Heartbreak

Heartbreak

One of the amazing things about being a doula is that I am a witness to new life being born into the world and parents being born as parents. It’s hard to get more hopeful than that. But as the hours tick by, the shininess of new life begins to fade into the harsh reality of the world we live in. Right now protests are churning across the country, mourning the horrific, casual murder of George Floyd, just the latest of so many lives taken too soon by a system built on racism. 

Our country and our culture is founded on a system that oppresses black and brown people. In truth, there are degrees of oppressiveness for anyone who isn’t white and male. We simply cannot change this until we admit that it is there. And it is there. 

It is there in excessive force by police, yes, but it is there in so many other ways as well. It’s in the health consequences of a lifetime of chronic race-related stress, it’s when doctors do not listen because they falsely believe that black people feel less pain than white people do, it’s an epidemic of preventable amputations, it is a maternal mortality rate 3x that of white mothers, a disparity that persists even when we account for age, education level, income and prenatal care, it’s when black preschool students are almost 4x more likely to be suspended than white students (these are just little kids!), it is when black people don’t even get a shot at that job interview or don’t even get shown that great apartment because of their race. This is just a small sampling of the thousands of cuts and slashes that injure black, brown and indigenous people and keep them from their inalienable rights. It is wrong. 

Letting innocent people die, while we shrug and say nothing is wrong.

I’m white and I still have so much work to do. But I will not deny that this oppression exists. It is exacting a toll on black and brown people every single day. 

Where does it start? Where does it end?

In my world it all starts with the parents and the babies. We know that black mothers and black infants fare better when they can have emotional support from people who look like them and can understand their experiences. 

If you would like to support efforts that are already underway you can start with these organizations:

  1. Sacred Roots Doula Program – Portland, OR
  2. Shafia Monroe Consulting – Portland, OR
  3. Uzazi Village – Kansas City, MO
  4. Commonsense Childbirth founded by midwife Jennie Joseph – National Initiatives, with a birth center in Florida 
  5. Black Mamas Matter Alliance – Atlanta, GA

I will be spending the next weeks and months thinking, not only about how I can financially support efforts to mitigate and dismantle oppression and amplify the voices of black people, but how to make that support long term and how to build it into my business plan. I’ll admit, I’m more than a little bit bumbling and lost. But I will try. And I will fail. And I will try again. 

Being there without being there: Virtual doula support during COVID-19

Being there without being there: Virtual doula support during COVID-19

This pandemic isn’t something I was prepared for. Yes, I knew it could happen in theory, but were any of us truly prepared? 

I worried about what it would do to my work as a doula, what it would do to my clients’ ability to have doula support during their births.

But I care about life and death. I care about the vulnerable people in my life. I care about my clients and their families and the vulnerable people in their lives. I have no wish to endanger anyone unnecessarily. 

Prenatal visits became Zoom calls. Postpartum visits became Zoom calls and phone calls. And birth support itself became virtual. This was strange, especially because one way that I often describe my work if I have to encapsulate it in “elevator speech” format is “I go with people when they have their babies to help guide them through their birth.” 

So what happens when I can’t go with people as they are having their babies?

Am I useless? Or is my job description just a little flawed?

The truth is that my birth doula support begins way before the birth and continues well after the birth is over. It’s in the articles and information that I curate for my clients. It’s the way I answer their questions without judgment. It’s the positions and techniques I teach them for comfort in labor. It’s the validation I give them for how they are feeling right now. It’s the guidance I give to their partner about how to be there for them in the most meaningful way possible. 

By the time they are at the end of their pregnancy some of my clients are excited about birth, when they used to be scared, some are just more confident because they know more. Some have unexpected challenges at the end of their pregnancy and need me to help them to know their options so they can pick the path that feels the best to them. 

During labor, I may not be physically present, but I am still available for my clients every step of the way

I’ve been a virtual birth doula for a couple of my clients now and do I love it? Not exactly. It feels strange to me not be able to provide that calming touch, grab that water bottle, or lock eyes during an intense moment, but there is still SO much I have been able to do while I am “at the birth”. Things like:

  • Listening to what discomforts they are feeling and suggesting a different position
  • Suggesting a massage, counter-pressure or acupressure technique for the partner to do
  • Letting a client cry and process some difficult moments from the birth
  • Talking over labor progress and thinking about possible options – everything from positions and non-invasive techniques to try, to medical interventions that may be available and pros and cons of all the options 
  • Helping decide if and when to get an epidural
  • Helping to process the change to a cesarean birth and helping it to feel like a joyous and triumphant birth

Logistically, here are the things I have done to prepare for providing doula support when I can’t actually be present in the room. 

  1. Extra virtual prenatal visits to help partners feel like they have the chops to provide the physical support needed. This means trying out Spinning Babies techniques, Rebozo techniques, finding acupressure points, and trying out massage techniques with me watching so you can get comfortable doing them.
  2. Technology – A laptop, phone, or tablet with Zoom, Facetime, Google Hangouts or any other video calling software. If using a phone, it can be helpful to have a flexible tripod like this one so you’re not spending time and effort trying to prop it up (if needed I can buy this for clients and then sanitize it for the next person). Another awesome technology tool could be bluetooth earbuds, so that partners can wear one earbud to get Cyrano-like direction from me without disrupting the person who is laboring and birthing. Clearly, those can be expensive, but if you wanted an excuse, this would be it!
  3. Tools – I provide clients with a rebozo, which can be really helpful for squeezing hips when that’s too much for one person to do all the time and SO many other comfort measures. These Aculief wearable acupressure thingys can be good for pain relief without needing to have your partner wear out their hands providing it. I have some that I can lend to clients for use during labor and sanitize for future use.  Also Sea Bands for acupressure to treat nausea can be used as intended or on the feet for an acupressure point that decreases anxiety (Kidney 1). These are fairly cheap to buy. (These ones cost slightly more, but are adjustable in pressure and length). A battery-operated fan (something like this) can be awesome too when you get to that part of labor where you’re working so hard that you’re HOT!
  4. Old-fashioned team building – If my client is in the hospital with me on virtual doula support, I send them with a bio about me to give to their nurse(s) as an introduction to me and the support I will be giving during birth. If the situation allows, I love to “meet” the nurse to say hello and build that team feeling so we can collaborate to support you. 

Following the birth, I’ve been able to continue to provide the postpartum follow-up similar to how I would do it in person. I was able to help a breastfeeding latch feel more comfortable over a Zoom call while my clients were still in the hospital. I help strategize about how to get more sleep and how much feeding and crying is normal and I can give referrals to specialists if needed. 

Birth doula work is in many ways what it always was: It’s supporting my clients, the complex humans they are, as fully as I can given the situation we are in. 

Is Labor a Marathon?

Is Labor a Marathon?

Labor is often compared to a marathon.

And it’s a comparison that goes a long way (see what I did there?)… but it doesn’t go all the way. I’ll tell you what I mean.

The analogy works when we think about the fact that labor is quite a journey and often takes a long time too. Coping with labor can be like coping during a marathon when we think about “staying in the moment”, “putting one foot in front of the other” or relying on breath and rhythm to keep us going.

But when we think of sporting events we also often think of “toughing it out” or “powering through” or “gritting your teeth” to get to the end. These are phrases might work if you’ve hit a wall while doing a marathon but they just aren’t helpful in labor. 

Because labor isn’t something you tough out, it’s something you soften into. 

Coping with labor–it’s bigness, it’s intensity, it’s unpredictability–works better when we can let go, get soft, and actually take away our tough layers until we’re loose, mushy, and vulnerable. 

When we can stop tightening up to brace for the next labor wave, the labor actually becomes easier. For some it might actually feel enjoyable to ride those waves in the process of bringing new life into the world. 

As a birth doula, I can help prepare you for a birth that you can relax into. I can sprinkle calm dust all over your room and help you to breathe out any worries and breathe in the steady, soft strength you will need.

Why do partners feel so helpless during birth?

Why do partners feel so helpless during birth?

When I teach childbirth classes and meet with my doula clients, the number one thing that most partners want to know is how they can help. 

The good news: You can help. 

The bad news: Help in labor doesn’t always look how you think it looks. 

For labor support, it’s less about what you do and more about how you are.

What does that even mean, “how you are?” 

Well, are you tense, stressed, and/or worried? Or are you calm, loving, present, and supportive? If you were in labor, which energy would you rather have in the room?

That’s a rhetorical question. We all know the answer. 

But calm, loving, present, and supportive can be done masterfully without, like, dooooing much of anything, maybe just resting your hand on the birthing persons back or leg. In fact, someone recently did a study about how the touch of a loving partner actually reduced pain

If you’re the kind of person that thinks helping equals a lot of doing (hint: this is a pretty common belief among cisgender men) then you’re more likely to feel helpless during the process. But if you can adjust your perception to include “holding space” as something that you are “doing” you will not feel helpless even if your body is largely holding still. 

If you don’t know much about the concept of “holding space”, this article will demonstrate how a midwife or doula can “hold space” simply by knitting in the corner. This article explains “holding space” in the context of a relationship, but it totally works for labor (and can be great to learn for the postpartum period, and really, for the rest of your relationship and your life). 

If you had someone who held space for you during your labor, tell me your story! Let me know what that support looked like and how it felt for you?

Surrogacy: The Most Hands-On Professional Development I May Ever Get

Surrogacy: The Most Hands-On Professional Development I May Ever Get

For those of you that haven’t heard, I have some big news: Once again, I’m carrying a life. This life is a kicking, somersaulting little boy who, when born, will be handed back to his parents, two Dads who live in Utah.  He is due on May 3rd or thereabouts.

I might be crazy, I’m not sure. But this has been an amazing journey so far and one that is still teaching me.

One thing that everyone wants to know is what made me choose to be a surrogate. It’s a fair question, but one with an understandingly complicated answer.  There are a few parts to it.

A) I’m one of those women who liked being pregnant (and if I could skip the first trimester, I would like it even more) and I loved giving birth. I know that’s weird, but I absolutely loved the birth process. Author and anthropologist, Sheila Kitzinger, once said about birth, “Now this is a sport I can do!” and I completely relate to that. Besides that, I had my children at 23 and 28 respectively, so at 35 I’m totally done with my family, but have still felt the itch to go through the process again.

See! Here is how giant my children are now. There’s no trace of baby left in them.

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B) As a doula and childbirth educator I work with women that are pregnant and giving birth, and while some of these women had an easy time getting and staying pregnant, many of them had a long road of miscarriages or infertility before they got to the point of carrying a full-term pregnancy. Many women in my personal sphere have also had their hearts broken over and over in their attempts to have a child. Many times I have wanted to hand over some of my own fertility to these families.

C) Putting A & B together made me realize that I would be a perfect candidate for helping someone have their own biological child. I had no trouble getting pregnant or staying pregnant and had had uncomplicated pregnancies and births. In the end I was matched with a wonderful gay couple (rather than a heterosexual couple, with a mother unable to carry a child) and I wouldn’t change a thing. I feel lucky to be matched with these great guys and they say they feel the same about me.

D) Professional development- It’s no secret that I live and breathe fertility, pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding. Being a surrogate would allow me to experience IVF (crazy!), ultrasounds and hospital birth– all things I did not experience in my own pregnancies and births. What I got was even more than I bargained for. I went through the IVF process once, got pregnant, had the easiest first trimester I’ve EVER had and at almost 10 weeks found that the baby had no heart beat and had stopped growing at about 8 weeks 5 days. It’s hard to explain the shock of finding that out (I was supposed to be taking care of this baby!), but even after I had accepted that the baby was gone, I still wasn’t done because I had to deal with the reality of “birthing” this baby that was no longer with us. Too many of you have experienced this. For me it was the first time and I will never forget it or take for granted the difficulty of that piece of the process. Luckily, the second embryo transfer also resulted in pregnancy  and this one has stuck despite a rocky beginning with some scary bleeding (and this time the first trimester was much more like what I remember with my own children, namely, nauseous).

Here’s me just after the last embryo transfer in August.

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Here’s me after I’m pretty sure I’m pregnant, but before I’ve gotten a blood test to confirm it.

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E) Compensation- I really should mention that I’m being monetarily compensated for this pregnancy. For me that was important, though not at all the sole motivation. This “job” is a 24/7 endeavor and one I’ve been working on for more than a year. It has affected my work and my family, so it feels important that I’m not making those sacrifices for nothing. It’s giving our family a little boost, but really, if I just wanted to make some extra cash there are far less laborious ways of doing that.

I knitted some booties while on bed rest after the embryo transfer for good luck with this baby sticking:

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It’s exciting to be pregnant again. It’s also a little strange too to figure out how to be excited about a baby that doesn’t belong to our family. We’re figuring it out.

In the mean time, I’m totally back in the world of maternity jeans, round-ligament pain, slow digestion, you name it! And it’s reminding me of all sorts of pregnancy tidbits that I had long since forgotten. This is good news for my clients–it’s a refresher for me!  So while I’ll be off work for most of April, May and a little bit of June, I can already tell that I’ll be excited to take on more clients for the second half of the year.

I’m wishing you all health and wellness this winter and through the year!

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These are some ultrasound pictures from the anatomy scan at 19 weeks. I never did this with my own children!

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And here’s a recent picture of my growing belly. Babycenter.com informs me that my uterus is the size of a soccer ball now, which seems huge to me! But it’s only going to get bigger…

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Take Nothing for Granted: What it Feels Like to Come Home from a Birth

What do you feel like when you come home from a day of work? Tired? Energized? Cranky? Cuddly?

When I come home from a day (or more) of being with a laboring mom I feel like I’ve been in another world. A world where life and death hang in the balance. A world where lives are changed dramatically and forever. A world where women and their partners exhibit amazing feats of endurance and remain exquisitely beautiful as they negotiate decisions in the throes of great physical and emotional strain. I bond with these people as if we’ve been in a war zone together, hanging on to each other for dear life.

That may sound awfully dramatic, but in those moments it sometimes feels that real.

And given all of that drama, it’s impossible to just reintegrate to normal life.  I know that birth happens every day–it’s mundane in that sense–but when you have just witnessed The Miracle of Life it doesn’t shake off easily.

I was talking to a doula friend who said that she’s uncomfortable with this transition period. She wants to be able to flip a switch and go back to her normal routine. But she can’t. She’s working on how to reconcile this emotional dilemma of how she thinks she should feel versus how she actually feels. In the mean time, she just lives with that uncomfortable feeling until it fades away and things start to feel normal again.

For me, after 4 years of doing this work, the post-birth “syndrome” is predictable and recognizable. It has two sides. On one side I am in love with the world and everyone in it and truly grateful for the most important things in my life–my family. I live in the moment and take joy in things like baking a big batch of granola for the family or cleaning the kitchen. But on the other side I am incredibly vulnerable. I have a hard time tolerating grouchiness or bickering, especially if it is directed at me. Sometimes little things will make me break into tears. And I look around at people honking at a bad driver or venting about a co-worker and I think, “Why? Why spend your energy on this when there is so much to be happy for?” I appreciate this feeling. Sure, it makes me a little moodier (this is where I apologize to my husband), but it routinely humbles me, reminding me to take nothing for granted.

Death has the same effect on people that are close to it. Two bombs exploded yesterday near the finish line of the Boston marathon. Three are dead and many others are wounded. My heart goes out to the victims, their families, and those who just narrowly missed being in the path of the blast. I often feel powerless after events such as these. What can you do? But where I find my power is knowing that in the face of great pain we often find great strength. Those who survive will be reminded not to take their lives and their loved ones for granted. Those who have lost loved ones will hopefully find healing by finding ways every day to love, honor and remember the one they lost. Boston, pull your loved ones in close, give kindness, compassion and casseroles. Take nothing for granted.

And to all my doula clients past, present and yet to come, I thank you. I thank you for the chance to support you, for the chance to be a part of your life at such a critical time, and most of all, for the consistent reminder that life is amazing, fragile and beautiful.