Every birth usually ends with tears. I’m crying, mom is crying, dad is crying. Tears of gratitude because we’re all incredibly appreciative of this moment and for each other. Yesterday, I attended my thirteenth birth and this family conceived through IVF. Their journey to conception was long, hard, expensive and at times heartbreaking. I previously learned pieces of their experience during our initial and prenatal meetings but it was while we labored together for 18 hours on the upper east side of Manhattan, that I learned the details. So much had gone towards the bringing to life of this little baby boy, who we were all waiting to welcome.
Because the conception story is different for IVF families, the experience of pregnancy, labor, and birth can also be different. Sometimes families feel a distrust of their bodies because they were not able to experience conception without medical intervention. When I work with IVF families, part of my job responsibilities is to remind my client of their strength, of their abilities, and if they are planning a hospital birth, of the options that are available to assist them if they want or need them.
Yesterday, this incredibly loved and yearned for baby was placed on the chest of his mother after long and hard laboring and she just broke down. Some families wait nine months for their bundle but in this case, years of ups and downs, disappointments and miracles had to happen to bring us to where we were.
Witnessing this moment was the catalyst of my own emotional release. I began to think about the love that I already have for my next child and how the work that I do as a birth and postpartum doula keeps me in a constant mental space surrounding my next pregnancy and baby. In the past, Rick, friends and I refer to the future baby as baby Ricky. More recently, I’ve started calling him by his name and sometimes I get glimpses of his face. I don’t know what conception will be like for Rick and I in the coming months when we begin to try, but the love for our baby boy has already begun to grow. The love is real even though, as of yet, he is not.
Ever since I began my journey of self-actualization and a career as a Birth Doula, I have found myself emersed in a culture of pseudoscience which is also a culture that I don’t necessarily identify with. I don’t use tarot cards. I don’t get reiki massages and I don’t believe in the power of crystals, but so many of the people in my circles do. I entertain astrology because the coincidences amuse me but I do not believe that all (enter any subgroup here) is any one particular way. Not all black people are the same. Not all women are the same. Not all Capricorns are the same, as much as I joke about the opposite being true.
I subscribe to science and logic and I believe that I have found the same comfort in those subscriptions that my peers have found in pseudoscience. Even science has an explanation for the anecdotal benefits of pseudoscience and it’s called the placebo effect:
I try not to judge others who move in this world differently than the way that I move, so long as it isn’t harming themselves or others but I find great disadvantages and harm to believing in pseudoscience.
I believe it is limiting. If you only feel a sense of relaxation when you have an Amethyst crystal in your hand, then what happens when you lose that crystal or can’t find it? Now you’ve lost your sense of calm when in reality the power to be calm was in you all along. Crystals can be a great reminder of strength but I think more often than not, it’s used as a crutch and a replacement of real soul searching and digging. It may also be limiting because it isn’t encouraging you to investigate your self, your emotions or your trauma. If you think the problems exist outside of yourself, then I guess it makes sense to believe that the answers to the problems are outside of yourself as well. This is faulty though, because the problem IS in you, and so is the solution. Pseudoscience also may require that you need to buy something in order to possess this power which feeds into commercialism when again the power is in you already.
I’ve told my daughter since she was young that there’s no such thing as Santa. I was criticized for doing so and accused of stealing her innocence and adolescent joy but anyone who knows her can attest to the quality of her childhood. She views life through rainbow colored glasses, sprinkled with glitter and fairy dust. Her lack of belief in something made up had no negative effect on her experiences. Similarly, me knowing that crystals are like any other rock (albeit prettier, much prettier) doesn’t make my life any less magical. I see magic and beauty every day. I am awed by the relationship between God and science and I love seeing them work together.
If you believe that crystals will work for you, they will.
I don’t believe that crystals will work for me, so they won’t.
Looking at this, is the crystal actually working or is the power in you?
I think it’s more empowering to believe that you hold the key to your future, that you control your mood and your destiny, that you have influence over your own life rather than these arbitrary rocks. I think it’s dangerous to believe that these outside influences control your life because then when they’re broken you’re broken. When you can’t find it, you can’t find your self. It’s harder to find the power within yourself but once you do, it can’t be taken away. It can’t be bought or sold and it can’t be manipulated by anyone other than you. Isn’t that more powerful? Isn’t anything else detrimental to your spiritual and emotional well-being?
What are your thoughts on pseudoscience such as crystals, reiki or tarot cards? How have they shaped your experience of the world? I’d love to open up the conversation because I don’t believe that I have all the answers. I just know that what I believe, works for me.
I went from working very predictable and typical hours, to a job that is widely on-call. Some of the work I do these days can be pre-planned and arranged (such as prenatal, postpartum and overnight support) however the bulk of what I do is attend births and those are hard to plan around.
People have the notion that their baby will be delivered on their due date, but the truth of the matter is that due dates are just rough estimates based on the last date of menstruation. No one can accurately predict the day that their baby will be born even if they know the exact date of conception and your baby certainly isn’t keeping track. Babies come when they’re ready. Luckily we have estimated due dates because they give us a ballpark idea of when to expect the baby but knowing exactly when is near impossible (outside of scheduling a cesarean). Even once labor has begun, it’s hard to predict how long it will last before your little one arrives. Throw in prodromal labor (contractions that can begin anytime at term and last for a few days to a week) and Braxton hicks (“false labor”), and you’ll start to see the value in going with the flow.
As a birth worker, this has been a difficult transition for me. There have been times when I’ve received word that a client believes labor has begun but she isn’t quite ready for me to join her yet. I have sat on the edge of my bed, frozen, like a statue. Afraid to start anything (like cooking or cleaning) and afraid to exert any energy for fear that when it’s time for me to join I’ll be exhausted, or asleep.
The last time this happened, I knew I had to develop a plan to help myself cope with being on call, and here it is…
Live my life. If I was heading to the gym, or the store, or was about to start cooking dinner, then I will continue to do what I intended on doing. Being fully supportive to my clients doesn’t have to include putting my life on hold. When they’re ready for me I will put everything down, but in the meantime, I must go on as I normally would.
Don’t be afraid of being tired. I know for a fact that when it is time for me to join my clients, my adrenaline kicks in and I am filled with energy and ready to work! I know that since I am a doula full-time now I don’t have to worry about being rested for any other jobs and after the birth, I can come back home to sleep and recharge as necessary. I also stock red bull in my fridge now. This has more of a placebo effect than anything else. Knowing that it’s there gives me peace of mind, even if I never drink it.
Change my client’s ringtones. If I do fall asleep or find myself in noisy New York streets, a brash and startling ringtone will do the trick to make sure I never miss a call.
Schedule the classes that I teach online to be lighter around my clients EDD (estimated due date). I have already come to terms with the idea that sometimes I might have to cancel classes in order to support my clients, and by scheduling fewer classes in the first place I reduce my chances of having to cancel at all. Luckily my teaching job is pretty flexible and I can make up classes on the weekends or any other time, really.
Handling an on-call life has been a challenge for me, but I’m happy that I took the time to figure out how to best support myself so that I can best support my clients.
Italy was everything I expected, wanted and needed! Going into the experience I knew that I was desperate for nature and the idea of a retreat was ideal. Visiting Italy had always been on my bucket list as far as I could remember. Before my brother or I were born, my mother spent years living in Italy and that is where she got the nickname: Baci, which everyone called her, friends and family alike. Her nieces and nephews called her Titi Baci and my daughter currently calls her Grandma Baci. I even have that name tattooed on my body, twice. In Italian, Baci means “kisses”. She was given the name by someone who I would later know as Big Judi.
I was excited to interview Big Judi for the interview project I’ve been working on and I knew I wanted to do so before visiting Italy. Big Judi came to my house the day before my flight. After noticing her marijuana socks, I asked her if she wanted to partake in any cannabis activities and with socks like those I was not surprised with her response. We lit up and began talking about how and where she first met my mom. Shortly after getting started, Big Judi asked if it would be ok for her to lay down and a bit later Rick drove her home. The interview itself wasn’t as concentrated with information as I would have hoped but we promised to get together again so that she could share more. Before she left, she gifted me with a small white pillow that was used at my parent’s wedding. I am thrilled to have received this just before my own wedding and plan to use it as well.
Big Judi may not have shared much yet but she got my mind ready in a voicemail she left, just as I was boarding my plane. Take a listen…
I was traveling with my friend Patria. In addition to wanting this trip for very personal and self-involved reasons, I was also happy to have time to spend with Patria, outside of wedding planning which is currently running my life and is the topic of most conversations I have with people. I considered this trip, among many other things to be a pre-wedding-friend-honeymoon.
The flight was smooth, as I slept nearly the entire eight-hour direct flight to Rome. After landing, Patria and I met with the retreat coordinator‘s husband and daughter who we would then share the 3-hour drive with to the tiny town of Piobicco.
As we more closely approached our destination, I began noticing the hiking trails off the side of the road that led into the forest. My eyes swelled up, this was exactly it! I got excited that this was going to be my life for the next 10 days. There would be no other responsibilities of wedding planning, or picking up and dropping off my daughter: just me, nature, yoga, meditation and my best friend.
The way Tanya leads yoga is different than anyone else. She gives writing exercises, visualizations, breathing and stretching along with traditional yoga poses. When you work with Tanya you will get a full body, mind, and soul work out and I am stronger for it now. The things I worked on have led me to be gentler to myself and more supportive as a mother and soon to be wife.
I am so happy that my path, which was always leading to Italy, crossed with Tanya’s and that I was invited to participate in this fantastic voyage!
Patria and I shared spacious accommodations with seven other ladies all from different walks of life. Each taught me something and lead to my overall experience. We spent a lot of our downtime discussing our childhoods, trauma and all the variables that shaped the women we are today. I have to admit I was taken back by the fact that many of these women who are somewhat older than I am still felt very impacted by their childhood. This brought me a sense of calm because it was then that I realized even if I don’t remember much of my mom, she raised me for eight crucial years, at a time when I was being shaped into the person I am today. This meant that I am effected by her whether I knew it, remembered it or not. I am comforted by this realization.
One of the most transformative parts was during a yoga session when I was reflecting on the things I’ve learned about my mom over the past year. So far I’ve interviewed my dad, who had a lover‘s perspective. My godmother, who had the perspective of a childhood friend. A woman who became close to my mom in the last years of her life and Big Judi who knew her somewhere in the middle and gave her the name Baci, which was a huge part of her identity. Here I was in Italy, where she lived for years and for the very first time I felt like I knew her and I missed her. Does it sound crazy that I never missed her before? I didn’t know her and I didn’t think I remembered her so how could I have missed a stranger? For years I was too afraid to engage in conversation about my mom because I was saving myself from deep sadness. That served and protected me then and now I am ready to feel.
As of today I have received my doula certification and have attended 5 births. I’ve had some clients deliver with an epidural and others who did not. I’ve been in attendance during vaginal deliveries as well as cesarean sections. Some clients were medically induced while others experienced spontaneous labor at home. After some births, my body has been physically drained and sore. After other births, I feel energized and ready to take on the rest of my day. The support I’ve provided has been as diverse as each of the women receiving the support.
Since I have begun my doula training, I vowed to myself to be dedicated to learning about research and evidence-based information. My dedication was due to apprehension that I would find an overwhelming amount of misinformation based on fear, old wives tales, and anecdotes. I have been pleasantly surprised by the volume of research that is available and the dedication of other birth workers in obtaining and sharing information based on research, data, and statistics.
The majority of my interest lies in helping my clients manage their pain and discomfort during labor and delivery. Three themes keep showing up: support, placebo effects, and perception of pain. These themes are a reminder of the power of the mind.
People feel and perform better when they perceive themselves to be in supportive environments. Support is relative and varies by individual and preferences. If my clients get what they want, they will feel supported and have a more satisfying birthing experience.
A client who gets an epidural after wanting a completely natural birth will feel dissatisfied. A client who gets an epidural after expecting, wanting and requesting it, will feel satisfied. It isn’t the epidural it’self that is causing these feelings, however, it is the expectations around the birthing experience. When our expectations are met, we feel content and fulfilled.
Since coming to this realization I have shifted the conversations that I have with my clients from spewing information and tricks of the trade to me listening to their hopes, wishes, and fears. I don’t have a magical doula wand or pixie dust that eliminates pain but I do have some experience, an ear to listen, a heart filled with good intention and a bag with some tools to help my clients customize a birthing experience that they won’t want to forget.