I’ve heard the journey through pregnancy described in so many different ways, so it is really fun to be experiencing it for myself. Most sources talk about months and trimesters, which we of course know is based in sort of arbitrary notions of time. That said, there does seem to be a common rhythm and flow that happens during pregnancy at different mileposts, however you’d like to think of them. I know that holistic birth writers have hypothesized that the stages of pregnancy (loosely defined as happening in 3 nearly equal lengths of time before birth) are similar to all life transitions and rites of passage. The beginning is about excitement, anticipation, growing accustomed to a new identity...
hear from women regularly about their homebirth experiences. And being in the business of rabble rousing and questioning the status quo, many of these women who seek us out are unhappy with the care they received from their midwives, not just OBs. There are plenty of variations on the same theme. Midwives aren’t listening to women anymore. Midwifery care feels just as cold and clinical as OB care, just with a rocking chair and some nice music in the background. The rules and regulations are more important than the mother’s wishes. The midwife says she is hands off, or flexible, but when it comes down to it, she really isn’t, and the mother is left with few options at the end of pregnancy or during the birth – maybe the baby is breech, or she is getting closer to 42 weeks, or doesn’t want to transport but the midwife is unsupportive.
I just crossed the 4 months postpartum threshold, which feels like something I should get a medal for. I could never have imagined the different challenges I have been faced with in the last 120 days or so. We all have our different versions of this, unless you have a magical unicorn baby (I didn’t come up with this term) who eats, sleeps, poops and DOESN’T scream on a really lovely and convenient schedule. Oh, there is my baby screaming now! 10 minutes after she fell asleep!........Alright, I’m back. She just needed me to assume Child’s Pose on the bed and simultaneously pat her back and bottom for a few minutes. Nothing too unreasonable. What was I saying?
Yes, the postpartum is really hard. Before having a baby of my own, I often counseled women (or whoever would listen really) that women and babies need to be supported in the postpartum with food, ample space and time for rest and bonding, more food, leisurely herb baths, other people doing the cleaning around the house, and then more food. Women, especially first time moms, may need help with breastfeeding too, which makes all those other needs even more crucial. A woman needs to be supported on all levels, physically, emotionally and spiritually as she makes this huge shift and becomes a mother either for the first time, or to a new person. No one needs to hold the baby except for the mother, unless she asks them to so that she can take care of herself in some way.
This is all good advice, and probably not new information for you holistic folks out there, but I had no idea how much more these ideas need to be communicated to friends and family, and how hard it would be for me to implement these ideas despite my background and convictions. Do people not remember having babies of their own? Is the generational gap so huge that the postpartum experience of yesteryear was totally different somehow? For some older women that I talked with, there seemed to be an almost pride in having had no rest after birth. But a few generations ago, many women got family and community support after having a baby. How did these traditions get lost and demonized? Was it when birth moved into the hospital? Like pregnancy and birth, the postpartum has become homogenized and Westernized the world over, and it has been reduced to its most basic parts. Many women are sent home to resume life as normal. Many go back to work within weeks, and they don’t have the opportunity to debrief with their care provider until their 6 week checkup which usually consists of little more than a vaginal exam and a short talk about mainstream birth control. This is totally unacceptable, and I would go as far as to say that it would be revolutionary if we were more sensitive about women’s true postpartum needs as a culture.
People gave me the advice to just forget all the things I wanted to “get done”, because the time with my new baby would be so short. They were right and wrong at the same time. I HAD to do a few things that made me feel like a normal human again, or I would have gone off the deep end. But I was very selective, and said no more than I said yes, even when I wanted to do whatever it was. Looking back I see that they were also right, and if I hadn’t done any of those things, life would still be marching along, and there are probably some things I could’ve/should’ve skipped.
BUT, I feel like something crucial is left out of even these holistic conversations – the need for meaningful, respectful social interaction. Because even when I was fed, rested (sort of), bathed, etc, I was still alone for much of the time, and it is easy to lose perspective when one is alone. I wanted to see people and have conversations, but I didn’t want to drive anywhere with a screaming baby, even once I was feeling physically up to it. I also didn’t necessarily want just anybody coming over to my house. I wanted to only see people who understood that my baby was my top priority and if she needed me, I wasn’t going to ignore her needs for the sake of a visit – this is still something I am struggling with when my baby needs a nap but I am out or someone is over. This is all really hard as a new mom who still might not be sure what her baby needs, and is so tired that trying to figure it out while doing anything else (even sitting with a friend) makes her feel frazzled. I loved seeing the few people I did during those early weeks, but after they would leave I would often wonder why I wasn’t able to share more of my frustration, fears and difficulties. It was like the time with another adult was so precious that I didn’t want to waste it on those bummers, but those were the things that I struggled with day in and day out when I was home alone with my new baby.
And something that I think I really could have used was someone to just sit with for a day with the sole intention of observing and being with me and my baby, and helping me sort out what was happening and what to do about it or not. I had some awesome support, but I often (and this is my fault) used the help to run around and do things I was wanting to do, or spent a lot of time having normal adult conversations while just surviving through a normal crazy day. I wasn’t able to see or articulate that I needed more core assistance in figuring out how to manage my day to day life. I don’t know if this would have made a difference or would even have been possible. I’m still trying to figure out what this means or what it would look like to offer this support to others. For a few weeks there I honestly thought I might be trapped on a yoga ball for 6 hours a day for the rest of my baby’s childhood though, and that was some scary s***. Seriously. When someone would laugh and try to assure me that it would change I just felt angry and sad and scared since of course they thought it would be fine, but if it wasn’t going to be fine it was MY ass on the yoga ball, not theirs! How easy to brush off these totally insane, sleep deprived nightmares – but I was feeling lost and underwater, and I’m interested in finding a way (Postpartum doula? Professional baby whisperer?) to help others through such an intense time.
The conclusion I’ve come to is that the 4th trimester is not meant to be braved alone. I had fluffy visions of attachment parenting before my baby came out. Long nursing sessions in a silk robe (I don’t own anything of the sort), laying in bed eating fruit, maybe even watching movies or getting some computer work done. I certainly did not picture bouncing on a yoga ball until my spine felt mutilated. I’ll save it for another post, but I felt like if my baby cried, I was doing something wrong, based on these romantic descriptions of happy, home born, breastfed, coslept, babyworn babies. I don’t know that this description is something anyone actually wrote or said, but it was a very real image in my mind, and it is very much NOT what mothering has been like for me so far. If I’ve learned anything in the last 4 months, it is that the transformation to being a “mother” doesn’t stop when you birth your baby. The role is constantly changing, and full of lessons, questions, and challenges.
So wherever you’re at on your postpartum journey, take some deep breaths, write in your journal about all the weird monotous things you’ve done today, take 1000 pictures of your precious baby if you can, and invite over a really good friend and ask for exactly what you need (maybe have them take the baby for 15 minutes while you figure out what that is). It really won’t be like this someday, even though it feels never ending. You’re allowed to punch me though for saying so.
As we here at Indie Birth and kindred spirits around the world venture back towards our traditional midwifery/birth attendance roots, we find ourselves in a linguistic pickle. The word midwife has been hijacked by the state of AZ (and pretty much everywhere else in the US), so there are now legal ramifications of using the term, even if what you do is infinitely closer to the original meaning of the word. Saying “homebirth” makes most people think of mainstream midwifery. So what do we call births that are attended by traditional birth attendants? What language can we use to make bring this renaissance of traditional birthing to the masses when we are legally bound from using the words that most people recognize and understand?
To start off with, we believe in physiological birth, or birth that is ”characteristic of or appropriate to an organism's healthy or normal functioning”. **Thanks Merriam Webster. This means we believe in a woman’s ability to birth completely alone; that birth inherently works without interference or management and needs no one else there to happen.
But we also believe and know that many women WANT someone there who has specific knowledge and skills when it comes to birth. Both Maryn and I have written at length what we think the role of a traditional birth attendant should be, so I won’t rehash that here. Our ideals are very different than what mainstream midwifery in the US is today, we something much more woman centered and traditional.
We often get asked if we attend unassisted births. Or we hear through the grapevine that people in our area mistakenly think that we only help unassisted birthers. I think this stems from the lack of imagination in our culture about birth in general, as if there are discreet categories, and what we do isn’t in one of them, so we just get assigned the closest label that people are familiar with. What makes it even trickier is that we absolutely DO support unassisted/free birth in many different ways. And since we support unhindered and physiological birth, the job of traditional birth attendant often consists of astute but subtle observation, emotional support, practical help with positioning, putting down blue pads or towels, cleaning up, and making sure the mom is fed, hydrated and rested (again see our other posts on the topic of midwifery roles). Very seldom do we have to “do” much of anything or use the skills that we absolutely DO have. But does that mean that a physiological birth attended by a traditional birth attendant is unassisted? No way! To call a birth attended by a skilled birth attendant “unassisted” would be silly and sort of offensive honestly. Unassisted means without assistance. We talk to and consult with women having all types of births, and if we attend births, they are (hopefully) physiological, at home births, but (according to us) they are most certainly not unassisted! Is this making sense?
We wanted to clear up this issue of labels and what to call what we do because it leads to a lot of confusion for others, and sometimes, for us. We attend births as traditional birth attendants – maybe these births should be called “traditional births”? We’d love to hear what you think!
So you have taken an empowered approach to pregnancy and birthing your baby, and now you also have to decide what you are going to do with your baby’s placenta! There are many ways of honoring the placenta, the organ that literally connected you to your baby, and passed on your nourishment for so many months. Encapsulation is a hot trend, and placenta encapsulation certifications, classes and trainings are cropping up all over. The idea of needing a certification in placenta encapsulation is ridiculous, and is a product of our culture that insists on making everything (especially birth related) more complicated, more expensive/lucrative, and more specialized to the point where we simply can’t do anything for ourselves or our friends.
My baby just turned one and is still exclusively breastfed (has had maybe a total of 4 ounces of my milk from a bottle or sippy cup, though I admit I would likely do this more if she was interested) and co-sleeps with me. I don't think this is a competition or a “see who is more hardcore” sort of thing. This is what feels right for me and my baby, and is what I believe is the biological norm that our babies are born expecting. But this isn't a you-should-do-it-too post, its a post about the reality of this choice and the support you might need if you go this route.
It seems like the intense focus we at Indie Birth have had on education has started to pay off in a lot of ways locally and in far off lands. Lots of women are more knowledgeable and more confident about birth. Some of them are doing their own prenatal care in lots of different ways. They are preparing for undisturbed births, and they are weighing the options they have carefully. When we go to births, it is clear that we are in mutual relationships where the family has taken responsibility and feels like they can direct their own experience. Unfortunately, some people also seem to think that based on our support for free birth, and our belief in birth as an exceptionally fine tuned and natural process, that we don't really see a reason to hire midwives anymore - but this isn’t true!
I have heard too many times from families that they are not getting the information or respect that they want from their care providers. I see this most often online – women asking other women for help, wondering what their symptoms mean, help decoding the sliver of information their OB gave them, or help interpreting their lab results if they are lucky enough to have gotten copies of them in the first place. Just today on a forum I saw something along the lines of, “oh, I’m not sure if I’ve had my B12 levels tested. They never tell me what they are testing for.” This is a bad sign. As wonderful as online and in person support groups are, I can clearly see that there is a lack of education, discussion, and informed choice taking place in OB (and midwife!) offices all over the US.