#JoinLarche

Here is a post I wrote as I was transitioning out of L’Arche Greater Washington DC, nearly 8 years ago, in May of 2008. As Friends of L’Arche North Carolina continues to take shape, I share this as a reminder of what we are striving for. L’Arche communities across the US are currently seeking assistants to share their daily lives with persons with intellectual disabilities. 

My time in l’Arche is coming to a close. Two communities (Portland & DC), three roles (respite, assistant, and home life coordinator), and 23 months later, I am finishing up my time, at least for now. Since graduating from college in 2006, this has been my way of life: preparing nightly meals for a crowd, flossing teeth, playing silly games, administering meds, watching Oprah on the couch, filling out droves of paper work, baking cookies, attending multiple weekly meetings, singing songs, shoveling snow off the driveway, dropping people off at work, praying after dinner, sweeping the floor, buying a ton of groceries, leading prayer nights, going on retreats.

This life has been a strange mixture of stay-at-home parent, social worker, pastor, and event coordinator. I’ve earned good, practical life skills.  But I’ve also learned how to posture myself towards the vulnerable and how to identify and come to terms with my own vulnerabilities. There was a time when this sort of work was frightening and foreign. Though I felt I embodied certain abstract notions of kindness and positivity before coming to l’Arche, I would not have described myself as someone who knew how to love others in practical, physical ways. Nor would I have ever described myself as a patient person, a selfless caregiver, a gentle presence. In fact, I think most people who come into l’Arche wouldn’t immediately characterize themselves in these ways. And those that do may realize that they’ve never really had the opportunity to practice patience, forgiveness, and generosity. We just don’t live in a society where these virtues can be practiced naturally. They have to be conjured up, dusted off, put to good use, else they will atrophy and fade away.

L’Arche is a place where we can become more fully human. It is a place where we can practice the long-forgotten disciples of simplicity, peace-making, and patience. And it is a place where we can express our hopes, fears, joys, and pains in real, tangible ways. L’Arche provides us, core members and assistants alike, with the opportunity to live righteously in a way that our larger society cannot. We cannot expect the woman in front of us at the post office to treat us with dignity and respect, because this is not the culture of bureaucracy.  We cannot expect the driver behind us on the Beltway to practice selflessness, because this is not the culture of the Beltway. In these places, we have no common culture that informs our behavior or tells us how to love one another. We may have basic common courtesy, but it’s a politeness rooted in Kant’s Social Contract, not in the theological narrative of the Church.

L’Arche’s uniqueness to the surrounding culture, as well as to any other organization that cares for the developmentally disabled, is so telling. People come to l’Arche and are changed because they’ve never experienced anything like it before – not in their places of work, their families, or even their churches. Guests who come to dinner talk of their experiences as “brief encounters with Jesus.” Core members enter l’Arche after years of living at home or in institutions, and finally they become fully alive. Assistants come to serve and find that they, too, are experiencing healing and growth as they never have before.L’Arche is a different place, an alternative way of being.

Yesterday, Fritz, Eric, and I were playing soccer in the backyard. It was all pretty boring. Fritz wasn’t really paying much attention and the ball would always sail past him and he would have to wander off to find it. He really just wanted to talk about his mother and his sister, and his friend Kevin who has seizures. And Eric always had to stop the ball with his foot and position it just so before kicking it. But as we played, Eric would periodically exclaim, “What fun! I’m having so much fun!” Eric takes delight in pretty much everything. He is a dear soul. And Fritz is always so caring, so kind and easy-going. For the past 22 months, these core members have been my teachers. As cliche as it is, they have taught me things that quite literally can’t be taught in the classroom. I worry a little that I’ll forget these things when I’m away from l’Arche, that I’ll forget how to “be good” as Fritz puts it. L’Arche has made me more fully human, and for that I will be forever thankful.

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Winslow’s birth story

Time to resurrect the blog (2 years later to the day!!) and write down Winslow’s birth story, which happened just a few short months ago on July 29th.

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My due date was July 27th and up until then I had been feeling great. A little too great, perhaps. I was carrying high, no signs of dropping or impending labor in sight. I actually announced at church that  “No one is allowed to ask me if the baby has come yet until August” and had fully convinced myself that W wouldn’t arrive for another week or two.

I had been experiencing Braxton Hicks contractions throughout my pregnancy starting in the second trimester and never really letting up. Around 37 weeks, they felt stronger but not bothersome, and come 39 and 40 weeks, I could tell that they were getting a bit more serious. On the 27th, my due date, I had some strong, random, painless contractions throughout the day but decided not to think about them too much. With Emmeline, I was hyperfocused on every new sensation in my body. But this time around, I was really trying to not focus on the impending labor and delivery, considering how long and arduous it had been the las time.

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The night of the 26th, I had painless contractions throughout the night that I slept through, which  let up in the morning. I went to my midwifery appointment the next day and I was about 3cm with some effacement. Woohoo! Three less cm to actively labor through! But the baby’s head was still floating high, not engaged in the least, and the midwife seemed to agree with me that labor wouldn’t be starting any time soon. They scheduled me for a non-stress test and an ultrasound to check my fluid levels for the next week. I had a giant breakfast at the Root Cellar in Chapel Hill and then spent the rest of the day pretending like it wasn’t my due date.

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The next night was similar, though the contractions felt stronger. I still managed to sleep and the next day (the 28th) we puttered around as normal. I dropped Emmeline off at her new preschool, where she was a sobbing mess, crying “I just want to stay with you, Momma!” It would seem that E was prescient about what was coming next. To soothe our souls, we went and got ice cream at Maple View Farms after I picked her up from school and spent time in the garden. I noticed some bloody show and had the occasional contraction that I tried to ignore. We were going on the third or fourth day of strong but painless random contractions throughout the day and more rhythmic at night. I continued to listen to my Hypnobabies tracks and spend a lot of time on my hands and knees, trying to get the baby to turn (W had been posterior for about two months).

The night of the 28th, we put Emmeline to bed, ate some leftovers for dinner (pasta? pizza? I can’t even remember). I noticed the painless contractions I had been having were now hard to ignore and around 8:30pm, I stopped watching the Game of Thrones episode I had been watching and told Dave I needed to go to bed. Things felt more serious and I knew that this was the last bit of sleep I’d likely get in a long time. I slept fitfully for 2 or 3 hours but was awaken by serious pressure waves that were clearly falling in a pattern. Dave slept soundly next to me while I laid there wide awake, trying to concentrate through the contractions.

I got up and silently labored on the birth ball and the toilet through the wee hours of the morning and decided that this was probably the real deal. I started tracking the contractions on my phone: 10 minutes apart, 30 seconds each, then 8  minutes apart lasting 40-50 seconds each, etc. I texted my Dad at 4am telling him to come pick up Emmeline asap. Dave got up at 6am and helped E get ready to go. We told her that the baby was coming and she was very sweet and excited and we enjoyed one last cuddle in bed before my father came and took her out.

My mom drew a bath for me and Dave lit some candles and I listened to my Hypnobabies music in there for some time, all the while tracking my contractions on the phone. I couldn’t believe how regular the pattern was, how textbook this labor was going. I was prepared for another long labor with fits and starts, yet this seemed to be going so…normally. I was relaxed and felt in control, though of course a bit skeptical that things were actually going this smoothly. We called the nurse and I told her that my contractions were 6 or 7 minutes apart. She wanted me to come in to receive my antibiotics (I was strep-b positive) and I said okay. Around 8, we got out of the bath and got in the car. I had to stop several times on the way to the car, moaning and concentrating through the pressure wave, and then had 5 or so contractions on the 20 minute ride there. This was a good sign – labor was progressing even with the change of venue.

We arrived at the birth center at 8:30am. I was happy to see Jane Gledhill, the head nurse at the birth center and an old friend from my days at Anathoth, who helped administer my antibiotics while I laid on the bed. My midwife, Jessica, checked me and I was a “6 or 7” with 90% effacement. I did a fist-pump in the air. The longest part of labor was over and I would soon be heading into transition [With Emmeline, I was in active labor for 28 hours, and then transition for another 6 hours….ugh!]

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After the antibiotics were administered, I got in the tub, which was awesome. I labored in there quietly for some time, feeling impatient and not “in the zone” like I was with E. I was still worried about W being posterior, about the prospect of another long labor and worried that I wasn’t feeling the same signs of transition as I did with E (shaking, throwing up, etc). My contractions were coming closer and closer together and I was loudly vocalizing through them as a way to push back against the intensity (I visualized myself on a stage in a huge auditorium, blowing a trumpet as loudly as a I could). I was fairy silently in my birth with Emmeline but the vocalizations really helped me cope with this labor. All the while, the midwife watched and waited and I wasn’t subjected to any checks or any other interventions, beyond the occasional heart rate monitoring.

I was becoming more impatient and uncomfortable, a tell-tale sign of transition. I asked for backrubs and then decidedly DID NOT WANT BACKRUBS and then I wanted them again. Dave got in the tub with me and helped with some counterpressure on my back and then we got out of the tub and I tried laboring on the birth ball, the birth stool and the toilet, all the while stopping every few feet as the contractions were coming back to back. My midwife asked a few times if I felt like I needed to push and I said despairingly “No! But I feel like a freight train is running through me.” And though she didn’t check my dilation, she kept saying, “It sounds like you are ready to have this baby really soon.” Again, I was skeptical. My water had yet to break and I assumed this meant his head wasn’t engaged.

I wanted to try laboring in the shower, where I squatted and screamed and enjoyed the warm water on my back. And then I WANTED BACK IN THE TUB stat, so off we went. I still did not feel like the baby was coming, yet the nurse and midwife were busy making preparations and telling me to push when I felt ready. With Emmeline, my body was so drained after 34 hours of labor that I literally pushed unconsciously. I laid on my side and my body took over. This time, I was much more aware of what was going on. I felt a slight need to push so I did and I could feel the baby moving down. The effort felt herculean, however. I pushed a second and a third time and then a WOOSH – my water had finally broken. Since I was in the water, it was less dramatic but still felt crazy weird. On the 4th push, out came Winslow’s giant head. I definitely felt him crowning (ouch!).

I was still in the bathtub at this point and, in order to have a safe waterbirth, you need to keep the baby’s head underwater until he is all the way out. As I went to push out his shoulders, he got a little stuck and the midwife wanted me to change positions. She had me stand up so Winslow’s head was out of the water. As I pushed down, I was squatting and threatening to drop his head back in the water (I knew none of this was going on at the time, of course). The midwife said very firmly and loudly, “Heather, OUT OF THE TUB. GET OUT OF THE TUB.” And with the help of my mom and the nurse*, I launched myself out of the tub and squatted on the floor. The midwife’s serious, firm directing is what I needed to push Winslow the rest of the way out. I pushed one last time, hard, and had him right there on the floor next to the tub. All in all, I pushed for 15 minutes max. It was 11:30 at that point. We had been at the birth center for 3 hours.

(*Edited to add: Apparently, another woman at the birth center was about to give birth at the exact same time as me and there was only one nurse available. My midwife yelled, “Get my mom!” which confused Dave a bit until she said, “Oh, she’s a nurse here” (i.e., a nurse in the prenatal care unit). This was the first time my midwife Jessica’s mother witnessed her daughter assist with a birth. The story made it into the Women’s Birth and Wellness newsletter in August!)

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Of course, I wept with joy and exhaustion and held the baby to my chest while they helped me to the bed. I couldn’t believe that it was over. I held Winslow, who was crying LOUDLY, for about 15 minutes before we even knew he was a boy. “It’s a boy!” exclaimed Dave. I was not surprised in the least. He promptly peed and pooped on me and latched on like a champ. After about 15 minutes, my mom cut the cord. Then he was measured and weighed an hour or so later, coming in at 8lbs, 10oz and 20in (though had he been weighed directly out of the womb, he would have weighed more pre-pee and poop!) He nursed and cried and we called our family and marveled at how easy this experience felt, how rested and alert I felt (despite only getting 2 hours sleep prior) and how awesome it was to give birth at the birth center, which felt like home.

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Winslow was born with some serious head moulding (i.e., a cone head) which means that, unlike his sister, he turned to the correct position long before I pushed him out, which allowed his head to mould more narrowly down my birth canal. For this reason, I didn’t tear and recovery time has felt much smoother. He was also born with a cephalhematoma, which is a harmless swelling of the scalp that looks like an unsightly goose egg. Most of the time, cephalhematomas are from hard, prolonged active or pushing stages of labor, but babies born via c-section sometimes have them. It’s more likely that Winslow was positioned oddly in the womb, considering my labor was smooth and relatively quick. He is still has a bit of a goose egg, but as his head grows, it’s hardly noticeable.

Typically, families leave the birth center after 6 hours minimum or 12 hours maximum, especially if the baby needs extra monitoring. Because I was Strep-B+ and I had had the baby at 3 hours after the antibiotics (the recommendation is 4 hours of antibiotics to ensure safety), we signed a waiver to leave at 8 hours in stead of 12, which would have us home by evening time, instead of leaving for home in the middle of the night. The midwife ensured me that, because my water had broken literally at the last minute, that this risk of infection was minimal. Either way, the nurse would pay a home visit the next day to check him out, so this felt like a safe choice.

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After a post-labor burger, fries and milkshake, a last minute deliberation about name order (Winslow Simon or Simon Winslow??) and a little rest, we got home from the birth center at 7pm and enjoyed our first night at home together.

Despite all my impatience and skepticism, I had birthed this baby in half the time as my first, clocking in at about 16 hours if you count the start of labor as the night before at 8:30pm. I once again attribute my positive birth experience to Hypnobabies techniques and my own coping mechanisms (like vocalizing loud and long and low), as well as my birth team and the very chill staff and peaceful environment at the birth center. Unlike my first birth experience, I did not have my bag of waters manually broken, was not hooked up to an iv or fetal monitor, was not bound to the bed, checked for progress or given Pitocin. Dave and I felt exhilarated and relieved to be on the other side of this birth and loved going home the same day. And we got to take home a sweet, squishy baby as the icing on the cake!

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pssst…..is anyone there?

i will write this post in lowercase as an act of humility and regret for not updating this thing in nearly a year. kids are a lifesuck. but so is facebook, feedly, netflix, you name it. i shouldn’t blame it all on the babe-now-toddler but i can blame some of it on her, right? sorry for my absence. so many friends are pregnant or having babies (including my friend rachel ann, just last night!) that i feel spurred to write again, not only about babies, but about life in general.

for (more than) the last 19 months, i feel like my life has not been my own. pregnancy feels like your body is possessed, because it is. rearing a newborn feels like living under a benign dictatorship. and parenting a toddler feels a lot like being out on parole — you get out a little more but your still being watched, your every movement monitored. often, you can’t even shower or pee by yourself, which is actually more like prison. knowing several formally incarcerated women, i typically frown at prison jokes. but there are some uncanny comparisons to be made. but on top of that, we were told last January, around the time i fell off the blogging train, that we were being moved to a different church out in the country, 20 minutes from the closest grocery store. [being married to an itinerating methodist minister means my life is doubly not my own). we have since moved and learned to love our new church and the mooing cows in the pasture across the street. but it also means i spend even more time alone than i did when living in the largish city of raleigh. staying at home with a child is isolating, even more so when you live in a rural area. 

i follow a lot of mommy blogs. well, i should say, i follow a lot of blogs of women who happen to have children, usually small children, and are continually trying to rediscover who they are in the midst of rearing small lives and caring for small bodies while their own hopes, dreams, ambitions are put aside. what i like about these women is that they struggle. they wrestle with the stay-at-home parent role. they document their toddler’s screaming fits and don’t try to pretty-up a life that many of us know is covered with soggy cheerios and dirty diapers. they recognize that underneath the breastmilk-stained shirts and the unkempt hair lies a woman whose identity is something beyond motherhood, even as they stay home all day being pushed around by their little benevolent dictators. i’m inspired by these women, take comfort in their words and enjoy the glimpse into their chaotic lives that we so often miss in the filters of instagram and restoration hardware catalogues. i can only hope others take comfort in my words, even if they don’t always extol pregnancy or motherhood. and that my friends and acquaintances who don’t have children will forgive me for my absences over the past year and a half. it’s still me under here! believe me, i would give my right leg to sit in a coffeeshop with you and talk about nothing child-related. i’m still working on how to do this all well….being myself, being a mother, using my gifts and pursing my goals while caring for a sweet, spicy, clingy, independent tiny lady.

thanks for your ear. more to come.  

 

 

Slow Food and Home Cooking

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I wrote this post three years ago as a guest writer for a Food and Faith series at The Local Cook. It was fun to write and a great way to apply some of the things I was learning in my seminary classes to real life. When my child was a newborn, I assumed I would never cook again. The thought was just too overwhelming. And I was pretty sad about it. I love cooking, I value the slow food movement and the thought that I would have to consume freezer casseroles for the rest of my (young adult) life made me depressed. But I’ve been surprised and delighted to find that I’m cooking more than ever, thanks in part to a baby that goes to bed early. We got a grill in the Spring and I grilled my heart out. Husband’s birthday was over the summer and I made an awesome ice cream cake. We celebrated Thanksgiving and Christmas at our house and I contributed quite a number of dishes. And  I make dinner nearly every single night…with joy! So, though this post is nearly 3 years old, it still feels really relevant in my life.You can find the original post here and the full series here

It’s About Time

As Americans, we have a strange relationship with time. Most of us understand time as rigid, segmented, limited and linear, where as many other cultures, particularly agrarian cultures, recognize time as flexible, elastic, relaxed, unlimited and circular. For us, time is tangible and extremely valuable, like a commodity (“Time is money.”) We can save it and spend it and (heaven forbid) waste it. And we dedicate time to those things we care about. We take time to be with our friends and family. We carve out time to spend with friends. We make time to complete a project. We give time to causes we care about.

In the words of Syed and Joyce Zafar, intercultural experts from the Compass Diversity Group, “Americans have internalized the clock to a degree which is beyond the comprehension of many cultures around the globe.” Our lives are literally run by the clock. Frankly, we can’t imagine life without it. Because eating is such a necessary part of our everyday life, we shouldn’t be surprised that our relationship to food has been affected by our time obsession, as well.

Good food takes time. It takes time to grow, time to cook, and time to eat. But really, who has the time? As a full time graduate student who is going through the ringer of finals week, taking the time to cook can easily become a tiresome, mundane chore. I would rather spend my time doing things that I care about. But more often than not, the time I “save” by eating something prepared by other people (either in a factory, a restaurant or a grocery store), is spent sitting on the couch with my laptop surfing Facebook or reading food blogs.

My sister recently attended a parent support group meeting in which the topic of once-a-month cooking came up. The idea involves dedicating one day to cooking and freezing all your dinners for the month in order to save time and money. For many families with very busy schedules and hectic lives, once-a-month cooking is a welcome relief. As a full-time student with suppers waiting in the freezer, I can speak from personal experience! But I do worry that our seemingly insatiable desire to save time is contributing to our ever-growing separation from the process that brings food to our tables. Poet and farmer, Wendell Berry, laments the way our fast paced culture has privileged the convenience and efficiency of food over its quality and care. And this has radically changed the way we think about food. Where it comes from and how it was made doesn’t even cross our mind. We no longer grow our own vegetables or slaughter our own animals. Instead, we rely on a vast network of farmers, laborers and workers to pick, process, package and prepare our food.

Cooking is the one part of the process of the food cycle that demands our time and attention. And in our extremely busy lives, cooking can become a sort of Sabbath from our weekday habits of hurried, careless eating or pre-prepared, processed food.  In many ways, cooking can and should be considered a spiritual discipline. The slow and careful process of washing, peeling, dicing, stir-frying and seasoning are all ways of thanking God for the wonderful gift of food. And as anyone who has ever eaten the seeds directly from the rough hide of the pomegranate knows, food tastes sweeter when you work for it.

This past Lent, I gave up prepared foods (i.e., eating out). Or, to put it another way, I took on the disciplines of slow food and home cooking. The experience opened my eyes to how much I depend upon other people to prepare my meals. Before Lent, it was easy to leave the house without a packed lunch, knowing I could buy something at school. It was convenient to swing by my favorite taco joint on the way home from class or grab a burger from the grill truck parked on the side of the road. I saved a lot of time eating food prepared by some anonymous person with unknown ingredients from distant places. But should ease, convenience and efficiency really dictate our eating habits?

Committing to home cooking involves patience, care, commitment and planning. During Lent, I ate breakfast at the crack of dawn before heading to class. I would pack my lunch, even if I was running late. I would spend some time in the afternoon making my dinner instead of catching up on the latest episode of Lost. My entire life had to change. But, in my opinion, it changed for the better.  Here’s how.

1) I waste less: Unless you are fine-dining, many (affordable) places give you food in throw-away containers. There’s no way around it. Add it all up and you are throwing away tons of plastic and paper every week. But as I started cooking more at home, I was consistently using reusable, washable containers (i.e., plates for dinner, tubberware for a packed lunch, etc.). Furthermore, the food I would buy at the grocery store would go bad before I could use it. Cream would curdle, apples would go grainy, lettuce would rot. Now, I eat everything I buy. Grocery shopping is actually a meaningful, useful activity again!

2) I know where my food comes from: Along with this discipline, I’ve made a commitment to buy much of my produce locally and in season. So, most Saturday mornings, I head to the farmers market where I buy sweet potatoes from the woman who dug them out of the ground and raisins from the man who grew the grapes! I buy bread from the baker, chard from the farmer, and ground pork from the butcher. I know their faces and they know mine. I can ask them about their ingredients and how their crops are holding up. There’s something deeply right about that.

3) I’ve become more self-sustaining: I usually hate mundane tasks (cleaning, organizing), so I was surprised to find that cooking is, in fact, a pleasurable experience! Being fully dependent on my own cooking has taught me a) that preparing food is a gift, not a burden and b) that cooking is a joy. In a small way, baking your own crackers or cooking your own stew is empowering. I don’t need to rely on massive food corporations like Kraft to feed me. I don’t need to eat Nabisco crackers made in a plant a thousand miles away. Cooking embeds me in the holy, everyday work of the household. And that’s worth my time.

4) I’ve learned not to eat alone: In my own cooking, I find it difficult to prepare food for just one person, which is the way it’s supposed to be. When I made my own granola and crackers a few weeks ago, I had a ton left over to share so I sent some off to friends. Eating is most satisfying when done with others. This is what companion means – a friend with whom you break bread. Starting a few months ago, some friends and I began meeting together every other week for a locally-sourced potluck. At our meals, friends gather to share their gifts of time and attention. We feast upon freshly baked bread, sweet potato fries, arugula salad and white bean chili, all made with attentive, caring hands.

The truth is, if we want to embrace slow food and good eating, we need a radical realtering of our concept of time. We must embrace every moment as a gift, rather than a commodity to be saved or spent.  This means developing a heightened sense of gratitude for God’s gifts, including the gift of food.  And I cannot think of a better way of thanking God than the common act of cooking, which brings us into closer connection with God, our neighbors and creation. The practice of cooking as a discipline helps us embrace the miracle, mystery and sanctity of food in our everyday lives.  As Wendell Berry writes, “The miraculous is not extraordinary but the common mode of existence. It is our daily bread. Whoever really has considered the lilies of the field or the birds of the air and pondered the improbability their existence in this warm world within the cold and empty stellar distances will hardly balk at the turning of water into wine – which was, after all, a very small miracle. We forget the greater and still continuing miracle by which water (with soil and sunlight) is turned into grapes.”

Wendell Berry, “Christianity and the Survival of Creation,” in Sex, Economy, Freedom, and Community: Eight Essays (New York: Pantheon Books, 1993), 103.

Questions for Reflection (share your response below for any one of these for an entry in this week’s drawing)

  • Do you or your family have eating rituals that are linked to the seasons (not just to particular holidays?) How about weekly rituals?
  • If we embrace the idea of “slow food,” how can we make sure that preparing it doesn’t become a burden?

Challenge to Action (post one of these on your blog and add a link below to the specific post about this challenge or email me before Friday for an additional entry into this week’s drawing).

  • Make a slow meal; soak beans, simmer soup, knead bread. Invite friends to share it–or make the meal a potluck.
  • Make a list to share of creative ways you can cut down on time cooking without using processed / convenience foods.
  • Get local: Are there resources in your area for those who want to learn how to preserve food? Extension offices, community-supported agriculture farms, food co-ops and others often offer seminars in canning, drying, freezing, etc.

Surviving Colic

Now that E is 8 months old, Dave and I have nearly forgotten (i.e, blocked) the trauma of those first few weeks. I assume this has an evolutionary benefit; otherwise, no one would ever have children again. E is now an absolute joy, so perhaps I can actually write this post without retraumatizing myself (fingers crossed). And perhaps this post can provide some comfort for that poor, desperate, sleep-deprived parent googling “surviving colic” at 3am. Yup, that was me and Dave. And we survived. WE SURVIVED.

I know that I use hyperbole a lot in my writing, but please know, the first few months of E’s  life were truly painful.  Colic is traumatizing. You spend nearly 10 months nurturing a sweet baby life inside of you, endure many hours in labor and welcome your lovely newborn into the world, vowing to meet all of her needs. And then, without warning, your baby  begins to scream. And scream and scream.

All newborns cry; it’s how they communicate and it’s what they do best. Most newborns also stop crying once you meet their needs. But colicky infants cry without warning or without reason. You run through this list – is she hungry? tired? wet? lonely? When your sweet, angry baby continues to cry and cry and cry, you immediately feel like an utter failure. Any new parent can attest that the cry of their infant causes a physical reaction. Your body literally responds with an adrenaline surge to the sound of your crying newborn, and your primary (and primal) goal is to do whatever you can to stop the crying.

Now, imagine if that crying never stopped. No matter how much nursing, rocking, shhhing you did, the crying continued, loud and long, like a jackhammer. That’s colic.

This would be hard enough for anyone, but new mothers are especially vulnerable. You are overwhelmed with the responsibility of caring for this new life. You are exhausted and sleep deprived. You are bleeding and your organs are floating all over the place. Your hormones are fluctuating so you are a blubbering mess. And you are still trying to figure out how to breastfeed with sore, bleeding nipples.

Dads are just as bewildered and feel perhaps even more helpless. At least I had breasts, which were (and still often are) the only thing that calmed her. Dave spent many, many hours rocking and shhing E in the wee hours of the morning, only to get up at 7am and head off to work.

All that to be said, colic is survivable but it will likely be one of the hardest experiences of your life (if you’ve had a relatively easy life, like myself). Here are some tips and advice from the other end of the colic tunnel.

1) Wear ear plugs. Or noise-cancelling headphones. All parents of newborns should own these. They save your hearing and your sanity. Feel free to wear them all day and all night.

2) Don’t worry about bathing your child. In the beginning, E was fine with baths. But when her colic peaked, she would FREAK OUT every time we tried to bathe her. So we didn’t. Newborns aren’t really dirty. They don’t necessarily need to be bathed all that frequently. And if bathing, or any other  non-essential activity (like getting them out of pajamas into “real” clothes) sends them into a rage, don’t feel pressured to do it.

3) It’s probably not your breastmilk. I could (and should) write an entire post on this.  Allergies are rare. Very rare. Sometimes, babies will have a cow’s milk protein intolerance which will irritate their intestines. E had blood in her diaper at 8 days old and I immediately went off dairy. The blood lessened (over about a 4 month span) but the crying continued. Some parents swear that giving up dairy (or gluten, or whatever) instantly solved their baby’s crying jags. I gave it all up, some weeks existing only on rice, pears and turkey, but E was still very mad. Some are even encouraged by their doctors to give up breastfeeding for good. But it’s good to remember that 1) there are many babies who have blood in their diapers WITHOUT colic, like my nephew, 2) very little of what you eat gets into your breastmilk, 3) if your baby is sensitive to what you are eating, you will likely notice other symptoms (excessive spitup, congestion, skin rashes, mucus in the stool, etc), and 4) breastmilk is the most easily digested, least expensive food for your baby (non-dairy and soy-based formulas tend to be VERY expensive). I am not a doctor or a lactation consultant, so if you think your child is sensitive to something in your diet, it’s best to discuss this with professionals (also, please check out KellyMom, especially this article).

Just remember that if your child is gaining well and seems in otherwise good health, yet continues to cry, it’s likely not your breastmilk. I can’t imagine what I would have done if I didn’t have the option of comfort nursing E. In the past hour, I nursed her three times after various head-bonks.

4) Don’t buy into gimmicks but do what you need to do. This is a tough balance. As a parent of a colicky infant, you will do whatever it takes, spend whatever it costs to get your child to feel better, even if that means buying snake oil from the shady traveling salesman. There are various “colic remedies” out there that claim to work – gripe water, gas drops, Colic Calm, probiotics, chiropractic adjustment, etc. We tried the probiotics. No change. Chiropractic adjustment. No change. Things like gripe water are supposed to help with gas but it’s good to remember that ALL babies have gas. Colicky infants tend to freak out about it more than calm babies. And gas is usually caused by ingesting air during crying, rather that causing the crying in the first place.

More often than not, these things will “work” for the short term because they are novel, or they seem to cure colic when in fact colic has ceased naturally on it’s own (usually around 3 or 4 months). I understand the desire to have a solution, so do what you need to do and see what works. But understand that, most of the time, colic is a developmental stage that your child is going to need to grow out of. (This is all from Weisbluth’s Healthy Sleep Habits, Healthy Child. Get it. Read it.)

5) Find a way to unwind each day. Make it a priority. Every day in those early weeks, I took a bath. I found this very relaxing (as long as I had ear plugs and couldn’t hear the baby crying downstairs). I would bring a novel, sometimes a glass of wine, and do my best to relax. You may enjoy going out for  a walk (sans babe) or gorging yourself on jelly beans (another way I liked to relax). Whatever it is, you need to do it. Enlist your partner, your family, your friends to walk the hallway with your crying baby. If you aren’t caring for yourself, there is no way you can care for a high-needs baby.

6) Laugh when you can. In those early months, there will be a lot of tears – from your baby, from you and your partner, from your sleep-deprived upstairs neighbor. Find humor in every situation you can. There is plenty of opportunity – getting peed on, the loud noises that erupt from your child’s bowels, half-assed attempts at swaddling, the hilarious song-and-dance your husband does that magically makes the baby stop crying, the 45 episodes of The Office you just watch (in a row) on Netflix. This laughter just may eventually rub off on your child. (Right now, E is staring at a pink ribbon and laughing. I’m not really sure why.)

7) Co-parent, co-parent, co-parent. Your partner is your Number 1 Ally. Early on, Dave and I promised not to blame any of E’s crying on the other. E’s crying at 2am was the not because of my loose swaddling or Dave not shushing loud enough. You are team, so tag team. If you held the crying infant for a half hour and nothing worked, time to hand her off. If your partner works outside of the home, you deserve to leave the house sometime, too. Resist the urge to “correct” the non-stay-at-home parent on their soothing skills or nap rituals. They may add some new techniques to the repertoire. Recognize that parenting is not a job but a life responsibility. Share that responsibility whenever your partner is home. And split the nights. I can’t recommend this enough. Yes, your spouse may need to work, but spending the entire day at home with a screaming infant is no picnic. You deserve sleep, too. When E was 1 month, I started pumping a bottle and Dave did one of the night feedings. This was life changing. Dave would take the first half of the night (9-2) and I would take second shift (2-7). To this day, Dave still gets up with her at night, changes her diaper and feeds her a bottle. Then I’m up with her at 6:30am.

8) Practice the 5 S’s. Harvey Karp, who wrote Happiest Baby on the Block (OMGBUYTHISBOOKNOW) came up with these five steps to calm a crying infant: Swaddling, Side Position, Shhing, Swinging, Sucking. You can google it, watch YouTube videos about, etc. This worked on E about 80% of the time when she was really worked up.  It really works, at least until she started crying again an hour later.

9) Buy a Miracle Blanket. Yes, they should pay me for advertising, but seriously. Buy it. Buy two, actually. E lived in this thing for about 3 months. She slept in it, napped in it, and when she was REALLY crying, we would swaddle her into a calm state. It’s much easier to use and more effective than other swaddling blankets (in my opinion). And it’s like a little baby straight-jacket. E could almost never wriggle out of it.

10) Breastfeed whenever, wherever. High needs infants often LOVE breastfeeding. Not all but most. Take advantage of this built-in calming device. If you have the time and the ability, breastfeed on demand. Throw out feeding schedules. Ignore the well meaning relative who exclaims, “Nursing again? Didn’t she JUST eat?” First, newborns ARE hungry, pretty much all the time. Also, breastfeeding is not just for nutrition but also comfort. If your  baby is crying, see if nursing will calm her down. Often, it will. Obviously, don’t wear yourself out. Once nursing is well established, use a pacifier, pump a bottle or two, experience the delightful freedom of not having a child attached to your breast. After many sleepless nights of E attached to me while co-sleeping, we moved her into a crib and I stopped nursing her every hour. Now, we both sleep better. But during the day,  I still nurse her quite often. And I’m okay with it.

11) If it doesn’t work now, try again later. Babies grow exponentially fast and are CONSTANTLY changing. One day, E loved baths. Then she hated then. Then she loved them again. For the first few weeks, we wore her in a baby carrier. Then she hated the carrier. A few weeks later, she took her evening nap in the Ergo. Try everything at least three times over the span of a few days or weeks.

12) Take Dr Sears with a grain of salt. While I was pregnant, I read Dr Sears’ Baby Book, vowing to co-sleep with my child until she was 16, wear her everywhere  and never, ever let her cry it out. Then E was born and I threw everything out the window. Some of Dr Sears advice regarding high needs babies is great. But some of it will make you feel like crap. Sears argues that you should carry your baby most of the time, cosleep with your baby  and never allow your baby to cry. But, sometimes you need a break. And sometimes babies hate baby carriers. And sometimes you sleep better in separate rooms. And sometimes baby (when she’s old enough) will need to cry in order to get to sleep. So, feel free to pick and choose based on your child. This goes for ALL parenting books, not just Dr Sears.

13) You will get used to the crying. I know this doesn’t sound comforting in the beginning, but eventually, your body will stop responding to your infant’s cries like a bomb just exploded. You’ll stop sweating profusely while changing her diaper as she screams. You’ll stop crying with her at that 3am wakeup. You’ll learn how to respond best to your baby’s needs and your postpartum hormones won’t dictate how you feel every second of the day. I promise.

14) Repeat this to yourself every hour: “I deserve a medal.” It’s true. You really do. Parenting is hard as hell. Parenting a newborn is especially bewildering. And parenting a screaming ball of rage is, for many, one of the most difficult things on earth. You are doing  a great job at a seemingly impossible task. You should be wearing a cape and a mask because you are a superhero. Really. At the end of all this, you will be better parent, more unflappable, more attentive, more patient and more thankful than you ever thought possible. YOU DESERVE ONE HUNDRED MEDALS.

15) Don’t worry about not cherishing the newborn stage. When you have a child, people mean well, they really do. They may say things like “Hold on to these moments now, because they grow so fast” or “You may be tired, but what a beautiful time this is.” The truth is, newborns are hard and colicky newborns are even harder. And it wasn’t a beautiful time for us. It was a very dark time filled with a fair amount of misery, many nights of clutching Dave and whispering “I never knew it would be this hard,” and very little gazing-at-our-peaceful-newborn-while-she-slept-three-hours-in-a-row.

It’s okay to wish away the newborn stage. It’s okay to look at your crying, red-in-the-face infant and say “I can’t wait until you are 5 months old.” It’s okay to take out a calendar and mark down the days until you reach 12 weeks, 16 weeks, whatever the magic milestone is when colic supposedly ends.  I had a lot of guilt about this in the beginning. But I got over it quickly. Now I am holding on to every moment because E is growing up so fast and is just so dang sweet. But I am SO GLAD she is no longer a newborn.

16) Feel free to vent. There’s no need to sugar-coat those early weeks of parenting (see above). People will ask how are you are. Tell them the truth — that your infant cries ALL THE TIME, that you are walking zombie, that parenting is harder than you thought it would be, that at times you are overwhelmed at the thought of stepping out your front door, let alone making it to that awesome concert everyone is going to. Dave and I went to a wedding when E was 2 months old and we spent most of rehearsal dinner and reception telling others how out of control E was. It was nice to get it off our chest. And people understood why we had to break so many commitments  or why we smelled like we hadn’t showered in two weeks. Also, people knew how much help we needed and offered it.

17) Keep a journal. I kept a pretty detailed journal for the first 4 months of E’s life. I would record how the morning, afternoon and evening went, whether she had blood in her diaper, what I ate that day (when I was still convinced that she was allergic to something beyond dairy) and other information I thought would be useful down the line. It made me feel like I had some control (data! information!) and also helped me document that, indeed, things were getting better. Sometimes, just for fun, I would look back and read an entry from the week (or month) before. This gave me some good perspective, especially on really bad days. Over time, I slowly stopped recording how many minutes she cried each day and started recording happy things: The baby rolled over! The baby laughed! Our baby is in the 80th percentile!

18) Don’t believe the 6 week rule. According to study mentioned by both Karp and Weisbluth, colic peaks around 6 weeks, then gradually gets better until about 3 months, when it “magically vanishes.” Not so for our babe. I would say the 10 or 11th weeks were some of the hardest for us, and things didn’t get significantly better until 4.5 months. Of course, every baby is different but I had invested a lot of hope and energy in the 6 week rule.

19) Know that it will end. This was the hardest one for me to believe. Some parents would tell me that their super sweet and super happy toddler was once a colicky baby and I never believed them. Perhaps their baby was fussy, but never as fussy as mine. Yes, all babies grow up. Colicky babies become distractable, interested in the world around them, more sociable. It comes naturally with time. But in the black hole that is colic, you assume that it will never end. But it does. It really does.

When Your Body Goes Absolutely Nuts: The Postpartum Edition

This is what 34 hours of labor will do to you.

Today marks 6 months postpartum. In three months or so, I will be post-pregnant for as long as I was pregnant (9+ months), and this will be Em’s “boomerang” birthday (9 months in, 9 months out). Over the past two months, I have felt relatively like my old self, though my life AND my body will never truly be back to “normal.” Something radical took place and I have the unkempt hair, stretchmarks and dark circles under my eyes to show for it. I’m still functioning with (what can only be) an impossibly small amount of uninterrupted sleep each night — but I’m functioning. I guess that’s the gist of it. I’m functioning, I’m functioning! That’s my postpartum, postcolic victory cry.

All that to say, the postpartum “4th trimester” is no joke. Yes, your body does go absolutely nuts when you are pregnant, as I’ve carefully detailed in two previous posts. But the nuttiness continues even AFTER the babe is out, particularly in those first few weeks. Consider this third installment in the series the postpartum edition. Here are some observations on the changes my body (and brain) have gone through these past few months. *Birth and recovery are messy and the following might be gross. You’ve been warned.*

1) Bleeding – Before I gave birth, I read lots of funny accounts of “the period that lasts 6 weeks” and the need for “gigantic pads the size of rafts.” This is no joke. Right after giving birth, the bed, the floor (and the midwife) look like set props in a horror film. Every time you get up out of bed, another wave of blood rushes out. Every time you go to the bathroom, you are tempted to call 911. You’ve been without your period for 10 months. This is pay back. After the first week or two, things slowed down, but I didn’t stop bleeding daily until my 10th week, if you can believe it.

2) Pain – For some reason, I was not anticipating this. Yes, labor and delivery would bring their fair share of discomfort, but once the baby is out, all’s good, right? For those women who have C-sections, the pain of the incision can last for weeks and weeks. It is major surgery after all. But one of the (supposed) nice things about vaginal birth is quick recovery time. This is true, but you will still feel like “a mac truck drove through your vagina”, in the words of my sister. I suffered a 2nd-degree tear (OUCH) which involved stitches (“This will feel like a bunch of bee stings,” said my midwife) and pretty constant pain whenever sitting or standing. I was anti-medicine during pregnancy, but I was popping hospital grade Tylenol like candy those first few days in recovery.

3) Floating organs – I don’t know how else to describe this. Upon delivery, and for a week or two afterwards, it felt like my organs were swimming around my body, no longer cramped by my expanded uterus. Once that baby is out, there’s about 2 feet of extra space inside of you, and your kidneys, liver, stomach, lungs try to settle back in place without the help of your stomach muscles (which are like mush). Every time I rolled over in bed, I felt something shift and it wasn’t awesome-feeling. Some women wear a hilariously-named “postpartum girdle” to help everything get back in place. I mainly just clutched my torso and hoped my spleen would stay put.

4) Phantom baby movement – Up until this past month, I had the strange sensation of feeling baby movement, all while staring at my daughter (outside of  my body) on the changing table. Some of it could have been organs floating back in place (see #3) but some of it was psychological, I’m sure. At night, I would place my hand on my stomach and swear I felt the baby kick, which of course I didn’t. Pregnancy is so gradual. It takes nearly 10 months to grow a human being, and your body changes profoundly, but incrementally, over that time frame. What seems initially so strange (feeling a human being inside of you) because completely normal and a source of comfort during those later stages in pregnancy. The abruptness of one day being pregnant and the next day not is a lot for the mind to comprehend.

5) Breast changes – Sigh. This one is hard. It’s pregnancy that changes your breast, not breastfeeding. So, all those celeb mommies who choose not to breastfeed their progeny to “save” their breasts still have (or had, before they had surgery) saggy, stretch-mark-ridden  breasts like the rest of us. I take comfort in that. My breasts became giant, hard and angry during pregnancy and even more giant and angry postpartum as my milk came in. But, over time, things have evened out, though my right breast is substantially larger than my left (because I nurse E more on my right than my left out of habit — woops). Now, they are not so giant, but definitely changed, saggy and a little sad. But of course, as  a feminist, I know that breasts not for sexual display but for sustaining my child and I should be in friggin’ AWE about that. Which I am. See #6.

6) Changed conception of breasts – For the first time in my life, these things I’ve been caring around on my chest all these years are actually being put to use.  Imagine if some seemingly extraneous, ornamental part of your body suddenly took on a functional purpose — like your earlobes grew long and floppy in order to protect your shoulders from sunburn or shoo away flies. Weird imagine and not a great parallel (earlobes aren’t sexualized). But you get what I’m saying. My relationship with my breasts have changed. They are no longer a source of shame or ornamentation  They are a source of food. And my child has ONLY eaten that food since she came out of the womb, and in doing so, has more than doubled her weight. THAT’S AMAZEBALLS. Most of my close friends, my family (including my father and father-in-law) and the mailman (woops) have seen my breasts. I spent the first two weeks at home basically shirtless (why wear a shirt when you are going to be feeding every 45 minutes anyway?). I have very little shame when it comes to nursing in public (I’ve used an offensively-named breastfeeding cover only 3 times). My sister and I have shared stories about actually forgetting that our breasts were exposed while out shopping or answering the door. They have become like elbows. And I would love it if societal attitudes towards breasts could change, too — this would make breastfeeding so much easier.

7) Sleep deprivation – Here are some things NOT to say to an already insomnia-ridden pregnant lady: “Sleep now while you still can.” Or to a new parent: “Sleep when the baby sleeps.” Both are bullshit, no offense nice, well-meaning folk. I COULD NOT SLEEP while I was pregnant. And as a new mother, even with 30 hours of sleeplessness through labor and delivery, I still COULD NOT SLEEP. The adrenaline, the terror of having to take care of a small, helpless human, the knowledge that when you shut your eyes your baby will jolt you awake with a horrific shriek — all combine together to make you a sleepless mess. We opted to have E taken to the nursery the second night so we could catch at least 2 hours of shut-eye. That 2 hour chunk was the longest I slept, and would sleep, for the next three weeks. You think I’m exaggerating. I would have thought I was exaggerating pre-baby. But horror of horrors, I am not. I told my dad today that, when people joked about new parents not getting any sleep, I thought they meant only getting 5 hours of night. But Dave and I suffered through some hellish months of 2-4 hours of sleep per 24 hour period. Some days I could function, but most days I was a wreck. I took pictures of myself on my most sleep-deprived days, just so I could cherish the memory (see below). I still have not gotten a full night’s sleep for more than a year, but I am sleeping about 6 hours a night, waking up at 11, 12, 1, 2 or 3 to feed the babe and then up at 6 or 7am. I can’t believe this is my life.

Months 3 and 4: Sleep deprivation is not pretty.

8) Hair loss – I was amazed when my hair stopped falling out in pregnancy. It’s a definite pregnancy perk. About 3 months post partum, my hair started falling out in clumps. It still is. It clogs the drain. It gets wrapped around E’s fingers and toes. It coats the carpet. It’s all over my clothing. Everywhere. It doesn’t help that my daughter absolutely loves yanking my hair out with her vice-like grasp. My hair doesn’t look noticeably different, besides being totally unkempt all the time, but I hear some women actually get bald spots. Yikes.

Welp, that’s it for now. I’m sure I have a Post Partum Edition #2 in me, which will include things like 1) not being grossed out by baby poop, 2) not giving  a rat’s ass about drinking while breastfeeding and 3) showering only once a week (this was not really a post partum change) and 4) eating only rice, turkey and pears because you found blood in your baby’s diaper. Stay tuned.

Well, at least she’s cute!

Growing

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This picture shows a nice progression in E’s arm fat rolls. She’s gained an extra roll (or 2) with each month. Just today, Dave and I counted 6 arm rolls. Yeesh!

@ Birth, E was 19 inches long, 7lbs 40z with a 13 inch head circumference.

@ 1 month, E was 21.25 inches long, 10lbs 7oz with a 15.25 inch head circumference.

@ 4 months, E is 24.75 inches long, 16lbs 6oz with a 17.25 inch head circumference. She is in the 90% for weight and….97% for head size!

Baby – 1,2,3 and almost 4!

Sorry for the lack of blogging. I’ve been in parenting hole with a colicky baby. But we are emerging! Life is beginning to feel somewhat normal! Our baby actual smiles and laughs! Well, I’m not sure about the normal part. I’m still operating on about 4 (or 5 if I’m lucky) hours of sleep and I spend most days with my hair in a giant fuzzball and spit up all over my shirt. But, I guess that’s a new normal so I’ll take it.

E is 17 weeks tomorrow, nearly 4 months old. How time flies! Well, not really. Time has moved quite slowly. As I suspected (and expected) parenting is radically transformative. And there’s really no way you can fully prepare for it. Dave and I knew bringing a baby into our lives would be an interruption and  a school for virtue, but we really had no idea. Many days and nights rocking and shhing a screaming infant. Many hours breastfeeding and feeding and feeding. Many mornings struggling to get out of bed after few hours of sleep. Many moments holding our breathe as we wait to see our baby’s first smile. Many canceled dates due to baby meltdowns (or general zombie tiredness). Many loads of cloth diapers from laundry to dryer. Many days waiting and wondering if our baby will ever feel good in her body. Many baby clothes left unworn because she’s growing so fast! Many times counting our baby’s fat rolls because they’re just so cute (and so numerous!). Many foods eliminated from my diet (dairy! wheat! corn! nuts! soy!) to  see if our baby felt any better. Many doctor visits with few answers. Many pacifiers found and lost. Many moments in the dark rocking E to sleep, watching her drift off and nuzzle into the crook of my arm, thinking, “She’s growing up too fast.”

Just these past few weeks, Dave and I were able to turn to each other and say, “Hey, remember when E used to cry all the time?” We never imagined this momentous day would come. Don’t get me wrong, she still fusses like it’s her job (which, as a 3.75 month old, it basically is), but she also smiles and plays and laughs on occasion. And coos, and ahhs and oohs and bats at toys and kicks and rolls over! And sucks on her hand and splashes in the bath. And makes awesome raspberries (i.e., fart noises) with her mouth.

She is growing and growing! I can’t believe she’s only been in our lives for 4 months! Dave and I feel like we’ve survived a war and we may have a little PTSD. But we thank God for the gift of our sweet baby, who is healthy, bright, enjoys eating and loves us even when we sing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star terribly off key.

The first few days were  a lot like this….

And this….

But soon became this….

And then, after a month, there was some of this…

But still mostly this…

But soon there was looking….

And grabbing…

And a whole lot of fatness…

Not to mention funny faces…

By three months, we actually caught some this on camera!

She clearly loves her daddy….

And she started holding her head steady….

Blowing lots of raspberries….

And learning to roll over!

Now she spends much time tolerating her mother…

Getting smooched by her auntie….

And hugging her dad.

And if we’re lucky, we get to see this…

And this…

And a smile that will melt your heart!

My 35 Hour Labor – E’s Birth Story!

I should preface this by saying that my experience was abnormally long and arduous (much like my sister’s first birth!). Therefore, it’s a loooong read. And some of the details are graphic (we are talking about birth, after all). Yet, unlike my sister’s birth story, this shouldn’t be a traumatic read to anyone about to give birth. In fact, I encourage anyone who is afraid of birth to read on! This was a Hypnobabies birth. For more on that, read the end of this post. Also, “pressure wave” = “contraction”. The first part was written by Dave in the third person. The second part is from my perspective. 

E’s Birth Story, March 27-28, 2012

E was due on March 22; Heather had some mild pressure waves that evening that stopped when she got in the bathtub. False alarm. Robbin (Heather’s mom) came down the next day, a Friday, and stayed with us. Heather was trying to encourage the baby by eating pineapple and eggplant parmesan. She took primrose oil in the evening, and we went on many long walks.

On March 23, she had an appointment at the OB/GYN. They said she was hardly dilated – maybe 1cm. Fluid levels were good, and they detected some contractions on the monitor, but nothing Heather could feel. She returned on Monday 3/26 and was 1.5 cm dilated. She decided to have her membranes stripped in hopes of encouraging the labor to begin. (Otherwise, their policy was to induce at 1 week overdue.) Afterwards, we went to have delicious bagels at NYBD III in Cary, but Heather felt crampy and gross as a result of having her membranes stripped. That night we went out to eat at The Market restaurant, near Peace College, and got ice cream afterwards. We watched the movie Hugo together before going to bed. Heather felt some strong Braxton-Hicks contractions while watching the movie that came at random intervals.

At 4:30 a.m., Heather knew something different was beginning. She noticed some bloody show when she went to the bathroom and knew this was a good sign. She told Dave to turn off the alarm, and that he wouldn’t be going to work because the labor was starting. He rolled over and went to sleep, having not heard her at all. Heather went downstairs, very calmly, and made herself some tea. After walking around, she returned to bed and tried to sleep, relaxing with each pressure wave and feeling quite calm. Around 7:00, she sent texts to Melissa and Robbin saying that labor was beginning. Robbin (who was sleeping downstairs) didn’t see the text, and, she learned of the early labor via a phone call from Melissa. She came upstairs very excitedly, then went to make pancakes and bacon, per Heather’s request.

Contractions were still very mild at this point. By 10:00 Heather began to try doing focused relaxation during the pressure waves, but they still felt very manageable. We called our doula, Sarah, at 9:00 am and she arrived at about 10:30. At that time we called the OB/GYN triage nurse, who at first asked that we come in, but Dave told her we preferred to call back when the contractions got longer in duration. We were carefully timing the contractions. From the outset, the contractions were never more than 7 minutes apart. But they were lasting only about 40-45 seconds, and were not very intense. Heather mostly labored in the bedroom, but we also went for a walk around the neighborhood. All the while, Heather remained very calm and talkative in between pressure waves.

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At 11:15 the contractions began lasting a full minute apiece, and were coming about every five minutes. Heather was unsure if it was time to go to the hospital. Dave and Sarah, remembering the Hypnobabies warning that, “I will not appear to be as far along as I am,” were concerned that Heather might in fact be very dilated, so we packed up the car and made the transition to the OB/GYN office, which is next door to the hospital.

When we arrived at the office, none of the midwives were there (they were out to lunch). Dave had left messages for the Triage nurse at 12:15 and 12:45 to say we were coming, but they apparently had not been received or conveyed. This was a stressful time, as the nurse on duty was very loud and seemed to shift into a crisis mode in order to treat us. A nurse checked Heather and said that her cervix was posterior (pushed towards the back) and was only dilated about 2 cm. According to their policy, anyone who comes in (even in early labor) needs to be put on the fetal monitor before they leave. This required her to lie on her back in a big recliner. This was uncomfortable and annoying but Heather remained calm and listened to her Hypnobabies scripts and birth affirmations on her IPod. After a few more minutes, one of the nurse-midwives (Jessica) came in, looked at the monitor, and said that we should go home, take a bath or a walk, and “Come back when you’re in active labor.” She gave us her cell number. Heather felt a little silly about having gone in, but mostly we regretted having to make the 20 minute drive back home in order to continue laboring.

When we got home, Heather and the crew had lunch (turkey sandwich!) and we decided to go on another walk around the neighborhood. Felt like the pressure waves were slowing down a bit, which apparently is normal for them to slow down during the daytime, though they were still about 7 minutes apart. As our doula said, babies are like vampires in that they fear the sun! Pressure waves started picking up in the afternoon and Heather decided to get in bed and rest. She listened to her Easy First Stage track and had a nice rest time with Dave. Then she decided to get in the bath. This felt really good! She was having back labor the entire time but counter pressure helped, along with back massage and the double hip squeeze. Labor still didn’t feel unmanageable. She was in bed or on the birth ball as evening approached and pressure waves became more intense.

(Now some first-person perspective!)  By this point, I couldn’t stop shivering and felt nauseated, almost threw up a few times. I wondered if this could be transition. My birth team did a good job of keeping me hydrated (a sip of water after every wave) and were very attentive. Our bedroom (where I labored the majority of the time) was very peaceful, dark with candles lit and relaxation music in the background. I was on my side for some pressure waves, then changed positions to the birth ball, leaning over the bed and sitting on the toilet. I was really having to concentrate through them at this time and Sarah and Dave discussed the possibility that it might be time to go to the hospital (it was around 10pm at this point). I was getting a little panicky so we figured it was time. So, we repacked the car and headed over. I listened to relaxation music on the way and tried to remain limp and loose during pressure waves. The car ride felt quick and pressure waves were powerful but manageable.

We got to admissions and we still have several forms to fill out, though I had already pre-registered! This was a little annoying, but I remained calm. Dave was able to answer most questions and I sat on the birth ball waiting. Then we headed to our room and Dave set everything up — dimmed the lights, put out my birth plan and hung up the sign that we requested soft voices. A nurse came in and asked my level of pain and I laughed a little and said “The intensity is about a 7.” Then she put me on the monitor for 20 minutes and I stood by the bed and tried to relax through the waves. I then had an internal exam (in my birth plan, I said I didn’t want to know how far along I was but I quickly changed my mind!) and I was 5cm at around 11:30. So, finally active labor after 19 hours of consistent contractions! not nearly as far along as I had hoped but at least I could stay in the same place. Jessica, the midwife, said I had great birthing hips and that the baby was Occiput Anterior, but we found out later that this was inaccurate! I was skeptical when I heard this because I could still feel the babies feet in the front. It felt like she hadn’t moved from the position she had been in for the last 2 months. Turns out I was right.

I spent some time in the tub (the jets were awesome and relaxing) and listened to my hypnosis tracks. Then I got out and relaxed on the birth ball while my birth team massaged my back. When I was upright, I would hang on to Dave’s shoulders and try to relax. The pressure waves were definitely more intense but manageable. I continued to labor in the room throughout the early morning, though I was in a total time warp. I really had no concept of time passing at all. When they checked me again, probably around 4am, I said something like, “Didn’t you just check  me a half hour ago?”  Turns out it had been 5 hours! I was only at 7cm at that point and my cervix was swollen. According to my post-birth research, this happens when labor has been quite long and the baby is in a less-than-ideal position, which was my situation exactly. I’ve read multiple stories where OBs have recommended C-section at the first sight of a swollen cervix. Needless to say, I was happy to be assisted by a midwife! She recommended relaxing in the tub some more and showed my doula some pressure points to encourage stronger contractions.

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At this time and out of earshot, Jessica spoke with my birth team of her concerns around my progress. She said that if my dilation didn’t complete in the next few hours, she would want to introduce a mild narcotic in an effort to relax the muscles and get us ready for the baby to come down. The team elected not to discuss this with me, in order to avoid freaking me out. Great move! I knew things weren’t going according to plan but I was never afraid. And having only positive information and affirmation helped. I made the commitment from the beginning  to not be discouraged and to not say or think anything negative; this helped a great deal (power of positive thinking!) I just continued to rest in the moment, though I think my birth team was becoming discouraged for me.

My doula told me afterwards that she was pretty worried about what I would be feeling emotionally once the sun came up. She talked to me about having my water broken to move things along and I was a bit apprehensive about this. I couldn’t understand why she was pushing having my water broken when I still felt so calm and in control. I was worried that once the pressure waves became stronger, I wouldn’t be able to handle them quite as well. I opted to wait until the next check. However, after doing some squatting in the bathtub, I could feel my bag of waters bulging and I knew it was time. And, unbeknowest to me (again, I was in a time vacuum!), my doula recognize the importance of moving things along, lest my uterus tire out and labor stall.

Jessica the midwife came in and broke my bag of waters (which was quite strong – she had to try several times) and saw meconium in the waters. This meant that I would now have to be put on fetal monitoring permanently to monitor the wellbeing of the baby. Needless to say, continuous fetal monitoring was not in the birth plan! They had a wireless, waterproof monitor that I could wear in the bathtub. I was surprised to find that the pressure waves didn’t feel any more intense than before. Turns out that the baby was posterior, as I had already suspected, and was not exerting enough pressure on my cervix, thus labor was slooooooow. After laboring on my hands and knees in the bathtub for some time, I received another check around 8am and the swelling had gone down. However, I was only at 8cm. This means that I had dilated only 3cm over the past 9 hours. I think I might have said “That sucks” under my breath, which was basically the only negative thing I said during the whole birth time.

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At 8:00 a.m. there was a shift change, and we got a new nurse and a new midwife — both named Heather. (We had seen Heather the midwife when we had our first trip to the office the day before. She’d said, “I come on at 8:00 tomorrow morning!” and we had thought, “God help us if we are still laboring by then.” But we liked her, and were glad to see her this morning.)

I continued laboring in various positions from 8:00-10:00. At about 9:30, Sarah had to leave to go begin her shift at work, leaving just Dave and my Mom in support. I felt perfectly at peace with this, though Dave and Mom were a bit freaked! I was checked again at 10:30 and was still 8 cm, but the swelling around the lip of the cervix had almost completely gone away, which was a good sign of progress. Heather the midwife also confirmed that the baby was still posterior. By this point, I had begun to vomit or retch, which continued through the rest of the labor. There was nothing in my stomach, yet I kept throwing up whatever water I had just drank. I also began shaking — this time, I really was in transition. To Dave, this looked like an alarming degree of fatigue and low blood sugar, but the shaking was caused more by the hormone surges that accompany transition.

At this point (after the 10:30 check) the nurse came in and mentioned something like, “Sounds like you’ve made some more progress, and the plan is that if things don’t pick up in the next little while then we’re going to come back with the IV.” She knew we’d discussed the possibility of a drug, but she didn’t know we hadn’t discussed it with me. Dave quickly moved on in the discussion and the nurse went on her way, but after she left I asked what she was talking about. Dave explained that there was a drug the midwives were considering offering to us, that might relax the muscles of the uterus to make the contractions more effective, but that we’d be discussing that if and when we needed to.

Per the midwife’s advice, I labored on my hands and knees in the bed for the next hour, in hopes of turning the baby. The pressure waves were very intense and I continued to retch after each one and my entire body would shake.  At 11:35 am, I was checked again, and was now 9.5 cm! Only a measly half cm to go. This felt like a major victory for me. However, the midwife was concerned, and laid out several concerns to us. First, the baby was still posterior. Second, my birth canal was relatively inflexible, which meant that pushing might be more difficult. Third, and most important, the midwife noted that the contractions had become less intense and less frequent in the last 90 minutes.

It took a long time — about three contractions’ worth — for her to explain all this. I was laying on my back in bed trying desperately to concentrate and relax during the waves and my hand would shake uncontrollably during each wave. When the midwife saw this, she stopped talking so I could relax. The bottom line was that she wanted us to take a small dose of the muscle relaxant (we can’t remember the name) along with a small dose of Pitocin (“The same amount of oxytocin that your body produces naturally,” she said) in order to jump-start things and get us past transition and on to pushing. She explained it so thoroughly because she knew I had not wanted any unneeded interventions, but at this point, I was very willing to agree with any plan. “We want to ensure the possibility that you can still have a vaginal birth.”  As soon as I heard this, I knew things were more serious than I had previously thought. “I just want to meet my baby,” I said to the midwife. My Mom and Dave noted later how relaxed and calm I seemed during this “change-of-plans” time. My words choked in my throat a bit and I was feeling emotionally raw, yet I managed to convince everyone around me that I was totally in control! Because I hadn’t been able to hold down water or food for a while, they also gave a glucose drip.

So, at this point, I had been in some sort of labor since 4am the previous night, meaning 32 hours, or nearly a day and a half. I was now confined to the bed because of the IV and fetal monitoring. Needless to say, I should have freaked out loooong ago. I should have been terrified, or screaming in pain. Yet, against all odds and quite miraculously, I was calm and relaxed! I knew I had been laboring for some time, but never in a million years would I have guessed 32 hours. I began repeating the mantra “I can do this, I can do this, my body was made to do this” between contractions. This was a huge help. I felt more empowered each time I said this and felt like it gave me energy to continue on. I also imagine that if I had been saying “I can’t do this, I can’t do this” my body would have shut down pretty quickly. It just goes to show the power of words.

The medications began at 12:15 pm, with the Pitocin being increased gradually from 2 to 8 mL/hr over the next hour. I immediately felt a difference in intensity. The waves bowled me over like a freight train. The experience felt both out-of-body and entirely bodily at the same time, if that makes sense. Dave and my Mom noticed a sharp increase on the monitor, with the contractions coming faster and longer with greater intensity. I was now having to vocalize through contractions. At times, this would become high-pitched and Dave would remind me “Low tones, low tones” and he;p vocalize with me. It took an insane amount of concentration not to scream a shrill cry, but with the help of Dave, I did my best to keep them low and moaning, which helped me stay in control.

Unfortunately, we’d thought that the muscle relaxant was also going to dull the pain, so I kept waiting and hoping that it would “kick in” as the Pitocin-induced contractions became more intense. Yet the relief never came. However, I soon adjusted to the new pattern and remained calm using self-hypnosis and affirmations/mini hypnosis scripts from Dave. During birth preparation, these scripts seemed so cheesy to me but I was shocked how helpful they were during labor. They worked like magic. Whenever I was becoming afraid, I would reach out for Dave and whisper “Help” and he would say calming, encouraging words. And, of course, I kept saying “I can do this, I can do this, I can do this” whenever I felt like I couldn’t do it. And this was my fodder throughout the rest of my birthing time.

For two hours after the medicine began, I remained in a state of hypnosis as the waves came and went. I was lying on the bed on my left side, shaking during contractions and then remaining quite still in between. For me, it felt like I had entered a weird vortex. Time and space meant nothing. All there was in the world was my body and an intense feeling of pressure.  I began tapping my fingers up and down, very fast, as each contraction would peak. This didn’t seem in keeping with the hypnobabies scheme, but it was working for me as I rode each wave. I continued to feel very nauseous and hot, retching all the way. Dave and my Mom were talking me through each wave, using hypnosis mini-scripts, and giving me cold washcloths and ice chips. I felt totally delusional, yet there was another part of my consciousness that was fully aware, totally logical and relaxed, asking myself questions and assessing the situation. It was so strange. I was thinking things like, “Wow, Dave and mom are doing a really great job. I’m sure they are so tired, poor things,” and “Wow, I have been throwing up for 4 hours and haven’t slept for 34 hours. I wonder if I will have enough energy to push this baby out in the end.” Needless to say, my birth team was wondering the same thing.

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At 2:49 in the afternoon, I was checked again. I had officially been in transition since 8am. For most women, transition last maybe an hour at most. For me, it lasted 7 hours. At this point, it had been 2.5 hours after the medication had begun, but it hadn’t felt that long, even to Dave. I was FINALLY fully dilated, though the baby remained posterior. The midwife told me it was okay to start trying to “breathe the baby down” whenever I started to feel pushy. I noticed the waves had slowed down but I didn’t really notice any other change in sensation. I couldn’t imagine feeling anything different than I had been feeling the last 7 hours. I got out of the bed for a while and tried squatting. Then I felt the slightest hint that I needed to push. The feelings got stronger fast and I rushed back into bed, and said that we needed to notify the nurse ASAP.The pushing waves (very similar to the ones you feel when  you are taking a large number 2!) were very strong and initiated entirely by my body. There was no counting, no deliberate bearing down or conscious pushing on my part. My body took over entirely and I felt a bit out of control.  Because of the presence of meconium in the waters, an emergency medical team would need to be present in the room at the time of birth, in case the baby needed to be rushed to the ICU. What if the baby came before the medical staff was in the room? What if Dave had to catch the baby?

The nurse was slowly getting things ready as I laid on my left side and my body pushed the baby down and out. I tried the squat bar for a bit but preferred my left side. Having seen my sister push her baby out in a sitting position and the intense pressure she felt on her tailbone, I insisted that Dave support me from behind so I didn’t roll over. I could feel my tailbone moving out of the way and couldn’t imagine what it would feel like if I had been sitting on it!

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With each wave, my body would let out this guttural roar, a noise I had never heard come out of me before. I turned to Dave once and said rather sheepishly, “Uh, that was involuntary.” I wanted him to know I wasn’t in intense pain or anything. My body just needed to roar, like a weightlifter does when she lifts a gigantic dumbbell. Pushing was actually the easiest and quickest part of the labor experience. Frankly, it was awesome. I was so relieved that my super-powered body could do such amazing, difficult work with so  little sleep and nourishment. I felt like I was just sitting back in awe. A wave would come, my body would bear down with incredible force, my lungs would cry out with an incredibly shout and then I would rest in between. So easy!

I had probably pushed for about 15 minutes (it felt like 5) when the midwife had me reach down and feel my baby’s head. So mind-blowing. During the last three or four pushes, I was in a daze and my body was working hard to get this thing out. Amazingly, little E turned right before she came out, which meant that I didn’t need to stretch nearly as much to push her through. I don’t really remember the crowning or ring of fire, and even though the midwife told me to stop, my body pushed her shoulders out with gigantic force. Woops! I ended up with a 2nd degree tear that the midwife said was “purely cosmetic” but sure didn’t feel that way in recovery!
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Out came by slippery baby and the placed her on my tummy, as the cord was a little too short for her to be placed on my chest. She came out roaring, and the emergency medical team left pretty soon after that, as a crying baby meant that she hadn’t aspirated any meconium and her lungs were fine. Dave looked down and said “It’s a girl! We have a daughter!” and we wept and wept with joy and exhaustion. My mom and sister (who had been watching the whole thing on my mom’s IPhone!) were also crying! The midwife patiently waited for the cord to stop pulsing and then cut the cord. The pain of being stitched up wasn’t awesome but I was fortunately distracted! Out came the placenta and I got a good look at the organ that had been nourishing my babe for the last 9 months. E (who was unnamed for the first 24 hours) remained on my chest for an hour or two (or more?) before they weighed her.  She got a 9 out of 10 on the APGAR score and weighed in at 7lbs 13oz. She was so beautiful with such a powerful cry (which continues to this day!). Interestingly, her head wasn’t particularly cone-shaped (because was posterior most of the time) except for an 8cm circle on the top of her head from where she had been stuck against my cervix for 7 hours. Poor lady.

I have heard some people say that you have the birth that you envision. Hypnobabies really stresses visualizing your birth but it also recognizes that there are many aspects to labor that are out of our immediate control.  My birth was the total opposite of what I had envisioned- ridiculously slow, long labor (35 hours!) with a terribly long transition period, limited mobility due to constant fetal monitoring and the use of Pitocin. The combination of poor fetal position and “especially tight vaginal muscles” (according to my midwife) resulted in a very long, drawnout labor. My sister’s first labor was 36 hours long, and her baby was also posterior. Genetic link? Anyway, despite devoting the last three months of pregnancy to turning my posterior child (through weekly chiropractic visits, sitting on a birth ball, crawling on my hands and knees, prenatal massage, daily pelvic exercises, etc), she remained stubbornly posterior.

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And yet, through it all, I remained calm, collected, positive and rational the vast majority of the time. With regards to pain, I wouldn’t say that the contractions I felt (esp. when Pitocin was introduced) were pain-free, but the pain was more like what a marathon runner feels in her legs at mile 20 — needless to say, it’s terrible but nothing to fear. There was a point when I thought, “Hmm, an epidural would be nice because at least I could get some rest,” but for the most part, I never even thought about it. I am not against epidurals, but a pain-medication-free birth was something I was committed to and, thankfully, was able to achieve. I felt equipped with the relaxation and self-hypnosis tools I had to manage pain. With the help of my incredible birth team (my husband was so amazing that I really think he should consider becoming a doula himself!), I was able to manage all of the intensity and various discouragements that came with my labor.

According to Dave, all of the nurses in our wing were in awe. They couldn’t believe how calm I was! And, my doula said this was the calmest, most serene labor she has ever witnessed. She said she was amazed at how well the hypnosis tools worked. In our post-birth meeting, “If you are wondering whether or not the program was effective, I’m here to tell you that it absolutely was!” And, thanks to self-hypnosis, my whole labor experience felt like it was half the time than it actually was. The experience was the most intense, physically and mentally, of my life. But it was also quite relaxing, intimate and sweet. And I can honestly say without any shadow of doubt that I wasn’t afraid and I never loss control. And I think this is the biggest achievement of the whole process. I wanted to have a fear-free birth and, against all odds, I did!

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All is boring in Womb-land

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The kid and I are still one bodily unit. I’m currently 39 weeks and 5 days and feel about the same as when I was 36 weeks and 5 days. My “guess” date is on Thursday, March 22nd. I’m having more frequent Braxton Hicks, which I’ve been having for at least a month but are more noticeable now. It feels like someone is squeezing your stomach. Not bad, just funny-feeling. This means that my uterus is practicing for the big event. I feel good about that.

I’ve had two rough nights in the past two weeks, both of which were preceded by cabbage for dinner. Last week, after some delicious corn beef and cabbage, I got up 5 times during the night to pee, had terrible back pain and lots of BHs. I wondered, “Could this be it?” And I preceded to tell the baby sternly that it couldn’t come until my birthing gown (sewn by my mom) came in the mail. Everything was normal the next morning except for the fact that I weighed 3lbs less than the day before. Apparently, your body sheds water weight right at the end of pregnancy. And, cabbage causes gas (and my intestines are pressed up against my back, so there you go). Last night, cabbage for dinner (will I ever learn?) and more back pain with little sleep. Cabbage, it’s been real. Seriously, you suck.

Anyway, the awesome birthing gown has arrived and I’ve been wearing it around the house, yesterday and today. I was even able to show it off to the exterminator who arrived unannounced this morning. It’s covered in pears, which is only appropriate as I am quite pear-shaped. Baby is allowed to come now, though I imagine it will still take some time (i.e, 41 weeks and 1 day on average). I’m so convinced that this baby will be late, yet I continue to be shocked by those who have their babies before 40 weeks. Last week, a friend from college went into labor and she was due 2 days after me. The wife of the youth minister at church was due a week after me, and they just had their baby on Friday….15 days early!!

It doesn’t help that when people see me, they think I’m only 6 months pregnant. “You are so small!” Hmm. Two women at church were visibly and audibly shocked when I told them I was due this week. “You are going to have a tiny baby.” What? I was hoping for a fat baby! Gahhh! Just for future reference folks, pregnant women do not want to be told that they are either gigantic or teeny. They want to be perfectly normal. For other things not to say to pregnant women, check out my favorite pregnancy blog. Also, my sister gained only 29lbs and had a hefty boy, close to 9lbs. And Dave’s aunt gained 50lbs with her pregnancy and had a 5-pounder. So, no correlation, folks. Sheesh.

Anyway, it’s a strange time. Dave and I are trying to live our lives as normal. Yet, planning for the next week or two is a crap shoot. This baby could come tomorrow or in two weeks. And between then and now,  we have no idea how to make plans. Given our micro-time-managing tendencies here in the US, spontaneous vaginal delivery really blows up our expectations that we can control our days. I feel good about this now. But check in with me next week. I may be screaming for pitocin (yeah right).

This week, I am anticipating spending a lot of time in the tailor position, chilling on the birth ball, trying not to stay up too late watching basketball and going out for Ethiopian food with Dave. I’m been craving Ethiopian food for a while and I imagine the spices will surely kickstart something. So, Ethiopian food, here we come!