What I Wish You Told Me Before I Had A Baby

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Recently, I spoke to several fellow first-time mothers and shared with each other the hardship of mothering a newborn:

“I couldn’t walk for 2 weeks…”

“I thought breastfeeding was going to be easy…”

“It’s a good thing babies are so cute…”

“It was the hardest time of my life…”

As we shared our common experiences, we all had the same thought: “Why didn’t anyone tell us it was going to be so difficult?!”

During pregnancy, it seemed as if everyone was only interested in learning the mundane: what foods we craved, if the pregnancy was planned, and our top picks for the baby’s name. My hypnobirthing class—which made up the most of my birth training— was hyper focused on visualizing the perfect birth experience and instilling positive thoughts. The outcome was that I was underprepared for what would be the most difficult weeks I’ve yet to experience.

For me, the part where you love your baby unconditionally is a no brainer—now that I’m almost three months into motherhood, I am LOVING being a mom. It’s the other side of parenthood that people failed to tell us about.

I wish that parents advising me to “sleep when the baby sleeps” would instead wail to me about the nights where they only slept for an hour and the midnight hours walking back and forth to get baby to sleep. And instead of suggestions like “check out the breastfeeding group” and “you should probably read about breastfeeding”, I wish I was informed about the high likelihood of developing blisters, scabs, bleeding, and pain during the initial period of breastfeeding.

I wish I sat down longer with veteran parents and solicited the harrowing details of the first few weeks of parenthood. I admit it—I may also be guilty of being dismissive of negative stories, imagining that I would be lucky and have the perfect experience that I had been meditating on for months and months. After talking to many mothers now, I am surprised to hear how even the healthiest, most prepared and optimistic women just as likely to have these common challenges with birth and motherhood.

Don’t get me wrong—my baby turned out to be the most wonderful thing in my life. She is so happy and beautiful, and her smile lights up my day. However I didn’t have these feelings in the first few weeks of her entrance into my life…but I got through it with patience, time, and encouragement.

Hoping that I can help prevent future mothers from having the same SHOCK experience, I wanted to share these six pieces of advice I wish I had received before motherhood:

1. Expect the unexpected. Nearly every one of my friends who had a baby around the same time as me (early 2015) had some sort of complication during labor. Babies born very early, babies born very late, babies who experienced fetal distress during birth. Friends of mine had unexpected c-sections as I did, were unable to give birth at the birth center, and had unwanted medical procedures done. No matter how hard you prepared to have a normal delivery and how much positive thinking you put into your pregnancy, there is never any guarantee it will happen your way. There may be scary surprises along the way, but you’ll get through it! It’s all part of this wonderful art of creating life.

2. Plan for the recovery period. When I was pregnant, there was so much focus on the pregnancy and birth that very few people prepped me for how difficult the weeks following the birth would be. I wish more people talked about how it was like to recover from a vaginal delivery or a C-section delivery so I knew that I should expect to be immobile for several weeks and that my main job was to nurse and to rest. I didn’t even learn how to change diapers until about a week into it because dad graciously filled the role of official diaper-changer and baby holder while I was recovering from the c-section. I recommend that mothers-to-be start recruiting friends and family who can volunteer to come over to feed to you, help you clean, and look after the baby so you can rest. Inform your family in advanced that you want some private time alone with the baby and your partner & set clear visitation rules if you have overexcited or intrusive family members.

3. It’s okay if you’re annoyed with the baby. The pain from labor, the fatigue from not sleeping for days, and the stress of figuring out why your baby is crying are all enough reasons why parents may not be initially head over heels over their baby. I felt horribly guilty that I was not automatically in love with my newborn. I told everyone that I wished she would skip the newborn phase and turn into a walking, talking toddler already.  Little did I know that many mothers felt this same way for the first few weeks or months. It takes time for mommy and baby to get to know each other and develop a bond, so don’t feel bad if you find the baby irritating at first…the love will come in time! Once my baby started cooing, smiling and reciprocating the love, it made the long days a million times more fun.

4. Don’t be surprised by the baby blues. Even if you do not think you are predisposed to depression, you shouldn’t be surprised if you feel sad, anxious or even regretful about having a baby. In my case, I had been baby-hungry for several years—so I was very surprised that I was not completely ecstatic about my little one’s arrival. I ended up reminiscing a lot about the carefree days when my husband and I could sleep, go out, and eat whenever we wanted. I was so sad those days were over! I cried almost daily for about three weeks. The baby blues happen for 80% of new mothers, and it is only temporary. What helped me get through it was talking to other mothers, crying on my husband’s shoulder, energy healing sessions, and some wine! If the baby blues persists, then it’s time to consult professional help.

5. Breast-feeding is not easy. Almost every new mother I know I had some sort of difficulty with breast-feeding in the first few weeks. I had blisters and scabs for the first two weeks and it was excruciating. One night I was so exhausted and in pain from nursing, I had even contemplated switching to formula! I also developed mastitis, an infection of the breast that resulted in a very high fever and had to be treated with antibiotics. Because of these common problems, there’s a good reason free breast-feeding support groups exists. Mothers need as much help and encouragement as they can get to continue breastfeeding their little one and not give up. Being able to provide all of the nutrition to my baby is an amazing feeling, and I’m so happy that I was able to get through those first few weeks with the help of lactation consultants at the hospital and at support groups.

6. It gets better! What I learned from this experience is that I am a much stronger woman—both physically and emotionally—than I ever knew I was capable of. Once I got through the never-ending first month, I felt like everything started falling into place. I started trusting my instincts more and became less reliant on the advice of the internet and other mothers. My baby started crying less and sleeping more. I felt stronger and more confident in my ability to care for her. My husband and I became closer than ever. It indeed does get infinitely better and easier over time!

This post is not meant to scare anyone—I’m sorry if that is an unintended effect. Instead, I hope it helps new mothers to know what to expect and to not be completely taken by surprise.

What do you think about my list? Any other advice you would pass on to new mothers? Does hearing about the initial difficulties of motherhood scare you away from it?

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How My Hypnobirthing Plan Turned into a C-section Delivery

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Deciding on Natural Birth

Before my pregnancy, I never thought it was possible for me to have a natural birth. I knew myself too well–I had low pain tolerance, heightened physical sensitivities, and a body in which I was confident is too small to bear a child. Besides, my mother, stepmother, and nearly every woman in my family had c-sections. I figured that there was something in my bloodline that made it particularly challenging to have a vaginal birth.

However when I first learned I was pregnant in June 2014, I looked into the range of birthing options and ultimately decided to work towards a natural birth. I was displeased to hear how often medically unnecessary interventions are used during labor and wanted to embrace the possibility that I could have a gentle, comfortable birth experience. And so I decided to stick with the approach that I normally use to manage most of my health issues: start with more natural remedies (i.e. natural birth), use modern medicine (i.e. epidural) if they fail.

I enrolled in a hypnobirthing course and for the last four months of pregnancy practiced the techniques diligently. I appreciated how hypnobirthing can help make natural birth a reality for many women–however, I was well aware that every woman’s body is different and so is their pain tolerance. I’ve heard many women’s accounts of childbirth….everything from “it felt like I was being repeatedly stabbed by a knife” to “it was just a lot of pressure but not pain” to “it was orgasmic!” I wished for nothing more than to know ahead of time what it would feel like for me, but since there is no way for me to know, I knew tat pain relief would continue to be an option for me if I needed it.

How It All Went Down

I was fortunate to have had a relatively uneventful and comfortable pregnancy. However, I was physically and emotionally miserable in the last few weeks. I started my maternity leave from work on week 37, thinking (or hoping?) that perhaps my baby will come early. Week after week passed and I was surprised that she had not yet emerged from my petite body. It was very difficult to idle at home as I waited for her. My husband and I were becoming very impatient.

Before we knew it, week 41 was approaching. I had had mild signs of prodromal labor, my cervix was dilated about 2-3 cm, and I had bloody show. In the last few days before her birth, I had received 2 acupuncture sessions and spent the days self-stimulating labor-inducing acupressure points. I also walked several times a day and did many other natural forms of induction. Nothing worked!

On week 41 and 1 day, we decided to give my obstetrician permission to sweep my membranes. I was very conflicted about this because I read accounts that this procedure sometimes threw women into intense labor very quickl–or it didn’t work at all. I was hyper anxious about approaching week 42 and having to be induced with pitocin hence I opted for the membrane sweep.

The actual procedure was very uncomfortable. The obstetrician stuck a finger into my cervix and made circular motions to separate the bag of water from the walls of the uterus. This was supposed to trigger labor-inducing hormones within 72 hours. I had the procedure done on a Friday afternoon around 2:30pm. By the time I came home, I was feeling a mild back ache and abdominal cramping that came in waves. It was a gentle feeling, 3/10 on the pain scale, and lasted for about 4-5 hours. By 9pm, it had stopped.

Around 11:15pm, I was watching TV on my couch when my first REAL contraction happened. This was way more powerful than the prodromal labor contractions that I had felt previously. It was about a 6/10 on the pain scale. I walked over to my husband and told him “it’s happening!” The third one hit a few minutes later and I knew I was in for something much more intense than I had ever anticipated. I did not have a gradual progression of intensity as I had expected. By the fifth or sixth contraction, the feeling of pain was at a 7 or 8 and was coming about every 5 minutes and lasting almost a minute. At some point during the hour I was laboring at home, I started collapsing to my hands and knees every time a contraction hit me.

Every woman’s sensation of labor is different. The easiest way for me to describe what a contraction felt like for me was the fist of gravity trying to rip the baby out of me all in one pull. I tried to breathe through each one and use my relaxation techniques but to no avail. It was terrifying and I dreaded each upcoming contraction.

I asked my husband to pack up our bag to head to the hospital and I told him in advanced that I was going to ask for an epidural. We arrived at the hospital to be admitted to triage. I was thoroughly pissed that they would ask a woman in labor pain so many questions that they had in their system already. I also had to endure another 2-3 hours of contractions until a room was available. At this point, with each contraction, I had rolled up my husband’s sweater and bit into it with each wave. He seemed relieved that I stopped trying to bite into his leg!

Once the anesthesiologist administered the epidural, I was immediately relieved and laid back comfortably on my hospital bed. The next moments were hazy to me but my husband gave me his account of what happened. Minutes after I was given the epidural, my blood pressure dropped dramatically (my blood pressure is normally very low) and so did the baby’s heart rate. The nurses tilted my bed backwards to send blood flowing to my head and was squeezing the IV bag to get fluids into my system. Before I knew it, they were rolling me upstairs to the operating room as they explained to me that the baby’s heart rate had dropped for several minutes and that I may need a cesarean section. I was too numbed out to have an emotional response–I only knew it was serious because I was surrounded by doctors and nurses, and they were going back and forth on what they should do.

Finally, at one point, the primary doctor saw that the baby’s heart rate had stabilized to a normal level and did not see a need for a cesarian section at that moment. I was wheeled to another room and, seeing that I was 9.5 cm dilated and baby was not low enough for me to push, I was asked to wait until it was time for active labor.

I was immensely relieved at the news and rested comfortable for about an hour in my room as they monitored the baby’s vitals. All of the nurses on the floor were on edge because the baby’s heart rate continued to drop with each contraction. At one point, the nurses were getting ready to wheel me back to the OR before the doctor asked them to give me some time to try pushing the baby out. I was effective at pushing and they continued to monitor her heart rate with each contraction and push. Her vitals looked dire. Finally the new doctor told me that a c-section was the best option for me with the least risk.

Of course my husband and I consented to whatever the doctor thought would be best for me and the baby. This didn’t keep me from feeling very stressed and worried about the operation. I knew that most C-sections are uncomplicated but I still had a deep fear that something would go wrong and my body would not be able to tolerate it. I was shaking very intensely due to both the labor hormones and pure fear. I asked my husband for my headphones and music so that I could relax as they prepared me for the operation room. As soon as I started listening to music, I broke down, cried and told my husband that how scared I was. He consoled me and reassured me that the staff were going to take care of me.

They wheeled me over to the OR and hot tears were still pouring down my face. The anesthiologist stood by my side as they tested my pain sensation and assured me that I was going to meet my baby in about twenty minutes. Soon my husband was allowed in the room and they hung up the drape by my chest so that we could not see the operation.

Surely, after some tugging and pulling at my abdomen, we heard a cry. I saw her face and I was so happy to see that she was okay. Travis went over to the side as they cleaned her up. He then brought her over to me. I gave her many kisses. I was so joyful and relieved to finally meet her.

My Thoughts Now

My daughter Sky is two weeks old now and I am feeling almost fully recovered from the surgery. The recovery process and first few days of learning how to care for her were very difficult. I often found myself drifting back to day of her birth and ruminating on how scary the whole experience was for me. I also couldn’t stop wondering what I could’ve done to have made labor a better experience. If I didn’t have my membranes swept, would the contractions have been less painful? Would I be able to tolerate a second birth without an epidural? And considering that my body did not tolerate the epidural very well, would I ever be able to give birth again without an c-section? All questions I’m not able to answer unless I can travel back or ahead in time. For now, I can only absolutely grateful that both Sky and I made it through that experience alive and healthy.

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Preparing for a Natural, Unmedicated Birth – Part 2

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San Diego natural birth center
Best Start Birth Center

We just finished our five-week Hypnobirthing class at the local birth center. When I first registered for the class, I thought that most of the class would be devoted to learning hypnosis via self-hypnosis and partner learning how to hypnotize mom.  I didn’t quite get it until very late in our course that the HypnoBirthing approach is actually more of a holistic educational program promoting natural birthing, not a hardcore hypnosis class.  One of the teachers mentioned that she is not a fan of the name “Hypnobirthing” and now I see why.  It is a deceiving title considering that some of the couples who use the approach do not end up practicing the hypnosis techniques taught in the class–and nevertheless they still find the course to be highly beneficial.

As I’ve learned from other mommy bloggers, not every hypnobirthing class is exactly the same. The content can vary a bit depending on who teaches it and where you take it.  Nonetheless, I thought it would be interesting to share with you about the things that I learned in my class at the Best Start Birth Center in San Diego taught by doula Christal Quick.

The impact of fear on childbirth

HypnoBirthing - Marie MonganThe more fear in our minds, the more tension and pain we will experience during childbirth.  The hypnobirthing book describes one birth story in which the mother in labor was so tense that her constricted uterus turned white– her blood drained from the parts of her body needed to labor her baby to her extremities, which is what naturally happens when your body is in “stress mode”.   Modern medicine and the media has successfully convinced many of us to believe that childbirth is scary, painful and nearly impossible without medical intervention…even when women have been laboring for thousands of years naturally without the need for hospitals and medical devices.  

The first step of hypnobirthing is to understand the social narrative around birth that is engrained in many of us and to consciously transform that into positive thoughts about birthing. The numerous natural birthing videos that we watched in class made a big difference for many of us.  These births were typically calm, quiet, and joyful, unlike the documentaries on TLC of screaming mothers in emergency rooms. Watching different narratives of birth can help instill the confidence that we can in fact facilitate a comfortable and gentle birth for our baby.

The use of medical interventions during labor

The stories of unnecessary and sometimes harmful interventions used by hospitals and doctors are outrageous–however, it’s not surprising considering that medical care in America is essentially a profit-driven, efficiency-based machine.  If you want to learn more about the evolution of childbirth in this country, just watch the documentary “The Business of Being Born“.  Our teachers were very helpful in teaching us to ask questions about recommended procedures.  A memorable acronym is BRAlN: what are the Benefits, what are the Risks, what Alternatives are there, what does my Intuition tell me, and what if I do Nothing? We also learned ways how to prevent circumstances in which doctors are more likely to recommend a medical procedure. For instance, we learned natural ways to stimulate labor and exercises to help baby get into the preferred birth position.

Keep Calm and Hypnobirth

Relaxation techniques

We are asked to listen to the hypnosis audio CD included in the book on a regular basis. Some people relax incredibly well to the CD and others cannot stand to listen to the British lady on the CD every single night. I personally love the CD and can fall asleep to it within ten minutes of turning it on.

In the hypnobirthing approach, the birthing partners play a huge role in helping to keep mom relaxed and comfortable. They are taught to read hypnosis scripts to help mom relax during labor.  This, we didn’t practice very much and will likely not use during labor. Other relaxations tools that are taught are: visualization exercises, breathing for specific stages in labor, fear release exercises, light touch massage, and affirmations. All of these tools I found to be incredibly helpful in easing me into a relaxing and positive state of mind. 

Lastly, a huge part of feeling relaxed is being prepared: hospital bag, music playlist, essential oils, hot packs, cold presses, eye masks, deciding who will be in the delivery room, making plans for someone to care for your animal child, you name it. In our last class, we even spent a few hours practicing different labor positions with the help of our partners. 

In case you haven’t heard of this technique before, don’t think that it’s only used in the hippy corners of the world.  It’s a technique that is definitely gaining traction. Public figures such as Kate Middleton have chosen this approach for their births, and there are growing studies that show positive outcomes for hypnobirthing mommies and babies.  With that said, I have also read and heard first hand of stories in which the mothers practiced this approach but still opted for epidurals, were induced, or had to have emergency c-sections.

There is absolutely no guarantee that this approach will offer a pain-free, natural birthing experience to all who are attracted to it. But the way I see it, even if a natural birth is not the final outcome, this approach can help parents learn that they can still lovingly and calmly welcome a baby into this world no matter what path the child chose to get here.

As you can probably tell, I really enjoyed this class and am a huge proponent of this approach. I’m so glad that I took this class early in pregnancy, so that I have several months to prepare and practice the tools.  I would recommend this class at Best Start to anyone interested in having a natural birth!  Please feel free to comment below with any questions or suggestions you may have.

 

 

 

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Preparing for a Natural, Unmedicated Birth – Part 1

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Last week, my husband and I attended our first class in the five-series hypnobirthing course at San Diego Hypnobirthing.  This is my first post about why I chose to take this class and what I am learning from it.  Stay tuned for recaps of the remaining four classes! 

Why Try For A Natural Birth?newborn-220142_1280

Tolerance of bodily discomfort and pain has never been a strength of mine.  I was that girl who whined every time I had a boo-boo on my knees or elbows. My body goes out of whack when I don’t get my mandatory eight hours of sleep or when I don’t mix enough protein with my carbs.  I can’t go to bed with a full belly because the sensation of digestion keeps me from falling asleep.  Yes, I just happen to have one of those really sensitive bodies.

Despite my love for herbal remedies and all things natural, my bodily sensitivities were persuasive in convincing me that I would not be able to give birth naturally and unmedicated.  However, when I became pregnant, I knew I had to do my due diligence and thoroughly research what my childbirth options are.  As I was completing my “pregnancy 101” readings, I was happily surprised to learn that there were few negative effects of a medicated birth (using an epidural).  I also heard stories from many mothers who underwent c-sections and still had very healthy and happy babies.

I am confident in the fact that as long as baby and mommy are happy and healthy, any childbirth method will do, and I am definitely not one who would be  devastated if I was not able to have my birth naturally as planned.

But honestly…after I learned about hypnobirthing, I saw no reason not to give it a shot.  I read many testimonials of women who had used hypnobirthing and reported to have relatively “pain-free” births…the possibility of a birth free from screaming and poking needles is incredible to me.  My husband and I watched videos of very quiet, calm, and beautiful births.  There were many positive Yelp reviews of the local hypnobirthing class, and this was supported by one of my husband’s coworkers who took it during her pregnancy.

Not all mothers who use this approach are able to have natural and unmedicated births. Some mothers have special circumstances that require medications or surgery.  Other mothers do find that the pain is still very intense–even with all of the self-hypnosis practice–and opt for pain relief during their labors. Even though I’m aware of the likelihood that I still may not have an natural birth for one reason or another, I nonetheless wanted to strive for that goal and have all of the tools I need to have a peaceful birth.  The five-class series is relatively affordable, so we had nothing to lose and only everything to gain!

So by this point, you are probably wondering what the heck is hypnobirthing?  

Here is what I have learned so far about hypnobirthing through my own reading and our first class:

  • Women’s bodies are built to birth babies.  Women have been successfully giving birth for many centuries without the need for advanced medical intervention or technology.
  • Fear and stress during labor makes birth more painful and can increase risk of complications.  A relaxed and calm psychological state helps to maintain blood in the muscles that are working to birth the baby and ensure a smooth process.
  • Only when baby or mommy are at medical risk should more advanced interventions be used (pitocin, C-sections, etc.).
  • Fathers/partners/birthing companions are essential in the birthing process in calming the mother and helping to bring comfort via massage, acupressure, etc.
  • The mind can have a powerful effect on the body during the body process.  This is why affirmations, visualizations, and relaxation exercises are heavily taught in this class.
  • It is possible to have a calm, relaxing, and even pain-free birth! (I pray that I can attest to this after my little girl is here!)

Our first class was meant to help ensure that everyone was on board and committed to having a natural birth, therefore we did not spend much time learning specific techniques yet. There are six other couples in the class, so we spent much of the time sharing about our hopes for our baby’s births.  We also watched videos of hypnobirth babies coming into this world, very peacefully and calmly.

That’s all I have to share for this week.  Before I end, here are a few other tips that I learned from our doula that some of you might be interested in looking into:

  • Drinking raspberry tea in the weeks before the birth can help strengthen mommy’s uterine muscles and aid in a faster delivery.
  • Eating dates also helps to ensure a shorter and easier delivery.
  • Despite what I have read from other sources, kegels (pelvic floor exercises) are actually NOT recommended during pregnancy.
  • During the last trimester, it’s not recommended that women recline or slouch when sitting on a couch as this could pull the baby into a less than preferable and usually painful position for mommy as she is nearing labor.

 

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