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Waxing poetic about time, treasure and sisters

There are moments of sweetness I can hardly describe. The kind of sweetness that aches, that wraps its tiny fingers around your heart and squeezes a little bit too hard. It’s the sweetness of endings and beginnings. Of beginnings as endings.

My sister had a baby this week, and I was there. She rested her head on my shoulder as she slumped her back forward to receive an epidural. I rubbed her feet and laughed with her while we waited. I was there, and I looked into her face while she collected her energy and courage between pushes. Her face calm, fierce, focused.

Today is Jo’s last day of preschool before summer. I lingered with Cal at circle time and listened while Jo’s teacher told him and his class about the treasure hunt. All those smooth, soft, warm 3 and 4 year olds sitting cross legged on the carpet, listening.

“There might be times when you’re hunting that you just want everything. When you see a big pile of treasure and you want it and all the treasure in the world for yourself. When you feel that way, you can put your hand on your heart like this and say, ‘I have gold fever.’ When you have gold fever, it’s a good idea to slow down, and come in to the snack table and have a little bit of water, and maybe a snack. And then you can put your hand on your chest again and say, ‘There’s enough treasure for everybody.'”

As I sit here, writing this, Jo is probably surveying his gold, nestled in his treasure bag, or digging deeper into the sandbox for more booty, or treating his gold fever with some celery and hummus. And my sister is probably looking down at that new girl of hers, cupping her tiny head in her palm, smoothing her black hair down with the rhythmic stroke of a thumb.

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Time is passing, just flowing right through. It brings babies, it takes childhoods, it grows chickens and firmly closes doors behind us. No more preschool. No more pregnancy. But this now. Treasure hunting. Newborn nieces. Tree limbs arcing up to sun and wind.

The passage of time is not lost on us. But we get lost inside it sometimes. The monotony can be a real trickster. Today is the same as yesterday. Time for the Wednesday routine again. Wake, run around, sleep, repeat.

Thank goodness for endings. And beginnings. The bookends of time. They hold us upright and keep us honest. They remind, with their firmness, that things can change. Sisters can become mothers. Boys can become treasure hunters. Life can be unbearably good.

Saying goodbye to birth: a love letter

Since I’m a total birth junkie, I can’t let any moment with obsess-about-birth potential go by without properly obsessing.

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So I made this little altar in the corner of our back patio where I meditated for 3 interrupted minutes on birthing Cal.

I’m diving in today because it was almost exactly a year ago to the minute that Cal was born. Even as I write them, the words “Cal was born” are a passive and withered description of what actually happened. No single human in the history of the world “was born.” Someone birthed them while they simultaneously birthed themselves. In reality, Cal and I and pitocin and AJ and my midwife and doula and nurses did a magical, timeless birthing together. Cal navigated out of the most cramped but yielding passage. I faced all of my yeses and my nos and a deep, dark, holy abyss. I stood on the very pin prick point where the breathless height of awe tips over into terror.

I’ve been marinating all day in the birth log my doula kept, announcing to a friend at a 5 year old birthday party today,

Right now a year ago I was puking. Yep. 12:15. Puke time.

After I got Cal down for his nap this afternoon, I positively skipped down the stairs to my laptop where I flicked through all our Cal birth photos. I gushed over little snippets of video too. I forgot how lucid I was between contractions. And how quiet I was in the beginning. How loud at the end.

Now I’m feeling high. Just the thoughts and scenes and sounds of our birthing a year ago have left my body feeling like a slightly jostled bottle of sparkling water. I’m actually fizzing.

Birth is unequivocaly the peak experience of my life. Both of my births. Celebrating Jo’s and now Cal’s birth feels so much deeper and more real than celebrating my own. And it’s not because of my unending love for each of them. It’s because I remember being there. Because I had no choice but to go straight into the depths of my body with each of them. And the only way out was straight through the pain and intensity and I-can’t-do-this of it all. There has never been anything like it for me.

I’ve been skirting around the edges of my grief about the decision that AJ and I have made to stop making babies. I’m firmly rooted in our choice–I do not want to raise any more children. About that I am crystal clear. Oh, but birth. I would do you again in a heartbeat. Even after having just listened to this.

 

Nay, BECAUSE I just listened to that.

There will never be another thing in my life that will take me to that place. The small, smooth stone of that truth drops down and leaves an ache. There is an emptiness. I’m on the other end of my births, and I can never go back again.

It is this minute. This very minute a year ago that I felt that shockingly insanely huge hard round head coming out. Between contractions, it just lodged there, expanding me, and there was nothing but that smooth, molded skull and my voice and the vast shock of awe.

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Photo by Best Doula on Earth, Candace Palmerlee.

And then, it was over.

***

If you’d like to read more about Cal’s birth, help yourself to Part 1 and Part 2. And here’s my sappy nod to Jo’s.

How I came to love the hospital birth that I didn't want, Part 2

We’re picking up, right where I left off last time–in the hospital, having rhythmic and mild contractions after taking Misoprostol and feeling vindicated for choosing to be induced after the baby’s heart decelerations returned with my contractions. Between the oxygen and IV fluids they gave me, the baby recovered beautifully, and we all tucked in for some sleep around midnight.

(In the event none of this makes sense to you and/or you’d like to know the back story, here’s Part 1, in all its glory.)

Four hours after I took Misoprostol, the doctor suggested that we add Pitocin to my IV drip. My cervix had dilated to 2.5 centimeters with the help of the Miso, and Pitocin would likely continue that process. If the baby had more decelerations, we could always turn the Pitocin down or completely off (which is not an option with the Misoprostol pills). She made this suggestion at 2:00 am.  My partner, A, asked her if we could start the Pitocin in the morning, after more sleep and some breakfast. “Sure,” she replied, casually.  And with that, he earned me 4 hours of sleep and a big plate of eggs, bacon and toast to fuel my labor.

(Why a doctor who specializes in helping women have babies would not think of this small adjustment on her own, I’ll never know. But I’ve found in my own births and as a doula that when you ask if you can have more time to make a decision or, say, a few hours sleep, or some food before engaging in one of the most taxing experiences known to human kind, the doctor often says “Sure.”)

My doula, C showed up at 9:00 am. We started Pitocin at 9:45, and contractions were strong enough that I wanted to get out of bed by 11. My preferred method for coping with contractions: I wanted to be on the birth ball, leaning back into someone. With each contraction, I would go limp and slump forward into a still, silent lump. And then I would just tunnel into my uterus. The center of all that pain and energy and power. I would think of lightening.

I’d envision this.

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It’s a card from a deck of goddess cards my friend A gave me—and when I’m feeling particularly lost or confused, I’ll draw one. So that’s what I did before we started the Pitocin. I happened to draw the Mayan goddess of childbirth, Ixchel (whose name I still don’t know how to pronounce). Score.

Between contractions I felt pretty blissed out. I’d look around at my midwife, my doula, the nurses and tell them all how beautiful they were. At one point, I smiled and cooed, “I love pitocin.” (I’d also like to mention that I knew to look for the bliss between contractions because of Nancy Bardacke’s masterful way of explaining labor in pages 86-89 of her book, Mindful Birthing.)

When contractions got stronger, I got into the shower with A and did my whole birth-ball-still-and-silent thing. When we got out of the shower at 2:35 pm, I confessed to my doula that I was starting to want the labor to be over—and she said, “Yeah, since you got into the shower your contractions have started to space out a bit, so I think you’re having more time to think.” Somehow, that helped.

Ten minutes later, at 2:45, they checked me, and my cervix was dilated to 5 cm. I know better than most that dilation numbers are meaningless–women can stay at 5 cm for 10 hours or go from 5 cm to having a baby in their arms in 30 minutes–but I was still deflated. Then I had a fierce contraction while I was lying in the bed. It wrapped all the way around my hips and down my legs. When it subsided, I told my doula, “That one made me want an epidural.”

With that, I got out of the bed, back on the ball, and thus began the “never-ending contractions” portion of my labor. They rolled in, one after another, hardly a break between. And my still, silent meditation became the still, bellowing moose meditation. It was mind-blowing. To be certain, there was no time to think between contractions.

Fifty minutes after my 5 cm cervical check, and I heard my own power moans turn into pushy grunts. With the first mammoth grunt, my water broke. My midwife laughed and said, “The baby’s right there,” and I reached down and felt the wet toadstool squish of head. In the next few moments, in the stillness between contractions, and as I felt my body gathering up its power into pushing the baby out, an earth-shaking awe flooded my senses. It was as close to terror as I’ve ever been without being terrified. I was laying back, head turned to the side. I could see my doula’s blue eyes and the black plastic side of the computer screen next to me. My eyes were focused to the tiniest pinpoint and wide, all-encompassing, to take in the gravity of the timeless, massive, awe-inspiring place where I was.  My body trembled on the edge and at the center of a shocking and immense moment beyond time.

I pushed with my own instinct and then with the urgings of my midwife. And in 6 minutes, I felt this immensely hard, huge, lumpy head fill up and then come out of my vagina. (There’s really no other way to put it.) And then I pushed out a shoulder. And then I opened my eyes and reached down to grab this warm slippery thing, and bring his body up to my chest.

And that’s how it happened.

Had I known beforehand that this is the birth I would have–in the hospital, induced, pitocin, the works–I would have cringed with disappointment and sadness. On this side of things, I feel aglow and triumphant. What a tumble into the space of letting go! Once I was able to shed my own hopes and expectations, I was just left with what was:

  • my steady and balanced partner A, who should really consider moonlighting as a doula
  • the doula of my dreams, C, who helped me through with her presence and humor
  • my midwife, with her remarkable skill and empathy
  • a rotating array of hospital nurses, midwives and obstetricians, all of whom listened and worked with us towards the birth we wanted
  • baby C’s incredible body
  • my incredible body

It was a beautiful birth.

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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.

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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…))

Trembling on the edge of baby number two

Here we are again. This strange, in-between time just before a baby is born.

I remember this trembling-on-the-edge feeling from the days before I birthed J. I felt fiercly protective and nostalgic about my life as I knew it, so I printed out a whole bunch of pictures and hung them over our couch.

Pictures of A and I canoeing the Green River, being pelted with flower petals and rice at our wedding, skiing with family, riding the train to Paris, decked out in orange for Queen’s Day in Amsterdam. After every picture I hung, every nail I pounded into the wall, I would stand back and look at my work.

This will insure that you don’t forget. That you’re not lost after you have this baby. Your old life will be right here, anytime you need it.

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I loved looking at all those pictures in my early days with baby J.

See. I’m not losing myself at all. I did all those things. I remember what it was like and how it felt.

Time passed.

J started climbing onto the back of the couch. He would fiddle with the frames, knocking them down. Then he’d pull the nails out of their holes.

I don’t even remember when I took them all down, but I did. I shoved them into a drawer somewhere. (Sort of like this sweet tradition that we forgot about for a few years.)

Before becoming J’s mother, I was really scared about how that would feel—moving into a new phase and leaving the old one behind. At the time, I would have told you that I was NEVER going to take those pictures down. They were my grip on reality. I needed to hold on. But when I carted them off to the drawer, I didn’t even think about it. I was just sick of picking the pictures up with J’s sticky fingerprints all over them and hearing the nails ping on the floor.

At some point during those first couple years, without knowing it, I fully crossed over into my new life.  I didn’t need the pictures anymore.

In the last few weeks, I’ve been feeling that same fierce protectiveness—this time, over our life as a family of three.

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I sent off a bunch of new pictures to be printed. Soon, they’ll arrive in the mail and I’ll tuck their corners into frames and look at them and feel some sense of relief.

There. I did it. This baby can come now. My life as I know it is protected.

Naturally, it’s not. It’s going to change. Radically. And who knows what the future of these pictures will be—whether they’ll still be on the mantle in 2 years time.  It doesn’t really matter, because I probably won’t need them like I do now.

Nothing like being 39 weeks pregnant to remind you on a daily if not hourly basis that you’re not in control. That everything is constantly changing. That the life you know can and will be radically altered at any moment. And you won’t have a choice. You’ll have to dive down under and swim across, to a new place you’ve never been. You can’t go back to where you were.

That’s why I need the pictures.

***

This was originally posted over at Get Born, which is awesome. You should check it out.

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.

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.