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Grand Rapids, MI doula and birth photographer

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is this really labor? words for first-time moms

The first time you're pregnant, you can't know. You simply cannot know until you see it through the rearview mirror. And this isn't something to feel badly about or even try to fix because, sister, there isn't a way to know a thing you have not yet tasted or experienced. You can understand the concept in your head and perhaps feel it in your imagination, too. But in your physical body, it will remain inaccessible until you are living it. And even then, it will seem real and intense before it is anywhere NEAR as real and intense as it is going to get before you're holding your baby in your arms, stunned and grateful and trying to catch your breath. 

What is this thing called labor? How can a contraction be contained in words? There is only one way to know it, and that is to live it. 

During your pregnancy, when you begin to think about how your birth will go, I'll sit with you and try to tell you, without scaring you (for though birth is a hard thing it is also a holy thing and a normal thing, a thing that you can do) what you can expect and just how totally consuming it is. Your mother and your mama friends may also try to describe, warn, advise, prepare. You won't be able to hear it, not really. Just as you cannot know the challenges of a seasoned and world-weary marriage when you are freshly in love and your eyes are full of stars. So be where you are right now, and don't feel as though you must somehow be ready for a thing that you can't ever quite be ready for.

You may call me in between contractions to report the time and spacing of them, to declare that today is the day. And I will listen between the lines and beneath the intonations of your voice. And there's a pretty high probability that I'll tell you to go to bed. Or take a bath and have a glass of wine. Or carry on with your day doing your very very best to pay no attention to the sensations in your body. They are new, and probably unpleasant, but you have a ways to go and it will get much, more more intense than this. You will simply have to trust me on this. 

I don't mean to say that I don't believe you or trust that you know your body. I do. But this is your body doing a thing it has never before had to do, and it is uncharted territory even for you who have lived in that body since the day you were born. Yield to it, don't analyze it. Notice it without drawing conclusions. Note the sensations, yes, and then carry on with ordinary life. In time, you will be carried away on the waves of it's mighty workings and there won't be thought anymore, not much at least. And that is when you will want to call for support. That is when you will have no choice other than to go deep, deep inside yourself, blocking out all the external world and seeing only the color and feeling and light of the most purely physical experience you've ever had. 

If you think labor is getting serious, wait two hours and reassess. If you think it's time to go to the hospital or the birth center or to summon the midwife, make yourself wait another 3 or 4 hours. Wait longer than you think you can stand to wait and then you are probably really in labor. And until then, please, for the love of God, sleep if you can manage it, or at the very least rest and distract yourself. For. as. long. as. you. can. 

I love what a fellow birth keeper said about this recently in a FB group we share:

[She was] one of the only mothers who actually listened to me when I told her that birth often can take a while, and it will become more intense than you ever thought you could live through, and while I’m more than happy to come to your house early on and hang out, I cannot emphasize enough how helpful it is to rest during the early stages of birth, and that it will benefit *you* not to ask me to arrive before your baby is well on her/his way.
— Yolande Clark

In labor, there can't be control, nor competition; there is only surrender. It is a giving in, a getting carried away. You will need to get out of your own way, sister, or this will take much longer than it needs to. Your sharp, well-informed mind will need to close it's mouth and have a seat. Your ideal imagery will need to yield to the reality of what actually IS in this current moment. You will have to let go, moving into the pain and letting it pick you up and take you away as if it's your trusted friend, and the only method of travel from where you now stand, a maiden, to the mother that is about to be born in you.  

So before then, while you're still pregnant, you have some work you can do. The work is not to draft a perfect birth plan or acquire a litany of comfort measure strategies (though those things have a small role). The work is not even to have a firm grasp of the physiology of birth (though we will absolutely talk about that, too, because it's AMAZING and vital). The work is to face your junk, release your fears, journal your feelings, meditate on the faithfulness of God, practice letting go, try out surrender. We can do that work together. I will hear you and prod you gently, and remind you that you are safe as you go.

And when the day comes when you feel your first contraction and with it the subsequent rush of adrenaline and anticipation, you'll have a well-worn pathway to surrender. You'll be able to lean back - like a trust fall - and know you'll be caught. It won't matter how many hours or how close together the contractions or how perfect your emotional control or whether you "did a good job." You will just BE in birth, and it will take you where you need to go. 

I promise you can do this, sister. 

 

PS: It is true that for some women -- even those giving birth for the first time -- labor is fast and furious, or possibly not even particularly painful. But I don't believe it's wise to plan on being one of those rare few. Plan to work hard and long, expect to feel in over your head. Then if it is something other than that you will be pleasantly surprised! :)

PPS: Over the next few months I'm previewing a couple different self-paced, online childbirth education courses that I suspect are going to be awesome preparation for the sort of things this blog post is about. One of them is secular and one is faith-based. I'm excited to review them and then to share them with my Sister Birth mamas. Stay tuned!