Life Lessons I’ve Learned from Childbirth
As a doula, I spend a lot of time thinking, talking, writing, studying and teaching about childbirth. I fit right in among others in the birth community, but to many (including my husband) I just seem like a real birth nerd. We often find the most analogies from our careers and for me it’s no different. When friends call to vent or to ask for advice, I find myself saying things like, “You know, it’s like in labor…” or “You know when you’re having a contraction and…” To me, they all make perfect sense and to some of my friends at least, I think they are helpful. My apologies to all of you men I have attempted to console with birth analogies, though!
I thought I’d share with you some of the life lessons I’ve learned from my seven years as a birth doula, or four if you count the three years I worked full time for a bank. Here they are, in no particular order:
Life lesson #1 – If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
In the birth world, there’s this thing we call Normal Birth. Normal Birth describes birth as Mother Nature intended. This is physiological birth that happens all on its own with no medication, no devices, no beeping, no contraptions and no incisions or cuts. The amazing thing about birth is that as long as all the right parts and organs exist, along with the proper hormones and the right mindset of the mom, childbirth happens without anyone “helping” it along! Women’s bodies produce hormones that cause contractions, soften the bones of the pelvis so it can open and eventually propel the baby out of the mother’s body. Those hormones also give the mom feelings of elation and help her cope with the intensity of birth. Some women actually feel VERY good feelings during labor and birth (I won’t go into detail in this post, but if you’re interested, check out the documentary Organic Birth). Sometimes birth is slow, sometimes it’s quick, sometimes it happens when we think it will and sometimes it happens quite sooner or later than we’d anticipated, and all of this is considered normal. With birth, we often do things to it to try to manipulate the experience to make it look a certain way, or happen faster or easier. More often than not, there was nothing wrong in the first place, and messing with the natural process just makes things worse. The same goes for life. So often, our lives don’t look like we thought they’d look, but everything’s okay. When we start trying to correct problems we’ve invented in our heads by spending more money than we have, obsessing over our appearance, or trying to control other people, we only make the situation worse. It seems the more I let go of in my life and let it be what it will, the smoother things go.
Life lesson #2 – Sometimes things aren’t normal.
After all that talk about normal, sometimes things aren’t normal. I teach women about what Normal Birth looks like both to open their eyes to what their birth experience can be, but also so they will be able to better identify whether or not their birth has fallen off the normal curve. When things are going fine, interventions can screw it up, but when things aren’t fine we sometimes need the interventions to get the train back on track. I find this true of birth and also true of life. I have had many friends encounter mood disorders and other physical or mental illness they desperately wanted to ignore. Sometimes this goes for unhealthy relationships or habits too. I watched for years as my friends, and even I myself, tried to either mask the issue, ignore it or fix it myself to no avail. Sometimes we need doctors, medication, friends and professionals to help us fix what’s broken.
Life lesson #3 – It’s okay to ask for help.
That brings me to the third life lesson. No man is an island. We need our community and our support system. As a doula, my job is to come alongside families to support them in their birth journey. Sometimes people ask me, “So, do you just help women who don’t have husbands with them?” Of course, my answer is no! I think asking a man to be the sole support for his wife in childbirth is like asking someone who’s never heard of football to coach the Super bowl. Husbands and partners love the women they are supporting in childbirth, but that doesn’t mean they are mentally, physically or emotionally prepared to do so. Having someone who knows what she’s doing in the experience with you ensures that the pressure is off and you can truly enjoy your birth. In my own life, both as a single mother and many other times since, I’ve learned it’s okay to ask for help when I need it. Maybe that’s asking a friend to watch the kids so I can have a few hours to myself, maybe that’s asking to trade babysitting with a friend so my husband and I can get a much needed date night. Maybe it’s, [gasp!!], asking my parents for parenting or financial advice when I realize I haven’t quite gotten the hang of being a grown-up! Often times, this translates into me calling my best friend and just saying, “Help! I don’t know what I’m doing!”
Life lesson #4 – You are stronger than you think you are.
You really are. I know you don’t think you are, but you are. I experienced it with my own births, and I see it time and time again with each one of my clients. At some point during each birth or after, every mom says something to the effect of, “I did it! I didn’t think I could, but I did!” That goes for moms that have natural, unmedicated births, those who receive pain medication, those who have cesareans and VBAC as well. Before my births, people told me that women had been doing this for thousands of years, my body was created to give birth and I could do it. I half-heartedly believed them, but studied and prepared the best I could for a natural birth experience. It was hard. I was induced both times for preeclampsia and made it through both births with no epidural. There were times I thought I was going to die, and times where I thought, “this isn’t so bad,” and both times I walked away feeling bigger than life. I did it – I really did it! As I enter my thirties (okay so I’ve been in them almost three years now, but who’s counting), I look back on many experiences of my own and marvel that I made it through alive. I would have never thought I could endure a divorce and single-motherhood, start my own business and succeed, or be successful as a stepparent. But I have, and I am. I am way stronger than I ever thought I was, and so are you.
Life lesson #5 – The struggle is worth it.
They don’t call childbirth a vacation; it’s called labor for a reason. It’s hard work! Again, whether you choose pain relief or not, whether you birth at home or in a hospital, whether your baby comes out of you-know-where or out of your tummy, birth is a struggle. It’s scary, it involves discomfort and requires preparation and a complete perspective shift on your entire life. And it’s all worth it. Before I had kids I would say, “I know it’s gonna be hard but…” and in retrospect I way underestimated what hard actually meant. I find this true of so many other things in life: moving out of my mother’s house, completing college, navigating the adult world, starting a career, getting married, having kids, getting a divorce, dating as a single parent, step-parenting, running a half-marathon, various relationship struggles, and being a grown-up in general. But the struggle is always worth it. Giving up and throwing in the towel doesn’t usually yield the same satisfaction as fighting for something you believe in and staying the course until you cross the finish line. Struggling also often includes all of the other life lessons as well.
So, for those of you wondering why I’m so wise and have all the answers to life, there you have it. Many thanks to the miracle of birth and all the women who’ve taught me about life along the way!
See you around town!