Tuesday, May 8, 2007

The labyrinth

I really enjoyed this article that a friend shared with me. If you don't have time to read it, I'll give a short synopsis.

The author talks about how women who experience intense or fast births can experience a shock-like state after the birth train screeches to a halt. After sky high emotions and physical sensation (and extreme attention from her caregiver), suddenly labor ends. The new mother can often feel left in the lurch and forgotten at the abrupt end of labor, even to the point of going into a state of shock. According to the article, the people around the mother can help guide her out of the maze intact by helping her process her birth and by continuing to care for her mind and spirit in a generous way.I really appreciated what the article had to say, and it was good food for thought while reflecting on my own birth experiences.

My first birth was really painful, then really medicated at 7cm. I remember an odd, unfinished feeling after the epidural, and the pushing phase was hard work and gradual. Everything was a haze, and my clearest memories are holding my baby and her being brought again from the nursery.

My second birth was fast. My labor was peaceful, at home and very intense at the end. I went into labor with Lark in the midmorning, and was delivered by that afternoon. The time between the urge to push and her being on my chest was so short, and the birth were so intense. I felt so shocked and surprised and happy and relieved at the same time. And if my immediate care from my midwife, doula and family had been any less than nurturing, I can't imagine how empty and lost I would have felt.

Fortunately, this is what happened: I was dried off and wrapped in a warm blanket, and helped from the pool to my bed. My baby was glued to my breast, nursing like the calm, methodical little one that she is. Dh was on the bed beside us, beaming and telling me that he'd caught our baby, and my doula was spooning good food and drink into me. My midwife helped into a warm tub filled with good smelling herbs, and my baby came along with me. My mom and dad arrived with my excited firstborn, and brought me a favorite meal. I was allowed to sleep a long sleep.

Afterwards, my midwife warned me to not go downstairs too early, and to expect an emotional low if I tried to return to "normal" life too soon. If I tried to act normal, it would tell others I felt "normal" prematurely. How right she was! She encouraged me to revel in the afterglow of birth, and to treat my body and emotions with kid gloves for a while. She was telling me how to walk through the labyrinth of the birth experience.

When we enter labor, to cope with the strong emotions and sensations of birth, we tend to go "somewhere else" in our minds. Thoughts, emotions, fears, joys that are normally deep in our hearts come bubbling to the surface as it feels we are cheating death to embrace life fully. Our minds are tested as we relax our bodies and embrace each new contraction as it furthers our baby towards birth. It's an intensely holistic experience, calling body, mind, spirit and emotion to work together full force.

If a woman is in the care of people who realize the importance of post partum support (and if we ourselves are indeed aware of the need to surround ourselves with such individuals), then at the end of the birth she will be taken by the hand and guided and nurturing and recognized as vulnerable. When a fast labor screeches to a halt, those around her will be there to validate her feelings, help her process and sooth her pounding hearts and racing emotions.

If a woman is surrounded only by people who are concerned only about making sure she's breathing and physically intact, she is more likely to feel shocked, abandoned and numb after birth, and possibly duped by all the attention she received while laboring. Especially if the only the baby is the main focus, and not the mother-baby relationship, the mother is likely to feel disconnected and strangely empty.

Nurturing the mother and her relationship is soooo important for their next 18 or so years! Feeding mama, bringing her water, teaching her how to nurse, praising her birth effort, helping her mentally process the birth, carefully gaging her emotional needs, making sure she sleeps, delighting in her motherhood are such precious gifts that women NEED. They need these more than flowers and balloons (although these are super-nice too ). Doing this tells the mother "You're loved, you're worth loving, and you're going to be a really supported mom. You can really do this!"

Not only does it take a village to raise a child, it takes a community to birth a mother. I absolutely love the imagery of helping to guide the woman through the maze that is birth and recovery back to participating in daily life. I cannot think of a greater gift to give a child than a loved,nurtured mother.