Friday, June 27, 2008

Two days, two births, two amazing moms

I make a point not to publish much about my clients' birth experiences, to protect their privacy. You never know what details someone might be hesitant to share.

This week, I managed a total of 19 hours of labor support over a day and a half, for two mothers. Their babies were born 15 hours apart. Both were incredible experiences, for me, their doula, and hopefully even more so for the moms and dads.

One mother was in labor for twenty-four hours before she was dilated and pushing. She began labor at 10:30 pm Monday night and had her baby just after midnight on Wednesday morning.

Later on Wednesday, my other client's water broke. Her baby was born around 3:30 pm.

I had prayed that these two women, who were both overdue, would not go into labor at the same time. I prayed that their labors would not overlap. They didn't, though I realized later that their babies were born on the same day.

The positive experiences far outweighed the negative ones. In fact, I can't remember much negativity at all.

The best parts for me were:

  • Both women used spontaneous rhythmic rituals to cope with labor. This tends to happen in late labor with unmedicated births. Each was different and unexpected, as unique as the mothers themselves. At one labor, I was so happy to see it and know what it meant, where the mother was in her labor, that I started to cry.

  • Both women reached a point where they visibly surrendered to labor. They both clearly came to a place where they had to fight it or give in; they both surrendered, and labored well, even better than before that moment.

  • One woman, not fully dilated and with a posterior baby we were trying to rotate, resisted the intense urge to push for more than an hour. The effort nearly made her throw up. I had my hand on her hip, pressing to ease the back pain, and I felt how powerfully those muscles were working. That she held back at all, especially for as long as it took, is remarkable.

  • One woman had her best friend catch the baby and bring the infant up to her.

  • I saw a posterior baby turn to anterior just before crowning. I watched the head turn around rapidly, 180 degrees, to the best position just before birth.

  • One mother nearly had dystocia, with a baby's shoulders stuck while the head was out, but the baby came free quickly. The mother had no tears or scrapes at all.
  • I saw struggle, stress, and agony turn to complete exhilaration as a mother held her new baby and realized what she had just done.

  • Both women got everything they had discussed with me that they wanted out of their births.
What does it mean to me, to be a part of all of this? First of all, I often feel I am nothing more than a witness to miracles. I don't do the birthing work. I try to keep the women anchored, remind them that what they are experiencing is normal and natural, and that it is all to get their babies into their arms. It's very easy to forget these things, even from one contraction to the next.

Other than that, I have become more and more aware of my own powerlessness at births. So much depends on the mothers, on their ability to endure discomfort and uncertainty, to let go and be alright with not controlling what their bodies are doing. That moment of surrender I recognized in each experience is the dividing line between the typical, intellectually- and emotionally-balanced experience, like we have most of the time, every day, like now, and a primal, uninhibited, completely visceral experience, the state that women enter before babies are born. Women in that place often stop caring about things that bothered them before, like whether their bottoms are exposed or worry about pooping or leaking fluid or what kinds of sounds they're making.

None of that has to do with me. It's the mother's journey. I can help her with her breaths, her visualizations, her physical comfort, and establishing an early ritual, but once she reaches the point of surrender, she teaches everyone else what works for her.

Both of these women are made of stronger stuff than anyone could have anticipated. Both went though intensity I cannot imagine to have their babies, their births, in just the way they wanted.

Because of me? Absolutely not.

But I'm so glad I was there.

Just this morning...

Angela made this Play Doh flamingo today:

And here's Elizabeth, in a mirror image of a month ago, with one tooth gone and her new, adult tooth almost completely grown in on the other side:

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Face paint, loose tooth, and new chairs!

The girls took some markers and painted their faces:

Lovely Elizabeth:

They love their new princess chairs (thanks, Grandma & Grandpa!):


And, here it is! The newest loose tooth:

(Not pictured: Angela's eleven pretend loose teeth.)

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Angela's Haircut

Here it is!

I tried to take pictures while she showed me her new ballet dance, so that's why these are a bit, um, candid in nature:

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Special request

Cousins, two Jennifers, and Grandma Brown, with Angela falling/diving off the edge.

PS: I cut the girls' hair tonight. Tomorrow I will post pictures of them. I'd do it now, but they're too tired to be civil in front of the camera. Angela's hair is quite short!

Les Misérables at Tuacahn

I saw my fourth or fifth version of Les Misérables last night, at the incomparable Tuacahn Amphitheater. It's been my very favorite musical since I first heard the story in high school English and then was introduced to the music. Back then I was captivated by the love triangle, more specifically by Éponine's unrequited affection for Marius.

Now that I'm a bit more mature, I was much more interested in the parental aspects of this rich story: first, Fantine's desperate devotion to her daughter, and then Jean Valjean's journey from a criminal innocent of moral offense to an upstanding man who embodies the spirit of service and love for others. Of course, I was still moved by the love triangle, but my perspective has certainly changed.

The main benefits of seeing this masterpiece of musical theatre at the unique Tuacahn setting are:

  • The opening scene of prisoners, scattered on the hillside, actually breaking up rocks with sledgehammers;

  • When Cosette is sent into the woods, she is actually outdoors on one of the red rock side sets;

  • "Stars" is sung under an expanse of real stars;

  • Nothing can top "One Day More" with a crescendo of fireworks;

  • Javert actually jumps from a tall bridge;

  • The barricade is gi-normous;

  • Tons of horse-drawn carriages;

  • During the barricade battle, the opposing army is positioned in the rocks behind the barricade, shooting at the rebels while they fire back.
The best part, other than my new appreciation for the more mature themes of redemption and parental love and protection, was the performance by Timothy Warmen:
This is the Broadway actor who portrayed the best Jean Valjean I've seen. Not only was his voice strong and amazing, but he played the character with a level of emotion and passion I've never seen before. After the show, I was able to talk to him and tell him that I thought his performance was outstanding; he was very nice, and said that he'd never seen the show before and that he was glad he'd done well. This man is profoundly talented.

Of course, most of the cast is amazingly talented. There are few exceptions, as there should be when putting together a show with such high expectations. I think many theatre-goers have already seen some version of Les Miz, and the competition is tough. To be in this show, you must be able to carry a pretty demanding tune.

We saw the first preview night, and there were some things that clearly need to be addressed, but what matters is not who tripped over what set piece or who got pinned under a stray piece of the barricade when they tried to move it from the stage...What truly matters is the story. This is a phenomenal story. It is rich and complex and deeply moving. The acting and singing were great, but these characters and their struggles and triumphs are the most important, and they come together beautifully.

Les Misérables runs at Tuacahn from now through October, and if anyone reading this wants to attend but needs to go with someone, let me know. I'd be delighted to see this again.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Princesses making silly faces

This morning, the girls were looking particularly cute:

Then they started hugging:
Time to make silly faces!
These are their sad faces:Surprised faces:
Happy faces:
Excited faces:
A couple of very silly girls:
But my favorite shows how thoroughly sweet they both are:

Monday, June 2, 2008

Trip to California

Angela dressed up as a bride:

And Elizabeth as a butterfly (on Mardi Gras):


Silly cousins:

Angela and friends:

Elizabeth and Aunt Josie:

Angela in heaven:

Back at home...

Beautiful girls:

I caught Elizabeth reading in a beam of sunlight one morning (look at the book she's enjoying!)