Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Thoughts and Ramblings on Pregnancy and Childbirth....from a first-timer

In our 21st century American culture, we have this mainstream idea that pregnancy is miserable and childbirth the most excruciating experience of a woman’s life. We’re given lots of sympathetic looks while pregnant, and many “I’m sure you can’t wait to have it over with” comments. We hear about how terrifyingly painful childbirth is, but that it will be over before long. Well-intentioned, yes. Accurate portrayal of God’s plan for pregnancy and childbirth, not so much so.

Our modern-day ideas about pregnancy and childbirth are not only inaccurate, but are cheating thousands of women out of experiencing what God intended to be one of the most incredible experiences in a woman’s life. They’ve far distorted what God had in mind for child-bearing women. Pregnancy and childbirth are one of the biggest things a woman will go through in her lifetime. For a woman who understands God’s plans, it’ll be one of the most amazing experiences of her life. For a woman who’s educated by our culture, it’ll be horrific and terrifying. For both, it’ll be an unforgotten and life changing experience.

Pregnancy and childbirth don’t have to be terrifying experiences- God has a better way. I believe God designed this phase of life to bless a woman, as much as to bring children into the world. He wanted women to be able to embrace having children, enjoy the process, and become even more fulfilled as a woman through it. He designed it to be work, which isn’t always comfortable, but not to be terrifying. In His love for us, He gave us the gift of pregnancy, childbirth, and motherhood.

If we want God’s path of pregnancy and childbirth, we have to seek to educate ourselves. Most women who suffer in childbirth do so only because of their and their doctor/midwife’s lack of education, as well as a tainted perspective. I think it’s of greatest importance that each woman research and educate herself thoroughly.

I also believe doctors, midwives, doulas, etc., have a responsibility to educate themselves thoroughly, and pass on that wisdom to their clients. We live in a society that assumes medical professionals know everything and will do what’s best for us. While this is irresponsible on the part of the general public, it’s also an opportunity for medical professionals to use their positions to help women experience the best pregnancy and birth possible, or to mislead them.

Women should seek to educate themselves about God’s perspective, how her body functions, and how each aspect of pregnancy and childbirth works and is working for her. If a woman’s in tune with her body, she’ll be more apt to appreciate discomfort, knowing it’s working for her in one way or another, or at the very least, providing a reminder of life. It sounds strange, but I was really excited when I started feeling more lower back and pelvic pressure, because I could tell the baby had moved down, preparing for birth.

Further, education gives confidence, which naturally tears away fear, and therefore, pain. Fear is a large cause of pain in childbirth, and fear is caused by a lack of education or being misguided. If every woman was educated about her body and how pregnancy and childbirth are designed to work, we’d be well on our way to incredible experiences. An educated woman is a confident woman.

Another area we’ve erred in is blurring the line between discomfort and pain. When someone tells you their childbirth was “pain free” they aren’t necessarily saying it was a walk in the park. Childbirth is work, and like all other forms of work, generally brings some level of discomfort. If you’re going to run a marathon, you’re going to put some uncomfortable work into it, and likely put up with rather sore muscles afterwards. If you spend 15 hours canning tomatoes, your feet will likely not be feeling their hottest at the end. But you wouldn’t be likely to classify any of these activities as painful. Likewise, in most cases, childbirth shouldn’t be painful- only a lot of work.

When a woman acknowledges something as “pain”, it serves only to ignite fear, causing more pain. It’s a vicious cycle, and a large percentage of women fall into it. As humans, we naturally shirk away from pain. We do anything to avoid it- we’ll even work to avoid pain. So when a woman anticipates pain in childbirth, she naturally tenses up and becomes more fearful.

All this said, I do recognize there are some pregnancies and childbirths which truly are unavoidably painful, and I don’t discredit that. There are certain valid complications which the best of education or mind set could not swerve around. There are women who have to be on bed rest their whole pregnancies, women who can’t keep anything down during pregnancies, births where things go wrong, emergency c-sections required. There are non-pregnant people who deal with intense pain everyday of their lives, too. We live in a fallen world, and therefore, we will experience pain at different points.

The problem: pain and complications are exceptions to the rule, not the rule itself. And in our culture, we’ve made pain and complications the rule. Only a small percentage of women experience truly difficult pregnancies or complication-riddled deliveries….yet we’ve been taught to believe that this is just what every woman must endure if she’s going to have children.

*I choose to distinguish between the words “pain” and “discomfort” not because one word is better than the other, or because it’s a sin to refer to the discomfort you deal with as “pain”. Rather because, in our society, pain is seen as a frightening thing that we shirk from, and has a lot of negative connotations. It’s not really a matter of what word you use, it’s your perspective, and the mental pictures each word gives you. If used negatively, it seems unproductive to constantly toss around the word, educating everyone else on how painful/miserable childbirth is. On the other hand, there’s nothing wrong with acknowledging that a particular aspect of childbirth was painful…in the sense of “this hurt, or was uncomfortable”. We’re talking here about the fact that a woman’s picture of childbirth shouldn’t be someone shrieking in terror and pain, beyond miserable- it should be one of joy even through the strenuous work, and sometimes discomfort of labor. It’s perspective and the associations we have with certain words, not the words themselves.*

My pregnancy was a wonderful experience. I owe at least part of that to the health I’ve been blessed with, but I think an even larger amount is owed to my mom, for her perspective, and the education I sought out.

My mom is the perfect model of a top-notch attitude towards pregnancy. If every woman was like her, we’d have a lot of round, happy women! Her pregnancies aren’t perfectly easy, per se. In fact, though I know some women who deal with more issues than she does, most women I know have pregnancies with much milder “side effects” than hers. She has excellent 2nd and 3rd trimesters, but her 1st trimesters aren’t ones very many would want to trade for. Nonetheless, she loves the way God created the female’s body, and all the details He put into designing us for carrying and giving birth to children. I’m really grateful for the head start Mom gave me with her attitude!

In addition, I invested some time, both before and after marriage, in seeking an education in pregnancy, childbirth, and all the functions of a female’s body. This was really helpful! Some of it was from books, some from talking a lot to my mom, midwife, and other moms who’ve already been there and done that. I had a fair amount of time for reading during my 1st trimester, since I was too sick to do much else on many days, and delved into a variety of books. Some I appreciated, some I didn’t. I sought out books that had a positive perspective towards the child bearing season of a woman’s life. Books where pregnancy and childbirth were encouraged as a beautiful, natural thing, not just books that prepare you for the worst, and encourage that you’ll make it through eventually.

I also realized how important a healthy attitude was. While a positive perspective didn’t make everything clear sailing, or take away all the morning sickness effects, it was helpful in continuing to look forward, and express gratitude for what God had chosen to bless us with.

God provided me with a very healthy 2nd and 3rd trimester, free from any complications, for which I’m extremely grateful. I feel so blessed to not have any complications, or reasons for concern. Not every woman has this blessing, but I would guess the vast majority do. Some have really healthy 1st trimesters, but complications arise in the 3rd trimester. Some have more issues all the way through. Sometimes, education only goes so far- you might be able to find cures or aids for the things you struggle with, or you may not. However, while it doesn’t cure either, a healthy attitude will go a long ways, too, as I’ve seen in action from some of the women I respect the most around me. I’ve also seen the effects of a negative attitude from other women.

My pregnancy has had some typical discomforts (nothing out of the ordinary, or like some of the special complications some women have to deal with), especially towards the end, but I’ve been able to thoroughly enjoy them, understanding what each thing is doing. Some of them “felt” more uncomfortable before I understood what was going on. For example, I’ve had a fair amount of lower abdominal cramping. I personally just don’t like cramping, and find it to be uncomfortable. When I learned that it was just caused, though, by preparations my body was making, and by the position of the baby at that particular moment, it didn’t bother me very much. Instead, it just became a reminder of the little one God had blessed us with, who was preparing for her entry into the world. As mentioned earlier, because I knew what was causing it, lower back and pelvic pressure wasn’t nearly as uncomfortable as I could’ve classified it. Contractions were welcome signs that my body was slowly preparing for the big job ahead. No, the various “complaints” weren’t always comfortable, and there were times when I had to slow down or adjust something to accommodate them. But they weren’t a bad thing at all, and I think that’s mostly because I knew it was my body getting ready for the birth. I felt really privileged to be able to feel my body and the baby preparing for the birth, and with each passing day, began to anticipate the coming event all the more, as my body prepared for it, and I prepared the surroundings and checked off items on my to-do list.

Viviana’s birth was a wonderful experience. It wasn’t perfectly “pain-free” per se, and had its discomforts and difficulties, but over all, it went really well. It was a longer labor, ending with a long pushing session, but it was a beautiful process, and what God designed my body for. God created my body to give birth to Viviana, and realizing this, I was really excited about giving birth. Was I tired by the end? Absolutely….but so is one who’s just run a marathon or spent a long day on the job. While it didn’t go “perfectly” according to some definitions, I felt like it was living proof that attaining joyful child-birthing is entirely possible. Being first time around, my body had to work a lot harder to prepare for something it’d never done before. I also learned things through trial and error- generally we all learn plenty from hind-sight. I was grateful for what I already knew through study and talking to other moms, as the knowledge of what was going on, what I needed to do, and my perception of childbirth affected it in such a huge way even my midwife commented on the fact. After 30 hours of labor, I learned that it takes a whole lot of concentration and work to relax through contractions- and being really tired, I didn’t succeed through each contraction on that account. But I took something else from the birth, too….I lived out the fact that birth is a beautiful thing, a gift, God gave to women. Though it’s work, it’s rewarding, with so many beautiful emotions. I lived the fact that childbirth is nothing akin to torture (though I could also see how, if you prefer it to be that way, you can make it so!). You might not be able to make your birth a walk in the park- some things just aren’t comfortable- but you can choose to make it a good, rewarding experience which you look back on positively and share with others positively. Moreover, you can, as I did, have an experience which makes you look forward to experiencing it all again, instead of driving fear and dread into you.

In conclusion, God designed the child bearing years of a woman’s life to be beautiful and full of abundant life and joy. They aren’t always perfect, and there are discomforts along the way, but God created our bodies for this season, and child bearing is a part of who we are. Our very name, “woman”, implies that our wombs are a beautiful part of us. Nonetheless, each woman is unique. God wrote each woman’s life story individually and your story will never look like anyone else’s. How many children God blesses you with, your pregnancies, and each birth, are uniquely your life. All your birth stories will be different, and some may be riddled with complications. Some might be more “pain-free” than others. None of my future birth stories will be like Viviana’s. Some pregnancies or post-partum seasons may have more issues than others, and each birth will be unique. But the bottom line is that this is what God created us for, and we’d be doing ourselves and those around us a favor if we embraced His plan.

Let’s seek to educate ourselves so we understand better what God’s plan is, and follow it up with embracing who we are as women. Let’s encourage each other and counter our culture’s mindset about pregnancy and childbirth, spreading light and a positive perspective.

Viviana's Birth Story

Dearest Viviana Marie,

You arrived! May 18, 2010 at 9:37am. You were 8lbs 2oz, 20 ¾” long, and had a 14” head. You have lots of gorgeous dark hair, and big, dark eyes. You’re a precious, beautiful bundle of joy, and you couldn’t ask for parents who love and adore you more. And here, Sweet Girl, is the story of your birth- a story so perfect only God could’ve written it…

For about a week leading up to your birth, I started having more consistent contractions, on and off. They were still very light, but would often stay at a consistent rate apart for a few hours, before dwindling off, and then pick up again later. My body was preparing and getting ready for the big day! On Saturday, the 15th, I lost my mucus plug, as my body continued to prepare. We had a busy weekend with Daddy’s ultimate tournament, and visiting the zoo to celebrate Uncle Brenner’s birthday, but not much in the way of contractions. My midwife, Cindy Rogel (who was also Grandma Carmichael’s midwife for several babies, and Grandma Graber’s for one), was going to be out of town the following week, due to family stuff that had come up, so you ended up being delivered by her back-up, Joselle Weiss. I got to meet her earlier in the pregnancy, because Cindy also had a daughter getting married around my due date, and got to see Joselle in action at a friend’s birth. Her philosophies were very similar to Cindy’s, and there were a lot of things I appreciated about her, so after a brief stress-out over the large time frame Cindy wouldn’t be available, I decided that God knew who was needed at your birth, and would arrange the timing accordingly.

Monday morning I woke up around 1, and every 15 or 20 minutes afterwards with cramping and contractions that were quite a bit stronger than the previous Braxton Hicks. Around 3, they became firmer, and were a steady 4-5 minutes apart, lasting 45-75 seconds. I couldn’t sleep through them, so I got up and did some light housework, in preparation for the possibility of that being your birthday. Around 4:45 I decided to call Grandma C., and ask what she thought. I didn’t want to ask her and the midwife to come out early if it wasn’t the real thing yet, but everything seemed consistent, and significantly different from all the previous prep my body had done. She though it sounded good, and I should call Joselle, so I woke Dad up and asked him to start filling the pool. I called Joselle a little after 5 to give her a head’s up, and she suggested my calling again in an hour or so to let her know where things were at.

Around 5:20 contractions started gaining in intensity, and became a little closer. I started craving getting in the water, and was looking forward to having the pool filled. In the meanwhile, I focused on getting things ready for the birth, and relaxing through the contractions. At 6:30 I got in the pool, and it finished filling shortly thereafter. Joselle thought she should come out and check on things, so Grandma arrived at 7:10, and Joselle a few minutes later. Being in the water slowed things down a little bit, but contractions still stayed 4-5 minutes apart.

At 9:15 I got out of the pool, and Joselle did the first internal exam. Because of how the cervix was positioned, and how high up it was, she couldn’t feel how far I was dilated. She said, though, that baby’s head was in a perfect position and once the cervix moved into place, I would probably dilate very effectively. She was right- but it was a long time before the cervix moved into place. If I could do it again, now having felt and experienced labor, I probably would’ve worked at going through the day more normally, instead of focusing on the fact I was in labor. Having no previous experience to compare it to, though, your birth was mostly a learning curve for me.

Around 11:30am I got out of the pool at Joselle’s suggestion, and stayed out for the rest of the day. I spent the rest of the day alternating walking around, resting, sitting on the birthing ball, etc. I tried napping during the afternoon, and Daddy laid down with me, touching me and helping lull me to sleep in between contractions. I had a couple more internal exams through out the day- she could feel that I was dilated to about 1 centimeter, but the cervix was still really high and needed to drop before things could start moving.

Joselle had a prenatal to do in the evening, and ended up going home after that. It was slightly disappointing to be at what felt like a stand still- but I was really tired, and thought maybe labor would just taper off and kick back in in the morning, which was a welcome idea. I was also encouraged by the fact that no matter what I did or didn’t do, labor didn’t go away, so we would be holding you soon. Grandma decided to stay the night, at our request. We decided to watch a movie, but my contractions picked up a lot in intensity, and got closer together. I had to work harder at relaxing through them. Around 9, I got in the pool to try and take the edge off the contractions, hoping maybe they’d slow down some and I could sleep a little. It didn’t seem to help too much, so we decided to go to bed around 11. I threw up, and contractions continued to get stronger. They were 90 seconds long, and about 3 minutes apart. Daddy worked really hard at getting me to relax through the contractions and rest in between. He was a wonderful support- your birth was completely a team effort, that couldn’t have been nearly the beautiful story it was without Dad. He gently reminded me to relax when I started tensing up. I decided to try standing in the hot shower, because I couldn’t sleep and was having a hard time dealing with the contractions lying down. It helped slightly, and I stayed in till the hot water ran out, then went in the living room for a while. Around 1:30, I went in Grandma’s room to talk to her about the new developments. She was up, and suggested we drain a little of the water in the pool (it was pretty cool the night before) and refill with hot water. Daddy, who managed to fall asleep for about an hour, after I had assured him I wanted him to try sleeping and would get him if I needed him, came out and helped with the pool draining/filling.

It felt nice to get in the water again, though the contractions were still really intense. I was so tired I kept falling asleep during the 30-60 seconds between contractions. It took a lot of effort, energy, and work to relax through the contractions- more than I had anticipated. Since I was so tired I kept slipping into loosing my focus once the contraction hit its peak point. Daddy quietly cheered me on, reminding me I was doing a great job, prayed for me, and supported me physically. Grandma kept reminding me to relax when she saw me start to tense up during a contraction. She was a perfect mix- understanding and encouraging, but forceful about the fact that I needed to relax, pointing out when certain body parts started tensing up. I started each contraction determined to relax through it, but started to loose my focus more than once. Daddy’s emotional support was such a huge encouragement, especially when I felt like I wasn’t doing as well at handling the contractions as I should be…he would remind me that I was doing great, in spite of being too weary to focus on relaxing as much as I needed to. When I felt too weary to go on, he supported me and reminded me that I absolutely could do it, no matter what I thought. Somewhere in that time frame, my water broke.

After I asked Grandma about when we should call Joselle, Grandma called her at 4, and Joselle (who lives 45 minutes away) arrived at 5. I had thrown up several more times before she got there, which she said made for great dilation contractions. I felt a lot of pressure, so I felt certain the cervix had dropped, and I was hoping I had dilated fairly far, but didn’t want to get my hopes up. So, we were elated when Joselle checked me around 6, and said the cervix was fully dilated, and everything was ready to go. It was thrilling, and a little energizing to realize we were down to the final stretch, and most likely would soon be holding you.

I started bearing down with each contraction, but didn’t start serious pushing till around 7. I made low-throated noises through the contractions, which helped me focus on putting all my energy downwards, towards pushing you out, so I didn’t get tired too fast. Joselle coached me through the pushing, telling me how to make my pushing effective so I didn’t get tired with ineffective pushing. It felt good to push, and do something with the contractions, that helped instead of being tempted to tense up against them. Grandma and Daddy continued the reminders to relax, and that I could do it. Around 8:30 we finally had your head in a full crown. It was so exciting to get to feel your head, which was covered in dark hair. Throughout the pushing, Joselle had me alternate my positions between squatting, hands and knees, and tailor sitting, which seemed to help bring you down. We were down to the home stretch, with no turning around! My pushing became even more serious and down-to-business…I was very eager to meet you. You had a hard time fitting through, and my perineum did some major stretching. Joselle helped it along, and supported and massaged it to prevent tearing. In spite of best pushing efforts, and Joselle’s attempts at pulling the probably area you were stuck on out of the way, you stayed in a full crown for an hour. It was encouraging to be able to reach down and feel your head when the pushing got long, and the pressure intense. Joselle, Grandma, and Daddy all prayed for us throughout the labor and birth. Specifically when you were stuck at a full crown, they prayed for strength and endurance for me, and that you’d be able to fit through perfectly. They reminded that God had designed my body for your birth. Finally, just as Joselle was contemplating offering to do a small episiotomy, your beautiful head came through. Everyone was ecstatic, though I remember mentioning in response to someone saying the hard part was over that we still had the shoulders to go. A couple more pushes, though, and we had the shoulders (with your arms crossed over them) out…in the next moment you were lifted out and into my arms. I gave a cry of delight as so many emotions flooded over me. You were so perfectly beautiful, and gave a lusty cry as soon as we lifted you out of the water. I nestled you against my chest, and we covered you with a towel. You were a little purplish, so Joselle had Daddy start rubbing you down right away, and you quickly pinked up. Then I checked to see if you were a girl or boy- and was pleasantly surprised to see God had given us a daughter. Though we didn’t have a preference, we thought we were more likely to have a boy...we were thrilled God had given you to us. Daddy really loves having a princess to love and adore.

The placenta was about an hour in coming. Daddy started draining the pool shortly after you were born, so the water was pretty much completely gone by the time the placenta was birthed. I wasn’t sure where the energy to push the placenta out was going to come from, but eventually, after some position changing, we did it. You enjoyed nestling against my breast, and latched on and nursed for a few minutes. You also got to enjoy Daddy’s arms- it was so special to get to hand you- our baby- to him.

After the placenta was birthed, I got cleaned up, and into bed which Grandma had made up and prepared for us. You nestled up with me, greatly enjoying skin-to-skin contact, and nursed some more. After checking me, Joselle left. Grandma stayed for several more hours, and helped with some of the various clean up, as well as making sure you had a good latch for breastfeeding. You were exhausted after the experience of entering the world, and did lots of sleeping. After lunch, our new little family of 3 took a nap together, and then Grandma Graber and Aunt Annie came to bring dinner and see you.

We’re so grateful for you, and the birth experience God blessed us with! Pregnancy and birth has always been really special to Grandma, and I eagerly anticipated experiencing it, instead of only dreaming about what your birth would be like. Although there were things I could’ve done differently, and relaxing took more work than I felt like I had the energy for, God blessed us with a beautiful birth- I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect labor or delivery…and I definitely couldn’t ask for a more perfect daughter!