Sunday, October 12, 2008

How Labor Prepared Me for Motherhood

In my childbirth classes, we mainly focus on labor, birth and the first few hours post-partum. Because this single event is so life-changing, many times parents focus so much on the birth that the actual parenting part is forgotten until you actually have to parent!
Even though we don’t’ go into great detail on parenting in my classes, I do feel that what I teach, and what these parents learn from coming to classes and going through labor, has life-long effects. What they learn about pregnancy, labor, and birth can greatly be carried over into parenthood.
Each of my own labors, just like each of my children, was unique. Each brought something new to experience, new challenges to face, and new victories to relish. This is how my labors prepared me for motherhood…

Labor is hard work, and so is mothering. Sometimes it can be painful, but mostly it takes a lot of time, effort, and patience.

Learning to work with your body makes things easier. Learning to work with your child instead of against him/her makes for easier parenting. Sometimes you want to cringe and grit and say, NO! It’s going to be MY way! But taking a deep breath, understanding the workings of their little mind and body, and helping them advance in their own natural way, rather than pulling against it makes for a smoother process.

Build up a toolbox. In labor, knowing that different stages call for different needs, you want to have a bunch of techniques, visual aids, physical aids, etc., to help a mom get through. In motherhood, the same applies. Sometimes children are at the easy, excited-to-be-here early first stage where all they need is your smile and hug. Other times they go through the difficult nothing-can-help-me-now transition stage where they need bigger, better, different, nothing, all of you. Having plenty of resources at your fingertips can help you all make it through.

Don’t interfere with “Mother Nature”. Your body knows what to do to give birth. When you start interfering, things start going wrong, and we get way far away from what childbirth is supposed to be. Your baby knows what it needs. It was born with the ability to let you know. Listen, and don’t try to change a baby’s intuition. Messing with a child’s nature will only cause further problems down the road. Children learn without us even having to try to teach them. Go with what their nature already is. Work with it, not against it.

The safer, more effective way usually takes dedication, hard work, and sacrifice. Dealing *with* contractions rather than escaping them usually yields greater rewards. It may be harder to experience all the sensations of labor and birth, but it is safer for the mother and baby, and usually allows the body to work the way it was meant to. Working daily with a child, being consistent in re-directing rather than relying on some “quick-fix” method, making nutritious, healthy meals rather than quick, nutritiously-void ones takes a little extra time, a bit more effort, but it safer, and allows a child’s body to work and grow in the way it was meant to. The easy way is not usually the best way.

Surround yourself with good support. It’s so much harder to do this on your own! Having the support of a loving husband and generous friend is what carries us through labor! It’s also what carries us through motherhood. Having someone you can release your emotions to, and knowing they can handle it can be a real life-saver. Having the support of someone who knows your true heart in spite of the words you may be uttering gives us freedom to feel loved despite our weaknesses. Mothering with community is good for moms, and good for children!

You can’t really understand it until you’re in it. As much as you learn about the physiological functioning of labor, as much as you practice relaxation, as much as you practice labor rehearsals, until you truly experience it, you really don’t know what it’s like. Mothering cannot be explained. It needs to be experienced. And unless someone else is mothering your child, they cannot really understand what it’s like to be you, no matter how much education they may or may not have.

Fear causes pain. This is the very basic of childbirth. Thanks to Dr. Dick-Read, our modern methods of pain-coping and childbirth philosophies rest on this principle. Our child-rearing practices should as well. So many mothers parent their children based on fear. What will so-and-so think? What will they say if I do this-or-that? My doctor said if I don’t do this, than that could happen. This only ends up causing pain to both mother and child. Do not mother based on what anyone else thinks or says. You are the sole mother of your child. You know what is best. Have confidence that you know what your child needs, and it doesn’t matter what others think because your job is not to meet their needs, but to meet that of your child! Fear-based parenting is just plain painful to live, and painful to watch.

It usually doesn’t go exactly as planned. You cannot predict how your labor will go. I held lofty goals for each of my labors, and none of them went according to *my* plan. They went according to how they were supposed to go! Children don’t understand your goals for them. They don’t understand the future you may have mapped out. They understand what they need to do to be themselves. And we as parents, while holding lofty goals, need to be open enough to accept changes along the way. It might be that you are blessed with a high-needs child who doesn’t follow your nap schedule and feeding plans. It might be that you are blessed with a child that wants to wait until he’s REALLY sure he’s ready to use a potty. Sometimes children don’t have the same athletic skills, or social desires that a parent has, and we parents need to be okay with that.

Motherhood is a roller coaster ride, that’s for sure. And just as soon as you think you understand what’s going on, you are thrown into a different direction, and get to learn all over again!

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