Take Your Kids Camping, Please!

Boler

Our upgrade from the early days: cute little Boler camping trailer. Kids are still in a tent, but not us!

If I’ve timed this right, this post is going to drop right in the middle of our annual week-long camping trip along the Oregon Coast. It is, by far, my favorite Summertime activity and I look forward to it like a child waiting for Christmas.

This week marks our 6th year of camping and there have been some changes since the early days. That first year, we piled everything we needed inside the Honda Odyssey (we didn’t even have a roof rack!) and I took us on a road trip that covered about 800 miles in total and had us setting up and tearing down camp every two days.

“Variety is the spice of life” is a personal cliché of mine, and I had no idea what kind of camping we’d enjoy the most: near the beach? in the mountains? high desert? Obviously, I also had no idea how much work was involved in setting up and tearing down camp! Which is why on the last day as we were driving home I took my husband’s hand and asked, “You sure you still want to be married to me? I’m so sorry…”

That year we had four kids under the age of 10, including one that was still nursing, in diapers, and happened to spike a pretty high fever on our first night as we huddled together in 40 degree temperatures at beautiful (freaking-cold-at-night) Crater Lake. “Oh, this is why the ranger kept insisting that I get a fire started when we arrived at 4 pm when it was still 80 degrees!” I thought to myself as I shivered while making dinner via flashlight.

Our air mattress popped in the middle of the night so we woke up on the freezing cold, hard ground and had to head into town to buy a ridiculously expensive new one so that my husband’s back wouldn’t break. Remember, it was already under considerable strain due to the loading and unloading of all of our crap from inside the mini-van. I seriously can’t believe that he agreed to do this again after that first year! Were we crazy? No, I’d like to think that even in the middle of all the nuttiness of that first year we realized a few of the “whys” of camping is so good for our family…

There is nothing like the smell of fresh air that surrounds you as you drive into your little campsite encircled by old growth pines.

We play games – Farkle, Gin, Loaded Questions, Apples to Apples, just to name a few!  And our charades are legendary.

The food! I’m a bit of a nut job in that I like to prepare all of our dinners ahead of time and freeze them – so that all I have to do at the end of the day is warm up a big pot of something delicious and we eat as well as we do at home. This gives me more time to sit by the fire, drink a beer, and connect with my family (or a really good book!)

And my kids love that they get to eat stuff that we rarely have at home: Top Ramen (Hey, don’t judge! I LIVED on Top Ramen, beer, potatoes and peanut butter for four years while I was in college, and I turned out okay!), Pop Tarts, Funions (what are these anyway? I don’t even think “onions” is in the list of ingredients…) and so, so many s’mores.

But the thing that I look forward to the most is that there is no wi-fi and because we have a super crappy phone network, no cell service. For an entire week, we are all unplugged and I.LOVE.IT. My kids, who are pretty much digging their Summer screen time which is waaaay over what I know is good for their brains, get a break from it all. Especially the older ones – for whom the world and its pain never leaves them alone for a minute when it’s all just a click away on their phones.

We engage. In the here and now. With each other. And it is good.

Take your kids camping, please.

Let them find “their” climbing tree and the hidden way to get to and from the bathrooms. Buy them fishing poles and sit quietly next to them for hours in August after the lake’s bounty has already been snatched up and hope, hope, hope that this is the year they catch “the big one” that is legend around these parts. Laugh yourselves silly and sing at the top of your lungs. Create the type of memories that matter as a family. Then sit back and wonder who gets the most out of this experience – you or them.

Does it matter? Not really.

Have you ever camped as a family before? Did you love it? Only do it “for the kids?” What other kinds of things do you do with your babies/kids that might become a family tradition? Let me know – I love this kind of stuff!

World Breastfeeding Week – But Is It Always Happy?

Bottle Baby

“It’s really hard sometimes. I’m frantically trying to mix the bottle and he’s really hungry and upset and I could comfort him so much more quickly if I could just breastfeed him. I wish I knew why they didn’t do what they were supposed to. Why didn’t you work?!” She looked down at her chest and aimed this last question directly at her breasts as she let out a heavy sigh. When she looked up I saw her forced smile, but I could also see the pain in her eyes.

I reassured her, “Your baby is gorgeous and thriving, so you must be giving him exactly what he needs!” And then the conversation shifted to how bottle-feeding was going. I was happy to hear that they’d found a formula that the baby was tolerating well and that Dad had jumped into help with feeding his newborn son – a happy and alert four-month old, curious about the world around him.

The assumption is, that if a woman has the equipment and a baby has the breathe-suck-swallow-reflex, all you need to do is put the two together, and – Voilá! Breastfeeding happens, no problem! And when it does work out that way, it’s fantastic! But it doesn’t always work out that way. In fact, I think a lot of women would place breastfeeding challenges at the top of their list of unexpected outcomes – but only after they’ve had their baby.

If I taught breastfeeding – which I don’t, I’m not trained to do so – my classes would probably focus on the challenges that a woman might face. (Remember me? I don’t call myself “The REP” for nothing!) I recognize the valid concern that if all we talk about are the challenges of breastfeeding, that this might discourage women from attempting breastfeeding in the first place. I get that. But it’s all in the delivery of the information!

There’s a balance to strike between “Here are some challenges that you might face when you’re breastfeeding” and “Wow! Breastfeeding is going to be waaaaaay harder than you think!” I continue to hear from so many women that they wish they’d known more in those early days and weeks about how challenging breastfeeding might actually be for them.

Now, I’m lucky enough to have friends who are excellent breastfeeding educators and lactation specialists and I know first-hand that they do talk about breastfeeding challenges – both in the classroom and one-on-one. Maybe this information just isn’t able to fully sink into the minds of these pregnant women who are still fixated on how they’re going to get the baby out.

In any case, women share with me how their feelings of being unprepared lead them to feeling “broken” and then guilty at not being able to do what is best for their baby (“Breast is Best!” after all. Yes, they know… they hear it all the time.) It literally breaks my heart.

In Portland, Oregon if breastfeeding goes well for you, than this can be a wonderful city to live in. We’ve got Baby Friendly hospitals, amazing IBCLC trained lactation specialists, great initiation rates, some impressive longevity rates, and many people feel more comfortable breastfeeding in public here than in other parts of the country because they see it all around them and know that what they’re doing is largely supported.

But, if for any reason, breastfeeding does not go well for you, than living in Portland, Oregon can be really tough. There’s a lot of judgement about bottle-feeding in this town. Maybe this is also true where you live?

I’m not trying to promote bottle-feeding over breastfeeding. I breastfed all four of my kiddos until they were close to two years old. I promote breastfeeding all over the place, personally as well as professionally. I am a breastfeeding advocate.

AND I’m also a new parent advocate.

I want to support these new parents – even more so if they’ve had to make a challenging decision while feeling vulnerable and still trying to find their way in their new roles as parents.

I want to provide positive attention to those women who’re truly unable to breastfeed or who’ve made the decision to bottle-feed their babies for a number of different and valid reasons. Oftentimes, this can be the most difficult decision they’ve had to make as a new Momma. Most of the women that I know personally who’ve had to switch to any amount of supplemental feeding for their babies have only done so after weeks and months of trying to get breastfeeding to work. The amount of effort they have exerted is nothing short of Herculean.

So, how can we better support Mommas who’ve had to make a decision that goes against the way want to feed their baby, when they’re confronted with the reality that breastfeeding is no longer an option?

I’d just like to acknowledge that for some women, “Happy World Breastfeeding Week!” might not be that happy. Those of us who’ve been able to breastfeed can be grateful that breastfeeding was not that challenging for us, or if we did have challenges we were able to move past them and continue to breastfeed. But maybe can we also try to be more supportive, truly supportive, of the Mommas who’ve had to make other, different, hard choices around the issue of breastfeeding?

Instead of judgement, let’s offer each other a soft place to land in this challenging and trying world that is new parenting. Be gentle with one another. Be gentle with ourselves. We’re all doing the very best we can for our babies, and they’re thriving because of our tender love and care. This is hard work, and we need all the support we can get.

What was your breastfeeding relationship like with your baby(ies)? Easy-peasy, challenging-but-doable, or it-just-didn’t-happen? How do you feel about that? Were you able to find support? Where? Please share your comments with me. I appreciate them and YOU so much!

34 = A Spring Chicken, But 35 = An Old Bird?! I Cry Fowl!

Chickens

I was busy all weekend doing what I love: teaching expectant families all about how to get a baby out (Saturday – Express Class) and where to go when the baby is actually coming out (Sunday – Maternity Tour). It was a gorgeous, sunny, not-too-hot weekend and I was stuck inside both days catching glimpses of the sun when and where I could. AND I WASN’T EVEN MAD.

I mean, I saw how nice the weather was the night before, and I may have even mumbled, “Ohhhhhh, I don’t want to go to work tomorrow!” before going to bed, but some sort of alchemic transformation happens when a class or tour begins. And then I know I’m exactly where I need to be, doing exactly what I’m supposed to be doing. I’m not sure if anyone else can truly understand this, unless they too, are lucky enough to have a job that they love.

At the end of class on Saturday, a healthy and fit-looking young couple came up to me to ask a question about their particular situation. “I’m 35 years old,” she began and I already knew where this was going… “And yours is considered a “Geriatric Pregnancy,” am I right?” She kind of laughed and then said, “Yep – ‘Advanced Maternal Age!’ And my provider wants to induce me at 39 weeks. I just wanted to know what my chances are of having an induction that goes okay. One that won’t end with a Cesarean.”

Now, I don’t know the particulars of this woman’s health history, and I’m not a medical provider, so I’m not going to debate this plan of action. But I could tell that she wanted to know if this induction at 39 weeks would be considered “medically necessary.” Again, without knowing her personal health history, I’m not going there with her.

Here’s what I told her instead: “If your provider had a Momma over the age of 35 who had a “negative outcome” during their birth, it might change how they practice from that point forward. But many providers are only looking at the relative risk of increased complications that can happen to women over the age of 35. Is your provider looking at your absolute risk?”

This is not something that many providers consider. They read a study that says a woman’s risk of stillbirth increases after the age of 35, but their focus remains solely on the age of the woman in their care, and this can translate into only discussing her relative risk. If they were looking at the woman’s age as just one of several other risk factors that might contribute to or lessen their overall risk, this would mean that they were considering the absolute risk. Too many women don’t even know to ask about relative vs absolute risk, and too many providers are not forthcoming with this information.

Pregnant women and their partners should be able to determine their individual, personal absolute risk of complications and what those complications are if they wait to deliver spontaneously at term, as opposed to being encouraged to deliver early via induction at 39 weeks, because their is a relative risk of increased stillbirth for women over the age of 35.

The risk is real, it’s true – but there are many, many other factors to consider in assessing an individual woman’s absolute risk of any complications, not just the risks associated with “Advanced Maternal Age.”

I might be a little bit touchy on this subject, if I’m being completely honest. I mean, I didn’t get married until I was 28. I had my first child at 31. Baby #2 came along when I was 33 1/2. My third was born when I was (gasp!) 37, and the last one came along at the ripe old age of 41.

And while it is true that my relative risk of stillbirth climbed with my age, my absolute risk as a multipara with Baby #4 was probably lower than that of a primipara at a much younger age. Part of that lowered absolute risk has to do with my proven record of straight-forward, healthy pregnancies and deliveries. And part can be attributed to the fact that I was in much better health at 41 than I’d been when I began this whole baby-making enterprise ten years earlier!

The language – older mother, mature, advanced maternal age, elderly, and my personal favorite, geriatric pregnancy – coupled with the assumption that a woman is automatically high-risk because of her age really bothers me! The power of words cannot be understated. And when a woman is told that she is high-risk, strictly because she is over the age of 35, with no other known risk factors, this absolutely affects how she experiences her pregnancy and can have negative implications for her birth! 

So with all of this as a backdrop, I suggested that this Momma do some research and that she might find some good information online. Rarely, do I send anyone to the inter webs for information. First of all – there’s just so damn much of it! How are you supposed to sift through all of the mountains of information that now exist in the world on the subjects of pregnancy, birth and parenting? But in addition to that, there’s just so much out there not evidence-based and that’s really scary!

That’s why I was so excited when I “met” Rebecca Dekker a few years back as she was just starting up her website, Evidence Based Birth. Rebecca wanted to create a resource for expectant families (and professionals!) that would review the latest research on a particular topic in obstetrics and translate the findings into something that someone who wasn’t a clinician or a researcher could actually understand.

She takes her time with each article and reviews everything, making sure to use “good” studies – meaning studies that are unbiased, that used the proper technique, assessment and validation tools, and that have statistically significant results. After she’s written her article, she submits it to her advisory Board to insure that the information that goes “live” on the website is exactly what she claims it to be: evidence-based. I know that if I send any of my families to her website, I can feel comfortable that the information they’ll find there is something I can trust.

How crazy is it that I took a look at the EBB website this afternoon and did a search for “Advanced Maternal Age” and found out that Rebecca was doing a free webinar on that exact topic in exactly three minutes! I know, right? Cue up the woo-woo music!

I quickly registered for the webinar and was happy to hear that the discussion I had with the Momma from my class about relative risk vs absolute risk was exactly what Rebecca would be covering in both the webinar and the written materials that accompany it on the website. I really hope that the Momma from class took me up on my suggestion and checked it out.

After doing this important work of researching, I encouraged her to have some more dialogue with her provider about her particular situation. In the end, she might come to the conclusion that an induction at 39 weeks is reasonable for her and her pregnancy. Or, she might not. But what is most important, is that she will be making a decision with her provider based on full information.

In this day and age, I think we should be encouraging women to know what their absolute risk vs their relative risk is so they can make truly informed decisions for themselves about their pregnancies, their births, and their babies.

In the meantime – can we please come up with another way of describing a woman who happens to be having a baby at the age of 35 or beyond? The terms we’re currently using are demoralizing. And I should know!

Thankfully, it’s not all bad. Based on this article, us “Geriatric Mommas” will have the last laugh: “Women who had their last child after 33 were twice as likely to live to 95 or older, compared with those who had their last child by 29.”

I’m not a math whiz by any account, but if my calculations are correct, this means I will live to be at least 125 seeing as I had my last baby eight years after the magical cut-off  of “33” as quoted in this article.

But before I get my hopes up, I think I’d like to know what my absolute advantage is, not just the relative advantage based on my age.

Know what I mean?

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.”

2016-05-01 14.35.30 HDR-2

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!)