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!


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.


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.


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.


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.


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!


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!
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.


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!


All is boring in Womb-land


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!

Happily waiting…

I’m 38-going-on-39 weeks. It’s amazing how these last weeks of pregnancy tend to blend together. My sister and I were joking the other day that at the beginning, you know exactly how far long you are, by the day (“I’m 5.5 weeks!”). And you breathe multiple sighs of relief whenever you hit a major milestone. Now, each day feels a bit like the last, except now when people ask “When are you due?” I say, “Next week.” Weird.

Dave commented that it feels like only in the past two weeks people out in public have actually begun to gawk. Many strangers ask when I am due and or they just blatantly stare at my stomach (eyes up, people!)  Of course, I’ve been milking the I-actually-look-pregnant stage as much as I can. This Sunday, while driving home, the oil light came on in the car and I pulled into a gas station where an extremely nice attendant helped me top off in between helping customers. And when taking the car the next day to get the oil changed/checked (there was a leak), the nice man at AAA said he would try to get it done asap because “You shouldn’t have to wait in your condition.” Ha. I decided not to tell him that I feel perfectly capable. Instead, I said thanks and waddled away. Dave and I also braved the crowds at the RBC Center to see Cirque du Soleil’s Michael Jackson show (a birthday present from my parents!). This involved walking quite far from the parking lot, marching  up and down multiple flights of stairs (because our seats got reassigned) and walking halfway around the arena to finally get to our tiny stadium seats. Piece of cake (almost).

Also, and surprisingly, I feel great. I thought I would be MISERABLE as I entered the “dreary” trimester. I’ve heard so many women say how sick they are of being pregnant by the end. And these poor women are likely working full time and/or rearing other children. But this isn’t my case. I feel awesome. And I’m going to miss my awesome round belly.

All the aches and growing pains I’ve felt over the last few months have ceased. I’ve only gained 29lbs so I still feel pretty limber. I can (mostly) breathe, except when walking uphill. No constipation. Limited heartburn. No stretch marks on the belly. Sleeping hasn’t been terrible. I’m measuring right on time and blood pressure is low. I’m still pounding the spicy food. But along with that, there’s been very little action. At my last appointment, the midwife noted that the baby hadn’t even dropped. I have a few Braxton-Hicks contractions a day but I’ve been having them for weeks (and they just feel like your belly has gotten tight….nothing else really). I declined a cervical check at my last appointment, though I am tempted to have one done this time. We’ll see. I don’t really want to psyche myself out, especially since I’m pretty content.

But because very little has been happening to indicate that birthing time will happen soon, I don’t want to risk induction if I go two weeks late. Going late is fine by me, esp. since average gestation for first time moms is 274 days from ovulation (or 41 weeks and 1 day from LMP). And only 10% of babies actually come on their “due” date. So, according to more recent studies, the babe is most likely to show up around March 30. I think I can handle that, as long as no one is trying to stick me with pitocin. I imagine the midwives will be pretty restrained.

Either way, though, I’m starting to walk more, doing daily pelvic floor exercises and stretches, sitting primarily on an exercise ball, keeping my stomach hanging forward (rather than lounging on the couch) to encourage an anterior position, mapping my belly,  listening to my hypnosis scripts and affirmations, seeing a chiropractor once a week (to keep my hips in line) and drinking larger doses of red raspberry leaf tea. Last night I ate half a pineapple, which is supposed to ripen your cervix (yum) and I may opt for some acupuncture at this week’s chiro appointment. I may also start using evening primrose oil. So, I’m not exactly sitting around passively waiting. But I am happily waiting, relishing in these last few weeks of this unique time.

Clear eyes, full term, can’t lose.

I couldn’t resist the shout out to Friday Night Lights. Yes, this means that I am knocking on Full Term’s door (tomorrow!) and the baby could shoot out of me tomorrow and live it’s special little life without much medical intervention, if at all. Crazy! I’ve gotten so used to being pregnant, after moving beyond the anxiety and general nastiness associated with the dreaded first trimester. The idea of NOT being pregnant is a distant memory. Dave and I are enjoying this special time together and it’s bittersweet to imagine it ending.

People ask us if we are excited and we most certainly are. But it’s sort of like being on a plane bound for somewhere exotic and amazing, destination unknown. You have a lot of anticipation, nervousness and giddiness, but you also feel a sense that you should “wait until we get there.” I imagine giving birth is one of those rare moments in life where you can truly pinpoint the moment your life has changed forever. Going to college was one. Meeting Dave was another. You don’t know where these momentous events will take you; you just know that you’ll never be where you are again. Your life, your sense of self, your sense of purpose have all been turned upside-down. Giving birth (not just being born) is a good metaphor for baptism. Or, baptism is a good metaphor for giving birth. Either way, you climb off the bed or out of the pool a different human being. Something astonishing has happened to you, yes, but you have also participated in that change in a profound way. Needless to say, this is exciting…but also terrifying!

Dave and I are currently in go-mode, trying to get our house at least ready for Superpac (yes, that’s our baby’s nickname). We’ve acquired a great number of things from generous family and friends. Most other stuff came from consignment sales and Craigslist. We scored a $5 changing table, a $2 changing pad, several $5 cloth diapers, etc. We’ve spent very little on this child. My sister-in-law gave us a crib, which is still in it’s box and will likely remain there for a while as we intend to sleep-share. My friend Kate gave us a co-sleeper, just in case sleep-sharing doesn’t work out for us. And, for that reason, we haven’t had to invest much in a nursery. We have a room where the baby stuff goes, but most of the time, the kid will be with us. We are cloth-diapering and I plan to breastfeed as a long as possible, which cuts expenses down considerably.  I’ve sewn my own flannel wipes, blankets and burp cloths for Superpac. We have good health insurance and a strong support system. Because of that, we’ve spent about 1/5th of that estimated by the “Don’t Have a Kid Unless You Are A Millionaire” calculators.

Dave and I just finished our 6th and final birth class last weekend. We are using Hypnobabies (yeah, yeah, the name is weird and the passed-out lady with lots of makeup on the website doesn’t help). But I’ve been very satisfied with the techniques we’ve learned and feel equipped and confident to enter my birthing time without fear. I’ve read story after story (and seen video after video!) of women who have used hypnosis for childbirth and have been really amazed at what I’ve seen. Hypnosis has been used for patients who are allergic to traditional anesthesia – you can google videos (if you dare) of people undergoing breast surgery or root canals without any medical anesthesia whatsoever. My dad has used hypnosis on patients in the past, mainly for anxiety issues, but it has also proven successful for addiction and weight loss. Check out this Time article. So, why not for childbirth?

The main focus of the class is to rewire the way you think about childbirth, recognizing that other people’s negative experiences, as well as tv shows and movies, have programmed us (in this culture) to fear childbirth. Hypnobabies is like cognitive behavioral therapy – if you can change the way you think, you can change what you experience. When I get on a plane, my negative associations with flying cause my heart begins to pound and I start to sweat, thus triggering more fear (“Why am I sweating? I must be terrified!”) and more bodily responses, like a vicious cycle.

Hypnobabies seeks to rewire your brain to translate the tightening of a contraction into pressure, not pain. In doing so, you remain relaxed, not fighting your body but allowing your body to do what it needs to do, often resulting in remarkably shorter, more comfortable labors. Unlike some hypnosis for childbirth classes, Hypnobabies really focuses on birth education, teaching good nutrition, exercise, optimal fetal positioning, less intervention (i.e., induction) and other ways to increase the likelihood of a complication-free birth. Obviously, someone who experiences cord prolapse, placental abruption or other complicating factors will not be using these techniques to have a normal, vaginal birth. And more often than not, pain is an appropriate bodily response to complication, alerting you to a problem. But for the 90% of us that are able to have uncomplicated natural births (even with big or posterior babies), Hypnobabies seeks to equip mothers-to-be with the skills and the confidence to enjoy labor without having to endure hours and hours of excruciating pain. And I intend to do just that!

Woah. I just went on a Hypnobabies rant. I guess I’ve become a true believer. I will definitely post more on this.

Anyway, I’m off to write my birth plan. Happy (and solemn) Lent to all!

When your body goes absolutely nuts: Part II

Welcome to the second installment of  “Pregnancy: When your body goes absolutely nuts.” I wasn’t sure if there would be a part 2, given the thorough (and graphic) detail of the first post, not to mention the fact that my hormones (the primary culprits of crazy-making) have leveled off since the first trimester. However, I have experienced some particularly weird things over the past few months that I can’t help but share. And don’t worry. This isn’t nearly as TMI.

Gigantic hair – I joked in one of my progressive pregnancy photos that my hair was also pregnant because it is so large and in charge. In fact, pregnant women DO have pregnant hair, in that their hair doesn’t fall out for 9 months (give or take). The average person loses 50 to 100 hairs a day (you’ll see this on your hair brush or in the drain). As someone who doesn’t brush her hair and washes it only every once in a while, I always rake out globs and globs of hair during a shower. I mean, I could donate the stuff for a wig. The last few months or so, I’ve managed to gather about 5 hairs with each shower. The first time I noticed, I found this so phenomenal, I ran downstairs, wet strands in hand, to show Dave. He was also impressed.  In reality, my hair isn’t really growing either. It’s just frozen in place until I give birth, when it will fall out with abandoned.

Gigantic feet – I am only 5’3″, yet I have size 9 feet, quite large for a small person. I had hoped to get through pregnancy with the same size shoe, but this has not been the case. The hormone, relaxin, kicks in during pregnancy and causes your ligaments to relax (hence the name). This is great for your pelvis, which has to accommodate a growing babe. But this also can spread your feet. Now I wear a 9.5, which means I’ve had to buy new shoes and will likely have to give away all my very cute but very uncomfortable size 9 shoes because the change is usually permanent. My friend’s mother gave birth three times and her feet grew half a size with each pregnancy. My sister’s feet, which used to be  a 9 are now a 10 (with baby #2).

Feeling hot ALL THE TIME – Pregnant women have close to 50% more blood coursing through their bodies than they did pre-pregnancy. This makes them walking saunas. I still feel just as cold when I’m out in 30-degree weather, but upon going indoors, I overheat quickly. My body just can’t regulate it’s temperature like it used to. I sleep with two fans on at night and only a sheet. I try to wear short-sleeves, even in January, so I don’t pass out when I’m indoors. I am constantly fanning myself in church, at the movies, in the car. I. Am. Always. Hot.

Constant cold – My nose runs all the time and I’m never without a box of tissues. I blow my nose 100 times a day. Because of the increased blood volume, your nasal passages swell, convincing your body to make more mucus to flush out evil germs when in fact you are virus free. So, if you hear me hacking or sneezing around you, don’t be alarmed. Pregnancy is not contagious.

Burps – Digestion is slowed in pregnancy so your body can extract more nutrients from the food you eat. But slower digestion combined with a crowded torso means you experience a lot more heartburn, acid re-flux and belching. I might have been mildly embarrassed about belching in public before. Now, all bets are off.

Back pain – Pretty classic pregnancy symptom but quite annoying. My back pain has moved from my lower back all the way up to my shoulder blades as the pregnancy has progressed. The chiropractor says it’s my changing posture, but I imagine it’s also my changing bra size, as well. I sleep with a heating pad every night and have to take frequent stops on long car trips to walk around. It’s pretty much always with me and there ain’t much I can do about it!

Swollen eyes – That’s right – not only have my belly and my feet grown, but also my eyes!! This has to do with blood volume, which especially affects your eyes (and all of it’s tiny blood vessels). My contacts don’t fit very well at all and I spend most of the day squinting. My eyes always feel dry. I’ve started to wear my glasses more.

Forgetfulness/clumsiness – Supposedly this is pretty common for pregnant women. Some have coined forgetfulness associated with pregnancy the “pregnancy brain.” And clumsiness comes with relaxed ligaments and changing center of gravity. But quite frankly, I was forgetful and clumsy before pregnancy, so I haven’t really noticed a difference. I lose things, am terrible at memory recall, spill things and trip over myself pretty much all the time. But I think that’s just the way that I am.

I’ve been fortunate enough to avoid (or no longer have to endure) some of the more heinous pregnancy symptoms like hemorrhoids (only experienced these twice in the second trimester), constipation (I drink a LOT of water), stretch marks (none on my stomach, anyway), sciatica, vomiting, high blood pressure (my blood pressure was low a few weeks ago, it was 90/60!), mood swings and the like. Here’s hoping none of these will pop up over the next 10 weeks. But if they do, at least the end is near!

Weary. Cheery. Dreary.


Greetings virtual world. A quick update to say that, as the folk saying goes, I’m currently enjoying the easiest, most awesomest trimester – the second. I’m 27 weeks tomorrow (that’s 6 months for those unaccustomed to thinking in weeks) and pleasantly large, enough to elicit some sympathy/special treatment in the checkout line at the grocery store. But I’m not yet whale-sized, considering I still get handed a beer list when out at restaurants (or a glass of wine while at a rehearsal dinner my husband and I just attended). And as Dave pointed out, I’ve been pregnant for half a year. Sweet lord.

The first trimester is weary (you are tired and sick and hormonal), your second trimester is cheery (your energy is back, your hormones have gone, you actually look pregnant but aren’t huge enough for this to cause major problems), and your third trimester is dreary (tired, huge, and bored with pregnancy).

I’m not sure if I knew this before pregnancy. Many people have asked me how I’m doing, assuming the worst (“After the crappy first trimester, it’s only downhill from there, right?”). When I tell them I actually feel like a normal human being (minus having another human being inside of me squirming around), people are surprised.

I’m now only an occasional insomniac (up for two hours a night 2 or 3 times a week – not bad) and generally feel fine if I get a total of 7 hours sleep. I haven’t been pounding the TUMS (acid reflux will come back soon, but now it’s on hiatus). No hemorrhoids, no constipation, no swelling of the hands or feet, no belly stretch marks, no absurd weight gain (I’ve gained 18lbs thus far…only 17 more lbs to go!), no nausea, no insatiable appetite, no yeast or bladder infections in the last month. Even my constant congestion has leveled out a bit, or at least I haven’t gotten used to it. And, as the doc informed me yesterday, I’m no longer measuring several weeks ahead. I’m right on track for 27 weeks.

Most remarkably, I haven’t been anxiously google searching symptoms, nor have I made any unscheduled visits to the OB in several months (*pats self on back*). I’m no longer convinced that I have an incompetent cervix, that my baby is no longer living (the kicking helps), or that I’m going into preterm labor. They say that the deluge of hormones coursing through you in the first few months can cause a lot of emotional upheaval. Some women cry. Some get angry.I got anxious. Sigh. Glad to be back to my mostly chilled-out self.

I occasionally have a small libation of my husband’s beer, have most certainly pounded some cold cuts and soft cheese, and have stood near the running microwave more than once. It’s hard to abide by all the pregnancy no-nos when you feel so…normal.

Mainly, my back hurts (I use a heating pad every night) and my shoulders hurt (change in posture), but I’m seeing a chiropractor every two weeks which helps. And I sneeze a lot. And I can’t really put on my shoes very well. And I’m nervously awaiting the results of my blood glucose test. And my breasts look like aliens from outer-space. But that’s it. Frankly, I feel like a million bucks.

This past weekend, we threw a Christmas open house (my idea), which involved several days of cleaning and decorating our gigantic parsonage (with decor handmade by yours truly – a cost-saving measure), several days of cooking tons of food (seriously, there was tons), and an entire day on my feet food prepping food, standing on step stools to hang decorations, crawling on all fours to plug in lights and water the tree, and then greeting guests and spreading general merriment. Quite frankly, I would never have pulled that off in my first trimester. And, most likely, my body (and the baby) would have rebelled in the third trimester, as well. But, besides some extremely achy feet at the end of the day, I felt fine.

The baby is active and growing. It kicks a lot at night (which sometimes wakes me up), and when I lay on my side, I can sometimes feel it’s entire body rolling over and it feels like an earth quake. Hard to describe, but it’s bizarre. Dave can feel it regularly now, which is a delight. If it’s particularly hyped up on sugar, I can see my belly moving, like a cat under a blanket. Freaky. But totally awesome.

Ultrasound ambivalence

Like most things about pregnancy, and life in general, I’m prone to ask questions about things typically deemed as normal or “a given”,  partly because I like to be prepared, partly because I’m an idealist (do I dare admit it?) and partly because I don’t trust the status quo.  Hospital birth? Eek. Circumcision? Hmm. Prenatal testing? No spanks. But ultrasounds weren’t on the list. We’ve all seen the movies: the squirt of the transmission gel on a big, round belly, the painstaking movements of the ultrasound tech wielding the sensor, staring up starry-eyed at the ultrasound screen as you gaze upon the strange being living inside of you. Ultrasounds are part and parcel to the pregnancy experience. They’re nostalgic; after all, ultrasound technology has been in use for nearly 50 years. But over the years, the use of obstetric ultrasounds has increased exponentially, occurring early and early in pregnancy.

When I started spotting very early on in my first trimester,  the first thing the doctor did was give me an ultrasound. Before 12 weeks or so, these ultrasounds are transvaginal, definitely more invasive than the abdominal kind. Most OB offices won’t do ultrasounds before 12 weeks for a few reasons. In those first few weeks, barely anything is visible – just an empty-looking gestational sac. And babies grow at varying rates during this time. I had hoped that an early ultrasound would put my mind at ease (“No, you’re not miscarrying because I see an egg sac…”) but instead, they became one of the main sources of my early pregnancy anxiety. After continuing to spot for some time, and after the 3rd ultrasound without seeing much, the doctor had me do blood work to measure HCG levels. As my previous post stated, mine didn’t rise “properly” (though there are several studies showing that many healthy pregnancies don’t fall into this doubling pattern – my mother-in-law experienced this with both her pregnancies), and this combined with the ultrasound had the doctor calling me after hours saying “Things don’t look good.”

When I went in for my 4th ultrasound to confirm that, indeed, things did not look good, I saw an egg sac and a fetal pole – good signs that the pregnancy was progressing normal. “This is why we try not to do early ultrasounds,” said the doc. “Babies just grow at different rates.” Well then, did I have an ultrasound-happy obstetrician? Should I have refused the first few ultrasounds? Shouldn’t she have told me that spotting in early pregnancy is normal and we won’t find any results on the ultrasound for another week or so?

On average, a woman with a low-risk pregnancy will have 2-3 ultrasounds total her entire pregnancy. By the time I was 13 weeks, I had already had 6, not counting the basic anomaly scan at 18 weeks. Did all of these ultrasounds put me at ease? Yes and no. Yes, seeing my little babe’s heart flutter on the screen helped me rest assured. But those random and uneventful weeks when ultrasounds weren’t necessary (usually, the midwifes will just check the fetal heart rate with a monitor), I found myself worrying that they were missing something. Because my pregnancy was so closely (and literally) watched in those first few weeks, I get uneasy when so much time passes without peering inside my womb.

My mother and women in her generation went almost their entire pregnancies without the use of ultrasound technology, with only one or two scans. Before this century, the first time parents saw their children was outside of the womb. Nowadays, ultrasounds are used to determine any number of fetal or placental anomalies way before due date, as well as identifying the sex of the child. Most would argue that these are positive advancements. And I would argue that, certainly, being prepared for your child and all its possible needs sure beats being shocked. But I can only wonder if ultrasound technology (not to mention prenatal testing in the form of blood work and amniocentesis), is contributing to the Too Much Information epidemic of which most modern pregnant women are suffering.

A close friend from mine went in for a routine ultrasound during her pregnancy, which ended up being a rather traumatic experience. The ultrasound showed a soft marker for Down Syndrome  (heart calcification), which meant that their child had a 1 in 400 chance of having an extra 21st chromosome. Most of the time, the calcification clears up and has zero effect on the child. But instead of being reassured with the statistics, my friend and her partner were ushered into a room to meet with a genetic counselor, though they had previously mentioned that no such counseling was necessary (as abortion was not an option). Several months later, they welcomed a healthy, ‘normal’ child into the world, though they spent the last few months of pregnancy wondering with some trepidation about the fate of their child.

My sister experienced something similar during one of her routine ultrasounds. The tech found choriod plexus cysts in the fluid around the baby’s brain – pretty non-threatening in and of themselves, but a soft indicator of genetic abnormalities like Edwards syndrome. Most of the time, these cysts will clear up by 24 weeks, and the midwife reassured my sister that she likely had nothing to worry about. Nonetheless, the waiting time is always stressful, even if you feel called to welcome all life into the world. Of course, at 24 weeks, another ultrasound showed that the cysts had cleared up.

There are plenty other stories like this, with expecting parents encounter disconcerting news through an ultrasound that later turns out to be a non-issue. Before the advent of ultrasound technology, how many healthy babies were born who, while in-utero, also had heart calcification and or plexus cysts?  How would we ever know? Are ultrasounds giving pregnant women too much information to stress over during an already stressful season of life?

Plenty  of women use ultrasound technology to determine the sex of their child. And though this seems pretty benign (and often is – again, who doesn’t want to be prepared?), there is one sinister effect: sex-selective abortion. Yesterday, I was listening to a Freakonomics podcast called “Misadventures in Babymaking,” about the the one-child policy in China. According to the podcast, the natural sex ratio at birth in all human populations is 105 boys to 100 girls, because baby boys are fragile and die more often in infancy. In China, however, the ratio is more like 121 boys to 100 girls. This is known as the “Missing Women Problem,” which dates back to an observation Amartya Sen made in 1990. He compared the total number of women in all of Asia (not just China) with what should have been the natural sex ratio, and found that a hundred million women were missing, i.e., 100,000,000 baby girls were never born.  Some estimate that that number is now 160 million missing women. The son preference spans many different countries, including China, India, Vietnam, South Korea, Taiwan, Armenia, Albania, Azerbaijan – places with very different political, economic, religious and cultural perspectives. Yet the one thing that ties these countries together is the ultrasound. In the words of Stephen Dubner, “One piece of technology. 160 million missing women.” Dubner also points out that the ultrasound machine didn’t create this kind of problem, but it does enable it: “‘Son preference’ already existed, but along came a new birth technology that let mothers do something about it. Technology has consequences – often unintended ones.”

Sex-selective abortion, like the 90% abortion rate of fetuses with Down Syndrome, is disturbing on a number of levels. But what’s especially chilling is that ultrasounds are not 100 percent accurate. I know several women who were told they were having a girl that turned out to be a boy (or vice versa). I’ve also heard countless stories of women pressured to abort their “severely disabled fetus” that turned out to be perfectly healthy (or a perfectly wonderful disabled child). Ultrasounds, though useful in moderation, have become like gods dispensing knowledge that determines the future of our children. We should all find this worrisome.

But I also know that ultrasound technology has enabled women with poor fetal diagnoses to connect with their in-utero children who will almost inevitably die after birth. My friends Dayna and Eric learned that their child had a fatal birth defect, anencephaly, at their 20 week ultrasound. They also learned that their child was a boy, and so they named him Ethan and spent the next 5 months bonding with him and preparing for his birth and his death. Their story is heartbreaking and lifegiving, and if it weren’t for that fateful ultrasound, they would never had known how little time they had with their son.

So, all that to be said, I feel ambivalent about ultrasounds, as I do with most medical technology surrounding birth.  I know some women refuse ultrasounds for their entire pregnancy, perhaps in protest of the above, perhaps because a few studies show ultrasounds may have a negative effect on fetal outcome, or perhaps because they find not knowing more comforting than knowing too much. Whatever the reason, I admire these women. So brave! So at peace! So old-school! Yet, I can’t help but continue to cling to the reassurance the ultrasound gives me, and rejoice in the brief glimpse of the little stranger growing inside of me. I’m still amazed by the grainy black-and-white picture on my fridge that shows 2 tiny feet and 10 tiny, fully-formed toes.

Pregnancy: when your body goes absolutely nuts

TMI alert. This will be the last time I alert you, though. Frankly, at this stage in my life, very little is TMI.

I imagined that my body would get kind of wonky during pregnancy. Things are changing rather rapidly. Tons of new hormones. Major bone and organ shifting as the baby grows. You gain weight quickly (like never before). But for some reason, I didn’t really consider the emotional toll this would have on my life. It feels a lot like puberty, frankly. Your body is no longer under your control but powered by some unforeseen force (hormones! or, in my case, a tiny apple-sized creature inside of me!). Symptoms or health issues you’ve never experienced before rapidly pop up every week, just to keep you on your toes.

Here’s a small list of some of the crazy changes my body has experienced in the last four months. Some are recurring, some have stopped all together and some will continue to get worse.

Acne – I’ve never had great skin but now I really do resemble my 16-year old self. Back, face, arms. You name it.

Butt and hip pain – Pretty expected but pretty annoying. As my pelvis shifts to accommodate the  babe, my pelvic bones (particularly in my lower back) are shifting this way and that, giving me a pain in the ass, quite literally.

Nail growth – I’m a habitual nail-biter, but several weeks ago I got a manicure for a wedding, which prompted me not to chomp. Well, I swear to you my nails have grown a half centimeter since then. My nails have never been this long.

Itchiness – Along with blemishes, hormones can cause your skin to become drier (my problem) and itchy as your skin grows. I”m trying not to rip my flesh off with my new nails.

Urinary tract infections – I’ve had these my whole life, but apparently they are particularly common in pregnancy as your urethra stretches out and allows more bacteria in. Fun. I went on a week of antibiotics to clear this up, which may just have caused….

Yeast infections – Mmm. Never had one of these before. But, again, your vagina and your cervix are basically on steroids during pregnancy, so things tend to get out of whack more quickly. I wouldn’t be surprised if my antibiotic regime caused this lovely infection (antibiotics kill all bacteria, including the good flora that keeps your vagina right on track).

Hemorrhoids- Sweet lord. Could it get any worse? The weight of the baby and the mass increase in blood flow causes varicose veins (and hemorrhoids are just one form). Fortunately, mine are internal, so they don’t hurt much and they heal easily. However, they cause you to bleed like you’re on your period. And, any amount of blood in the toilet is enough to stop my heart (see previous post).

Heartburn – I had this pre-pregnancy but pregnancy heartburn is worse. Tums are my new best friend. Also, they say the same hormone that causes heartburn may also cause the baby to sprout hair. So, hairy baby here we come.

Weight gain – Boring but still quite the change. So far, I’m 8lbs up from my pre-pregnancy weight and climbing. I can only wear maternity clothes.

Pamela Anderson-like breasts – My breasts have easily grown 40% in size. They are a shocking new addition to my body, esp. because I had rather small breasts before (oh how I miss them!). They are also painful and angry, like Pamela Anderson’s breasts, I’m sure.

Laughing and crying – Being pregnant is a bit like those few days right before you start your period when every NPR story, Cheetos commercial or squashed bug on the sidewalk makes you cry. But what I’ve noticed even more is I am laughing. A lot. At stupid things. My laugh is loud and indiscriminate. Gotta say, this has to be a plus.

Frequent urination – In your first trimester, hormones are causing your body to flush fluids rapidly through your system, so even though you are still small with child, you pee about 5 times an hour. As someone who has long enjoyed bladder fortitude, this was annoying. I would pee twice before bed, then at 2:30am, and then 6:30am. Fortunately, this has died down.

Insomnia – Peeing frequently seemed to set a pattern of insomnia that’s been hard to break. For the last two weeks, the vast majority of my nights have looked like this: Crash at 10:30 and sleep until 3:30. Wake for no apparent reason and lay there until 4:30.  Turn on light and read book until 5:30 or 6 when Dave’s alarm goes off. Pass out until 9:30 or 10.

Food aversions – There’s a lot of debate about whether pregnancy cravings are real (as in physiological) as opposed to psychological. I definitely craved pickles and continue to crave meat in all forms (and anything sour). But the most pronounced food issue I experienced was food aversions. Just thinking about certain things (certain veggies) or hearing them mentioned (“Sausage balls,” which Dave mentioned once at 6 weeks) made me want to vomit. Fortunately, I NEVER VOMITED. Boom.

Increased sense of smell – This is an annoying superpower. Fortunately it has died down. But in the first trimester, I couldn’t stand the smell of celery (even the memory of it makes me gag), my Burts Bees lip balm (what the?) and anything burned (like the charred crumbs at the bottom of our toaster oven). I could smell what Dave was eating for dinner two rooms away. I could smell the dirt outside. Everything smelled.

Faintness – A few days ago, Dave and I were in Winston Salem taking a tour through a museum (guided tour only) and half-way through, I became extremely hot and had to sit down. And then, I started yawning nonstop and sweating profusely. Then, everything became fuzzy. “Dave, we’ve got to get out of here.” We had to interrupt the tour so the lady could lead us out. Sweet lord I’ve never almost fainted before. These are the weeks when your blood pressure is the lowest as your body works to pump more blood through your system. Being too hot, standing for along time, dehydration or low blood sugar can make you pass out. Eeek.

Headaches – My posture is out of whack because my lower spine is moving forward, causing my neck to compensate and giving me wicked headaches. Thank you, lord, for the nice chiropractor.

Increased vaginal discharge – Woohoo! This is exactly what it sounds like. You are never dry.

Hairy belly – Is it just me or does my belly look like a furby? I’m a hairy person but wow. Like your nails, pregnancy can cause your hair to grow faster. So far, my belly’s been the only victim….but what’s next??

Totally random bleeding – I’ve had my fair share of this during pregnancy and it’s freaky. Some of it is from cervical infections, or a “friable cervix” (which the midwife mentioned I had a few weeks ago). You are just full of blood, and anything from constipation straining to sex to exercise can cause you to spot. Other causes – ovarian or cervical cyst, placental abruption or previa, implantation spotting, or….miscarriage. Yikers. (Previously, I had written “Random-ass bleeding,” meaning “Totally random bleeding.” For Random ass bleeding, see “Hemorrhoids.”)

Allergies – I’ve never been one to suffer majorly from allergies. But for the past three weeks, I can’t go anywhere without a tissue. Sometimes, I sneeze 7 times in a row. My eyes itch all the time. I am a snot machine, basically, especially at night. Pregnancy makes your blood vessels dilate in your nose, which just aggravates allergies even more.

Now, just imagine all of these things happening AT THE SAME TIME, or at least, within several weeks of each other. When I read these lists before I was pregnant, I thought “Well, I can handle that…and that.” But I didn’t comprehend that all of these things would descend in a gigantic pregnancy symptom hurricane. I must say, the second trimester IS proving to be better, but I still can’t quite say I enjoy being pregnant (even when I reflect on the great joy of carrying a human life inside of me blah blah blah). But, here we are! And here I am! And there it is!

It’s hard work making another human being

Welp, I’m pregnant.  16 weeks exactly. It’s been quite the journey. And I should preface this by saying…a combination of heightened progesterone flowing through my body, tumultuous weekly changes in my body and various scary episodes in the first trimester have toppled my TMI filter.

Getting pregnant was easy. Dave and I were using the sympto-thermal method of birth control (i.e., a form of natural family planning) which is both an effective form of avoiding pregnancy AND a way to get pregnant pretty easily (by identifying your peak fertility days). It works like a charm if you are vigilant. And we were quite vigilant, in fact. We were intentional about getting pregnant and because I was never on the pill (and didn’t have residual hormones floating around), I got knocked up right away. Just a few days later, there was a little plus on my early pregnancy test. Still, this came as a bit of a surprise. I know many couples with heart wrenching stories of trying to conceive for months and months, sometimes years and years. I have a few friends who are still trying, 4 or 5 years later. So, when Dave and I decided to put a bun in the oven, I thought starting early wouldn’t hurt. Who knows how long it will take?

Welp, here we are….rapidly moving from one life stage to the next! D and I got married a year ago this October 9th, I graduated from div school in May, Dave took a ministry job and we moved to Raleigh in June and then I became great with child. We couldn’t be more excited, though I imagine the reality of child-rearing won’t settle in until I push the thing out and we are holding it in our arms. Now that my belly is swelling a bit, things seem more real, not to mention I haven’t had my period for several months. That’s a strange change.

I didn’t know quite what to expect with the firs trimester, but since my mom and sister didn’t report many symptoms with their pregnancies (and my sister, who is currently 6 months pregnant, still runs a few times a week), I imagined it would be a breeze (or at least breeze-like). I’m relatively young. I’m healthy. I have no preexisting conditions that would make conception or child-bearing difficult. I’ve been taking my prenatal vitamins religiously since I got married. And I’ve had few if any medical issues in my past. These all resulted in my naive assumption that I was immune to pregnancy complications.

Early on, about 6 weeks in, I started spotting brown (TMI alert). Spotting is generally not a big deal, somewhat typical in early pregnancy and a good sign if it’s brown (this means old blood). But after a week or so of this, I decided to make an appointment with an Ob office to figure out what was going on. Generally you don’t see the doc/midwife until about 10-12 weeks, but the Ob office I called felt like my symptoms granted a visit. The doctor did a an ultrasound, said the gestational sac look normal though it was too early to see anything else (the next thing to show up is the egg sac and fetal pole). When my spotting got heavier and redder, I went in and, again, nothing to see on the ultrasound.

The doctor ordered blood work to check HCG levels (they should double every two days in early pregnancy) and, two days later I received a call from her that “things didn’t look good.” My HCG levels rose only 55% and, according to the doctor, 53% is the cut off for any known viable pregnancy. Yikes. Well, that’s about the time that I decided holding out hope would be more destructive than staring reality directly in the face. I was deeply saddened and rather frightened, but tried my best to accept the fact that this pregnancy was nonviable (or worse case scenario, ectopic). I called my parents and my sister, I wrote a sad email my close friends both announcing my pregnancy and it’s inevitable end, and planned on getting the final verdict from the doctor a few days later.

My mom came down to NC and the three of us (D, my mom and I) headed to the Ob. My doctor was out, so another doctor read my chart and, rather than sit and discuss as is normal, he took my directly into the examining room for an ultrasound to see what we could see. We braced ourselves. But low and behold, there on the grainy US screen was a little round blob that looked like a signet ring – an egg sac with fetal pole. Needless to say, I burst into tears. Dave had said the night before that the most surprising news we could possibly encounter is that we are still going to have a baby. And, that was the news! The doctor printed off a picture and I stared at it in awe for the rest of the day. “This is what we don’t do ultrasounds this early. Babies grow at different rates.” I was shocked. I went from moving about the house gingerly, afraid my Fallopian tube could rupture at any moment (the doctor feared it may be ectopic) to pounding a milkshake with my mom after the appointment. It was a definite mental shift for sure.

Dave and I went in a week or so later and saw a bean-like baby on the ultrasound. Things seemed to be progressing normally. My spotting had died down and things were looking good. And, around this time, I decided to switch practitioners with midwives (and I was feeling a bit pissed about the way things had progressed with my previous doctor). Fast forward to 9 weeks or so and I’m making enchiladas in the kitchen, listening to a podcast, when suddenly I feel wet. I check things out and my hand is covered in blood. I had bled through my pants and, as a result,  my blood pressure went through the roof. “This is it,” I thought. This is what a miscarriage is. I wasn’t experiencing any pain but the blood was enough to freak me out. I called Dave (who was making a pastoral visit at the hospital), called my parents and my sister and then the midwife on call. She told me to put my feet up and wait it out. This is probably the most frustrating (but most understandable) advice regarding weird pregnancy symptoms. It could be nothing or it could mean miscarriage. You just have to wait and see.

I didn’t bleed any more after that one frightening experience but promptly scheduled an appointment with my midwife. She checked me out the next day. Again, I braced myself. But there on the screen was a healthy, dancing baby. “It could have been a ruptured cervical cyst.” I had never heard of this  before, nor did I find much info about it on the internet. But she told me rest assure that the bleeding wasn’t affecting the baby and this put me at ease. Ever trip to the bathroom was  a bit nerve racking after that (and still is) but I tried to remain calm. Sometimes even this (inexplicable, totally freaky bleeding) happens in normal, healthy pregnancies.

Fast forward two weeks later. I’m in Utah for my friend Rachel’s wedding. Along with an intense, 8-hour day of travel (including lifting heavy luggage into the overhead bins on the airplane – I’m an idiot), pretty much no sleep, and an intense day of walking around doing wedding tasks (I was a bridesmaid), I was pretty achy upon hitting the sake. Thee ol’ pelvis is not the same as it used to be pre-pregnancy. I woke up at 4am to pee (not an unusual occurrence), and there in the toilet was blood. My heart sank/started beating through the roof. I was one of 10 crammed into my friend Rachel’s house (Lex and Jon were sleeping at the foot of our bed) sharing one bathroom. I was far from home, far from my Ob-Gyn. I was going to be in a wedding in just a few days. And now, I’m bleeding. It’s so hard not to assume that every time you see blood, it’s a miscarriage. But I rushed back to bed and told Dave I was scared. He reminded me it had been a very busy, active day, and I wasn’t having any cramping. I tried to fall asleep. The rest of the weekend went fine. The bleeding was a one-time thing (again). I spotted a bit but took it easy. I didn’t dance much (sad) but managed to go on a little hike (beautiful) and make it home in one piece.

Now, here we are. No spotting for two weeks. Baby bump on its way. And a big sigh of relief that I’m out of the first trimester. Oye. And yet, I still find that I’m bracing myself at each appointment. What if they find something THIS time? What about THIS time? So far, God has answered our prayers and the baby continues to thrive. But at this rate, I just want to have a calm and boring pregnancy from here on out. Is that too much to ask? Maybe it is. But, at the moment, I’m too freaked out to exercise (plus the midwife suggested I stop), Dave has to lift even slightly heavy things for me, we are most assuredly not having sex (see pelvic rest) and all in all I’m feeling like a frail, fat butterfly rather than the hardy, fertile mountain lioness I was hoping to embody during my pregnancy. I imagined myself out in the garden, hoeing the dirt and wiping the sweat from my brow with my huge belly shining in the sun. I imagined being super productive rather than laying in bed all day or complaining of hip pain after a short walk.

I imagined my life wouldn’t change all that much until the babe came. But, I guess, I’m getting a good early lesson in the fact that babies disrupt your life in major ways, and because you love them, desire a good and enriched life and hope that they will thrive under your care, you do whatever it takes to ensure their health and well being, even if that means sitting on your ass most of the day, or sleeping on your left side at night even if it means you’ll never fall asleep, or avoiding the cold cut sub you’ve been craving like  an addict craves crack. And eventually this will mean waking up every three hours to feed the baby from my very body, walking the baby up and down the hall as it cries inconsolably, enduring countless nights of sleeplessness and countless days of broken engagements as your baby calls the shots (at least in those first months). Perhaps I should be thankful that this lesson in life-interrupting is coming early, though to be frank, I was hoping for a few more months off before mommyhood begins. But I would not take any of it back for the world.  This little, squirming life inside me is a gift to be nurtured and brought into being, in whatever way God sees fit. And for that joyful mystery, I say thank you, Lord, thank you.