My Third Is Now Eleven. Wait – What?

Supergirl

It is my girl’s birthday today. She has turned 11 years old and I wonder, “How in the hell did that happen?!”

Last night, she feigned interest in listening to me read some Harry Potter to her younger brother, attempting some wacky dance moves instead. But she gave herself away when she shared, “I love it when you give all the characters different British accents!” (Well, how else are you supposed to read Harry Potter? I mean, seriously!)

After the chapter was over, I drew her in close and told her the story of her birth. You would think that given the fact that my whole professional life revolves around birth that this is something I’ve been doing with each of my children since they celebrated their first birthdays – but you’d be wrong. It’s not that I haven’t shared their birth stories with them, it just hasn’t become an annual birthday thing.

But even so, my daughter supplied the last line of her story which is: “I came out just like “Supergirl” And she did, with her hand and arm outstretched over her head, like she was flying through the sky. The memory of this makes me laugh now – but at the time, it wasn’t so funny. While a newborn’s closed fist is pretty tiny, let’s just acknowledge that in birth every centimeter counts, and I didn’t necessarily appreciate her grand entrance… although this has proven to be something that she’s quite good at.

This led me to wonder again about the topic of nature vs nurture. And I can’t help but think that the essence of who we are already seems just about fully formed before we even make our entrance into this world, grand or otherwise.

I think back to when Lucía was yet to be born. She was an eagerly anticipated baby and my pregnancy had been pretty smooth. Her older siblings were 6 and 3+ years and with one in Kindergarten and one in Preschool, I didn’t have much time to sit and dream about this little peanut growing inside of me. I was a very busy Momma already! Thankfully, I had a straight-forward pregnancy and I was boring and healthy throughout. Sure, she caused me some pretty bad heartburn (cum gastric reflux), but otherwise I was able to exercise well into my pregnancy and I felt great.

I had anticipated going past my due date with her, as I’d already done that 2x before with her older siblings. Apparently, all my babies all like to bake from somewhere between 40 and 41 1/2 weeks. (*Fun Fact- Did you know you can feel your baby’s hiccups best through the their back?) I knew from where I felt the increasing hiccups with baby #3, (due to my increasing sweet tooth!) that when I went to bed the night before my due date, it was with a baby in the best possible position for birth: head down.

During the middle of the night, I woke up, completely startled and awake, but by what? I didn’t have to pee (for once!), so I settled back to bed thinking that maybe it had been a bad dream. That bad dream became a reality when I realized the next morning that my baby had flipped overnight into a head up position – and that’s what woke me up!

I can’t even tell you how angry I was in that moment. “You have got to be kidding me!” I thought. I marched upstairs and grabbed a bag of frozen peas and promptly put it on what I thought must be her head. Then as they thawed, I switched out the peas for a bag of frozen corn, and back and forth – peas and corn, peas and corn –  all day long. But that wasn’t all! Oh, no! That night I propped myself up in this crazy position in bed with my butt waaaaay up in the air so that her head would be extremely uncomfortable compressed in my ribcage and – I waited. This was going to be an epic battle of wills.

I could tell this little person was not one to be trifled with, but neither was I! Sure enough, after a few hours, I felt a huge sea change happening and she settled back into my pelvis – head down. “Hah!” I thought, “Sometimes you have to teach them who’s boss even before they’re born!”

But, seeing as I’ve already spoiled the ending, you know that it was she who got the last laugh as she was born. I guess she showed herself to be a little bit of a boss that day as well.

And the two of us have had that kind of relationship ever since. It’s not bad, it just gets complicated from time to time. If we were dance partners, it would be to disastrous results because we both want to lead, all the time. I have come to find that this daughter who is so unique and absolutely her own person is also the one who is most like me – and as it turns out, parenting oneself can be mighty challenging at times.

She got a lot of my good stuff, but unfortunately, she also got some of my bad stuff,too.

She’s a lot of fun and really funny. But she’s also impatient and unwilling to ask for help. She is intuitive and one of the most street-smart and savvy kids I know. She’s compassionate to a fault but wants love and affection – on her terms only. I love her fiercely, but I’m only allowed to tell her that when she’s in the mood to receive it. She’s going to do big, big things with her life – as long as she doesn’t burn out in a blaze of glory first!

Lucía is but one of the four reasons I get to hold the title of “Momma.” She pushes my buttons – sometimes all at once! But she is also the one who teaches me the most on a daily basis about how to try and do this mothering thing better than I did the day before.

She is my Supergirl. And she is 11 today. How the hell did that happen?!

What about you and your babies? Do you think they are the same little people on the outside that they were when they were in utero? How much of who they are reflects nature vs nurture? I’d love to hear your comments about this! Please leave them here.

Between Hope and Despair, I Choose Hope

Hope:Darkness

I’ve been away from my blog for almost two weeks. I could claim that my absence from writing is a result of being on a family vacation. I could claim that even though I’ve been home for five days, I’m still struggling with a serious case of jet lag. I could also claim that I had to work all weekend, empty the luggage, wash mounds of laundry, and pack two kids off to sleep-away camp. And all of these claims would be true.

But I think my real resistance to writing is that in the wake of all of the shootings this past week (An aside: is anyone else terrified by the thought that we, as a country, will begin to regard these events as regular, ordinary, life as usual in these not-so-United States of America?) I found myself moving between two emotional states: either numb, in a state of shock, tears  ever at the ready or enraged and dumbfounded that almost 50 years after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. we seem to have made such little progress. I just couldn’t think of anything worth writing about as I found myself frozen in despair about the state of our country.

But, the work I am honored to do with expectant parents over the weekend coupled with reading this post from the wonderful Suzi Banks Baum, helped me to shake off a little bit of this feeling and rediscover what my heart usually gravitates toward: hope.

I have a deep and abiding hope that love is bigger and stronger than hate. That compassion can be cultivated to combat indifference. That injustice can be rooted out at its core as long as enough people are shaken out of their complacency and moved to act. And it saddens me that it takes horrific events like those that have happened recently to move us (hopefully) from talk to action.

I taught a class this weekend that was a little bit of a nightmare from and educator’s standpoint. There were 30 couples expected at 9:00 am and at 8:45 I was still trying to rig the AV system in the auditorium so that we would have audio! But when it was time to introduce myself, I looked out into our assembled audience and saw something really beautiful: a wonderfully diverse group of families.

Families of all ethnicities were represented and there were many families whose babies would be like my own: of mixed descent. (Although, to look at my own children you can’t tell that they’re half-Puerto Rican. Based on their skin color alone – such a limited and simplistic way of labeling a person – no one would guess that they were Hispanic or Latino. They’re labeled as White.)

I’m well aware that if my children had darker skin they would be treated differently in this country. If they looked “more Hispanic” (whatever that means) and with their last name being Suárez, my children could expect to be treated more like their brown-skinned brothers and sisters of Hispanic descent.

If they had more melanocytes, the skin cells located in the basal layer of their epidermis that produce melanin, a brown pigmentation of the skin that’s responsible for skin coloration and acts as a protectant against the harmful effect of UV light – because that’s all that our skin color is based on, how many melanocytes we have – I might have to parent them differently.

I might have to talk to them about how to avoid being the target of violence. How to avoid eye contact, how to speak with a certain level of deference to teachers, police officers and others in authority, how to always be on their guard because their beautiful brown skin is seen as a threat.

I am well aware that my children, half-Hispanic though they are, are able to walk through this world with all of the privilege that their white skin affords them. And I am equal parts grateful and angry. I am grateful that I don’t have to fear for my children’s safety. But I’m also angered by the injustice of all of this. It makes absolutely no sense to me!

We talk to our kids all the time about what it means to have the skin color that we do. How this gives us a level of power and protection that is as unfair and unearned as the powerlessness and lack of protection is for the brown and black members of our communities. We try to raise our children to be aware of the level of injustice that exists in this world and encourage them to see this injustice and work against it – not just through talk but action.

My deep, abiding hope lies in the fact that I know I’m not the only Momma out there talking to her children about the state of our world and how we must all work harder and together toward a better future for our children and for our children’s children.

Sometimes it feels like we should already be there, that this is taking too long, that we’re never going to see the day when children will be not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. But as I stood in front of this group of families that seemed to represent so many different ethnicities – the beauty and strength that is our country – I saw in all of them the common desire to be the best parents they could be. And I realized anew how more alike than different we are in our humanity.

We all want our children to grow up in a world where they can expect to be treated fairly; a world where healthy nutrition and safe drinking water sources are the norm; a world where a public school education is a great education – no matter what city or county you live in; a world where injustice is a thing of the past, and where the dreams of children, no matter their skin color, can be realized.

It’s sometimes a scary thing to find yourself pregnant and bringing a baby into a world that can seem so dark and broken. But, when faced with the choice between hope and despair, I will always choose hope. Hope that each one of us charged with parenting the next generation is working to heal what is broken and to shine a light on the darkness.

That is my hope.

On The Night You Were Born…

writer

Last week, I wrote about wanting to clone myself because I have so many things I’d like to do and just not enough “me”s to get it all done! I just want more time to help women process their birth stories, is that so wrong??? But because cloning is not possible, I’ve tried to do the next best thing and ask a small beta group of Mommas to test out my “Retelling and Reclaiming Your Birth Story: An Exercise to Give Meaning to Your Experience.”

Today’s guest blog post comes from one such beta tester, Jessica Hardin. Her beautiful birth story is written as a letter to her now 5-month old son, George.

I’m honored that Jessica shared her story with me, and now with you. If you’re interested with help in processing your own birth story, please take part in this quick 4-question survey for your FREE download. If, after you’ve gone through this exercise and you’re wanting to share your birth story with me, I’ll follow up with a personalized email reflection.

Here’s what Jessica had to say about going through this experience of writing her birth story and my written reflection back to her: “Thanks for your thoughtful response – even 5 months later it’s still nice to hear these things. I’m happy for you to run the story. I enjoyed writing it and without your encouragement, I may not have.”

Reframing birth stories is something I’ve been doing for almost two decades. I feel it’s one of the best ways to help women give meaning to the transformation that happens during birth. I’d love to help you reclaim this experience as your own.

Grab a cup of something delicious and read on. And thank you, Jessica for sharing your birth story! Eventually, it will live here on a new page, “Real Birth Stories,” as an expansion of offerings here at Birth Happens.

Jessica’s story begins with an induction process called a “membrane sweep” performed at her clinic appointment. We get to read about her early labor at home, trying to figure out when to go to the hospital.  With the assistance of her doula, Megan, her midwife, Linda, and the continuous love and support of her husband, Greg, Jessica continues to labor without medication. It’s not until late in labor through the challenges of pushing that her own physical and emotional limits are tested. Jessica’s story is shared here as she’s written it, word for word. I love this birth story – it’s raw, real and provides insight into the struggle between expectations and realities of birth.

“When you were about two weeks old we read the book, On the Night You Were Born. I cried, you ate. This story felt real – on the night you were born the whole world changed. At least my world.

On the night you were born I felt scared. I felt loved. I felt supported. I felt powerless. I felt weak. I felt strong. I felt present in a way I had never been before. You were in my body one moment, and then you werent. I felt as if I had to push through flesh, flesh that had no opening for you to come. I didn’t know how to, but I did.

The night you were born started the night before. You were due on January 8th. We went to see the midwives, they suggested sweeping my membranes and scheduling an induction because it took about a week to get on the schedule. I agreed, I was afraid of an induction so I agreed to the membrane sweep. I expected it to hurt, it didnt. I texted our doulas, they told me not to get my hopes up.

Your Dad and I had a day together. We ate at Pok Pok, eating my favorite – the boar collar, too spicy for your Dad. We came home, trying to get all the oxytocin flowing – Dad gave me a massage, we watched movies that made me cry and laugh – we ate more delicious food. We walked to the brewery nearby and bought a growler. At this point, you were just theoretical. Birth would start, but I didn’t thinking imminently. Then around 10 pm, I started getting crampy. I thought that when people said that labor started at night it meant I would be able to sleep. But that’s not what happened.

The cramps progressively grew until morning. Dad went to sleep. Id lay down, doze off for 20 minutes then awaken from the cramps. Get up, pace the hallway, breathing more loudly every time I woke up. At some point, I started having to move my body differently, swaying, stopping when I was walking. I woke your Dad––probably around 3 am, maybe later. I walked the hall, heaving breath with rhythm. At some point, I started throwing up. Id walk the hall, stop at the sink, heave into the sink and with each heave came some of my mucus plug, dropping on the floor in the kitchen. I remember hearing that vomiting was goodfor labor. I showered, and then repeated the whole sequence. Repeat. Repeat. Dad and I talked several times about calling the midwives, when was the right time? We didn’t know. We finally called the midwife on call, she asked me to rate my pain. In hindsight, this seems so silly – 10 doesn’t happen till much, much later – for me when I was pushing you out – I thought I was 6 cm. I didn’t know any better.

***

You’re next to me now, in a buzzing bouncer, ready to eat, kicking and punching the air. My heart swells thinking of the night you were born, and the beauty that is you now.

***

Just after sunrise our doula, Megan, and her student, Claire, arrived. They had coffees, and fresh attitudes. It felt like something new. We labored in the house a bit, then we decided to go to the hospital. Megan advised on how to manage the car ride – she packed some puke bags, told me to face backwards. I did. It was hard. We arrived and I had contractions while waiting to go up to labor and delivery. Laboring in public – all of a sudden being seen – didn’t matter at all. All that mattered was coping, keeping the contractions moving, manageable.

We were checked in quickly to a suite – I was nervous about getting a room so I was relieved. The windows were big, the room was grey-bluish. I remember feeling like, “Okay, Im here to do this.” The nurse seemed nice, but not like a participant in the birth.

I changed, arranged some food, drink, and bags in the room. I found out I was 6 centimeters. I felt like I had accomplished something by laboring at home for that long. Then I waited. It was normal for contractions to slow down when you arrive at the hospital, right? The contractions continued but didn’t get any stronger. The nurse strapped a monitor to my belly – the fabric around my belly made the feeling of contractions worse. The doula had kept track of time so told me if was time to take it off, even though the nurse hadn’t returned. I was grateful to be relived of it, to be free to move around.

Time passed, it was still light out. There was a number of interactions with the nurse and the midwife, and the midwifery student. The one I remember most clearly was about the monitor. The nurse wanted to keep me monitored the whole time, the midwife said it was unnecessary. I was grateful that the midwife interceded.

The tub was set up, it was calming, soothing. I labored in the tub. Things plateaued. In hindsight I see this time as a time to recoup energy, to rest. At the time it made me nervous that I wasnt progressing.As it got darker, I was also worried about being exhausted. I hadn’t slept, or eaten, I was afraid of what was to come. I walked, and talked – to your Dad, the midwife, and the doulas – should I get an epidural? What if I didn’t have the stamina to make it through to the end?

I decided to get an IV of fluids in the meantime while I sat in the tub as a way to generate some energy. I was eager for things to progress and worried about what was normal – I was worried when things didn’t keep moving at the same pace. I was so worried I couldn’t rest as much as I would have liked.

I got out of the tub when the fluids were done. I decided to be checked again to see how much I had progressed. I was 8 centimeters.

To get things moving, our doula Megan advised us on positions and then things started grooving. I used the bar, I knelt on the labor bed, I cried, I yelled, I panted. I worked. The anesthesiologist visited––he liked to talk to patients even if they weren’t planning on having an epidural, just in case. I remember holding on to the top of the bed, kneeling, panting and looking at him from the sides of my eyes. He told me I was doing great and he hoped I didn’t need the epidural. I felt strong.

I remember most vividly kneeling on the bed, facing the top of the bed, holding your Dads hands, or forearms. I breathed, loudly. At some point I started to think of you, the thought of meeting you made me cry. I cried out loud, overwhelmed with emotion and the physicality of our bodies working together. I locked eyes with your Dad. He was present, the most present I’ve ever seen him. He looked into me, intensely, with empathy,, with admiration. He was right with me – my steady mirror – showing me I was strong, letting me be weak, tired, and scared all at the same time. I cried more. I felt I could do this. This was birth. This is what I imagined and prepared for. I felt prepared, crazy pain, intense consuming emotion. I felt supported and rhythmically connected to you. I felt support.

Then I hit 10. The midwifery student checked. 10. I did it! It felt anticlimactic. I did all this work, now I had to wait. The room flipped, the bed changed, the pediatric machines came out of the cubbie. The pediatrician arrived. The midwives stayed––they had only been checking in before this point. Two nurses stayed. Then I was there. Waiting. No more contractions, just waiting.

 I thought you were imminent. I thought it was over. Birthing classes didn’t really focus on pushing, and I had heard things like it was a relief, or it was like passing a bowel movement. I thought the hardest part was over.


I don
t really remember when it started. I remember sitting on the toilet and lots of people staring at me. I remember being foggy, confused, anxious, and vulnerable. The pain was a sensation I didn’t know how to cope with. I was waiting for a physical feeling that was clear, but I didn’t have clarity – I didn’t understand the physical sensation. It was noise. If contradictions were rhythm, pushing was cacophony. It was overwhelming sensation.

I started to lose that feeling of support. There were many voices directing me telling me how to push, how to vocalize. In hindsight, I see there might have been some personality differences between me and some of the staff. At the time, I just thought something was wrong with me. The new midwife student was too directive, the new labor nurse was the same. In hindsight I wished I had cleared the room, but I was too foggy – too otherworldly.

After sometime on the toilet, I was moved to the bed. Im not sure how long I was there – faces all around me. Telling me only to push with contractions (I couldn’t feel the contractions even though I didn’t have any drugs), and to use my voice differently. I was yelling, like as if I was in acute pain – they wanted me to deep belly yell – yell in a way that moved your body. I couldn’t feel rhythm, only noise.

At some point they gave me oxygen, they were worried about you. They monitored your heart dropping. They were going to put a monitor on your head, but they didn’t. The midwife said we might have to have interventions – a vacuum extraction or forceps delivery – I wasn’t exactly scared – but flooded. I had never considered these interventions. I was terrified.

Whatever it took to make the experience over is what I wanted. There were lots of voices, coaching but I couldn’t listen. Then I heard the midwife – she said we had two pushes or we would have to bring in the OB. She put her hand on your head and for the first time, I could feel where to push. I pushed. I pushed with no agenda, no sense of what next, only to feel. Feel something directed. She said she had to do an episiotomy. She apologized, saying she only did a couple of these a year. It was because of the way you were coming out. You crowned. They asked me if I wanted to feel your head. I didnt. They asked again. I refused again. I couldn’t bear the thought of curling my body around to touch your head, I couldn’t stand to be in my body.

It burned, like fire, I asked for help. I could feel the desperation in my face. I had to wait until the next contraction. I cried, I felt like pleading – as if Megan would be able to fix it. I remember saying, “Help!” Then the moment passed and I could push again. A few more pushes – pushes that consumed me. Linda, our midwife said, “If he comes and he isn’t crying well hand him over the pediatrician.” I was so afraid you would arrive and be damaged, hurt.

Then white noise. You came out, and there was a warm rush, a gush. You cried. White noise. They put you on my chest, they didn’t know if you were a boy or a girl. They chicken-winged you while you were on my chest. A boy. Your chin quivered. Your cry pitched. Your chin continued to quiver. I stared at you. Still connected to me. I was afraid to move you, for fear of what tugging on the umbilical cord would feel like. Your Dad was over my shoulder. Linda shushed you. I felt like I had no idea what to do with you. A baby, my baby. Quivering, crying. I asked why your nails were so purple. I was worried from the start. Megan helped you move to my breast and within minutes you latched. I watched as if I wasn’t in my body. Quietly inundated. Legs still spread, but the sensation was over.

The next hours are even more blurry. There were injections, I pushed the placenta out. The midwifery student showed it to us -it was purple, red, large. They inspected it. They gave us a little while before repairing me. They stitched me up. It hurt, I squeezed your Dad. I remember feeling like a helpless puppy, looking at him for sympathy. He gave it, and told me he was proud of me. They took you, weighed you, checked you out. You were perfect. Linda talked to me after. She said, “Most women, 85%, experience pushing as a relief. The others sense it as the worst pain they have ever experienced.” She said, “That was you.” I felt validated. Not alone.

Then the room cleared. It was quiet, just us three. It felt empty. Another nurse came, she helped me dress. I was confused by simple questions. She put me in a wheel chair. I was bloody, my legs bloody, my fingernails dirty, meconium stuck to my torso. I was covered in birth. She wheeled me through the halls with you in my arms. I felt so proud, so different.

We arrived in the postpartum ward and I felt so overwhelmed by the experience – surprised with how scared I was, how much I felt I had hit my limits as a body, as a human. I told your Dad I wouldn’t do this again [days later I recanted and started planning our next baby]. I was shaken, and still frightened, like I had touched the line between life and death, like I didn’t know if my body was safe.

You were with us, but I felt I didn’t know what to do with you. Luckily, you slept. It was probably after 10 pm when we were settled into the postpartum suite. I was still foggy. The nurse helped me pee, I passed a clot. I cried because I was scared as the warm mass dropped. I was scared. I bled in bed, I passed another clot. I was afraid. I had lost a lot of blood. I slept. Dad woke up with you when you woke. The next morning they gave you to me and you ate. We were together.

The postpartum room felt sweet. I laid in bed, food came, pain meds came, you were right next to me. I learned that I had lost a lot of blood, which helped explain my confusion. I learned my uterus was boggy– it slowed down because the labor was long. I was in pain from lacerations, I couldn’t move my core. I bled. I slept. It was hard to move. But you were there, quiet, interested in eating and sleeping on my chest. I felt complete in the bed – I didn’t need anything but help being with you – food, clean cloths, a shower, the loving and proud gaze of your Dad. We settled in.

For days and weeks after I felt embarrassed. Embarrassed that I had felt inundated, embarrassed that I was scared and unable to dynamically feel through the pain of pushing. I felt embarrassed that I needed help. For feeling helpless. I didn’t feel like the rock star of the birthing stories I had read.

For the next few weeks I felt I couldn’t talk about the birth without crying – both from shame, pain, and fear. The fear lingered. Meeting my ends felt like being on a different plane, one that I didn’t consent to. I wanted to feel like I succeeded, like I rocked it. But I didnt. I just did it – ugly, dirty, beautiful, and blissful. Bliss in the sense of out-of-body-ness, sappy loveiness, complete sensation. Flooded, inundated, sensation.

The birth continued for months – recovery was manageable but a daily physical reminder of the trauma of birth. The episiotomy meant I used a sitz bath for a few months. I managed my body carefully, with food, baths, and eventually exercise. Caring for my body made caring for you hard.

But with the help of your Dad, and others, it was possible.


If I get to do this again, I will try to remember that even if I feel I cant cope, I am still birthing. I can still move through it. The unknown is part of the process of bringing life into the world. I will remember that rest is a gift, not something to worry about. I will remember to trust myself.”

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PS – Here’s a video clip of the reading of “On The Night You Were Born” Jessica refers to in her birth story. Enjoy!

To Clone or Not to Clone?

Dolly

That is the question… Well, not really.

I’ve often wished that I could clone myself – not for any weird reasons, I think there really should only be one unique version of us in the world. It’s just that there’s an awful lot I’d like to accomplish in this one, wild life I’ve been given and sometimes it feels like too much for just one of me to try and get it all done.

One thing I really wish I had time for is helping more Mommas process their birth stories.

On a small scale, I’m already doing this. My families know how much I love birth stories. When my classes gather for reunions, I spend time listening to the birth stories of everyone gathered. I’m on the lookout for key information to help them reframe their births, if needed. I want them to know where they were strong. I want them to acknowledge who supported them and how, specifically.  And I want them to be proud of their level of participation in this life-changing event.

In short, I want all women to have a birth story they can look back on as a positive experience. One that informs who they are now as a woman, mother, partner, friend, and professional. I want all women to recognize what they’ve gone through in the ultimate Hero’s Journey that they’ve traveled in a matter of hours or days, that marks their lives as forever different, forever changed in ways both obvious and hidden – even to themselves.

So… nothing too important!

I’m happy to say that most of the women I’ve had the honor of working with over the years have a positive birth story to tell – despite it looking anything like that on the surface. The majority of this has to do with her individual attitude, flexibility and openness to responding to birth as it unfolds in real time. But, I’d like to think that they learned a little bit about this from being in my classes. I’d like to think that the preparation I offered around expanding expectations, and embracing vulnerability before birth helped them process the reality of their birth experience.

But what about the women who haven’t had a positive birth experience and haven’t been in one of my classes? Maybe their birth happened just last week, or maybe 20 years ago. All too often, these women are told that a “healthy Momma, healthy baby” is all that matters and they don’t get to finish processing this event in a way that allows them to move forward in their parenting journey. It’s my theory that these women continue to process their birth stories (as I feel they must, until they can come to some form of closure) with unsuspecting and extremely vulnerable pregnant women.

I hear about it all the time in my classes. Mommas will complain how all they hear are the “horror stories” that other women, many of them complete strangers, tell them about their own birth experiences. I think this is happening on a subconscious level. I don’t believe for a second that a woman processing her birth is intentionally trying to scare pregnant women with a negative birth story. I just think it’s the loop that they find themselves in as they try to make meaning from this experience that was life-changing, but not in a positive way.

Oh, how I wish I could meet all of these women! I’d love to be able to sit with them and listen deeply to their stories. I’d let them process as much or as little as they felt comfortable with sharing. And maybe in the retelling of their story, I could try to help them reframe and then reclaim their birth story as their own. I’d love for them to see, maybe for the first time, where they were strong, who supported them and how. Maybe they could finally begin to integrate this experience into the woman they are now. Maybe, in the process of this reclaiming, they could finally stop that negative birth experience processing loop with younger, vulnerable pregnant women.

To that end, about six months ago, I created a document that I’m calling: “Retelling and Reclaiming Your Birth Story: An Exercise to Give Meaning to Your Experience.”

I’ve had a few Mommas from my classes go through the five step process and a few have agreed to share the results here as future posts. It’s been a desire of mine to share some birth stories on my blog. Real birth stories from real women but with an eye on being able to acknowledge birth as a positive experience, even if it didn’t go according to plan.

I think my invitation to retell and reclaim your birth story can be helpful as a tool to get the details of your birth down in a way that has structure. This can be a beautiful gift to your child. You can remember and reflect on their birth-day every year, and they’ll have something to refer to in preparation for the time when they’re ready to have children of their own.

I’d also like to extend this offer to any woman who’s had a negative birth experience that they’re still trying to process. I believe it can be a tool for healing and integration. I’m not a professional counselor, I make no claims about this. But in the busy-ness of our daily lives, we have forgotten the power of story and how it can transform us.

I think every woman deserves that opportunity for transformation.

If you, or anyone you know, might benefit from taking part in this exercise, please take this short four-question survey and I will send a pdf file of the “Retelling and Reclaiming Your Birth Story: An Exercise to Give Meaning to Your Experience” out to you as soon as possible. Please feel free to share this offering far and wide – I’d love to help as many women as possible!

Thanks for your support. And thanks for allowing me to try and accomplish even more with my one, wild life (this way I don’t have to clone myself!)

Traveling WITHOUT Children

Traveling

It’s 5:03 am Chicago O’Hare time and I’m trying to find some free Wi-Fi that actually works. I passed a Starbucks on my way to the gate and I can imagine my chai tea latte (extra hot!) in about an hour, when the place finally opens.

I’m able to sit and write uninterrupted for the next couple of hours and I’m amazed at this list of things I don’t have to do:

  1. Listen to Thing #1 complain pretty much non-stop about how bad the Wi-Fi in this place is “I can’t even stream my music, Mom!”
  2. Argue with Thing #2 that even though he thinks he “didn’t sleep on the plane at all!” he actually did – I saw him, and I know he’s tired, I’m tired, we’re all tired
  3. Navigate the obstacle course that is Thing #3 ’s collection of markers, colored pencils and fashion design books strewn all over the floor
  4. Chase after Thing #4 as he swings on the bars attached to window ledges and asks over and over and over again, “When’s it our turn to get on the plane?”

Traveling without children isn’t something that I get to do very often. And so it’s still a bit of a novelty to me. When you have four kids, traveling is usually quite the production!

You know your family is “big” when you take up two full rows on the plane. The first thing we always do is decide who’s sitting next to whom. This is not as easy as it sounds.

My hubby and I usually do some form of Rochambeau to determine who’s sitting with the littles and who’s sitting with the teens. It’s obvious who loses this game as one of us ends up having to come up with as many adjectives, adverbs, nouns and verbs as we can, to then listen to the resulting Mad Libs story at a deafening volume you can hear over the roar of the airplane’s engines.

We bring electronics people, I’m not going to lie. Apple products are some of the world’s greatest inventions when it comes to traveling! We download movies onto the iPad – but we have to figure out what Things 1 & 2 will both want to watch vs Things 3 & 4. It’s hard to find movies that all of our kids ages 16, 14, 10 & 7 actually like and are willing to watch again for the umpteenth time.

Plus – there’s only so many movies that can fit on a portable electronic device, so we can’t just rely on movies as our main tactical maneuver for traveling bliss. Oh, no. I have to make sure that each one of them has a book, but it has to be the right book: long enough to last most of the trip – without weighing 15 pounds! But I can’t forget all the other books: coloring, work, sticker… whatever will distract and entertain.

We try to take up two rows on the same side of the plane instead of side by side. We do this to avoid the looks of irritation from strangers who continue to a) get a kick in the pants no matter how many times we remind our kids to “Stop kicking the seat in front of you!” and b) get whacked in the head by a steady stream of our bags being sent across the aisle. 

And then there are the snacks. Holy crap! You’d think we were flying one-way to a deserted island somewhere with no hope for a food drop, based on the amount of food we bring along! Food is one of the best ways to keep kids on a plane happy though, so it’s got to be a good! I try to bring a mix of sweet and savory, with plenty of protein and nutritious stuff thrown together with a few “plane only” foods. These will inevitably get eaten on the first leg of the trip first and then the whining begins, “Why does he still have Oreos?” (Because your Dad has learned the art of delayed gratification, my friend.)

There must be gum available for takeoff and landing – not because it actually helps that much with ear pressure, but if I put a big enough wad in my mouth, I can distract every kid on the plane as I blow bubble after bubble while they laugh as it pops on my nose and cheeks.

Almost always, the flight attendants remark as we’re getting off the plane how well behaved our four kids are. And they’ve been saying this since the days when they were all under the age of ten. I’m not trying to be smug, here. The trick to successful travel with children is to remember: YOU’RE TRAVELING WITH CHILDREN!

You might get to read that novel from your book club or the latest O Magazine when you get to your final destination, but no way are you doing any of that on the plane! When I fly and I see kids really acting up it’s usually because THEY’RE CHILDREN, and their parents have forgotten this.

Traveling for hours strapped into an uncomfortable seat, with no legroom, a tiny little window that looks out into nothing, and where the only place to wander off to happens to be the world’s smallest toilet is hard enough on us adults! But when you have children with you it means you have to rally and be ready to parent every second of the flight – or at least until they fall asleep.

Sleeping children on the plane is always worth striving for! If they’re still nursing, it’s a little bit easier because they might end up sleeping the entire time – as long as there’s a nipple in their mouth! (Which may be the best argument for extended breastfeeding ever!) But if they weaned several years ago, you have to be prepared to help them make it through the flight and the best way to do that is to be as present as possible.

It’s not easy. In fact, it’s incredibly exhausting! But it usually prevents most of the meltdowns that are likely to occur if you forget that you’re traveling with children!

I’m aware of how easy this is for me to write about today, seeing as I have none of my brood with me. But this is really just a reminder for me to pack well – as we will be traveling with all four of them, on a very, very long flight in just a couple of weeks.

And I need to be prepared.

How do you entertain your kiddos while traveling? Any pearls of wisdom to share about how to keep the littles distracted and happy for those of us who will be facing a big trip this Summer? (Hint – I’m talking about me here, and I could really use some new ideas before mid-June. Help a Momma out!) Bonus points if the idea doesn’t take up any room in the carry on bags. May you all have safe and relatively pain-free travels. Don’t forget – you’re parents, now.

What About The Book, Barb???

WhatAboutTheBook

“How’s the book coming?”

Why does such an easy question inevitably lead to such a complicated answer?

Yesterday morning, I told my visiting mother-in-law that I was going downstairs to try and write for “just a little bit.” Which prompted her to ask me about “the book” and “how it was going.” I felt compelled to try and answer even though I knew I had a very small window to write because of the way my day was unfolding. 

I only had so much time before trekking off to our local park to fill 100 water balloons for my kids field day celebration I was volunteering at later in the afternoon. As it turns out, field day was happening just a couple of hours before the ice cream fundraiser that I’d coordinated earlier in May. And both of these things were happening after a late night of mentoring a new educator, and before heading off to teach a class while two new (different!) educators would be observing me as part of their on-boarding orientation.

So, where does my writing fit in when I’ve got so much teaching and mothering going on?

Some days, it takes priority and I set aside hours to flesh out an idea for a blogpost, or review my BIG book about birth to see if it’s still in alignment with what I’m wanting to convey, or compile blogposts about “The 4th Trimester” into what I’m hoping will be a smaller, e-book about “What To Expect After You’ve Been Expecting.” (What do you think of this tentative title? I’d love to know…)

On those days, when I have the time to devote to these projects, I sit at my dining room table, put on my streaming Jazz station and get to work. My writing seems to mirror my extroverted personality: just put it out there, onto the page, all at once. I can get to a really, really rough draft of close to a 1,000 words pretty quickly.

And then the fun part happens – editing.

I’ve created a really odd writing habit. I write the first draft as a document and then cut and paste it into my blog site’s editing mode. I might edit the piece 25-30 times before I hit the “publish” button, but I always keep a copy of the original document on file. I’m not sure why, but I think it’s so I can look back and see how much improved my final post is before any of you get to see it.

But all of this takes a lot of time.

So on those “writing days” everything else falls by the wayside. And by “everything,” what I really mean is cleaning the house. It’s gotten to the point where I need to schedule some gatherings at my house just in order to actually clean it up every once in awhile. Thankfully, I have a hubby and kids who get what I’m trying to do. They support me completely, and rarely point out that I’m quickly losing any hope of winning the title, “World’s Best Housekeeper” (Which, let’s be honest, I’ve never been in the running for.)

But on days like yesterday, I strap myself in, write what I can, and move into “git-er-dun” mode.

“How’s the book coming?” Well, yesterday my answer went something like this…

I’m still concentrating on THE BOOK, but there are a lot of other things that I do and that need my attention in order for the book to be what I want it to be. I’m taking steps to update my blogsite into an actual website. I’m gathering the curriculum to begin offering my Becoming Us classes. I’m co-teaching some great trainings for L&D nurses so they can concentrate on ways to provide more support for their patients who are hoping for an unmedicated, low or no-intervention birth experience. I’m mentoring three new educators into this field that I have such a love and passion for. I’m creating a new DBA (“doing business as”) account under my name and printing business cards. I’m focusing my attention more on the smaller book about early postpartum and figuring out exactly what’s necessary to bring that project to completion. And so, THE BOOK is on the back burner at the moment.

And I’m doing all of these other things between the hours of 10:00 am to 2:00 pm, M-F (on a good day!) Evenings, weekends (and field days!) – I’m busy doing other stuff. I know I’m not the only Momma out there who’s right in the thick of it, trying to carve out time for herself and her creative pursuits while in the middle of life. But as I wrote just last week, I can’t do it all, and I’m (trying) to be okay with that.

My impatient self would like to be “done already” on so many of these projects. But my wiser, less-impulsive self is realizing that whatever is worthy of my attention, whatever is worthy of being shared with the world, takes time. Time is a priceless commodity and it is finite – there are only 24 hours in a day, after all.

And by the time I’d written that sentence, I’d just about used up all the time I’d allotted for the day, in terms of writing. So, off I went to eat a quick lunch before water-balloon-filling-duty began.

I encourage all of you to realize that whatever “thing” you’re trying to accomplish today, this week, month, year – has to somehow fit into the daily living of your life. Take stock of all that you do in a single day and realize what progress you’re actually making.

You’re moving toward the completion of your projects – they’re not going anywhere without you! Just remember to breathe and do what is able to get done today. Try not to let the past fill you with regrets of wasted time and effort – it was all necessary to be where you are right now. And don’t let the future be filled with panicked thoughts of “When will it ever get done?”

Just today – take stock of all that you accomplished in every area of your life. And allow yourself to feel good, and strong, and proud. This is the only way I know how you’ll be able to get up tomorrow morning and keep on trucking.

Most of the time, I write these posts for you, but I realize now that this is one I wrote for myself. I hope that doesn’t come across as too indulgent! I think I needed to both write and read this post more than anyone else. I needed to take stock of where I’ve been, where I am now and where I’m hoping to end up – eventually.

Thanks for your support. It really is appreciated. And thanks to my wonderful mother-in-law! She gave me this blog post topic to write about – and a new perspective to think about.

I CAN’T Do It All! (And I’m OK With That)

Nope

I’m having a conversation online about how feminism might have screwed us. But before everyone gets all worked up, let me plead my case.

We’re supposed to be able to “do it all” but too many of us (all of us?) are finding that it’s impossible to live up to that ideal in our mothering, working inside and outside of the home, being a wonderful mate for our partner, etc.

In some ways, I feel lucky that my job (which is, after all, a calling and one that I absolutely love) allows me to appear as though I’m able to “do it all.” Even when that’s only an optical illusion. Let me explain…

I’m the one who drops the kids off every day to school and picks them up every afternoon. I’m able to hit those field trips that appeal to me (I’m no dummy!) and claim work commitments for those that don’t (again, no dummy!) My work is very part-time, but it allows me to have my cake and eat it too – a little taste of it, anyway.

Because I’m a contracted employee and never work enough hours to even be considered part-time, I have no benefits. And while my hours have always meant not paying for childcare, it’s also meant that I’m gone a lot during evenings and weekends. So, I end up missing out on the fun: soccer games, swim lessons, dance and acting performances.

Ironically, it’s my paycheck that allows our kids to take part in all of these extracurriculars. All the extracurriculars that I usually don’t get to take part in. Hmmmm… It’s clear to see that even in my very Momma-friendly job, I can’t do it all either! Sometimes, it ends up feeling like we’ve all been had.

It’s challenging to live in a time and place where raising the next generation is not valued in the same way as professional work. Many parents aren’t able to make decisions about how they’d like to raise their children that truly reflect their personal choices. Instead, they might feel bound to only consider what they can afford.

I’ve talked about it before. The fact that the US is the only developed nation without mandatory paid maternity (and paternity!) leave is a joke. Just at the moment when our families are feeling most vulnerable, when they’re most in need of a chance to catch up to this huge life change that’s been thrust upon them, they’re required to skip that break and instead, add a part-time or full-time job onto their already full-time+ job of learning how to parent a newborn baby!

And we seriously wonder why our numbers of women and men who experience a PMAD – Postpartum Mood and Anxiety Disorder – are so high? Statistics tell us that one out of every seven women, and one out of every ten men will experience a postpartum mood disorder following the birth of their baby. Personally, I’m surprised these numbers aren’t even higher!

What can we begin to do about this?

Be real. If we’re being completely honest, none of us is “doing it all.”

Not one of us can say that we’re able to give 100% to our children, and 100% to our partners, and 100% to our jobs – let alone, 100% to ourselves. Math is not my strongest subject folks, but even I can read that last sentence and realize that you can’t give 400% when you’ve only got 100% to start with! It just doesn’t add up.

We need to give voice to this discussion by reading and sharing great posts like this one from Courtney Smith at Mother Nurture. But I’m wanting to add a different perspective to this conversation about making feminism work better for all of us…

Something happened a long time ago when little girls like me were being raised on the Enjoli perfume commercial. While I was being told that I could “bring home the bacon, fry it up in the pan and never let you forget you’re a man!” (a completely unrealistic claim, by the way) my male counterparts were not being raised with any messages that might allow them to redefine all that they could aspire to as grown men.

I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to say that a lot of men feel displaced in today’s culture. Now, I think women can often be too quick to respond to this with, “Poor babies, they’ve been dethroned.” And I can understand this reaction, as we’re still very much living in a “man’s world” in terms of who’s making policy, feeling fully supported in the workplace, receiving equal pay for equal work – I could go on…

But the voices of enlightened men, those men who are wanting to contribute, need to be a part of this discussion for any real change to occur. They need to be welcomed into what is still considered to be mostly “women’s work”- the raising of our children.

I can feel it emanating from the the soon-to-be fathers in my classes. They’re eager and excited about becoming Dads, but feel scared, uncertain and all too often, completely left out of the discussion.

We’ve pressed upon them how important their role is in helping the woman get through her labor and birth, but have we really considered their needs and feelings about becoming a father? Do we address these concerns when we see them in our obstetrical or midwifery clinic settings? As Childbirth Educators, do we truly support them in their role or send subtle messages that their experience is secondary and doesn’t matter as much as the mother’s?

It’s no secret that I hold a soft spot for the men in my classes – I care about them and their experience of pregnancy, birth and parenting as much as I do the Mommas! But most of the time, their uncomfortable displacement can get in the way of them truly being transformed by this experience if we don’t work to welcome and include them.

Women are already able to do pretty much anything a man can do in our society. Plus, they can co-create a brand new life, pass it through their bodies, and feed it the perfect food. For the first time, maybe ever in their lives, men realize all that women are capable of – and this can challenge their core identities.

When I ask expectant fathers what their goals might be for the class, all too often I hear, “I just want to do everything I can to make things better for her.” Which is sweet and wonderful – but what do you want to get out of this class? A sense of confidence? Knowledge of what a real baby looks like, so you don’t think the worst when your baby is blue, covered in goo and not breathing at the moment of birth? An understanding of how your relationship might be affected by this little person, because you’re scared your partner might end up loving the baby more than she loves you?

Their job in this whole female experience is to remain very stereotypically male – stoic, unfeeling, strong – when inside, they’re entire sense of who they are is being broken wide open. For most men, if we welcome them to fully participate in these pregnancy, birth and early parenting experiences, they’ll emerge on the other side of it all completely transformed.

In this day of shifting definitions of what it means to be feminine and masculine, can we not also redefine what our roles of parenting might involve? Can we encourage men to throw off the mantle of strength and posturing so that they can be soft and present to this experience which allows them to embrace the role of father for their newborn baby?

Because, really, it’s only through vulnerable and connected co-parenting that any of us have a chance of pretending we can “do it all.” Even when you have a committed partner in parenting, being able to do it all, still requires 400% effort – when combined, you only have 200% to give.

So, be gentle with yourselves. Be honest. Don’t believe the hype. And stop striving for an ideal – as a woman or a man – that’s never been realistic. Make “I can’t do it all!” your personal motto. And encourage others to do the same.

Are you exhausted by the societal pressure placed upon you to “do it all?” If you’re an expectant or new father, what has your experience been in feeling welcomed into this “world of women?” How has becoming a parent expanded your definition of “doing it all” into “doing enough?” I’d love to hear what this post brings up for you.