Pregnancy Must-Haves!

I was thinking about items that I consider to be must-haves for pregnancy and for parenting an infant, prompted by Carolyn. There really aren’t many actual material things that I find entirely necessary most of the time- I tend to believe that marketers of baby products go way overboard in trying to convince parents that they need more more more! (For fear that they will otherwise not be a good caregiver to their baby? Because they worry that babies are SO hard to take care of? I’m not sure.) Anyway, here are my five endorsed pregnancy items, items that prepared my body and mind for birth:

5. A large exercise ball: When I was expecting Grace, I worked in a special education classroom where students had a choice of sitting in chairs or sitting on exercise balls like these. It turned out to be quite handy because I was able to sit on one for the entire work day throughout my pregnancy. I even borrowed one for use at our house, though I must say the temptation of the couch got the best of me most of the time when I was at home! The benefits of an exercise ball (or “birthing ball” and they are known in the childbirth community) are numerable. In pregnancy, just sitting on the ball encourages healthy hip and back posture (while lightly toning the correct muscles to do so) as well as opening the pelvis to allow baby to sink deeply into place in preparation for labor. The mother’s erect posture achieved on the birthing ball also encourages the vertex or “head down” position.  Benefits of the birthing ball later on: Some mothers use the ball for positioning during labor- whether sitting on the ball and circling the hips, leaning the body draped over the ball, or whatever is comfortable. Once the baby is born, some people find that sitting on a birthing ball relieves pressure on a bruised or torn perineum. It’s also a good tool for bouncing and lulling a baby to sleep. Plus, when it’s time to get back in shape, you can use the exercise ball for its original purpose… exercise! (Yeah, I didn’t do much of that, whoops.) This link has some information about using a ball during pregnancy.

4. Floradix: This totally disgusting-tasting liquid iron supplement turned my whole pregnancy around. I understand that low iron levels, though somewhat common, do not affect every expectant mother- but the benefits for me during my last pregnancy were so profound that I would supplement with Floradix prophylactically if I had to do it again. Before Christmas time I was unable to stand long enough to make a grocery run- I would start feeling queasy, shaky, and worried I would faint. I wanted to remain active during my pregnancy, but working out would have been dangerous. Enter Floradix. Two weeks later I was back to my normal self and my normal energy level, working out at the gym and doing yoga on a regular basis. What makes Floradix different from other iron supplements is that it is entirely plant-based and does not cause the nausea and constipation that iron pills tend to. It’s a little pricy, but here’s a hint: it’s much cheaper if you buy online over at Swanson’s Vitamins.

3. Jennifer Wolfe’s “Prenatal Vinyasa Yoga” videos: These are simply the best, in my opinion. I’m picky about yoga videos, but yoga classes are not in large supply out here in the middle of nowhere so I read the reviews online and chose very carefully. Jennifer Wolfe is awesome. I had the short forms DVD, which I dare say is plenty challenging for me. (I enjoy yoga and wouldn’t say I’m a beginner, but I am certainly not advanced in my practice.) The 15 minute segment was great for a little pick me up at times when I was on the go. The 30 minute segment was my regular go-to, and the 45 minute segment was a challenge that I attempted only a few times. Doing the deep squats, lengthening stretches, and stability poses made me feel like some sort of pregnancy goddess. Seriously, it made me feel like my body was made for making babies. Jennifer’s voice is soothing (with no breathy new age bullshit) and she explains each pose clearly with modifications for your stage of pregnancy. You can find her DVD’s online here.

2. Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth by Ina May Gaskin: I would encourage every pregnant mama to read this (or even every person who thinks they might be pregnant one day.) It is a great read that really helped to build my faith in my body and its abilities in birth. If you are not aware, Ina May Gaskin is essentially a modern midwife guru who has helped countless women to give birth safely and naturally. The entire first portion of the book is birth stories from a variety of women, most homebirths on “The Farm” where Ina May lives and practices midwifery. The second half of the book contains notes on exactly how the body works in order to birth a baby. Unlike many of the resources out there, it focuses on the body- not on what pharmaceuticals are available, not what to expect from medical interventions, not what to pack in your hospital bag. It’s plain and simple a book about the birthing body. Even if you are not planning to birth at home, this is a valuable book simply for acquiring knowledge to build confidence in birth itself. Ignorance might be bliss until it’s go time and you’re in labor. And then- knowledge is power; it releases our fears which can interfere with the natural birthing process. Oh yeah- and I also found the statistics page at the end of the book to be very enlightening!

1. Hypnobabies Home Study program: I’m not sure if I’ve ever elaborated on the fact that I used the Hypnobabies program to prepare for the birth of Grace. I’m going to let it speak for itself- here is a description from the Hypnobabies website:

“Hypnobabies is a very successful 6 week complete childbirth education course using Gerald Kein’s Painless Childbirth techniques instead of simple relaxation, breathing or guided imagery. This allows our Hypno-Moms to enjoy “Eyes Open Childbirth Hypnosis”, easily remaining deeply in hypnosis while walking, talking changing positions; being as mobile as they would like to be during childbirth. We are famous for much shorter, easier and more comfortable labors, making childbirth the joyful experience it was meant to be.

You’ll use your Hypnobabies Workbook, CDs and hypnosis scripts to train your inner mind that contractions in labor will be felt only as pressure, tightening, pushing, pulling and normal baby movement sensations. You’ll be fully in tune with your baby during the birthing process, and as aware as you’d like to be, easily able to communicate and be in charge of your own birth experience.

Hypnobabies uses the same kind of hypnosis techniques that people employ when preparing for surgery without any medication, which is called hypno-anesthesia. Our classes also teach our Hypnobabies Birth Partners how to fully support our Hypno-Moms, although Hypnobabies can also be used very successfully by single mothers”

Here’s the general idea: You use a book to work through the home study program, learning about how hypnosis works, prenatal nutrition, the process of childbirth- it’s a complete childbirth education course. Email support is always available. Along the way, you introduce new hypnosis tracks- 30 minute sound recordings that address different aspects of pregnancy and birth- from general relaxation, to perception of birthing waves (known outside of the Hypnobabies program as contractions,) to the dilation of the cervix. You listen to one track per day and when the course is finished, there is a one-track-per-day maintenance program. It seems like a lot of work, but the secret is that you can listen to your tracks while you are going to sleep and it is totally okay to to sleep right through. In addition to being the ultimate way to multitask, I’m just going to say that I slept really really well when I was pregnant. The soothing hypnosis works like a charm. In addition to the daily tracks, there is an affirmations disc full of positive self-talk about pregnancy and birth. You can listen to it just about any time- while you’re asleep (I used to create a playlist on my ipod with my daily track plus affirmations,) while you’re in the bath, when you’re driving- whenever you have a chance. The real test is the labor itself and I think Liesbeth would agree that the techniques we learned in our Hypnobabies program were exceptionally helpful at that time. I was able to remain totally calm and in control with Liesbeth’s assistance- in particular, she used the “release” cue that we learned from the program while applying pressure to my forehead and this ritual was all I needed to enter a state of total relaxation. Hypnobabies also offers in-person classes with an instructor depending on your location. They also offer tracks for such topics as turning a breech baby, eliminating nausea, and creating peaceful sleep.

Well, there you have it, my pregnancy must-haves. All of you experienced moms out there- I am curious to know what is on your pregnancy must-have list. Please share!

Stay tuned because I will also be posting my infant must-haves in the near(ish) future!

On Being A Gay Family, Part 2

This posting is the second response to Josh and Gretchen’s question series on being a queer family. The second question is:

Do you think of yourself as a “mother”? A “father”? Something in between? Why?

For me, the answer to this question is pretty straightforward. I think of myself as a mother, and I do so because the cultural beliefs that surround me say that a female parent is a mother. I identify as an all out femmey female (despite any recent accusations- and I mean that word in the nicest way possible- that I specifically value the idea of anyone being genderless.) And I am clearly a parent. Therefore, to me I am a mom. I go by the name “Mama” in our family. Now, that’s just my personal experience, of course. I also happen to have the whole pregnant-and-birthed-a-baby, breastfeeding, stay-at-home parent thing going on so that fits me into society’s mother stereotypes pretty soundly. I guess my position on this one has never been challenged.

I’m interested to see how others answer this.

I would definitely encourage all of you queer parents to respond to this! You can check out the original question post here.


Birth, Fear, and Education (do I ever talk about anything else?) Plus Two Great Videos

Today on  the NPR website there is a great little article about homebirth. Short and sweet. The accompanying video is lovely- please please take the time to watch it. It’s not very long.  At the end of the article is a beautiful quote by the midwife who attended the mother in the article:

“People talk about how painful contractions are because they’re so strong. But what we want woman to know is that the strength of that contraction is the strength of their own bodies. They are as strong as the contraction is. And so they are able to manage it.”

I know that we, as Americans at least, live in a culture of fear about birth. Fear that it will be too painful, fear that the baby will get stuck, fear that our baby is unsafe, fear that we are in danger. It is so beautiful to see someone who has been able to somehow get past that, to go into birth knowing both that it will be difficult and that they can do it. I was thinking the other day about why this is. I think Ina May Gaskin has it right. Here’s a clip from her book, Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth:

“Let me be clear about what I say about fear and birth at The Farm. I don’t mean that these women in my village never experienced a few moments of anxiety at the prospect of giving birth or wondered, Will I be able to accomplish this seemingly impossible act? I’m sure that many of us did wonder about this from time to time. Virtually all women do. After all, it is not immediately obvious to most people who grow up in civilized cultures- especially those in which people live totally apart from animals- how birth can happen. When such moments of doubt occur to women in my village, they are able to fall back on the sure knowledge that their closest friends and sisters and mothers have been able to do it. This knowledge then makes it possible for them to believe that they can too- whether or not they’ve ever witnessed the act of birth itself. The women at The Farm have relearned and been highly successful at kinds of female behavior that modern women in civilized cultures aren’t known to be good at- those that go beyond the common medical understanding of women’s bodies and birth.”

We are separated from the reality of birth. Maybe we were not told the truth about how babies were born when we were kids. (I definitely know of friends who were told “The stork brings the baby” or “Mama goes to the doctor and the doctor takes the baby out.”) Maybe we’ve heard so many stories about cesarean births, labor inductions, and epidurals that we really don’t believe we can give birth on our own. Maybe when we finally hear of the concept of birth without intervention, it is so scary that we are relieved to know that there are alternatives, ways to give up the experience to someone else. I don’t mean this to say that having birthing intervention is the same thing as giving up; what I’m trying to say is that for those who are living in the fear of birthing, our society now does have fall backs- medical advancements that are necessary for some and widely used for many.

When I think about my experience with birth (my own and in general,) I realize that my perception has (thankfully) been created  to be pretty cut, dry, and honest. When I was three years old and my mom was pregnant with my brother, she didn’t lie to me about how he was going to come out of her body. I was told how he would come out using correct anatomical vocabulary. I never doubted at that time that it was possible for a woman’s vagina to open up so she could push the baby out, because I had never heard anything different. As a teenager, I watched my mom give birth to my sister and then my brother in the hospital. (Thanks, Mom!) As a young adult, I became a doula and found myself surrounded in birth stories. It doesn’t come as much of a surprise that when it was time for me have my own babies I didn’t have a whole heck of a lot of fear-clearing to do. I knew my body could do it, I know it would be intense, and I did it. The myth that seeing birth for one’s self makes one fearful to ever have their own child is simply unfounded.

Living here in Kansas I’ve noticed that the prevailing notions about talking to children about how babies are made (both the part about sex and the part about birth) are: avoid the topic at all cost, tell the kid that it’s not appropriate for them to know, and if all else fails, lie. I have no doubt that this is a leading factor in our town’s extremely high teen pregnancy rate. But what I also wonder is if that is part of the reason why, say, the labor induction rate is so high in our local hospital. Sure, many times it is the doctors initiating the idea that induction is necessary, and sadly I am almost positive that most times it isn’t. Health care providers certainly play a big role in influencing expectant parents, but they aren’t exempt from being a part of the fearful culture at large. And not a lot of women around here are demanding to be in control of their birthing decisions, so it is a multi-factored issue.

Anyway, I’m sort of drifting here, but what I am getting at is that lack of information and deep-down knowledge that our bodies can birth babies leads to fear. We fear the unknown. Fear leads to physiological challenges when you’re having a baby. Physiological challenges can lead to medical interventions. Widespread medical interventions lead to the notion that our bodies might not be adequate for birthing, and the notion that our bodies our inadequate leads to more fear. Sad, huh? I hope that one day, if Grace chooses and is able to carry a baby, that she will have had enough experience to gain the wisdom that her body can do it.

On a lighter note, please please watch this. It is so funny, I promise:

Public Service Announcement: Breastfeeding Challenges for Newborns

Lately I’ve been thinking about some of the more common but lesser-known challenges for establishing breastfeeding. Things you might not have heard of. I’m taking this opportunity to write about a few of the challenges I see repeatedly… So here’s your public service announcement. If you’ll be having a baby soon, these aren’t things to be fearful of per se, but things to be aware of.

IV’s- These days, the use of intravenous fluid is routine in most hospital births. In natural births, it is sometimes possible to avoid the IV, but when epidural anesthesia is used, IV fluids are necessary. Such is also the case with cesarean births. Receiving fluids during labor is typically considered to have few risks, but in the case of the breastfeeding dyad, water retention (edema) associated with excessive IV fluids can sometimes cause challenges. One thing I have seen a lot of is excessive weight loss in newborns. SO MANY of my clients dealt with their babies losing more than the expected 7-10% of their body weight during the first week, leading them to supplement their milk with formula at their pediatrician’s urging. There are various reasons for the weight loss, of course, and in some cases formula supplementation might be necessary. However, considering that unnecessary formula supplementation can cause further breastfeeding problems (click here and scroll down to “A Few Cautionary Words About Supplementing with Formula”), it’s a good idea to talk to a good, trusted International Board Certified Lactation Consultant to figure out if supplementation really is required in your situation. Also, it’s great to be armed with information about possible reasons for excessive weight loss.

Did you know that intravenous fluids during labor can travel to the baby too? Moms who have had a lot of IV fluids during labor can retain some of those fluids after birth- and babies can too. Sometimes, part of a baby’s weight loss in the first week of life can be attributed to the loss of the excess IV-related water weight through urination. This is a really great article on the topic, and it links to a recent study about excessive newborn weight loss in relation to IV fluids during lator. The suggestions at the end of the article are very relevant- go read up!

The other breastfeeding challenge that can be caused by excessive IV fluids during labor has to do with edema in the mother- specifically in the breast. Because all that fluid needs someplace to go, it often “pools” in places like the ankles and the breasts. When the breast is engorged with fluids from the IV, the areola can sometimes become firm or puffy, making the nipple difficult to latch onto. Luckily, there is a technique called reverse pressure softening that can help shift some of the fluid away from the areola area and make the nipple easier to latch onto. Good to know!

Birth injury- Here’s a really common complaint I hear. “My baby is nursing great on one side but she never wants to nurse on the other breast. When she does, my nipple gets sore!” Most of the time I ask the mom what position she uses to nurse in, and most of the time she says that she only uses the cradle hold. You know, like this:

There’s nothing inherently wrong with the cradle hold, or any nursing position for that matter. What I usually suggest to moms is that they try shifting the baby- in the same position- over to the other breast. Just slide them over. Most of the time the baby is able to latch on the previously unfavored side just fine. Usually the reason for this is that during pregnancy or birth, the baby somehow got shifted or jostled or pressed into a position that makes it sore to move their neck to one side. Switching up breastfeeding positions is a temporary fix to the breastfeeding issue, but my next course of action is always to refer people to a chiropractor or craniosacral specialist who is trained and experienced with treating newborns. Kellymom links to some articles on the topic. In some situations, these symptoms might also be a sign of full blown torticollis. I’d also like to mention that birth injury-related latch problems are not always one-sided. If you have trouble latching, it’s something worth asking your lactation consultant and/or pediatrician about.

Circumcision- As of 2010, about 32.5% of baby boys are being circumcised in the US. As of the same year, we found that breastfeeding is being initiated for 75% of American babies. These groups obviously intersect. Circumcision, when performed, routinely takes place during the first few days of life. It is typical for a circumcised baby to experience significant pain, receive topical anesthetic, and go into a very deep hours-long sleep after the procedure; parents are often unable to wake their babies from the sleep in order to nurse. At only 1-3 days after birth, breastfeeding might not be well-established. The lack of nursing during the extended sleep period could cause problem for the mother’s milk supply or force the breastfeeding dyad to miss out on crucial latching practice. After all, the first three days are the most important for breastfeeding establishment and developing a healthy supply. Additionally, when a baby’s nervous system is overloaded, it may be difficult or impossible for them to latch on to the breast. The personal account in this blog article is not an unusual situation, and she does a good job of summing up the available information on the topic of circumcision and breastfeeding establishment. Clearly, for those parents who choose not to circumcise their boys, these particular issues don’t come up. For those who do, delaying circumcision until after breastfeeding is established might be wise.

Tongue tie- I am including this breastfeeding challenge not because it is very common, but rather because it’s not particularly uncommon, but it can present serious breastfeeding complications and it is usually corrected rather easily. A tongue tie is when that little flap of skin under the tongue (the frenulum)  is so big and strong that it prevents the tongue from extending all the way. It looks like this:

Since you can’t achieve a good latch without the baby’s tongue extending, you might have a problem. Without a good latch, breastfeeding can be painful and milk transfer might not be very efficient. I came across this great article in the Breastfeeding Medicine Journal recently that shows how infant tongue ties are diagnosed. One sign that your baby might be tongue tied is that the tip of their tongue is shaped like the top of a heart rather than rounded. Luckily, for true tongue ties, the frenulum can usually be clipped by a doctor, which is very effective for clearing up latch issues. Another thing to watch out for is tongue tie’s cousin- the lip tie! Same idea.

I’m sure a lot of this is all blah blah blah if you aren’t expecting right now, but if you’ve at least skimmed, then you can always come back to it some day if it becomes relevant!

Public service announcement concluded!

We’ve Made It One Year!

Today, our sweet little love bug is turning one year old. Last year at this time, I was laboring in the birth tub at home. We didn’t yet know what our baby would look like, what her personality would be, or what life would be like with our very own baby. These days, it’s hard to imagine a time when we didn’t know exactly what Grace was like. She fits perfectly into our family, as if there wasn’t a time when she didn’t exist.

This past weekend we had a birthday party for her with a few of our friends.

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Let’s Listen to a Story…

In honor of Mother’s Day, I would like to share with you a beautiful story- the story of the birth of my friend’s baby girl. A peaceful, healing home birth. I am so thrilled that she is willing to share her experience. In a culture where the collective conscience associates birth with terror, trauma, medical intervention, and danger, these occurrences often do manifest themselves in women’s births, creating an unfortunate cycle. For many women though, that cycle can be overcome with education, birth preparation, and supportive care providers. I know that when I was pregnant, reading birth stories and watching birth videos helped me to see and believe that birth could be simultaneously intense and peaceful. Notably, in a photo of Christie and her little girl immediately following birth, her baby looks collected and calm… totally unaffected by her “trip” and snuggling sweetly on her mama’s chest. Mama is beaming. To quote Christie, “No drama, no trauma.” I hope that their story can be inspirational to other mothers in their pregnancy and birth journeys. PS- You might notice a brief mention of a certain Kansan friend! Enjoy…

When contractions woke me at 3:45 a.m. on Thursday, September 2, 2010, I was surprised. But not completely surprised. I had put my husband to work–to work–the night before, saying adamantly that I refused to be pregnant for another night. I had hit the wall. In my experience, that wall is the end of it. When a pregnant mama hits “the wall”, she is down to the last moments of the pregnancy. It will be over soon.

So there I was, lying in bed contracting away. Half-assedly trying to get back to sleep, but really timing the waves all along. Ten minutes apart. Like clockwork for an hour. So after an hour, I got out of bed. The name of the game at that point was to try to get them to stop. Did I mention that this was my EDD? Estimated date of delivery? My chances of being in labor and producing a baby on this particular day must have been ten percent at best. I was not hopeful. I got out of bed, being careful not to wake my husband Adam, and made myself something to eat and drank a glass of juice. I sat on the couch and the waves kept coming. Not painful, but certainly uncomfortable and definitely different. Having been induced with my eldest, I was concerned about whether or not I would be able to distinguish real labor from anything unproductive. The worry was for nothing. I used the bathroom and noticed a little bit of brownish blood in my underpants. Nothing crazy. Hell, it could have been from all the action the night before. I noticed it, but nothing more.

Adam was working an hour away at the time, so he got up to get ready for work at 5:45. I had been awake for two hours. He wandered out into the living room and I filled him in on the goings-on of the morning. After talking for a few minutes and getting through a couple contractions, he decided he would call in to work. Neither of us thought that today would be the day. But it was a good excuse for a day off work. What further convinced us of this was that as soon as Adam hung up the phone, the contractions slowed down to a mind-numbing pace. Every twenty minutes. Then two or three closer together. Then two an hour. And so it went for the entire day. The contractions were still uncomfortable, but they were sporadic and irregular. They were inconsistent…but they always came.

They came enough that by mid-afternoon I was in a “poop-or-get-off-the-pot” frame of mind. If this was it, it needed to be it now. Enough dawdling. So we decided to go get our grocery shopping done. I remember talking to Adam, saying “Well, at least this might mean that the baby is close to coming. We should probably have food in the house.” So we packed up Hannah and went to Meijer. I think I called my mom and this point and let her know what was going on. I still thought my labor was a long way off. Hours. Days. Maybe I would have the baby that weekend.

I recommend every quasi-laboring woman take a stroll through Meijer. As soon as I set foot inside the doorway, the contractions barreled down on me every five minutes without fail for the entire shopping trip. I had to stop and either grip Adam’s arm to get him to slow down or grab onto the cart or some unlucky bit of produce. It was a trip. Toward the end of it, I mentioned to Adam that I would really like to get going home and he said he wanted to look at stupid USB drives for the computer…on the other side of the store. I had no idea Meijer could seem so vast.

On the way home, I talked to my mom for a minute and she said she would come for Hannah. My mom was convinced that it was baby time before any of the rest of us were. She’s very wise. Mom came around 4 p.m. and as she loaded up the car with Hannah’s things, I leaned on the hood through a really intense pain. She made a comment along the lines of “You’re having this baby today.” And away she went with my first-born. NOTE: Long before Ellie’s birth, my mom called 9/2/10, my due date, as The Big Day. She also predicted we would have another girl even though everyone else was guessing boy. Once my mom and Hannah were gone, I was overwhelmed by a “what now” feeling. What now? I was beginning to suspect that this was the labor that would end in the birth of my baby, but I still thought the actual birthing part was a long way off. Maybe by tomorrow I would have the baby.

I called my midwife, Yolanda , a little before five:

“Hey. What are my chances of being in labor on my due date?”

“’Bout ten percent.”

“Okay. I think I’m in labor.”

And I told her of all the events of the morning. I don’t think she took me very seriously. Or at least thought it would be quite some time before baby appeared. She suggested I get something to eat, take a walk, take a shower and stimulate my nipples…see if we could get a pattern established. I remember thinking I should be excited as a hung up the phone, but instead I was just sleepy and already a little frustrated. I was uncomfortable enough that I didn’t want to be walking up and down the street, feeling the stares of all of our over-sixty neighbors, so Adam and I went outside into the back yard and I leaned against a couple of our trees, feeling their roughness, looking at the sky. We did a couple laps around the yard and came back inside. We took a shower and laughed at the sudden increase in the intensity of my pains with the nipple stimulation. Whoever doubts the power of the oxytocin released with nipple squeezing has obviously never done it themselves. The surges came two and three and four in a row and I leaned on the bathroom counter, looking at Adam (probably with shock on my face) really hoping they would slow down just a little. And they did. Yolanda’s suggestions did establish a solid, never-failing pattern of contractions that would continue throughout my labor. They never slowed down again.

Walk? Check.

Shower with (effective) nipple stimulation? Check.

Something to eat…

I made eggs over easy and toast and Adam and I settled in on the couch to watch Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy, which means the time was around 7 or 7:30 p.m. I answered Jeopardy questions between contractions…I tried to make a mental note of one of the Daily Double’s, but it didn’t stick. I can’t remember it to save my life. As labor continued to progress, Adam decided to inflate the birth pool that we borrowed from a sweet friend in Kansas. I had spent a little bit of time in it, pre-baby-having, and even empty, found it to be very relaxing. The sound of the pump we used to inflate it, however, grated on my last nerve. I grabbed my birth ball and announced to Adam that I would be in our room “if you need anything.” There, labor turned once more and surprised me with its intensity as I instinctively found new ways to stay on top of the strengthening waves.

Time is funny in labor. It doesn’t make any sense. In the moment, it’s hard to grasp how many minutes and hours it has been…it’s even harder trying to recollect the events after the fact. I don’t know when in relation to the rest of the evening’s events that this took place, but I remember crawling into Adam’s lap on the floor of the baby’s room, the room where she would eventually be born, and sobbing. I was scared; I didn’t want to go through with it. Could I even handle it? I was dealing with the last fragments of Hannah’s birth that I had held on to. I was finally letting all of it go. Adam gently, firmly reminded me of my choices…this is what I had wanted. I was having the birth that I had wished for night and day for the last forty weeks. He was absolutely right. In that moment, I was allowing myself to be afraid because I knew that fear had no place at my birth. So I dealt with it in the best way I know (crying like a baby!) and I let it go. Just like that, it was gone. And I never felt afraid of the power of my labor again.

Around 8:30 p.m. or perhaps a little before, I called Yolanda again. Things were moving along nicely and I thought that, since she would be driving from out of town, I would ask her to come now, please. I was vocalizing strongly through the surges, coping well, proud of my body for laboring on its own without help from anyone. I was proud of and intensely in love with my husband, who had risen to this with such trust and calm. He soothed me in a way that no one else ever could have. I spent the majority of active labor leaning over my big, blue birth ball, rocking my hips from side to side with Adam applying pressure to my low back. Oh, the back labor!! I never imagined that kind of discomfort, just constant, hips-in-a-vice, can’t-get-comfortable, nothing-feels-good pain. The counter pressure felt incredible. At other times, a surge would begin and I would scramble into Adam’s lap and bury my face in his neck and just breathe him and all of his calm down, down to the baby.

After ten o’clock, Adam came down the hallway to our room where I was laboring away, just me and my ball, on floor and said that Yolanda had arrived. I felt like I should get up to greet her, offer her a drink, ask about her drive…oh, yeah…I’m having a baby here. Instead I moved to the bed, and sat straight up. The pressure on my tailbone felt fantastic. She came into the room and sat in the chair by the bed. She watched me for a few minutes. She told me I looked beautiful. She made chitty-chat about the night and the breeze and the moon…which really annoyed me at the time but looking back, it’s a sweet memory. She recommended that I move to a more active position so I went back to hands and knees. I had been using the bathroom regularly, but it had been awhile, so I went to the toilet and Yolanda checked baby. “Happy baby” she commented. She asked me if I wanted to squat, which I definitely didn’t. I’ve always been a good sport, so I gave it a try. It sucked and I didn’t do it again.

Yolanda decided it was time to find out where I was. She checked me during a contraction (ouch) and reported that I was completely effaced, baby was all the way down into my pelvis, and I was seven amazing, beautiful centimeters open. Seven! I was manic. I could do three more and push out this baby! My body did it! I did it! No drugs, no hospital, nobody! Just me and my body and my baby and we did it! I smiled for a whole three minutes until the next set of pains stole my concentration. They were coming in groups: two wimpy and one colossal. Repeat. It was a nice little set-up though. I would prepare during the easy pains so that when the big one started, I was already on top of it, riding it like a giant wave, always staying one step ahead of it so it couldn’t overcome me. Completely relaxing into it, letting my head loll off to the side, relaxing all of the muscles through my abdomen and pelvis. Moaning (moo-ing, baa-ing…anything that helped). Rocking back and forth and side to side…brushing my “bangs” out of my face (even though my hair was two inches long), shimmer shaking my head back and forth like “no” even though my heart and everything else in me cried “yes!” I asked Yolanda if I could get in the water, because I felt like I was quickly approaching a time in my labor when only the water could provide some relief. She said that was a great plan and Adam set to filling the tub.

And filling it…

And filling it.

After about twenty minutes, I had to ask, “Is the tub full yet?”

“It’s filling.” Adam said, knowing that’s not what I asked. In response to the confused look on my face, my sweet husband decided he had to level with me: “Christie, there’s three inches of water in the bottom of the tub.” This was the first time in my labor that I felt actual despair. Unsure of whether or not I could go on…climbing the walls. This was transition. As tough as it would get. My reaction was very much a phenomenon seen in laboring women: when relief is anticipated, but then withheld, a woman somewhat loses her ability to cope. I wanted the damned tub. And it was withheld. Because our sink has terrible water pressure and the tub is enormous.

Eventually I heard Yolanda, who was shaking salt into the pool in the next room, tell Adam that the tub was ready, and if I would use the bathroom one more time (she had pegged me for a pooper) that I could get into the water. Screw. That. I walked into the bathroom indignantly, stood at the counter for a moment like a small child pretending to use the toilet, I flushed the toilet to give the impression of having used it and literally ran across the hall and hurtled myself into the waiting , steaming, rubbery pool of delicious, irony-smelling watery relief. AHHHHHHH… I actually SMILED. I laughed! For a moment, I was having the time of my life! I even took a minute to check in with everyone, see how they were doing. This was short-lived and the contractions quickly resumed with an urge to push. Nothing overwhelming, but when I pushed a little a slimy something bulged into my hand and then popped with a burst of coolness (cooler than my hot pool of delight). My bag of waters. I was a little startled, not completely realizing what had happened, but it quickly registered and the moment passed.

Yolanda checked me again, a little cervix remained. I held back from pushing for a couple miserable contractions and then…nothing. Quiet. Rest and Be Thankful at its finest. I closed my eyes, I drank some juice. Yolanda listened to my sweet, strong baby’s heartbeat thumping away, never faltering. I had close to ten minutes of complete respite. I nearly fell asleep. When the surges resumed, the urge to push was overwhelming. It was the same, reverse-vomiting feeling I remembered from Hannah’s birth, and it consumed me and terrified me. After hours of being more or less in control, on top of everything, the time had come to surrender to this completely. Pushing is not my favorite part. I’m efficient, but not graceful at all…kind of a mess, actually. It’s something I hope to improve on in the future. I roared. I yelled. I pleaded, “Come out baybeeeeee!” And between pushes I looked to Adam. Our thoughts were the same, What’s taking so long? I had pushed Hannah out in ten minutes and she was my first…I was already going on fifteen with this one. Finally, I felt the burn that signaled the beginning of the end. Yolanda got a flashlight so Adam could see the baby coming through; they told me they saw lots of hair and I told them not to B.S. me. Four years before, the nurse had told me Hannah had lots of hair as I pushed her out and then they handed me a baldy! Oh, the ring of fire…I pushed through it, which is really all you can do it that moment, and I felt my love slip from inside to outside. “Reach down and pick up your baby,” Yolanda said. I must have taken too long, because the next thing I knew the baby was on me, spitting and sputtering and looking generally confused…and beautiful. We wrapped our baby in an old green towel (that I now refuse to use for anything except the catching of our babies) and Yolanda pulled a little beige hat out of thin air and covered up that fuzzy little head. And the reason it took “so long” (an entire twenty minutes) was that my sweet darling was completely posterior…sunny-side up, likely the entire time. Which explained the back labor, funky contraction pattern and the extra pushing that was needed for her to make her appearance.

This was the single most incredible moment of my life. My birth, the way I wanted it, perfection. We remembered that we didn’t know if baby was a he-baby or a she-baby. I lifted the tiny, squirmy body away from my chest and the umbilical cord hung between the teensy bowed legs, obscuring tell-tale parts (Adam thought the cord was a penis at first). Yolanda reached in a moved the cord aside…another girl. Adam and I would later confess to each other over our daughter’s sleeping body that we were just the tiniest bit sad she wasn’t a boy. It didn’t take us long to fall madly in love with her, though. With her shock of jet black hair (they were telling the truth!) her lighter-than-slate-blue eyes, her general curious expression. The way she looked at me like she knew me. My smell, my voice, my touch. She was instantly comfortable. I breathed her in, rubbed her waxy vernix into her skin. She smelled so delicious. I spent the majority of the night just staring at her and sniffing her fuzzy little head. As cheesy as it sounds, when I looked at myself in the mirror later that night, I didn’t see the same person I had earlier in the day. Ellie’s birth transformed me. Emotionally, physically, mentally, spiritually…the core of who I am is different since her birth. And she healed me. I have been able to be a better person, a better mother to both of my girls since Ellie came. She sowed something in me that wasn’t there before, like a consciousness…a new sense of purpose, patience…belief in the good nature of people and of the world. Babies are wise in a way that grown human beings aren’t, and my baby was no exception.

Home Sweet Homebirth

Last week, I posted the birth story of our sweet daughter. As promised, I’d like to elaborate on why having a home birth was such a good experience for me and us.

I don’t think that most people know from the start that they’d like a home birth. In typical American culture, babies are born in hospitals. Most people were born in hospitals themselves. Those with younger siblings probably have memories of visiting their moms in the maternity ward and meeting their new brother or sister. I have a distinct memory of being three years old and my dad was holding me and pointing to my baby brother sleeping in his isolette in the nursery. In many children’s books, babies mysteriously arrive after the mother stays in the hospital for a few days. It is something that most have never questioned. At some point, probably as a teenager, I became conscious of the fact that some people choose to birth at home. I thought that the idea was only for people who shunned medical care and were willing to risk their lives for the sake of avoiding doctors. Religious fanatics or people who were just plain crazy. I’d seen my youngest sister and brother born in a hospital and that seemed just fine to me.

Obviously my opinions on the matter of home birth have changed since then. I don’t consider myself to be crazy and I’m certainly not a religious fanatic. Nor do I have any problem with hospitals, doctors, or medical care in situations when they are necessary. In situations when they are necessary.

Is medical intervention necessary during birth? I am just going to say up front that my strongest belief about birth is that a woman must birth in the place where she feels the most safe and comfortable. For some, that is a hospital and that is okay.

Some years after witnessing the births of my brother and my sister, I found myself involved in the doula community of the San Francisco Bay Area. As a postpartum doula in training, I was reading voraciously about how to nurture mothers into their new roles. How to support them as they processed their birth experiences and learned how to breastfeed and mother their newborns. Among other things I learned about birth trauma. Until then, I’d wrongfully assumed that the joy of meeting one’s new baby made obsolete anything unpleasant that may have happened during birth. As long as mother and baby were healthy (ie: alive) then that was all that mattered. Additionally, I was unaware that it was possible to reduce your probability of needing many of the available birth interventions. Not only that, but I did not even realize that those interventions carried risks. Now maybe I lived under a rock, but I really did think that birth in itself was quite dangerous and that careful monitoring and quick intervention could make it more or less safe. It was only after immersing myself in loads of research and literature and hearing the stories the birth doulas would tell (both of beautiful easy births and of difficult births that carried intensely negative emotional consequences) did I realize the secret. In most cases when a woman goes into birth without fear and is encouraged to trust her body and her instincts, she is able to birth not only quite safely, but with little to no assistance. She is able to breastfeed her baby with fewer complications and she is more likely to feel positively about her birth experience.

“We have a secret in our culture, and it’s not that birth is painful. It’s that women are strong.” -Laura Stavoe Harm

Statistically, home births attended by qualified midwives lead to similar birth outcomes with less intervention. Babies are arriving safely to safe mothers but the recovery from cesarean births, premature inductions, artificial rupture of membranes, epidural anesthesia, etc. just doesn’t have to happen. True, some planned home births lead to hospital transfers, but that is the beauty of it- if you are transferred to a hospital it is in a situation where medical intervention IS necessary and in that case it is totally appropriate. It made sense then that if I wanted a natural birth and my pregnancy remained in a low risk category, I should plan to birth in a place where the use of medical technology is not assumed.

So, how did it work out? Awesome. If you know me pretty well you know that I have a very very low tolerance for a wide variety of people and things that I find annoying. Just taking a wild guess here, but I’m going to say that if I was at a hospital I’d probably be annoyed with anybody who wanted to talk to me, make me fill out paperwork, touch me, take my temperature, poke needles into me, tell me what I should do, tell me what I couldn’t do, make assumptions about me, make noise, or generally stick around when I didn’t want them there. That’s just me. I can guarantee you I would have gotten the epidural just to make the situation bearable. I don’t know that the nurses at this particular hospital would have had much understanding about or tolerance for my birth hypnosis techniques. At home, I got to avoid the epidural AND the annoying people. Bonus. I didn’t have to get in the car while I was approaching birth. If you were paying attention you’d know that the birth tub was my friend and it was very important that I stay in it! The car would have been a special kind of hell. One particularly great aspect of birthing at home was that I got to crawl (literally) into my own bed once my baby was born. My own cozy bed. I stayed there for two days. I kept an eye out to make sure I was healing properly and my midwife came and checked on me after the first night. Nursing was a breeze since neither of us was drugged or discombobulated during the birth. I took warm baths in my own tub. I ate my own food… fresh watermelon every day. And the care that I was given by my midwife during pregnancy? A thousand times more in depth than what I received from the (wonderful) OB-GYN who I was also seeing. We talked about what I wanted from my birth experience, what things were stressing me out, how to optimize my nutrition, and what to expect from her once I was in labor. I could call her any time I wanted to or email her with questions. She was available to me so that I could be confident and fearless about birthing my baby.

I can say honestly that I birthed without fear and it was amazing. If I were to do it again I would do it at home in a heartbeat.

Next Up: The Birth of a Baby

This is the story of the birth of our daughter, little G. I wrote this very shortly after she was born and edited to clean up some details and make it easier to read. Apparently the sleep deprivation and general excitement of birth do not make for clarity in story-telling.

Very pregnant me

My due date was May 15 (a Saturday,) and it passed by relatively uneventfully. On Sunday I woke up to a very slow leak of amniotic fluid and went to church with L because my back had been very achy for the past few days and I wanted to stay moving. I was very uncomfortable that morning. I had woken up to some pretty strong cramping, but it went away as quickly as it had come. I felt like baby G had dropped even more than she had in the weeks previous and it seemed as if I was crushing her head with my pelvis. That afternoon and evening I started having contractions 5 minutes apart. They lasted for several hours, but they did not increase in intensity or frequency. I also had a little bit of pink spotting- which, for those of you who are not familiar with “bloody show,” can be a sign that the cervix is beginning to dilate. I knew things were starting to warm up, but I didn’t think it would progress to anything significant that night. I stayed in contact with our midwife, D, throughout the afternoon and evening. When I talked to her before bedtime I let her know that I didn’t think it was time for her to come yet. (She lives four hours away from us, since we live in the middle of nowhere- er everywhere. When she would start her drive was a topic of debate. We wanted to make sure she arrived before the baby, but I also wanted her to get a decent night of sleep so that she could drive safely.)  We agreed that I’d call her if anything changed during the night, otherwise I’d touch base in the morning.

L and I went to bed at about 10:00 that night and I asked the universe for some rest, and for labor to wait until morning after a peaceful night of sleep… and the universe blessed me with exactly that. I slept very well, which is something you can never be sure of when you are nine months pregnant. I got up only once to use the bathroom and was able to go right back to sleep. Throughout the night I had some cramp-like contractions with no regular pattern- nothing strong enough to keep me awake at all. They stopped once I got out of bed at 9:00 the next morning. I called D to give her an update and told her I was going to eat some breakfast and do errands with L. (We had both taken that day off of work with intentions of getting some things done before the baby came.) She encouraged me to get some herbs to help get labor moving in a more regular pattern since my body definitely seemed ready and I was leaking amniotic fluid. While we were out, the contractions started up again, no herbs necessary. Four to five minutes apart this time and with a sharp, low pain. I was ready to be home and couldn’t handle shopping any more, so L dropped me off at home and went to the grocery store to get some fruit and Gatorade. I called D and we agreed it was time for her to come!

Once L came home, she started filling up the birth tub in the living room and I went to the bedroom to listen to my HypnoBabies hypnosis track for my birthing day. As I listened, my contractions increased in surprising rhythm with the cues in the track. Eventually, listening to the voice was bothering me more than relaxing me, so I turned it off and headed into the living room to see how L was doing with the tub. I could not talk through contractions any more, and after managing a few on my hands and knees on the sofa, I decided to strip down and get into the tub! It still felt early, but it just seemed like time. The water was AMAZING. To any moms contemplating a natural labor, I highly recommend using a birthing tub. I was surprised at the sharpness of my contractions. I was not expecting to feel the low, sharp sensations of my cervix opening, and that threw me off from the HypnoBabies suggestion that contractions are just waves of pressure. Dana told me later that the reason I was feeling this sharp pain in my cervix was because my bag of water was bulging and helping things to stretch. It hurt, but I don’t remember ever feeling afraid.

My contractions continued and I stayed in the tub for apparently the next four hours. It truly felt like less time. During contractions I needed L to put her hand on my forehead and use our hypnosis “release” cue. This helped me to go into a hypnotic state and relax my entire body through contractions. This, in combination with the pool, was our most effective tool for managing labor. In between contractions, L gave me sips of Gatorade and one or two bites of yogurt and I am pretty sure I slept! Periodically, L added hot water to the pool and removed cold, since I was shivering between contractions. (I was also sweating during them!) As things progressed, I started asking where D was, and how much longer she had to drive. I made L call her a few times, I think. When she was an hour or so away things started to become very intense. My contractions were hard and long, and in between my legs were convulsing and I threw up a few times. (Into a quickly-retrieved bowl!) L was amazing. I can’t imagine what she must have been thinking, since this was the first birth she’d ever attended and she was my only support person. We thought things were moving fast, so D told her to get everything set up for when she arrived. She said that if I start to feel pushy she needed to call and turn on the speaker phone ASAP. D then drove 80 to get to us, praying not to get in an accident or pulled over.

When D arrived, I remember saying, “You beat the baby!” She introduced her friend (S) who would be assisting her. (I had never met this woman before, but the two assistants who I HAD met were unavailable.) She encouraged me to get out of the tub and use the bathroom. I did not want to get out of the tub but I knew that it was a good idea to get up, pee, and feel things out a bit. Getting out of the water was absolutely miserable. I had a contraction on the toilet and that was worse. I was very cold, and after peeing, I went into the bedroom to lay down and cover up. Not such a good idea, as it turns out. Laying down on my side felt wonderful and relaxing between contractions, but during the contractions the pain was much greater on land than when I was in the tub. At this point I was really wondering why I was crazy enough to want to experience natural labor at home. Dana asked if she could check my dilation to see where things were at. Originally I had requested no vaginal exams, but I agreed- even though I knew it would be uncomfortable. She checked me out and it did in fact hurt. I was feeling pretty angry and I remember yelling at her and then apologizing. She left the room without saying anything and I knew that my dilation was not where we had expected it to be. Granted, I know it is just a number and it doesn’t really mean much as far as how much longer it would be until pushing time… That is why I had requested no cervix exams in my birth preferences. When she came back I asked her what she had felt and she said I was dilated to about a 5.

At that point I was absolutely positive that I wanted to go to the hospital and have an epidural. They kept reminding me of the reasons I wanted this home birth. They were very valid points, really! Dana reminded me that riding in a car, walking into the hospital, talking to people, filling out paperwork, and waiting for the epidural would probably be a lot more miserable than laboring in the tub. I didn’t think it would take as long as she said, but it was true, so I kept thinking about that and moved back to the tub. Also, luckily, every time I’d start thinking too much about pain relief, I’d have another contraction, L would use the hypnosis cues and hold my forehead, and I’d manage each one. The complaining period faded almost immediately after I got back into the pool. (Seriously friends, use the birth pool!)

I’m not really sure of the timelines, but I remember hating on D a lot during my labor. It wasn’t really her; I was glad she was there, but I know that I yelled at her and I remember telling her to shut up. I complained because it hurt every time she’d use the doppler to check G’s heart tones. I also really needed quiet, so I didn’t want to hear anyone talk- even to say useful or important things. She took those cues and at one point she and S went around the corner to Pizza Hut for lunch. Towards the very end, they went into the basement to hang out while L helped me through my contractions, since that is what was working best for us.

I was managing things pretty well and staying on top of the contractions, remaining quiet and calm except at the very peaks where I was vocalizing. Unfortunately they were coming very close together and long with double peaks and I was really not enjoying that part! I was getting maybe a 45 second break in between. During those seconds I completely zoned out. Finally there reached a point where I could not stay on top of the contractions with relaxation and breathing, which was momentarily quite scary. However, D popped upstairs immediately when she heard the change in the sound of contractions. She asked me to try pushing the next contraction and see how it felt. I told her it hurt! She said I didn’t try very hard, which was true, so I tried a good one and my body continued the push involuntarily. D felt for my cervix, told my I was complete, and my baby was coming down! It took a few more contractions of pushing and I remember feeling her head with my hand. I used my hands to help support my tissues while I was crowning, and it was the strangest sensation when her head was out! D checked her neck to feel for the cord I think, and very soon after that her shoulders were out and I had a baby on my chest!

Admiring our perfect baby

I could not stop looking at her. We waited for the contractions to start up again and a few minutes later I pushed out the placenta. D listened to G’s chest, gave her a hat, and we checked to make sure she was the girl we had been expecting. It was the most amazing thing to see that this little person had really just grown inside of me and come out!

L held G and the placenta (in a bag but still attached to baby) while D and S helped me out of the tub and into the bathroom. I passed a few clots on the toilet and started feeling light headed. My uterus was taking its time to tighten back up and D was massaging it. I told her my feet were tingling and then I was starting to black out. I came to on the bathroom floor a couple of seconds later. D had caught me and put my legs in the air and started asking me questions to make sure I stayed conscious. I was given a shot of pitocin in the thigh to help my uterus contract. It took a while on the floor for me to feel strong enough to get up and crawl to the bed, and in the meantime, D helped clean me up and checked out my tearing (one first-degree tear.) I got one more dose of pitocin and plenty of oxygen from the tank. I was sad that I was missing spending that time with my baby, but L was able to nurse her and I heard her singing to her in the other room so I knew she was just fine.

Nursing from Mama for the first time

Finally I made it to bed where we measured little G (she weighed 8 pounds!), checked out her placenta, and cut the cord. Someone got me some food, we talked about the birth certificate, and I nursed G for the first time. We called and texted a few people to let everyone know she was born. I had a little trouble getting out of bed to pee, so Dana put me under instructions to stay in bed that night until she came back in the morning. She also left us a syringe of pitocin just in case of a problem (we didn’t need to use it) and told us to call if we needed her. She and Stephanie went to stay at a nearby hotel that night. We did just fine, though I had a hard time sleeping after all of that! When they came back in the morning, they got me some food and helped me to take a bath.

Weigh in time

Overall it was a really really good experience, and I am glad that I had G at home instead of at the hospital, even if I complained a lot at some points. I will write more on this later as the birth story in itself is already quite long.

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