You may or may not have noticed that I’ve put Paulo’s birth story all in one page, which is linked up there at the top. If you’ve read it already, there’s nothing new – though I think perhaps I included an extra photo or two this time, so if you want to go back in time to Newborn Whuff, there it is. If you haven’t read it… well, the rest of this entry will make much more sense if you do.
I’m not sure how things go with most moms, but I’ve had a LOT of positive feedback about our birthstory – both online and in person. The comments generally tend to be along the lines of “You’re a rockstar” and “You’re a superhero.” I’m not entirely sure what to make of this. I certainly never intended to be “completely badass” in labor, I pretty much just set out to have a baby.
Confession: I honestly feel that since I had an epidural, I lost whatever “badass” cred I may have had. Ok, I was in labor for 47 hours and was pushing for 5 of those hours, but I went ahead and had the drugs and it’s what I needed to do, but would a real “superhero” have done that? I think not.
(Also: Paulo turned two months old this week and oh man is it true that your labor totally becomes this completely far-away mythical event SO FAST. That was only two months ago? Seriously, graduating high school feels more recent in a lot of ways. At the same time, it’s been two months? Coulda fooled me seeing as I still have that “pregnant lady zipper line” all up my belly.)
Anyhow. Other than the epidural, my secret to managing a nearly two full days of labor is Buddhism. I kid you not. At one point, my doula described me as being very “Zen” about the whole thing and she meant it quite literally and not just in the figurative “calm and decorated with yin yangs” sense.
I was raised as a Buddhist and returned to a solid Buddhist “practice” after my own Personal Apocalypse in 2007. It’s something that’s fairly important to me in daily life and became of utmost importance managing the pain during labor. It has helped me immeasurably when things get intense to take a step back and just label what I’m feeling – telling myself literally “this is what X feels like.” During labor, you bet your ass my thoughts were pretty much “this is what pain feels like.” Being able to sum up what I’m feeling in a single word helps me so much to just feel it without being attached to it. Here’s this part of the human experience that I’m experiencing now. Yep. Here it is.
Another aspect of this non-attachment to what’s going on is a continuous effort I’ve made to divorce myself from the concept of time. The scenario other than labor where this has come in the most handy has been Trans-Atlantic flights. I honestly tell myself that I’m going to be in this present moment in perpetuity and it’ll simply be over when it’s over. I don’t look at clocks much and there are situations where I truly go to great lengths to avoid it. Before nursing Paulo and wanting to have an idea of how much he was sleeping between feedings, I hadn’t looked a clock in the middle of the night in years – and if I was in a bedroom with a clock in it, I would move it so I couldn’t even see it by accident. It’s mentally easier to do things like “be in labor for 47 hours” (or “be on an airplane for 7 hours” which is frankly almost as unenjoyable) if you’re not counting off any of those hours.
An aside: it was mentally difficult for me to time my contractions for this reason and I left it up to my mom or my doula to do so simply to have information to give the hospital staff when we got there. To me, I wanted to just work through the contractions without focusing on the constraints of linear time. Man.
So, being able to just be in the present moment and tell myself that what I was going through was simply the part of the human experience that was “giving birth” and simultaneously not even thinking for a moment (because truly, when I let myself slip into the “how long I’ve been at this” train of thought for even a minute, that’s when I would start crying – which, ok, that’s gonna happen, but staying in that frustrated headspace is completely counterproductive to focusing on getting the baby out) about the length of time that this was taking are how I managed to stay focused for the two days I was in labor.
Y’know, that and the epidural.
I didn’t attend a single birth class, but I truly did find that when I detached my mind from the contractions and just gave myself over to them, I did instinctively know how to handle them. The positions I chose were exactly what my body needed to do. I needed encouragement to not get “too comfortable” and keep the contractions coming, but I didn’t need to be told how to breathe or how to position my body beyond a few pointers here and there. Again, being able to mentally detach is the only way I was able to do this as thinking at all during those moments would have been thinking about it too much.
Now that I’ve gotten through labor, my next “trick” is trying to use the same Zen techniques to get through feeding every 2 hours round the clock. I must say, this phase is much more trying and exhausting to me than labor. I’ve done my best to give up on the idea of any kind of time frame for Paulo sleeping more at night and just think of this as the reality that exists indefinitely. It’s definitely helped as getting focused on reports from friends/pediatricians/etc. that “Oh, he’ll start nursing less at X age” has thus far just been lies and when “X” passes, I just get more and more frustrated with the situation. Giving up on the sense of time the way that I did in labor is more difficult now, but when I can do so and not think about “Oh, I hope he sleeps more next week!” the nights are much less frustrating.
In the mean time, I find myself saying “This is how exhaustion feels” quite a lot.
Anyhow, I’m not a rockstar. Or a superhero. Or even all that badass. I simply had a mental outlook and a set of coping mechanisms that were super helpful for the experience of labor as well as the more menial experiences of things such as “bad headaches” and “being stuck in traffic.”