Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Shadow, Trauma, and Love: A Doula's Path to Healing

Being a doula is an amazing job.  We are frequently exposed to and bathed in the healing light of massively transformative love as new parents, quivering from the shock of birth, reach for the fruit of their hard work, taking the new life they’ve worked so hard for into their arms and into their hearts.  Ah, to be witness to such things is good for one’s soul.

But there is a darker side that doulas with a reasonable amount of experience have come to witness as well.  Instead of seeing a joy filled moment, sometimes we are exposed to something violent and shocking.  It doesn’t happen often, but on occasion there are instances that etch into our memories like a bad dream.  This is when someone enters the space who has lost all sense (or someone who has never had it) of what birth represents to families and to humanity as a whole: a sacred rite of passage, a peak experience, the expansion of the heart with Love.  Though not always the case, in my experience this has happened with primary caregivers (either doctors or midwives).   It occurs when you hear or see something that seems completely incongruent with how the energy of birth should be held for the birthing woman, her partner (if there is a partner), and the baby/ies.  I’m not talking about the odd off the cuff comments, or the harried health care provider seeming rushed and disconnected, or the typical projected opinions.  I feel those are things we encounter from people in our everyday lives, and while challenging, they don’t “ruin” a birth or our experience of birth as a doula.    What I am speaking of are those moments, and most of you doulas know it, when your heart recognizes before your mind does that abuse is occurring. 

When trauma unfolds before us, it is a healthy response for part of us to disassociate in order to protect our psyches from the reality of the situation at hand.  There have been a small handful of times in my life as a doula I have witnessed my clients disassociate. Not because their birth was dramatic and things took a turn way off from what they had hoped for (that’s a different story), but because someone treated them with pointed malice, disdain, disrespect, and vicious manipulation at the most vulnerable time in their lives.  I will not go into the stories.  I am still working out my own responses to some of the things I have seen.  It is not only the parents who find themselves in a position to heal from this kind of inflicted trauma, but you too, Doula.

So Doulas, what have you done in these situations when something that is undeniably abuse occurs before your eyes?  My first reaction is often to justify it.  I cannot believe it is happening, so my mind tries to make it right somehow so I can cope.  I try to make excuses, “Oh, this caregiver must have their reasons,” or “They are really good people, just having a bad day.”  Very quickly, though, my heart, which is the best gage for what a violation is, realizes what’s going down.  My next response is quick, violent rage.  I find myself wanting to lash out verbally and physically to the perpetrator of the shocking, destructive behaviour.  What goes through my head is, “I am supposed to advocate.  I am supposed to protect.  I am supposed to hold the space for a peaceful birth experience!”  But standing in the reality of violence, you quickly realize that you can feel completely powerless to do anything effective.  To feel helpless to defend your client and save them from this nightmare is one of the very worst things one can experience as a doula. 

Why can you not defend?  For one, when I have tried to advocate in these situations, even in the gentlest, most non-combative way I know how, I have been met with screams of “Shut up!!!!”  When someone is on an Ego rampage, any attempts at reasoning will fail.  Besides, who are you?  You’re “just the pesky doula.”  It isn’t our job to argue, anyway.  So our typical responses, which may be to not even address the caregiver but ask the client, for example, what HER thoughts are on the matter at hand, will be met with rage.  To add any fuel to the fire may cause further damage to this already desperate situation.  This can hurt your client, and it can get you unfairly banned from working in that hospital again.  Yes, that’s right, just for standing up for what’s right.  You will be accused of medically interfering, even though that would be the furthest thing from your intention. That is a risk you may want to take, and if you do, bless you.  This is not a risk I want to take because the implications are too big.  The reality is that doula work overall will be lost, and if we can’t be there, many others in the future will not benefit from the care we provide. The relay-ing of the story by the caregiver who caused the damage will likely include a gross misrepresentation of what we were doing.  That’s the way Ego rolls.  Whose “word” wins?  Not ours.

By now, if you’ve never experienced this before, you’re wondering what the hell you’ve signed on for as a doula.  How, in this day and age, can we be so pushed into a corner with our inexpressible Truth, that the risk of speaking it from our hearts will destroy our careers and rob future clients of the beauty of our work as most know it to be?

As above, so below.  It is important to put your experience into perspective.  The truth, and even most medical caregivers will admit this freely, is that in our current mainstream birth culture, there is a GROSS imbalance between the birthing woman’s own power, ability, intuition, hopes, dreams, and wishes and Medicine’s seek to control this unpredictable situation, this “disaster waiting to happen” that is birth.  We all know statistically that all these protocols designed to keep women and babies safe are prone to causing more problems than they prevent.  They are problems, yes, that can be mitigated by more application of birth technology, but problems all the same.  The family’s experience of birth to some caregivers has been deemed to be not only very low on the check list of “delivery” protocol, but in fact a matter of much disdain, as if whether or not a family has a “nice experience” (regardless of whatever comes up) is a matter for the privileged and the spoiled.  Herein lies the wound. So it makes sense that as you go about your own business doula-ing with your loving supportive heart, this truth of the implications of this imbalance will be played out to you in the form of birth story.
Every once in a while you will see an extreme example of the dangerous results of this imbalance, embodied in the form of raging Ego that has forgotten its original noble intention: to work in partnership with a woman to keep birth safe for her and her baby.  In balance, we have the potential for empowered, thrilled, safe births. We CAN have the best of both worlds.  The possibility is there. Out of balance, we see the very things we as doulas seek to help our clients avoid: lasting birth trauma (physical and emotional), postpartum depression, feelings of being a bad mother, worries about bonding, maternal guilt,  and loss of faith in one’s body.  These feelings are exacerbated, not healed, by a society whose message, subtle or otherwise is, “But you had a healthy baby and you’re alive, so stop whining.”  These negative stories generate fear, Medicine responds to that fear with amping up control, and soon we are off into stratospheres of terror, losing the essence of what birth means to a family as part of their important tribal story, as a legacy to their future generations.

So let’s go back to that place again where we talked about you, Doula, standing in the proverbial corner with your Truth in your throat, powerless to express it.   What is your Truth?  Why are you here?  I know what mine is.  A very wise and beloved man asked me to remember when I found myself in this heinous situation and was caught up in feelings of powerlessness to ask myself these three things.  “What do you stand for?”  I stand for peace.  I stand for love.  I stand for truth. Wherever it can be eked out, this is the very reason I embarked upon this path of a doula.  “Who do you stand for?”  I stand for the mothers, fathers, and babies who need and deserve to have their births infused with love and peace, a witness to their important family narrative.  “Who do you stand with?”  I stand with those whose intent is to see birth be safe AND peace-filled, no matter how the birth actually unfolds. 
If you notice, there is no asking of, “Who do you stand against?”  To do so is to further division.  And it is the division between control/empowerment, Ego/Truth, us/them that has created this situation of violence in the first place.  So where on earth do we find our power to carry out our original intent of bringing love and peace into the vortex of a nightmare?

Embody the shift in energy you wish to see.  This may sound hokey and weak to some, but I can assure you, this is the most powerful tool at your disposal in a situation such as this.  If you stand for love and peace, step into that role with everything you’ve got.  Drop the knife of divisive thinking and remember that there is a place in the heart of everyone in that room who at one point had noble intentions.  Even if not, it is still important that this child be born into an environment of love, into hands that are as peaceful as they can be.  So, for now, put down all of your reactions, just put them down, and focus on bringing peace into the room for the family.  For the healing of he/she who is caught in the violence of their ego.  This doesn’t mean just shutting up and putting up.  It means ACTIVELY centering yourself, opening up your heart, and channeling love into that room with every breath.  You will be amazed at what you might see happen or the accounts you hear afterwards.  You will be amazed at how you shift from feeling powerless judgment to a sense of doing something good.  Do you have control over the family being unscathed?  No.  But can you lessen the violence in the moment?  You can try.  It’s all you’ve got.  You can at least not fuel it further. It doesn’t guarantee results.  But you did something good. The greatest acts of loving kindness and generosity are being able to love even when you think there is nothing there left to love.   You do what can, remembering “What do I stand for?  Who do I stand for?”  “Who do I stand with?” while being unattached to the results.   You never know how they will translate.  And that’s okay.

Doula, after you have done that work and you return home to rest, you will have your own process.  As a doula teacher, I have witnessed some of my students be traumatized by some of their experiences.  It has taken me a long time to figure out how to help them deal with it, as I was still healing from my own experiences without knowing what to do.  I had nobody to turn to while I was learning, and I feel these experiences had a profound impact upon me.  Now I have tools in which to help doulas protect themselves energetically while these traumas are unfolding, and ways to help them work through and find meaning and healing from these experiences.   I feel strongly as a doula teacher, that these skills are basic and necessary (not advanced), and I do my best to relay them in the doula training program I provide.  I also feel it is so important for a doula to have a community to which she can reach out and find support for these struggles.  It is within this supportive environment a doula can step into the power of her intention to truly be an instrument of peace for birthing families.  Together, we move mountains.

Lesley Everest

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Birth as Religion

Hi folks,

No, I haven't gone anywhere.  I have been busy doing other writings, and slowly easing back into my life as I get used to being a well person again.  I am busy, but not working at the crazy pace I did before I got sick.  I will never go back to that pace again.  Lesson learned.

Having been on hiatus from birth attending these past months, I've had the opportunity to sit back and think a lot.  I've been thinking about how to define my personal philosophy of birth.  Everyone seems to have a slogan, or a mandate, and I've been trying to figure out how to put mine into words.

This led me to think of the many schools of thought which exist in relation to birth, and in turn made me think of all the paths of religion there are to come to know and develop oneself in alignment with a divine energy.  Birth is a mysterious, powerful, creative, transforming force that works through us.  It is studied in every which way, yet the normal process and exactly why it works as it does remains elusive.  Why do some perfectly seeming normal combinations of pelvis and Baby end up having a terribly rough time during labour, and why do some women deemed at risk for not being able to birth at all have their babies practically fall out of them?  Why do traumas happen?  Why do people sometimes even die when nothing seemed wrong? Why do some get to drink from the Holy Grail of birth ecstasy and others don't, despite having done everything they felt to be the correct way to "worship"?

Birth has its rituals and its magic words.  There is the "Finding out of the Sex through Ultrasound" ritual.  There is the "Head in the Toilet for Three Months" cloister process some go through.  There is the "Baby Shower" and the "Mother Blessing" ceremony.  We have the great and powerful "Timing of the Contractions". There is the "Cutting of the Cord" (many variations of even this ritual).  There are affirmations and breathing exercises, akin to the Rosary and prayer beads, as well as mantras uttered in prenatal yoga class.  Much is done to call upon the benevolence of Birth, in hopes of being one of the chosen to experience a problem free delivery and the ecstasy of the all mighty oxytocin high.

Birth also has its privations and sacrifices.  No sushi.  No alcohol. Expanding beyond the boundaries of one's favourite pair of jeans.  Pain.  A transformed life.  A new identity. The grace of parenthood Birth grants us doesn't come for free.

 Birth has its temples, in the forms of hospitals, birthing centres, and homes.  It has its ministers, the doctors nurses, midwives, and doulas who serve as ambassadors of Birth, middle-wo/men, if you will, who assist a woman's communion with Birth.  Birth, obviously, has its initiates; those doing the birthing and those who are birthed.  Some prefer a specific place to express Birth, some simply end up worshiping wherever the spirit of Birth takes them, like in a speeding car or the toilet at Tim Horton's.  Initiates also like different types of ministers. Some appreciate a guide to help them interpret the messages from Birth and support their choices on the path to Birth.  Others want to be saved, and put their absolute trust into their highly appointed holy wo/man.  And there are others who wish to skip the middle wo/man altogether and prefer a direct revelation of  Birth, taking the minister-less route.

Birth has its exquisite sacred writings, tomes dedicated to nurturing one's path on how to know Birth.  Many rest their laurels on the Word of Williams, Odent, Frey, England, or Gaskin, finding their sense of rightness and comfort in these holy books.

As with any religion, Birth has its followers, which come in all kinds of forms.  There are those who believe without the container of an expensive medical temple and a bevy of appointed holy people, the road to Birth is far too dangerous for the initiate.  There are those who will cry from the rooftops the good news that Birth is wonderfully safe, IF you keep the temple and holy people out of the experience and embrace it as a vision quest to be done alone.  Some more inter-faith types of folks want a gentle, skilled guide to be present, but not to impose their views, simply to intervene if necessary.  They're not fussy about the temple, trusting things work out for the best however things unfold.

If all feel safe and happy within the tenets of their chosen road to Birth, more power to 'em!  I believe we all have the right to our own expression of Birth within whatever context we feel best.  It is a human right. Let us celebrate the diversity and richness inherent in our birth cultures, and embrace those who felt moved by their dance with Birth, whatever that looks like to them.  May we honour each path for its strengths, knowing that every path, our own included, has its weaknesses too.

As most wars are waged in the name of religion, there are many conflicts about what is the "right" way to give birth.  What was intended as a loving framework for guidance can be expressed by some as a fundamentalist view that holds itself above others, and believes that all those who don't follow its philosophy's tenets are doomed to experience a Bad Birth (whether they know it or not).  There are many threats, parables filled with fire and brimstone, of the dangers of straying from the almighty right philosophy.  The fundamentalist Medicalists call the preistesses of Home Birth "witches".  The zealots of  Midwifery-ism call the holy wo/men of  the Hospitalites "butchers" or even "rapists".  Initiates who have their own personal reasons for eschewing temple and minister are touted as Heathens, reviled as ignorant endanger-ers.  If you don't give birth in a dark room by yourself, your fetal ejection reflex simply cannot let down, and you'll likely bleed profusely if anyone says a word or farts too loud.  If you experience a Cesarean your child will not bond with you properly and your relationship is basically screwed for life.  If you have an epidural you are not a worthy warrior, and wrecked your good Birth hormones, besmirching your self and your baby in the eyes of Birth forever.  If you don't have an epidural and Pit you're a martyr, and are subjected to the suspicion of being more interested in the experience of Birth than the safety of your baby. Threats are deployed, and the environment thickens to ensure the tenets are obeyed.   You may be searched for explosives.

As with any war, there are casualties. In this case it is the mothers and babies who are harmed emotionally or even physically, not to mention the collateral damage to the witnesses. Something gets lost when we have shifted from the belief in our birth philosophy as a framework to lovingly support birth's initiates in a flexible way, to a kind of self-righteous zealotry. What motivates much of the expression of zealotry?  The desire to be "right", to fit everything into a personal scope to the point of not believing what is actually before ones' eyes, and the deep, Ego assaulting worry that for someone to act outside of our belief system is a threat.  Fear, basically.  And when fear clouds the love that was meant to be expressed through the tenets of our personal birth philosophies, we potentially cause the very same problems we accuse "the others" of doing.  Whether we shoot from the left or from the right, shooting is still dangerous, and the innocent get caught in the crossfire.

Obviously, few are that extreme.  Thank goodness for that!  But each time we speak badly of another birth philosophy or put down a mother's experience because it didn't fit into what we think defines a decent birth, what part of us is speaking?  Is it truly out of love and concern for everyone involved, or is it out of fear that our sense of personal righteousness is threatened?  Because really, "there are more things in heaven and earth, Horatia, than are dreamt of in your philosophy".

As for me, I have decided to renounce birth religion all together.  Do I have opinions?  I surely do.  It is the nature of human beings to judge.  We need our judgement, as it helps us weed out the helpful presences in our lives to the not so helpful.  Our judgment often keeps us safe.  There is nothing wrong with discernment. But our judgment is OURS.  To project it strongly onto another because we assume they are not on the right birth path is dis-empowering.

We all come to birth innocent and perfect.  Every time.  No matter what is in our heads.  On some level, somewhere, the way we give birth, no matter what the outcome or our feelings about it, is an expression of our magnificence.  Birth can be gentle, it can be fierce.  Birth can express itself as Kali, Lakshmi, Mary, or Morrighan.  While we may have influence, we ultimately have no control.  There is no bargaining with Birth.  Birth is not some figure who doles out good births to the faithful and crappy ones to those who don't do things "right". It is a big crazy power that works through us, leading us into Mystery.  And yet we do it. This makes us pretty awesome, no matter how.

So while I have no words for my own personal birth philosophy at this time, I do have words I say to myself before embarking upon a birth journey with anyone.  It keeps me clear, and open to whatever unfolds, so that I may support them in their truths, keeping mine to myself.  I take out the "Lords" and "Gods" and stuff, but this is the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi:

..., make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Owning Pain

I had a conversation about epidurals with an OB friend of mine this weekend.  His thoughts were, "Sometimes I don't know if I should offer one or not."  I absolutely understand this conundrum of the primary caretaker in a hospital birth.  Firstly, it's assumed most people are going to want one at some point.  In hospital births in which people don't have a lot of support, it's rare to see those who intend unmedicated birth actually have one, especially for those women whose births end up being quite long.  So offering is reassuring and welcomed by the vast majority of women who birth in hospitals.

On the other hand, and I always really appreciate hospital staff members for this, many of them upon hearing a mother's plans for an epidural free birth don't wish to mention the epidural because they don't want to come off as interfering, or being one of "those" medical people who like to sell epidurals hard because they can't stand the idea of someone being in potentially a lot of pain.

My thoughts on the matter, and many natural birth advocates may disagree, are that it is absolutely fair for a medical person, upon arrival of a mother at a hospital in labour,  to explain that there IS pain relief in the form of a, b, c, d, and epidural.  Adding a, "I just want you to know in case you choose this, but that's all we'll say on it." would be great too.  Many are aghast when any mention of an epidural is made at all.  As doulas, it can be really frustrating to hear these words.  We jump to the thought that our vulnerable, paining client will hear this sweet phrase, then jump on the epidural bandwagon, only to feel disappointed in herself later.  But in a way, isn't this assuming that a mother will translate the epidural offer as a disempowering question?  Because you know, it isn't necessarily so. I've been asked if I wanted an epidural in my own hospital birth.  It did not make me want to have an epidural, even though I had been in labour for a couple of days.  When I decided to possibly consider epidural, it had nothing to do with peer pressure.  It came from my own core.  I gave birth before I decided, so I never did end up getting one, but had I chosen it, it would have come from a very informed and empowered place. I have seen many women asked if they want one, and those really into the process of normal, natural birth just don't seem to take it too seriously.

On of the reasons I think it is fair to provide a mother with the information that there are epidurals available in the hospital for her use if she wishes is because the caregiver's challenge  in a busy hospital is that they may not have the time it takes to really get to know the patient's wishes and the thoughts about those wishes the family/or friends present may harbour.  What pushes me over the line into the belief that an initial little epidural shpiel is not a terrible thing is that on occasion, the mother might be under the immense pressure of partner/family member/friend/even doula to NOT have an epidural at any cost.  I have been in many births where Grandma or Mother-in-Law or Husband or Girlfriend Who had her Own Natural Births were quite hostile about the idea of epidurals, and willing to project that hostility onto the caregivers just for doing their due diligence in mentioning the hospital's availability of pain relief.  Okay, true, usually it is the opposite...usually Moms want natural and the argument is FOR her to take the epidural (don't be a hero, yada yada).  But sometimes we have the mom who is not sure, or the mom who runs into real suffering and everyone else on the birthing team had a hard time surrendering to her desire for epidural.

To KNOW that someone in the hospital is on your side and supportive of your choice to eliminate pain is not a bad thing.  Yes, it IS a bad thing to have an epidural shoved down your throat every time you yell with a contraction.  That is not empowering.  But I don't think mentioning they exist before labour gets super charged is terrible at all.  There are women who come into the hospital with no prior prenatal care, perhaps new to the country, culture, and language, perhaps who have birthed previously in horrendous conditions.  I had one client who had birthed in another country and was absolutely traumatized by the cruelty she was subjected to.  She was in a room full of other birthing moms, the nurses kept telling her to shut up, that she couldn't move or make a sound, nor have anyone else there to support her.  Her thought was, "Well, I did it naturally last time, I can do it again this time."  As a doula, I talked to her about common hospital procedures, we talked about the epidural, and as always, outlined as best I could the risks and the benefits.  It didn't occur to her to think about epidural, due to her previous natural birth.  But when she went into labour, she was triggered into a post traumatic episode related to her prior birth years back.  When we got to the hospital it was casually  mentioned she could have an epidural if she wanted by the super friendly, supportive nurse.  My client looked surprised, regardless of what we had gone over prenatally.  As pain increased, her stress increased, no matter what I did.  She said to me, "Is it true I can just get pain relief if I want it?"  I said, "Absolutely.  You're doing great and your labour is progressing beautifully, by the way.  Would you like to try the shower?"   She said, "No, I want the epidural.  I remember what you told me about them.  I feel like I really need one."  And that was that.  When she got it, I saw a look of absolute peace.  She had space to process a lot of things from her last birth, and she found incredible healing in the ability to choose pain relief when in her past birth it wasn't an option.  I was glad for her.  She had a beautiful birth.  To know that a medical person supports the desire to help them out with pain can be a godsend to some.  It isn't for us to judge.

Now having said that, once the offer is out, it shouldn't be repeated a million times. Or rarely at all. THEN Mother's strength becomes compromised as she is repeatedly taken out of her reptilian brain, from which she may wail, cry and moan to help her through contractions, into questioning herself.."am i not doing well?  Am I bothering people?  Is something wrong?  Why do they tell me I need drugs?"  This comes from people outside her experience trying to own her personal process of birth in the guise of "saving".  Their thoughts might be, "She's not relaxing.  She's getting too tired.  I can't stand hearing those vocal expressions.  They make me uncomfortable and I need to DO something to get this woman to stop being a masochist.  Maybe someone is putting her up to this!"  But women in labour are generally pretty fierce, and even the shy ladies will start demanding an epidural if that's what they really want, so staff members generally don't need to press the epidural point. Women whose family members are against it will often simply refer back to the doctor's initial words and say, "They said I could take one." and feel more strength in their conviction to request it. Even if nobody offered a suffering lady drugs, if they are decided in using one, they will usually continue to ask for them. Of course, we do the doula if we know our clients desired an unmedicated birth and many women change their minds as they find their ways to cope, but you do come to a point where to try to sway a woman from what she clearly has gone hellbent on becomes an act of disrespect.  There is a line between supporting her original intentions to forcing her to own pain she truly doesn't want anymore.  I can't say I've had anyone say, "well, I ended up taking one because the staff mentioned epidural once when I arrived and it broke my resolve."   They took it because they wanted it.  No blame, no shame.  Or perhaps the continued, "are you SURE you don't want a nice, juicy epidural so you can sleep and have no more pain" song eroded their confidence after a while.  Those who take epidurals on their own steam usually don't regret them much.  Those who feel coerced often do.

I like using the analogy of running a marathon to illustrate to medical people not sure of when to intervene on the pain relief front.  How challenging it might be to a marathoner to instead of having the road full of people yelling, "You can DO's water, high fives, gel go, keep running, don't give up!" say, "Don't be a hero!  You have nothing to prove!  We'll put you in the wheelchair and you'll still get you to the finish line one way or another, it doesn't matter that you stop running!  The process doesn't mean anything. We can't stand to see your pain anymore."  And it IS pain.  My dear friend and colleague Sesch is a marathon runner and she tells stories of people yelling with pain, limping along during their runs.  She says she has seen women bleeding down their legs as their menstrual protection fails after hours running, people shitting themselves, and vomiting down the front of their shirts...but not stopping.  And what do we do for these pained runners when they pass we onlookers by?  We screech and cheer with pride and total encouragement.  The funny thing, is that thousands upon thousands of people are willing to put themselves through this marathon torture.  Seriously, spaces to run get sold out quickly, as they can only have a limited number of folks running giving the resources it takes to support an event like that.  So if we don't think about jumping in and saving the crazy marathon runner limping her way to the finish line, why are some so loathe to let the labouring woman just be and do her thing to get her finish line?  Yeah, it may involve some yelling, vomit, and poo, but the high at the end, (which is why most runners embark upon the marathon journey), is just so friggin' good for most.  You OWNED that body process, and rocked it how you wanted.  You are gloriously, and endlessly badass.  And birth for the most part is WAY healthier than a marathon run.

At the beginning of the marathon, people are made aware by the sponsors of where the stations are where they can stop for medical attention, what part of the road to go on if they need to walk, etc.  Then the gun goes off and the journey is up to them and what their bodies and minds allow them to do that day.  And they are cheered on and supported, through howling, limping dehydration and loss of control of bodily functions.  When they simply cannot run, walk, or crawl anymore, they stop and cry "Uncle".  It's all good. Those who can't stomach watching the show leave the event.  Sounds like this would be a reasonable recipe for birthing too.

Friday, February 1, 2013

The Pride of Birthing Accomplishments

For anyone who has ever doubted the importance of the impact of a woman's birth experiences upon her life, I thought I might share this.

As many readers know, I've been dealing with some major health issues.  Statistics of my chances of survival get bandied around while I stick my fingers in my ears and go, "lalalalalalalala".  I am not interested in these stats at all.  I focus on what gives me passion and what feeds my sense of power. That's all I need to really know.

I was sitting in the bath today, thinking (as I often get my best thoughts in the bath) of what have been some of the most powerful experiences of my life. I can unhesitatingly say the most powerful have been my birth experiences.  I am one of those women incredibly blessed to be able to look back upon four births with a sense of deep, glowing, beautiful accomplishment.  What people perceive as powerful is individual.  It isn't about some standard to judge one's birth against, it is ultimately about how one feels about her birth.

I have 2 oncologists I alternate in seeing for checkups.  One is brilliant with his patients. I've already talked about him, so I won't go further with that.  The other is the one who diagnosed my cervical cancer.  Sweet guy for sure, but because I haven't really dealt with him post treatment, I'm a bit nervous about how he's going to treat me.  He is decent and kind, that's already been established.  But I fear he might be the type to give me big "reality checks" if I come off as "cocky" for fear I may feel like a "failure" if I do end up croaking.     So much in Medicine seems to be geared to making sure a patient doesn't get their hopes up too high so their hearts don't get broken, but why the heck not?  That is literally encouraging half living until you die.  I mean, you don't have to REMIND me of how serious my illness was, so let's just agree to unbridled hope, which I believe influences and nourishes our biology for the better.

The point being, having a strong well of Resource within me, fed by my feelings about my glorious births, gives me immense power.  I can connect to and draw from that power whenever I may feel shitty about myself, hanging my head like Eyore the Donkey sighing, "Woe is  me....I had body is a lemon."  My passionate belief about the empowering qualities of a well perceived birth are so strong, they led me, like others, to pursue work that could potentially help others have great feeling births too.  It beats the depression, trauma, guilt, shame, feeling of loss, etc. that so many women associate with their births.  Had my births been different, I may not have the sense of as much power as I do, and I could be in a very different place in my healing process right now.  Birth doesn't just touch the day our babies come into this world, which is why it drives me bonkers when people claim childbirth is only a means to an end;  it emphatically touches us for all our lives.  A bad experience can certainly be healed and integrated, but I'm glad I didn't have to expend energy in that department, that the glory is right there and ready, easily accessed in that well of Resource.  I think of Lance Armstrong (let's put aside his troubles for now), and how advanced his testicular cancer was.  It had metastasized to his lungs and other areas.  Statistically, most don't survive that widespread of cancer, but what an amazing resource of power he must have to dip into knowing the accomplishments of his spectacular body (blood doping or not)!  Feeling badass undoubtedly has long term curative properties.

I sometimes have fantasies of the gynecology oncologists giving me grave news or breaking down statistics for me.  I figure as gynecologists, most of them have some pretty thorough OB training, and have seen many births.  I see myself asking, "What would be your thoughts about a first time mother,  a five foot not quite one inch tall 98 pound woman (when not pregnant) having a completely OP baby, the baby's head visible for three hours of the second stage?"  "Oh, impossible, never gonna come, she'd need a Csection or at least an episiotomy and/or instrumental delivery".  WRONGO!  I pushed that kid out stargazing while epidural, no tear.  "Hey, how about a second time mother birthing a substantially smaller, earlier baby than her first, but in labour for a couple of days, stuck at five cm for about 12 hours, then 9cm for a few hours?"  "Oh, that's a terrible situation, not normal at all, definitely something wrong, C-section for sure, or at least an epidural for rest."  NOPE.  Pushed that baby on out stargazing too.  No epidural.  No tear.  "Ever seen a woman have a labour of a term baby in 40 minutes from the first contraction to the baby, born with water bag and perineum intact?  NO?  Gee, this is all one one woman's obstetric history, Docs!  I have nothing to say remarkable about the fourth, it was fast, easy , and normal.  Except, oh yeah, I caught him myself while I was on my hands and knees.  Yeah, just reached between my legs and received him on my own. That's not at all unusual in my world."

I feel the power surge at the thought of this interaction, not because I have any desire to argue the rightness or not of clinical choices with a gynecologist or feel good about shunning the beliefs of a medical doctor, but because my birth stories, each one a shining picture of beautiful uniqueness, as all births are, fill me with a sense of badass that nobody can ever take away from me.  When I've talked to doctors about my births they don't criticize me, they actually say something like, "Oh, wow, that's pretty amazing, I don't see that often at all.  Good for you!"  The point is, I, as many women do when they are able to choose to birth on their terms, defied statistics.  I stretched the boundaries of what is medically considered to be normal birth, picked my battles with courage (yes, at my and my baby's own risk...that is for me to decide), and I feel, though some of those births were intensely challenging, success unparalleled.  And this is GOOD for me.

I don't want to yell at the doctors, "In your faces!" I simply want them to know how superimposing their stats onto me limits my potential as a fully recovered and healed human being, my births being evident of how wide I can stretch, of how very much I can handle.  And, by the way, had these births ended in necessary Cesareans or episiotomies or forceps, I don't think they would have too much altered my sense of success at how far I went (I would have gone a lot farther had I needed to).  I chose my own battles, so I would not have felt a "failure".  I would have gone into an OR in a blaze of glory and emerged victorious.  And may that be, hopefully when I'm a bout 193 or so, how I will face my own death.

Call it feminine macho-ism if you want, but if at this point in my life, dealing with what I'm going through, I have the ability to look back to those births that I DID and glean power that is healing, uplifting, and inspiring, then guilty as charged for laughing, swinging my vagina around like a lasso, shouting, "Yippie kay-yay, Motherf****ers!"