Giving birth is a lot like a marathon, or so I've been told. I will admit that I have never trained for a marathon. But I know people who have, and here are a few things they have told me about the process that I think apply beautifully to the marathon of labor!
Mental preparedness is key. There are going to be times throughout the process of labor that you'll want to quit, give up, and forget this crazy idea of having a baby (right in the middle of it all!). I've heard moms very close to meeting their babies exclaim, "That's it! Never mind, I'm going home. I'm done doing this!" If you are reading this and you've had a baby, you most likely can relate to this sentiment! I remind moms that when they feel they are "done" and that they can't do this one more minute, second or hour, they are likely very close to the end of the marathon. The physical stamina is important, yes. But the mental stamina is an equally important key to finishing the race! I recommend taking a childbirth education series that will allow you to learn as much as you can about the process so that you know what to expect and how you can prepare. I also encourage positively envisioning, meditating, praying and/or thinking about the birth you want when you look forward to your birth experience. Some moms may find that it's helpful to practice breathing and relaxation exercises, watch *positive* and affirming births (like this one!), and talk through any fears or concerns prior to or during labor. Going into labor with fear or dread can really hinder the process of labor and the production of oxytocin (the hormone so important to keeping labor progressing). Listening to others share their own journeys through the births of their babies during pregnancy can be helpful, but I want to emphasize the importance of keeping those interactions positive.
You have to train. Physical endurance is really important. This is why I recommend maintaining some sort of exercise routine (assuming your provider has given you the all-clear). You do not have to stop fitness activities just because you are pregnant. Even in late pregnancy, you can continue to keep your normal exercise routine as long as it's comfortable for you and there's no medical reason to discontinue.
Finally, hire a coach! Doulas are gaining popularity as many women have discovered what it feels like to have consistent, continuous support throughout their pregnancies, labors, and postpartum period. You don't have to do this alone. One dad recently told me, "I don't know what we would have done without you. We wouldn't have had the knowledge or expertise to do the things you suggested, and it really made such a difference. Thank you!"
Remember, birth is a marathon and not a sprint. You CAN finish the race! (And the reward at the end is better than any medal you could ever receive.)
Induction (the process of starting labor using artificial means instead of allowing it to begin on its own) is very common in some obstetric practices. You can read more about what it is and how it is done here. Some possible reasons providers may give for a medical induction may include:
That being said, here are a few common, non-medical reasons moms begin to entertain the idea of induction and some things to know to make a decision that's best for you:
"I'm sick of being pregnant and just want this baby OUT already!"
This is such a common sentiment late in pregnancy. Around the last month (or earlier), many moms begin to get very impatient and, understandably, they just want to meet their babies. They begin to dialogue with their doctor about this, and many will agree that induction could get them from point A to point B much faster. Pretty soon, a date is scheduled for induction and mom knows the (approximate) day that baby will be born.
What to know: Before beginning an induction, it's a really wise idea to ask your provider what your Bishop Score is. This number is calculated after an exam and cervical check is done and can be a good indicator of how "successful" the induction would be. The lower the number, the less chance mom has of birthing vaginally, and the higher the risk of needing a cesarean (or surgical) birth.
"It would be so much easier if I could just plan the date baby is born!"
Of course it would! Yet...the only thing predictable about birth is that it's unpredictable, and this includes the timing. It's usually never very convenient for anyone. Couples are usually very concerned (and rightly so!) about work schedules, care for the other children in the home (if applicable), time off once baby comes, how much leave they have from work, traveling mothers or in-laws coming long distances to help out and their availability, etc. This is especially hard for type-A, "high D" personalities that live by their planner and a very well thought out and organized schedule. But when it comes to babies, these things simply can't be predicted and that's one of the hardest parts for many moms.
What to know: The key to this issue is taking one day (or minute!) at a time, having several contingency plans depending on the day/week, and then doing your best and waiting patiently for the day baby is to be born. It's also important to note that it's the baby, and not mom, that is the decision-maker for when labor begins. When your baby is ready to be born, he or she will secrete a hormone called CRH (cortico-releasing hormone) which sends a chemical signal to your placenta. When your placenta receives the chemical signal from baby, it will release estrogen and cortisol, two hormones that will help your baby's lung's mature. This, in effect, is what "kicks off" labor and is actually quite critical to your baby being able to survive life outside the womb with strong, healthy lungs!
"My baby is just too big. I'm not sure he/she is going to fit!"
For many moms, the thought of delivering a full-term baby is daunting and even downright terrifying. Unfortunately, our culture doesn't help much with this. Women sometimes scare one another with their stories and for the pregnant woman (especially if this is her first baby), this can only add fuel to the fear she may be already feeling. After all, she may be asking, how can something that large be ejected from such a small opening? And so doubt begins to creep in.
What to know: It is so incredibly important to surround yourself with people who will instill confidence and not fear into you. If your provider says "your baby is too big," just bear in mind that there is truly no sure-fire way to know the exact weight of your baby, not even through ultrasound. In fact, they can be off by a pound either direction! It's also really crucial to remember that if your body made the baby, your body can birth the baby. For more information on this topic, read this!
These are just a few of the non-medical reasons for induction I hear most commonly that I wanted to address, but I hope it's been helpful. Let me encourage you...it's your body, your baby, and your birth. You have the right to ask questions, seek counsel, and know what the evidence and research points to in terms of success rates for inductions. I strongly recommend that you find out the risks of induction and learn about the intervention spiral that often results. When we interfere with birth, it negatively impacts the beautiful hormone cocktail of oxytocin in birth, breastfeeding, mother/baby bonding, the way baby adjusts to life outside the womb, and even increases risk of postpartum depression.
Knowledge is power! Know your facts and do what is best for you and your baby!
And as always, thanks for reading!
The Importance of Surrender
Birth is hard work.
Like the hardest work a woman will ever have to do in her life.
It's an incredibly vulnerable time, one in which she may feel frightened, unsure of herself, scared, or even sad. She may worry she can't do this work and might even feel like she has failed if her birth plan isn't going 100% according to plan. She may want to quit, give up, or begin to fight the process. These are all very normal reactions to the overwhelming sensations that labor can bring, but the key to a positive experience, even when things go differently than planned, lies in one thing: Surrendering.
The longer I support laboring moms, the more I observe that relinquishing control of the birthing process is absolutely key to a healthy mental and emotional state. But it's really, REALLY hard to do. I know this because I have personally been through childbirth three times with my own children. And each time it was very different. New fears crept in with each birth scenario, and I had to constantly discipline my mind to stay focused and in the moment. I was tempted to watch the clock, get fixated on numbers as they pertained to my cervical dilation, and frankly, quit when it got hard. It was definitely a battle of the mind.
One thing I intentionally talk with my clients about is the importance of surrendering throughout the laboring and birthing process. Here are some examples of times when this reminder is particularly useful:
I chose the above picture from a birth I doula'ed about a year ago. I love this photo, because the mom laboring in the tub was very close to meeting her baby, and she was surrounded by so much love and support from those present. When I talked with this mom about her birth experience, she gave me permission to share this with my readers about that moment:
"I doubted whether I was strong enough to persevere through whatever the birthing process would bring. Since my baby came three weeks early and caught us by surprise I felt like I wasn't fully ready to face the pain. Through the support and encouragement of my birth team and Happi as my doula, I was able to learn how to give in to each contraction rather than fight them. I was strong enough. I did it!"
She surrendered, and...she did it!
Have a (Birth) Plan!
As a Doula, I provide two prenatal visits for couples throughout the last few months of pregnancy. One visit is to plan the birth and the second is used to discuss all things postpartum once baby arrives. I believe both topics are of great and equal importance in preparing for the two major life events they are about to experience. I spend a good hour or two at each visit helping couples navigate the many decisions and options available to them.
If you are expecting, I would strongly encourage you to learn as much as you can about the birth process through childbirth education classes. You cannot formulate a birth plan if you do not understand what your options are. You also need to ask a lot of questions when you tour your place of birth. Here are just a few things you'll need to inquire about in order to create your birth plan. This list is limited but gives you an idea:
Having said that, we know not everything always goes according to plan, but having it in writing absolutely gives the provider and nurses a very solid idea of what you do and don't want. Things like, "Please do not ask me if I want pain medication" take the guesswork out of a situation where mom may be struggling through labor. The nurses know she will ask for help when or if she reaches that point.
Note: I provide birth planning sessions and private, in-home childbirth education classes. Contact me if you are interested in learning more about your options. This can be a scary time full of many unknowns. I'm glad to answer all of your questions!
Packing Your Hospital Bag
What should you pack in your hospital bag? Here's a checklist to get your started!
Anything else you'd add? Leave it in the comments below!
5 Ways to Have a Great Birth
The driving force behind my choosing doula work as a profession was my own personal experience. As I have processed the births of my three children, which have all been totally different and unique, I recognize now, more than ever, how important it is for a woman to feel positively about her birth. While I cannot promise specific outcomes for birth clients, I can definitely help set them up for success to the best of my ability with the knowledge and skill set I have.
If you are pregnant and have specific goals and objectives that you'd like to accomplish in your birth, I believe there are 5 important things that you may want to consider as you plan for your birth experience. I truly believe that doing these things will make the biggest impact on your birth outcome.
1. Carefully choose your provider.
It is incredibly important that the provider you choose has respect and understanding for the way you want to birth and is supportive of the various aspects of your birth plan (assuming you have a general understanding of what you want it to look like). Take time to research different obstetricians and midwives early in your pregnancy, ask friends who they have used and why, and ask any birth workers you may know already (such as doulas, childbirth educators, labor and delivery nurses etc.) what to look for based upon your wishes for your birth. If you do not feel that your current provider is supportive of the way in which you want to birth, it is okay to consider switching providers, assuming there is enough time left in your pregnancy to be accepted by the practice. Ideally, it is best to have done your research early in your pregnancy so that you aren't scrambling at the last minute because you are feeling that your current provider isn't a good fit for you.
2. Hire a doula.
One of the most important things you can do to accomplish your goals for your birth is to hire a labor doula. Over and over again, women who have had a positive birth experience share that it was in part because they had a doula. It's not that we, as doulas, can guarantee specific outcomes because every birth is different and unique. What we can do, however, is guarantee that you have amazing, consistent support. I personally work very hard to contribute value as part of the birthing woman's team, serving her alongside her partner, provider, nurses, and anyone else she may choose to have with her. A good doula knows how to support her client through emotional support (labor is hard work, so compassion and encouragement through the process is key!), informational support (help being able to understand and dissect information as it's given to you), and physical support (hands-on comfort measures, positional changes, utilizing birth tools available, etc).
3. Educate yourself!
The saying, "knowledge is power" has great application when it comes to birth. The more you know, the better prepared you are. Truly, nothing can prepare you for the experience that is birth. It is like nothing else you have been through, and probably like nothing else that you will go through in the future. The beautiful thing about birth is that the discomfort you feel has purpose. It is a necessary means to an end...the moment you finally get to hold your baby in your arms! Often, however, women in our culture fear birth because they don't know how or if they will be able to manage the pain. It may be that they had a prior traumatic birth experience, or perhaps someone close to them did and they are scared the same might happen to them. There can be many reasons they are fearful. Because of this, I encourage clients to arm themselves with information, and I often recommend great books to my clients that will encourage them in their journey of labor. Not only do they help educate but they also encourage and inspire. "Your body was made to do this," I often tell clients. "Trust it. It knows what to do." As you read, learn, and arm yourself with knowledge, you'll find that these words are true!
4. Take Childbirth Education Classes.
This falls under the above category of educating yourself, as nothing can prepare you fully for the birth experience. It really needs its own category, though, because the classes you take should fall in line with your goals for your birth. Childbirth education classes can be very helpful for understanding the process of labor and birth and should present you with specific options to consider as you formulate your birth plan. There are so many choices out there for your consideration. I encourage you to again do your research and then pick the one that seems to be the best match for you and your goals for your birth (as well one that will best serve your partner!).
5. Formulate a birth plan.
Creating a birth plan is something I do with my clients as part of my service to them, but if a doula isn't an option for you, then there are several great websites and templates you can utilize. Your birth plan should be very specific. It should be kept concise and limited to one page, as nurses and doctors don't have time to read pages and pages once you are admitted to your place of birth. Ideally, it is helpful if it can be presented to your provider at least one month before your estimated due date so that they can review it. In my experience, I have found that most doctors and nurses are very happy to see a birth plan and spend time going over it with you.
I truly hope that these five suggestions are helpful to you as you plan for the birth of your baby. It is my desire that all women be armed with support, knowledge and information that results in a positive birth experience.
Thanks for reading!
I will never forget the first words my husband said to me after my children were born. "You were so amazing. Like unbelievable. I can't believe you just did that! I'm so proud of you. I love you so much! You're a ROCK STAR!" (15 years later, those words are still meaningful to me. I mean, what wife doesn't want to be told she's amazing??)
As we gazed at our new, squishy little miracle, in awe of the fact that "we MADE that!," our love for one another was renewed as two became three, and then later four, and five.
As a doula, I absolutely love helping to facilitate the relationship between mom and partner. It's really important to me in the birth process that her partner feels included. Recently, I had a client's husband say, "I have really been preparing for this. I have taken a childbirth education series. I mean no offense, but do we really need another person in the room?" I gently replied, "I'm here for you as much as I'm here for her."
Birth is intense. As each contraction comes and mom is working hard, she needs an abundance of love and support. And she needs just the right "hormone cocktail" happening in her body to help her cervix dilate and to prepare to bring baby into the world. As she and her partner engage with each other in the labor process, her oxytocin levels rise and that works greatly in her favor. Oxytocin is a crucial hormone to the labor and birth process that is released by the pituitary gland. Its job is to help bring about contractions of the uterus during labor. The body makes it naturally, but you may have heard of its synthetic form called pitocin (which is sometimes used when it's necessary to augment labor). It's a beautiful thing as the rise in oxytocin not only helps mom birth her baby it but also helps her milk come in after baby is born. So... I work to bring mom and partner together in labor because I know that every hug, touch and connection between them is good for bringing baby closer to their arms. Also, as the pain of labor intensifies, she may begin to fear childbirth. Fear and pain are the enemy of labor progressing, and so my goal is to help keep mom out of that place and in the comfort of her partner's arms where she feels safe and loved.
I consider it a joy and privilege helping partners work together in the labor and birth of their babies, especially in the ones for whom it's their first time experiencing it. It's a powerful moment when baby is born and they know they did it together. I've been truly blessed to see some AMAZING hands-on partners who supported mom so lovingly and helped bring their babies into the world..
Remember, love is the antidote to fear.
And where love dwells, feelings of safety and well-being do as well! What could be better than that in the process of childbirth?
As always, thank you for reading!
God and Birth: The Connection
When I started this blog, I wanted it to be, at times, a place for me to reflect upon my own insights and experiences that have had a hand in shaping me as a doula. This is one of those times.
I am a Christian. My faith in Christ is the most important thing to me and it drives everything I do in my life. I am certain that God led me into this work as a doula for many reasons and I believe that His desire is that I would bring Him glory as I serve women in this very important time in their life. As a result, I felt compelled to share how and why my faith influences me as a doula.
As a disclaimer, I want to say up front that I partner with couples and families of all faiths. In fact, one of the most important things to me is that my clients and their families know that I hold no judgment toward them for any of their choices, especially in birth. I support people right where they are, as they are, and I believe this is one of the most powerful and valuable things I give to them as their doula. Becoming a doula has been one of the best things to happen to me in my own spiritual journey as I have learned so much about myself and others. I will always be grateful for that!
Here is why I believe there to be a very distinct connection between God and birth.
First, I believe that God made the woman and baby fearfully and wonderfully. I believe that God is the Giver of life, and all aspects of life have been His idea from the beginning. As a doula, this means that I trust the pregnancy, labor, birth, and postpartum process implicitly. I believe that the pregnant woman's body was perfectly made to birth her baby. This doesn't mean that things sometimes can (and do) go differently than originally planned. But in most cases, I know that this is a perfect process that God has designed beautifully as mom and baby work together. As I support my clients, I know that I simply need to support the process and not interfere with it.
Secondly, I believe that God instructs me to hold no judgment against others. As a doula, this means that supporting women in all birth choices is of utmost importance to me. I stated before that I support ALL women. So whether they birth at home in a tub or choose to get an epidural the moment they step into their hospital room, I am there, ready to support them in their choices. I treat the women in those two scenarios the same, because birth is a very vulnerable time for a woman, and she likely has very good reasons that brought her to those choices. It is simply my job to support her, without judgment, no matter what.
Finally, I believe that pregnancy, birth, and babies are all miracles from God. Every aspect of the process - from conception, pregnancy, labor, and birth to mother-baby bonding and her ability to feed and nurture her child - are truly incredible. I am in awe of the way God designed mom and baby to work together so beautifully. It impacts me as a doula, because I have the knowledge of how the process works in order to support mom, but I also believe in the God and Giver of life that is guiding each of them. As I work with mom in pregnancy, for example, I can encourage her with such assurance that her body can be trusted to provide all it needs to for her baby. In labor and birth, I can remind her that every wave/surge/contraction is bringing her closer to meeting her baby for the first time, because I know that they are both working together, in sync with one another, just as God designed. As baby is born and mom holds him/her for the first time, I watch as the two of them are filled with God-given instinct. Baby rests quietly, and then soon begins looking for nourishment. Mom has already been producing what baby needs and is ready to provide it. Oxytocin overwhelms mom with love and a desire to nurture her baby and bonding continues. I can affirm her in those things and remind her that she is doing great and all is well. Should mom choose to breastfeed, her milk provides all baby needs, and mom and baby are off to a great start. It's all truly MIRACULOUS.
This is why I do what I do. I believe in the process. I am passionate about helping moms achieve a positive birth experience because I know that it increases the likelihood that mom and baby transition easier into life together. Nursing goes better, postpartum depression rates are lower, and mom's satisfaction as she reflects back on her birth experience is more positive. Everyone wins.
As a doula, I am committed to each of the couples I serve and I am truly humbled to be invited into that intimate time with them. I pray for each and every one of my clients throughout their pregnancies and labors, whether they are aware of it or not. It is my hope and prayer that each of them would walk away from their birth experience feeling loved and supported through the process. If they do, then I believe God has been honored as I serve them. The following is one of my favorite verses from the Bible, and it is such a beautiful promise to both mom and baby. I wanted to share it with you today:
"For you formed my inward parts;
you knitted me together in my mother's womb.
I praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
my soul knows it very well."
Thanks for reading!
I love adding things to my Pinterest page. Have you followed me yet? (I have a whole section on Postpartum Survival. I hope you'll check it out!)
I think it's so important to plan for what happens AFTER the birth just as it is to plan for the actual birth.
I wanted to devote this post to a few of my favorite postpartum tips as you prepare to bring home baby (or if you're having a home birth, immediately following the birth!). These are absolute MUSTS for moms!
First, PADSICLES. Ladies, you must have a few of these in your freezer and ready to go...then make sure your partner knows how to make them for those moments when you are yearning for some relief. They are amazing and will greatly aid in your comfort and healing.
Next, SECURE HELP. Do not be afraid to take up your mother, mother-in-law, friend, sister, grandma, whoever, when they ask if they can help you. Say yes. Especially if you have other children. These wonderful helpers can prepare meals, clean, help with childcare, do laundry, bring you food and water, shop for you, etc. so that all you have to do is stay snuggled up in bed to bond with your new baby. There was a time when women were not expected to do anything or go anywhere for weeks after their babies were born. As a society we have gotten so far away from this important bonding period and resting time for mom. Remember you also have the option of hiring a local postpartum doula if you do not have support close by.
Be prepared for the AFTERPAINS. If this is not your first baby, know that they will get worse with each subsequent baby. (Sorry to be the bearer of that news.) They should ease up after three days or so. These cramps are caused by your uterus contracting as it shrinks back to its pre-pregnancy size. They can be very uncomfortable, especially if you're breastfeeding. Ask your care provider what they recommend to minimize discomfort.
Speaking of which, if you're planning on breastfeeding, have some support on hand BEFORE baby is born. This may mean connecting with a local La Leche League or Breastfeeding USA group. Know where the certified lactation consultants are in your area. Ask your hospital to recommend one, and note if they have any on staff. If you're in McHenry county in Illinois, I really like the West Dundee Facebook group. They are so helpful, quick to respond, and an awesome resource when you need some help and encouragement right away.
Finally, REACH OUT for support if you are struggling as a new (or seasoned) mom. Postpartum depression is a real thing, and it requires immediate attention. Please, do not be afraid to admit that you are struggling. Remember, you are NOT alone. Reach out to a trusted family member or friend as well as to your provider. Let them know you are struggling so someone else is aware.
The first days and weeks following baby's birth can be a very joyous time. But having a new baby to care for can also be very daunting and overwhelming. Having a few things covered before baby arrives can make a big difference in your postpartum recovery and transition into motherhood.
Please always feel free to contact me for more information or resources!
Thanks for reading!
I think I just nursed my little one for the final time.
He's my third baby, our last.
Lately, it would appear that we are both ready for our nursing relationship to draw to a close, but that doesn't make it any easier on this mama.
Tonight, we did our usual story time, nursing, singing, rocking routine, and I lingered there with him knowing this was likely the final time we would be experiencing this, just the two of us. This weekend he's going on an adventure with his daddy and brothers, and when he comes back, I don't know if he will ask again. There were two nights this week (including his second birthday) that he just sat contentedly in my lap while we sang our songs and rocked.
The mother-nursling relationship is so unique in that it provides a beautiful, nourishing place that only mom and baby get to experience together. That awesome "love hormone" oxytocin is released when baby feeds, and it has amazing benefits to both mom and baby. No one else in the family can share this as it's perfectly created for just them. It's such a special, intimate time as mother and baby bond from the very beginning. As baby grows, mom's body continues to provide absolutely everything - from beginning to end - that baby needs. It's such a miracle.
This time around, I knew that babies do eventually wean, and so I was in no hurry to rush it. I had no problem nursing him for two years. I used to think it was strange to nurse that long, as many physicians are eager to start babies on cow's milk once they turn a year. But I read an article several months ago that reminded me that we are the only species that is encouraged to drink another animal's milk at the age of one. It didn't make sense to me, and so I did what felt right for me and for him. I kept going, knowing that what my body was producing for him was perfect.
What a gift.
I know breastfeeding is a very personal decision and that not everyone chooses to do it. This is definitely not an advertisement for or against it.
I just wanted to share what it has meant to me.
Tonight, I was in no hurry to rush him, and it was like he knew...because he wasn't in any hurry to finish either.
And in the dim light, in the quiet, with tears streaming down my face, I saw his little hands trying to form the number "two" since he is, after all, two.
I held my fingers up to show him how to do it again, and then I helped him form his little fingers into a two. He giggled and smiled and suddenly popped off my breast and excitedly exclaimed "TWO!"
Yep, baby boy. You're two. Lots of new adventures await us.
And I'm so glad I get to share them with you.
Thanks for reading.
Happi loves serving families in the Northwest Suburbs of Chicago as a labor doula and childbirth educator. When she's not at a birth, she loves spending time at home with her loving husband and homeschooling her sons. She also finds great joy in serving the Lord at her church and teaching children about the love of Jesus!