Doula Nana

If giving birth is like climbing Mt. Everest, your husband can help you along the way.
But a Doula is like a Sherpa who knows how to navigate the Himalayas. ref. England and Horowitz

 Zayd's Hand

Notes from Nana:

Entry #6 2016-07-30

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Lessons Learned While Running

I first decided to run around the block one evening in my fortieth year. Wow! Who knew? I liked it and ran through rain and sun, though mostly indoors on a nice banked track at a local health club where I met my husband, a racquetball instructor, so there were perks! Lately I've been thinking about the many lessons running taught me and how many obvious parallels there are to labor. In prenatals, we often talk about what other disciplines women have used to conquer sports, school, illnesses, life events of any sort and how labor too will present its own special challenges, ones that will require training. I often tell women I know they're hoping for a sprint but labor will more likely be a marathon so they should train expecting that and, if it turns out to be a quick field event, well, blessed are they among women!

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Entry #4 2015-08-17

Courtesy of Lisa Falkenstein Postpartum Doula's Blog

Visiting New Moms: Advice from a Postpartum Doula

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Dear New Mom's Friend or Family,

I love when my friends, family and clients have babies! What's not to love? They are cute and squishy bundles. I would love to sit there all day and cuddle them.

As a postpartum doula, I do get to hold infants, but my help is focused on the moms and their family. This is something our culture seems to forget postpartum: moms. We live in a culture that focuses on mom until she delivers and then the focus shifts to the newborn. What about the person that carried the newborn? The person who may have labored hard or easily? The person who pushed and pushed...? The person who may have birthed by Cesearean and is healing from surgery? Postpartum moms need support...lots of it.

Don't get me wrong, when you visit a postpartum family it is important to acknowledge the newborn and hold the newborn. So what else can you do to be supportive? Demetria Clark of Birth Arts International compiled advice for those visiting a postpartum household:

  1. Don't come if you expect the mother to serve you, have a clean house or attend to you and your needs. If you are not sure if you are that kind of person, ask a friend. The last thing you want to do is make a mother ill, overtired or stressed at your visit.
  2. Don't just ask to hold the baby. Do a chore before you start snuggling? Clean the bathroom, do a load of laundry, vacuum, make a meal. Show the family how much you care.
  3. Offer to watch the baby while the mother showers, or takes a nap. (Here is your chance to snuggle with baby!)
  4. Do not question her choice to breastfeed, not circumcise, have a natural birth, or vice versa. Really those are not topics she needs to be justifying to anyone at this time.
  5. Listen to her story without judgement and encourage her.
  6. Treat her with compassion and kindness.
  7. Encourage her to state her needs.
  8. This is not the time to make it about your birth experience, let her share hers.
  9. Remind her to slown down, or to stop. Mothers will have more postpartum difficulty if they do not take care of themselves.
  10. Encourage her to drink plenty of fluids and to eat.

This advice is only given to be helpful to show the postpartum mom how much you want to support her during this joyous, yet stressful time. The fact that you even came to visit shows you care for the mom and her family. Why not take it a step further and take that care to the next level?


A Postpartum Doula

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Entry #3 2015-08-11

The Zebra in the Room

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I'd like to ask you a very simple question.  In the picture above, how many animals did you see?  Did you miss the dog sleeping above my head?  Maybe.  But it should have been hard to miss Kamalia my six foot wooden giraffe!  So, did you miss any animals?  Maybe you missed the zebra on my shirt?  Now, perhaps you have heard the comparison of the elephant in the room no one talks about when refering to the problem of alcoholism in a family?  This isn't a story about that.  It is a story about a zebra on my shirt.

I wore this shirt to my last prenatal with clients who are due any day as we practiced for early labor in their home.  After we had run through a few visulaizations at their dining room table, I asked both of them what was on my shirt.  Clearly it's a zebra, and I stood up to show them there is also one on the back!  Neither had noticed, as they were concentrating so well on their breathing and mindfulness!  I congratulated them, explaining to the mom-to-be that if I could help her lose her mind or get out of her head completely during labor, that an actual zebra could walk right through her hospital room and she probably wouldn't notice!

What is this place and how do moms find it?  Some call it Laborland, some call it "going to Mars."  A new mom from July said,"I went somewhere else!"  Another said she was just "out of it" and was surprised to see people in the room after her natural VBAC.  My daughter who gave birth without medication in June described it as her body just taking over.  Sometimes moms ask if they'll know when to push.  I assure them the force of the Universe will be behind them and literally move through them.

But how does this happen, and can laboring women help themselves get to this brand new place?

I tell my clients it starts with your breath, with surrendering to the forces of labor.  As you let every contraction wash not only over but through you, you will find yourself sinking into the heart of labor.  As Penny Simkin advises, use relaxation, rhythm and repetition to pull yourself through the door into laborland.   As your doula, I can't go with you but I can help you get to the threshold and then you must let your body take you across.  It may be a bit like the experience of chanting in a group, singing in a huge choir where you can no longer hear your own voice but only the harmony of the group.  Perhaps it's the feeling one has at a rock concert, so connected with everyone there that you lose your sense of self in the totality of an experience that somehow feels larger than life!  Birth can seem surreal, surprising, holy, overwheming, powerful in a way bigger way than those experiences!

Here are some ways I've observed that have helped women move from thinking to laboring.  Remember it's not your brain that will help you labor, it's your primal instincts.  They will guide you into positions your brain would never think of because those instincts are talking to your baby and working to help your little one wiggle and move into the easiest position to be born.  Your brain can't hear these messages from the babe; you can literally not think your baby out!  Start with rocking and swaying as you fall deeply into the sensation of your breathing.  You can use your old friend the birth ball, you can lean against your partner, the sofa, your favorite pillow or the laundry hamper in your hospital room.  My last laboring lady decided I was the perfect height and threw her arms around my shoulders at the beginning of every contraction!  You may want to walk, dance with your doula or partner.  You may want to close your eyes and moan through every wave.  The sound of your own voice may be your key to leaving your head!  One mom walked endless laps around the hospital hallways with her eyes closed, holding onto her husband and me, breathing and swaying zen-like through surge after surge until she couldn't walk any longer.  Another would dive into a towel I was holding at the edge of the birthing tub and rock her hips in the water over and over.  A friend told me she spent her entire labor pounding her fist into her thigh during every contraction.  Let yourself moan, say "Hue" as you breathe, sing a song over and over, tell your baby "I love you, I love you" as you would in a meditation.  What you do or say or how you move isn't important, as long as you find what calms you, centers you and leads you into a place beyond your thinking, beyond the discomfort where you can take yourself repetitively away from any distractions, even a zebra sauntering through your birthing space!

As a footnote, it's so important for partners to help the laboring woman get to and stay in this place so mom's brain won't slow labor down and her body can communicate with her unborn child, rhythmically repeating the relaxing movements that will make more room inside for baby to rotate and move down.  The birth partner can be her rock, her protector, her shield against interruptions, lights, loud staff.  I tell husbands/partners to put one finger up to let staff know the lady is having a contraction and can't be questioned or disturbed.  If her parnter understands, as my one client's husband said, that he didn't get a ticket for Laborland, that he can't go there with his wife but he can hold her, rock with her, wrap her in a rebozo, dance with her, chant to her song, hold her space inviolate and safe for her, murmur his love for her, then he can be the gatekeeper for her journey!

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Entry #1 2015-03-14

Bliss in the Face of Challenge

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I was just laughing thinking about a true story that I told at our church study group last Sunday. We were discussing spiritual powers and I gave them the perfect object lesson for creating bliss, thanks to our former dog Annie. I was sitting in an awkward lotus position in the bedroom doing a yoga workout video and Annie was napping in the corner, all zen like. The teacher suggested we open our hands in willingness, maintain our cross legged position and begin to create bliss within,even in the face of challenge. All of a sudden, Annie got up, walked over to me, vomited into my open hands and walked quietly out of the room. All I could do was laugh (trying not to spill vomit of course!) and think how often in life's perfect or not so perfect moments, a bit of crap or pain can immediately change our view of the situation! Or we can create bliss in the face of challenge. We can bend deeper each day into the lotus, accepting that surrender and willingness can eventually produce not only contentment but also bliss. (continued below)

Another story came immediately to mind. I was a nurse in a very busy, hectic Cardiac Care Unit, standing by a patient's bed, taking his blood pressure. Monitors and IV pumps were beeping, I was tired, another patient was rolling through the door and I was in charge. At that moment, I heard one of the young nurses saying how happy she would be at this time next week, as she would be in Hawaii! I was recently divorced with three teenagers and no child support and knew there was no idyllic vacation waiting for me but suddenly I realized how happy I was standing there, taking that old man's blood pressure. I was thinking I couldn't have been any more content on a beach at that moment when he looked up at me and said, "You really love your job, don't you?" I told him I was just thinking how happy it made me to care for him and he replied, "It shows! I can feel it!" My life was financially and emotionally challenging, but I was learning that dropping into the center of each moment without judgment creates contentment, not based on the outer. Bliss in the face of challenge!

Labor is its own unique challenge. Can we tease any bliss out of that experience? As with any life experience, it will be ripe with lessons but many people forget to pick the fruit! The choice is to dig deeper and spiral into that contraction (or hold the nearly painful lotus) or run away in our minds from it because it's too hard! We can either breathe into the depths of labor (enjoy the work) or distance ourselves from the splendor of new life hurling through us (yes, I know, you may be hurling, too!) and want someone else's quick and easy labor. Ultimately, the lesson is ours for the choosing but it requires practicing (as with yoga and any profession) relaxation, breathing, labor positions, dancing to touch the vibration of Life itself! It demands surrender to the life force, to our bodies, to the process.. It asks that we be willing to open to the grace and ecstacy that can both trail new life, even at the peak of those waves, when we feel ourselves ready to go under, there is the bliss in the face of challenge! Labor can be messy, tedious, long and overwhelming and it doesn't insist you do it with any elan, You can wail and moan your way through but if, rather than attempting to avoid its insistence, you are willing to open, embrace every contraction, ride every wave, it is possible to find bliss beyond belief at its end and at the birth of your baby. It is one of life's secret rewards: bliss for having weathered the challenge!

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Entry #2 2015-03-25

Lessons from Africa

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Forget your old stories!

I decided when I arrived in Sierra Leone for a two year teaching contract that I would use that time to investigate what I thought about God. I had arrived, cradled in the Methodist womb of my childhood but wanted to discard all I'd been taught and find out what I actually believed so I decided to start from ground zero and declared myself an atheist! This lasted a day or so when suddently I realized I was surrounded by the most outrageous beauty; strange colored lizards, wildly vibrant hibiscus outside my bedroom window, a crazy monkey name Kwa who lived in the tree in our backyard and loved baby kittens, the most amazing black night sky as a backdrop for millions of stars I'd never noticed before, the off key humming of Sumaila in shorts, tee shirt and my red ruffled Christmas apron, as he kept house for us. "God, you did a magnificent job and I'm back!"

I don't care what you childbirth method you decide on or what classes you take prenatally, but I want you to forget all the old birth stories you've heard because you get to write your own! Take all the horror stories, all the ridiculous tv fake birthing moms writing their PhD thesis in the middle of transition, any awful descriptions you've read while you were a teenager and thought, "No thanks, I'll never do that!", any scary article on Google about any abnormality you had in your pregnancyall of it! Dig deep into your own body, not head, and ask yourself if you can do this. "God, you did a magnificent job and I'm back!" will surely come out of your mouth!

Find your story!

As I slowly began to find my own way, I developed fresh new rituals for myself. No more hymns, no more formal prayers but in their place was my nightly singing to the sky as I sat on my porch. I sang about my day, about how happy Africa made me, about how surprising it was that I could read the sky and predict the rains, about the eternal string of hot sunny days, about the sweet laughter of my students tangling their tongues around French, about the wonder of rain and how I grabbed my bathing suit and danced with those welcome rain drops! I found myself settling into the middle of me, content in the fruity smells and languid afternoons of my life after early morning classes before the heat of the afternoon drove everyone off the dusty paths and under trees or ceilings.

I want you to find that place in you, the middle of your burgeoning, fruity womanhood, the fresh, new you! instead of grabbing another book about exercises for pregnancy, why not just go dancing with your baby? Swirl and dip, sway and shimmy, as you sing to what is deepest in you. Let yourself feel the sweet heaviness of the new life strethcing inside! Tell this little life spark about your day, about what a great pair you two will be in labor, about how you will work and listen so you will know how to breathe, what positions will make room for tiny one to wiggle and rotate, how you will feel downright mighty as you push with the force and love of the universe behind you, all to see that face! Yes, I'm asking you to trust in the eternal rightness of your own story, in the truth that is weaving your child's unwritten story inside of you. As I tell all of my moms, my birth philosophy is simply this: You can do it!

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Loving the Gift!

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Years ago, I gave my niece a bead stringing kit to make necklaces for Christmas. I will never forget her response; "Aunt Connie, that's exactly what I wanted! I just didn't know it until I opened your present!" And she has kept that delightful attitude to this day. Since it's the season for giving and receiving presents, I've been thinking about how often the true gift that birth is gets lost in our preconceived ideas, our fantasies, our expectations of other people, our own agenda, if you will.

As a doula, this is a topic I often discuss at postpartum visits with new moms. Probably not one birth I've attended in the past year has been the "perfect birth," the "dream birth," or even the birth so eloquently described in all the lovely birth plans so lovingly written by the parents-to-be.

A well prepared woman was overwhelmed by the pain and ended up with an epidural even though she kept saying to her husband, "I know this is not what we planned!" But it's what you got, along with a vaginal birth in spite of an induction, a scalp monitor and a very long labor. Another young teacher got a surprisingly short and early labor. This too was nearly overwhelming, as it caught her completely by surprise and she had little time between strong contractions to find her center. Other times, a cord was cut immediately by an older nurse who was acting from habit, not the birth plan. The parents were so elated to achieve their unmedicated VBAC that the cord was a mere wrinkle.

Sometimes hopes for that elusive water labor are dashed before the first contraction! One mom had a large blood clot in her leg which detoured her into the high risk algorhythm long before she could finish her hypnobirthing classes. Again, a medical induction was followed by an epidural and a nearly two day labor, but new mom was overjoyed that she was able to avoid a c-section. Others worked and danced their way through contractions for hours and still watched as the hours dashed their hopes for a natural birth. Walking the halls, using the peanut ball, exhaustion after shifts of nurses came and went, all working towards the goal of seeing that gift of a face: the agony of heading to OR.

Other moms have shared with me that they wished their partners had been more available, more present or that their mom didn't understand this was about them or their mother-in-law was irritating or the extended family was ever present, pulling them away from their concentration. On call doctors can also break the energy of the birth team, calling out orders or forcing laboring women to move in the middle of a contraction.

But eventually comes the great nativity, the face of the babe, the first glance of your own special heartsong, the gift of your child's birth, exactly what you wanted but you didn't know it until the present was opened and put into your arms! At that moment or perhaps a little later, you will understand that this baby came in its own special way, fit itself in your womb the only way it could, at the whim of the Life Force, using you as a vessel. You were not so much the giver of life as its receiver! How could you quibble now about a cord, a mother, an interruption or a surgical cut? It was all perfectly given and your only response is receiving the gift in the spirit it was given: Love the gift!

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 Harley's Foot