Snap Out of It! One way to keep your sanity in times of great stress.
External What? External focal points, that’s what! If you took a childbirth education class you may have heard this term. The idea is that you enter an unfamiliar place (i.e. the hospital), with unfamiliar people (i.e. the medical staff), with unfamiliar pain (i.e. contractions and back pain if you're super lucky), and of course that one familiar person who tends to be the least experienced in the field (i.e. your partner - you know, the one who looks like a deer in the headlights) - the goal is to incorporate a “familiar focal point” in order to relax. Our doula practice specializes in high-risk birth and we see people coming to Boston from all over the world for care. This causes the added anxiety of unfamiliarity to the already wonderful whirlwind process of birth. So do focal points work? This is the situation: My client has a serious chronic medical condition and is a high-risk pregnancy due to a life-threatening congenital heart defect. We spend many hours after her induction pacing the halls of Brigham and Women's Hospital and Boston Children's Hospital (the two hospitals connect through a tunnel). We spend more time roaming around Boston Children's because they have better cafeteria food, nicer décor, and clowns. We go up and down flights of steps (yes in her gown and fuzzy slippers). I am working her hard, up and down, up and down. Sometimes I walk backwards up the stairs so we can lock eyes as I instruct her to grab the handrail and squat through a contraction. “Legs shoulder with apart” “squat through the pain” “breathe” and many other words of motivation. I suppose we must have scared the crap out of most of the pediatric population that day. But after seventeen years of teaching childbirth education, training birth doulas and having five kids - anything goes.
She keeps asking for a focal point! Hard to do in a stairwell - but I work some doula magic and improvise quick because to me, focal points are all about distraction. I take my black hair elastic from my hair, and pull it over the big red control valve for the sprinkler system. I said, “Val - every time we do a lap on the steps, you’re going to pull and snap this hair tie so many times it will break.” That was our goal - to break the hair tie. Guess what? It never broke.
Val gives birth. It was an intense and very complicated delivery. Her baby had open heart surgery a few days later. I spent many hours with the family pre-op, during the surgery and post-op. We would take walks on the stairs, and when she was falling apart, I would have her snap that elastic band. I told her to do that throughout her entire stay in the hospital when she was stressed. No one else on the planet knew it was there but us. Fast forward thirteen years, two heart surgeries, hundreds of cardiac procedures, doctors appointments, and testing - and guess what? That little black hair elastic remains where it has been for thirteen years, undisturbed and intact. I have pulled that little black hair elastic hundreds of times over thirteen years as my own children spent hundreds of hours in that hospital for cardiac surgery, neurosurgery, orthopedic surgery, and cancer. The best part of this story is the relationship I have built with this family over the years. Every time one of us is there, we text the other a photo and every single time it makes me smile and think about what a little black hair elastic has done! I was hesitant to write this story, fearing that our little black hair elastic would be removed. If you see it, please don’t touch.
Update: Five years later, our black elastic is still there! And I still love seeing it and remembering how resilient women are. We can do hard things, mamas.💖