Fear Clearing and Partnership

The week of her due date, Leo’s mama was showing no signs of giving birth anytime soon. Her cervix was completely closed and not effaced at all, and instead of dropping down into her pelvis, her baby seemed to be trying to wiggle his way back up, as if he could come out her esophagus.  Her doctor scheduled an induction for the following Monday morning at 8 am. He also told her that her labor would be very long and painful, and she might want to consider just having a cesarean, since it would likely end up in the OR anyway. (!!!)

 This mom had a history with anxiety, and had been feeling some stress and anger/resentment in the last couple weeks of her pregnancy (her in-laws were in town, she had to deal with construction issues for the house they were moving into, and her partner wasn’t able to be very present for her.)
What she really needed was a little time by herself to connect to her baby. She finally got some one night when her partner went out with his parents and she stayed home alone. She said she had a deep and profound conversation with her baby, and realized she wasn’t ready to stop being pregnant yet – partly  because she had so looked forward to and enjoyed her pregnancy, but also because she wasn’t sure she was ready for the next phase of being a parent. She told me she grieved the end of her pregnancy a little, and told her son she was ready for him, and welcomed him.
The next morning she lost her mucous plug, and early labor started very shortly afterwards!! She had already scheduled a non-stress test to prepare for her induction so she headed into the hospital. Unfortunately, a condescending nurse there told her that she wasn’t in labor yet, and that all women think they can handle it at the beginning but they all end up screaming for drugs as soon as it gets real. This mama was pretty discouraged at that point, and I tried to explain that early labor – the part where the cervix dilates from 0-4 and can take days and sometimes weeks – is sometimes called “early labor” or “pre-labor,” but sometimes hospital staff will say it’s not real labor at all. What they call “real” labor is what I call “Active” labor – starting at 4 cm. A woman’s body is doing a TON of work to get to that point, and I believe in giving her credit for that hard labor!
Leo’s mama went home and coped with intermittent contractions on her own and with her husband for a night and a day, and I joined her late Saturday night. She was doing great! She told me when the contractions changed from “crampy” feelings to real contractions, she caught herself saying “ouch ouch ouch!” She changed her language to say “I’m ok, I’m ok , I’m ok” with every contraction, and eventually  evolved that language even further to say “You’re OK Leo, you’re doing great in there little guy, you’re ok.” I was so impressed!
Contractions petered out in the morning,so we all agreed to get some sleep. Sunday afternoon, Leo’s mama was feeling discouraged and called her doctor. He told her “you probably aren’t dilated at all, but you are welcome to come in to be induced.” She was triumphant to discover she was 4cm when she arrived!
Leo’s parents labored alone at the hospital for a few hours. This was unusual for me – usually parents will spend the early part of labor alone and call me when they need me – often about the time “active” labor hits. However, this papa needed the time we spent together Saturday night to learn how to really support and be present for his wife’s labor. The time they spent alone together at the hospital was connected, peaceful and beautiful and contributed to the overall sense of birth empowerment felt by the mama.
I joined them in the early evening (with a sandwich for papa!) Mama decided to get the epidural a few hours later. She could feel herself crossing over that line from pain to suffering that I always talk about with my clients, and knew with absolute conviction that it was time for relief. She was offered pitocin about 15 minutes after the epidural was in place, but she declined. She said she thought about what Leo’s experience would be like with the stronger, longer and harder contractions and just couldn’t do it to him. Once again, I was impressed by how the partnership and connection between this mama and her son.
We labored through the rest of the night, sleeping and resting as much as possible (thank goodness for that epidural) and little Leo was born 7:50 am – 10 minutes before the induction appointment! HA!
When Leo was placed on his mama’s belly, his little arms and legs wrapped around his mama  immediate snuggle mode. It was clear that he felt and appreciated his mama’s awareness and consideration of him. They continued to be patient with each other as they worked out the first latch, and the mama told me she feels like she intuitively knows how to give this little guy just what he needs – and if she doesn’t get it quite right , that he’ll be able to let her know.
This birth happened at a time when I was working through some fear clearing of my own, specifically regarding partnership. I was so moved and inspired by the way this mother and  son listened to each other, held space for and protected each other, and the resulting compassion, love and trust that flows between them now. I have a lot to learn from that little baby.
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Lucky 13

I attended my 13th birth last week, and it was definitely a lucky one! First time mama felt “crampy” at 4 pm, and a perfect baby girl joined us here on Earth at 12:47 am! It was the first time I’ve been with a client where we got to the hospital ready to push – which is usually the goal when I go to a hospital birth.

Another wonderful doula has said that we must learn something with each birth. If you stop learning, you aren’t really present (also true of life, I suppose). So in honor of Lucky 13, I share with you:

13 THINGS I’VE LEARNED ABOUT BIRTH (so far)

  1. SADIE –  born at home in Yonkers in a gigantic kiddie pool. A beautiful birth. I learned to trust birth, and to honor that ancient knowledge in a woman’s heart and body that brought each of us here. I experienced working in silent communion with other women – the way only women can – creating that sacred geometry called “the circle of birth”. Sadie’s daddy was stressed out and spent most of the day at his sisters house up the road. If I could do it over, I’d give him more attention and work harder to make him feel safe and included.IMG_4987
  2. MYA – was born at home in Queens after 3 days of early labor (which kept her mama from sleeping much) and 60 total hours of active labor.  I learned how a little levity can lighten the intensity and make it just a bit more bearable. I swear to heaven I saw a golden light pour out of this woman as she gathered up her strength and got determined to have that baby, and I witnessed the deep true power available to us in those really hard moments.
  3. GEORGE – was born at home in Greenwich Village. Little Georgie had a big brother, and the path was paved for him – he came fast! This mama’s body new exactly what to do, but as an earnest New-la desperate to be of service, I thought I had to DO SOMETHING. I learned to leave my energy and ego at the door – to enter the birth room quietly and gently, and that sometimes holding space is the best thing we ever do.
  4. HENRIK – Was born in the hospital in Los Angeles. It was my first birth at a hospital, and I was nervous. I learned how the doula’s role changes in that environment – and how having one unchanging and familiar face in a sea of strangers can bring deep comfort.
  5. DMITRI – was born in a hospital in Los Angeles. His mama had a large and loving family, and she invited a dozen of them to visit her in labor. If I had it to do over, I would have asked them to leave much earlier even though she said she liked having them there. The uterus is notoriously shy. I also learned to keep any emotions regarding interventions to myself – Mama’s in labor are famously intuitive, and internalize emotions that don’t belong to them. Once again –  leave my ego outside…
  6. ISADOR – was born in a hospital in Los Angeles on his papa’s birthday, and his labor began on his mama’s birthday! Scorpio Celebration!  I learned that sometimes a little saline fluid makes magic flow! I also learned – later- that this mama was distracted by her mother in law’s presence, but wasn’t able to articulate that. If I had it to do over, I would have paid more attention to the clues that were there and asked grandma to step out.
  7. LAYNE – Little Layne took about 3 days to make his way out of his watery wold and onto the airy Earth! I learned so many things from this long birth and his amazing parents, I feel like that experience was my doula jedi training! I learned that not all people are treated as equals in hospitals, I learned that being left alone to labor is not always best – sometimes we need attention!This tough birth taught me to give tough love – to mama and to papa and to me.
  8. GAVIN – Gavin’s birth was a gift. He finally gave his mama a break after a challenging pregnancy and came out quick. I was grateful for the beautiful reminder to trust in birth, and trust my heart.
  9. COLE – was born in a hospital in Hollywood, and his mama was truly a birth star. I was honored to be the doula for a dear friend for the first time with Cole’s mama.  I had a hard time using my “directive” approach with this mama, because that’s not really part of our relationship. I learned later that it was just what she needed to hear! I learned – again!- to leave my “self” including my personal relationships – outside the birth room.
  10. XAVIER – came Earthside through a cesarean birth, my first surgical birth.  I felt an instant connection with his mama, but noticed at our first interview that her partner couldn’t quite meet my eye. I learned to address any relationship issues before the birth – even if it’s uncomfortable. I also learned to be more committed to staying home as long as possible – even when the temptation to know how much progress has been made is overwhelming!
  11. WALTER- Walter’s birth was my second cesarean birth, but a world of difference! Walter’s daddy wasn’t able to be at the birth, so I worked with another doula on this one, and am so grateful we did! Together we came to the conclusion that –  a planned cesarean might be (gasp!) appropriate for this mama. She went in to surgery fully prepared for the experience before her – and already in labor! She was able to hold her sweet baby boy during the last 40 minutes of the surgery, and healed quickly and beautifully. I learned that Cesarean can be beautiful. This was the second time the universe delivered a gorgeous gift of a birth right after a tough one…
  12. BECKETT – was born in a hospital in Santa Monica to two of the cutest parents I’ve ever seen. I learned that sometimes partners have funny ways of dealing with their anxiety, and to be more compassionate when they disappear into electronics. If I had it to do over, I would specify in their birth plan that they prefer to be informed of every intervention – including increasing the dose of pitocin to a sleeping mama! I also would have encouraged them to have me meet them at their house instead of at the hospital.
  13. ROISIN – pronounced “RO-sheen”, lucky 13! I loved getting to the hospital and pushing the baby out 20 minutes later, but the hospital staff was not that excited about it. They were pretty nervous, and that energy created a very high-adrenaline environment for pushing, and the doctor missed the birth completely. I know the parents would have liked to arrive a little sooner, and to a less scary vibe (one nurse screamed “we have to get this baby out NOW!) I learned that sometimes transition doesn’t look like transition! If I had it to do over, I would have listened to the voice in my head telling me to look for the purple line. I also would have called ahead and let the staff know to expect us…

The hard thing about being a doula is that there are no do-overs. Each birth only happens once, which is amazing, obviously. It breaks my heart that I can’t go back in time to know then what I know now and create even better more empowering experiences for each of these families – many of them transitioning from couple into family for the first time. I never know how to express the magnitude of my gratitude and honor for being allowed in the room at every one of these grand entrances. I’ll never fully explain how hard I fall in love every time.

But I do solemnly swear, from the deepest regions of my fat heart: I will continue to learn and grow and get better.

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart
i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart) – ee cummings

babies