Labor Like a “PRO”: Pleasure

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This post is the first in a 3-part series of simple ways to think about maximizing your enjoyment of labor by remembering how to do it like a “PRO”:

Pleasure

Relaxation

Oxytocin

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Pleasure Principles

pleasure (noun)- 1. a feeling of happiness, delight, or satisfaction, 2. sensual gratification: gratification of the senses, 3. recreation, relaxation, or amusement, especially as distinct from work or everyday routine

The benefits of pleasure in labor:

-pleasure sensations can help “shut the gate” to the uncomfortable sensations of labor

-many things which cause pleasure also increase oxytocin levels. Oxytocin is the hormone which drives labor progress AND brings on relaxed, loving feelings. (We’ll get into it more in the third part of the PRO series.)

-pleasurable feelings aid in the ability to relax which can greatly decrease pain.

-pleasure shifts our perspective of the sensations of labor.

Grab a pencil and paper and jot down whatever thoughts come to mind about the following questions:

What brings you pleasure? (Think about your five senses.)

Sights:

Smells:

Tastes:

Sounds:

Touch: (think texture and temperature)

 

What makes you laugh/smile?

 

What other things make you feel good, happy, or satisfied?

Now, using the list you’ve made, think about what sorts of supplies you can have on hand to increase the pleasure principle in your labor.  Chocolate, candles, massage oils, essential oils, access to a bath, comfy pillows… whatever is on your list.

While this might sound too simple to work, you may be surprised to find how effective even “the little things” can be.

For more information about the importance of pleasure during labor, and to actually practice using pleasure to cope, register for a spot in an upcoming series of Prepared for Birth.  Engaging, holistic, evidence-based childbirth education really brings together all the pieces of the puzzle.

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In the meantime, stay tuned for Part Two in this series to learn more about preparing to enjoy your birth!

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For Fathers, From Fathers

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Much of my work is about supporting and educating mothers wherever they are on their parenting paths. But, many don’t realize how much a doula and childbirth educator also works for the partners of expectant mothers. As Father’s Day approaches, I’ve been thinking a lot about the fathers I’ve been blessed to meet and work with. I wanted to do something to honor them, and all of the amazing fathers out there who make a difference every day. So dads, this post is for you! (I’d also like to recognize that not all labor partners or parenting partners are dads. But, since it’s Father’s Day, this post is aimed at fathers. I plan to do another post soon for all partners, regardless of sex or title.)

In Spiritual Midwifery, Ina May Gaskin says, “It does a man good to see his lady being brave while she has their baby-it inspires him.” I have certainly seen this to be true. But, it’s important for men to understand that this goes both ways. It does a woman good to see her man being supportive, loving, and involved in the pregnancy and birth of their child! As a doula, some of the most beautiful moments I witness are those first moments of becoming for the parents…the look on mom’s face, the look on dad’s face when they meet their newest family member for the first time…these moments are priceless and unforgettable. I am brought to tears every time by the tenderness, joy, surprise, awe, love, and pride I see cross fathers’ faces during labor and birth. It is always a deep honor to witness these moments and they continually inspire me.

I also truly enjoy and appreciate the participation of dads in my Prepared for Birth classes. The entire series is built not just on preparing women for labor and birth, but also on preparing partners to feel comfortable with the process and to know how to provide presence and support in a way that is meaningful to both of them. Partners offer a unique perspective and I always learn a lot from their input and questions. I feel grateful that we live in an era in which dads are welcome and encouraged to participate fully in the process of childbirth education and parenting. It bodes well for the children being born to two parents who are involved in such a loving and eager way!

But, enough about my perspective on fathers in the birth world! What we really want to hear is what the dads have to say! At postpartum visits and in surveys, I often ask partners, “What do you wish you had known before this process began? What did you learn that you would share with other partners?” I’ve gotten some great responses ranging from hilarious to game-changing. What I’d like to share in this post is some of the words of wisdom about that specific moment of *becoming* a father and the early days of parenting. Because I’ve gotten so much great response from this question, I plan to write another post soon with pregnancy and labor advice for and from partners.

I also asked the 2 wonderful men I am lucky enough to co-parent with and received some awesome insight from them both. I’ve added theirs in the list below.

With no further ado, here are fathers on becoming fathers:

“I can’t believe how much I love her. I never could’ve anticipated how much I would like things like dancing her to sleep or wearing her (in a baby carrier). My daughter is really fun to be with.”

“I know you talked a lot in class about how dads can do skin-to-skin time with the baby too and how important it is for bonding for the dad and the baby. That was really important to me and I think it helped a lot to do that right from the start whenever S couldn’t hold him.”

“At the baby’s birth, in a way unlike any other time, fathers don’t have nursing to automatically plug them and baby into each other and time near stops. Finding the way to be with their folk in those moments is a potentially deep quest, and remembering we were like that, and our fathers, etc…”

“It was so wild! I couldn’t believe it was over when she pushed him out and he was here. It went so fast (for me!) It was just the best feeling when he was out. That whole process of having a baby is so amazing. I can’t imagine not being there for that moment.”

“The first night in the hospital, you and your partner are in charge of the baby. When the baby is up in the middle of the night, you’re up. I always imagined a nurse would come in to respond, but that is not the case. Very naïve on my part but just something I didn’t know. And the guy is not supposed to say that they are tired to the birth partner the days after labor. Because the one who gave birth will be much more exhausted and in recovery.”

“Don’t expect to sleep and don’t think that if you get one good night of sleep that the next will be the same. In the words of Douglas Adams, ‘Don’t panic.’ Just relax, enjoy, appreciate, and marvel. Oh, and make yourself useful. (I don’t always agree with that cheeky train but in this instance it’s appropriate.”

“I wish I had known how hard it would be to go back to work after he was born. I just wanted to be home with them. I couldn’t think about anything else at work. I kept calling her to see what he was doing.  Dads should really get more time off to be with their kids too.”

“Relax, because you care, because you tried, you learned, and you love…You will do your best, in labor and in fatherhood… Allow the experience, and the ultimate outcome to overwhelm you and enjoy the true paradigm shift that naturally takes over when your child is born.”

“Be prepared for the most grueling and rewarding experience of your life.”

“Enjoy every second. It will be over before you know it so try to take a moment and take in the awesomeness that is the birth of your child. Trust me it is an experience you will not want to forget.”

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Heartfelt thanks to all the dads who’ve welcomed me as part of their family’s birth teams and an extra shout out to the dads who shared their words of wisdom and love.

Fathers, what thoughts do you have to share about your experience of “becoming Daddy”?

Baby’s First Bath: Who, When, and Where?

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In the discussion of what interventions and procedures may be offered for your baby postpartum, the first bath rarely makes the list.  You may wonder why it should!  A bath is perfectly harmless, right?  Could it really be considered an intervention?

If an intervention is defined as anything that intervenes in the continuous physiological process of labor, birth, and breastfeeding, then the in-hospital bath certainly qualifies as one.

Ultimately, the “burden of proof” for any intervention should lie on the intervention itself.  Are there any real benefits to a first bath being given in the hospital by a stranger?  If so, do these benefits outweigh the risks?  Rather than framing the discussion around risks of an in-hospital bath, though, let’s look at some of the wonderful benefits of delaying your newborn’s first bath, which include:

The Magic of Vernix At birth, your baby’s skin will be coated with a white, waxy or cheesy substance called vernix.  Depending on how many weeks your baby gestated, there may be a little or a lot of vernix on the skin.  Vernix provides protection in the womb from contact with the amniotic fluid (so that baby’s skin won’t wrinkle like ours does after a long bath).  Vernix also provides antibacterial protection, a true benefit in a hospital setting.  Vigorous scrubbing and bathing can remove this protective layer.  Rather than washing this natural barrier away, you can massage it into baby’s skin like lotion.

Breastfeeding Instincts Baby uses the smell of amniotic fluid on his or her hands to help initiate breastfeeding.  You may notice your baby nuzzles her hands against her nose as a cue that she is ready to nurse.  Washing away the natural smells on the baby’s skin will also get in the way of the signals provided by these smells which kick start instinctual breastfeeding and bonding processes.

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Together is Best for Mom and Baby Mother and baby both benefit from uninterrupted skin-to-skin contact for the first several days after birth.  This closeness helps with regulating temperature, heart rate, and stress hormones, as well as increasing bonding hormones, and helping to establish mom’s milk supply. Baby’s other parent is the next best habitat when mom needs a break; familiar sounds and smells are comforting and calming to baby.  Removing baby from the loving arms of his parents for a bath interrupts this bonding time.

First Bath is a Lovely Ritual Giving baby her first bath is a sweet privilege that parents can enjoy when they are ready.  Bath time can be a good way to transition to a change in setting once the family leaves the hospital and settles at home.  Or, it can wait until days later when intuition says it’s time.

Who will give your baby his or her first bath?  When and where will it occur?  This choice is up to you!

Red Flags: 3 Signs Your Care Provider is Not a Good Fit for You

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(Please note: for the purposes of this list, I use they/them pronouns to refer to care providers in order to make the language open to all possibilities.)

  1. You feel anything less than SEEN, HEARD, AND RESPECTED in your visits.

You deserve to be treated as if your time, concerns and questions matter.  Do you have time to ask your doctor or midwife all of your questions or do you feel rushed?  Do you feel satisfied and confident with the responses to your questions or are you met with disapproval for asking them? Examples of “red flag” responses to questions might include: “I’m the one who went to medical school.  Why don’t you let me decide that?” or “You don’t need to ask so many questions.  I’ve been doing this for a long time,” or “You think you want a natural birth now but just wait!  You’ll be begging me for the epidural when you’re in labor.”

If someone so readily dismisses your desires or insults your values in a prenatal visit, this is not a good sign that your wishes will be respected in labor.  (A related sign of disrespect is the use of the word “let”, as in “I don’t let my patients go over 40 weeks.” You are the consumer and this is your body.  Your care provider’s job is to provide you with information and recommendations based on their education, experience, and the evidence so that you can make the best decisions for you.  It is NOT their job to decide whether or not you are allowed to do anything!

 

2. They do not practice evidence-based care.

You deserve care that is based on what the best evidence shows is safest and healthiest for you and your baby, not just care that is most convenient or routine for your care provider.

A care provider’s rates of interventions (such as induction, episiotomy, or cesarean) tell a story about the sort of birth they routinely attend and the mode of care with which they feel most comfortable.  If these rates are not within recommended guidelines or if your care provider tells you they are unwilling or unable to provide statistics on these things, then it’s red flag time.

An independent childbirth class can help you understand how to find and use evidence, and how to ask questions about your care in the moment.  Some wonderful resources for researching evidence include:

http://evidencebasedbirth.com/

http://www.improvingbirth.org/

http://www.childbirthconnection.org/

Responses like, “This is just how we do it in this practice because we’ve found it works best,” or, “Sure, I’ll let you do whatever you want as long as the baby isn’t in danger,” don’t answer the actual concern or show a willingness to make a real change in the way of practicing.  Look for specific details on how they plan to support you in having the safest and most satisfying birth for you, and a willingness to work on a solid plan with you for following through.

Outside of a provider’s statistics, the stories you hear from others about care received from them can also help paint a picture of their routine of care. I’m not suggesting you change care providers based on one negative story.  Doctors and midwives are human and therefore, like all of us, have bad days and make mistakes.  But if there is a pattern that develops in several stories, it can be indicative of a mode of practice or birth philosophy.  It’s unrealistic to think a care provider will suddenly begin behaving differently than their history suggests they have consistently behaved in the past.  When asking for feedback about a care provider, pay attention to the stories coming from people who value the same sort of birth you’re planning (whether or not they had this sort of birth).  Your local ICAN chapter may also be a good place to learn about care providers who are a good fit for your birth preferences.

 

3. You have a bad feeling.

Trust your intuition.  Even if you can’t put your finger on a specific reason, your inner wisdom has something to tell you. Those feelings coming from your gut actually play a valuable part in smart decision making!

 

Your choice of care provider has a big impact on your birth outcome and birth satisfaction.  You and your baby deserve the best possible care at this important time.

If, after reading this list, some red flags have been raised, here’s are some posts about exploring the idea of switching to a new care provider.

http://www.fitpregnancy.com/pregnancy/pregnancy-health/how-change-your-care-provider-during-pregnancy

http://pregnancy.about.com/od/choosingapractitioner/a/changingdoctors.htm

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Your childbirth educator, doula, local birth support network, or ICAN chapter can also be great resources for making this decision. 

Have you had experience switching care providers in pregnancy?  Were you glad you made the switch?  Did you have an experience that made you wish you had listened to your gut and made a switch?

Birth Matters!

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In the summer of 2006, I was lucky enough to be chosen for a role in Louisville’s Birth Care Network’s local production of Birth the Play. The play is comprised of 7 women’s birth stories with 7 actors playing all the characters within each story: family members, partners, doctors, nurses, etc. Part of the powerful narrative of one woman’s cesarean birth story is her consternation at how often she is told, “…but you had a healthy baby!” when she tries to express her grief at how her child was born.
At the time I was taking part in this show, I was very pregnant with my second son. My first birth had hit me face-first with surprise, dismay, fear, disappointment, and many other emotions that I didn’t quite know how to heal. Whenever we would rehearse the scene with those lines about “…but you had a healthy baby!” I would wonder if that was something people actually said to women who talked about their births honestly. It seemed like such a silly and dismissive and ignorant thing to say.

The more I have worked in the birth world as a doula, childbirth educator, and breastfeeding peer support person, the more I have heard that trite line trotted out to mothers and it never ceases to amaze me that it can be anything besides a line in a play. I have many theories about why people like to use that line so much: they’re genuinely trying to find the silver lining and make the mother feel better, they are in denial about their own birth experience and the feelings they don’t want to face about it, they just aren’t thinking about what’s coming out of their mouths…etc.
But let’s look at what’s really being said behind those words…

If a woman has a birth experience that is unexpected, scary, or traumatic in some way (and that’s really only up to her perspective, not anyone else’s), she may feel any or all of the following:
Sad
Angry
Confused
Betrayed
Like a failure
Abandoned
Lonely
Frightened
Traumatized
Depressed
Bitter

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Her feelings about her birth may affect her ability to bond with and enjoy her baby or to enjoy life in general. Her feelings may make it hard for her to connect to other people who just don’t seem to understand. She may feel jealous of other mothers whose births she perceives as having been “easy” or “perfect”. She may not want to talk about her feelings for fear of being judged. She may feel alienated by all of this.
If she does find the courage to say something about how she is truly feeling and is met with “…but you have a healthy baby!” what she is really hearing is this:
“Your baby is the only part of this story that matters. You do not matter. Your body does not matter. Your feelings do not matter. Birth does not matter.”
And I am here to tell you that none of that is true. Of course every mother wants more than anything in the world for her baby to be safe and healthy. But that hope is not mutually exclusive of everything else having to do with her birth story. In fact, all parts are connected: mother, mother’s feelings, mother’s body, mother’s experience, baby’s health. Every piece of the puzzle affects all the others.  And to tell a woman that her feelings and experience are invalid is just the sort of thing that sets us up for our current rates of postpartum depression in the United States, for an epidemic of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder following birth  (Postpartum Traumatic Stress Disorder?), and for a culture of disconnect and “dis-ease” (as in, the opposite of health).
So, what do we do about this?

For mothers:
Find the support you need. There are people out there who are willing to listen to your birth story and the feelings you have about it with no judgment. There is support for you. Contact a local birth network, your doula (or, if you did not have a doula, find one in your area who can point you in the direction of local support), your local ICAN (International Cesarean Awareness Network) chapter, a therapist, or a friend who is a good listener. Look for a postpartum wellness group on facebook. Join a positive new moms group or playgroup. Don’t stop reaching out until you have gotten what you need to process and heal. It is possible.

For others:
Watch this video .  And please, never tell a woman that the only thing that matters about her birth is her baby. Listen quietly. Hug. Bring meals. Let her cry. Let her feel her feelings. Help her find support if you feel it is more than you can do to help her by yourself.
Some of my favorite resources:
http://postpartum.net/
http://www.parentingscience.com/childbirth-trauma.html

And, one very concrete way you can work on processing your story and move towards healing is to take part in an upcoming “Unpacking Your Birth Baggage” workshop with me. In this workshop, we will work in a small group to look at the feelings we have from our birth experiences (or about an upcoming birth…read more about the workshop here) and figure out how to own our stories in a confident, freeing way rather than being held back by them. The process is powerful and so is the chance to be in a safe place with supportive women. The workshop package includes ongoing support via a private facebook group and other chances to contact after our face to face time has passed. I believe so strongly in this process and want to share it with as many women as I can.  In order to give women the specific type of experiences they need in this process, I will be offering two separate workshops: one for expectant mothers who are holding doubts, fears, and confusion about their ability to give birth; and another for mothers who have had traumatic or unexpected birth outcomes and need a safe place to process them and move on into parenting with freedom and joy.  The next workshop is set for March 11 and 18 and is intended for Mother’s who’ve given birth before.  To learn more details or to register, visit my website.

Know this: You matter. Your feelings matter. Your experience matters. Your birth matters. BIRTH MATTERS.

Sending you a hug,
Jenny Claire

Photo credit: Jana Glass, Looking Glass Photography

Take a Journey to Joy…Unpack your negative baggage!

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Walking path - downhill

Walking path – downhill (Photo credit: Dey)

Unpacking Your Birth Baggage
Imagine you’re about to embark on one of the most important journeys of your life. You’re not exactly sure what is ahead on this trip but you know it will have some challenges and surprises and will hopefully end with an incredible reward. You know lots of other women who’ve travelled to your intended destination. Some of these travelers talk about how painful, scary, and arduous the journey was; others have told you that they found the trip full of joy, empowerment, and revelation. You don’t know what to expect!
As the time nears for you to take off, you check on the suitcase you’ll be taking on the trip. When you try to lift the suitcase, you find it’s impossible to get off the ground. Then, you realize it has already been packed for you by your mother and all of your other female relatives, several movie and television producers, the advertising executives at many major baby gear manufacturers, a few co-workers, and a woman in line behind you at the grocery last week. You open the suitcase to find it contains nothing but rocks, bricks, an anvil, and a 40-year-old travel guide to your intended destination.
You realize none of this makes sense for a journey as important as the one you’re about to begin. This is your trip and only you should get to decide what you’ll pack and what sort of adventure lies ahead!

Each of us enters into birth and parenting with “baggage”. The secret is realizing that you have a choice about what baggage you continue carrying and what baggage you toss behind you as you move forward. The “Unpacking Your Birth Baggage” workshop will help you go through the process to explore what sort of baggage you’re currently carrying, to decide what tools and insights you want to be carrying to help you achieve your desired journey, and to make steps to help you pack the sort of bag that will serve you well along the way. What sort of trip do you want to take? How do you want to feel while you’re travelling? The choice is yours and I would love to be your travel agent in helping you plan the journey that will bring you the most joy and satisfaction.

This workshop is for you…
-if you are pregnant for the first time and have lots of anxiety, fear, questions, and confusion about birth and wonder if you can “handle it”.
-if you have had a previous birth experience that left you with sadness, anger, trauma, grief, confusion, or doubt which you just can’t seem to heal from or let go of.
-if you want to take ownership of your birth and parenting journey wherever you are right now in order to enjoy it fully moving forward.

This workshop will take place over the course of two weeks in an intimate setting with a small group of other women also looking to achieve freedom and confidence on the birth and parenting path. You will be given ongoing support for the process after our face to face time together as well, via private facebook group and personal consultation.

I have had the privilege of helping many women through this process and have seen astounding, inspiring results. I am excited to offer this experience to as many women as I can.  As with all of my offerings, if cost is an issue, don’t hesitate to contact me to discuss options.

 

We’ll meet at Mama’s Hip to do this great work together, two Tuesdays, 6:30-8:30. A $20 deposit is required to hold your spot in the workshop, payable via PayPal or check. Registration details are available here. Register today to claim your spot; spaces will be limited to ensure an intimate group for open discussion. Don’t miss your chance for this empowering experience. I can’t wait to get started helping you unpack your birth baggage so that you can Pack Your Bags for a Journey of Joy!  Contact me with any questions.

Note, updated April, 2014: The May session of this workshop will be the last one offered until September at the earliest.  If you are anxious to explore this process, don’t miss your window!

Prepare for Birth the fun way!

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During one of the “Prepared for Birth” classes I was teaching recently, one of the expectant mothers said, “This is fun!” while participating in an interactive learning activity. Those kinds of moments are the most exciting for me as a teacher because they tell me that what I’m trying to give my students is hitting home for them. We all learn better (meaning, actually retain and can use what we learn) when we’re having fun. My classes are designed to be FUN for that very reason!

Keep Smiling #49.

Keep Smiling #49. (Photo credit: dawe2k5)

When you think of childbirth classes, do you imagine sitting in a chair for hours and listening to a boring lecture? Do you wonder what the point is when you could just read a book to get the same information?
Not all childbirth classes are created equal. There are some that are just about one “expert” talking at a room full of pregnant people and their partners. Classes like that are the reason childbirth education gets a bad rap in some circles, unfortunately. Lucky for my students, I have learned some great tricks from some awesome educators and I have made it my goal to constantly research and create new ways to make the information I’m sharing really come to life for my students.
I believe the tools you gain in my classes can carry over to your life past labor and birth which is why I design them to be:
InterACTIVEstudents work together, learning from one another, moving around the room, using different learning styles, adding their own input and questions and needs to the discussion.

Dynamicno class series is exactly like the one before or the one to come. I tailor each series to the students and partners in the room. My focus is on meeting each expectant person where they are and helping them discover their own strengths for getting the birth they want (and for discovering what kind of birth that is). The class material shifts as the questions and concerns roll in and there is always plenty of “wiggle room” for adding further information as needed.

Creativewhether you learn by moving, drawing, listening, talking, speaking, growling, sculpting, dreaming, watching, or laughing, there are components of the class for you! We all learn better when we are engaged and interested, which is why I work hard to avoid boring classes!

Connectingthe activities in class will help you deepen connection with your partner, your baby, your intuition, your strengths, and your classmates. You will leave each class feeling empowered to make your best choices for your best birth and for your parenting journey.

Are you ready to laugh, squat, dance, roll, color, and grow your way into a joyous and loving birth experience? (Oh, and I didn’t even mention the chocolate or the play dough!)

Sign up for an upcoming series and take the fun track to getting “Prepared for Birth”!