Giving Birth In These Strange Times [a love note to all mamas approaching childbirth mid- pandemic]
The lead up to childbirth is such a huge time.
You're about to meet this tiny precious babe. The owner of the kicks. To look into their eyes and feel their fresh new baby skin.
It's likely that emotionally you are feeling all the feels. Feeling so very open.
And in the lead up to this crossover, you are changing. Your brain is changing. The emotional, mental and physical landscape of your body as you approach birth feels completely unique.
Some things become more important - like a sense of safety. Other things much less important - like where you put your keys.
So yes. This is always a time of great change. Always a lot to navigate.
And yet, with all of the external uncertainty right now I have found myself increasingly thinking about women who are approaching childbirth in these times of great external flux.
So I want to compile some thoughts for you. Highlight some ways in which you can give yourself the power to stack the cards in your favour. Ways you can channel unease and powerlessness into action and tools.
I am a Chinese Herbalist, Acupuncturist, and Birth Support person. What you will find here is some gentle guidance about how to care for yourself as you approach birth and early motherhood. Questions for you to ask yourself. Strategies to explore.
And first things first: always be in contact with your medical care provider. Trusted medical information is key in times like these.
1. Spend as much time away from The Crazy as possible
Many woman that has crossed the threshold into motherhood will speak of feeling emotionally open and vulnerable. A little bit raw from all the openness.
Leading up to birth is a time of heightened awareness. And for good reason. But this brings with it interesting emotional terrain to navigate. Women preparing for birth (and women in labour) can generally smell fear, panic and anxiety a mile away.
We don't really acknowledge this sense of openness and increased sensitivity as a society, but it is there. And because we don't acknowledge it, we don't plan for it or implement strategies to work with it.
(If society valued the non-linear and highly nuanced experience of living inside the female body, this would be more widely known and valued. But since society isn't there yet, let's learn to value and work with it for ourselves.)
So what does this 'more open self' feel like?
It feels like a more pronounced version of the tender crossover from premenstrum to menstruation. And there are certain things available to us at this tender time that are incredibly useful.
The deepest message: as you prepare for birth you are emotionally open. It's important to make conscious choices around exactly who and what you are opening up to.
Aka: protect yourself.
Make conscious choices around your social media interactions.
The mindless scroll will not be your friend, especially in chaotic times like these. It really is best to avoid falling down the rabbit hole of anger, panic, judgement and uncertainty that are flooding many online spaces right now. Set a limit for the number of times you can check social media each day. Consider setting a time limit too.
Make conscious choices around your Real Life interactions.
If there are individuals in your life that make you feel particularly anxious, know that it's okay to give yourself some space from that relationship. It wont be for years, or even months, but in this crucial crossover period, protecting yourself helps. It's okay not to answer every call from your mother in law. It's also okay to voice that you need a nap to avoid an anxious filled drop in.
Bottom line: in real life, and online life, filter out negative and panic driven content.
It's okay to put yourself first, and to intentionally choose to make your experience easier. In fact, it's crucial that you do this.
2. Work hard to cultivate a safe and sacred space at home
Make your home a sacred cave. A haven. Somewhere where you can exhale deeply. Think about whatever feels cosy to you. Light candles. Play beautiful music. Engage in creative practices.
Dim the lights. Turn off the news. Read novels. Nap.
I had a beautiful pregnant mama in the clinic a few days ago asking if a hot curry was the best thing she could do to help get herself into labour right now. It's not. Above all else - above all the curries, the curb walking and pineapple core eating, your body needs to feel safe.
If we acknowledge that labour is an incredibly vulnerable space for a woman to be in, it becomes clear that cultivating safe space is one of the most important things we can do.
3. Focus inward
It's easy to get caught up in trying to please others - getting the last few weeks of work sorted Just Right. Continuing to meet deadlines. Attend things you said you would. Tick all the things off the list. To continue being All The Things to All The People. (Hell, our generation have endlessly been rewarded for being All The Things.)
And let's be honest, it feels totally strange to sit with the fact that we have no idea who we will be without the identities we hold so close to us. Without our jobs or daily routines, without our work clothes and regular weekend rituals. Sometimes it can be easier to feel like we want to deal with that kind of stuff later / never.
But there is actually something much more important than striving to maintain our Women Of The World* status in these final weeks of pregnancy. And that is Connecting Inwards.
* a phrase coined by the divine Rhea Dempsey
Letting our attention gently rest on us. Connecting in and caring for ourselves.
Creating space for the new to arise from within us.
So many women express feelings of extreme tiredness in their third trimester. Not all forms of slowing down are pathological. For the most part, this is a normal and necessary part of the process.
A catalyst by which we surrender the Go Go Go High Powered versions of ourselves, in place of the slower, more gentle and internally focused versions of ourselves.
Every nap is a surrender of what was.
And this really is something to revere. To marvel. We are creating the version of ourselves that is best suited for the job of stepping into motherhood.
In a world where everything feels a little bit (a lot) crazy, focusing on your internal landscape and cultivating your deepest sense of calm is a huge asset.
4. Find what works for you to discharge fear
If you're feeling particularly fearful, consider:
Writing it down
Talking it through
Drawing it out
Meditating on it
Walk, do some yoga stretches, light your favourite candle, listen to the best kind of music, talk to that sweet babe of yours tucked gently inside. Meditate. (Oh, yes, absolutely meditate.)
Meditation is my overall number one tip for any woman approaching childbirth and the first year of motherhood. Find a meditation practice that you really love. Try different apps, podcasts etc until you find something that feels just right. Then download it so you always have it on hand.
Meditation is the gift that keeps on giving in times like these. Strengthen your meditation muscle by making it something you exercise daily. This should help to create a calmer and more grounded foundation.
Also: think back to other stressful periods in your life: what helped to get you through? Step back into your memories and you might find something that could help you now.
And then do those things. (Unless what got you through was drinking alcohol. That would not be a good choice!)
5. Know that it's possible your pregnancy might last a little longer
I feel like for all mamas the Estimated Due Date (EDD) can be problematic if we interpret it as the date When Babe Will Arrive. Because it won't necessarily be the case.
This feels even more important for mamas to know as they approach birth in this current climate of unease.
Why do I feel like this is particularly important to talk Due Dates in chaotic times?
I live and practice in Melbourne, Victoria. In January of this year the city was blanketed with smoke haze, uncertainty, unease and sadness. Fires raged in our state and the next. It was a huge weight we were all carrying. And during this time I saw more women reach the gestation of 41+ weeks then I have seen in over a decade of administering birth preparation acupuncture.
Even women who had birthed previous babes at 38-40 weeks, getting an extra week or more gestation in their pregnancies as the smog and horrible air quality and panic blanketed.
And this could all be coincidence. But it's super important to know: Your EDD is not a pass or fail test.
To still be pregnant past your EDD is not to start labour on the back foot in any way.
Know that even if this is a second or third or fourth babe, that it is possible you may keep this one cooking inside a little longer. (I feel like I need to say - still pack your bags. Not everyone will go overdue, but if you do, know that that's okay.)
Why? Because we birth when we feel safe.
Our bodies are cleverly designed to shelve the idea of labour until we feel safe.
So it goes back to the pointers above - distance yourself from the added anxiety that is swirling in the outside world. Create sacred space in your home. Tune into yourself more deeply. Ask your body what it needs and then follow its lead.
6. Anticipate requiring additional postnatal support
Preparing for your postpartum now helps.
Not just for babies things like prams and capsules, but for things that are going to make your life easier, and your load lighter.
Get a plan together now to hold you emotionally / mentally / physically in the postpartum.
These are fabulous steps for every woman to take, but especially when the world outside feels uncertain. (And even more especially for our beautiful women with a history of previous traumatic experiences, anxiety or depression.)
What might you like to think about?
Who can cook you food, who can bring you groceries, who can support you in breastfeeding and who can listen to your birth story.
Who can you tell your birth story to? Who can you talk to in a deep way? Completely and without judgement. Without any need to filter your experience? Who will hold space for you to talk, and not dismiss your experience?
If you can't think of anyone in your current circle of support, it might be useful to seek professional support with this.
Plan for sturdy mental health by knowing what resources are available. PANDA is a great resource. Click through and familiarise yourself with the services on their website now, even if you never need them.
Postpartum also equals breastfeeding for most of us. And even though it's a natural process, that doesn't mean it's an easy skill to learn.
Also: stress can effect breastfeeding. Consider talking to your care provider about their postnatal breastfeeding support options. Do a bit of research now to gather the details of a great lactation consultant. This is easily something you can look into while you're pregnant. And it might save you some precious energy and mental bandwidth if it is needed in your postpartum.
Being well resourced before you get to The Other Side is something you will be thanking yourself for when you get there.
I don't have all the answers.
Heck, let's be real, I have none of the answers.
I just want you to know that I see you. That I have spent this whole week thinking about you. Wondering how you are coping with all this information overload. All of this... everything overload....
I want you to know that if you're anything like the beautiful women approaching birth I have seen in the clinic in recent days... If you're anything like the women I saw in a similar position just months ago - approaching birth whilst bushfires raged... If you're anything like those fabulous women, I can almost hear in your voice that you feel uncertain. That you know you are birthing your babe into uncertain times.
I want you to know that the feelings you have are valid.
And I want you to know that it is not only okay, but completely necessary to put your mental and emotional and physical health first.
To Be Well.
To be well above social convention and politeness and all those other dramatically less important things.
It is time to rally your own support crew to see you though.
And I just want to tell you, sweet mama, that I see you doing the very best you can with what you have. And that is truly all we can ever ask.
I see the load you are physically, mentally and emotionally carrying. The big work that you're doing. And I think you are incredible. A marvel. Already a brilliant mother for this new life.
Big love to you on these huge days.