I was honored to be asked to be a part of the New Mommy Media Experts panel! Find previous shows here.
I was honored to talk about Newborn Care basics on Lezbemommies Radio!
“The best laid schemes of mice and men/often go awry.”
You know how it feels. You lay out a nice, clear plan and it just gets stepped on and disassembled, rerouted and reassembled in a completely different fashion than you’d envisioned. Do you get frustrated? Angry?
I’ve spent quite a bit of time working with pregnant women. I highly encourage them to produce a birth plan for themselves and their birthing team. (Yes, there’s a team involved nowadays!) We go over all sorts of details: who do they want in the room, how do they feel about epidurals, right down to the type of jammies they’ll be bringing to the hospital and which toothbrush will make them feel most comforted. Then, after all that careful planning and deliberation, I make sure that they know that they may be asked to chuck the whole kit and caboodle right out the window. And then, wonder of wonders, I ask them to make themselves okay with accepting the unexpected and the unforeseen. After completing an exercise that makes a pregnant woman and her partner feel as though they have some modicum of control, I then, in the same breath, ask them to relinquish the entire scenario for what can’t be seen and what may not be known. I used to feel like such a hypocrite! Until I went through the experience of birth myself.
There I was, a seasoned doula, present for the births of several of my closest friends and some very generous strangers. I was 8 ½ months pregnant and I had a birth plan, a doula bag, a carseat, loads of medical experience and a husband that worked long 18 hour days while I sat at home on maternity leave, searching for the beatific Gaia sensation I’d been hearing so much about. I was alternately trying to get into the lotus position, waiting for my halo to arrive and crocheting. I crocheted because I figured that was what I was supposed to be doing, right? I was calm and collected because I had a plan. I knew full well that the plan wasn’t what it was all about (and it certainly wasn’t the hokey pokey.). I knew that I may be asked to heave my well thought-out plan right out the window at a moment’s notice. My husband will tell you, the idea of scrapping the plan was what likely made him the most nervous. He’ll also tell you I’m NOT GOOD with what he calls “calling an audible”.
In the wee small hours of November 24, my water broke. Now, of course, the PLAN was to labor at home as long as possible while baking cookies for the nurses and breathing and smiling and singing “Kumbaya” and describing contractions with terms like “minor discomfort” and “Oh, about a 4 on a scale of 1 – 10.” But when my water broke, there was blood. A lot of blood. A scary amount of blood. This? This was a problem and NOT part of the PLAN. At about 1:30 in the morning, I woke my husband and calmly alerted him that my bag of waters had just broken and we needed to head to the hospital. NOW. He’d arrived home just a few hours earlier after a 10 hour day and was in a super-deep sleep. He asked, muddily, ”Can’t we just go tomorrow?” Er, no, hon. We can’t.
The next half-hour or so was spent gathering ourselves together and getting into the car. On that cold, dark night, we headed out for the hospital. That was a trip we’d made several times before, but this time? This time was different. Neither of us said anything. We rode together in that car for about 15 minutes in complete silence. We were both keenly aware of the fact that this would be the last time that we would be in the car together, just us. Just him and me. From here on out, it would be him and me and baby makes three. Our lives together were about to change. I was petrified, but I didn’t want to let on. I’m sure the same thing was happening for him as well.
There were several hours spent at Kaiser Walnut Creek with our midwife and then with our doctors. I had begun having contractions in earnest, but the talk had turned to Caesarian section and the amount of blood that I was losing. We didn’t know how much blood I’d lost when my water broke, we didn’t know how much blood the baby had lost, we didn’t know where the blood was coming from: was it me? Was it the baby? They weren’t sure how to stop it. Both of us bleeding to death: one more piece of this picture that was not part of the PLAN.
Our doctor came in and broke it down for us: they weren’t sure where the blood was coming from, but what they did know was that the baby wasn’t recovering as well as they’d like from the contractions that I was having. The blood that was flowing out of me wasn’t stopping. The baby and I were in danger and the doctors thought that a C-section was the safest route to get my baby born and to keep the both of us out of danger.
But, wait, wait, wait! What happened to my PLAN? I had a doula bag filled with aromatherapy oils and a birth ball and visualizations and meditations and massage tools and righteous indignation! I envisioned telling the nurses all about how I was progressing during my labor and they would all stand around and ooh and aah and remark at my birthing prowess. I was going to take long, hot showers during my labor. Nowell had packed his swimming trunks so we could labor together in the shower! I had brought the jammies I wanted to labor in and I had my playlist all prepared for my labor! C-Section? What manner of crap is THIS? The C-section option was on the sheet with the plan, but it was definitely not PART OF THE PLAN.
We knew that this might happen. We’d talked about it and hoped against hope that we’d be able to just ignore it and maybe it’d go away. Two people like us, who like to be in charge of stuff, in control, would have to relinquish control and put our fates in the hands of someone we didn’t know and didn’t know us. Admittedly, my husband is WAY better at that than I am. We asked the doctors for 5 minutes to ourselves, within which time I broke down and sobbed. I was so very sad and mournful of the loss of my vision of my natural birth. My well-laid plan was being pulled right out from under me and I needed some time to cope with that. Four minutes and fifty-eight seconds later, the nurse knocked gingerly on the door to my room. “Mrs. Helms?” she asked. “Are you ready?” Between hitching sobs, I responded to her. “Lady, I’m as ready as I’m gonna get.” In that moment, I put my faith in the wisdom of the universe, my hand in the hand of my beloved husband, and we struck out together from the realm of things I was familiar with into the murky darkness of the unknown. I let go.
My oldest daughter Nina came screaming into the world that day. A family was created that day. A mother was born. A father emerged. None of these things happened in the way that we planned, but our daughter’s unexpected entry into this world was a sacred event. I’ve always viewed birth as a sacred ritual. It’s a holy rite that not all of us get to experience, but it’s a holy rite that generally can’t be repeated or recreated like a sermon or a mass; it’s different from woman to woman, from family to family and even child to child from the same woman. Each birth is sacred. Each birth is different. Once you’re pregnant, all paths lead to birth, but the number of paths always changes. Have a plan, by all means. But don’t hold on to it so tightly that you are unable to let go. Take a deep breath, trust in the Universe. Even your trust is a sacred act.
It can be tough to re-integrate yourself into the grown up world once you have a newborn. All your talk is baby baby baby. Take a listen to this episode of Parent Savers to get a little insight about getting back into the groove and talking to adults again about things other than your fabulous baby.
So, here you are.
You’re in the 3rd trimester of your pregnancy, you’re feeling pretty good, you feel prepared for labor and birth (or you’re almost there…) and now, you’re waiting for one of the most important guests of your life to arrive.
Have you prepared for your postpartum experience?
As a postpartum doula, I like to tell families to prepare for the post-birth time like they would prepare for a party. Who do you want to invite? What do you want them to bring? Who’s going to help you clean up? As important as it is to prepare for your labor-time and the imminent birth of your baby, it’s just as important to give some energy and thought to what happens once the latest addition to your family arrives. If you’ve ever thrown a party, it’s much the same mentality.
What are we celebrating?
A new baby, of course! You’ll want to keep your home relatively calm, but not necessarily quiet. The womb is one of the noisiest places on earth. The decibel level produced by your intestines moving along, the stomach digesting, the sound of the blood running through your veins, has been estimated to be nearly 90dB. The noises your baby hears outside the womb, however, should be the normal sounds of your home. Don’t strain to be quiet, but loud sudden noises can surprise your newborn and potentially wake them. Keeping your home at its regular noise level will actually help your baby to be able to sleep through just about anything later on in their infancy. So party on Wayne, but keep it reasonable. The loving, positive energy in your home is just as important as the loving, positive noise level.
Who’s coming? (And how long are they staying?)
Who do you want to visit you and your new baby? You’ll want to have people around you that will be supportive and helpful. If you think that the person you have in mind may not support the vision of what you want your postpartum period to look like, you may want to reconsider inviting them over for the first couple of weeks. The emotional state that you could be in may have less flexibilty and less willingness to accept and work around certain, er, eccentricities or difficulties with personalities. Has that person had children of their own or seen you in a really emotional state? You will need to be able to be your authentic post-pregnancy self around your visitors, even if the version of yourself that they get is a leaky-boobed, exhausted mess. Also, make sure to give yourself a break once in a while. As much as people want to come and visit, you’d be surprised how understanding they can be when you tell them that you’re really not ready to have anyone over or that you’ve had visitors all day and you’re just too tired. They’ll be happy to come another time.
What’s to eat?
Are visiting guests planning on helping with meal preparation? You’ll want to be sure that they’re familiar with the layout of your home, where you keep things (“Where are the pans?”), and any particular dietary restrictions that you may have (gluten-free, vegan, caffeine) if they’re going to be assisting in preparing meals for your recovery period. They’ll also need to know (as will you) what types of foods give you gas (sexy!) or may irritate your stomach, as that food will be going into your breast milk and could potentially cause the same symptoms for your little one. If you don’t have anyone coming over to prepare food at home for you, consider going the route of having friends bring food for you. Scheduling is easy when you’re able to use sites like takethemameal.com or signupgenius.com. Set up a time period where you’d love to have someone come over and bring food, send out the schedule to your friends, and let them work it out online.
What’s to drink?
If you’re breastfeeding, you’ll need to make sure that you stay super hydrated. I, for one, despise drinking plain water. Just the other day, however, I found a great infusion cold-cup at Bed Bath & Beyond. It’s got a little container inside the cup that can hold citrus or crushed mint leaves or cilantro and makes plain cold water much more palatable. Water is crucial to your breast milk output and also, helps your body to recover from your birth, replenishing fluids that may have been lost. If you're a soda junkie, I've found that plain old club soda curbs my jones for carbonation, while supplying me with just water. Like soda, but without all the guilt! Juice is always great as well, lots of vitamin C and antioxidants in grape juice, blueberry juice and acai. Tea also, can be a great hydrator, iced or hot, just keep drinking! Make a game of it! Every time someone mentions the word “baby” you take a drink. It may be difficult with everything else you’ve got going on, but you’ll be glad you did. Even if you’re not breastfeeding, your hydration is integral to your healing.
Who’s helping to clean up?
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. When someone asks what they can do, TELL THEM. You’d be really surprised how many people, when asking what they can do to help, are really willing to help. They just need some direction and guidance on what to do. If you don’t mind directing traffic from the sofa, you can get a lot done. That’s a lot less for you to worry about while you’re at home with baby.
· “I’d love it if you could bring that laundry in for me. Let’s sit here and fold it together while you regale me with tales of the outside world.”
· “I’m so glad you were able to come and visit. Oo! One last thing. Would you mind taking the garbage out when you go to your car?”
· “Could you chuck those few dishes into the dishwasher?”
· “Would you mind bringing me some Ben & Jerry’s Peach Cobbler ice cream when you come over? I LOVE that stuff.”
· “Could you run the vacuum?”
· “Would you mind taking Bodhi out for a walk? He’s going stir crazy in here.”
The dishes won’t pile up, the laundry will get folded (eventually) and hey, somebody’s coming to visit AND bringing ice cream? WIN WIN! Also, you may want to consider having a cleaning person come in for the last trimester of your pregnancy. I’m not an OCD clean freak, I keep my home as clean as I can, but my husband’s not the best house cleaner. AT ALL. He’ll even tell you that. So when he suggested that we hire a cleaning lady to come in every other week, I was completely offended, mildly insulted and totally relieved. As I huffed and puffed my way around the bottom of the toilet in my 3rd trimester, I prayed that some angel would come in and do this so that I could get off my knees, stop compressing my diaphragm and breathe again. I was nearly brought to tears when I came home with a fresh, new baby, my husband opened the door to our apartment, and the scent of Fabuloso and bleach wafted out into the hallway. The cleaning lady had been there that morning and cleaned while my husband had gone to fetch me at the hospital. Hallelujah!
Keep the party theme in mind. Have people over, have a good time, know when it’s time for them to go home and make clean up easy. Your postpartum time at home, coming together as a family, just like a party, can only be enhanced by the inclusion of your family and friends. Postpartum is just like many other scenarios that can be unfamiliar - you’ll feel better if you have a plan in place. Give some thought ahead of time about what that will look like and I guarantee you that you’ll be glad that you did. But, just like your birth plan, be prepared also to be flexible, move some things around or eliminate a few things altogether. The new configuration of your family structure will be warm, comfortable, secure and loving because you make it that way, whether or not you have clean socks.