Lessons in strength #2: Seeing a doula, and some light reading

Hiring a doula was far and away the best decision I made in preparing for Finn’s birth. Traditionally a doula works with you throughout the pregnancy, is present during labour and birth, and then has some follow-up sessions too. For various reasons I wasn’t particularly keen on this model. Mostly, I couldn’t imagine anyone except Toby being present. He’s seen me at my very worst, he knows me better than anyone, and I trust him completely. There is no one else in the world who fits the same criteria in the same way. What I did want was to speak to someone about Emma’s birth, and how I could prepare myself – not only to have a better experience this time, but also to reduce my anxiety in the lead up so I didn’t spend the whole pregnancy dreading the birth.

After my failed attempt to organise more Calmbirth sessions, I got in touch with Newlives and Margie got back to me very quickly to organise a session. She came to our house at a time convenient for us so already it was much easier than Calmbirth. Once we’d farewelled Toby and Emma on a Saturday morning outing (probably to Bunnings) and had cups of tea, she asked me to talk about Emma’s birth and then we got to work re-framing it, as she put it. This is how Emma’s birth story has now changed inside my head:

I used to think my labour was very long. Now, I see it wasn’t so long. Yes, it was 26 hours from the first contraction to her being born. But I spent 14 of those hours at home (and a good chunk of them asleep). I spent another six hours in the bath at the hospital, then it was five hours until she was born. So, within the realm of normal.

I used to think I wasn’t very good at giving birth. Now, I see that I got myself almost fully dilated just lying in the bath and breathing, by myself. I also see that they couldn’t have used the vacuum to get her out unless I’d already done most of the work – and I still needed to do most of the work. I did all of that without pain relief. Doesn’t really sound like someone who isn’t good at giving birth.

I used to think Emma wasn’t in a rush to be born. Now, I see that she probably reacted to my stress. When I was hauled out of the bath and put onto the bed so they could check my progress, my waters suddenly broke. It got chaotic – the doctor wanted to check me, it hurt, the lights were bright, there were lots of people, the doctor wanted me to get some pain relief (which I’d specifically said I didn’t want), and I wasn’t allowed back in the bath. The calm I’d worked so hard to cultivate for the last six hours was gone, and I couldn’t get it back. Emma knew that, and she did exactly what she was supposed to do – which is not come out until she knew it was safe again. It is entirely possible that with a different doctor in particular, her birth would have been very different.

I used to think Calmbirth really helped me. Now, I see that the Calmbirth techniques were very useful during my time in the bath. But I also think they failed me – in early labour, and at the end. I spent early labour “being in labour”, which is probably why it felt so long and I was so tired by the end. I really needed to ignore the fact I was in labour for as long as possible. And at the end, I needed something other than relaxed breathing. I’ve gone back and read the Calmbirth book which really does gloss over the transition and pushing stages – it kind of says “this is going to be really hard, just do what you have to”. I needed more – I should not have put all my eggs in the Calmbirth basket, so to speak.

It was incredibly healing and cathartic to sob talk to Margie, who was fantastic. Her combination of kindness and knowledge was exactly what I needed. She came right out and said I’d had a traumatic birth – I’d never really thought of it like that but hearing it from someone else somehow made me feel better. Once we’d worked on reframing my birth story, she gave me some book recommendations and said she’d be happy to see me as many times as necessary before the birth, even if I decided I didn’t want her there on the day. She also told me to talk to Toby about it all – even though he’d been there, she suspected he would be surprised by the strength of my traumatic memories and would likely have a very different view of how it had all gone and in particular how I had performed. (She was right. He thought I was awesome.)

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One of my strongest memories of this winter is now of being curled up in bed under the blankets working my way through birth books. I read and re-read Juju Sundin’s Birth Skills, which I had read before Emma but not paid much attention to – and I definitely hadn’t used any of it during my labour. This time I went over it more carefully, taking note of things I thought sounded like they would suit me. Margie had suggested Birth Journeys and Birthing from Within. Birth Journeys is a collection of stories put together by a local woman and Margie thought I’d find the stories of women having positive second births useful (I did). Birthing from Within was pretty hippie (the author wanted me to sculpt and paint rainbows) but it was an interesting read and in particular I liked the descriptions of dealing with early labour (i.e. pretend you are not in labour).

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Toby and I also instituted “birth night” once a week which was my time to talk about things that were bugging me and go through any exercises I thought would be useful. It was also my time to coach my coach – “here are things I think you should say when I tell you it hurts.” (Hint: it’s not “I know”.) I guess this was our own version of a childbirth class like those run through the hospital which we weren’t doing, being second-time parents. It was easy for a second pregnancy to just fly by without much thought given to it, so I felt it was important to give it some dedicated time.

I ended up only seeing Margie once more, with Toby this time, to go through some of my thoughts in preparing for Finn’s birth and ask for some practical advice (like “what position is best for someone who doesn’t want to push for two and a half hours again?”) From our talk and the reading she’d suggested I’d regained lots of my confidence. Margie had told me the only thing I could predict about birth was that it would be intense. Beyond that, it was a great unknown. Somehow, this was comforting. I was feeling nervous rather than terrified, which felt like a healthy – and rational – place to be.

Margie charged me $60 per session. I have told her more than once she needs to increase her rates.

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