Informed Pregnancy Podcast – Jenna Pastuszek
Elliot: Welcome to the Informed Pregnancy and Parenting podcast. I'm your host, pregnancy-focused chiropractor Dr. Elliot Berlin. My guest today is an actor, voice teacher, business coach. She just had her first baby and boy, was it a journey. Jenna Pastuszek, welcome to the podcast.
Jenna: Thank you so much for having me.
Elliot: It’s sort of greedy because I love hanging out with you. So, I was like, hey, maybe come on the podcast and sure, you’re cool background in pregnancy twisty the experience.
Jenna: Well, I feel the same way. I was so happy that I got to see you twice today.
Elliot: I know, what a day. It’s a double Jenna day, my favorite kind of day. Let’s start from the beginning. Where are you from originally?
Jenna: Originally, I’m from a small town called Swarthmore. It’s right outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Elliot: Well, how long were you there?
Jenna: I was born and raised there. I was born in the town and I went to college from that town. I spent the first 18 years of my life growing up in this tree-hugging town outside of the City of Brotherly love and enjoying all of the fine delicacies of Philadelphia such as tasty cakes, soft pretzels, cheesesteaks.
Elliot: Oh, amazing health. “Brotherly love” is another way of saying heart disease. That means you were a sophomore in Swarthmore.
Jenna: That’s right. And, Swarthmore, just so you know, is spelled S-W-A-R-T-H-M-O-R-E. But, when you’re from there, the R is silent.
Elliot: But if you’re not there, it’s Swarthmore.
Jenna: So, people will say, “Oh, Swarthmore College?” And I’m like, “No, it’s Swathmore.”
Elliot: Everybody in the know knows that.
Jenna: Now we know.
Elliot: Now we do. If nothing else, we have informed pregnant people about that. My mission is complete. So, you came from Swarthmore and you’re an amazing actor, singer, and you share your talent by teaching and performing. How did you get into all of that?
Jenna: Well, when I was little, actually, my next-door neighbor came over to our house one day. And, she went up to my mom and she said, “You know, Jenna is singing to the trees outside, right?” And, my mom was like, “Yeah, I know.” And, she said, “Well, have you considered putting her into therapy or maybe musical theater?”
Elliot: Aren’t they one and the same?
Jenna: And, my mom thought, “You know, musical theater classes are cheaper than therapy.”
Elliot: Less expensive.
Jenna: Therapy came later.
Elliot: I get your mom.
Jenna: Yeah. So, I bit the bug. Actually, my mom took me up to — one of the perks of being from Philadelphia is that you’re 90 minutes from New York City. So, my mom thought, “Okay, well, she loves singing to the trees, so may as well take her up to New York City to see a Broadway show.” So, when I was six, she took me up to see Les Misérables on Broadway. And, she was like, “Well, let’s go up for a Sunday matinee,” because that way if Jenna gets bored or something, we can just leave it in our mission.
So, the show starts. This is the 3 1/2 hour musical. And so, the show starts. We do all of Act I. A few people die during Act I. And then, at intermission, she looks at me and she says, “Okay, are you ready to go?” And, I turn my head quickly and I say, “Isn’t there more?” And, she was like, “Oh, no, what have I done?”
Elliot: That’s how you got into it.
Jenna: That’s how I got into it.
Elliot: Lucky, I mean, that you were singing to those trees. Lucky trees is all I’m thinking. Very lucky, trees. So, then, how old were you then when you did that?
Jenna: Well, when I started singing to the trees, probably 5, 6. And then, I started my first musical theatre class when I was in fourth grade, so I think I was 9. And then, I just continued on my merry way. I started studying classical voice at age 11. And then, by the time I was in high school, I was doing all of the choirs and I was doing the musical. And, I remember that everyone thought, “Oh, well, you’re going to go to conservatory or school for musical theater.” And, I was like, “No, I am not a theater person. I am a person who does theater. I do not want theater to define my existence.”
And so, I ended up going to the University of Virginia, and I studied history.
Elliot: Wait a second. “I’m not a theater person. I’m a person who does theater because you didn’t want theater to define your existence.” So, instead, your existence defines theater. Wow.
Jenna: Right. Full circle.
Elliot: That just exploded in my head. So, you didn’t go to a conservatory?
Jenna: I didn’t even try. I think I was putting on a front saying to everyone, “Oh, I’m not this dork. I’m not this person who’s obsessed with talking about theater, celebrities as if they’re my friends. I am above that.” But, in reality, I was terrified of getting rejected, so I didn’t even try. I didn’t even audition because I didn’t want to be told no. At that point, I was so great at being a big fish in a small pond that I was too afraid to step out of my waters and see how I fit in compared to my competition.
So, I played the safe zone. And then, when I was 21, I was doing my final year at UVA. I was an elementary education major, and so I was student teaching fourth grade. And, I was teaching a unit on Roald Dahl, who’s one of my favorite authors. And, I was reading the BFG out loud to the class. And I’m thinking to myself, something is not right.
And, ultimately what I figured out was, “Wow. This is the first time in my life I’m not doing any kind of performing. I’m not in voice lessons. I’m not with my college acapella group. I’m not doing a student-run show or something in the drama department. This thing is way more important to me than I ever thought. And actually, I am a theater person, so I got to pivot.”
So, I ended up going up to New York and I auditioned for NYU to do a master’s in vocal performance for musical theater, and I got in. And then, when I was there I realized they had a dual degree program, so I could also get my degree in vocal pedagogy at the same time. And so, I said, “Wow, not only can I learn to sing, but I can teach people how to sing.” And, isn’t that better than waiting tables? So, that’s what I did.
Elliot: That’s impressive. And, first of all, I love your self-honesty that you realize that you were just not willing to go out of your comfort zone and that was holding you back. I think that happens to, if not all of us, many of us at times. And, hearing somebody just say it out loud is courageous and makes me feel like maybe, “I should have gone and majored in vocal pedagogy.” But, I can’t even really say vocal pedagogy the right way.
Jenna: It’s a really fancy word.
Elliot: It’s probably not my thing, or maybe I’m just —
Jenna: It’s because you can’t say I can’t say Swarthmore.
Elliot: I can’t say Swarthmore. I’m not a Swarthmore pedagogical. Anyway, so wow. And now, flash forward, you do cool shows.
Jenna: Now, I do cool shows. So, yeah, I’ve decided, “Screw that whole I don’t want to be a small fish in a big pond.” I ended up living in New York City for 10 years, and now I live in Los Angeles. So, I decided to go into the largest pools possible and see how I could make it work. And so, I’ve just continued swimming along in these ponds and doing all kinds of shows. Whether that’s workshops of new musicals. So, what that means is that the writers have their something and they want to see if it works, so they’re trying it on bodies.
So, maybe you do three days. It’s called a 29-hour reading And, you put as much material on its feet as possible. Maybe that’s script in hand or it’s a full staging of the show. I’ve done out-of-town tryouts. So, what that means is people have a show and they want to get it to Broadway, but it needs to be workshopped out of town in regional theaters so that it’s not destroyed by reviewers. And so, that people who own these Broadway theaters can come and see it and decide if they want to put it in their theater. And also, so producers can come and decide if they want to invest in it. So, I’ve done those.
I’ve done cabarets and concerts. And, I’m currently working on self-producing. So, over the past two years, I’ve started creating my own work and then touring it around to theaters who were attempting to pivot in the times of COVID and create COVID-safe performances for their audiences. So, I created these one-woman shows that could be done socially distanced just with me and a piano 6 feet apart. And, I’ve performed them everywhere from parking lots to beautiful stages because even performed for the JCC of Toledo Ohio.
Elliot: Holy Toledo.
Jenna: At 9:00 am on Zoom from my bedroom. And they were one of the best audiences I had. It was maybe 25, 30 people on zoom just giving me jazz hands every time I finished a song. It was great.
Elliot: That’s also courageous because I know when I stopped doing stand-up comedy, a lot of people went on Zoom to do it. I was like, that takes it a whole new level of talent and skill to be able to do that and do it with confidence and connect with the people on the other side that aren’t in the room with you. That’s cool.
Elliot: Kudos to you. And, you have an amazing, just even speaking voice. Is that something that develops through the different trainings you have, or is that just like maybe it’s Maybelline or maybe?
Jenna: Well, as I call my voice, I call it the gift. It’s a very expensive gift that I’m really grateful that my parents invested in from an early age and that I’ve continued to invest in. So, I’ve definitely done my fair share of vocal training. And, I also do voice-over work. So, I understand the importance of being able to add nuance and subtlety to your voice. So, if anyone out there is looking to hire a voice-over actor, call me.
Elliot: Oh, I love that. Hey, call us.
Jenna: Hi, this is my cool voice that I used to sell products just subtly.
Elliot: This is my voice that I use when I’m trying to convince my kids I’m sleeping. “Don’t bother me.” But, they don’t fall for it, so I’m not very good at it. I should have gone to school.
Jenna: I’m trying that on my infant. He’s really not buying it.
Elliot: Yeah. Well, if they’re not buying it from you, they’re definitely not buying it from this novice over here. So, you were self-producing. Now all of a sudden you’re reproduced, but not alone with a partner. Where did you meet that guy?
Jenna: High school.
Elliot: High school, in Swarthmore?
Jenna: In Swarthmore, yeah.
Elliot: Wow, so he also says Swarthmore.
Jenna: Yeah, he does.
Elliot: Are you in the same grade?
Jenna: No, he was a year older. We met outside of the soft hop, aka the sophomore hop, which was the sophomore dance. And, he was a sophomore. I was a freshman. I was there with another guy. And then, after the dance, I was waiting for my mom to pick me up in the parking lot and he came over and we shook hands and I introduced myself. And then, later that night, he called my house.
Elliot: Wow. You were a freshman and you got a phone call from a sophomore in Swarthmore?
Jenna: Yeah, at like 11:00 pm.
Elliot: 11:00 pm, that’s gutsy. That’s ballsy for an out-of-town sophomore.
Jenna: He put himself out there and I was like, “Okay.” And so, we dated for three years and he ended up going to Loyola College in Baltimore. And then, he came out actually to LA to go to Cal State Long Beach.
Elliot: And then, what did he study? What does he do?
Jenna: He works for Vox Media in podcast sales. So, he’s the head of podcasts over there.
Elliot: Well, who does podcasts? They’re so something. So, last month.
Jenna: So, we dated for three years and then we went our separate ways for five, and then we both ended up in New York at the same time. And, we thought, “Oh, hey, let’s get together and catch up. It’s been a while.” And then, we caught up and we’re like, “Wait a minute, there might be something here.”
Elliot: And then, boom.
Jenna: The rest is history.
Elliot: And, you have a kid. But, that also isn’t the simplest thing. Maybe we should take a little break and come back and find out about your journey to parenthood. We’ll be right back.
Baby crazy? Check out Dr. Berlin’s streaming channel dedicated to pregnancy, postpartum, and parenting.
Welcome back. We’re talking to cool Jenna. So, you guys, get it together. And, kids, was that a plan early on?
Jenna: Yeah. Ben wanted kids from the get-go. And, he kept saying, “Let’s have kids, let’s have kids, let’s have kids”. And, I said, “La la la la la la. I can’t hear you. I can’t hear you.”
Elliot: Because that’s what you do. You sing. “La la la la la.”
Jenna: Yeah, exactly. If I sing loud enough, maybe that thought about having kids will go away.
Elliot: What was it about not having kids that appealed to you?
Jenna: I’m Ukrainian and I’m stubborn, so there’s that. And so, I had decided in my brain that until I reached a certain threshold in my career, I could not have children. I could not take the time away to become a mom until I felt successful enough to not hypothetically resent my child for getting in the way of my “necessary success definers”. And so, I thought that I needed to have my Broadway debut before I had children.
And so, in 2020, I had decided this is my year, I’m going to have my Broadway debut this year. So, I’m not going to go out of town to do any regional work. I’m not going to let anything else distract me. I want to focus on getting on Broadway. And, then, of course, the global pandemic happened and Broadway shut down for almost two years. So, I cannot continue to wait and I can’t let this be this defining thing.
And, I actually had a voice client, one of my clients, a dancer, I was speaking to her about it and she said to me, she said, “Jenna, what if actually at your Broadway debut, your kid is sitting in the front row. And then, your kid is thinking, ‘That’s my mom.'” And, all of a sudden, once she said that to me, I had this complete brain shift. And, I was like, “Wow, I hadn’t even considered that a possibility.” And, how cool would that be for my child to see me continuing to pursue the thing that I love and then get to share that with me? That’s so awesome. So, then I changed my mind.
Elliot: Cool. I mean, that is very neat, the watching the thing that you love seeing you doing the thing that you love.
Jenna: Yeah. And so, that comes into my birth story, which I’ll share.
Elliot: Ohh, very exciting. But before birth is inception and that took a minute for you.
Jenna: Sure did. Again, like I said, I’m Ukrainian, and I’m stubborn, and I love a plan. So, I decided, “Okay, we are leaving New York City, we’re driving across the country to Los Angeles. We’re going to start fresh.” And, I was in Arches National Park and I suddenly had the space to look around and see America. And, I heard this little voice that said, “It’s time.” So, I said, okay, it’s time. I’m going to throw this NuvaRing in the nearest trash can and now I’m going to get pregnant immediately. Just like they said in middle school sex education class, I’ll take out this birth control, my period will come back, and then next thing you know I’ll be knocked up with child. Wrong.
Elliot: Listen, you didn’t get periods on the NuvaRing?
Jenna: They were like minuscule. They weren’t even something to write home about. It was like, yeah, very, very light periods.
Elliot: So, more comfortable?
Jenna: Very comfortable, yeah. This episode is sponsored by NuvaRing. NuvaRing, berlin10.
Elliot: Berlin10 is the code. Save 10% off your NuvaRing. But, you only get 90% of it.
Jenna: And also, it’s covered by FSA, so $0.00.
Elliot: For some. And, some people don’t have that experience with the NuvaRing. So, use at your own discretion. Alright, so you get off the ring, and boom, you’re supposed to get like instantly pregnant.
Jenna: Instantly pregnant. Well, it turns out I never got my period back. My period never showed up, and I still was able to have a child. So, it turned out, you don’t even need a period to get pregnant.
Elliot: You never got it back?
Jenna: Never. Never returned.
Elliot: I mean, how do you know when to or you just always have to be connecting with your partner?
Jenna: Well, I mean, I was trying to conceive for a while so I didn’t have to know about ovulation or anything because I wasn’t ovulating. It turns out what happened is I figured out, “Okay, obviously my period is not here, so something is not right.” So, at first, I tried to heal myself naturally. I went to acupuncture. I drank a lot of Chinese herbs. So, I spent a lot of time decanting and making these really delicious concoctions. And, by delicious, I mean plug your nose and just chase that thing.
Elliot: Oh, yuck.
Jenna: And so, I did that for about nine months. And, I focused on meditating. And, I focused on reducing stressors in my body. And, ultimately, I was diagnosed with hypothalamic amenorrhea. And so, what that means is that means my brain, my hypothalamus, is not speaking to my ovaries to tell it to release eggs. So, the fertility doctors were like, “You have a million eggs, but no one is telling them to do anything,” so they’re all just sitting there.
So, finally, I decided that I was ready to bring in Western medical assistance. And so, what we did is we did a round of letrozole. And, letrozole is a medication that helps boost your follicles in your ovaries. Then they monitor it. And so, once the follicles are big enough, then they will tell you to take a trigger shot, and the trigger shot will trigger a follicle to release an egg. So, it’s basically a forced ovulation. Then along with this, you’re supposed to do what they call timed intercourse. And so, then they tell you to have sex for three days and see if that works.
So, the first round of this letrozole experiment we did, and the follicles grew and grew and grew and died. And so, that was a major bummer.
Elliot: It was like your first Broadway play that you saw.
Jenna: Right, Les Mis. Everyone’s just dying by the end of the show.
Elliot: And then, by intermission, what happened? Isn’t there more? And, there wasn’t.
Jenna: And, there wasn’t. And so then, I had to take the train back to Swarthmore, think about it. And then, I had to get back on the New Jersey Transit at some point when I was ready and get back to New York and see another show. So, that’s what I did.
In November, we did another round. This time we did the letrozole and we paired it with hormone injections. And, I think I was also taking a low dose of progesterone. So, the follicles grew and grew and grew and grew and then they said, “Okay, take that trigger shot and then have sex for three days.”
Well, these three days also happened to coincide with me doing a workshop of a new musical in Los Angeles and making my LA debut at the Bourbon Room. And so, the first night I was like, “I’m too tired to have sex. I’m not doing that.” So, I said, “Okay, I’m rolling the dice. We only have two nights to get this right.” And, I didn’t want to tell my husband because I was a little nervous. I didn’t want the extra stress of him knowing what was happening and getting anxious about it or something.
Elliot: But, I’m confused. You didn’t tell him what?
Jenna: I didn’t tell him that we were having forced sexual intercourse.
Elliot: Oh, he didn’t know that you’re supposed to have sex for three days?
Elliot: He just thought, wow.
Jenna: He was just like something is —
Elliot: Jenna’s look, “Is this my new haircut?”
Jenna: He’s bald so he was like, hmm.
Elliot: Mr. Clean, okay. So, first night he doesn’t care because he doesn’t even know. And then, the next two nights —
Jenna: And then, the next two nights, he was like, “Hmm, okay.” But, he was like, I’m not going to say anything because I’m going for it. This is shocking, yes, obviously.
Elliot: Why not?
Jenna: So, then, I flew to New York. I was teaching and doing an audition or something. And, I did my blood work two weeks later. And, what’s funny is that they did the blood work and then they just sent me the results with no explanation. So, I get this blood work and they’re measuring whatever that hormone is that is in your blood.
Jenna: HCG, exactly. So, it’s like HCG 3.56. And, I’m like, “What is that?” Googling, “what’s HCG 3.5?” And then, of course, Google is like, “Oh, it means you’re pregnant.” And, I was like, wow, it worked. It worked. So, I walked up to Times Square and I FaceTimed Ben. And, I say, “Hey Ben. I’m on Broadway, and we’re having a baby.” And, he was like, what? He’s like, “What?! Yeah, I was just wondering why you wanted to have sex two days in a row. I thought that was weird.”
Elliot: Yeah, if only he knew it should have been three days in a row. But, I guess the moral of the story is you don’t need the first day.
Jenna: You don’t. So, yeah, I was pregnant and I felt real bad for the 1st 10 weeks. Just super nauseous. The only thing I could eat was bread and cheese, which sounds great. Pizza, quesadillas, cheese.
Elliot: You’re selling it, wow.
Jenna: Yeah. But, I couldn’t even look at a piece of kale, look at broccoli. I was disgusted.
Elliot: Welcome to my world. That’s my every day.
Jenna: Carbs and orange juice, that was what I was going for. And, I was so tired. No one explains that. Yeah, the fatigue.
Elliot: So, that cleared up after 10 weeks?
Jenna: Well, after 10 weeks too, I had also been taking progesterone the whole first trimester.
Jenna: No, pills.
Elliot: By mouth?
Elliot: Oh, okay.
Jenna: And so, I think after I stopped taking that, I did feel a lot better too. And then, I hit the second trimester and I felt like myself. I was like, “Oh, gosh. Give me a broccoli. Give me the kale. Give me a smoothie. I feel great.” I was working out just like normal. I was strength training, and riding my Peloton bike, and doing Pilates, and yoga, and walking a ton, and just feeling super active, sleeping great. I slept on my back I think up to 30 weeks. I was feeling comfy. And, I was flying a lot. I was flying back and forth to the East Coast to perform and to teach. And, yeah, I was feeling great.
Elliot: And, eating kale.
Jenna: And, eating kale because I thought maybe my child needed those nutrients.
Elliot: What a mother.
Jenna: What a mother.
Elliot: We met at some point.
Jenna: We met I think around 26 weeks maybe.
Elliot: Yeah, that sounds right. That fateful day.
Jenna: It was a great day. They were my first chiropractic adjustment since the global pandemic. And, I thought, “Wow, I forgot how amazing this feels.”
Elliot: Oh, wow. I’m so honored to be the one. So, what else were you doing during the pregnancy to take care of you to get ready for birth?
Jenna: Well, let’s see. Prenatal Pilates really saved me. My friend Abby Suskin, she runs a Pilates group for prenatal and post-natal mamas. And, I was actually amazed at how many similarities there are between prenatal Pilates and singing. All of a sudden, I was thinking, “Wow, every singer should be in prenatal Pilates all the time.” Because all we’re talking about is pelvic floor and core engagement. And, there’s this theory in singing all sphincters are related. So, if and when your pelvic floor is really, really tight, then most likely your throat is really tight too.
Elliot: Ohh yeah, that’s a big pregnancy thing and birth. They’re always saying, relax your jaw, relax your jaw so it opens your pelvis. I’m starting to believe in this. All sphincters are related theory.
Jenna: It’s a great theory.
Elliot: I feel like it’ll be a great book too.
Jenna: Let’s collaborate.
Elliot: Maybe a musical theater show.
Jenna: It’s all in the sphincter. Come see it on Broadway.
Elliot: Yeah, you’ll be glad you did.
Jenna: So, I was doubly invested because I thought, “Wow, this is going to make my pregnancy really easy and my birthing experience really easy, and also make me a better singer at the same time. Like winner, winner, chicken dinner. I’m in.”
So, I did those things. I met a doula that I really liked. She is actually a pelvic floor physical therapist as well as a doula. And, I thought, “Wow, this is going to be great for this all-natural birth that I want to have for the reconstruction of my pelvic floor so that I can continue to sing and not be sidetracked with pelvic floor abnormalities after birth. So, she will not only help me get through the birth, but then she’ll also help me rehab. This is great.”
And, I signed up for some classes. I took some great classes at Sparrows Nest in Highland Park.
Elliot: Oh, yeah, Sparrow.
Jenna: So, I took a breastfeeding course. I took an infant care course. And then, we took a birthing class. I also took infant CPR because I figured I was once a lifeguard and I might as well dust off my skills and make sure I can save a choking child if and when needed. I traveled. And, I also continued to do what I love to do because I thought I want to take this tiny human. I didn’t know what I was having, so I wanted to take this small person with me and show them through their womb adventures what it’s like to continue to do the things you love.
So, I took the tiny human to see a bunch of Broadway shows and see some tours, which was really fun to be at a show and then just being kicked in rhythm to what’s happening. I continued performing myself and we traveled. We went to London. We went to Colorado. We went up to Carmel-by-the-Sea. So, I kept living my life as much as I could in service, continuing to move myself so that I didn’t get stiff or sore. And also, just to stay positive, and active, and keep my mind going instead of getting stressed out about the future, the unknown.
Elliot: Well, that must have been cool, being on stage visibly pregnant. A cool experience for you and for your audience.
Jenna: Actually, a friend of mine said. She said, “You know, it’s so rare to get to see a pregnant woman on stage doing what she does.” Because often, in Broadway shows, if and when you are pregnant, the customers do a really great job of helping you hide it for as long as possible. Then they just have to kind of mask it for as long as they can.
So, for me to get up and get to tell these stories, the great thing about doing these one-woman shows and concerts is that I create the banter and the banter can adjust depending on what’s happening in the world, what’s happening in my life. And so, I was able to speak about these iconic women who also happened to be mothers in these shows and also infuse it with my own stories and my own experience.
I do this Barbra Streisand show and I talk about how she had a child, she has a son, and I imagine her singing these lullabies that she’s sung to her son and wondering what that will feel like when I have my own child and singing it to them. So, that was something really touching and sometimes it would make me emotional on stage just thinking about how this person who I couldn’t wait to meet was there in the womb with me and hearing me sing these songs. And, I was so curious if and when they arrived, would they know the songs? I’m like, what would that mean to them?
Elliot: Well, pregnancy is going great, it sounds like and it’s almost time to give birth, and surely you have a plan. So, let’s take a little break and find out what that is.
Need more Jenna Pastuszek? Check out her blog post here!
Welcome back to the Informed Pregnancy Podcast. In our story, Jenna is very pregnant and not held back at all in doing all the things and taking great care of herself. So, what did you think? I know you had to do that and you wanted to not shred your pelvic floor if possible. What was your vision of how you wanted birth to go?
Jenna: Well, again, I’m, Ukrainian, I’m stubborn, I’m strong. And so, I was like, women, our bodies have been created to do this. And so, I want to just channel my own strength and my ability to show up in the ways that I need to show up while I am birthing. And so, my plan was to birth at home for as long as possible. So, I got a birthing ball, I got those electrode things that you put on yourself. What are those called?
Elliot: TENS unit.
Jenna: Yeah, I got a TENS unit. My husband and I went to these meetings with our doula. We created this whole birth plan that we were going to labor at home for as long as possible. And then, I wanted to go to our hospital when I needed to go. And so, I had asked my doctor, my OB-GYN, about what was available. Was there a birthing tub? And, she said no. But, she did say there was a birthing bar. And, that you can bring whatever you want. So, if you wanted to bring your birth ball, you can. And, she was very positive about doing whatever birth plan I wanted to do and said, “I am happy to catch your child in any position. So, whatever works for you and wherever you’re comfortable, I’m in.”
Elliot: But, I know your personality. I feel like that would strike you to come up with a position that she’s never delivered a baby in before.
Jenna: Kind of, yeah. So, my personality is both, “Oh, I’m a rebel. So, I’m going to try to do this crazy position that she’s never seen so that I can brag about it and be like, ‘Yeah, I’m the one who delivered in this weird thing.'” And, I’m also an obliger. So, I love to just acquiesce to whatever’s normal. So, odds are I either would have been birthing on three legs with one leg up next to my head, or I would have been on my back, perfectly positioned.
Elliot: In stirrups. I wish it would have been the first one. From that point forward, they would call it the you want to give birth in the Pastuszek position.
Jenna: Yeah. Do you want to do the Jenna P?
Elliot: The Jenna P. Alright, so one of the other. But basically, it sounds like you want a relatively uninventive birth.
Jenna: Yeah. I really thought that I could learn to trust my body and my body would tell me what I needed to know. So, I was worried about the medication getting in the way of me being able to feel things. And, to be honest, I think I was worried that the medication wouldn’t let me be as controlling as I wanted to in regards to my experience.
Elliot: That sounds right.
Jenna: Yeah, that sounds accurate. Self-reflection.
Elliot: So, as you get closer, how do things start to turn? No pun intended.
Jenna: So, my last flight was at 36 weeks. I flew back from New York. I did a two-week tour of performances and then I said, “Okay.” I think it was actually 35 weeks. And so, I had looked it up, and apparently, you can fly on most airlines up to 36 weeks. And, I was like, “I could be the woman who delivers a baby on the plane. That would be fine if that’s my story.” But, I think also that will cause my husband a heart attack, so I should probably just lock it up and live in Los Angeles for the last month of pregnancy.
So, after we got back and I went to the OB-GYN the next day for my appointment. And, she did an ultrasound and she said, “Oh, so just so you know, your baby is still breech.” And, I was like, “What?” And, she said, “Yes. So, the baby is frank breech. That means its head is up in your right rib and its butt is in your pelvis.” So, she said, “You know, listen, most babies have turned by this point. So, we’re going to keep monitoring it and hopefully, he turns on his own. But, if he doesn’t, then you’re going to need to start thinking about a C-section.” And, I’ve said, “No, I’m not thinking about that. No, no, no, no. That is not my plan. I’m not doing that.”
So, I went back the next week at 36 weeks, and she said, “Listen, the baby is still breech.” And, I said, “Oh, no, what can I control? What can I do to force my child to flip?” And so, I started doing everything. I was coming to see you weekly, putting a lot of pressure on you to just make it flip. And, you did your best to acquiesce to my stubborn Ukrainian demands.
Elliot: Yeah. I started seeing my therapist twice a week.
Jenna: I figured, yeah. On top of that, I went to see a Spinning Babies professional in LA, someone who’s certified to do spinning babies. I met with the practitioner. We did a session. On top of that, I was doing spinning babies inversions all day, every day on my own. I joined the Rose Bowl Aquatic Center. I was a competitive swimmer in high school, and so I got back in the pool and decided I would try to teach my child to flip turn.
And, none of that was working. I was doing acupuncture and doing moxibustion. So, I was really doing all the things that I could possibly do. And, 37 weeks, we can try to do an ECV. Okay, great. Sign me up. Let’s do this thing.
So, I go to the hospital. They do the ECV. The ECV is unsuccessful. They try 4 different times, clockwise, counterclockwise, clockwise, counterclockwise. And, it was the most painful experience of my entire pregnancy, I would say.
Elliot: Even for the tough women.
Jenna: Yeah. They were like, you are so strong. And, the fact that you didn’t cry, you didn’t scream. My doctor, she was like, “I have never pushed that hard on someone. I was sore and bruised the next day. So, I can only imagine how you felt.” And, I was like, “Listen, I was just trying to breathe through it and try to be as relaxed as I could to help the baby have the space to do it.” But, ultimately, even sought a second opinion from a different doctor and he said, “Oh, I know why she couldn’t do the ECV, it’s because you’re too strong.”
And so, then I had this sort of meltdown of “Oh, no, I thought staying fit during my pregnancy was a good thing. Did I do this to myself? Am I too in shape?”
Elliot: This is why, by the way, I don’t exercise at all. What if I get pregnant? I don’t feel that Jewish guilt.
Jenna: So, you get it, yeah.
Elliot: I can relate. So, was there any answer to that question?
Jenna: About why it didn’t work?
Elliot: No. Just like am I too in shape?
Jenna: I don’t think so. I mean, also no one was tooting my horn about being in ridiculous shape. So, I think I was fine. I was just strong and I was carrying really small. So, I think it was just compact quarters. And actually, at the end of the birth, my OB-GYN said, “Oh, I went into your uterus to sort of figure out was there a reason why your child was breech?” And, she said no. There was no fibroids. There was no weird shape. There was nothing to indicate that anyone should be breeched in the conditions that my uterus provided. So, I was like, oh, I’m just having a stubbornly baby and that’s why they were breech.
Elliot: Well, maybe a stubborn Ukrainian.
Jenna: Also that.
Elliot: I mean, it seems based on how you described yourself, it seems genetically appropriate. So, if your doctor went into your uterus and all, it sounds like you had a cesarean birth, and I’d love to know what that experience was like. But, it requires us to take a bonus break. We’ll be right back.
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Welcome back. It feels like those TV shows that Hollywood squares that they film like three in one day. And, they’re like, “It’s Monday!” and everybody goes backstage and changes real quick.
Jenna: Puts on a scarf.
Elliot: It’s like, “Tuesday! Hey, everybody.” So, yesterday on Hollywood work. Welcome back. First of all, you have the baby. A cesarean birth. A total opposite of what you were planning for how in the last moments before your birth you start to prepare anything, your mind, your body, your spirit for a big change in plans?
Jenna: It was tough, but I explored all my options. My doctor said I will not do a breech vaginal delivery so I will only do a C-section. So, I did go see another OB-GYN who does do breech vaginal deliveries. I met him at 37 weeks. So, I really was at the 11:00 o’clock hour. And ultimately, the question I asked myself was, “Why am I trying to prove that I can do the ‘impossible’ or the and/or the ‘very difficult?’ Is it because I feel this obligation to prove to myself that I’m strong enough to do this?”
And, if that’s the reason, maybe that’s not necessarily the best rationale for my family. For putting my husband through that anxiety. For putting myself through that as a first-time mom who has never gone into labor before. I spent all this time in these labor classes asking what does a contraction even feel like? And, everyone’s talking about, “You just push through it,” or “You breathe through it.” I was like, “Breathe through what? Tell me what the physical sensation is so I can understand it and then maybe I can figure out how to get through it.”
And then also, as a singer, I was like, “Maybe I don’t want to completely destroy my pelvic floor. The thought of pushing my child butt out first,” I thought, “I don’t know if I want to risk that fourth-degree tear. I think maybe a C-section won’t be so bad. Major surgery, it’ll be fine.”
Elliot: Yeah. Why is that so much different than pushing a head out through the same canal?
Jenna: I don’t know. Isn’t the butt —
Elliot: Squishier and softer?
Jenna: Listen, I can’t go back now.
Elliot: I just wondered in the moment the rationale. But, I mean, if your baby again genetically takes after you, maybe the butt is not squishy and softer.
Jenna: Maybe it’s difficult.
Elliot: Maybe it’s too fit to quit.
Jenna: Too fit to quit. And then, next thing you know, I’m having a C-section anyway. So, I also thought, I’ve been with my OB-GYN before I even got pregnant. This is a partnership that I’ve specifically chosen. And, to change at the last minute and go with someone who I don’t really know that well. He does laugh at my jokes and that is a positive. But, while I’m in the throngs of labor I might not be cracking as many. And so, then where do we go from here? I don’t know.
Elliot: I definitely think you’d be cracking even more.
Jenna: I think you’re right.
Elliot: So, look, there’s no wrong way to do it. So, you had some pros and cons to each choice. You made a choice.
Jenna: That’s right. I made a choice. And I said, “Okay, great. So, we scheduled the C-section.” But then, I was really adamant on not wanting to schedule the C-section because I wanted to go into labor first. I thought, I’m planning to breastfeed, I want my body to go into labor. And, I also don’t want the pressure of having to choose someone’s birthday. That just feels like way too stressful to then have them hold it over my head that I picked the wrong day or something. So, I don’t want to do that. I just go into labor.
But, my doctor was going on vacation and so she was like, “Listen, you got to pick a day. Put it on the calendar.” So, we picked a day and it was on the calendar. And, four days before, my husband and I went out to dinner and we got burger, pie, and we were just living it up. And, at about 9:00 in the evening we went to bed. And at 11:00 I got up. And at that point, I was peeing on the hour every hour because I was 39 weeks and 1 day.
And, I got up, and then all of a sudden I stood up from the toilet and there was water all over the floor. And, I thought to myself, “Is that where we are in pregnancy now? I’m that pregnant, that I’m just peeing on the floor? God, that’s awful.”
So, then, I went back to bed. And then, minutes later I felt like I had peed the bed. And, I was like, “I’m peeing the bed? This can’t be right.” So, I got back up, I went back into the bathroom. And, at this point, it’s just like a constant trickle. And so, my husband notices that I’m gone for a while and he’s like, “Is everything okay in there?” And, I said, “I think my water broke.” And, he was like, “Okay.” I was like, “So, now, what do I do?” He’s like, “Well, you call the doctor. That’s what you do.”
So, I call the doctor and she’s like, “Well, it looks like we’re having an early birthday party. So, it’s 11:15 pm I will see you at the hospital in as little time as you can get there.” So, we pack up the car. We do all the things. We get to the hospital at midnight, which worked out great because then we got an extra night in the hospital.
Elliot: Yeah, because you got the beginning of the first 24 hours like by a minute.
Jenna: But, what was interesting is that I thought to myself, “Wow, I’m going into labor now. I’m about to have this child, and I’ve gotten one hour of sleep.” So, I went to bed from 9:00 to 10:00, and then that was it.
Elliot: You just start peeing on everything.
Jenna: Yeah, I’m like, well, I’m going into parenthood really well-rested, so this is great. So, we show up to the hospital. I scrub myself down in the surgical soap. And then, they came over and they said, “Okay, we’re going to insert this instrument into your vagina to make sure that your water broke.” And, as they were trying to insert it, water is gushing everywhere. They’re like, okay, water is broken. It is confirmed.
Elliot: Confirmed. I don’t know if they needed an instrument to confirm that.
Jenna: Nope, they didn’t. It was a floodgate there. And, at this point, I had started contractions. And so, on the car ride there, I was like, “Oh, so this is what a contraction feels like. Now I see. Now I see how this could be very painful and very intense at the end.” And so, we got to the hospital, we’re checking in. Husband’s putting on basically a hazmat suit. And, the contractions are picking up speed and getting quite aggressive.
And so, my labor and delivery nurse came in and gave me some sort of medication. And then, I walked down the hallway with her to the OR. And so, when we got to the OR, she knew I was a singer. And so, as they’re putting in the spinal and doing all of that, I’m serenading the room. We’re singing “Circle of Life” from “The Lion King,” “Hakuna Matata,” and all kinds of like fun Disney stuff.
And, they’re all cracking up and my contractions are so bad. So, putting in the spinal was also quite complicated because you have to round over into like a C-shape, but you have a giant pregnant belly, and you’re having contractions and you’re sitting on this like very thin cold metal table. And so, it was slightly complicated, but they got it.
Then my husband came in in his hazmat suit and sat next to my head. And, we had created a playlist of some sweet songs so that our child could be born into this cool environment. And so, the whole staff was complementing the jams we had put on, Joni Mitchell, and Simon and Garfunkel, and just like fun oldies.
Jenna: And then, had the clear drape and the blue drape. And so, my husband was going to call out the gender of the child because we didn’t know. And so, I was nervous. I was nervous that it would be hard to tell and he could call out the wrong thing. And, because our child was breech, his legs were up by his head. So, as they pull him out, it’s just like scrotum. So, there was no mistaking. Well, that is a boy. And so, we were like, wow, it’s a boy. That’s so great.
My original plan was I wanted to do skin-to-skin immediately. I wasn’t really into the vitamin K drops like all of that. I mean, who knows what happened? The skin-to-skin was a loss. I think they did all of the things over at the table. I couldn’t care less at that point because my organs were out on a table and I was just on cloud nine, on whatever medication they had given me. I was feeling great.
And so, then the doctor came and brought my son over to my head. And, my arms weren’t strapped down, but I still was basically numb from head to toe. So, I couldn’t hold him or anything, but I could feel him next to me and he was crying. And so, I looked at him and I just started singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” a song that I had sung like the whole time I was pregnant with him when I was performing this Judy Garland show I do and he stopped crying. And, it was this amazing moment of “Wow, he knows who I am. He knows my voice and it calms him. That is insane.”
And so, now I used to worry, oh, I’m going to have a kid, and then I’m not going to want to perform anymore. Now I’m like, “No, I have an invested fan so I really have to keep going.”
Elliot: Wow, that’s so beautiful. That is so beautiful. And, I imagine it just continues to this day.
Jenna: Yeah. When he’s fussy, I sing to him in his nursery. He just rests his head against my chest. And, I feel like he knows the songs and enjoys them and they’re comforting to him. And, that’s fun and also hilarious when I’m trying to expand his musical horizons and trying to test out new stuff in the nursery. And, then I’m like, “I don’t even know the lyrics to that song. I thought I knew it, but actually it turns out I don’t.”
Elliot: I like that the baby can be sort of a initial critic for your material. How was your recovery?
Jenna: My recovery was great. I mean, you’re so hopped up on adrenaline and hormones that you completely forget that you even had major surgery. So, I was just so wired for the first few days. And, it definitely hurt to laugh and it hurt to move. And, I wanted to be really careful because I didn’t want to ruin or have any complications from the surgery. So, that was challenging when you’re also trying to learn to breastfeed and stay in the hospital. And then, you get home and there’s flights of stairs in your house and things like that.
And so, the breastfeeding was really challenging for us. He had an upper lip tie and a posterior tongue tie. And so, it was super painful. Also, because he was breeched, his hands had been up by his head for his entire journey in the womb. And so, when I would try to position him on either breast in cross cradle, or a football hold, or any of the holds, when he would get frustrated, he would start batting me with his hands and the hands were in the way and we would try to hold them back so that he could get onto the nipple and he hated it.
And so, it was a very frustrating experience. It was also so painful for me that I was like, “I thought this was supposed to be so joyful. This is actually so awful. I hate this.” And so, we worked with a few lactation consultants and eventually I went to an ENT and I said, “Listen, not only do I want to breastfeed so you got to fix this tongue tie. But also, he can’t have any back of tongue tension. This guy’s got to be on Broadway.” And the technician was like, “You know, I think it’s a little early for that.”
Elliot: No pressure.
Jenna: So, eventually, after a few days of doing bottle feeds, and getting some donor breast milk, and using that to supplement, when I tried to reintroduce the boob after healing my scarred and raw nipples, my son was like, “Listen, go back to that when I have this very easy bottle that I’ve now learned to love. So, I don’t think so, mom.” And, I was like, “Okay, alright, fine.” Again, the Leo baby strikes. I thought that I could control everything and it could be my way.
But, what I’m learning through this entire pregnancy thing is that as a parent, you can have an idea of a plan, but the person on the other side has to choose to participate in the relationship and in the plan as well. So, this is all just a lesson that I’m learning as I go.
Elliot: Yeah, like they always say, you could lead a baby to milk, or something like that. Wow, what an incredible journey. And also, you’re tough in every way. You’re tough and plowing through things. You’re physically tough. You have a lot of endurance, and you’re stubborn. So, I think to be able to take all of those different journey twists in stride and check out your options and make a choice given the cards that you’re holding and follow through on that choice, it takes a different kind of strength. A kind of the strength to surrender, which is a different kind of strength. And, here you are again proving how strong you are in now that way as well.
Jenna: I think you’re right. I think that the strength to surrender is really the lesson that I learned. And, so often when I was explaining the trials and tribulations that were happening toward the end of the pregnancy, so many people, I think, in an effort to be kind, we’re like, “Well, if the baby’s healthy.” And, I thought, “Yes.” And, “What about how I feel?” What about the mother? As long as the baby is healthy and as long as the mother can accept the situation and forgive herself for whatever guilt she’s imposing on herself for situations or circumstances that may be completely out of her control.
So, I think that that was also something important to remember, that, yes, of course, we are all wanting the baby to be healthy, and we also want the mother to be healthy both mentally and physically.
Elliot: Yeah, but that’s extremely well said and demonstrated.
Jenna, thank you so much for coming into my life. You’re a breath of fresh air and sounds.
Elliot: Thanks for sharing your story. You’re powerful in many ways powerful story with all of us. Every time I talk to somebody, there’s something I learn. Every time I do a podcast I learn at least a thing. And, I’ve learned a lot here today, so, thanks.
Jenna: Especially the pronunciation of Swarthmore.
Elliot: Swarthmore, but I still can’t get pedagogy.
Jenna: It’s okay. Come in for a voice lesson and we’ll work on it. We’ll work from your articulators.
Elliot: It’s a win-win, yeah. Alright, so where can we find you online?
Jenna: You can find me at jennap.com. And, you can find me on Instagram, and Twitter, and TikTok @theJennaP.
Elliot: Instagram, Twitter and TikTok @theJennaP.
Elliot: But, it’s jennap.com.
Jenna: Jennap.com, yeah. Maybe I should change that.
Elliot: Well, it could be both. You could have theJennaP point to JennaP.
Jenna: Are you now my social media manager and marketing?
Elliot: I mean, if you’re going to teach me how to articulate, it’s the least I can do. It’s so funny because chiropractors work on articulations where your bones come together.
Jenna: See. And now, we’re more kindred spirits. The sphincters are related.
Elliot: It just never ends. Okay. So, theJennaP. I’m going to check you out from our Instagram @doctorberlin, D-O-C-T-O-R B-E-R-L-I-N. And, don’t order yet. Jenna P is going to write maybe not only one, but two amazing blogs for the all-new Informed Pregnancy Blog, which I cannot wait to read. Alright. So, I’m going to go check out the blogs and you can to at informedpregnancy.com.