Fear and Friendship: Repairing the Damage

This week was unexpectedly intense, in my online world; I wonder if there is a polarizing issue that didn’t come up, among my close friends. I have some distance, because I didn’t end up in the middle of anything, and I have so much empathy, for everyone. Not long ago, I hurt my friend. I thought maybe the world could use some of the insights I’ve gained into relationships, as I try to repair a friendship I damaged badly. I wasn’t going to write about this, publicly, but I’ve been told, privately, that my insight into relationships in general might help people. So, here goes nothing…

I hurt a very dear friend, by not really listening to her, by pretending to validate her experience, when I really didn’t know what was going on with her. Worst of all, I didn’t realize that I was hurting her, until she came to me to express her hurt feelings. It all happened online, where it’s easier to ignore the unspoken, even when I know that something is off. My behavior triggered, for her, feelings of shame, anger, fear, mistrust, and I don’t know what else. I did that. And I didn’t even notice that I had done it. I don’t know if we can repair our friendship.

We have a shot at repairing our friendship, my friend tells me, because I said what amounted to “You are right that I did this very wrong thing.” It took weeks for me to bypass the fear that told me to run away, to fight back by arguing, to do nothing but repeat myself. I didn’t totally succeed. I apologized, when I ought to have realized that she dislikes apologies, having heard too many insincere “I’m sorry”s, in her life. Because I wanted to do it, to help myself feel better, I said it. I justified it by thinking about how it is the thing we do, when we admit a wrong. We apologize. If I had thought about her, more, and me, less, I might have skipped that. I was afraid of more pain. Things were so tense. It eased MY fear, but it made hers worse. Even so, we are stumbling along, with tension and anger and definitely fear, and it’s crucial that I do my best to avoid a reaction from a fearful place.

It’s better to wait, than respond in fear. My pain is not secondary to her pain, in importance, but there’s no reason why I can’t put it aside long enough to say, “My dear friend, you are in so much pain. I see that. And I see that I caused you pain.” It’s not easy, but it is simple and important.

There’s a strange connection, here, to a seemingly distant world, HypnoBirthing, where we teach that, during childbirth, fear leads to tension, which leads to pain, which triggers more fear. I made the connection between relationships and my training on fear response when one amazing friend said, after a whole assortment of internet meanness was unleashed on her Facebook wall, “This is not what we are supposed to do to each other.” She’s right on so many levels. Human beings are not supposed to be cruel; by nature, we are creatures of community, not isolation.

I want to talk about why the very best of us, the ones who are good in a crisis and trained to deal with huge emotions, trauma, everything scary–why do we lose our hard-earned knowledge and training, when we are afraid? In the birthing community, many women in the US describe “instincts” that women in other parts of the world, with more supportive attitudes about birth and recovery, do not describe. Which are “natural” and which are not? In the US (and elsewhere), we have been telling women to lie flat on their backs during birth for over a century; it’s more convenient for doctors, so it dates back to when doctors took over from midwives. We now have women feeling, instinctively, that they should lie down, when they are giving birth, even when this works against them, because gravity isn’t helping her, and for many other physiological reasons. What I teach, in HypnoBirthing, are essentially tools to bypass the culturally ingrained messages we have heard all our lives, in order to receive the signals our bodies send us, about where we want to be and how we want to stand/sit/squat/lay down. Fear gets in the way, because doctors we trust tell us to do things like stay on our backs, and breaking with tradition is scary. Physically, fear leads to tension. Because there’s a baby trying to move through the birth passage, physical tension in the surrounding muscles is going to cause pain. Pain is scary, so the cycle repeats.

In countries where birth is less medical, where care providers tend to say less and move more, working around a laboring mother, women usually describe an instinct to squat, or sit on a short stool that essentially puts them in a squatting position. This physical position does all kinds of wonderful things that facilitate an easier and more comfortable birth. I’m oversimplifying, of course, because sometimes, you just want to lie down, but the point is that what birthing women identify as a protective instinct is actually, quite often, a fear-driven impulse, planted by a culture fearful of birth. The popularity of Brene Brown’s books on vulnerability is all I need to illustrate how much our culture longs for a way out of our fear of being vulnerable. When we act from fear, not compassion, the results never feel good. Nevertheless, in social interactions around hugely important topics, we often have good reasons to fear vulnerability. Have you seen an internet discussion on vaccinations? Yikes. We respond from a tense place of fear. Our words and actions hurt each other. Our pain then tells us that our fears were justified. See? You’re hurting! Be afraid! The cycle continues.

cliff edge sq

Fear leads to tension, which leads to pain, which inspires more fear. It doesn’t matter whether I agree with my close friend that her trigger was shaming, inherently. If she says, “I feel so shamed, and stigmatized” and I say, “But you shouldn’t feel that way,” then I have put her in the unhappy position of feeling the fear that comes with shame and stigma, AND having to defending herself against someone with whom she thought she could safely be vulnerable. If I say, instead, “Shame is awful. I’m so sorry you’re feeling that way. I don’t feel that, though.” and wait to see if she has any interest in hearing more about my own feelings, then my friend might still be defensive and angry that I don’t agree with her, but at least she is not afraid that her trust was misplaced, and that an important friendship has faltered.

Between me, and my friend, there is an additional barrier: when I “half-listened” to her, I triggered a flood all these feelings (mostly shame, fear, anger) that she felt during trauma. She and I share the experience of hearing people who say they love us discount and invalidate the reality we see, claiming that a good night’s sleep, some vitamins, and getting ourselves together, trying harder, will “fix it.” If you’re reading this space, you’ve probably experienced the same lack of validation, questioning of your own reality, that comes with seeking help for mental illness. In the case of this friendship, we have also known people who have abused us by using our mental state, our shame, and our fear, against us, to gain power over us. When my friend told me that she felt all those feelings, as I hurt her, I found myself on the other side of the looking glass. There I was, standing next to the people who stigmatized her, refused to validate her experience, who hurt her the most. I wanted to believe, “That’s not me; I am nothing like people who do that. My friend is being absurd, and she should know that she hurt me, with her words, too, by even thinking I’m capable of that.” I had a choice: defend myself, and align myself further with the people who hurt her the most, or own that my behavior was similar to theirs. My behavior does not define who I am, so I can own it, and feel the feelings, without feeling that I’m giving up any part of my identity.

My friend fears that I could hurt her again, and fear still permeates our interactions. I feel afraid, when I see an email from her, and as I try to respond, I conjure up images of the people who have wronged her, not wanting to join them, again. If I let fear overpower me, I make the tension, and pain, worse, until it’s all feeding on each other and building in intensity. I can live with the idea that she feels afraid of interacting with me, and also still see myself as a good friend, with a loving heart, and no intention of hurting anyone. Intention has nothing to do with the pain I caused. I can sit with the deeply discomfiting thoughts that my own fear hurls at me. I can refuse to give in. I can just keep going, and see what happens, without knowing when or if anything is “fixed.” With effort, I can refuse to force a resolution, before the situation is ready to resolve.

Fear Release

HypnoBirthing practitioners are supposed to end our third class (there are five classes, in each course) with a guided visualization exercise that helps expectant parents release any fears they might have about birthing and parenthood, and take back any power they’ve given away, leaving them feeling totally confident and empowered. When I got my certification to teach, my mentor and former teacher/doula told me that “something in your own life will always come up right before the Fear Release–every time.” Well, she was right. The third class in the course I’m teaching now happened last Friday, but we ran out of time. It’s a long exercise.

On the way home, that night, I got into a car accident. Minor, yes. Scary? Yes! I’m a good driver. I’ve never had a moving violation. I’ve never even been pulled over. But I was tired, and bored, and stuck in traffic at 10:30 at night, and I rear-ended the car in front of me. I re-injured my neck and upper back; we were rear-ended by a city bus, with Nathan driving and me in the passenger seat, in 2012, when I was nine months pregnant. That was one of the scariest days of my life. I had to spend twenty four hours in the hospital, wearing a monitor, so they could make sure my little guy was ok. Even though the air bags hadn’t deployed, there was a chance that the impact had been enough to cause the placenta to begin to detach from the uterine lining. We waited, and listened to our baby’s heart beat, hoping that it would keep an even pace. Since the placenta delivers oxygen to a baby, the heart rate is the best sign of that everything is ok. Everything was fine. Nathan and I needed some chiropractic care, for a few months, but everyone was fine.

But there was another accident, this time without me. And one more, the most minor thing possible, in a friend’s car. I held on to a lot of fear. I couldn’t let go of this idea that it would just keep happening. Ever since the first accident, I became fixated on car seats. We had an infant seat installed in our car, that first time, because I wanted to be ready. The last thing I wanted to worry about was whether the seat had been installed properly. (A shocking number of car seats are used incorrectly.) When I called the company, I was told that any accident at all would make a seat unsafe, and the brand recommended getting a new one.

Car seats are expensive. I wanted one that would last. The second one did last, until Walt was too tall for it. I actually won a free seat. It expired–the giveaway was apparently an attempt to get rid of very old stock. We bought a third seat, because it is not safe to use a seat that’s expired, even if it just came out of the box. Or… is it? The answer depends on who you ask, when it comes to seats straight out of the box, but again, the warranty would be void after the expiration date. I was thrilled to get an amazing deal on that third seat, and I was excited that it would last a long time. Of course, when Nathan took a sharp curve and was distracted for a moment, he hit a pole at just the wrong angle; air bags deployed, and the car was totaled. That sounds worse than it was–Walt didn’t even cry. Nathan wasn’t hurt. The car just wasn’t worth as much as it would cost to fix it. New car. New car seat. Expensive. Again, I bought one that would last, this time until after Walt wouldn’t even need a booster seat anymore! It transformed into a booster seat! He would use it for five years!

I held on to my fear, and I expressed it through my obsession with Walt’s car seats. I put all that anxiety into making sure we had the best seat we could reasonably afford, that it was installed correctly, and that he was buckled in properly, every single time. Nathan listened to years of correction about tightening the harness enough, and sliding the buckle up high enough, without ever losing patience with me. On Saturday morning, less than twelve hours after the accident, I went car seat shopping again. I found another great deal, although the price tag was still higher than I would have liked. Again, I tried to force myself to feel safer by thinking about how long my child would be able to use the seat–he would need four more inches of growth in his torso (it doesn’t matter how long his legs are, for safety or comfort) and twenty more pounds, before we would have to do this again. I pretty much just insisted to myself that one child could not possibly need yet another car seat! This one would be a good-luck charm! We were safe! Gosh darnit! Safe! Right?

fear faith

I drove to teach again, last night, and this time, we did end our class with the fear release and power exercises. I knew that I was facing some big fears by making the drive again. I drove the rental car our insurance company provided, since the dent I had made in the front of our car had made it difficult to completely close the hood. That was scary, too, because I hadn’t ever driven a car that big, before. This massive SUV seemed to have too many blind spots, and the fancy camera showing me what was behind me, when I put the car in reverse, did not make it easier to park. Even so, it didn’t occur to me until I was actually reading the script that I was hanging on to *years* of fear about my family being in danger.

It had never occurred to me that I could let go. We are good drivers, with a good, safe, car, and a properly installed car seat. We are human. Things happen. But we aren’t in mortal danger every time we’re in the car. It’s not a foregone conclusion that accidents would keep happening. I had totally lost my perspective, and had never held on to the fact that none of the accidents had been serious. My pregnancy had gone on perfectly, ending with the perfect birth I had planned and visualized. No one had actually incurred serious injuries in any of these accidents. The car seats we had replaced may still have been safe–it was usually a technicality and a warranty issue. We never saw any wear and tear on the seats and, more importantly, our precious boy had never needed any medical attention.

As I spoke the words in the script and guided the family through the imagery that would help them release any fears and limiting thoughts they might have about the birth, or becoming parents, I visualized the release of my own fear. As they imagined their perfect birth, imprinting the outcome they wanted, visualizing their own son safe and happy in their arms, I pictured Walt, safe in my arms, as he always has been, at the end of every journey. I chose confidence over fear, and I held on to the image of my family, safe and sound, as I drove home (carefully).

Just as I tell parents who take my class–it’s in the script!–it may take more than one exercise to release big fears and doubts. Of course, I don’t bring my own fears into my teaching, and my students weren’t aware that I was dealing with my own big fears and doubts. But thanks to the eerie timing of last night’s class, we all got a very good start.

Unstuck and Working: Anchors of Calm

In the past week, I have taught two HypnoBirthing classes. There’s a switch in my head that flips, when I have agreed to help a family, and I take my meds, get in my car, and I… show up. Always. I’ve never missed a class. Business hasn’t exactly been booming, but when I commit, I show.

I don’t really know how this happens. It has something to do with putting my own needs aside. I’ve talked about this with other HypnoBirthing practitioners, as a matter of fact. Cold season? Watch one of us go exactly two and a half hours without sneezing. Nausea? Watch me down some Tums, carry some peppermint essential oil, and feel fine for exactly two and a half hours. We tap into the same tools we used during our births.

During my own birth, I remember being confused as to why everyone was suddenly telling me, in voices that seemed oddly loud, that I was doing really well. I found out later that all that “Great work!” “You’re doing so well!” was intended to drown out the yelling coming from another room. I only remember hearing her while they were moving me from triage to my own room. Once I got into that room, it was MY ROOM. I heard what I wanted to hear. I saw what I wanted to see. I had the birth that I wanted to have.

This all comes back to the reason I chose HypnoBirthing, and the reason I teach it: these are life skills. The Calm Breathing we teach calms just as effectively now, as it did as I prepared for and experienced childbirth. The ability to focus on what I need and block out what might harm me is invaluable. I’m only two-and-a-half years into this journey, so I can’t always apply it. Obviously, it would have been nice to apply it last week, when it was time to get on a train, and I felt panic.

They key to generalizing this is to add “anchors” to my set of Things That Trigger Relaxation and Laser Focus. Why did childbirth trigger my instinct to use all these tools that calmed me and relaxed my body? Why was that the message I chose to hear, rather than the pervasive cultural message that birth is scary and painful? Because I had practiced. When I heard a recording specific relaxation exercise, beautifully read by a British lady whose voice I still love, I went to the deeply relaxed state that I had been practicing at least once a day, if not more, for weeks.

I’m really pretty shocked that it didn’t occur to me until today to try doing some affirmations and calm breathing while holding an essential oil that I like, anyway, so that I associate the scent with the feeling. I do this for the families I work with. I bring my diffuser and, after checking the scent with the pregnant lady, I fill the room with it. Then, after our last class, I send them on their way with a tiny bottle of it to use during her birth. I really need to do this for myself. I learned to do it for birth, because I wanted to love my birth, and I didn’t want my fear of hospitals to interfere with that experience for my family. I can learn to do it for moments that are a little more ordinary, right? Because why not use this tool to LIVE without fear?  I will proceed with cautious optimism. Why I’m afraid that this won’t work against such obstacles as *gasp* getting on a train, when it has already worked against my phobia of entering a hospital… I can’t tell you. But I’ve never been willing to totally believe that I can live without anxiety being a big part of my daily life. My first psychiatrist told me that that was his goal for me. One of the first things I show parents in my class is that “try” can’t overcome a stronger signal. I even quote Yoda. “Do, or do not; there is no try.”

I don’t want to beat myself up for years of skepticism about my ability to feel better. I have a lot more programming to overcome about how “normal” and permanent my state of anxiety would always be left over from a childhood with a mother who didn’t know how to help me, and a father who really believes that nothing can help his own mental illness. Birth was always a positive thing, when I heard about it. I was preparing to do it just the one time. A whole lifetime of calm is a little harder to believe in. So I’ll work on feeling calm when I open a bottle of something that smells nice, and go from there. That works. I know it does. With practice, it will relax me, no matter what else is happening. That’s the step I can take, now, to create another anchor of calm.

Internet Attention & Training Weekend

I’ve always been a ham, a lover of attention. I did Singing Performances at age 4. I once wanted to be a professional actress. I blog. I would do community theater right now if I could find a play to audition for. Love. The. Attention. Today, I got attention in two separate places!

At Baby Zone, I was quoted about drinking coffee while pregnant. People really overreact to that “rule” and need to stop with the all judgey, stink-eye expressions around pregnant ladies.

I shared at The Fearless Formula Feeder about using breasmilk, donormilk, AND formula to get Baby Walter fed without sacrificing anyone’s health or happiness. Because we need all the health and happiness we can get, and no “shoulds” are allowed to get in the way.

Tonight is my last night in this horrific hotel which reeks of cigarette smoke and can’t handle anything but processed crap and tiny cups of coffee for their “continental breakfast” – seriously, how hard would an orange be to bring in? – and it’s been a roller coaster.

First, we learned all about hypnosis, and the difference between what you see on a stage for entertainment, what people use in therapeutic settings (quitting smoking, overcoming a phobia) and what is used in HypnoBirthing®. That was super cool. I will go into that in some later post, I’m sure. For now, just take my word for it that no one controls anyone’s mind in any of the above. Mind control is a pipe dream, sadly for us mothers. ;)

Then, at the lunch break on Friday, I nearly drove all the way to my mother-in-law’s house to hold my baby, after hearing a couple classmates talk about how they avoided leaving their babies for a year or more. I think they meant well when they said they couldn’t have done this (leave for 4 nights, 4 days), but it hurt. I sobbed on the phone. My heart ached. But I stayed. I’m so glad I stayed.

I completely adore the philosophy, techniques and results I’ve seen with HypnoBirthing® and cannot wait to share my knowledge with the couples I will get to teach. It will be such a privilege to serve women and their partners in this way! My teacher, Vivian Keeler, is usually a chiropractor, doula and Certified HypnoBirthing®  Childbirth Educator while helping to run two amazing places for pregnant ladies in South Florida. She is a wonderful teacher, and came highly recommended by my instructor and doula, Kate. We are learning in a beautiful home setting, thanks to the generosity of our host. I am so excited I can hardly contain it!

In case you are wondering, YES, I want to give birth again. Strangely, NO, I don’t want to be pregnant or raise a second child. Check back with me in a few years, but I have an odd feeling that nurturing my Walter and being a birth worker will be all the baby fix I need. Can’t I please just experience a water birth without having an actual child or spending 40 weeks in pregnancy? No? Ah, well. (Does that give you an idea of how exciting this is for me?)

Oh, and since I already mentioned feeding the baby, a note: I have crazy amounts of respect for women who pump at work. Pumping whenever I feel full while I’m away from Walt (he is having pumped milk, formula and solid food) is pumping far too often. I am sick of that machine. Even if Walter does bite, sometimes, at least he smiles at me! 

Love from a happy place,


HypnoBirthing Training is Next Weekend!

I am so excited, everyone! I will be going to the HypnoBirthing Instructor training, Official HypnoBirthing Institute everything, on August 1st! I can’t wait to meet other people who are super into this, too. It’s four days in a beautiful private home with a gorgeous view, or so I’m told. (Three nights in a Super 8 for me! yay, budget motels!) I’m really not sure what it will be like, and I am a little nervous. I’m extra nervous because it will be my first time away from Walter, who is now nine months old! Somebody pinch me! My baby is crawling all around the living room right now, and I could swear my birth happened only yesterday.

Except that I’m actually really excited to enjoy the part of me that is loving my HB homestudy learning and to spend an entire weekend with only adults.

There will be mixed feelings. My therapist asked me if I expect that it will cause an anxiety spike, this training. That would be terribly ironic, given the emphasis HypnoBirthing itself places on releasing fears, but anything is possible. I met a really annoying hyper person at a group meditation, once.

Another surprise: I am shocking un-anxious about Walter’s eating while I’m gone. I’ll be pumping extra to store, and he’ll have some formula bottles. He’ll be fine. He’s loving solids, lately, particularly yogurt. His dad and Gram are really great at taking care of him, and I trust them while I sleep when we visit Gram.

Yes, I am nervous. But I am also just thrilled that I will finally get going on this and get started helping other women have experiences like mine. I will be joining my teacher/doula/friend Kate’s business, Joyful Birth, and that is what we are aiming for: joyful, nurturing births for loving families. We are working on a new website and everything! I am so grateful to Kate for opening up this world to me. Being a stay-at-home-mom is so rewarding and amazing and fascinating, so teaching classes that are about two hours each, five total, is a really good next step. I will have some time to be Professional, but I won’t be giving up time with him. (If someone else didn’t watch him for at least two hours a week right now, while I did anything else, I would be a big ball of anxiety!)

So, here we go! Big step! Holding my breath and jumping! Weeeeeeee!

Big News: My New Career as a HypnoBirthing Instructor

I have some amazing news that I have managed to share everywhere but here:

I am studying to become a Certified HypnoBirthing Instructor!

What does that mean? I’m studying information, for now, like the anatomy of the placenta (so. darn. cool.) and fetal development and pregnancy (that’s as far as I’ve gotten). I’ll be rereading my copy of HypnoBirthing by Marie Mongan. Then, during a weekend in August, I’ll be near the Catskills in New York, with other amazing women who are becoming certified or re-certified, learning how to teach pregnant women and their birth partners about the HypnoBirthing method of childbirth.

For clarification: I’m going the official HypnoBirthing Institute Mongan method route. There are several self-hypnosis birthing methods out there, but I did this one. I want to teach it because the teacher/mama/birthing partner connection was so meaningful for my family. There’s a person to answer questions, not just a book or audio tracks. I like that there’s a strict, copyrighted script for instructors to follow, with room to adapt to each couple’s needs. I LOVE that the course includes time, with your instructor, watching actual births with this method. They are gorgeously un-dramatic (very little screaming) and wonderfully mama-centered. They are climactic in only the truest sense, in the only way that birth ought to be: the baby meets the world, the parents react. There is no “OHMYGOD her water broke! Everyone run in circles!” moment. (Ok, so I have only been to my birth and seen stuff on TV and haven’t watched many births.) But watching calm births, and quite a few, meant a lot to me. Calm. Birth. Two words that should go together!

Here’s why it’s such a great fit for me: the premise of this whole HypnoBirthing thing is that if we can eliminate the fear surrounding childbirth, we can eliminate the progression from fear to tension to pain. Think about that. When we are afraid, we tense our bodies. Tense bodies hurt. There’s a lot more pain when the muscles are tensing around a baby who is trying exit a uterus via a birth canal and has either a more room in a relaxed mama’s body or no room in a very tense mama’s body. Less fear means less tension means less pain. No fear? No pain. For. Real.

For someone who has spent the best part of her adult life trying to manage anxiety and fear, the opportunity to help others manage their anxiety and fear is golden. I am thrilled. I am blessed. I’m also going to be thinking about how to relax and eliminate fear a lot. Which means I’ll be reminding myself to use all the coping mechanisms I’ve learned in general and specifically, through HypnoBirthing.

For the already initiated: my favorite thing to use almost every day is the Rainbow Relaxation. I love picturing the colors of the rainbow filling each section of my body, with violet at the top of my head, then indigo, then blue at the throat, all the way to red in the pelvic area. I am always totally floored by how many muscles I just keep in a state of tension in my face and head, alone. Seriously–I don’t need to be using my energy to keep tension in my darn scalp.

Logistics: being a HypnoBirthing instructor means spending two hours each week for five sessions with a mama and her birth partner. I am thrilled that I will be able to schedule this with the families who hire me in a way that lets me leave my baby for just a few hours at a time with his other favorites: Dad or Gram (Dad’s mom). It’s up to me how many clients I take on. I’ll be working alongside my instructor/doula, Kate, who will be celebrating her five-year anniversary by getting recertified with me in New York with the same teacher who taught her first class. The structure of the course means that if either of us has an emergency, we can fill in for each other. A couple would miss nothing if I happened to teach their third class instead of Kate.

The Doula Question: No, not yet. I’m not ready to be away from Walt for indefinite periods of time. Birth can happen any time of day or night and last a while (MUCH shorter for HypnoBirthing mamas, FYI) so for now, I’ll be referring clients who want a birth doula over to Kate, and her wonderful and growing Joyful Birth.

The Future: Yes, I do want to become a birth doula. I also would love to become a postpartum doula, further down the line. I’m totally fascinated by the idea of the HypnoBirthing fertility consultant program, but that would involve becoming a licensed hypnotherapist. So that’s really intriguing. I’m a huge believer that fear and anxiety and tension can prevent conception for years. I’ve also learned in the past few years that a shocking number of couples are given an actual diagnosis of “unexplained infertility” which I will not even give capital letters to. I want to help future parents feel that they have power before conception, during pregnancy, during birth, after birth–all of it.

The mind is so powerful. That is what this blog has been about, in so many ways. I can’t wait to share my journey with all of you!

I looked like this less than 12 hours after giving birth because I was so calm, thanks to HypnoBirthing (and because I ROCKED IT).

I looked like this fewer than 12 hours after giving birth because I was so calm, thanks to HypnoBirthing (and because I ROCKED IT).

The Rest of the Birth Story or, I Am a Goddess

After Christmas celebration #3 (one in Long Island, one near Albany, NY and this last one in Phoenix, AZ) I have finally had a chance to have a long nap here at my mother’s house and a chance to do some writing. We have been so lucky to have so much loving family around us for the holidays this year! And it’s also pretty exhausting to do so much traveling with a dog and a baby. I caught a terrible cold. The baby seems to have had it. Now his dad has it. Razor blades in the throat and sinuses. Misery. We are lucky to have my mom spoil us with home-cooked meals, baked goods and even an array of our favorite beverages. We are lucky to have help with the baby as we all recover from the festivities and the awful head colds. I feel that all these things merit a mention, because I am feeling so very thankful for them and because without them, I think it would be another month before I wrote this second half of the birth story.

When I left off, it was October 19th at about 7:30 pm, and we were arriving at the hospital. I was trying not to push in the car. One of my favorite things about Yale New Haven Hospital? Free valet parking for families who are having babies there. I developed tunnel vision and could no longer speak around this time. I remember the wheelchair, and feeling grateful for it. I remember closing my eyes and concentrating on my breath and what my body was telling me. I remember the elevator. I remember looking up from the bed in triage at my wonderful midwife, Elise, and immediately feeling more relaxed.

At home, I had felt anxious. How long would I labor at home? What was the next stage going to feel like? Why was I vomiting?! I had not been told about the vomit! Was that feeling normal? That one? That other one?

In triage, I knew that Elise and our doula, Kate, would take of me no matter what happened physically, emotionally or psychologically. I remembered that they had seen it all. I also remember being told that I could only take one “support person” into the triage room with me and moaning “I want Kate!” Nathan took that very well, I must say. It was really hard to talk, but I was really motivated to make that wish understood. Elise later told me that I looked so calm that the staff in triage thought that there was a good chance that I had come in too early and would be sent home to labor there some more. Oh, how wrong they were!

At some point, amniotic fluid began to gush out of me with each surge [contraction] and it just kept coming. Whatever was under me soaking the stuff up had to be changed with shocking frequency and the nurse, Elise, Kate and I all found this funny. How can there be more?! I think I remember being told I was fully dilated. I remember people moving around. I know that we got from triage to a delivery room, and I remember Nathan joining us in the hallway. Elise was suddenly in scrubs, saying “Let’s have a baby!” with a big smile. I was honestly so excited that this time was here.

The HypnoBirthing affirmations work. I had been telling myself for months that I was excited to meet my baby, that I trusted my body and my baby, that I would have a peaceful birth. When the time came, I felt excitement. My heart was filled with faith in my body, my baby, my care providers, my support people, God. I was filled with faith in myself. I knew with my entire being that I was going to rock this. I became a goddess, deeply in touch with nature/my body and with the spiritual, so aware that I was bringing new life into the world. I was at the center of the most sacred process.

I went to that place as we moved and as the delivery room was readied. When my tunnel expanded to include the people around me, I was in a bed in a dimly lit and quiet room. I asked that Kate play my affirmations on my phone. She put it next to my head and held my right hand. Nathan was on my left. I labored on my right side for a long time. I focused on “breathing the baby down” and on the soft recording repeating that my healthy body and baby were doing what they needed to do, that I was helping my baby on his journey. Periodically, the volume would increase on the phone and a chorus of voices would cheer me on, telling me that I was doing great! I’d meet my baby soon! I remember feeling confused at times, because this was obvious to me. I remember smiling to show them that I knew that I was awesome and excited to meet this baby. I found out later that they were being loud in order to drown out the screams of a woman in a nearby room! I still feel a bit sorry for her–they told me she did a lot of screaming.

I was aware that my body was doing incredible things; I am not an athletic person, so I was actually a bit surprised at how well I dealt with the exertion and all the sweating. Fluid continued to gush out of me. We continued to laugh at how often they were changing the pads under me. I asked them if they had to do that, because I did not want to lift my body up at all. They said something about my skin getting irritated and yes, they had to try and keep me dry, but I really did not appreciate that.

Before long, Elise told me to lift my left leg; I was still laboring on my right side in bed, and this would open up my pelvis. I really did not want to move. I remembered a story from HypnoBirthing class about a woman who refused to move out of one position during her birth and that this became problematic somehow, so I cooperated. I may have even laughed after I did it, though, because it felt good. I didn’t really think it was possible to trust Elise more at that point, but after that suggestion made me a lot more comfortable, I did find room in my heart for more faith in her.

At this point, I felt like the already too-short breaks between surges were becoming non-existent. There had been a constant pressure–surge or no surge–for too long already, in my opinion. My body was working even harder. I began to feel tired and lost my focus a bit. Then, Elise told me to reach down and feel my baby’s head. I did, and energy shot through me. At the same time, I was a bit disappointed that there was not more head to feel! He was really only a little bit out?!

I leaned heavily on Kate and Nathan, figuratively speaking. Kate breathed with me. The words in the affirmations lost all meaning. I had absorbed the meaning of those words, and language was not matching how I felt anymore. I felt like an entirely physical being, but I managed to ask that they put on music instead of the affirmations. Elise asked me if I wanted her to set up the mirror so I could see. I felt like opening my eyes was the last thing I wanted to do, but I said yes, in case that changed later. Communicating that took a ridiculous amount of effort.

“Let’s let gravity help out a little, here. If the nurse sets up the birthing bar, will you use it?” I nodded. (For the record, she used the nurse’s name, which I completely ashamed to say I cannot remember; I loved that nurse!) The birthing bar is a simple but incredible piece of engineering. As easy as its inventors tried to make using the thing, I looked up at it and thought “No way, no how.” Nathan and Kate helped me squat while holding onto the bar. I got very tired and discouraged.

Elise said “Anne-Marie, you are amazing! Look at your baby!” And I looked in the mirror, saw his tiny head and felt determination with more force than I had ever felt anything in my life. I was meeting that baby, and soon. After a few more surges, eyes on that head, my arms were simultaneously stuck in position and shaking with exhaustion. I had done what I needed to do, and let gravity help, though, because Elise said that I should lie back. I needed help to do this, since my hands were pretty much glued to that bar. Exhaustion hit me again. Hard.

“I can’t do this!” I didn’t want to say it. I had told myself I wouldn’t say it. I said it because I knew that if I did, all four of the people in that room would tell me that I could do it. What I didn’t expect was that Elise would say “You have done it! Reach down!” I did. “Is that his NOSE?!” And she said “Yes! It is!” I might have laughed, I was so relieved. The next couple surges were difficult, but before I knew it, they told me his head was out. I was lying back again, now, and my eyes were closed. All of my focus was on that baby. I swear, I could see his progress when I closed my eyes, his little head leading his way.

Suddenly, there was searing pain. I remember being pissed off about it, too, because his head was already out, and I was told that that was the difficult part! I didn’t know why the pain was more intense, but everyone around me was cheerleading and I kept going. Elise did something–I felt her hands but didn’t know what she was doing. I knew it was helping. Finally, I felt the release; the pressure was gone. I had given birth!

I remember touching Walter. I remember Nathan cutting the cord and that he double-checked that we had waited long enough to do so. I remember feeling that there was more moving around in the room than I had expected after watching so many tapes of births in class. I remember feeling completely unsurprised that Walter wasn’t crying. I had essentially meditated throughout his birth; we were in a calm space. He had nothing to fear and no reason to be in pain.

Apparently, babies are “supposed” to cry, according to the medical professionals. Something about crying indicated that they are breathing properly. Elise explained that the nurse was taking Walter to the warmer to check on his breathing, but that no one was really worried about him, because his color was excellent and his chest was moving up and down. And yet, because he wasn’t crying, they needed to perform this check. Nathan would go with him. They would only be a few feet away, and I could see the warmer from my bed while Elise took care of me. I was surprised at feeling perfectly calm and ok with all of it. Kate took my phone, snapped a few pictures of my pink, healthy baby in the warmer, holding on to his dad’s fingers with a nice, strong grip. I grinned and grinned.

Elise gave me a shot of Pitocin in my inner thigh, something I had agreed to in the office that morning, because research from across the globe has shown that a localized shot of this drug that causes the uterus to contract dramatically decreases the chances that a woman will bleed too much after giving birth. She told me I had a very minor (“first degree”) labial tear and would need a few stitches. I can’t remember how many, but it was no more than four. I could hardly believe it when she told me why: after I had birthed Walter’s head, he had turned, as all babies do, because it helps them slide their shoulders and hips out of the birth canal. But my son had not put one shoulder down, like he should have. He insisted, she told me, that both shoulders come out at once, perpendicular to the floor, despite her “wrangling.” That was what I had felt her doing; she had tried to use her hands to turn him into the usual one-shoulder-first position. He had refused. She heaped praise on me, and told me that my body would recover faster and better because I had taken my time and remained so calm. Had I pushed harder and faster, those shoulders would have caused a lot more damage and pain.

Walter refused to cry, but he was breathing so well that he was returned to me. I was wearing a once-comfy and soft Pretty Pushers hospital gown instead of the hospital-provided gowns, but it was soaked, so I asked them to just cut it off me. Everyone was still marveling at how much fluid this kid had been swimming in. And it was still coming. They massaged my stomach to help me birth the placenta (I believe my words were, “Oh, yeah! I forgot about that!”) and out came some more. Still more came out with the placenta. You probably had to be there to see the comedy, but it made me laugh to see the surprise in the nurse, Elise and Kate. It was probably the endorphins, but I was strangely proud of being able to surprise the birth veterans. At any rate, they cut off my gown, put dry bedding under me yet again, and we placed my Walter on my chest.

At some point, I realized that Kate was not feeling well at all. I still find it incredible that she had been in intense pain for a long time. An ovarian cyst had burst in her own body. She is so good at her job that she simply kept on holding my hand and breathing until I didn’t need her support, at which point she quietly informed Elise that she required some pain killers and told me that she was sorry she couldn’t stay, but that she had to go call her mom to pick her up. There’s a saying that the doula “mothers the mother,” and that is what she did. She put her life, her body, her pain, aside so completely, all to support me on my birthing journey. Yes, we paid her. But no amount of money can motivate someone to give the kind of loving support she offered me. I had Nathan and my baby, now, and urged her to go rest until she could leave.

I focused in on this beautiful baby boy again. He was mine. He was ours. He was perfect. I offered and encouraged breastfeeding, but he didn’t want to nurse. His eyes opened, and we made eye contact. They were blue, and I sent up a little light-hearted prayer that they would stay light, like his dad’s. I think my own brown eyes are particularly lovely, actually, but I just had this vision of our child with his blue eyes. The nurse had used a warm towel to rub in the vernix that coated his skin, protecting it from the amniotic fluid before birth, but no one cleaned our bodies too much. One of the HypnoBirthing affirmations uses the phrase “pink and healthy” to describe the tissue in the birth canal in order to help moms visualize that there will be blood–a baby comes out of there, after all–but not too much. I think that’s why the blood I saw didn’t bother me. But Elise and the nurse cleaned everything up with pretty astonishing speed. Nathan and I had time with our son while everyone either left the room or watched from a distance. Soon, Nathan’s mother Judy and his step-father Walter had arrived at the hospital. The whole thing had happened so quickly that Judy had not made it in time to be with us for her grandson’s birth, despite living only an hour and a half away. He was born at 10:50 pm, and his grandparents arrived at 11:30.

No one had expected it to go so quickly. I felt shocked! For all I knew, it could have been one hour or ten. It was still dark outside, but I really didn’t think I had given birth only three and a half hours after arriving at the hospital! We hadn’t even been sure it was “the real thing” until sometime after Kate arrived at our house a little before 6:00.

We stayed in the delivery room for about an hour–me, my son, his father, his grandmother and his namesake. Everything seemed to fill up with love, light, peace, joy. I’m sure I sound like a crazy hippie to some of you. But ask anyone who was there–it was the most spiritual, joyful, peaceful birth. Nathan likes to say, “She basically meditated through the entire birth.” It was the best meditation of my life; I have never felt closer to God. I have never felt stronger faith. Remember: hospitals used to give me panic attacks. I have been diagnosed with two anxiety disorders and depression. I took medication that supposedly put my fetus/baby at risk.

I conceived a child, created a human being, gave birth to a person. In fact, I gave birth with dignity and grace. I began this blog to document my experience with a medicated pregnancy. I had no idea that I would one day write that I had grabbed on to the pregnancy and the birth that followed as a chance to heal myself. I am not pretending that I am cured of anything. But I know now that I can do anything, overcome anything. There is nothing in this world that is powerful enough to convince me otherwise. I don’t know I can attribute to giving birth after spending under five hours in labor to my strength or my use of HypnoBirthing methods and techniques. I do know that I created the dignity, the grace, the strength and the peace that I carried through labor and birth.

The Birth Story: Healing Through Childbirth

Two months ago, on October 19th, I gave birth to my son, Walter. Birthing was the most amazing, healing, life-affirming, empowering experience imaginable.

I went to bed on October 18th in complete misery. The baby’s rump was wedged under my ribs. I could hardly breath. I somehow managed to fall asleep around 8:00 pm. At midnight, I woke up with a contraction (which I will now call “surges” because that’s the term we use in HypnoBirthing and it’s a lot more accurate, I think). I immediately knew it was different from the Braxton Hicks/”practice surges” I had been feeling for a few weeks. Those felt like a pretty extreme tightening at the top of my huge belly. This one seemed to travel down into my pelvis, with the pressure at the top releasing as the lower muscles tightened. I drank a lot of water and went back to sleep; if this was it, I wanted to be rested and hydrated. It was technically October 19th, one week after my 28th birthday and nine days before Walter’s due date.

Another “traveling” surge woke me up at 4:00 am and again at 8:00. As luck would have it, I had a routine appointment with my midwife at 9:30 anyway, so I just kept hydrating and resting. That appointment turned into a non-stress test (they monitored the baby and my surges while I lay still) which turned into an ultrasound appointment. My surges were not regular, even though they were happening. I was one centimeter dilated, which means pretty much nothing–a pregnant woman can stay there for weeks. But the reason for the ultrasound check was my crazy monkey baby–he just never liked being monitored! The kid would move away from every monitor ever put near him, and he even managed to kick them or punch them. The readings for his heart rate were not indicative of anything, making the results of the test inconclusive (if you remember the monitoring after the car accident? similar deal).

I breathed deeply through a trip to Ikea–can you say “nesting”?–and a therapy appointment before it was time for the ultrasound. Everything was normal with our beautiful boy, but there was a lot of fluid in there. The nurse told me that they’d make an appointment for me on Monday to keep track of the fluid, because if it got any higher, there’d be some danger of something. I don’t remember. She also said that she didn’t think that my baby was staying put until Monday, so good luck with the birth!

Serendipity struck again at 5:30 pm, when my doula, Kate, arrived for a meet-up we had set up earlier in the week. I was supposed to be finalizing my birth plan. I sent Nathan to do laundry, even though I was pretty convinced that this was it. Within an hour, Kate and I knew that this was IT. I called the midwife, Elise, to let her know what was going on. She told me to keep doing what I was doing, rest, and call again later. Part of me wanted to go to the hospital, because my body was just taking over and doing really intense things! And it hurt! I knew better, though. I also knew that they’d send me right home again if I went too early. Kate held my hand as labor progressed.

By 6:30, we were both pretty shocked at how intense things had become. I was vomiting and laboring on the toilet (both very normal). Kate called Nathan, who came home with wet laundry to find me unable to speak. I wanted to move to the birthing ball/stability ball. It didn’t take much rocking back and forth on that before my water broke. A little later (I was not watching the clock!), I felt a warm gush. Nathan and Kate (doula) talked to Elise (midwife) for a bit while I moaned and tried not to freak out about the pain. I really struggled with this phase. I could not believe that I was still supposed to stay at home! I felt like as long as I was at home, this intensity, the pain, could go on indefinitely. I didn’t feel like I could handle this indefinitely. I wanted to know that my body was moving forward. I felt terrified that labor would stall here. I needn’t have worried.

Kate helped move me to the bed (I didn’t want to move!) to labor on my side and conserve energy. That baby moved as soon as I lay down, because immediately, I blurted out “I want to push!” I remember Kate saying “Alright, get up, let’s go!” She called Elise to tell her we were on our way to the hospital. Nathan ran around getting things together. I remember wanting to kill him for pausing in the hallway to ask our neighbors to walk the dog (this now strikes me as a very smart thing to have done…) and wondering how I was supposed to get to the car door, since walking over the small patch of grass seemed impossible.

I spent an interminable amount of time trying not to push in the car. There seemed to be a ridiculous number of red lights and busses stopping in front of us. I think we got to the hospital around 7:30. Fast, right? It still seems unbelievable that I went from chatting on the phone to triage in about two hours.

That’s long enough, so I’ll leave it for now! Stay tuned for the rest of my beautiful story.

32 Weeks Pregnant: HypnoBirthing and Anxiety

My psychiatrist gave me a grade this morning. A B- in fact. It was actually pretty funny and not something she regularly does. Her point was that when I do well, I do very well. When I break down, I really break down.

Example break down: The details aren’t important, but something happened that freaked me out. I cried for two hours. I wanted Nathan to comfort me, and Nathan was not available. Rather than use any of the other tools I have at my disposal, I sort of regressed to toddlerhood and cried until I got what I wanted (Nathan came home). Two hours of tears and hyperventilation? Not fun. Doesn’t feel good.

Example good day: I practice the relaxation techniques I learned in my HypnoBirthing class. My “baseline” anxiety level drops. When something unexpected/unpleasant happens, I talk to someone about it or get some perspective somehow.

There are many more good days than bad. But here’s the brilliant question my psychiatrist asked me about those panic-filled days: “If you encountered an actual two-year-old child who was behaving this way, what would you do?” No hesitation–I would get down to this kid’s level and ask, “Can you take a deep breath with me?” I would then demonstrate until I got the kid’s attention. That’s where I’ve learned to start. Do you know anyone who listens to reason in the middle of a full-on “ugly cry?” I don’t know why on earth we expect toddlers to be able to listen when it seems like the world is falling apart. So the genius idea is to sort of treat myself like that toddler whose world is totally falling apart, to give myself that empathy and that time to breath. Yelling at a toddler throwing a tantrum does no good, so why would beating myself up and telling myself to just be quiet do me any good?

Brilliant, right?

Now, I’ll talk a bit about HypnoBirthing, which is now a huge part of my life. I want to address some misconception about this particular birthing method.

  • There is no “going under.” The “hypnosis” consists of relaxing yourself. That’s it. Deep relaxation.
  • You can hear what’s going on around you and open your eyes and engage with it if you choose to do so.
  • There is some of what feels like craziness to me in the official HypnoBirthing book by Marie Mongan, but the actual basics of HypnoBirthing are very much in line with really standard meditation or relaxation breathing techniques you might learn from someone with a background in psychology.

That said, I highly recommend, if you’re looking into this method, talk to an actual HypnoBirthing instructor before reading the book. We talked to Kate Sullivan, one of the most practical and down-to-earth women I have ever met. She goes into an extremely calm place when she talks about birth and HypnoBirthing. When Nathan and I left our meet-and-greet with her, we both said that she is exactly the kind of person you’d want to have around in a crisis. Honestly, now that I’m reading the book, I can’t say that the founder of HypnoBirthing, Marie Mongan, comes across quite this same way. There’s a lot of stuff, especially in the first half of the book, that seems aimed more at selling this method than explaining what practitioners actually do. Now that I’m in more familiar territory where the text matches what we learned in class, I like it much better.

I love HypnoBirthing because it relies on several basic principles that tap right into some comforting and familiar experience I’ve had with meditation and anti-anxiety relaxation exercises. By now, these principles have thoroughly-researched foundations in both medical and psychological research. Science has no problem agreeing that focusing on breathing and on slowing the breath relaxes both body and mind. No one disagrees that the uterine muscles tense and relax just the way the diagrams in the book shows. Psychology has long understood that the language we use has a powerful impact on our emotions and attitudes. So here’s the good stuff that I love and that my therapist and psychiatrist agree are totally awesome:

  • Practicing healthy breathing. There is an unhealthy way to breath, and it’s what we do when we panic: short, shallow breaths. Try a few. Feel lightheaded? That’s because you’re not getting enough oxygen. It’s not comfy. There are several different kinds of breathing techniques that I practice to prepare for giving birth, but they one in particular is nearly identical to a breathing technique I learned at church summer camp to calm the body and mind in preparation for meditation. Bottom line: breath slowly and deeply, don’t force anything, and you’ll feel more relaxed. The book comes with one CD and we received another during our class with Kate, and each has a one sort of guided meditation. I usually pick one and practice one each day.
  • A positive attitude towards birth as an experience that is difficult, yes, but not necessarily viciously painful. One CD also has some great affirmations about birth that help me visualize this kind of birth. All of the literature and CDs and, of course, Kate herself, use a different set of language that feels much more comforting to me. At first, it was a little odd. Now, I totally love it. Example: no “contractions.” Instead, “surges” or “waves.” And this is, I am told, a much more accurate descriptor. Yes, the uterine muscles contract or tighten. But any monitor in any birth in any hospital will show that there’s a beginning, a peak and a dropping off in the tensing of those muscles. And what does that mean? It will end! One of the key breakthroughs I had in dealing with my panic attacks was telling myself over and over again that “this will end.” In the middle of panic, it feels like I’m going to die. I am told that some women feel like they will never make it through a contraction/surge/wave when the muscle tension is at its height. For me, calling it a surge is a way of keeping in mind that it will end. The word is also not scary the way “contraction” has become scary after a lifetime of stupid birth scenes on TV and in movies and hearing scary real-life birth stories. Now, what’s this thing about birth not needing to be painful? Well, those uterine muscle surges are so intense because those muscles are pushing a seven pound-ish baby out of your body.
  • My body and my baby and my instincts will get this baby out of me; I just need to get out the way by not tensing up and by paying attention. One set of muscles in the uterus that contract during a surge, as I just said, push down on the baby. Another set opens up. What do muscles working very hard need in order to keep going? Any athlete will tell you that oxygen is pretty important. So the way I’m learning to breath during labor and birth is helping me get out of the way of my body and my baby and will give me a) something to do and b) a way to focus on the pretty freaking amazing stuff my body is going to be doing. It is a huge relief to me that I do not have to know what to “do.” Women in comas, I am told, have given birth undetected. This will happen. I can fight it (PAIN) or I can work with it. I’ve seen about eight videos of women using HypnoBirthing techniques who make birthing look like something I want to do. It doesn’t look easy. It looks really intense. But it looks like the most rewarding experience ever. And no one looks like she’s going to die in pain.

There’s a lot more to this, but it’s all copyrighted and I’m not trained to teach it to you anyway. (Yes, I am thinking about learning how to teach this to other women.) If you’re interested, just take the class. Don’t start with the book. And I’m happy to answer questions.

To return to my original point about the good days: practicing the relaxation techniques I’ve learned has been incredibly good for my anxiety. I have fewer high-anxiety days. Things that used to set me off immediately register negative emotions but do not send me over the edge. Whether or not I have the kind of peaceful birth I visualize for myself, I will have this in my life forever. (And yes, mom, I am seeing why meditating every day is really good for us. I understand why they emphasize that so much in church. This counts as a start, right? A start towards meditating the way I learned in church?)