Tuesday, November 19, 2013

When birth goes not according to plan

May I be honest for a minute? Not the kind of honest where I finally start telling the truth after speaking nothing but lies, but the kind of honest where I just allow the thoughts to come as they are and I don't edit for public consumption. Good. Thanks. I'm glad we're on the same page. I just feel like I need to get these words out of me before I burst into tears. 

What I want to say is this. Not all the births I attend are those amazing, empowering, warrior births that you hear about (in natural birthing circles). There. I said it. Please don't hate me!

Sometimes birth doesn't go according to plan. Not in the, "Oh, I wanted a water birth but didn't get one in time," or, " I changed my mind about pain meds, and I have no regrets" sort of way. It's those situations where things change so drastically that you thank God or whatever higher power you believe in that modern medicine is available to save lives if its gotten to that point. Sometimes I come home crying from a birth because, "What would have happened to her way back in the day?" And I know exactly what would have happened to her, and I start to cry harder. And I have to tip my hat to modern medicine, which at the same time it makes my doula heart cringe, because gosh darn it, why do they have to meddle with stuff so much when they don't need to, when everything is going well, but I'm glad you're here when I really need you, but please don't make me feel guilty and ashamed for not wanting to need you in the first place. Because sometimes we truly do need you, and sometimes we didn't want that at all. 

Being a doula and pouring my heart and soul into supporting moms and their families is so wonderfully enriching, but sometimes it leaves me in tears when I witness how hard a mom worked to bring her baby into the world and it goes beyond "not according to plan." When I attend a mother, her wishes become my wishes for her. Her hopes become my hopes for her. If she wants to give birth to the moon and back, by golly, I am going to pack extra fuel for the shuttle ride. I'll show up wearing my spacesuit ready to support her in the BEST MOON BIRTH EVER!

When births go "not according to plan" I do a lot of reflection afterward. Did I do enough? Did I do too much? Was I in the way? Did I support her in the way she needed? Did my presence actually hinder her progress? What if I would have just said that one thing or suggested that one position change? I'm not trying to sound like I am having a hero complex here. I know there are a lot of factors that determine how births unfold and very little of them have anything to do with me. But I just never ever ever ever want to hurt a mother. EVER. I never want to hinder her in any way. 

There is a moment with every couple I have served so far where I just see them, and it takes my breath away. I feel such awe for them. Sometimes that moment happens in the prenatal meetings. They don't even notice, but my arms get tingly, a wave of chills passes over me, and my arm hairs stand on end. I think, "These people are amazing. Just amazing." But it always happens at the birth. That moment. That, "Look at her. She's amazing, " moment. My eyes water, and I have to choke back tears for a split second and just marvel at what is before me. My admiration and reverence run deep for that split second that thankfully goes unnoticed by anyone but maybe the Divine, and I give thanks that I was able to be a witness to the majesty of that birthing mama. I will always be in complete awe of the mothers I serve for the rest of my life, even if we never meet again. I will always consider that time with them as sacred time and some of the most cherished memories of my life. 

Another thing that bothers me are the growing pains of gaining experience. Naturally a more experienced doula than I is a wealth of knowledge. She's "been there, done that" way more than I. Even with my modest two years of experience, which is exponentially more than when I started, I think back to my first few doula births. Oh, how much better I could have served those families, even as a two-years-in-the-field baby doula. If only I had known then what I know now. I can't help but wish that those mamas had benefited from the now me. I guess as I learn more and more, my future clients will have access to a more experienced doula than my current clients. It will always be that way. I'll always be the same Kristi. We'll have a connection or we won't. We'll work together or we won't, but I will always strive to do the best with the tools I have. It's just so very humbling how every birth is so different, and I learn so much from each one. 

Monday, November 11, 2013

4 Reasons why Hiring a Doula won't help you have a better birth

Sometimes I start to formulate a blog post in my head at the most inopportune times. Like, in the car. While driving. Sometimes these blog posts make it to publication. Sometimes they don't.  Sometimes they get thrown away because I'll write my notes on the back of a receipt that I luckily left in my floorboard. Sometimes I record my thoughts on a voice recorder app on my phone. Those have yet make it into a blog post. They seem to sound better in my head than they would in writing.

Blogging on the go
About a month ago, I was running late to a Girls' Night Out after teaching flute lessons. I started to think about some of the things I told my students that day and related them to some of the things I say to my doula clients. There are a lot of similarities. Especially when it comes to preparation, breathing, and relaxation. I started to think about online conversations I have read while perusing my favorite natural childbirth forums. I found a piece of paper and began to scratch notes out at every red light between the school and my friend's house.

Time and time again, I have seen questions such as, "What can I do to have a natural birth?" or "What can I do to have a VBAC?" The same advice is given each time, just presented a little differently each time. One piece of advice that always comes up is, "Hire a doula."

When I first became a doula, I would see that and think, "Heck yeah! Hire a doula! I'm a doula! Doulas are awesome." As I have been doing this for a few years now, I see that advice and think a little differently. It appears that I am not the only one thinking about this lately.

Hiring a doula is a very important step in achieving your ideal birth, but it does not guarantee that you will have the birth you want. It doesn't even guarantee a great birth. In fact, you might leave your birth feeling very let down by the experience and everyone involved. That's one of those inexplicable mysteries of birth. I know you know what I am talking about. "I did everything right and still ended up with..."

So the past few years have gotten me thinking. Hiring a doula is really good advice. However, there's more to it than that. Here are four reasons why it's not enough to just hire a doula.

1. You have to do the work. A doula can't make you prepare for birth. 

The advice "hire a doula" reminds me of some of the flute students and even fellow flute friends I've encountered throughout the years. When I was in high school, I had a few younger flutists come up to me around All-Parish Honor Band audition time and say, "Make me good." Huh? Make you good? What does that even mean? They would want to have a sort of flute slumber party where we would gather together for hours on end and practice the music. But it was too late. They hadn't been practicing all along. Audition day came, nerves got to them, and they didn't make the group. I have students who don't give it all they have for months before Region Band auditions, and then the last lesson or two before the audition, they finally panic. They start to give it their all. I'm happy they are finally trying, but it's usually too late. They don't make the group, whereas my students who have consistently practiced and worked hard all semester generally do very well. I only meet with my students once a week for 30 minutes at a time. It's up to them to spend the rest of the week practicing the material. I can't make them practice. I can give them tips on how to make their music sound better, I can give them tips on how to practice more effectively, and I can try to motivate and inspire them to want to practice. But I can't follow them home. I can't force them to spend time with the flute on their face.

One of my favorite parts of lessons is when a student comes the next week who has just blossomed since the previous week. I'll ask, "What did you do? You sound great!" Just about every time I ask, the answer is, "I practiced."

Oh, really? You mean, that's what it takes? Of course, that's what's in my brain. What I say is, "That's great. It looks like that is working really well for you. Keep it up!"

2. You have to want it. Really want it. This is your birth.

Throughout the years, my flute students have taught me that I can't want it more than them. If my students don't want to improve, if they don't want to make the top group at school, if they don't want to make Region or All-State groups, it won't happen. It doesn't matter how much I want those things for them, it's not going to happen if they don't want it first. They don't even have a shot if they don't want it. My students that really want it, that really really want to do it, will put in the necessary work. In order to preserve my sanity, I've had to learn to only want it as much as they do. The same applies to birth. If a mama wants it, she will do what it takes.

3. There's more to achieving the birth you want than hiring a doula.

What does it mean to do what it takes? It means to stack the cards in your favor in order to achieve success. Do you want a VBAC? Hire a VBAC friendly provider. Not just a provider who is willing to give you a trial of labor, but a provider who has an outstanding reputation for being truly VBAC supportive. (Need some names? If you are in the Houston area, I have some for you. If not, ask your doula, childbirth educator, or other moms who have had a VBAC.) Do you want a natural birth? Hire a truly natural birth friendly provider, hire a doula and do the work she gives you, and take a good childbirth education class. Read your butt off. There is a lot to know out there. If you aren't willing to do the work, there is a good chance that the fact that you hired a doula won't be enough to make your ideal birth happen.

4. Sometimes things don't work out despite our best efforts. 

Finally, occasionally some of my students work so very hard, do everything I ask them to do, and it still doesn't work out. They still don't make that group they wanted to make. They still don't get into Really Awesome School University. I was that kid. It sucks. I hate seeing my students do everything in their power to achieve their goals and things out of their control keep them from their dreams. It really sucks. However, I can't help but believe there is more in our power than we realize. There is more we can do to make things happen than we realize. But when we've done everything in our power and it still doesn't work out? That's another post for another day.