Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Wisdom from Mothering

Last weekend, I finished teaching two postpartum/baby classes. In this last class, we review birth, and we talk again about preparing for birth by learning about the options, and practicing relaxation techniques, and communicating preferences and then letting go during the birth - being flexible, taking it one contraction at a time: birthing in the moment. We also talk all about the postpartum period, what commonly happens physically and emotionally, preparing as a couple, and lots of discussion and demonstrations about baby care.

One thing I always demo and have mom & dad practice is swaddling. I tell about how I didn't swaddle my daughter because she cried the couple of times I tried it, and as a first-time parent, I let it go. After reading more, and seeing how much swaddling helped my second-born, I realize just how much swaddling would have probably helped my daughter, who is highly sensitive and easily over-stimulated. I mention all this briefly in class, part to underline how though not all babies like the act of being swaddled, it might still be worth doing & seeing if they like it once it's done! And I mention it because it hints at the fact that parenting is about learning, and we don't always know what will help, and sometimes we do something we wish we hadn't, or fail to do something we wish we had. As parents, we're still humans, and as anyone can tell you, humans aren't perfect! So there is no perfect parent.

Two articles in Mothering magazine's weekly e-newsletter (which I highly recommend) recognize the fact that we are works in progress as parents. Here's an excerpt from "Breaking Free of Mother-Guilt":
Our society in general, and the Mothering community in particular, has a problem: How can we advocate for birthing and parenting practices that have proven benefits without making parents who have not achieved them feel denigrated? How, for example, do we discuss the overuse of cesarean delivery without making the one-fifth to one-quarter of us who've had one feel bad, or promote extended breastfeeding without seeming to blame women who haven't been able to do it?

I suggest that the answer lies in achieving a certain perspective. This perspective starts from the premise that each of us does the best she can—given the particulars of our knowledge base, resources, support system, and the circumstances in which we find ourselves (and which we often cannot fully control). No one should ever allow herself to feel judged inadequate for doing the best she could, or the best she knew at the time of choosing. But we must also note that because our knowledge base is one of the keys in our decision-making process, it is absolutely appropriate that every effort be made to disseminate good information as widely as possible—never to blame people for past choices or idiosyncratic situations, but to get good facts out to whoever needs and can use them.

Furthermore, and crucially, those who promote such information must recognize that while such choices as excellent prenatal nutrition, natural birthing, extended breastfeeding, avoiding circumcision, cosleeping, and so on are documentably ideal for most families most of the time, there sometimes really are exceptions, limits on information, and limits on what is possible.
Ahh... circumstances, limited knowledge (for however much we know, there's still plenty we don't know!), and real life challenges... it can be hard to accept that even our very, very best may not feel good enough. Parenting regrets are hard, very, very hard. The other article I highly recommend, "Regrets", by Peggy O'Mara, suggests a lovely metaphor for how to handle regrets productively:
A bad experience is like a dive for buried treasure. There is a wreck. Someone has to figure out what happened and remember what to do the next time. Everyone hopes to find the treasure hidden in the wreck, even though many doubt that it's there at all. Like a bad experience, once we mine our regrets for information about what we might have done differently, and what we might do if the same circumstances arise again, we've already discovered a lot of treasure. When the time is right, we can then let the experience go.
Parenting is definitely the hardest job I've ever had to do - full of sacrifice and the occasional bout of performance anxiety. But on the other hand, I've never been so motivated to do a job well, by the sweet, grateful smile of a snuggled child, by a look of joy & wonder at something new, by a question that shows how deeply my child is participating in life. And, I've certainly never been so well-rewarded.

Christina @ Birthing Your Baby
Independent Childbirth Classes for Central Maine
New Mothers Support Circle

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Blogger melissa said...

Hi Christina! I just found your blog this week. I LOVE it!! I have a question for you; I have a NCB homebirther friend who is showing signs of prelabour @ 32 weeks. Do you have any advice/resources for as natural a birth and post partum period as possible with a preemie of that age?
my email is
if you have a chance. Or you can answer here in your comments, and I will check back.
And thanks for your blog, I really love it!!!

May 27, 2009 at 2:20 AM  
Anonymous Dale said...

Hi Melissa ~

My son was born premature at 32 weeks. My OB advised an unmedicated labour both for pain management and for the labour process. She advised pain medications will depress the respiratory system in the baby at this age and medications such as pitocin, etc. to speed up or slow the labor would cause distress to the baby as my body would be sending hormonal signals to begin preparing for life outside the womb. She fully advised and supported a natural spontaneous labor w/ monitoring for distress (as there were no drugs involved any 'distress' would not be a physician caused distress).

My son was born w/o drugs and both he and I recovered rather astoundingly well from this labor. I do also credit our quick recovery to delayed cord clamping in third stage and the NICU supported breastfeeding my son.

I provided labor support for a mother whose son was born approximately 10 weeks prematurely due to a car accident (her car was struck by a drunk driver). While she consented to the use of mag sulfate, the drug was quickly turned off as the contractions showed no sign of dissipating. She was then also counselled to continue with a natural labor, no other drugs were introduced. She did very well w/ her labor and both she and her son also experienced a great recovery. He was home w/i a few weeks of his due date.

What was interesting to me as the labor support provider was that I noticed the typical signs of labor were a little more obscure, but I have no doubt the labor hormones were still present. I say this because I'm certain mom was on a heightened alert for safety for her baby and yet, as I said, she coped so well w/ the labor that she made it look quite easy.

The one part of her labor that was troublesome to her was the staff's urgency of her second stage. They did promote the proactive pushing versus allowing her to push only as her body directed. I would caution to be on the lookout for that. Certainly mom is the optimal life support for any newborn, but especially for the preemie.

May 27, 2009 at 6:48 PM  
Blogger melissa said...

thank you!!! muchas!!!! your experience is invaluable. In either case was an episiotomy recommended? My friend is especially worried about that, as there is no research data to support episiotomy for preemies but apparantly is common practice for our part of the world (Western Canada).
Do you have links to research we could use to back up her wishes?

May 27, 2009 at 8:53 PM  
Anonymous Christina said...


I'm so glad you're enjoying the blog!

As you can see from Dale's comment, I "outsourced" your question to a list I belong to, of independent childbirth educators and doulas. I was hoping that one of them might have some "lived" wisdom, as I have not experienced preterm labor nor supported anyone in that scenario.

I do have a question, though - is this your friend's first baby, or has she been pregnant before? I'm wondering because sometimes a mom who has already given birth can have cervix that starts to open early - even to three or four centimeters, but she still carries the baby to term.

As for your episiotomy question, are episiotomies common practice in all births, or just preemie births?

May 27, 2009 at 10:34 PM  
Blogger melissa said...

thanks for outsourcing--your source was very experienced!!
It is my friend's third baby (and her previous baby was born March '08 so she had only 6 months between this pregnancy and her previous one). She is a homebirth NCBer, extended breastfeeder, and incredibly in tune with her body. She has been having non Braxton Hicks contractions about 10 minutes apart, for about 1 1/2 hrs each time, starting while she is sleeping, three times in the past few days. Painful, prelabourish feeling contractions.
Her midwife will examine her on Saturday to determine if her cervix is dilating at all.

episiotomies are rare in our part of Canada but are often recommended for premature births--like Dale said, the second stage is 'rushed' by medical staff who want to get an immature baby out quickly, and so I think that is the driving force behind the episiotomy recommendation.

We're watching and waiting now.

Thanks for your help! Plus, I'm learning tons! (I'm a fledgling doula--took the courses and read the material but have yet to attend an actual birth...I did 'doula' support for a friend over the phone!!! Lol! Technological doula care! Every new experience really helps add to my knowledge base! Plus this conversation really helps my friend navigate the new and frightening waters of (possible) premature birth.

May 28, 2009 at 2:57 AM  
Blogger Morgan said...

I have never had much luck with swaddling- I could never get the babies wrapped up just right where the blankets wouldn't come off. However, I've been getting some practice lately with wrapping up my daughter's baby dolls for her!

June 4, 2009 at 7:51 AM  
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