From Blessingway to Blessed Birth

When I was pregnant with my first, I moved far, far away from anyone I knew or loved, besides my husband’s family.  My work schedule posed a challenge in cultivating new friendships with other moms and moms-to-be, so I didn’t have a baby shower or anything like that.  This time, I’ve lived here for a couple years, and made some great friends- truly inspiring women.  A few of these women I met through work or through other friends and family, but many of these women belong to our yoga moms tribe.  Something I hope is not unique to Southern Maryland, as I would like to believe I live in a world where this is normal- these women offer each other support, information, and love.  They all probably became part of the tribe the same way- attending one of my doula’s prenatal yoga classes.  There, she would direct them to her facebook group, a closed forum for local moms and moms-to-be.  On this forum, women vent or ask for help or advice, arrange meetups and even volunteer meal-trains for post-partum friends.

Since it’s my second child, also a girl, I figured we didn’t need much in the way of material things, so why throw a shower?  But my friend E, godmother to Z (baby girl #2) called me from her home in Ohio to ask if I’d be having one.  When I told her I didn’t think so, and why, she said surely I could think of something it would be nice to have this time around.  It didn’t take long for me to make a list and convince myself it would indeed be worth throwing a “sprinkle”.  But more than a sprinkle, I wanted an event that would have meaning for all in attendance, that would give me some good energy for the rest of the pregnancy and the birth, and that would show my friends how grateful I am to have them in my life.  Something like a Blessingway, but with my own spin on it (naturally).

And so it came to pass that I held a brunch at my in-laws’ house on the water, where we currently live.  E flew in and helped me get everything set up and cook all the dishes.  Since Z was due on Easter Sunday, I bought small candles that looked like Easter eggs for all of my guests to take. I bought myself a pillar candle with a charm on it resembling a pregnant woman holding up a full moon which was represented by a round moonstone. All the candles were blessed by the priest at our church, and as luck would have it, the morning of my Blessing Brunch, a priest from my husband’s childhood happened to be in town and came by and blessed my own candle.  We passed the candle around and one by one, my guests gave me a blessing for my birth and for the child.  Then, in turn, I went around the table and said something special about each woman to show how much it meant to me that they could be there.  The candles would be lit during labor.  A friend of mine who had had a Blessingway  last summer brought a few blessings herself that she had liked from hers.  She brought a handwritten poem, a jar of water to remind me to be fluid and fill the space wherever I am, a small piece of paper with the namaste symbol and “I am patient, I am calm” written on it, and a skein of red yarn.  With the red yarn, we made a web connecting all of us at the wrists, then cut the yarn and tied it to our wrists to be cut after the birth.

I still haven’t cut off my yarn bracelet.  I decided I wouldn’t cut it until this birth story was finished and published, so that my friends could be recognized for their part in this amazing event.

In the wee hours of the morning on Holy Thursday, while the moon was still full, I began having painful contractions.  This had happened the morning before as well, and they suddenly stopped after a few hours.  They were each a half hour apart just as they had been the day before, so I didn’t think it was really labor starting.  But they were getting intensely painful.  I remember thinking, if this is how bad they are in the beginning, what am I in for this time?

Per the advice of my doula, Stacy, I stayed in bed in the dark and tried to relax and sleep for a couple hours until I could no longer sleep.  As I lay in bed staring at the fan through nothing but the shadows of moonlight, I allowed myself to feel fear.  The endorphins and oxytocin weren’t kicking in nearly as intensely as the pain.  I could no longer sit still and I was hungry, so I woke up RJ and filled him in, told him I was going to eat some breakfast and watch the contractions.  He could continue to sleep until they started getting closer together, then we’d get ready to go to the hospital and I’d make my favorite recipe of lactation cookies (recipe available on this very blog, a couple entries back).

Bake cookies?  During labor?  Why, yes!  In my preparation for this birth, the 2 books I found most helpful were Hypnobirthing and Birthing From Within (Ina May’s books were the most helpful for my first birth, but this time I wanted more!).  In Birthing From Within, I read a handy little piece of advice: to have a labor activity to keep your mind off of timing the contractions and let your body do the work of early labor.  The idea was that instead of timing contractions to know when to go to the hospital, you use your mental engagement in the activity as a barometer for the intensity of labor.  If baking cookies, the smell of burning cookies should signify to you that you can no longer pay attention to anything else and must now go to the hospital for active labor.

After breakfast, since the contractions were getting closer together (yes I was in fact timing them on an app called Full Term), I called Stacy to let her know what was going on.  By then, I think it was around 5 am and they were about 5 minutes apart.  I woke RJ up and he got last-minute items together for our hospital bags while I turned on some music and baked cookies.  The endorphins were kicking in and I was actually having a lot of fun.  They were easier to breathe and move through.  Occasionally, RJ would be in the kitchen checking on me, and hold me gently while I rocked and swayed through a contraction.  I still wasn’t confident that this was “it”, especially because the rushes were getting easier to manage and there was a stutter in their consistency.  But after a significant stutter which had me wondering if labor was stopping, they began coming closer together.  When the cookies were done, they had started coming 7 minutes apart, and I wanted to make sure this time it was really happening.  So I called Stacy and told her we were going for a walk and asked her to come over and rub some sage or basil essential oil on my feet to get labor going strong.

I had lit my blessing candle when I started baking cookies, took a picture with my phone an sent it to everyone who had been at the blessing, and to my parents, my aunt, and my soul sister K.  Everyone who had an egg candle lit theirs and sent me and my on-point-girl Heather (the head of the phone tree) pics throughout the morning as they woke up.  I felt their energy uplifting me and giving me strength.

Just as RJ and I returned from our walk, Stacy pulled in the driveway.  We were still at 7 minutes apart.  We came inside and she looked at my contraction timer app to see how things were progressing.  By this point in labor with Anjolie, when I closed my eyes, I saw vivid moving patterns, colors, and shapes.  This time when I closed my eyes I saw faint colors moving through the blackness, but nothing distinct like aloe vera plants dancing in sync and arranged in the shape of a heart.

“Have you called Brooke yet?” Stacy asked. Brooke is my amazing midwife.

“No, I haven’t really been confident that this is real labor yet,” I said.  She told me to go ahead and call.  Ruth, the new midwife who’d been shadowing Brooke picked up, and her greeting sounded like a voicemail recording, so when she finished there was a moment of dead air as I waited for the beep.

“I’m sorry, I thought you were an answering machine!” I said, finally.  I filled her in and she listened to me breathe through a contraction.  I think Brooke was listening also.  She put me on hold while they discussed, then they advised me to head to the hospital since it was a half hour drive.

The timing couldn’t have been more perfect.  With Anjolie, I was transitioning in the car with the same length of time on the drive.  It was intensely uncomfortable.  With Z, I was still early enough to be pumped with endorphins and not in too deep.  The sun was rising, casting pinks, purples, blues, and gold all across the sky.  We opened the sunroof and let in the perfect breeze as we held hands and listened to the Beirut station on Pandora.  The contractions slowed down in the car, but Stacy said that was normal.  With my first, RJ pulled the car into the Emergency lane and left it there as we made our way to the maternity ward.  With Z, we parked a good distance away from the door so I could get a good walk in and get labor going again.  RJ left his door open and I happened to notice it as we walked away.  So, still early labor at this point.  We took the stairs and I was still pretty “with it” when we checked in, saying hi to everyone and smiling real big.  They put me in a bigger room this time, and when we walked in, I put my arms out wide and spun around.

“I could dance in here!” I exclaimed.

“You probably will,” said Stacy.  I asked for a labor ball to sit on, and the nurse started asking me questions and monitoring the baby, and that’s when active labor took over.  As soon as the midwives brought me the exercise ball, my body took the reigns.  I could feel Z moving down to the birth path and I withdrew my consciousness into my heart and my body.  Through my contractions, I moaned deeply and rocked or made hip circles.  RJ lightly brushed my collarbones with his fingers, which was ecstacy, and Stacy and the midwives rubbed my legs.  I stayed very relaxed and let all the intensity wash over me and imagined all the energy gently gliding Zelda down the birth path.  I knew it was getting serious when I asked RJ to switch the music to my “Serenity” labor mix and whispered to ask for water between contractions.

Brooke asked to check me because it was time for them to head in to the office unless I was getting close.  I was 7 cm and 100% effaced, so they stayed.  It felt like it was time to change positions.  The crowning would happen soon, I thought. My legs were already getting tired, so I no longer wanted to squat and deliver as I had originally intended.  Stacy suggested putting up the top half of the bed so I could rest on my knees and hold on to the bed.  It was the perfect position- now my arms took over the work of supporting my weight so my lower body could stay relaxed.  The downward movement started getting very intense, so I got very vocal.  RJ was right beside me the whole time, showering me with affection.  Brooke, Ruth, and Stacy gently murmured encouraging words.  At some point in this haze, I remember “our song” coming on- “Venice” by Beirut.

“Do you hear what song is playing, baby?” RJ asked.

“I hear it,” came my voice, breathy through the fog.

When A was born, I walked into the delivery room and my water broke, and she was out within half an hour, charging through me like an Amtrak and leaving me torn.  This one was gentle.  It took longer to breathe her down gently (even though the entire active labor took half the time) but that was what I wanted, to give my body time to stretch and open naturally.  Between contractions, I rested, and it almost began to feel as if I could bring them on and stop them at will.  When my water broke, it felt like a water balloon exploding.  POP!  SPLASH!

“Open, open, open…” I commanded my body, imagining petals unfolding around Zelda’s head.  During contractions, my vocalizations grew much more powerful.

“Now, Jessica,” Brooke said with gentle care, “Feel free to be as loud as you want, but you might want to redirect that energy downward.”  She was right: I was wearing myself out and needed every ounce of energy I could muster.  I turned my thoughts to the practice of breathing baby down.  Best advice I can give any expectant mother is to watch some hypnobirthing videos on YouTube for how to do this, and practice with every bowel movement you have until the baby comes.  And then after baby comes, keep doing it this way to avoid irritating your hemorrhoids.  Yeah.  I went there.

Nearing the crowning, Brooke rubbed some oil on my perineum and stretched me out a bit.  I was very aware as she crowned, feeling the ring of fire, the impulsive tightening between each push.  Her head took something like 3 pushes, her shoulders felt massive, but her body slid out as they pulled her.  Her umbilical cord was very long, so it was easy for me to turn over and receive her.  Her face was all scrunched up- I told RJ she looked like the Disturbed album cover.  She cried a bit but quieted as I sang to her.  She took to nursing right away.  Her left eyelids were swollen and pulled back from her eye, so that it looked as if one eye bugged out.  We instantly nicknamed her Popeye.

I had wished it were possible for me to have a home birth, mostly because I wasn’t looking forward to the mid-labor drive to the hospital.  But with the loving support of my friends, doula, and midwives, I was able to have my ideal birth in a hospital.

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The Secret Society of Miscarried Maternity

I have never been one to suffer in silence.  True, with a background in theater and waitressing, I can change my state at will, take a smack in the face and thank you for it while getting on with my life, but someone will hear of how I really feel.  Chances are, a lot of people will hear about it.

Perhaps you, the reader, are a friend, and have been made well-aware of my most recent experience, in which case I invite you to skip this next paragraph altogether.  If you don’t know me or have missed my facebook posts, pray, read on.

I hadn’t published the news, but I had told everyone who I had the pleasure of seeing in person, that I was expecting our second child.  I wanted to go all Sound of Music and go frolicking on a Swiss mountaintop while singing praises to God for this glorious news.  The slowest 6 weeks of my life crawled by as I waited for that sunny day in a long-awaited Spring for our very first ultrasonic glimpse at our newest love.  Oh yes, we loved this being we’d yet to meet.  I was dramatically uninformed, believing that since I had already had one, I would easily bring another to full term.  Little did I know I had basically won the genetic lottery with Anjolie, and now that I have borne a child, my chances of miscarriage are much higher.  I got all dolled up, shaved my legs and trimmed the hedges, wore a beautiful white dress, some perfume, anything to add to the magic of the appointment I was sure would bring ecstatic joy to my husband and me.  My heart sank when my loving midwife broke the news that the fetus was too small (measuring 6 weeks when it should have been almost 10) and they couldn’t see a heartbeat.  I wanted to believe it was possible we’d miscalculated the due date, but inside I knew as soon as she said it, though we’d have to wait almost a week to confirm with another sonogram.  A few days later, my body naturally delivered the “product of conception.”  I was lucky that my midwife had shared with me what to expect.  Some women are not forewarned, and even though I knew what was coming, it was still pretty traumatic.  All the pain of birth besides the crowning, but taking much longer, and none of the payoff.  And I won’t mention the gory bits.

Because I am vocal, I was lucky to be swarmed with well-wishes and love and prayers and positive energy.  I had been inspired by my baby cousin (obviously not a baby anymore) who had been very public about her grief over to her 2 miscarriages.  She was the first woman I had ever seen be so open about it, unashamed and unguarded with her feelings.  It’s so strange to call her a woman but her admirable actions force me to remember that though she’ll always be a baby to me, she is truly a strong, beautiful, grown-ass woman.  This is not to say that women who suffer in silence through this experience (most women, in truth) are not strong.  That, too requires incredible strength.

As many women do, once I shared what was happening to me, swarms of women shared that it had happened to them, women I never knew had gone through it.  And judging by the statistics, I bet there are even more women who go through it that have not and maybe never will share it with me.  About 50% of pregnancies do not result in live birth, if the book I read was still accurate.  Many pregnancies are lost before the egg even attaches to the uterus, as I found with my chemical pregnancy several months before my baby girl was conceived.  At first, I let this console me.  I let well-meaning people who wanted to help tell me how to feel.  “Most miscarriages are improperly formed fetuses, this is the body’s way of mercy.  God has a plan.  You’ll have another baby.  It could have been worse.  This is a lot more common than people realize.”  It worked at first to dull the pain.  And for some women, these truths can be embraced rationally and help them bounce back.  Every one is different.  For me, these rational truths served as storage for my heart break, keeping it under lock and key.

“This isn’t a tragedy.  It’s just a very deep disappointment,” I said to myself and anyone who sought reassurance that I was OK.  But I wasn’t OK.  Not even close.  I smiled and laughed and tried to pretend everything was getting back to normal.  But here and there, the grief would trickle out of its cage, I could feel it pulsating against the bars, its whimpers turning to screams of rage.  Only with my husband could I be honest, and only from time to time.  With a toddler in tow, it’s scary to open the gate, afraid you can’t stuff the monster back in and get back to being SuperMom.  I would say, “I miss my baby.  I miss being pregnant.  I want my baby back.”  And he’d sympathize and admit he thought about it from time to time, but also that he couldn’t possibly know how I feel because a woman becomes a mother the moment she knows she’s carrying a child.  A man becomes a father at the same time that that occurs for him- when he carries his child.  In his arms, not his womb.  There is an exception to every rule though, and I know men who have truly suffered through the miscarriage of their offspring, because they carried the child in their minds or hearts.

It’s funny, as common as death is (it only happens to every one and every thing that lives in this world), you don’t hear people bring that up at funerals.  It is certainly little comfort.  Truth means little in the face of strong emotion.

If this is so common, why don’t people talk about it?  There are MANY reasons why people don’t talk about it.  Despite the facts now available, that most miscarriages are the result of an improperly formed fetus and nothing that the mother or father have done wrong, many women feel intense shame that they couldn’t carry their children to term.  Many women feel that their bodies have betrayed them.  Many women feel so intensely that nothing could console them but time, and to share the grief would only invite reminders from well-meaning friends and family with attempts to console.  Some women still feel the pain of loss years afterward, thinking of how old the baby would have been.  Many women seem to want to turn their lives upside down and see what shakes loose, craving a huge, dramatic change to fill the vacuum, myself included.  Everyone grieves differently.  I crave a sense of community, reassurances of love and support.  Some women want only privacy.  I get that, for sure.

While trying to act normal, I have watched myself as if out of body say and do things I knew weren’t me and panicked inside watching my mask slip and reveal some of the feelings I didn’t want to face and certainly didn’t want to show.  About completely unrelated things.  I know no one else noticed I was acting strangely, but I did.  Some women take a week off from work, some women a month, some women no time at all.  I wish that I had had the guts to ask for at least a week off from the beginning but I didn’t want to disappoint the wonderful people I work with, or my clients.  Now that my repressed emotions are beginning to get the better of me, I followed the cues of my heart.

A few days after the miscarriage was over, childcare had fallen through for Jojo Friday so I had already rearranged my schedule to have the day off.  A growing urgency led me to see the nudge from the universe and ask for Saturday off as well.  I scheduled my appointments for days I normally have off so that my clients wouldn’t have to wait for my next available Saturday.  I went out of town with my family to a big, fun distraction known as the comic convention.  It was nice to temporarily replace feelings of gloom and heartbreak with joy and amusement, and just the closeness with my family.  On the drive, it was nice to let my guard down and sit in silence and allow myself to feel what I truly felt, without shame or taking others into account, in a relatively safe environment.  Well, not perfectly safe.  I will admit there were moments when I let the grief and anger wash over me so completely that I fantasized about opening the car door right there on the highway and diving out.  Please don’t let that worry you, the ideation went as quickly as it came.  I’ve thought about my death regularly since childhood, almost as an attempt to scare myself into finding a solution to my problems rather than wallowing in self-pity.  But now I return to daily life and find myself just as depressed as before.  Only this time perhaps a little less repressed, and a little more patient for the feelings to subside at their own natural pace.  After all, according to my hormone levels, I’m still testing as pregnant.

It took a glass of wine during the writing of this entry, sipped with uncanny speed in the middle of the day while Anjolie slept, for me to drop my guard enough to do the subject justice.  I listened to classic flamenco music as the fitting soundtrack for the tumult in my heart and let it act as a release valve.  My final summation for this blog is to invite mothers who experience miscarriage not to treat it with shame and taboo, but to share their experience with others who can relate.  I caution caring friends and family that though you want your loved one to feel better about it soon, and don’t like to watch them suffer, this isn’t about you, and what you want.  What’s best for a woman who has miscarried is to allow her to feel her feelings, don’t judge them or advise on them, they will come around to believing all the rationalizations you would throw at them at their own pace.  Just offer to be there in any way you can.  Just like post-partum support, you have many options that would be much more appreciated than offering a constructive perspective.  Offer to watch her child(ren) if she has them, so she can take some time to herself.  Help her by cleaning the house, bringing food, doing dishes, taking out the trash.  Or just listen.  Or talk about something else but let her lead the conversation in a direction she finds comforting.  Hug or cuddle with her if it’s appropriate to your relationship, and that’s her thing.  Feelings are different from thoughts because they can’t be helped.  While I have a healthy rational perspective on what’s happened to me, it doesn’t change how I feel, and that’s okay.

I’m not OK.  And that’s OK.  OK?

Paleo Momma’s Milk Cookies

I write this blog today not only by popular demand, but because something that happened last night was quite significant and relevant to this post.

I’ve recently realized that when I’m craving cookies, I really just want my mom.  Mom and I used to share an evening ritual of Oreos and milk or cookies n cream ice cream.  This created a very strong positive association, making cookies equal love in the back of my mind.  Now that I’m older and more concerned with my health, cookies are not something I really want to indulge in anymore.  I like not having to fight the constant roller-coaster of my blood sugar, and I like the energy I feel on a regular basis when I cut out all the garbage and just eat well.  But sometimes I seriously just crave cookies.  I have to have them and nothing else will do.  So my solution now is to change my reaction to that craving by recognizing where it comes from, and calling my Mom, because that’s what I really want.

Everyone has some baggage in their relationships with their parents.  Mom and I cleared up the majority of it in my first pregnancy, but I still associate pain with talking to them because I worry for them and every little thing they say that makes me think they’re not taking care of themselves or planning for the future, or even that they have the wrong mindset, upsets me deeply.  My mom also has a painful association with picking up the phone and calling anyone.  She won’t do it unless she has to.  She’s working on that now that she realizes it, but you can bet I don’t talk to my parents as much as I should.  And as I result, I eat a lot of cookies.

Now, the human brain acts much like a radio: picking up and transmitting thoughts on amplified vibrations via the subconscious.  Thoughts are amplified by deep, strong emotion.  So watch what you’re feeling when you’re thinking, because what you send out is also what you receive.  Anyway, last night my craving for cookies was at a record high.  We had none and I didn’t feel like making any.  I also remembered my new rule: to call my Mom when I craved cookies.  But my phone was upstairs and I was downstairs watching Netflix and oh, it was just such a long day, and I was sooooo tired.  The hubby was going upstairs to get something anyway, so I asked him to bring me my phone.  My mom had tried to Face Time me twice, roughly around the time when I first said, “I need to call my mom” but didn’t follow through.

My battery was dying, but I called anyway.  It was one of the best conversations I’ve had with my parents in a long time.  They had so much good news about positive steps they were taking together.  They sounded so happy.  They gave me not one single thing to worry about.  And when I got off the phone, I no longer wanted cookies.  I felt satisfied.

That being said, the following recipe is the one I use for relatively guilt-free cookies.  As far as I know, the recipe aligns with a paleo diet.  I first started making these cookies when Jojo was born and I was worried about my milk supply.  Some of the ingredients in this recipe are known galactagogues- that means they increase milk production in lactating mammals.  Farmers feed them to cows.  These ingredients are flax, oats, and brewer’s yeast (this is also why nursing women are encouraged to drink dear, dear, delicious Guinness or other stouts and porters.  My favorite is a seasonal brew by local brewery, DuClaw, called Naked Fish- Chocolate Raspberry Stout.  Available in winter.)

Recipe

Ingredients grouped in order of use

  1. Medium Bowl
    1. 1.5 cups Bob’s Red Mill Almond Meal, 16 Oz
    2. 1 tsp baking soda
    3. 1 tsp salt
    4. 1 tsp cinnamon
    5. 1 Cup One 1 lb Bob’s Red Mill Organic Gluten-Free Whole Ground Golden Flaxseed Meal
  2. Large Bowl
    1. 3/4 cup almond or peanut butter (pref no sugar or salt added)
    2. 1/2 cup butter or Grassfed Organic Ghee 7.8 Oz – Pure Indian Foods(R) Brand
    3. 3 Tbsp Brewers Yeast Twinlab, Inc 18 oz Powder
    4. 1/3 Cup water
    5. 1 Cup unsweetened apple sauce
    6. 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  3. 2 Large eggs
  4. Next
    1. 2 Cups Lily’s Dark Chocolate Premium Baking Chips — 9 oz
    2. 1 Cup chopped nuts (walnuts or almonds are best)
  5. Last- 2 cups Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free Whole Grain Rolled Oats, 32 Oz

Instructions

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Combine Ingredients (1) in medium bowl.  Combine ingredients (2) in large bowl.  Mix in eggs (3) in large bowl.  Gradually beat contents of medium bowl into large bowl mixture.  Mix in ingredients (4), followed by the oats (5) slowly mixing.

Place balls of dough onto cookie sheet lined with parchment paper or greased.  Press down on each dough ball with a fork.

Bake for 12 minutes.

Enjoy with minimal guilt.  If you’re making milk for a baby, enjoy with zero guilt.  If you’re not making milk, eat it anyway, I promise you won’t start making milk.  Ask my hubby, they’re delicious… and the fiber doesn’t hurt either 😉

Moms can do it all, and we do it best together!

First, an update on Anjolie Mae L’Heureux!

She rounded 6 weeks yesterday, and what an eventful day it was!  The day began with her usual last feeding in bed (we’ve been co-sleeping since the 2nd or 3rd night of her life when we realized it was the only way she’d sleep at all, despite staying wakeful through most of the day).  I lay there gazing at her in wonder as I usually do, silently studying her every move.  Her face always so expressive, but never more entertaining than after a feeding when she’s working out some poop or lower gas.  Her first few weeks of life, she had at least 4 poopy diapers a day (which helped prevent me from worrying about my milk supply, since she’s a marathon feeder), but about 2 weeks ago, she started saving up all her poop for one big poo-splosion every 3 to 5 days or so.  As I watched her face and listened for toots or splatters, I heard the sound we’d been waiting for and woke RJ up to change what I knew would be a poopy diaper.  We are both slow to wake, so I was patient as he rubbed his eyes and stretched and looked up at the ceiling… until I felt something wet on my thigh.

“Oh my God…” I said.

RJ always tells the story of his dad playing a trick on him and his 2 middle brothers by putting peanut butter on his finger while changing their youngest brother’s diaper, then eating it in front of them, pretending it was poop.  I reached down to touch the wetness on my leg and put a finger inches away from his face.  “This is not peanut butter.”  Unsure of the extent of the mess, and unwilling to spread it further, I lie still, waiting for RJ to get up and come around the bed to pick her up.

The last time I changed a poopy diaper on her, I had to use and discard a clean one just to wipe her without getting more mess on her.  This time, it was straight to the shower with all of us.  It was only her most recent bath that she managed to sit through without screaming, but she LOVED the shower.  If I weren’t so scared her soft, slippery body would fall right out of my hands, I’d shower with her all the time.  Looking at her serene face peppered with tiny beads of water was like witnessing the birth of a naiad.

Yes, I’m in love.

I’m also still very much in love with my husband, and fully conscious of the relationship between children and their parents- it is our duty to raise them to be independent, so that we can one day push them out of the nest and watch them fly, hoping they’ll fly home every once in a while.  He has been a dreamboat, and we have made it a point to preserve our relationship so that when the kids leave the house, our relationship will be stronger than ever and we can go back to enjoying each other after adjusting to the relative silence of our empty nest.

This means, of course, Anjolie can’t share our bed forever.  Especially if we’re going to have more children.  And not just for the sake of our love life, but also for my sanity.  I don’t sleep well lying next to her because I have to consciously hold myself in an uncomfortable position to keep from smothering her.  I prop myself up with pillows, but I’m still wakeful, conscious of her every move.  And what about when she starts to roll over on her own?

Yesterday, or should I say last night, I got my answer to the question: “Will she ever sleep in her crib?”  I encouraged RJ to go to a giant metal fest in Baltimore with a friend who had scored free tickets.  If I could have, I would have, and I didn’t want him to miss it.  Understandably, he came home inebriated.  You should never cosleep a baby with an inebriated adult.  Especially a man who tends to be a heavy sleeper.  I could sleep with her on the other side of me, away from him, but I nurse her lying down throughout the night, which requires changing sides.  I always wake up whenever RJ moves to make sure he doesn’t roll on her, and usually a light touch from me is enough to signal him  to be cautious as he rolls.  But not in this state.  So I considered sleeping in the guest room with her, but since she was sleeping heavily on my chest on the couch when RJ got home, I decided to try nursing her to sleep and putting her in the crib.  The guest room would be a last resort.

She’s had a sort of sleep schedule that we’ve fallen into naturally.  I feed her one last time before we all go to sleep, whenever that is- usually somewhere between 10:30 and midnight, then I wake around 3:30 or 4 am with full breasts and see her squirming in her sleep as if to rouse herself to cry for nourishment.  So I nurse her and we sleep until about 6 or 7, and I nurse her again, Then again around 9, and we’re out of bed when that session is over.  Then she marathon feeds all day.  It is this schedule that gave me some confidence to try putting her in her crib for her first full night.  I nursed her on one breast, then changed her diaper, swaddled her tightly, and covered her head with a cute little hat to keep in her body warmth and make up for the loss of mine.  Nursed her on the other and let her break the latch on her own, watched her for cues of light sleep (twitching, facial expressions, eyes moving), and finding none, but rather a heavy breathing with perfect rhythm, slowly and carefully moved her to the crib.

SUCCESS!!!!

Now, what about me?  You might be asking.  What about my oh-so-promising career?  How do I feel about going back to work?

Well, at first, I didn’t even want to think about working.  I thought after that beautiful birth, I’m made to make babies!  Let me just do that!  But, we certainly can’t afford for me to be a professional mom right now.  And I want to have a life outside of maternity, it makes the apron-strings easier to cut 18 short years from now.  But I don’t want to compromise my child’s health for my sense of autonomy by switching her to formula when I go back to work. Still, I haven’t had enough time between nursing sessions to pump and save milk for that time.

It was the trip to my dear friend Emily’s wedding down in Clearwater, FL that helped me find the answer to that concern.  Anjolie was just over 2 weeks old when she took her first plane ride.  Emily’s fiance, now husband, Claude wanted us to come so badly, he paid for our airfare and put us up in a big beach house they had rented for friends, family, and themselves.  We were very honored by how they treated us.  Emily even held up her whole mani-pedi appointment so I could nurse Anjolie without rushing before we left.  This couple has class, friends.  A friend of mine with a young toddler just under 2 years is still giving breast-milk as well as solids, and she was staying in the house as well.  She told me she had a problem with low milk supply due to a breast-reduction, and she went to a LLL meeting and listened for women who complained of over-supply to find a breast-milk donor.

Eureka!  I thought.  As soon as I was able to get on the computer again, I got on my favorite local mommy-network facebook group, Prenatal Yoga Evolve, and asked if anyone had a lot of milk to spare.  Of course I would be pumping at work, but what about the first days?  What if I hadn’t stored enough milk for her, since I usually can only get a couple ounces a day?  I read that babies need about 3 ounces of milk per day for every pound that they weigh.  Anjolie now weighs over 10 pounds.  Oh!  That reminds me of another fun story of the follies of first-time motherhood and being ever-so-quick to consider yourself a failure as a mom.  Well, to tie off the loose ends of the story in progress, I found a donor (had several offers within minutes, and though I offered to pay, they all wanted to give it away!), and had a pleasant coffee-date with a rad mom in the process of picking up the milk.

So, earlier this week, I noticed some black spots on Anjolie’s tongue.  I thought it looked like lint, but when I tried to scrape it off with a popsicle stick and it wouldn’t come off, I had RJ google it.  I went to bed that night determined to call my pediatrician in the morning, sure that she had thrush, a yeast infection of the mouth probably caused by the breeding of yeast on my nipples as a result of wet nursing pads and hot weather.  And, of course, I felt like a failure as a mother. We women are so hard on ourselves and on each other.  I took her to the pediatrician the next day, and was very pleased to find she had gained an ounce a day since her last appointment.  Then felt very foolish when the doctor scraped lint off her tongue with a much wider tongue depressor and that little flashlight.  Why didn’t I think of using a flashlight?

Anyway, when I’m not feeling completely drained, I find myself feeling more empowered than ever, as if these 6 weeks of doing everything one-handed has been high-altitude-training to become ambidextrous.  I will come back to my career more determined than ever, and I have some aspirations to get a column in a magazine published for tattoo artists that focuses on females in the industry, what it’s like for them, inspiration, tips, and highlighting ladies I meet who spark my fancy.  Now, while my husband still holds my sleeping child in the Beco carrier, I hope to get 20 minutes of Marissa Tomei’s workout DVD in before it’s time to feed her again!

The Birth Story of Anjolie Mae L’Heureux

The writing of this story has taken place over several days, a few minutes stolen here and there from the exciting twists and turns of first-time parenthood.  Many times the words were barely being strung together in an exhausted stupor.  Enjoy.

It was June 11th, RJ’s last day of work for the summer.  The weather was gorgeous after several days of heavy rain, and we decided to go check out the community beach on Lake Lariat, the lake behind our house.  My mom had come to stay with us the week before to help out whenever the baby would arrive.  I was 2 days past my due date, and sick of being pregnant.  Sick of the teasing Braxton-Hicks contractions, but recently more so of the bladder spasms.  It seemed any time I had to pee, my womb would contract much harder than the usual Braxton-Hicks contractions and would do so again after relieving myself, and more painfully and for a longer period of time.  I worried that these contractions would make it harder for me to realize when labor had really started.

The concern wasn’t completely unfounded, however the confusion was helpful in ways I couldn’t expect.  When RJ came home, we went straight to the beach to soak up the sun and enjoy some of our last moments together before becoming parents.  I was having a delightful combination of Braxton-Hicks contractions and what I could only assume were bladder spasms judging by the level of discomfort.  The water was cool, but not too cold, and the sun warmed my skin deliciously.  We swam out to see if we could spot our dock from the middle of the lake, and the swimming felt great.

Afterward, I made some butternut squash pasta with dates and garlic and crushed red pepper.  Spicy foods and dates are supposed to be helpful in naturally inducing labor.  It was during dinner that I started noticing the contractions coming 5-10 minutes apart, and increasingly uncomfortable.  That continued for a good while, so RJ and I took Remy for a walk to see if they got stronger or just went away.  Later, as we were watching Kung Fu Hustle, I sent a text to my doula, Stacy, saying that the contractions were becoming a little painful, and still 5-10 minutes apart though they hadn’t established any regularity.  I asked if she thought a little private time with my husband might get them established.  She said, essentially, that it couldn’t hurt, and I should take a warm bath afterward.  So we did just that, and timed the contractions while we were in the tub.  RJ sat behind me and poured water over me and we felt warm and loving, listening to the labor playlist I had made.  A little bit of my mucus plug came out, so I called Stacy to let her know.  She said if this was it, it was still really early, so I should get some sleep.  I obliged.

All I remember of the dream that came before waking was eating a leaf of basil from my plant out back, when a long, extremely painful contraction woke me up.  Well, I thought it was extremely painful because it was so much more than any I had yet experienced.  It was like some of my worst monthly cramps.  I waited through a couple more before waking RJ to ask him to go for a walk with me.  We continued timing them, and though they were longer, stronger, and closer together, they still weren’t consistent.  Five minutes apart here, 3 there, 7 there.  I still decided to call Stacy because they were painful enough to cause concern.  It was probably about 3 am then.  I decided to get in the bath while we waited for her to arrive.  By the time she came, they were still 3 to 7 minutes apart.

Doulas all carry a bag-of-tricks with them to help in all conditions of labor.  She said she didn’t want to break anything out until things got serious, but she did want to rub my feet with clary sage, a pure essential oil that helps pick up labor.  She also had basil essential oil, which she said gets contractions started.  I told her about dreaming about eating the basil leaf just as a contraction woke me up.  “You’re such a freak,” she said, good-naturedly.  I had told her about all the dreams I had had throughout pregnancy which turned out to be premonitions.  Many things which had been unknown to my conscious mind were apparently well-known to the unconscious.

I labored mostly on my fitness ball at first.  I felt amazing between contractions, so happy and relaxed and talkative.  RJ made some coffee and breakfast while Stacy rubbed my feet with oil and held a pressure point on my ankle which is supposed to bring on labor.  During contractions, Stacy and RJ supported and massaged me, reminded me to relax my jaw and my shoulders, where I hold the most tension, and focus on relaxing and letting nature take its course.

The contractions became more consistent and closer together, and we noticed they would come in a cluster of long, hard contractions with little time between each, then return to a more “normal” pattern, only now a little closer together than before.  I put normal in quotes because most women in early labor have contractions that last 45 seconds to a minute.  Most of mine were at least a minute, some lasting 5 minutes long.

We went for a walk and RJ and Stacy kept conversation going, which was very helpful to keep me calm and happy.  Just as I had read about, everything started looking more beautiful than usual as the sun rose.  I marveled at a bush of hydrangeas I drive by every day, amazed that I had never noticed them before.  The flowers were all different colors- pinks, blues, and purples.  Hydrangeas get their color from the ph of the soil in which they grow, so I had never seen one bush with blooms of so many colors.  It looked like cotton candy.

We came back to the house so I could pee, and took Remy out for another walk.  At this point, the contractions were becoming stronger, but I still wanted to walk through them.  RJ held my hand to guide my steps as I closed my eyes and felt another wave wash over me, and this time there were moving images projected on the backs of my eyelids- fractals of pink and white blooming flowers in a heart shape, waving in a breeze.  The next contraction brought images of waving aloe plants.

Back inside, I mentioned to Stacy that I was surprised I wasn’t having more back labor, since I knew the baby wasn’t positioned spine-out, which is the best position for birth.  So she put me on my hands and knees, doing clockwise hip circles to turn the baby.  RJ stood over me with a knee outside each hip, pressing in to help open them up.  In the reflection of my sliding glass doors, I could swear I saw my Grand-daddy sitting on my stairs.

Things started getting a bit intense for me, I couldn’t go anywhere without RJ, including the toilet (which I spent a lot of time on, the pressure down there being such that I felt like I might pee or poop.  I didn’t.) because a contraction would come on and I would need to hold on to him.  Stacy called my midwife, Brooke, to let her know of my progress.  I had an appointment at 9:20 am, and they didn’t think I’d be transitioning that soon, so they decided I should go to the appointment instead of the hospital, just in case they checked me and I wasn’t far enough along to justify checking in to delivery.

Once we decided on that, they put me in the tub with some lavender essential oil to help keep me relaxed.  The contractions started coming even closer together, at this point about  3 minutes apart consistently, but the clusters were becoming more intense as well.  After my bath I looked pitifully with a half-smile at my birth partners and said, “Why can’t I be one of those women who have 45 second contractions spaced apart regularly?”

“Because those women labor for 24 hours, I wouldn’t say that girlie, you’re lucky, you’re going to have a quick birth,” Stacy said.

“You’re right,” I said, climbing out of the tub, “I take it back.”  It was then that things got really intense.  I started having spasms during a contraction that felt like by body trying to push, and I knew it wasn’t time yet.  I was on the floor of the nursery with my knees wide apart, RJ holding me up in front of me and Stacy behind me pressing on my lower back, and I felt like I was going to burst out of my own bottom.  Once the contraction was over I raced to the toilet to try and get rid of anything that might shoot out of me during the next contraction, and while I couldn’t pee or anything, I did manage to vomit quite a bit.

I’d like to take this opportunity to mention how amazing RJ was.  He showered me with affection and praise, and with every contraction knew just what to say and do to get me to relax and let myself be taken over.  And my doula, Stacy, was priceless.  Even Remy was giving me all the loving support he could manage in his canine form.  I breathed through my contractions and made gentle noises like you would during lovemaking, to keep everything really serene and stay away from tension.  Fighting pain never helps it, so I learned a long time ago to submit to it.

After a particularly strong contraction, as Stacy mentioned it was time to start heading out, I told RJ to put trash bags down in the front seat in case my water broke on the ride to the midwife’s office, which was half an hour away.  Fortunately, it practically shared a parking lot with the hospital.

“On a scale of 1 to 10, where would you say your pain is right now, 10 being the worst pain you can imagine?” Stacy asked.

“I’d say about an 8,” I responded.

“Well you’re doing pretty amazing if that what 8 looks like,” she said.

I put on a dress my mother-in-law had given me and we made our way to the car.   I had a contraction as we walked up the steps to my driveway, and closed my eyes, hoping to see more visuals, but there were none.  My mom was there to see us off and I blew her a kiss from the front seat as we drove away.

Contractions in the car were tough, the pressure I felt was intense, and I knew I was getting close, but I didn’t want to have the baby in the car.  I knew I needed to relax, but my whole life’s training of holding in bodily functions until the appropriate time and place was hard to fight.  We rolled with the windows down  at first, and the breeze felt incredible.

“I’ve never seen you look more beautiful, baby,” RJ said.  As he drove, he took a couple pictures of me zoning out during a contraction. I saw them afterward and with my mouth and jaw relaxed, my eyes half-closed, I could kinda see what he was talking about.  It was the look of someone being intensely, lovingly taken over.

When we got to the midwife’s office, the contractions were coming so close together, when one would end, the other would begin.  I walked with my eyes almost completely-shut and RJ held my hand to guide me through the office.  We came up to the front counter and I looked at the receptionist briefly before closing my eyes and breathed, “Brooke.”  RJ helped the woman check me in while I focused on the contraction, then he helped me to the bathroom because I felt like I needed to pee.  I couldn’t, and I was having the spasms again.  RJ told me my bloody-show had started.

I don’t think anyone in the office knew I was in labor, because they treated me as they always do.  They called me into the room where they took my blood pressure and weighed me and asked me questions as usual, even handed me a cup to leave a urine sample.  Only difference was, this time, they put me directly into the room they’d be seeing me in, instead of having me wait in the waiting room.  My appointment was for a no-stress-test, standard procedure when the baby had passed her due date.  They strapped monitors to my belly and handed me a little clicker.

“I know you’re gonna hate me, but I need you to click this button whenever you feel the baby move,” said the nurse.  This was the first time I gave someone a dirty look during labor.  Everything else had been very peaceful, loving, and beautiful.  She left the room and another contraction started.  It was so intense, I dropped the clicker.  RJ picked it up and asked if I wanted him to click it for me.

“Did the baby move?  Do you want me to press the button?” he asked.

“Fuck the button,” I breathed.

Brooke came in and checked me and said I was 100% effaced and 6 cm dilated.  She was pretty familiar with my birth plan, though I hadn’t given her a written copy yet, and the one detail we hadn’t ironed out was the saline lock, a little intravenous device which simply made it easier to get me medicine in an emergency, but wouldn’t inhibit my mobility at all.  Now that I actually knew what labor felt like, I told her I thought it would be uncomfortable and make it harder for me to focus on the task at hand, so we’d better not.  She said we could go on over to the hospital and she’d be there shortly.  If she didn’t make it in time, the hospital had its own midwife who could deliver the baby.  Before I could raise any alarm, Stacy assured me she was awesome.

I really felt like I needed to pee, so we went to the bathroom and RJ stood in front of me so I could throw my arms around his shoulders for support.  I couldn’t pee at first, but then a strong contraction came on and I let out a shout while my bladder practically exploded.  RJ thought my water had broken, but I assured him it was just my bladder emptying itself to get out of the baby’s way.  It was the first time in over a month I had been able to relieve myself so completely and so quickly because her head had been pressing on my urethra.  It was equally as intense and painful as it was a relief.

We walked out through the waiting room and I could feel people looking at me. I knew I looked intense.  I didn’t care.  We were in front of the building, having just stepped onto a crosswalk when a contraction peaked, and I grabbed RJ around the shoulders and dropped down to my knees with a loud moan, the top of my abdomen had several spasms while they reminded me to relax and breathe.  At this point my body was really trying to take over.  Stacy, who had been calm and confident that we had plenty of time until this point, looked seriously at RJ and said it was time to get to the hospital.

We drove over to the emergency overhang and RJ left the car running as we went inside.  I knew labor and delivery was on the 2nd floor, but I didn’t know where the elevator was.  There was no reception in the emergency entrance.  We walked down the nearest hall and looked around frantically.  Soon, a man in scrubs walked by and we called to him.  “Elevator,” I managed to say, trying to keep all the tension out of my voice.

“You guys probably want labor and delivery, huh?” he asked in a tone entirely too chipper.  They sat me down while they got me a wheelchair and wheeled me to the elevator.  There was a nurse in the elevator who was also a little too chipper for me at the moment.

“We havin’ a baby today?” she said.

“Yes,” I breathed.

“Ohhhh how wonderful!  Is it a boy or a girl?”

“Girl.”  Some more chit chat, maybe congratulations or good luck, and we were off the elevator heading for the delivery ward.  I remember feeling as if everything needed to hurry up and get out of this baby’s way.  RJ handed my ID and insurance card to the receptionist, and since I had already registered, they told me to go ahead to a room they had prepared for me.  I took 3 steps into the room, squatted down with my knees on top of RJ’s shoes, and broke my bag of waters with a loud grunt.  It splashed all over the floor.  I could hear them checking to make sure it was clear as I breathed through some more spasms.  RJ went to move the car as they took the fetal heart-rate and other vitals, and the nurse checked me.

“She’s ready to push,” she said.  I could believe it.  But RJ wasn’t back yet.

Stacy called him and said he needed to hurry because I was ready to go.  He was just outside the room when she called.  He walked in, and I asked him to sit behind me because on the car ride, sitting with my back supported felt really good.  There came the break in contractions I had heard about, where the body allows you to rest up for the real hard work, and RJ and I held each other, and I think we prayed an Our Father.  When it came time to push, I asked God to help me.  I let out a loud grunt as I pushed, and Brooke reminded me to keep my tone low and gutteral.  That’s when I made some sounds that would frighten bears.  Stacy told me when the head had crowned so I could reach down and touch it.  While I was surprised not only at how it didn’t hurt nearly as much as I thought it would, I was also surprised at how squished up the skin on top of her head was.  RJ said it looked like a furry raisin.  I was also surprised by the jolt of electric ecstasy I felt when I touched her head.

She had some shoulder dystocia, which is when one or both of the shoulders get stuck.  They hurriedly got RJ out from behind me so they could lay me flat on my back and my knees gathered up near my ears.  RJ was able to watch the birth now.  It was only one shoulder that Brooke had to wrestle free, and after that the whole body slid out.  In the blink of an eye, she was on my chest, purple and bloody and trying to cry, her head elongated a bit, the nurse suctioning fluid from her throat.  Just like a dream I had had.  Her eyes were open, she looked right at me.  I was in heaven.  She was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.  Anjolie Mae was the first name that came to mind.  We had never discussed that name, so Rj was pretty surprised.  She was born at 10:52 am.  I have never been higher in my life.  Who needs drugs?

I tore a little, so Brooke stitched me up while I sang to my new baby.  I had determined early in pregnancy that I would sing the Cat Stevens song that goes, “If you want to sing out, sing out… And if you want to be free, be free…”  I was thrilled to hear Brooke singing along.

Anjolie’s legs had been stretched out straight in my womb for the last month at least, and I knew her legs were long.  Most babies draw their feet in close after birth, but not Anjolie.  She stretched right out and Brooke was amused by how her feet almost got in her way, but not quite.  The midwife who was on standby and witnessed the birth wept and told Stacy it was births like ours which reminded her why she got into the business in the first place- we were so loving and peaceful.

I remember thinking during transition that I couldn’t imagine why I would ever do this again, it being so intense.  But as soon as I held my child, the memory of the pain was erased.

Apparently, this is normal, and I need to relax.

One day, a thought occurred to me that my contractions were only coming close together whenever RJ was around.  Must be that oxytocin, I thought.  So I wasn’t worried about going in to labor at work.  Until the other day, when I started having contractions 6-8 minutes apart again, while I was tattooing a client.  I felt funny, like I was on mushrooms or something.  Everything looked different, I had a kind of body-high/light-headedness, sensitivity to temperature, and I felt nauseated.  I went outside to walk around the parking lot while talking to my doula, to see if the contractions would go away with walking, as they had before.  They were coming on stronger.  Whether or not this was the real thing, I wouldn’t be tattooing anyone feeling like this, and I couldn’t drive myself home.  So, I called RJ to grab his brother and come drive me home in my car.  Then, I called the midwife, who assured me it was very unlikely I was actually going in to labor, but that if I was, since I was past 35 weeks, they wouldn’t need to stop it, so just try to relax and see what happens.

Since my house is an hour away from work, and RJ had to drive an hour out of the way to pick up his brother, allow half an hour for rush-hour-traffic, I was waiting at the shop for 2 and a half hours.  Having contractions, feeling generally shitty, and being surrounded by the harsh buzz of machines and heavy metal music, was not at all ideal.  I was a tight wad of frayed nerves by the time he arrived, and it had me worried in the car ride home.  By that point, I knew I wasn’t in labor. I had posted in a prenatal yoga facebook group about the contractions I’d been having and asked for the input of mothers who had been there, and I learned that it was very common to go through this all through the last couple months and still give birth around the due date ( which is now just under a month away).  How come you never hear about this until you’re already going through it and freaking out?

Still, the experience had me thinking, I definitely don’t want to go through this again.  I don’t want to be stuck at work having contractions that close together, whether or not they are actually the beginnings of labor.  I want to enjoy the last bit of pregnancy I have left.  So I considered taking leave now, instead of waiting another 2 weeks, but then what about the extra money we could so definitely use?  What if I managed to accomplish everything I wanted to do before the baby comes, and found myself sitting around for weeks with nothing to do but wait?

I decided that last thought was the least likely to occur, since I can always think of things to do.  But money is still definitely a concern.  Still, my emotional well-being, which is directly connected to the baby’s, is more important than our financial situation, so I resolved to ask my boss if I could take my leave a couple weeks early.  I arrived early at work the next day so I could talk to him, fill him in on what had happened the night before, and explain why I thought I should take leave early.  The conversation did not go as I planned.  He was so understanding and jovial as we talked, I didn’t have the heart to ask.  I decided to wait it out.  Maybe if I started paying less attention to my contractions, they wouldn’t escalate so much.  Maybe if I decided to leave the shop as soon as I started having them, I wouldn’t have to worry about getting stuck there and allow the anxiety to pull the contractions closer together.  That’s exactly what I did.  I left the shop that afternoon when the flow of customers calmed down and I started feeling contractions.  My boss has been very accommodating, and I am so fortunate for that!

Sunday morning somehow found me unusually sappy.  Maybe it was Mother’s Day.  I had joked with my friend on the phone Saturday afternoon that it would be nice if the baby came on Mother’s Day, with the added bonus being that I wouldn’t have to decide what to do about work.  As I lounged in bed hitting the snooze button despite being awake, allowing myself to rouse very slowly, I thought about skipping mass.  I didn’t feel like being looked at, judged, as I often felt.  I didn’t feel like subjecting my very sensitive and outgoing nature to a crowd of outwardly cold-natured people, who would see my warm, heartfelt smile as I offered “peace be with you” and respond with downcast eyes and a limp handshake.  From downstairs, I could hear my phone ringing, the ringtone of a call from a number I didn’t have saved.  The mysterious caller came through twice before leaving a voice mail.

When I finally got out of bed and went downstairs, tears welled up in my eyes as I listened to a message from my brother in Japan, whose voice I haven’t heard since just after Christmas.  He was the first to ever wish me a Happy Mother’s Day.  Even though my child is not yet out and about for everyone to enjoy, she is still a living person for whom I am entirely responsible, which I think makes me a mother.  My brother and I have always had a strange, sometimes wonderful, sometimes strained relationship.  But at that moment, I had never felt as close to him, no matter how far his “fleshy vessel” may be from mine in physical, measurable distance.  This very happy, emotional start to the day set its tone, as  a day’s beginning usually will.

As we drove to church, I witnessed the flailing body of a tiny, bright green caterpillar in the wind on the hood of RJ’s truck.  It was barely holding on.  My heart cried out to the poor dear.  “You want me to pull over?” RJ asked.  I had to laugh a little at how urgent the caterpillar’s situation had become to me, but I was almost about to say yes.  Instead, when we came to a red light, I looked around the car for a stick I could get the creature to walk on to, until I noticed he was crawling toward the dip in the hood near the windshield, which would act as a safe haven for him for the rest of the drive.  I cheered him on as he clumsily made his way, and was intensely relieved when he was safely positioned at the turning of the light.  I watched him closely all the way to church.

Despite our slow and late emergence from bed, we were on time for once.  This may have contributed to how good I felt walking in to the service, finding a good seat and smiling at the parishioners seated nearby.  The contractions started again, and though they were more intense, a little more on the painful side than others had been, I didn’t allow them to freak me out.  I just let them ride and felt really good, enjoying the music.  I didn’t see anyone looking at me judgmentally, and generally felt positive vibes from everyone near me.  Not only were we celebrating Mother’s Day, but also Ascension Day, which was the previous Thursday.  I meditated on Christ’s peaceful return to the bosom of God, leaving us to follow his teachings or not as we willed.  During the peace-be-with-you’s, all the women around me congratulated me and asked how soon I was due, smiling genuinely.  When the time came for the blessing of the mothers, and the priest called for all mothers to stand, I remained on the kneeler, not knowing if this would yet apply to me.  The woman in the otherwise empty row in front of me walked over to me and took my hand to help me up, saying, “You’re a mother.”  I lost it.  As the priest prayed, I tried my best not to bawl uncontrollably, but ended up just bowing my head, closing my eyes, chewing my lip, and allowing tears to stream down my face.  I had already teared up a bit when the acoustic guitar-player’s voice was accompanied by that of a child, but this was too much.  I hoped no one was looking at me, and I avoided looking around the congregation as they applauded and I did my best to keep it together.  Boy, I was already a sap before the hormones!  Now the song they had selected for after communion was to the tune of “Morning Has Broken,” a song I’d been humming to the baby for the past few weeks.  For once, my emotions did not prevent me from singing loud and proud throughout the entire service, and I thought of how nice it would be to sing with my mother during labor, since singing helps labor along.  I sent her a text to let her know.  Whether she will make it in time to be here, or I have to have her on speaker phone, we will provide at least part of the soundtrack for my baby’s birth.

After church, the contractions calmed down, and since then I’ve only had a handful here and there.  I decided to ask my boss if I could just work half-days for the next couple weeks, and he was agreeable.  We have everything basically ready in case the baby decides to come early, but I’m relaxed enough, and have enough to occupy my time, should she decide to come on time, or even late.

Oxytocin is a heck of a hormone- fun facts.

SCIENCE!  Originally, I intended this blog to be at least somewhat informative through my narration, but I think mostly it’s just been my journey.  Well, today my journey brings some education as well.

Oxytocin is the hormone a woman’s brain releases while she is in labor.  It not only makes the contractions stronger to speed up the process, but also equips the brain with the coping mechanisms it needs for any pain she may be experiencing.  Oxytocin is also called the bonding hormone, for exactly the reason you might think- it helps the mother and baby bond.  It is extremely powerful.

Pitocin is the synthetic version of this hormone.  It is fed intravenously to women in labor to speed things up.  It makes contractions come on faster and stronger, but does not have the bonding/coping mechanisms of the real thing.  Women who are given pitocin during labor often report having a more difficult time bonding with baby than in births wherein pitocin was not used, and the babies can sometimes have a harder time latching on to the breast after birth, something all babies are born knowing how to do.  If you put a newborn on its mothers belly directly after birth, especially if there were no interventions (pain killers, etc), the baby will eventually crawl to the breast and feed with no help or instruction.

The bond between mother and child can be so strong that the sound of the baby crying can trigger the mother’s milk to leak.  More interesting though, is what is commonly considered an old wive’s tale, but actually has researched merit: a breastfeeding woman will not ovulate until the child she nurses has been fed anything other than breastmilk.  Even feeding a breastfeeding baby water without the mother’s knowledge will trigger her ovulation.  We often joke that my youngest brother-in-law, born 14 months after his brother is living proof.

A powerful, imaginative mind can manifest all kinds of physical conditions.  I had a teacher once who believed negative vibes caused cancer.  She was crazy, but some research does indeed support something of that nature.  In my reading about natural and spiritual childbirth, I have read many birth stories wherein a secret, or a psychological hang-up was the biggest obstacle for a birth.  Once the secret feeling had been confronted, labor sped up immediately.  They won’t tell you this in a hospital.  They’ll offer you pitocin.  What often happens after that is a series of interventions- the stronger contractions without the natural endorphins to cope with the pain leads to the pain medication you didn’t want.  The pain medication makes it harder for you to push.  Boom,  C-section.

Things that naturally trigger the release of oxytocin- stimulation of the breasts, belly, mouth, or vaginal area.  Love.  Empathy.  

In Russia, in the late 70’s, a conscious birth movement started.  I wish I had watched this documentary before I found out I was pregnant.  Pregnant women were encouraged to spend time doing things they deeply enjoyed, spending lots of time in the water, meditating with their partners, doing yoga, and focusing on nothing but loving, nurturing vibes all throughout the pregnancy.  Then, they would often give birth in the ocean with several close friends helping the birth along in a very telepathic way- you could hear the women feeling the contractions of the laboring mother.

I have been thinking a lot lately about creating this kind of birth community in Southern Maryland.  Many women here are under-educated about natural childbirth.  I’m also putting together a plan for a program stemming from this community which acts as an outreach in conjunction with another pre-existing program aimed at preventing abortions.  I am pro-choice, but I know that many women who undergo the agony of an abortion don’t really feel as if they have a choice.  Perhaps if there were a strong network of moms ready to help them, they would choose the empowering act of giving life.

Now for the part about my narrative, why this is going in my blog right now.

I have been experiencing the Braxton-Hicks contractions a few times every day for the past couple weeks.  Totally normal.  Except for that one night I wrote about where they were coming every 6-8 minutes and lasting around 30 seconds each.  At this stage in pregnancy, that is to be avoided.  We were able to shake it off by taking a walk.  

Yesterday, I had an appointment with my midwife.  I had been considering the possibility that there was a twin in there who had been hiding behind the other baby all along.  At this point in pregnancy, you can feel and roughly identify body parts by pressing on the belly.  There have been times that I have felt one side of my belly and identified the baby’s back, from shoulders to tailbone.  Then I have felt the other side of my womb and felt the same shape.  So I asked my midwife to feel my belly for me and help me figure out what was going on.

First, she located the head, already positioned down low by my pubic bone.  With two fingers, she sort of pinched the head and wiggled it a little to show me how it felt.  She said she could feel that had triggered a contraction- which I couldn’t even feel.  Unless you counted the tight pain in the bottom of my left foot.  She palpitated the rest of my belly, and showed me the baby’s butt, back, and feet.  No twin, but she did explain that often the simple act of pressure on the belly can cause the wall of the uterus to harden, possibly simulating the feel of the flat back of another baby.

Throughout the rest of the day, I would have another contraction here, another there.  Nothing major.  It was while watching the birth videos during my childbirth class that I started feeling contractions more often.  I didn’t time them or anything because it’s too early for me to really go into labor. I just changed positions as much as I could and drank a lot of water.  I think that by empathizing with the women in the video, I triggered the release of oxytocin in my system.  The contractions were coming incredibly close together, and after everyone had left, and we ate some food, I was laying on the couch having them.  They started getting stronger.  It wasn’t really painful, just tight and uncomfortable.  At one point, I looked at my belly during a contraction, and saw that it had become so tight, it was almost shrink-wrapping my baby.  I could see her entire body bulging out.  I could identify her butt, legs, and back from simply looking down.  From time to time throughout the last several weeks, I could see an asymmetrical bulge here and there, but this was different.  This was scary.

RJ and I went up to bed.  I was getting anxious now and thought, well I’ve tried everything and the contractions aren’t going away, so I might as well get some sleep while I can.  If this was really early labor, I would need my strength.  The contractions weren’t strong enough that they would interfere with my sleep.  RJ started rubbing the stretch-mark oil on my belly, and that was enough to stimulate another contraction.  He started a relaxing visualization exercise with me while I closed my eyes and breathed deeply.  He ran his hand up my belly and chest as I breathed in, and down as I breathed out.  I puffed up my belly really big on inhalations to help relax the contraction.  As it died down, we prayed that she wouldn’t come so early, but that if it was God’s will, we would submit.  We prayed for strength and readiness.

I was feeling nauseated, as well as the urge to poop, as I had read (and dreamed before reading) I would during labor.  I tried to sleep instead of giving in to the urges.  I had one hand on RJ as he slept when the next contraction came.  As it reached its peak, I could hear Remy on the floor breathing heavily in his sleep, and RJ jumped a couple times, as if the energy of the contractions were filling the room and everyone was reacting to them.  This made it feel real.  I could only think of all the ways in which we were not at all prepared.  I remembered that the baby’s clothes I had washed that day weren’t completely dry yet, and went downstairs to restart the dryer.  When I came back up, I imagined the way I would feel if I were getting a tattoo, and decided to shut out all my noisy, anxious thoughts, and breathe out any tension in my body.  Soon, I was able to sleep.  This was around midnight.

When I awoke with RJ around 6:30, 6:45, I was having another contraction.  I got up and showed RJ the pronounced bulge in my belly and we thought about what to do.  I sent a text message to my doula to see what she thought, and she told me to call the midwives.  My midwife told me to lay down on my left side and drink a lot of water, and call her if I had 4 contractions in an hour, then come down and get checked out.  Although I had definitely had more than 4 contractions an hour the night before, I wanted to wait and see what was happening now.  After laying down and drinking water, I had 2 very light contractions in the hour, the second one being so mild, it was barely there.  The baby is still kicking and moving, so there was nothing to worry about there.  The midwife called back and said I should probably take it easy today.  So here I am.

Just in case, today, I’m going to order everything we need for our “bug-out bags” for labor.  That way, if it happens again any time soon, my anxiety over not being ready will not deter me from actually enjoying my labor.  Yes, I said enjoying my labor.  It is possible and I intend to do it.