Tag Archive | postpartum

Weekly Tidbits: Birth, Postpartum, the Triumvirate, and Anthropology

IMG_3501My sister-in-law shared a link to a really potent article from The Guardian about birth, midwifery, postpartum, and supportive friends. When she shared, she brought tears to my eyes by thanking me for being part of her own “triumvirate,” described by the post author as…

I needed a maternal figure, a dedicated and present midwife, dear and loving friends. I was blessed with one out of three. It could have been worse.

The only people I know who did just fine in the postpartum period are those who score the triumvirate: well cared for in birth, surrounded by supportive peers, helpful elders to stay with them for a time. The others, wild-eyed at the supermarket, prone to tears, unable to nurse or sleep or breathe, a little too eager to make friends at baby groups – I can spot them at 20 paces. We form a vast and sorry club.

via My friend breastfed my baby | Life and style | The Guardian.

I’m lucky enough to have also scored the triumvirate (I find it takes pretty careful planning and active attention to put it into place!). When my midwife came to visit me postpartum and commented that I was looking good and I replied that people kept telling me that, she said that rather than just saying “thank you,” I should point out my looking good was directly related to having excellent postpartum care. And, she was right. I did not look, feel, or sound depleted, exhausted or overwhelmed precisely because I was being taken care of. I had great prenatal from my midwife along with six weeks of postpartum follow-up visits. I had a postpartum doula for immediately post-birth support and several follow-up visits as well as meal calendar coordination. I had my mom, who cooked for us and cared for our other children. I had my sister-in-law who came to stay for several days and helped with cooking and cleaning. I had friends who brought me dinners and took my kids to playgroup. I had my husband, who got to enjoy our new baby with me because he wasn’t trying to do all of the above!

When I think of my triumvirate, a specific moment comes to mind. I am sitting in the bathroom holding my brand new baby, still attached to me by his cord. We are waiting for the placenta to come. My midwife is close by, peeking over, but not being hands-on or aggressive. My mom leans over to take pictures. My doula is standing in our bathtub to make room. My husband is kneeling near me and my other children are gathered around to cut the cord. In the driveway outside, my friend waits with her three children to take my kids to playgroup. This is what birth support looks like. I am surrounded with love and care.

The author of the article quoted above did not have the same experience…

Two weeks later, I gave birth at home, after a 13-hour posterior, or back-to-back, labour, which the long-practising, well-respected midwife did not bother to attend. Frankly, it felt like staring death in the face, by which I mean an altogether normal and intense physiological process that has nothing to do with the ordinariness of daily life. Throughout, my husband and doula repeatedly called and texted the midwife, whom we had found privately. She told us it was “probably” early labour. From inside the grip of what turned out to be very active labour, I managed to flat-out demand that she join us, speaking at the phone while the doula held it to my ear. The midwife sounded annoyed, vaguely put-upon. It was another three hours before she arrived. Minutes later, with a great and unbridled roar, I delivered my son into bathwater.

We wept with joy, held him, kissed him, named him. Eventually, I got out of the bath. My husband lay in bed with our new son on his chest. I showered in a state of trembling, happy shock. The midwife perched on the sink and told me a story about her estranged sister. She handed me a towel, and I remember commiserating, trying to comfort her about her unfortunate relationship with her family, as though we were two cool girls hanging out in the bathroom at a party. One of us just happened to be naked and bleeding, immediately postpartum. I didn’t care; I was too ecstatic. Having just given birth, I felt omnipotent. Epic. Heroic. Unstoppable.

via My friend breastfed my baby | Life and style | The Guardian.

I wrote about the value of breastfeeding support here:

But, what happens after the birth? I’ve often thought that my role in breastfeeding support, while less “glamorous” or exciting than birth work, has had more lasting value to the women I serve. Breastfeeding is the day in, day out, nitty-gritty reality of daily mothering, rather than a single event and it matters (so does birth, of course, it matters a lot, but birth is a rite of passage, liminal event and breastfeeding is a process and a relationship that goes on and on for every. single. day. for sometimes years). Anyway, sorry for the brief side note, but I enjoyed reading this article about the celebrity culture surrounding pregnancy and birth with its obsession with who has a “bump” and then how after the birth the main deal is losing that weight and having a fabulous bod again! Woot!

via Tuesday Tidbits: Birth Thoughts | Talk Birth.

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I shared this pic on Instgram this week in honor of the theme of “self-care” in the online Equinox 15 event I’ve been taking part in.

I’ve only recently recognized that while I was surrounded by excellent support for birth and postpartum, I’m not really giving myself much credit lately for still having just had a baby. Yes, Tanner is almost 5 months old, but that moment in the bathroom was only five months ago. I still need quite a bit of help and that normal and okay. I need to recognize what I’m capable of, which is a lot, while also still recognizing what I need and what the pace of my life can be and can handle at this point in time. I also recognized that I have difficult admitting or expressing how difficult it feels sometimes to be incorporating a new baby into the family, to be working around “baby time” again, and to be physically bound to a baby again. It is hard to admit, because Tanner is such a treasure of a baby and I enjoy him so much and love having his adorable, babiest of babies self in our lives. However, it also sometimes feels hard to be doing this all again and I often feel “old” and kind of worn out and ragged lately.

This brings me to a lovely article about vulnerability as strength (something my doula reminded me of several times following Tanner’s birth):

…Today I stood swaying my daughter to sleep in my mommas group shedding tears because of the intense sleep deprivation over the last 6 weeks. My tears fell and I was held with empathy, no one solved my problems; women just heard me and held me in my challenge. We heard each other, others cried, we softened, we opened ourselves up to the wisdom that each expressed and afterwards our hearts felt happier and lighter. Something sacred unfolded. I was in a container that was safe to share my soul, to be naked in front of these women, to admit I was not perfect and I didn’t have all the answers. And I felt better. I was not alone.

The more I allow myself to be vulnerable, the more I receive, the more I soften, and the more I open myself up to support. We are not meant to mother alone. The first year of our child’s life is a raw experience. It is amazing; it is illuminating, joyful, and raw.

via Vulnerability as a Strength | Mothering Arts.

This container is so important. Though, I will also acknowledge that for my personality, being told to “take it easy” or to “lower your standards” or “don’t have such high expectations of yourself,” often registers for me as being told: You’re not capable. I don’t believe in you. Give up. So, I personally, when trying to create a container of safety or support for other women I will not usually use those sorts of phrases.

Related to the idea of postpartum tenderness and triumph, I enjoyed this photo series of newborns and mothers: Born yesterday: mothers and their newborn babies – in pictures | Life and style | The Guardian.

Bringing the discussion around to anthropology and birth though, this interesting recent article suggests that it is the mother’s metabolism (and energetic reserves) that creates the human gestation length rather than the size of the pelvis as often commonly theorizes:

We’ve been doing anthropology with this warped view of the male pelvis as the ideal form, while the female pelvis is seen as less than ideal because of childbirth,” she said. “The female births the babies. So if there’s an ideal, it’s female and it’s no more compromised than anything else out there. Selection maintains its adequacy for locomotion and for childbirth.

via Long-held theory on human gestation refuted: Mother’s metabolism, not birth canal size, limits gestation — ScienceDaily.

In a past article about the wise women behind and around us, I included this interesting quote from Tsippy Monat:

“Anthropology describes trance as a condition is which the senses are heightened and everyday things take on a different meaning. Communicative competence with other people may increase or may not exist. Facts of time and place are revealed differently than in normal everyday consciousness. This description reminded me of situations encountered at birth because birth is a condition in which the mind is altered. When I accompany births, I experience the flooding of oxytocin and endorphins. In Hebrew, the root of the word birth can also mean ‘next to God’” (p. 49).

via Thesis Tidbits: The Wise Women Behind, Within, and Around Us | Talk Birth.

And, speaking of historical experiences of birth support, I re-visited this guest post about birth witnesses:

The only way to understand birth is to experience it yourself. The ONLY way? That comment stayed with me, haunted me. I became a doula after my daughter’s birth because I wanted to be able to provide women with support and knowledge that could give them a different experience, a better memory than what I had. I just couldn’t believe that there wasn’t a way to understand birth at all except to experience it firsthand. Certainly there wasn’t always this fear and unknown around birth that we each face today. Not always. I began studying that idea. What about other cultures? What about our culture, historically? What about The Farm? There wasn’t always this myth and mystery about birth! I realized there was a time (and in places, there still is) when women banded together for births. Mothers, sisters, cousins, daughters, aunts, friends. They came together and comforted, guided, soothed, coached, and held the space for one another during birth. These women didn’t go in it alone – they were surrounded by women who had birthed before them. Women who knew what looked and felt right, and what didn’t. Women who could empathize with them and empower them. In addition to that, girls and women were raised in a culture of attending births. Daughters watched mothers, sisters and aunts labor their babies into this world. They saw, heard, and supported these women for the long hours of labor, so when they became mothers themselves, the experience was a new, but very familiar one for them. Birth wasn’t a secretive ritual practiced behind the cold, business-like doors of a hospital. It was a time for bonding, learning, sharing and sisterhood. Girls learned how women become mothers, and mothers helped their sisters bring forth life. It was a sacred and special part of the birthing process that has become lost in our institutionalized, over-medicalized, isolating and impersonalized system today.

via Birth Witnesses | Talk Birth.

And, another regarding women’s rites of passage:

“I love and respect birth. The body is a temple, it creates its own rites, its own prayers…all we must do is listen. With the labor and birth of my daughter I went so deep down, so far into the underworld that I had to crawl my way out. I did this only by surrendering. I did this by trusting the goddess in my bones. She moved through me and has left her power in me.” ~Lea B., Fairfax, CA (via Mama Birth)

via Rites of Passage… Celebrating Real Women’s Wisdom | Talk Birth.

In just a few hours, I’m headed into town for our first local Red Tent Circle. I took this photo yesterday in honor of the spring equinox and the themes of manifestation, intention, and creativity. May we walk in harmony with each other and may we be surrounded by circles of support.

Happy Spring!

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Quick Births

I recently finished reading the book Permission to Mother by Denise Punger (you can read my full review in an upcoming issue of the CAPPA Quarterly). In one of the Appendices of the book, she addresses “Herbal Inductions–Are They Safe?” Her response is “no” and she adds “A homebirth does not equal a ‘natural birth’ if Blue and Black Cohosh are used to induce.” She opens the section by referencing her third labor which was over 12 hours and gave her “time to emotionally adjust to the escalating physical demands and surprise of my labor” and then goes on to say, “Over and over…I am hearing about intense labors that occur in two hours or less! Women often express delight about their miraculously quick labors (as if a quick labor were the goal). But I don’t sense any emotional, physical, or spiritual satisfaction accompanying these seemingly precipitous deliveries.” She also shares that a commonality in these stories is the use of herbals to induce or augment labor.

This section caught my eye, because I had a very quick birth with my second baby. I also was intrigued by the presumptiveness of dismissing a quick birth as not emotionally, physically, or spiritually satisfying—it seems like someone who is seeing through their own “lens” of 12+ hour labors and can’t imagine another type of timeline for birth. For the past several days I’ve been pondering this issue and considering my own experiences. I also did a variety of google searches looking for information about “emotional impact” of “fast labor” or “precipitous birth.” I turned up surprisingly little information—there was one article that popped up several times titled “The experience of precipitate labor” in the journal Birth. However, I was not able to access the full text of the article to read what it actually says. The results were described as: “The experience of precipitate labor was categorized in terms of physical experience (perception of labor length and contractions), psychological experience (relationship of how women perceived birth to their prenatal expectations, and emotional trajectory of disbelief, alarm, panic, and relief), and external factors (support persons and hospital system).”

My searches also turned up personal birth stories, excerpts from nursing textbooks or emergency medicine texts about handling precipitous birth, and message board discussion threads. The most commonly shared pieces of information about rapid labors is that they can be physically shocking and can be difficult to “catch up with” emotionally, as well as stressful because the mothers often are thinking, “if this is early labor, how I can possibly handle another 12 hours?!” They also reference increased change of hemorrhage. I did not see the questions raised by the Permission to Mother segment directly addressed anywhere. So, I want to know–if you experienced a quick birth what physical, emotional, and spiritual satisfaction did you experience, if any? What about external factors? (support persons, birth environment.) How about your psychological experience and “emotional trajectory”?

My own experiences are as follows:

Second baby, total labor two hours. Forty weeks pregnant. No herbal induction methods used. About 45 minutes were “serious labor.” It was very intense and I’ve said several times before that it felt a bit like a train rushing past and that I had run to catch up with it (emotionally and mentally).

Physical Satisfaction:

I was extremely proud of my body and its super-awesomeness 🙂 I felt that my sense of birth trust was physically manifested in my actual birth experience. My body was a powerful and unstoppable force and I had to get out of my own way and let it happen! I felt driven to my hands and knees–like a power was holding me there. After the birth my body felt weak and “run over by a truck”—I felt powerful and like a warrior during the birth, but afterward it was a physical “crash” of sorts. I did not have excessive bleeding, but I did almost faint several times after getting up (hindsight says, why didn’t I just stay down a while longer?!). I experienced labial tearing (no perineal tearing) and a lot of swelling as well as bruising, that I surmise was a direct result of my son’s rapid birth.

Emotional Satisfaction:

The birth was very emotionally satisfying. I did feel as if I never made it to “labor land” though–that hazy, dreamy, unreal state that I associate with my first son’s birth (and longer labor). I did not feel scared or overwhelmed or out of control as such (I did consciously let go of control—I think these are two different things) . I felt proud of myself. I felt amazed. I felt phenomenal. I felt ecstatic. I felt powerful. I felt empowered. I felt triumphant. I was pleased with how I’d verbally coached myself through labor—telling myself “it’s okay, you’re okay” and “be a clear, open channel for birth” and “relax your legs.” I felt excited and enjoyed the “drama” of already holding my baby after only a short while before thinking, “maybe I’m in labor.” It felt like a wonderful, fulfilling adventure.  I didn’t feel like a “victim,” but I did feel like something “happened to me”–as I said, I had to just get out of my own way and let the power roll through me. Later, I felt emotionally upset about the tears and the bruising. This felt like my piece of “failure,” because I had hoped and planned not to tear again.

Spiritual Satisfaction:

This is related to the above for me. I felt like a force of nature–like I was one with the powers of the universe. I was happy with my ability to get out of my head and “be in the now” with the energy of birth. My son’s birth was the most powerful and transformative experience of my life. I think that counts as sprititual satisfaction 🙂

External Factors:

I gave birth at home. If I hadn’t planned a homebirth, I think there would have been more stress and fear involved with trying to get to the hospital (and possibly a car birth, as we live 30 minutes from the hospital). My husband was very physically there with me–holding and supporting me–I felt like we were one person. My mother was present towards the end and held my older son. They felt overwhelmed and surprised by the intensity, but they got out of my way and let me birth! My midwife was present for 5 minutes–enough time to catch the baby. She was calm and a gentle presence.  She was very physically supportive postpartum. No one tried to influence or control what I was doing, where I was, or how I was laboring and giving birth. I had complete freedom and control over my environment.

Emotional Trajectory:

I went from excitement—“I hope this is really it!”—to, “Oh my goodness, we don’t have time to fill up the birth pool—just get me my birth shirt, my blessingway bracelet, and my ponytail holder!” and wading deeply in to the rushing waves of energy. The experience became completely encompassing–I was no longer in my left-brain, but was instead holding on to the train and catching up. I did not feel panicked or alarmed and I did not feel relieved when it was over, I felt amazed and happy and blissful and powerful.

Postpartum Reading List

20130903-200533.jpgSuggested Reading—Postpartum

After the Baby’s Birth, by Robin Lim. This book is very holistic in approach and is one of my very favorite postpartum reads. It offers such gems as, “you’re postpartum for the rest of your life” (which some people have said they feel like is depressing, but I find a tremendously empowering statement!) and “when the tears flow, so does the milk” (with regard to the third day postpartum). It does have a large section on Ayurvedic cooking, which, personally, I don’t connect with, so be aware that that section is in there and depending on your belief system, might make perfect sense to you, or might seem inapplicable like it feels to me.

Mother Nurture: A Mother’s Guide to Health in Body, Mind, & Intimate Relationships, by Rick & Jan Hanson. This book is phenomenal. Very comprehensive. It addresses mothers of children from birth to age 5, so even if you are several years past the early postpartum weeks, this book has much to offer to you! One of the focus areas is on “Depleted Mother Syndrome” and addresses coping with it via all areas (body, mind, social/relational).

The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, by Diane Weissinger and Diana West for La Leche League International. This classic book from the original mother-to-mother support organization has been published for more than fifty years. This nurturing, conversational book will help you with all of your breastfeeding questions from birth and onward, whether your breastfeeding goal is three days, three weeks, three months, or three years. Reading this book is like having access to an experienced, friendly network of breastfeeding mothers who know all the practical, as well as emotional, ins and outs of mothering through breastfeeding. (And, to get this kind of support in person, check out an LLL group near you!)

The Year After Childbirth, by Sheila Kitzinger. Another book covering the physical, social, and emotional changes after birth. This book is more “basic” and less in-depth than the two above.

The Post-Pregnancy Handbook, by Sylvia Brown. This book is the most “mainstream” of my suggested titles.

Mothering the New Mother, by Sally Placksin. This book is excellent for people supporting new mothers, as well as for mothers themselves. It is very validating and affirming of women’s feelings and needs after birth. This is the book in which I learned the term “matrescence”= becoming a mother.

What Mothers Do: Especially When it Looks Like its Nothing, by Naomi Stadlen. I love this book! It takes a close look at how women mother and how skillfully they do so (so that on the outside it looks like they are doing “nothing”). This is not a “how to” book, but a book that tries to look below the surface and explore concepts that are very difficult to verbalize/articulate. She strives to put into words/give us language to describe what is it that mothers do all day–their often invisible contributions to life. Contributions that are often invisible even to ourselves. This is a very affirming and unique book.

Postpartum Memoirs:

Misconceptions: Truth, Lies, and the Unexpected on the Journey to Motherhood, by Naomi Wolf. This was the first book that I ever read about a woman’s postpartum experience. It was suggested to me by the doctor at the birth center when I expressed some teary frustrations about adjusting to my new life and wondering if I would ever get “back to normal.” This book is on the “angry” side–it is not a nurturing and tender read in the way my earlier suggestions are. I did not identify with the author’s birth experiences or feelings about birth (I felt tremendous during birth and powerful, empowered, triumphant, and confident), but her postpartum feelings closely match my own (weak, wounded, invisible, etc.)

Operating Instructions, by Anne Lamott. This is a classic. A memoir of the author’s first year with her son. She is a single parent and so the book addresses some of the challenges involved with parenting solo. This book is incredibly funny at times.

Let the Baby Drive: Navigating the Road of New Motherhood, by Lu Hanessian. Another wonderful read! I first read this when my own children were out of babyhood and still found it tremendously relevant and enjoyable.

Callie’s Tally: An Accounting of Baby’s First Year, [or, What My Daughter Owes Me], by Betsy Howie. Very funny, though not particularly “AP” (so if you’re looking for that, read Let the Baby Drive instead). This book chronicles how much money the author has spent on her daughter during her first year of life.

You might also like to check out my list of Non-Advice Books for Mothers | Talk Birth.

Rolla Area Groups for Mothers

Forming supportive networks with other women is something that is important to most women. These contacts are especially important for new mothers. Early motherhood can be a very isolated time. A time in which massive changes are occurring in your family, your personal life, your identity, your relationship, and so forth. Rolla has several support groups available for local mothers:

La Leche League of Rolla, a mother-to-mother group for breastfeeding mothers or women who plan to breastfeed, is available with monthly meetings (informal get togethers with babies and toddlers welcome!) , an email discussion list, and free phone or email help for breastfeeding support.

Mindful Mothers is a group for mothers with children of all ages who wish to make informed parenting choices, including natural birth, attachment parenting, gentle discipline, holistic health care, nutritious whole foods, and environmentally conscious living. (This is a welcoming, supportive environment, you do not have to do everything “holistic” or “natural” in order to be welcomed into the group!)

Mothers of Preschoolers (MOPS)–the local chapter has twice monthly meetings at First Christian Church. The first Thursday of the month there is a speaker and the third Thursday there is a “creative activity.” Childcare is provided during the meetings.

If you know of a local mothers’ group that is available, but not listed here, please email me and let me know!