Thursday, October 25, 2018

Follow Your Gut

As a doula, I tell clients constantly to follow their intuition, instinct, and gut feeling. But what does that mean? How do you know what to do? This is a personal story of when I followed my intuition as a mother.
About a year ago, I was at work on a Saturday morning. My mom called and asked to take my boys out for the day. Since they were just sitting at home, bored, I told her that was perfectly fine. I called my boys to tell them to get ready. My teenager begged to stay at home. Normally I would have made him go, as I think it is super important for kids to spend time with family. But I had this nagging feeling in my gut and told him it was ok for him to stay home that day and that just his younger brother would go.
A few hours later, I received a few missed calls from my mom and then my sister. Before I picked up the phone I knew something was wrong (another gut feeling). My mom along with my youngest son and my sister's son had been in a bad car accident. They all walked away. The kids were in booster seats in the back seat, which was untouched. They came out with just seat belt burns on their necks. My mom had injuries from her seat belt as well, which after some time, we discovered were more serious and required surgery.
The other driver, involved in the accident, t-boned my mom's SUV while my mom was traveling 60 mph. The impact was so hard the SUV flipped on its side and skidded down the side of the highway. My mom and the kids walked away because the other driver hit the passenger side seat. There was absolutely nothing left of the seat. That seat would have been where my oldest son would have been sitting had he gone with my mom that day. I am sure that my oldest son would not have walked away from that accident or possibly would not have even survived. That strong feeling I had earlier that morning, to not let my oldest son go with my mom, saved his life.
You are given your children for a reason. Only you know what choices are best for them. We live in a society where we are told to constantly second guess ourselves. We hire others to make decisions for us and for our family based on their education and expertise. But these professionals do not have the most important factor, your intuition.
What does intuition feel like? It is a feeling that starts in your belly, it can feel like butterflies. Many times, it is a decision that you make without thinking; the knee jerk reaction you have to a situation. It is a feeling that you just cannot explain.
There is never a need to explain your gut feeling. It is yours alone. Others may never understand why you do what you do. And that is because they are not you. They do not know what you have experienced in your life, they do not know your children as intimately as you do. No one can ever judge another because no one has ever walked in your shoes.
Intuition is provided to everyone. We just have to be quiet enough to listen. And we also have to be brave enough to follow it. Some times the decisions we make, based on intuition, are not popular; they are not what everyone else is doing. It can be hard to stand up to family members, paid professionals, and even your own partner. But that nagging feeling will not go away easily. It can only be suppressed.
This story is one of many I have experienced in my fifteen years of being a mother. Some are not quite so shocking. Some of these decisions have completely changed our lives. There are times I have chosen not to listen to it and then regretted it. Hindsight has proven to me that I need to follow the gut feeling every time. Mothering can be difficult. Intuition is your God-given tool to make it a bit easier.

Monday, August 20, 2018

How I Somehow Linked My First Floating Experience with Birth

Today I "floated" for the first time. If you are not aware of what this new phenomenon is, you float in a low level of salt water in complete silence and darkness, either in a small room or pod. For all my fellow 'Fringe' obsessors, think the sensory deprivation tank without the ability to enter someone else's mind or LSD.

The tank is supposed to provide a new level of relaxation. I would like to say my experience was super zen and calm. But it was kind of a clumsy mess and I spent a lot of the time, oddly thinking how my experience paralleled birth. Because that is what sensory deprivation does, right?! #doulalife #birthobsession

Because I am a wuss and I envisioned being in the pod as floating in a watery grave, I chose to do the room. For brevity sake, use my amazingly accurate drawing to envision what the room looks like:
When you first enter the room, there is light and music playing. Ten minutes into your float, they both go away, leaving you in complete darkness. Now as a 34 year old, who still runs up the basement steps to escape imagined terrors, this was absolutely terrifying. I instantly turned on the light. Five minutes into it, I knew I was robbing myself of the experience (plus I could save myself $65 and hang out in my own bathtub). So I turned out the light and freaked out again. I fumbled for the door, I left it cracked for a while. And then slowly closed it, but kept myself tethered to the handle on the door, so I could at least know where it was and keep my bearings.

The moment I let go of the door handle, I panicked again. I finally had the thought that this was insane. My obsession to control everything was ruining my experience. I have to admit that I am a recovering type A person. I have done so much work to heal myself. I meditate regularly, have a robust library filled with self help books that teach how to relinquish control and trust in the process, and I am knee deep in crystals and candles. I love yoga and massage. And yet I could not enjoy this experience that so many claimed help them relax. I am a zen-person failure!

And so I let go of the door handle and floated to the middle of the room. I had no idea where I was, where the door was, and could not see anything; a control freak's worst nightmare. Yet, after a while, I began to love it. I trusted that I was safe, there were four walls to contain me, I was not just blindly floating out into the unknown.

During this epiphany, I began to think of how this experience related to birth. Birth is a full submission to the process. Birth is floating into the middle of the room, without tethering yourself to the door or turning on the light. It is receiving help and reassurance from your support team but knowing that you have to dig deep inside yourself and trust your body and baby.

The four walls of the room, represent your birth support team. They are your anchor to the Earth, they help contain your safety. And just as I felt the need to periodically to touch them, to reassure my bearings, I kept pushing off of them into the "unknown." A good support team knows when to help and when to step back and let you intuitively do the work that only you know how to do. They provide you reassuring words, compassionate touch, and information when needed. But they know you need to delve deep into the birth process and let you propel yourself into the unknown of birth once you received what you need. A good support team merely supplies you with a safe space instead of control of your birth.

The light, the door, they signify the need for control in birth, the need to constantly intervene. When I turned on the light or opened the door, I needed to "see" that I was safe. But that was because I did not trust that I was safe. I was so afraid of the unknown that I constantly had to intervene instead of enjoy the experience. Constant monitoring, frequent vaginal exams, controlling the way women birth, all provide a satisfaction for our curiosity but many times do not improve a healthy birth.  Of course in times of emergencies, this information can be valuable (like I would want to see the door in case of a fire). Otherwise, the need for constant information impedes on the process of birth.

The point of my story: delve into the unknown of birth. Prepare yourself with a birth team that supports and respects you. Go into the experience with love, not fear. You may be amazed at how much you enjoy your experience when you truly let go. And its wise not to shave your legs an hour before submerging yourself into a tank of salt water;)

Friday, June 1, 2018

How a Customer Service Manager Becomes a Doula

"Why did you become a doula?" is the most asked question I receive at interviews. Usually followed up with, "What did you do before doula work?" I will say, my answer to the second questions is not the typical answer. I did not come from a healthcare background. I was not someone who spent my working days caring for others. I did not watch babies or work as a lactation consultant. My switch of careers even surprised myself.

In celebration of International Doula Month, which ended yesterday (because you know life happened) I planned on writing a piece about my decision to become a doula. And to show people that birth workers come from all walks of life.

Like many others, my decision to become a doula started after the births of my own children. My children were born before the many wonderful birthing centers and midwifery care options became common place in St. Louis. I birthed in hospitals. I saw the traditional OB. But what set me apart from most women, was that I literally showed up having my babies for both of my births. I labored outside of the hospital, never received pain relieving drugs, and arrived only moments before my babies were born. Yet, the care I received during my births was atrocious. The first, I was given a completely unnecessary epsiotomy as my 6 lb. baby was already crowning when I arrived and I literally pushed him out in three pushes with ease. The doctor never told me what he was doing, he just did it.

With my second, upon arrival the crass nurse assured me I was not in labor at all, as I was talking and had driven myself to the hospital. But upon inspection, she found me 8 cm dilated. She insisted I lay in bed for monitoring, even though I was in transition and absolutely had to stand. I asked for walking monitors and was told I had no choice but to have regular ones and to lay in bed for twenty minutes. She left, never pulling up the side of the bed. Moments later, my water broke and my body started pushing. I could not even reach the call light. The nurse walked in minutes later and rushed to get a doctor. He came in and yelled at me to stop pushing as my son was literally coming. My epsiotomy scar tore open from the fast birth and the doctor bitterly told me that this is why he told me not to push, as he stitched my up with no anesthesia. The procedure at the time, was to take baby away immediately after birth and weigh and bathe them. I sat there for 20 minutes being stitched and separated from my baby, crying as my baby cried, knowing that this was not right.

During my second pregnancy my mom told me she thought I should hire a labor coach. This was long before Facebook was the network it has come to be and I had no idea how to find one. I educated myself. I filled out a birth plan. I thought I would be fine. But the short 10 minutes I was there before my son arrived, I found myself fighting with the staff to be heard, to be taken seriously. I realized that the moments following birth are some of your most vulnerable and that you need support to voice what you know is right for you and your baby. And so, years later, I decided to become the help that I had needed during my own births.

I did not always have an interest in birth. I graduated from SLU with a degree in Communication, when my oldest son was four. I immediately went into the customer service field, working at a manufacturing plant. And did this for ten years. It was not until I was eight years into my career that I felt this nagging to explore birth work. My kids were older and I realized it was the perfect time for me to pursue it.

My mom had all four of her children without pain medication. She also breastfed all of us. I was lucky to grow up in a household in which this was the norm. Consequently, I never feared birth. I attribute this to my own ability to birth my children in the same way. My mom was the one who opened up my world to birth work, as she had considered midwifery when she was in nursing school, but did not pursue it because of the laws in Missouri at the time. Being an RN, I would often call her and ask her about birth especially when I would hear of someone encountering an issue with their labor, as I wanted to understand physiologically why it happened. After numerous conversations, she just blurted out one day "Why don't you become a doula?" Up until this moment, I had never heard that term. My children were ten and five at the time and yet this term had never entered my language. I had heard the term labor coach yet never this one.

I looked into doula work. It sounded intriguing. I started reading birth books. And watched "The Business of Being Born." I realized that it was completely normal to feel cheated about my births despite the fact that I had healthy babies. I realized that there was an epidemic of women who were mistreated during their births. But that there was hope. I decided I had to be one of those people to work towards change.

It took two years for me to take the training. Doula work, in comparison to the job I had at the time, did not pay as well. It was daunting thinking how I would support my family doing this work and so I put off taking the training. I made the decision in 2015, that even if I did not pursue it as a career, that I needed to offer the work in some way. My push to attend the October 2015 training, was when one of my friends asked me to do it so I could be her doula for her baby that was expected in December.

The training was life changing. I met amazing women who were doing amazing work. I left the training invigorated. I attended just a few births that first year, mostly close friends, as juggling a full time job, kids, and doula work was hard. But the passion kept gnawing at me. Birth work was my calling and it offered so much more than the job I had.

In December 2016, I had the opportunity to leave my full time job. I had savings that would support my family for six months while I got the business up and running. It was a huge leap of faith but I announced that my last day at my old job would be January 6, 2017. I was reassured that my decision was the right one, when I received an inquiry on Christmas morning. I was hired just days after that.

The rest is history. I have met so many wonderful people through my work: clients and colleagues. Birth work has become a normal part of my life and it is hard to imagine that at one time, my life was so vastly different from what it is now.

This work has not only provided me with professional satisfaction but has helped me discover a new way to live. I know how unpredictable life can be but also how rewarding it can be when you trust the process is taking you right where you need to be. I love my children more deeply (which seems impossible). I have a new regard for the strength of women. And I understand more fully, that intuition trumps everything.

It is not the norm in our society to birth without fear or hesitation, to fully embrace all of the parts of it, pleasant or unpleasant. But this view of birth, mirrors our perception of life in general. Many of us do not live life without the same fears and hesitations. But I think many would agree, that living fearlessly, trusting in what is to come despite not having complete control, is much more enjoyable. My goal is to bring that outlook to birth and early parenthood. In many ways, I feel that teaching families about the power of birth, the power of their own intuition, not only sets them up for the arrival of their baby but sets them up with new skills for life. I know delving into birth work has changed my perspective on life itself and I like to think that every family that hires a doula, takes a piece of that with them.

I know that my path leading me to birth work was not the typical one. But I like to think my experiences in a very different field have helped me become a one-of-a-kind doula. If anything, working in a job that was not the right fit for me, helps me reaffirm that doula work is what I need to be doing. There are times I doubt myself, there are times this work is hard. But I know deep down that what I had before in no way compares to the work I do now.