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Friday
Sep102010

Clear-Headed

I have this thing about keeping clear-headed... before, during and after births... which, pretty much, is all the time.

I won't listen to yucky stories, watch scary movies or let ookie people hang around me. I'm sure a lot of it is superstition, but I feel better anyway.

Yucky stories and scary movies stick with me forever. I saw gross movies as a teen (and I won't mention their names lest they rear their ugly heads for you, too); not only do I "see" the scenes 30 years later, I can also feel the same feelings I did when I was sitting in the theater while I smoked and the wisps of cigarette smoke clouded the movie screen.

(Yes, youngun's, we actually smoked in movie theaters! But, it was okay because smokers only sat down one side of the auditorium. There was the middle and other side that was smoke-free. laughing Can you imagine the logic that went into that? Me, either.)

This morning at breakfast, I was talking to friends who, somehow, got on the subject of horror movies and just as they were beginning to dig into the gory details, I stopped them.

I listen, listen, listen, hearing the sqeaky metal wheels grinding towards my psyche, willing it to veer onto the track over there. Yet, it doesn't. Instead, I watch the enormous monstrosity looming over me, its shadow threatening to engulf me. Like a giant game of chicken, I wait until the very end before jumping out of the way.

"Please stop!"

Sometimes it comes out of my mouth a little too loudly, a little desperate. (I am.) Then, exactly what I was hoping wouldn't happen does. I end up explaining why I can't listen to the bloody-dripping words forming in their mouths. I always feel so... woo woo? when I talk about keeping myself "clean" and "clear-headed." Most people I hang out with nod in understanding, but there are times when obnoxious (almost exclusively) men insist on getting sickening jabs in before I can impolitely get out of their space. 

Sarah's so understanding, so gentle with my tender mind. When she was a cop, she had some (hysterically) gory stories to tell, but saved them for when she was with those that'd appreciate them... always when I wasn't around. I've known women whose spouses went out of their way to gross them out; burps and farts being the least of it. I feel so blessed to have my Sarah who respects my boundaries. I do my best to respect hers, too.

It's hours later now and my mind, while thinking on the topic, isn't thinking on the yuck. Instead, I wonder what other midwives do to keep their minds clear for the work ahead. Not just the "don't fill out the transport form" superstition or the "if I draw up pitocin I won't need it" one, but conscious, purposeful steps that lead to (hopefully) clarity of mind and heart as we wait... gently, softly wait... for new life to nudge its way into our existence.

We owe it to our mamas, babies and families to leave the spaces in our minds, spaces that might otherwise fill with marital troubles, screaming toddlers and the inevitable foreclosure... to leave those spaces vast and endless so our clients and their lives are able to take up residence, even if for only a day.

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Reader Comments (12)

I'm not a midwife, but I "reset" myself for my preschooler frequently. I tell myself "my day starts now" and exhale in three fast puffs and sort of wipe imaginary cobwebs off of my arms, and then I approach him the way I would if I had just woken up. With insane amounts of patience and cheery conversational dialogue. Works wonders when Im frustrated or we are having a bad day.

September 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSara

I don't think it's "woo" at all! Certain shows I've had to stop watching because they just got so dark and depressing. I try not to watch "downer" dramas, because they stick with me too. Horror? I don't go there either. It twists and turns and takes over my mind, my imagination is too vivid and overactive to feed it crap like that to munch on. I think it's wonderful that you do this not just for yourself, but for your midwifery relationships. There's no denying alot of negativity can affect a baby as they grow in the womb (and in the fragile days after they emerge) so it makes sense for anyone attending the birth or spending time with the birthing woman to shelter her from unnecessary things like this.

I've had to huddle in on myself lately. Hiding not just from fiction but from reality, all the gory news stories and goings on in the world that are way beyond my reach. I'm too drained to allow the little energy I have left to be tainted by all that wrongness. *hugs*

September 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterStassja

I had a friend who did this little test when I was in high school. She took a piece of paper and wrote the following words: harvest, fruit, abundance, tree. On another piece of paper she wrote: sex, violence, fear, crime. She gave one piece to me and one piece to another friend. She held up a sign that said R_PE. Then we were to write down the first word that came to mind. Of course, the person with the harvest list said "ripe" and the person with the sex list said "rape". It was a good, albeit simple lesson in how what we are exposed to affects the way we think.

When I get called to go to a birth, I usually get this surge of adrenaline. To settle myself down, I try to find some soothing music to listen to. That way I can enter my client's space feeling... BEING neutral. I let the mama take the lead and set the tone. The music sets the tone for me before I get there.

It never occurred to me that outside exposure could potentially put me in a dark place prior to a birth, but I think it's an idea that everyone that works with people in a potentially vulnerable place ought to consider.

September 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJen

I think it just comes down to "you gotta do what you gotta do" in order to stay calm and clear-headed.

I am quite possibly the least "woo-y" and most skeptical gal around, but during pregnancy I had the same reaction to the scary/gory movies that had normally been a secret guilty pleasure. I remember seeing the re-release of "The Exorcist" while I was pregnant with #1, and it bothered me much, much more than when I had seen it previously. And not because I believe in demonic possession. It just felt "wrong" to be seeing and hearing all this nasty stuff with a little belly passenger tagging along, even if he wasn't aware of any of it.

Listened to a whole bunch of opera during pregnancy. My kids only sing rock--go figure.

September 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSquillo

i absolutely only watch comedies and romantic sappy happy movies. i dont do gore, news, horror, suspense, anything yucky! why would i want to make myself feel like that if i dont need to!
i think that was the best advice you ever gave me, to cushion myself from anything yucky or scary while pregnant. and i have carried it through now that i am not as well. especially since i tend toward the depressed end of the spectrum anyway anything dark really hits me hard.

September 10, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterdanielle

This makes perfect sense, Barb, seriously. As I'm coming to understand more and more about the psychological aspects of labor/birth, I think it's quite wise that you choose to keep yourself "clear-headed," or whatever description you use. You obviously know from all your experience how much a person who's giving off negative body energy can affect the whole birthing environment. I've been hearing about many in the birthing field who do similar things, esp on their way to the birth itself. (My own doula even told me about her routine that she does on the way to any birth, to clear her mind and get herself in a good space, mentally and emotionally, to be there for her client.)

I also can relate to how any images from a disturbing movie are still vivid in your memory. I'm very much the same way! For some odd reason, my parents thought I was "mature" for my age when I was growing up. Because of that, they weren't too concerned letting me watch some R-rated movies with them, some even at age 12!! To this day, I can recall the scenes from some of those movies (like Silence of the Lambs) that gave me nightmares for weeks afterward. What the hell were my parents thinking?! :) Being mature for my age didn't mean I wouldn't be disturbed by scary imagery!

Same with even hearing certain descriptions of disturbing/violent situations, etc. Some things don't phase me at all. Other things can literally make me feel this horrible knot in the pit of my stomach. And if it's my husband telling the story, I'll immediately say, "Ok, stop, stop, stop!!" But in his defense, sometimes I'm never sure which stories are going to bother me and which aren't. :)

September 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSarah B

This makes a lot of sense to me (and like the other commenter, I find that when pregnant and early postpartum I am way more sensitive to violence and disturbing imagery. I feel like the mother of the world and any bad thing that happens, I'm thinking about how that person is some mother's child and then I think how I would feel if it happened to my child and it's just too much.

But I wonder how you reconcile this need with some of the awful stories that happen in the birth world - stories that you end up being part of or need to be aware of. A story that you've told here on this blog - of a woman attempting a VBAC who had her crowning baby pushed back inside her for a section while she yelled "No!" - still haunts me and makes my stomach knot every time it comes into my head unbidden. I felt sick for two days after reading the "pit to distress" posts on The Unnecesarean.

How do you keep your mind clear of these stories? Or is it that you have only so much mental/emotional space to process these things, so you need to reserve it for the stories you can't avoid, instead of exhausting it on things like horror movies?

September 11, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterchingona

I recently stopped reading books about rape and true crime, and TV crime shows.
I make an extra effort to stay away from conversations or shows when they have women as the victim, dead, raped, or maimed.
Not good for my psyche!

I was never a fan of gory scary movies.
I don't know anyone who is these days in my social circle or family so no one ever talks about that. thankfully!

September 11, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterdewi

chingona: That's a post all on its own, what I do to digest/process scary experiences in birth. Lemme think on it. I do know that the trillion years of therapy I've had has helped keep me out of the insane asylum.

Remind me in a few days if I haven't pumped anything out.

September 11, 2010 | Registered CommenterNavelgazing Midwife

chingona,
I worked in an ER. There has to be some learned clinical detachment, otherwise you can't work in those types of stressful difficult environments, and attending births can be stressful for providers.

However, other times that detachment gets in the way of the compassionate care from a HCP.
Likely that is what happens when women feel like it was "birth rape". Indifferent bullying care is provided, and detachment becomes a very bad thing!

September 12, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterdewi

Barb, I totally know what you are talking about. I think I offended my husband when I told him I could not watch another 9/11 show and walked out of the room as he was telling me about the show on the DVR. But, I could just feel the depression demons swirling around me the same way they did in 2001 when that was all that was on TV. The same goes for anything that portrays violence against kids or babies. Just can't do it. We all do what we feel we need to do to stay mentally and physically healthy, and you shouldn't feel ashamed of that.

September 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJen B

Inteteresting. It is good to know that I am not alone in shielding myself from "yuck"; sometimes it feels that way.

As a young child growing up in a household where murder shows were watched incessantly (and I am sure these were so tame compared to today's) I felt the perversity of being entertained by watching or reading about violence done to others. I made a conscious decision as a middle-schooler to avoid that type of entertainment as an adult. Yet, parts of those shows remain vividly still with me, despite the 25+ years that have passed.

I am raising my own children in a TV-free home.

September 19, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterloquist

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