Lessons from the ocean
The South Bay Birth Services doula team just returned from a much needed vacation in Kihei, Maui. My favorite place in Maui might be in the ocean. I am a Pisces, but I don't like to be in cold water, so in Hawaii, I really, really love to spend a lot of time in the warm waves. It feels like going home. Although I like to snorkel and see all the beautiful sea life, I especially love to ditch the gear and just float with the waves... eyes sometimes closed... total peace... one with the gentle rhythm of the sea. It reminds me of being "in the zone" in birth... and particularly of the place of peaceful rest in between surges... connecting to an unfamiliar world and accepting it with total peace and relaxation.
Maybe even a little more, I love to swim with the waves and surrender my body to the surge as the current pulls me out and then the tide floats me over the next swell... riding the wave. Well, it usually floats me over. Sometimes it comes bigger or faster than I anticipate, and I dive through the peak, avoiding the crash.
As a birth doula, it is impossible for me not to think of my clients who are soon to be in waves of their own. The strong, current sucks and pulls you out and if you go WITH it, you find yourself face to face with the cresting swell of a giant wave. There may be a moment of doubt or fear as you see the peak coming toward you, but if you run with the current, you have the timing and momentum to glide right over the top of it. And so it is with labor contractions/surges.
It's interesting that if you try to resist the suck of the current and stand your ground, the coming wave is much more likely to crest right on top of you. Most of the time, even if the wave begins to break right on you, you can just dive THROUGH IT. This reminds me that even if a labor surge gets out ahead of you and you begin to resist the strength/pull of it, you can still safely dive through the peak of the wave and ride down the back side.
One day last week, I was enjoying the waves when they changed quickly and dramatically. I went out deeper, facing and running toward increasingly gigantic waves, following the current and the riding the peaks. I felt fine in the depth, but I was swimming alone and thought I should come in. To come in I had to fight the current and try to navigate the timing of the crashing waves. This feels much trickier and unnatural to me and I'm not as good at it. I got caught in the crash of a big wave... it was too much upon me to dive through, all I could do was let the wave take me. It tossed me and set me down in shallow water and I regrouped easily.
As a doula, I've seen this happen in labor, too, when you fight the current and you lose your balance and your confidence and you feel like the surge crashes upon you. What to do? One of our current clients is a swimmer and she described this analogy perfectly when she said that the best thing you can do is let your body go limp and let the wave take you. If you fight "falling" and getting tossed about and try to control your body or the wave the tension and struggle is far more likely to cause an injury (which is, sadly, just what happened to a women swimming near me when this happened last week.)
When labor surges change dramatically, the best thing to do is to rally your team (don't swim alone). Tell your partner and your doula how things are changing. Keeping them close will allow you to just go out deeper and keep facing those waves with confidence.
If you still panic and get tossed by a wave, the best thing to do is
1. REMEMBER (and trust) that this big wave is still just a wave that will peak and then quiet and then end.
2. RELAX your body and let the water toss you and set you down.
3. REGROUP with the help of your partner and doula.
Lastly, I observed the rhythm, movement, ritual and flow of the ocean. The waves follow a predictable pattern, even though they aren't predictable themselves and each one really is different. Waves come in sets. Although sometimes fast and close and sometimes there is a long lull between sets. Similarly, there is a beautiful balance to labor that is both restful and exhilarating. It is best when you get in the flow of it, but if you get off you can "dive through," gather your team and go deeper, and even if you get tossed you can remember, relax and regroup.
If I had someone with me, out there in those big waves, I would have stayed deep and enjoyed the ride. Your doula will stay with you and offer continuous support to you during the surges of labor and delivery may remind you of imagery like this, as you and your baby swim through the experience of birth.