A doula knows a great deal about birth, but can she be an expert on her own birth? Does her expertise mean that she doesn’t need a support system? Or that she is immune to the emotional roller coaster that is prepping for birth? The quick answer to all of these questions is, absolutely not!
Sure you can use your knowledge to figure out the kind of birth you want, but when comes the time to actually give birth, you need to be able to turn your thinking mind off and go into the animalistic part of your brain to allow your body to release and birth your baby. And just like anyone, a laboring doula needs the support and reassurance — maybe even more so than someone who doesn’t work in the field — and she needs to prepare. Curious to know how? Here are 8 things that I, as a doula, did to get ready for labor and delivery.
1. Staying active. Up until 37 weeks, I was teaching prenatal fitness classes at FPC four days a week, which also kept me in shape throughout pregnancy. It also allowed me to practice what we call Pump and Kegel — deep belly breathing with pelvic floor activation. I not only got a great workout, but also built a wonderful community of pregnant friends who I was able to share all the pregnancy ups and downs, questions and observations.
2. Prioritizing self-care. I got weekly massages from a wonderful massage therapist (Green Stone Spa in DUMBO), which helped with physical tension in my back and hips, swelling in my legs and overall promotion of relaxation. I also saw my acupuncturist (Gabriel Sher) for similar reasons and for pregnancy-related carpal tunnel. I took epsom salt baths with coconut oil at least twice a week to reduce swelling in my legs and help me relax and used this time to connect with baby, massage my legs and belly, and incorporate meditations with the Expectful app.
3. Being mindful about what I ate. Though I already have a pretty well balanced diet, I became even more conscious in my food choices during pregnancy. Most mornings, I would have a smoothie loaded with Brazil nuts, chia seeds, hemp seeds, spirulina and coconut oil — trying to favor healthy fats and proteins. Throughout the day, I kept healthy snacks in my bag but still indulged in sweets like dark chocolate. I always had a bottle of water by my side and, after meeting with pelvic floor therapist Lindsey Vestal, I got in the habit of drinking small doses of water all day long. Chugging water doesn’t allow your body to absorb it properly.
4. Assessing my pelvic floor health early in pregnancy. Knowing and connecting to your pelvic floor well before birth can help you strengthen and therefore prepare your core muscles for labor, delivery and recovery. I also got to learn about my bladder function. We hear so much about pregnant women having to pee all of the time or leaking. Yet, this coming phenomenon isn’t normal, not is it healthy. After my session with Lindsey Vestal, I was much more aware and was able to avoid some of the more common issues, like waking up several times a night to pee.
5. Taking a childbirth education class. While I am certified to teach Lamaze Childbirth Education, I wanted my husband to have the experience and learn from someone who wasn’t me. We chose to have a private in-home class with Stephanie Heintzeler, who tailored the class to our specific questions and birth preferences. My favorite part of her class is that she acts out contractions, which allows students to prepare for the sights and sounds of what labor is like.
6. Getting a doula. As a birth and postpartum doula, I have found myself stumped or overwhelmed with emotion. Even though I’m supposed to be an expert in pregnancy and birth, I had so many questions about everything — from my belly button popping at 13 weeks to my linea nigra to my rapid weight gain. When I discovered that I had an anterior and low lying placenta, I went into mini panic mode, as I contemplated all of the changes to my birth preferences. Whatever concern I had, my doula, Lindsey, was always calm and cool and hilariously sarcastic. She was exactly the person that I needed to keep me grounded during this emotional transition in my life. When you build your birth team, make sure to choose someone who gets along with both you and your partner.
7. Trusting the process of birth. I needed to remind myself and know that baby will arrive when he chooses to come. As I reached the final days and weeks of pregnancy, I tuned into my body and tried not to get stuck on the due date and to focus on my due “time” instead. And to do that, I gave my body what it was asking for: rest and quiet. Baths, yoga, massage, reiki, and snuggles with my cat and husband were about as much as I was up to towards the end, knowing that it all nurtured me and my growing baby.
8. Setting expectations and making a plan for the postpartum period. I find that planning for birth is often like planning a wedding — you forget about what comes after, marriage or motherhood. I knew that I would need a community to support us in moments of crisis, so before I gave birth, I put together a list of people I knew I could rely on when needed. For me, it was postpartum doulas and lactation consultants, but it can also be family members and friends. I also set restrictions on visitors and made sure loved ones knew that I’d be protecting my space to allow myself and my new family to bond and adjust to our new reality. I also knew that I would need time to heal, so when it came to fitness and physical activities, I made the decision to set the bar low and take a wait-and-see approach.
Originally from Sun Valley, Idaho, Erin Williams have resided in NYC since 2002, working in the fashion industry. She’s now a certified birth and postpartum doula, as well as a certified lactation counselor, a Lamaze certified childbirth educator and a certified yoga instructor. She believes that birth is an amazing process and that everyone deserves to have the best birth possible. Which is why she co-created Doulight NYC — to support all types of births and families and to help mothers and birth partners experience a memorable birth-day!
Photography by Michelle Rose Sulcov.
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