Tag Archive | birth experiences

Thoughts About Birth Thoughts

When I check my blog stats, I’m interested to see which search terms bring people to this blog. Recently, a search term used was “birth thoughts.” I use “birth thoughts” as my default category for posts that don’t fit in a specific other category and I have a lot of posts in that category. So, I searched for the term myself and was very surprised to see that of 52 million google hits for “birth thoughts,” Talk Birth was the FIRST site to come up on a search using that term. Isn’t that cool? Since, I’ve been somewhat obsessed with searching for “birth thoughts” to see where I continue to stand and I guess it depends on page updates (?), because sometimes it drops off the top 10 (though then it is usually of 32 million or 27 million sites, not 52 million—not sure what is up with that either). Either way, I think it is interesting 🙂

I do think a lot of birth thoughts. Sometimes I wonder why birth remains such a consuming subject of interest to me. I have been considering this a lot lately, actually, and still working to put my finger on WHY. I think it is because birth, for me, is one of the fullest experiences of standing in my “personal power” that I’ve ever had. A “peak experience,” a “flow experience,” almost a “religious experience.” Last year I led a series of classes on women’s spirituality and one of the questions we addressed was, “how do you feel when you are standing in your personal power? When do you feel like you are standing in your personal power.” While it is great that I experienced such powerful births, I was saddened slightly to discover when answering this question myself, that essentially the only personal power moments I could come up with were in giving birth. What about the rest of my life?! (On my m/c blog I have written that apparently I need to get into extreme sports!) So, one of the birth thoughts on my mind lately is how do you pull that “birth power” feeling into the rest of your life? Make no mistake, my life is full and vibrant and full of good things, but that birth power feeling comes only in giving birth—maybe there is no other way to experience it?!

Cesarean Awareness Month

April is Cesarean Awareness Month! My favorite resources about cesareans are the International Cesarean Awareness Network (ICAN) and The Unnecesarean.

In honor of the month (and in recognition that the national cesarean rate has risen again–to 32.3%), I went back through some of my posts and pulled out some of the things I’ve written about cesareans:

One of my “pet” subjects centers around the question of, “why would someone be upset over a cesarean, at least she has a healthy baby?” and this post partially addresses that: Birth and Apples.

I believe that a cesarean is often an act of personal courage and wrote about this here.

I also wrote about the same in this post on when birth doesn’t go as planned.

And, finally, here is a post I wrote about cesarean trivia.

Following Your Body’s Urges to Push…

Sense and Sensibility is having a blog carnival around Healthy Birth Practice #5: Avoid giving birth on your back and follow your body’s urges to push.

For this blog carnival, I feel like sharing my own personal experiences with following my body’s urges to push. I gave birth to my first son over six years ago in what was the only freestanding birth center in the state (related side note: when I told my landlord that my new baby was born in a freestanding birth center, she said, “oh, so does everyone there have them standing up?”;-D). When I arrived at the birth center, I was surprised to be ten centimeters dilated already. Fortunately, the midwife on duty said, “go ahead and push when you feel the urge,” and went about her business, rather than encouraging me to push simply because I was at ten or exhorting me to push with loud counting and the near-aggression as is so frequently depicted in the media. After some time, I decided to experiment with the “pressure” feeling I’d been feeling for several hours—as soon as I gave a couple of small, experimental pushes like that, my water broke. I stayed on my knees on the floor for some time—head and arms on the bed—and eventually the doctor suggested that I get up on the bed, where I ended up giving birth to my son in a semi-sitting position.

During this birth, I was very sensitive to suggestion and to “being good,” and so when the bed was mentioned, I felt I had no choices even in such a gentle birth setting. I feel if left to my own urges, I would have stayed kneeling on the floor.

With my second son, who was born at home, I was alone with my husband for nearly the entire labor. As I got closer to giving birth, I felt “driven” to my hands and knees where I began to push spontaneously (and again my water broke with the onset of pushiness). It was a very wild and rapid birth and I barely had conscious thought of whether or not I felt like pushing—it just happened! After several pushes on hands and knees, my son eased out where he was received by my midwife after her arrival five minutes prior.

My third son (second trimester m/c), was born at home with just my husband present.  My labor was again extremely rapid and I found myself kneeling on the floor in child’s pose. This position felt safe and protective to me, but I finally coached myself into awareness that the baby wasn’t going to come out with me crouched on the floor in that manner. I told myself that just like with any other birth, gravity would help. So, I pushed myself up into a kneeling position and my water broke right away. I crouched forward again—feeling fearful—and then told myself to move upright again. As soon as I was back on my knees, some blood clots emerged. I stood then, with knees slightly bent, and my baby was born.

For me, being nearly alone is the best way to follow my body’s own promptings. I feel it can be difficult to heed our bodies’ own wisdom when other people in the room are encouraging directed pushing or are “cheerleading” loudly. Freedom to move as desired and to push spontaneously according to the body’s own urges is a mother and baby friendly approach to birth.

Some of my other posts about second stage labor include: pushing the issue of pushing; waiting before pushing; and thoughts about pushing.

For more information about spontaneous pushing check out this video from Mother’s Advocate.

And, don’t forget my handout: helpful ways to use a hospital bed without lying down.

Conclusions About Listening

“What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? The world would split open.” —Muriel Rukeyser

I continue to think about the ideas in the post I made a couple of days ago about birth choices and listening to women’s stories. Though my thoughts are by no means fully “concluded,” I wanted to add a postscript of sorts based on comments some people have left as well as to share some new apropos quotes that keep popping out at me from all kinds of places. I guess my basic conclusion is that as “birth advocates” we definitely should NOT stop sharing our stories–-perhaps what most needs to change is how we listen to stories—how they are received and accepted and heard, rather than analyzed or dissected. And, perhaps also our approach at story-telling itself needs to change-–to being about our experiences and not trying to “convert” anyone. Bottom line for me is that if I was forced to choose, I value WOMEN the most–-not birth or giving birth the “right way.”

I just finished reading a book called Soul Sisters and came across this quote: “I have learned that…in listening you become an opening for that other person.” Perhaps this is how changes are born. And later this treasure, “Indeed, nothing comes close to an evening spent spellbound by the stories of women’s inner lives.”

And, I think the KuKd author made a good point–-most women are “capable” of seeking out the information they wish, without having it handed to them (that supports the blog theory-–the value of sharing our stories via blogs and letting people find them as they wish!). Though, then my recent experience with my brother’s girlfriend shows me that maybe some people really don’t even know that they’d like to seek out the information and I’m back to the beginning again…

Another blogger commented that my post raised many conflicting feelings for her and expressed that she does not believe in a “live and let live approach,” that some choices in life truly are  “wrong.” I have many conflicting feelings about my post too…and I wrote it! However, the basic conclusion I reached with my wanderings was that I think we (okay, I) need to do some serious thinking about HOW it is (and WHY it is) that I share information about alternative choices or tell stories. Because, as the KuKd post I quoted shared, sharing in a specific type of “zealous” way, closes doors rather than opens eyes.

Birth Symbol

At the very end of August, I went to see Birth, the play in St. Louis. I was about 5 weeks pregnant at the time. Following the play and “talkback” event, there was a BOLD Red Tent (birth stories sharing circle). Right before the birth stories portion of the Red Tent, we did a birth art project. The Birthing from Within Mentor who was facilitating the Red Tent asked each of us to draw a symbol on a card that communicated what we would want to share with other women about birth—not in words, but a visual representation of the message we’d like to share. We then painted our symbols onto prayer flags to be strung together as a whole “language of birth” in symbols. We left the flags with her to be taken to births to share the symbols with other birthing mamas. I drew a spiral and explained that the message I was sharing was, “You can do it. You’re okay. Let it happen.” I also added a little birth goddess with wild hair that to me represents the intuitive birth wisdom women carry with them (when I was pregnant with my first baby I was worried about being too “in my head” to give birth powerfully–I created a series of needled felted sculptures of birth goddesses with wild hair and worried that the hair showed that I was too in my head. After he was born, I realized that my sculptures were telling me about the wild, natural, birth wisdom I had in my head, not the “book learning” that was also there and was what I had worried about interfering with the flow of birth).

A few days following my miscarriage in November, I received a Facebook message from the BfW mentor (and friend) who had facilitated the Red Tent session. She attached a photo of the flag I had painted during the Birth Art session and asked me to “allow the gift to come and sit with you” (as well as gifting me with “no response necessary”).

It was amazing to have my own birth symbol come back to “speak” to me in this way during such a painful (and also transformative) time.

“You can do it. You’re okay. Let it happen.”

Moving During Labor

The second Healthy Birth Blog carnival is up on Lamaze’s Science & Sensibility blog. It is a great collection of links to posts about the importance of Healthy Birth Practice #2: Walk, Move Around, and Change Positions During Labor. For the blog carnival I contributed a post/handout I made last year called How to Use a Hospital Bed Without Lying Down. We spend quite some time on the subject in my classes and I encourage my clients to treat the bed like a “tool,” rather than a place to lie down. I also encourage strategizing about ways to both meet the needs of the hospital staff for “confinement” as well as the needs of the birthing woman for mobility (so, sitting on birth ball right NEXT to the bed and monitor, instead of lying back in the bed—both sets of needs can be met this way).

When reading through some of the other links in the blog carnival, I particularly enjoyed the one at The Unnecesarean about Women Describe Walking, Moving and Changing Positions in Labor. In the post, Jill points out “For first time mothers who have had no exposure to a birth, the time between, ‘I felt a contraction!’ and ‘I have to push!’ is often a total mystery.” How true is this! How many birth documentaries and shows (even very good ones), essentially only show a few minutes in early labor and then the baby being pushed out? What happened during the other 12 hours?? Obviously, we can have an episode or documentary that lasts 12 hours and shows every single detail, but I do think this gap means it is hard for first time mothers to really get a “vision” of what labor and birth is really like—the “long haul” picture.

Of course, that post made me think about my own births and how movement played an important role in both of them. I think it was equally significant/important for both, but since I was in labor longer with my first baby I used movement much more. In early labor, I sat on the floor cross legged with my back straight (working to keep the baby in “optimal” fetal alignment :), while I ate dinner and watched a movie. Then, I walked in the hallway to see if walking would stimulate any increased contractions. I also sat on the birth ball. As labor moved on, I ONCE tried lying down on my side in bed to “go to sleep” (at the suggestion of my doctor and doula) and that was IT. I had one contraction lying down and it was the worst contraction I’ve ever experienced (both babies). I never laid down again during either birthing! No possible way! When I got tired, I did kneel on the bed with a pile of pillows in front of me and rested my head/arms on the pillows. I also spent a lot of time kneeling by the side of the bed with my head resting on my arms on it. (This was my own bed at home.) I sat and rocked in the rocking chair with my eyes closed. I sat on the floor (briefly) with the rice sock under my belly and husband sitting behind me.When I went to the birth center, I sat in the rocking chair (oh wait, I did lie down one more time, for my sole cervical check of either pregnancy/birth). I also went back to kneeling on the floor with my head on the bed. Then I gave birth to my first son in a semi-sitting position on the birth center bed with my husband behind me/to the side. (Not the position I would have instinctively chosen, I think I would have actually birthed him kneeling by the side of the bed, but I was encouraged to get up into the bed. See his birth story.)

With my second baby, I walked around (again, “testing” out whether labor was “real” and going to intensify) in our kitchen. I squatted down several times (again, “testing” and trying to “make it bigger“). Then, I sat on my birth ball in the living room. I only stayed there for a few contractions and then stood up and wanted something to lean on—I leaned on the back of the (too rocky) recliner. Then, I ended up kind of hanging on my husband for a while—my arms around his neck and my legs dropping kind of outward. I then felt “driven to my knees” and got on my hands and knees on the floor with my arms and head on my birth ball. I quickly decided I didn’t want the ball and got just on my hands and knees with my husband in front of me with his arms around me. My son was born while I was on my hands and knees in this way.

I think when women think about “active birth” or “freedom of movement throughout labor,” sometimes they think this means walking the whole time or squatting up and down and up and down, or literally being *standing up* and moving around “aggressively” throughout labor. My own experiences were “active birth,” but the freedom of movement includes being able to sit in a rocking chair and “meditate” through contractions, or resting on your knees with your head on the bed. The “activity” we’re really talking about is really not lying down-–having the body upright/torso above the pelvis.

The most important event shaping my life as a mother?

Recently, this quote from a Midwifery Today blog post came to my attention: “your birth is the most important event in shaping your life as a mother.” It has generated some pretty heated discussion and negative feelings amongst some writers in the blogosphere. Despite my intense commitment to birthwork, I stumble over the quote a bit as well. I would venture to guess that if phrased in less black-and-white terms, it would not have caused such an angry reaction in some women. Perhaps, “your [child’s] birth is a very important event…” or “…is ONE of the most important events…” would have been better received, while communicating a similar idea. While I understand the sentiment and deeply agree that birth matters,  the sweeping assertion of the phrase “the most” doesn’t leave a lot of of room for personal experiences and individual variation!

I found the quote first referenced here with an insightful “rebuttal” of sorts. There is also a very detailed critique here.

I have a lot of my own thoughts based on both the original quote/blog post and on the responses from other bloggers.

It is well documented that birth is NOT “just another day in a woman’s life” and that giving birth does have lasting impact on women’s memories and quality of life. Those day-to-day moments with your children that several bloggers mentioned as more appropriate representations of “most important event shaping my life as a mother” are certainly important too and are the makings of a “real life,” but they don’t necessarily stand out in the memory as transformative events. Kind of like your wedding day stands out as very significant—it matters and is important and is not “just another day”—while simultaneously it is clear that the day-to-day life and love with your husband is actually more important than the wedding day.  So, while I would agree that “ultimately” speaking, your marriage is definitely more important than your wedding, I would also put forth that you are much more like to remember your wedding specifically and clearly and with specific emotion than you are to remember what you ate for breakfast with your honey-pie last weekend and that is one of the reasons why the wedding matters. Perhaps it is an issue of the mudane vs. the miraculous…

I believe you can hold the two experiences simultaneously—you can enjoy the wedding memory, while cherishing your regular old daily husband AND you can enjoy (or suffer from) the birth memory while also cherishing the daily life with the little ones. One doesn’t have to trump the other or to be “what really matters.” There’s room for lots of mattering in an every day life 🙂

I think another key is that birth is (or can be) a “peak experience” for women (and families). I want all women to have a chance to experience that. I certainly do not want her to feel diminished, unworthy, inferior or lacking if birth is not a peak experience in her life, but I also want all women to certainly be given a reasonable opportunity to let birth unfold in all its power and be treated respectfully and humanely by those around her—regardless of what is going on or the eventual outcome.

I love birth and cherish my memories of my sons’ births and consider them to be some of the most transformative, empowering, and significant single days in my life—peak experiences, powerful memories—and I also feel that birth matters as a distinct (and relatively rare) occurrence in a woman life. I believe birth has inherent value and worth on its own terms. I also believe that your feelings about the birth and the baby can most definitely be separated—you can feel pleased as punch with your delightful, precious baby and also be disappointed (or super thrilled with) your birthing. One does not take from the other—you can hold the reality of both and a breadth of feelings about them. And additionally, it is not wrong to want both things—a “good birth” and a “healthy baby.” The two go hand in hand and are not mutually exclusive concepts at all (see links to previous posts below).

All that said, however, I also do not feel that my children’s births were the most important events shaping my life as a mother. They were important, yes, but I think stating with finality that the event that shapes us is definitely X—or putting a finger on THE most important event is NOT something that can be pinned down by any one person or imposed from someone on the outside of yourself. I think it varies by woman and mother and there is room for many things to be true and valuable and okay. So, perhaps your important life shaper is seeing your children decorate the Christmas tree (though I still submit that “peak experiences” carry more emotional and psychological weight that everyday occurrences). For another mother, it could be the day she gave birth to her child. Those are both okay! One woman’s feelings and reality do not invalidate or dismiss another’s.

For me, the profound shaping event was the experience postpartum with my first baby. I have never had an experience that shaped me and impacted me and SHOOK me more profoundly than adjusting to life with my newborn son. That was my journey. That was my struggle. That was my challenge. That is what dissolved me and burned me into ashes and let me rise again as someone the same but also brand new—a mother. I was not “born” when my son was born, I was forged. Made, in the intense weeks that followed his birth.

If another mother states that her postpartum was full of “babymoon bliss,” do I need to dismiss her as deluded, lying, and or possibly perpetuating a myth? No! I can hold both in my awareness—my postpartum experience was my most significant life challenge. Hers was not. Both truths are FINE! Likewise, if I decide share that my sex life post-kids is better than ever before, is that dismissed as “couldn’t possible be true? MY sex life was ruined by kids!” or that I’m somehow lying or misrepresenting the truth? No, both can be true, because we are all different women with different lives and experiences and “realities.” So, if a woman feels like her birth experiences were the most important events shaping her life as a mother, that is totally okay—and, it can be true, without making a woman with the opposite experience diminished or “less than.” Of course, the logical extension of this train of thought, is whether I (and other birth activists) can hold our birth matters truth alongside the realization or acceptance that for some women birth IS “just one day” or that it is not an important event in their lives?

I also think we can draw on powerful memories for present strength—I remember my “birth warrior” feelings and it helps me with other tasks or with day to day life. I remember the laughing, crying, “my baby, MY BABY!” moments of triumph and bliss and ecstasy immediately postpartum and it buoys me with a fresh charge of  love for the little ruffians leaping off the couch in front of me or throwing crackers all over the house.

——–

Since the “birth experience vs. healthy baby” argument is of special interest to me, I’ve addressed it several other times on this blog:

Birth and Apples

Personal Mastery & Birth

Birth Experience or Healthy Baby?

Evidence Based Care

Another Healthy Mother/Healthy Baby Quote