Recently I was watching The Labyrinth, that incredible movie of my early teenhood. I watched that VHS tape so much it started to warp. I know just about every line, I sing every song, and I am ALWAYS ready for it to have a different ending, even though I know that never really happens.
I was struck by the opening credits -- when the words "It's only forever," play. This one day, when we birth our babies, stays with us forever. Shouldn't we do all we can to improve our experiences so the memories bring us happiness instead of disappointment? Enter, the Labyrinth...
The basic premise: Sarah is an imaginative girl who loves to dress up and pretend play. She has to baby-sit her half-brother, Toby, and she dreams her story to be that of having a wicked stepmother and she being forced to work and have no life. Her brother begins to cry from his crib. She accidentally sends Toby off to the Goblin King, Jareth. She then has to rescue him, through the maze of a huge labyrinth, or he will be lost to her forever. Ultimately she has a few choices -- live in her pretend world forever and forget about Toby, become Jareth's queen and live happily ever after with him, or fight to get Toby back -- and of course, that's what she does.
But did I mention who Jareth is?
Um, yeah -- that's why I was always Team Jareth...but I digress.
1. This is a piece of cake!
Often labor starts out so small, we work up confidence and think, like Sarah after making a good choice, "this is a piece of cake!" That's right before she falls into a hole with nothing to stop her except a bunch of "helping hands."
While early labor is often something we can handle on our own -- occupying our minds, resting, bouncing on a ball, relaxing in a tub or shower -- as things progress, our bodies will demand more from us. Instead of worrying that this is a predictor of how hard labor may be (at some point in the future -- I call this 'catastrophysing,' and in real life, I am pretty good at it), we need to enlist support from those around us. This is where partners, doulas, midwives, mothers, nurses -- whoever is there to fill that role, come in.
Labor WILL get more intense -- that's the nature of the process. With support, we can be lifted up by those caring people on our birth team, those helping hands.
2. There can be a lot of waiting!
There is an average amount of time women will labor. For first time pregnant people that is 12ish-24ish hours. Be mindful of that when you start telling people you are in labor, people forget birth is a marathon, not a sprint. It may only be an hour of time that has passed and well-meaning friends and family can start to ask if your baby has been born yet!
Some families consider sitting with this information for a while until there is something more exciting to report. Often the invitation (or expectation) that people will wait happily in the lobby can be a lot of pressure to the laboring person! I have been at more than one birth when a guest pops into the laboring person's room, unannounced, and either there was nothing going on, or the person had to be shooed out quickly because it was pushing time or naked time or toilet time -- this doesn't have to happen to you! You can decide where your loved ones will bide their time, and it doesn't have to be at the hospital.
3. It may help to lose your head
Whether it comes as a loss of control, or a needed suspension of reality, staying in our left brain where logic and reason try to make sense of things isn't always productive in labor.
As labor progresses, we need to move to our right brain and listen to what our bodies are saying. Linear flow of time, labor math, and trying to make predictions according to what we know and what has happened all need to go by the wayside. Our team should help protect this state of mind by moving with us, going at our pace, finding another place for their fears besides our ears, and knowing how to help if we are truly lost -- like getting into take-charge mode. Labor is challenging, and we are working hard enough to keep our own heads straight -- partners and others can respect this and flex to it as long as we are feeling safe and moving forward.
4. Ultimately, birth isn't fair
We learn. We read. We immerse ourselves in information and do our best to plan for our births. But in the end, there are so many things that aren't in our control. Does this mean we shouldn't even try?
What can we really plan about birth? We'd like to think we can plan a lot -- hospital, support team, safety. But we've all seen videos of women birthing unexpectedly in their cars (as a doula I had that happen once). So what's a pregnant person to do? I'll tell you: take a comprehensive childbirth class where you'll learn your options in a nonbiased way. Understand the labor process, how to cope, and what to expect. Build your dream birth on a foundation of sound evidence-based information -- this will ensure if your Plan A becomes a Plan B, you will know exactly what your new set of choices are -- because you ALWAYS have choices. Birth, like life, may not be fair, but you can adjust the scale in your favor with knowledge and options.
5. "You have no power over me."
I recently had a conversation with a pregnant woman who shared: "I know no one can make me do anything I don't want to do. I can always say no or ask for other options. That's my right."
Not sure what your rights are? According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), pregnant people:
This is what ACOG is laying down that many physicians aren't picking up: no one can guarantee the outcome for you and your baby -- and because of that, the choices we make during pregnancy and birth are ultimately our own. This doesn't mean you have to be contrary out of the gate, this simply means when you have researched, thought over, pondered, prayed about a decision which may differ from that of your medical provider, no one holds more power than you.
This woman had it all covered! Not only did she bring her own lighting to the hospital, she had a diffuser, and her own Tupperware rolling pin, the one you an put cold or hot water in! She was, in just about all ways, prepared. And she did it in a way that made sense to her.
Pink was the theme! She beautified my suggested birth plan template and framed it -- setting it on the counter in her room. Every nurse that came in stopped, ooohed and awwwwed over it, and took the proffered chocolate treats sitting next to the frame.
Knowing her husband might need important information to be easily accessed, she put a list of must-dos on the back of the front door, so nothing would be overlooked or forgotten before leaving the house. She also had a small photo album full of ways to support her, phone numbers, and small self-care steps he could take for himself.
A packing list was created so all items this woman wanted would be included. Then it was broken down even more to specific location, so others would be able to find what she was needing or wanting without digging into the wrong place.
Another photo album was filled with calming images the woman could look at during labor.
Does this seem like a lot of work? Or does it sound like your style? You don't have to be this thorough! The key is to make your plans in a way that speaks to your own sense of organization. In labor, we can utilize comfort measures that we are familiar with and turn to during times of stress or discomfort -- we don't have to learn a lot of new-fangled coping measures that might feel unnatural or hard to remember. It works the same way when getting ready for labor and birth -- rely on an organizational strategy that feels good and works for you!
For almost two months, I have been faithfully blogging once a week. I had the opportunity to leave my doula world here in Bakersfield and visit Scottsdale with my kids -- so I took it! I had this experience, which I knew fit right in to what parents face as they create their personal plans for birth.
A family member works at WestWorld of Scottsdale. This is a huge venue where they host horse shows, rodeos, expos, and auctions. We had been invited to the Barrett Jackson Auto Auction -- we watch this on TV every year. With four boys from 3-17, this show did not disappoint!
Our family member showed us the following video, in anticipation of our experience -- she was giddy with excitement as the boys watched with dropped jaws:
After we viewed it a few times, I had some questions for my family member.
"Did you guys know they were going to do that?"
"Did they ask your permission?"
"If they had asked your permission, would you have allowed it?"
Even though she and her whole office couldn't stop watching this video, the answers to all three questions were, "No."
No, they had no idea this was being planned.
No, permission wasn't asked.
No, it would not have been allowed.
There are some scary scenes in this, right? The car drifts past people, past doors, around Mr. Jackson's Bugatti! Things are loud, dangerous-looking, out of the norm for the venue. But the driver has the experience of drifting, and he knows his car. He has learned how the car works, how best to throw a drift, what his car can and can't do. It is obvious he has had a lot of time behind the wheel.
This fits into how we can craft our birth plans.
I recently sat with a couple as they worked to put their birth preferences together. The example they were using was mighty -- like four-pages mighty! Four-pages mighty suggests you list every little thing you might even think of doing or accessing or trying. I suggest a less-is-more approach. Include 6ish of the most important choices you want. Now all the others fall under the umbrella of, we will try them if the time arises and the situation fits, generally without getting specific prior approval, but utilizing something until someone says why we can't. Do you see the parallel now?
So you want to use a peanut ball? Bring it out when it's time -- but you don't need to take up space on your birth plan stating, "Mother will use the peanut ball we brought to optimize baby's position if Mother becomes tired or needs to stay in bed."
Do you get sick or grouchy or faint when you don't eat frequently enough? Instead of writing, "Mother has snacks available and will eat as she feels necessary in order to maintain energy for labor and birth," just pack your food and snack as you need to.
If your goal is to be active in labor, you need not put, "We wish to labor out of the bed, so we will be walking, using the shower, sitting on the ball we brought, and rocking in a chair to achieve this." You can simply show the bed isn't where you want to stay, and get up and get moving.
Ideally, talking to your doctor ahead of time to discover what specific choices your situation warrants provides leverage. What if your doctor says no to everything you want to try? Then look for evidence. For example, in November 2015 the American Society of Anesthesiologists stated, based on evidence, that "Most healthy women could benefit from a light meal in labor." If your provider isn't keen on that, ask about this ASA recommendation -- why does it not apply to you? You can do this for many of your choices -- find the evidence and ask why you don't fit the recommendation. What is often termed as "hospital policy" can be broken down into "provider preference"; ensure you are getting accurate information.
Learn your choices. Understand how your body and your baby work together towards birth. Decide how you want to shape your experience by the options you face. And go for it. If you aren't "allowed" to do something, assess the risks and the reasons, and move forward. Try something else. Keep asking questions. Stay busy and active. This is your machine and you know it best.
Remember that saying: "It's easier to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission"?
It absolutely applies here.
♥ four young boys and a boy dog (offspring)