My path to becoming a birth worker started with Clomid.
Clomid is an ovulation-stimulating drug. After a year of trying for a baby, normal test results, and a diagnosis of “unexplained infertility,” my OB prescribed Clomid to increase our chance of becoming pregnant.
The good news? It worked! The second month of taking Clomid, I conceived two babies—my wonderful twin daughters. My husband and I were ecstatic that our dream of becoming parents was coming true! I love these sweet girls and their twin bond and am so grateful they came to our family when they did.
The bad news? This approach to fertility treatment did nothing to help my confidence or trust in my body. After a few blood tests that ultimately didn’t turn up any real reasons for infertility, my doctors stop trying to find a “why” and just moved ahead with a “Band-Aid” approach. I was already regularly ovulating each month, but my OBs figured that if I ovulated more eggs, there’d be a higher chance of me getting pregnant each cycle. They weren’t wrong.
But I started my pregnancy feeling broken and confused. And I’m confident this affected the choices I made during their birth.
After my twins were born and we were ready to start trying for another baby, I really wanted to figure out why it had been so hard for us to conceive. Turns out, trying to get pregnant the second time wasn’t really any easier.
But I had a thirst to try to figure out why. One day, I was reading an email newsletter and saw that a local fertility educator was hosting a free one-hour workshop on fertility awareness. I really had no idea what that meant, but I knew I wanted to be more aware of my fertility, so I went to the workshop.
It was eye-opening. The teacher talked about all of the signs our bodies give us to indicate how fertile we are at different phases of the menstrual cycle. I had heard about temperature charting—and had it dismissed offhand in a doctor’s appointment as something that didn’t actually work! But I had no clue about the other cues she was talking about: cervical position, firmness, openness, fluid, vaginal wetness, and more! I got my hands on a copy of Toni Weschler’s Taking Charge of Your Fertility and dove in.
TAKING CHARGE OF YOUR FERTILITY: AN OVERVIEW
Taking Charge of Your Fertility is a comprehensive book that describes fertility signs, how to identify them in your own body, and how to use this knowledge to either avoid or achieve pregnancy and be informed and empowered about your own body. The book begins with a review of the current common options for birth control and bodily awareness that are offered for women: the long list of birth control options and their accompanying side effects do nothing to help us take charge of our own fertility, and they leave us with a long list of negative side effects!
The Menstrual Cycle
Weschler then offers a detailed overview of female and male internal and external reproductive anatomy. With that groundwork laid, she describes the menstrual cycle in detail, including the hormones that trigger each phase.
In the first portion of the menstrual cycle, Follicle Stimulating Hormone encourages the maturation of 15 to 20 eggs in each ovary. The follicles that hold each egg produce estrogen as the eggs continue to mature. Eventually, when your body reaches an estrogen threshold, the most dominant follicle that cycle releases an egg, and the others disintegrate. This can happen anywhere from day 8 to day 21 or later in your cycle. As your estrogen levels peak, this also triggers a surge of Luteinizing Hormone (LH), which causes the mature egg to pass through the ovarian wall. This is called ovulation. After ovulation, fimbria (little fingers at the end of the fallopian tubes) gather the egg and carry it from the pelvic cavity into the fallopian tubes. The follicle that released the egg becomes the corpus luteum and releases progesterone for 12-16 days. This hormone stops the other follicles from releasing their eggs, induces thickening of the endometrium (inner lining of the uterus), and triggers a shift in basal body temperature, cervical fluid, and cervical position. If the egg becomes fertilized and burrows into the endometrium (lining of the uterus), your body starts producing HCG, which signals for the corpus luteum to continuing releasing progesterone so that the uterine lining doesn’t disintegrate and shed itself during menstruation, as it does in cycles that don’t result in pregnancy.
If you’re like me, after getting to this point in the book, you’ve probably learned 10 times what you’ve ever been taught about anatomy, fertility, and menstruation. And we’ve only covered the first tenth of the content of Taking Charge of Your Fertility! (I won’t go into as much detail about the content of the rest of the book in this blog post.)
The Three Primary Fertility Signs
After gaining a firm understanding of your anatomy and menstrual cycle, you’re ready to learn about how you can take charge of your fertility, by learning about, identifying, and charting the three primary fertility signs: cervical fluid, basal body temperature (or waking temperature), and cervical position.
There’s so much more detail for each of these signs than I’ll be able to give here (which is why Toni Weschler wrote a 400 + page book about it!), but let me give you a quick overview.
Cervical Fluid: Your cervical fluid, which presents itself to you as vaginal discharge, changes consistency throughout your cycle. The consistency of your cervical fluid is a big clue as to whether you’re in the fertile portion of your cycle. Everyone’s fluid is slightly different, and it may take you a while to identify your pattern at what influences it, but here’s the general pattern: at the beginning of your cycle, you have menstrual discharge. When that ends, you may have a few days of vaginal dryness, and then you’ll likely start to have some secretions that are sticky. With this type of discharge, you’re potentially fertile, but it’s unlikely that sperm would survive in this type of fluid.
After a few days (it’s different for everyone and can vary from cycle to cycle), your cervical fluid will likely become more wet and creamy or slippery. You’re more fertile when your cervical fluid is creamy.
Then, your cervical fluid starts to resemble eggwhites: it stretches and is clear, and creates a lubricative vaginal sensation. This eggwhite-quality cervical fluid indicates that you’re in the most fertile part of your cycle. If you’re hoping to get pregnant, take advantage of this time! If you’d rather not, use barrier method birth control or abstain from intercourse during any pre-ovulatory days with cervical fluid of any consistency.
After ovulation, as estrogen levels drop, cervical fluid tends to dry up quickly, and progesterone kicks in as the primary hormone of your menstrual cycle.
Basal Body Temperature (Waking Temperature): As hormones rise and fall during your cycle, your basal body temperature shifts in response. During the first part of your cycle, pre-ovulation, your temperature will be lower, around 97.0 to 97.7 degrees Fahrenheit. After you ovulate and progesterone is the primary hormone of your cycle, your temperatures will shift and remain higher throughout your cycle, with an average basal body temperature of about 97.8 degrees.
Tracking basal body temperature is pretty easy, but there are a few things that make it even easier—nearly effortless! In order to ensure that your temperature is accurate, you’ll need to use a thermometer that is accurate to the tenths place. Choosing one that is specifically marketed as a “basal body thermometer” will ensure this accuracy. Typically, you must also take your temperature at about the same time every day, before getting out of bed, and after three hours of uninterrupted sleep. As a mom and doula, I know that regularly aligning those three requirements can be tricky! Personally, I’ve opted to use TempDrop, a wearable thermometer that has uses an algorithm to account for sleep disturbances or inconsistencies. I just put on the armband when I go to bed, take it off when I wake up, and sync it to the app on my phone, which uploads my temperature data to a graph on the app and makes it easy to see when I’ve ovulated and my temperature has risen! If you opt for a different thermometer, there are several other apps that will chart your temperatures for you, such as Femometer, CycleProGo, and many others. They also offer places to write notes and keep track of your cervical fluid quality and cervix position, firmness, and openness, as well as any other notes that may impact your fertility (illness, stress, etc.). I started charting my cycle years ago with pen and paper, and let me tell you, these apps are game changers!
Cervical Position: Weschler describes cervical position as an optional sign gives more information about how fertile you are at different signs of your cycle. To remember the cervix’s position during fertile times, Weschler introduces the acronym SHOW. When you’re in a fertile phase of your cycle, your cervix becomes Soft, High, Open, and Wet. (You can imagine that this would create an ideal environment for sperm to pass through to achieve pregnancy!)
Applying Your Fertility Knowledge
After describing each of these signs, Weschler gives detailed instructions on how to observe each of them within your own body, and how to chart or keep track of them. As you put these principles into practice, you’ll be able to gain valuable information about your own body and use this information to help you achieve or avoid pregnancy. Throughout the rest of the book, Weschler describes various circumstances during which you may not ovulate (adolescence, breastfeeding, PCOS, etc.). She gives information about how to use fertility awareness to avoid pregnancy and to help become pregnant. Beyond avoiding or achieving pregnancy, she discusses how an increased awareness of your fertility is helpful in staying informed about your gynecological health, appreciating your sexuality, navigating PMS and menopause, and enhancing your sense of self-esteem and self-efficacy. In short, fertility awareness is useful throughout your life!
After the primary content of the book, Toni closes with tons of helpful appendices, ranging in topic from using fertility awareness while breastfeeding, troubleshooting hard-to-read basal body temp charts, how to research fertility clinics, and much more!
This blog post has been a (comparatively) brief overview of how to better understand your body’s fertility cues, which you can use to avoid or achieve pregnancy. But it’s not comprehensive! I hope you feel empowered by the information you’ve read here, and that you’re motivated to go and learn more! Especially if you’re using fertility awareness to avoid pregnancy, I highly recommend that you get your hands on a copy of Taking Charge of Your Fertility and get familiar with all of the details that I didn’t go into here! (I have multiple copies in my Lending Library!) I also recommend that you take several months, off of hormonal birth control, to get familiar with your body and your fertility signs. If it’s not something you’ve been used to paying attention to, it can take some time to read your body’s cues. So use a barrier method of birth control while you’re learning!
If you’re using this information to become pregnant, you’ll still learn a lot from reading Taking Charge of Your Fertility. The things you’ll learn will help you navigate fertility challenges, time your pregnancy, and be confident in your estimated due date based on your unique cycle and day of ovulation.
Whatever your circumstance, I can’t wait for you to learn more!
When I first learned about the children's book Nine Months by Miranda Paul and Jason Chin, I knew before even reading it that I wanted to add it to my bookshelf. Paul (author) and Chin (illustrator) collaborated on a family favorite picture book, Water is Water, that poetically teaches about the water cycle and water phases. That book is done so masterfully, with such beautiful illustrations, that I was giddy to discover that Paul and Chin had collaborated on a book about pregnancy!
As of right now, this is the only book in my Lending Library written for children. But I feel it's the perfect book for big sisters- and brothers-to-be. Each two-page shows what happens during a month of pregnancy: through poetry, simple facts about the growing baby, and beautiful life-size illustrations of the baby in-utero and a fictional family preparing to welcome the baby. The language and paintings appeal to the youngest children as well as older children and the adults reading the book. Here's a taste of the beauty of this book:
I love how the simple, rhyming words, paired with paintings of what's going on inside and outside the uterus, come together to tell the beginning of this incredible story of new life!
The side-by-side illustrations of the fetus growing and the family preparing help kids make sense of doctor's visits and mom's growing belly.
Aren't those illustrations beautiful?!
For especially curious young (or older!) minds, the book ends with four small-type pages of information of how a fertilized egg grows from embryo to fetus, detailing when each body system forms and develops. It gives additional information about fetal skills and abilities, compares human gestation to other mammals, and explains multiple gestation (twins and more), prematurity, and miscarriage.
Truly, if you're looking for an info-packed, thoughtfully-made, accessible, gorgeous book to help older siblings prepare for a new baby, Nine Months is it!
This is the sleep book I wish I'd had when my kids were babies.
Being a new parent is tough! Adjusting to a new sleep schedule and meeting the seemingly-constant needs of a new baby is exhausting. Worst of all, when you Google anything about baby sleep, you get experts on all sides disagreeing about the best way to teach kids to sleep! No matter how you proceed in trying to get some more sleep for you and your baby, someone out there will tell you that you're doing it wrong.
As a new parent, I also struggled with guilt when we resorted to cry-it-out methods, desperate to get more sleep for our babies (we started with twins) and ourselves. While one or both of my babies cried themselves to sleep in their room, I, myself, was crying in our room, wishing there was a better way to get everyone some more sleep!
I wish I'd heard then about The No-Cry Sleep Solution by Elizabeth Pantley. That's what I needed! No tears, for either of us.
The book begins with important information for getting started, like basic sleep facts for newborns through two years, and safe sleep practices for newborns. (If you're reading the first edition, which I have in my library, some of the safe sleep recommendations do need updating. I've annotated my copies with sticky notes.) Pantley then describes the in-depth process of creating sleep logs, then reviewing your sleep logs and choosing solutions to improve your baby's sleep patterns. Solutions are divided into those for newborn babies (up to four months) and those for older babies (four months to two years). Pantley cautions that, in order to have an impact, you have to try out new solutions for at least two or three weeks. This approach to a better night's sleep isn't a quick fix, and will require dedication and persistence.
Pantley recommends continuing to keep detailed sleep logs and analyzing them every ten days and making any necessary changes. Throughout the book, she gives examples of possible solutions, when they are likely to be effective, and alternatives to try if they are not. And she ends with a reminder that sleep patterns continue to change as children grow up, so keeping these tools and the book handy in coming months and years will continue to be helpful!
Although I can't vouch for the efficacy of this baby sleep approach from personal experience, I've heard this book highly recommended by a very experienced postpartum doula I trust. And, though I didn't get the chance to try out any No-Cry strategies on my newborns, I did use its wisdom to navigate a sleep problem with my four-year-old, who still slept with a pacifier.
I knew it was time for him to quit the pacifier habit, but all of my ideas of how to do it without lots of crying (from everyone!) were falling short. Then, using an idea from The No-Cry Sleep Solution, I wrote him a picture book--starring him, as the main character. It told the story of him growing up and saying goodbye to his pacifier (with compensation prizes to salve the hurt). When I read it to him, he did cry a bit about having to say goodbye to his pacifier, but only briefly. He didn't stormily protest (as he was in the habit of doing), and the whole transition went far, far better than I imagined it would.
This experience, plus recommendations from professionals I trust, gives me confidence that Elizabeth Pantley knows what she's talking about when she writes about no-cry (or low-cry) sleep solutions. Ready for your baby to sleep better? Or preparing to have a baby and wanting to get things right from the get-go? I'd love to lend you my copy of The No-Cry Sleep Solution in my Lending Library.
Penny Simkin writes, "How a woman gives birth matters--to her baby's long-term health, to her family (including her relationship with her partner), and to her mental and physical health and her self-confidence and self-esteem as a woman and a mother" (The Birth Partner, Fourth Edition, p. xi). Because this is true, Simkin also asserts that "How a woman is cared for and supported during birth is a major influence, not only in how she gives birth but also in how she feels about it" (p. xi). Quality support during birth is important. The way women are supported during birth affects how they birth, how they feel about it, and how the experience impacts their roles and relationships for a lifetime.
Given the importance of high-quality support during birth, wouldn't it be nice if support people (husbands, partners, family, and doulas) had a manual for how to give high-quality support? The Birth Partner answers this call. The book is a comprehensive go-to for support people during the last week's of pregnancy and birth. It's written by Penny Simkin, the co-founder of DONA International, the largest and oldest doula training and certifying organization.
In The Birth Partner, Simkin writes to spouses and partners to help them prepare to be an active and supportive participant in the birth process. She describes in detail what to expect in the final weeks of pregnancy and through each stage of labor, and how birth partners can be helpful at each stage, while also caring for their own physical and emotional needs. Throughout the book, Simkin also briefly discusses the doula's role during labor and birth and how it complements the husband/partner's role.
She then describes some of the common tests, interventions, and procedures that may be recommended during pregnancy and labor and gives a framework for making informed decisions. In this section, Simkin does normalize some interventions that aren't necessary in many healthy pregnancies, but that's my biggest (and most nit-picky) complaint about the book. The book closes with a section on the first few days postpartum, and Simkin again shares helpful information and tips about how to be a supportive help at home in the days after birth.
In all, The Birth Partner is an info-packed and accessible guide for preparing to support someone through the experience of giving birth. I keep multiple copies of it in my Lending Library so that my clients can benefit from reading it! If you'd like to get a taste for an abridged version of The Birth Partner, Penny Simkin also published a pamphlet, "Comfort in Labor," that touches on many of the same topics covered in The Birth Partner. If, after reading "Comfort in Labor," you feel that you want more, then The Birth Partner is probably for you!
Before I discovered my love for birth work, singing was my PASSION. Teaching and taking voice lessons, musical theater performances, and choirs were a huge part of my life! As a busy mom, doula, and student, I haven't had much time to focus on singing in recent years. But...
I've spent the last several months polishing up some favorite songs and learning some new ones, and I'm thrilled to announce that I'm hosting a BENEFIT CONCERT to support my grant program for doula clients! This program enables me to serve families with financial constraints and ensure that everyone can have the birth support they're looking for!
Join me on Saturday, November 20 at 2:00 PM in room 309 of the Provo Library for a musically eclectic hour filled with musical theater favorites, fun and funky pop songs, and a few special duets!
Suggested donation is $10/person or $25/family. Additional donations are welcome and appreciated! All ticket sales and donations will go directly towards my grant program to provide doula support to families with financial constraints.
I've got good news, and I've got bad news. The bad news is that my previous partner, the fabulous Mary Caplin of Your Family Doula, is soon moving across the Atlantic to begin her family's next adventure. I have learned so much from collaborating with Mary over the last few years, and I'll miss her terribly!
The good news is that I have a wonderful new partner, Susie Hannig of Birth and Body Care with Susie Faye. Susie, Mary, and I have actually been working as a threesome for several months in anticipation of Mary's move, and I've already learned so much from collaborating with Susie! Susie has been a massage therapist for over twelve years, and I can tell you from personal experience that she is phenomenal at what she does. She's also an incredible doula, and we now back each other up in case of emergencies or other special circumstances. Susie gives so much to her clients and has a wide range of knowledge she draws on as she supports them. AND...
We're continuing to teach our Childbirth Class Date Nights, just as I did with Mary (with a couple of Susie-flavored tweaks, like a brief massage instruction portion!). To accommodate a few more couples, we've moved our classes to FLOW Chiropractic in Lehi. Dr. Steven Roushar has a very nice venue with plenty of space for us to spread out and practice techniques for working together during birth! We'll also add some nice date night-y touches with decor and refreshments for a cozy and intimate feel.
We've designed this two-hour class to help you strengthen your relationship and preparation for birth. Whether it's your first baby or your sixth, come learn how to make every stage of labor progress more smoothly. You will move beyond feelings of uncertainty to claim your power as life-giving agents. You'll learn and practice hands-on comfort measures so you can work together as a couple during labor. We customize the class based on the attendees and their birth plans and needs, and can adjust our curriculum to fit the needs of those planning to give birth at the hospital, home, or a birth center, and with or without an epidural. Throughout the class, we share lots of our favorite resources so that you can keep learning together after the class is over! AND... If you decide to hire Susie or me as your doula after attending the class, the cost of your Childbirth Class Date Night tickets goes towards your doula package fee.
So, pick the date that works best for you, and head on over to www.utahcountydoulas.com/childbirthclasses to register! We can't wait to see you tehre!
This post is part of a series of related posts: book reviews of the titles in my lending library. Click the link to read more!
Ah, this book. It’s such a great read. Sarah Buckley, an Australian family physician, expertly walks the line between instinctive/super-crunchy/holistic and scholarly/super-well-researched/academic. It’s just brimming with quote-worthy snippets, so I’ve sprinkled them throughout this post for your reading pleasure. Enjoy!
“Birth is women’s business; it is the business of our bodies. And our bodies are indeed wondrous, from our monthly cycles to the awesome power inherent in the act of giving birth. Yet in our culture I do not see respect for these extraordinary functions: instead we diet, exercise, abuse, conceal, and generally punish our bodies for not approximating an unobtainable ideal. This lack of trust in and care for our bodies can rob us of confidence in giving birth. Conversely, an experience of the phenomenal capacity of our birthing body can give us an enduring sense of our own power as women. Birth is the beginning of life; the beginning of mothering, and of fathering. We all deserve a good beginning.”
The book begins with a few chapters on instinctive birth and trusting your inner self, and how healing birth can heal the earth.
“We cannot birth our babies through sheer force of will. We need to learn the more subtle—yet equally powerful—path of surrender.”
“In surrendering to birth, we also learn about our role on the Earth: we are neither the rulers nor the architects of creation. Life comes through us, simply and gracefully, when we allow it.”
Buckley then gives a step-by-step guide to sound personal medical decision-making. She calls this the BRAN method, and encourages her readers to consider the Benefits, Risks, Alternatives, and possibility of doing Nothing when they are faced with a medical decision. She then applies this method to common pregnancy and birth procedures (Gestational Diabetes, Group B Strep, Going “Overdue”), outlining the research as she discusses each option.
“If the baby is truly large, it is likely that the mother’s body will have maximum pelvic softness and flexibility (due to peak levels of hormones such as progesterone) on the day she spontaneously goes into labor, giving her the best chance to accommodate and birth her large baby.”
In subsequent chapters, Buckley thoroughly reviews the research on common birth interventions, such as ultrasounds, epidurals, and cesareans. Each chapter has literally hundreds of footnotes—it’s clear that Dr. Buckley has done her homework!
“On average the first stage of labor is twenty-six minutes longer in women who use an epidural, and the second (pushing) stage is fifteen minutes longer.”
“The combination of epidurals and Pitocin, both of which can cause fetal heart rate (FHR) abnormalities and fetal distress (reflecting a critical lack of blood and oxygen), markedly increases the risks of operative delivery (forceps, vacuum, or cesarean delivery).”
She also peruses the evidence on gentler birth and mothering choices. With great detail, she describes the beautiful hormonal cocktail that accompanies and enables undisturbed birth.
“When birth is undisturbed, our birthing hormones can take us into ecstasy—outside (ec) our usual state (stasis)—so that we enter motherhood awakened and transformed.”
“Birth is a peak bodily performance, for which our bodies are superbly designed.”
She shows the safety and beauty of home birth for low-risk mothers; she tells the story of how love and attachment can be naturally and gently formed in the baby’s early days.
“One study showed that newborns who experienced “kangaroo care”—that is, uninterrupted skin-to-skin contact with the mother—in the first hour after birth were less stressed and more organized in their behavior, cried less, and slept longer, compared with babies who were routinely separated.”
She examines the vast research supporting breastfeeding and the many benefits it offers mom and baby, and she goes over the benefits of co-sleeping and how to safely practice it.
I’d highly recommend getting your hands on a copy of Sarah Buckley’s Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering. It will open your mind to new ways of thinking and fill your mind with evidence-based information. As I closed the book, I felt energized, empowered, and grateful for Buckley’s great contribution.
“A recent review of satisfaction after childbirth found that personal expectations, support from caregivers, the caregiver-patient relationship, and involvement in decision-making are the most important factors in determining satisfaction with the experience of childbirth.”
Have you read Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering? I'd love to hear what you thought of it!
This post is part of a series of related posts: book reviews of the titles in my lending library. Click the link to read more!
As you can tell from the sticky notes, this book is packed full of good information!
I appreciate the Searses' well-rounded and positive approach to pregnancy they take in this book. They begin with detailed information about how to have a healthy pregnancy through wise nutritional choices, movement, sleep, and self-care skills. This starts the book off on a great foot for helping women be the responsible agent in their pregnancy and birth, which I believe is critical! They list helpful nutrients for pregnant women and their developing babies, the foods that offer them, and even recipes to incorporate them in your diet. In the section on exercise, they emphasize the importance of moving healthily and the wide range of activities that pregnant women can do to stay in shape and help their bodies and their babies be as healthy as possible.
The next section of the book details the month-by-month changes that occur in the developing baby and the pregnant mother's body. They address concerns and discomforts that may arise by offering helpful tips and solutions. In the section on birth, they offer a detailed explanation of the "hormonal symphony of birth" and beautifully describe how mom and baby's bodies work together to bring baby into the world. They address common interventions and when they can be helpful and when they'd be better avoided.
In the final section, uncommon pregnancy complications are addressed. The section begins with the directive to read only those sections that pertain to a complication you have, as there's no need to worry about things that could but likely won't--wise advice for an expectant parent! I especially appreciate their re-framing of the term "high-risk pregnancy." They explain that this term is necessary for doctors to be aware of women whose pregnancies and births should be monitored more closely, but invite women in this category to instead consider their pregnancy as "high responsibility":
"Instead of resigning yourself to the high-risk label, becoming a passive patient, and leaving all birth decisions up to your doctors, become a high-responsibility mother. Take an even more active role in your birth partnership; cooperation between you and your care providers is essential. You need to be more informed and more involved in decision-making than the average mother, and you need to take better care of yourself. The first question you should ask your doctor after you are classified as high-risk is what specific things you can do to lower that risk."
I especially appreciated this advice because both of my pregnancies have been "high-responsibility," the first because I was carrying twins, and the second because I have a blood-clotting disorder and was planning on a VBAC. In my first pregnancy, I resigned myself to the "high-risk" label and stopped asking many questions and taking personal responsibility for my pregnancy, and I ended up with some complications that I believe I could have avoided if I'd been a more active participant in my health care. In my second pregnancy, I made sure I was well-informed and the responsible agent for caring for my extra needs, and I had a very positive experience as an active birth-giver!
In all, I definitely recommend this book as a comprehensive guide to having a healthy and positive pregnancy. It's the best book of its kind in that category!
This is the seventh post in a series of blog posts based on interviews I’m doing with midwives who serve Utah County.
In this post, I’ll introduce you to the wonderful Melissa Chappell, owner of Songbird Maternity and co-owner of Utah Birth Suites, alongside Seasons Warner. She attends births at their beautiful new birth center in Provo, as well as home births in Utah County.
Twenty-six years ago, when Melissa was pregnant with her first child, she took a Bradley Method birth class and had a great first birth experience, even though her labor was very long. After that birth, she wanted to teach others to help them prepare for awesome birth experiences, so she became a childbirth educator. Later, she became a doula, then a doula trainer, and then a midwife, which she has been doing since 2015! She attended The Community School of Midwifery and completed the North American Registry of Midwives (NARM) Portfolio Evaluation Process and earned her CPM and Utah State Licensure (LDEM) credentials in 2018. Now, she also enjoys teaching potential midwives! Over the 25 years she’s served the birth community, she has touched the lives of hundreds of birthing families.
During our interview, I asked Melissa if she would talk with me about pushing, or the second stage of labor. If you’ve ever watched a TV birth scene, you likely imagine many people standing around, chanting, “Push! Push!” or counting from 1 to 10 as the mother bears down, purple-faced and out of breath. But, as Melissa can attest, birthing your baby doesn’t have to be this way!
In fact, that’s not how it goes at all at the births that Melissa attends. “Most of the time, if you just let a mom follow her body, she’s going to be able to push on her own,” she says. Melissa mentions that some people say they’ve given birth to multiple babies and never really felt the urge to push. “A lot of times that comes from people not really being given the time for their bodies to get to that point where they’re ready to push,” Melissa explains. “I mean, no one’s just going to sit there with a baby inside them forever! Their bodies are eventually going to help them know how to push the babies out.”
Sometimes, you may reach full dilation (10 cm), and still not feel, instinctually, that it’s time to push. Your contractions may even slow down for a while and give you a little break. When that happens, Melissa calls it the “rest and be thankful” stage. As you take some time for a little break before birthing your baby, your baby descends further into your pelvis, until you may notice that you’re grunting a little at the top of each contraction. When Melissa hears that little grunt, she gets excited—the baby is almost here!
Once the second stage of labor (pushing phase) starts, the length of time until baby is born varies greatly. On average, Melissa’s clients push for under an hour, but some push for a couple of hours, and every now and then, up to four hours! Recent research indicates that this is safe as long as both the mother and her baby’s vital signs look good and she is making progress in moving the baby down.
In a first birth, Melissa will sometimes offer gentle coaching or direction if her clients would like more guidance about how to push. One way she may do this is by gently placing her finger inside the bottom of the vagina (in the perineal space) to offer direction about where to push. Of course, Melissa never does this without the explicit consent or request of her clients!
For many clients, though, Melissa doesn’t give any direction or coaching. She just gives them time and space to listen to their bodies.
And what about cervical exams? Melissa says she rarely does them. (Although with first time moms, she does them a little more frequently, to help them assess where they are in their labor progression when they first arrive at the birth center.) “As a midwife, after doing this for years and years, you get to a point where you can tell without doing a cervical check, if someone is almost ready to push.” She listens to the sounds her clients are making (like that little grunt at the top of each contraction), and she watches the pattern of their labor: the length, frequency, and intensity of their contractions. By closely watching and listening, Melissa says that cervical exams to ensure complete dilation before pushing begins are rarely needed. Melissa further explains, “If you’re really, really empowering a laboring person to listen to their body and not push unless she feels that overwhelming urge, you’re not going to have people pushing on cervixes that are not ready to be pushed on.”
Melissa is not alone in the way she empowers and encourages her clients to listen to their bodies and instinctively push during labor—there are many other fabulous midwives across Utah County who offer that same sort of care! I’m grateful that Melissa took the time to discuss this important topic with me, and for the individualized and empowering care she gives to her clients. She has a vibrant personality and lots of enthusiasm for the incredible work she does. Head on over to her website to learn more!
This is the sixth post in a series of blog posts based on interviews I’m doing with midwives who serve Utah County.
Today’s post is based on a conversation with Amy Ihrig. Amy owns Joyful Birth Midwifery Services. She has been in the birth community for 15 years (starting out as a doula), and has been a midwife for about five years. She graduated from Midwives College of Utah and is a Certified Professional Midwife (CPM). Amy attends home births in northern Utah County. Amy is passionate about learning and teaching, and it shows with the wide ranges of classes and services she offers! In addition to being a midwife, Amy is also a Bradley Method Childbirth educator. The Bradley method focuses on how husbands can support their wives during labor and birth. She also teaches infant massage classes for new parents, as well as comfort measures classes, which she calls “doula dad” courses. And she teachers mother/daughter maturation classes using the Maidens by His Design curriculum, a Christian-based program to help mothers and daughters understand and communicate about their incredible bodies.
As you can surely tell from that impressive list, Amy believes in the power of education and the wonder of birth. She truly believes that birth can and should be a joyful experience. Amy is a holistic care provider; rather than just considering her clients’ medical well-being, she looks at the whole picture of their overall wellness as part of her care.
Like many midwives I’ve interviewed, Amy began her journey to midwifery as a doula. She decided to become a doula after her awesome second birth experience (an accidental home birth—keep reading for the details!) After nearly a decade as a doula, she felt called to expand her scope of practice to be able to provide fullness of care—medical and beyond—to her clients.
Since I’ve noticed this doula-->midwife pattern in several conversations with midwives I’ve interviewed, and I’m currently riding the doula-->midwife trajectory after having a transformatively awesome birth, I joked with Amy that having an amazing birth is a “gateway drug” for aspiring birth professionals.
Give a woman an amazing birth, and she’ll want to become a doula. When she becomes a doula, she’ll love it and realize the importance of education along the pregnancy and birth journey. She’ll decide to become a childbirth educator. When she becomes a childbirth educator, she’ll realize that she could expand her circle of influence even more by becoming a midwife. When she becomes a midwife, she’ll continue to seek opportunities for learning and growth to better serve her clients and invite them to have amazing births. And when her clients have amazing births…
(Now that’s a version of If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, or, rather, If You Give a Woman an Amazing Birth that I can get behind! Give me that kind of ripple effect any day!)
Back to Amy’s journey from amazing birth to doula to midwife.
Before becoming a doula, Amy was staunchly opposed to home birth. Then, she had an accidental home birth. Her labor moved along much more rapidly than she expected, so she birthed her baby in her bedroom with baffled paramedics as her birth attendants. The birth was smooth and beautiful, and something in Amy shifted. Her next birth was a planned home birth, and the rest is history.
Now, Amy is a strong proponent of home birth and the opportunity it affords for an intimate birthing experience. She loves supporting her clients as they make informed decisions in the peace of their own home. “My ideal client,” Amy says, “is someone who takes responsibility for their own choices. They will listen to the education that I’m providing them, and they will pursue further research in helping themselves to stay healthy and low-risk.”
Having a joyful home birth is not a fictional fantasy. Amy’s passion and work is to make the dream of a joyful home birth a reality for her clients. Preparing for a home birth requires research and work, and a supportive and experienced midwife. We are lucky, here in Utah County, to have so many such options! And we’re fortunate that Amy Ihrig is among them.
Hi, I'm Sara. I'm a birth + postpartum doula serving Utah county. I'm a twin mom (plus one!), natural VBACer, and birth lover!