Fertility Awareness

As a Full Spectrum Doula, I wanted to share my experience with what I call “fertility journeys.”

I began my fertility journey at 18 years of age when I was told that due to my medical condition, I would be unable to get pregnant and have any children.

I was blessed enough to be able to go on and give birth to five amazing children that are now in their adult years.

I did not have to adopt, do IUI, IVF, use surrogacy or foster.

Yet I have had friends and family that have done this at their own personal expense, as many of these procedures and processes are not covered or funded by most Canadian health plans.

According to our stats in Canada, 1 in 6 couples is affected by a fertility journey.

Male factors can be attributed to ⅓ of cases

Female factors can be attributed to ⅓ of cases

And ⅓ of cases are a combination of both male and female factors

Through my years as a Full Spectrum Doula, I have been blessed to walk alongside many families that have navigated the fertility journey and came out the other side with their desired goal. But I have also supported many that have experienced the loss, difficulty and hardship that many times accompanies this difficult road.

Last month I attended three Fertility Journey births.

I assist many families from pre-conception all the way into parenthood. My specialty is women transitioning in various areas of life, but this also means supporting their partners, family members and even their pets to navigate the unchartered territory of fertility, pregnancy, bereavement, loss, labour, and birth.

The first birth I attended was a beautiful couple that had tried multiple times for 7 years to conceive, and magically, right before their final IVF treatment, they found out they were expecting.

The next couple’s journey took them to travel to a faraway land where they made a choice to adopt an embryo and successfully implant it in the mother.

The third couple had multiple losses before 22 weeks due to a genetic condition, and after special genetic treatment, they conceived and were expecting a healthy baby boy.

All three couples were birthing baby boys, and that was not the only similarity. 

They all had 7-year-plus journeys. They all had experienced multiple losses and grief. They all had a hard time really believing that they were pregnant and about to give birth. They had undealt with fear and anxiety about the birthing process and a nagging sense of something going wrong. They also had the dichotomy of being so joyful that the dream they had carried for so long was about to come true finally. This cocktail mix of emotions and feelings can be overwhelming to deal with and can make it extremely difficult when you must make multiple decisions surrounding the birth process.

This is one of the reasons I enjoy being a Full Spectrum Doula. Being able to equip and assist each couple with the practical aspects of birthing a baby, as well as holding space and creating a positive atmosphere where these emotions can be felt and used to bring clarity, focus, and build expectation and joy of a realized dream.

Through my training in trauma-informed care, I get to share with each couple that their birth story can be unique and not like anyone else’s. When it comes to having a baby, you may have the same ingredients but how you mix it up and serve it is all up to you. Through meditation, hypnosis, and exercises, each couple learns how to deal with the deep underlying fear and anxiety. They learn how to make medical informed choices that they can live with, and partners learn how to advocate within the medical system so that birth trauma isn’t added into the final mix.

Each pregnancy these mothers experienced was healthy and without special circumstances. Though each of them was induced in the hospital, their birth process was different in many ways. Each couple’s ongoing decisions led them down a different path, yet the outcome of all three of these births was the same. A healthy mom and healthy baby helped to equal a healthy family. This was the underlying intent of why they all had chosen to go on this fertility journey in the first place. Everything these couples had gone through was all worth it when they had their healthy, beautiful baby boy breathing softly, looking up into their eyes while laying on their chest.

 When the dust finally cleared, they had learned a major lesson that is often carried out throughout parenthood as well. There is only one thing you can count on with pregnancy, birth, or even a fertility journey, and that is …unpredictability. With all the medical advancements that have been made and information that we know about birth, this fact remains true.

The fertility journey is not for the faint of heart. It can be misunderstood, painful, isolating and full of fear and emotions that many avoid all of their lives. This is a journey of navigating love, using courage, mustering hope, experiencing loss and being vulnerable as you continue to try, try and try again.

For many reasons, we tend to judge and shame those that are on this journey, whether they have chosen it or not. We need to be more aware and mindful of what these families are going through and the destination they are hoping to get to. Compassion, understanding, care and consideration should be our initial and continued response in every circumstance.

During this time, it would be amazing if we could all just take a moment and be mindful and respectful of each individual’s choices and limitations surrounding their specific fertility challenges.

Charmaine is a Full Spectrum Doula and Childbirth Educator with over 25 years of experience.

#fertilitychallenges #fertilityjourney#fertilityawareness#fertilitycommunity

Pregnancy and Essential Oils

This is the time that everything in you says go back to nature. Take care of yourself. Eat healthy, remove all toxins and toxic substances. You instinctively know that there is something better for you and for your unborn baby growing inside of you. You can begin NOW! Using Essential oils during pregnancy is safe as long as you follow some simple rules.
1.Buy DoTerra as these are quality oils and are safe
2. Find out which types of oils are considered not safe to use during pregnancy
3. Get a good reliable source to let you know what oils are good for which issues may occur during your pregnancy
4. If you are unsure – do nothing
5. Dilute with carrier oil such as fractionated coconut oil for sensitivity
6. Continue using oils for the birth and for your baby
7. Stay Calm and oil on

TheGivingTreeServices.com

The Birth and Bereavement Doula supports families:

  • experiencing birth
  • enduring bereavement
  • facing any event where birth & bereavement may meet

                       A Birth and Bereavement Doula can support families experiencing:

  • birth in any trimester, and in any outcome
  • unconventional loss, which may include adoption or surrogacy
  • NICU care
  • “rainbow” subsequent live birth
  • full term, uncomplicated, live birth with no connection in any way to bereavement
  • newborn nutrition and lactation options
  • and more

    Benefits of Birth  Doula Support

  • Doulas supplement (not replace) childbirth professional / medical support to provide the following:
  • reduces overall Cesarean birth rate 50%
  • reduces the length of labor 25%
  • reduces Pitocin use 40%
  • reduces the need for forceps delivery 40
  • reduces requests for epidural pain relief 60%

    Benefits of  having a Bereavement Doula Support

  • Personal Doula support during miscarriage, stillbirth, fatal diagnosis or medical termination
  • comfort and reassurance during a difficult season
  • continued trauma informed care
  • provides information and supports for the grief and mourning process

 

Perineal Massage

This practice has a lot of controversy so I will speak about it from a personal aspect. Again, I will state for clarity that I believe every person should investigate and do what they feel is right for them.

Practicing perineal massage during my pregnancies helped me to prepare my perineum for delivery, and always reduced my risk of tearing.  The practice helped to stretch my perineum so that I experienced minimal stress.

Will I tear is one of the main concerns that I get asked by many expectant mothers that are concerned about being cut or tearing during childbirth.

Stephanie Fritz from “Essential oils for pregnancy, birth and babies” states that “Perineal massage is very much like stretching a balloon before blowing it up”.  She also says that it doesn’t matter if you massage or not, that just putting the oil on your perineum area will make a difference.

What Is Perineal Massage?

If done daily, this technique softens the skin, improves elasticity, and increases the ability of the perineum—the area between the anus and the lower aspect of the vagina—to stretch, leading to less tearing and less need for an episiotomy during a vaginal delivery. The practice can also help a mom-to-be relax her pelvic floor muscles, which is helpful during childbirth.

A 2013 review of studies featured in The Cochrane Collaboration noted that women who practiced this type of massage were 9 percent less likely to experience perineal trauma that required sutures and 16 percent less likely to have to endure an episiotomy.

Mix any of the following with Fractionated coconut oil: Camomile, Geranium, Sandalwood, or my favorite Frankincense. I created a spray with mine and it worked great!

They suggest that you consult with your midwife or OB before beginning the practice.

just make sure you use the oil to moisten the area prior to beginning

Perineal Massage Instructions:

  1. Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water.You don’t want to introduce germs into the birth canal
  2. Cut your fingernails short.The tissues in your vagina and perineal are delicate so cutting your nails short will prevent tearing of these tissues
  3. Prop yourself up in bed.Use pillows if necessary to support your back. Bend your knees and get into a relaxed state. Sit or lean back. You may like to use a mirror, especially to start with.  Often women are not very familiar with this part of our bodies.
  4. Use a lubricant.You will need to lubricate your thumbs and the perineal tissues.  Gently rub lubricant or a natural oil (almond, olive, coconut  or Vitamin E are popular, or you can use the specially formulated essential oil blend above in a spray bottle into the external skin until soaked in.
  5. Place your thumbs about 1” (3 cm) inside your vagina.Rest your fingers on your buttocks If you are massaging yourself, place your thumbs up to about 3cm inside the lower vaginal opening. If you partner is helping, they should use their first and second fingers
  6. Gently Press downwards (towards the anus) and to the sides of the vaginal wall.Hold your thumbs in this position until you begin to feel a slight burning or stretching sensation (usually this occurs in less than 2 minutes). It is only a gentle stretch – it should not be painful.
  7. Slowly and gently massage the lower half of your vagina.Use a “U” shaped movement. Try to relax your muscles while you are performing the massage. Hold the stretch for about 60 seconds (the average time of a contraction), and then relax. Rest for a minute or two.  You can practice using your breathing and relaxation techniques.  Your partner may breathe with you to help you focus, and for extra practice.
  8. Continue to massage for 10 minutes.It may take up to several weeks of this daily massage before you notice that your perineal area has more elasticity.                                                  

A Safe Passage

2 days and 2 sessions planned in the beginning of June a corporate gathering to the place of  Alliston. We would journey there thinking when we walked through the door that we had arrived when in truth the journey had just begun.

As the person at the top of the circle thanked and honored the very ground we were situated on as First nations land my heart began to open up. Then she started the two-way conversation with inventory time.  Who am I? what do I do?  and what was I feeling? Think, think, feel. Charmaine is …“more than just a Doula “and  I felt that I was right where I was supposed to be at that very moment in my life. What a lofty statement.

First impressions count, here was a woman so large that her words were like an ocean being dropped into your cup of water, that was how my spirit encountered her, I decide to make a choice to sit in these sessions as a student and learn.  I also felt each person in the room as they too shared what they felt. It became a corporate feeling of oneness for me. I began to let go of predetermined assumptions, continuing to let go for the next 33hours. But I acknowledged that I am… the only woman of color in the room.

No agenda letting it flow and parking questions so we can continue until the time we arrive. This mastery would keep us on schedule.

As we continued to unpack the word “trauma” we each softly embraced that each of us was somehow affected in a unique  way. Beginning now to look inward to see where the pain was originating from and where it was seated.  My senses were so heightened that even the smell of cinnamon drew my attention away. I thanked someone outloud for the break, just a moment to breathe.

Where are you carrying the effects of your abuse in your body for surely you have embodied it.  But no I  had already danced it out- let it go and allowed  my new cellular normal to begin to create my future.

I was a new creation but I would walk this weekend in vulnerable transparency to the truth of my past and the strength of my present and the many questions of my tomorrow. Hoping and praying that the one continual tear that constantly fell from my left eye was a state of healing not just for me but for humanity.

Till the words emerged “I am not like my mother”. It vibrated in me like a Chinese gong so loud that I could not only hear it but I also felt it at my very core- I had made a declaration against my heritage and was now on a trajectory that was leading me to begin to receive that which I had rejected that not only belonged to me but that I needed for this next phase on my pathway. I was the best of my mom and the worst of my mother and the process of working this out was happening in the confines of my Doula work.

Though the experience of trauma is in the eye of the beholder we are called to harm reduction and yet I could see the many ways that I had somehow participated in reinjuring , reopening, retraumatizing other peoples old scars to become new wounds. Realizing that the very organizations that we as health and welfare care providers work for are sometimes the perpetrators of reoffending an individual in their most vulnerable moment. This was breaking my heart.

But in the stretch we would sit in a dark enclosed theatre and see the view of the world and the ignorance of our growth and how it still affected people today. Marginalized, stigmatized, immobilized, criticized, I can’t breathe. This is not just them this is me.

She asks me what do I need? I need to continue and allow empathy to guide. So I carry on.

Bringing the bananas seemed like such a powerless action and I struggled to find out if there was more in my bag of tools that could possibly replace this as it did not seem like enough to me.

My checkbox of adverse childhood experiences was so sad-10 out of 10 a perfect score that should have rendered me unhealthy, but God… Thankful for the resilience that became apart of my DNA and the trauma informed therapy I received through dancing with God across the world. I am a living testament that change can happen and that your past though it may limit your privileges does not have to predetermine your future. More tears so hard my head hurts.  A little Frankincense a little Myrrh essential oil applied – I begin to vibrate at a higher frequency. I say a little prayer.

As she moved from slide to slide sharing her years of knowledge and increased wisdom she had gained over the years I was triggered and it felt like at one of the deepest levels of my being layers were being pulled back and the raw, real, honest truth was being exposed. I was exposed, unrobed, naked and vulnerable and I was truly still feeling safe. This was a safe space and there was room for even me. So I leaned in a bit deeper and let the pain rise to the surface. Not really knowing what to-do next but just sit in it…  I began to remember the feeling and never relenting work of 49 years of surviving. A lump developed in my throat and I struggled to swallow without letting the sobs escape.

As we ended the first day I committed to stay in the hot loneliness of this pain and let it transform and enlighten me. As I hugged the speaker just needing someone to release what I was experiencing she thanked me and gave permission for me to do the work.

This was about birth or was it really? Maybe it was more about death, death of judgements, assumptions, otherness, labels, and more. Or maybe they are one in the same.

As I came to the end of myself I also came to so many questions. If I am not here to solve anything then why I am I here? To just hold space for someone else to find the answer. I know I am no ones  saviour so then why do I feel like I have this need to save people? Where does God and spirituality fit into this as this is a big part of my world. When I mess up as I know I will because birth is inherently unpredictable and I can’t possibly prepare for every scenario, what do I do next to minimize the fallout. What about her?

Laughter is the only thing that sometimes eases the pressure, without taking away the painful truth. So I laugh, really hard, over and over and over. Then I rest.

A new day. Yesterday was sunny and full of sunshine, today is stormy and full of rain. But we must take every situation as good, letting them bring balance to our life and our world.

Inventory time where am I today- still feeling like I am exactly where I need to be at this moment in my life.

Am I the first person you have told this to and if not how did they respond? Most likely I many times will be a first responder to their traumatic story that to them may seem normal, because for me Orange is the new Black as they say.

My body speaks and what is it saying? I am cold and need a blanket to wrap myself up. Maybe I am not feeling so safe today.  More information via a story but I shut down and don’t listen as it is too painful a reminder of the work I do and the vicarious trauma I experience.  So, I eat. Eat chocolate my go to fix it food, Comfort sets in as my sugar levels rise.

Then I purpose again to stay present to the moment and focus on each task, putting the distractions away, again leaning into the discomfort.

We begin to discuss what safe means and how to build trust. Wow this was the themes of almost every therapy session I have ever attended. I have the answers but is it enough? Am I safe? can I trust? How can I help others at risk to trust me if this question still lingers?

I begin to mindfully replay the many stories I have witnessed, personal and professionally. I am intentionally uncomfortable trying to feel the impact of how these have shaped my perception and responses.  Why have I left out the impact that my childhood sexual abuse had on my pregnancies out of my recently written book about my five births and how do I unpack what that would look like to not leave out that aspect of my experience?

As we worked in groups I get to connect with some of the most caring professional care givers in many different birth contexts such as, labour and delivery nurses, midwives, doulas, massage therapists, childbirth educators, social worker and a spiritual Psychotherapist. But I don’t see them through this lens, I begin to see their inward hearts. Wow now my heart is overflowing. Love has a unique way of sneaking in. Now that constant tear is streaming out of just my left eye like a signal that I a not in control even of my natural body functions. As I brush it away I am fully aware that the significance is very important and that I can not take what is happening lightly.

After a lunch of comfort soup,  I carry my blanket and wrap myself up and am excited that they have provided playdough for us to relieve stress. For me it released my creativity as I always hear better when I am in creation mode. Seemingly preoccupied I use the soft pliable green dough to make a caterpillar, butterfly, tree, pregnant woman, cradled baby, flower and few more shapes, but in reality I am hearing at a whole new level. I begin to feel free and even smile and chuckle outloud.

Again with each slide shared I am looking to continue in student mode and find at least one thing that is new to me and write it down, I also contribute some of my experiences and questions and begin to feel a new confidence that the previous work I have done with survivors is very similar to pregnant women going through this.

The rain has now stopped and the sun has begun to peak through the clouds and the unnatural lights we turned on are no longer needed. We are sitting in the light. And for some strange reason I no longer feel cold. No blanket necessary.

Another phrase to add to my vocabulary is “It all depends”. Which says that each situation will need to be assessed with its own criteria and then evaluated as to the best practice for that specific desired outcome. This means there is no one set answer for each situation.

I also say again that I am more than “just a Doula” as I hear another person use these words to describe the power dynamics between health care professionals and Doulas.

Girl… that’s rough. That’s where I come from and who I am. Cultural relevancy is my answer as many of the talk we use would be fake and seem unreal to me or my clients. Each need to find the space they are called to. Urban behaviour is what I know. So I go to the urban dictionary. Yet my mind translates all the correct lingo and language so the output is in essence the same.

Grounding exercises I have been trying to stay grounded the entire weekend, tapping my knees, breathing deeply, focus, focus, focus. Not just an exercise but a way to survive and thrive.

And last but most importantly the repetitious teaching of self care and preservation. In this work and all work that involves humans and the reality of their existence and the pain of their encounters is the need to consistently put on your breathing mask before helping anyone else. I have let this become essential to my lifestyle, not a luxury but a necessity.

My stone is to bear witness that I was here and that when I forget I will remember that I began this good work and someone else will be faithful to finish it. The time of our collective energy had come to an end.

After the good byes and on the car ride home we drive through a rain shower and both the rain and the sun are simultaneously occurring. I remember that you have to see both as good and let them create for you … oh my word it’s a rainbow draped across the sky! I scream like a little girl so loud I startle the other her in the car. Rainbows speak of promises to me. They symbolize every journey I have ever taken. A sign from God that I am on the right path. I scream and cry and am so grateful for this moment in time.

It has been a safe passage.

Prison Doula- So worth it

 

For 7 years I have had the privilege of volunteering as an inspirational dance teacher in Vanier Correctional Center for Women in Milton. It has been both challenging and rewarding to dance alongside these women. I have grown in ways that I never thought possible. Two and a half years ago I made a transition to join the Vanier Doula program and help pregnant women that are incarcerated to navigate the system through pregnancy, labor and delivery. This has exposed me to even more challenging experiences but the benefits for these women have been “so worth it“.   Being the free spirit that I am along with my passion for justice and unconventional thinking, I struggle with working within institutions that have system breakdown. I have navigated my way through various institutions and have even chosen to accomplish my goals outside of the normal rules and regulations that hinder progress. I have done this because at my core beliefs I believe that the end result could possibly be worth all the sacrifice of the struggle.

Our program has seen a total of 110 pregnant women from 2014-2017.   We have assisted as Doulas for 14 Births.   We do weekly visit of an average of  4-9 pregnant women. We have assisted with mothers dealing with  Children`s Aid Society, abuse, adoption, substance usage, high risk pregnancy, miscarriage, termination, twins and fatal outcome. Due to the circumstances surrounding the pregnancies I encounter I have been trained as a Doula specialist in bereavement, loss, survivors of sexual abuse,termination and adoption.

I can still say that after all of these weekly encounters, the frustration I sometimes feel with the system breakdown and  failure, the pain I vicariously experience through the re- traumatization each women deals with, I still believe that it is so worth it.

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Birthing with Courage Model

 

pregnant-woman-worried

The definition of fear is an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat. Also to be afraid of (someone or something) as likely to be dangerous, painful, or threatening.
Fear in childbirth is an unpleasant emotion/ thought pattern caused by the belief that birth is dangerous and or causes severe pain.

During pregnancy many women find that at times they feel worried or scared of giving birth. Feelings of worry or nervousness may increase as the due date gets nearer.

In childbirth many pregnant woman have many unanswered questions. “How will I know I am in labor?” “How big will my baby be?” How long will the birth take?” “How will I behave during labor?”

These things are uncertain and for some people may be the cause of anxiety. Some women find that they actually feel very fearful. Fear of birth can range from having understandable legitimate fears, right through to being very fearful of even death.

  • 20% of pregnant moms feel fearful during pregnancy, especially if it is their first baby.( 80%)

  • 13% of women delay becoming pregnant because of fear.

  • 6% of women find this fear disabling, taking over their life.

There are many reasons why women may be fearful of giving birth, but here are a few common causes:

  • Learned fear:Negative ideas about periods, sex, pregnancy and birth learnt while growing up can affect confidence in our bodies and how they work. Difficult birth stories are retold more than easier ones. Increased medical management of pregnancy and birth can sometimes add to our belief that birth is dangerous.

  • General anxiety: You may be prone to anxiety, “a bit of a worrier”. Others in your family may also be worriers.

  • Trauma and abuse:Experiences of rape and childhood sexual abuse can be factors. Those who have previously had a traumatic experience giving birth may also suffer.

Pain -Fear- Tension  Cycle as apposed to Love-Courage- Relaxation

According to the Fear Tension Pain theory of pain management, the fear (or stress) a woman experiences during labor causes her body to react in ways that increase the pain. The originator of this theory, Dr. Dick-Read, hypothesized labor was not inherently painful. He believed the pain in labor was largely due to the fear of labor prevalent in the culture. He taught the birth canal could be obstructed by this fear. As the labor becomes dysfunctional, the pain increases and the mother’s fear of what is happening increases and so increases the tension she feels and increases the pain which then cycles back to increase her fear.

The first thing to do is to acknowledge your fear. As a natural part of being a human being we all have them. But the important thing is to uncover and address your specific fears prior to labor. Labor is controlled by your sub-conscious mind, not your conscious mind. Fear in labor produces excess amounts of stress hormones in our body that can tighten up your muscles and limit the supply of oxygen to your uterus and your baby.

FAITH. Faith is believing that all is well. Faith is understanding that God does not want us to suffer in birth or in life. Faith is trusting that our bodies were designed to give birth safely and painlessly.

Faith is not the opposite of reason. Having faith does not mean that we sit back and do nothing during our pregnancy. When we have faith, we understand the psychological origins for the majority of pain and problems most women encounter in labor and we do our best to face and conquer our fears.

Having faith is the first step towards eliminating the fear/tension/pain cycle that most women experience in labor, for faith leads to relaxation, and relaxation leads to pleasure.

So, to alleviate the pain we must eliminate the fear.

In the Bible it states that:

2 Timothy 1:7 For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.

1 John 4:18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear.

Love is a powerful force- Love or intimacy releases oxytocin which leads to a whole lot of natural endorphins that aid in the birthing process. Love also causes you to feel safe, secure, gives you a sense of identity and belonging that aids you to be courageous in the most extreme circumstances.

What can you do if you feel fearful?

  • Join a pregnancy/prenatal class:   Preparing for labor through education, birth planning and mental/emotional work can stop the cycle at the fear point  and give you more confidence.

  • Get a Doula : A Doula is trained to assist the birthing mother to alleviate fear and pain during labor and delivery in numerous ways.

  • Talk about it:Write out your fears and explain your feelings to your spouse or birth partner.

  • Have a positive attitude:Women’s bodies are made to give birth. Most births are straightforward. Surround yourself with positive stories. Believe that you can give birth with courage.

  • Find out the facts:Take control by reading up on your choices. This can include everything from where you have your baby, pain relief options and who you have with you.

  • Surround yourself with Love, loved ones, thoughts that make you feel safe and secure and remember that you belong.

  • Pray: Spiritual practices that take away stress, anxiety, and unbelief are helpful. Also the thought that a God is involved in the process is very empowering for some people.

    www.Thegivingservicestree.com