36 Weeks Pregnant: Thoughts About Labor

February 23 – March 1: 36 Weeks 0 Days – 36 Weeks 6 Days.

The third trimester is supposed to be slow, or at least the last month of it. For me, time is passing faster than ever. Upon writing this, I can’t believe I’m already in my creeping up on my 38th week! (Or that I’m so behind of writing this blog post)

As work has wound down, I’ve begun to do more exercise and yoga for myself, which has been fantastic. I’ve been doing prenatal pilates once or twice a week since the beginning of my second trimester, and when I started seeing the chiropractor I began a daily gentle exercise routine that I do as part of my bedtime wind down. Now I’ve added on a prenatal yoga class (or two) a week, and an early-morning swim on the weekend. When I’m in my bikini (I didn’t bother to buy a pricey one-piece maternity swimsuit), it’s obvious that I’m pregnant; my navel is partially inverted and my belly’s skin is taut and shiny like one those rubber balls Walmart sells. It’s inevitable that I end up having a half-clothed conversation in the women’s locker room about pregnancy or birth, which is welcome and sweet—except for the woman who exclaimed, “It’s going to be twins!”


Even though my legs and arms are getting a little scrawny, I feel more aligned and fitter than I have at any other point in my pregnancy. Fit doesn’t mean what it used to though. I may feel especially healthy because I’ve come into acceptance of my limitations. For every minute of exercise I do, I need an equally long nap (or longer). And household chores count as exercise—I can only handle about one big chore a day, especially ones that involve bending over and lifting. The baby shifts up and down, but sometimes her head feels like it’s right against my cervix, which make my lower belly feel incredibly heavy and my pelvic joints ache. When walking, I have to take small slow steps or I get a shooting spasm down my inner thigh. This happens sometimes when the baby moves, too, so she’s probably compressing a nerve.

Now that I’m working less and less, I have time to accommodate for these discomforts, so it’s not so bad. And, what’s going on doesn’t feel unhealthy: it’s amazing that the baby is exploring her exit route, and I’ve been trying to avoid sending her negative signals. In her yoga classes, Britt Fohrman sometimes has us exhale with a joyful, sensuous “Mmmm…” sound, as if we’ve just had a delectable bite of our favorite sumptuous dessert (a birth technique). When the baby causes me discomfort, I try to respond with this technique instead of tensing up and groaning. However, with the shooting inner thigh spasm, it usually comes out as, “ArrrgmmMmmm…”

I’m hoping that staying active and practicing birth techniques when I get aches and pains now will set me up for a smooth labor. I used to visualize myself having a quick labor. I know I’m going to regret saying this, but with all the prep Richard and I have done now, it would be a little disappointing to have a superfast labor with no time to use the techniques we’ve learned. Also, I’ve heard a few birth stories from women who have had fast, intense labors, and apparently it’s mind-boggling to have earlylabor-activelabor-pushing-baby in a matter of hours—there’s no time to come into full acceptance of what’s happening. Now I visualize myself having a smooth, average-length labor, in which there’s time to experience each phase.

Contrary to most of the crisis-situation portrayals of labor in TV and movies, things usually start slowly with mild surges (contractions) that gradually get closer together, longer, and more intense (although there are always exceptions!). Most women don’t have to rush to the hospital upon their first contraction. I plan to labor at home for as long as possible (which is also the hospital’s preference. They’ll send me home if I show up too early).

All sources that I’ve read or heard tell women to sleep as much as possible early on while labor surges are still mild and spaced out. There are different opinions on what to do if I can’t sleep. My doulas and childbirth prep class teacher (both hypnobirthing-focused) say I should start practicing my birth techniques early. Natural Hospital Birth, a book I read several months ago, says that using coping strategies too early may burn me out on them, and by the time I really need them, they wont be effective any more. The author recommends coming up with a list of early labor activities to distract myself while the surges aren’t dominating my attention. I think it would be nice to do something in between: choose some gentle activities to do in between surges, and pause to practice my breathing and relaxation techniques during surges. I tried to come up with activities focus more on connecting me to my experience than distracting myself from it, and on getting me out of my analytic mind and into my intuition. Here are some of my favorite ideas on my Early Labor Activities list:

  • Art therapy. A couple months ago I tried a wonderful art therapy technique. I drew an outline of my body, took some time to breath and meditate on the sensations I was experiencing (which I could do during a surge), then paint the sensations over the outline with watercolor paints. If I have any desire to sit upright, I think this would be lovely during early labor and leave me with a nice memento.
  • Bake and decorate “welcome” cupcakes for the baby. Throughout pregnancy, I’ve made cakes and cupcakes for several big events (including the baby shower), and so it feels like a rite of celebration for me. I’m not convinced that I’ll actually have the energy to be on my feet baking (maybe Richard can help me out with that part), but I know decorating cupcakes with phrases like, “welcome” and “we love you” would help shift my perspective from pregnancy to motherhood. If I actually finish them, they would be a great treat to bring to the nurses’ station at the hospital too.
  • Yummy exercises. I can see myself stretching my shoulders, rolling out my thighs and back on my foam roller, and easing jaw and neck tension with some pinky balls. This will feel good in the moment and get me limber and loose for labor.
  • Have Richard read some pre-selected passages to me. Even though I’m not supposed to use the word “pain” with regard to my surges, I would love for Richard to read me a couple anecdotes about pain that I use when teaching yoga and meditation to patients with incurable chronic pain (some of whom feel the intensity of labor on a daily basis). I love the mantra, “Pain, the door of my heart is open to you,” as a reminder to soften to sensation rather than harden to it. However for the sake of positive language, I may adapt it to, “Intensity, the door of my heart is open to you.”
  • Sing. Not sure if I should bother making a sing-along playlist now, or if whatever I choose in advance will just annoy me because I’ll be in such a different state.

Eventually I’ll end up the hospital, and this week I finally sat down with a Birth Preferences template my doulas provided, and modified it match my wishes. Since it includes so much from their template, I won’t post the full plan here, but here are some of the things that are important to me:

  • If everything is going well, I want to be internally-focused and following my intuition without interruption and intervention. To support this, on my birth preferences I requested keeping hospital staff entering to a minimum, having them direct communication to Richard or my doulas if possible, using electronic fetal monitoring only as much as is necessary, and reserving cervical exams for when they inform medical decisions (rather than getting routine hourly exams just to see how dilated I am).
  • I am well-educated about my options, and I’ve chosen my preferences based on what I think will yield the best outcomes for both the baby and me. Sticking to my preferences may not be easy, and I want my birth team to be supportive. One of my preferences is that my providers not offer me pain medication. If I want something, I’ll ask for it.
  • Unless medically necessary (e.g. I get an epidural and can’t feel anything), I don’t want to be coached to push. Although coached pushing is typical in hospitals, there is evidence that it can cause the baby to come out violently (causing tears and other problems in the mother) rather than smoothly. Also, the uterus can push the baby a big chunk of the way out on its own once the cervix is fully dilated, so starting active pushing as soon as the woman is fully dilated can be needlessly fatiguing. (There’s a nice article about all this on BabyCenter if you want to know more). I trust that when it’s time to push my body will let me know. Update: A doula friend informed me that some women never get the urge to push. If I have a long, exhausting labor, I’ll keep an open mind around coached pushing.
  • Saint Luke’s does delayed cord clamping by default (there’s evidence that this helps establish the baby’s iron stores), but there are different ideas about what “delayed” means. On my birth preferences I specifically ask for five minutes to ensure the cord has time to finish pulsating.
  • I want the baby to experience the world as a safe, secure place she can trust, so I’ve requested that all newborn procedures be delayed until an hour and a half after birth. Hopefully we’ll get some quality skin-on-skin time and try out breastfeeding before the baby needs to be poked, prodded, and weighed.

I’ve had a few people tell me birth preferences aren’t worth writing down because you can’t predict what’s going to happen during labor. For me, I don’t see the harm. Worst case scenario: my labor is rife with medical emergency after medical emergency and no part of my ideal birth is achieved. Many of the points on my birth preferences are qualified with the equivalent “unless doing otherwise is medically necessary,” so even this would not really violate my birth preferences. Average case scenario: Some of my birth preferences can’t be met, or I change my mind about some of my birth preferences in the moment. My birth preferences are not a covenant with God. Nobody is going to tell me I can’t do something because it violates a list I wrote ahead of time. Best case scenario: My baby and I have an amazing, wonderful birth experience with care above and beyond what the hospital would normally offer (or more tailored to my personal ideal, anyway). I’m not willing to give up the possibility for the best case scenario for fear of feeling disappointment in the other scenarios.

All in all, I’m feeling confident and at ease about going into labor, with a hint of something that could be either nervousness or excitement. You can come whenever you’re ready, little one!

32 Weeks Pregnant: Birth Prep Class

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.)

Crib ready to go!

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.

11 Weeks Pregnant: Hypermobility and Pregnancy

September 1 – September 6: 11 Weeks 0 Days – 11 Weeks 6 Days.

When we measured hamstring flexibility in high school gym class, I blew past the end of the gauge on the sit-and-reach box (which was about the only thing I was good at in P.E.). At 19, when I first set foot in a Bikram Yoga studio, I was already one of the most flexible people in the room. I often had yoga teachers ask me if I was a gymnast or a dancer—I wasn’t; my bendiness is mostly genetic. Needless to say, I’ve always been flexible in certain directions; however, I don’t know if I’ve always been hypermobile.

Flexibility is mainly a function of how long and pliable your muscles are. Hypermobility relates to different tissues. If you removed all the muscles from a human body (don’t try this at home), the bones would maintain a skeleton shape because of tiny straps called ligaments that hold the bones together at the joints. Ligaments have some elasticity, but unlike muscles, they don’t contract and relax. If you work diligently to build flexibility in a muscle, you may quickly lose your flexibility if you stop your stretching regimen. However, if you stretch out your ligaments, they stay that way for a quite a while. Some examples of actions that stretch ligaments:

  • Twisting your ankle
  • Pushing your elbow to straighten as far as it goes
  • Making sudden stops or pivots while running
  • Sinking into yoga poses as deeply as you can rather than maintaining integrity

If the ligaments get so lax that the joints are no longer stable (e.g. the shoulder easily comes out of place in its socket), it is called hypermobility. For people who get to this point, it’s of utmost importance to strengthen and refine control of the muscles around hypmobile joints as a second line of stability.


A view of the pelvis from the front.

All of this matters when you’ve got a baby on board because pregnant women’s ligaments become more pliable. Especially during the first trimester, pregnant women’s bodies release elevated levels of a hormone called relaxin. Bear with me for some anatomy: everybody knows that the hip joint is where the thigh bone attaches to the pelvis, but the pelvis also has a couple less illustrious joints that maintain its structure and don’t move that much under normal circumstances. The pelvis is made of two large irregular bones called the coxal bones (the iliac bone labelled in the diagram is part of the coxal bone), which come together in pubic area in the front and wrap around the sides and to the back where they join the sacrum bone, which (along with the coccyx) is the bottom part of the spine. One of relaxin’s function is to relax the ligaments of the joint in the front of the pelvis between the two coxal bones—the pubic symphysis—and of the joints between the coxal bones and the sacrum—the sacroiliac (or SI) joints. It makes birth a heck of a lot easier if the pelvis is mobile.

Because relaxin is released systemically, not just to those few pelvic joints, it affects all the ligaments in the body. People who have tight joints tend to enjoy this period of relative mobility. By the time I got pregnant I’d already been working with a couple hypermobile joints (including my SI joints) for two years. I had worked with a physical therapist to rehabilitate my body enough that I could teach yoga regularly and practice a couple times a week on top of that, but there was definitely a limit on how much stretching I could do before destabilizing my joints. My favorite classes became the ones that prepped the body for inversions, because they usually focused on strengthening instead of stretching. I kept telling myself, Before I get pregnant, I have to get back into doing my physical therapy exercise daily, start doing Pilates three times a week, and maybe even get back into weight training to stabilize my joints. But I didn’t get around to it, and I got pregnant a lot quicker than I thought I would. When I found out I had a baby on the way, I knew I was in trouble.

I’ve never striven to be that mama who’s 36 weeks pregnant doing a one-legged wheel through an Instagram filter (No disrespect intended—you are amazing and gorgeous; thank you for sharing what’s most authentic to you during pregnancy). However, I visualized myself continuing to work through pregnancy. When I was a lifeguard in college, there was a diving coach who worked at the pool named Betty-Sue, or Anna-Jane, or something like that. She was tall and boisterous, had pixie-cut stark red hair (before it was cool), and a giant pregnant belly. Fueled by the only images we had of pregnancy childbirth—the hectic emergency situations portrayed on TV and in movies—the other lifeguards and I were horrified that she was still working. We were sure we’d have to deliver a baby on the pool deck, armed only with the three-minute section about emergency childbirth we’d discussed in our first aid course. Years later, I think back on that diving coach as a powerful role model. During pregnancy, I wanted to be out there fulfilling a purpose greater than my own needs right up until my contractions started.

Needless to say, giving up a big chunk of my teaching was a tough choice, but it came down to the question: “Would you rather have the physical integrity to hold and carry your future child or to continue to practice contortion?” For me, there is no contest. As soon as I found out I was pregnant I stopped practicing yoga in public classes. My home practice has consisted almost exclusively of low lunge, legs up the wall, and savasana. Within a week of finding out I was pregnant I gave a month’s notice on the public vinyasa classes I’d been teaching. In that month it became clear that I’d made the right choice. After sitting cross-legged for long periods my ankles feel kinked. If I go to my full depth in a forward fold (let alone doing it repeatedly in a series of several sun salutations), my SI joints ache like never before until I can do some of my rehab exercises. After samokonasana (side splits), I feel pins and needles in my pubic symphysis for the rest of the day. Even in gentle back bends I feel sharp discomfort in my upper abdominals. Twists make me nauseous. In short, vinyasa yoga is not therapeutic for me at this time. I’ve had several pregnant women practice in my vinyasa classes into the third trimester, but it just isn’t meant to be in my body.

Last week, was my last week teaching vinyasa. I’m continuing to teach Seniors’ Yoga, yoga and meditation to people with chronic pain, and a couple private classes, which has been lovely and soothing for my body this week.

For others who have (or think they may have) hypermobile joints (during or not during pregnancy), here are some yoga-related insights I’ve gleaned from living in a similar body:

  • The cues in yoga classes don’t always apply to you. For example, a common cue in yoga is to tilt the pelvis forward (or reach the sit bones upward) during forward folds. If you’re already flexible this may destabilize the SI joints. Ask an anatomy-focused teacher for tips to suit your specific body after class, or sign up for a private session!
  • Yoga not just about softening and relaxing. The dialog around softening to intensity is one of the reasons yoga is so healing, but when you have hypermobile joints, there’s an art to it. With practice, you can learn to completely relax and release in one area while engaging the muscles to stabilize another. For example, in frog pose, can you soften your inner thighs and groin while engaging your core so your spine doesn’t hammock down? At first it can be like patting your head and rubbing your belly. Anusara-inspired yoga teachers often include great cues about stabilizing the joints.
  • Being hypermobile doesn’t necessarily mean you’re flexible. For one, muscles can automatically tighten up to protect hypermobile joints. Also, sometimes areas of immobility can actually contribute to hypermobility. For example, due to very mild scoliosis my upper back is less mobile than average. Above and below that immobile area, I have developed hypermobile joints that have compensate so I can approximate fun, sexy positions like wheel pose. Relying on hypermobile joints to achieve yoga poses is not a sustainable practice.
  • The posture should be steady

    The posture should be steady, comfortable, and grounded in joy – Patanjali (This photo was taken long before I was pregnant)

    You may not be able to feel your edge. You can easily and comfortably press hypermobile joints into unstable positions that may continue to stretch or damage surrounding ligaments. Because the ligaments are long, you don’t feel pain until the joint is really out of place. The cue, “Breath into the discomfort” in the absence of cues and enforcement of alignment did not serve me as a developing yogi. When I didn’t feel discomfort in a pose, I’d go searching for it. In some directions, the only discomfort available was achieved by destabilizing my joints. I used to hold resting pigeon 6 minutes each side per day because it was so beautifully intense—as if it was stretching the fibers of my soul. Turns out it was so intense because the way I was sinking into it was pulling apart the tissues that stabilized my SI joint. That sounds like it would be painful, but it’s important for other bendy yogis to know that it never felt bad or destructive to me; it felt transcendental. Now, my personal rule of thumb is that the stretching part of a pose should be comfortable and pleasant. Don’t worry, in most styles of yoga, there’s still tons of uncomfortable strength work as an arena to develop equanimity.

  • You may not have the strength to do the poses that most people don’t have the flexibility to do. The typical class that works up to wheel as a peak pose focuses on flexibility. This isn’t enough prep for me. Because I have the hypermobile segments in my spine, it takes an incredible amount of core/abdominal/back muscle control and strength for me to bend evenly in my spine instead of just collapsing into those “easy” joints. To do wheel comfortably, I need to spend a good chunk of time priming the strength component of the pose. (Actually, this is good advice for anyone. Doing wheel without engaging the abdominals to control the back bend is a really effective way to develop painful hypermobility issues).
  • Typical sequencing may not work for you. For me: Ashtanga and other sun-salutation-heavy styles—yuck, too repetitive and extreme-to-extreme to keep my joints in place. Sequencing that’s so focused on the peak pose that is sacrifices balance—ick, imbalanced muscle groups can easily pull unstable joints out of alignment. Hamstring stretches until the sacred cows come home—my SI joint says no thanks. Yin yoga—Oh God no. Those long holds are designed to get into your connective tissues, that’s the whole point of them. I don’t need my ligaments to be any longer than they are. It’ll be different depending on what you’ve got going on in your body. It’s okay if not all styles of yoga resonate with you. It’s okay if no style of yoga resonates with you.
  • Yoga is not a cure-all. Anyone who tells you otherwise probably has a financial interest in you continuing to practice yoga exclusively. There’s a glaring (but sometimes hard-to-accept) difference between a practice that’s therapeutic and one that’s only tolerable; just because you can do all the typical yoga poses doesn’t mean they’re improving your physical state (or improving your ability to sit in meditation). Check in with your body. You may have incorporate other types of exercise or therapies into your regimen to restabilize your joints. I’m not qualified to give medical advice, but for my body, seeing a physical therapist who could specifically evaluate what was going on in my body, give me physical hands-on adjustments, and assign homework exercises to keep those adjustments in place worked better than anything else. Pilates with an experienced teacher is also great. Since I’ve been pregnant I’ve been taking Preggo Pilates with Stephanie Forster. Update: Nearing the end of my second trimester, I swear even more vehemently by prenatal pilates. When life has painfully kinked my joints, pilates has snapped me back into place.
  • There are seven other limbs of yoga, all of which you can still practice, even with hypermobile joints. Let your asana be a practice that serves you—not a practice that adheres to what other people tell you that you “should” be doing (Prenatal yoga is such a staple in San Francisco that not one doctor, midwife, or acquaintance could resist telling me I should try it even after hearing about my joint issues. You know your body. You know what’s right—that knowledge just may be hiding under a couple layers of ego). I’ve been using the Hypnobabies home-study course (see my review of it here) as a form of meditation and connection to my baby.

Having hypermobile joints can leave us feeling lonely and judged because there are relatively few of us out there, people don’t have much compassion for us (“You’re too flexible? I’d love to have your problem!”), and sometimes we’re even shamed for succumbing to our challenges (yoga teachers may tell us to “let go of our ego” when we’re sinking too deep into yoga poses rather than helping us find alignment in the lax joints we have a hard time sensing). My hypermobile sisters and brothers: know that you are not the only one. It’s okay to have the body you have—just because certain things don’t work for you doesn’t mean your body is bad or wrong or broken. If a teacher makes you feel that way, it’s a sign they don’t have the knowledge to help you; find a new teacher. Your body is perfect, and there is a practice out there that will be therapeutic for you. Trust that if you let go of dogmas around asana, put the other principles of yoga to work, and get a little one-on-one help from an experienced teacher or therapist, you will find your way.

22 Weeks Pregnant: Pregnancy Book Reviews

November 17 – November 23: 22 Weeks 0 Days – 22 Weeks 6 Days.

Bu(m)pdate for this rainy week:

22 Weeks Bump

22 weeks, 5 days. (Maternity clothes courtesy of my H&M shopping spree a couple weeks ago)

I’ve officially burnt out of reading books about pregnancy and childbirth, and am now moving on to reading about newborn care. Here’s what I thought of the books I read:

Natural Hospital Birth: The Best of Both Worlds by Cynthia Gabriel

Natural Hospital BirthThis was my favorite book I read about childbirth because it’s well-written, non-repetitive, and focuses on exactly the type of birth I’m planning to have. I did my research and have chosen to give birth in a hospital, so it’s tiresome to read books and articles about natural birth that push me to do it at home; home birth is a great option with several benefits, but it’s not the option I chose. Natural Hospital Birth clearly and concisely lays out birth options, and offers written exercises to help the reader make good guesses about what they’ll want during labor and childbirth. (Several weeks ago, I blogged about some realizations I had while reading this book). After reading this book I felt much better educated about my choices and I felt prepared to navigate having as natural a birth as possible in a hospital setting.

Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth by Ina May Gaskin

Ina May's Guide to ChildbirthI read this book years before I got pregnant for my prenantal yoga teacher training. The first half is full of empowering natural birth stories, and the second half is a detailed explanation of labor and birth, and evidence-based information about what helps and what hurts (different birth positions, medications, interventions). Before reading this book, I didn’t really get why anyone would go through the ordeal of having a natural birth. After reading it, I concluded that my baby and I would have the best chances at a good outcome having as natural a birth as possible (leaving room for medically necessary interventions, of course).

However, the book has such a strong agenda toward promoting natural home birth, that I felt some interventions are presented in a overly negative light. For example, after reading the chapter “What You Least Expect When You’re Expecting,” I felt scared of pitocin (a drug that stimulates labor) because of the potential side effects, but that fear is not going to serve me if pitocin ends up being medically necessary for me.

Also, in the years since this book was written many hospitals have shifted away from the dismal scene Ina May presents: a fluorescent-lit room where you’re strapped down on your back, denied food and drink, and cut open (via C-section of episiotomy) so the doctor can yank the baby out of you. At my hospital (Saint Luke’s in San Francisco) the labor and delivery rooms are dimly lit, you’re allowed to give birth in any position (they provide a squatting bar, birthing ball, and birthing chair), they let you eat and drink (unless you’re getting an epidural or C-section), they don’t do routine episiotomies, and they recommend hiring a doula. Despite these qualms, overall this book is amazing. I’m planning to reread the birth stories a my baby’s birth nears.

Having Faith by Sandra Steingraber

Having FaithThis book incorporates elements of memoir and informational non-fiction. This format makes it slower to read and harder to reference if you’re looking for a specific piece of information, but I enjoyed it anyway. The book is a detailed discussion about how what we eat, drink, breathe, and touch can affect babies’ development during pregnancy and breastfeeding. With my dry background in science, the author’s vibrant, metaphor-rich descriptions of embryonic development were refreshing. I found the detailed information about various environmental teratogens (substances that can cause birth defects) fascinating. This book inspired me to take the risk of heavy metals more seriously—lead and mercury can be devastating for a baby’s brain development. One caveat: Many of the harmful conditions that can affect the baby’s development can’t be changed easily or immediately, so some of the take-aways may be a little depressing (unless you have time to become an environmental activist, elicit a change in governmental regulations, and wait for the benefits to take effect before you get pregnant).

Other resources I used:

The Business of Being Born Documentary

The Business of Being BornIf you’re okay with shaking your trust in the medical system, watch this documentary. The track record of medical interventions in normal births over last 100+ years has been kind of horrifying (for an example, read up on Twilight Sleep). It will also give you a window into the types of things you’ll read about in much more detail in Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth. Side benefit: Rikki Lake is the interviewer, which is a fun blast from the past.

Hypnobabies® Home Study Course

This was recommended to me by a few different friends, and there are several things I enjoy about it:

  • The track of joyful pregnancy affirmations (psychological factors have a huge effect on how women experience pain during labor, so positivity throughout pregnancy is key).
  • Positive rewording. In Hypnobabies, “labor” is called “my birthing time” so it doesn’t sound as hard), “contractions” are called “pressure waves” (which sounds more positive and productive), and the “due date” is called the “guess date” (so the baby isn’t considered “late” if it’s born after that). I’m all for anything that makes my perception of pregnancy and childbirth positive.
  • The recorded self-hypnosis sessions. Due to issues with my hypermobile joints, I haven’t been able to practice much yoga during pregnancy (so poses, anyway), so these tracks have been like my meditation. They are each 30 minutes long, which drives me crazy on fidgety days, but practicing everyday has helped me refine my ability to completely relax. Some of the tracks include visualizations that helped me connect with my baby before she starting kicking and feeling real.

The overall course is pretty time-consuming. If you do everything the manual says, you’ll spend over an hour a day on it for six weeks (and, of course, the course author says that if you don’t do everything they tell you to it wont work for you). I started my course early, and am going through it much slower than recommended.

Beyond the instructions on self-hypnosis, I’m not a fan of the content in the manual for the course. The dialog in the manual also seems to implicitly blame the mother if the Hypnobabies techniques don’t work for her (i.e. it must have been because the mother wasn’t dedicated enough in her preparation). It’s also got pretty single-track education about childbirth, which made me feel like if my birth went any differently than that one ideal way, all the techniques I’d learned would no longer apply. I want to feel positive, prepared, and accepting no matter what happens.

There were some nuggets of wonderful information in the manual, so it was worth reading for me. However, despite what the author writes (that Hypnobabies should be your only childbirth education course lest the other courses sully your positivity), I would recommend that you read more than only the Hypnobabies® manual to prepare for childbirth. Maybe doing just that will water down the effectiveness of the techniques for me, but that’s okay—I’m not attached to having a brand name childbirth.

BabyCenter My Pregnancy Today App

This is a fun app to have to keep track of what week I’m in, what the baby is up to, how I can alleviate discomforts, and how I can prepare for what’s to come. BabyCenter’s write-ups compare the baby to a fruit or vegetable every week, which is cute (but can also be confusing: A carrot? Like how big of a carrot?). I mostly enjoy checking this app, but sometimes I feel like it can be an overload of information that isn’t easily verified. For example, this article about herbal tea during pregnancy made me worry about drinking herbal infusions my doctors said were fine (like chamomile tea). The article has no citations so it would take a ton of independent research to assess the quality of all the information. After doing some half-hearted research on my own, I decided to stop stressing about it and drink my favorite herbal teas in moderation.

What Richard read:

The Birth Partner by Penny Simkin

The Birth Partner A friend who had a baby about a year ago recommended this book. I can’t give much of a review on it, because I didn’t read it, Richard did. From my perspective, reading the book made Richard feel more comfortable and confident about supporting me during childbirth. Some days he’d come home after reading his book on the bus and ask if I needed him to make me a snack or anything. He’d explain that the book had reminded him to take care of me in any way that I needed it. It’s a tough read though. Even though Richard is a fast reader, it took him a while to get through. He also didn’t like reading the sections about complications—I felt the same way in all the books I read—but if any of that stuff does end up happening, at least we’ll be informed about what’s going on.

The Missing Pieces:

What To Expect When You're ExpectingBetween my prenatal yoga teacher training, the reading material the hospital gave me, and a human growth and development course I took during university, I had solid understanding about how babies develop and the discomforts I would face during pregnancy, however none of books listed above covers these topics in depth. Also, all of the books I read went over the medical aspects of childbirth in some way, but none covered the medical aspects of pregnancy. I didn’t have a book that explained what to expect at my first prenatal appointment, what my prenatal screening options were, or when I would be getting ultrasounds. A midwife I know recommended against reading the mainstream bible on pregnancy, What to Expect When You’re Expecting, because it apparently uses language that’s disempowering to women and pathologizes pregnancy and childbirth. Even so, since I’m going the hospital route, I think it would have been nice to read an overview book like this early on so I knew, for example, that the transvaginal ultrasound was coming in my first prenatal visit (I didn’t even know that thing existed!).

Next in my queue:

Baby 411 by Ari Brown and Denise Fields. (I’ve already started this, and it is slow going).

The Baby Book by the entire Sears family, I think. (I’ve tasked Richard with reading this one)