is 1 minute long, and this has been happening for at least 1 hour. In addition to this, your contractions should be strong enough that during the peak of each one, you are unable to walk, talk or smile. You are all business and your full concentration is on getting through each contraction. When this is the case, you’ll be working hard and that means that you’re moving through early labor and into active labor. This is the perfect time to come to the hospital or birthing center as any distractions there will have less power to negatively impact your labor progress.

How long will all of this take – this early labor? For most women, it will be the bulk of their labor overall. If you had a 24 hour labor, you could expect  maybe16 hours of it to be in early labor! For the majority of women, they should expect to be laboring at home for about 2/3 of their overall labor. (This is, of course, based on averages of labor and your situation would be contingent on so many different things that makes this just an example. You could be at home shorter or longer than this and all would be in the realm of “normal.”)

I feel very strongly that it’s not enough to encourage women to “stay at home as long as possible” without providing some real tools about how to do just that. We have been fed a cultural construct about birth that makes it seem impossible that we could be in early labor walking around the neighborhood, going out for a bite to eat – passing the time of these short and do-able contractions without it being a huge, dramatic experience. Women need to have more confidence in their bodies and their ability to judge for themselves whether or not they are in labor. Too often they feel they need to have someone else tell them they’re in early labor for it to be “official.”

Coming to the hospital and being told to go home can be devastating for a woman, not just because it’s an unnecessary and uncomfortable car ride, but because it makes her second guess her ability to make the call and determine what “real labor” looks like. Providing women with the “Top 10 Things To Consider In Early Labor” is my contribution to helping women feel like they can cope with early labor and feel prepared to stay home as long as possible to progress in their labor and reduce their risk for unnecessary interventions, medications and Cesarean Birth.

I’ve never had a woman come through my class saying, “I can’t wait for all those interventions – bring ‘em on!” Most are wanting to avoid all of them if possible. Waiting through the early phase of labor before coming to the hospital or birthing center is an great way to start their individual birth story.

How can we, as Childbirth Educators and new parents get the word out about rethinking early labor? What other practical ideas do you think should be added to my “Top 10 Things to Consider in Early Labor?” I’d love to offer as many tips as possible for my expectant families, please feel free to share your own ideas in the comments.