Eclectic Muddlehood

How's this for a perplexing beginning? I am a great many things, but none of them are me. At least not in my entirety. This is the little corner where I attempt to make the whole greater than the sum of its parts as I muddle through being a wife, a mother and a woman... among other things.

Location: Virginia, United States

Here, in no particular order, is a short list of my parts from the mundane to the pretentious, some or all of which may surface in future attempts to work on the whole: wife, mother, doula, childbirth educator, writer, yoga student, homeschooler, amature organic gardner, kitchen witch, all-around foodie, spiritual truth-seeker, daughter, clutter-bug, complusive list maker, bibliophile, homemaker, friend, homebirth/natural birth advocate, impulse shopper, wine snob, knitter, artist, lover, sensuist, and email junkie (There may be more later, but that's it for now.)

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Why I Love Miranda Bailey & Rachel Green

Almost every one of my childbirth ed students can easily recollect the sitcom episode when Murphy Brown gives birth, screaming like a lunatic, shaking her support people like ragdolls as she strangles them. It is a cultural image burned into the mind and spirit of most childbearing women I come across these days. As a matter of course, most television shows portray birth as some grisly means to an end that is more painful to endure than bamboo splints under one's fingernails.

So imagine my delight when right there, on one of my favorite television shows this season (Grey's Anatomy), I hear my favorite character say, in the middle of her labor, after calmly finishing a contraction sitting on a birth ball-- "Epidurals increase the risk of c-section, besides women all over the world do this at home every day with nothing more than a bowl of hot water and a pair of scissors" Miranda Bailey, a doctor-- a surgeon, no less-- chose natural, unmedicated childbirth as the best and safest option for the birth of her first child. Strong, independent, well-educated women of America take note-- it is not just hippies and weirdos that choose to experience childbirth as a natural rite of passage.

Think it was just one random fluke? Take another incredibly popular show that aired for ten seasons, filled with typically mainstream images. Rachel Green of Friends also chose natural birth. Did you miss that? It's on DVD now- go back and watch the episode if you like. She labors with Ross' help in a variety of positions, including a scene where she is standing, leaned over the hospital bed while Ross massages her back. She has no "routine" IV drip. She is not strapped down by continuous electronic fetal monitoring. As she is certainly not laying flat on her back in bed with an epidural and no control over her legs. What's even more amazing about Rachel's birth experience that with absolutely no unnecessary drama at all, her daughter, Emma, is born breech, vaginally. Missed that too, huh? While Rachel is pushing, her doctor tells her she can see Emma's bottom instead of her head. She says it calmly and without panic, like it is simply a variation of a normal birth. She tells Rachel she just needs to push a little harder. She never says the words "Cesarean section." Rachel pushes and Emma is born. Without metal forceps pressed into her tiny skull, yanking her head out of her mother's vagina. Without Rachel suffering the genital mutilation of a large and unnecessary episiotomy. And without major abdominal surgery for child removal.

Childbirth without unnecessary intervention and fear. Just normal women's bodies accomplishing the incredibly miraculous, yet simultaneously ordinary purpose for which we were created. Now that's good television!

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Set Up For Failure

In this global, interconnected world we live in, it angers me beyond belief how alone and isolated most new American mothers feel in the first delicate months postpartum. I visited a client and her 4 week old baby last Friday and it broke my heart to see how exhausted and alone she was feeling. As a young, first-time mother she didn't really know anyone else who she could feel comfortable enough with to trust them to somewhat mentor her through the challenges of early motherhood. I tried to do what I could to reassure her that the thoughts and feelings she was experiencing were, in fact, fairly common in new mothers and not to judge herself too harshly for them. I also tried to find her some other mothers she could connect with in her neighborhood.

On the drive home from her apartment, I found myself remembering the first time I read Misconceptions by Naomi Wolfe. Although I didn't discover and devour this book until my own first born was almost two years old, I found myself crying with relief as I read her sharp, honest prose berating our society for the "obtuse and unnatural" standards our society expects mothers to uphold; this stylized "ideal of the effortlessly ever-giving mother" that creates unnecessary frustration, stress and guilt during the "sometimes savagely difficult adjustment period" after giving birth. And I found myself wishing one more time that obstetricians' offices would hand out this book for free instead What I Expect You To Do, When Your Expecting.

My first three months as a new mother were indeed "savagely difficult" as I too had fallen prey to the idealized mother icon I was supposed to instantly metamorphosize into post-birth. I was exhausted and overwhelmed. And worst of all, I had no idea who to turn to for support. Gradually, I began to discover other mothers who helped to sheperd me through those early months, teaching me to forgive myself for not always knowing what I was doing. One of the greatest gifts these fellow mothers gave me was to remind me that this little person and I had just met and it takes time to build a relationship, to get to know each other. Likes and dislikes, habits and routines, and methods of communication would all come if my daughter and I both simply remembered to give ourselves some time.

Now three months away from the newest additions to our family, I am doing something I never realized was also an essential part of my preparation for my daughter's arrival. I am building a postpartum support network plan. Friends, family, professional resources, grocery delivery service, take out restaurants, local La Leche League leaders, whatever I can find that might be a helpful resource goes on my master list. I am also approaching my re-initiation into motherhood with a different mindset. I will give myself at least three to four months to hit my stride with our new family. I will let the dishes sit and sleep when the babies sleep. I will not judge myself for any difficult moments (or days). I will take a walk and get some sunshine every day. I WILL ASK FOR HELP WHEN I NEED IT!

There is a great new organization leading meetings across the country to inform women about their birth options called Trust Birth which focuses on women telling women the truth about their experiences in pregnancy, labor, and birth to help newer mothers learn from the triumphs and sorrows of those before them in the hopes that this will lead to increasingly better birth experiences for those to come. I can only hope that more and more mothers will start reaching out to each other postpartum as well so that we can all learn to support and trust one another along our own journeys into and through motherhood.

Misconceptions: Truth, Lies and the Unexpected on the Journey to Motherhood by Naomi Wolfe
The Mommy Myth: The Idealization of Motherhood and How it has Undermined All Women by Susan J. Douglas and Meredith W. Michaels
The Price of Motherhood by Ann Crittenden
Mothering the New Mother: Women's Feelings and Needs After Childbirth by Sally Placksin