Friday, July 27, 2012

I'm Writing For You!

Before I continue with this series of posts on pregnancy and birth, I thought I should take a moment to clarify who I hope will benefit from it.

If you had a positive pregnancy and birth experience, then I’m writing for you.
Because of the negative expectations surrounding pregnancy and birth, I’ve found that those of us who enjoy this season and achieve the births we want are often silenced in our stories. I’m continually amazed, when I share my joyful experience with groups of women, how most of the group will assume I am some kind of special exception to their war stories, and how, later, one woman will quietly pull me aside and thank me for speaking up. She will comment, in one form or another, that she rarely shares her wonderful experience because her friends make her feel guilty for not having endured their pain.

But if, as I contend, there is so much fear in our society about birth, then shouldn’t our response be to tell as many brave, victorious stories as possible? If women have been created by a God who designed our bodies to create, sustain, and bring forth new life, then shouldn’t we sing praises for the beautiful times that this occurs?

So I am writing this series to encourage those of you who were blessed with peaceful pregnancies and glorious births to tell your stories! Give hope to the women coming after us and share the wisdom that you learned in your birth journeys.  

If you had a less-than-ideal or traumatic pregnancy and birth experience, them I’m writing for you.
While I celebrate the incredible stories of the women above, I must also acknowledge that a great deal of women feel guilt, shame, discouragement, and disappointment with their pregnancy and birth experiences. I want to be clear that my series in no way intends to disgrace or dishonor you. I also want you to know that there is a God of HOPE who desires you to move beyond shame into freedom, to release guilt into surrender, and to exchange discouragement for comfort. I believe that God is powerful enough to achieve this for you!

At the same time, I earnestly pray that my series encourages you to honestly reflect on your experience so that you, too, can tell your stories and share wisdom with the women coming after us. If you can evaluate the many factors that played into your experience, then you can help prepare other women and, perhaps, guide them towards a different outcome. Sometimes, genetic heritage plays a significantly larger part in the destiny of your experience; but often, knowledge and informed decision-making can contribute even more. You have knowledge! Share it!

Most importantly, if you have not yet conceived but one day hope to experience pregnancy and birth, then I am especially writing to you.
Consider this: in the first trimester of your pregnancy, you are exhausted. All of the time. So exhausted, in fact, that you can fall asleep anywhere, and when you’re awake, your mind is falling asleep even if your body somehow manages to keep your eyes open. You are hormonally unpredictable. And you have an entire range of emotions surrounding the fact that you are, in fact, now pregnant and responsible for another human life.

This is not exactly the most ideal time to start thinking and making decisions about the most intense, intimate experience of your life – giving birth. Yet, for most women, it is not until they achieve pregnancy that they even begin considering the immense weight of these types of decisions. Many women have not healthily evaluated their own fears, desires, and questions surrounding pregnancy and birth until they are forced to find a prenatal care provider and choose a hospital.

So my own personal prayer, with this series, is that all the women who are not yet carrying babies will begin their journeys towards pregnancy RIGHT NOW. Gather information from a variety of sources before you have an emotional or personal stake in the matter. Take some time to find out your family history and reflect on what you think about pregnancy/birth. Where did those ideas come from? What information do you wish you knew?

I welcome and invite comments, suggestions, and questions from all of you! I have plenty of ideas of what I’d like to cover in this series, but because I want this to be an encouragement for story-telling and a source of information for yet-to-be moms, your feedback will help me write for our entire community and not just what’s in my head. J

p.s. I am not intentionally discounting men from this series, particularly if you are a married man but not yet a father. Information is power, so I hope that this series can be informative for you as a partner in parenting and broaden your ideas of how women can experience this incredible miracle.  

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Let's Start At the Very Beginning

NOTE: The views contained in this post are purely the opinions of the author, who is not a medical professional or a trained birth consultant. Most of what is written here should fall into the "common sense" category of knowledge, but it is up to you, the reader, to think critically about the statements made here and to pursue additional research to refute or support these claims.  

If giving birth is like running a marathon, then how does one achieve the best possible birth experience? I believe that the nature of a woman’s pregnancy and birth is determined primarily by three factors, all of which began long before she was carrying a baby:

Some % Genetic Heritage.
How a woman’s sisters, mother, aunts, and maternal grandmother experienced their pregnancies and births is certainly no guarantee, but it can give her some indication of how her own experience may go. Additional genetic considerations include personal health such as allergies, food sensitivities, general and reproductive health, and any other physical ailments that you may be dealing with prior to pregnancy. None of us begins from "ground zero"; our family and personal health history factor in to any new stage of our physical bodies, especially one as major as pregnancy. 

My mother carried five children through healthy pregnancies to our due dates (or beyond); she delivered all of us vaginally, with minimal interventions, and very quickly (eight hours was her longest labor). And she gave birth to her last child at age 40! Both she and I have exceedingly healthy immune systems, no allergies, and regular menstrual cycles. Thus far, my own pregnancies and labor have been very similar to my mother’s, so I have to believe that it’s not all because of my own choices. However, I do believe that I have -

Some % Personal Responsibility.
The way that a woman cares for her body – long before she conceives – and during her pregnancy have a significant effect on the health and happiness of her pregnancy, as well as the ease of her labor. If you have a history of eating processed and fast food, drinking caffeinated or sugary beverages, smoking or drinking alcohol to excess, and minimal or no exercise, then your body, long before it carried a baby, was already in a less-than-ideal state. You may not have perceived any negative affects from these choices, but your body, over time, was running on cheap fuel. 

Again, consider the marathon training analogy. No marathon runner would consider McDonalds, Coke, and extra helpings of ice cream to be an appropriate diet in preparation for running 26.2 miles. Yet, when a woman is pregnant, we often only think of the affects such food and drink would have on our babies, without considering the cost on our own bodies. If we want to be prepared for a lengthy, exhausting labor, then we should be fueling our bodies with strengthening, healthy food. 

Doctors generally agree that whatever level of exercise was present prior to pregnancy can be carried into pregnancy as long as the woman is comfortable. I know runners, dancers, and other active women who continued these demanding physical activities well into their seventh or even eighth month of pregnancy. I believe that exercise not only prepares our bodies for labor but it also makes us more aware of ourselves and in tune with the sensations of pushing through our physical limitations. Even if you have not had a regular exercise routine prior to pregnancy, you can train your body during those 9 months, just as non-runners train for marathons every year. 

In the end, however, I believe the largest contributing factor to the pregnancy and birth experience is

100% Mental and Emotional Preparedness
The majority of women in the U.S. "know" about birth through completely false means - via an actress, who is portrayed in excruciating pain, usually angry at her partner, and surrounded by nurses and doctors who swoop in at the slightest sign of worry. 

Contrast this to most of human history, and current experiences in other parts of the world, in which birth was a normal, communal, feminine event. When a woman had a baby, she was surrounded by her sisters, daughters, cousins, mother, grandmother, and 'midwives' - the women of her tribe, so to speak. Most girls grew up seeing and experiencing birth long before it happened to them, and they knew what to expect based on personal, firsthand knowledge.   

I am convinced that the #1 reason so many women have less-than-ideal birth experiences in this country is because they approach pregnancy and birth with limited understanding and quite a dose of unaddressed fear. As a result, they make choices based on cultural norms instead of personal confidence and trust someone else to tell them what to do and how to experience their own bodies. They spend little or no time preparing their minds and hearts to handle birth. 

Studies have long demonstrated the incredible connection between what the mind believes and what the body experiences. One recent study on runners actually "demonstrated that the brain can be trained to allow the body to physically handle more." Researchers examined how mental fatigue affected the perception of physical fatigue during exercise and noted that "overall, it seems that exercise performance is ultimately limited by perception of effort rather than [other factors]. Therefore, the brain gave up and subsequently sent signals to the body to also cease, even though the body showed no physical signs of complete exhaustion" (emphasis mine). 

Any marathon runner knows that, in addition to the physical training, she must train her mind as well, or she will not cross that finish line. The state of her mind and emotions will allow her to keep going and finish strong or convince her to collapse in defeat. Yet, not nearly enough women approach birth in this way. In subsequent posts, I will discuss in more detail how to prepare your mind and heart for pregnancy and birth, but let me encourage you with these words:

"If you are going to win any battle you have to do one thing. You have to make the mind run the body. Never let the body tell the mind what to do. The body will always give up. It is always tired morning, noon, and night. But the body is never tired if the mind is not tired. When you were younger the mind could make you dance all night, and the body was never tired...You've always got to make the mind take over and keep going."
 ~ General George S. Patton, 1912 Olympian

Friday, July 13, 2012

I'm About To Run A Marathon!

Imagine you have decided to run a marathon in 6 months.

You reason, “People run marathons all the time! I don’t need to do anything special to get ready for it; we all cross the finish line in the end.” So you don’t train. You don’t change your diet or exercise; you don’t recruit a running buddy or put together a playlist on your ipod.

The morning of the race, you join the mass of other runners. Your husband is on the sidelines to cheer you on, but otherwise you’re alone in the crowd. You start at a good pace, full of adrenaline and excitement. But pretty quickly, your body starts to weaken. After all, you haven’t run long distances before and you’re feeling parts of your body that you never really knew existed! There are pit stops along the course, but when you check in, you’re not offered any water or energy drinks. Instead, someone checks your pulse and blood pressure, reads off some stats, and sends you on your way.

It doesn’t take long for your muscles to cramp up and for you to experience an intense amount of pain. You seriously doubt you can run another mile. When you look for your husband, instead of feeling reassured, you grow more worried because of the anxious look on his face. In fact, it seems like everyone around you is concerned that you aren’t going to make it. At each pit stop, a volunteer mentions that you aren’t doing too well, aren’t running very fast, and politely suggests that you might need some ‘help’ finishing.

You decide to push on but every muscle in your body is fighting against you and your husband looks desperate. The moment you arrive at the next pit stop, you leap onto the stretcher that’s offered. You know you cannot run a single moment more. A kind volunteer offers to push you, on the stretcher, to the finish line, where your husband greets you with happy relief.

Yes, you completed the marathon. And your body recovered from the shock and pain of it. But most people would consider you foolish for neglecting to train the past 6 months, and you will most likely want to push this experience far from your memory.

Giving birth is like running a marathon.
If you properly train and prepare for it, then you can actually enjoy it! Just like marathon runners, women can experience the exhilaration, power, and accomplishment of giving birth, if they have wisely disciplined themselves ahead of time.

"I've learned that finishing a marathon isn't just an athletic achievement. It's a state of mind; a state of mind that says anything is possible." - John Hanc

Training for a marathon does not eliminate the pain of running it. Your muscles will still ache, you will still doubt along the way, and you will want to eat a horse once you’ve finished! But proper preparation teaches you how to manage the pain and puts YOU in control of how you will finish.

Sadly, too many women in the U.S. approach giving birth in the way I described this marathon runner. Then, they are left feeling cheapened or cheated by their experiences. In subsequent posts, I will share what I consider to be the most necessary information for women to consider as they approach pregnancy and birth.

In the meantime, I have almost completed my own training! It helps that I've done this before. My body is healthy and strong; I've gathered my running team and prepared the course. Now, I just have to run!

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Daddy's Girl

As I eagerly await the arrival of our second daughter, I all the more appreciate the special bond that my husband and 3.5 year old little girl already enjoy. Not only do they spend some amazing quality time together each week, but they also have so many wonderful similarities! I thought it would be fun to share some here.

1. Clean Hands!
Both my husband and my daughter must have, at all meal times, a napkin or wet washcloth next to them. Their hands must never be sticky, messy, gooey, or otherwise unclean.

2. Must Love Animals
We've always joked that my husband should have been a veterinarian or some animal whisperer because he just genuinely loves (and connects with) all animals. Our daughter shares this delight, whether it's the loud macaw at the pet store, the baby goats at the zoo, every dog we ever see, the birds at the Raptor Center, or the hermit crabs at the kiosk in the MOA.
*Note* Both parties also have a shared hatred and fear of winged insects, especially those that sting.

3. This is the Best Day EVER!
Over the last 3 months, every single day, my daughter will exclaim with incredible joy, "This is the best day ever!" First of all, let me clearly state that she does NOT get this from me. I was a very serious kid, just as I am a pretty serious (read: not fun) adult. So her exuberance is a clear reflection of the positivity and joy that my husband most definitely has.
But it is also a component of their personalities (for those of you with MBTI insight: both of them have the SP temperament). My husband and daughter both live in the moment, so whatever activity they happen to be doing is always the "best" thing they could be doing. Once they get involved - in a movie, a playdate, a party, a shopping trip - it is FUN and it should NEVER END.

4. Snuggle Sleepers
Every since our daughter was born, she could snuggle into the crook of Daddy's arm and they could both sleep soundly for hours. To this day, they can sleep very close together (i.e., in her little twin bed) all night long, undisturbed by loud noises, light, or any other sound. This amazes me. And, I think, will be very handy when a new, crying baby comes around.

Of course, our daughter has many of my traits as well, but her perspective and experience of life is much more similar to her father. Which works out just fine for me, since I fell in love with him, (generally) understand him, and like hanging out with the guy.

I look forward to getting to know this second one and learning her ways!