Trying to gather my thoughts… and I know that no matter what I write, it will not and can not encompass this last weekend. Just a heads up: This WILL be a long post. Sorry, no way to do this succinctly.
We signed up for this birth class at the recommendation of our midwife. I went on the website, and to be honest, it’s not super specific on what to expect. (But in hind sight, there is not way to!) But I figured that if it was what my midwife has recommended, it’s what we should do. To be honest, I was a little unsure if it would be too hippy-dippy-mother-earth-spiritualism for me. But we did it. From all the reviews I could find and read, about the class or the woman who taught it (who is something of a big deal in the doula community) everything was glowing and raving.
This is the doula (Doula P) I had contacted early on in my pregnancy when I was hoping to hire a doula, but Hubster looked at the cost and his fiscally responsible side won out, thinking we really didn’t need one. And so I had dropped it (Disappointed, but it’s hard to argue with the cold hard truth of working in an already tight budget).
Saturday arrives, and we head to the address with water bottle, snacks, lunch, pillows, blankets, yoga mat, comfy clothes… And arrive to this wonderfully cozy room. We meet the other couples (total of 5 couples in our class), fill out a little survey, go around and introduce ourselves. The initial survey, both Hubster and I completed separately and then compared answers. It was encouraging to see how similar we were on our answers (there was not “right” or “wrong”, just our opinions on the birth process). Doula P walked us through some of the basics of a baby’s descent, and how important head position is for determining ease or difficulty of labor. This lead to various movements and exercises we could do to try and encourage the baby to turn or adjust, as well as pain relief options such as counter-pressure, aromatherapy, touch etc. It was surprising to me that my tall, strong husband was usually too gentle! I felt bad having to say “You can press harder there!” but I’m also sure he didn’t want to hurt me or the baby. It was very sweet and tender. Then Doula P had us working on intentional relaxation, where we laid down and focused on relaxing individual muscle groups. This lead into time for the two of us to just lay with our arms around each other, looking into the other’s eyes. (Keeping in mind that this ENTIRE time, she is weaving in stories from her own experience and her student’s experiences!) Two stories that really stood out to me:
-When discussing the pain of childbirth, she made the statement that labor and birth is not the worst pain. She asked for us to guess what was. People would throw out things like “broken bones” etc, and finally she told the story of a previous apprentice who had waited until her husband and she had “all their ducks in a row” – the house, the car, the careers. Only to find out she had very aggressive breast cancer. She will never have children, and has very limited time left. It was a particularly powerful story for me because of my past and because I know SO MANY women still struggling with infertility. That would give anything, pay anything, do anything to be pregnant and experience labor. No matter the physical pain, it doesn’t compare to the emotional and psychological pain of desiring children and not being able to have them. I can’t express how poignant it was to me to have her acknowledge those who are child free NOT by their own choice.
-A couple who came to her to be their doula because the husband was in the military, and he would be deployed when the baby was due. The day after they took the birth class with her, he shipped out. A few days before the baby was due, the wife answered the door to his officers and chaplain. He would never come home (oh man, I’m crying just trying to write this out) and again – to think that he would give anything to see his child, and she would have given anything for him to come home. Their last weekend was spent focusing on the love they had for each other and for their unborn child. Even though Hubster is no longer serving a fire department, the fact is there could be an accident; you never know when something could possibly happen to make your last goodbye you’re very last.
The common thread throughout the weekend was a very strong recognition of gratitude. That we have to recognize the amazing blessings we have. It meant so much to me, because I have all along felt so incredibly grateful for this pregnancy. Not just the pregnancy, but how healthy it has been! I just SO deeply resonated with Doula P.
We watched a little video that showed a woman in labor and delivery, along with computer graphics of what is happening inside the uterus, specifically with the cervical effacement and dilation. It even showed her delivering the placenta. Sure, it’s not very pretty, but it’s what happens! (I feel I should mention we did this during lunch lol)
… Even as I write this, and I try to think of what order everything happened in and I can’t! Everything has been colored by emotions, so that my logical, ordered side of my brain can’t keep track because emotional side of my brain has it organized differently …
At some point I remember us all sitting around in a circle and Doula P handed out (at random) various birth scenarios (actually, they were previous student’s real birth stories) and basically told us “What if this was the birth card you were handed?” – making us acknowledge that some things are outside of our control no matter how detailed a birth plan we put together. Of course, the one we got? Emergency cesarean section. My worst fear. But, ok, Hubster and I read through the description and had to figure out how we would handle that. And you know what? We actually came up with some game plan ideas. Because we can’t predict that, we can’t say “For sure and certain, we won’t go there.” Just like with infertility, we have to find a way to live with whatever we get dealt by my body. Everyone’s paper was different, so we went around and talked about the various possibilities and how each couple would handle it. But the amazing thing for me was to realize that if we do end up in the OR, it doesn’t have to be the end of the world. (Although I’m going to do everything in my power to get this baby out vaginally!)
Then came time for the “Ice Journey”… only it wasn’t us women who went through the labor simulation. It was the men who donned blindfolds, and had to endure holding ice over and over, longer and longer, with various music/sounds/smells – some meant to bring comfort, some meant to simulate unhelpful staff… It was so eye opening to be the one in the man’s shoes. To watch him be in pain and know I can’t help. Doula P would give us direction at times to come and offer comfort (hugging, back massage, breathing with him) and other times have to step back and leave him alone – but the fact is there will be times that there is just nothing Hubster will be able to do to help me (because let’s be honest, ice is just not the same as labor) Each “contraction” Doula P would weave a story, a concept, a thought into it directing both the men and us to the different kind of thoughts and experiences one has in labor. The easier contractions, the more difficult, the more psychological….
I think the hardest point was watching him as Doula P simulated the more “stereotypical” woman in labor, screaming and crying and angry that her partner isn’t “fixing” the pain.
I kinda lost it. Oh the tears. I just felt so guilty – that my husband would have to stand and feel helpless, that his heart would be breaking to see me in pain and not be able to fix it. And I knew that when the time came – I didn’t want to be that angry, bitchy woman saying mean things to her husband. Because I know that Hubster will do everything in his power to be there, to help and that he does love me. And of course – that is the whole point. We walked a mile in each other’s shoes. And I KNOW it absolutely changed the way we are going to approach our labor. Hubster has had a lot to say about his side of the that experience… At the end we all guessed how long the ice journey had gone on for. Most people were guessing just shy of an hour. However it was 2 and a half hours.
We went home that night just wrung out. Hubster and I sat on the couch trying to unpack the day. We went to bed and usually we will lay and talk for a bit before drifting off to sleep, but we really held each other and snuggled through the night. Very tender and intimate.
Sunday dawned and we headed back for our second day. I couldn’t imagine how we would top Saturday! Sunday we started by reviewing movements/positions (and the reasons for each) for labor… and this is when Hubster admitted he was a little scared. It’s a lot to remember! And to think he will have to remember and teach Jewel during the labor?
He started pretty seriously rethinking having a doula… because the other thing that had been coming to light (since Doula P has worked with basically EVERYONE in our area, including our midwife, other midwives, hospitals etc…) was that our midwife would be pretty hands-off during my labor. I know I’ve written before about my concerns that we haven’t really “clicked” with Midwife N, and that I’ve been frustrated with her brief visits, and that when I express concerns she tends to wave them off and tell me “everything will be just fine”, and doesn’t really discuss details of her protocols or our birth plan… The more I started asking Doula P and the other students, the more Hubster and I realized that midwife N may not really be the best fit… But so we talked a little bit throughout Sunday about the idea of hiring a Doula. We got through the exercises, and then Doula P had a friend who does massage speak a little more about using massage techniques to aid in pain relief.
We discussed various medical interventions, why they are performed, their pros and cons. (there was a video here too, yay lunch time!) It’s not to say that interventions don’t have a time and place – they certainly do!- but it’s pretty scary what some of the side effects, and even long term effects those interventions can have that doctors don’t really talk about. Sometimes it’s worth it to have patience with ourselves and make sure we really NEED an intervention before we just casually sign up for something. Even though I knew I wanted to avoid unnecessary interventions, I still learned quite a bit.
…. I feel like there is stuff I’m forgetting. I know we spent quite a bit of time talking through questions people still had, touching on water birth, placenta encapsulation (we are the ONLY species that doesn’t consume the placenta, even herbivores eat the placenta, there are a long list of reasons that it is consumed, to help balance hormones, protein boost etc… So since it would be gross to just eat it like a wild animal, there are people out there that will steam/dehydrate/powder it and put it into capsules you can take like vitamins.)
Eventually we got to the women’s turn of the ice journey. We donned our blindfolds and waited as Doula P spoke with the guys in the hall. And waited. And waited. Because, you know, a big part of labor is waiting! It was interesting… I have a history of panic attacks. It usually starts with a little vertigo, then progresses to numb hands, and eventually I’m hyperventilating in the shower (because the shower is the only non-medication I have found to be helpful – and a big part of why having a water birth is SO important to me.) Anyway, so sitting with a blindfold on, I felt myself having a little bit of vertigo… and then I realized I was about to put my hands in ice which would probably make my hands feel numb… and I realized there was a good possibility I was about to have a panic attack. And I realized I had two options.
Option one: take the blindfold off and tell them I couldn’t do the labor simulation.
Option two: take a deep breath, put my big girl panties on, and realize that if I have a panic attack while in labor I can’t just “take the blindfold off” and walk away. I thought of all the people out there that would give anything to be in my shoes, pregnant, at a birth class, preparing for labor. I thought of my little girl who will need me to be strong for her – not just to deliver her, but for the rest of her life.
I went with option two. And you know what? When the simulation started, and we were told to pick up the ice for the first “contraction” and start doing things (sit, stand, walk with guidance/trust walk, do some of the labor movements like a lunge or hip roll) I totally lost the vertigo/panicky sensation.
There was one “contraction” where she simulated the baby being in distress, slamming doors and barking orders of “left side” and “right side” and throwing out dropping heart rates… And all I could think was “I don’t want to be the reason we lose this baby too” which brought up a huge slop bucket of EMOTIONS. (Cue super-intense-snotty-nosed-sobbing) But in processing it, I realized several things:
1-I had no idea how much the success or failure of this pregnancy was connected to my feelings about the previous pregnancy. Hurray for self-awareness.
2-It is NOT fair to myself to put that kind of pressure on me. It is NOT my fault that we miscarried.
3-Having a successful pregnancy and delivery of this child does NOT bring back my first baby. It only gives me THIS baby. So this pregnancy and this delivery is about Seedling. It is not about my Bleeding Tulip.
Some people might have thought that was crossing a line, but I feel it was huge in recognizing a possible real life scenario, but being able to process it in a safe space so that if I find myself in that ACTUAL scenario, I am prepared. I am prepared to listen to the staff and focus on Seedling. And yes, probably still cry, but I don’t think it will be as hysterical.
…So many other experiences, Doula P talked about contraction interruptions, all the women giving birth all over the world, and remote villages in Africa where women labor and give birth completely alone…
For the final “contraction” Doula P had us think of a mantra, something to think and focus on. Suggesting things like “I believe in my body”, and while I can see how lots of women would click with something like that, the one that came to my mind was “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” – because God is so much bigger than just my faith in my body (as much as I do have a lot of faith in my body). And plunged both hands into the ice.
As the night before, the whole Ice Journey was 2 and a half hours. But it felt like time had gone so much faster than that. Hubster was amazing, so supportive and helpful, loving, tender, encouraging.
The class ended with everyone debriefing (as much as we could!) and I am very excited that we are keeping in touch with a facebook group (huzzah for technology!) and am very much looking forward to our reunion after everyone has their babies. These are people who I had never met before, but we went through this big, emotional, vulnerable adventure and came out connected.
And before we left the class we pulled Doula P aside to let her know we can’t imagine moving forward with our birth plan without her… But that, and the following meeting where we went over our birth plan and contract etc etc will be for another post. Because I am SO THRILLED to have her as our doula, and am so excited about all the decisions we have made about that.
So, “to be continued…”