How Dilated Am I? Assessing Dilation in Labor WITHOUT an Internal Exam.

Helping mothers give birth joyfully without fear

It’s the magic question weighing on most laboring mothers’ minds: (as well as the minds of her partner or birth attendants!) How much longer? Is there any way to tell how far along I am in the birthing process? I’ve seen mothers beg for an internal exam and then be gutted about the answer (What? ONLY 4cm STILL!?) and suddenly *poof* she looses her resolve. It’s akin to having a test and finding out you’ve failed it, in front of your loved ones as well as complete strangers. Everyone knows this feeling is not conducive to labor – suddenly doubt and fear slide in and the laboring mother feels tense. Her oxytocin levels (our body’s natural pain-killer and labor inducer) take a nose dive and immediately she feels much more pain and she starts to run away from the contractions.

Happily, there are a number of external cues that can…

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Taking the Leap

For the past 7 years, English as a Second Language has been my love & passion. I began teaching adult ESL straight out of college, with very little experience. My first day teaching was probably one of the most terrifying and anxiety-ridden experiences of my life…until I was standing in front of a class of eager faces and realized they were much more scared than I was; the kind of fear that comes with being in a new country, sometimes undocumented, and the life challenges that experience brings with it. I instantly fell in love with helping my fellow Latinos in meeting their goals to learn English for work, pleasure, further education or in order to be able to help with their children with schoolwork. I continued this type of ESL teaching as I pursued a master’s degree in teaching ESL. Upon graduating, I made the change to intensive language programs working with young international students. This kind of work offered more hours and better pay, things that I thought were important at the time. It was an amazing learning experience, but something was missing. I felt unfulfilled. I often felt used. I still loved seeing that “aha!” moment when students grasped and understood new concepts, but it was different. The focus on advancement rather than on authentic learning was what I like to refer to as “soul-sucking” to an educator. I felt empty and jaded.  I needed a change. I had been interested in doula work for years, but was always afraid to take that leap. I decided this was the perfect time to do it. My soul needed to feel full again and this felt right.

When I first told people I was leaving my job as an ESL teacher to become a doula, I got mixed reactions. Close friends and family members were worried about my leaving a financially secure job, but offered words of encouragement and support. People I hardly knew offered phrases like “good for you!” or “you’re so brave!” Some said I needed to experience childbirth myself before I could actually be a doula (this belief kept me from pursuing this work for many years). My mom, being the pretty traditional mom and wife that she is, continues to offer support while routinely saying “as long as Andrew is OK with it.” Which brings me to the one person I truly need the most support from: my husband. I wouldn’t be able to pursue this dream and the lifestyle that comes with it (phone on 24/7 and scheduling chaos) without his support. He encouraged me to go through doula training, but it was after my first birth that I saw just how supportive he really was. I got the “it’s time to come” call at about 10:30 PM and ran around the house in a frenzy getting everything I needed ready. It was a school night and at the time we were both teaching (he continues to teach). I kissed him goodbye, did a little happy dance, sent my co-teachers a text that I’d be out the next day and was on my way. After a fast and amazing birth, I got home 15 minutes or so before Andrew’s alarm was set to go off. I quickly showered and snuck in to cuddle with him for a few minutes as he asked for details about how everyone was doing. When he got home that afternoon, I was napping. He came in, put a blanket over me, kissed my forehead and shut the door to let me sleep. All of this warmed me to my core, but there was a nagging voice in my head telling me this was going to be tough on our marriage. That night over dinner, I asked him if he was really going to be OK with me being gone for long periods of time, many times overnight, having to drop everything when I get the call, and not being able  to necessarily make concrete plans during on-call periods. He told me he had a hard time getting to sleep the night before because my excitement rubbed off on him. He then said he had never seen me come home from any job I’d had before looking as happy. Finally, and this was the icing on the gluten-free cake, he said “the way I see it, you’re leaving here to go welcome new life, and how can I possibly be opposed to that? You’re following your dreams and for that, you’re my hero.” These are the words I replay in my mind when the “how am I going to make this work?” thoughts start to spiral out of control.

Yes, taking the leap was terrifying and at times still is. I’ve had to put myself out there like I never have before and opening up myself like that has at times left me open to misplaced judgement or ridicule as I’ve started to learn to navigate the complexities that surround pregnancy and birth in our culture. I’m learning to trust my intuition and the importance of self-care. I have found a community of strong, empowering women whose energy offers me courage, validation and guidance. I have the honor of witnessing women as they experience the rite of passage of giving birth and wrapping new mothers (and partners) with love and reassurance. I am excited to see where this path leads me and I am thankful that I found the courage to listen to that little tug in my soul to pursue this life change.

What does Tonantzin mean?

Welcome to Tonantzin Birth Services! As I grow to know people in the birth community, one of the first questions I get asked is “How do you pronounce your business name?” followed shortly by “What does it mean?”

The answer to the first is T oh- n ah n – s EE n (click here for audio). Tonantzin is a Nahuatl (an Aztec language) word which means “our sacred mother” and symbolizes the goddess of fertility and earth. Many people living within and outside of Mexico believe that the Virgin of Guadalupe and the ancient Aztec goddess Tonantzin are one and the same.

I chose to name my business after Tonantzin because she has always been a strong presence in my life and the culture of my people. Also, what better symbol to use than one that represents the divine feminine, fertility and earth?

Women and families who work with me do not need to share the same cultural beliefs as mine. I respect all beliefs (or non-beliefs) and simply want to provide some background information on the name.

If you would like to learn more about Tonantzin, this article gives a great historical explanation.