Sunday, April 27, 2008

Enduring a mile (or a centimeter)

My husband ran the Boston Marathon last Monday, and I was so inspired by it that I decided I want to run it as well. So, yesterday, my husband and I decided to see how fast I could run a mile. We ran a warm-up mile at a medium-effort pace, and then I threw myself like crazy into the 2nd mile. It was misery. It was horrid. It was an intense mental tug-of-war between "I can do this! Keep going!" and "What was I thinking?! I have to stop!" But somehow I kept going.

This really does have something to do with birth, I promise... just hang with me. After finishing my run yesterday, I thought a lot about the experience. I speculated that it was probably like a mini-marathon--a condensed version of the marathon experience. And I also recognized that the same things that helped me to navigate the journey of childbirth also helped me to get through that mile (and would probably help me get through a marathon as well). Here's a play-by-play:

1) In the beginning, chatting works wonders. The first part of that mile, I kept telling my husband to "Talk to me!" When he was talking to me, running felt easier. The conversation was a welcome distraction--especially when it was about topics completely unrelated to what we were doing. The same was true in childbirth. Talking was extremely helpful through the early intense contractions (around 4 centimeters).

2) Eventually, chatting is not possible. Somewhere in the middle of my mile, a switch flipped. Suddenly I reached a point where I didn't want/need dialogue. I didn't want to talk. I couldn't formulate sentences or contemplate options. All I could think about was my own body and enduring to the end. Distraction was no longer helpful. Instead all words had to be pure fuel--encouragement, positive energy. I pulled into myself, but I could hear my husband's occasional words of encouragement: "You're doing awesome! You can do it!" Those simple statements carried me on. This was eerily similar to the way I felt as I navigated "transition" (7 to 10 centimeters dilation) giving birth to my daughters. The same things that helped me get through transition were the things that pulled me through that mile--minimal distractions and LOTS of quiet, gentle encouragement.

3) What you say to yourself matters most of all. In the midst of my misery, when I felt like I couldn't possibly push myself any harder or faster, I found my mantra: "The faster I run, the sooner I'm done." As soon as I spoke it out loud, I felt an instant surge of energy and was able to leap ahead, lengthening my stride and picking up speed for several yards. Whoah. So cool. The words you speak to yourself have so much power--for good or bad. Make those words only positive and you will find power within yourself to do anything--be it finish a mile or reach 10 centimeters in labor.

4) There's nothing more motivating than the finish. When my husband said, "I can see the finish!" I felt instantly encouraged, "You can?!" Thank the heavens!! Once the finish was in sight, I knew I could make it the rest of the way even though my strength was spent. This is much the way I felt when I had reached full dilation in labor and was ready to push--pushing was like seeing the finish line. Somehow the pain seemed less intense because I knew I was so close to the end.

Maybe all of this is self-evident, but I had fun drawing parallels between the experiences. It was fascinating to me, and helpful to recognize that I have done hard things in the past and found the strength to endure. I have given birth twice without pain relief. If I can do that, I can run a marathon. And, if you've ever done something difficult and intense like running a marathon (or even a mile), you can definitely get through childbirth. And, I guess, the ultimate point is... if you can find enough strength within yourself, you can do anything. Anything.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Sharon, you will be missed

I got word today that my favorite midwife passed away after a 12-year battle with breast cancer. I knew she had been fighting breast cancer and had taken time away from midwifery for treatments, but, for the time that I was a client of the New Beginnings Nurse-Midwives, she was working and appeared to be doing well. I wasn't close enough to her to pry about her health, but I was hopeful that she had triumphed over the disease and would live long into the future.

Sharon Sims was my favorite of the midwives in the practice. I had my first appointment with her, and I was so impressed by her kindness and gentleness. She was genuine, down-to-earth, and unassuming. I felt immediately at ease in her presence. After meeting the other midwives, I still felt most impressed with Sharon. I hoped she would be the one to deliver my second baby. Ultimately, another midwife was on-call when I finally went to the hospital to give birth, but Sharon was the one who visited us at the hospital the next day to check-in and give us the go-ahead to return home. Once again, she put me at ease, emanating a warmth and love and gentleness I soaked up thirstily.

I am certain that I am one of many hundreds of women who will always have a special place in my heart for Sharon Sims. She was a wonderful midwife, and I feel honored to have been blessed by her life.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Very Early Miscarriage

I have experienced two very early miscarriages in the past five years, both while actively trying to conceive. How do I know they were very early miscarriages and not just late periods, you might ask? The truth is, I have no concrete scientific evidence. The only evidence I have is my own intuition that I was pregnant and beginning to experience my body's pregnancy cues. I did not have positive home pregnancy tests to back-up my hunches. There are some who want to exclude me (and others who lack concrete proof of pregnancy) from the club of "true miscarriages." They would dismiss our experiences as insignificant, make light of our anecdotal "proof" of pregnancy, or chuckle to themselves at our apparent "wishful thinking." Unfortunately, for those experiencing very early miscarriages, finding understanding and comfort is no easy task.....

Read the rest of this post over at my new website!

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Giving Birth, so far

I'm about a third of the way through Giving Birth: A Journey into the World of Mothers and Midwives, by Catherine Taylor. So far, I find it fascinating! It is exactly what it says it is--a journey into the world of mothers and midwives. It has opened my eyes to just how unique each mother and each midwife/doctor is. Though we can say that most midwives have common philosophies, they are by no means a uniform group. Midwives' practices vary widely depending upon where they deliver, who their back-up physicians are, what insurance companies they're affiliated with (if any), and where they received their midwifery training. Even within ONE midwifery practice each midwife will have her own style and leanings. Catherine Taylor also masterfully weaves-in statistics and research about birth and various medical interventions. Here are some excerpts I found informative, eloquent, right on, or though-provoking...
I don't understand the hospital's need to separate mother and child; I don't understand their need to immediately quantify everything about the baby. Can't that wait an hour? And couldn't any observations that need to be done to assess the newborn's health be done with the baby lying with or on the mother if she wants it there? (p. 38)
"Most clients ask about ultrasound," Sarah comments. "A decade ago we did them routinely. But the cost to the system is high, and routine use has not been shown to improve birth outcomes," she explains. In situations where the doctor bills for every service and the patient's insurance pays for these kinds of tests, some doctors still order them automatically. In fact, I have one friend whose doctor ordered an ultrasound for every visit. When she asked why this was necessary, he brushed her off, saying, "Oh, it gives us important information," without explaining what that information might be or what they might be expected to do with it. In fact, the American College of Radiology recommends that ultrasound screening be done only when there is a "valid medical reason," and the World Health Organization finds that "routine ultrasound assessment has not been shown to decrease morbidity and mortality" (p. 42-43).
On this final item [epidural-induced fevers], Nancy's statements are backed up by research done by Dr. Ellice Lieberman of Harvard University and published in the journal Pediatrics that shows epidurals are indeed associated with a hugely increased frequency (fourteen-fold) of fevers in birthing mothers and finds that the resulting "neonatal sepsis workups and administration of antibiotics are not necessarily benign." . . . She concludes, "Given the cost, risk, and pain to the newborn, the higher proportion of sepsis workups that may be attributable to epidural use is cause for concern" (p. 58).
[Liz] explained, "If you have a midwife manage the same population as a physician, the midwife is going to order fewer tests, she's going to have fewer expensive interventions and procedures, and she's going to have better outcomes, despite the fact that she didn't throw all this technology at the patients" (p. 73).
More good stuff to come!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

More evidence that prenatal exercise is a big win-win

Yahoo! News reports the findings of a recent study on maternal exercise. Dr. Linda E. May, one of the researchers involved with the study, explains:

"When the mom exercises during pregnancy, the unborn baby gets the same type of training effect that you would see in an adult - so you see the lower heart rate and also improved heart rate variability, which is evidence of improvements in the nervous system of the heart."

"Maternal exercise may be the earliest intervention to improve the heart of children and possibly the best."

Click HERE to check it out!

Saturday, April 5, 2008

"Running for Two"

I just finished reading this great blogpost over at "Running for Two." Lisa is chronicling her first pregnancy as a runner and is nearing the finish. She draws a great analogy between the role of a "pacer" in an endurance race and a labor coach. Check it out!

Also, I've been skimming a book from the library--Exercising Through Your Pregnancy, by James F. Clapp. Based on the research presented by Clapp in this book, I'm totally convinced that exercising (safely) through pregnancy is one of the best things you can do for your unborn child (and yourself). I am definitely looking forward to exercising through my next pregnancy. Here are some of the benefits Clapp discusses:

* Limited weight gain
* Less physical discomfort
* More energy
* Easier, shorter, less complicated labor
* Newborns who "readily self-quiet" and "need less consolation from others"
* Some evidence that the children of women who exercise throughout pregnancy have heightened intelligence and oral language skills (as measured at 5 years of age).

Good stuff, eh? Have you had experience with any of these benefits of exercise in pregnancy? Please share!

P.S. It can be tricky to find active wear to accommodate a growing belly, but Fit Maternity will have you covered. Be sure to check out the support belts!