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How I came to love the hospital birth that I didn't want, Part 1

Two weeks ago today, I had a baby.

He’s right over there, in bed next to me.

Photo on 2013-06-15 at 09.58
He is very blonde.

Two weeks and one day ago, I agreed with my midwives that the home birth I had hoped for was not the safest option, and I sobbed while I packed my hospital bag.

Three weeks ago, I was 41 weeks pregnant with an emotional state the equivalent of soggy tissue paper, battling the daily mind-game of “Why isn’t my body going into labor?”

I had forgotten, since the birth of my three-and-three-quarters (!) year old, J, how strange and vulnerable it feels to stay pregnant significantly past the “due date” of a baby. I mistakenly thought that my experience as a doula and of birthing J 13 days after he was “due” would carry me through. I know that statistically, most women carry their babies past 40 weeks. I talk my doula clients through this all the time—and even gave myself the same pep talk I gave one of them in the latter part of this blog post (which may also delight you if you like gluten free baking).

But memories and knowledge barely stack up against the gravity of an extremely pregnant body and the wash of emotions constantly lapping at the shores of the extremely pregnant brain in a culture that celebrates planning and “due dates” and has erected a very intimidating, medically-recommended cut off date of 42 weeks to most pregnancies.

Let’s just say that in those last couple weeks, I swung dramatically between 1) a tower of mindfulness and brave surrender and 2) a complete disaster puddle.

One day, I would feel completely unfettered and at peace—enjoying the relative simplicity of life with only one child and eating these incredible doughnuts.

Thank you, Doughnut Dolly.
Thank you, Doughnut Dolly.

The next, I would be plagued with worry that despite all my efforts at natural induction—sex, acupuncture, membrane stripping—that I would reach 42 weeks and, according to my home birth midwives’ policy, no longer be able to have the home birth that I wanted. And then I would envision a whole host of unlikely and horrendous birth defects that might be the reason I wasn’t going into labor, and also the complete financial disaster that would ensue once we had our complicated hospital birth of our very sickly child on our not-so-great insurance policy.

And then, it happened. I had to jump headfirst into my hospital birth fear and let go of the last shred of control I thought I might have when my midwife said, “This looks like a baby that wants to be born in the hospital.”

At a routine non-stress test (used to assess the health of the baby by monitoring its heart rate and amniotic fluid levels) the nurse saw one significant deceleration of our baby’s heart rate. And my amniotic fluid levels were quite low. My midwives consulted with their back-up obstetrician and recommended that I check into the hospital for an induction in a few hours. Their concern was that the low fluid levels were leading to cramped conditions in utero and that some sort of compression was leading to the heart deceleration that we saw. If those decelerations continued and intensified, they would lead to consistently reduced blood flow and oxygen to the baby.

I was devastated. I would never light all the candles that my friends had given me when I went into labor at home. I wouldn’t hear my own moans in our living room as I labored our baby into the world.

I was scared. Would I feel cornered into making decisions that I didn’t want to make at the hospital? Would the Pitocin make my contractions unbearable? Would the post-partum nurse cram this baby’s head onto my breast in those first few minutes instead of giving me and the baby time to try breastfeeding on our own?

The questions rolled through my head and I cried. I packed. I ate dinner at our house. And said goodbye to my mother and J. It felt like I was heading to a kind of death. Two hours to pack and say goodbye, and don’t forget to pay attention because your family will never be like this again.

We drove to the hospital and stopped on our way to get a popsicle. I allowed myself the extravagant purchase of a local, artisanal, tangerine gelato version from Whole Foods. My partner A. and I scarfed them down while we lugged our bags up to Labor and Delivery.

Photo by sleepyneko/flickr.
Photo by sleepyneko/flickr.

That popsicle was my turning point.

We settled in and unpacked. Hung some colorful scarves on the wall. Chatted with our midwife and laughed with our nurse.

I took some Misoprostol at 10:30 pm, and contractions started 5 minutes later. Sweet, blessed contractions that I’d been dreaming of for days. They were nice, rhythmic, easy ones. The baby had more heart decelerations with those contractions. They gave me oxygen started an IV drip so fast that it left me shaking with the flood of cool fluid in my veins. The decelerations stopped. And I knew at that moment we had made the right decision.

When I agreed to be induced at the hospital, I was overwhelmed by disappointment. This was not what I wanted. And I needed to sob myself silly over it. Now, here I was, thanking my baby for those heart decelerations. They helped us all make what we hoped was the best decision for him. And they confirmed, as I breathed in oxygen and watched the methodical IV drip, that it was.

***

It has taken me the better part of a day juggling one toddler and one baby to write this, so in the interest of my own sense of accomplishment, I’m going to post this now. I hope to deliver part 2 “soon.” ((And here is part 2…only took me 3 weeks…))

My triumph over post-partum trauma and a giveaway

I’ve mentioned a few times that this pregnancy with baby #2 has been emotionally challenging.

And sometime during the blur of activity since moving into our new house, the grip of fear and dread I had about this second baby all but vanished in a single day, and I’m left with a healthy sense that yes, this will be hard and also, that I can do it.

Here’s how that happened.

At a pre-natal appointment, I cried while telling one of my midwives about how hard it’s been to feel burdened and emotionally flat about being pregnant this time around. What did it mean about the baby? About me? About our future relationship? About whether this was a good decision in the first place.

My wise and wonderful midwife had this to say:

You might try connecting with and talking to the baby when you’re feeling that way. You could say, ‘I’m having a lot of difficult feelings right now. And you’re also welcome here.’

The reminder that both my crap feelings and the baby could co-exist and that they are separate entities was radically helpful, especially in battling my whole freak out about the fetal origins thing.

I also talked with my midwife about how afraid I was of those first few months with a baby—since they had been so difficult with J.

She recommended that I sign up for a post-partum/birth trauma workshop with Gena McCarthy, a local nurse and therapist who specializes in supporting women through the challenges of birth, post-partum and motherhood.

I signed myself up and a couple weeks later, spent 3 and a half hours in a room with 6 other women who had difficult birth or post-partum experiences that they wanted help working through.

I have to admit, during the workshop, I kept thinking there would be some sort of magical moment—some radical revelation that would swoop down and save me. The radical revelation never came, but I did feel relieved to know I wasn’t alone—other moms were still struggling with a difficult time in early motherhood that had long since passed.

It was helpful to hear Gena’s explanation of how these types of fears we have—the ones that feel deeply lodged and almost irrational in their strength and persistence—are often the result of trauma. And trauma lives in a part of our brain that is non-verbal. So rational and verbal approaches to healing trauma aren’t usually very effective. What is effective, she said, are approaches that tap into our limbic system—a region of our brain that we share with other mammals and reptiles that is largely concerned with things like emotion, memory and our instinctive fight or flight response.

Apparently, the workshop was supposed to help us tap into this part of our brains, where we could begin to move through some of the fears that were lodged there.

During the workshop, we talked, we did a guided visualization, we journaled, we made collages, and I walked away from the workshop thinking, “That was nice, but I doubt it helped much.”

Later that night, my partner, A asked me how it went. As I recounted what I had talked and thought about, I noticed that there was none of the background fear and anxiety lurking like it normally did. I was talking about how hard those first few months were with J, and I had this understanding of why, and this healthy compassion for myself, and I didn’t feel overcome with dread about what was coming. It was a simple and radical release.

That’s how it is now—I know I’m going to have to go through all of that post-partum time with a new baby again. And surely it will be lovely. And surely it will be hard. But I’m not irrationally afraid of it anymore. I hadn’t realized how much my fears were keeping me from settling into the whole idea of baby #2 and being pregnant, but since they lifted, I touched down. Here I am. 35 weeks pregnant. I’m tired and excited and hopeful and swollen and everything is going to be okay, except for when it’s not, and then we’ll just figure it out.

Naturally, I’ve become a big fan of Gena and her work, so I wanted to share it with you. And, ws luck would have it, she has another workshop just like the one I described coming up on April 28 in Berkeley. She also does private sessions in person or on the phone, so you can connect with her regardless of where you live.
Healing Birth Mother Renewal eFlyer_4-13
Now that you’ve read my story of post-partum trauma triumph, I’d like a drumroll please. Because today I’m joining the ranks of bloggers everywhere who offer tantalizing giveaways!

Gena has extended the generous offer to you, fabulous readers: $15 off of her upcoming workshop or $30 off a private session, which can be in person if you live in the Bay Area or over the phone if you live anywhere! The workshop is $75 and private sessions are $130, so you’ll get a good solid discount. If you’d like to enter the giveaway, just leave a comment below and be sure to include your email address in the section of the comment form that asks for it. And for those of you that are particularly keen to win, if you’re a subscriber to the blog (just enter your email address in the handy form in the upper right hand corner of this blog page) or if you “like” my Facebook page, those actions will enter you into the drawing a second or third time! I’ll select one lucky An Honest Mom reader at random next week and then email you with the good news.

And please, share this post with anyone who you think might benefit from Gena’s stellar work. Here’s to unburdening moms of birth and post-partum trauma everywhere!

I become a three-year-old mom today

Three years ago today, this happened:

photo by our doula, Candace Palmerlee

The marking of this day feels more significant than any other, which has surprised me. It looms over my own birthday or wedding anniversary. I anticipate its arrival as the walnuts ripen and with the little showers of shell crunching down from the squirrels that frequent our tree. I can smell its approach in the dry autumn air. And then, starting on September 8, the day I went into labor, I follow my birth log that our doula wrote for us.

10:25am Contractions every 2-3 minutes.
11:00am Long lull in contractions, perhaps 25 minutes without one, contractions resume ever 5-10 minutes apart when laying flat on side.
11:45am Nurse changes to Jacki, the “radical natural birth nurse.”
12:00pm Vaginal exam, 7cms, 0 station
12:40pm Walk on roof garden

I love marking the time, reading these facts and remembering what it felt like in my body that day. The quality of the sunlight, the anger that possessed me when we had to wait and wait in triage at the hospital, the sound of our yoga ball squelching around and around on our hardwood floor in the middle of the night. I’ve never *sensed* an experience more than this one. And I savor the details that my body remembers.

I live in such a brainiac world that there are few experiences that require me to be deeply feeling inside my body. That is why I love birth so much. It eventually demands everything–every pre-historic moan, every trickling bead of sweat, every deepest-darkest thing you didn’t even know you had. And there’s a joy in that animal darkness. And there’s fear in the joy. It just tunnels in like that to the place where everything is all mixed in with everything else.

I often tell people that having a child has expanded my emotional territory in all directions. There are moments of quiet happiness beyond knowing, and despair that can sweep me out to the furthest reaches of myself. I never knew I was so big until I started becoming a mother. And that bigness and depth and expansion all crescendo-ed at birth.

No wonder I make so much room in my life to remember it.

The revolution begins: your not-so-perfect moment photos!

I had to share a few of the great photos that you, dear readers, have been sharing on my Facebook page this week in response to my photographic challenge. The challenge, in short, was to take a picture of one of the not-so-perfect moments in your life–feeling bored in traffic, scrubbing dirty diapers late at night, celebrating the end of a big day in the midst of a messy living room. The only real constraint: you can’t clean it up all perfect and squeaky clean. No tidying beforehand or fixing hair or making things look any different than they just are.

Without further ado:

Here is a nice photo of my daughter mid-fit
I took this trying to stop a crying fit with the power of the iPhone.
My photo revolution. It’s 3 o’clock in the afternoon. I am still in my pajamas. D would rather be doing something else.
Here’s “I don’t know what’s on the counter or if I’d even like it, but I’m gonna stand here and scream till you give it to me” (aka “why didn’t you put me to bed 15 minutes ago?”)
Here is a neither good nor bad moment that occurs many times a day every day.

I have been overjoyed from the tips of my dirty toes to the top of my frizzy head by all of your photos. Thank you. Thank you.

p.s. I’ll keep collecting and posting these, so keep sharing away over on the old Facebook.

A photographic challenge: capture and share a less-than-perfect moment

I’ve been thinking about this photo for a long time.

photo by Jessica Todd Harper

And this one too:

Another beauty from Jessica Todd Harper.

Both were part of this NYT article that a friend recommended after reading my first video blog post. I loved the article for the counterpoint it offered to the “Don’t you just love every minute?” comments that people kept flinging at me when I was out and about with my infant son.

I was so inspired by the photographs that I took one of my own.

It was such a relief to capture a moment simply as it was. It wasn’t begging to be captured, it didn’t show my son in all of his perfect, chubby glory. It didn’t make me look particularly competent or satisfied. I tried to show the moment how it was. From what I remember, I was tired. A little bit bored. And trying to pass the time.

Then last week my friend M sent me this blog post written by a mom of 2 who talks about all of the things you don’t see in the photos of her family life that she posts on Instagram. She tends not to post images of marital spats, colicky infants at 3 a.m. and the like. Of course she doesn’t post that stuff. Most of us don’t. After all, who would want to see that?

I would, for one. And I don’t think I’m alone.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t relish the idea of wading through a ton of photos of screaming children or exhausted parents in dimly lit bedrooms strewn with diapers. But something in me does tire, after a while, of seeing everyone’s perfect pictures of their lives with their children, and, for that matter, my own. The part of me that gets tired of all that perfection is the same part that wonders if everyone else’s life is just a little bit (or a lot) happier, tidier and more successful than mine. It’s the same part that breathes a huge sigh of relief when someone I know tells me about her depression or his failed marriage or her crippling jealousy. That part of me needs to connect with the realness in other people, the darker, messier reality that doesn’t make the cut for Facebook.

This ties into the reason I started blogging in the first place: I feel a responsibility to be honest about my actual, lived experience of parenthood, so that other parents and future parents might feel a little less alone and weird when they’re having a less-than-savory time. And this applies to any aspect of life, really, but I’ve found that our culture’s reverence for family life and unrealistic, filtered portrayals of it to be particularly isolating. The stories we hear and images we see of young families help us form our expectations of parenthood (that later come crashing down…or soar up, perhaps, but that wasn’t my experience) and drive the way we connect with other parents one we join the fold. They help to define what we talk with other people about and what we don’t. What we ask others about and what we think we shouldn’t.

And images, I think, are particularly powerful because they can sink in so quickly. Every one of us, if asked, can instantly bring a long string photos to mind when we think of the word parenthood. A mother lying in the grass, holding her smiling baby up into a perfectly blue sky. A father asleep, newborn baby curled up in his beefy arms. The latest, greatest photo-journalistic rendering of a family of four, wearing jeans, on a walk in a leaf-strewn park, laughing with each other. I like pictures like these. I have some. I want that photo-journalism one.

But I want the colicky infant too. And the sink full of dirty dishes. And the site of 2 frayed moms sitting on their couch, celebrating their son’s decent into a nap by watching crappy tv.

So, I’d like to invite you to take a picture in the next week when you normally wouldn’t take one. To capture a moment that isn’t perfect. See what it feels like to show it how it really is. Without checking your hair or wiping down the kitchen counter. Then, if you’re inspired, I’d be tickled pink if you would share your photo on my Facebook page. Maybe we can start a little photo revolution.

***

If you liked this post and are feeling bold and decisive, please subscribe. I’ve got more where this came from.

Happy Mother's Day from a 2-and-a-half-year-old mom

Living things change. They adapt and grow and die. Trees leaf out, snakes molt, babies grow up into frat boys. It just happens.

Aren’t you glad I picked this picture instead of one of a frat boy?

So why is it I thought the moment I had a baby that I would be a full-grown mother?

It came to me a few months ago when I was talking with an adoptive mother at the park. She brought home her baby boy 4 months ago, and he was now a year and a half old. “It’s been hard to relate to the other moms with kids his age because we’re just hitting the 4 month mark of having a kid,” she said. Without even thinking, I said, “Yeah, I mean, he’s an 18-month-old baby and you’re a 4-month-old mom.”

That means I’m a 2-and-a-half-year-old mom. And back when I was wondering if I would ever feel like a “natural mother,” I was a 3-week-old mom. A newborn. I was 4 months old when I was white-knuckling through my exhaustion, anxiety and depression.

My maternal grandmother, who we called Dee Dee, was most definitely a full grown mother when I knew her. Since she had a son and a daughter who were 61 and 59 when she died, I’d say she grew to the ripe old mom age of 120.

Thinking about my mom age this way makes me feel better. It helps me have more compassion for myself in those first few disorienting months. Things often felt wobbly and strange. Am I doing this right? Is it supposed to feel this way? We don’t expect newborn babes to come out of the womb quoting Shakespeare. So why do we expect the equivalent of ourselves as mothers?

And here’s my dear friend E. Who will become a 2-year-old mom this August and give birth to kiddo #2, growing her mom age by leaps and bounds ahead of mine.

So for my Mother’s Day gift to myself and to all of you, I’d like to let us all be the mom age that we are.

For a mom in her toddler years, I feel like I’m doing okay. I don’t have everything down to a science, like my 7-year-old mom friends, but I’m starting to have fewer tantrums.

How old of a mom are you? Or if you’re not a mom yourself, how old of a mother is the mom that you’re closest to? Does thinking about mothers in terms of their mom age change how you feel or think about motherhood?

What I thought motherhood would look like

Other than a couple brief moments of rocking a swaddled newborn to sleep, I just started having some moments of, “now THIS is what I thought being a mom was going to be like.” And J will be 2 and a half next month. Do tell, what were the images you had in your head of what being a mother looked like? And what do they say about the whacked out ideas (or not?) our culture has about “motherhood.”

Also, here’s a link to the “Becoming a Mother” video series I’m producing.

On becoming a mother

As I mentioned a couple of posts ago, I recently assisted a childbirth class as part of my doula certification. On the last night of the class, all of the couples took turns talking about their fears, how excited they were, what they’d learned. One woman said something to the effect of, “It’s crazy that we’ve prepared so much for and have so many feelings and anxieties about a journey that is, essentially, one foot long. I mean, the baby only has to get from here (gesture to belly), to there (gesture to crotch).”

I was struck how funny and truthful and earnest they all were, and how it seemed that we were all in awe of the same thing—birth as a rite of passage. You’re on one side of that fence your whole life, and then you’re pregnant and know you’re gonna have to cross it. And then, by the grace of god and medicine and your own body and the support around you, you reach the other side. It’s endlessly mysterious and inspiring to me. And it’s just nuts. There’s this baby on the inside. And you have no earthly idea what its actually going to be like until it comes out. And then it’s there. Sheesh.

I decided to pursue my endless fascination with this whole process by having a couple of conversations on video with two women who volunteered from the group – one when they were around 38 weeks, just weeks or days away from having their babies, and one when their babies were a few weeks old. A sort of video time capsule, as it were.

Here’s a glimpse of the chat I had with T before she had her baby. (Turns out, we recorded this conversation 6 days before she birthed her baby boy.) My next post will be a little video time capsule from chat we had last week, when the wee babe was a month old.

On judging other parents

I met a friend for beer the other night. It felt pretty momentous. She was the friend I vaguely referenced in an earlier blog post with whom I’d had a schism.

my artistic rendering of "friends meeting for beer after schism"

Our schism was about our children, and our different styles of raising them. And after a couple of emotional conversations, several weeks of emails and both of us taking some time to get perspective and lick our wounds, we met for beer.

It was such a relief to see her again—as if a strange magical spell that had turned her into a monster had blown away. And there she was. Just my friend, with her bright face and her wavy hair and the purposeful way she walks. As we talked about what had happened and how we both felt about it, it struck me that we were doing something pretty impressive. We disagree and are making different choices about certain hot button parenting issues: to cry-it-out or not, co-sleeping, daycare. And rather than just using the old to-each-their-own, who-am-I-to-judge approach, we’re actually having the messy conversations that naturally come when two people that deeply believe in what they’re doing and disagree choose to talk about it.

It hasn’t been easy. We’ve had many a time when we had to circle back around and remind the other one about how something she said was really hurtful and clean up the mess. But we’ve also shared some incredible insights and have developed a strong mutual respect and fascination for each other.

This is something I really want to create space for in this blog. Everyone is allowed to be judgmental here. Since we all already do it anyway, I think we could actually use it to our advantage. I think that we’re all (well, everyone but the super-evolved-Eckhart-Tolle types) judging each other all the time, even when we claim not to. And while it IS true that every child is different and we all need to find our own way of parenting, I think that sentiment is often used to glaze over and avoid a perfectly fascinating, provocative conversation. Because we want to be kind and because we understand the risks of our judgement, we’re skirting around the issue and cheating ourselves of some really valuable connections.

It’s scary to be judged. Because let’s face it, this parenting gig has the highest stakes ever. And we all know that, and we try really really hard to do what’s best for our kids. So when someone even mildly expresses that they think we’re doing the wrong thing, they can push that terribly zingy button in us that says, “STEP OFF! I’M DOING THE EFFING BEST I CAN. I BET YOU’RE SCREWING UP YOUR KID TOO.” And I think that zingy button is really covering for this fear: “Am I actually making the wrong decision? Am I doing something that is hurting my child or my relationship with her?”

When my friend and I have talked about our differences of opinion, we’ve definitely hit the zing button. Many times. And the thing that has allowed us to keep talking even though we’re hurt or scared is that we both feel and know that we care about each other.

So.

I, for one, want to break out of the everyone-has-to-parent-in-the-way-that-feels-best-to-them conversation silencer. Because while I DO believe that everyone has to parent in the way that feels best to them, I ALSO believe that there is much to be gained from allowing ourselves to disagree in a caring way. And to follow our curiosity about why different people do things differently. Maybe in being more transparent about our judgments with other parents we care about, we might not get so polarized and snippy and, well, judge-y with each other.

As my friend said that night over beers, what would happen if we were allowed to say, “You know, I will never raise my kid the way you do, but I’m totally curious about why you do it that way.” GOOD EFFING QUESTION.

Who would you like to have this conversation with, and what would you talk to them about, if you knew they would still like you when all was said and done?

On pregnancy and birth

I’m all awash in thoughts of birth and pregnancy because I just finished assisting a birth class for the doula/childbirth educator/lactation consultant extraordinaire, Janaki Costello, and every couple of days we hear from a new couple who has just had their babe. I’ve been talking with one of the moms from the class who is, today, 7 days after her estimated due date (EDD) and who has been challenged with frightening pressure to have an induction much earlier than she expected. And nothing about her un-complicated, textbook pregnancy has changed. Other than going past her EDD.

Even though this photo was taken a month before I was full term, it accurately expresses the following: "Why the hell won't my body go into labor?!"

Her experience rings so true with my own–J was born (a beautiful, healthy 8lbs 2oz) 13 days after my EDD, and the pressure I felt to induce and my exposure to terrifying-dead-baby-scenarios skyrocketed in those few days. Why wasn’t my body going into labor? How did my perfectly healthy and complication-free pregnancy suddenly look like a train wreck to my OBs office on the day I passed the 40 week mark? And didn’t it make any difference at all that I passed my non-stress test with flying colors (meaning that they tested the baby when I was 40 weeks and 5 days and everything looked healthy and great)?

I’m all for making a decision informed by a variety of things, including statistical evidence, but I know there are many ways to talk with a 41 weeks pregnant lady about reasons for considering an induction other than, “Well, you don’t want to have a stillborn baby, do you?” As you might imagine, body-gripping worry and fear just don’t create ideal conditions for life in general, let alone helping a woman’s body go into labor on its own. Wow. I digress.

Anyhoo, talking with this 7-days-after mom has renewed my desire to create a pregnancy resource page, with some specific information for women who go well past their due dates. And I’ve already started page on birth too. So this one’s for you, 7-days-after mama. I’m cheering for you and your capable uterus.