Why is PAIN a Four-Letter Word?

Pain

I taught a class recently that was a little different. It only meets once and focuses on the brain-body connection, the practice of comfort measures, and how to stay in a coping mindset throughout birth. There’s no discussion about the stages of labor or when to go to the hospital. This class is like “extra” practice for the uninitiated, or in the case of one of the Mommas in this particular class, a “refresher.”

Karen* introduced herself as a “veteran.” She went on to say that she’d chosen to have an unmedicated birth with her first, but it had been “really painful!” She needed more tools to help her cope with labor this time around.

She added quickly, “Don’t worry, ladies. You’ll forget all about the pain.”

Although I appreciated her attempts to not frighten the group of newbies assembled, I’m not sure if I completely agree with her statement. Some women don’t forget the pain of their labors – at least not entirely. And I’m not sure that encouraging women that they’ll forget their pain is necessarily helpful as a preparation technique.

However, her statement did end up being the perfect segue to talking about the “P-word.”

In our culture, pain has become a nasty, four-letter word that we want to avoid at all costs. There’s a thriving multi-billion dollar industry counting on the fact that people want only to take a pill to make their pain, physical or emotional, go away.

When we talk about labor, women don’t want to even think about the pain, let alone focus on it. I’ve found that most women fall into one of three approaches when it comes to labor pain and how to cope with it:

1) “The At-Home, DIY Epidural Kit Approach,” which of course, doesn’t exist. These are women who believe that there is no way they’ll ever be able to get through labor without drugs.

2) “The Grin and Bear It Approach,” which translates to women saying no to drugs, even if it becomes truly unbearable.

3) “The Just Breathe the Right Way Approach” which some women believe will not only allow you to experience birth without the use of pain medications, but also without any pain at all!

None of these approaches sound right to me. All of them have unrealistic expectations built in. And you know, I’m not a fan of unrealistic expectations. So, I’ve come up with my own approach to labor pain and how to cope with it. I’m calling it, “The Why Don’t You Wait and See Approach.”

There is a difference between pain and suffering. Pain is a physical sensation that occurs in the body, most often associated with illness or injury. (In the case of labor, it’s important to note, there is no illness or injury – barring any complications, you are healthy, and labor and birth are normal, biological events.) Suffering represents the emotional reaction to that pain.

In, “The At-Home, DIY Epidural Kit Approach,” too many women decide long before birth ever begins, that they will never be able to handle their contractions without pain medication. Why? Because they’ve bought into Hollywood Birth. Think of the last birth you saw on TV or in a movie. What about that scene would ever make you feel like you could give birth without drugs? Actually, what about that scene would ever make you want to get pregnant?

When women only see this dramatic and intensified Hollywood version of birth, it’s hard to imagine they could ever find labor to be tolerable, let alone something to look forward to. In this mindset, women often start their labors in fear – which actually increases their sensations of pain with each and every contraction. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. Making assumptions about your pain tolerance and ability to cope with contractions before labor ever begins is the surest way to undermine your real ability to remain in a coping mindset from start to finish.

But what about “The Grin and Bear It Approach?” Women adopting this approach have equated that they can only have an empowered birth experience if they don’t have any drugs – no matter what. No matter that their labor is extremely long and their baby is in a unfavorable position. No matter that there was a death in the family the same week they’re giving birth. No matter that this labor is kicking their behind and they stopped coping with contractions hours ago. They’re no longer just feeling pain with their contractions, they’ve crossed the line into suffering. These women believe that they’ll feel accomplishment after their births – and are completely shocked when instead they feel overwhelmed and like they were barely hanging on.

Many of the proponents of natural, unmedicated birth talk about enjoying contractions, finding bliss or even having orgasms while giving birth. In “The Just Breathe the Right Way Approach,” women might think they’re doing something wrong when they discover that their birth actually hurts. Maybe it hurts a lot. Talk about disappointment! They thought they’d be blissed out, having orgasms left and right, but that’s not what they’re experiencing at all

(Don’t get me wrong! I’ve actually met two women who did, in fact, have the most massive orgasm of their lives while giving birth! So, it can happen. But when I asked them how they did it, both of them essentially said, “I don’t know. It just sorta happened.” Have you ever gone in search of an orgasm while having sex? It goes into hiding – like witness protection program hiding! This might be one reason why orgasms during birth are not super common.)

We seem hell-bent on trying to avoid pain in labor and I’m not exactly sure why. 

To me, pain and pleasure are two sides of the same coin. We can’t really understand pleasure, if we don’t have something to compare it to. And while I would never classify my contractions as pleasurable, I definitely would describe the breaks in between as pure bliss. I would work hard through each contraction, pushing myself to my own personal limits, and then blessedly, there would be sweet relief on the other side of every single one of them.

It’s true that each contraction grew longer, stronger and closer together. And the breaks in between definitely got shorter. But if I was able to maintain that coping mindset, I knew this meant I was getting closer to holding my baby in my arms.

“The Why Don’t You Wait and See Approach,” allows women to stop preemptively deciding what they’ll be feeling when they go into labor. No one knows what their pain tolerance is for labor, because the pain you feel with contractions is so very different than any other kind of pain you’ve experienced before.

If you’re able to stay in a coping mindset, it’s completely possible that you can get through your entire labor experience without any need for pain medications.

Most likely, you’ll experience at least some level of discomfort in the middle of a contraction. You might describe your contractions as really painful, but tolerable. You might feel like your contractions are too intense for you to continue to handle them on your own. Who knows? You might win the labor lottery and have a big ol’ orgasm!

The point is – you have no idea what to expect. So, stop trying to predict how your labor will unfold and how you’ll respond before you’re ever in labor. Be open. Remain flexible. Wait and see. Then, make your best decision about how to cope with your contractions as they are actually happening, so you can look back on this experience and feel strong, empowered and confident that you participated fully in your birth.

What was your personal approach to your birth experience? Was it spot on from before birth, or did you have to switch gears in the middle of your labor? How does “The Why Don’t You Wait and See Approach” resonate with you? Please leave me a comment. I love to hear from you!

*Not her real name.

ZUMBA!

Zumba

I arrived at my class this evening ready to teach. It had been awhile since I was last at this location, and with the recent “ice storm” I left early not knowing what traffic would be like at rush hour. It wasn’t that bad and I was happy to clock in right on time to start prepping my classroom.

This particular class meets in a conference room in a clinic. It isn’t the best set-up for a Childbirth Education class, to be honest. The space is a little on the small side, it can get really warm, and the lighting is either ALL ON or ALL OFF.

So to get around these drawbacks the class size is limited to eight couples only and more recently, a table lamp has been purchased. In my opinion, it’s all worth it if it makes life easier for these families to have this option as a closer location, or one that works better for getting their classes in before their due dates. And in any case, the people who work at the clinic are really nice and I love my job, so it doesn’t matter that much.

But I still appreciate having a little extra time to set up when I’m at this location. I usually have to haul tables around to maximize the room space and the computer is a little slow in accessing my PowerPoint slides. It’s nice to be there with plenty of time to feel settled before my families start showing up at 6:15 for their 6:30 class.

As I came around the corner around 5:35 this evening, I heard some really loud music blaring from my classroom and the door was closed. I turned to someone who works at the clinic and asked, “Do you know what’s going on in there?”

“Oh, it’s a Zumba class!”

Wait, what?

“Ummmm… I’m supposed to be teaching a Childbirth Preparation class in there for 16 people in an hour.”

“I think they’ll be done by 6 pm.”

Okay… Not what I wanted to hear. But I wasn’t going to interrupt the class, they were in full swing and I could here them getting down to some serious Zumba-esque tunes.

(If you’ve never done a Zumba exercise class before, you really should try it at least once in your life. It’s a complete blast! The music is always ridiculously loud, like rock-concert-level-loud and has a lot of Latin or Indian (think Bollywood) influence, plus it’s one of the best cardio work-outs of all time! You will sweat like you’ve never sweat before. I’ve taken it as an exercise class before and really enjoyed it. And a couple of years ago, a girlfriend of mine had a big birthday party where we were encouraged to show up up in 80s work-out gear (think Olivia Newton John in her “Let’s Get Physical” days). We drank lots of Margaritas and ate mountains of chips with guacamole and then we did a 90-minute Zumba class. Seriously, it was one of the best birthday parties I’ve ever been to! But, I digress…)

Despite my fondness for Zumba, what I’d just heard put me in a bind as I needed/wanted more than 30 minutes to set-up for my class. I texted my supervisor to let her know what was happening and asked that she try to get to the bottom of this so it didn’t end up being a regular gig, and started setting up as best I could in the hallway outside the classroom.

At 6 pm, I poked my head in the room and found that I had to holler above the outrageously loud thumping club music, “I HAVE TO TEACH A CHILDBIRTH CLASS TO 16 PEOPLE IN THIS ROOM IN 30 MINUTES!” A young woman turned toward me and said/shouted, “OH! I’M SO SORRY! I DIDNT KNOW THERE WAS ANYTHING SCHEDULED FOR THIS ROOM! WE’LL BE OUT OF HERE BY 6:15!” And then the door closed.

Well, shoot. (For the record, that’s not the word I was repeating over and over in my head at the moment.) That just cut my set-up time in half – again. I went from having an hour to get the room all set-up to having only 15 minutes.

At this point, my students started showing up and I was forced to have them wait in the call center for a little bit, encouraging them to “get to know one another a little bit better.” To their credit, the Zumba class attendees sprung into action at 6:15, trying as best they could to help me set up the classroom. There wasn’t a whole lot they could do for me, but as I walked into the room I could feel the heat and – definitely smell the sweat – of about a dozen Zumba enthusiasts hit me full-force. I looked at the group of them assembled and begged, “Can you please find me a fan?” Which, thankfully, they did.

The students started filing in, and even though I was still taping things up and my classroom was not set up to my personal standards, class went off without a hitch. In fact, I actually covered more information tonight than I was supposed to, and so next week I have the luxury of being able to do some review and maybe even cover a little extra information at a more leisurely pace.

The reason I’m sharing this with you, is that I find it so interesting when I’m forced to “practice what I preach.”

I talk so much in my classes about how birth is too big to be planned and how you can’t really control it no matter how much you might want to – and that’s actually true of life.

You can set all the plans you want about how your day is going to play out, but in reality none of us has absolute control over any of it. We might leave early, in order to get somewhere with extra time to set-up and there’s an accident on the highway and you’re delayed by 30 minutes, or there’s ice on the roads and class needs to be cancelled, or there’s a group of sweaty people working out their Zumba-booties in your classroom when you arrive – and guess what?

You figure it out. You take a breath, realize that no one was trying to make the situation difficult for you, attempt to be as pleasant as possible (it makes it so much easier for everyone involved), suck it up and do what needs to be done.

There it is.

Birth, work, parenting, life – not as much control as any of us would like. And it’s nice sometimes to be reminded of this and realize that we have a choice to view any situation we’re in as either an opportunity or a challenge.

It’s not what’s actually happening that matters, but how you respond to what’s happening that matters.

Wow – very philosophical post today and written in one go right after my class ended, but a nice perspective to share: so happy that I’m still learning after all these years of teaching.

(And, of course, how could I reference ONJ without sharing a little bit of this goodness with all of you? I think it would make a really great song for a Zumba class, don’t you?)

Practical Packing for L&D

Packing

This post is for all the Mommas who’ve asked me over the years, “What should I pack for the hospital?” But it’s especially for two particular Mommas who asked me over the weekend. One posed this question during an express class and I didn’t have time to get into my list, so I directed her to the one that was in her book. The other asked me on the tour if I had the info I was sharing with the group in written form. I promised that if she checked out my blog this week, I’d have it in writing for her. And I don’t go back on my promises.

So here, without further ado, is the world’s most practical packing list of things to consider packing for labor, delivery and postpartum. This is not comprehensive, these are just things that I know will get used and -bonus! – you probably already have them all.

Grab two separate bags – one will be for labor and delivery and one will be for postpartum and can stay in the trunk of your car until after the baby is born.

Pack your postpartum bag first – this one’s easy. It’s whatever you and your partner would normally pack if you were to go away together for a long weekend. All the toiletries you’ll need and comfy clothes that you’d like to wear while getting to know your newborn. The hospital usually provides nursing gowns, “special” undies, and the monster pads that you’ll be wearing for the first couple of days, so unless you have personal issues with wearing these, I’d just let the hospital worry about it.

But for going home, Mommas will want to pack something they wore when they were about six months pregnant – something that is loose and comfortable. You’ll lose a lot of weight according to the scale after you give birth, it just won’t look like you have. Remember: It took nine months to put the belly on, please be gentle and give yourself nine months to a year to take that belly off.

The only thing you should need to pack for your baby is an outfit for them to go home in. And, then… a back-up outfit. They almost always decide to do a huge poop as you’re trying to leave the hospital and you’ll have to change everything and put them into something new.

As for the “Labor and Delivery Comfort Bag,” don’t think you have to bring different lotions and massage tools. You shouldn’t have to go out and buy a bunch of stuff – it’s completely unnecessary. What you’ll end up using you probably already have. While I think it’s fine for the Momma to gather all the items for this bag, it’s better if partner packs it so they know what’s coming to the hospital and where it is in the bag. Once you’re admitted to a room on the L&D floor, partner needs to make sure to unpack the bag, or you won’t remember to use anything you’ve brought with you.

Things to consider:

A way to hold your hair off your face. Even if you only have bangs, you might want them out of your face and eyes.

What do you want to wear in labor? The advantage to using the sexy hospital gowns (with the open-air option in the back – ooh, la, la!) is that there are a million of them and if one gets dirty you can always put on a new, clean one. Birth is messy business. But if putting on a hospital gown will make you feel like a sick person, then wear something from home instead. Just make it something you won’t mind getting rid of after birth – because it will probably end up in the trash can.

Laboring Mommas get overheated during the pushing stage and their heart rate can mimic that of their baby in utero climbing somewhere between 130-160 beats per minute. It’s not unusual for women to take off their gowns because they’re so hot. If you’d like a little more coverage, a sports bra (that you don’t care about) under whatever it is you’re wearing would be a great idea. The quickest way to get your baby on your chest, skin-to-skin, after birth would be to cut the bra off, because trying to wrestle out of a hot, sweaty sports bra is like giving birth – and we’re only doing that once, if we can help it.

Moving onto partners: pack some good quick snacks you can grab to eat that will sustain you and help you help her throughout the birth. You can’t tell a Momma in active labor, “I’ll be right back! I’m just going to jet down to the cafeteria to grab something to eat. I’ll be back in about a half hour.” Not unless you want to hear about this for the rest of your life.

Pack a swimsuit for yourself. Every laboring Momma should be planning on using hydrotherapy (a fancy word for the shower or tub) to help her cope with contractions. Depending on the size of the tub, you might be able to get in with her. But you’ll definitely both be able to fit in the shower together and your nurses will continue to check on Momma’s progress. They’re super comfortable with naked pregnant people, but wildly uncomfortable with naked non-pregnant people! Cover up.

You’ll want to bring toiletry supplies, including glasses, contacts, a toothbrush and toothpaste for you both: Mommas will sometimes throw up late in labor and nobody likes barf breath. If you, dear partner, have eaten nacho cheese Doritos in the past six-eight weeks, she’ll be able to smell it on your breath. Don’t let that be the reason she’s throwing up!

Throw a hoodie into this bag, because her temperature might be all over the place during labor and you’ll appreciate being able to put on and take off an extra layer.

Mommas might feel overheated, but still have cold feet. Warm socks or slippers would be a good idea. The floors in hospitals are cleaned several times a day and are a lot cleaner than your floors at home, but they are hospital floors. Wear some sort of foot covering.

Pillows from home will be appreciated both during and after birth. Hospital pillows suck – they’re good for propping you up in the tub, but not much else. Your pillows will smell like home, which can be extra soothing, and will help get you better situated for breastfeeding on the other side. Make sure they’re coming in bright pillowcases so the hospital doesn’t mistake them as part of their stash.

Lip goop is a necessity! It seems inconsequential, but can become a huge irritant during birth if she’s using breathing as the great coping technique that it is, and her lips become dry and chapped.

Last, but absolutely not least, remember to make your “Birth Mix.” Yep, I’m talking about taking the time to come up with the playlist of music that you love and would want to listen to as you’re giving birth to your baby – the emphasis here is: music that you love. If you love Enya, or whale mating calls, or songs from the rainforest, then by all means make that mix. But if that’s not for you, remember there’s nothing that says you can’t rock out to whatever music you really enjoy. Quiet and mellow music has it’s place in labor – but so does AC/DC. You’ll want to have a mix of music to chill to and music to move to so that when it’s required, you can change the energy in the room.

And some sing-along music is a great idea, too. If you open your mouth in between contractions to sing the chorus of your favorite song, it’s really hard to stay tensed up. If your jaw is open, your cervix is opening. If your jaw is clenched tight, so’s your cervix. It’s called the “Sphincter Law.” I didn’t come up with this, renowned midwife Ina May Gaskin did. And here’s what she has to say: “The state of relaxation of the mouth and jaw is directly correlated to the ability of the cervix, the vagina, and the anus to open to full capacity. A relaxed and open mouth favors a more open vagina and cervix.” Something to think about, for sure.

As for any other items you want to bring with you – go for it. This is just a list of what I consider the absolute basics and extremely practical things to consider when packing your “Go Bag.” As a Momma of four, I’m nothing if not practical.

Happy packing!

Are there things that I’ve missed? What other (practical) items would you consider essential to the labor and delivery bag? I’d love to hear what you think should be added.

Due Date – How About Due Month?

CalendarOne of the first things that every pregnant couple needs to let go of as soon as possible is the expectation of having their baby be born on a specific day. This is just not something you can count on. When you, your provider, or an internet application attempts to calculate your due date some very big assumptions are being made.

First, that you know the exact date of your LMP – or last menstrual period. You find that date by using the first day you began bleeding on your last menstrual period. Some women will know this without question. They’ve been trying to get pregnant, or may even be using IVF or other means of getting pregnant that really require a heavy amount of tracking in order for conception to take place within a certain timeframe. But, remember the window for conception is a little bit bigger than you think! You can get pregnant any time from about 5 days before ovulation occurs right up to the actual day of ovulation. So knowing exactly when you conceived your little bundle of joy might not be as predictable as you think. And then don’t forget all the other women who, quite honestly, have no idea what their LMP is! “Umm… I think it was the 15th. Maybe?!”

The second assumption is that you have a 28-day menstrual cycle. Some of us do – but only about 10-15%. The rest have cycles that can vary anywhere from 21-35 days in length. And then even that number can vary from month to month. Life events, varying degrees of stress or illness can mean that the number of days between periods fluctuates and doesn’t always remain consistent or regular.

But what if we use ultrasound to determine the almighty due date? How accurate is that?

Well, it ends up being slightly more accurate than using the LMP calculation, but it’s not perfect, either! According to this great article from Evidence Based Birth and Rebecca Dekker, there’s an optimal time to receive an ultrasound to determine gestational age, and that range is between 11-14 weeks. The most common time for a woman to receive an ultrasound, however, is somewhere between 16-20 weeks. The study referenced here showed a significant decline in accuracy happening at that 20 week mark. And 3rd trimester ultrasounds are even less accurate than earlier ultrasounds and LMP. But even if a woman has an ultrasound at the optimal range of 11-14 weeks, this study found that about 68% of women gave birth + or – 11 days of their estimated due date via ultrasound! If you were a betting person, these are not good odds for putting any amount of money down that a baby will be born on a specific day

Calculating a due date can be helpful, I guess. It allows your provider to have a guide by which to measure the growth and development of your baby in relation to your gestation. And it also allows Mommas and partners to have some idea of when pregnancy will finally be over! And it is a helpful planning tool! It lets friends know when they should send out invites to the baby shower, and it allows the Grandmas to figure out when they should be flying out to help after baby is born. It’s helpful. It is. 

But, unfortunately, by the time I see couples in my classes this due date has long been cemented in their minds as “The Day The Baby Will Be Born.” As if any other date will be off somehow. In reality, less than 10% of babies arrive on their actual due date. Some studies place this number even closer to 5%.

You’re actually considered “due” for about 2 weeks before that due date and about 2 weeks after that due date. So, it would be wise for you to start considering your due month, rather than your due date. Why is this so important? 

The exact trigger for spontaneous labor is not really well understood. But it’s widely regarded that there’s a complex interaction between the baby and the Momma that causes the uterus to begin contracting and labor to start.

Some ideas that have persisted over time include the following: a significant shift in the estrogen/progesterone ratio prior to labor beginning. When estrogen levels increase toward the end of pregnancy, it increases the levels of prostaglandin production which is known to assist in the ripening of the cervix. These heightened levels also increase the number of oxytocin receptors that exist on the uterus, as well as increase the contractility of the uterus overall. The baby’s adrenal glands and pituitary glands may actually play a significant role in controlling the timing of labor. The fetal production of the hormone cortisol can lead to increased levels of prostaglandin, as well increase the maturation of their lungs which in some way might trigger that babies are ready to be born.

In “normal person speak,” the hormones of the Momma and her baby play an important role together in signaling the start of labor. If and when it is possible, we should honor this natural, normal and physiological start to labor. It benefits both Mommas and babies – not just in pregnancy and birth, but also in their immediate postpartum experience. 

Women who get very attached to their due date as the day their baby will arrive have a couple of potential issues from the get-go. If the baby comes anytime in those two weeks prior to the due date, couples can find themselves either caught completely off-guard or risk feeling and acting as though they have had a pre-term birth. This, in turn, might cause them to parent with unnecessary caution, concern or added anxiety, when in fact – their baby was born term, just a little bit before the estimated due date. 

Women who deliver on the other side of their due date, women who are already sick of being pregnant, face an even bigger challenge in my opinion. Because, let’s face it, at 38 weeks gestation most pregnant women repeat this mantra daily, “Get it out of me – now!” They start counting not only the days they go past their due date, but the hours, and then the minutes and then the seconds… It’s a slow and painful kind of self-inflicted torture.

It’d be great if much earlier in pregnancy, a couple could realize the futility of trying to determine the actual date that the baby will be born and instead focus on the due month

So try this little exercise…

Your estimated due date as determined by LMP, ultrasound or what your provider has told you is: (A)_____. The date on the calendar 14 days before this due date is: (B)_____. The date on the calendar 14 days after this due date is: (C)_____. Now you know the approximate timeline in which your baby will make their arrival, their due month.

Begin to look at your calendar in this new way. Tell everyone you know that you now understand that your baby will arrive sometime between dates B & C. Get a marker and highlight those dates on the calendar if it will help you to get rid of the idea that your baby will come on a certain and particular day. It is, and has always been, only an estimate.

And that is something you can count on.

Experienced Parents Please Share: When you were pregnant, how invested were you in your due date? Did your baby actually arrive on that date? Was your baby “early” or “late”? What would you have done differently if you’d considered your due month instead of a particular date?

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?

Facebook… I’m not always sure how I feel about you!

Facebook

I once posted a picture of myself on Facebook lying down on my living room couch, eyes red and puffy from crying, with a tampon stuck up one of my nostrils.

 Let me explain.

I’d been playing with my then 4 year old son, Félix. He was crouched on the ground and I was leaning over about to give him a surprise tickle attack and he jumped straight up into the air. His head, which is apparently made of titanium, made direct contact with my face – specifically, the center of my face – and I thought he’d broken my nose.

Of course this couldn’t have happened at 2 pm on a Saturday. No, it happened around 4 pm on a night when I had to teach. The amount of blood that happens when you have a facial injury of any sort is awe-inspiring and has been known to put many people into a state of panic. My son looked at my face as I leaned over the kitchen sink and did what all smart people who suffer from hemophobia do – he ran upstairs as fast as he could and didn’t come back down until the scene of the crime had been completely cleaned up. Alone, and needing to stop this bleeding quickly, I called my friend Lauren – who just so happens to be an RN.

Everyone in life should be so lucky to have a friend who’s in the medical profession – especially one that lives nearby. Lauren has come to our rescue and saved us many, many trips to the ER over the years. She’s been known to come over when most people are in bed asleep to examine the cuts, bumps and other ailments kids are prone to getting at the most inconvenient times, to help us determine if this is a “Go in and be seen” kind of thing, or a “Wait and see what’s happening in an hour” kind of thing. Seriously, if you don’t already have someone like this in your life, you need to find an RN or an MD and try to cultivate a budding friendship with them. They are a source of calm and can save you big bucks in insurance co-pays.

On the day that I thought my nose was broken, I needed a quick fix to get the bleeding to stop so I could still go into work and teach later that evening. I was having a hard time finding a substitute teacher at such a late hour. I called Lauren and she told me to try an old wrestling trick. In a match, if one of the wrestlers gets a bloody nose (which I suppose happens fairly often!) they can’t get back into play until the bleeding stops. So they do the usual head back, pinch the nose trick – they just add a tampon into the nostril to stop the bleeding from the inside. Brilliant. And – bonus! – it totally worked.

You might be wondering why I felt compelled to post a picture of myself looking like this on Facebook. At the time this happened to me, I rarely posted anything, let alone pictures of myself, on social media. But this was my rebellious attempt to post something real, authentic and not very pretty on a social media site that was all too often filled with the artificial, contrived, and perfect.

I consume plenty of enjoyment from BuzzFeed, so don’t be mistaken that I’m getting all snotty about the content on social media sites. And actually, this past year has been amazing in terms of making real connections with people via Facebook, Linked In and other social media sites. But I think today’s generation of expectant parents are growing up with this lens of social media dictating to them what pregnancy, birth and parenting are “supposed” to look like. They have a level of added pressure that previous generations haven’t had to deal with before.

Not so long ago, I was speaking to a young woman and her mother and I casually asked if she was a grandmother yet. Instantly, I regretted the question. The two women shared a look and then the daughter replied hastily, “No, not yet. Haven’t found the right guy!” Her mother added, “We’re in no rush. No pressure at all.” But I could tell that this was not an easy topic for either of them. The young woman went on to explain without any provocation from me, “It’s just so hard! My FB feed is all about friends finding the ‘love of their life’. And then it’s all of their wedding photos, their honeymoon selfies, their announcement that they’re expecting their first baby. Everything’s just falling into place for them. It’s all so perfect. It just makes me feel like I’m falling behind.”

Whoa.

I knew this was an issue, but just in a couple of sentences, this young woman highlighted what can be so challenging about social media sites. Rarely, do we get to read a post that speaks to the reality of our lives. I think we all know this, but still the images of happiness and perfection start to seep in and it’s difficult to remember: People only post the good stuff. We don’t get to see the REAL stuff. In addition to this, online “communities” that don’t have a moderator to really guide discussions can all too quickly dissolve into sites where personal bias and judgement reign supreme. Anyone seeking comfort and connection can soon feel the opposite if they make a statement or pose a question that goes against what the the majority believes or supports.

This issue of “social media as community” becomes even more important when the community you are talking about is made up of men and women seeking support as they begin their journey toward becoming parents.

This is not just isolated to social media sites. I sometimes look at birth and parenting websites to see what expectant families are currently concerned about and it breaks my heart the number of times I read a post from an anxious pregnant woman leaving her particular worry or concern at 3 am in the community chat box only to see that no one ever responded to her call for help. I know that it takes a lot of time and effort to curate a discussion board and that it’s challenging to staff one even if you are a big, flashy well-known website that millions of people access daily – but come on.

Embarking on the journey to becoming a parent, means experiencing an automatic and high level of vulnerability. These men and women need to have a safe place to land when they feel like they’re falling, or failing, and the internet is not that safe place for parents a lot of the time. I’m hoping that this blog (and my eventual website and book) will all be safe places for parents to land as they try to navigate their own journeys. And in the meantime, I’ll continue to do my part to encourage authentic discussion about pregnancy, birth and parenting and help share the realities of it all. Providing parents assistance in broadening their expectations of pregnancy, birth, parenting, and to shed a light on the reality of living an authentic life as a new family is both a personal and professional mission for me.

And that might mean posting the occasional picture of myself with a tampon up my nose. Not just to post the not-so-pretty, real and authentic picture, but also to provide a tip that actually works! Two-for-one! You’re welcome.

If you’re a new or expectant Dad, here is a website that I wholeheartedly encourage you to check out. Becoming Dad is based in Australia, so the workshops are not possible unless you live in that country. But there is a Becoming Dad “Dads Only” FB group that I know is a community forum that is well moderated, respectful and a place where men of all backgrounds can feel supported and encouraged in their real-life experience of fatherhood.

I’m on the search for just such a website for Mommas. I have put the call out (on Facebook! Hah – the irony is not lost on me…) to see what sites, if any, already exist out there. I will edit this post and add to it as I gather intel. Stay tuned.

Lastly, if you’re sick to death of perfect images of pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding, and parenting and you need a good laugh – please check out “It’s Like They Know Us” on tumblr. It takes stock images of beautiful people wearing blindingly white outfits while holding gorgeous and well-behaved infants and children – and provides hysterical captions that help you break down that impossible image of perfection. I love this site so very much.

Do you have safe places to land on the internet as an expectant or new parent? A place that would feel welcoming to all parents, no matter their pregnancy, birth, feeding or parenting choices? I’d love to compile a list. Please share.