I have often thought I need that wonderful old t-shirt, "Frankie say relax!", to wear when I am teaching classes or attending a birth. Could you imagine? I often joke that telling someone to relax is like telling someone to calm down -- it isn't helpful, it irritates people, and it often feels accusatory or as if someone overreacted to something. In labor we must learn when to actively relax, and when to work -- here Connie offers her thoughts on the subject.
If you were to believe the movies –- coping in labor means that you look like “The Buddha of Birth.” You sit in a lotus position, gently breathing, eyes closed. People in the birthing room often think that if the laboring person is doing well, they are completely quiet and deeply relaxed during each contraction.
While that might be nice, it is an unrealistic expectation of someone who is working hard! And that is what Labor is – Work! When I go to the gym, I see lots of people working hard. They don’t look relaxed at all. They make noises, move around and look to others for encouragement and assistance. Why do we expect less of a person giving birth?
Real coping in labor often looks and sounds like someone at the gym, especially during a contraction. But remember, a contraction lasts for about a minute. Then there will be several minutes that there is No Work to Be Done because the contraction is over. That is when we can relax!
Having a doula there to remind to you let go, release, and relax between contractions helps you to feel more in control. It allows you to rest and restore, so that when the next contraction comes, you have more energy to work with it -- more confidence and less fear.
It may help between contractions to think: “My forehead is relaxed. My shoulders are dropped. I sink down into my pillow. I am at rest.” Your support team can say these words to you to help you relax when you actually need to. In this way, then (if you want to be!) you can be “The Buddha of Birth”!
Connie Sultana is grateful to the 900 families that have taught her about relaxation in birth. Connie is a DONA Birth Doula Trainer, former member of the Board of Directors of DONA, a Lamaze Childbirth Educator and a trainer for Passion for Birth, a Lamaze Accredited Childbirth Educator Training. Learn more about her by visiting her website.
Full-disclosure: I know Allie very well. I even wrote her bio as she is currently out of town at a competitive archery event. I hope I didn't get carried away -- there are a hundred more things I could say about this incredible lady, and I tried to be succinct. Her birth was an incredible journey of strength and surrender. Her husband worked like he had been a doula all his life! The birth team was around, trying to help whenever we could, but Kyle mainly stood at the helm like this was something he did every day. We joked that he needed an honorary doula certification after that. Also on the birth team were midwife LaMonica Bryant, doula and birth photographer Ellie Kolb, and back-up midwife Rachel Donckels. Special thanks to Ellie for allowing her pictures to be shared here.
I had been a doula for over a year when I found out I was pregnant. I was so excited to be on this journey I had fallen in love with and learned so much about. Growing a baby inside my body was everything I had imagined it would be. I had a fairly easy pregnancy, lots of support from my husband, family, and friends that were also birth workers. I had access to tons of information and enjoyed immersing myself even more deeply into all things birth related. I was watching livestreamed births, listening to podcasts, and reading all the books!
We established care with a local midwife and planned to have a home birth. My husband was a little unsure at first, until he met LaMonica, and after that first meeting we knew we were in good hands. Our families, however, were not so excited about it. For the majority of my pregnancy I had to answer questions like “when will you see a doctor?” or “at what point will you go to the hospital?” Not having 100% support was hard, but I knew that I had made an educated decision that was right for me.
At 37 weeks my husband got sent out of town for work five hours away! To say I was stressed is an understatement. I knew after he left it could be any day or another month before we met our baby. I tried to plan activities to keep myself busy, but I also allowed for lots of rest time too. My husband did make it home, and I was still pregnant – but not for long.
It was a Friday morning and I was 40 weeks and 6 days. We decided to check off all the things on the to-do list before we ran out of time. While we were out and about I had some crampy sensations but nothing that made me stop in my tracks. We walked around Costco and joked about all the free things we might get if I had my baby in the store. We also joked that we had to be out and about because if my water was going to break, it would probably be in a very public place. My goal for postpartum was to just relax and spend time cuddling with our new baby and watch lots of Netflix – we bought a new TV and headed back home to get it set up.
By that time I was still feeling some cramps and decided to sit for a bit and drink some water. It wasn’t too much longer and I was having to pause a bit, and I was only able to squeak out maybe one word during each contraction. “Yes,” “No,” “Wait,” “Shhhhh.” I knew it was probably the real thing, but I didn’t want to be the girl who cried wolf, so we timed them for an hour or so and I drank lots of water. They were about 7-10 minutes apart. It was now about 8 pm and contractions were still happening. Kyle was so excited! He wanted to set up the birth tub right then, but I told him to wait. I really wanted to make sure it was the real deal.
I texted my birth team to give them plenty of notice that this could be the night. They of course advised me to eat, drink, and sleep. So we ate a super nutritious meal of hot dog sandwiches and headed to bed. I had two contractions while lying in bed. They were torture. I got on all fours or leaned over the bed to have contractions. I knew this wasn’t stopping -- the big moment I had waited for was finally happening. All the wondering of what my birth story would look like was being solidified with each breath I took. I let my husband sleep while I labored. I went out in the living room. The glow of the Christmas tree lit up all three of our stockings. The dog was asleep on the couch and the house was quiet. I felt like it was just me and my baby, working together at the start of our journey. But soon the contractions were coming pretty fast and getting much more intense. I was going to need some help.
I woke my husband and said it was time to get ready. He jumped out of bed happier than a kid on Christmas and got the tub set up. I again alerted my birth team, letting them know the update. As a doula myself, I know how it is to be on call, so I wanted to keep them in the loop as much as possible. I also had lots of early labor activities planned, so after the tub was filled we started that list. First up: making birthday cupcakes.
I got the box out of the pantry and brought it to the kitchen, then I had a contraction. Kyle opened it and got all the ingredients in the bowl. I mixed it together, and then I had another contraction. This wasn’t going as I planned in my head. He got the cupcake liners ready. I poured TWO cupcakes and had another contraction. He finished pouring the mix and popped them in the oven. So much for baking! At least that task was done and kept him busy.
Next on the list was writing a letter to my baby. Something I had always thought was a sweet idea, but at this point I couldn’t even think of sitting down and putting pen to paper. Sorry baby, I’ll tell ya about it later!
I asked Kyle if we should call my doula, Stacie. Each contraction was becoming lots of work and took a lot of focus. I knew I was progressing and things were changing but I was not sure how fast. Sometimes I even got waves of nausea. We decided to call her. While on the phone I heard myself, and as a doula, I probably would have been thinking, this person is not even close, but Stacie is very patient and kind and she agreed to come over.
When she arrived we were smiling and laughing and filling her in on all the things we had done. She watched me cope through contractions and reassured me that I was doing well. It was as if I could step back and see myself and think I don’t “look” like how I’m feeling. It felt like things were much more intense, but I was just swaying and breathing and not looking like much was going on. I told Kyle to get the bucket out of the pantry in case I threw up. I think he and Stacie thought I was crazy, but sure enough a few contractions later I said goodbye to my dinner.
Stacie asked where my birth kit was and suggested we contact the others. I agreed. From my studies I knew nausea was a sign of transition and thought to myself, man I’m doing great! This is hard work, but I totally got this no problem. A few more hours and we should be done. Turns out I was not one of these blessed people with a short labor.
The sun was coming up, and the rest of my birth team arrived. I was so excited to see them and I was thinking the end was near! I opted to have my midwife check my progress. I was at 6cm and baby was still pretty high. Fun fact: she never really engaged like a typical first-time experiences. I wondered if perhaps she had a short cord, and I hoped that it didn’t mean there was anything wrong. So I kept on laboring, took a few laps around the pool in the crisp morning air with Kyle, and we called our parents to let them know we would be having our baby soon.
With the whole team there, my hubby at my side, and our families notified, it felt so real! I wasn’t a statistic, or a number, this was my experience. We were welcoming our first baby, the moment I had spent so much time dreaming about, and it was so real! Tears filled my eyes, and I was so grateful that this was it, surrounded by so many people who loved me and believed in my ability to give birth.
The next hours all blurred together as I transcended deeper into laborland. Yet I remember things being so clear in the moment. In and out of the tub, in the shower, doing laps around the swimming pool and lunges on the diving board. There was never a moment that I felt alone. There was always someone close by with whatever I needed -- a sip of water, a bucket to spit in, a towel to dry me off, or reassuring words that filled my heart. Kyle was such a good sport holding my hand when I was in the tub, holding me up when I leaned on him, and running water over my back in the shower. My doula offered me kind words of wisdom and she took care of Kyle too. And my midwife, LaMonica, watching over me and gently ensuring that my baby and I were safe.
After what felt like forever, a few cuss words, lots of position changes and some prayers, it was time to push!
When I tell people I had a homebirth they almost always ask if I had my baby in the tub. The beauty of homebirth is that you can be wherever you want to be! I found my way to my bed when it was time for my baby to join us. Everyone supported me silently. There was no rush, just me and my baby as my body stretched and worked to birth this tiny miracle. Kyle was right by my side rubbing my back, kissing me, and telling me I was amazing. Every person deserves this kind of love!
After about 20 hours, Maddie’s head emerged still covered with the amniotic sac. LaMonica’s hands caught her as I pushed her out -- not pulling, but guiding with love as she told me to keep going. She wiped Maddie’s face. Maddie opened her eyes and started crying before she was all the way out. As soon as Maddie was out, I rolled over to meet her. She was crying and looking at us, Kyle and I were looking at her and at each other. There were lots of kisses and cheers and many tears of joy. Maddie was here and all the hard work had paid off!
That first hour went so fast, we were so in awe of her. She was so aware and talkative. I nursed her, and cuddled her, and talked to her about our shared journey. Then I got up to take a shower. My midwife made sure I was safe while I cleaned myself up, Kyle got to snuggle his baby girl, and somehow, magically, my room transformed from a place of birth back into our bedroom. As a family, we jumped back into bed and invited in our families to meet our baby!
Allie Baker, CD(DONA), LCCE is a woman of many talents and facets. She truly loves those she serves, and her ability to balance knowledge with heart makes her a well-rounded doula and educator. Allie's sense of humor and ease spreads to those around her, and this adds to her effectiveness in the birth world. Allie has continued her journey by gaining a thorough lactation education, working toward someday becoming an IBCLC. Her creative teaching ideas have been featured in Lamaze's "Science and Sensibility," and she brings that same energy to families. An avid lover of the outdoors, her family enjoys bow-hunting, camping, zooming around on sand dunes, and the occasional fun run. Since becoming a mother, she has reduced her doula load and focused on childbirth education, teaching regularly at The Nest & Co. in Bakersfield, CA.
♥ four young boys and a boy dog (offspring)