of labor and mothering: what childbirth teaches

In early July, I had the enormous honor of being invited to be a part of my brother and sister-in-law's intended homebirth.  I say "intended" because 50 or so hours later, that beautiful baby girl was finally born in a hospital.  I did not get to be there for the hospital portion of Meg's labor, but I received to-the-minute text updates from my mom (who was there), so that helped me pace my kitchen with slightly more patience.

#ohthejoys    #motherhood

I have been thinking quite a bit about the whole experience, which, if you include the pre-labor part, really did go on for days.  I suppose I never really realized how much labor is just. like. motherhood.  Right down to the "please, puleeeze give me any drug you have" moments.  And so, of course, I had to make a list about it.

Motherhood Lessons from Labor

Surrender to the unexpected.  I snagged this first idea from Jenny Wynter's post 5 Important Lessons I Learned During Labor, and it's totally true.  I should make another list sometime of everything in my mothering journey that has not gone the way I planned, starting from having extreme morning sickness to the fact that all of my offspring are impervious to my patented "you're-in-so-much-trouble-you'd-better-drop-and-give-me-twenty-if-you-want-to-live" stare.  (Actually, I would never write that list because it would be depressing.)  There are things that went askew during my labors and there are things that pop up every day that I didn't plan on.  These things bug me and they can drag me right down to the ground if I let them.
My sister-in-law desired a homebirth, but as her labor went on (and on and on), she surrendered to changing plans.  Later at the hospital, it turned out that complications during her delivery might have made a homebirth dangerous for her.  Labor (life?) goes however it will go, with only a cursory glance at your plans.  Kids (even your well-behaved kids) will do the most obnoxious things at the most inopportune moments, and when it comes down to it, the only thing we can control is our own response.

This is a life lesson, not just a mothering lesson, and we each need to figure out a process for embracing the unexpected and making it part of our story.  You gotta roll with it, or you get rolled over.  Bam.  You're welcome.

If Mama ain't happy. . . It's the "put on your own oxygen mask first" concept.  As mothers, we are hard-wired to give-give-give.  Even relatively lazy mamas like me.  This is good because sometimes I think kids come out hard-wired to take-take-take and then ask for a little bit more right after you've sat down.  Yet a person simply cannot give out what they aren't taking in.  You are of no use to your child in a depressurized airplane cabin unless you put your own oxygen mask on first.  You cannot birth a healthy baby if you are so worn out and stressed out that you can't hardly think.  (Ok, technically you probably can, but I say it's usually not necessary and not good for either one of you.)  Motherhood is a long long road and everyone will suffer if you don't take the time to take care of your own needs.  Figure out what you need to be your best self and put it on your calendar.  Somewhere on your list should be prayer, and lots of it!

How does this relate to labor?  One word: epidural.  I know epidurals have their own controversy and side effects and they are probably used way too early and way too often, but they are also a God-send to a mother who's been laboring over 24 hours with little to no progress.  (Ask me how I know.)  Does the baby need the epidural?  Um, sort of? In Meg's labor, her baby continued to show solid vital signs despite the ongoing labor.  For all we know, little Lilly would be happy to still be hanging out in utero, occasionally wondering what all the squeezing was about.  But if mama needs it, baby needs it.  Of course you have to be honest with yourself.  Do you need your kids to watch TV 5 hours a day for your sanity, or do you need to spend some time away figuring out how to mange your children and your day better?

Figuring out how to take care of your own needs while mothering is a constant swinging of the pendulum.  It's not about balance.  A mama can make herself crazy chasing that perfect balance of her needs and those of her child(ren).  Instead, we swing back and forth, giving extra when our children need it, and hopefully giving extra to ourselves (thank you, Domino's iphone app) when we need it.

Listen to ideas, but trust your instincts.  My hairdresser is pregnant, and she said, "You would not believe what people tell me!  And I'm thinking, I didn't think we were that close, but I guess we are now!"

Women can't help sharing when it comes to labor and child-raising.  Everyone has a secret tip that worked, and they probably will tell you regardless of whether or not you ask.  I know I'm guilty of this sometimes.  Your cousin's mother's sister's ex-best friend's idea might be really helpful, or it might not.  Sometimes I've found miraculous suggestions in other people's stories, and sometimes I've found only unnecessary pressure.  Every mothering experience is different.  Your labor, your baby, your mothering style will all be unique to you.  (See number 10 here.)  Trust yourself.

Motherhood is both the hardest and most wonderful thing you'll ever do.  Motherhood can hurt.  A lot.  It's hard work that never seems to end, and sometimes it's terribly unfair.  But there are moments, like the one when you're finally holding that baby in your arms, when you realize it is absolutely worth it.  Usually those moments are followed by the baby spitting up on you, or something like that, but whatever.  You have to be real with yourself about this in labor and life.  This mothering is truly wonderful and truly exhausting.  Which leads me to my next point.

Self-talk matters.  When you start thinking, "I can't take this anymore," you'll probably turn out to be right.  It's time then to readjust what you're doing, or redirect your thoughts.  If a laboring mother continues to struggle through each contraction thinking, "I can't do it!" she will feel her pain and exhaustion more acutely, and a mother laboring to raise children will see the same thing.  If she wakes up thinking, "I just can't handle this day," it shouldn't come as a surprise when each hour seems dark and difficult.  This self-talk thing has been one of my biggest personal struggles pretty much forever.  Recognizing what is going on in your head and then changing it is crazy hard, but it's definitely harder if you don't do anything.

You need help.  I don't need to elaborate on this one.  No matter your marital status, how many kids you have, your living situation, whatever: you need support to ride the labor waves and to raise that baby once she arrives.  Spouses need support too.  People raise kids without help, sure, but it sucks.

Sometimes you have to turn everything upside down.  Baby Lilly had her hand up by her face while Meg was in labor.  While she was still at home, the midwife worked with Meg to try to get the baby to move her hand.  Nothing seemed to be working so the midwife conferenced with another midwife and came up with the idea of getting Meg basically upside down so the baby would float up a little and hopefully move her hand.  Meg's response was, "you want me to what?"  (I actually have a picture of this, but I'm not going to post it here, because I'm pretty sure I'd never get to see the baby again.)  We used the couch and I think it took about 5 of us to get her in position, and it actually did work.  Meg was pretty quiet, and someone remarked that it seemed like the contractions were more comfortable in that position.  She gasped out, "They are the same, I just don't have any air."  There was a fair amount of hilarity involved in the whole process, and I was looking at the clock as it moved on to the next day thinking how you find solutions in the strangest places.  And positions.

This list is plenty long, but I'm sure there are even more connections between laboring and mothering.  Feel free to add your thoughts in the comments!

Baby Lilly, born July 6th.  9lbs 13oz, 22inches.
Baby and mama are doing just fine.
Photo by Ashley Herman (also a sister-in-law)


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