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Birth Regrets?

March 2013 034I usually talk in my classes about how ‘this’ is the only chance you’re going to get to birth this baby. Sure you may go on to have other babies, but you only get *THIS* chance to birth *THIS* baby. I also share with moms that because of this fact, the significance of this birth is infinitely greater than the significance of this birth is to your nurse, OB, midwife, etc.” – Louise Delaney

As I was writing my post last week about “bragging rights” in birth, I was also considering the role of birth regret. I’ve come to realize that just as each woman has moments of triumph in birth, almost every woman, even those with the most blissful birth stories to share, have birth regrets of some kind of another. And, we may often look at subsequent births as an opportunity to “fix” whatever it was that went “wrong” with the birth that came before it. While it may seem to some that most mother swap “horror stories” more often than tales of exhilaration, I’ve noticed that those who are particularly passionate about birth, may withhold or hurry past their own birth regret moments, perhaps out of a desire not to tarnish the blissful birth image, a desire not to lose crunchy points, or a desire not to contribute to the climate of doubt already potently swirling around pregnant women. I’ve already acknowledged all of my own moments of birth regret, but never all in the same post…so, here they are…

First birth: This birth was great and very empowering, but I also learned a lot of things I’d like to do differently the next time. Maybe “regret” is too strong a word, but there were things I definitely knew I wanted to change for next time. I regretted feeling pushed into several things I wouldn’t have chosen on my own, such as giving birth in a semi-sitting position rather than on hands and knees. I wished I hadn’t had quite so many people around me at the birth and I wished I would have just stayed home, rather than driving to a birth center. I regretting not asking to squat after the placenta to help the “sequestered clots” come out and possibly avoid the manual extraction I experienced which was pretty awful (I swear my uterus actually twinges when writing/thinking about it). I regretted having a pitocin shot after the birth, because I still don’t think I actually needed it and it bothered me for a long time that I couldn’t figure out whether or not I’d really needed it. I was also pretty physically and emotionally traumatized by the labial/clitoral tearing I experienced and desperately wanted to fix that next time! Interestingly, most of these regrets were clearly connected to other people and to events in the immediate postpartum period, rather than anything to do with the labor or birth process itself.

Second birth: With this birth, I see very clearly how I deliberately made choices to “fix” the things that nagged at me from my first birth. I gave birth at home, I had very few people present, I gave birth on hands and knees. I was extremely distraught to tear again in the same unfortunate and traumatic way. I’d been totally convinced before the birth that it was all related to positioning and I could fix it, next time. I regretted getting up and showering, etc. so soon after the birth and I wished for more postpartum care (noticing a theme here…). I wished I hadn’t almost fainted several times and still recall the feeling of my head snapping back as I almost went under. That said, I felt the proudest and most exhilarated after this birth.

Third birth: Aside from the obvious of wishing my baby had been born alive, I “fixed” some things from prior births in that I stayed down after the birth to keep myself from fainting. I regretted drinking Emergen-C after the birth. I regretted not being better informed about coping physically with a miscarriage. And, I wished I’d been better able to assess blood loss. I also wished I’d had an attendant of some kind, particularly for immediate postpartum care. I still feel traumatized from the memory of what felt like extreme blood loss during this birth. This was the most physically demanding experience of my life. Not just my birth life, my whole life.

Fourth birth: My biggest regret from this birth was having tried to use a hypnosis for birth program while in labor. I feel as if there were some pre-birth benefits from using the program, but it was not a match for the way I labor and birth and I actually feel as if using it had a negative impact both on my ability to clearly remember and to focus my energy. I did still tear in the same place and in what seems like some new ways as well. I never want to tear like that again. I hate it. I’ve reached my physical and emotional limit with experiencing that type of tearing and I feel like I still have some negative lasting effects. I also think I had some nerve damage that continued until about six months ago. What I “fixed” this time was having a living baby and rediscovering that I could in fact do this and there was nothing wrong with me. I loved that I caught my own baby. (Best. Moment. Ever.) I also had the immediate postpartum care I’ve finally learned I really, really need. I consumed a small piece of placenta postpartum, I drank chlorophyll (and not vitamin C), when I went to the bathroom and did not look down, so I didn’t get all fainty and woozy from seeing the blood, and my doula encapsulated the placenta and I loved it.

It is interesting to me to look at these feelings and situations in the same place. With my last birth, I finally “fixed” the postpartum and blood loss issues that haunted me, but I created new things to fix by experimenting with hypnosis rather than the active birth, birth warrior, Birthing from Within type of experience that truly suits me. I guess I will never fix the tearing situation (I still want to write about that someday!). I also notice how impacted I was and still am by the two births that involved major blood loss. This came up for me very viscerally in reading the current Midwifery Today issue about hemorrhage. While the topic is important and the issue is really informative and useful, I actually had to put it down by page nine because my uterus was hurting/twinging so much (low back too). I really don’t think it was only my imagination either. (This is one reason my work with birth is never going to actually include becoming a midwife!)

I’m curious to know…do you have birth regrets? Or, things that you used subsequent births to fix, overcome, or cope with? Do you see any patterns to your birth experiences like I see in mine?

The other thing this exercise brought up for me is the important of preparing for the birth you want during this birth. This baby is only born once. This birth only happens once. I have clients tell me sometimes while still pregnant with their first baby, “well, next time, I’ll try XYZ…” Don’t wait for next time, do it this time!

The first birth is the pivotal birth. Every birth experience that follows builds on that one. Our choices now are choices for the NEXT birth. The first birth doesn’t have to be either perfect or awful and earth shattering to make us think. We don’t have to choose differently than the first birth; but it’s the first one that gives us a place to begin experiencing not just birth but ourselves as mothers, women, people. We may not all have ground shaking, earth thundering thoughts but we have them. The experience belongs to us. We choose what to do with it. Choosing to do nothing different is still an influenced choice ~ made on that experience…

…What will YOU do to have a first birth that leaves you with few regrets or changes for your NEXT birth? Why not have the birth of your choosing, rooted in truth and your ability to know yourself and your baby now?…

via The Home Birth Experience: The First Birth is HERstory | Real women. Real options. Real birth..

These types of triumphs and regrets produce both birth professionals dedicated to helping others and also mothers who become so hurt and disillusioned with birth that they may actively reject the “natural birth” movement.

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Tuesday Tidbits: Bragging Rights

“Before I had children I always wondered whether their births would be, for me, like the ultimate in gym class failures. And I discovered instead…that I’d finally found my sport.” –Joyce Maynard

“Our body-wisdom knows how to birth a baby. What is required of the woman who births naturally is for her to surrender to this body-wisdom. You can’t think your way through a birth, and you can’t fake it.” –Leslie McIntyre

February 2013 113
This week I particularly enjoyed a saucy post by my friend, colleague, and doula, Summer. Titled Bragging Rights, she talks about her own experience birthing a very large baby (nearly 12 pounds! I enjoy bragging about her baby too!) and whether or not she really “deserves” bragging rights on birthing a big baby. I absolutely love her concluding thoughts on the topic:

“…Frankly, I think all mothers get bragging rights on their babies births. Birth is awesome and amazing and power-full. Every mother must face it. Sure, she may face it differently than me, but it IS a labyrinth we all go through. This is the way of life. So, mothers, brag away. Brag about whatever part of your labor and baby’s birth made you feel empowered….find that piece, even if it’s just a tiny moment, and cling to it. Shout it from the rooftops!…”

What a great idea that all mothers deserve “bragging rights.” What are your bragging rights moments from your births, however they unfolded?

I immediately thought of one for each of mine, reflecting that each birth does hold a key moment for me, the first thing that comes to mind when I think about that birth, a moment of being power-full.

First birth: my moment was arriving at the birth center fully dilated after having worried I was “only two centimeters.”

Second birth: having a two-hour labor—it was a train ride and I DID IT. Wow!

Third birth (miscarriage): coaching myself through labor and being brave enough and strong enough to open and let go of my little non-living baby.

Fourth birthFebruary 2013 102: catching my own baby! By myself! With my own two hands! And, she was ALIVE!

…the stories I see of birth in the media don’t reflect the intense emotions, the physical power, or the immense impact of the experience itself. Women screaming, fathers fumbling about, doctors doing most of the heroic work–these images don’t do justice to my experience. I felt empowered, strong, heroic in my efforts to bring my daughter into the world yet, I am painfully aware how little others see the heroism in my birth experience.“ –Amy Hudock (essay in Literary Mama)

“...if you want to know where a woman’s true power lies, look to those primal experiences we’ve been taught to fear…the very same experiences the culture has taught us to distance ourselves from as much as possible, often by medicalizing them so that we are barely conscious of them anymore. Labor and birth rank right up there as experiences that put women in touch with their feminine power…” –Christiane Northrup

I am a Story Woman

“The greatest gift we can give one another is rapt attention to one another’s existence.” –Sue Ellen quoted in Sacred Circles

“Human connections are deeply nurtured in the field of shared story.” –Jean Houston

I am a strong woman, I am a story woman…

I’m busy preparing for a New Year’s Eve ritual on Monday, the first ritual like this for which we will include all family members instead of just women. As I was getting our “family fireside circle” song sheet ready, my husband asked a question about one of the lines in one of the chants…I am a strong woman, I am a story woman…

“I’m not sure about this,” he said, “what is a story woman anyway?” I wasn’t able to give him a solid answer at that moment, but guess what, I am one.

In fact, didn’t I just write earlier this week that story holds the key to the reclamation of power for women? How and why does this work?

Because of these two things:

“The one who tells the stories rules the world.” –Hopi Indian Proverb

“We feel nameless and empty when we forget our stories, leave our heroes unsung, and ignore the rites of our passage from one stage of life to another.” –Sam Keen and Anne Valley-Fox

We need to hear women’s stories. We need to hear each other into speech. We need to witness and be witnessed. We need to be heard. We need to shift the dialogue of birth and, indeed, most aspects of women’s lives into powerfully positive “what if’s” and courageous explorations of our “negative” stories. When we hear the experiences of other women, of other people, sometimes it lights something in us and we are able to go forward in a way in which we would not have done without that story…

“Once the imagination has been kindled, we begin to see choices that we had never even seen before…but just seeing that we have different options and choices rarely gives us the strength we need to exercise these options. For this we need more than imagination. We need the courage to reach beyond ourselves, extending our hands to one another…” –Robin Deen Carnes and Sally Craig

And, then, this afternoon we had an ugly, sad, overtired, family-wide meltdown about homeschooling. I don’t really want to bother reliving the agony by typing up everything that happened, because we’re all back to normal now, but it was really the same old story. Parent suddenly gets bee in bonnet that kids (who are perfectly happy at the time pursuing their own interests and living robust lives) “should” be doing something different. Kid doesn’t live up to expectations and is, in fact, so unable to perform a very simple, basic task, that questions arise in parents’ minds about kid’s mental capacities. Parents feel personally responsible and like homeschooling parent failures as well as annoyed with kid who should know this already. Brief ranting and raving ensues along with hurt feelings. Sweeping pronouncements are made about what needs to happen to transform all of our lives into properly performing homeschooling bliss.

During this time, I abruptly decided this was IT, I HAVE TO STOP BLOGGING. I cried and cried. I don’t want to quit, but, if I can’t do homeschooling properly I certainly don’t deserve to be a blogger. And, then I remembered these quotes about stories and I especially remembered this one:

“As long as women are isolated one from the other, not allowed to offer other women the most personal accounts of their lives, they will not be part of any narratives of their own…women will be staving off destiny and not inviting or inventing or controlling it.” –Carolyn Heilbrun quoted in Sacred Circles

mollyatparkAnd, also this one:

Telling our stories is one way we become more aware of just what ‘the river’ of our lives is. Listening to ourselves speak, without interruption, correction, or even flattering comments, we may truly hear, perhaps for the first time, some new meaning in a once painful, confusing situation. We may, quite suddenly, see how this even or relationship we are in relates to many others in our past. We may receive a flash of insight, a lesson long unlearned, a glimpse of understanding. And, as the quiet, focused compassion for us pervades the room, perhaps our own hearts open, even slightly, towards ourselves.

–Robin Deen Carnes & Sally Craig in Sacred Circles

And, just last night, I got a beautiful thank you note for the Mindful Mama essay that I wrote in 2008 and that was updated/published in 2011. My stories, my words, were serving as “medicine” for another woman while I was cooking dinner last night, even though I actually wrote them several years before. That is story power. I am a story woman.

Last month, I had an email chat with a friend about why we write in the first place. She’d written a blog post about her family and as I read it I was reminded of how glad I am I blog and why I don’t want to give it up. Her post was a post like that—one that will bring back a whole collection of memories that have slipped from conscious memory. At the time of our exchange, I’d been looking back at some of my own old posts and found the ones I wrote about Pinterest day and it was so much fun to re-read them, because I’d already forgotten some of the recipes we’d tried. And…that was only after like six months have passed. It will be even more fun in a couple of years 🙂 I can remember having this fear (or whatever) of forgetting even since I was a girl. I write to remember. In fact, I’d actually left a comment on a Literary Mama blog post on the subject:

I write to remember. I write to share. I write to preserve. I write to collect. I write to store. I write for myself. I write for my children. I write for others. I write for perspective. I write to play my life’s music. I write because I just can’t help it. I write to pay attention and to tell about it.

I do feel like I have to have a balance between personal memory stuff and other information/education/advocacy on this blog because I don’t want to overdose readers on the picture of my kids and make people bored. I also have probably 100 ideas for posts before I actually get to write one. If I was only blogging for myself (and my future memory) I’d make more of the shorter, personal, picture-type posts, but I start to worry “who cares” and so I put up something educational! (BUT, as it turns out, the pictures/personal/kids stuff is NOT boring to me in other people’s blogs or in going back to my own.)

As another example, a couple of weeks ago, I came across the post I’d written based on a journal entry about Alaina when she was a one month old (Memories of a One Month Old…). This is exactly why I do it and why I’m not going to stop. Because reading what I wrote that day in my journal brought that one month old treasure of a baby girl back into my arms for a few moments in vivid clarity, rather than just as a hazy, distant recollection. It isn’t that you truly forget without having written it down, but that in the reading of your old story, a powerful, stored, storied memory that you had forgotten how to access fully is reactivated.

Also a couple of weeks ago, I got a little tear in my eye when Alaina came to get me in the bedroom showing me her handful of monkeys from the “monkey jump game.” When Lann was about her age if you asked him if he was a big boy, he would answer: “I not bigger yet, I can’t reach the monkey jump game!” Well, guess what, he reached it for them that day and they were all in the living room playing while I was getting dressed…

November 2012 243

I am a story woman.

And, I’m not quitting.

Other posts about Story:

Story Power

A Blessing…and more…

The Value of Sharing Story

The Of COURSE response…

Musings on Story, Experience, & Choice…

Taking it to the Body, Part 4: Women’s Bodies and Self-Authority

Call for your experiences – the impact of birth trauma and beyond | Rebecca A. Wright

An online friend and sister birth professional, Rebecca Wright, emailed me recently to share some information about an important new project that she is launching:

I’m planning to write a book on birth trauma that will centre on women’s voices and experiences. It’s not going to be so much dwelling on birth trauma (though there will be an element of that as I want people to understand that whether an experience was ‘objectively’ traumatic or not, it can have an enormous impact – and I think a lot of women say to themselves, ‘my experience wasn’t as bad as some others I hear about’ and so don’t feel able to validate their own feelings and experience). What I really want to focus on is a) the impact of birth trauma (or of ‘difficult’ birth experiences) on mothers, babies, partners, families; b) the many individual paths to healing from birth trauma that people have walked; c) rediscovering your power in birth and motherhood following a difficult or traumatic experience.

She’d like to reach out to mothers, but also their partners, and doulas (midwives, nurses, doctors, etc.) and she’s also interested in hearing from practitioners of whatever sort who work with women and families around these issues.

Full details are available on her blog:

I want this book to be made of women’s voices (and men’s as well). I want it to be a place where the unspoken is spoken clearly and openly. I want it to be a book that honours the sacredness of each birth journey, and each path to healing. I want it to be a book that opens doorways for those who are feeling lost or alone so that they can find hope and a way forward that is suitable for them personally. Most of all, I want it to be a book that shows that it is possible to reclaim your personal power in birth and mothering following a difficult or traumatic experience in birth.

via Call for your experiences – the impact of birth trauma and beyond | Rebecca A. Wright.

Make sure to check out her project and see if you can lend your voice to what sounds like a beautifully healing book!

And, speaking of birth trauma, a while ago, I also received a question via Facebook asking for recommended resources for healing from traumatic birth. Check out the series on Giving Birth with Confidence about traumatic birth prevention and recovery. Or, look into Solace for Mothers.

Eleven Years Ago…

In 2000, while working on my block field placement (internship) in graduate school, I met a woman who would become my best friend and a profoundly influential part of my life. We shared a lot of formative life experiences of early adulthood together and I accompanied her to the hospital for the births of two of her children and she came to the birth center with me when my oldest son was born. While my own mother had all four of her children at home and so homebirth and natural birth were parts of my life history, I didn’t really begin to focus on birth as an issue until I was married and in my early 20’s. At this point, I was most influenced by the newsgroup misc.kids.pregnancy. So, I became both deeply interested in natural birth and also very invested in my friend’s birth plans and her ideas about birth. As her pregnancy progressed, she hired a doula that I came across at a street fair and took birth classes from her at the birth center in which I would later have my first baby.

After Maggie was born, I was more involved in her life than I have ever been involved with a baby that was not related to me and in a way that I’ve never been able to be involved again. Without any children of my own at the time, I was able to be present for my friend in a way in which I now see, few friends are able to be for each other, since most women who connect during their childbearing years are intensely embroiled in the needs of their own children and families. Looking back, I see I was like the best postpartum doula ever, without knowing that is what I was being at the time (and, I was free, and did it for a year! :)) After bringing over dinner every night for the first week, for the following year I then I went over to my friend’s house every morning and took care of the baby while my friend ate her breakfast, took care of herself, and went for a run. Then, we would walk in the neighborhood together for about an hour, talking about our lives, dreams, and plans.

Last year, that magical baby that had such a profound influence on my life and on my birthwork in the world turned TEN! I could hardly believe it. At that time, I asked my friend for permission to post the birth story I had written in my journal the morning after her baby’s birth. My friend granted me permission, but then several days passed and since it wasn’t the baby’s birthday any more, the story sat in my drafts folder for…another year. And, now, that magical, wonderful baby is ELEVEN! Here is her birth story, through my naïve, pre-maternal eyes…

Maggie’s Birth

With my little friend, 2002

Journal Entry, 11/3/01. 12:22 p.m.

Returned home this morning at 7:15 after being at the birth of Kate & Dave’s baby girl, Maggie. I’m very tired, but I wanted to write a little bit anyway. We went to the hospital at 1:30 p.m. on Friday (11/2) after Kate’s water broke. She was still 2 centimeters at 9:00 p.m., so they started pitocin. At 12:00 a.m. the doulas arrived and Kate was 3-4 centimeters dilated. The doulas were absolutely wonderful at soothing and guiding her. At 1:15 a.m. she was 7 centimeters (!) and at a tiny bit after 2:00 a.m. she began pushing. Then, she pushed for almost four hours before Maggie was born at 5:51 a.m. (8lbs 10z).

It was really hard to watch and not be able to do anything for her. I can’t imagine what it would have felt like as her husband—someone that close in. She did a wonderful, wonderful job. No pain medication at all, even with the pitocin. She only asked about pain meds once (before the doulas got there). I felt completely in awe of her strength and power. She was so brave and so strong and so tough. Powerful woman stuff. I couldn’t believe that she pushed for four hours. I do not think I could have done it. The baby was worth it though—boy is she cute and pink and making me want to have one too!

I can’t really describe what this experience meant to me or how powerful it was. It was beautiful and strong. Kate is an amazing woman and I am awed by her bravery. She and Dave are so happy with their precious little bundle. I got to hold her too, when she was less than 30 minutes old and Kate was being stitched up (bad tear). I didn’t feel like much help to Kate, but being present mean a lot to me and I hope the fact that I was there meant something to her too. I’m so encouraged to see that a hospital birth can be pulled off so well.

Life is wonderful. Welcome, baby girl!

Happy Birth-Day to you both today, Maggie and Kate! You hold a deep and special place in my heart. You both changed my life forever.

What If…She’s Stronger than She Knows…

“When I dare to be powerful–to use my strength in the service of my vision–then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.”

Audre Lorde

As I was writing about shifting the “what if” dialogue of birth to “positive” anticipation rather than fear, another spin on the relationship between pregnancy, birth, womanhood, and what ifs began to emerge for me. I thought about the what ifs that crawl out of our dark places and lodge in our hearts. The what ifs that snake around the edges of our consciousness in the early hours of the morning. The what ifs we try to push down, down, down and away. The what ifs that stalk us. The what ifs so very awful that we fear in giving voice to them, we might give life to them as well.

We may feel guilty, ashamed, negative, and apologetic about our deepest “what ifs.” We worry that if we speak of them, they might come true. We worry that in voicing them, we might make homebirth or midwifery or whatever look bad. We don’t want to add any fuel to the fire of terror that already dominates the “mainstream” birth climate. And, we don’t want to lose “crunchy points.” We want to be blissfully empowered, confident, and courageous. And, guess what? We are. Sometimes that courage comes from looking the “what ifs” right in the eye. Sometimes it comes from living through them. My most powerful gift from my pregnancy with my daughter, my pregnancy-after-loss baby, was to watch myself feel the fear and do it anyway. I was brave. And, it changed me to learn that.

What if we can learn more from our shadows than we ever thought possible? There is power in thinking what if I can’t do this and then discovering that you CAN.

“It is so easy to close down to risk, to protect ourselves against change and growth. But no baby bird emerges without first destroying the perfect egg sheltering it. We must risk being raw and fresh and awkward. For without such openness, life will not penetrate us anew. Unless we are open, we will not be filled.”
–Patricia Monaghan

I also thought about an experience I had recently at a gathering of midwifery supporters. It was an interesting and insightful presentation about language and the impact on birth. The woman speaking urged us to talk in “positive” ways about birth, to use “positive” words and to avoid “negative” stories. As I listened to her, I thought of my own loss story and knew that my experience in giving birth to my little dead baby would likely have ranked way up there as a “negative” story. And, that bothered me. Giving birth via miscarriage to my third son was the most transformative, formative, and powerful experience of my life. He gave me many gifts, he taught me many lessons, and I am a better person than I was without that experience. So, what does it mean for women when we hide away the “negative” stories? What might we be missing by making sure we never hear about a bad outcome? I wondered what if by avoiding “negative stories,” we also miss out on powerful stories of courage, growth, and transformation…

What if she suffered and survived?
What if she danced with death and she’s still here?
What if she faced fear and held on?
What if she was scarred and broken, but she healed?
What if she hasn’t healed, but she’s working on it?
What if she grieved deeply and came out the other side?
What if she felt fear and did it anyway?
What if she was so scared and felt so weak and so helpless and yet she persevered?
What if she sacrificed her body for her baby?
What if she couldn’t keep going…and then she did?
What if she is stronger in her broken places?

In another woman’s strength, may we see our own. In another woman’s fear, our own becomes acceptable.

I have two personal experiences to share with the healing power of other women’s scars and fears. When I was in the middle of my first miscarriage and I was thinking, “how will I do this?!” the faces of other women I knew who had experienced babyloss came floating through my mind. I saw them all and I knew that if they could do it, so could I. After my own baby’s miscarriage-birth, I then made a list of these women. There were 27 names on the list. As I shared my experience and came to know other women’s stories and as multiple friends then experienced losses during that same year, the list grew to at least 40 names (personal connections, not “online only” friends).

The second story is an amalgamation of multiple encounters with in-person acquaintances. After I shared Alaina’s birth story online, in which, as part of the narrative, I mentioned various fears that went through my mind as I was in labor and then concluded with, I was still worried she was going to die until the moment I held her, I spoke with multiple women who thanked me deeply for having shared those “bad” thoughts.

When I read your story and I saw that Molly, Molly, who lives, breathes, and sleeps birth every day, still worried about those things, it healed something in me. I have been carrying around guilt about my own birth experiences. Feeling like I didn’t ‘trust birth’ enough, like I didn’t ‘believe’ strongly enough in homebirth. Reading your story helped me know that my thoughts and worries were okay after all and that I wasn’t a ‘bad mom’ for having fear…

What if I’d been careful to keep anything “negative” out of my story?

“When one woman puts her experiences into words, another woman who has kept silent, afraid of what others will think, can find validation. And when the second woman says aloud, ‘yes, that was my experience too,’ the first woman loses some of her fear.”

–Carol Christ

I first came across the phrase “worry is the work of pregnancy” in my most favorite of birthing books, Birthing from Within by Pam England. I’ve noticed that women often feel like they shouldn’t have worries during pregnancy and that talking about their fears is somehow “dangerous” (like it will make the fear come true). Bringing fear out into the open and “looking at it” instead of keeping it tucked away and bothering you is actually one of the best ways to work with it. Another common concern is that your worries are “silly” or unfounded. It is okay to have worries, even “silly” ones. The strategy Pam suggest for exploring your worries is as follows:

Explore each worry with questions:

° What would you do if this worry /fear actually came true?

° What do you imagine your partner and/or birth attendant would do/say?

° What would it mean about you as a mother if this happened?

° How have you faced crises in the past?

° What, if anything, can you do to prepare for, or even prevent, what you are worrying about? What is keeping you from doing it?

° If there is nothing you can do to prevent it, how would you like to handle the situation?

(For more see: Tracking your Tigers: Effects of Fear on Labor)

During my pregnancy with Alaina, I actually took some time one night to let myself mentally walk through the worst-possible-outcome scenario. I let myself see/feel it all. I’d become tired of stuffing it down and blocking it out and decided to get it out and look it right in the eye. It was amazing how letting the fear wash through me completely, lessened its power and influence.

As I’ve previously written, I’ve also come to realize that despite the many amazing and wonderful, profound and magical things about birth, the experience of giving birth is very likely to take some kind of toll on a woman—whether her body, mind, or emotions. There is usually some type of “price” to be paid for each and every birth and sometimes the price is very high. This is, I guess, what qualifies, birth as such an intense, initiatory rite for women. It is most definitely a transformative event and transformation does not usually come without some degree of challenge. Something to be triumphed over or overcome, but something that also leaves permanent marks. Sometimes those marks are literal and sometimes they are emotional and sometimes they are truly beautiful, but we all earn some of them, somewhere along the line. And, I also think that by glossing over the marks, the figurative or literal scars birth can leave on us, and talking about only the positive side we can deny or hide the full impact of our journeys. What if it was okay to share our scars with each other? Not in a fear-mongering or “horror story” manner, but in honesty, depth, and truth—what if we let other women see the full range of our courage?

And, also as previously shared, during Pam England’s presentation about birth stories at the ICAN conference, she said that the place “where you were the most wounded—the place where the meat was chewed off your bones, becomes the seat of your most powerful medicine and the place where you can reach someone where no one else can.”

What if we withhold our most powerful medicine?

“The purpose of life is not to maintain personal comfort; it’s to grow the soul.”

–Christina Baldwin

“The emerging woman..will be strong-minded, strong-hearted, strong-souled, and strong-bodied…strength and beauty must go together.”

~Louisa May Alcott

What if…she’s stronger than she knows?

Lann’s Birth Story–Baba Style!

Today my firstborn son turns NINE! I can hardly believe it. I mean, I remember being nine. What happened?! And, as I thought about his birth and planned to share his birth story link as I always do, I suddenly remembered…I have his birth story from my mom’s perspective too! And, I’ve never shared it here (I also have my friend’s version and my doula’s version—this could keep me going for a while!). In our family, we call my mom Baba as her grandma name, so here is the tale of Lann’s birth, Baba Style:

The time for Lann’s birth was rapidly approaching, and I felt like I was fairly well prepared. My bag was packed, and I had been studying my labor support information. I needed to honor my commitment to demonstrate lace making at the Potosi Bisonfest, so I had driven a separate car, and had my newly purchased cell phone handy – I even made a test call to Molly and Mark to be sure it would work from that location. It was a long day – up at 5:45 a.m., drive 2 hours to Potosi, demonstrate for 6 hours, drive 2 hours home. I made it through without receiving “The Call”, and thought I’d go ahead and check in with them to see if the watched pot had begun to boil before falling, exhausted, into bed.

What a surprise it was to have Mark answer at about 7:30, and tell me that they thought something was happening. I couldn’t believe it, even though this was the moment we’d all been waiting for! Molly got on the phone, and expressed her concern that perhaps this was false labor. I tried to reassure her that it didn’t matter to me if I had to make 10 false trips, as long as I didn’t miss it. Her contractions were coming regularly and close together, but even so, she seemed reluctant to call in her support team without feeling more confident about what was happening. We decided to wait a little while, and see what developed. I used that time to change out of my demonstration costume, and begin gathering supplies I thought I might need (book, project, birth art, extra clothing, etc.). The phone rang within 45 minutes, and this time Molly said she wanted me to come. She told me that during contractions, she kept thinking it was time for me to come, but that between them she felt she was doing fine. I took that to mean it was time for me to get to Jefferson City!

I listened to soothing music in the car as I tried not to speed on my trip. I repeatedly visualized how the evening would progress, even though I knew that anything could happen, and that I needed to be open to whatever occurred. No amount of imagination could prepare me for I was about to experience.

I arrived at the Remer home at about 10 p.m., where Mark let me in and told me Molly was in the shower. When I got upstairs, and unloaded my belongings, I could hear Molly humming “Woman am I” from behind the bathroom door. When she came out, wrapped in a green towel, she was so adorable that I had to take a couple of pictures. She said she’d had 7 contractions while in the shower, and was glad I was there.

It’s hard to remember the exact chronology of events. After a while, we called the doula – but when she wanted to know the timing of the contractions, both Mark and I were vague. It was never clear to us if we were timing things correctly. What was clear was that the contractions were coming close together, and seemed intense to me. We called the birth center to give them a head’s up, but had to leave a message, and realized that we weren’t sure what the after hours procedure was supposed to do. We called S again to ask her how to contact the doctor, L, directly. It seems like around that time, L returned the call from Molly’s message, so apparently that’s their procedure – just leave a message and someone calls you back!

Meanwhile, Molly continued to have regular, intense contractions that barely ended before the next one began. She commented that she never seemed to get a break, and was a little fretful about things getting worse. I tried to let her know that she only needed to deal with each contraction as it came, and not to “suffer what she feared”, because maybe this was as heavy as they would ever get. I felt like I should be the voice of wisdom, even though I couldn’t really tell what was going on with her. My job was to soothe and support, and I had schooled myself carefully to remain cool and calm!

Throughout the contractions, Molly continued to hum “Woman am I”, and sometimes, as the humming began to speed up and get louder, I would hum along with her, hoping this would help to center her. We had various tricks that we had planned, like a foot massage, counter pressure, squeezing combs (hah!), but none of them seemed desirable or necessary. Occasionally, she would begin to question her ability to continue if it became more difficult, so I brought in her list of affirmations and read them to her between contractions – they were all familiar to her and seemed marginally helpful. Watching a woman labor makes the support people feel rather helpless, so it was good to find something that she could focus on, if only for a while. We also offered frequent drinks and food. Mark was extraordinarily in tune with her.

We tried various positions to ease her comfort. One mistake was suggesting that she lie down on the bed for a while. She said it made her feel terrible and trapped. She was amazingly calm and serene, otherwise. I had expected her to be irritable with me, or Mark, but she was very internal and focused. I had also expected to feel more protective than I did. I thought I’d want to take away her pain, and be the “mom” who fixes the hurts, but she was so in control the entire time that I didn’t feel the need to go into mom mode. Her strength was inspiring.

Around 2 a.m., we decided it was time to call S, who arrived in record time. It was a relief to have a more professional opinion available. Molly was in the bathroom at this time, and had quite a bit of pre-birth matter (to put it politely) that had been discharged into the toilet. To me, this looked like far more than the mucus plug and seemed to indicate that birth was imminent, but S didn’t seem to think so. I still don’t know, but it was definitely an indicator of big progress being made! Also, the contractions were very heavy and close together. S took us aside, and said that first-time moms take a really long time, and that we shouldn’t be jumping the gun – hindsight reveals that Molly was further along than any of us realized.

S altered the room lighting with little gentle lamps that gave off a dim blue light, very much like candles. She whipped out rice socks, and offered various suggestions for position changes. It was good to have someone else to offer support, although we were doing pretty well without her. Molly kept saying that she felt different inside, like something was happening, but she wasn’t too clear on what it was. She said that during contractions, she wanted to race to the birth center, but between them she didn’t. I remembered her saying something similar about my arrival, earlier, and wondered if maybe we should heed this and get straight in the car……

S suggested another shower, but Molly was quite resistant to this, and then announced that we should go to the birth center. I was glad to be at this point – in the hands of professionals! The original plan had been to transport in 3 cars – Molly and Mark in theirs with the carseat, me, and then S. It became obvious that Molly would be much more secure if she could have Mark’s attention during this 40 minute drive, so we switched the carseat to my vehicle, got everyone loaded, and sped away. It must have been at about 3:15, because we got to the birth center at 4. By this time, I was running on adrenaline, having had no sleep, and having already driven nearly 6 hours, but I felt charged and clear. My grandson was on his way, and I was the driver. This was an important task! I tend to drive a tad fast in ordinary circumstances, but this event led me to be a regular lead-foot. I kept it at about 75 mph, although S says I went faster. The road between JC and Columbia is very “swoopy” – there are lots of dips, and then bumps that the car sort of chunks over. Molly was moaning, and seemed especially agitated as we bumped and swooped. I don’t think slowing down would have helped, so I just kept the pedal to the metal and got her there as fast as I could.  I couldn’t tell what was happening in the back seat at all, and just concentrated on my driving.

We pulled into the parking lot of the center, and there was nobody there! As I began to question this, a car pulled in, and out stepped V [midwife], very calmly, carrying a cup of coffee. She opened the door, asked a few quiet questions, and then casually went off to brew more coffee. We unloaded some things, including Molly, who seemed a little confused and tired. Mark called friend Kate, who we had called before, leaving a message. Little did we know that she was standing by waiting for the follow-up call for hours! She arrived about a half hour later, beaming and fresh. It was good to see another caring face. We all wanted to do something – anything – for Molly. However, Molly was in complete command of herself, so it was left to us to stand quietly by.

We were placed in the room Molly had hoped to have, and I came in, no doubt thinking we had plenty of time. She checked Molly and said that she couldn’t find a cervix. I found this unnerving. Did she mean no progress had been made? How could that be?!? Did Molly have some bizarre disorder that caused her cervix to disappear? I was working hard on being quietly serene, so I finally just asked what she meant. V said Molly was fully dilated, and could begin pushing whenever she felt the urge. I’ll never forget Molly’s face, disheveled hair, and wide eyes as she looked questioningly at V and said, “Are you telling me the truth?” Well, she was telling the truth, and Molly soon began to push. At this point, I remembered the car ride, and realized that Molly had gone through transition while swooping along the highway.

At one point during the pushing, Molly was standing by the bed with her arms and elbows supporting her. She gave a tremendous grunt, and her water broke with an audible report, splashing Kate and lots of the floor. It seemed like a lot of fluid! At this juncture, V said she’d better call the doctor, so we helped Molly into the bathroom.

Molly was concerned about making huge messes, so she was fairly comfortable in the bathroom – that way, everything just dropped handily into the toilet. The age-old concern about excreting a wee amount of feces was there, so being on the toilet alleviated that problem. Mark was with her all the time. I should take a moment to mention how wonderful Mark was throughout this entire event. He never left her side, and was completely attentive to every move she made or word she spoke. He never lost his calm demeanor for a moment, and was a pillar of strength and support.

Dr. L was now present, and she added to the overall feeling of having a competent team in place. It also helped to know that things were moving right along, and Molly would soon have her tiny son.

I had made sure to bring along Molly’s birth necklace from the Blessingway, as well as her needle felted birth art. I took a moment to hang the necklace at the foot of the bed where she could see it, and I place her felted ladies on the table where they could look on. Molly was wearing a cotton-knit nightgown, and had on an amulet bag with the fused glass touchstone a friend had given her. We all knew that things were happening, and became very energized by the birthing energy.

While in the bathroom, as we stood outside the door, I could hear Molly humming her song – I hummed along with her so that she would know that I was still with her, even if I wasn’t in the same room. I didn’t know if she could hear me (she could), but I thought it might help.

Molly and Mark were still in the bathroom when L came out and told us that they wanted some privacy, and ushered us all out into the lobby. Before I left, I told everyone that Molly didn’t want to give birth on a toilet, and they seemed to hear me. We sat there – V, Kate, S and I – chatting a bit, and wondering what was going on in there. I voiced my trepidation that maybe I wouldn’t get to see the birth after all, but that I also realized that I wanted it to happen the way they wanted it. That meant they might not want me (or anyone) there, and I knew I needed to be at ease with that. V had some stories to tell of her own children not needing her. I wasn’t comforted, but was fully aware I needed to get over it! I later discussed this with Molly, who told me that L had asked if they wanted privacy, and when they said yes, she took it upon herself to move us out.

Not too much time elapsed (maybe 30 minutes), and L came out to invite us back into the birthing room, but that no talking was allowed. It was really hard to not utter any words of encouragement to Molly, who was now lying on her side on the bed. It was very dimly lit, so L shined a flashlight to show us the tiny tuft of hair emerging as the baby began to crown. Once again, I later found out that Molly had not requested complete silence – but at the time, I was afraid to make a peep for fear they’d kick me out and I’m miss everything. They had us place a mirror so that Molly could see the baby, and shifted her position so that she was sideways on the bed. If I’d been allowed to speak, I would have suggested placing something under her heels to give her purchase for pushing. Instead, I moved around a bit, and put my leg under her foot to try to help. Then, I had to move to allow room for L and V to get ready for the Lannbaby.

Molly expressed amazement that she was “really doing this” and repeated that it didn’t feel real. She kept saying things like, “This is really me! I’m really doing this!” She was astoundingly together the entire time.

Molly pushed and pushed, still serene and still in command. There was a great deal of stretching discomfort that alarmed her, but L put her mind at rest by telling her that her body was made to stretch like that. After a few more pushes, and Lann’s head emerged, crying loudly, and spluttering. Before this, I was recalling a birth support video that I’d watched, in which the baby wasn’t breathing and was shockingly limp and white. I was girding my loins to be calm and supportive if this happened – but no need! A very vibrant and squalling head greeted us! His body slithered out directly afterward, and we had a whole, crying baby boy in the room with us. What a miracle! The joy was intense. Kate and I burst into tears.

Just born!

L handed the baby to Molly, who immediately, with Mark behind her throughout, began crooning and talking to her tiny son. She instinctively put him to her breast, and he calmed as he began nursing. They cut the cord, and then needed to take him from her for checking, and diapering – it was time for the placenta, which slid out as nice as you please. They told Molly that she had a small tear, and didn’t recommend stitching it.

There was an uncomfortable follow-up moment, when some blood clots needed to be manually removed to that the uterus could properly contract. Mark had the baby, and it was hurting Molly, so she called to me. S got there first, but I soon took her place, and we went through a few more rounds of “Woman am I”.

We also joked with Molly about getting an A+++ on labor and birthing. I’m not sure what the staff made of that. They probably thought I was some pushy, overachieving home school mom that insisted on academic excellence. It was definitely an A+++ event!

This is about when I got a chance to hold my peacefully sleeping grandson – what a perfect little guy! It was such a wonder and an honor to be present at his birth. I’ll forever be grateful to Molly and Mark for allowing me to share this experience with them. It forged a new bond between us, and made me understand the reality of life everlasting. Little Lann is my immortality.

Baby Lann with his Baba!
(I couldn’t find a newborn one with Baba. Surely I have one?!)

With Baba nine years later! (and Aunt Nancy too!)

Thanks for being there, Mom! 🙂

Related posts:

My First Birth

Alaina’s Birth Story–Baba Style!

DVD Review: The Big Stretch

DVD Review: The Big Stretch

By Alieta Belle & Jenny Blyth

60 Minutes, includes 20 page booklet

www.birthwork.com

Reviewed by Molly Remer, Talk Birth

Jenny Blyth the author of the book Birthwork, is also a filmmaker who co-created the film The Big Stretch with another mother. The particularly special thing about this film is that it is all about women sharing their own experiences and feelings–unlike many current birth movies there are no “experts” present in the film (other than the true experts–women themselves!), the focus is on the families preparing for birth or reflecting on their past birth experiences. The many topics addressed are insightful.

The film’s emphasis is on, “Women in different stages of pregnancy and preparing for a natural birth reflect on how they and ‘stretched’ in everyway – emotionally, physically and spiritually” and I enjoyed this “stretch” theme that ran throughout.

Introducing new scenes/topic is neat artwork and the images in this film in general are particularly gorgeous. In one exception, I was taken aback by footage at the close of the film of a totally naked man riding a bicycle and feel I should warn other viewers to be prepared for that!

The DVD is accompanied by a 20 page booklet full of questions that carries the themes from the film into personal questions to increase self-awareness during pregnancy.

The Big Stretch is a unique and beautiful film in which women’s voices are clearly represented. There are no titles, no degrees, no qualifications listed. This film is a perceptive “motherful” look at the many stretches of birthing: physical, emotional, mental, and cultural.

Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of the DVD for review purposes.

Review previously published at Citizens for Midwifery.

The Gift of Giving Life: Interview with Sheridan Ripley

This interview with Sheridan Ripley is a stop on the Virtual Book Tour for The Gift of Giving Life.

Q1: Many people liken the writing of a book to giving birth to a baby? Did you find this an apt analogy?

YES! We (the co-authors) brought this up a lot. It was like we were gestating together and ideas were growing and growing. The first trimester I actually felt like I missed as I joined the group at the beginning of the 2nd year. It was a 3 year process so the trimester analogy works well.

The 2nd trimester we had plenty of energy and got a lot done and things moved forward quickly. We had that happy, easy 2nd trimester.

That 3rd trimester felt SO SLOW!!! It was the editing, book layout, more editing. Details and more details and felt so long. I know I felt so heavy and weighed down by the process. Luckily we had each other for support and we made a great team.

Finally we were pushing the baby out and while there were little hold ups along the way, it was so exciting. The triumph we felt as we finally held our book in our hands was pretty amazing!

Q2: I’m fascinated by the concept of Heavenly Mother and really enjoyed the sections of The Gift of Giving Life that touched on the relationship with Her. Can you explore more about how LDS women might find strength and connection in this image of the Feminine Divine and how she might aid in giving life?

I believe I am a literal child of a Heavenly Father and knowing that he is a partner with a Heavenly Mother and together they are able to love billions of children, helps me to have faith in my ability to love and raise my boys.

Knowing that our bodies are patterned after their bodies also gives me faith that my body can grow and birth babies! We are mortal and there are instances when medical intervention is needed, but the majority of the time birth is safe. Our bodies are created to create!

As we connect with other women in a supportive loving way we can feel connected to Her because we are each created in Her image. Maybe that is why when women gather around women in childbirth we feel so uplifted, powerful and humbled at the same time.

Some women really feel a need for a connection of a mother figure, especially while pregnant. I have an earthly mom who I am very connected to and she was very helpful during my pregnancy, so I didn’t personally have a desire for a connection with a Feminine Divine at that point.

However there are women who may be missing that mother figure in their life and we all have a deep desire for such a connection. Knowing that there is a Heavenly Mother who stands beside Heavenly Father to help guide us and protect us especially during this time of pregnancy and birth is powerful.

Meditating and pondering on the idea of a Heavenly Mother and how that can help us as we give the gift of life and then raise our children is the best way for me to connect to her. I actually just took time to do this as I hadn’t really thought of this question until you asked it.

That is the great thing about our book and having so many contributors is it will speak to different women, because so many view points are included.

Q3: Do you have any specific tips for women wishing to incorporate more spiritual practices into their pregnancies?

We actually have a newsletter that moms can sign up for where they get a free 20 minute meditation MP3 as well as 5 tips to have a more spiritual pregnancy/birth. I think for each mom it may look different. Prayer and meditation are great places to start, as you will often get inspiration on where to go from there. I also love Mother’s Blessings as a way to have the strength of other women buoy up the pregnant mom. She can benefit from feeling their love and spiritual support

Q4: When women in the birth stories say they asked their husband for a blessing or that their husband gave them a blessing, what does that mean?

A blessing is similar to a prayer. All male members of the Church who are prepared receive the priesthood, which is the authority to act in God’s name. One of the ways they can serve others with the priesthood is by giving blessings by the laying on of hands. They can give blessings of healing or for comfort and guidance. In some cases a wife might ask her husband (or other priesthood holder) for a blessing before or during birth.

I know for me in my first birth, it was so comforting because with my first birth my husband gave me a blessing when I was concerned about the Thing 1’s lack of movement. In the blessing he said he would be born when he was ready. When we discovered that he needed to be born by emergency cesarean immediately even though I was only 34 weeks, I had peace knowing that my husband had just blessed me that “he would be born when he was ready.” I knew everything would be OK.

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Thanks for the interesting interview and the review copy of The Gift of Giving Life, Sheridan!

Visit The Gift of Giving Life site to sign up for their newsletter and to receive a free Meditation MP3 as well as tips to help increase spirituality in your pregnancy and birth.

For my readers I have a coupon code for 10% off a copy of The Gift of Giving Life. Click here and after you add the book to your cart use this coupon code. GWFWXR3F This code is good until Father’s Day 2012.

Sharing Stories

Mother-to-mother birthtelling is easy at blessingways!

In an excellent article by Rachel Reed in the Autumn 2011 issue of Midwifery Today, Sharing Stories, Reclaiming Birth Knowledge, she makes this important point: “Women not only learn practical information about pregnancy, birth, and motherhood through exchanging stories, but also gain emotional and social support…Through sharing stories, women created a sense of connection to other mothers and to the ‘universal nature of birthing’ …”

Despite the everyday miracle of birth and potent role in women’s lives and self-identity, “women’s birth stories are largely ignored in mainstream childbirth education programs. Instead, the approach consists of an ‘expert’ transmitting standardized information sanctioned by the maternity system. This approach does not adequately meet the needs of mothers, nor reinforce mothers’ expertise and knowledge. Building childbirth education around mother-to-mother story sharing would reinforce mothers as the experts in birth.”

What do you know about birth that other people don’t know?

As I read this article, I thought of several experiences in my own childbearing experiences that varied from “standardized information sanctioned by the maternity system” and that includes the alternative care system of which I was a part. Things that, for me, were not available from those systems around me—books, professionals, or media, but that nevertheless came through and are part of my own stories:

  • Being able to feel my babies practice breathing in the last 8-10 weeks of my pregnancies.
  • “Skipping” transition–no “freaking out” required to have a baby after all.
  • Tearing “up” into the labia/clitoral area instead of the more common or expected perineal tearing
  • Experiencing a spontaneous birth reflex
  • No bloody show/mucus/fluid until shortly before pushing
  • Long “strings” of post-birth mucus. So tough and sinuous that they are almost like membrane.
  • Experiencing a second trimester miscarriage clearly and potently as a birth event.

I’m curious to know what other women have experienced like this. What happened to you that you had never heard about before? What is a part of your story that isn’t a part of birth books? What do you know about birth that other people don’t know? How does your story enhance the collective culture of women?

The role of story in midwifery education

Reed goes on to explore the role of story in midwifery care and the education of midwives, explaining, “It is time for midwives, informed by being ‘with woman’ and experiencing birth in all its complexities, to reclaim their own unique birth knowledge. Sharing birth stories represents a rich source of knowledge and develops the ‘collective culture of women.’ Mothers are already doing this well, and childbirth education should reinforce this mother-to-mother expertise. Midwifery education also needs to embrace the power of storytelling as a means of developing woman-centered knowledge and practice.”

One of the most valuable elements of La Leche League for breastfeeding mothers is the mother-to-mother support and information sharing. This is irreplaceable. We need a means of providing this type of mother-to-mother support for birth as well. Not in swapping horror stories or “enlightening” others, but in authentic connection based on our own unique birth wisdom.

Birthtellers

In another article in the same issue of Midwifery Today KaRa Ananda shares the following gem in her article about Birthtellers: “…the stories women tell to each other privately–shape cultures, beliefs, choices and lives. Women used to learn about birth and motherhood through the stories of their mothers, sisters, grandmothers, midwives and friends. Today, that knowledge is transmitted primary through television, movies, peers and the internet. Now is the time for the Birthtellers to arise and once again share our inspirational birth stories–both within our communities and globally through new media technology.”

One of the midwife-authors that makes my heart sing with her lyrical, magical writing, is Sister MorningStar (author of Power of Women). She shared her daughter’s birth story in the autumn 2011 edition of Midwifery Today and it is just beautiful.

My own article on the value of sharing story also appeared in the same issue of Midwifery Today.