My mama, doing a little yoga a few years ago.
What do you think of on your birthday? Most people (myself included) think of cake, the blessing/curse of aging, and monumental years passed: 16, 18, 21, 30, 40 etc. Every year my mom calls and says “Happy Birthday! You had the BIGGEST HEAD EVER,” and by that she means my actual cranium was in the 90th percentile and my body in the 5th. Thank goodness I've balanced out a bit since then. She hopes I experience the same blessing when I give birth. This has always been the way I experience my birthday, with a sigh of relief that I've made it around the sun yet again, and a curse disguised as a blessing. However, after chatting with a friend today, I've started thinking of my birthday a little bit differently.
Let me digress for a moment (I promise to bring it all back around). Expectant mamas usually have some idea of what their birth story will look like. In fact, those of use who work with mamas strongly encourage the development of a birth plan which includes the who/what/where of birth from generalities like “board certified obstetrician should be handy” to specifics like “no tweeting, no matter what.” We script it out from beginning to end with little addenda like a flight attendant letting the team know what they'll need to know just in case.
Days and years later, we tell the story from the same perspective, in the same order, with a surprise ending like “huge head” or “100 year blizzard,” or “fainted dead away on the floor.”
I think we're doing it backwards. Or rather, we should be.
Think of all of the greatest memories you have. They usually don't go like this:
“I planned the perfect trip to Paris, which I took, and then I went home.”
They don't go like this, because this is a boring, terrible story. Even if you end with “...and then I fainted dead away,” or “...and then I stepped in gum,” or “...and then I found five dollars,” it doesn't get any better.
But, if you tell it like this: “Let me tell you how I met my partner after the worst trip of my life. I went to Paris and the trip went mostly as planned, but on my trip home we were diverted to Tuscaloosa, where I was marooned in the airport awaiting my connection to Knoxville. To make matters worse, my bags somehow ended up in Alberta. After three tries to get home via air, I finally gave up and took the bus. Because I took the bus instead, the airline said they weren't responsible for my bags, even though they sent them to the wrong country! Well, Marty was working at the lost luggage center in Alberta, and because he's Canadian he felt sorry for me and offered to drive and meet me halfway. Well, three weeks and 2,000 miles later we met up in the middle of Iowa and it was love at first sight.”
If there is one thing I can guarantee you beyond all others, it is that your birth story will not be the same as your birth plan. Unexpected things will happen, but each of those unexpected things will be another level of color in your wildly exciting and amazing birth story.
My tips for recording your birth story:
Consider the byline: based on the true story. Your child's birth story is your birth story, too. Consider which details are helpful to you and to baby and which can be modified into other characters, symbols, and images. Rather than “your lazy butt couldn't find the exit, so this ended in a traumatic C-section,” try something like “the doctor saw that you were lost and created a magic door.” Maybe this sounds silly, but it can profoundly affect the way you view the story, your baby, and your scar. In my opinion, necessary C-sections are magical.
Channel your inner impressionist, not your journalist: Sometimes photos are appropriate, but just as I've found in travel, you never really get a picture that captures the most meaningful moments. Don't fret about it, recreate it. Perhaps everyone who was there can make an image from their memory, whether they create a stick figure drawing, a painting, or something abstract. You can add in the relevant photos you have, but sometimes drawings are even better.
Remember: start with the happy ending. The end of the story is your baby's birth, so start there in your mind. Your most pivotal memory could be something like “...and then, after nine months I created a beautiful, perfect human out of the very best parts of me, and that perfect human, was YOU.”
When your next birthday comes around start with the memory that by some miracle, you were formed from tiny bits of ancient stars and the energy of the mother who bore you.
Photo credit: Bob Rebello
Producing an entirely new human is not exactly a cakewalk; it takes quite a lot of work. While my friend Katie Wise of YoMama Yoga in Boulder says “There is no such thing as an unproductive pregnant day,” this is a whole new brand of productivity.
Most of us have been trained to show how hard we work in one of two ways: brilliance or physical discipline. Unfortunately, the rules of pregnancy are entirely different. Rather than divining marketing plans or pushing yourself to take an extra lap on the track, you now get to achieve the most primal and impressive feat, which includes new mental and physical preparation. Each step seems like a lot to chew on, but each phase from pregnancy to birth to motherhood prepares you for what is next and stretches you beyond your previous concept of self.
Mental Strength Training
Release Linear Time as You Know It: If you are a calendar gal with lists of what to do and buy and exactly how to allocate each minute, schedule a little free time this coming week where you will take off your watch, step away from technological things, and make a concerted effort to follow your body. A solo walk sans tunes and podcasts might sound torturous right now, but you'll find that once you get into it you separate yourself from time. This is crucial as you move through the birth process, because as plugged in as you are right now, your uterus obeys no man's clock. Neither will your baby.
Divide and Conquer: Emotions run high during pregnancy because hormones are coursing through you. Your baby gets a hormone bath each time you think of the accidental bender you went on when you may have been one week pregnant. Start to talk to your crazy self like this “Wow, I can't believe the one time I went to Vegas and got smashed was also the same time I probably got pregnant. I have likely done some irreversible harm to Spud.” Self two replies: “Sounds like you're wallowing in regret instead of working on your kegel exercises. Kudos for laying off the booze ever since. Now get clenching.”
Shields Up, Brace for Impact: Know your triggers. If your well-meaning mother in law insists on talking about your weight and you know that there is nothing short of alien invasion that will redirect her, plan your retort(s). It can be fun to plan all sorts of nasty rebuttals to her commentary like “Actually, I wouldn't know what a bowling ball looks like when balanced on two chicken legs, because bowling while eating wings sounds mighty unsanitary,” or, “So we're clear, if you call Spud 'portly' once s/he's on the outside, I promise to feed you to the Children of the Corn.” And then, plan your real strategy, “My midwife/doctor says I'm very healthy and I'm glad to hear you agree.”
Physical Strength Training:
Sometimes your provider will tell you to hold still for awhile, but if they want you to keep moving, here are some thoughts I have about that.
Shoot for a B-: If you were training for marathons before your pregnancy, you may want to scale it back just a tad. Because a good portion of your effort is going towards creating life out of kale salad, you needn't push yourself to accomplish any other magic. 80% effort is your new standard.
Prepare to squat: Squatting during birth is all the rage. Women all around the world do it instinctively, and you probably will to. This is a great time to practice your birth positions by strengthening your squatting muscles. Be careful to do this under the advisement of a birth provider or skilled prenatal yoga instructor *shameless plug* so that you don't injure yourself or negatively affect the position of your baby.
Melt: Learning to unclench every muscle in your body during and between contractions can make labor a whole lot less consuming. Particularly when you are performing a mental exercise, or have some level of stress in your mind/emotional body, soften your physical body and your mind will follow. Practice makes perfect, so start as soon as possible.
Pure Presence Photography.
When is the last time you scheduled a regular conversation with your internal organs? For the sake of your mental health, I sure hope your answer is "never" or "last Thanksgiving." We don't have to check in with our spleens or livers, and our digestion seems to march on without our explicit direction. Our bladders are uncooperative and selfish.
Perhaps this is why spending time "communicating with your baby" seems silly. Throughout pregnancy you might spend more one-on-one time with your toilet. In the first trimester, you're engaged in what my college friend Steve called "confessions with Father John" while later on you become a frequent flyer.
So when are you supposed to "connect" with your baby, and why on earth would you do it? My thoughts below.
Preconception: if you're a woman, the makings of your baby are already in you. Not only do you have one half of the genetic material and instructions, but you have the building blocks, too.
1. Start cleaning up your act. Ask yourself "would I feed cheese puffs/diet pills/red dye #492 to my baby?" If not, stop eating it. Your body remakes itself constantly using the materials you put in. And do you know what you make your baby out of? You.
2. Treat yourself the way you'd like the mother of your child to be treated. Get some sleep and cultivate the things in your life that make you happiest.
3. Spend some time in the quiet of life sharing your thoughts and feelings with that bit of mystical magic (or physics) that babies come from. If you're ready for baby, put that sense out there "Open for business". If not, be polite and let baby know you're closed for the season but will be open the day after Memorial Day.
The Hopeful Place: from the moment you start trying until you make it through the first trimester, I like to think you're in the hopeful place. Most faith traditions set the work of the soul a bit behind the work of the flesh, so focus on your physical well being and set your sights on the hope that everything will turn out as it should.
1. Start to focus your mental worries and fears into physical actions, like walking, knitting, compulsively working the knots out of all of your necklaces, etc.
2. Focus even more intently on your self care by saying no to things you don't want to do and making more time for yourself. You and your baby will fill this space in no time.
3. In the place beyond words is the hopeful place, where you open yourself up to instinct. Every time you say or think "worry" reframe the thought into "hope." For instance: "I'm worried that I haven't felt my baby move" to "I hope I get to feel my baby move soon."
The Investment Place: Once you cross into the second trimester, you're in the investment place. Perhaps you share the news with family, friends and coworkers or start to see that Thanksgiving belly push beyond the limits of an overindulgent meal.
1. Take several minutes a day to put your hands on your belly and showcase your feelings to your baby. She is getting the same surges of hormones you're releasing, so if you're stressed, she can feel it to! Tell her what the stress is about.
2. Open the incoming channels, if you haven't already. Your baby is not tapping in Morse Code on your bladder, but she may still have sneaky ways of sending you messages back. Listen for them.
3. As you get closer to the end of your pregnancy, you will start to have better intuition about everything. This doesn't mean that you ate bad eggs, or that you should open a 900 number and go into the psychic reading business. This special power will help you navigate your birth with all of the expertise of the millions of women who have come before you.
I'm one of those people who loves making your life easier (and I believe in you). I am an experienced registered prenatal yoga teacher and a lactation educator.
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Yogini's Favorite Prenatal Tips
Thanks for inviting me to be a part of this process with you. You're stronger than you think you are.