I love to hike and every Monday, unless I have an imminent birth due, I am lucky enough to be able to do challenging hikes with a small group of girlfriends. One Monday last fall however, no one could make it and so just my trusty dog, Oscar and I set out on our own. It was raining and a little cold and I soon started to realize that without the support of my friends, the next few hours were going to be a challenge for me.
I had been thinking about the idea of writing this blog post after a hike last summer with my husband at Bandera Mountain, WA. I found it particularly hard that day and really started to think about how the challenges of the hike bore some similarities to the challenges of labor. Really? I hear you say, what is she talking about? Well let me explain!
Feeling supported is important
That day hiking on my own really brought it home to me how the support of my friends on a hike makes the difference between it feeling hard and it feeling nearly impossible. We support each other any way that is needed on any given day, giving encouragement and allowing someone who is struggling that day to set the pace.
Partners, doulas, family members all play a role in the birth room letting the laboring woman feel supported and held, even if it is only by their presence in the room.
How long until the end?
Now, before hiking a new trail I do read up on it so I have some idea of its difficulty and length, which of course you don’t have the luxury of before you go into labor. But when I am hiking, I don’t want to know how long I have been hiking and how much further I have to go. To me being told I have only been hiking for two miles, only another seven to go, when its felt like I have been hiking for days already, really demoralizes me.
Similarly laboring hard for a length of time, convinced you must have dilated to 8cm only to have a check and you are only at 4cm, can be equally demoralizing. I have seen women coping beautifully with each contraction, taking each one as it comes, one at a time, only to lose heart when they realize they are not as far on as they hoped. It can be a choice not to have vaginal exams unless medically necessary, something to consider and talk to your care provider about.
Letting mom labor at her own pace
While on my solo hike, panting up the hill, I came a steep area where I had a choice to climb via switchbacks or hike straight up, I chose the switchback route and just as I did I was passed by two young guys easily flying up the hard route. They had a friend with them and she chose the switchbacks. Reaching the top I chatted to the guys for a minute or two before they set off back down meeting their friend on the way down. I wondered how it felt for her not to have been able to complete her goal, in her own time.
Relating this to labor, feeling rushed, being told you are not progressing fast enough or even being given unnecessary deadlines, can also feel demoralizing and possibly leave mom with a feeling of not being good enough or not doing it right.
Perceiving what is coming next
While on the hike with my husband there was a point when I looked ahead and saw a big boulder field and the trail looking like I was headed right through it. Seeing that, I thought ‘I can’t do this’ - just as we turned the corner on a hidden switchback and the path was easier.
You don’t know what is ahead in labor, but you know that there is a path to the end - the birth of your baby. There may be unexpected twists and turns in the path, obstacles to overcome, unwished for events to cope with, but moving forward you can birth your baby with strength and determination.
Keeping your energy up
I can eat anything at any time, no problem. A couple of my friends really struggle with eating breakfast before we set out on our hikes but have learnt that if they haven't eaten anything they really start to struggle. Sometimes on hard days we stop and all have a small snack, the difference is amazing, really helping us to carry on and reach the top.
Similarly, in labor, snacking and drinking regularly can really help you settle in for the long-haul and give you the energy you need to keep on going, one contraction at a time.