Before working as a doula in Bakersfield, Visalia, Hanford, and the lower Central Valley, I was in Chico, CA -- up north. This mother was a client of mine, and here she is shown having her second baby at home, after a very medicalized first birth due to her baby's health issues. This time around she labored all night, with erratic but strong contractions. When she finally realized they needed the midwife, it was just in the nick of time! The joy and ecstasy she experienced by this fast, healing birth shows in her body language, and of course her face! For this woman, being left undisturbed to labor was a huge part in the emotions and feelings that helped her have an ecstatic experience. It is a day she will always remember and have pride in -- and no matter how a woman's birth experience goes, with support from her team and knowledge of her choices, she can also be left with these good feelings.
In my classes, I have an activity I am pretty sure I learned in my Passion For Birth training where parents are encouraged to draw their ideas for birth. Taking left-brain concepts (hospital stays and medical procedures) and using right-brain-directed activities (drawing and coloring) blends our thinking and enables us to synthesize ideas, versus analyze them. What's the difference? When you analyze something, you have a singular focus on it and it alone.
Imagine being worried about having an unneeded, unwanted, unwarned-about episiotomy. Analyzing this can lead to worrying it might happen to you, without much recourse or thought into the bigger picture of how to prepare to avoid it. Synthesizing takes many pieces of information and plugs them into a bigger picture. In the case of episiotomy, you can learn when they are medically necessary, ways to prevent them during labor (for example, avoiding getting over-hydrated) and second stage (avoiding purple pushing and being more upright), your doctor's opinion and habits, and your birth location's statistics.
Here are pictures from students in my Chico, CA classes (I currently offer Lamaze childbirth classes in Bakersfield, Visalia, Hanford, Tulare, and many places in between and beyond).
I like the labor length and time-line for being home and being at the hospital.
A collaboration by Mom and Dad. I loved what I called The Parthenon -- it actually did represent support! What a great way to draw such an intangible idea!
Very neat and organized! All we need are some boxes next to each item and this would be a great packing list!
Another picture a mom and dad drew together. See the stairs? They are scaling the wall. The rainbow on the right Dad said, "represents God's love and presence." So many great symbols!
"Ninja Birth." A dad-to-be drew this. He and his partner were on the same page of wanting a normal birth free of unneeded interventions. She was gentle and calm in her desires -- he pictured worst-case scenario, including ninjas and Chinese stars.
So of course, sometimes these pictures get silly. But when you remember the role of the partner is one of protector, it makes sense. As a group we process and interpret the images, and families share why they chose what they did and what it means to them. These pictures serve as a jumping-off point so parents can not only discuss what's important to them, but also how to achieve these goals.
And I promise, this last picture? This family had a lovely hospital waterbirth with a midwife -- and no ninjas were needed.
I recently had a family reach out to me looking for a doula in the Bakersfield area. I knew I was not available for when they were due, so I offered the names of three other doulas, with reasoning as to why I thought they would be good matches. I also shared the resources area of my website, where I try to keep a running list of doulas in the greater Bakersfield and Visalia areas. I kept in contact with this family for a while, to ensure they had their doula needs met.
A couple weeks ago, after coming away from a prenatal with a current client, I noticed I had a Facebook message, and a text message. I thought, wow, someone has been looking for me! I opened them both to see it was one of these three local doulas, thanking me for the referral, as this family hired her. I was tickled with surprise and appreciation for this small act! We are all busy, and I am sure we often think, that was nice of her, I should let her know; the reality is, we don't always follow-through. I know I will remember this doula faster the next time I have a referral, and I also know I will rush to thank the next person who offers me a similar favor.
When working towards my certifying births for DONA in Chico, CA, there was one experience where the doctor left before I could ask for an evaluation. Hoping for the best, I wrote her a note and included an evaluation form and a SASE. Honestly, this doctor wasn't my favorite...but she didn't have to be my favorite to provide good care to my client. I thought of authentic statements I could share to show I valued her place in this birth.
"Dear Dr. Doe,
I had the privilege of helping Jane and John Person during the birth of their baby, Baby. Jane said nothing but good things about you during our prenatal contact -- it is clear to me she felt you two truly connected. I appreciated the way you cared for Jane throughout the pregnancy and birth, helping her feel confident about the experience...."
The next paragraph explained the certifying process, a bit about DONA, and that an evaluation from her would be helpful. I closed with: "Thank you for taking the time to do this for me."
Guess what? She sent it back, and I was able to use it for my certification.
Once at my pediatrician's office, I was telling my friend (nurse manager of the clinic), how much I appreciated the woman who worked at the registration counter. Every time we came in, she knew our names. She always asked how we were doing. She even remembered things we had talked about before. She felt like a friend, and I noticed this was not just how she treated us -- this was how she treated everyone in this clinic, which had a high rate of patient appointments where many families had Medicaid. She never seemed annoyed, she never acted like people were an inconvenience. As I was sharing this with my friend, she handed me a paper and pencil and asked me to write a note to the hospital which oversaw this clinic, sharing my feelings with them. I thought nothing of it -- it took less than 5 minutes of my day, and then honestly, I forgot about it.
The next time we visited the clinic, this woman came rushing toward me, arms open wide, and she thanked me heartily for what I shared. She said it meant so much to her, to be acknowledged and praised for the work she does daily.
Expectant families often ask if they can do anything for their nurses, not only to show appreciation for the long, hard hours nurses work, but also gain a happy member of their birth team. I was impressed when a client showed me the basket of goodies that would accompany her and her husband to the hospital. Knowing nurses often get gifts of yummy (but not always healthy) food, she wanted to be different. Her basket was thoughtfully packed full of hand lotions and sanitizer, Propel packets, pocket-size tissue packs, gum, Chapstick, Jolly Ranchers, and tiny chocolates. This woman had a fast labor, and she didn't go through as many nurses as she expected, but every nurse that walked in -- even her doctor and I -- were encouraged to pull things from the basket we wanted. "Now I don't want to take any of that home! I brought it all for you!" she told everyone, happily. The nurses were tickled at this sweet gesture. Her doctor, at first reluctant, did finally concede, "I do always need Chapstick."
Some might say this is unnecessary, that nurses are being paid at their jobs, so why are "gifts" necessary? One L&D nurse I know shared, "I love the thank you cards. I am shy about gifts and food. It's very nice though, but not necessary." A second one told me: "I absolutely love when patients bring in something special for the unit. We are there for joyous occasions and heartbreaking occasions. When patients acknowledge our work it makes us all feel good about the job we are doing. It lets us know that we made a difference during a very important time in their lives."
Isn't that what a true thank you is about? Acknowledging someone's good work? Isn't that something we all want? To know someone noticed, someone cared, it mattered to someone what we did? It's not a hard thing to do, and it can mean so much. I dare you to care enough to say "Thank You." Two little words.
My older sister likes to remind me that once upon a time, while pregnant with my first, I responded to her question of, "Are you going to breastfeed?" with an unsure, "...if I can." To this day I still deny it. I honestly have no recollection whatsoever of that conversation -- I know she wouldn't make it up, though.
Over 16 years later, life has put me in a different place. I have successfully breastfeed my four children. Soon after my second baby's birth I went on to become a breastfeeding counselor, leading meetings for local mothers and mothers online, taking phone calls from frantic mothers all hours of the day and night, making home visits and hospital visits, and participating on our county's local breastfeeding coalition. I have written articles for journals, magazines, and blogs, spoken at breastfeeding conferences, and I am currently working toward becoming eligible to sit the exam to be an IBCLC. I cannot imagine who that person was who meekly replied, "...if I can," all those years ago.
Yet with all the future-breastfeeding moms out there, this is a common feeling. I think it stems from allowing a bit of room for failure -- not setting the bar too high in case of disappointment. Simply put, lowering expectations.
You only have to go as far as your nearest mother to find why this answer has held its place as, I would guess, the number one response: We love to share our horror stories. Any pregnant woman can attest to this when it comes to birth stories -- suddenly women are crawling out of the wood-work to tell you their impossible experiences -- the pain, the suffering, the horridness of it all, oh, and good luck! This carries over to breastfeeding experiences as well.
One day in the grocery store, a young clerk asked, while checking my items, if this was to be my first baby? I was prepared for her to launch into her personal drama, so with my fists clenched, and most likely talking through gritted teeth, I replied, "Yes." She looked at me so sweetly and honestly. "You are going to do just fine." I was stunned! She must have sensed this -- she went on to say, "Having my son was the best experience of my life. I wouldn't trade his birth for anything." I left for my car feeling like she had just revealed a secret to me -- I felt this young lady, about my age, had seen something in me I did not know I possessed. I felt powerful.
Birth and breastfeeding are related in the way we think about them both: We hope for the best, but in the end, we do not have ultimate control over how things will turn out. This tends to be more true for birth than for breastfeeding. Some of the most committed breastfeeding mothers I have met have been mothers who had to have cesarean births after planning completely natural births. I think many of them found exerting energy into the breastfeeding relationship healed the loss the cesarean birth left with them.
As women, we need to focus on sharing our positive feelings about birth and breastfeeding. We need to assure other mothers although there can be problems and set-backs, there is always a way to accommodate, adjust or overcome with the right network of support.
Let me share the biggest secret to a successful breastfeeding relationship: Know where to get help. You can always call me with your breastfeeding concerns. My doula role ends after your baby's birth, but my role as your breastfeeding counselor continues until you no longer need me.
♥ four young boys and a boy dog (offspring)