Friday, June 09, 2006

One Week Old

But, despite the tears...
"Just look at her!"

"Tears and Rain"

Okay, I’m going to share some secrets about what goes on behind closed doors. Before pregnancy, no one tells women that there are going to be a lot of tears. All they see are the groups of shining skinny women pushing strollers (complete with a sleeping baby) along 4th Avenue, Starbucks cup in hand, laughing. What they don’t see is the anxiety, the tears, the loneliness, and the loss that women can experience as a result of this enormous change in their lives.

I’m glad pregnancy is nine months long. It takes that long to work through the issues that crop boundaries, financial pressures, relationship issues, old wounds, loss of mobility, body image, career choices, birth worries... Women look to their baby’s birth as the end of the process, only to find out that it’s just the beginning. Then all the same issues resurface, in addition to a general sense of loss and loneliness...oh, and a crying baby.

Then I get the phone calls. Three or four women a week call me to say they are sitting in a puddle of tears, surrounded by crumpled tissues. They ask, “Is this okay? Is there anyone else feeling this way?” Oh, my goodness, yes...most everyone! The problem is that we’re all sitting in our houses, alone and apart.

Our support network of coworkers is gone (and I thought I hated to go to work!), our husbands are at work (so mad at him going to work!), the house needs cleaning (isn’t that what I’m supposed to be doing to justify staying at home?), the laundry is piling up (who knew babies could generate so much!), and people keep visiting and visiting (expecting me to make tea as they dole out their unsolicited advice.)

I’m tired and anxious just reading what I wrote!

When my daughter was born, I was fortunate enough to have a mum who lived only a block away. She would come by each morning, ironed laundry in hand, ready to clean my house, prepare the meals, and leave. I can’t believe that she didn’t say anything about what I should be doing, how I should be holding the baby, what she wanted... She would just kiss me and leave. Wow! That actually sounds like the best postpartum doula (which we all need and deserve!) But I still needed help.

Then, an amazing woman forced me to attend a mum’s postpartum support group. “It’s Wednesday at there, clothed or not!” Once there, my daughter promptly threw up all over me. If I’d been at home, I would probably have cried over the loss of the milk that I’d worked so hard to get into her little body. But, surrounded by all the women, who were reaching out to me with towels, blankets, and tissues...I just had to laugh. That day, I sat next to the woman who would become my best friend. We have had lots of tea and tears and walks since that day almost 23 years ago.

Only yesterday, she said, “I wouldn’t have made it through these years without you. I wouldn’t have stopped in the middle of the day, and taken time for myself without your encouragement. I wouldn’t have sat down and read a book during my baby’s nap time, without you phoning me and telling me to SIT DOWN. I felt I had to account for every moment that I wasn’t out working or cleaning the house, or preparing meals for the family.”

Where did this mother-guilt come from?

Maybe I’m just a lazy thing, but I believe we need to be guilt-free about giving time to ourselves as mothers. We need to set firm boundaries with our extended families, to selfishly protect our new family of three. We need to allow ourselves to take a nap, stop for tea, read a good book, take a slow walk, buy ourselves a treat. We need to listen to our bodies and our wisdom, and honour our intellect and our intuition.

We need to ask for help from the community of women around us. We need to open our doors and we can sit in one big puddle of tears and laughter...together.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Taking Stock (or living in a bubble)

It’s good to take stock of things every once in a while. Change happens so gradually that you often don’t notice until you stand back and observe the differences. Strangers are often the first to notice changes in our children. When did my daughter change from looking like her father, to looking like me? When did my son get taller than his sister who is almost four years older than him? Somehow I missed seeing the changes in the moment.

It’s the same regarding birth practices.

When I started working as a doula, shaves and enemas were still routine. Women were given IVs, and continuous monitoring was deemed necessary. Women still had to write militant-sounding birth plans in order to achieve their goals during birth. Informed consent and family-centred maternity care was a goal, not the norm.

Now, it’s only old books on library shelves (or U.S. television?) that perpetuate the myth that these practices still exist here in Vancouver.

Maybe I live in a bubble...but things have changed here in the hospitals over the past 20 years. Monitors aren’t routinely kept in birthing rooms. I rarely see IVs given without cause or consent, and the nurse is the first person to suggest “more juice so you don’t need an IV.” No one looks at me oddly when I shake my client’s hips or help her to squat. The doctor will do everything in his or her power to prevent a woman from tearing. The nurse and I can be so in harmony that we communicate with only our hands and eyes, and guide the labouring woman into the bath. The doctors and nurses now hire me for their births. No one seems to remember how to do an enema. The dad and family are welcomed with open arms. Pretty much everything that women used to include in birth plans are now accepted as normal practice (so we just don’t write them any more). Prenatal classes include more birth art than breathing. The nurse might put aside her paperwork, take photos lying down on the floor, and cry along with the family. The labouring woman and her family are truly at the centre of this new type of care.

Long gone are the scary matrons of old. Now, I know that the charge nurse will encourage my client to stay at home as long as possible. At the hospital, she will take my client’s blood pressure twice...then wait...calm her down...three times...until she gets a low enough reading to allow admittance to “the fancy rooms.” I know that if I don’t see our nurse for a while, she’s busy trying to advocate for my client. I know that if I get a hunch that something’s not quite right, the nurse will listen to me and take immediate action. Together, we have prevented many complications.

I’m lucky that most of the doctors and midwives that I work with have recommended me to my client. I know that I can call them at any time with concerns or questions. They also call and email me an equal amount. It’s such a seamless and collaborative process that I never noticed when it reached this level of cooperation. When did we grow up?