This blog series is not meant to express an opinion about how anyone else should navigate pregnancy, childbirth, or parenting; this is simply the story of how one urban yogi in America moved through her own normal, relatively uncomplicated first pregnancy and childbirth. Although my posts end on positive notes, many parts of the process were challenging for me, and writing this blog helped me stay sane. My hope is that by being authentic about my experience I will empower other mamas to do the same. Because I shared what I was going through, friends from near and far reached out to support me, which made the difficult moments manageable and the joyful moments ecstatic. I thought it would be the birthing process that was empowering, but it was the solidarity from other women that gave me the fortitude to rise fully and completely to the challenge of motherhood. My hope for other mamas-to-be is that you will acknowledge your experience as it is (whether whether that’s blissful, horrible, or somewhere in between), will be unashamed to express that, and will be able to attain the resources you need to navigate your path.
I blogged my whole first trimester after-the-fact (alternating with present day posts), which makes it a little hard to navigate my Mindful Pregnancy posts in order. Here is an ordered week-by-week list of all my posts:
March 16 – March 22: 39 Weeks 0 Days – 39 Weeks 6 Days.
My mantra this week is: “My baby will be born in the perfect way at the perfect time.” If I need that as a mantra, you can guess that it’s not how I’m organically feeling. Other women have told me that by the end of pregnancy they were so uncomfortable that they were desperate for the baby to be born. Physically, I’m not that uncomfortable: I still have inner thigh spasms, achy knuckles, and no endurance, but that’s all manageable. It’s the mental discomfort that’s starting to get to me.
As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve cleared my to-do list and shifted into lazy vacation mode, which was great for a couple days. But reality is, I’m not a lazy vacationer. When Richard and I went to Hawaii for our honeymoon a couple years ago, in the space of ten days we swam with dolphins, marveled at molten lava from a helicopter, drove the whole perimeter of the big island to experience the variety of climate zones, snorkeled with colorful fish and sea turtles, explored shipwrecks in a submarine (with a bunch of old folks), enjoyed an Independence Day fireworks cruise, filled our bathing suits with sand during an afternoon boogie boarding, swam with the amazing manta rays, walked across the lava fields in Volcano National Park, and watched the sunset from the peak of Mauna Kea. To us, this was the best vacation ever.
One day last week, I didn’t leave the house and it was awful. By the end of the day, I didn’t feel calm, relaxed, and ready to get a good night’s sleep. I felt bored and restless. This week, I tried to get out of the house every day to do something stimulating, healthful, and social (while still leaving time for my requisite naps):
Monday: Prenatal Pilates and impromptu quickie prenatal massage.
Tuesday: Prenatal yoga in the A.M. and a mama’s circle with my doulas and their other clients in the P.M.
Wednesday: Appointment with my midwife and bringing lunch to an injured friend.
Thursday: Meditatively walking the labyrinth at Grace Cathedral with other pregnant. women as the noon bells tolled. And a longer prenatal massage with the same woman from Monday.
Friday: Morning prenatal yoga and evening date night with the husband (There was a brownie sundae with chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream involved)
Saturday: Replenishing Conscious Birth yoga workshop with Britt Fohrman
Sunday: The plan was to go swimming, but I was having a day of particularly high physical discomfort, so I curled up with a book instead. Relaxing all day was lovely, but I didn’t sleep well at night.
I nearly didn’t make the trek to Grace Cathedral, but I’m glad I did! Walking the labyrinth was such a nice birth preparation ritual. Jane Austin, one of the organizers, explained how the labyrinth is a metaphor for birth: It’s not a maze, you can’t get lost. If you just keep moving forward along the winding path eventually you’ll get to the end. The whole process took nearly an hour. We walked through the labyrinth into the center, where we paused for reflection. One women remarked that at the labyrinth had many switchbacks that made it feel like we were moving backward and away from the center, but in reality we were always moving forward and getting closer. Then we walked all the way back out.
One of the childbirth techniques I learned in Rachel Yellin’s class was to find power by visualizing all the women who have given birth before me. I got this feeling of community in the labyrinth: there were women in front of me and also women following me. At times, I’d be walking alongside another women on a parallel track or be surrounded by other women going in all different directions. During these times I relished in the solidarity and mutual support. At other times, I was in a completely different part of the labyrinth than anyone else, walking the path alone. During these times, I tapped into my own internal power and got connected to my breath.
It was a beautiful day to walk the outdoor labyrinth at Grace Cathedral. Many of us were close to forty weeks, so we must have been a sight to see! An older lady asked to take our picture after we were done our meditation.
Stir-craziness aside, another factor that’s got me anxious is that I’m starting to feel like I’m on the clock. Most hospitals medically induce labor at 42 weeks, and mine induces at 41.5 (probably because their focus is low-risk pregnancies). Along with other potential side effects, pitocin (a labor kickstarting drug) makes the experience of labor much more intense (which makes it harder to do without pain-management drugs), so I would love to avoid induction. As such, I’m starting to sense the tick-tock tick-tock tick-tock coming from my chart at the hospital.
Update: The morning of my due date Petco sent me an e-mail informing me it was my last chance to partake in their big sale with the subject line: “Tick, tock, tick, tock…” Thanks Petco.
My impatience is compounded by my body withholding any sign that it’s preparing for childbirth. A few weeks ago, it felt like the baby dropped, but she doesn’t seem committed to it. Some days there’s a lot of pressure in my hips, some days I feel like I’m back in my second trimester. Although there have been a variety of sensations and discomforts in my belly and pelvis, I’ve only experienced anything that felt like it might be a Braxton-Hicks contraction (practice contraction) once—it was on a day that I did almost every natural labor induction technique listed below. I’m not leaking any breast milk whatsoever. I haven’t seen any sign of my mucous plug (which seals the uterus until the baby is ready to be born). All of this is totally normal. Some women don’t experience Braxton-Hicks contractions, the baby may not drop and the mucous plug may not come out until labor starts, and some women don’t leak breast milk even when they’re actively breastfeeding. But still, it would be nice if my body could give me a sign!
I haven’t been doing much to encourage labor until this week, even though in the natural birth community, mamas are encouraged to be proactive (starting around 36 weeks). I want the baby to cook as long as she needs to. At 37 weeks the baby is considered (early) term, but it’s not until 39 weeks (which I hit on Monday) that the baby is full term—they’re a little bit heartier. Also, on Monday I had one final appointment with my neurologist to discuss the postpartum period and one last Prenatal Pilates class that I’d prepaid for, so before that it felt like I had unfinished business (although missing a Pilates class would not have been the end of the world). Now that I’ve past all the milestones and fulfilled all my commitments, I’m ready to communicate to the little that it’s safe for her to make her debut whenever she is ready.
Here’s what I’ve been doing to naturally encourage labor:
Consuming pineapple, mostly in refreshing and delicious smoothie form. Apparently pineapple contains an enzyme that may soften the cervix. I’m not sure if doing this has made much of a difference. There is also evidence that eating six dates a day can encourage women’s bodies to go into labor naturally, but I don’t think I like dates enough to commit to this.
Drinking Red Raspberry Leaf Tea. In traditional knowledge, this herbal tea tones the uterus, which may make contractions more effective. I’m a big tea drinker, so it’s worth a try! I’ve been sipping RRL tea every morning.
Deep squats. These encourage the baby to drop down into the pelvis and engage with the cervix, which can encourage it to begin effacing and opening. Because of my hypermobility issues, I can’t go crazy deep on squats, but there is still a noticeable difference in the baby’s position after a juicy, mobilizing yoga class.
Walking. I haven’t increased my amount of walking, I’ve just been trying not to decrease it too much. Walking jiggles the baby downward, which may stimulate labor in the same way as deep squats. On days when I do a ton of walking, I notice much more pressure in my lower belly and pelvis.
Acupressure. The scientific evidence on whether acupuncture and acupressure encourage labor is equivocal, as far as I can tell, but I’ve heard tons of anecdotal evidence that they work. A prenatal massage with acupressure feels great, so I’m totally on board with trying this technique. My first massage with acupressure was energizing and I felt great afterwards (but no signs of labor). My second session was on a day I did several of the other techniques listed here, and by the end of the day I felt the closest to labor I’ve been so far (hard to say how much the massage itself contributed).
Spicy food. The idea is that spicy food irritates the digestive system, causing it to release prostaglandins (a type of hormone), which ripen the cervix. (Castor oil induces labor in a similar way, but the digestive symptoms are so intense that it’s generally not recommended—it’s definitely not my idea of gentle birthing). According to my midwife, if you’re used to eating spicy food it wont make a difference, because your system is used to it. I usually avoid anything that makes me sweat under my eyes, so Richard and I dined of Thai food Friday night and Indian food on Saturday. It didn’t seem to make much of a difference.
Sex and nipple stimulation. I try not to make my blog posts TMI, but I would be remiss not to mention these techniques as they so closely mimic medical induction (or, maybe I should say medical induction mimics them). Semen contains prostaglandins, which soften the cervix (If you’re medically induced at the hospital, often the first step is to apply prostaglandins to the cervix, so why not try a natural source first?) Nipple stimulation and orgasm trigger the release of the hormone oxytocin, which causes the uterus to contract (pitocin, the main labor-induction drug, is a synthetic version of oxytocin). Also, like walking and deep squats, certain positions may encourage the baby downward, and being on hands and knees (a sex position commonly recommended to pregnant women) helps turn the baby to face toward the mothers back—the optimal position for childbirth. All I’ll add in terms of personal experience is that back in my second trimester the advice, “If you go past your due date, just start having sex every day” sounded great, but now that I’m actually in my full, cumbersome, achy, exhausted glory as a forty-weeker, I have to say that’s going to be easier said than done.
On a completely unrelated note: I moved to the suburbs around the same time I got pregnant, which had me making long commutes throughout my pregnancy. In the car, I listen to the radio, and lately is seems that at least thirty percent of the songs I hear are by Taylor Swift. I’m a little worried this is going to be my baby:
Oh well, there are worse role models than Tay-Tay, and if all I have to do is play Blank Space, Shake It Off, and Style on repeat to soothe my baby I’ll consider myself lucky!
January 26 – February 1: 32 Weeks 0 Days – 32 Weeks 6 Days.
This week, Richard and I are starting to feel like we need to have everything ready to go for the baby’s arrival. I have a couple friends who’ve given birth six weeks before their due dates, and I think I subconsciously set 34 weeks as the time to have everything ready.
I finally bought the crib mattress. It’s a foam core mattress that is so light I can lift it effortlessly, which made me feel good about myself in the store. It was so exciting to get the crib all set up! It made it feel more real for Richard too, and on his suggestion we order several starter items for the nursery (wipes, diapers, butt cream, etc.)
Woodland-themed everything ready to go for when baby arrives! Thank you Mindy for the mobile, Dad for the sheets, and Hope for the clothes.
The biggest milestone of the week was finishing our childbirth preparation class. Early on, a friend recommended I take a third-party birth prep class instead of the one the hospital offered to get less biased education. She also suggested a class that spanned several weeks instead of one packed all into one day so we would have time to digest the information and identify questions. Upon the suggestion of my doula, Richard and I chose to do Rachel Yellin’s 4-day childbirth preparation class, which focuses on the use of relaxation and hypnosis techniques during childbirth. Rachel’s class is definitely geared toward women hoping or an unmedicated birth, but more than that, it’s focused on empowered, conscious birth—on teaching couples about their options so they can make informed choices.
My doula told me that Rachel’s class was experiential rather than just providing a bunch of information about birth, and this was definitely true of the first and last days of the course. We tried out several birthing techniques that involved breathing, relaxation, visualization, affirmation, and intimacy (I wont go into specifics and give away her trade secrets). I’d already read several books about childbirth, so doing a birth prep class that focused more on practice and experience than information and facts appealed to me. Her homework assignments involved bonding time between partners, listening to her hypnosis and relaxation audio program, and checking out other resources she provided. I’d previously been listening to the audio tracks from the Hypnobabies self-study course, and something about Rachel’s tracks was more soothing and relaxing for me. I think it’s partly because her dialog moves along more quickly (without feeling rushed), which makes it easier to follow when I’m feeling restless (That said, I love some of the Hypnobabies techniques and tracks, and hope to incorporate them during my birthing time). Richard enjoys Rachel’s tracks too. After falling asleep to the Relaxation and Affirmations for the Birth Partner track, he says he “inexplicably” wakes up in the morning feeling more affectionate toward me and wanting to help me out and support me in any way he can.
The middle two days were more informational. My favorite part of these days was hearing birth stories from Rachel’s years working as a doula. We also went over many of the interventions the hospital could do, the rationale behind their protocols, what the evidence had to say about these protocols, and what our options were. To some, it may seem overly cautious to question hospital’s protocols, but historically medicalized childbirth doesn’t have the best track record. It is well known that for many years doctors routinely performed episiotomies (cutting into the perineum to make the vaginal opening larger) because there was a theory that this would reduce tearing and other complications. Then they actually did some research and found out that in most cases episiotomies don’t prevent anything and often lead to a challenging recovery.
I’d read about the big ticket items like labor induction techniques and pain medication before, but I’d never thought about whether I’d want to automatically be fitted with an IV upon arrival at the hospital (instead of waiting to see if I’d actually need it) or if I should go along with routine hourly vaginal exams (which arguably aren’t that informative and increase risk of infection every time). Rachel also talked about the interventions hospitals do with babies. Finding out that I could opt out of these procedures was less interesting to me than hearing Rachel’s suggestions for making these procedures gentler and more comfortable for the baby (e.g. have hospital staff calibrate the scale with a blanket and cap so the baby doesn’t have to lie on a cold, hard, paper-covered plastic. Or, hold a warm washcloth over the baby’s foot before the PKU test to improve blood flow enough that the nurse doesn’t have to turn the baby’s heel into a pin cushion trying to get a blood sample).
Before taking this course, I certain things as completely out-of-my-control when there’s actually a chance some of them aren’t. For example, hospitals test for Group B Step (GBS) around 36 weeks (a strain of bacteria that’s benign in the mother, but may be harmful to the baby), and the hospital tells you that you either have it or you don’t, and you can’t do anything about it. It’s true that there isn’t definitive, hard evidence that you can do anything about GBS besides taking the antibiotics they’ll recommend during labor; however, there are other things you can try, like taking probiotics or eating yogurt.
Similarly, if the baby is spending a lot of time head-up in utero (not promising for vaginal birth in the hospital), there are some easy, harmless techniques you can attempt yourself to encourage the baby to turn head down before the hospital recommends medical interventions to try to flip the baby in the last month (like walking up stairs). As it turns out, I would have to put up a fuss at the hospital to officially find out which direction my baby is facing before 36 weeks, so I’ve chosen to pick my battles and wait. I often feel kicking under my ribs and hiccups in my lower belly, so I’m fairly certain the baby spends at least a chunk of her time head down.
Earlier in pregnancy, after reading through the manual for the Hypnobabies Self-Study course (reviewed here), I felt like if I didn’t have the ideal birth situation—with the baby head-down, facing my back, and a pitocin-free labor—I could no longer expect the techniques to be successful. The Hypnobabies affirmations are specific and concrete, relating mostly to that one ideal type of birth. I didn’t get this sense with Rachel’s course. Her affirmations are more vague and focus mostly on intuitively cultivating a healthy, powerful, relaxed internal state, regardless of what type of physical birth occurs. Although it was clear which choices Rachel would make if she were giving birth (which, of course, meant the information was a little biased), I didn’t feel obligated or even expected to agree with her. She seemed genuinely interested in giving parents-to-be the resources to make their own decisions for their bodies and babies.