Friday, February 26, 2010

Maternal Guilt

I tried to take a nap today. My self-nurturing side said, "you are a doula. You have births coming up. You are exhausted and have not been sleeping well. You have the opportunity to lay down your head and rest for a couple of hours. DO IT." So I listened dutifully, empowered woman that I am, only to have a bunch of little voices come to the surface. "The house is a mess...what do you think you're doing?" "Your husband works 9 to 5 and never gets to nap during the day. A little self-indulgent, aren't you?" "You do know you have to interview a couple of students from New Brunswick and need to make those calls, right?" "What are you going to feed the kids while you're gone gallvanting at the Pointe Claire Boutique Bummis Soiree Mamas Sexy tonight?" And so on. Not only that, but my CrackBerry rings all the time whenever I try to rest. I could turn it off, but what if someone goes into labour and I end up not getting to them in time? My third birth was under an hour. If my midwife had turned off her phone for an hour, she would have missed my birth. Well, actually, she did miss my birth, but through no fault of her own. She got there in time for the placenta. I just don't turn off my phone. Which means I end up being awoken by non urgent rings too. Basically, I lay down for an hour and ended up just wasting time, neither sleeping, nor being productive in any manner. Rats.

At the Soiree Sexy last night, I absolutely fell in love with a product they were selling. Do you ever get it where you see something and you just WANT it, know you just shouldn't, but your brain is still whirring with ways to get around it so you CAN have it? Well, that's what happened. There was this wrap shirt...oh, beautiful wrap shirt...go to and check out the delicious origami wraps. They are made of the softest, lightest, floatiest organic cotton, in stunning colours. It is the perfect shirt. You can wear it in about 17,000 different ways. It accentuates the bulges you want to show off and forgives the ones you don't. You can scrunch it up and throw it in a ball. It's never the same shirt twice. No, they are not paying me to advertise. No, I am not promoting anyone. I just saw it and fell in love. The MotherWit Doulas were crowded around these wraps, stroking them as if they were newborn babies. The issue is that these wraps are pricey. Not that they aren't worth every penny...after all, they are excellent quality and so versatile, it's like 5 shirts in one....but yikes, nearly 100 bucks for a shirt (even with the sale discount that's way outside the average person's clothing budget). I have NEVER spent that much on one article of clothing, barring outerwear and the Doc Martens I lived in throughout my 20's (winter, summer, pants, dresses and shorts...didn't matter, always wore Docs...I even still have some blue velvet ones stacked away somewhere around here).

A few former clients were at Bummis last night, and loved these shirts too. I could see tremendous mental struggles going on, internal calculations being made, justifications as to what to tell the husbands being formulated, etc. And, one by one, many of the doulas/clients caved, and bought themselves one of those wonderful shirts. One of them even bought two (one as a gift). I felt proud of them, because they work so hard, are great mamas, and are entitled to a treat like this once in awhile to feel comfortable and beautiful. Everyone said, "Lesley, GET one! You should have one. You deserve one!" And while that is true, those stubborn little voices in my head arose, whispering righteously, "Your 15 year old son's pants are getting too small again and he will need clothes next week." "Your daughter needs you to pay her for those books she purchased for school." "Bills, bills, bills." It's not like our family would be devastated by $100 loss. It would be absorbed reasonably easily. I could have just bought the damn thing and truly, it wouldn't have been a huge deal. But the guilt! How can I justify spending that much money on an article of clothing when everyone else needs stuff? Who am I to plunk down that kind of money when my birth bag needs re-stocking? Why is it okay for everyone else but not for me?

I don't seem to have the ability to decide when making an impulse purchase like that is self-indulgent and fiscally irresponsible, or nurturing, health-giving, and the right thing to do for myself. Truly, I always lean towards the former, even though I tend towards believing the latter for everyone else, as I was truly happy for those women who bought themselves an Origami wrap last night. I'm the type of person who usually starts wearing her husband's socks when her own wear out. My shoes will have to be falling apart before I consider another pair. Dingy bras don't bother me. I rage against maternal guilt, yet is has me trapped in its ugly little talons just as much as the next mama, and maybe even more. Do I think if I let this guilt go suddenly I'd be a diva and hang out in spas all day long and buy expensive clothing every opportunity I got? I wonder what would happen if I just lay that guilt down once in awhile.

It's not that I don't nurture myself, I just tend to do it through education . I'll buy books, go to conferences, take courses, etc. These are my "indulgences". It drives my family nuts when they ask me what I really want for my birthday and I give them a list of books. I will then ask for essential oils if their knickers are too much in a twist over the book list, but really , these oils are for my work, not so much for me. Enriching myself with knowlege and doula tools are things I can handle. But spend money on a great outfit? Never. I have never had a manicure or pedicure in my life, even though my sweet sweet daughter bought me a gift certificate for one, and I was too lame to take the time and use her precious gift, which hurt her feelings a lot because she hates that I don't do these things. I am an experienced perinatal massage therapist and have NEVER had a perinatal massage myself. Do any other of you mamas out there have as hard a time doing these things as I do? I'm getting tired of this burden of guilt. How about you? Drop me a post and let me know how your maternal guilt affects your own life.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Reminders about Doula Training and The Sexy Mama Soiree at Bummis Boutique

Hey, wanna be a Bad Ass Doula (BAD)? You can either work forever more as one, or you can become a BAD on your journey towards becoming a Bad Ass Midwife (BAM).

The MotherWit Birth Doula Training is reaching capacity. We are over half full for registration after only a few weeks of announcing it, and there are still a whole five months left before it goes down. If you're thinking of going for it, I strongly encourage you to get your application process started. There are ladies coming who have already done trainings from other organizations (are left wanting a little more, I'm guessing), who have babies, attached toddlers, are from out of town, and are bringing their partners. We can accommodate you for really cheap in a mansion with a pool. ($200 for the six days for you, $100 for each additional person over 5). 'nuff said.

I also want to remind all you Montrealers that on Thursday and Friday night, Bummis Boutique is hosting a lovely soiree celebrating the sexiness of pregnant and breastfeeding mamas.
Me and my ravishing squad of MotherWit Doulas (Birth and Postpartum) will be there to honour your gorgeous hot mama roundness and/or milkiness. Come check out the lingerie from Hot Milk and some new skin products from Earth Mama Angel Baby to show off your radiance. The days of "confinement" and hiding under tent like sailor motif-ed maternity wear are over.

Now, if someone could just make a pair of maternity jeans that were suitable for actual pregnant women... Seriously, how many of you are right now hiking up that waistband that keeps moving ever downwards? Aren't you tired of always feeling like you're about to lose your pants? All you maternity wear designers out there, please get on this. Pregnant women everywhere challenge you.


Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Repeat Clients

There is nothing I love better in my practice than repeat clients. Whether a woman had a challenging or easy birth, it is such an honour to be asked to share in her subsequent birth experiences. There is something I find so delicious about being considered "the family doula". I love it when it extends to the circles within which the clients live and work as well, so this small city of mine begins to feel like extended family with all the interconnectedness.

I am the doula for students and professors in certain departments in some of the universities in Montreal, to a circle of dancers, to a group of family physicians, to the postpartum nurses at one of the hospitals I work at, to moms of established playgroups, etc. It is amazing to see how the work grows, and to be asked to keep coming back. While I get many many requests for doula work, some of which I personally simply cannot take on due to volume or other engagements, I ALWAYS try to take on my repeat clients if they ask me, even if I am quite booked for a particular month. I have changed vacation dates, made exceptions, reduced prices, whatever it takes to do my best to meet those needs. I feel that if I am given the exceptional honour of being asked to attend the birth of a former client, I'm going to accept whenever I can. It is so sweet to be proudly shown and given the previous child to snuggle while the mother talks about this present pregnancy as we drink tea, and to be able to discuss little things about her last labour. There is something, I think, profoundly comforting about having someone at your birth who knows you...who knows some of your unique birthing behaviours.

The story of the first birth I went to which I told you about a couple of blogs ago, is a perfect example. I attended my friend's next birth (her third) several years later. Knowing her beautiful, interesting behaviours helped me get the midwife in the room on time. Had I not known, I would have ended up doing a repeat catch. For this labour, she chose a midwife at a birthing centre. She had chosen to treat for Group B Strep, so as soon as she felt some labour-ish sensations, she went there to ensure she had antibiotic coverage 4 hours before birth. I went over there, and she was barely contracting at all. We had fun, walking around the beautiful old building. I took pictures of her big belly, and of her and the baby's dad. The contractions she had didn't make her crack a sweat.

After a little while, she started having a few more noticeable contractions, which made her lean over and breathe a little harder. Nothing to write home about. Then she leaned against her husband and had a really big one. Then she started walking around in a way that struck me with great clarity; this cute duck-ish walk she did, while emitting a few little whimpers, was what had happened just before she started crowning at her last birth. I RAN down the hall to where the midwives were hanging out. I said, "The baby's coming!" They looked at me like I was crazy, because they hadn't seen or heard any convincing, serious active labour when they had been in the room about 25 minutes before....otherwise, given her history, they would have stuck around. As far as they knew, she was just beginning to have some noticeable contractions. But midwives tend to believe wild allegations of precipitous labour, regardless of what the cervix has been doing a few minutes before, so one of them came tearing back up the hall with me. My friend looked at her, yelled "It's coming!", did her "yank-down-her-panties-and-throw-herself-onto-her-back-with-a baby-head-between-her-legs" thing, this time onto the bed, and proceeded to birth her 10 pound baby in a few easy pushes. I don't think the midwife even had time for gloves. But thank God she was there, because she did her midwife magic and that baby was born over an intact perineum (not so when I clumsily caught her previous baby years before).

It is so beautiful to watch a woman you have helped before undertake this journey again, trusting you to help her manage her fears and life situations. I have a lady who calls me every couple years from a religious Jewish community, saying, "Hi, I need you again!". She called me recently again...this will be the fifth time. She really depends on my presence. She says I calm her, and buffer the energies of the hospital. I don't take that responsibility lightly. It's not a casual duty. This is a woman's birth experience, after all...her own way of expressing this unique, feminine, biological function and all the emotions and circumstances surrounding it. To be invited into that inner sanctum requires commitment that is made months in advance. I would be very sad if I ever missed one of her births. She has had so many challenging circumstances in her life, and I am the anchor who holds all her information and wishes so she doesn't have to explain herself to every person who walks into the room while trying to go inside herself and labour. I don't need to do anything for this woman, who is a very powerful and experienced birth giver, but make sure she has a calm space within which to do her thing, and hand her the homeopathic remedy she likes to take throughout labour (amazing's from Israel and written in Hebrew, but man, it makes birth speedy and efficient for the ladies I've seen use it). I need to call the doctor in when she starts smacking the bed with her hand, because I know this is how she expresses her need to push NOW. She and her husband are very fair skinned, and the babies they make are very very pale when born, but it's never been a problem at all, so I pass that info on to Pediatrics when they express more than just a little concern. It's very simple work, but so enriching!

My hope for all you new doulas is to eventually know the joys of a practice that is largely made up of repeat clients. It is very nurturing...for them, and for you.


Sunday, February 21, 2010

A Psychology of (some) Birth Workers

The more birth workers I have met over the years, the more I realize that many of the women drawn to working with birth are some serious bad asses. I mean that with awe and respect, of course. I am making a sweeping generalization, so if you are and have always been an upstanding member of society, from an amazing family, and with impeccable mainstream morals who happens to be a midwife or doula, obviously, I am not including you in this. It in no way means I wouldn't think you were just as an amazing birth worker as a woman with the profile I've noticed. There are rarely black and white absolutes in anything, and I mean to offend nobody. I'm just mentioning some interesting similarities I and my colleagues have seen and discussed.

If you are to witness a birth at home or a birthing centre with midwives who choose this out-of-hospital venue, you will notice a distinct difference from the vibe of the caregivers in a hospital. Doctors, while usually kind and compassionate, are primarily clinical. They come into the hospital room, murmur some reassurance, then walk out again until they are needed. They are not generally emotionally involved. When they speak, it is to give clinical updates. Sure, they joke and have fun too, but it's usually just in little spurts. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this. We appreciate that physicians need to maintain focus where they do, and don't ask to rely on them for the majority of our emotional support. We're glad they are there for our health concerns and sticky birth situations.

The room in which a midwife is catching a baby usually has a very sexy vibe. A lot of midwives I know have a very warm, comfortable-in-their-skin, good sexual energy. I was at a birth recently in which a few midwives were present, and the room was just pulsating with a very earthy, feminine, unselfconscious energy. It was wonderful! I'm not referring just to young, hot midwives when I say "sexy", but to midwives of all ages, sizes, and religions. Sexual energy is a way in which people relate, not a way they look or talk or act. A hug is not normally a little over the shoulder, kiss the air kind of dealie with a midwife or's full body contact, warm, loving embrace. Held eye contact, comfortable posture, easy flow of words, and lots of touch are things you will see many of these women demonstrate. Midwives will hike up their skirts and get on their hands and knees on the floor, their bums in the air and cleavage bared, to catch a baby if that's what's required. A doula will do all kinds of gymnastics to support her client however she is comfortable. Doctors may certainly accommodate, but don't usually adopt these postures without you seeing some mental whirrings first and perhaps making sure everything is tucked in.

I know this may seem a little like i'm saying midwives and doulas are always all motherly, comfy, and sexy and doctors are all sort of rigid and cerebral. Obviously, there are some very clinically oriented midwives and super motherly doctors. I worked with a doctor who moved recently, who would just love sitting in the room for as much as the birth as she could manage given her time constraints, comfortably helping herself to the snacks the mom had set up, chatting about her own natural births and how powerful and beautiful she felt natural birth was. She would hug and slow dance with her labouring patients and rub their backs. She would cry when they achieved the births they wanted, and really knew about their emotional lives. I would feel comfortable coming up behind her while she was sitting there, rubbing her shoulders or giving her a hug here and there. She just had fantastic sexual energy, as well as being able to put on her doctor hat and get down to serious business when needed. I always sort of thought of her as a midwife with a medical degree. The lines can certainly be have doctors like this, and "med"wives, who take a very hands off clinical approach. Either way, the ladies who seem super comfortable with and excited to sit with birthing energy tend to have some bad ass qualities.

What does "bad ass" mean? I don't mean it in the criminal, miscreant kind of way (though I know fabulous midwives from that background too), but more in a fierce, awesome, unique, talented, creative, freaky, hardcore kind of way. I mean people who have lived and transformed and don't give a crap about what people think. They have pasts. They may have been some of the "bad girls" in school, black sheep of the family, or "asked too many questions" as little kids because they were fascinated by everything. I mean they are usually rich in experience, having seen stuff and hung out in dark places, having wrestled a few demons for physical or emotional survival. They could not be boring if they tried.

Midwives and doulas often come to their professions with a lot of passion. Perhaps they have always been drawn to birth, or perhaps they birthed their own children and found their passion there. In any case, what I have found is that these women often have a lot of life experience under their belt, and funny enough, a lot of it is HARD life experience. They have had time in their lives to explore other avenues. Lots of women who work with birth have been something else in their younger lives, like English students, stockbrokers, yoga teachers, or world travelers. Many of them have had time to explore lots of relationships...sometimes some pretty awful ones. I don't know if anyone else has noticed this, but a lot of them have lived some pretty intense lives. Perhaps this having lived on the edge for at least part of their lives...more on edge than the average person..has created this ability to be so comfortable with the intense, unpredictable nature of birth. Or perhaps this "edge-i-ness" is simply part of their make-up, and they thrive in these environments.

When I studied Psychosynthesis Psychotherapy, which is a spiritual approach to counseling, my teacher talked to us about the seven spiritual paths. There was a path of science, a path of knowledge, a path of devotion, etc. Those who choose to work with birth seem to be on the path of science (doctors), or a path of love (doulas and midwives). What this means is service motivated by deep love for those we serve. Doulas and midwives love women, babies, and the process of birth. We stay up all night, stand on our heads if we have to, forgo food, risk heartbreak, and get our hands dirty to ensure a woman comes through birth as safely, comfortably, and as loved as possible. We are dedicated, expressive, creative, and focused to a crazy degree on something that defies expectation and prediction. These are great strengths.

Each path has some challenges too. Many of the psychological similarities of those on the path of love have to do with difficulties with relationships, stemming perhaps from boundary issues having possibly been created by iffy boundaries within the family of origin. Self esteem is often a challenge with those on this path. Some can have challenges with focusing on other things in their lives outside of the love and service stuff, therefore have some organization/health/financial challenges.

The nature of birth work is very suitable for those midwives and doulas who are on the path of love. If there are those on this path who experience relationship challenges, working with birth can be very appealing. You forge and experience intense, love filled, helping, healing relationships with people, making a profound difference...then it's done (to that intense degree, anyway). There's no time to create baggage and risk all the messy stuff long term relationships and friendships can potentially cause. Seeing a baby into a family you've helped to create more solidity for is perhaps a way of healing the experience of being in a family that was perhaps not so solid. Helping a woman experience the peak sexual experience of birth in a safe and empowering way can be a way to heal times in our own lives that were not perhaps so sexually safe. We love unconditionally, non-judgmentally, in the face of a peak experience of pain and perhaps some cases terror. Our being able to hold this for others may in a deep way be inspired by knowing what it's like to feel otherwise. Perhaps we can hold intensity or potentially be a rock in the face of loss, trauma and heartbreak because in varying degrees, we have been there.

Again...all kinds of people come to birth and work that energy with skill and love...not all are of the profile I describe above. If you are a birth worker, on a path of love, devotion, science, or otherwise, let me know if you have noticed this tendancy towards bad-assed-ness. I am curious if this rings any bells.
Lesley Everest

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Love to Carla

I was saddened to hear today that Carla Hartley lost her husband Ray to cancer. Carla is a midwife, and is known in the birth world as a tireless advocate for women's choice in birthing, for her profound trust in the process of birth, and for her commitment to teaching other women to be midwives in this spirit.

Carla and her family worked tirelessly to support Ray through his dying process, and were with him to witness his spirit's Deliverance. There are no words to describe the pain of the loss of a beloved partner. I have been teary all day for Carla and her children, who have lost their father.

We can wax spiritual and philosophical, but that doesn't make pain any better. The truth is that loss hurts. Yes, from the perspective of our Higher Selves it opens our hearts, creates compassion, is part of life, is just a drop in the bucket given the eternity of our souls, but in the here and now, we attached humans suffer with unimaginable heartbreak in the wake of a loved one's death. There seems to be no way through to healing except to be with and work through that startling level of emotional pain. The vast majority of people go through it at least a couple times in their lives, but its commonality doesn't make it any easier to cope with. I guess we just have to trust this hard core human experience of loss and the pain associated with it has purpose, and it is our job to make personal meaning of it for healing.

I am comforted to know Carla is surrounded by a huge web of love and support. She is a woman of strong faith in her spiritual convictions, and I hope this creates an island of peace within an ocean of pain.

I don't know Carla personally, but from what I have known of her and read about her, she is an amazing, giving, kind, involved, beautiful person, and has touched many many lives. Please send her love and prayers for comfort in this challenging time.

Ray's medical expenses were huge from what I'm gathering, and with Carla's focus being entirely on Ray's around-the-clock care, expenses have far exceeded income for a while. Donations through Paypal can be sent to to help ease the financial stress on Carla and her family at this time when they should be able to grieve in peace.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

My First Birth

It may sound funny, but even after quite a few years of working with birth, I still dream about birth all the birth, catching babies, helping friends in labour.

I have birth fantasies, too. Sometimes I'm on the Metro or the bus next to a pregnant woman and I start daydreaming of a tv situation in which she suddenly bursts into second stage labour, and everyone is freaking, and I get to doula the woman and everyone around us, and then everyone gets to bear witness to a beautiful, fast, physiological birth and their minds are positively influenced forever and ever amen.

I have not had any "car" babies in my career, though have come AWFULLY close a few times, but part of me thinks this would be a groovy experience. I'm sure no mom wants to give birth in a car, and I'm REALLY sure most partners would not be down with this situation so for their sakes I'm glad it hasn't happened, but I must admit when flying down a highway with the mom announcing she feels rectal pressure, I get a little excited.

There is a lot of freedom in not being afraid of Birth, as most people kind of are. It's not that I don't have healthy respect for the unpredictable nature of Birth, because I most certainly do. But I'm not scared of someone animal-ing out and dropping a baby in my presence. It has happened before. Not in a car, but I have had a couple babies decide to come out without much warning. I have to say I have enjoyed those times. Because I'm not the midwife, I call emergency services to take the mom and baby to the hospital, which was her planned place of birth. It is definitely a guilty pleasure catching a crazy fast baby by accident.

I'll tell you about the first birth I ever went to. Yes, this is how I was initiated into doula-ing...a true story.

I had taken my little 2 day doula training course (which was jam packed and very good, I have to say) in Boston, my daughter was a year and a half, and I was ready to attend someone else's birth. My friend Patoo bestowed upon me the greatest honour of requesting my presence at her planned hospital birth. She had a 4 year old at the time whom she birthed in traditional hospital fashion...induction, epidural, etc. The birth was quite fast for a first birth with an epidural. She planned on having the same kind of birth.

I anticipated that birth more than 50 Christmases put together. I was unbelivably excited. Finally, the day came where Patoo called me at around 7 in the morning, saying, "ohhh, I'm having some contractions and it's starting to huuuurrt." I dashed over there, dropping my daughter off at my mother's. She was sitting meditatively in front of a lit candle, looking very serene. Three of her friends and her four year old daughter were there. I had never been to a birth before, having only experienced my own first birth, which was a standard 24 hour dealie, so I didn't really have the knowledge and honed skills of observation to realize how advanced her labour was. I also didn't know that women birthing quickly are often in denial of the fact the baby is coming soon.

Patoo had a little ritual she developed spontaneously with her contractions. She would run during the contraction to the kitchen to start making some peanut butter and toast because she was hungry. She figured the hospital would restrict food, and wanted to be full. Then she would run to her daughter's room to start doing her hair because it was picture day at school. Then she would run to the bathroom and whimper a little while she sat on the toilet. Each circut of these behaviours brought a little more progress with each activity, as well as the labour...the bread toasted...then the peanut butter got spread...then a few bites were taken. For the hair-doing, elastics and a brush were procured..then some hair was swiped at...a snarly pony tail made (try doing a four year old's hair in active labour), and still I did not clue into the fact she was in spectacular labour. In the toilet, a pee was had, then some bloody show was visible. Patoo just kept doing normal stuff instead of focusing on her labour and getting into all the positions and making the noises I was trained to expect.

Finally, after a few rotations of this circuit, I realized things were looking a little manic. She started doing things like throwing the toast on the floor when a contraction started and the running started looking desperate. Patoo's daughter was starting to give her mother the hairy eyeball as she'd drop the hairbrush and do a strange running/jig combo. I followed her into the bathroom and then it hit me. I looked into her eyes. She was in labour land. She had left us. This circuit WAS how she expressed her labour. I said, "we need to get to the hospital right now." I suddenly felt the urgency. She said, "okay, but I have to go eat some more toast," and started running to the kitchen. I grabbed her and started putting her shoes on, and told one of her friends to get the car ready.

As I was putting on her shoes, she broke the circuit...she said, I just have to go to the bathroom..." "OOOH SHIT!" I thought. I was about to go to the bathroom to get her, when she came shooting past me, her pants down around her ankles, shrieking, "IT'S COMING!!!!!" She ran into her daughter's room, lay down on the floor with her legs open, and I saw her baby was crowning. I'm sad to say, I panicked a little, and heard this ridiculous phrase come out of my mouth, "Oh no you don't! Put your pants back on! We need to go to the hospital NOW!" Obviously, I reigned in that ridiculousness, and snapped into "taking care of business" mode. I yanked off Patoo's shoes and threw them behind me, then took off her pants entirely.

Patoo's poor daughter was staring at her mother as if her head were spinning right around. I said, "Nina, get off the bed, your mom needs to get somewhere more comfortable." She just stared without moving. "Nina, move!" I said. She got off the bed and ran into one of Patoo's good friend's arms, and I felt so good she was with someone very calm and loving who could make this experience okay for her. I asked another friend to get the friend with the car to come help me, and got her to call 911. The friend with the car was not so calm, and I know not into watching a baby coming out, so I had her sit behind Patoo so she could lean against her instead of lying flat on her back on a cold floor (there was no way she was able to get onto the bed). I demanded towels and warm washcloths, shooting out orders to everyone. It was quite obnoxious, really, not how I would handle it now, but I forgive myself, as this is quite a way to be introduced to supporting birth.

I had never seen a birth, and when I saw the squishy little walnut looking head, I wasn't sure if what I was seeing was normal. I started thinking, "Oh God, is that a cord coming out fist?" and I was frightened. Then out of the blue,I had one of the most incredible, out of body, spiritual experiences of my life...a voice appeared and spoke in my right ear. "Put your hand over the head, and let it ease out." Patoo was scared, yelling, "Help me!" and I centred, smiled and said, "go ahead and push if you need." She did, and the baby's head came out smoothly. There was a cord around her neck, and of course I had blanked, but knew somehow this wasn't ideal. The voice spoke to me in a way that was so familiar, so calming. "Take the cord away." I took the cord, grasping it gently in my hand, and the most profound feeling of familiarity ran through me. The rubbery, warm pulsing cord, the feel of the wet baby head, the motion of her head as I slipped it from around her neck (it just wasn't loose) was the most peaceful, right thing I had ever felt in my life. I felt completely connected not to the situation, but to the energy animating the situation. It was truly a mystical experience. Then all of her squirted into my hands...warm, wiggly, alive, smelling like Heaven. The world stopped for a moment. I could feel the shift, the making room for a new life and the blessing the Universe has for that moment...I felt all of it. She yelled immediately, pink and beautiful, and I gave her to her mother.

Time rushed forward again, and we were all over the moon with joy. It was a minute or two before the ambulance guys came, and it was a fabulous time of celebrating. Then they came in, dealt with the placenta, and tucked the baby into the blanket all snug with her Mom. We rode to the hospital where they gave Patoo some stitches, and tended to the baby.

Sadly, they kept the baby for a week at the hospital, on prophylactic antibiotics and under observation because she looked "dusky" (the baby was bi-racial..her mother white, and her father very dark skinned). Basically, from my perspective now, I believe my young, single mother friend was being punished for having had a homebirth, even though it was truly unintentional, and her baby being "saved" from all her nasty young mother "cooties". I wish I had known more, been more experienced. are you supposed to know all this with two days of training? Anyway, I did my best, and luckily, this little girl went on to breatfeed for a long while despite a rocky start.

We never knew what had happened to the amniotic fluid. Patoo had no memories of the waters breaking, and I certainly didn't see any sort of major gush. We figured they had broken in the toilet. Then, years later, one of the friends who had been there came to see me for a massage session, and she asked, "I wanted to ask you....what was that JUICE that came out when the baby was born? When you were delivering the baby, 2 streams of pink fluid shot out over each of your shoulders and hit the wall across the room!" Mystery solved.

So this, folks, was my introduction to being with birth. I have, ever since, been passionate about everything relating to birth. I'm not into the phrase "birth junkie" for myself. Somehow I get the sense the Great Lady Birth wouldn't find this phrase respectful out of my mouth. I know that seems out there, and I have no issue whatsoever with others identifying themselves as such because it IS true when you're bit by the birth bug you want more "hits" of it... but I don't call myself that. I need Birth like I need water, though. She is my greatest teacher. My greatest lessons about life have come from being with Birth.

At Patoo's birth, I was not elegant. I was not spectacular, intuitive, or knowledgeable. But I know I was unequivocally meant to be there. That voice I encountered has visited me on other similar occasions, and has alway provided me the calm with which to trust I can usually handle what Birth requires from me.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

After Making Love We Hear Footsteps

I'm going to be lazy today, as I have just returned from a long day of client visits, made supper, and now I want to watch the Olympics.

I wanted to share a poem that always touches my heart. When I was studying Literature in university, I came across it and it has always remained one of my favourites about some of the most precious moments of childhood. Enjoy.

After Making Love We Hear Footsteps

For I can snore like a bullhorn
or play loud music
or sit up talking with any reasonably sober Irishman
and Fergus will only sink deeper
into his dreamless sleep, which goes by all in one flash,
but let there be that heavy breathing
or a stifled come-cry anywhere in the house
and he will wrench himself awake
and make for it on the run - as now, we lie together,
after making love, quiet, touching along the length of our bodies,
familiar touch of the long-married,
and he appears - in his baseball pajamas, it happens,
the neck opening so small
he has to screw them on, which one day may make him wonder
about the mental capacity of baseball players -
and flops down between us and hugs us and snuggles himself to sleep,
his face gleaming with satisfaction at being this very child.

In the half darkness we look at each other
and smile
and touch arms across his little, startling muscled body -
this one whom habit of memory propels to the ground of his making,
sleeper only the mortal sounds can sing awake,
this blessing love gives again into our arms.

Galway Kinnell

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Food for Body and Soul

I had a beautiful meal today with a lovely couple I'm working with who were so kind as to invite me to share lunch with them. If you have never tried the smoked goat cheddar that's made in Quebec and has in fact been deemed the #1 cheese in the world of its kind, you have not lived. It was truly special, as well as the company. I often rush around my day doing my prenatal and postpartum appointments and either forget to eat, or simply don't have time. It was wonderful to sit down with some truly great folks, eat a beautiful meal, and talk about breastfeeding. Life is fine in those moments when we are nourished by good food, good company, and good conversation. In those moments there is joy, even when sometimes things outside of that circle of contentment can be heavy. The space of nourishment is such an important place within which to centre ourselves, to gather up energy and re-source ourselves. Then we can go out into the world with some fuel and handle things with more clarity...perhaps see things with a little more warmth.

I spoke with a lady yesterday whose story made me quite sad. She had a very difficult birth, having avoided a C-section by the skin of her teeth. Her waters had broken, so when she went to the hospital as she was told to do, she was not allowed to eat. Because her baby was extremely high and her membranes ruptured, she was considered high risk for a C-section, which means eating is a no no. I guess they were terrified of a prolapsed cord, even though she stayed in bed as she was told. Most likely they gave her Synto to augment the process after hours of long, hunger riddled labour. The long and short of it was, that she got terribly exhausted. She felt so hungry, and was not allowed access to the nourishment her body was crying out for. She was not given information about what was happening and why. Of course, the poor woman completely ran out of steam in trying to cope with her labour sensations without the benefit of fuel, and resorted to taking an epidural she never wanted or thought she'd need.

Finally, when it was time for her to start pushing, she was told it would be hours because of how high the baby still was. The baby was born in 15 minutes. We are not aware of all the details, because she really wasn't informed of everything. You go into the hospital with an expectation you will be made to understood everything that is going on, yet I have so many ladies come to me in their second pregnancies in tears because they are traumatized by their birth experiences, and are not exactly sure why they turned out the way they did.

This story breaks my many interventions related to a lack of vital nourishment. Were the risks associated with not eating truly smaller than the risk of an occurrence of prolapsed cord, if that was indeed what they were worried about? Yes, prolapsed cord is a huge emergency. I have seen it. But is not C-section for a stalled labour, had that been how it went down for this lady, and how it happens for many others, super risky in and of itself? In the here and now the baby comes out just fine, infection and bleeding can be treated in the mother, and another "disaster" has been diverted by the magic of surgery, bada bing. Sounds appealing. But the long term risks are becoming more evident, such as scar tissue in the uterus from the surgery causing the placenta of the next pregnancy to attach there, which can result in disastrous, life threatening bleeding. The maternal death rate is climbing, due to so many surgical births...and many other things I just don't have the energy to get into, but you get the drift.

Where has the soul gone in this business of baby catching? Midwives and doulas consider nourishment in the form of food, loving words, gentle touch, respect, and the joy of being together in a loving environment essential to the care of the birthing couple. Many medical practitioners feel safer with cold, hard, shiny instruments and machines which monitor, cut, scrape, vaccuum, and suction, and are less invested in a woman's experience of birth. I can't tell you how many times I've heard a woman say to her doctor, "this isn't what I wanted," and the clinical reply, "This is Obstetrics. You don't always get what you want," as if having wanted anything in the first place was silly. Besides, giving birth is NOT obstetrics. The woman giving birth isn't practising obstetrics! It's what the doctor is doing, and what he wants has a lot of sway. I understand their job is to monitor for and treat pathology in most birthing women, not to join hands and sing with their patients (though Michel Odent has done that, and it has worked wonders for his practice). But a doctor's warmth is today considered a blessing and a bonus; a little icing on the cake instead of something that should be expected. The care of birth in North America comes primarily from a mind oriented, intellectual place. Being logical and clinical and applying technology according to arising potentials is what saves us from disaster, not something earthy crunchy like eating, or loving support. Or does it?

A primarily mind oriented approach to maternity care as opposed to an approach which is certainly clinically skilled, but acutely aware of the need for compassion and nurturing seems to create the best outcomes. Midwives care for the vast majority of pregnant and labouring women in the Netherlands, for instance, and they have some of the most commendable birth outcomes in the world. We, sadly, do not. Our neonatal mortality and morbidity rates are pretty awful, considering all the emphasis on technology. Sure, they have great OB care in Holland too, but not for the majority of births. OBs take care of women who are higher risk, instead of almost every garden variety birthing lady as they do here. The OBs also seem pretty content to allow the midwives to deal with normal births, and they seem to have great respect for the birth process, supporting the idea of homebirth, which happens in around 1 in 3 births there. NOT here. There doesn't seem to be a lot of love between doctors and midwives.

Trying to outsmart Birth as if we were playing a game of Chess clearly is not the ideal way to approach maternity care. Let us bring heart back to caring for birth. Bringing in more love, compassion, and trust is not just some hippie la la notion. It is a crucial missing element. This is why doulas tend to have such great statistics with their hospital birthing clients...we bring the love. We will feed you and nurture you. We will encourage you and buffer a harsh environment. As Ina May Gaskin quotes in her book Spiritual Midwifery, "With love, even the rocks will open."

Monday, February 15, 2010

Even if You Want an Epidural....

It is not my business to tell someone how they should have a baby. If someone comes to me saying they are hellbent upon an epidural the second they go into labour, I figure I have some work ahead of me to outline the risks, and to help build up her confidence so she feels that "going natural" is something normal and healthy, not just for those "other" ladies with the unshaved armpits and granola crumbs in their braids. Or those ladies who have high pain thresholds. Or those ladies who have really fast births. Or those ladies who are brave. If she hears my shpiel and still makes the choice to use pain relief, I've signed up to support. I'm still invested in her having a great time and feeling good about herself. I want her to be a triumphant, happy mother. My sour puss about not having "sold" someone on the benefits and joys of physiological birth is not going to help anyone.

I do, however, make it very clear to women choosing an epidural that learning some tools to help them cope with the sensations of labour is crucial. Why, if they plan on eradicating the pain? Well, as birth workers know, the Epidural Fairy doesn't just magically appear and wave a Pain Relief wand the second a lady feels like it's time to bite the bullet. Here are some things to consider:

1)What if you are experiencing an escalating intensity of your labour pain, and the person doing epidurals that day has to attend 2 C-sections in a row at the same time you're wanting your pain managed? This might mean a wait of 3 hours before pain relief is available, whether or not you've decided to "order" your epidural the minute you get into the hospital. Things arise beyond our control, and sometimes you won't get what you want when you want it. True, this is not a fair scenario to someone really invested in obtaining relief, but there you go. It happens. I have seen it. It's not too uncommon. Your baby could conceivably be born before you receive the epidural.

2)What if you get an epidural doesn't work? It happens.

3)What if you get an epidural and it's really "patchy", meaning you're numb everywhere except for a 2cm area on your lower abdomen, which feels ALL the sensation of labour? Yikes, to me this would be far worse than feeling it the way it's supposed to be felt.

Now just to reassure those readers who might be really gung ho about the epidural, these things don't happen too often. Normally, you get the epidural in due time and it relieves the pain fine. I don't want you to be freaked out. What I do want, is for you to be aware.

The above scenarios bring up an important issue: How wise is it to depend entirely upon external influences to cope with the sensation part of the birth experience? Where does your real power lie, in your own abilities, or in your expectation of a series of circumstances you take for granted will happen according to plan? What if you give birth during a really busy day at the hospital? What if your labour goes so fast you birth in the car? How are you going to deal? I want you to be able to cope just great, even if it's not something you want to do. Knowing how only increases your personal power, giving you access to greater possibilities. Even if you get the epidural right when you want and you don't have to experience any pain, having pain/stress management techniques to use in your life is never a bad thing.

Believing the epidural safety net is going to be available upon reaching the hospital in labour can lull one into a false sense of security. This may make a couple feel like there is no need to prepare. Most standard hospital prenatal classes don't focus on managing the sensations of labour. In fact, a lot of the classes in my neck of the woods hardly mention dealing with pain, never mind actively preparing couples for these strong birthing waves, yet will spent literally 2 hours on a lecture on anaesthesia. Without some kind of preparation for labour, mixed in with the expectation pain WILL be controlled when the woman feels it's time to request pain relief, a couple may be setting themselves up for trauma. They may feel afterwards that the sensations were the most terrible things in the world, that it is barbaric to give birth naturally, and that no woman should have to be subjected to that kind of evil.

Yet, it is NOT the sensation itself which is traumatizing. It is the BELIEF you wouldn't or shouldn't have to experience it which is at the root of the trauma. These expectations of pain relief can make you fight the sensations the entire way in anger, stress, and frustration at having to go through them at all, focusing all your energy on getting that epidural NOW, instead of relaxing, letting go, breathing into them, and allowing them to do their important job. Your partner may not have any clue how to handle you feeling the real pain extreme stress in labour can cause, and may be terribly anxious himself. The birth of your baby has the potential to be coloured by memories of terror and helplessness. It doesn't have to be this way.

So sure, if an epidural is the right choice for your birth experience, embrace it and own it. But have a backup plan. Even with epidural, labour is not rendered sensationless. At the very least, practice deep abdominal breathing and releasing tension from your body. You CAN meet these normal sensations with confidence. Know deeply in your heart that even though what you are experiencing is pain, it is not the kind that will damage you. It is simply a pain with great purpose, a strong intense sensation that will ultimately, if things are going normally, bring your baby to you whether the epidural arrives on time or not. You can do it!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Olympic Mamas

I am such a huge sap. Aside from all the political crap involved with the Olympics, I have to say I am a sucker for medal ceremonies. When an athlete who has done his/her best, knowing ultimately there was no control over the outcome, stands on the podium to represent a nation, I am moved to tears. I guess it's because it reminds me of how I felt taking my babies into my arms after I birthed them. I wanted to call the presses. I wanted to let everyone know how amazing I was. I was in the presence of Glory. Glory means "a state of high honour" and "brilliant radiant beauty". It is a great blessing be able to receive those life sustaining hits of it now and again, and how lovely of Birth to grant many of us this opportunity.

Glory is a perfect springboard from which to launch into mothering and fathering. May everyone start her/his life as a parent in Glory, no matter the process. May all babies bask in Glory at the moment of their birthings. May all of us who work with birth strive to protect the experience of Glory.

Happy Valentine's Day

May all of you get some special TLC today. I went out with my husband last night for dinner, and we saw Avatar...which was a pretty spectacular cinematographic experience. Today I am going to make a nice dinner, cheer for some Canadian athletes, and make a heart shaped cake with pink icing. Enjoy the simple things.

Love, hearts, and flowers,

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Motherhood Does Not Equal Martyrdom

I had a great conversation with an awesome lady yesterday who inspired me to share this quote with you from Dr. Gayle Peterson, one of my favourite writers on preparing for birth and motherhood holistcally: "Becoming a mother does not need to rob you of your selfhood. Stay away from martyrdom. Martyrs never make good mothers; what is gained in giving is taken away in guilt."

This lady of whom I speak told me she was "self-centred" and "selfish" because she did not want to be the type of mom who sublimated all her personal needs for the sake of her child. She said she planned on enlisting help early on in order to dedicate a portion of her day to her self development and her craft. My reaction? You go, Sister! She has a wonderful, hands-on partner who will support her in this plan, and I think this will lend very well to creating a well-balanced, well-nourished mother. A woman who feels good about herself and her accomplishments brings this self confidence to her mothering. She has more perspective, and can bring greater patience and presence to her mothering too.

Contrast this to a mother who has lost herself entirely to her child with the misguided idea that total sacrifice equals better mothering. Many women of my generation were raised by mothers who believed this, who believed that to have a lot of help or pursue interests intensively outside of mothering was either selfish (in a bad way), or just not considered as an option.

I myself have been accused of being self indulgent for insisting upon continuing my education throughout early motherhood, even though my studies were set up in a way that were gentle to my children. I studied to be a La Leche League Leader, and League involves children, so there was no separation from my babies/toddlers. As I was studying other healing modalities, I set it up in ways that I could come home easily when needed, and the kids were with my husband. My husband would bring nursing toddlers to the hospital in the evenings if I was at births (I didn't attend nearly as many births back then as I do now). I was home the majority of the time. So what my house being clean wasn't my priority? So I took time to visit my therapist to help me go inside and get a stronger sense of self? It took many years to work through the guilt my refusal to be a martyr mother caused, because it has been ingrained in me for many generations. I insisted upon the support of my husband. I refused to believe that men "babysit" their children or deserve Scooby Snacks and pats on the head for changing a diaper on occasion. I didn't feel playing the role of "Laundry Fairy" was acceptable, or that it was mandatory to provide hot meals when the man came home if I had had a particularly challenging day with our homeschooled children. For these things, I was "self-indulgent". "Not very nurturing", even. (These critiques were not from my husband, by the way).

Even with my fighting against this model of mothering and working hard to establish myself the way I wanted to, I still made tremendous sacrifice to be the mother I wanted to be. But it was with joy. I have loved being a mother. It has shaped everything about my life in such a positive way. I have homebirthed, tandem nursed, done child-led weaning, homeschooled...all with raging against martyrdom, not allowing myself to be lost in this intense whirlwind of demands upon my time, my thoughts, and my body. My studies kept my soul alive! I needed them in order to be the best I could, not to take away from my children, as others might have interpreted. I am a horrendous housekeeper, it is true, which is not considered something at all to be proud of by previous generations who believed a clean, orderly house was mandatory to provide a good home. I had a lot of shame about my housekeeping abilities, considering I come from a line of Dutch (which means scary good) housekeepers.

My mom seemed to really dig being at home, cleaning, cooking, and being a mother. She was always pretty calm and content with her role, and brought a lot of love to it. Perhaps it was she who inspired me to make sure I was happy in my role of mother. She's always been pretty supportive of my choices, and even if she may not have always agreed with them, had the respect to let me figure things out for myself. It's because of her presence I learned the immense value of having a mother present throughout my formative years. I wanted my kids to have me at home as much as possible, AND wanted to be fulfilled by more than that. Part of me thought that was asking too much, but I still did it anyway.

Even though I struggled against martyrdom, the archetype of Martyr Mamma still had her claws deeply embedded in my psyche. I would resent and judge women who had maids, or whose children got to go every couple of weekends to their grandparents' houses so the parents could go out together on occasion. I resented those who would allow themselves the "luxury" of emotional breakdown when things got "too hard", and would not feel support for them, but disdain. For these things I am so deeply sorry. At the same time I was trying to shed this image, part of me was still entrenched, and didn't even see it. I was judging those who had some fun in their lives outside of mothering and studying as "self-indulgent", just like those who judged me for doing my simple things to tend to my soul. I felt this bare minium I did should be enough, and that any more was most certainly being a terrible, selfish mother. For those thoughts, I feel so profoundly sorry, as all that served to do was perpetrate the model of motherhood I strove to change for myself, my friends, and for my clients.

A lot of time has passed since then, and I no longer feel that way about my fellow mamas. Okay, I think there CAN most certainly be an extreme of selfishness, just as there can be of martyrdom....I'm not saying that doesn't exist. But now when I hear a mother has a maid to help her keep on top of the chaos of a house full of kids, a husband who does all the dishes after dinner and gives her an hour to take a bubblebath and read a novel in the evenings, I am SO happy for her, and wish I had done that long ago instead of thinking a messy house was some sort of cross my martyr self had to bear to show the world my imperfection, proof of my inability to do it "all". On another level, I think it was also my rebel self's way of saying, "hey, screw you all! My home is a wreck because you are all neurotic! I am self fulfilled!" But all a totally chaotic mess makes you do after awhile is suffer, so nothing good was gleaned from either attitude. Shouldda gotten help.

Martyr Mother still exists, sometimes just as a ghostly image, but sometimes full throttle. She still thrives in our generation of new mothers. Very often I will show up to a woman's house postpartum, her housekeeper dusting the shelves, a diaper service picking up a load of stinky nappies, a grandmother out in the park with a toddler, and the mother will look at me shamefacedly, saying, "I know....I'm spoiled." I will be quick to tell her, "No. You need and deserve this support," in an attempt to lessen the temptation for her to be wooed by the pull of Martyr Mom lurking forlornly in the shadows. We used to live tribally, after all. It was never one woman at home most of the day with a kid or more, holding down the entire fort. And now women are still sort of expected to maintain this June Cleaver role, as WELL as look "toned", be sexual, make money, and have a thriving social live. While partners are generally much more hands on now than they were in the past, it is still not enough help. No wonder so many parents, especially moms, are living their lives as depressed, exhausted, sexless zombies who feel like they will never measure up to all of those overwhelming expectations. This is a very sad image for someone who has the most important job in the world. Parents should be happy and gentle with themselves, understanding those societal expectations are impossible, therefore not worth all the guilt in not achieving them all.

For baby showers, consider putting down the designer baby duds and getting your pregnant friend a certificate for a massage. Chipping in and buying her maid service for a few weeks would be a great idea. Having a food chain is such a helpful way to ease a woman into new motherhood. This is a fantastic start. And this kind of support should inspire a new mother to continue this modus operandi for herself, by making it a priority to enlist help, to take some time during the day to nourish herself, whatever that means to her, and have less responsibility for absolutely everything.

I loved stay-home motherhood. To me, this was my ultimate expression of feminism. Baking cookies, reading to my kids. changing cloth diapers...all those things made me feel empowered, not like a slave. But it could get mind numbing too. Had I not had my studies to nourish me, I might not have loved those years as much. I would have felt a lot more servant-y. And had I had even more support, like some maid service a couple times per week, or more babysitting once in awhile to have more dates with my husband, I probably would have loved it even more and had more patience, rather than always running on "frazzled".

So all of you "selfish", "self-centered" mothers out there, I salute you! You contribute to the raising of children who will respect you. You are a model to them, demonstrating that self-care is a crucial component to living a rich, fulfilling life, and a key to being more present in your important relationships.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

MotherWit Doula Training Update

I'm excited that I have received quite a few applications for the summer doula training intensive, and have been doing interviews. Phew, some awesome people are going to be with us, I have to say! I have my work cut out for me to meet the needs of some already quite experienced people. Most of the women coming to train are not newbies...they are smart, knowledgeable, and have incredible clarity of their intentions. But newbies are most definitely welcome too! Don't be daunted. If you are interested, don't hesitate!

Big Baby Birthing

Last night, I got a call from someone in labour. It sounded pretty mellow, and I figured by the sound of things, she'd call me within an hour or two to go to her house to support her awhile before heading to the hospital. But the mom and dad just did so great together at home, they didn't call me until the waters broke. Even then, the mom herself was on the phone, saying, "I think we'll go to the hospital now" all calm. But I knew I'd better hurry, because she has awesome birthing vibes. I got there, and she was already pushing. I kind of always feel a little bad when a birth goes like this and I wasn't there to hang out longer, but then I think, "Hey! How empowering is it to be at home with your partner, having a nice time, then show up to the hospital fully dilated?!" People don't always need me along for that ride, though they like it when I'm at the hospital protecting that birthing space for them, which I did. The resident, a sweet young guy, wanted to check her to see if the baby was coming down while she pushed, and she said, "Oh, it's coming down, alright. I feel it." She was a good sport so let him have a feel of what was going on and he said, "oh, yes, it's moving down, you're pushing in the right spot." I smiled at him and very gently, so as not to make him feel like he said something kinda silly, conveyed to him that a woman without an epidural will most definitely know that her baby is coming, that having got to where she was completely on her own steam and without direction, she was going to continue to do so. He just beamed and looked really proud of her, happy to be there. The night nurses, with whom I have good rapport, just did the bare minimum of stuff and and didn't interfere in the birthing space at all. I'm very grateful to them that they give me the space to create the environment the mother wants. The doctor, whom I just love because she is so accommodating, plus we have ALWAYS had natural, straightforward births together, came in and without anything but gentle praise and encouragement, caught the baby after a few easy pushes. The baby was 9lbs13oz.

What I love about this story as a doula, is that this resident now has a bit of a different side of the story. The mom already had supreme confidence in her birthing abilities, being raised by a mother who promoted a very positive view of birthing as normal. In his mind and training, a baby that huge, especially for a first time mom, is on the dangerous side to birth, and IF it is birthed vaginally, it must have to be with lots of direction, checking, and the very least, stirrups to "open the pelvis" and be ready for action, never mind no epidural. It was probably a good thing for this mom she had only opted for an ultrasound at 20 weeks and no other, as nobody figured the baby was that big, therefor nobody carried any fears about it. I know that in obstetrics being prepared for every eventuality is preferred, and they'd rather know if they're going to run into potential dystocia. But sometimes holding that worry creates tension and an enviromnent of "management", which, though while it is helpful for the staff to be aware of all contingencies, is not always so fun for the mom. I love that the resident now brings this story to his future practice, knowing from a good experience that the boundaries of normal are very very stretchy...just like birthing women!

The New Website and Other Fun Things

I am so happy to finally announce the official launching of the MotherWit website!

It has been a long process, gathering together the right people, finding the right words, getting good photographs, etc. It would not have been possible without my husband's friend Daeman, who is an obvious genius, and my husband, who is not so shabby himself. So, thank you, Gentlemen, for using your skills of troubleshooting, perfecting, fine tuning, exacting, task mastering, and patience on a site that is so totally chick oriented, geared towards relaxing, opening, accepting, allowing, and going with the flow! A standing ovation to you both!

What a gorgeous picture of the woman on the home page, eh? I put it there not only because it is so hauntingly beautiful, full of what I can only describe as the pure Glory (notice with a capital G) of birth, but because I had the honour of attending her labour. I don't think I have ever witnessed someone so profoundly transformed by her own birth experience. I get tears in my eyes every time I remember it. Sometimes giving birth teaches you what your most authentic power looks like, and when you can meet your terror with courage and be vulnerable enough to allow that power to transform it into a level of strength you never anticipated, you get to carry that with you for life. For yourself. For your child. For everyone you meet. You contribute to a healing, knowing in your heart that if only every woman could experience birth that way, no matter how it unfolds, the world would most certainly be a better place. My part in that birth was so was just to let her know I had absolute faith in her. The calm, steadfast love of her husband surrounded us all, and created the protective circle into which this woman triumphantly birthed their daughter, shouting her baby's name in the ecstasy of welcome.

I am deeply honoured to have this photo on my site, along with all the others who contributed their amazing images. Thank you for sharing of yourselves so willingly. You are all beautiful! We will be adding more pictures as we go along, so keep checking back.

We had a great "Meet the Doulas" soiree last night. It is so much fun meeting new pregnant couples, and creating an environment of sharing. It was attended by pregnant ladies and prospective doula students. I have a great team! I always leave these meetings feeling really high.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Joys of Doula Work

Sometimes it's really hard for me to believe that what I do is a job. Yes, there are aspects of doula work I find challenging, but for the most part, it is SO MUCH FUN!

What I find challenging is the administrative, phone calling/emailing to set up meetings, paperwork aspects. I manage a lot of clients, as well as keep on top of the other MotherWit doulas' clients, so it's not easy. I am not blessed with great organizational skills. Yes, I know, as a Virgo, this is a slap in the face. You'd think I'd have everything colour coded, neatly filed, cross referenced, and easy to read. Sadly, no. I'm the "write-it-on-a-scrap-of-napkin" kind of gal. As to whether or not I actually enter that napkin info into my files is, admittedly, a toss up. Yet I do remember everyone, and have amazing recall for birth details, even years later. I'm always trying to improve my systems, and thank God, I have a husband who is blessed with more managerial skills than I am. He keeps my head above water, reminding me of who I need to call, who needs to be interviewed for the doula trainings, how to program things into BlackBerry, etc.

Obviously, getting called out in the middle of the night, having to brave the chill air and grab a cab to a birth, or having to change plans or drop what I'm doing to accommodate a baby-having leaves life feeling unpredictable. There are challenging aspects to that. But you know, if I always had a strict schedule and too much routine, I would not thrive. I would grow cobwebby with boredom. Once I'm in that cab, or entering into the hospital or a woman's home, I'm ON. My Spidy senses start tingling, and I get truly excited to be about to behold the beginning of another human's life. These are, after all, people I'm really connected to, and care for deeply. And when I am on my way home, I wear a secret little smirk. I want to ask the guy on the metro sitting next do me, "What did YOU do all night? Sleep? Boring, guess what I saw!" or the woman on the bus, "Where are you going? Oh, you're going to discover a cure for Lupus today? Yawn. I just saw a BABY come out!"

Aside from the births, I just really like forging relationships with people. People from all walks of life and religions and beliefs. It is truly enriching to me as a human being to be part of this very special time in a woman's or couple's life, learning how people feel, how they approach their births, what worries them, what feeds them. I kid you not, that in one day I may go from the home of a Hasidic Jewish family with six children, chatting with the mother and her mother-in-law about all their births and the special requests she has to make her seventh birth as wonderful as possible, to the home of a Lesbian couple planning a home birth who are hoping not to give birth until the've moved into their new apartment, to the home of a woman hoping for a VBAC after 2 C-sections, discussing concerns about her teenaged children and their joy about welcoming a baby into an almost grown family.

I enjoy forging deep connections and feel very honoured to be asked to hold a healing space for a couple to grow into parenthood within. I love the richness of everyones' stories. When I go off to work, and I usually have a couple pre or post natal meetings per day, 4 or 5 days per week, it's like going out visiting. It is never burdensome. Bringing up the same information about childbirth is never boring, because everyone has different reactions, different questions, and I get to creatively tailor that information and how we deal with it with each unique couple. It is always fascinating.

I feel very maternal towards my new born parents. Not in a condescening way, but in a way that makes me just want so much for them to feel loved, empowered, and amazing for the hard work they did to bring that new life in, no matter how the birth happened. I love to see their eyes shine as they talk about giving birth, having taken the journey and sipped from the Holy Grail. There is nothing more satisfying for me than to see them proud of themselves.

As years pass, the love of my work deepens, and my commitment to providing the best care I can grows stronger. It's easy, because my clients inspire that kind of love. I am crazy blessed to have found myself on this path.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Preparing for gatherings

As the smell of gingerbread wafts from my kitchen, I wait for my younger daughter to arrive home from school so we can have our snack and a cup of hot chocolate. I have a little time to sit back and get really excited about our Meet the Doula Soiree tomorrow evening.

As a team, we MotherWitties are working out the presentation and flow of the meetings, and things are going along well. I hope to see many new faces come for information and support.

I am preparing the upcoming Birth Essentials Prenatal classes, and am SO excited about these. I love the idea of my colleagues tag teaming each other for teaching, so that all our clients get a chance to build more rapport with each of us. While we all make the vast majority of our births, I feel it so important to make sure clients are well connected with other members of the team, just in case we are not available for a birth.

I am also preparing the postpartum doula training coming up in spring, and am busy putting together a manual for the MotherWit Birth Doula Training. Also, the book is being slowly written, a few pages at a time.

It is a busy time, this hunkering down in preparation. How appropriate we are in the depths of winter, where ideas germinate until the riotous explosion of blossoming in the spring. This has been a year so rich in boundless creativity. It is time for the preparation to soon move into action. I am very much looking forward to getting away at the end of the month to my Women's Teachings gathering in New York, where I know I will find the focus and spiritual support I need to put out my most authentic voice.

My daughter and her friend are home. The kettle is on and the gingerbread is ready. Have a wonderful afternoon.

Monday, February 8, 2010


I have no qualms about telling women that childbirth can be very intense and painful. I in no way, shape, or form believe, provided I am not speaking about it as if it's a horrible, frightening thing they should never try to attempt, think that to believe it CAN be painful, necessarily makes it so.

I have seen a few people have reasonably painless births. They were flukes, even according to the women themselves. There were no Vulcan mind tricks. I myself have had varying degrees of pain in my four birth experiences, ranging from almost none, to "where's the window, I wanna jump!" I don't think, "hmmmm, I must have been afraid or distracted, and this is what caused more pain," because, except for one, I have had phenomenally beautiful, unfettered, physiologic birth experiences. I am aware of yoga breathing, unfocused awareness, vocalization, visualization, affirmation, yada yada. I have practised all of them. They have been very useful tools in keeping me calm. But they didn't make me not feel pain. Would you like to tell me I did something wrong?

It gets my knickers in a twist when I hear women told they are "losing control" or "not breathing correctly" or "not relaxing enough", the implication being they are feeling pain because they're doing something wrong. I also HATE the simplistic, condescending, paternalistic phrase, "pain is a signal something is wrong in the body...because childbirth is good and natural, it shouldn't hurt." Can you imagine someone buying this crap, forking out money for methods to change "beliefs" about the hype of pain, practising for months, and then, upon experiencing pain (which, not to pick on any particular method, but MOST women WILL feel regardless), feeling like a total failure because their "sensations" were painful? Self blame? Unworthiness? Cliche? Not part of the club anymore? Not a healthy start to motherhood, I'd say.

I DO believe that undue fear and tension will increase the sensations of normal birth in a way a woman may perceive as negative. This is a physiological reality. We know that bad stress hormones will not allow for the free flowing of the lovely hormones we need to birth as pleasantly as possible. I DO believe the more we relax the more enjoyable the sensations can be regarded as, even if they hurt like hell. Pain doesn't have to be negative, and this is the point I think people are missing when they seek to "control" and "manage" the pain of labour, as if perceiving labour as painful were a pathology in our warped thinking.

I am not a masochist at all. I'm not a glutton for punishment. But aren't there some painful sensations that are rather nice too? Having a good massage which can hurt like crazy in some ways but feel oh so delicious at the same time is an example. So is engaging in much wanted sexual relations for the first few times in one's life, or trying out something a little kinky, which may bring on some intense sensations the body can interpret as painful, but profoundly exciting at the same time. And even though it's natural and good, giving birth isn't the only rite of passage that is painful. Being born probably causes you some pretty spectacular sensations, no matter where and how you're birthed. And, as I mentioned, sex for the first time can too. For many, the deep ache of menstruation isn't particularly distressful. It's a signal that the body is working hard to achieve something, and experiencing a process that requires attention to care for oneself physically and emotionally as much as possible. Some actually like that pain. Personally, I quite enjoy that pain, and I don't believe my experience of some achiness in menstruation is a sign of misalignment, malnutrition, or emotional distress, because I know what it feels like when those things ARE present, and then it's not fun anymore. Finally, exiting one's body probably involves some pain too, as the cells die and the system lets go of functions it's done for an entire life time. We all have to die, and many die in peace, even if there are some really interesting sensations involved.

I have worked with quite a few people who have thought if they just believed it hard enough, and worked their "program" hard enough, they'd come through labour able to say they had orgasms instead of pain. The ones who were orgasmic were not the ones who "tried" to be so, and the ones who worked particularly hard to get there are often the ones who end up perceiving the pain and feeling badly about it. Dude, there's a BABY coming through your CERVIX...and VAGINA! Do you really think you can just "ohm" or "visulize" that discomfort away? It's true, to some, like with the birth of my third child who was born in the caul, I don't remember much pain upon transitioning and crowning. But I certainly didn't do anything special to make that happen. The baby after that really really hurt, though I felt the same confidence and embracing of the sensations of birth. I certainly didn't feel cheated, though, because it was a gorgeous birth all the same.

No, childbirth doesn't always hurt, but don't think that just because you invest a lot of time, money, and effort into a method that professes it can make it so, makes it so. In fact, some of my experiences with those who have used methods such as these have ended up with exceedingly long labours. My thought is that perhaps they are working so hard to be Zen and controlled, they stave off the inevitable sensations that are needed to get those big waves crashing and a baby born.

I just love being with a woman when she is experiencing the last leg of dilation, especially if she's never done it before. Even if she's not experiencing it as overwhelmingly painful (because I have seen lots of ladies come to the end of birth and say, "Thank God! I thought it would be so much worse than that!"), the sheer INTENSITY of that pull of Baby moving down and the uterus squeezing with shocking force, is POWERFUL. It is fierce, and awesome to behold. I call a spade a spade. For me, that sensation HURTS. Like nothing else in the world. Yet, I would still rather have that pain than have to endure a night of food poisoning, because as far as I'm concerned, that intense birthing, life-giving, purposeful pain is normal. Food poisoning is not.

I believe it is far more effective for a woman to learn ways that appeal to her to cope with the sensations of birth without reacting with fear, like using breathing, vocalization, etc. And I think it's helpful if she does this without holding the expectation of painless birth. Preparing for the reality that MOST women find birth painful to some degree with tools to help reduce tension will, in my humble opinion, make birth seem far more pleasant and do-able than going into it with an "arsenal" of tools "against" pain, or of a mindset that attempts to deny it. Because then, if pain hits and your expectations are blown, you are going to lose your sense of humour. You risk not looking back upon the experience as thrilling, marvellous, and YES painful, but so so so worth it given how high those sensations made you during and after. Instead, you're going to be wondering what you did wrong. And if you did do something fancy that resulted in the birth you wanted, with no pain, then I am truly happy for you. That's GREAT! I, personally, would not trade a moment of my experiences, painful or not so much. Having felt pain makes me feel like I was strong and capable, not a failure for not having been evolved enough or disciplined enough to know the right tricks. And having experienced intense sensation without pain was awesome too, but not the thing that defined the labour.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Happy Sunday

A beautiful, sunny, winter day stretches before me. I am shutting down my computer, and living in the real world today. I am going to clean my house, walk in the woods with my family and doggie, and make a nice Sunday dinner. Days such as these are precious. May you savour today, and cherish your blessings.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

A Happy VBAC

I am just home from a lovely VBAC, which couldn't have happened to a nicer family. I believe it is going to generate a lot of healing.

I get a perverse thrill when I have lady have a VBAC that defies medical expectation. Her primary care doctor was a family physician who is a huge supporter of VBAC, and was very much on her side. But the Obstetric team needs to be involved with a VBAC as well in this hospital, and while it provides a safety net, it also creates some tension. The team came into the room and laid out the stats and the way they wanted things to progress in order to avoid a repeat section. Now, I know they were just doing their jobs responsibly, and the way in which the information was relayed was kind, positive, and supportive. But there was also a pressure to perform. Birth doesn't always respond well to performance anxiety. I worry that when something is held with an expectation to fail, the energy can have a tendency to follow that thought, and I have to work hard to buffer that vibe and keep a reasonable amount of faith going.

One thing doctors are very concerned about is obstructed labour. Of COURSE they are, when they are responsible for a woman and baby's health. It is true that an obstructed labour can increase the risk of uterine rupture during a VBAC attempt. But what this translates as is this: "If you don't follow the curve in a timely manner, we will diagnose obstructed labour, and you will be sectioned to circumvent disaster." As we've already discussed in past blogs, Friedman's Curve drives me bonkers for a variety of reasons. Is a VBAC labour which doesn't go along with the curve TRULY and ALWAYS obstructed?

I ask this because one thing I have witnessed with VBAC, and I have attended MANY VBACs, is that it is actually normal for there to be "stalls" here and there, even more so than in regular labours. Just to throw out a number, but I find it is not uncommon for a woman to hang out at 5cm or so for awhile (though this number is arbitrary..I've seen it at 2cm, as well as at 9cm). Sometimes for quite a long time. Instead of this being automatically construed as a pathology, could this not possibly be Nature's way of helping the uterus gently adjust and adapt to its surgical incision? I'm just thinking out loud.

Obviously I am not making a medical opinion, as I'm not in the position to give one. Obstructed labour is said to lead to uterine rupture in childbirth, but the one rupture I have seen seemed quite directly caused by Synto augmentation to ensure things "hurried" along to "fit" the curve. This one incident obviously doesn't prove anything at all, and my experience and statistics cannot even scratch the surface of those of a doctor's. But it does make me go hmmmmm. I guess I am luckier than most doctors to have seen several out of hospital VBACs, and the gentle, trusting way in which they're held by midwives. We encourage the woman to rest and gather her strength during the ebbs, without trying to stimulate things with aggression. I'm not saying that all VBAC attempts stalled for a long time should just be ignored because it's always normal...I wouldn't want anyone to come away with this message. But I would like to take a closer look at the commonality of ebbs in VBAC labour, and reconsider whether or not venturing outside the curve necessarily smacks of potential rupture. Just a thought.

Anyhoo, today's VBAC was awesome, because it was one of those births the medical establishment was not super comfortable with, but it was a success and it made everyone happy. The mother had been sectioned her first labour after many hours of active pushing (however, according to her, she was made to push for a lot of that when she doesn't even think she was having contractions), which "reduces" the chance of subsequent vaginal birth. Also, that baby was over nine pounds (doctors don't love babies being that big...and second ones are potentially bigger, so VBAC attempts with a big baby birther are looked upon with a wary eye). The mother, coming jjuuuuust under the curve by an hour or two was starting to get the hairy eyeball. So we took off into the jacuzzi room to avoid too much outside influence. To make a long story short, the baby came down really fast and was born vaginally at 9 pounds, even though they were expecting a smaller kid. In the end, we were grateful for a little technical help for some fetal distress and sticky shoulders, but a triumph all around.

One of my favourite VBAC stories is of a client of mine who was sectioned with her first birth (at which I was not in attendance) after pushing for many hours, and just not able to move the baby out (she had an epidural). Well, not only did she have a VBAC for her second baby, but she had it unassisted over her toilet after an extremely quick labour. The baby was bigger than the one who was sectioned for being "too big" for her to pass. I am blessed to have lots of stories like this..more stories which shatter this myth that about every second woman has a pelvis too small and too inadequate to pass a baby (oh if I had a dollar every time I heard this statement), than ones of true CPD.

An immature, rebellious little part of me wants to thumb my nose at those who were naysayers and do a happy dance when I see these "miraculous" births... but when I look around at the doctors, they're usually doing happy dances too, because it makes them feel good to have their patients feel triumphant about their births. When all ends well and the mother is thrilled and grateful, these stories plant seeds for change, and everyone celebrates.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Love to My Students, Past and Future

One of the things I have loved most about being an admittedly very experienced doula, is the privilege of being able to share my knowledge and experience with those who are called to the same path of birth attending.

Being a doula trainer has made me a better doula. Being a trainer, I get the opportunity to constantly deepen my knowledge base of non-clinical birth support, re-organize and perfect my own approach, from what to pack in a birth bag to how to manage paperwork, to how to conduct prenatal meetings. I do these things easily and automatically at this point (except the damn paperwork, which is the bein of my existence), but doula trainees need to be guided through these processes, which gives me a chance to step back and see where I can improve my own practice.

My favourite moments are when I get to watch those who apprentice with me witness their first births as doulas. It is such a beautiful thing to see someone's passion for the process they were called to follow reaffirmed by finally getting to see it happen before their eyes.

What calls people to birth? I mean, when you think about it, it's often long, it's sweaty, it's messy, there's poo, blood, pain, yelling, amniotic fluid, tears, and involves someone struggling to move a wet and gooey little squalling person out her vagina. I think this is how most people view the birth something vaguely unsavoury. A doctor I've worked with a fair bit made me laugh out loud once when she told me, and I quote directly, "If birth weren't so beautiful, magical, and amazing, it would be pretty f***king disgusting." But those who actually WANT to be there, and upon going discover how much they LOVE to be there, connect strongly to that incredible magic about birth. It is truly an epic and heroic journey, which is rewarded by a rush of crazy love which heals, changes, transforms, and creates. As far as I'm concerned, who WOULDN'T want to hang out with birth all the time? As hard as it can be, there is usually a beautiful sense of peace in the room a labouring woman is in, no matter how loud things get. The moment a baby begins his earthly life is awesome to behold.

So finding kindred spirits who are actually as excited as I am to be with birth and help to protect a mother',partner's, and baby's experience of it is amazing to me! I love to teach through story, guided imagery exercises, lots of hands on, and celebrate and nurture each student's strengths. Some are gifted speakers, and strong educators. Some are very strong space holders, and we work on honing and trusting intuition. Some are amazing nurturers, and acutely aware of the needs of those in their presence. Some have magical hands. Everyone has a special strength, and I feel it's my job to bring it out into the light and help a student develop that strength until it's her own potent medicine space from which to conduct her work. I also want to know what they fear, and be available to talk about their emotional processing of learning to work with birth energy.

In short, I LOVE teaching. I love my students. I am beginning to trust more and more that those who have come or are coming to train with me are there to help me learn and grow as much as I am there to help them do the same. My students in the past have enriched my life immeasurably. Some have been doulas at my last birth. Some of have become very dear friends. Some are now my esteemed MotherWit colleagues. Some have challenged me to find better ways to communicate and guide. Some have made me dish out tough love, and many have taught me things I didn't know before. Some have gone on to become midwives and are patient with me calling them to answer my technical questions. In short, it has been quite amazing to be able to provide doula training to some really special women. I hope to continue to do so for many years to come.

One beautiful past student of mine (and it's so funny to even call her a former student because she is such a dear friend and confidante today) healed me of pregnancy nausea. I am not joking. I was shockingly nauseated during my fourth pregnancy, and still had to do doula work. Friends and family were compassionate about the nausea, but as people do, they said, "well, it's a good sign..Nature is preparing you to be with discomfort, etc." All these things are true, and help to put the nausea of pregnancy into perspective. But this woman, with her acute sensitivity, sensed how nausea and I are mortal enemies. I am not nauseated like a normal person. To me, feeling nauseated is like a state of torture, and it does funny things to me emotionally. I prefer pain over nausea, even intense pain, any day. Without words, she knew. We were attending a birth, and I just couldn't do anything but lie on a couch in the waiting room and pray I wouldn't barf. This woman took charge. She took me to the cafeteria of the hospital and made me eat mashed potatoes and tuna, the only things I could look at. She anointed me with essential oils for nausea. She wrapped me up in her great big shawl, put my feet up, and when I was in the birthing room doula-ing, she made sure I didn't get too tired. Nobody has EVER cared for me like that. I can't even describe it. She was going to do it, no matter what my resistance was, but not in an invasive, over solicitous way. She somehow intuited that my resistance to having someone try to help me with something I thought I should just suck up like a big girl because I had other people to care for was probably at the root of the problem. After the birth of our client's baby, which was a VBAC (the baby had an angel's name...Gabriel..and about 5 minutes after his birth on Remembrance Day, a trumpeter played "Amazing Grace" outside the window of the birthing room), I wasn't nauseated any more...for the rest of my pregnancy. Needless to say, I didn't birth without her. She is like a guardian angel. She lives out of the country, and is IMPOSSIBLE to reach, but whenever I think of her and miss her, she calls me.

I am unspeakably excited about the summer retreat coming up, and I want to thank all of you who have put so much of yourselves into your applications, and have trusted me with your stories and personal details of your lives. Know that I hold them all to my heart with gratitude, and a focused intention to do the very best job I can to teach you about birth healing. Many of you already know, I believe, and I'm just helping you remember. I also know I will learn a lot from you.

On that note, I am off to prepare for a birth...send blessings for a wonderful VBAC!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Being Pushy

I have a few moments before I run off to see the play my daughter's boyfriend is in. It is fun to have extra "family" members to support.

I have seen a lot of difficulties in birth when women are asked to push before they are good and ready. I have real challenges with the whole pushing circus. The "on your back" thing is a whole other story, fodder for many a rambling blog. I'm talking here about the insane HURRY there seems to be in getting the baby out. There are many reasons this happens. Not to dis doctors as a profession.. I don't want to give the impression I am against birth in a medical setting..I'm not...just to be clear I'm speaking of individuals, not a collective..but I had a nurse tell me once that a baby most certainly WOULD be born by 7:00 because the woman's doctor loved hockey and fully intended to make the game he was planning to go to. Luckily, this was not the mothers' first baby, so she delivered quickly and easily, so all were happy. But had she not, to what lengths would have gone to get the kid out in order to make his game?

I saw a doctor once suggest applying the ventuse to the baby's head to vaccuum him out, because he was clearly bored (the doctor, not the baby). He was wandering in and out of the room, yawning and looking restless. After the lady had been pushing for an hour, he told us he was very concerned the woman was too exhausted to push, and that the ventuse would be needed. The woman was not exhausted. She claimed she was just fine. He ventured further to say he wanted to spare her from becoming exhausted, and would apply the ventuse so she could have energy for her baby. I wanted to call him on his shit, I most certainly did. But I am a doula, I cannot call "foul play" if I suspect it, because I'm not a clinician, and could be wrong, potentially resulting in a dangerous situation. Also, I have diplomatic relations to keep, and I don't like to make a mom and dad stressed out by conflict. So I gently and with a smile asked him if it was unsafe for her to continue pushing the baby out. He hemmed and hawed and tried some verbal gymnastics, so I tried again, same tone, same smile, "Is it unsafe for this lady to keep pushing?" Finally, because he could not give any good reason why the baby should be suctioned out of this woman with a fancy toilet plunger (which looks SO painful to the poor baby, and risks intercranial haemorrhage..not something to be used lightly), he sighed and said, "No, it's not unsafe." This lady pushed her baby out about 20 minutes later.

I'm thinking maybe the whole second stage pushing dealie should be re-evaluated. When a woman has an epidural, hospitals seem to be smarter about it than when it is a natural birth. They realize that though the woman is 10cm, the baby might need to move down a little more. They have Mom hang out until the baby does so, and her need to push is really urgent and uncontrollable, regardless of the epidural (though it occasionally happens a mom on epidural doesn't feel this sensation, it's not the norm...the pushing urge will usually override the medication, and if it doesn't, the staff will usually turn the medication down so she can feel it, knowing the mother and baby will work better together with sensation). They allow this, because the woman is comfortable on the epidural, and doesn't make much noise about waiting awhile for the baby to naturally come down.

To me, pushing with an epidural looks like really hard work a lot of the time. When the baby reaches the vaginal opening, the sensation of pain and burning often hits the woman fast and hard (epidural usually doesn't freeze up to the vaginal opening). Up til then, she's usually been reasonably relieved of pain, and now, without the benefits of a build up of nice endorphins a woman has when she is birthing with no epidural, the pain seems more brutal, rather than less, as one would think. But everyone is different. Anaesthesia is a funny thing and affects everyone differently. I never personally found "crowning" to be a big deal at all...not compared to dilation. But like I said, everyone is different.

Now for those who are pushing unmedicated, what I don't like at all is women being told it's time to start pushing before they feel like it. Just because a woman is 10cm doesn't mean she's ready to push. The baby may need more time to come down before hitting all the right areas and triggering the fetal ejection reflex (thank you, Michel Odent, for that wonderful phrase). What's wrong with not pushing? In home births I've seen several women hardly actively or intentionally bear down at all. They just breathe or yell or whatever they need to do, and their body seems to just do it on its own. When a woman is unmedicated, I think the urge of the staff to have her start pushing right away is because those in attendance are uncomfortable with her expressions of these powerful sensations. They tell her, "just will relieve the pain!" This is motivated by compassion, and while I appreciate that, it's not always the best advice.

The moral of this story is that if Baby's doing fine, there's no hurry. I did not feel much of an urge to push with my first baby. While, because she was born star gazing, I felt a lot of pressure in the bum bum, it wasn't that overwhelming, desperate, uncontrollable need to GET IT OUT, resulting in great bellowings and animal noise making. It took awhile. I think had I not been encouraged to push the whole 3 hours of my second stage, given the urge was not at all strong, I may possibly have not ended up with such a swollen perineum (though with no tear, thank God), or a feeling that my guts would fall out of me for a couple weeks after birth. Who knows?

My advice to women is to follow their bodies, follow their babies. Sometimes that uncontrollable bearing down is present before full dilation, and I echo Gloria Lemay in that I have never seen a woman destroy her cervix when the need to push is bigger than anything else in the room. Though she will, mark my words, be told by nurses that she WILL swell and rip her cervix for being "naughty" and pushing before she's "fully", even though when the fetal ejecting begins, she cannot consciously stop it, even if someone were holding a gun to her head. If you have to barf, you may feel nauseated for awhile, and can sort of will yourself not to up to a point. You can breathe through those mounting waves of nausea and think happy thoughts. But for most people, when the body begins heaving because the stomach simply cannot hang onto its contents anymore, it is a relex, not something they can control. How dumb is it to tell someone, "don't puke" when they're at the point of no return?

Who says you always have to be 10cm before second stage starts? The cervix usually just slips over the baby's head in that case as the uterus pushes that baby on down. We're not lemons because we don't follow a rule, and most certainly should not be threatened by the destruction of our own bodies for "daring" to veer outside the norm. And conversely, just because you're at the magical 10cm, doesn't mean you automatically need to start directed pushing. In fact, unless you like to and it feels right for you, as some people really find it helpful, why take much direction about pushing at all? After all, if you were out in the woods and you went into labour, and given everything was normal, you would get that baby out. Imagine that, without one yell of "PUSH" or counting to ten 3 times per contraction, or having your eyes bug out of your purple face from the effort of straining and holding your breath for so unnaturally long. Now that's a whole 'nother topic.