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Archive for the ‘Birth’ Category

The last blog post I published was inspired by a morning spent with a friend of mine who had just had her first baby.  We were discussing birth again online and this is her story, from her point of view.  I have a great many thoughts on it, but will leave it to stand on its own.  I find it inspiring and beautiful, though she herself is probably still coming to terms with how the beginning of motherhood was not what she expected.  My birth stories (published in other posts) are quite different from hers, and I have love for every type of birth story:

 

Last night, a friend of mine posted an article to Facebook entitled “Why You Should Prepare for Natural Birth (Why Just Hoping for a Natural Birth is Not Enough)”.

 

I gave it a read through, and on first glance, most would probably find this article innocuous. Sure, you should be prepared for birth. You should do your research. Sound advice, right? Surely no one could find fault with an article that is simply encouraging women to know their rights, options, and bodies before embarking on the grand adventure that is labor and delivery.

 

Right?

 

Right?…

 

And yet, this article, like so many like it, left me feeling angry. Left me feeling hurt, incredulous, and just downright pissed off. And I don’t think I’m the only one. I think I belong to a steadily growing new moms’ club that is comprised of women who, just like me, think this article and articles like it are not only misleading but also directly lending to more and more women walking away from their birth experience feeling like a failure.

 

I began researching how I wanted to give birth more than a year before we even began trying to conceive. I had been born at home, in an upstairs bedroom with a midwife attending. I was a firm believer that birth was a natural process, and I was also terrified of the entire medical spectrum. I rarely took meds, thought a hot cup of tea was a good substitute for antibiotics, never had vaccines as a child, and got the hives just thinking about hospitals. So for many reasons, I wanted to make sure I knew everything I needed to know to make sure I didn’t end up a “hospital horror story”. If you’re a mom, you know exactly what I’m talking about. We all have friends, or have read online, or know a woman, or were that woman, who gave birth at a hospital and got bullied into unnecessary interventions, didn’t feel listened to, and even experienced genuine trauma at the hands of medical professionals that treated your body like it wasn’t your own and your birth like it was a disease. I wasn’t going to be that woman.

 

We considered home birth, but the options were so limited in our state, and the home birth midwife that we had decided to use had closed down her home birth practice and was working at a local OB office that delivered at the hospital close to our home. Hesitantly, we decided that since we would have a doula, a homebirth midwife, and all the education in the world, we would brave a hospital birth. We had watched “The Business of Being Born” over a dozen times, we had read every Ina May Gaskins book ever published, we were ready. We were ready to say no to pitocin, refuse induction no matter how long little bit decided to camp out. We were ready to do skin to skin after labor in a dark and quiet room.

 

In fact, by the time I was hitting late pregnancy, I had spent two years so immersed in the natural birth culture and language that I had a downright story in my head of how my birth was going to go. I would go into labor in the middle of the night, I would labor for as long as possible at home with my doula, who would provide aromatherapy, take me for sacred walks in the woods, and bathe me in light. At the last moment, I would go to the hospital, bravely go into my warrior space as I pushed out my baby with no drugs, no IVs, and no vaginal exams. As soon as she was born and healthy, we would insist on being released, and I would bring her home and nurse her in my momma cave for 40 days while friends brought me food and offerings at the feet of my newly washed female divinity.

 

Oh yeah. I had it bad.

 

And yes, I knew that I couldn’t control my birth. I knew to be ready for surprises. But I also knew what these articles, books, websites, documentaries and women had been telling me over and over and over again.

 

Birth is natural.

 

Your body knows what to do.

 

Don’t be afraid of the pain.

 

Let go of negative messages about birth.

 

Birth is not dangerous.

 

Birth does not have to be painful.

 

Birth can be so pleasing as to even be sexual.

 

Even if something unexpected comes up, you can still birth your baby naturally.

 

And on and on and on. Those words, phrases and images assured me that no matter what happened, we would be able to have a natural birth. That the chances of a complication actually being so severe as to warrant medical intervention were so low and had just been blown out of proportion by medical staff anxious to avoid a lawsuit and to get you in and out of those beds as quickly as possible.

 

I was ready. I sat back and judged women silently that I saw on Facebook getting inductions at 41 weeks 5 days. “Oh, she must not have watched that documentary. Someone should tell her that her induction isn’t necessary.”

 

See. I deserved what happened to me.

 

And then my due date came. And went. Now, of course, I knew due dates were the unicorns of the natural birth community. They only existed in fantasyland and that really, if they said your baby was due in March, it was completely fine if she decided to land in October. So don’t worry.

 

But I did. I was exhausted. I was enormous. I felt sick, fatigued, and dizzy all the time. I couldn’t stand, sit, or dress myself without assistance. I was in so much pain, and was told it was normal, but something in me knew it wasn’t. And I had every one and their brother asking me when I was planning on pushing that baby out, and I somehow was expected to not set them on fire with my eyeballs all the while laughing as if I hadn’t heard that exact same thing 6,000 times that day just before the breakfast I couldn’t stomach.

 

And on top of that, at least once a day a girlfriend that had gone before would ask me, “Any signs of labor yet?” And the answer was always a definite, “No. Nothing. Nada.” I mean nothing. No show, no Braxton Hicks, no plug, no back pain or cramping, no new stomach upset, no nesting instinct, no nothing. And I kept going to the doctor, and I kept refusing vaginal exams, and I kept waiting for my baby and my body to do the natural thing.

 

But they didn’t. And one day, my midwife who had delivered babies at home for 40 years sat me down and told me that she had seen women present like me a million times, and she could bet me good money I wasn’t going into labor on my own, that my baby was in danger, and that I needed to be induced.

 

And I felt like the world had ended. I went home and sobbed so hysterically for two days that it felt like I was breaking from the inside out. And everywhere I turned I was being told not to listen to her. Inductions being the antichrist in the natural birth community, and all of that. Even my doula, who was outwardly supportive, said in her words and tone and the spaces in between, “Oh, you’re just letting them use fear tactics on you, you don’t need this.”

 

But I felt somewhere deep inside of me that I did. So I faced every fear I had ever known, and I went in for an induction on a Tuesday evening. And immediately, my birth plan started going out the window. Foley bulbs, vaginal exams (I hadn’t dilated even a centimeter), monitors, IVs, and…. A completely awesome, gentle, supportive, empowering hospital experience. But I was on every drug you can imagine for two days. And labor never started. Not even a little bit.

 

They told me my baby was stuck. That contractions couldn’t start because her head couldn’t make contact with my cervix and her head couldn’t make contact with my cervix because contractions couldn’t start. And that she had probably been stuck for a while. And that she was probably in distress. And that she needed to come out, and she couldn’t, and no matter how long I had waited, things wouldn’t have changed. And right there in the hospital, we did every natural method we could think of to get that baby unstuck. We turned off all the drugs, the pitocin drips, we shimmied with the rebozo, we did the Miles circuit over and over, and nothing. And when I told them I was too exhausted, hungry, and in shock to face anything further, they let me go home for 24 hours. And they told me to see a chiropractor before I came back.

 

The chiropractor told me my pelvis was tilted up and to the side. My daughter was literally stuck sunny side up with her head splayed backwards, all on my left side (which explained a lot of my pain and very visible belly unevenness). The chiropractor spent an hour with us. And somehow, that miracle woman naturally moved my baby. I had bloody show a few hours later. The next morning, a fat 42 weeks pregnant, I went in for my second induction and had begun to dilate on my own. But things still weren’t moving fast enough.

 

More drugs. Someone broke my water (the one thing I swore I wouldn’t let anyone do). I had more vaginal exams than I could count. But I knew each step was what needed to happen to help my daughter get here safely. There was meconium in my water. She was struggling. I was struggling. And every single person at the hospital that was a part of my birth was there to help us.

 

And you know what? Labor was painful. Incredibly painful. Maybe it was because of the pitocin, or how fast my labor progressed once it finally began (barely six hours from start to finish). And my preparation helped me. I labored through hours of intense, long contractions, with barely any break in between them, with no pain medication.

 

But then transition contractions began. And maybe not every woman feels like Braveheart being disemboweled and sent to the four corners of the earth during transition. But I did. It was the most terrifying and painful sensation I had ever experienced in my life. Nothing prepared me for that. Nothing. I begged, I pleaded, I screamed, I cried for help, for it to end, for them to give me something. Against every one’s advice, I got an epidural. That’s right. Every doctor and nurse in that building told me I could do it naturally. But the truth was, I couldn’t. I demanded and received the most terrifying epidural I think anyone could imagine. In the throes of agony, panic, and the most gut wrenching sensation of my life, I had to hold still while a needle went into my spine that could’ve killed me or paralyzed me at best, and a transition contraction took place right as the needle went in. My mom was shaking and crying in the corner, unable to watch. The kind and gentle anesthesiologist yelled at me to not MOVE. If I had let them check me vaginally, they could’ve told me I was in transition, told me I was almost done, but since I thought vaginal exams were the devil and was trying to avoid them, and because I was in the throes of so much physical agony that I didn’t want anyone adding to it, I was terrified that the feelings I was experiencing were going to go on for hours. And yes, I had been told that when you think you can’t do it anymore, you are almost done. But I couldn’t do it anymore. Really.

 

The sedative they had put into my IV before the epidural kicked in, calming me just enough that I could realize what was going on as I lay on that bed shaking so violently it felt like I was seizing. But the pain and intensity of the contractions didn’t let up. We were told after my birth that the epidural didn’t have time to kick in, and that I took that risk for nothing, that I pushed without pain relief. But thank goodness for the pre-epidural sedative, that at least quelled the panic. Because then there was her head. And I could still feel my legs. And then I was pushing her out and there was nothing I could do to stop it. And I pushed her out right there in the most anti-natural birth position imaginable – on my back, with my legs up by my head, for over an hour before they told me she had to come out right that second and I pushed with everything I had in me and I tore almost in half but there she was. And it was what I wanted, what felt right, and the only position I could even think of moving in to in those moments, even though I had learned through the natural birth community that the best way to give birth was hanging from a tree branch.

 

And after she was born? Well first of all, I couldn’t tell every one to get out, or shut up, or leave us alone. There was a special team on hand to make sure she didn’t aspirate on her own poop. And there was this tricky little thing called a placental delivery that had to happen. I held her for moments, barely, and then the pain of labor (yes, I labored out that placenta) was so intense that someone had to take her for me. I was shaking so violently that I that I was going to die. My blood was everywhere, like a slasher film without the bad music. The medicine they gave me to stop the bleeding saved my life. It took almost an hour for my placenta to be forcefully delivered, with the incredible midwife on duty having to push on my stomach and force it out of me at the end because I was losing so much blood we couldn’t wait any more. It hurt more than my daughter did, coming out into this world.

 

After a few hellish days (yes, days) in the post partum ward of the hospital, we went home. And instead of worrying about myself and how to help myself heal from the bruised tailbone, the tearing, the incredible pain that made standing or walking almost impossible, the incredible amount of blood I was still losing, or anything else I needed to be concerned about, I holed up in my room and cried because all I could think was:

 

I failed.

 

I failed.

 

I failed.

 

My body didn’t do what it was supposed to do. Nothing went the way it was supposed to go. I caved in the face of the pain, I exposed us both to the dangers of drugs and interventions, I didn’t have the moments right after her delivery that we were supposed to have.

 

I don’t belong in the natural birth community.

 

I didn’t do it right.

 

And you know why I, and so many mothers like me, fell into that dark hole?

 

Because of articles like this one. You see? I was getting there. Just decided to take my time.

 

Because of every single “I had a kumbaya motherfuckers bath time birth in my living room and I orgasmed and so can you” story that gets shoved down our throats as “normal” while the women who have trauma and bad experiences are either the exception, or they were unprepared, or it happened to them because they were in a hospital and not at home, or whatever other story gets told, whether consciously or unconsciously, in the natural birth community.

 

There are truths about labor, there are truths about birth, and while the natural birthing community has it’s intentions in the right place, women are still being lied to – by BOTH sides.

 

Birth CAN be dangerous. It IS dangerous. I go to a mother’s circle a few weeks out of the month, and the moms that I share my Friday mornings with are as crunchy as you can get. They all cloth diaper, they all breast feed, we sit on the floor cross legged as the babies lay naked on sheep skin rugs and we burn sage. And their stories are heartbreaking. Some of them truly almost died. Many of them are scarred in more ways than one. And all of them were prepared. All of them did their research. And all of them were taken somewhere by their birth that they were told was wrong, rare, and shouldn’t really happen if you were just doing it right.

 

Birth is painful. Maybe not for everyone. Maybe you are lucky and have a fast, pain free birth. Maybe you did hypnobirthing and it worked for you. But for most of us, it is the most pain you’ll ever know, and if your transition period is like mine, it will move beyond pain and into a place that you may be able to handle. You may not.

 

Your body doesn’t just automatically “know what to do” because you are a woman. There are a million things that can go wrong, and that go wrong everyday, and those things make medical interventions not only necessary but the best thing that could ever happen to you and your baby. Maybe those stories of women and babies dying in childbirth still permeate our brains because they need to. Because we need to take birth seriously enough that we don’t endanger ourselves and our children by refusing medical care when it could be the difference between a positive and a life-altering outcome.

 

Hospitals are not the devil. Medical staff members are not necessarily going to bully you. I was in the hospital for a full week, I had two separate inductions, and each and every person there tried to help me have as natural of a birth as I could possibly have, and respected and served me in every moment of my birth.

 

You might not be able to have the “golden hour”. You might need drugs to keep you from bleeding out and dying. You might be in so much pain that you can barely hold your child for days.

 

You might end up with drugs, no drugs, water breaking, no water breaking, vaginal delivery, c-section, pain, no pain…

 

And you did it right. You were a warrior. Nothing should have happened that didn’t happen.

 

What has to happen is that ALL kinds of births have to be normalized. We have got to stop sitting in these camps that speak these surface languages that tell you one birth looks like this and is bad, one birth looks like this and is good, and for the millions of women that don’t fit into either of those camps, that there is no place for your birth and the implication is you must’ve done something wrong.

 

We didn’t do a damn thing wrong. Except maybe, spend too much time reading the articles.

 

 

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Another safe birth and healthy baby are miracles that not many people take for granted. Maybe that’s why so many of us want to hear each other’s birth stories and so many of us are happy to share them. I’ve had a few people ask for Darius’ birth story and I’ve always written them down for me to look back at anyway.

This year in particular I feel especially grateful. I’ve had 4 friends in the past few years lose children before, during and after birth, in the first year of life. I don’t think anyone can understand that pain unless you’ve lived it– I certainly can’t– but to have a third guy here, born, healthy while I recover quickly– it’s nothing short of the best thing that can happen to a family, really and truly. We can never underestimate what a gift it is.

Darius’ birth was indeed quite different from my first two. Births are so similar in some ways, and yet all the little details make them different.

You can never believe you aren’t going to have to face a birth again (at least I never can!) and then after you’ve done it… after you’ve faced the pain and pushed a 7 pound human being out of your body– you can hardly believe that you did do it.

My oldest was born in a very typical hospital setting, the only thing saving me from many of the interventions I didn’t want being my educating myself, having a doula and the big one— having a complete surprise of a super fast labor and having her 20 minutes after I arrive. It was the exact mad dash rush to the hospital that I assured my husband only happens in the movies, and not to worry.

The second, I knew I wanted another natural birth and I knew I didn’t want it to be at a hospital, so I traveled about an hour and a half to a birth center in Chapel Hill, NC, staffed by midwives and yet five minutes away from UNC-Chapel Hill’s hospital– my impression being that it is a much baby friendlier place than the hospital where I live.

That baby was *also* born 20 minutes after I arrived. Sheesh.

So this time our hope was for me not to be in transition– right in the throes of serious labor pain that will lead to pushing– in a car. Nearly identical to my second birth, I woke up on a Sunday morning having contractions, timed a few, and just knew I was going into labor. Unlike that birth though, my labor all but stopped while I was in the car. That birth it progressed and progressed and that ride I was coping with contractions the entire time.

This third birth my contractions slowed but were expected to pick up once we arrived. When a mother is in an unnatural or unsafe place to give birth, her labor will either speed up or slow down, according to what her body thinks is safest.

If my water hadn’t broken on its own, we probably would have gone home and called it a false start. After 3 hours and about three miles of walking around the birth center, the midwife advised I either go somewhere and rest and see if labor kicks in or augment the labor with black and blue cohosh and belly binding. I want to find more information on belly binding to share with you all, but so far preliminary searching comes up with postpartum belling binding.

It was en entirely different experience for me… the walking around, the attempting to make labor keep going. It wasn’t anything I had ever, ever, ever had to consider with my other births– the births that started like freight trains and kind of left me dazed and pushing as fast as my husband could get me to the right place!

I decided to send my kids home with my mother and “augment” the labor. Of course, if I were at a hospital with a doctor that would be done with Pitocin, a synthetic form of the hormone oxytocin, which will indeed interfere with a woman’s natural oxytocin after birth and doesn’t allow for breaks for the mother and the rhythm of natural labor. Sarah J. Buckley’s research on how pitocin affects our natural hormones is pretty interesting– I saw her speak on it several years ago at a birth conference.

But belly binding, though I’d only vaguely heard of it, seemed like an acceptable thing, and since my water was broken, I really had no desire to go and rest. At least my desire to go and rest was overshadowed by my desire to have the labor start for real. I kind of just wanted to have him! I can see now why women do choose interventions because once your water is broken its a tad frustrating that labor isn’t really kicking in. Had I had a homebirth, I bet my body would have acted differently, or at least, taking a nap wouldn’t have mattered. Either way, the belly binding seemed natural enough to fit into my comfort level of letting nature take it’s course while in labor. The contractions and water breaking happened spontaneously– when the little boy was ready.

They tied a sheet around my tummy as I lifted it, which pushes the baby downward and increases the pressure on my pelvis and thus the contractions. We decided to go to Whole Foods and pick up some gluten-free meals for me to eat after the birth, since it had become apparent that he would be born at night and not in the morning when we arrived– it was about 4 p.m. at this point, and we’d arrived at the birth center at 11:30 a.m.

First we went upstairs to the Birth Center’s boutique where I bought a nice nursing bra with a gift card that a guy who fell off his motorcycle in front of my house gave me. I’ll be he had no idea what I’d spend it on! Labor was picking up again directly after the belly wrapping. We then started to Whole Foods and by the time we got there I knew– it was going to happen soon.

I may have started to cry a bit and asked my husband why my body seems to think I have to be in a car or at a public store when labor starts to get painful??? Labor picked up for me or continued at Wal-Mart, a restaurant getting Azita food with the second, and now at Whole Foods. He ran in and got the food and I continued to freak out and tell him to get me back to the birth center ASAP. It was only 5 minutes away.

We got back and I told the midwife I was officially in pain. She checked me and I’d moved to 5 cm dilated, which is about what I felt like. She wanted to start the bath so that I could finally make it in time for a water birth, and with my history of fast labors, I’m glad she did– though at the time I– once again, even being the one in the middle of painful contractions– didn’t seem to realize just how close I was.

She put me in the shower, which always helps the pain, while she filled the bath.

I was in the bath for about an hour before he was born. In all I went from 5 cm to birth in about an hour and a half. He was born at 6:20.

It was an entirely different thing this time, being at the birth center, focusing on labor, letting it come while not at my house. The last hour of his birth was incredibly serene, actually, though during contractions my insides and head felt pretty tumultuous.

In between contractions I just soaked in the tub, holding my husband’s hands and almost… sleeping? Zoning out? I’m not sure but it was very, very quiet and the lights were low. During contractions I breathed very heavily, stared at my husband while he tried to keep me from hyper-ventilating, wished that my hands and legs hadn’t gone numb and wondered how many more of these contractions I could take.

About 45 minutes in the tub and the midwife told my husband that my contractions were about 3-4 minutes apart when he asked, and yet she told me it could be any contraction now that he descends down and my body starts to naturally push.

I freaked out inside— thinking that my contractions needed to be every 1-2 minutes… and yet, just a few contractions later, down he went and the huge climax that is birth was happening. Lord have mercy, what woman experience with a natural birth. Oy, how it felt when he descended into the birth canal. It’s indescribable. I started flailing around and trying to change positions, I don’t know what I was trying to do. Squat, maybe. But between the midwife and my husband I just did what they said– somehow willing myself that if I’d just calm down and push the pain would stop.

I screamed through a huge push, and through another, and out he came. It was the only birth where no one told me to stop screaming— perhaps this was because I was yelling while pushing, not stagnating. I’ve never screamed the “f” word and pushed out a baby at the same time. First time for everything.

When they handed him to me I was in disbelief– more than the girls, I don’t know why— that he was out. I kept repeating “I don’t believe it.” I guess because this time it was an all day process, and also because I’d again convinced myself that it was going to be several more hours when the midwife said my contractions were 3-4 minutes.

But I finally got my calm, peaceful water birth. I didn’t tear at all this time and am recovering well… a world of difference from my first birth, which included third degree tears and passing out from blood loss several hours after the birth.

The funniest thing this time I was that I wrenched my calf and thigh muscle flailing around when he descended down, and that hurt about as much this week as the birth-recovery part!

I got out of the tub, made it into the bed, and have pretty much been nursing or holding him ever since. We got home that night about 2 a.m.

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I’m going to try to start blogging a bit more again. I started this blog around this time of the year when I was pregnant with Ada, so maybe it’s fitting if I write a bit more again at this time of year when I am pregnant with our third. He will be born sometime around 4-6 weeks before our second, in November instead of December.

I feel like motherhood has been a collection of joining new clubs, so to speak. First you are pregnant or with a young child, and you can kind of automatically have a new sentence or two to speak with other moms you see in a check out line. It took me about a year to realize that socializing with other moms was something I needed more than at random moments (I was in college and knew NO other mothers for a while).

So I joined the pregnancy club. Then the I-want-a-natural-birth club and had a doula. Then the breastfeeding club. The cloth diapering club. The babywearing club. Then with my second, I was even more bowled over to join the food allergy/intolerance club. And here I am again, realizing that I’ve joined a whole new club that I never saw coming. It just feels *different* having a third. Going from a four person family to a five person family just feels like you are graduating up to that next level of familyhood again. We had to get a bigger car– we will have a baby at the same time as a first grader. I have two kids at completely different stages of development… whereas when I had a 2 year old and a baby and a small car it didn’t seem that different going from one to two. And at restaurants the four person table would do just fine.

But now I’ll have three. I guess I’ll also join the I-have-a-boy club. Which I don’t believe, at this point, will be *nearly* as different as people want me to believe, but sure it’s still different. In respect to birth/babyhood, the decision to circumcise or not is probably the most different thing, but people already want to impose so many personality traits, assigned by gender, on the kid even though he isn’t even born yet. But our girls play with tools, love robots and have clothes that are not pink, so I’m not that convinced that it will be “a totally different world” as everyone wants me to believe.

Things have been different for me personally, the third time around, something I never knew to expect. As a third pregnancy, apparently— my body has enlightened me and all my mother friends and midwives have confirmed— you feel every single stretch and loosening and pregnancy symptom (related to getting bigger at least) quite a bit more. Oh, I feel *everything*. I have one strip of ab muscle that has hurt from 2-3 months pregnant… before I was showing at all. I get contractions all the time. I get the cervical pains all the time. The midwives say that the body simply has a harder time each pregnancy getting those ab muscles to stretch and the ligaments to loosen. I also have worse pains after birth as the uterus clamps back down to look forward to. I do remember it was quite a bit worse with Ada, each time she’d nurse I get cramps, and that is supposed to happen more so the third time.

It’s all worth it of course, but like all those other clubs, expecting a third kid introduced me to differences I’d never considered.

Some things this time around have been better. I’ve gained weight easier, been able to control the ridiculous heartburn easier through diet changes (knowledge afforded me by being in the food intolerance club and learning to understand how food affects me better— kids teach us so much!), no longer have low iron (probably from being gluten-free). I wish I could say the morning sickness was different but I was still sick for months, and months, and months. Having a boy didn’t seem to help that.

I’ve been in labor twice and it’s daunting to think of the third time around. But I tell myself it will happen, I can’t stop it, and soon it will be three years later and all this pregnancy/labor pain will be a memory and he’ll be talking and playing.

Some things I had thought I’d do the third time around I didn’t. I thought I’d have a homebirth if I ever had a third. I moved from hospital with the first to birth center with the second, and figured homebirth would be the next way I’d go. Part of me still mourns the thought that I won’t do it that way, however, we had some solid logical reasoning. The birth center I go to and trust is about a hour and a half away, in Chapel Hill, NC. The midwives are backed up by Chapel Hill’s hospital— so much better, more mother/baby friendly and respected than the hospital here in Fayetteville, NC. The thought of going back to the hospital here if there was a true emergency during a planned homebirth (as small of a chance as that is) was just decidedly *not* appealing to me or my husband.

I hope to make it in time to have a water birth this time, as with my second I made it to the birth center and had about 20 minutes before I gave birth.

My hopes for the third birth…. a water birth, another short labor– not so short I don’t make the drive up there, but not agonizingly long either!– and another good recovery, in the first four weeks postpartum. I’ve been blessed thus far. I get weekly chiropractic adjustments, which help with positioning the baby so he isn’t breech and keeping the mother’s labor short, with the other two I did yoga… this time I should be… and I stay as active and on my feet as I can. After the birth I breastfeed, which helps the mother’s uterus tone back down and I’ll do that again as well.

My hopes for the third baby…. oh, I don’t know, maybe he’ll pop out and sleep all night and not be colicky since I’m already gluten-free? Totally unlike the second? Well, at least I know the knowledge I gained with her may help us out!

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This past weekend was La Leche League’s biannual conference. The title this year was “Trails and Trials: Pathways to Parenting” and while there were definitely plenty of seminars on breastfeeding specific issues that help those involved with La Leche League be current on research and help mothers seeking breastfeeding support, there were many, many parenting seminars this go round.
That appealed to me since my kids are 5 and almost 3. Azita has gone through a few new issues with school starting, and Ada’s toddlerhood is not at all the same as Azita’s. Different things make her happy, occupy her time and make her upset than did Azita.
The first morning was a talk to the entire conference by Marian Tompson, one of the original founders of La Leche League back in the ’50s. She has 7 children and many grandchildren (and a few great grandchildren too) and I obviously thought it was cool to be able to listen to her thoughts after having been an advocate for children for so many years.
The title of her talk was “Childhood is a journey, not a race”. She talked about a variety of things– some related to that specific topic and others not. She spoke about being in Japan at a time when most babies in this one clinic did not get any colostrum (meaning they did not breastfeed in the first week) and how a doctor noticed that the children with the highest chance of surviving were the ones that did get the colostrum. If I’m remembering correct, this doctor helped lead Japan to the lowest infant mortality rate at the time (the 70s or 80s? I just can’t remember) by focusing on getting babies that first week of nursing.
It’s amazing, actually, to think she’s been in this arena for so long. You see books and hear people say that there is no actual evidence that breastfeeding is that much better than formula, but a story like that helps you realize that it is indeed a life-saving practice for some kids. I think that when the odds are stacked FOR a baby, by being born into a developed country to wealthy parents (wealthy compared to the world, I mean, not that the parents are millionaires by American standards), then maybe breastfeeding doesn’t seem as necessary.
But to be her, to have been around when kids DID die because they needed the mother’s milk and artificial formulas (inferior to human milk but better than dairy milk or solid foods alone) weren’t as highly developed, really does give a perspective– an appreciation– for how far we’ve come in understanding how to help our children be their healthiest.
She also talked about how rapidly children are changing, though didn’t attempt to tackle all the reasons. How there are now sensory disorders, food allergies abounding (that one I know about!) and suicide rates among teens rapidly rising.
She cited a study in which is showed that some children learn better while standing, as opposed to sitting, and then the conversation turned to how schools must adapt and change to change to how our children’s brains and development are changing. We don’t know why things are different than when she was raising kids, but she seemed to be saying that she is optimistic—that schools and old viewpoints about how to raise/educate children must and will change because they have to.
She hinted that some of her perspective might be that both parents seem to need to work to survive in our economic climate and that it is affecting our children’s early years.
Stress hormones have been studied, and children that release high amount of stress hormones in the first two years of life deal with stress differently throughout their lives. Could this affect the suicide rates and unhappy and unfulfilled adults that seem to be all over the place?
When a child gets stressed from separation from its mother, it appears that it will always have an impact on that child. Of course, Azita stayed with a sitter from 6 weeks of age to 2 years, and I do feel it affected her. But I can listen to this research and these ideas without feeling guilty. I nursed her for a long time, and we let her co-sleep. To me these solutions helped us deal with the realities of modern life. And many moms don’t know, because of doctors and mothers and uninformed friends, that these practices can be safe, healthy and extremely beneficial.
I was aware during that discussion that these concepts, of the research that is becoming widespread about how the way we’ve been raising our children in this country may harm their stress coping mechanisms and emotional attachments to other people they meet throughout their life time might make people feel defensive. Might make people feel defensive out in the mainstream world, that is. In the La Leche League bubble, there is little judgment, and mutual respect for doing things the way that works for your family, balanced by respect for the child as a fellow human with valid needs.
When a parenting aspect, like co-sleeping or toddler nursing respects both the mom and baby’s needs, then it’s probably a good idea, in my head.
She talked more on the economics stuff, saying that in her day when a husband was having a child, his employers typically gave him a raise. Now, we must decide whether or not the mom will keep her job and how to afford it all, or, alternately, how the mom (and sometimes dad) will raise the children on her own on one salary.
“There must be an understanding of what the baby needs,” she said. I interpret what she is saying to mean that our society does not value the child enough anymore to try to help the mother be there for the early years of its life. Mother’s wishes are often ignored in the delivery room, she is not offered good lactation support by hospital nurses, and then she is encouraged to try to make the baby independent from her as soon as possible after birth.
There were many interesting studies discuss and as I go through my notes I may post about them. Don’t have citations, but I’ll bet they could be found.
Lastly, she gave this quote by an economist Hazel Henderson “Economics is not a science, it is politics in disguise.”
How many things do we think we have to buy when we first have a baby? I was told I “had to” have a swing, and a Boppy (nursing) pillow, and a little mesh feeding bag, and a good stroller. Azita hated almost all of those things, and I didn’t find the Boppy pillow that helpful. They each have held a useful place in my raising two kids, but I think her point was that the one thing the baby actually needs to develop best is just the mom, and that’s about it.
We shouldn’t make parenting choices based on our economic conditions or the motives of a corporation. And we have to wade through so much information. But being true to your kid tends to help you wade through the junky parenting books and find the good ideas.

Next post: Azita the perfectionist.

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I found this article on treating depression with probiotics quite interesting:

http://www.nleducation.co.uk/resources/reviews/a-novel-approach-to-treating-depression-how-probiotics-can-shift-mood-by-modulating-cytokines/ 

The parts I found interesting had less to do with the depression part and more to do with the parts about how your gut health is programmed by the bacteria you encounter at birth and in the first years of life.  It makes me want to try harder to make sure the kids tummy’s are full of the good stuff now.  I had heard that concept– that the first few years of life help determine a person’s gut health and thus how strong their immune system is– but I wasn’t sure if it was true or if it was just an idea that someone had that supported their particular view on health.

I found this paragraph interesting:

How important to our immune health are friendly gut bacteria? Immeasurably so. When rat pups were separated from their mother—causing extreme stress—and then reintroduced to their moms days later, their immune system was forever altered. They were permanently more sensitized to stress displaying high levels of anxiety. However, when rat pups were separated and provided probiotics, and then returned to their mothers, their immune system was equal to that of their never-separated peers and were no more anxious than their non-separated siblings. This shows how profoundly important our gut biota is—to both immunity and mood. Our microbiota not only live with us, they carry an enormous skill set that helps us navigate life, from release of key nutrients to modulation of our immune system.

There are alot of different conclusions to draw there I’m sure– but anyone that reads regularly will know mine have a certain slant.

 It doesn’t surprise me that the rat pups immune function was compromised when they were separated from their mothers.  It did surprise me that the probiotics helped their immune system stay strong while they were still separated.  I imagine however, that if the rat pups were never returned to their mothers that even probiotics would not bring them back to their original health and immune function.

I like these little findings because I remember reading one pregnancy book that actually said a newborn can’t distinguish its mother from any other caretaker.  This was a very mainstream book that a friend bought me from Barnes and Nobles, written by a female medical doctor.   Even before Azita was born I knew that couldn’t be true.

And now we are finding out that a child’s immune system is impaired simply from separation!  I attended the Gentle Birth World Congress in Portland, Oregon when Azita was a little over a year old.  The researchers and doctors from around their world that brought their findings about what it does to a newborn when s/he is separated from the mother were overwhelming. 

One doctor even related a story about how a child was not breathing at birth and he instinctually told the nurse not to cut the umbilical cord.  Oxygen support was not available for 8 minutes.  Eight minutes!  The child suffered no brain damage by the time they got its lungs to start working.  That is a powerful connection to the mother that western science clearly takes for granted by always cutting the cord so soon.  Tragic, actually, when it can save lives.  And now we have companies encouraging cord blood banking and cutting that tie even sooner. 

I often think this connection between mother and baby is downplayed in an effort to try to make mothers feel less guilty if a complicated vaginal birth or c-section inspires the ‘hospital policies’ to take the baby to the nursery while the mother recovers.  I remember with Azita, I needed some recovery time and fainted due to blood loss and I did not get to really see her or hold her (save for about 30 seconds right after the birth) until she was about 4 hours old.  Sure, 4 hours is not alot of time, but to me and her, it was.  And then breastfeeding got off to a terrible start, and that doesn’t help motherbaby separation or Azita’s immune system.

I felt horrible about feeling I couldn’t breastfeed her at first, and that feeling propelled me to get the information I needed from a La Leche League Leader and figure it out, despite some pain and complications, which were soon enough over.  That feeling was important.  I shouldn’t be told that my baby can tell the difference between me and some other woman giving her a bottle!  I should be reassured that when we are reunited, probiotics (which are in breastmilk, of course) will bring her immune system back up to its former strength.

This one little quote– yes, perhaps I extrapolate too much– also makes me think about how well-meaning adults often downplay your child’s separation anxiety.  Again– I think to make it easier on the mother.  If separation stresses a child out to the point of stressing the immune system at birth, then I feel it would affect them at 9 months, 18 months, maybe 3 years old too.

I was often encouraged to leave Azita, when I was still in college, distracted so that I could get out of the house tear-free by a fellow college student that also had kids.  I refused to do that.  I let her know I was leaving and that I’d be back.  I didn’t want her fearing I’d sneak out at any moment when I simply walked into the kitchen. 

I also read another study, which I don’t have a cite for anymore, that examined about 5000 children as teens on an army base in Germany and polled the parents on their methods when the teens were infants.  The researchers were specifically looking at crying-it-out as a sleep method, and found that those children had higher rates of post-traumatic stress disorder as well as lower SAT scores.

It seems clear to me that hormones and gut bacteria will affect a human throughout their life and we shouldn’t understimate the importance of that in the early years.  The rest of the article was very interesting as well, and worth reading.  Those issues are always the ones that will jump out at me.

Ada never left me.  She was born in a birth center, nursed minutes after birth, and I don’t think I left her with Payman even until she was 9 months older or something.  With Azita, this would have overwhelmed me.  With Ada, I feel very grateful for that.  She is the one with celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder.  It’s like God gave them to me in the order they needed, when I was able to be there for them differently.  Azita is still the clingy one, too, interestingly enough.

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A friend of mine asked me, about 6 months ago, for a list of the top ten things I can’t live without with a new baby.  Fortunately I think she’s still actually pregnant.  Good thing it takes 9 months!

My answers will not include bouncers, swings, bottles, strollers and all the junk you are told you *have* to have to have a baby.  True– I used a swing and bouncer some (mostly for showers and dinner prep), and Azita switched between bottle and breast as I was still in college and pretty much a working/pumping mom.  But Ada never used a bottle, maybe once.

Azita hated all bouncers and swings, and Ada tolerated them for 15 minutes at a time, just enough for a shower or quick meal prep.  But once her tummy aches and food intolerances kicked in, unforetunately the swing didn’t soothe her at all.  I’ve heard of people whose kids adore swings or bouncers and that its a lifesaver.  For us, they took up space and money.

So, my top ten list, trying to be devoid of too much commercialism and down to the real, true needs:

Hmm, should I count down?  I guess so.

1o.  Baby socks of only one color.  I swear those girls never wore the same pair twice.  I was completely unable to keep up with them.  With Ada I wised up and got only the exact same ones, but about ten pairs. 

9. Cloth diapers and an open mind to look into Elimination Communication— watching your newborn for little wiggly legs and taking her to the sink, instead of wrapping her up in plastic.  Either one will save your wallet and your curbside traffic pick up.

8. A co-sleeper or bedrail to aid in safe co-sleeping (defined as baby in the room, not necessarily in the bed) and the book, the No Cry Sleep Solution by Elizabeth Pantley or the Sleep Book by Dr. Sears.  Any books by Dr. Sears, actually.

7. Ideas for food that is healthy yet easy to prepare one handed.  An example:  Chicken thighs and a potato in the oven.  Bake for an hour.  Have a salad mix ready.  You can use tongs for the chicken and never need to wash your hands and there is little clean up or effort on your part.  Cut veggies in the fridge are good snacks, especially with hummus or another healthy dip.  Keep water handy.  Frozen homemade meals, prepared ahead of time, are wonderful if you can swing it.

6.  The right mindset.  You shouldn’t judge yourself and should remember that a messy house is okay for the time being.  It’s okay take care of the important things, like kitchens and bathrooms, and let the other things slide.  It’s okay, nay essential, that you put your needs and your baby’s needs ahead of material things. 

5. A support system.  In our culture, women are often far away from family, and even when family is close, ideas about nursing and baby care and sleeping through the night and all types of things can be, unfortunately, combative and sometimes not helpful.  Hopefully, there is another person there to do some laundry and cook some meals.  Support found through a La Leche League group, a partner who understands the woman’s job for the first three months is to heal herself and nurse her baby or a friend (who is free to help out around the house) can be wonderful.

4. A copy of The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding

3.  A baby wrap or sling.  Ada was very colicky, though there were underlying reasons for that, as many of you know, and for a while, she would only nap while being worn.  And an over-exhausted fussy baby is worse than a fussy one.  Also, tt always felt so much safer having her snuggled to my chest than in a carseat or grocery cart.  Not to mention wonderful for her developmet and body heat.

Wraps are expensive, and to decommercialize this even more— here’s the secret, they are ridiculously easy to make, and you can make a wrap even without a sewing machine.  Or there are several very nice ones available now on websites.  I’ve heard very negative things about the business practices of Ergo, a popular choice, but there are many others.  I was definitely a wrap and ring sling girl.  But for the new  mom, wraps have a longer learning curve.  Pouches are easiest, and then things like the Beco, Ergo or ring sling.  I prefer two shouldered and look up the spinal pressure thing of models like the Baby Bjorn.  The others are better options.

3.  A basket with a water bottle, book, the TV clicker and some easy to eat snacks.  It can be carried around with one arm as new momma shuffles from the couch to the bed, and if baby falls asleep on her and she is too exhausted to get up, she’s got what her body and mind needs with her.

2. A doula.  I guess that would be for before baby arrives, but its still on my list.  She was invaluable to me and my husband both.

1.  The number of an LLL Leader and information on local groups.  When Azita was born, I was in tears and pain and felt like I was doing something wrong.  A La Leche League Leader came to my hospital room before Azita was 24 hours old and gave me hope that there was a light at the end of the tunnel, now that I was armed with some information about what was normal for a new breastfeeding pair.  The nurses were of no help at all and made me feel worse.  And yes, the pressure to breastfeed was put there by myself, and no one else, but it was still fiercely important to me, for reasons I couldn’t explain.

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When I became pregnant with Azita, I hadn’t given much thought to being a parent.  Me and Payman had said if we have a kid, great, if we don’t, great.  We were happy enough together and fulfilled in what we did in life that I didn’t have that drive, that pull towards having a baby.

I worked during the day, went to school– FTCC and then UNCP– some during the day, at night and online and I held Baha’i Study Circles and devotional gatherings.  At the study circles, we went through different books with quotes on different topics.  Book 1, for example, is called Reflections on the Life of the Spirit and one of its sections is on the life the soul.

I really felt, and still do, that my purpose in life, and the purpose of human life in general, is to enjoy this life and make good choices.

Enjoy the material things but don’t be attached to them. Recognize that the true life is the life of the soul and make your choices and decisions on how you live and treat people accordingly. 

Make the world a better place in the sense that you add to the positive rather than the negative.  Life is tough enough as it is, so I feel we should be working together, building each other up.

So when I found out I was pregnant I didn’t have that immediate overjoyed feeling.  I was far more freaked out and worried about how my life was going to change and how I’d ever have time for all the things I was doing– mainly finishing my degree and Baha’i stuff.

But in reality, I got exactly what I wanted.  I was so tired of working and being exhausted and running place to place on time.  Being a work at home mom was actually the perfect fit for me. 

And before being pregnant, I was completely freaked out at the thought of labor pain and breastfeeding.  And then it was like, everything just changed.  That mother instinct just began to pour out of me and then when Azita was born it was like a wave. 

I’m not saying that your entire life is supposed to revolve our your children or that they must define you, but for me, it should be like that at least for a while.

And at the end of the day when I feel like I haven’t done anything to make it a better place, I really need to remember the importance of what I do as a mother. 

I wanted to share these quotes from the Baha’i Writings that were a part of putting into words the emotions I felt when Azita was born, though I don’t know that I’d read them at the time. 

“For mothers are the first educators, the first mentors; and truly it is the mothers who determine the happiness, the future greatness, the courteous ways and learning and judgment, the understanding and the faith of their little ones.”

 

“Let the mothers consider that whatever concerneth the education of children is of the first importance. Let them put forth every effort in this regard, for when the bough is green and tender it will grow in whatever way ye train it. Therefore is it incumbent upon the mothers to rear their little ones even as a gardener tendeth his young plants. Let them by day and by night to establish within their children faith and certitude…”

“As to thy question regarding the education of children: it behooveth thee to nurture them at the breast of the love of God, and urge them onward to the things of the spirit, that they may turn their faces unto God; that their ways may conform to the rules of good conduct and their character be second to none; that they make their own all the graces and praiseworthy qualities of humankind; acquire a sound knowledge of the various branches of learning, so that from the very beginning of life they may become spiritual beings, dwellers in the Kingdom, enamored of the sweet breaths of holiness, and may receive an education religious, spiritual, and of the Heavenly Realm.”

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