Tuesday, February 10, 2009
After she had her baby (Charlie, my 800th baby) the other day, this new mum said, "You know, once you're in it, labour isn't scary! You just do it!"
I have so many clients who have carried the fear of childbirth with them for years and years. Some even postpone the event for as long as possible, just because their friends (or families) have told such horror stories over the years.
I tell my clients that our bodies aren't going to spring something TOTALLY NEW on us when we're in labour. Birth is something you know! Contrary to popular belief, labour really feels like period cramps, low down, way down there, NOT all over your body. And it comes and goes (unlike period cramps which are continuous and can last for days). Yes, it gets very strong, but, as long as the birth is normal and you have continuous support, it is totally do-able (not totally fun). (Remember, the World Health Organization believe that 10% of birth should be cesareans, no more. That means that 90% of births should be "do-able".)
Surprisingly, labour can be frustrating, even BORING, at the beginning. Your body hasn't taken pity on you and started the endorphin surge yet (ah, when it comes, SO good). Until those endorphins kick in, you're fully present, fully raw, feeling and thinking and using your left brain (nasty left brain). You start to think, "If it's like this now, I'll never be able to take it when it's 10 times worse." It shouldn't be scary if your doula is talking you through this part on the phone, or popping over to your house, if necessary. But, hang on, if birth is undisturbed (that's the key!), then it never gives you more than you can bear. Active labour begins, your endorphins kick in, and your body goes into auto-pilot...no thinking...you just "do". And you can do it!
Your friends probably found labour scary because they didn't have the assistance of a doula or midwife, didn't have an undisturbed birth, didn't work through their fears in advance...nine out of ten times you'll find that the couple were on their own, left to stumble through it alone. Now that's scary!
So, the other day, we headed to the hospital when her contractions were close together and very strong. Bloody show - check. Feeling pressure - check. Contractions palpate as strong - check! She was at the "frickety! frickety!" stage (as one mum described it). She loved standing by the sink, both at home, then at the hospital. We got through the passing request for an epidural (always happens at 5cm) and out the other side (I was thankfully backed up by our amazing nurse). As her labour progressed and the endorphins kicked in (big time!), her face became smoother, she began to sway her hips, she became calm and quiet. The lights were low. It was beautiful to watch her labour progress undisturbed. I knew everything would be fine.
This is a woman who had thought that labour would be very scary. But, with support, she found that this was something that she'd done so many different times over her lifetime - labour was a challenge which she could meet. She had the mental fortitude, life experience, and the tools at hand. Birth was something she knew. I don't think she'll be scared about anything again.
Crashing through our fears and our cultural myths is what's scary - Birth isn't.
- Jacquie Munro, Vancouver Doula...and SlowBirth
Tuesday, May 6, 2008
As I had been for months, I woke up and got up to pee every so often. After a trip to the bathroom around 2:30 in the morning, I got back into bed and noticed a popping sensation "down below". It was like no other sensation I had felt before, and I wondered if my water had broken. I felt for moisture but didn't feel any, so I made my way back to the bathroom. Just as I pulled down my panties, a clear liquid flowed from my body. I called to your dad, "Babe, I think my water just broke." He stumbled to the bathroom and groggily asked if I was sure of what had just happened. I explained that I hadn't peed on myself and couldn't imagine what else it could be.
Once our moment of shock and disbelief passed, we called Staci and finished packing our hospital bags for the next hour or so. Knowing that I might not want to eat later in labor, I drank a cup of miso soup and ate a few hard boiled eggs (for what I thought to be the marathon ahead).
As much as I wanted to rest during this phase of labor, my body wouldn't allow it. I had to keep walking. It just hurt too much to lie down or sit. It also hurt my feet and back to remain upright, but I had to choose the lesser of the discomforts. Each contraction was fairly mild at this point, and I had a difficult time telling Dad exactly when each one came and went. Around 4 o'clock the contractions took on a new level of intensity, and I could no longer signal to Dad; it took too much energy and concentration. He just had to watch my body language and decide for himself. As Staci made her way to our house, she was in communication with Hokhmah, checking in with new information and seeking advice. Hokhmah wondered if my water had truly broken and suspected that it may have actually stayed intact.
Because I was riding each wave so well, Dad, Staci and I had no idea how far into labor I was. I found comfort leaning on our buffet in the dining room, leaning against walls and door jams as I made my way through the house and leaning on the bathroom vanity. Throughout labor and during the final moments at home, I pooped (4 times) and vomited once. Although sitting on the toilet was uncomfortable and intense, my body had to release what was inside. Throwing up felt so good. It was a physical and spiritual cleansing.
Around 5:30 a.m., contractions took on yet another level of intensity. Dad, Staci and I were in the bathroom together. In between a contraction, I turned to Staci and said matter-of-factly, "I see why women give up." At that moment, with contractions coming so closely and with so much energy, I understood how easily women succumb to the "comfort" of medication. I didn't realize it as it was happening, but this was my Transition, the phase when most women lose faith in themselves. Seconds later, I expressed my need to leave for the hospital. While Staci and Dad were concerned about getting there too early, they respected my request. Dad loaded up the car, and we made our way to the garage.
I wedged my body in the back seat of our Highlander, between the door and your car seat. Facing backwards, I leaned over the seat, hugging a pillow. As soon as we were in motion, I felt the urge to push, but I couldn't tell Dad because I didn't want to worry him.
Today is Saturday, June 3rd, and you're almost five months old. It's been a busy few months, to say the least, and I'm finally finding some time to continue writing your birth story. My memory may not be as clear, and my writing style may not match the level of poetry above. But I do want to finish this story for you.
Determined to hold you inside of me until we reached the hospital, I just buried my face in the pillow and moaned through each wave. Hearing the rumble of our tires on metal grates was a welcomed sound. I knew we were finally on the (Golden Gate) Bridge, and I looked up to see the most beautiful sunrise. The City skyline was set against the sky ablaze with pinks, reds and oranges. Just as quickly as I emerged, I retreated to the comfort of my pillow once again until we reached the hospital.
As soon as Dad pulled up to the curb, I finally expressed my need to push to Dad and to Staci. The contractions were so intense that it took me an extra moment to get out of the car. Once on the sidewalk, another wave came rushing through me, and I leaned into the cold, brick wall just steps away from the sliding entrance doors. I waddled inside the hospital, still clutching onto my pillow as I passed the reception desk. In between a contraction, I mumbled something to the ladies behind the desk, and they replied, "I think they're going to keep you (and not send you home)." I guess it was pretty obvious that I was in active labor. From the lobby to the triage room, I stopped wherever I could during each rush : against the wall in the elevator, at the counter of the nurse's station, anywhere.
As soon as I stepped into the triage room I asked if I could push, but I was told to wait. The nurses wanted to check and measure dilation. Still not wanting to sit or lie down, I asked Dad to raise the bed up as far as possible for me to lean on. The bed moved painfully slow, and before the bed could be raised to where I wanted it, a nurse told us that I was fully dilated, and you were at +2 station. Relieved to hear the numbers, I thought I could finally push, but no, I was again told to wait. They wanted me to be moved to a labor and delivery room. In came a giant wheel chair, and I was hurried down the hall to a delivery room.
The nurses tried to get me into a gown and preserve whatever modesty they assumed I had, but I couldn't care less about being naked in front of all those people at that moment. I was more than ready to push you out, and I wasn't going to worry about what I was or was not wearing, so I stripped my clothes off and leaned over the bed, convinced they would surely let me push. No. They wanted to check for your heart tones, first with a fetal scope. No tones. Then they prepared to prick your scalp with an internal monitor. Just as they hurried to do this, Staci looked to Dad for approval, just to make sure he knew what the nurses were intending to do. In went the monitor. No tones. I knew you were O.K., but I just didn't have the presence of mind to say so. Besides, why would they take my word for it?
They told me that I couldn't push you out while standing. I had to lie down to push you out. At this point, I knew it was in your best interest for me to follow their instructions without hesitation. I didn't want them to cut you out of me. I didn't want them to suck you out with a vacuum. I didn't want them to pull you out with forceps. So, with Staci holding my left leg and Dad holding my right, I pushed with all my might when they told me to push. Your head wasn't coming out as quickly as they would have liked, and the midwife informed me that she had to make a small cut. This was the first moment in this whole process that brought on a sense of panic. I thought to myself, "I'm not under any anesthesia, and you're going to cut me with scissors?!?!" Surprisingly, it didn't hurt at all. I felt the snip, but it didn't hurt. Quite simply, my body was doing its work because it had not been injected with drugs.
Today is March 28th, and you're almost 27 months old. So much time has passed since your birth day that my memory is less clear. That, and my perception of the events that unfolded that morning have changed. Oh, how I wish that your entry into this world was so much more gentle and peaceful.
After 30 minutes of pushing (which felt more like 5 minutes) you were born at 7:59 a.m.
* * * * *
Friday, December 14, 2007
So, still standing there, lost in space and time, I started to think about my low-tech childhood in the '60s and '70s, how I skipped to Kerrisdale school in my skirt and walked through old door marked "Girls", and how my parents decided that it was totally unnecessary to have all the new high-tech things that were in the stores - how we shared a party line, had no answering machine, no voicemail, no calculators, no computers, no videos or DVDs, no recording devices, dishwasher or washer/dryer. We just had one little black and white TV with rabbit ears, a clothes line, and a hand cranked mangle to make life easier. (I laughed when I heard the editor of Canadian House and Home say just last week that her laundry room would not be complete without her most luxurious appliance - the mangle. Well, this one's electric, and it presses sheets, but hey...) It was truly an "Old School" childhood, and time was our ally.
So, I really noticed those multi-coloured cut-out letters stuck on the window at BC Women's Hospital the other day - "I DO IT OLD SCHOOL - ASK ME HOW". I kept thinking about those words as I helped a client through an almost 48-hour unmedicated, uncomplicated birth. After 31 hours at home, we went to the hospital to birth "old school" style. The tools at hand were our hands and eyes and ears and wisdom (other than my client and her husband, "We" also included nurse "Wendy" aka Michelle, and the Family Practice Group 2 docs Ron and Sheena, who all have the guts to go "old school"). Time, on this day, was our ally, for we needed a lot of it to accomplish the goal. The high-tech equipment didn't seem to know how to behave with us. The blood pressure cuff kept pumping itself up even when no one was there, and that brand-fangled-new monitor didn't work as well as the doptone, so it was turned off.
So, things were kept as simple as possible. On and on...dancing in the shower, rockin' an rollin' on the ball, just one contraction at a time, one breath at a time, listening to lovely music. To get rid of a puffy cervix at 9cm, we used the Trendelenburg position on the bed (no epidural necessary) and lots of encouragement. We used hip squeezes, hip shakes, swirling and spiralling hips, visualization, trance-inducing techniques, foot rubs, endorphin sleep and dreams, squatting, kneeling, walking, tears, hands, eyes, and love....liberally. And this amazing labouring woman drew on the strength of all her life, with the aid of a few sherpas, and did what all women have the power to do, climb the highest mountain ever - birthed her baby with arms outstretched to touch his body.
And when that baby came, it was pure joy. No exhaustion, just sparkling laughter and smiles and "I'm as high as a kite!" (love those endorphins) and an eager, wide-awake little boy who came out with his meaty fist stretched to the sky. Ahaa! The culprit - just one little hand had slowed things down. We knew it! But, with time, this little man and his mum had worked it out.
When the pediatrician came later to say "Hi", she actually bowed down before the woman, saying "I am not worthy." And the doctors agreed that, if any drugs had been used, it probably would have been a cesarean. And the nurses outside were in awe, knowing that there's an initiative in the hospital to reduce the intervention and cesarean rates by encouraging low tech/high touch birthing, and wishing that they could have seen how it was done.
I am in awe of the couple at the centre of the whirlwind, this vortex of birth. I thank them for trusting in birth, for trusting in the body, for trusting their baby, for trusting me to calm their spirit and their wild eyes, when I'd say, "It's fine, it's normal, you are safe, you can do it," or "She's safe, she has the strength to do this."
On this day, I think all three crossed the portal, the old school way.
by Jacquie Munro, Vancouver Doula (www.vancouverdoula.blogspot.com)
Tuesday, August 28, 2007
I invite my students to find their own reflections, words and intentions to inwardly prepare for birth. These are Shannon's words but provide one model for finding your own.
I think the most important thing to have in order to create a positive birthing experience is to believe that you have the ability to create your own experience, or at least co-create it.
Belief in this personal creative power is essential and once you have it you can direct your intentions to any life experience. The equation is uniting your mind's will with spirit.
My own birthing experience turned out pretty much the way I had hoped. A natural vaginal birth with the outcome being a healthy baby and a healthy mother. There were some variables I didn't expect but that's where a little surrendering came in handy. The variables only gave my birthing story its own uniqueness and mystery.
Once I found out I was pregnant I decided that I wanted nature to takes its course as much as possible. Even though I chose to have my baby in a hospital with an obstetrician I wanted there to be a balance between the natural birthing process and the medical world.
I wrote down my expectations for my pregnancy and delivery and meditated on them daily. I visualized the outcome often and got in touch with the creative force inside myself - this gave me the confidence I needed to follow through on my plan.
I surrounded myself with the best support team: husband, doula and doctor for my own situation and personality, and I trusted my decisions.
I also included my baby's spirit and will in the process. I often talked to my little one inside, explaining what we needed to do as a team to create a healthy and flowing birth, I believe he listened.
I'm thankful for my positive birthing experience. I'm not Superwoman - the birth was sometimes scary and very physically challenging but I knew I could handle it.
I put spirit and my will to work and everyone who was present at the birth was in some way supporting me and my vision for a healthy, natural child birth.
Wednesday, July 25, 2007
Money Manager/Bond Trader
Professor of Communication Studies
Senior Systems Engineer
Acupuncture Clinic Manager
Social Worker, MSW
Clinical Social Worker
Lawyer with the Dept. of Justice
County Recycling Manager
Midwife-in-training/Women's Health Educator
Professor of Law
Stay at Home Mom
Marriage and Family Therapist
Human Rights Activist/Nonprofit Administrator
Philosophy Graduate Student
Mechanical Engineering Student
Birth and Postpartum Doula
Marketing Consultant/Birth Doula
Investment Advisor for high net worth individuals
Certified Nutrition Consultant/Sales Rep
Human Resource Analyst/Web Developer
Real Estate Appraiser/Professional Flutist
Natural Childbirth is for everyone! Not just a select group of artsy fartsy touchy feely people. We all can have - and deserve! - the opportunity to witness the miracle that is our female body, mind and spirit. Here's to our Warrior Women!
Saturday, July 21, 2007
I didn’t know that I truly desired a natural childbirth when I first was pregnant. It only came to me through my entrance into an amazing childbirth preparation class. The women and partners that were a part of that class, along with our fabulous instructor, all remain in contact, and will for quite some time I’m sure.
The conception of my baby girl was intended; her spirit was honored even before she came into my body. I had carefully considered what it meant to me to be a mother, and what I could offer this little being. It’s only fitting that then I would come to the conclusion that she deserved to have the opportunity to arrive in this world in her own time, on our own terms.
Little did I know how hard I would have to fight for this, choosing to have a hospital birth - albeit with excellent midwifery care. My first experience in being a Mama Bear came even before she was on the outside, and I am thankful. I am empowered. I am blessed. Fifteen days “late”, 17 hours of labor – six of those pushing! – later, and with the assistance of a vacuum, Zoe Elizabeth was born. All ten pounds, 13 ounces of her.
Although there were some interventions required, they were not foreign concepts and were carefully considered by my husband and I. As a result, the decision to have them became empowering instead of defeating. I believe that everything happens for a reason, and always for the best. The Universe wants the best for us, and is willing to bestow these gifts upon us if we are willing and able to accept them. My childbirth education was one of these gifts, my labor support team was yet another. I am eternally grateful for the 'cascade' of empowering experiences that these gifts allowed me and my family.
This experience has so moved me, that I have decided to become an advocate myself - not only for natural childbirth, but also for education, and ultimately for Women. All birth is beautiful, and all women deserve to be empowered and transformed by it as I was. The support of women during this magnificent time of childbirth and postpartum is now my passion. I am privileged to become a part of the local community of Doulas. Yet another gift to be thankful for.
Tuesday, July 17, 2007
A little over 14 months ago now, my daughter Odessa was born in our home in San Francisco. We had recently moved from a communal art space to a small two bedroomed apartment which we hoped would make for a cozy and intimate place to receive our first child. My partner decorated the place so nicely with lots of strange art and found furniture – it was so colorful and cutely inspiring. We held a Blessingway gathering for friends to celebrate the impending arrival and to mark the change in our status amongst our community – No more organizing all-night music events for us!
And then we waited…
My nurse practitioner at Kaiser was mild-mannered but resolute – she put me on an induction list despite my assurances that I would not want to avail of such services. I was having weekly check-ups with Jessamyn my midwife at that point, and so in a sense I was unnecessarily straddling two opposing worlds. Looking back I think I just liked the attention and updates on how my little one was doing. We were keeping the sex a surprise but secretly hoping for a girl. I read and drew inspiration and wisdom from the work of Ina May Gaskin and skillfully deflected the fears of the uninitiated.
Nine days after my due date passed and my threshold for replying, “Not Yet!” had been well reached, I turned myself in at 11pm for another night without babe. I awoke an hour later with cramps and spent the next twenty-four hours doing the greatest work of my life so far. It was so intense. But I have always been attracted to intensity and I was determined from the outset to emerge triumphant! I was so curious to experience the full strength of my body in unassisted, uninhibited, unmedicated labor; heaving in miraculous discharge; I needed to grunt and groan and loosen everything about me. I welcomed my fate. I had my partner by my side, my friend and ‘best unofficial doula ever!’ working her North Bay magic in the kitchen, my sister-in-law’s gentle touch and my midwife who was cool-headed enough to just let me get on with it.
I felt like a boat struggling against huge waves. My two greatest assets during my labor were my previous experience with Zen meditation and my silver yoga ball. I have sat through piercing pain before, and although this was an altogether different experience, I knew how to breathe my way through. Bouncing up and down on my yoga ball had the effect of creating a deeply satisfying sense of opening up – the peak of my contractions could be harnessed with pleasurable results! I ploughed through, lamenting only that I had not gotten a night’s sleep before it all began as I was very tired.
At 11pm my midwife informed me that I was fully dilated. Finally! I had waited for what seemed like an eternity to hear those words! I had felt like my body was suppressing a volcano eruption for the previous hour or more – it was almost overbearing trying not to push. I relocated to a beautiful wooden birthing stool, squatting with my two hands holding on at either side. At that moment Maria, my second midwife arrived. Although I had previously only met her once before, her skill as a midwife became immediately apparent to me in that her arrival at such a crucial stage did not disrupt the intimate energy we had created that day within our little crew. I pushed with deep animalistic groans. I remember feeling slightly concerned for our downstairs neighbors at that point, as I could only imagine what they might be thinking – lying in their beds on a work night trying to get some rest.
I pushed for around 45 minutes. When the head began to crown I listened impatiently to the oohs and ahhs of my team and was invited to touch my baby’s dark hair. I did so only to appease my friends. I wanted my baby out! I did not have the patience to take pride at that point! With one more push my baby’s head was out, but the right hand came out simultaneously, and I tore pretty badly. I was oblivious of course and just forged ahead with one final push to get the body out. And then there’s that moment. That moment when we crossed the line from fantasy into reality. From Two to Three. Our baby is here. Skin on skin. A perfect being – all ours.
It took us a couple of minutes of just being in awe before we even thought about the baby’s sex. Then cheers go round as we look and see that ‘ It’s a girl!’.
For days afterwards we called our baby by her Chinese name ‘Yan Yan’ which means ‘grass growing toward the light’ or ‘happy little mushroom’ depending on who you ask. We finally settled on Odessa as her first name. I guess I felt like my odyssey was over, but in reality, it had just begun…
I am forever grateful to my birthing team, my friends who had paved the homebirth road before me, and the women who devote their lives to empowering others by their dedication to homebirth. I would never have wanted Odessa’s birth to be any other way. She came into the world on her own terms. She set the pace, and showed me how important it is to trust in nature’s way. She is a beautiful gift.