Reality of Labor

My post on the realities of NFP made me think about the reality of labor versus what I was told in my antenatal classes. The midwives running the classes were perfectly nice, and I know they were trying to fit in what they saw as relevant information for all while not scaring anyone, but I felt they did me a disservice. Moreover, the student midwife who was with me when I was in labor with Kieran must have believed the generalizations, because she didn’t listen too me as a  unique woman in labor, but thought of me as a “standard woman in labor.”

So what did they teach me in that class that didn’t match reality? The first was that there would always be at least a 30-60 second break between contractions, even at the height of labor. With my first, though, I could feel another contraction at the same time one was tapering off, so there was no break between contractions. Perhaps that was because he was posterior, I don’t know.

Speaking of the baby being posterior, no mention was made (as far as I remember) about how position in labor could affect the baby’s position. He didn’t turn posterior until I laid down on my back in labor. At that point, he turned and pressed on my sciatic nerve, making it nigh impossible for me to move out of that position again. It wasn’t until I was pregnant with my second and talking to my community midwife that I learned there were better positions for labor and birth that could minimize my chances of having the baby turn posterior and minimize the chance of tearing. For my other births I have chosen to labor upright on a birthing ball, and give birth either kneeling or on all fours.

In that class, we were also told how women tend to dilate about 1cm an hour. So when the midwife checked me while I was screaming that I couldn’t do this any longer and it turned out I was only 3cm, I gave up. The midwife didn’t look at me overall, just that number, and declared I had a long road ahead. An hour later I was pushing and he was born, because I’m that special person who doesn’t follow the “rules.”

I don’t remember any mention of the reality of transition, either. Oh, it was mentioned, but not in detail. This was the worst disservice, I feel, because had I known what transition was like, I would’ve known it was almost over instead of just giving up at that point. I know transition is incredibly difficult to describe, though the Bradley book does a good job of that. I wasn’t told that saying, “I can’t do this!” means you’re probably in transition and will therefore be pushing soon. I wasn’t told that the pain of labor in transition is at least partly psychological (not that the pain isn’t real, but that the struggle and pain is not just in the body, but in the mind and psyche – like I said, it’s hard to describe).

I wish these things had been noted in antenatal classes so that my first labor would’ve been a little less of a mystery. I wish I would’ve understand more what my body was doing that first time. I know it’s impossible to completely understand it before going through it, and even after that it’s a little different each time. I’m more confident in my body now, though (which my midwife appreciated, as I could tell her I’d phone for her when I started vocalizing because I knew I’d have 1-2 hours, max, from that point). I do understand that the midwives didn’t want to scare anyone, and they had to deal with a range of people who have different bodies, but I feel at least some of this could have been addressed to take away some of the mystery and better prepare us.

NFP: Awesome or Horrible?

In official articles on NFP, you often hear how wonderfully awesome it is. Go to the NFP Commiseration group, and you’ll hear some people say how horrible it is. So which is it?

It’s a bit of both, and it’s okay to admit that NFP sucks sometimes and yet is also a good thing. I’d argue that we need to be more upfront about the realities of NFP instead of painting it as all sunshine and roses, or as the worst thing ever. I think most couples will have times where NFP is nice, and times where it isn’t, just as they’ll have times where it’s easier to love each other and times where it isn’t. Just as fasting from food is a good, but hard, discipline, periodic abstinence is a good, but hard, discipline. Just as I don’t know anyone who really enjoys fasting from food, I don’t know couples who really enjoy the periodic abstinence. But, if you let it, it can bring benefits.

Sometimes the benefit, though, is simply endurance. This is where we need more realistic discussions on NFP. If someone were having a hard time dealing with fasting, we wouldn’t say, “you must be doing it wrong,” or “oh, but fasting is so wonderful!!!” No, we’d say, “I know it’s hard. Here are some ways that can help you get through it. And keep your eye on the big picture and the ways this can help you in your relationship with God if you let it.”

With NFP, though, the conversation tends to focus only on the potential benefits without any recognition of the difficulties, or else to focus only on the difficulties without talking about real ways to help through those times (and please don’t say SPICE). Ideally, both people in the relationship are on the same page when it comes to using NFP, but in reality that isn’t always the case, and this makes it more difficult for those couples. NFP can still bring benefits to such couples, but they also need strategies to help with the periodic abstinence. They need to know that, if one method requires long periods of abstinence, another method might be a better fit.

Thankfully, there are multiple good methods out there right now, and more being developed all the time. Now there are monitors and apps that can help take the guesswork out. Most of those are geared towards those who are seeking to conceive, but some, like Marquette, can use a monitor to achieve or postpone pregnancy. Many instructors, myself included, will work with couples online so they needn’t be reliant on whether there’s an instructor for their chosen method in their area.

So back to the point – NFP isn’t always wonderful, and it isn’t always horrible. It can be both, either, or neither of those. Real conversation about NFP acknowledges these facts, and seeks to offer real solutions, or at least real encouragement, for when it’s hard.

Respect

In so many discussions today, respect seems to be lacking. While this is perhaps exemplified in political discussions, I’ve noticed it elsewhere, as well. Instead of recognizing that others may have valid reasons for their views and practices, the discussion is often full of showing how the other person is not only wrong, but an idiot. How is that helpful? Even if it were true?

Instead of immediately assuming that someone who has a different view than you do on vaccines, home birth, politics, Latin, children at Mass, breastfeeding, Pokemon, or whatever your pet topic is, try to consider that the other person may have just as valid a view. Or, if they are wrong, that they have no reason to listen if they aren’t treated with respect. Or even that you yourself may be the one who is mistaken. (I am saying this to myself as well, as I also fail at this at times).

As I said, this goes for all the time, but is especially needed right now, when emotions are running high with the election looming.

NFP and Teens

If there’s one thing being an NFP instructor in my diocese has taught me, it’s that, while it is good to require NFP as a part of marriage prep, the real education about NFP needs to be earlier.

But wait, you say, why should we start earlier if they don’t need to be planning a family before marriage? Good question. True, NFP in its entirety involves following certain rules to achieve or avoid pregnancy, but at its core NFP is about tracking a woman’s health, and that is something that all women need whether they’re planning marriage or not.

Now, some may be surprised to hear that it tracks a woman’s health, since the focus is so often on just determining when a woman is ovulating. A woman’s cycle, though, can tell her a lot about her overall health. For example, a woman who tracks her cycle can be alerted to possible endometriosis, possible thyroid issues, low progesterone, possible PCOS, even possible cervical cancer! Her chart can be used in conjunction with other medical tests to better diagnose issues (thankfully more doctors are becoming aware of the value of cycle tracking and are able to glean this information from a woman’s chart).

That’s amazing, you say! But maybe you still aren’t sold on the value of teaching this to teens and college students. That’s when my personal experience comes into play. Like a good number of the women who come to me during marriage prep, I was put on the pill as a teenager. Many teens have irregular cycles, and this can be a variation of normal for them. Sometimes there is something more going on, such as endometriosis. Having her track her cycle would help in determining that (note: endometriosis currently cannot be definitively diagnosed without surgery, but it can be strongly suspected from other signs).

If the cycle shows normal Peak, then she would know there’s probably not cause for concern and wouldn’t need further investigation; if the cycle showed mid-cycle bleeding or some other issue, she would know to get further testing done. A doctor who is knowledgeable in such things would be able to get her the treatment needed (another note – while a hormonal treatment is sometimes indicated, there are alternatives to the pill that would work with her body and her natural hormones instead of forcing her body into infertility. One example is taking progesterone post-Peak for low progesterone or PMDD).

If a woman hadn’t tracked her cycles, though, she won’t know exactly what is happening. If her doctor then tells her she needs the pill, and then she experiences a cessation of worrisome symptoms, she may feel the pill has fixed the problem or that she needs the pill. She may worry about facing that pain again, as I was. That fear is strong, and can prevent a woman from going off the pill and seeking out better treatment. She may not even think about it until she’s going through marriage prep, and then finds that her fear paralyzes her (speaking from my personal experience).

She shouldn’t have to wait until she gets married to tend to any potential problems. If she does that, she may have been on the pill for years and already have reduced fertility as a result (not all women experience reduced fertility – I didn’t – but some do because of the effect the pill has on the cervical mucus).

Just think, though, if I, and others, had been truly taught about our bodies as teens and in college! Think of how much better informed we’d be, and how we’d be better able to get the care we deserve. Of course, doctors need to catch up, too, as far too many of them are woefully ignorant of endometriosis and other issues. It is changing, but slowly. The more we educate ourselves and other young women, though, the better it will be. A young woman who is educated about this will be more likely to ask her doctor to find alternatives to the band-aid that is the pill, a pill that doesn’t fix anything and just masks symptoms. She’ll be better prepared to find the treatment she needs. It just makes sense to teach this earlier than it usually is taught now.

 

Pray Without Ceasing

I sometimes envy those in religious life, who can devote their waking hours to prayer without ceasing, without distraction. As a mother, I know I’m a better mother when I spend more time in prayer and when I go to daily Mass, yet it can be daunting when I also must teach the children, fix meals, drive kids to lessons or practices, keep house, etc. Praying more than one or two decades of the Rosary as a family quickly devolves into something like, “Holy Mary, Mother of . . . so help me if you don’t stop hitting your sister!. . .God pray for us sinners now . .. I mean it!. . .and at the hour of our death.” I love the Liturgy of the Hours, and used to pray that with the Benedictine monks when we lived in Liverpool (and had only 2 children), but now it seems nigh impossible to do that (I’m sure it isn’t, I just haven’t figured out the schedule yet).

While lamenting that I didn’t often get through the Rosary, and didn’t maintain an attitude of prayer during the day, I decided to just write down a schedule. I’m still working it out, but this is what I have thus far:

wake-up – Angelus, morning offering, renewal of consecration, decade of thank You, Jesus prayer

after breakfast – opening prayers for the Rosary, Pope’s intentions, decade of thank You, Jesus prayer

before Mass (assuming I can get there) – 1st decade of the Rosary; decade of thank You, Jesus prayer

after Mass – 2nd decade of Rosary; decade of thank You, Jesus prayer

noon – Angelus, 3rd decade of Rosary, decade of thank You, Jesus prayer

15.00 – O Blood & Water prayer, 4th decade of Rosary, decade of thank You, Jesus prayer (on Fridays – Divine Mercy Chaplet)

dinner – Angelus, 5th decade of Rosary, decade of thank You, Jesus prayer

kids’ bedtime – intentions, St Michael prayer, Sacred & Immaculate Heart prayers, examen, decade of thank You, Jesus prayer

bed – closing Rosary prayers, decade of thank You, Jesus prayer

I’m already a little behind today since I’m still working it out and didn’t make it to Mass. I’m hoping this can become habit, though.

 

NFP and Family Size

It’s the start of NFP Awareness Week! As you may know, I teach NFP in my diocese and frequently teach couples who are preparing for marriage. A fair number of these meetings start out like so:

Couple: You have 4 kids?! How well does this actually work if you have that many kids?!

Me: *forced laughter* Well, we wanted the kids. . .

At times like that, it seems that people forget that it is called Natural Family Planning, implying that children will be a part of that family. NFP does not have a set family size, and those who use it often do not have a magic number of children they will accept. Some may originally think they want x number, only to find that they either can handle more children than they originally thought or that they cannot, for whatever reason. There will be couples who have surprises, couples who plan every pregnancy, and couples who desperately want another child but cannot, or any combination of those at different points.

My own personal fertility and family-planning choices should not be construed as proof of the efficacy of the method I teach, or of NFP as a whole. After all, if I were an OB/GYN, patients wouldn’t ask about my family size, or imply that a method didn’t work because I had more than 2 children. No, the doctor’s family size probably wouldn’t come up in conversation, and if it did one would likely assume the children had been planned, whether that was true or not. The same courtesy should be extended to an NFP-user or instructor.

J’y vais and Squirrels

One of Leo’s favourite books is J’y vais, and we read it at nap and/or bedtime a lot of the time. In the book, a little bird tells various other birds, “J’y vais!” and then they give him something he may need. In the middle, he meets this squirrel who asks if the bird wants his umbrella. Unlike the other birds offering items (like the grandmother bird who offers biscuits in case the little bird gets hungry), he doesn’t give a reason for why the little bird may need an umbrella – just says, “want my umbrella?” This has led to many conversations with Leo wherein we discuss the squirrel’s motives.20160724_001333317_iOS

  • Maybe the squirrel just feels left out. All these birds have something to offer, and he wants to be included. Maybe it’s his way of trying to make friends or fit in.
  • Maybe he’s an introvert and doesn’t know what to say. I know there have been times when I’ve said something that didn’t necessarily fit the situation because I got shy and nervous and didn’t know what to say.
  • Maybe he’s new to this tree and doesn’t understand the customs. Maybe he’s thinking, “hmm, this little bird goes up to others to say he’s going, and they give him something for his long journey. Maybe that means I’m expected to give him something for his journey, too. Maybe he’s making a pilgrimage. All I have is this umbrella, so I’ll give him that.” This could also explain why he uses the wrong word, saying “mon” instead of “ma.”
  • Maybe he’s some kind of shady character. I mean, it’s perfectly sunny, but not too sunny thanks to the shady tree, yet this squirrel has an open umbrella. Why? Is he selling stolen umbrellas? Is he trying to start a new fashion trend? Who knows?!
  • Maybe the little bird is a con artist. He just says, “j’y vais,” without specifying that he only means he’s going as far as the toilet. Everyone assumes he’s going on some longer jaunt and therefore give him something for his journey. Maybe he’s just trying to see what he can get, and he sees this squirrel’s umbrella and wants it.

See, proof and being very tired and reading a story to a pre-schooler can lead to many hilarious conversations and thoughts.