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.
I once wrote how teaching about birth is like selling a house. I was happy to see Joyce's comparison here, and even happier how her points lined up with reality. We hear many analogies for the roles doulas hold. I think this one stacks up well -- what do you think?
Although doulas are increasingly popular additions to the birth team, not everyone is clear on what they do for a birthing family. There are several useful analogies out there, but the comparison of a doula to a real estate agent is less discussed. So here is my attempt, 10 ways a doula is like a real estate agent!
1. The doula's goal is the client's goal.
Just like your real estate agent is not searching for his/her perfect home, your doula is not pushing her perfect birth onto you. Your doula will get to know you before your birth as much as possible, so s/he knows what you want in your birth.
2. Your doula can help you navigate your options.
Your real estate agent knows her/his local real estate market, just as your doula knows his/her local birth market. Your doula can help you find the best birthplace to fit your desires, just as your real estate agent can help you identify your ideal neighborhood.
3. Your doula is up-to-date on the current market.
Your real estate agent will know how properties are selling currently. Your doula will be familiar with local maternity care.
4. Your doula knows what to look out for to help you have a positive birth experience.
Just as your real estate agent knows what items to ask for on your offer (the appliances!), and whether or not the cracks in the plaster walls are something to fret about, your doula will know what questions you need to ask in order to make informed decisions.
5. Your doula is trained and experienced in the field.
Even a brand new doula without children of his/her own has received extensive training in both normal childbirth and its variations and complications, and in caring for childbearing women. Just like a real estate agent has been trained in navigating the real estate market.
6. Your doula will support you if you change your mind about what you want.
Just as your real estate agent will continue to help you if you change your property search criteria, no matter your reasoning, your doula will support you if you change your mind about choosing that hospital, or planning an epidural, or having a waterbirth.
7. Your doula will offer his/her advice, but you are the decision-maker.
A real estate agent will offer her/his advice when pricing a property, or writing an offer, but you are still the one making the sale or the purchase. Your doula will remind you when you stray from your birth plan, but this is your birth, and your baby.
8. Your doula knows where to go for complementary pregnancy and birth services.
Your real estate agent knows the title companies in your area, the lenders, the exterminators, the inspectors, and has worked with them before. S/he can help you find a reputable professional in your property-selling/purchasing process. Your doula knows the chiropractors, the accupuncturists, the prenatal yoga instructors, the lactation consultants, the babywearing groups, the back-to-work support groups, in your area, and can help you find perinatal professionals in your area to help you.
9. Your doula will walk you through the entire birth process.
Just as a real estate agent will assist you through the entire purchase or sale, your doula will help you from the earliest inklings of Birth Day through the first couple of hours postpartum. Whether her support is over the phone, email, text, or in person, your doula is supporting you the entire time.
10. Your doula follows up with you after your birth and helps you adjust to your new family.
Your real estate agent will follow up with you after your sale or purchase to make sure everything continues to go well, and answer any last-minute questions. In the years after your property purchase, you can even contact your realtor for referrals on remodeling projects! Your doula is the same way. Just because your contract period has ended with your birth doula does not mean you cannot contact him/her again! For example, the definition of postpartum depression is any depressive symptoms in the year following the birth. Your doula wants you to be well, go ahead and reach out to her if you need anything.
Joyce Dykema, MSc, CD(DONA), HCHD, became a certified birth doula in May 2012. She is also a trained Hypnobabies® Hypno-Doula, volunteers as leadership for ICAN of Lincoln, and is an Evidence Based Birth Instructor. Joyce is a woman-focused doula. While passionate about natural birth and what research shows is the best for moms and for babies, the goal she strives for with every client is for women to have empowering and positive births, as the woman defines it. In addition to her doula credentials, she holds a BA in psychology and an MS in biological sciences. She breastfeeds, uses cloth diapers, uses baby sign language, babywears, and homeschools because these choices made sense for her family; she encourages others to explore and find what makes sense for their families. Joyce and her husband have three children, and live in the Lincoln, Nebraska area.
Emily is one of my closest doula friends. I was sad to see her scale back some of her birth activities to better fit her family's needs, as I know these activities bring her genuine joy and give her respite from the daily mom-grind. But seasons do truly come and go -- we cycle in and out of being ready and not being ready, for the opportunities life brings. Emily has such a loving, open heart -- I have every confidence, with patience and timing, she will achieve all her dreams.
Have you ever had a dream tucked so neatly inside of you that you almost overlooked it? Something that took years of baby-stepping, life experiences, and moments of solitude to really awaken? And then, after the dramatic awakening of a new beginning, the sudden need to tuck that dream securely away again – maybe for a season, but maybe forever.
Midwifery school was that dream for me. This dream was born when I became a doula 7 years ago. But I didn’t know it then. A little more than a year ago I began attending births with my midwife, my mentor, in her birth center.
It was seeing her in action that allowed me to unpack the fullness of my dream. We had many discussions about the depth of the calling of a midwife. The beauty and demands of the work. The logistics of schooling and clinical work. I had even taken a big step and applied to a midwifery college, for the Fall 2017 term.
Then life happened.
As my family has evolved, and the birth of my last child dictated the ebb and flow of my professional life, it became clear that I was needed more as Mom than Midwife. I had to make the choice to serve my family, before serving other families.
It is a strange feeling to give up on something that has just begun, but already begun to unleash the power of great transformation. The time had come to tuck that dream away again. So now, I sit and wonder if that dream has come and gone.
Is it forever?
Is it for a season?
Where can I hold the power of that dream while it waits?
Emily Willett is a doula, childbirth educator, and breastfeeding counselor and owner of Mommy Matters in Bakersfield, CA. She is the current chair of the Bakersfield Birth Network, and works at Bakersfield's only free-standing birth center. Always increasing her knowledge-base, she strives to familiarize herself with evidence-based information and practice. Emily is the mother to four children, including a breech baby born safely at home with the assistance of a midwife (when it was still lawful).
The parallels of birth and death aren't unknown. They both require suspending judgement, supporting in the moment, and holding space to respect individuals' journeys and nature's timeline. Today's feature isn't as happy and joyful as many others in the 31 Days project, and yet every doula knows endings are inevitable. Hold on to your hearts.
There was a woman who named herself after the mountains where she had communed with other women and wrote poetry. In the end she went berserk with agitation, climbed out of her hospital bed in an attempt to lie on the earth again. We covered her in blankets as her community of friends took turns sitting vigil. Her strong body and spirit would not give in to disease without a great fight. Back in bed, she lasted for weeks like that, feeding off the fuel she had accumulated over a lifetime until one day, the flame burned all the way to the core and released her free at last.
There was a woman quiet and withdrawn, who only nodded yes or no. Yet when a dear one entered and approached, she open her arms to bring them in close. Her adult children had lost a father just two years before and her illness had mostly been a secret, a failed attempt at protecting her loved ones from pain. All we can do is be there to support and minimize suffering. The existential journey is their own. At a time when one can no longer deny death, loved ones gather with tears and smiles for all the healing that can finally begin. In the end, friends and family gathered in the chapel to acknowledge and honor her life. Then came a parade of flowers our way, grandiose bouquets perking up the solarium.
A volunteer angel drops in every now and again, effortlessly singing A cappella, opening the portal within the spirits of the dying, attempting to free them of blocked emotional meridians and move them forward on their individual path, on the labyrinth of existence.
An emaciated woman already a skeleton slowly turned to look at me and offer a weak smile, appearing to wonder about my treatment or judgement of a lifelong multi-drug abuser lying on her death bed before she was even old. She is estranged from all family. I offer reassurance that she will be cared for with kindness and respect. She replied "thank you". I suggest that she has experienced a lot of trauma in her life. She replied "scary". Perhaps at birth, or in the mother's womb, she was already addicted. Maybe now, in a time as vulnerable as birth, she can finally just receive love and care without having to do anything to earn it. She seeks to have her pain and anxiety resolved, just like any other human being. And in a couple days, after a week hiatus in the desert, I will return to this work, wondering if she survives still. As a death doula, I will either care for her with kindness and compassion, or if she is gone, I will care for the others who come next to this house.
It's no surprise to me that Christa's heart holds room for these monumental bookends we call the beginning and the end. She and I had the pleasure of meeting years ago when she moved to Chico, CA as a birth doula, wanting to connect. This was serendipitous, and she, four other doulas, and I went on to create the Chico Doula Circle. Christa was planning to attend nursing school in New York as soon as she had all her pre-requisite classes. Knowing her passion for mothers and babies, I was surprised to learn she was working as a nurse in a hospice home. She admitted she didn't imagine herself there -- life brought her to serving those on the other end. She holds a reverence for nature and its ways, and I know she is right where she needs to be.
We are pretty familiar with Birth Plans, right? When it comes to what to do before it's time to head to the hospital, that's where an Early Labor Plan comes in.
One of the most powerful tools we have as humans is the ability to be distracted. Distraction is often thought of as a bad thing, but there are times in life when distraction is beneficial. For me, I can't say how many times I have been teaching a great group of future parents, only to realize, once class is over and the excitement dies down, that I have a monster headache! And in there somewhere at the edge of my consciousness, I knew I had a headache; I wasn't giving it attention, so it didn't bother me.
I heard once from a nurse I worked with that families, on average, go to the hospital 3 times before it is time to stay...I should clarify, 3 times before it is medically time for them to stay because they are actually in the phase of labor where the hospital will accept them. What often happens is the family, or the hospital, produce a (non-medical, or near-medical) reason to stay, which can mean interventions are now on the table to help things go faster. A secret about hospitals? They don't want people hanging around, not having babies, so the pressure to intervene is common. Check with your friends -- how many were sent back home when they were so sure it was the right time?
Enter: The Early Labor Plan. By utilizing distraction, we can stay home and labor longer, thus increasing our chances that it will be time to stay because labor is moving along at a more predictable pace. What kinds of things do people put on their ELPs? Here is a list from past clients:
The main idea is, this is a set task or list of activities that you are ready to move through before it is time to go to the hospital.
What's the advantage to having an ELP? Often when those first early labor signs occur, we are ready to jump into the car, or right to comfort measures and plans for birth -- but we aren't there yet. The mind is ready to labor, but the body doesn't need anything special. When we move through the things on our Birth Plan before it is time, we can set a psychological trap for later. You see, if you tried some of your comfort techniques before you really need them, when you do need them, you might feel like you already tried that. This can propel you through your coping measures more quickly, leaving you at a place where you may now consider options you wanted to avoid...not because labor is requiring it, but because our brains are moving to what seems the next logical step.
So, we calm and distract the mind, which gives the body time for labor to build. Don't worry that you might miss your window -- trust your body and its innate wisdom in this normal process to let you know when it needs your attention.
What will you put on your ELP? A favorite walk? Getting your toenails done? Finally beating that video game? Couple your ELP with your body's needs for food, hydration, and rest (remember the point of an ELP isn't to physically exhaust your body!), and soon enough, it WILL be time to move to the hospital and get one step closer to the birth of your baby.
♥ four young boys and a boy dog (offspring)