BirthTruths: The Truth About You

I am not a medical professional. Nothing on this website is meant to treat, diagnose, prevent or cure any disease. Please research your options and discuss them with your care provider when making health decisions. This post may contain affiliate links. This means that if you make a purchase, I may make a small commission at no additional cost to you. Thank you for supporting this free resource! See full disclosure here.

Giving birth is a huge challenge, no matter how you do it. But sometimes our preconceived ideas about ourselves limit what we think we’re capable of in birth. So, dear expectant mama, here are a few truths in case you’re in need of encouragement.

#1 Your body is designed to birth babies. As Ina May says,

“Your body is not a lemon. You are not a machine. The Creator is not a careless mechanic.”

The fact that you exist proves that you have come from a long line of women who successfully gave birth. Genetics are on your side. Just like any other function of the body, the function of birth usually works like it’s supposed to, just like your heart beats like it’s supposed to and your lungs breathe like they’re supposed to. Of course, complications can arise, and it’s smart to be prepared for them. But until there is a complication, there’s no reason to think that you won’t be able to give birth the way you want to.

#2 You are capable of making good decisions about pain relief, medical interventions, and any other aspect of your care during pregnancy and birth. You are smart and loving and have more invested in your baby than anyone else does. You can choose a good care provider and the right birth setting. You can make educated decisions about risks and benefits of a medicated or an unmedicated birth. You can choose how to prepare for birth, both for how you want it to happen and for how it might happen. Birth is unpredictable, and nothing can guarantee it going the way you hope for, but that doesn’t mean your choices and the way you prepare doesn’t make a big difference. The decision-making power is yours.

#3 You are capable of meeting the challenge of unmedicated birth, including the pain. You don’t have to be extraordinary to give birth without pain medication. Women with many different strengths, weaknesses, personalities, and pain tolerances have been giving birth for thousands of years before you. It’s not an unusual thing. A hard thing, yes, but so very normal. It’s ok to not want to give birth naturally, to not want to experience the pain. But if you do want an unmedicated birth, know that you have it in you to do it.

#4 The way you think about pain matters. Your expectations can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. It will be hard, but hard doesn’t have to mean horrible. Labor will probably start out simply uncomfortable. There’s no need to think of it as painful before it actually is.

Sometimes the language we use around labor and birth feels negative and changing some of the common vocabulary can help to reframe the pain. Some women choose to call contractions “surges” or “waves” instead of contractions, carrying the idea of needing to ride it as a powerful force. There is a climb, a peak, and then a downhill that gets easier.

If I may quote Ina May again, she calls it “an intense feeling that requires all of your focus.” Thinking about pain and contractions in a more positive way may not eliminate the pain, but it can make the intensity feel less overwhelming and something you’re able to flow with and surrender to with more ease.

#5 Your values around pain matter. In American culture it’s very common to avoid pain and discomfort as much as possible, to assume something that is uncomfortable to feel is necessarily bad, abnormal, or harmful. Especially in women, it’s common to medicate normal feelings away. Mayim Bialik touched on this when she wrote,

“The vocalizing and emotional experience that is commonly referred to as “complaining,” “screaming,” or “suffering” is a normal part of labor. Birth is not neat and fast and quiet: it’s gritty and primal. But it’s nothing to fear unless you also think we ought to fear women crying when they are sad or laughing when they are happy.”

In her book, “Natural Hospital Birth”, Cynthia Gabriel shares her experience of observing childbirth in Russia.

“… our culture doesn’t teach us that birth pain leads to something valuable. Our society fails to recognize the merit of most pain, not just birth pain, and we go to great lengths to avoid unpleasant feelings. So many North American women have experienced the pain of labor, and then an epidural, that our collective memory about birth is now full of hurt but is missing the feelings of ecstasy and success that natural birth provides. In Russia, by contrast, suffering is considered an admirable pathway to becoming a better person. Russians from all walks of life can speak eloquently about positive transformation through pain. Russia is not unique. Most other cultures in the world provide a lifelong message to girls and women that the physical labor of birth is not just valuable, it is heroic.”

It’s rare in American culture for pain to be seen as a valuable experience, something you can grow from, or a journey of transformation.

#6 You can experience pain and joy simultaneously. They are not mutually exclusive. Pain may very well be part of your birth experience. Even if you are planning on an epidural or other pain relief, you will likely feel some discomfort.

But pain is not all there is. So many other feelings can coexist alongside and intertwined with pain. Some, like fear, dread, and anxiety are not pleasant to feel, and can even make your labor harder. But they may be part of your journey, and there is no shame in that. Walk that hard path if you need to.

But other feelings can coexist with pain, too.

Excitement.

Courage.

Empowerment.

Pride.

Confidence.

Connectedness.

Joy.

Feel what is real. Don’t let the difficult feelings crowd out the beautiful ones. Let them intermingle. They are all transformative.

If you would like to delve deeper into these topics, subscribe here for a free Brave Womanhood Reflection Worksheet!

BirthTruths: The Truth About Pain

I am not a medical professional. Please research your options and discuss them with your care provider when making health decisions. This post may contain affiliate links. This means that if you make a purchase, I may make a small commission at no additional cost to you. Thank you for supporting this free resource! See full disclosure here.

All women have a pool of knowledge, beliefs, and ideas around childbirth that come from a variety of sources. We consciously or subconsciously receive messages from the media, entertainment, our family, friends, and peers, and from the collective memory of the women around us, and those messages influence our own thoughts and feelings about giving birth. Within this pool of knowledge, the fact that childbirth is painful is often at the forefront.

Barriers

Many women express a desire to have a “natural” birth. The definition can vary woman to woman, but often what is meant is an unmedicated, vaginal birth.

A lack of realistic expectations about pain in birth and about the determination required of you to move through labor without pain medication can create a barrier to achieving this desire. As can a lack of knowledge of your own capabilities, a lack of a confident and supportive birth team, a lack of physical and emotional preparation, and a lack of effective coping measures during labor. But those are posts for another day.

So if you’re hoping for an unmedicated birth or if you’re just thinking about it and you’re wondering what to expect in the pain department, read on.

#1 The pain of birth is normal and purposeful. It’s normal because bringing a baby into the world is intensely hard work for your body, along with your mind and heart. It’s hard like running a marathon is hard or like completing a thesis is hard or like facing great uncertainty is hard. But every contraction brings your baby closer, and pain is just a sign that your body is doing that hard work.

#2 The pain of birth is really intense and legitimately one of the hardest things you’ll probably ever do. Though some women experience painless birth, that is not the norm. There will be times when you will want to give up, and that’s totally normal. Overcoming the painful and overwhelmingly difficult parts of labor will require determination, endurance, and courage from you.

#3 The pain of birth is temporary. It may feel overwhelming and never-ending, but taking labor moment by moment instead of thinking about how long it might last can help it feel less so. In the grand scheme of things, the pain of labor is relatively brief. It won’t last forever. You can do anything for five minutes. And then you can do it again.

#4 Your perception of the pain of birth is dramatically influenced by your hormones and emotions. The physical pain of labor is real, but feeling helpless, afraid, unsafe, or stressed can drastically intensify those feelings. Feeling fearful inhibits the helpful hormones of labor and increases pain. Feeling safe, supported, and respected helps your body produce the oxytocin and endorphins that help reduce pain and make labor effective.

#5 Most women will experience parts of labor as not painful. Usually there is a break between contractions that may be uncomfortable but not painful. Those breaks will give you a chance to catch your breath and perhaps rest a little.

Note: There are some factors that can reduce those breaks, such as having a posterior baby or being on synthetic oxytocin. Having back pain in between contractions with a posterior baby is not unusual, but it’s rarely as intense as contractions. Leaning forward over a bed, counter, or exercise ball can help your posterior baby turn and take the pressure of your back.

If you are on synthetic oxytocin (Pitocin) to induce labor or speed it up, your contractions may be longer, stronger, and closer together with little break in between. You may be able to have the Pitocin turned down, and if you want an unmedicated birth, you may want to consider avoiding induction and augmentation altogether if there is no medical indication.

#6 The harder it gets, usually the closer you are to giving birth. When those breaks do start getting shorter or disappearing completely, you are probably getting really close to pushing. During transition (the last phase of active labor and final few centimeters of dilation before pushing) you may feel like you simply can’t do it even if you’ve been coping really well up until that point. You may cry, feel overwhelmed, and be ready to throw in the towel. Be prepared for this. Some women feel the emotions of transition as they go from early labor to active labor as well. This is all a very normal part of the process and can be seen as an encouragement that you are going to meet your baby soon!

#7 Sometimes the pain of birth is unusually difficult. There is such a thing as an unusually painful labor, and there is a difference between pain and suffering. There are times when pharmacological pain management is absolutely the best thing for a mother and helps to facilitate a safe and satisfying birth. It’s ok to want and plan on medical pain relief. And if you were hoping and preparing for an unmedicated birth and end up needing or wanting medical pain relief, it’s ok to be disappointed. It’s also ok to feel happy and at peace with your choice. To face choices and circumstances in birth that you had hoped to avoid takes its own kind of courage and endurance.

I want to hear about your experience! Was the pain of labor what you expected? Let me know in the comments!

Recommended Resources

Pain Medications Preference Scale by Penny SimkinThis tool is great for helping a woman think about her pain medication preferences during labor and communicating about them with her birth team.

Pain Management Series from Evidence Based Birth This podcast series is full of great information about scientific research on various aspects of pain and pain management during labor.

7 Ways to Nurture Joy in Parenting

This post may contain affiliate links. This means that if you make a purchase, I may make a small commission at no additional cost to you. Thank you for supporting this free resource! See full disclosure here.

I have wanted to be a mother for most of my life. I am crazy about my children. I always call my two boys, “My treasures”, and I mean that with all my being.

But this parenting thing is tough.

It’s not for the faint of heart. When you’re trying to do everything right, to parent well, to be a good spouse, to keep the house respectably clean, to keep the kids healthy, to not let them grow up to be menaces to society…

Sometimes you lose the joy.

Sometimes you’re soooooo tired. Sometimes you think if that kid whines one more time your anger is gonna turn you into this ugly monster you hate. Sometimes you think you’d give your right eye to get to sit through one supper without the baby wanting to nurse, or to get 15 minutes alone with your husband before you’re both so doggone tired, or be able to read more than 2.3 sentences in that book you’ve been trying to finish for the last six months.

And it’s ok to want those good things and make ways for them to happen.

But if you’re like me, those things aren’t happening every day. In fact, you’re lucky if they happen once or twice a week. And the majority of your time is spent taking care of other people’s needs. You’re meeting goals at work. You’re teaching the three-year-old to wipe his butt. You’re fixing your husband’s lunch for the next day while he’s asleep on the couch and the rest of the house is quiet because, gosh that man works hard.

And if you’re a stay-at-home mom or a work-at-home mom (or dad), you’re spending a LOT of time with your children, your wonderful, amazing, frustrating, exhausting, lovable , drive-you-crazy-all-day-long children. If you’re a working parent, you’re probably coming home after a long day with limited reserves left to invest into your kids.

And maybe you need to find the joy in parenting again.

Maybe you just really want to enjoy your kids and consequently your life.

I’ve found this to be true over and over again. I’ve had to seek it out and take initiative and make it a priority. So, with no further ado, here are some things that I have found indispensable in my quest to enjoy parenting my children.

#1 Get down and play with them.

You guys, this is SO HARD for me. I had a recent conversation with one of my cousins. She is the second of nine kids and her parents are SO GOOD at this. She is getting married soon and anticipating starting a family, and we were talking about all things marriage and motherhood. I shared that this is a struggle with me, just slowing down and playing with my kids. She looked at me like I was from Mars. All that to say, maybe not everyone struggles with this. Maybe I’m in the minority here.

But I suspect that I’m not. I suspect that a lot of you awesome parents out there have a hard time setting aside your agenda for the day to enter into your kid’s agenda and that maybe you’re not even sure you know how to play anymore. I mean, you remember it being so fun as a kid, but, sheesh, what did you actually DO?

Learn what they love to do, and do it with them. Karyn Purvis, author of “The Connected Child”, emphasizes the importance of playfulness in bonding and attachment. Though she writes and speaks with children from hard places in mind, I have found her research on parenting and her heart for healthy, well-attached children so valuable and have implemented bits and pieces of her parenting strategies with my own children.

I know it’s hard. And there’s no formula for making it happen or doing it well. If there was, it probably wouldn’t be play, right? But it matters. It’s valuable. Your kids will say and do the funniest things. You’ll get a chance to enter into their world, see their beautiful imaginations, observe what they’re learning, and be delighted in them. Enter into something they enjoy and do it with them. Even if it’s only for a few minutes at a time, just do it.

#2 Give technology a break.

This one’s easier said than done and it’s a popular theme in online parenting advice, but in my home at least, it makes one of the biggest positive impacts.

For some reason, my oldest son LOVES those little nursery rhyme videos on YouTube. And I mean LOVES them. He would watch them for hours if I would let him. Which is great if I’m sick or something, but not so great as an everyday activity. Stopping the videos often elicits tears, anger, and tantrums, none of which make my child very enjoyable. Other activities may require more time, more focus from me, and more cleaning up, but it’s worth it to make parenting more enjoyable.

Parents aren’t off the hook either. I admittedly check my phone too often. Sometimes I use it as a filler between normal activities. Instead of just moving to the next thing I should be doing, I check my notifications. I really, really enjoy Instagram. I read articles, comment on posts, gather advice and suggestions, and watch hilariously dumb videos all on Facebook.

And I sometimes – no, oftentimes- I ignore my son in the process. Keep putting him off. Get exasperated because he won’t just be patient and wait for two minutes. Which he should, right? There’s nothing wrong with expecting and teaching obedience. But there is something wrong with responding in anger, especially over something that’s really not that important. That’s me. Guilty. Way more often than I’d like to admit. And too much technology really feeds that.

#3 Structure life and routines so that you do get some alone time.

It IS important for you to get some time to recharge. Honestly, just because of our own personalities or other stress in our lives, some of us will need this more than others. We are absolutely called to give unselfishly to those around us, but even Jesus sometimes retreated away from the crowds he was serving in order to rest and speak with His Father, and then He continued on His mission.

We won’t be able to enjoy our kids if we’re exhausted, overwhelmed, and stressed out all the time. We will burn out as parents if we never nurture ourselves as well. I think everyone knows this, but it is always a hard balance. So do your best to structure life in such a way that you do get some time to do something you enjoy without your kids, to focus on your spouse, to refuel your heart and mind and body to be able to keep being a good parent.

For me this means I aim to have both kids in bed by 8:30 p.m. My youngest is usually asleep well before that, but it’s a struggle with my three-year-old. He’s in that awkward stage between needing a nap and not needing a nap. If he doesn’t get one he’s a miserable, emotional wreck before we even get to supper time, and if he does get one, he could easily stay up until 10:30.

Which, speaking of dropping naps, I enforce a quiet time every day regardless of needing a nap or not. If my three-year-old falls asleep during quiet time, I try to not let him sleep more than 45-60 minutes so that he’ll still go to bed at a decent time so I can have some time with my husband. But I tell him he doesn’t have to sleep; he just needs to do something quietly on his bed for an hour or so. He sometimes fights me, but if we are home, it happens.

We also have family nearby, and we are blessed that both sets of grandparents are wonderful and love having our kids. I rarely send my youngest because he’s still primarily breastfed and I hate pumping, but usually my three-year-old goes to one of the grandparents’ houses once a week.

Now usually during these naps, and quiet times, and grandparent visits, I’m doing other things that need to be done, but I prioritize reading my Bible the first chance I get each day and then sometimes do something else for me or with my husband during those break times. The point is, those things are built into life as part of our everyday routine, so that on those days when I do reallllly need some alone time, when I need a chance to gather myself and refocus, I can usually get it within a reasonable time.

#4 Do the hard work to help make them enjoyable.

Basically, do the discipline and training necessary to make your kids generally enjoyable to be around. Kids are kids, and they will all misbehave sometimes, and they will sometimes go through really hard stages (ahem threenagers…), but consistently training them to be kind, respectful, and obedient makes a big difference!

I by no means have a great handle on discipline, and there are plenty of situations in which I simply don’t know what to do, but these are a couple books that have helped shape my general framework of parenting: “Parenting by God’s Promises”, “Gospel Powered Parenting”, and “Don’t Make Me Count to Three”.

#5 Do what you enjoy, and include them too!

Don’t stop doing the things you enjoy once you become a parent! There are definitely some activities that are much harder or perhaps impossible with small children in tow, but there are plenty of enjoyable things you can do with your children.

I have always loved being outside, and that is one thing that is really easy to include them in. They both love the outdoors, and we typically spend significant time out in our neighbor’s woods at least a few times a week. Sometimes when I’m feeling overwhelmed and my patience is wearing out, the best thing to do is just load up the wagon (we have this one) and take the kids out to the woods for a few hours. It is refreshing and recharging for all of us, and it is such a great facilitator for enjoying my kids because it’s something I already enjoy and seeing them partaking in that enjoyment is really pretty awesome.

It takes longer, but it’s also fairly easy to include kids in cooking, baking, or anything artistic or creative. I love to read, and even though my typical book choice would be different, reading to my kids is something we both really enjoy. For the most part, I do what I enjoy doing and just bring my kids along.

You can include your children in the things you already enjoy doing; you just have to let your expectations be flexible. Find the things that you both love, and do them together. It is so rewarding to discover that your child loves the same things you do, that you actually have some common interests!

#6 Remind yourself of the truth.

Sometimes in the day-to-day grind of life and parenting, we can forget the value of what we’re doing. God gave these children to you in this season. Whether you’re a working parent, a stay-at-home parent, a foster, adoptive, or biological parent, you have an important role that no other person can exactly fulfill.

These children have eternal souls. They will make the world a better place or a worse place. They can help to bring healing or they can create more wounds. And we can’t control exactly what they do or don’t do. But our influence is strong, and we can try to equip them for whatever it is God calls them to do. The hard work of equipping them is made much easier when we are enjoying them along the way.

God calls children a gift, a reward, and a blessing, but we don’t always see them that way. (We also often think of gifts and blessings as being easy, not hard, but that’s a post for another day…) Those times when they don’t feel like gifts and blessings – those are the times when we must remind ourselves of that truth the most. I believe God wants us to enjoy His gifts and blessings, and these gifts and blessings include our children.

#7 Pray for them, and for yourself.

With the thought in mind that our children are valuable gifts and blessings with all this potential for either good or bad inside them, it only makes sense that we pray for them. Praying for your children makes you pause and really think about what it is you want for your children, who you hope they will be.

It makes you notice what they are struggling with and be more compassionate toward them. It makes you remember all the funny and precious things they do and how much you love them. And it makes you thank God for all those things. Sometimes we don’t enjoy our children because we don’t even notice them. Praying for them helps you to do just that.

We should also pray for ourselves as parents, pray that we can experience joy in parenting even if there are difficult circumstances that come along with them. Aside from the strength of Christ, there is no way I can parent my children as I should, nor can I enjoy them as I could. Prayer is hard, slow work. It’s not my strongest spiritual discipline for sure. But it does both our souls and the souls of our children eternal good.

Enjoy your children now.

I know it’s cliche, but your children won’t be children forever. These days are just a little blip in eternity, with all the struggles and all the joy. My grandma is 81 and the mother of six children. They often had financial struggles; one of her daughters had special needs and died at 18. Her life, especially as a parent, has not been easy. But she always encourages me, “Enjoy your children. Those days when my children were small were the best years of my life.” She still enjoys her children, but she misses those days when they were all at her table each evening.

I want my children to remember the great things we did together. I want them to remember and know for sure, without a doubt, that they are precious to me. Even though we certainly love our children even when we aren’t enjoying them, I think that those memories of us enjoying each other will help to remind our children that they are our treasures and that they are so, so loved.

So yes, parenting is one of the hardest things you’ll ever do, and at times it may even be your greatest struggle. But the joy, even just the memory of the joy, will help to carry you through those trying times. So pursue the joy. Pursue the joy now. And enjoy your children.

A Doula’s Favorite Books {Pregnancy and Birth}

 

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As a doula, I often have friends and acquaintances ask for book recommendations and other resources as they are preparing for motherhood. Here are a few of my favorite books on pregnancy and birth:

“The Mama Natural Week-by-Week Guide to Pregnancy and Childbirth” by Genevieve Howland. I have yet to find a pregnancy book that I LOVE and have not read this one (yet), but I have heard some great reviews, and Genevieve has a great blog on all things pregnancy, birth, and parenting for natural-minded moms and dads. Who will this appeal to? Parents who like a conversational tone and both conventional and alternative options that are well-researched.

“The Birth Partner” by Penny Simkin. This book is a great resource. Written for dads, doulas, and anyone else who is supporting a birthing woman, I have also found it to be super helpful for expectant mothers. It contains fairly unbiased information on risks and benefits of various medical interventions and practical suggestions for coping with labor and supporting a woman in labor. Who will this appeal to? Moms and their support people who like a logical, analytical approach and practical, concrete suggestions for preparation and participation in the birth process.

“Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth” by Ina May Gaskin. Written by “the mother of American midwifery”, this book is geared toward women who want an unmedicated birth. It is written in the context of birth at home being the norm, but is still very applicable in hospital settings and is great for helping women build their confidence in their ability to give birth. Who will this appeal to? Those who want an unmedicated birth, value the natural process, find inspiration in the stories of others, and want to strengthen their own confidence in their ability to give birth.

“Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering” by Dr. Sarah Buckley. This book is unique in that it is written by an MD with a strong confidence and trust in the birth process along with a strong confidence and trust in a woman’s intuition and decision-making ability. It provides scientific evidence for many birthing and parenting practices that are highly instinctual, but not mainstream. Who will this appeal to? Those who value their own intuition as women and mothers and also value knowledge and scientific evidence around all things mothering.

“Natural Hospital Birth” by Cynthia Gabriel. This book realistically addresses the challenges of unmedicated birth in a hospital setting with a confident, can-do attitude. Who will this appeal to? Those who have a strong desire for natural birth and are, by choice or necessity, giving birth in a hospital setting and want a practical guide to preparation and birth itself.

“The Thinking Woman’s Guide to a Better Birth” by Henci Goer. This book provides detailed information on many interventions commonly used in modern American childbirth, including the evidence behind them, options surrounding them, and ways to maximize positive outcomes for mother and baby. Who will this appeal to? Those who value a thorough knowledge of childbirth practices along with some cultural background on them and value being an active part of the decisions regarding their care.

“ The Labor Progress Handbook” by Penny Simkin and Ruth Ancheta. This is a detailed book primarily written for caregivers and support people to help address common labor variations and complications with alternatives to help avoid unnecessary cesareans. Who will this appeal to? Those who are very detail-oriented and interested in the physiological process of birth and who feel less anxiety when equipped with the tools to deal with the many possibilities in labor.

“Pushed” by Jennifer Block. This book addresses the state of American maternity care and examines the cultural, legal, financial, and medical influences on current maternity care concerns that can interfere with the rights of the childbearing woman to safe, respectful care and normal birth. Who will this appeal to? Those who are interested in cultural influences on healthcare, improving medical care for women and broadening their options, and who are willing to take action to address any fears that increased knowledge about maternity care concerns may give rise to.

Birth Matters” by Ina May Gaskin. This book provides a compelling viewpoint as to why birth matters and how it can affect the health of mothers, families, and society as a whole. It touches on a wide variety of cultural factors in relationship to birth, including the importance of birth stories, feminism, sexuality in birth, technology, empowerment, and a father’s role in birth. Who will this appeal to? Those who are interested in the cultural factors related to childbirth and a broad, holistic view of mothers, babies, families, and the world. My personal favorite. 

Do you have a favorite book that helped guide you through pregnancy or prepare you for birth? Tell me about it in the comments!