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.