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.
I finished another project I am so excited about! I wanted to put to pictures these 20 ACOG statements that came out in March with the goal to avoid a woman's first cesarean. Now some asked why the images didn't exactly match the recommendations. All I could reply back with was, some of these things, you wouldn't want to see in pictures, either because they would be boring, or because they would be graphic. But more to the truth is, I wanted the pictures to represent patience...we need to be more patient with labor. We need to give moms and babies more time to perform this task.
I am so grateful to all the families, doulas, and photographers who shared pictures with me -- the response was overwhelming. Because the focus is on preventing the initial cesarean birth, I am pleased that some of these moms are shown laboring toward what ended up being successful VBACs!
Patience is the key. Many of these are based on evidence that shows with more time, a woman can birth vaginally. And speaking of time -- research shows it can take 10-17 years before new evidence is implemented into practice. If we familiarize ourselves with these new recommendations, we can be the driving force behind ensuring the care we receive is current when our caregiver might still be doing things out of habit, comfort, or custom. Let's spread the word!
Pin these! Help raise awareness and get this information out there into the hands of the families that need it. The goal is to educate families, so they can enter into their providers' offices knowing what ACOG now recommends.
Stay tuned for August's adventures in celebrating World Breastfeeding Week and Breastfeeding Awareness Month. Like my Facebook page for resources that can be used by educators, doulas, and of course, breastfeeding mothers!
"Cesarean delivery for active phase arrest in the first stage of labor should be reserved for women at or beyond 6 cm of dilation with ruptured membranes who fail to progress despite 4 hours of adequate uterine activity, or at least 6 hours of oxytocin administration with inadequate uterine activity and no cervical change."
I love this pic from a birth almost 5 years ago. This was the laboring mama and her own mother during an intense contraction.
I appreciate there is specific criteria that we can look to in making the decision to move to a cesarean birth. Basically, if a woman whose water has broken has not had any cervical changes (measurable progress, right?) after 4 hours of effective contractions, OR after 6 hours of pitocin, cesarean may be warranted.
One thing to keep in mind: there are more ways to progress in labor than just cervical dilation. Progress can be baby moving down in the pelvis, even if the cervix seems to be at the same dilation number (eg, first vaginal exam mom was 3 cm, baby was -4 station; next VE mom is still 3 cm, but baby is -1 station -- baby has come down regardless of where mom's cervix is, and that shows progress!).
Have you heard "6 is the new 4"? When looking at the stages of labor, it was taught that 0-4ish was latent or early labor, 4ish-7ish was active labor, and 7ish to complete (what we call "10") was transition. After seeing that we misjudged the amount of time in active phase, it is possible many women received cesarean births simply due to what was thought of as non-progressing labor, when in reality, with 4-6 more hours in that phase, birth would have happened on its own. Patience is not only a virtue, but it is also the safer way to birth for moms and babies.
Many of us are excited about these new evidence-based findings ACOG released in March. There are almost 20 statements that show how we can better support laboring moms to work in preventing a woman's first cesarean birth (knowing once she has had a cesarean birth, her chances of obtaining a vaginal birth after cesarean, or VBAC, are extremely low due to our climate). Basically what these statements boil down to are, women need more time in first and second stage, and we should not rush to cesarean delivery if mom and baby are doing well. Please share these.
I love Lamaze's amazing infographic which states it can take up to 17 years for medical practices to change when new information becomes available -- and Lamaze goes on to emphasize, as pregnant women, we don't have 17 years for our providers to catch up. It is all of our responsibilities to inform ourselves and present these best-care practices to our providers and see that we are treated accordingly.
"A prolonged latent phase (eg, greater than 20 hours in nulliparous women and greater than 14 hours in multiparous women) should not be an indication for cesarean delivery."
We have learned women don't line up with Friedman's Curve like we thought they should. So basically this new data tells us: dilation from 4-6 cm can take 4-6 hours longer than we thought! Patience is what we need -- give moms and babies more time when everything is going okay with them both.
♥ four young boys and a boy dog (offspring)