Monday, September 26, 2011

The knowing

All of my adult life I 'wanted' to be something other than what I was, for the most part. It wasn't until about two years ago that I finally reached a point where I just wanted to be good at what I was already doing. I had realized that I did not want to be a midwife; it was too political, people were too mean, it was too much of this or not enough of that - all of which amounted to "it's too hard".

Previously I wanted to be a childbirth educator. I sort of became one. Previous to that, I wanted to become a doula and I did do that, and intermixed in my doula career I entertained becoming a midwife, postpartum doula, lactation educator, etc etc.

I felt like I was always coveting being something I wasn't, and it is a pretty common thing I see amongst my colleagues- we start with something and become hungry for more - but there's always something in the way. Lack of a supportive network, supportive partner, children too young, can't afford training, and a lot of times it just amounts to "I'm really scared to say yes to this path and so I'm allowing these obstacles to stop me for now." At least, I know that was true for me a lot of the time.

I entertained the idea of becoming a midwife because it made sense- because it was my personality, to be in charge, to engage the medical side of things, to be on the 'edge' of a culture, to put my hands on families, and to generally not have to be told what to do. I dig that. I loved the romance of it, the birth stories, and I ached sometimes to be the one to get to make the call about what a woman in labor needed or didn't. I was good about keeping my doula hat on at ALL times but my heart longed to be making those calls.

At the same time, I never thought practically about what it would actually mean to be a midwife. I didn't think about the education- it was more like an detail than a major decision. I'd pick the school that would get me through the fastest and the most affordable and I would get started! It would be so amazing! Malpractice insurance? Getting paid on time? Licensure? Peer review? Having a car that worked, missing several days a week of my family life for birth and prenatals and postpartum and lab runs and transfer sto the hospitals and..... none of that ever occurred to me. I would make all the right decisions so I never worried about having a client or baby be injured or die because of my decisions- I already knew that I would do all the right things!

 I assumed that it would all work itself out, I didnt' need to think about it. I was going to be a Midwife. Surely the universe would just allow for me to do this sacred work, no?

I went to a birth with a local midwife as a birth assistant and I thought I was ready, and was not. It was a difficult experience because I was thrown into a role I had absolutely no experience in. I wasn't sure what I was supposed to and not supposed to do - it was clear I was not the doula, but what was I? How was I to relate to the family? I didn't know how to do vitals, or assess mom or baby- I could hold a doppler to her belly but did not know how to count heart tones. I had no business being in that role at a birth and after the smooth, complication free birth was over and we had taken care of everyone and gone home, I felt a little shell shocked. Was this how we were supposed to learn- thrown off the dock and expected to swim or drown? It was after the birth and processing it, and subsequent experiences that all led up to my deciding that I wanted nothing whatsoever to do with midwifery, I was no midwife! Clearly I wasn't, I mean for one thing, the whole thing did NOT come naturally to me and I totally thought it would.

After a long journey, some of which is documented here, I no longer fantasize about becoming a midwife. I realized a long time ago that I already am a midwife. This is where the more medical folks get to check out of what I'm saying and maybe even make fun of me - and that's okay, because I know who I am. I have been providing that care that women seek from midwives with my friends, clients, family and even strangers - for years and years. The thing that women seek from their providers, which often leads them to midwives, is a sense of connection. That was something I was and am good at. I, like anyone who desires to, can learn what is necessary in order to be a safe, professional clinician- but being dialed in is not something everyone learns or is good at.

I describe my knowing that I will be catching babies like knowing when you are pregnant that you must somehow give birth to your baby. It is not a hope or a fantasy anymore. I do not fantasize at all about becoming a midwife, I am realizing as I write... it is more that I fantasize that I will pull all things toward me, with the myriad exemplary educational opportunities I have, to be the safest and most responsible midwife I can be.

Today I sat with families with one of the midwives I assist- in their homes, amongst their children. I watched the midwife touch the bellies and connect with the hearts of these mothers and address the fear and concerns of the fathers. I saw in those moments that romantic, timeless thread that ties my midwife to the midwives who came before us- riding horses to distant homes, slogging through snow or mud or up mountains or down into swamps, riding boats or motorcycles or hitching rides - and with those same hands, touching gently the bellies, soothingly cooing to the nervous mothers, reassuring the families and holding them through the whole journey.

As much as I respect the allopathic approach, I experienced it three times and am no worse for wear - there is something so precious missing. Five minutes a month is not enough to touch a family. It is not enough to forge that deep connection between provider and family where they become a unit.

Obviously this is not the be-all-end-all of care. There is so much more to it.  As I attend every birth as a birth assistant, that hypersensitive sense of observation does not wane with each client, where my intuition becomes stronger and more reliable, where when every mother begins to push her baby out my heart races in a way it never did as a doula- I know that I know diddly squat about catching babies, about being responsible for the health and welfare and LIVES of two individuals. Squat. I am humbled every time by what I do not know, and the many years that I know it will take for me to learn what I need to in order to be truly ready to take responsibility for it myself.

I also know, like I knew that my babies would come out of me somehow, that my day will come to hold my hands at life's entrance and receive the baby that emerges. It isn't a hope or a wish - it's just what is.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Back to the Middle, Conclusion

While my pal Barb posts on her blog today that she no longer feels herself a part of the Natural Birth Community (NCB), I realize that I never felt I belonged to anything at all, except when my oldest was little and I called myself an attachment parent as often as I possibly could. I only ever wanted to see women. I only ever wanted to hear their stories and be changed by them - even when I thought that the best way to do that was to change them, instead.

I spend a lot less time talking to women about birth now. I listen. I stopped caring years ago whether they had hospital births or homebirths or went unassisted or had a whole cheering squad of nurses in the room when they gave birth. What does that have to do with me?

I stopped telling myself that my births were total nightmares and that I was traumatized. This is not to say I didn't have difficult births in different ways - but at the end of the day my kids and I were here, and we're safe and happy. We're whole, and we love each other, and love the larger world. For me, birth was one day that changed my life, but it's kind of like saying that the wedding is the most important day of your life. What about every day of your marriage? Yes the wedding is important, pivotal and you will never forget- but the real work begins, the real journey begins the very next day with how you treat each other, and how you treat yourself.

I spent years earnestly believing that alternative medicine would work. I believed, when it didn't work sometimes, that I was the problem, not the treatment. I believed that using medicine prescribed by a doctor was a surrender, that I was giving up, that I wasn't willing or able to tow the line of true healing.

Today, I see how we are hurting each other. I see groups on Facebook dedicated to blaming and criticizing the other side of the argument. I see Dr. Amy's hateful vitriol still brings in the viewers and the sad thing is that I can't say I agree with her on some of the things she says publicly without worry about who I might offend.

Don't get me wrong- I didn't drag you through five posts of my story from one side to the other just to ask that we all hold hands and sing around the campfire together. I am hoping that in some way, that in sharing this story that someone else might see themselves within these words.

We are only the experts of ourselves. Just because I know what is right for me, does not mean I know what is right for you.

When we can have a discussion at that level, perhaps some forward movement? When we stop thinking we know everything, that we must defend ourselves, but truly begin to listen - perhaps homebirth can be safer everywhere, and hospital birth more satisfying. Perhaps then we can stop arguing about licensing when it is happening around us whether we're fans of it or not.  Perhaps women will desire to become more informed consumers and we will have a better network to help women process their experiences, too. We have to tell the hard stories- we are not protecting women by selling the idea that hospital birth is bad and homebirth (at any cost) is desirable and better. We are only digging ourselves into a larger hole that will someday be nearly impossible to climb out of.

Back to the Middle, Part 4

Interestingly, as a doula, I pulled more and more away from 'education', and closer to support. It was not my job to educate my clients. I hear my sister doulas heads shaking right now! ;) My clients had already chosen their provider - doc or midwife- and that was not me. It was not my job to inform them of the risks of an epidural or an induction. It was my job to help them develop their questions - if they had any. The longer I practiced as a doula, the less I needed to know. I had taken a Birthing From Within workshop (or two) and also trained with Childbirth International and between them got a great balance of addressing the mentor relationship and providing evidence based information.

Evidence based- that's a phrase we bandy about as if we know what we're talking about. I can count on two hands, maybe three,  the number of studies I've read related to childbirth in my 9 years as a doula. I can probably count on one finger the number of studies I felt I truly understood.

I'd read an article about a study and consider myself informed. If the article came to a conclusion I didn't like, why, it meant that there was some crucial data missing or that someone was uninformed about the complexities of the natural childbirth community. If the article said something I liked, I spread that thing around like wildfire. The funny thing is that both 'sides' of the birth debate do this exact same thing. Dr. Amy for example has tons of experience reading studies and the ability to discern what's being said, or not said- but dismisses Henci Goer's ability to do the same. We don't like being proven wrong, and rather than agreeing that no one is right or wrong, we just disagree on what's being said - we FIGHT.

I appreciated my BFW training because it was then I woke up to the fact that I did not want to be an encyclopedia about birth. I did not want to send my clients home with giant binders of information. I felt that my job as a doula was to lighten their load, not add to it. I learned quickly how to direct my clients questions- especially when they felt that they couldn't trust the answers their providers were offering them. I get a lot of questions about epidurals. I've made it a point to NOT know the answers. I am not an anesthesiologist, and I do not understand the data that's available, and I am not responsible for the welfare of this client. I would suggest htat if my clients had questions that they might set up a meeting to meet with an anesthesiologist ahead of time, so that if they elected to have an epidural that they would choose it knowing fully the risks and benefits. I suggested they do research on their own as well.

Meanwhile I attended a few births with my own OB - watched him let my clients push while standing, push in the bathtub, told the L&D nurses that no vaginal exams were allowed unless he came and did them himself. He spent an hour and a half with me going over my own birth plan - and while we didn't (and don't) agree about everything, he respected me. He listened, and when we both agreed to disagree, he acquiesced on things, and so did I. We found a way to communicate with each other based not in fear (that I would sue/that he would cut me open), but in respect and trust.

It's extremely rare to find an obstetrician who would take the amount of time Dr. C would take, would devote as much of his personal time that he does, and who would see his clients through to the end - which doesn't mean we didn't have 10 minute prenatal visits sometimes but that was fine in those moments. Dr. C healed a lot of the wounds that I believed I had, that I was carrying for others and that I was certainly carrying for the natural birth community - just by being himself and believing in women.

It didn't mean we agreed on everything, he still thinks women in labor shouldn't eat anything - but I'm pecking away at that. ;)

After my third child was born, I was getting pretty sick of the same old stories, same old tricks. I had been run through the Dr. Amy mill on my blog (which is now drastically different as a result) and the Trust Birth faction, I had pissed off my local birth community with innocent comments that came across poorly- I found out that when I started to tell the truth about things I was experiencing, that the birthing community stopped loving me quite so much. You're not a team player if you talk about the fact that things could be better in some ways, and a lot freaking worse in others.

During my pregnancy with her I read books about childbirth again, just to see what was being written - and I noticed a stark lack of 'truth'. The stories about homebirth were largely pretty glorious. I didn't run into homebirth stories that went south. I could turn around and point my finger and hit 10 hospital stories that left women feeling alone, abandoned, dejected or otherwise traumatized.

I started to realize that in our zeal to present out of hospital birth as a reasonable option, we were unwilling to discuss the dirty underbelly - that women and babies get injured, and sometimes die, in childbirth - whether outside the hospital or in.

I noticed that we have a term for crib death, but other than SIDS, nothing for babies who sleep with their parents. A lot of self-righteousness about how wonderful we are as Good Mothers to snuggle with our babies at night, but no compassion whatsoever for those who chose to go another way.

Now I am the mother of a teenager. A teenager! I have friends who now have older children and while my playdates of old were generally a lot of patting each other on the back for how granola we were, and a silent competition for who could be more 'off the grid', now we talk about politics, books we're reading, our marriages. Now we talk in a macro sense about raising children, rather than the minutia. We spend more time talking about how we take care of our souls as women, as human beings- how we make time for ourselves, make sure we have something to pursue as our children grow and need us less and less. It's the polar opposite of how much we could bend over backward to sacrifice more, more, more for our kids. The pendulum swings.

Back to the Middle Part 3

Fortunately I quickly noticed what was happening. My clients were (and have continued through the years to be) brilliant teachers for me. Each one opened my heart and showed me that being a Good Mother could look myriad ways. I started to quickly see that even though a client might not chosen what I was hoping she might (for my desired outcome for birth), that very different things were happening, and that she was happy about her birth! I saw too that when my desired outcome would happen that sometimes the women were wounded by that, too. How could this be?

My chosen culture had told me, and I had perpetuated the belief, that if you had an unmedicated homebirth, you'd have a powerful birth experience that would change your life. Sure, every birth is powerful, but if you could achieve that ultimate, pinnacle experience, why... you were some kind of Super Mother. Your Good Mother status could never be taken from you because you had shown the ultimate trust in your body and baby- gone to lengths not many other women had. You were kind of... the holy grail in a way.

I started to see women having blissful, ecstatic hospital births. I got really comfortable in the hospital- I knew the staff, I knew where everything was, I was generally welcomed, greeted when I walked down the hallways. My clients felt comfortable because I knew so well the terrain they did not- the hospital, the procedures and routines, and birth itself. I saw emergencies and urgencies and a staff that responded quickly and almost always, compassionately and respectfully to my clients.

Where was this butcher shop I'd been hearing about? Where was this disrespectful environment where everyone was salivating outside the labor door to cut the woman for the removal of her baby? For the most part, I wasn't seeing it. I'm not saying it was perfect, but that for the majority of births, I had no major complaints.

I joined ICAN to help with some protest rallies that were happening locally at hospitals that were banning VBAC. I found an even more angry and extreme culture. I started hearing about unassisted birth a lot more, it almost seemed commonplace. I heard words like 'sOB' and 'gutted'. I understood the wounds these women carried even if I did not have them. I started talking to women in a supportive way and getting calls from women who'd had cesareans and needed to talk through it. It was Holy work, and I loved it and still do. The women I spoke to on the phone were processing very distinct and specific experiences. It seemed the online forums were a sort of frenzy of macro-processing- we could all pick apart each other's experiences, we could judge the intentions of every provider (which was almost never good), and we could describe our birth experiences in the most violent ways possible.

While I did see several women moving through their experiences, I also saw others who fed on the anger they experienced from their births, and latched on like lampreys to the anger other women had as well. They perpetuated violence in their word choices, in their inability to keep their thoughts to themselves and their seemingly voracious appetites to be confirmed that yes, they had been hurt and yes, it was wrong. Several times I felt emotionally assaulted over what would have otherwise been small disagreements. The environment felt quite volatile to me and I worried that it was accomplishing what it was intended- a forum for women to process, share information, and heal. I asked who took responsibility when a forum of online women were giving advice to laboring mothers - even posting on an online forum for advice during their labors - and someone died? There was no answer to this question. I removed myself after the protests were over,  now grateful I had a larger vocabulary with which to define how women were experiencing their births.

Finally I had a chance to attend my very first homebirth. Without getting into details, it was not what I expected. I was left upset and angry after the birth and with an injured client - physically changed and emotionally wounded. I was eager to believe that this was an anomaly - homebirths are magical, wonderful places where miracles happen! Women step into their power while the midwife knits in the corner, believing in her with her smile and calm presence. Even though I didn't experience this, I still believed that maybe something was wrong with this particular situation, but that it was unique.

At this phase in my life I was getting care from a naturopath and pursuing a lot of alternative medicine on my own. I'd try almost anything. If my network had good experiences with it and it had a stamp of "no one wants you to know about this!" I was almost sold- and if a naturopath liked it well... it was pretty much a guarantee.

I had a naturopath who made sure to sell me at least three bottles of supplements at every visit. He showed me all of the bottles I would be buying too, if I wasn't on a budget. I felt overwhelmed with all of the supplements I was swallowing every day, and parched of the funds I was throwing at my provider to help me feel better. I believed that even though some of these treatments weren't working the way we'd hoped, that maybe the problem was me, and not the provider, or the treatment. Maybe I was doing it wrong, or thinking about it wrong, or not educated enough.

When I was early in my sexually active life, I couldn't experience orgasms with my partners. I had heard that many women do not have orgasms and I thought, "Well that sucks- I'm one of those. I'm broken in some way. Oh well." I thought that I was the problem- it never occurred to me until much later that maybe I was unskilled, and my lovers were unskilled! Maybe there was no one to fault, it was just a part of the learning process, the development of intimacy. I remember there was a celibrity once on Oprah talking about her upcoming wedding. Oprah asked her, "What are you doing to get ready to wear your dress?" The wise woman responded, "Nothing. I bought a dress that fits my body." Wow!!!

Back to the Middle Part 2

I was the definition of 'breastfeeding nazi'. I was absolutely militant in my stance that every mother who desired to be a 'good' mother, should at least try breastfeeding. Breastfeeding was my entrance card into the Good Mother Club. Without the card, you were obviously, not a good mother.

I was visiting websites like local attachment parenting sites, and the forums. Everything I was seeking out, and being told, affirmed my position. I was probably the most closed minded I'd ever been in my life. I remember having a fight so serious with a friend of mine, that it almost ended our many-year long friendship. My online 'friends' considered this a reasonable loss- if we can not agree about parenting (not just have tolerance, but agree!), then maybe we were not suited to be friends. My heart ached and I wasn't sure how to fix it, but I was also being backed up by my fellow militant mamas so I struggled between my heartache and my closed mind. I went along with the group I'd chosen - I was willing to sacrifice what needed sacrificing, because I had proof my way was right - I was a good mother.

A few years later we got married and decided to have another baby. I'd been hearing about this book, Taking Charge of Your Fertility by Toni Weschler - that women could know their own cycles? That we could understand our bodies better than doctors? This was right up my alley. Doctors only wanted to sell you drugs and surgeries anyway- they didn't know jack shit about a woman's body or a baby's ability to fight off disease. It was all about getting you in for those well baby check ups so they could get the money from your office visit and sell you vaccines- not because you actually needed to be checked on every year.

This distrust in the 'system' was growing. I kept finding places where I'd been told one thing, and then found out that there was an entirely new aspect that I never knew about- that would have vastly changed my relationship with whatever it was. I was willing to believe almost every conspiracy, almost every anti-establishment reason for things being the way they were. I wanted a pediatrician who not only could handle my points of view, but would be supportive as well - of our non-circumcising, non-vaccinating, extended breastfeeding, co-sleeping, gentle discipline lifestyle. I wanted someone who would be happy to see us, relieved even, to have the family who did things 'right' show up, after hours and hours of the 'sheeple' coming through for their antibiotics and questions about crib safety. We'd be the oasis.

Well, that never happened. I found a couple of pediatricians who were pretty cool but definitely didn't see things our way- and so we just stopped really going to a lot of appointments. Part of that was that I didn't feel there was much for them to offer me, but the other piece of that was that despite the fact that I was not adversarial with my providers, (I am the inherent diplomat most of the time!) - the respect was not always extended the same way. This was not helping my point of view that most providers just wanted to make that sale and didn't truly care about you as a family, or as a person.

Let's just say it out loud: I was jaded. I thought I knew the big secrets that had been withheld from me. All the websites were saying it! "Buy this product and find out the secret the medical establishment has been keeping from you!" "What do you mean you had your baby circumcised? Don't you know the pediatricians sell the foreskins to make-up companies? Of course they recommended circumcision!" I knew I was right- confirmation was everywhere.

Eventually I became a doula. In the first year of my doula practice (thankfully I didn't have many clients lol), I thought that my job was to help women understand why an unmedicated birth, and especially a homebirth, was best for them and their babies. I wasn't listening to women tell their stories, I was looking for an 'in' so I could drag them to my way of thinking. My respect for women extended only so far in that they did what I thought was best for them.  Good mothers had their babies at home, outside of the establishment. Good mothers wanted autonomy, to dip their own urine and to say NO to weight checks. Good mothers were practically midwives/pediatricians/obstetricians themselves - why did they need hospitals unless they were sick or high risk? I was guilty of doing to women, in my practice, in my friendships and on the web - what I was so pissed off was done to me by the medical community. Do it my way, or you are wrong. I know best for you, you can't choose for yourself!

Back to the middle - Part 1

I was 20 years old when I had my first child. I'd come from a seriously dysfunctional family of origin and I realized as soon as the nurse at the Health Department said, "Your test was positive," that I knew nothing good about being a mother. I knew in that same moment that I would do absolutely everything in my power to find out what that was, and throw myself into it fully. From day one, I was obsessed with finding out what I'd never been told - how to nurture a human being to become the best they could be.

I read every book the library had on pregnancy and birth. I read Dr. Spock and he warned me to chart my baby's pees and poops and feeds for the first few weeks. I remember thinking, "Is is really this complicated to be a good mom? Oh well, whatever it takes!" I felt disconnected and troubled by all of these books warning me of things I worried endlessly I'd forget, and obviously, instantly fail at mothering my own baby. Then I read Dr. Sears - he is the Ina May Gaskin of parenting - he said, "Trust your instincts. If your body says to hold your baby, then hold her. Keep your baby close, we are mammals and meant to be close to our mothers. Independence will come, just trust your heart, trust your baby, trust yourself."

Consider my hair blown back, and my heart blown open! I was so relieved to hear a message from a pediatrician no less, that I didn't have to have Excel spreadsheets of my baby's ins and outs in order to qualify for the Good Mother Club. I felt like I'd just found some secret- we could trust our babies? We could trust ourselves? I started questioning, and doubting what I'd been hearing my whole life, and what some of these books were saying now. Why was I being sold this story that I had to perform in a certain way to be a good mom- why couldn't I just BE a mom?

Not realizing I had legal options that would have allowed me to choose a different provider, I gave birth under the care of my family practice doctor in our HMO. At the time he was the Chief of Staff and my biggest memory of him was coming in, touching my belly and listening to heart tones, and then standing with his hand on the door asking, "Do you have any questions?" How could I have had questions, I was still trying to sit up and he was halfway out the door! At one point he scheduled the MSAFP test which looked for spina bifida, trisomy 18 and markers for Down's Syndrome. My consent on this test was, "We always run this test at 21 weeks (or whenever it was), it's just a blood test, do you want it?" Of course I wanted it. I was a Good Mother.

What I wasn't told was that this test has a perilously high false-positive rate. I didn't discover this until a nurse left a voice mail message at my house telling me that my baby screened positive for Down's Syndrome, and that I'd need a Level 2 ultrasound. I was shocked - terrified- I was visiting my mother at the time and I asked Randy to drive the hour and a half to come get me, I needed to be with him, and I needed to be home. I had to prepare myself for a life with a Down's baby, I had to process what this would mean for us- I'd just been told my baby had Down's Syndrome and that I'd need some higher level ultrasound - probably involving giant needles and drugs - and I was scared SHITLESS.

I called the nurse back and she was blase'. I asked what a Level 2 ultrasound was and she said, "It just looks in more detail at your baby." I wanted to know the procedure. How big was this needle they were going to poke into me? How long would I be out from what was sure to be a lot of drugs in order to get this giant camera loaded needle shoved into my belly? She didn't understand why I didn't understand what a Level 2 ultrasound was. She explained that it was just another ultrasound, like I'd had before- but the image would be more clear. Well, couldn't someone have said that from the beginning?

We went to the genetic counselor and fortunately all was well with our sweet little boy. But something had been broken in me- my trust. I went online and read all about this test and when I discovered the high rate of false positives, and read other women's stories that were exactly like mine, I was absolutely livid. I felt tricked, lied to, misled. Why didn't my doctor tell me what this test involved, and the risk of taking it? Why didn't he warn me about the false positives so that I'd be prepared in case that happened to me? I started to realize that I didn't have to just accept what I was being told and that maybe part of being a Good Mother was also being informed. I kept reading my books and going on websites for pregnant women with voracity. I wanted to know all of those secrets- I didn't want to be fooled again!

Finally I was 41 weeks and still not going into labor. I didn't know about doulas, this was a pretty new concept at the time - and I hadn't taken any childbirth classes so I sat at home while my boyfriend worked graveyards, unable to drive (because I didn't know how) waiting, and waiting for my baby to come. We had a trip to Iowa for my husband's family reunion coming up and it was getting awful close to the time I might give birth, so I asked to be induced. My doctor of course was accommodating, so we set off for our induction.

My blood pressure had been creeping up but hadn't hit any serious numbers - still in the 135-80 range. Somehow at the hospital I developed pre-eclampsia and a nurse came in and said, "You have pre-eclampsia, we have to give you magnesium sulfate so you don't have seizures." She plugged it into my IV and walked out. I was suddenly out of it, and on fire at the same time. I couldn't get comfortable and now I felt like a caged animal at the same time. My mom and aunt arrived and I asked them to leave because I just couldn't handle the distraction of being stuck in the bed, lit on fire with Pitocin contractions at the same time. I don't remember almost any of my labor.

My baby boy was born and after a brief stint of panic and disassociation on my part, we were working on breastfeeding and sent home, a family. I went home with my baby who had been inside me when I got morphine, magnesium sulfate, and an epidural. The kid was tired and nothing I did would wake him up. His latch was so much work when he would wake up that at one point at 4am (I'm now convinced that all breastfeeding emergencies happen at 4am) I put him down on the bed, crying, while Randy made a bottle and cried my soul out that my baby  hated me and that I was a failure as a mother from the start. I did not know that the drugs from my labor would affect my baby and his ability to breastfeed - I wasn't told even after he was born. I didn't know that breastfeeding would be SO hard. I had thought that with all my reading and time on bulletin boards that I'd know exactly what to do, and when I didn't, it was really earth shattering for me. The bottle crushed me, it crushed my heart- it was the first symbol that I was not going to get this mothering thing 'right'.

I got myself together and I looked at my son and I told him, "We are GOING to figure this out." I was determined. We would feed this baby however he needed to be fed but the first sensation he'd have every time he squawked was my nipple at his lips. Finally, he chose me. My heart was bursting as nursing got easier and easier, and I thought - I can't be the only person who is struggling with breastfeeding!

With the best of intentions and with my confidence up, I went online and started talking with women about breastfeeding - working through troubles, and learning a lot myself.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Birth as Prayer

In the dark the phone rings. It startles me awake and I struggle to sound like I've already been awake for a while. (Why?) My heart races as I grab my bags and race out the door.

Blessed are the police officers who will turn a blind eye to my dark gray vehicle, slinking through the night. 
Blessed are the traffic lights that will turn green just for me.

I drive quickly and my belly fills with the juicy anxiety of not knowing what will happen next. What will I find when I arrive? I pray that I will be a tree, that I will be grounded deeply to the earth and that my vision will be limitless for all possibilities. That my arms will be strong to hold this family, that my heart can carry whatever will come. I drill through neonatal resuscitation, that I will remember what to do if this baby needs my hands to help it.

Blessed are the trees, who remind me.
Blessed are the skilled teachers who prepared me for this birth.

I arrive and slow my breathing. I stand outside the temple of birth, where secret, mysterious and sacred goings-on are hidden inside like a jewel in the night. Everyone around us is unaware to what is unfolding in the steamy, pungent night. I greet the midwife, I greet the family. I set down my things and I wait to see where my energy will slip into the labyrinth.

Blessed are those in vigil, even those who are unknowing.
Blessed are the hands and heart of the midwife, the guide and guardian.
Blessed is the Baby, pushing, rolling, and knowing nothing other than total trust to navigate earthside.
Blessed is the Partner, guardian and defender.
Blessed is the Mother, Holy Vessel for life, unfurling from her.

I greet Death. Welcome, Death, please stand with us as we see this family through their death and rebirth. We, the midwife and I, sit quietly by as this couple dies in front of our eyes. We wait for their first breath of rebirth, which comes with the first breath of their baby. The Underworld is a stop in the journey of birth, one where we pray that the family will not visit long. The death of a couple, reborn into a family. The death of a maiden, reborn as a mother. The death of things that will now fall away, unneeded, deprioritized, and the birth of new priorities, new ways of communicating, new levels of love, and trust. Thank you, Death, for your guardianship, and for stepping away as we claim this family for Life.

Blessed is Death, the sister of Birth, who stands in vigil with us.

In the steamy dark, a cry cuts through us all. An exhalation passes through me while the parents lay tentative hands on their baby, hot and slick on the mother's belly. The pulse of the cord beats between mother and baby, the clock ticks while we assess that the transition has completed and that Sister Death will not be needed today. We sit back and watch the baby's eyes and mouth and hands open to explore the soft, yielding flesh of the mother, and the mouths, eyes and hearts of the parents open to greet their baby.

Blessed is the Opening.