Fertile Imagination

Stepping Down from The Edge – Calming Your Fears During Labor

I will always remember a story told by another mama in our natural childbirth community. She was a labor doula, and was studying to become a midwife. She had coached countless women within our community during their births, and she was valued for her calm and encouraging exterior. When you were in labor, she was your rock.

She became pregnant and decided on an HBAC – a homebirth after Cesarian. She had always felt traumatized by her first birth, which was a planned hospital birth that ended in an emergency C-section. For a doula and homebirth professional, her plan for the second birth was the natural extension of her life’s work.

She did not give birth at home. After laboring for over 48 hours, she insisted on going to the hospital, where she delivered her second baby. When she told the story, she explained what happened.

She was completely unprepared and overwhelmed by the intensity of the pain of labor. Her baby wasn’t positioned well, giving her lots of “back labor” and a long, drawn-out early laboring period. She became very scared. She was afraid if she couldn’t handle the pain of labor, she would never be able to handle the pain of delivery, so she insisted on the transfer.

In the months she was preparing for the birth, she clung tightly to the notion that positive thinking and calm affirmations were all she needed to get through labor. She could mentally reframe contractions as “peaks” and pain as “pressure.” In the end, she was woefully ill-prepared for her difficult birth.

When your birthing day comes, how will you be prepared? If you haven’t yet, read up on our Ways to Calm Your Fears of Childbirth During Pregnancy. These will help set the stage for a smoother labor.

When you’re in the thick of it though, if you start to feel afraid, try these actionable steps for stepping down from the edge of fear and back to calmer waters.

Own Your Environment

Whether it’s at the hospital or at home, until the doctor or midwife is ready to catch the baby, you are the boss of your labor environment. Dim the lights if you wish. Refuse visitors you don’t want to see. Turn on meditative music. Enlist your partner or doula to guard the space for you.

Remember to Breathe

Sometimes when our fear sets in, and we realize we aren’t in control of these contractions, we forget to breathe. This will tense up your whole body and make each contraction hurt worse. Remind yourself to breathe, and remember that the calming power of breathing happens on the exhale. Stretch out each exhale as long as you can. Lengthening your exhales will also prevent hyperventilation.

Count Out Loud During Contractions

This is a powerful way to remind yourself that the contractions don’t last forever and they are somewhat predictable, while simultaneously taking your mind off the pain and onto the ritual of counting. Counting can bring back an immediate feeling of control if you become overwhelmed by feeling out of control.

Touch Your Baby as Soon as She Crowns

Touching your baby can bring you out of a fear place and back to the moment immediately. You will receive a renewed sense of purpose and find reserves of strength you didn’t know you had. Midwives will often ask a mama who has stalled during pushing to touch her baby since that action can remind us that birth isn’t a solo event. Mothers have amazing strength when they are protecting their children.

Hopefully, you will keep these ideas at the ready for your birthing day. If fear rears its ugly head, you can find your power within to let it go.

Julie Stockman spends her days baking, gardening, keeping chickens, listening to the nature around them, practicing gratitude and faithfulness, and stealing minutes to write about it all.

Calming Fears of Childbirth During Pregnancy

Although childbirth is one of the most natural and ancient things a woman does, the fear of childbirth pain and complications is nearly as natural and ancient. Many traditional cultures consider a woman’s first birth to be a significant rite of passage. It is in this space that a woman faces down some of her greatest fears and surrenders herself and her control to another human being. This trend of self-sacrifice continues from that moment forward. As her helpless infant grows and matures, Mother is always called on to face her fears and surrender herself in new ways.

But just as we might look to traditional cultures as an example that childbirth is normal and natural and usually not a medical emergency, we can also see how experienced communities of women are built around the expectant mother to counsel her through this important passage.

Midwives know well that fear during childbirth can stall labor. At home, an experienced midwife, a calm and caring spouse, and a doula can help talk a frightened laboring mama back down from her fear. In the hospital, a doula is invaluable for this role. One of the best things an expectant mama can do for herself is to address this very normal and natural fear before the birth and create a plan to deal with it during labor.

Here are some practical suggestions you can use during your pregnancy to help keep fear from hijacking your birth on the big day.

All Nine Months – Focus on Success Stories and Shut Out Horror Stories

Women love to tell birth stories. This in itself is very natural and plays an important role in any culture. The problem is, in our Western culture, most birth is medicalized and might not be relevant to the kind of birth you are seeking. A high-intervention birth in a hospital (with induction, IV tethering, and epidural, for example) follows a different pattern than a more natural childbirth and often has different outcomes.

It is absolutely okay to not allow others to put these irrelevant seeds of doubt into your head, which can fester and allow fear to grow. From the moment you discover you are pregnant, you can tell friends and family that you’re simply not up for any birth-gone-wrong stories, but that you’d love to swap stories after your child’s birth. Because it is so intuitive for women to relate to one another through childbirth stories, it can be difficult to set these boundaries. You might develop a little script and practice it until it becomes second nature. As you begin to show, you’ll be continually surprised when even perfect strangers try to share their stories and press you for details about your plans.

If you are planning a homebirth and you have a strong naysayer in your circle of community, consider whether this person really needs to know your plans. The months before your first homebirth can be much better spent focused on the excitement of what’s ahead rather than defending your choice to stay out of the hospital.

Finally, replace the random stories you are blocking out with positive ones. Read stories about midwives, read stories about birth in other cultures, and read books that focus on honoring your body and its wisdom. Maybe you’d like to join a natural birthing community or homebirth community online to hear stories more relevant to your birthing plans. Mothering.com provides a good starting place.

Second and Third Trimester – Preparing for Your Birth Plan

After you’ve decided what you would like your birth plan to be (homebirth? birthing center? hospital birth?), ask as many questions of your health care provider as you need to until you feel comfortable.

If you are planning a homebirth, don’t be afraid to bring up questions about worst-case scenarios. These should reassure you that your midwife can handle an emergency situation and give you the peace of mind of feeling prepared. There is no end to the questions you might have – this is normal and natural as well. If your health care provider doesn’t have enough time for all of your questions, or if you have to wait too long between appointments, ask him or her to provide you with quality, positively focused resources for you to explore further.

This is also the time to honestly assess whether past abuse might play a role in your birthing process. Unfortunately, abuse of young girls and women is far too common, and while these memories may feel old and settled by now, the lack of control over your own body that comes with childbirth can quickly make them resurface.

If this applies to you, consider sharing this with your health care provider so you can develop an action plan right away. Any health care provider with labor and delivery experience should be well aware of this phenomenon; if you feel you aren’t taken seriously, you might consider finding another provider.

Third Trimester – Meditation and Preparation

Even if you’ve done all the mental groundwork you needed to do during the first parts of your pregnancy, your fears might grow as the time grows nearer. This comes more from a more emotional place and less of a mental place like before and needs an approach based less on logic and more on nurturing your spirit.

Don’t dwell on your fears during your quiet time. Instead try communicating with your baby. Tell her how much you love her. Let him know how excited you are to meet him. Tell her you will be strong for her. Although our babies can’t hear and decipher our words in utero, our bodies and hormones and feelings are far more in sync than most of us realize.

If you believe in a higher power, pray daily for peace and strength. Reflect upon your ancestors – all the birthing women who have come before you in your family. Draw on their strength.

Practice calming behaviors that have helped you in the past. Long baths are wonderful, especially with magnesium-rich, blood pressure lowering epsom salt added. Meditation, nightly rituals like a warm cup of tea or a foot massage from your partner, and music that calms and empowers are enjoyed by many third-trimester mamas.

Your community of support should surround you with love during these last few months. Seek out those with whom you feel most loved and allow yourself to receive comfort from them. Now is a time for receiving; your time for giving is shortly to come!

Be sure to check out our tips for calming your fears during labor and delivery. Preparing yourself with a plan for when contractions become intense is the best way to ensure a smooth ride through the beautiful and universal rite of passage that is childbirth.

Julie Stockman spends her days baking, gardening, keeping chickens, listening to the nature around them, practicing gratitude and faithfulness, and stealing minutes to write about it all.

Preventing Autism During Infancy

Earlier in your pregnancy, you may have read about how preventing autism later in your child’s life begins when you are pregnant. While autism and all the autism spectrum disorders like ADD, ADHD, Asperger’s, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and tic disorders can have a genetic predisposition, prenatal nutrition and environment also affect whether or not a child will actually develop symptoms. Similarly, infant nutrition and stress management play a huge role.

There is no single cause yet found for the autism spectrum disorders, but three main actions you can take in your child’s infancy can give your infant the best possible chance at not developing one of these disorders: balancing the hormones serotonin and dopamine, eliminating bad bacteria overgrowth in the gut, and fixing deficiencies in key nutrients. Each of these is discussed in more detail below.

It’s interesting to note that even if the spectrum disorders run in your family, and even if symptoms develop during childhood, these same steps can make the symptoms less severe – resulting in a mild case of the disorder rather than one that severely affects your lives.

Keeping a Healthy Serotonin and Dopamine Balance

A major and chronic stressful life event that occurs when the brain is still developing is a danger for ASD-susceptible infants. The adrenals will cope with the stress, but they are also responsible for the balanced production of dopamine and serotonin. The balance can be thrown off when they are under stress and permanent brain changes can occur because the brain is still under development. Some stressful events are not always preventable, such as a major illness requiring hospitalization.

But there are four preventable situations that cause infant stress which are actually quite common.

• Stress from abandonment such as sleep training that emphasizes “crying it out.”

• Stress from being chronically hungry, as can happen when infants are breastfed by the clock instead of breastfed on demand.

• Stress from lack of attachment to a primary caregiver who loves and interacts with the baby – either mother or another consistent, attached caregiver if mother is unavailable.

• Stress from vaccine injury. This is especially common among the combination vaccines. Aside from the mercury controversy, they can initiate an exaggerated immune response in susceptible babies, which then leads to the same high adrenal stress babies would experience under severe illness. Consider researching vaccines very carefully before your baby receives any. There are options you can take such as delaying vaccinations, asking that your baby receives them singularly instead of in combinations with others, and even signing vaccine waivers to receive none at all if that is your firm belief. Remember above all else that you are the parent and the decision on how many vaccinations your baby receives at any time is entirely up to you, not your doctor. A doctor who will respectfully work with you on this issue is worth searching for.

Improving Gut Health

A foundation of good gut health is more important than most of us realize. If you have too many bad bacteria in your gut, you are open to more inflammation, more chronic diseases like cancer and heart disease, more food allergies and sensitivities, and more immune system dysfunction – like getting sick more often than others as well as autoimmune problems like eczema and psoriasis. Bad bacteria can be balanced by first providing good bacteria to take up residence in your baby’s gut and by then avoiding situations that let the bad bacteria grow out of control.

• Breastfeeding from the moment of birth introduces good bacteria into your baby’s intestines right away. Breastfed babies rarely have the issues of formula-fed babies, like diarrhea and constipation (although it can happen due to illnesses). Breastfeeding on demand is even better because your infant will never know the stress of being hungry; it is the perfect tool for creating strong attachment bonds; and it floods mama with the feel-good hormone oxytocin, which makes her far less likely to develop postpartum depression.

• An infection that is prescribed antibiotic treatment- strep throat and ear infections are very typical – can wreak havoc on your baby’s gut. The antibiotics eliminate beneficial gut flora and provide the perfect environment for toxic candida and bad gut bacteria to grow out of control. Remember that antibiotics are a strong and potent medicine with major intestinal side effects. They should be reserved for the most severe bacterial infections, and they are not meant for viruses, which simply must run their course. Mother’s milk produces antibodies against illnesses she encounters and these pass to her infant, which again shows nature’s brilliance in our human design. If a bad infection must be treated with antibiotics – which can sometimes be a lifesaver! – be sure to give probiotics, refrigerated not shelf-stable, with live bacteria, throughout the antibiotic course and for several weeks afterwards. Jarrodophilus is a powdered form that can be applied to nursing mothers for their infants.

Nutritional Deficiencies

One of the biggest problems with poor intestinal health is that it interferes with nutrient absorption, which further declines the health and creates a vicious cycle. It becomes next to impossible to get back in balance without first healing the gut and providing extra nutrient supplementation.

For babies under a year old, mother’s milk is the perfect food and is totally complete all by itself, even up to 12 months of age. But, mothers can certainly increase the quality of their milk by ensuring they eat high quality fats like virgin coconut oil, grass-fed butter, extra virgin cold-pressed olive oil, avocados, and the fats from freely ranging animals. And she can add in Omega-3s by eating small fish like sardines and eggs from freely ranging chickens or from vegetable sources like ground flax seeds.

One common deficiency to keep an eye out for is Vitamin D. Humans of all ages need Vitamin D for nearly every function our body needs to complete, as well as for fully absorbing and using the other nutrients we get from our food. We manufacture all the Vitamin D we need when we get full and regular sunlight; but in today’s modern society, most adults and children don’t get full, regular daily access to the sun. Babies, especially, are often slathered in sunscreen any time they are in the sunlight, leaving them vulnerable to Vitamin D deficiency.

There are other ways to keep babies skin from burning, but they take a little more work and attention. You can allow your baby’s skin to slowly develop a tolerance to the sun by increasing exposure little by little until the risk of burning is very low. Or, on long days in the sun (like a beach trip), you can try covering a baby’s skin with very lightweight clothing. While the clothing won’t allow for Vitamin D producing sunlight to come through, it will avoid the need for chemical sunscreen on that day. There are less toxic baby sunscreens available, and each baby’s skin is different, so trust your own judgement on the need (or not) for these products.

Attachment parenting during the infant years has been time-tested for good results. In our long human history, holding, carrying, and breastfeeding babies all throughout the day and night was the norm. Contrary to modern Western cultural beliefs that this will “spoil” our babies, continuing this more traditional way of baby care gives infants what they need most – a built-in sense that they are safe, protected, and loved. This greatly reduces the stress that can cause hormonal imbalances and permanent brain changes. It sets a rock solid foundation for good physical and emotional health to build upon for the rest of their lives.

Julie Stockman spends her days baking, gardening, keeping chickens, listening to the nature around them, practicing gratitude and faithfulness, and stealing minutes to write about it all.

Avoiding Autism Begins In Utero

Autism gets a lot of news press lately. The disorder seems to carry as many questions as symptoms. Why do some children end up with autism? Why does it seem as if there are more children with autism than in the past? Why does it present itself differently in different children, and is there any possible way to prevent it?

It’s enough of a front-line issue to make new parents worry, and rightly so. It does seem to be happening with more frequency. The good news is that developing the disorder isn’t a genetic roulette, but instead, its development is very dependent upon environmental conditions. There are things mothers can do even as their child is still in utero to make a later autism diagnosis unlikely.

Why ADD, OCD, & Tics are cousins to Autism and Why All Respond to Similar Therapy

Autism is related to Asperger’s Syndrome, Tourette’s Syndrome and all other tic disorders, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), all of which have seen a steep rise among our children. They are grouped together as part of Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) because they all share the same root causes and they all respond to similar holistic treatment strategies.

By now, most of us personally know at least one ASD child. If you don’t yet, you may be tempted to believe that these disorders don’t really exist as such – that they’ve always been simply a personality quirk in some people, but media attention now makes it seem as if they are more proliferous.

As someone who has both had tics from Tourette’s and then eliminated tics from Tourette’s as an adult through natural healing methods, I would caution you against this line of thinking. If I were to eat 7 Doritos right now, my tics would return, even if the Doritos were marked as having no msg or food coloring (this has happened with “natural foods” on countless occasions). The rise in the autism spectrum disorders is not in our imagination and is directly correlated with a decrease in adequate nutrition and an increase in daily toxic exposures, beginning with the pregnant mother’s diet and stress management techniques.

The ASD Deficiencies

The major players in healing and preventing the spectrum disorders are adequate Vitamin D, magnesium, and B-vitamins (especially B6). Just like many of the spectrum disorders occur concurrently, Vitamin D, magnesium, and B-vitamin deficiency often occur concurrently. All are critical for balancing serotonin and dopamine hormone levels in our brains. You can think of them like the foundation upon which balanced serotonin and dopamine production is built.

If you have too much serotonin, you would be in autistic & Asperger’s territory. If you have too much dopamine, you’d be in ADD, OCD, & tic disorder territory. There has to be an ideal balance for it to work right. Those with deficiencies in Vitamin D, magnesium and B-Vitamins won’t have the right balance, which can manifest itself in either a spectrum disorder or a mood disorder.

Of course, the question is, what is at the root of these deficiencies?

Genetic Susceptibility and Development of Symptoms

Our genetic susceptibility is, in part, truly genetic. There are gene markers that have been identified that make a person more susceptible to ASD, depression, and anxiety. But much of our genetic susceptibility also comes from our mother’s state of health, and her levels of serotonin and dopamine while she was pregnant.

When a child is born to a mother who was depleted of those essential nutrients or hormonally imbalanced herself, an initiating trigger in early childhood such as extreme chronic stress, vaccine injury, or a major illness often moves the child from susceptible to symptomatic.

Actionable Steps to Help Prevent Autism Spectrum Disorders

There are some definite, actionable steps you can take to help prevent your child from developing a spectrum disorder later in life. These steps address the root problems that cause or exacerbate a genetic predisposition to the disorders.

• Improve your gut health in order to achieve good nutrient absorption. You have to give your body what it needs, and unfriendly gut bacteria is a roadblock. When you increase beneficial gut flora with raw milk, kefir, kombucha, raw yogurt, and naturally fermented foods like kraut and beet kvass, you allow healing to begin. A major side effect occurs – since 70% of your immune system is housed in your gut, you don’t get sick as often. And you don’t take antibiotics so much anymore, which allows the beneficial flora to thrive. If you ever have to take antibiotics, be sure to take probiotics during the whole course plus for a couple weeks afterward.

• Supplement with the building blocks to dopamine and serotonin regulation. This includes Vitamin D and magnesium, both of which play a direct role in the production of dopamine and serotonin hormones. But it also includes supplementing with things that support the adrenals, like a stress-management plan, and avoiding things that stress the adrenals. Cane sugar, high fructose corn syrup, caffeine, chronic infection, and chronic stress are major adrenal stressors.

• Nourish your body with real foods, including ample protein when you are growing a baby. Dr. Brewer’s diet at Blue Ribbon Baby is the optimal pregnancy diet, especially when coupled with real, fermented foods and high-quality fats and protein sources, such as grass-fed beef, coconut oil, free-range local chicken, pastured milk products, and small fish such as sardines that are rich in Omega-3′s, yet lower in heavy metals.

• Avoid toxins that mess up this internal process. There are many listed below, but don’t be discouraged. Implementing these changes takes a little longer at first, but these are skills you can use throughout your child’s life to keep more chemicals out of your bodies and out of your home.

Toxins to Avoid

In order to give your baby a healthy environment in utero, you’ll need to try to eliminate as many environmental toxins as possible. This is a more difficult undertaking today than it has historically been for humans. We’ve made many advances in the field of chemistry; yet, with those advances has come a society that is much more dependent upon chemicals. This means we have thousands of chemical exposures we haven’t had until quite recently in our long human history.

Although it’s impossible to completely avoid all toxins, smaller changes at home make the largest difference on our toxic load. Start with the following items, and if you’re like most people, you’ll be surprised to find some of your own long-term medical issues (like allergies, asthma, bronchitis, sinus headaches, migraines, fatigue, muscle cramps, and more) improving.

• All food chemicals. This is hugely important because so many are neurotoxins and with the autism spectrum disorders, we’re dealing with hypersensitive nerve malfunctioning to start with. Avoiding all MSG under its 40 different names, food coloring, nitrites and nitrates as found in lunch meats, and pretty much anything you can’t pronounce is a first line of defense.

• Environmental toxins. Many of these are also neurotoxic, especially pesticides, herbicides, cleaning products like bleach and conventional cleaners, laundry detergent, fabric softeners, fragrance chemicals, the chemicals on new carpet and upholstery, solvents, paint, and molds. Instead, try homemade cleaners, which are usually cheaper as well, and look for non-toxic versions of paint, carpet, and garden chemicals. This is also the time to eliminate any potential sources of heavy metals in your diet or home, like lead-based paint, lead pipes, mercury in your diet, or aluminum in your cookware.

• Foods that affect your own personal gut health. This is something that varies widely by individual, but if something is messing up your digestion, consider eliminating it during this time so your body can better absorb the vitamins and minerals it needs for good healing building blocks. Common foods that people have problems with are dairy, wheat, and soy products.

• Synthetic vitamins. Prenatal vitamins are an important addition to most Western pregnancy diets, but synthetic versions do more harm that good. Only take vitamins made from whole-food sources, such as the Megafood vitamin line. Although they are more expensive, they are building up your body and your baby’s body, while synthetics are leaving you both more depleted in the long-run.

Disorders that result from genetic predisposition, like autism and all the spectrum disorders, are simply that: a predisposition, not a predetermination. Whether or not they actually happen depends as much upon the environment as the genes. Armed with a game plan like this one, you are giving your new baby the best possible chance at preventing autism, ADD, tic disorders, OCD, anxiety, and depression – for the rest of his or her life.

Julie Stockman lives in Farmland, Indiana where she homeschools her children with her husband, Jeff. She spends her days baking, gardening, keeping chickens, listening to the nature around them, practicing gratitude and faithfulness, and stealing minutes to write about it all.

3 Subtle Symptoms Worth Your Attention

Pregnancy Symptoms to be Concerned About
Many changes that women experience during pregnancy are perfectly normal. It is amazing that our bodies can shift and our muscles can stretch so fully as to grow another little person. Definitely there are twinges, aches, creaks, and groans to be expected.

But some symptoms actually signify a specific nutritional deficiency that should be addressed – and the earlier the better. Here are three symptoms that should be stopped in their tracks.

Dizziness Upon Standing

If your head spins for a few seconds when you stand up from a lying down or bending over position, this is a classic sign of adrenal stress. Your adrenals are very important players in your pregnancy. In the first trimester, your body needs them for the production of progesterone, which is absolutely critical for your growing baby. In later trimesters, stressed adrenals can have a negative cascading effect on your liver (which can lead to pre-eclampsia) and your pancreas (which can lead to gestational diabetes).

To help stressed adrenals, try to figure out the root cause. Sugar, caffeine, or high stress levels are often the culprits.

Substitute raw honey or maple syrup for sugar or corn syrup, and moderate your simple carbohydrate intake.

If you’re a coffee addict, read up on how caffeine can affect your pregnancy.

And if a situation is bringing you chronic stress, consider changing the situation, or if that’s not possible, finding ways to cope with it. Talking with a counselor, pastor, or life coach might be helpful. Even if you find it hard to ask for help in this way, your growing baby needs a calm mama. Meditation, yoga, prayer, and journaling can also help provide a calm center.

Leg Cramps

Have you ever shot straight up in bed in the middle of the night to a leg cramp or “charley-horse” that made you cry out in pain? These are actually fairly common in pregnancy, and if you haven’t had one yourself, it’s very likely you have other mamas in your circle who will cringe in understanding as they remember the nights it happened to them.

During pregnancy, these midnight leg cramps can signify a calcium deficiency or dehydration. Be sure you are getting at least 64 ounces of water each day. Some doctors and midwives suggest at least 96 ounces. Take a calcium supplement that is well-balanced with magnesium and zinc. And be sure to mention the cramps and any supplements you add in to your midwife or doctor.

Chocolate Cravings

What?! Chocolate cravings? Doesn’t every woman crave chocolate, pregnant or not?

Actually, chocolate cravings, though very common, also can signify a magnesium deficiency. Your baby needs magnesium for strong bone development, in particular. If you don’t have enough magnesium, you are more prone to mood issues like anxiety and depression, and your risk of developing pre-eclampsia increases.

Consider adding a well-balanced supplement daily that includes calcium and magnesium (or better yet, a full mineral profile including major and trace minerals – one derived from whole food sources). In addition, try soaking in an epsom salt bath. The magnesium in the epsom salts is readily absorbed by your body during these baths, and they can help relieve additional stress as well, leading to healthier adrenals and a happier mood.

Deciphering smaller, subtler signs like these can not only nip larger problems in the bud, but can build your skills in learning how to listen to your body and what it’s trying to tell you.

Julie Stockman lives in Farmland, Indiana where she homeschools her children with her husband, Jeff. She spends her days baking, gardening, keeping chickens, listening to the nature around them, practicing gratitude and faithfulness, and stealing minutes to write about it all.

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Why You Should Consider Hiring a Doula

Doula at work

Have you ever wondered why women hire doulas and whether this type of support person is someone you need on your birth team? Doulas are birth professionals who can fill specific roles in both the hospital and home birthing environments. While a doctor, nurse, and midwife is focused mainly on the health of your baby and you, a doula is focused on helping you through the birthing process itself.

Watch a video on what a doula does The Essential Ingredient: Doula

A doula’s help in the hospital environment can make a huge difference in the outcome of the birth for both mama and baby. If you have taken the time to write a birth plan because there are things that are critically important to you, it will be well worth your money to hire a doula. She will be the best tool in your bag for helping your birth plan materialize as closely as possible.

Doulas in the Hospital

In the hospital, a doula functions as labor support, addressing your physical needs during labor. But her main role is as your advocate. An experienced doula will have seen many birth outcomes. She will be accustomed to working with hospital professionals in a friendly and non-challenging way; yet, she will be assertive enough to stand up for your non-negotiables for you when you are scared, in pain, and out of your comfort zone.

A good doula is worth her weight in gold when she helps you avoid a cesarean by keeping you calm and informed and helping you feel in control so that your labor goes more smoothly. She is equally valuable when she looks at you squarely and says, “Yes, this c-section is going to be necessary,” because later you can rest assured that you did everything you could do to avoid it.

Doulas at Home

A doula’s role changes a bit during a home birth, where she does not have to function as your advocate unless the home birth ends in a hospital transfer. In these cases, a doula might be able to stay with you at the hospital if your midwife cannot. She will then become the only birth professional you have seen throughout the entire labor. Not only can she be a huge comfort as the one consistent, friendly face that has been there all along, but she can also provide invaluable information to the medical staff at the hospital.

Usually, however, a home birth doula focuses on helping the mama through her labor pains without the medication available in the hospital. She might suggest pain management techniques you didn’t think of on your own, remind you to breathe, give you drinks or food when appropriate, and – perhaps most importantly – help you to not become overwhelmed by fear.

How to Hire a Doula

An expectant mama will usually begin to see a doula in the middle of her pregnancy so that she has time to develop a positive relationship with her. It is essential that you feel you can trust your doula on every level if she is to be a help to you during childbirth.

You can find doulas in several ways. Online, there are directories that allow you to search by zip code or city, such as the DONA International database and the Find a Doula service. You can also do a search on La Leche League International to find a local chapter in your area. Your local La Leche League leader would likely have a few names she could share with you. Or, if you enjoy social media, you can try putting the word out among your Facebook friends, since a word-of-mouth reference is usually the best kind.

The rates that doulas charge vary, particularly by location. In our area, most charge $200 – $300 total. If you want to give yourself the best possible chance for a smooth childbirth – at home or hospital – this will be a few hundred dollars well spent.

Julie Stockman lives in Farmland, Indiana where she homeschools her children with her husband, Jeff. She spends her days baking, gardening, keeping chickens, listening to the nature around them, practicing gratitude and faithfulness, and stealing minutes to write about it all.


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An Essential Reading List for Natural Childbirth

Essential Reading for Natural Childbirth
For mothers planning to have a non-medicated birth and their labor partners, the more prepared you are, the more likely you’ll get the birth outcome you hope for. The four books below have just what you need.

Birthing From Within, by Pam England and Rob Horowitz

If you are planning to give birth naturally for the first time, this book is a must-read. Appropriate for both hospital and home birth preparation, it provides a complete overview of the natural birthing process; resources to help you find the professionals who can help you achieve the birth you desire; and – perhaps most importantly – specific exercises and ideas for quelling the underlying fears and assumptions you might not even know you have, let alone know how to handle. Start at the beginning and read every page. Do every exercise. Consider this to be your prenatal homework. Approached in this way, this one book could give you all the information you need to prepare your whole self – body, mind, and spirit – for the feats ahead.

Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth, by Ina May Gaskin

Authored by perhaps the most well-known midwife in America, this book will both educate and empower your home birth plans. On the fence about where to give birth? Absorb Ina May’s stories and you might find yourself swayed toward your own bed with new confidence. Her incredibly low Cesarean and transfer rates will give pause to even those who staunchly defend modern medicine. While her views on childbirth pain are not universal and will not apply to most women (despite her assertions, childbirth is painful for most women, and those women do much better to prepare themselves for that pain beforehand than to pretend it won’t exist), her experience and skill in relaying it prove her Guide to Childbirth to be the authoritative tome of American home birth.

Active Birth: The New Approach to Giving Birth, by Janet Balaskas

If a birthing manual is what you’re looking for, this is it. Janet Balaskas offers clear instructions on prenatal fitness, physical preparation for birthing, managing pain during the birth itself, and postnatal exercises for healing quickly. If you are birthing without medication for the first time, you might not understand yet just how useful the info inside its birthing section is. Don’t be surprised if you reach for its pages during labor itself! This book was written to assist mamas who are determined to birth without medication; it is equally relevant to hospital and home births.

Baby Catcher: Chronicles of a Modern Midwife, by Peggy Vincent

Peggy Vincent’s memoir provides an intimate window into more than 40 births that she was privileged to attend. And nothing soothes the soul of an expectant mama, especially in the later months of pregnancy, than reading more than 40 stories of home birth that rarely go wrong, rarely transfer. Peggy Vincent relays her stories as they were, as they should be relayed. She doesn’t capitalize on the most harrowing, nail-biting scenes in her career to grab attention, and she doesn’t downplay that birth is inherently a nail-biting experience at times. Most births are normal, and occasionally they’re not. Peggy Vincent does a superb job of showing us how a trusted midwife handles the unpredictability of birth through her honest, open story-telling.


Julie Stockman lives in Farmland, Indiana where she homeschools her children with her husband, Jeff. She spends her days baking, gardening, keeping chickens, listening to the nature around them, practicing gratitude and faithfulness, and stealing minutes to write about it all.

Childbirth Preparation Classes: Are They Worth Your Time and Money?

Childbirth Preparation

In a word, YES, especially if you’re planning a natural childbirth.

The reality of natural labor and birthing is overwhelming when you aren’t prepared for it. Stubborn avoidance of medications can get you through early labor, but in active labor, the contractions just don’t stop. The unceasing swell of cramp after cramp with little downtime between them can quickly make an unprepared mama feel out of control, and with the out of control feeling comes fear. If fear stalls the labor, complications and interventions can quickly ensue.

Even worse, some expectant mamas planning a natural birth pick up just enough information to determine for themselves that birth isn’t actually painful; it’s simply a construct of our fear-based society that makes it painful. These women can have some of the most difficult labors when it is painful because not only do they have to deal with the lack of control and fear reactions, but also with a deep sense of failure that they couldn’t “rise above it.”

The truth is, labor does involve tight contractions that the vast majority of women perceive as pain, but there are definite, proven ways to reduce the sensation of the pain. Physical relaxation is a skill that can be learned, and knowledge of the biology of labor – what all these contractions are doing in there – give a strong sense of control no matter the birthing pattern.

A high-quality childbirth preparation class will teach both of these facets and can mean the difference between a vaginal or surgical birth outcome. Each of the following classes are designed to help prepare a mama for a medication-free childbirth.

Lamaze

Lamaze is practically a household name in the USA. The classes are easy to find; if there is a hospital in the vicinity that delivers babies, there’s probably a Lamaze class too.

The Lamaze philosophy focuses on prenatal nutrition, relaxation techniques to prepare for a natural childbirth, and postpartum care. Unfortunately, because Lamaze classes are so widespread, not all are as comprehensive as others.

If you decide to take a Lamaze class, or if it’s the only type of childbirth class offered in your area, ask to see a full class description list before signing up. Experienced instructors should be able to easily provide one, or at least tell you an overview of each week. Avoid classes that focus only on scripted breathing techniques (like a hee-hee sound), but instead look for those that explore a variety of relaxation techniques, as well as those that emphasize how to read your body and trust its cues.

Bradley Method

The Bradley Method of Natural Childbirth, as its name attests, is another class that prepares parents for medication-free childbirth. Bradley classes can be a little harder to find, but are available in most metropolitan areas. The online directory is an easy tool for finding a local instructor.

The Bradley Method is known for equally supporting your need for a relaxation skill set and your need for full knowledge of the internal process of labor. For logical-minded mamas like myself, this class can be a real blessing. It’s much easier for us to remain calm in any situation as long as we have an understanding of what is going on. For us, knowledge is control, and that control is the power we need to stay calm.

The relaxation techniques, like in Lamaze, mostly focus on conscious breathing. If mindful, conscious breathing helps you relax, and you routinely calm your fears through logical analysis, Bradley classes are probably a perfect fit.

One potential drawback from the Bradley Method is its associated name, “Husband-Coached Childbirth.” For many women, that’s not a drawback at all. My own husband coached me through all three childbirths. But everyone’s situation is different. If you don’t have a husband or you don’t plan to birth with your husband as your coach, you might try to get a feel for the specific class itself before signing up. It’s hard to imagine that all Bradley classes are made up only of couples fitting the husband/wife profile, but if that wasn’t my childbirth dynamic, Bradley’s heavy emphasis on “Husband-Coached Childbirth” would give me pause.

Hypnobirthing

Hypnobirthing “is a unique method of relaxed, natural childbirth education, enhanced by self-hypnosis techniques.” If you’re not familiar with hypnosis, especially self-hypnosis, this probably sounds pretty hokey as a childbirth preparation technique. But if you think of the word hypnosis as meditation, trance, or deep relaxation, you might begin to see the merits of the skills you would learn in this class.

I poked through a friend’s hypnobirthing materials when I was expecting my first daughter. I thought the concept was interesting, but I didn’t work on all the scripts and things that were on the CDs. I just learned the basics of how to bring on deep relaxation in ways besides conscious, mindful breathing (which for me has always had the opposite effect – instant panic!). I was so surprised when it was my limited hypnobirthing exploration that gave me the calm center I needed during active labor.

The ability to bring on deep relaxation immediately and consistently is an incredibly useful skill. For most of us, childbirth isn’t the only time our pain tolerance and coping ability is tested. The skills learned in hypnobirthing are lifelong and could serve all of us in any acutely stressful situation, including your birth if it ends in a different way than you had planned. Hypnobirthing prepares you for more than just natural childbirth.

Hypnobirthing classes are the hardest to find. Large metropolitan areas are likely to have some, but for the rest of us, the website offers an at-home study course. If you are interested in learning these techniques – even if only to augment other strategies – you might find the materials used. Try craigslist, eBay, and your local natural birthing community.

If you are determined to birth without medication, you will not regret investing in one of these classes to help you prepare. And your chances of achieving the birth you want will drastically increase.


Julie Stockman lives in Farmland, Indiana where she homeschools her children with her husband, Jeff. She spends her days baking, gardening, keeping chickens, listening to the nature around them, practicing gratitude and faithfulness, and stealing minutes to write about it all.

3 Ways to Work Through the Fear of Pregnancy Loss

Trying to connect with the baby can help allay pregnancy loss fearsWhen we are hoping and trying for a new baby, the morning we read a positive result on an early pregnancy test is one of the most joyous times in our lives. We hope that it is the beginning page to many long chapters to come.

​Sometimes, after a few days, the hope we feel for the baby-to-be is outweighed by fear that our dreams might not come true – that we might lose the baby. Having close friends or family that have had pregnancy losses, or conceiving on the heels of your own pregnancy loss can cause this fear to become overwhelming.

​Although none of us can control the specific outcome of a pregnancy, we can set ourselves up for the best chance of success. If you read much about preventing miscarriage, you’ll come across the old “reduce stress” or “think positively!” advice. It’s true that chronic stress never helps anything, but how exactly does an expectant mama reduce stress and fear in a situation where she is so emotionally invested?

​Consider the following actionable ideas that approach our fears from all three sides – physically, mentally, and spiritually. Fear might end up being your constant companion throughout pregnancy, but nurturing yourself through the fear will be the very best thing you can do for your baby.

Physical Nurturing

​The most valuable things you can do on a physical level are to eat well, supplement properly, support your adrenals, and listen to your body’s limitations.

​Eating high quality, nutrient-dense foods during pregnancy can do amazing things for your body’s ability to support new life. Although this is challenging in early pregnancy when nausea is often an issue, all mamas-to-be should try to find nutritious foods they can tolerate. Look at Dr. Brewer’s diet for ideas, then fit in as many as your morning sickness will allow.

​Take a multi-vitamin every day. If your prenatal makes you nauseous, try another brand or consider a different form. Many women find large pills difficult to swallow during early pregnancy, but a powdered or liquid form mixed into a fruit drink might be easier to handle.

Vitamins – especially those made from whole foods, such as what you might find at health food stores – help fill in deficiencies and gaps in diet. Also consider taking daily a separate mineral supplement, cod liver oil, and (particularly in the winter) Vitamin D drops. As always, let your health practitioner know what you are taking in case you have a pre-existing condition that could worsen with certain supplements.

​Your adrenals are incredibly important in the production of progesterone, a hormone that is essential to carrying a baby through the first trimester. (Beyond the first trimester, the placenta itself produces the needed progesterone.) Support your adrenals by eliminating or drastically reducing caffeine and sugar, reducing stressful environments, and getting as much sleep as possible.

​Listen to your body and its limitations. If there are any activities that cause you to cramp afterwards, consider dropping those activities for a short while. While “experts” claim to know what activity is or isn’t good to do during pregnancy, it’s not that simple. All women are different, and your own body is the best marker of what’s safe for you. If nothing else, cramping triggers more fear, so preventing cramping helps reduce the stress of fear.

Mental Nurturing

​When you approach your fears from a mental angle, you need a good external support system that will allow you to put words to your fears without judgement. Some of us have people like this in real life. If you are fortunate to have some of these folks in your circle, seek them out. They are a wonderful resource for a scary time.

​If your current support system isn’t open to hearing you in a way that makes you feel comfortable, that’s okay. There are other ways to fill this need. The online forums for Pregnancy after Birth Loss and Pregnancy after Infertility on the mothering.com community are excellent resources. Also, reading the stories of others even without contributing your own can be cathartic. A search at the library for memoirs about pregnancy loss or infertility should yield several results.

​Journaling your fears in a notebook or on a personal blog can help put words to difficult emotions. Somehow, when dark emotions are articulated and brought into the light, they can lose a lot of their power.

Spiritual Nurturing

​Regardless of your specific spiritual beliefs, you can address your fears through meditation, prayer, or imagery.

​My own fears were at their highest point during my first full-term pregnancy after multiple early losses. To cope with the fear, I set aside time each night to connect with the growing baby in a positive way. When I had a placental bleeding scare at 12 weeks, this connection helped me stay calm until the cause of the bleeding was found and I learned I wasn’t miscarrying again.

​Each night, I would lay on my bed alone and clear my head by allowing my body to sink into the bed, part by part, which brought me to a meditative state. I laid my hand on my belly and focused on sending the baby love, then joy, then peace. Then together, the baby and I would send out love, then joy, then peace, in prayers toward people we thought needed it.

​Not only did this allow me to feel a deep connection to the growing baby, but it also helped me to remember to step outside myself to others in need. Whatever your choice of spiritual practice, this stepping outside of your own head can provide the grounding that you need to work through your fears.

​When we are expectant mamas, we are naturally full of hopes and dreams. But if our experience has given us a reason to fear the loss of those hopes and dreams, our best goal is to live the pregnancy without letting our fear suck the joy out of it. By setting ourselves up for success physically, finding a support system that allows us to verbally process our fears, and working to replace a fearful spirit with a loving and peaceful one, we can give our little one the best possible environment to grow in.

This article is featured in week 5 of our pregnancy series.

Julie Stockman lives in Farmland, Indiana where she homeschools her children with her husband, Jeff. She spends her days baking, gardening, keeping chickens, listening to the nature around them, practicing gratitude and faithfulness, and stealing minutes to write about it all.

How To Assess Cervical Fluid

By @fertilityflower

Kimberly from FertilityFlower here. Fertility charting can be sort of confusing when you’re starting out. You see that it’s massively popular with women these days by the shear volume of information about it but you might also be overwhelmed by it all. I mean, who really examined their cervical fluid before this? I didn’t really know there WAS something officially called cervical fluid – like, who cares?

Do you know how she feels?

 

The problem is compounded by the fact that this is a solitary activity. YOU are checking your cervical position.  No one else is looking at your toilet paper, etc. Your temperature is all over the place and what does THAT mean? And oh brother, how would I even describe what I’m seeing if I had the inclination to post a question on a message board?

 

You get the point. You’re fumbling around in the dark, looking for a flashlight.

 

So why are you taking the plunge? Because you know that your body is kind enough to give you lots of fertility signs to watch for every month. And that’s a great start. Once you know what you’re looking at, FertilityFlower takes the guess work out of the rest of it. After charting for awhile, you’ll be able to answer the questions:

 

Am I fertile today?
Am I regularly ovulating?
Is my body worn out and in need of additional support?

 

And lots more…

 

Don’t worry! You’re not going to have to absorb massive amounts of information right now. I’ll bring you along slowly, starting with essentials and then filling in the picture as we go along.

 

So how to start? Let’s start with cervical fluid.

 

Here’s what to do.

 

Every time you use the bathroom and wipe with toilet paper, pay attention to how much or little the toilet paper glides as you wipe. If there isn’t any cervical fluid (as there won’t be during infertile points of your cycle) there won’t be any glide at all. Fertile cervical fluid WILL glide, though, like you’ve been well lubricated.

 

Next, take a look at the toilet paper. Any urine will have already soaked into the toilet paper so that if there is any cervical fluid, it will be on the surface of the toilet paper. Take a look. Sticky cervical fluid will there, kind of balled up in spots. It’s rubbery. It won’t feel wet, it actually feels sort of dry, like rubber cement. Creamy and eggwhite cervical fluid will glisten. Creamy cervical fluid will look opaque and eggwhite cervical fluid will be translucent.

Classic ferning of cervical fluid as seen under microscope

Start by doing this quick toilet paper check every time you use the bathroom. If, throughout the day, you don’t see any cervical fluid in your toilet paper, it’s a dry day. Mark that on your chart (or don’t mark anything). If you DO see cervical fluid, note the wettest sort that you observed (meaning, if you start out with sticky cervical fluid in the morning but end the day with creamy, mark CREAMY for your cervical fluid that day).

 

We’ll deal with that thermometer in the next installment.

 

Until then,
Kimberly