The first thing I did when I walked into my appointment with my midwife today was test my own protein and glucose levels (negative, negative). Then I measured my blood pressure (109/69) and weighed myself (162), just as I've been doing at every visit for the past several months. Although it was tricky to figure out at first--especially the blood pressure monitor--I like that I'm taking responsibility for my own care, whereas at the doctor's office everything was done to me as if I were some child taking her medicine.
Next, I lay myself down on my midwife's big leather couch between the fluffy Ikea pillows, so she could measure my baby, feel around for his positioning, and listen to his heart rate on a small fetal monitor. Then we get to talking.
As at most of our visits, we spent a lot of time today talking about my diet. I think I eat pretty well, but midwives, I have learned, have a higher standard. "Eating right is the No. #1 thing you can do to ensure a healthy baby and a smooth delivery," she is fond of saying. So for the past few months, I have slowly cut back on chocolate and sweets and upped my protein intake. I've even learned to add a lot of legumes and dark green vegetables to my diet. And do I feel remarkably better. This all seems pretty obvious, I know, but it surprises me how my diet was never a part of any discussion with my obstetrician.
Finally, we start talking about The Birth. In the past few weeks the bulk of my discussions with my midwife have focused on my first labour experience and my fears about this labour and how to overcome those. Mostly we talk about pain management techniques, but often she'll just look me in the eye, hold my hand, and say something completely comforting and encouraging. We even call each other by our first names.
On alternate visits, I see my midwife as part of a group of women who are all expecting babies in the same month. These meetings last longer--up to two hours--and I only spend about 10 minutes with my midwife privately. At first, I thought these meetings might be tedious and a waste of time. After all, I have to drive about half an hour outside of the city to reach her office, so such visits eat up half of my working day. But now, I have come to really relish the chance meet other moms-to-be and talk about our shared hopes and experiences. Our discussions, which are thoughtfully moderated by the midwife, have focused on labour and recovery, nutrition, breast-feeding, newborn sleep habits (or lack thereof), sexuality, and the nitty gritty of managing day-to-day life with a newborn.
Of the seven women in my group, two are first-time mothers, four are second-time mothers, and one is a third-time mother. Of the "old mothers," I am the only one who has been to an obstetrician before; the others all used midwives. I love hearing about how these mothers managed drug-free deliveries with their first babies and what techniques they found most helpful for dealing with the pain. I take special comfort in the story of one mother who had a long first labour like I did, as well as back labour, but still managed to push out her daughter without drugs or other interventions. If the midwives could help her do it, I could do it, too, I tell myself.
I've also really enjoyed getting to know the two first-time moms in the group. Although they don't have as much to offer to the conversation by way of experience, they bring their fears to the group and we all talk about them, mostly reassuring them that it's not as bad as they think it will be. And I, for one, am convinced of that. I know these first-time moms are in the best hands--and much better prepared than I was when I was about to have Colin. In fact, they occasionally have a thing or two to teach me. As I'm readying myself for the job ahead, I've loved getting email updates every few days about another mother in our group who has just had a successful delivery. And it's been nice to look back over my own path as a mother and remind myself that whatever challenges this child may bring, I'll be better equipped that I was last time.
But does any of this guarantee me a better birth experience the second time around? No. I know that no matter what I do, every birth carries with it a huge element of chance. There could be complications and my midwife could have to rush me to the emergency room. Or, for all of my preparation, I might still be unable to cope with the pain. But, I take comfort in knowing that this time around I've prepared myself as best as I could, and so far the experience has been all I hoped it would be.