January 30, 2008

Sarah explains the world, part 379

So a pregnant friend of mine very sweetly emailed to me, this morning, that she'd be glad to hear any thoughts I had about childbirth...and of course, I emailed back a several page treatise that went on far too long in way too much detail--typical me. But since I spent all this time writing some thoughts, it occurred to me I might post them here, mostly because I'd be interested in what other people have to say.


As to labor itself...well, i guess I do have a couple of things worth sharing about that. maybe. the first is that: it will be fine. and whatever happens, you will love your story. whatever happens, it will be GREAT.

I felt really strongly before hand that I wanted a natural childbirth--it was important to me. If you decide that it's important to you, I can give you some tips about how to make that happen for yourself--it can be difficult to do in a hospital. But i don't think there's inherently anything better about a natural birth...though, i I will say that it was a huge boost to have a sense of delivering a child as something I DID, myself. It's like reading Moby Dick, or running a marathon. I did gain some confidence from the experience. But there are lots of ways to gain confidence.

The one thing I would say that I did right (given that I had an unusually short labor) is that I was really lowkey about the early stages of it. I just relaxed on the couch, with no lights and no clock, and just slept through it as much as I could. I basically think that timing contractions is kind of bullshit. It gets you all hyped up and distracted, which ultimately slows down your contractions and makes them less effecient. You don't need to know how far apart your contractions are to know when to go to the hospital. go to the hospital when, as a friend of mine said, you are "howling like a dog." EVERYTHING IS LESS COMFORTABLE at the hospital. So stay home where it is nice as long as you can. If you know you've reached your threshold, it's time to go to the hospital--and then you can either have your baby, or, if you're not dilated enough, you can make them give you pitocin and an epidural, and then you'll have your baby. Either way.

also, I would say that (and i know other people who've said this) the hardest part about the contractions isn't that they hurt, but rather that they make you afraid of how much it's going to hurt later. You get this sense, in the midst of a contraction, that "i can do this, but I can't do any more than this." But that is WRONG. all you have to do is have the contraction you're having.

The other thing I would pass on as really good advice I received is that you must remember that "birth is non linear." Nothing about any part of the labor tells you, necessarily, anything about how the rest of it will go. The first part can go really quickly and then you can get stuck for hours, or vice-versa. Both are perfectly normal--and this is part of why you want to stay relaxed as you can at the beginning, because you have no way of knowing what will happen later.

It's important to remember this in the weeks before you are due, particularly if your doctor does cervical exams. I know many many people who were, like, two centimeters dilated at their 38 week appointment. And then they were all hyped up about how their baby could come! Any minute! And they got all exhausted and wired and their baby didn't come until 41 weeks, or whatever, because those first two centimeters have NOTHING TO DO with the last eight. Doctors DO NOT UNDERSTAND labor; we do not know what triggers it or why it happens the way it does. Doctors can give you information about where you are, but they can't accurately predict, I would say, what is going to happen next.

Okay, that's a lot! Let me reiterate the main point: it will be fine, try and relax, etc. Also...it will not be what you expect. Which is okay. Because the great part about childbirth is that it's bigger than you...and it's good to be a part of something bigger than you. Or at least, that's what I'm learning.


Michelle said...

"the first is that: it will be fine. and whatever happens, you will love your story. whatever happens, it will be GREAT."

Umm, ok. I agree that it will be FINE, and GREAT. But I don't love my story. It was a sad story. My daughter wasn't home with me for almost two months. BUT, that being said, then end result is that she and I are healthy and well. I think what folks have to keep in mind is that they should be open to whatever experience the universe delivers. Part of my heartache was how single-mindedly I had planned my experience, and didn't even let the idea that it might not happen that way enter my mind. There's a whole lot that is beyond one's control in this life, truly. Banking on your vision, and not allowing yourself the mental space to say "OK, God (or whatever), just let me be fully present in whatever experience I will have" and really being at peace with that, is what causes such disappointment and anguish. That and a sick NICU baby with blood transfusions and infections.

DISCLAIMER: Not trying to be a downer, ya'll. I had a rare complication that required the very early delivery of my girl (very medical and very NOT what I wanted). But we had a very happy ending (beginning?). I learned to let go and stop trying to control everything. Great (and hard) lesson.

Amy E said...

Labor sounds purely terrifying to me. This is the best article about the devolved human process of childbirth:

"In Karen Rosenberg's laboratory at the University of Delaware, a room packed with the casts of skulls and bones of chimpanzees, gibbons, and other primates, one model stands out: It's a life-size replica of a human female pelvic skeleton mounted on a platform. There is also a fetal skull with a flexible gooseneck wire. The idea is to simulate the human birth process by manually moving the fetal head through the pelvis.

It looks easy enough.

"Go ahead, try it," Rosenberg says.

Turn the little oval skull face-forward, and it drops neatly into the pelvic brim, the beginning of the birth canal. But then it jams against the protrusions of the ischial bones (those that bear the burden during a long car ride). More shoving and rotating, and it's quickly apparent that the skull must traverse a passage that seems smaller than itself, cramped not only by the ischial bones but also by the coccyx, the bottom of the tailbone, which pokes into the lower pelvic cavity. Only by maneuvering the skull to face sideways in the middle of the canal and then giving it a firm push, does it move a centimeter or two—before it gets hung up again. Twist it, jostle it: The thing won't budge. Rosenberg guides my hand to turn the skull around to face backward, and then, with a hard shove, the stubborn cranium finally exits the birth canal.

"Navigating the birth canal is probably the most gymnastic maneuver most of us will ever make in life," says Rosenberg, chair of the university's department of anthropology. It's a trick all right, especially if there's no guiding hand to twirl and ram the skull. And the neat two-piece model doesn't even include the broad, rigid shoulders of the human infant, a legacy from our apelike ancestors who, some 20 million years ago, evolved wide clavicles that allowed them to hang suspended from branches and feed on fruit. To follow the head, a baby's shoulders must also rotate two times to work through the birth canal; they sometimes get stuck, causing injury to part of the spinal nerves that control the arms.

Suddenly I understand as never before why it took 36 hours, two doctors, and three shifts of nurses to safely deliver my firstborn."

(sorry I can't find the horrifying picture that goes with this article, of the mother skeleton pelvis trying to fit the baby body skeleton through it - CRAZY)

Jackson, Sheree, & Jason said...

I also agree that it will be fine, but it might not be great. It will however, be worth it. Since my child was approaching 10 pounds, the description from Amy above is more fitting.

Whatever your beliefs regarding "natural" or "medically assisted" are, I hope you have the opportunity to deliver at a facility that embraces both methods and respects your wishes, your changing mind (if it does), and your safety.

Sarah had the courtesy not to mention the horror or the pain on the front page of her blog. Since these are the comments page, I'll be a little more free. I went into the experience terrified. For me, the delivery was traumatic. There are men who will say that childbirth is less painful than kidney stones. I experienced both within 3 months. The pain of kidney stones is equivalent to the pain of labor contractions. For me, the pain of delivery was much much worse. My scars are both physical and emotional. That traumatic experience has likely hightened my love for my child. My fear is gone, and someday I might volunteer to try again.

Amy E said...

I've had kidney stones a few times in my life and met other women who have had both kidney stones and child labor, and they said the stones were worse. I guess it depends on the stones, and the labor. My stones were so painful I had no choice but to vomit nonstop then slip into unconsciousness repeatedly. Most people manage to stay awake in labor, though maybe I don't know the whole story.

I've beenI somewhat taking hope that if I did have a baby I knew I could get through it since I did get through kidney stones. Hmmmm. Now you give me new, greater fear of labor pain. Perhaps I also take some solace from my mother, who had me at over 8 pounds in under 5 hours, her first delivery. Hopefully things could go so well for me, if, if, if, if.

Jackson, Sheree, & Jason said...

Amy--I'm sure every experience is different. I managed to just vomit one time with the kidney stones, and I did maintain my consciousness. I am sure you can get through labor and delivery. Think of it this way--with the kidney stones, all you got was a couple of rocks that weren't even suitable for jewelry. With the labor, you get a little bitty human lifeform who will be the greatest joy you'll ever know.

Be Like the Squirrel, Girl said...

As always, I appreciate hearing about other women's experiences. Sarah, I love what you said about childbirth being bigger than one's self. I am actually looking forward to being counted among the other brave women who have gone through this and I'm sure I will have an interesting story of my own. :)