Saturday, February 21, 2009

Labor: Swimming in the ocean

When I went into labor with Suzi, one of the first things Jordan and I did was go for a sunrise walk at our local university where he worked. He unlocked the door to his building so I could use the bathroom, because most everything was locked and no one was around. I still remember the lady who was up early cleaning the floors, who smiled and said hello when I walked past her. We walked and walked until I got tired. It was so peaceful. A completely untouched day.

But it didn't stay that way. As the contractions got heavier and heavier, we wondered when would be the best time to head for the hospital which was half an hour away. We erred on the side of what we thought was caution and went in early. A few hours later my water was broken (artificially) and I was stuck in bed working through the contractions as best I could. Contractions. The word itself is painful. Every time one came I clenched my teeth, grabbed the bedrail, and whispered "Oh God, oh Jesus" as the nurses and my family watched, totally clueless, and wondered when I'd give in and get the epidural. I thought I could get through it if I only had an hour or two to go. That's when a nurse came in and checked me and said I was only 5-6 centimeters and it could be three or more hours before it was over. I freaked out and had the epidural, at which time I dilated a little quicker than I had been. Now why would that be?

I recently read an interview on which featured Ina May Gaskin discussing her theory of Sphincter Law. (About that same time my midwife posted about the detrimental effect of vaginal exams during labor on her blog, which I think is related. See last section.) Long story short, Ina May believes the cervix is a sphincter, and that when we are frightened, all our sphincters tighten--the cervix included. I feel this applies unquestionably to my labor with Suzi. I was wound up tight and just couldn't seem to relax! How was my cervix supposed to open when my mind and everything else was closed?

I have been reading Ina May Gaskin's Spiritual Midwifery over the past few weeks and have learned a lot from the attitudes encouraged and the way they play out in the birth stories shared in the first part of the book. Instead of "contractions," the women on the Farm have "rushes." Instead of trying to ignore them (duh, you can't!) they work with them, knowing that each one is bringing them closer to meeting their baby. Ina May refers to rushes not as painful but as "an interesting sensation which requires all of your attention." In some of the birth stories, women say they are happy to be working through the rushes because "they get the baby out!"

It helps me see where I went wrong. I thought of my "contractions" as horribly painful torture I would have to endure until, at long last, my cervix was open and I could begin pushing. I didn't work with them; I fought against them. I wished myself out of labor, which made no sense. I didn't want to be pregnant forever!

As I daydream about how my labor will play out with this baby, I've been trying to integrate everything I've heard and read into a visualization that will be helpful and productive. I've come up with a couple of things. I thought of them myself, but they are inspired by Spiritual Midwifery and articles I've read. This one was particularly influenced by things I've read and heard about visualizing your labor as waves in the ocean. It has probably been done before, but here it is and I'm hoping it will end up working for me come August.

I am swimming out in the ocean past the breakers, just floating along. When I swim for the shore a little, the calm ocean starts to get a little choppy. I can feel myself rising and falling with the water. As I swim a little closer I can feel actual waves starting to form and rise against my back, pushing me gently toward the shore, and then the undercurrent pulling me back a little. After swimming this way for a while, the waves get choppier and choppier until they are peaking and turning white when they splash back down. Over the glimmering water I can see my baby sitting on the shore waiting for me, and every wave brings me closer to him. He smiles as though he knows I will be there soon. My arms ache for him and I swim faster, but the current gets so strong that I'm worried it will pull me under before I can get to him. The waves are big and intimidating, but after getting knocked under a few times and coming back up I realize that they are going to take me to my baby if I hit them just right. I start to swim for the top of the wave, getting there just before it breaks, and let them carry me in. Just when I think the waves couldn't get much bigger, and wonder if I can handle another one, my feet brush sand. Knowing I am almost on shore holding my baby, I part walk, part swim through the last few waves until I am only waist-deep in water and can walk the rest of the way. I begin to run toward him as he watches and waits for me. I scoop him up and lie down to hold him, exhausted, tiny waves lapping against the sand in front of us.

This is a rough draft. I think I might take after the ladies at the Farm and abandon the word "contraction" altogether. I haven't decided what to call them yet. Maybe waves. Maybe "God breezes" (borrowed from FlyLady; see my next post). A God breeze is bound to feel better than a contraction!


Rambling Rachel said...

My first labor probably lasted so long because of the sphincter law. Didn't even think of it, but I would bet I was clenching my jaw trying to relax.

The second time i had read about the sphincter law in Ina May's book and did a better job of relaxing. However, when it got tough, I needed a doula. My husband didn't know what to do. The opiate I willingly had injected was helpful and I dialated to 10 cm in 30 min.

Next time--a doula. If there's a next time.

That's my story, so take it as you will.

I'm glad to read about your preparation. You have much wisdom.

Emily said...

Yay for Spiritual Midwifery! One of my favorite books ever....I love all of Ina May's stuff, but the birth stories in this are amazing. I mentioned it to my doula when I met with her this week, and we talked about how hard it is to have that kind of birth in a hospital setting. I feel so lucky to have my doula and midwife on board! Hopefully will be blogging about it later in the your visualization, though!

Anonymous said...

I love your visualization of birth! You and I had a very VERY similar 1st baby expirience. I had the whole, grind-my-teeth-and-take-the-pain idea about labor, and ended up with an epi. But as you know from Julie's blog, everything was completely different the 2nd time. Keep reading, it really helps prepare you for labor. I remember soaking in the bath tub while I was preggers, just going through the whole "plan" in my head. Visualization does wonders to prepare you!

Theresa said...

Him? Him? okay, moving past that, when I had my kids 100 yrs. ago, it was "bad" for everyone to have an epidural, and I bought into it. I had both girls with nothing more than a paper bag for hyperventilating. Which I used! I felt much more in control with the second one (jesse), until the nurses made me lie on my back, for their convenience. In a squatting position I was relatively pain-free, but they couldn't get a good reading with the belly monitor. OMG, I should have ripped that thing off and shoved it down their throats!