Thursday, 19 June 2014

Birthing Day...

When a baby is born, so is a mother. 

Photographer: Karen E
I always thought that was a cute, if not trite, little saying. Until I had my own babies.

I have come to realise that having children entails a massive core identity shift for many women - more so than getting married or a first menstruation or any other of life's transitional experiences. The shift often takes us by surprise in its nature and its magnitude. 

Ask any mother which she remembers in greater details, her wedding day or the births of each of children. Almost all the women I have asked have far more acute memories of the triumphs or tragedies of their birthing days than their wedding days. (I'm not sure of the equivalent life experience to ask about for women who haven't been married - if you have any ideas let me know!)

Three years ago my youngest daughter was born and even though we celebrate this day, the 18th of June as her birthday it was, as cheesy as it sounds, a birth-day of sorts for me too. 

I birthed my first daughter in a drug free natural birth in a private hospital in Pietermaritzburg. I was on my back doing purple pushing, but for most of the nurses there it was the most natural birth they had seen in many months - especially considering the number of nurses who came in to congratulate me with awed whispers of 'We heard what you did!' 

My gynae told me it was one birth out of a thousand and that totally freaked me out! To me it was a normal birth, an 'average' birth, an example of how most women could and did give birth but I have since discovered that there is far too much hospital policy, often not evidence based, and not enough support for moms (read: doulas) for this to be the norm.

It was an intense experience for me. I have never broken a bone or dislocated anything or had kidney stones or anything like that, so it was the most painful thing I had ever experienced. But I felt confident, I felt supported and at no point did I feel as though I was suffering. 

I learned a little more over the intervening years and chose to have a water birth at home for the birth of my second daughter. That was an utterly life altering experience. Here is a link to the full story: Eloise's Birth (will open in a new window)

I essentially had an unassisted birth with a midwife in the room. I had said to my midwife, Sr Arlen Ege, that I wanted to do as much myself as I could, unless I asked for help or unless she could see that intervention was necessary, and she gave me the gift of respecting my wishes. So I had an exquisite physiological birth after a week of on-and-off labour (check the link for more details) and it was a highlight of my life. 

I was high on endorphins and oxytocin for what seemed like weeks afterwards and I truly felt like I could take on the world! 

And so I firmly believe that when both my babies were born, new facets of who I am today were birthed at the same time. 

Photographer: Karen E
My babies showed me how to think of someone else before myself, how to nurture and how to love. They showed me reserves of strength and patience that I had no idea I had. They also showed me my limits and my weaknesses - and I have been able to grow through those times. They brought out the fierce mama bear in me - the wild woman who roars in the face of danger and hardship. 

They have also drawn out my softest tear-blurred gazes and inspired my proudest heart-busting moments. 

One thing that I adore about being a doula is that I have the privilege of walking alongside women as they make this transition. I get to witness the birth on so many levels!

So today everyone celebrates my daughter's birthday, and rightly so, I have had many of my own! But on this day I secretly celebrate my own birthing days, those hallowed moments of encountering the exquisite juicy rawness of human life. 

I give them gifts, as parents do, but no book or toy can come close to the gifts my daughters have brought me - the gift of becoming more fully myself, the gift of finding my calling, the gift of becoming a mother.

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Love Makes Things Grow...

A little lightheartedness... (teehee)

Love Makes Things Grow

At the place where I work they had to dig up some pipes at one stage and before there was a chance to replace the tar, this patch of grass happened.

As I walked past it on my way to my car one afternoon the words 'Love makes things grow' just popped into my head and I've been ruminating on them ever since.

So please feel free to share this pic, or Pin It and spread it far and wide because everyone needs to know that love makes things grow!

Pinning Tip: If you hover over the image a 'Pin It' button should appear.

Monday, 2 June 2014

Hindrances to Natural Birth #37: Mobile Phones

(This is the second post in a series on Hindrances to Natural Birth. The first was a post on how tickets specifically, and time pressure generally, can get in the way of natural birth.)

If you have a mobile phone, cellular telephone, or any other kind of mobile device that you can receive messages on that beeps or buzzes or whatever - then this post is for you.

Even if you aren't pregnant yourself... actually... *especially* if you aren't pregnant yourself - please take note!

Mobile phones can be great. I love my mobile! It helps me keep in contact with my clients, stay on top of emails, do research on the spot, listen to music, take pics of my kids, make to-do lists... I think I'd be lost without it. Mobile devices make our lives easier in many ways - but constant connectivity can have its problems too.

We've read the blog posts about being present in our actual real-life flesh-and-blood lives, we've watched the videos about 'looking up' - that is not everything this post is about.

I can't tell the number of times I have been with a mom resting beautifully between contractions, breathing splendidly through them - serene, undisturbed - and the mobile phone goes off. Buzzing or beeping - both intrude equally on silence.

As if the noise wasn't enough, someone feels compelled to check - to reply - to repeat the question the sender is asking - How far is she? How long to go? How is she doing?

Someone tries to answer the impossible questions - within earshot of a mother who previously was utterly self contained and calm.

'She's only 4cm.'
'It will be at least another 6 hours.'
'She seems to be coping well at the moment.'

Every statement is innocuous on the surface, but carrying an undertone of measuring her up against some fictional standard of how birth happens.

I get that labour can take a long time. It can get boring. Dads can feel awkward and useless in the labour process and checking the news on an iPad helps pass the time.

But like I said in my previous post - oxytocin - the hormone that initiates labour and keeps it going - is a shy hormone. Its release is hindered when a mom feels like her performance is being measured. Those messaging her do so innocently out of concern for the mom and baby. Everyone is understandably excited when a baby is on the way - especially grandparents! But often messages, even the loving and encouraging ones, can be perceived as pressure to do well, to perform.

I know how I am whenever I hear someone is in labour! I'd love a contraction by contraction update. But I also know the possible negative consequences.

Imagine if you had to give a moment by moment update of your honeymoon night... Such an exciting time! A night of new beginnings! Still not keen? I don't blame you.

But what if everyone with an interest in the birth knew that their excitement, and their incessant messaging and even calling could be hindering the mother's intentions for a natural birth? Mothers and close female friends and relatives often bring their own baggage around birth into their interactions with a birthing mom - their own bad experiences, their own cultural anxieties - both of which are unhelpful.  

Every mom needs her team to show their unwavering confidence in her ability to do this birth thing. You are responsible for the energy you bring into your interactions with her. Remember that.

As soon as baby is born, partners are often so busy messaging everyone all the vitals that they can miss out on some of those precious moments of witnessing a baby experience gravity and texture and temperature and light all at once for the very first time.

Image by George Ruiz on Flickr
It's not the partner's fault. He is the link between the mom and the outside world - rather him than her - and there is absolutely nothing wrong with spreading good news! He is meeting all sorts of expectations from family and friends to make sure they are the first to know every bit of progress as it happens. And they have even less of an idea of how long birth takes than he has!

This is a sacred moment. Be there. Whether you send the message now or in an hour's time - it won't make a huge difference to them - but it can make a difference to you and your baby.

Some solutions:

  • Set up a messaging group on something like Whatsapp. Any and all labour updates and questions go through the Whatsapp group. No exceptions.
  • Warn people beforehand that you will be totally out of contact during labour - and even during the last few weeks of pregnancy - outside of the messaging group.  Set the expectation that you will give information as things happen - no news is good news. When a mom is feeling uncomfortable at the end of her pregnancy, getting 15 messages a day asking her is the baby has arrived yet is just not helpful!
  • Set any mobile devices to silent *without* vibration. Check your mobile device/s when it is convenient for you. Make sure technology is your servant and not your master.
  • Get a doula. Some partners think that having a doula there will give you less to do, but doulas often help dads to feel far more relaxed and less likely to feel the need to 'escape' into Candy Crush or Minecraft - and doulas help partners to anticipate mom's needs and give ideas on how to help her. Most doulas are also really good at taking pics so dad's hands can be free to help mom.
  • Be okay with waiting. Sitting holding the mom's hand for 2/4/10 hours straight may seem boring to you but just your quiet presence can mean the world to her. You only get one chance at this. Be there.

Please share your thoughts and solutions with us!