Before having my kids I was a music teacher. For a while, I taught 40-minute sessions twice a week to 13 elementary classes plus my own private students. That was a lot of lesson plans!
The first few months were very hard. Having to come up with fresh material, learn how to structure a lesson effectively for each grade, and when to stick to the plan and when to improvise were all things that took a while to get the hang of. But these words that a colleague encouraged me with have stuck in my mind since the moment she said them: "successful teachers plan tight and hang loose".
The essence of this phrase has reached far beyond the classroom for me, and lately, has surfaced in my mind as I think about birth plans and families' wishes for labor and delivery. What it means is this: we gotta know our stuff, figure out where we want to go, and be flexible when things don't go exactly as planned.
Writing a lesson plan, meal plan, setting goals, or putting ink to paper to formalize your intentions for your birth all have a lot in common. Primarily, this: it's impossible to have the whole picture before you start. You may have the best meal plan in the world, shop for groceries, then come home utterly exhausted the night you set out to make mozzarella stuffed meatballs from scratch. Do you stick to the plan you made on Sunday just because? Maybe. Or maybe you order pizza because tonight, that's best for everyone. And the groceries won't go bad by tomorrow.
With birth, there are an incredible number of variables. I don't think I've ever heard a birth story that contained the words "everything went according to plan". Babies come when they come, how they come, and even a scheduled C section or induction has its' way of catching you by surprise in many ways. Does this mean we don't plan or think about our preferences during pregnancy because it will just get thrown out anyway?
The act itself of planning your birth helps you get the birth you envision. When you decide how you would like it to go, you have to get information and make choices. You talk with your partner about what is most important. You advocate for yourself and your baby to get the care that matches your priorities. Maybe you just don't want to be in very much pain, and you know that you won't enjoy the birth of your baby without medication. Great! Then you know a home birth is not for you (where an epidural is not possible). Discover that you are passionate about delayed cord clamping? Then find a doctor who thinks it's groovy. Finding out, and communicating to your team, what is going to make this the best birth for you and your little one is simply becoming educated about a huge life event and taking charge of your care.
But, we can't hold on too tightly to the plan. Circumstances sometimes change in birth, and quickly. "Hanging loose" simply means we know how to let go. Maybe that home birth you longed for can't happen because you "risked out" when your baby turned breech. Take the things you most desired about the home birth experience and see if you can make those happen in the hospital. Maybe the water birth you dreamed about doesn't happen because you couldn't find a perfect pushing position in the tub. Maybe you end up needing medication to keep your fever down... Or the baby is born in the ambulance... Or maybe it's just that you do better with loud moaning sounds than the tranquil breathing exercises you practiced. Take a moment to grieve what was not meant to be, then use all your knowledge and expertise about yourself and your baby to decide what is next, with your support you have gathered around you to lean on.
When I was starting my labor support practice, something I had a really hard time with was choosing a business name. I wanted to find something that had a good sound, sent a message, and fit my style. Daisies have always been a favorite flower of mine and they fit my personality and beliefs as a doula. Here's how:
Joy. A daisy is such a fun flower. I love to be able to provide a positive presence in a birthing place and even invite lightness and laughter when appropriate.
Blooming. A flower is a lovely metaphor for what happens to a woman as she becomes a mother. I have seen women rise to the challenge in such beautiful ways as they open their hearts to new life and incredible love. I firmly believe that childbirth can be a sweet time of flourishing, not suffering and this belief grounds my practice as a doula.
Rootedness. Just as a flower withers without water, oxygen and sunlight, a woman bringing her baby into the world needs the nourishment of love, support and confidence from the people around her. One of the things I love most is witnessing and helping a woman's loved ones find ways to nurture and encourage her as only they can.
Boldness. With it's bright colors, a daisy can't hide. Something I feel passionate about is helping a family find confidence in the birth process and the information they need to be able to voice what is important to them.
The last reason is personal and just sweet. My husband wrote a song for me a few years ago comparing me to a daisy, and it is still one of the best compliments he has given me.
Being a birth professional and total birth story junkie, I am always thrilled when women are willing to share their birth experiences with me. I love to hear the incredibly different ways women embrace and undergo what is essentially an identical process, biologically speaking. Because no two women are exactly the same, the story is always different.
Of course, I am always delighted to hear about a birth that went the way that everyone hoped for. But something interesting happens when a woman has negative feelings or regrets about the way things went. Maybe she had wanted to try a natural delivery, and decided to use medication after all. Maybe baby was in distress and the best course was to deliver the baby via Cesarean, or maybe a C-section was planned from the beginning. Maybe she was torn or injured, or had a very long, drawn out, exhausting labor. These stories are so often capped by these eight words: “But at least I have a healthy baby.”
I wonder, when was it we started telling women that their experience in childbirth doesn’t matter? That whatever happens, they have to stuff it down and just be grateful their child is okay? Obviously, every parent wants their baby to be whole and healthy. That is a given. But in this case, there is a lot more to the picture.
Regardless of how it happens, childbirth is a moment in a woman’s life that becomes permanent in her memory. Sights, sounds, smells, and the way she felt are often as vivid as if it happened yesterday, for her whole life in many cases. Interestingly, though, the thing that she remembers best isn’t necessarily whether the birth went according to plan. What she remembers is more emotional and primal: was she supported, heard, and honored by the people around her? Did she feel safe? (Simkin).
These three words can describe the kind of birth a woman will remember positively for the rest of her life:
Supported. When she needed something, was someone ready to help her? Did she feel alone or connected to a loved one? Was there someone beside her helping her through contractions?
Safe. Did the trusted individuals in her birthing space treat her, her birth, and her baby as sacred and special? Did they respect her choices, give her time and information? Was the environment cozy and comfortable, or bright and clinical? Did practitioners rush her process or give expectations?
Heard. If she came in with a birth plan, was it read and respected? When she cried out, who came to her side? If she needed a change of plans, did they listen? Were her concerns met with compassion and information?
Friends, a healthy baby is not the bottom line. Your birth experience matters. Regardless of your preferences, no matter your expectations. Protect your life-long memories. Surround yourself with the people who you trust to hold your space for this sacred occasion.
There are all kinds of babies. Every little human is different and unique, just like their mommies and daddies and just like their births! But, there is one ideal position for baby to be born in. Head down, back to mama's tummy: also called Occiput Anterior (OA) position. Most babies start labor in Left OA, with their bodies slightly toward the left in mama's tummy.
Starting in LOA is the easiest for baby and mama during labor and delivery because the crown of the head, the most easily molded part of the head, enters the pelvis first, and the body is at a good angle to make an easy turn once the head is born. Other positions (Occiput Posterior, breech) can make delivery much more difficult and prolonged and lead to the need for unwanted interventions.
If you are pregnant, you're probably thinking, "Well that's great, but isn't this all out of my control?" Some of it is, but believe it or not, there are things that you can do in pregnancy, especially as you near the due date, that can encourage baby into an optimal position using gravity and opening space in your pelvis. Here are just a few ideas:
•Check how you sit. Place a small pillow under your buttocks in your desk chair and car seat to encourage the pelvis into a more forward position. Avoid curving and collapsing your lower back into the back of the chair or couch.
•Use a birth ball or exercise ball. Sit on one, legs wide and leaning slightly forward, while you work or watch tv.
•Squats. With your legs wider than hip width apart and toes slightly turned out, if you're able, sink all the way down so your bum hangs toward the floor. Keep your spine tall and press hands together, and elbows against your knees for support, or try brushing your teeth in your squat twice a day. This is a great pelvis opener and releases tight lower back muscles. If you need some support, take your partner's hands as they stand in front of you, or hang on to a doorknob.
•Cat and cow. On hands and knees with hands directly under shoulders, exhale and round your back, letting your head relax down. On the inhale come to a neutral spine or gently arch your back, letting your tailbone and heart drift up and your navel relax down. Repeat a few times with your breath.
•Hands and knees. Spend some quality time on the floor, reading a magazine (or perusing the internet on your iPad since you're going to anyway). Or, if the nesting urge hits, scrub those floors til they shine!
•Walk, swim, dance. Make time several times a week to move your body, however is most inspiring and fun to you. Go for an evening stroll or hit the gym for a zumba class (just be gentle with yourself and make any recommended modifications!). The more time you spend up and at 'em, and the less sitting, the better. Bonus: you'll increase your strength and stamina for labor!
•Do the hula. No, seriously. Let it go and shake your hips. Do it for a minute at a time a few times a day and wiggle that baby into the right place! Here's some youtube inspiration.
During labor, moving around as much as possible and changing positions often can help a baby move to a better position if needed. Your doula or practitioner can guide you.
For more ideas and information about fetal positioning, here are a few links:
Starting my birth doula practice has actually reminded me a lot of a pregnancy. What started out as just an inkling, a little tickle of a thought, has become a new focus in my life. I attended a course and thrived in that room full of kindred spirits: women who couldn't get the idea out of their heads, either. I had the roller coaster of anticipation (I was made to do this!) as well as insecurity and fear (what if I'm no good?). I nested early, convincing friends to let me attend their labors to practice my new skills and setting up instagram and this site weeks in advance of an actual launch. I've got the pile of books beside my bed and what I read simultaneously fascinates, excites and terrifies me. And after a few daring pushes, here I am, ready for this new world. I am new, I am fresh and I know I have a lot to learn- but a lot to give, too!
This blog will chronicle my adventures as a birth doula. You'll get links, tips and tricks. You'll get beautiful birth stories. You'll get a celebration of motherhood, womanhood and the things that make us awesome and unique. You'll get honesty and a reminder that there's a light at the end of the tunnel and you aren't alone. Let's be friends and let's lean on each other, shall we?
I'm Katie. Owner and operator of Daisy Doula birth services, wife, mama, friend, singer, cook, amateur photographer, and a PNW gal born and raised. Here I explore birth, motherhood, and beauty in the daily humdrum.