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Calm in the Storm: Birth During Coronavirus

Well, here we are caught up in a pretty tumultuous time. It seems like the whole world is in a frenzy and it’s completely understandable that expectant parents particularly feel the sting of anxiety and worry. The idea of giving birth during a pandemic is by all rights a scary one. While the world is in a constant state of flux, the truth remains that at its core, birth has not changed. The elemental truths of birth remain the same: birth is normal and natural, and at the end of the day, you can trust the process of birth.

If you think about it, birth by nature is fairly unpredictable. Now is the time to be flexible and to get your mind in a healthy space to work with your body to bring your baby Earthside.

Ever heard of the fear/tension/pain cycle? It’s the idea that the more fear we have, the more our bodies tense up. If our bodies are tense, we feel pain more acutely…and if we’re in pain, we tend to become more fearful, leading to more tension and pain. You can see how quickly this can spiral.

The antidote to fear is faith: faith in our bodies, in the process, in the truth. If we can switch that fear/tension/pain cycle to one of confidence/relaxation/coping then birth will be infinitely smoother. A calm body opens more easily than a tense, fearful one and the goal of birth is obviously to open up and let baby come out!

So, how do we flip the narrative? How can expectant parents turn the tables and bring calm into their birthing experience rather than the ever present anxiety and fear that seems to seep into every corner of our lives right now? Below are a few of my tips and tricks for finding calm in the storm.


Consider stepping away from the headlines for a bit. While it is important to stay up to date on the current events in your area, it is not good to do so to the detriment of your mental health. It does no good to speculate about the what-ifs and could-be’s because this is a rapidly developing situation that changes all the time. The future will take care of itself, so it’s important to do the next right thing and go about your day as normally as possible.


You’re allowed to feel your feelings. You’re allowed to mourn the birth experience that you desired but might not get to have. However this pandemic has changed the way you thought your birth would go, it’s completely natural to mourn the birth you hoped for and lost. The important thing is to allow yourself to feel that loss, but don’t stay there. Keep moving forward.


When you’re feeling overwhelmed focus on what you can control:

  • Take the time at home as a chance to finish up preparations – Pack your hospital bag, practice folding those sweet little footie pajamas, organize the diaper stash, make finishing touches on the nursery.
  • Practice your favorite birth positions and breathing techniques – If you don’t have anything specific in mind, just breathing deeply for several minutes is helpful, as are spending some time in the cat/cow position.
  • Try some Spinning Babies exercises…these are the best!
  • Meditate and go over your birth affirmations. – If you don’t have any affirmations yet, now is the time to write some!
  • Pray – If you are a religious person, now is the time to dig in with your practice. You may not be able to gather at your preferred place of worship, but you can take time every day to pray and lean into your faith. I’m sure your faith leaders would be happy to connect with you via phone, or you can explore podcasts and faith based music to help keep you calm.
  • Read or listen to positive birth stories – The Birth Hour podcast and Birth Without Fear have lots of birth stories to choose from.
  • Take a walk – Even if we’re social distancing, sunshine and fresh air are good medicine. If you can’t get outside, search YouTube for some pregnancy exercise videos…just make sure you’re being safe!
  • Journal or write notes to your baby – Consider setting up an email account for your child and send him/her messages that they’ll get to open in the future. They’ll treasure this virtual time capsule and it’s a great outlet for you, too. Win/win!
  • Laugh! – Laughter is such a good way to relieve tension and relax the body, whether you’re pregnant or not. Lucky for us, we live in the time of hilarious internet memes, Ellen Degeneres videos, and The Office…so go pick your favorite funny cat videos and have a chuckle.
  • Take charge of your mental health – If you truly feel yourself spiraling, talk to a professional. There are so many great online and phone resources available or you can contact your primary care doctor or your OB/midwife. They’re all there to help you and you’ll never be sorry for reaching out.

I always tell clients that birth is 98% mental. Now is the time to dig deep and remember what is true.

  •  Fear is a liar.
  • You are not doing this alone. All over the world women are laboring and delivering their babies. You are connected to generations and generations of birthing women who have walked the same road and are walking it with you.
  • No matter the circumstance, birth is a normal physiological event. You can trust your body to birth your baby.
  • Babies are born in less than ideal situations every day and do just fine. Yours will, too.
  • You have created a birth team of medical providers who are dedicated to keeping you and baby safe. They are experienced, well trained, and on your side. You can trust them.
  • You are mentally and physically strong and capable.

While this is an unprecedented time to be expecting, fighting panic with peace is the best course of action. I hope these ideas help you in the coming days as you prepare to deliver. I truly believe with all of my being that all will be well.

Peace and perseverance in all things, my friends!

Mary Susan

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In Defense of the Birth Plan

Ah, the birth plan…such a polarizing topic, am I right? In my experience, folks’ opinions on birth plans predominantly come from two camps:

First, there’s the Over-Planner Unrealistic Expectation Camp whose members feel like if they research and plan out as much as possible, they’ll get the birth of their dreams. (Cue Oprah: “You get a magical birth! And you get a magical birth!!”)

Then there’s the Fly by the Seat of Their Pants Camp, whose overarching opinion is that planning is futile since birth is so unpredictable anyway. If you don’t over-plan, you won’t get disappointed. Low expectations won’t let these parents down!

 

Now, these are obviously very oversimplified generalizations and I understand that most birthing couples have far more nuanced beliefs surrounding birth planning. However, I do think that these stereotypes speak a some truth and as a doula, it’s my job to help my clients hit a sweet spot that’s the best of both worlds. Below you’ll find the most common questions I get from clients when discussing the benefits of birth plans and my responses to those questions. Hopefully they’ll help shed some light on your way to creating your own balanced birth plan.

 

What’s the point in a birth plan if everything is going to change anyway?

Let me be clear here. When I advocate for clients to create a birth plan, I don’t mean that I think they should create a hard and fast legal document that they’ll nail to their delivery room door a la Martin Luther. There’s a big difference in creating a list of birth demands and creating a birth plan. Creating a plan requires birthing people to look at all of their options, weigh pros and cons, make decisions based on their values, priorities, and goals, and educate themselves about possibilities. Ideally, the process of creating a good birth plan will leave couples with a wealth of information that they can tap into if and when they deviate from the plan.

The other side of this coin begs the question: How do you know what you want or don’t want if you haven’t researched your options? Do you want your baby to be administered Vitamin K? How do you feel about the use of fetal scalp monitors? Do you want to labor down or have coached pushing? I can assure you that the easiest time to ponder these decisions is not during contractions or immediately postpartum, especially if you’re hearing your options for the very first time. If you’re completely comfortable deferring to others for the medical care of yourself/your partner/your baby, then by all means don’t make a plan. But if you’re the type who wants to know more or to better understand your options, planning is definitely for you.

My final thought on this question is that you will never regret knowing “too much.” Navigating a birth situation, especially for a first time parent, is much less tricky when you’ve taken the time to educate yourself on terminology, hospital policies, and potential procedures. A change in plan or an unexpected event during labor is a lot easier to manage when you’re not completely unfamiliar with the options that exist. Knowledge is power, my friends!

 

I don’t want to make a birth plan because I’m afraid talking about it will just scare me!

Okay, let’s lean into this for a minute. When I hear someone say that they’re frightened of birth I can infer a few things. First, this person is normal, and second, they have some some soul searching to do. Guys, our culture has not served us well in preparing us for birth. When the main birth narratives we’re taught from childhood center around horror stories, panicked scenes in movies, and “Yoouuu did this to meee!!”  it’s no wonder we’re scared. Combine that narrative with everything we’re not taught about women’s bodies and you’ve got some major blanks to fill. And what do we fill the blanks with? You guessed it, fear.

It is absolutely normal to fear what we don’t know. The Haunted House ride at Wonderland Park in Amarillo, Texas scared the cuss out of me as a kid. I almost peed my pants and broke my sister’s hand when she forced me to go in it with her. I didn’t know what to expect except to know that I was embarking on a journey of abject terror: it was dark, loud, clammy, musty, and full of strobe lights. I rode it with my eyes screwed shut the entire time except for the portion during which my sister told me it was safe and I opened my eyes to see a zombie driving a freight train right at my face. Good times, good times.

But here’s the thing: the Haunted House wouldn’t have been so scary if I had known what to expect. If I had been given a calendar that stated the month I was scheduled to  visit the Haunted House, I’d have had time to psych myself up for it. If I had been given a guidebook that told me the different rooms I would travel through, I’d know that our vehicle would pass some bats, a clown or two, and four to eight severed heads on pikes. If someone had taught me the mechanics of how those severed heads popped up, I would have been able to anticipate the scares and manage my response accordingly. By the time I got to the zombie train, I’d have known that the ride was almost over and daylight was just around the corner.

When we know what to expect, the unknown isn’t as scary. I think it’s very important for us to dismantle our fears surrounding birth. What specifically are we afraid of? What is the root of this fear? What is the worst thing that could happen if this fear came true? What practical things can we do to prepare ourselves for the things that scare us? When we speak our fears and give them names, we take away their power. Once I finally knew what to expect from the Haunted House at Wonderland Park, it had significantly less power over me. I was far more confident riding with knowledge than when I knew nothing and buried my head in my sister’s shoulder, trying to pretend it wasn’t happening. I still got nervous when I rode the Haunted House the second time, but I started to enjoy the thrills and cheap gags for what they were. The more I knew, the better able I was to cope. And guess who closed the Haunted House down at Wonderland that day? This kid.

 

This isn’t my first baby, so I know the drill and a birth plan isn’t really necessary.

I understand the temptation to fall into this line of thinking. I’ve got four children of my own and I know full well how impossible it can feel to even think about stealing one uninterrupted minute to plan for a subsequent birth. When you’re pregnant and parenting other kids, it’s easy to feel as though giving birth is like riding a bike. And in some ways it is…until it’s not.

I like to remind clients that every birth and every baby are different. So many factors contribute to how a birth will play out from baby’s positioning to how mama is feeling emotionally. You only get to do each birth once, so it behooves you to take some time to remind yourself of what your birth goals are and reevaluate your previous births to see what you loved and things that you’d do differently this time. Birth planning for seasoned parents is likely to be less time intensive than for first timers, but again, you’ll never regret taking the time to recenter and refresh your knowledge.

 

 

To conclude, birth plans can be an incredibly useful tool when created with evidence-based research, open hearts, and room for flexibility. I take pride in the fact that I spend a large amount of time with my clients discussing and planning for their births. I value birth planning so much that I even offer Birth Brainstorming sessions independent of my birth doula services for folks who just want assistance in planning their births. Sometimes it’s just nice to have an unbiased third party to bounce ideas off of! You can find more information on Birth Brainstorming sessions on my Services page.

What about you? Are you a planner, do you prefer to go with the flow, or are you a combination of both? Remember, at the end of the day, plan or no plan, this is your body, your baby, and your best birth. I’m here to support and educate you however I can, so feel free to reach out and let’s chat!