Friday night I officially wrapped up my first class series with our class reunion! It was a joy to sit down with my students, to have a meal together, and reminisce over their pregnancy and birth, and discuss the joys - and hardships - of new parenthood. I am thankful to have served them as both a childbirth educator and a doula. To see their childbirth journey through to the end, to see them put what they've learned into practice, was amazing.
There was a definite learning curve with teaching my first birth class. Keeping within the time frame and making discussions and activities flow smoothly can be a challenge when you've never put it all together on your own before. Thankfully, Ben and Liz are a gracious couple and were forgiving when we went an hour past our 2.5 hour class time - on more than one occasion. (Thanks, y'all.) But perhaps the biggest learning curve was that they were expecting identical twins!
Generally, the curriculum remains the same for such a situation. You practice the same labor positions, relaxations, comfort measures, and discuss the same prenatal tests, newborn care, and variations of labor. The challenge came in specific discussions about delayed cord clamping, earlier induction talks, and the sheer amount of ultrasounds that were required by their care provider. I had some research to do! (Shoutout to the instructors who provided good information and resources. You ladies rock!)
After 10 weeks of feeling both great and disappointed in my teaching - they were getting plenty of great information and having a good time, but it was hard to fit it all into our given time slot - it was finished. All that was left to do was wait for the babies to come. And I was on call as a backup doula.
The morning came a few weeks earlier than expected - Liz went into labor at 35 weeks. Her doula was in Dallas, signing on a house. I got to fulfill my role as a backup doula. There is nothing quite like the rush of being en route to a birth!
Did I mention that they put everything they learned into practice? Well, I meant it. Liz's labor slowed upon arrival at the hospital. Instead of accepting the Pitocin recommended by her OB, we made the environment fit her birth plan, she changed positions often, Ben snuck her snacks and water, and the list goes on and on of things they did to progress labor naturally. My instructor heart even swelled with a bit of pride when I saw the Top 10 Tools for Dad card tucked away in Ben's pocket. After just a few hours of active labor, Margaret and Dorothy were born. Liz and Ben had the amazing birth(s) for which they had hoped and prepared. And I was lucky enough to see it happen.
My first series taught me more than I expected. I got a better idea of how to keep activities and discussions within our time frame. I just finished class 8 of my second series, and the most I have extended our time is 20 minutes. I even finished our last class a few minutes early! (Thank you to my current students for the same grace exhibited by Ben and Liz.) I learned a lot about twins, and I have an itch to learn more! The most important thing I learned, though, is that nothing will ever be perfect on your first attempt - and that's okay. Practice makes better. Whenever I am teaching, I am also learning. And I hope to keep learning for a long time.
These are some of my favorite photos that I took at the birth of Margaret and Dorothy:
*Photos and names used with permission.
Natural birth. Some people cringe at the thought. Some may imagine barefoot women with sunflowers in their hair diffusing essential oils and eating organic hummus. Natural birth seems to be brushed off as being reserved for the "crunchiest" members of society. I would like to nip that stereotype in the bud and say that childbirth sans pain medication is for all women!
Why go natural? Let me count the ways! Avoiding pain medication is not out of a fear of "big pharma." Studies show that epidurals can actually increase your chances of needing further medical intervention (i.e., labor augmentation via Pitocin, or Cesarean section). This is referred to as the "Cascade of Interventions." Nobody wants to increase their chances of having major abdominal surgery!
Another reason to avoid medications during labor is so that your hormones can operate without interference. Your brain is releasing very specific amounts of oxytocin, endorphins, adrenaline, and other hormones to progress labor, to keep you going, and even to relieve pain! Dr. Sears compares this process to the conduction and performance of a great musical symphony. Medications of any kind disrupt the production of these hormones so that they are no longer working in harmony with one another. This dissonance can result in a lack of that beautiful rush of oxytocin - aka the love hormone - when baby is born. Believe me, you want the oxytocin!
Finally, I often hear women say that they are not strong enough or that their pain tolerance is too low to give birth without an epidural. Listen - if I can do it, anyone can! I'm pretty sure my toddler has a higher pain tolerance than I do. But, as I noted earlier, your body is making hormones to fight the pain! And the greatest thing? It is totally empowering! Giving birth without medication has the power make you feel like you can accomplish anything! It was definitely one of the greatest self-efficacy boosters I have ever experienced.
So, to the average woman I say "Natural birth is for you!" You don't need super strength, and you don't have to be one with Mother Nature. If you are educated and have a supportive birth team, then you can absolutely achieve a natural birth. No organic hummus required.
When I was pregnant, I had quite a few people in my life who didn't believe in my ability to have an unmedicated birth. They thought I would regret my choice to go without the epidural because, surely, I couldn't handle that much pain. They believed midwifery was inferior to obstetrics and that I would surely be in more danger giving birth at a birth center. And giving birth in water? Wouldn't the baby drown?
Despite the discouragement, I was confident in my willpower and ability to give birth without pain medication. My husband and I were well-prepared, and we had a great birth team. Plus, when someone tells me I can't achieve something, I get even more motivation to do it. Sometimes being stubborn has its advantages, I suppose.
Preparation is Everything
So what was it that gave me - the girl prone to crying over a stubbed toe - this confidence? It was the education I had gained by taking a Birth Boot Camp class with my husband. When we started the class, I actually wasn't so sure that I could accomplish what seemed to be a Herculean task. But as we learned about the balance of hormones and progression of labor, various methods to cope with and relieve pain, and about the midwifery model of care, I became more certain that this was what I wanted and that I would be able to do it. I went from fearing birth to looking forward to it.
The birth of my daughter was incredible. I actually look forward to being able to go through labor again someday. Birth Boot Camp truly empowered both me and my husband to achieve the birth we desired, and I want to share that empowerment with more couples. Natural birth takes a lot of physical, spiritual, and mental preparation. If I didn't have that, then I could have easily given in to the discouraging comments I received.
Education Relieves Fears
I have noticed that my friends have all sorts of questions about pregnancy and birth. Unfortunately, it isn't a topic that women know a lot about in the United States. I believe that lack of knowledge is part of what perpetuates this fear of childbirth. It makes people believe that natural birth is only for the strongest of women. That midwives are not truly qualified care providers. That childbirth is constantly on the edge of catastrophe. Lack of knowledge is what breeds discouragement. One class at a time, I am hoping to help break this cycle.
You CAN Have an Amazing Birth!
I decided to become a Birth Boot Camp instructor so that couples can learn that natural birth is possible and so they can face it without fear. Couples should feel strong, not discouraged or fearful, when thinking about the birth of their children. I had an amazing birth, and so can you!