Saturday morning was race day.
I ate my usual pre-race breakfast, oatmeal. I got a (decaf) coffee. I brought along my support crew – Chris. And, headed to the marathon, perhaps the toughest marathon I’ve ever done. The Prepared Childbirth Marathon; 2 days, 10 hours of all things birthing the baby education.
Better make that a venti, caffeinated.
A few months ago, the doctor encouraged me to sign up for a childbirth class. When I brought up the idea to Chris, he balked and moaned about spending an entire day learning. But I convinced him a little education never hurt anyone.
(spoiler alert) Education can be very, very painful.
Enter the Prepared Childbirth Marathon. A weekend of learning all things birthing the baby. You’re not supposed to go until the third trimester, but we signed up early as part of our plan. The plan being that we would rather spend a lousy day in April cooped up inside than a beautiful day in June.
(turns out this weekend was sunny and 70 degrees)
We arrived to find a room filled with yoga mats, birthing balls and 11 other couples. As much I wanted to feel like these were my people, this was my tribe, I felt out of place. These women were much further along in pregnancy than I was. I know we all have babies but…they were like the elite team. They know and feel things I do not yet know. It was clear – I was the rookie here. While every other woman was at 32 to 36 weeks, I had to ‘fess up that I was only at 25.
We wanted to get a head start on things.
(you know they’re thinking crazy control freak overachiever psycho type A uber mom personality, you know I’m thinking: GUILTY)
The class started with a quiz on your readiness for the birth of the baby. Is the car seat in the car, have you thought about if you want an epidural, did you register for the hospital. Based on my score, I came up as:
You’re either highly motivated, a “control freak” or extremely excited about having this baby!
It’s like they’ve been spying on me.
The instructor was a former LDN filled with war stories from her work days and her own 3 birth experiences. Before I knew it, she was talking anatomy of the pregnant woman (complete with slides). The fundus (not a type of cheese). The vagina (any opportunity to use that word, I will). The uterus (which stretches in centimeters that corresponds to the week you are, like a Slinky but much less fun). And the elusive placenta which lives inside the woman and is the only disposable organ. Would you believe she had a placenta puppet that she passed around to everyone?
I almost didn’t want to touch it.
Then she went into techniques for relaxation. Lights were dimmed, she put on her best library voice and started talking to us about breathing, relaxing, massaging; the importance of the support partner touching the woman in labor, using essential oils, rubbing smelly lotions, bringing soothing music, remembering to breathe deep cleansing breaths. You know – all that shit you need for relaxation.
Next we had time to practice. Chris was rubbing my arms when my eyes went wide and I told him if he so much as touches my face during labor I will strike him from the list of those allowed in the delivery room with me. And would he please stop touching my arms already!?!
I know, this stuff is not you, Liz.
Amen. This is why I married him.
Ever get the feeling that the only way the world knows for you to relax is to dim the lights, put on classical music, rub lavender oil on your arms then sit there chanting om to yourself? It’s like everyone is trying to force you into this round hole of relaxation. I’m happy to be a pent up square peg. I don’t need to sit on a mat wearing an $85 top from Lululemon to relax while someone tells me to breathe in through my nose and out through my mouth. Like there are many ways to recreate, there are also many ways to relax.
THIS way is not for me.
No educational course is complete without a video that scares the complete crap of you. Enter the birth videos. In one, the baby dropped right out of a woman as she rocked on all fours. Like a giant poop of blood, out came this little baby. That didn’t scare me. Nor did the footage of the woman getting the epidural. Come on, I did 8 weeks of progesterone shots. No, it was the one of the woman laying there completely naked that got me panicked.
I looked at Chris.
Do I have to be completely naked?
Now, I fully expect that parts of me will be broadcast to the entire world. I’m sure they’ve seen it all before. And even after THOUSANDS of miles in a bike saddle it can’t look THAT bad.
She was having a natural birth.
Natural birthing, like breathing, is also not for me.
Labor positions – how many are there? The worst position for laboring? Laying on your back. It causes the baby not to descend properly or turn on its own. It slows labor and increases your risk of cesarean delivery. Instead, she showed us how to squat, rock on a birth ball, sit on a toilet, sit in a tub of water, walk, slow dance with the husband, stand in a shower, lay on the side – basically any position you can get yourself in is good for laboring.
My favorite position: all fours, rear facing the crowd. But only because the instructor assured us that we are least likely to poop ourselves in this position.
One thing that all the women seemed curious about was pain management. There were many questions about epidurals. Now, I’ve said before that I’m not against the drugs. Yet the more I heard about the drugs, the less I wanted them. Or, the more I wanted to make an effort NOT to want them.
The instructor talked about epidurals – the benefits, the risks, the effects on baby. As she talked, I couldn't help but start thinking that once you ask for the epidural, it becomes a slippery slope of more invasive procedures. Labor slows down, things don’t progress, more drugs to progress things which cause more powerful contractions which causes more distress to the baby which then may – just may – increase your risk of cesarean delivery. Bottom line: let things progress naturally. The baby will come when it’s ready. Be patient.
In other words…breathe (but wait, which way: deep cleansing, ah-hee or panting, and how will I know which to use when?).
Of course, on paper that sounds easy. I know it won’t be but it can’t be any more painful than being instructed to wear a lei while practicing the hula with your husband around a classroom to teach you how to rock your hips while laboring.
It did happen, and no, there are not pictures.
All of this talk about pain got me thinking about pain. The other women were very curious about the level of pain, how to stop the pain, does the catheter after the epidural cause pain. The pain, the pain, the pain. I got the sense that these women were scared – VERY scared of the pain.
From a show of hands, they were also VERY scared about pooping themselves.
(I’ve got to admit, while I might not be as far along as these women, I felt like I was in a different league for dealing with shitting myself – heck, I’ve fertilized miles of DuPage County since I started running 18 years ago. I can certainly handle a little poopy in the hospital)
During lunch, I thought more about pain. Most people live very pain-free, comfortable lives. We live in climate controlled homes, sit in cushy chairs, drive most places we want to go, have umbrellas for when it’s raining, we get nearly anything we want at a moment’s notice and ….our lives are very much full of instant no waiting I want it and get it right now pleasure with very little pain. Because of that, I would think most people learn to fear pain. They don’t experience it often enough to know how to cope with it or where to begin to even learn the skills.
Think of it from an athlete’s point of view. Frequently, we have painful experiences. We willingly put ourselves into situations that are potentially full of pain. We chase after it. We welcome it. That’s the point…right? If you’re not finding your limit of pain in sport then you will never better yourself. You’ll stagnate in the same comfortable place (and pace).
From what I’ve seen, many athletes confuse discomfort with pain. Is it the same with most women then? The most successful athletes know there is a fine line between discomfort and pain. Discomfort is when it’s really hot on a run, when you feel like your legs will explode at the top of the hill, when you have to do no breath 25s. That is not pain. Many athletes do not get to the point of pain. Our brains are intelligent organisms that protect us from getting there. They pick up on as many cues of discomfort as possible in order to warn us that we are approaching pain. The best athletes override that system and ignore those cues. It’s not that they don’t experience discomfort, they just push past discomfort, thus making it a new part of their comfort zone.
If you want to breakthrough, you learn to expand your zone of discomfort and find your threshold for pain. It’s much higher than you think. The next time you want to give something up, ask yourself if you are just uncomfortable or if you are truly feeling physical pain. Discomfort is I want to stop. Pain is I need to stop or I will hurt myself. I’m not saying that you won’t go to the hurt shop on a set of 400 meter repeats on the track but it’s manageable pain. Rarely will you give it so much that you cross that line into pain where you risk passing out or pulling something. You’ve got to find that line between discomfort and pain. It’s that breaking point where you learn things – what you’re made of, what you’re capable of, where your new limit is.
So it made me wonder – are these women worried about getting uncomfortable during labor or truly afraid of the pain? Seems like all of these things we were practicing – breathing, relaxing, massaging are to make us comfortable. Which to me sounds like an impossibility. It’s like telling someone that Ironman won’t hurt. Of course it hurts! It’s freakin’ Ironman. You can’t rub lavender sunscreen on your arms and expect it to go away. So why the same thing with labor? Maybe that’s my problem with all of it – I've accepted that no matter what I do or what Chris says or how much he strokes my face – there WILL be pain that I must accept and deal with. Must we fool ourselves? No matter what you do it won’t be comfortable so … let’s stop kidding ourselves into thinking we can create a magical pain-free birth.
The more I listened to the women asking if the drugs take away all of the pain (no), the more I realized that many of these women fear birth. I’m not saying I don’t fear it but…I trust that if my body was designed to do this, it was also designed to handle the pain. I also can't help but feel that birth is also one of the most amazing processes that a woman can experience. Yet, women seem so intent on rushing straight from the process to the end outcome. It’s like the rookie athlete who is so focused on results that they forget that patience with the process is really the one way to get the best result. After going through this class and watching The Business of Birth (watch it – trust me), I can see now that rushing it (unless medically required) is probably not the best way.
Before we left for the day, the instructor took us through guided imagery. The more she force-fed us the relaxation techniques, the more I realized they not for me. And that is ok. Everyone relaxes in a different way. For me, breathing, closing my eyes – these are not ways I deal with pain. When I think about how I deal with the pain of a track workout, a group ride – I first accept that it will hurt (like hell). I then look right into the face of pain (with no fear). And, lastly, I fucking deal with it. I don’t take an analgesic to make it go away. I don’t run the treadmill because it’s raining outside. I don’t ride the trainer because it’s windy. I don't quit when it gets hard or the splits aren't going my way. I grit my teeth, I focus, I deal – with – it. Labor will be the ultimate workout in just…dealing.
I left the class feeling informed about the birthing process. It will hurt, I get it. How I deal with the hurt - I realize that all that matters is birthing a healthy baby. Making things easy for me - well, it's like setting a personal best or wininng your AG, if it was supposed to be easy, everyone would be fast and would win. That is not the case. Birth is not going to be easy either. What I really need Chris to say is buck up, camper.
But I will not be held responsible if in a rear facing position, after hearing that, I 'accidentally' poop in his face.