are you experienced?

jimi-hendrix

I’ve been a fan of Dan Savage for decades, from back when he was just a fledgling sex advice columnist in the alternative papers (Kansas City’s Pitch!) truly opening the eyes of this midwestern girl. I still have the book he signed for me in 1999. I love that he’s taken on the podcast medium where I can still enjoy him on a weekly basis.

Recently* he had a call from a guy who was very interested in a woman but concerned that she was inexperienced sexually. Would she be clumsy and awful in bed? Would he have to spend his time teaching her? Basically, was it going to be an annoying waste of his time?

Dan’s answer was that experience doesn’t matter. Someone could be a bedroom newbie, or have a Guinness Book record number of partners, and it says nothing about your chemistry with that person. Experience and fit are not related. You either click and it’s amazing or you don’t! There is only one way to find out if you’re a match. If it feels right, take the plunge.

The same is true when choosing your doula. Experience doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter if she’s worked with your doctor or midwife. It doesn’t matter if she’s ever set foot in your hospital or birth center.

As we were watching the World Series a few weeks back, I asked my husband what he thought—does number of births make a better doula? He didn’t hesitate and responded, “It doesn’t matter! I could step in and hit a home run as a rookie, or as a 38 year old about to retire. It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve been out there, it’s your approach to things.”

Other recent examples:

  • A friend who desperately wanted a VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean) dumped a newer doula she loved for one with extensive VBAC experience at her provider’s urging. She got the VBAC, but her doula was annoying and pushy and took away from the experience more than she helped.
  • At the very first birth I attended as a doula, the nurse told me that I was one of the best doulas she’d ever seen.
  • A doula who has attended hundreds of births over the years recently told me, “I am no better a doula than I was at my very first birth.”

So why do so many of the “how to choose a doula” articles tell you to ask how many births the doula has attended?

Well, it is something to ask. It’s something that can be measured. Culturally, we’re more comfortable with numbers than amorphous things like emotions and chemistry. But why? What information does number of births tell you? It tells you how many births a doula has attended. That’s it. No more, no less.

“Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.”

In fact, one of the first lessons I learned as a doula was to not bring the previous births I’d attended into the room. It serves no one. I usually forget which hospital I’m in or if I’ve met this doctor before. Why? Because this client in this moment for this birth—that is my focus. That is what counts.

However, there may be another reason these articles suggest these questions. In an outdated approach, doulas were taught and believed they were protecting women from doctors and hospitals, trying to help them “achieve” a certain type of birth seen as better. In this case, maybe number of births and experience with certain hospitals or providers would matter, since the doula would be trying to game the system or whatever. As you can guess, that is not my take.

So what does an amazing doula do instead?

  • works with you and for you, the client
  • facilitates positive relations with the medical staff
  • tunes in to and supports you (and your partner, if applicable) in having your best birth experience
  • checks her biases at the door to support you fully without judgement
  • makes sure you are getting the information you need, are physically comfortable, and coping well emotionally

Attunement—compassion, respect, emotional intelligence—this cannot be taught. (We can be taught how to better apply our ability to attune to the birth environment.)

Then how do you choose a doula? Meet her virtually or in person to see how you connect. Ask about her approach to this work and her training. Most importantly, do a gut check after your conversation. Did you click? Your connection is the single most important factor in choosing your doula. This will tell you if it makes sense to take the plunge in working together or not, whether she’s fresh out of training or has attended a hundred births. Good luck!

Further Reading:

5 Better Questions to Ask a Potential Doula

Attunement vs. Experience

*The question comes up about 6:35 into this episode of the Savage Lovecast.

managing intense relatives 101

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You’re pregnant. Your baby’s coming soon. You’re wondering how you’ll be getting any sleep with a newborn in the house, among countless other things.

The good news is: your mother-in-law* wants to come help! The bad news is: your mother-in-law wants to come help! [*or whichever big personality relative is about to descend upon you]

The thought of it is so stressful you’re ready to bury your head in a platter of macarons and eat your way out.

What can you do? Is there a way to get the sleep you need and maintain your sanity while not totally alienating your MIL?

Absolutely.

When managing big personalities, there are some tools you can use.

mother-in-law-advice
“back in my day, we did everything exactly the opposite and you all turned out fine!” omg stfu

1. Your partner needs to be the heavy and run interference. She or he is your personal security detail. If you’re a single parent, you may need a trusted friend to play this role—helping you strategize in advance how to manage the visit and distracting the intense relative when possible. Your bouncer needs to step in and protect your space when you say your safe word, like “get your mom outta here before I murder someone.”

2. Brainstorm tasks and activities that can be a useful distraction. What are her skills? Organizing a minimalist nursery? Prepping some freezer meals? Setting up baby gadgets? Running around the city for the perfect new carrier? Planning a bris? Finding the right balance between allowing her time with baby and keeping her busy with tasks she enjoys that make the most of her strengths will benefit you both. 

Maybe MIL can hold the baby so you can get that all too important daytime nap in. Maybe she will help you hire a postpartum doula (similar to a baby nurse, but more mother/family oriented) so you can get more nighttime sleep in those early weeks. See if you can make the most of the things she likes to make the visit more bearable. See if you can find the win-win.

3. Practicing your best nod and smile will be helpful, too. “Thank you for the suggestion!” Repeat ad nauseam. The main key to managing big personalities is remembering: would you rather be right or be happy? Let it slide, as much as possible. Vent to your sympathetic friends later. 

4. Take care of yourself. I know, it is a cliché and triple hard as you adjust to life with baby. But making sure you’re eating, getting rest, and otherwise honoring your needs as much as possible will go miles in terms of helping you survive a challenging visit.

Before you know it, you’ll be getting a fresh pedicure and breathing a sigh of relief to have your space to yourself again. A little planning will help you get through that initial visit during the newborn days, with the sleep and sanity you so desperately need.  

Choose happy, choose your battles, choose a more peaceful way to get through the visit in the best way possible. It will be over soon and you WILL survive. And who knows, MIL may even really step up and surprise you. That would truly be some good news.

building a better birth class

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A few months ago in anticipation of teaching a new type of childbirth class, I created a survey and shared it across the land to ask parents why they had or hadn’t taken a class, and to find out what was most useful, what was lacking, and what was a disappointment for those who did take a class. I was concerned about launching a class amidst online forums full of parents saying birth classes were a waste of time (note: there are also many who loved their classes!).

The results were incredibly helpful and I’m eager to incorporate such useful feedback to make the class stronger and more relevant to what expectant parents most need and want to know. Many classes have been structured around what we think you should know. Since this is based on peer feedback, it’ll make a huge difference. This knowledge, coupled with the personalized Your Birth Experience (YBE) approach, builds a childbirth class perfect for busy New Yorkers.

There are so many choices out there— Lamaze, Bradley, HypnoBirthing, Birthing from Within, and various private instructors and hospital-based options. How do you know which class is right for you and why choose a YBE class with me?

This class is for you if you:

  • are busy (who isn’t?)
  • want to get clear on your personal wishes for your birth,  versus what the interwebs and your family wishes for and believes about birth
  • want a better picture of what to expect in labor and how to best manage it
  • want to understand the various options that will come up through the birth process, which you prefer, and communicating this with your birth team and medical staff
  • want to leave the class with a draft birth plan to review with your doctor or midwife, and a plan for handling those early weeks with a newborn

The small group class is one 4-hour class with a follow up call for further questions. If 4 hours is still too long, you can always opt for a shorter private consult with a tighter focus on your unique concerns.

For more information, visit our page on childbirth education in New York City.

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learning birth stuff

Making

In the months and weeks leading up to your first baby’s arrival, it can feel like your to-do list is a mile long and there are 5,000 baby supplies that you MUST have and what do they do and where do you put them? Add to that the emotions and unpredictability of this major life change and it can feel like a bit … much.

Somewhere on most people’s lengthy list is taking a childbirth class. Maybe you are hoping for a certain kind of birth or maybe you just figure you should know a little more about what the hell’s going to happen on the big day or maybe your friends suggested it. In any case, you find one, pay up, and hopefully find it useful.

On an online message board for parents, someone was recently seeking advice about which class to take. Some people replied with strong recommendations, but most thought that the classes were a waste of time, that anything they learned flew right out the window once labor set in. This caught my attention as I now offer childbirth ed and I sure don’t want anyone to feel they’ve wasted their time and money. New Yorkers are busy as fuck and have no time for bullshit. This is why I chose to train with Your Birth Experience. I wanted to be able to offer clients something tailor-made, worthwhile, a perfect fit for anyone’s budget, availability, and questions. Something that cuts through the crap and offers the best information to support them through their birth experience.

While every course is individualized, it’s still helpful for me to hear what worked and what didn’t for others. Whether you took a class or not, it would be great if you could take and share this survey! You even get a chance to win an amazon gift card! My clients and I thank you for your help.

CLICK HERE FOR SURVEY AND CHANCE TO WIN! Good luck!

stacking the odds

Like life, there are no guarantees in birth.

I knew I wanted a “natural birth.” I didn’t know exactly WHY I wanted that, or WHAT it meant exactly, or that it would be such a BIG DEAL to want that. I had a lot to learn. I knew that birth could be unpredictable and potentially complicated, but I wanted to do everything possible to increase my chances for a positive, healthy, natural birth.

The way we approach birth says so much about our personalities, families, cultures, and histories. Maybe you asked friends and family about their experiences (or you didn’t have to ask because they bombarded you with stories and “advice”), maybe you jumped in and forged ahead following your gut, maybe you went solely with advice from a trusted midwife or doctor. Maybe, like me, you read 101 books and solicited advice from online forums and a few select friends.

One of my trusted friends gave me the first of the many birth books I’d read, The Official Lamaze Guide: Giving Birth with Confidence. She’d had a positive natural birth and found the book helpful. I also highly recommend it, and found it very accessible and practical, good for anyone who wants to, well, give birth with confidence.

As someone who needs facts and data, I liked how they built the case for the best things you can do to have a healthy birth. Drawing on the meta-analyses of the respected Cochrane library, they distilled and simplified the data into their six healthy birth practices. Visit their website for more information on each practice, including short videos.

Following these practices are no guarantee, but they greatly increase your odds of having a birth that’s positive, safe, and healthy for you and your baby. For me, following these steps worked well. I knew I couldn’t control it all, but I wanted to feel in control of the things I could. Just like life.

One key step that isn’t mentioned here (but is addressed in the book) is to do your best to find a midwife or doctor and birth location that you trust. Ultimately, you’ll be working with your care provider to make decisions and having a trusting relationship will be critical. Good luck!

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lessons

There's a crack in everything.That's how the light gets in.

Twenty odd years ago in my early twenties, I experienced the breaking up of a friendship that was the most deeply traumatic experience of that kind that I’d had before or since. It was a painful lesson that no matter how much you love someone or how good you are to them, it just might not matter at all in the end. If they have some other shit to deal with, and think they cannot deal with said shit with you around, or maybe believe that the shit is attached to you somehow, it can be quite easy for them to cut you out. And you’re sitting there completely bewildered, stunned, crushed. Neither your heart or mind can grasp why or how someone can turn like that.

For over a week, I cried myself to sleep alone in a hotel room. I was between apartments and was meant to stay with this friend until my new lease started but it quickly became evident that this was no longer possible. I could have stayed with other friends, but felt like way too much of a disaster. I needed the alone time, too, to try to start to make sense of what had happened and to grieve.

On one of those rough nights, I decided that I would no longer make decisions based on fear. It hit me that choices made out of fear wouldn’t save me, help me, protect me. They wouldn’t help me grow, to be a better person, to have a happier life. Choosing to be with someone because you’re afraid to be alone, or choosing to keep a shitty job because you’re afraid of taking a new risk, or choosing to stay in a city you hate because the devil you know… nothing good will come of this. From then on, I would make decisions based on love. Love for another person or myself or for adventure or for the planet, whatever it was.

In the years since, I have come back to this frequently. When I find myself at a crossroads, I make myself pause and really consider what is driving me to lean toward one choice versus another. If I find that underneath all of the logic and rationalizations and practicalities and intellectualizing is a big ole mountain of fear, I know that isn’t the correct choice. I know I have to go the other way. Maybe it’ll have to wait a month or a decade, but eventually I will have to go the other way. I thought I could cross this lesson off the list years ago…

Recently, however, I’ve been reminded of this as well as some other lessons I’ve been learning (and relearning) along the way. Some of us (like me) believe that saying that life gives you a lesson over and over until you figure it out already. I was smacked hard with the realization that while I know these lessons in my head– FEAR kept me from implementing them at critical moments. Life was all, LOL, let’s try this again, sweetheart. And now I’m like, oh fuuuuuuuuuuuckkkk. Right. I know this. Dammit. Ok. Try again. Learn again.

Some of these other lessons include trusting my intuition, being honest with myself and others– trusting that we can handle the truth because if we don’t, nothing good can come. In fact as I’m writing this, I’m realizing it all comes back to FEAR. Fear is why I didn’t follow the many lessons I’ve already learned.

Ok. Trying again.

OMFG is it winter break yet?

give her the

Only about 2 weeks to go. My family is lucky in that our work and school schedules allow us some real downtime over the holidays. We are so looking forward to seeing friends, no morning or evening rush, hanging out together doing not much of anything. Oh, the new Star Wars, of course. The grandparents have already given my kids everything Star Wars (merchandising! where the real money from the movie is made!), so a very merry Christmas to you, J.J. Abrams!

How’s your holiday shopping going, anyway? You know the whole thing about going for experiences over things, right? You don’t want your thoughtful gift to be konmaried right out of the house come spring cleaning.

The gift of a doula is the best gift I ever gave myself. It’s one of the most thoughtful, loving, nurturing experiences you can gift to the expectant parents on your list. The onesies are so cute, the tiny booties and softest blankets, the high tech strollers… but the postpartum doula is the one who will make sure the new parents are fed and rested. That the laundry isn’t piling up. That they are remembering to take care of themselves while everyone around them is asking about the baby. That they aren’t alone in the middle of the night and the baby won’t stop crying and they are too tired to see straight. A postpartum doula helps them figure out how they want to parent, the best approach for their family at that time. A birth doula cares for the family before and during that most intense and unique of human experiences– bringing a baby into the world, be it naturally, medicated and assisted, or surgically.

Every person, every family is unique in what will be most helpful to them. A doula can adapt to their needs to assist them in the best way possible. Pretty much the best gift ever.

What’s your #1 Breastfeeding Question?

Nursing my older son at about 4 weeks old, 2007. Last good hair day.

I attended a Breastfeeding Preparation class last week as part of my DONA doula certification requirement. An important part of the doula role is supporting new moms in breastfeeding, and even though I nursed one son for 14 months and am three months into nursing baby #2, I knew I’d pick up some good tips to help other mothers. I was also interested to see how the class was set up and how the information was presented.

Before we started, the instructor had us introduce ourselves and share our most pressing questions about breastfeeding. All of the moms-to-be wondered most: When can I supplement with formula and/or a nighttime bottle? While this was an exceptionally small homogeneous sample size of just four expectant mothers, I thought this was very interesting– both the question itself and that they all shared it as their most burning question on breastfeeding.

Does it mean they’ve heard breastfeeding is really hard and they will have to supplement or resort to Plan B? Have they heard sleep deprivation horror stories and want to be sure their partner can help with feedings? Probably. It also came out later in the conversation that one of the moms was concerned about her partner having a chance to bond with the baby through feedings. A friend of hers feels like he hasn’t been able to connect with his newborn since the mother is exclusively breastfeeding.

I can’t recall now what my most burning breastfeeding question was before that adventure began. I’d like to think it was ‘what can I do to ensure a successful breastfeeding relationship?’ I’d heard the stories from my friends and knew it could be really rough in the beginning. I wanted to be ready to tackle the challenges and make it work (a la Tim Gunn). I think I also assumed it would be mostly fine, as my mother breastfed four children, it’s as natural as can be, I’m committed, so what could go wrong?

Well, that’s a long story for another post– but we did figure it out after a grueling few months and I don’t regret a thing. When I was struggling, a friend told me, “breastfeeding goes from being the worst thing in the world, to the best thing in the world.” This piece of advice helped me to stay committed and see it through until we were on the other side.

So, what about you?

What was your number one question about breastfeeding before you began?

What is your number one tip to mothers-to-be who are planning to nurse?