Labor lessons learned

Week 2 of Baby: 10/29/2007

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In writing up Lena's birth story this week, I realized that I have--yikes--still more to say on the topic.

First, a clarficiation: I would never go on so much about this unless A) we were swapping tales over beer, and you were one of my favorite and most graphic friends, or B) I was writing a blog that purported to be about pregnancy. Since I don't see you in my living room with a bottle opener, I'm going to go with B.

Humbly offered, with plenty of apologies, advice from the other side

Again, with all of you in mind who have yet to give birth, I thought some of this might be helpful. Feel free to (silently, because I'm sensitive) tell me to take a hike.

1. Choose your birth place wisely

This one might seem obvious. But in my admittedly limited experience, I've found a striking range of emphases at different hospitals and birth centers. We had a choice of two hospitals, and chose the one that's a longer distance from our house. Why? Mostly, it was a vibe thing. I had the sense that the closer hospital, though pretty to look at and giving lip service to all the right ideas, was a traditional hospital setting in touchy-feely clothing. And that the one that we chose might look like a traditional hospital, but has no-nonsense midwives at the helm, running things with a firm but non-interventionist grip. One tip-off was that the closer hospital allows water labors, but not water births--they theoretically can make you get out of the tub right before you start pushing. Another was that on the tour of the closer hospital, they boasted about having monitors that allowed nursing staff to check on women without actually walking into their rooms. These two things weren't make-or-break items on my checklist, but did indicate a mindset that made me squirmy. But again, mostly it was a feeling I got from talking to the midwives at each practice. I'm so glad I followed that hunch--my experience with the practice and at the hospital was exactly what I wanted. (That's Deb, our midwife, and Patti, our nurse, listen to me rattle on about how I couldn't believe it went as well as it did.)

2. Doula, doula, doula

We wondered if hiring a doula (labor assistant) would be overkill. After all, second babies tend to come earlier and easier than first. What if she'd just be standing in the corner while I did my thing? Well, not only did Michelle (giving me a massage)

go above and beyond in helping me deal with the pregnancy that would not end--including a home visit and I don't want to even think about how many phone calls--but honestly? Even if she had just stood in the corner while I did my thing, I'm still certain her presence would have helped me along. Having one constant person with you--someone you know and trust, who understands who you are, and whatever your hopes and trepidations are upon going into labor--can only be a good thing. Nurses can be wonderful, but you never know who you're going to get, and their job responsibilities include a zillion things they have to take care of--charting, checking vital signs, getting equipment ready--that aren't specifically about patient care. It's too bad that hospitals don't provide doulas as standard practice, especially since their presence has been found to reduce the number of C-sections, epidurals, and episiotomies. For now, it's up to individual pregnant women to seek out and pay for doulas on their own. But if I had to recommend one expense in this whole endeavor, this would be it. I am confident that my labor went as smoothly as it did largely due to Michelle's helpful advice, and how comfortable I felt with her.

3. Learn to love your contractions

I've recently learned that at Sylvia's daycare, kids are discouraged from saying that they don't like certain foods. One of her friends apparently announced that she doesn't like tomatoes. "You mean, 'I'm learning to like tomatoes,'" she was told by one of the teachers. (When she wouldn't go along with this wording, and kept announcing that in fact, she doesn't like tomatoes, she was given a time-out for not listening. When the head teacher went over to the time-out space and said, "Do you know why you're here?" The girl said, "Yes. Because I don't like tomatoes." I think she's probably right.)

Ordinarily, I'd like contractions about as much as Sylvia's friend likes tomatoes. But now that I've experienced labor really strenuously trying to avoid and deny the pain of the contractions using hypnobirthing, and this labor, in which I tried to welcome and use each contraction to its fullest, I say go with the second option.

(There are my friend Katherine and nurse Patti, talking me through one of them in the tub.) It helped that my pregnancy went on forever (have I mentioned this before?), so each contraction felt like blessed relief. And it also helped that I was already somewhat dilated. With a lot of helpful nudging from Michelle, the nurses, and Aron, I was able to stay loose and open to the contractions--see them as the helpful force they were--and that feels like it helped speed up the process. Until I tried crawling out of my skin to get away from them. After all, learning to like contractions is distinctly different from actually liking them.

I've got more, but I'll stuff it. (Except to say: Consider being on hands and knees while you're pushing! Okay, now I'm done.) And next week, I promise, I'll fill you in on the Land of Newborn!

Join writer Emily Bloch each week as she chronicles her pregnancy--and now, life with a new baby.