Tuesday, September 27, 2011

My birth story

Forty-one weeks and three days. Our midwives told us this was the average gestation length for first babies. When I hit the mark, my baby had moved further down into my pelvis but still did not seem ready to make an appearance. I expected I might go all the way to 42 weeks.

My midwives weren’t concerned about him taking longer, but as a routine precaution, they asked us to go to a local lab to get a bio-physical profile. This ultrasound checks to make sure the baby is still doing okay.

We went to the lab the morning of Thursday, Aug. 11. This ultrasound was not nearly as life-changing as the first — the baby was so big that we could not discern any of his features on the screen. What we could tell was that he refused to move at all during the test. This didn’t bode well. We got back a score for how he was doing, and it was about half of what it should be. Not good news. He scored low on his respiration rate and movement. Our midwife, Patricia, called us immediately and told us to go straight to the labor and delivery area of Salem Hospital. It was time for the baby to come out.

When we got to the hospital, we met up with our midwives and talked with a doctor who said that based on the low bio-physical profile score, we should induce labor. Our son needed to be born right away. They would manually break my water to get contractions started; if labor didn’t begin, we would consider other methods.

Stuart and I were devastated. All our plans and dreams for a home water birth were being thrown out the window. We were worried about our baby and what might be wrong. But most of all, I cried because I was facing the exact type of birth I had feared — induced labor, in a hospital, with the possible threat of a c-section at the end of the road.

Patricia and her apprentice, Carmen, said that they knew this wasn’t what we had wanted, but they agreed with the doctor that it was the right thing to do. Stuart and I also agreed, and I tried to think about how to still have the natural birth I wanted, even if it wasn’t in the environment I desired. Patricia and Carmen do not have rights to deliver babies at Salem Hospital, but they were willing to stay with me through the entire labor to serve as doulas, support me and help me decipher what was happening.

At the hospital, right before they broke my water.

My midwives, Carmen (left) and Patricia
Stuart rushed home to pack up some items I might need during and after the labor. At 4 p.m., the doctor broke my water. She said that if contractions didn’t start in an hour or two, they would consider giving me pitocin to get labor going. I cried again at the thought of heading down a labor path that was the opposite of what I wanted. When the doctor left the room, the nurse tried to comfort me; she told me that if I didn’t feel ready for pitocin, then I should tell the doctor and not let her pressure me into anything. It was the first of many times where I observed contradictory attitudes between the nurses and the doctors.

Almost two hours went by, and nothing happened. I walked up and down the hallways with Stuart, trying to get things started. Patricia and Carmen bought me a yummy veggie burger and sweet potato fries from the cafeteria — I wolfed them down, knowing that the hospital staff would not let me eat anything during my labor. Still no contractions.

Then Patricia saved the day. She suggested we use a breast pump to stimulate my nipples, which can release oxytocin and help labor along. We began pumping, and sure enough, my contractions started. My relief was enormous — I had avoided pitocin, and still was maintaining my path toward a natural delivery.

The contractions weren’t too bad at first. I sat on an exercise ball while all of us watched one of my favorite movies, “Dazed and Confused.” By the end of the film, I was barely paying attention, as my contractions had gotten stronger and it became harder to concentrate. I had read about multiple pain techniques in a wonderful book called “Birthing from Within,” but it seemed like the only one I wanted to try was deep focus on my breathing. With every contraction, I closed my eyes, breathed in deeply, and let out a long and sometimes noisy exhale, twice as long as my inhale (a breathing technique I had learned in my prenatal yoga classes). In the meantime, the nurse wrapped my belly with a monitor to look for variations in the baby’s heartbeat in response to each contraction.

As the labor moved along, the monitor kept moving off my stomach and it became harder for the nurses and my midwives to discern the difference between my heartbeat and my baby’s. This especially was true as I moved to the bathroom and got into the tub for relief from the pain. Salem Hospital does not allow water birth, but they do have tubs for use during labor. Patricia anxiously watched the heart rate monitor. My baby did not seem to be reacting as he should to the contractions, and we became worried. Patricia suggested that the nurses place an internal heart monitor on the baby so that they could more closely tell which heartbeat was his.

This is the last technical thing I remember. I read in “Birthing from Within” that women move into a state called Laborland where their mindset and sense of time completely changes, and this is exactly where I went. The contractions were so intense and close together that I could only think about them and how to get through each one. I lost my ability to form complete thoughts. People asked me questions, but it took me a minute or so to register what they said, and I could only respond with one word. Sentences left me. I only wanted two things: the end of each contraction, and Stuart glued to my side.

Stuart was my rock during all of this. He stayed right by me, whether I was in the tub, on the toilet, in the bed, or in a chair. He let me grab his finger during each contraction and squeeze with all my might — I don’t know how I didn’t break his joints. He only left me briefly when he had to go to the bathroom. He put water to my lips when I asked, moved hair out of my face, helped me in and out of different positions, continually whispered in my ear that I was doing great and that I was strong and that I could do it. Feeling his fingers in my hand and his lips at my ear made all the difference in whether I could get through each contraction.

As the contractions got stronger, I found that my exhales became noisier. This was another suggestion from “Birthing from Within,” to let it all out and not be afraid to make noise. I started my moaning loudly during my exhales, because it felt right. As labor progressed, I found my moans converting into what sounded to my ears like low growls. Sometimes, when a contraction was particularly intense, these growls turned into outright hisses, like an angry cat. Even in my murky Laborland, I was astounded that these sounds came out of me. They were so primal, so animalistic. But they made me feel better. Sometimes I wasn’t ready for a contraction, wasn’t prepared for my deep breath, and instead of a low sound I would let out high-pitched screams. I know these scared Stuart because they sounded more desperate. Patricia prodded me to return to my low sounds, and I did, which made me feel better.

Eventually I ended up on the bed on my knees and elbows, and I stayed in that position for so long that my knees were numb. But it felt better than any other position, and I did not want to move an inch. During these hours of labor, the doctor came in periodically to check the dilation of my cervix. Two centimeters, then four, then five, then seven. Each time she checked, I had made progress, and the midwives cheered that I was doing great. Even though I was glad to progress, I still said, “That’s all?” I couldn’t wait to hear that I was fully dilated.

I finally reached a point where I felt like I hit a wall and I couldn’t handle the pain anymore. All I wanted was to get the baby out immediately. I told Stuart, “Just get him out of me. I don’t care what you do. I want a c-section. I want an epidural. I want him out.” I was completely serious as I said these things, but I was greeted with silence from my midwives and Stuart. They wisely ignored me. At the time it irritated me, but now I understand that they were sticking with my natural birth plan. I’m thankful that they didn’t listen to me.

Eventually I hit a magical number: nine centimeters dilated. Almost enough to start pushing. I had already wanted to push for awhile because of an incredibly frustrating bowel movement that wanted to come out with each contraction. I eventually got most of it out and was ready to focus on the real pushing. When the midwives said I had reached 10 centimeters, they gave me the go-ahead to push. Stuart whispered in my ear, “You’re almost done. You can do this.” But I remembered many of the birth stories I had read where the pushing lasted several hours, and I knew I might still have a ways to go.

I also remembered multiple birth stories where the mom said the pushing was her favorite part — that it wasn’t nearly as bad as the rest of labor, mainly because she felt she could finally do something active to make the baby come. While I admit it was nice to finally feel more active, I found the pushing to be much more difficult than the contractions before it. I tried multiple positions — on my hands and knees, laying on my side, in the yoga child’s pose — but none of them seemed to work as well as laying on my back. This surprised me, because everything I had read and been told was that being on your back was one of the hardest labor positions because it makes the pelvis opening smaller. But this was the position that I gravitated toward, and the one that seemed to work the best for me.

Stuart held my hand, and my two midwives acted as braces for me to push against with my feet as I tried to imagine my pelvis opening extra wide. With each push, I clenched my shoulders and neck forward and tried to move that baby out. I pushed so hard that a rash broke out on my face and arms. It felt like I was doing this over and over with no result, although my midwives kept assuring me that I was making progress and that they could see a bit of the baby’s head. However, I began to lose hope that I could make it, and I told them this — after so many hours of difficult laboring, I just didn’t have any energy or strength left for the difficult work of pushing. Eventually the nurses gave me a saline drip to provide me with some energy, as well as an oxygen mask to help me breathe.

The moment that finally gave me some hope was when I heard the midwives say, “Look, he has so much hair!” Stuart looked down and confirmed this. The fact that they could see hair had to mean I was getting close. Then I reached down myself and felt the top of his little head, and it gave me more confidence that he was almost out. I still had many hard pushes ahead of me, but eventually the nurses asked the doctor to come in because the baby was nearly here. His head finally started to emerge, and I felt the burning that many moms call the “ring of fire” — this provided me with the strength to give the hardest push of my life and not stop until his head popped all the way out. From there, it was a cinch — another small push and my son was born. The doctor caught him and I reached down, immediately took him into my arms, and brought his red, writhing body up to my chest. He cried immediately — a nice, healthy cry that showed us he was okay — and then pooped all over my chest. But I didn’t notice. I was too busy looking at him, smiling, and telling him how happy I was to finally meet him. Stuart also gazed lovingly at him, and though I didn’t know it at the time, Stuart almost cried. Our son was born at 9:37 a.m. on Aug. 12, after 15 ½ hours of labor, two of which were spent pushing.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t done with the pain. I still had to birth the placenta, which only took a gentle push, but then the doctor told me that I had torn as the baby made his way out, and she had to stitch me up. It took 15 stitches to close the tear, and the pain was so strong. It was strange to me that I felt so much pain from the stitches after all I had been through with the birth, but I think it was because I wasn’t expecting it — once the baby was out, I thought I was done, so I wasn’t mentally prepared for more pain. Patricia kept telling me to focus on the sweet baby in my arms, so I tried, although it was tough until the stitches were complete. Finally I was able to just hold my baby and start to fall in love. Someone asked me about his name. I looked at Stuart and said, “Are we sure?” He nodded, and I said, “Archer.” It was the only name we had agreed on, and when I saw our baby, I knew it was right.

We left the umbilical cord attached until the blood stopped flowing between it and the placenta, about 10 minutes. Then Stuart cut the cord. As I watched him try to snip through it, I was surprised at how difficult it seemed — a sentiment he also shared. We let Archer lay on my chest for quite awhile, and eventually he started to make his way over to my breast to attempt his first feeding. It’s amazing to me how natural this is for babies and how they basically know what they need to do, if only we give them the time to do it.

Stuart and I were both so exhausted that we tried to spend much of the rest of the day asleep, although it was tough in the hospital with all the nurses constantly interrupting us to take tests, give me pills or ask how we were doing. There were many things I did not like about the hospital, but overall, I am grateful that after they broke my water, I got to have the birth I wanted: completely natural, no drugs, and without a c-section. Patricia later told me that with the way the baby’s heartbeat was not reacting properly during labor, she would most likely have transported us to the hospital if we had been at home. So I take comfort in knowing that at least we were at the hospital from the start, rather than having to attempt a transfer during labor, which would have been more difficult and frightening.

Giving birth to Archer was the hardest thing I have ever done — but also the most rewarding. Knowing that I was able to bring him into this world in the best way possible — without the interference of drugs — makes me confident that he got a great, healthy start. But more important, I feel empowered by the fact that I was able to deliver him naturally, the way I was built to, something that many of today’s women don’t even attempt and something that I often doubted I could do. Stuart has told me many times since the birth that he is proud of me for being powerful and strong, and he often thanks me for birthing our son. I truly feel that if I was able to do this, I can do anything. Which is a good sentiment to hold onto, since my life with Archer is only beginning.

Stuart holds Archer for the first time.

Our family enjoys a laugh with Patricia.

Archer weighed 7 pounds, 4 ounces. He was 19 1/4 inches long.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Being social

Saying hi to Sully the dog at the Rogue Hopyard on Sunday.
I had a fabulous weekend. It started Thursday night when we went out with friends to the new Venti's Taphouse, a much larger version of our favorite downtown bar -- very different vibe at the new place, but really great. Friday night we went to Enchanted Forest, a strange local fairy tale-themed park for kids, to see a concert by the Dandy Warhols. Afterward, we headed to an after party at the nearby Gilgamesh Brewery.

On Saturday I hit the Salem Saturday Market to pick up some yummy veggies and fruit for the week, and I got to see multiple friends at the market and afterward. Then on Sunday, we went on a Friends of Salem Saturday Market tour of the Rogue Hop Farm in Independence, where they grow many of the hops used in our favorite Rogue beers. Touring the farm and then hanging out afterward was great fun.

Why this recap? Several reasons. One is that I'm now one week past my due date, so when I make any public appearance, everyone seems shocked that I'm even ambulatory (except for my close friends, who I've been seeing frequently). This reminds me that many people think pregnant women are helpless -- I'm lucky that I'm still quite active. In fact, I hope that the more activities I participate in, the more the baby will want to come out and join me. So far, this hasn't worked. But I can hope.

Besides this, every time we went out with our friends over the weekend, I couldn't help but think about how I wouldn't be doing some of these things for much longer. Not in the same way, at least. It's not that having the baby will completely cut out our entire social life. But things will be quite different. We won't be able to just go out anytime we want or attend every event that sounds interesting. We'll have to think about whether the events are past our baby's bedtime (or our own bedtime), whether we can bring the baby or not, how to manage with the baby along, etc. Even though I know we'll still find times to hang out with friends, our social calendar will definitely change and diminish.

I do admit that it makes me a bit sad to think about this transition, just as I was sad about other major transitions in the past (moving from college life to the working world was a big one). But Stuart and I have both vowed that we don't want to completely go into a shell once the baby is here. We know that we'll be spending a lot more time at home with our son, but we also don't want to let having a child mean that we can no longer have fun. We'll just be having fun with an added person, someone who will bring extra and unexpected excitement to our lives.

When I hear stories about parents taking their very young children on camping trips, or I see some of my friends attending social events with their babies, I am inspired. It will be a tough transition as we figure out how to enjoy the world as a group of three instead of two, but I know we're up for the challenge.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The waiting game

Here we are. Two days past my due date. Baby's still sitting snugly inside my belly.

This is completely expected. Many first babies are late. In general, it's rare that a baby comes on his due date.

And yet. It's hard not to get more curious and anxious about when he'll actually make his appearance. Every time  I stand up and my lower abdomen feels uncomfortable, I wonder if something might be starting. When I lay down for bed in the evening, I ponder whether this will be the night when I awake with contractions. Last night Stuart and I doused our dinner with chipotles and went on a walk in our local park. Still nothing.

I'm so used to being a scheduler and clock-watcher that it's difficult to give myself over to baby's time. I keep thinking that my stomach is so tight, he doesn't have any room left to grow, so doesn't he want to come out and play? Hitting the due date made the baby feel so close, made it harder to believe it could be almost two more weeks before anything happens.

Friday was my last day at work. It's been strange this week to get up, dress, and sit at home alone. Watching movies, taking naps, writing, catching up on those baby books I'd been putting off reading -- these are fine activities. It's nice to have this time to relax and think before my whole life turns upside down. At the same time, it's odd to not be as busy as usual. To be so much more aware of baby when he moves and wonder each time whether he's considering a new way of life.

Last night we went to a neighborhood block party, and everyone kept asking, "When's the baby due?" I have to admit it was kind of fun to say, "Yesterday." A much different feeling than when I was counting down toward the due date. Now I'm counting past it.

Well, baby, I know you'll come when you're ready. Just know that I can't wait for that time to arrive.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

A temporary appearance

"Do you feel that?" the midwife asked me. "There's his foot. Oh, and there's the other foot. Looks like he's got one leg crossed over the other."

The midwife has magic hands; they press and rub my belly and discern legs, elbows, feet, hands. I feel lumps that move -- something is there, but I have no idea what it is.

This time, figuring out the baby's position had a different purpose. The midwife planned to paint a picture on my stomach of his current state. She debated with the apprentice before deciding he faced my left, then pulled out a paint crayon to sketch his outline on my skin.

I lay still on the bed, the wet crayons and her hands cooling my stomach as they pressed and glided, and I saw the baby's bottom and legs take shape. Underneath the skin, baby wiggled at each touch and pushed one of those feet straight outward, creating a large bulge near my belly button. We laughed at his impatience -- what was happening out there?

I could see very little from my vantage point except the red placenta at the top, feeding my baby, and his little kicking legs, their tiny toes crossing my left side. He floated in a calming sky blue that made me envy his state. He sits in my belly, all his needs met, unaware of any other world. I carry him closer than I ever will again, yet it doesn't feel close enough -- I want him to be outside, laying on my chest so I can soothe him and stroke his head.

Soon the midwife had finished, and Stuart joined me on the bed for our first family photo. In my mind I imagined us doing the same after the birth, but with a writhing red baby in our arms -- many hours of laboring behind us, nearly forgotten as we smile at our son and he gazes back.

Not much longer now. Only a week until my due date, although he could come anytime between today and several weeks from now. We eagerly wait.

I didn't want to pull my shirt back down over the masterpiece on my belly; I wanted to show him off to the world. Soon I will hold his tiny hands, snuggle him close, and kiss him with a new kind of love that I've never known before.

That night I stripped and headed to the shower. The water splashed my belly and the blue, orange and red rolled down the drain. His external imprint was gone, but soon it would be replaced by something more real and infinitely better. Soon enough.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Am I ready?

37 weeks
Earlier in the pregnancy, I noted that everyone kept asking me, "How are you feeling?" Over the last month, as my due date rapidly approaches, the most common question has changed to, "Are you ready?" I get asked this at least once a day.

At first I didn't really know what this question meant, so I wasn't sure how to answer. It could mean so many things -- are you ready for labor, are you ready to have a baby around, are you ready to be a parent, do you have everything you need for the baby? A few weeks back, when someone asked if I was ready, I queried them back, "What do you mean?" They looked surprised, as if they'd just asked the question because it felt right, not really knowing what they expected me to say. They eventually answered, "Is the nursery ready?"

That was when I discovered that most people who ask this question really just want to know if we have our room prepared, if we acquired all the things we need for the baby once he's here. It's a perfectly understandable question, so now when people ask, I typically respond accordingly about all the baby gifts we've been moving into the nursery.

But inside the head of a hormonal soon-to-be mom, "Are you ready?" has much deeper connotations. In particular, I wonder whether I'm ready to go through this birth, and that's what I think about every day.

It's funny to me that I've been so confident throughout this whole pregnancy, knowing that I would be strong, I could handle a natural birth, and I was ready to bring my baby into the world at home. But the closer the due date gets, the more scared I seem to become. Some of this is due again to those pregnant woman hormones -- my emotions are up and down from minute to minute. But I'm also getting hit with the reality that the day is almost here -- it could, in fact, come at any time -- which is a bit frightening no matter how strong or excited I am.

I think part of the fear is in not knowing exactly when my son will appear. Those who know me know that I'm a planner. I like to know exactly when and where things will happen. Getting ready for a birth does not work this way. The baby will come when he's ready -- be that tomorrow or a month from now -- and I can't just schedule him into my online calendar like I do for everything else. Not knowing makes it more intimidating. But, oddly enough, it also makes it more invigorating. It reminds me that I can try to prepare all I want, but nature will take its course, just as it has for so many women before me. What happens will happen, and I will make it through, and soon enough I'll have a beautiful baby in my life, ready to accept my love.

So am I ready? As much as I can be.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Showered with love

I am lucky to have such wonderful friends who threw me an amazing baby shower last weekend. They were very creative in the planning -- hosting the event at Pringle Creek Community, a green and sustainable community here in Salem. They also had a frozen yogurt bar featuring yummy fro-yo from Fairview Farm Dairy, a great local organic goat farm that Stuart and I have happily visited the past few years (baby goats are the cutest thing ever!).

Most importantly, I was surrounded by wonderful friends who were so supportive and showered us with all sorts of amazing gifts for the baby. They increased our little one's library of books, added to our growing cloth diaper collection, and gave us a whole array of other great things. We are so thankful for everyone's kindness. I'm especially thankful to Stephanie and Beth, the wonderful co-hosts who made it all happen.

Yummy frozen yogurt from Fairview Farm

Fro-yo bar

Co-host Beth with her son Ewan

Missy, Amy and Diane with co-host Stephanie on the right

Heather, Shannon and Dawn

Me with Kobbi. My dress was made by my mother-in-law.

Me with my other pregnant friend Melissa, who just had her baby a few days ago!

Hula-hooping was a popular activity.

Everyone decorated onesies for the baby. Very cute!

Thanks for all the great gifts!

Monday, June 6, 2011

A support network

Me with my friend Melissa, who is due a month before me.

As we grow older, we all see our friends go through cycles -- everyone gets boy/girlfriends, everyone gets married, everyone has kids. Several years ago, many of my friends reached the kid cycle, and at the time, Stuart and I were not yet ready. We knew we wanted children, but we had a few things to finish first, namely, me earning my master's degree, and then us moving into our new house.

We watched our other friends have babies, and at first it was a little disheartening to think that we would be "left out" -- that all of them would have kids around the same age who would be friends, and ours would come along later as part of a different cycle.

However, we needn't have been concerned. For one, several of those friends are now working on their second children at the same time we're having our first. A new group of babies and potential friends. Plus, several of our other childless friends are joining family-hood along with us. Now there are babies coming everywhere, and we're part of the latest boom.

But one big reason I'm glad that my other friends went through this first is that I can rely on them for help and support. Every time I have questions about this whole process or what comes next or what I need to do to prepare, I can lean on my friends because they've already been there. And they love to share what they've learned. From helping me set up my baby registry to taking prenatal yoga with me to loaning me maternity clothes, my friends have already helped me in more ways than I can count.

I'm so thankful to have them in my life. And I can't wait to pay it forward to other new moms I will know in the future.

Monday, May 16, 2011

My birth partner

28 weeks - one week ago
Despite having a big workload in the past few weeks, I managed to fit in several birth-related classes. Stuart and I signed up for a two-part child birth preparation class taught by Emily Heldt. The class was specifically geared toward parents planning to give birth at home or a birth center. I was so thankful to have a class with this in mind because the things we learned about were much different than what we might have learned in a typical hospital birthing class.

We were lucky in that there were only two other couples in the class, so we all got to know each other and had plenty of time to ask questions and discuss what was on our minds.

Emily was a wonderful teacher -- I highly recommend her. I think the two biggest things I gained were a clearer understanding of what will actually happen during labor and birth, and a more intimate connection with Stuart and his role in the birth process.

All the couples in the class were first-time parents, so all of us were completely mystified by how labor and birth actually work. It was nice to get to ask basic questions about what would happen to us, and now I feel much less intimidated by the experience. Yes, it will still be difficult, but at least I now have an idea of what to expect.

As for the second part, I know that Stuart felt very unsure about what he would do during labor. He knew he wanted to support me, but didn't really know how that might work. We spent a lot of time in class focusing on how the spouse can be supportive and be an active participant in the birth process, and I think that helped both Stuart and I feel more connected. Hearing him articulate his thoughts helped me realize how much he cares about me and the baby, which made me feel closer to him.

As I start my third and final trimester, I feel much more knowledgeable but also much more at peace with what's ahead of me. And I'm so thankful to have Stuart at my side.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Deciphering the diaper deluge

Tonight I had the most amazing 90-minute facial/foot massage/hand massage from my friend Jeannie at Perle Holistic Skincare. I'm feeling so nice and relaxed... that was just what my tense and increasingly achy body needed. I've got several massages scheduled for the next two months, and I'm now realizing how important they'll be. :-)

Our first cloth diaper purchase: the Bumboo.
Now on to the real topic of this post, cloth diapers. I mentioned a little while ago that I was overwhelmed to learn that there were so many different diapering systems out there. So we took action: we hosted a cloth diapering class at our house recently, run by a local doula who is extremely knowledgeable about this topic. Five other pregnant moms and two other dads joined me and Stuart at our home to learn about all these various systems and how they worked. The teacher brought a ton of examples so we could see what she was talking about.

Before we had the class, I saw an online deal for a diaper called the Bumboo (the photo above) and they had good reviews from moms online, so I bought a two-pack. We learned that these Bumboos will need a diaper cover around the outside of them, but that's common for several types of diapers.

Another nice thing about the class was that the teacher shared several ways she easily makes different parts of the diaper (like inserts and liners) by cutting up pieces of cloth -- much cheaper than buying those parts, and it doesn't even involve sewing. Nice tip.

The result of the class was that we were still quite overwhelmed by all the choices, but we felt much more confident that we are at least more familiar with the options and can try to make informed decisions about which ones we like. Overall, the message I got was clear: We won't really know what works best for us until our son is here. So in the meantime, we'll try to stock up on a few different types, and then just try them out.

We felt brave enough after the class to even start a second gift registry on Amazon that includes several types of diapers to help us get started. That's much better than where we were a month ago!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

I can do this

Stuart, the baby, and I completed a 5K race yesterday in Portland, the Earth Day Run. For those who don't know, a 5K is about 3.1 miles, and I'm proud to say that we actually ran for about 2.5 miles of that (and walked the rest). I think this is pretty good for being six months pregnant. :-)

What was interesting to me was several people's reactions when I told them I was doing the race. Several people assumed I was walking the whole thing, and one asked me if I was able to run while pregnant. Admittedly, it's harder to run at this point. I'm not breaking any speed records, that's for sure. But I'd been running prior to pregnancy, and as long as I listen to my body and don't push it when I feel bad, it's fine to keep running now.

I really appreciate that people around me are concerned about how my pregnancy is going and want to make sure they don't push me into doing things I might not be able to do. My body isn't the same as it used to be, and they understand that. So I don't feel any ill will when I get these type of reactions.

On a sociological level, I just find it fascinating to observe the differences in the way people treat me, based on assumptions that I'm compromised by my "condition." Instead of asking, "How's it going?" when I see them, they now ask, "How are you feeling?" They give me a wider berth when they're sick because they don't want to get me sick as well (this I do appreciate!). They're surprised that I'm still riding my bike to work. Strangers seem to act nicer toward me.

Again, I'm not irritated by these questions. It's just interesting to note them and the way they reflect larger societal beliefs about what pregnant women can or can't do.

I've tried to follow my personal belief that even though I am feeling certain negative effects (back pain, difficulty sleeping), I don't need to let this pregnancy prevent me from doing things I want to do. I don't have to act like I'm suddenly fragile -- especially when I reach the point of labor. Childbirth is hard, but deep down I'm a tough woman, someone who can ultimately handle this.

That doesn't mean I won't want Stuart to pamper and comfort me in the last few months and throughout labor. :-) But it does mean I want to remember my inner strength, which will help me get through it all.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

So many products, so much to learn

One of the weird baby products I discovered I might need: a nasal aspirator.
I had a fun, yet overwhelming experience last night: creating a baby gift registry. We'd already been getting questions from some people who want to get us gifts, so we decided to set up our first registry at Target. We'll likely also register somewhere else as well, probably online, but this was a good start (FYI, it's not complete -- there will be more to come).

Since I know next to nothing about what most of this baby stuff is, and even less about what I might actually need, I recruited two of my mom friends to come along and help me sort if all out. Thanks to Beth and Kobbi, who both have two kids, I was able to go aisle by aisle and learn which items might be vital and which ones were complete junk.

As I said, it was really fun to look at all the products and start thinking more about what I might use with my baby. But at the same time, it was very overwhelming, because it sometimes felt like I might need everything, there were several important things I didn't even bother registering for yet because I need to do more research, and more to the point, I learned that I might need all these things I hadn't heard of or even imagined. Beth and Kobbi taught me about all kinds of new things, like the fact that I would probably need lanolin and gel pads to keep my breasts from getting sore after breastfeeding, that I should consider a portable crib for when we travel, and that babies basically want to puke and pee everywhere and buying covers for everything is wise so that I'm not constantly washing bedding, etc.

I kept thinking back to my original feelings about baby products (which I explored a bit in my last post): sometimes you can go a bit overboard with all this stuff. Is it all really necessary? No. But it sure is nice to know there are things out there that will make my life easier if I want them.

My parenting learning curve is still quite high, as I discovered again last night. But what was overwhelming was also comforting, because Beth and Kobbi also told me over and over that every baby and parent is different, and products that are vital to one kid can be useless to another. This is comforting because it reminded me that in the end I can just go with the flow, get to know my parenting style and my baby, and figure out what we need as we go along.

And there's nothing wrong with that.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Why can't there only be one?

23 weeks
The above picture is just to show how big I'm getting. I noticed tonight that my belly button is almost gone... How did that happen?

Anyway, the actual topic of this post is cloth diapers. Stuart and I are generally waste-conscious, so it should come as no surprise that we want to use cloth. The thought of all those disposables going into landfills pains me.

So that's it. We made the decision. Cloth diapers it is.

Turns out it's not that easy. As I'm discovering with just about every baby-related thing, there's never a simple choice or decision. There's not just one general type of cloth diaper -- there are several types of diaper systems that you must choose between before you can even decide which brand to buy. Pre-folds, all-in-one, all-in-two, pocket ... that's just a few. After reading multiple articles and watching several very helpful videos online (how did anyone figure this stuff out before the internet?) I've decided that each system seems to have a its own positives and negatives. Which doesn't bring me much closer to a decision.

We're all about ease of use. Especially Stuart, who seems to think that if he keeps saying that he's not going to change any diapers, then this will actually become the reality. Several of the systems look very appealing to me because they are easy. But then the question turns to which ones are actually effective when used on a wiggling newborn that will need to be changed 10 to 15 times per day (I read that online and still can't believe it's that frequent).

I'll definitely be turning to my mom friends for advice on this one. However, at the same time, I know every baby and every parent is different. A product that works perfect for one family may be completely wrong for another. But if any of you moms who use cloth are willing to let me come over sometime and at least see what type of system you use, I would appreciate it.

Overall, I feel like this baby product thing is more complicated than it should be. On the one hand, I'm really glad that innovative people in our society have come up with all these great ways to make child-rearing easier. I'm thankful for all these diaper options that make the process much easier than the square piece of cloth and diaper pins my mom used on me.

But at the same time, it can seem to get a bit out of control. Sometimes the options to protect baby from this or that other murderous thing just feel unnecessary. Babies survived for thousands of years without many of these products, so I shouldn't freak out if I don't have all these products for my own child.

So I'll just keep plodding along in my research, try to pick what looks good, and not be too concerned if I have to adjust my choices later. My baby won't be permanently harmed if I pick the wrong diaper. Once my baby is here, I'll learn a lot more about what's right for him, and I'm open to that. This is obviously the most level-headed way to approach these things.

Of course, all that level-headedness goes out the window when I think about strollers. But that's for another time.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Clothes make the woman

As I've gotten older, I've become somewhat of a clothes horse compared to my school years, packing my closet with my favorite styles from places like Anthropologie and Rusty Zipper (in addition to my always-growing collection of band t-shirts). But I never really considered myself super high maintenance about fashion. I've learned recently that I was wrong.

This realization came to me thanks to my growing belly requiring a transition into maternity clothes. As I researched maternity wear, I quickly discovered that super cute and flattering clothes are available, but for a price. I'm willing to spend more on an awesome shirt from Anthropologie that I will wear for several years. I'm not willing to spend a lot on a maternity shirt that will only be in my closet rotation for several months.

Several of my very kind friends loaned me some of their maternity clothing, and some of it actually fit (let's just say finding clothes that fit my short body, particularly my midget legs, is always a challenge). I also got some good tips from friends about places to buy relatively expensive maternity wear (Ross, thrift stores). I'm very thankful for all their help.

But as I started to wear these things, I immediately felt ... boring. Or even worse, I looked like a "mom."

I went back and analyzed my regular style and saw that it is very particular toward several things: bright colors, interesting and bold prints, and vintage style, particularly from the '70s. These are things I love, but they don't tend to be what the general populace typically wears. When you start shopping for maternity clothes, you find that they try to mimic styles that would be liked by most people, and they also reflect current trends, which makes complete sense. But unfortunately, this does not line up with the type of clothes I normally like to wear. The clothes that make me, me. Also, when I put on many of the shirts, I look like I'm suddenly an older Mom instead of the relatively young, hip me. Yes, I realize I'm going to be a mom. But I'm 31 years old. Becoming a mom doesn't mean I need to suddenly dress a decade older.

I was resigning myself to wearing these clothes because they fit, and they didn't look bad, exactly. In fact, they all look fine on me. Many of them just don't make me feel like myself. I didn't realize how much that was affecting me until one day when I finally donned a cute polka dot skirt and turquoise top that actually were closer to my normal style. I felt really cute that day. I felt great, actually. It made me realize how much my clothes were changing my mood.

So lately I've tried to restrict what I wear more to things that are closer to my normal style (when I can find them) rather than just wearing what fits. I know this will continue to be a struggle. I look forward to the warmer weather of late spring and summer so I can throw aside these bulky, boring long-sleeved shirts and put on some of the much cuter summer tops my friends have loaned to me.

P.S. - Unrelated, but I went for about a week with almost no sleep before finally getting a ridiculous-looking (and ridiculously named) Snoogle maternity body pillow. The last two nights with the pillow, I finally got good sleep. I'm hopeful...

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Oh sleep, where art thou?

I want this!
I'm a bit grouchy as I write this, as I just had another night of non-sleep. For the past week or so, sleep has become an impossibility that used to seem so easy and now is a struggle. This is not because the baby is keeping me awake at night (I hear from my mama friends that I have that to look forward to soon), but it's because I'm so uncomfortable.

I'm normally a back sleeper, but I'm told that by this point in the pregnancy, I should no longer be sleeping on my back. I have yet to ask my midwife about why this is, although "What to Expect When You're Expecting" tells me it's because the weight of your pregnant uterus on your back, intestines and major blood vessels can cause problems.

Instead, I've had to resort to side sleeping. This was fine at first, but now it's the bane of my existence. I get tired of being on one side, and it makes my hip hurt, so I have to turn over to the other hip (which is not the easiest turn with my heavier pregnant belly). Then that hip starts to hurt, so I turn again. By the middle of the night, both hips hurt, and it spreads -- my entire leg starts to cramp, mainly in the upper leg, and eventually down to the calf. So I keep snuggling closer to Stuart, seeking the warmth of his legs on top of my cramping legs. At some point very early in the morning, I often can't sleep at all because of all the turning and cramping and soreness, and then my brain also wakes up, and then it's 4 a.m. and I'm ready to do anything for the privilege of sleeping on my back.

Any advice out there from other moms? Someone recently told me it helped her to place a big pillow behind her back while she slept, so she could lean back on it a bit and sort of half-sleep on her back. Multiple people have also suggested I look into a body pillow, so maybe I'll try that. Frankly, I'm willing to try anything at this point.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

From "it" to "he"

Here's our son. Those things floating in front of his face are his hands.
On Monday we had our first (and hopefully only) ultrasound, where we learned we're having a boy! I still haven't gotten used to referring to the baby as "he" instead of "it." It's nice to know the gender and to mentally prepare for a boy, but it's still weird thinking of the thing inside my stomach as my son.

The experience of seeing the baby during the ultrasound was surreal. Like I imagined in my last post, this has made the baby even more real than before. We got to see his tiny nose and his mouth (which opened for a yawn). He hid his face for awhile with his hand, and he kicked his little legs while we watched. We counted his fingers and toes, watched his heart beat, saw his developing brain. Some of these are things we'll likely never see again. It's hard to believe that all of that is growing inside me.

Seeing all those details on the big TV screen made it hard to remember just how tiny the baby still is. His femurs -- the long upper leg bones -- are a mere 3.15 centimeters long. The circumference of his head is just 17.6 centimeters. And he only weighs 12 ounces -- the same as a can of soda.

After the ultrasound, the attendant revised our due date to July 30. We had been guessing Aug. 1, and the midwife had written down July 31. It was bizarre to me how much importance the ultrasound attendant placed on getting an exact due date. I know full well that the likelihood of the baby being born on that exact day is small (although there are exceptions, as our friend Melissa knows). I like to view the due date as more of an estimate, and when people ask about it, I say, "He'll be born around the beginning of August." I think this is part of my accepting and being fine with the idea that my baby will come when it's ready, whenever that may be. He will pick his time.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

It's really in there

19 weeks
I finally felt the baby move this week. I was sitting at my desk at work Monday morning, and I felt a weird sensation in my lower abdomen. Didn't think anything of it at first, because I've been feeling all sorts of strange aches and gurgles and strains over the past few months. Eventually I noticed that the new feeling kept coming back, sort of like a tiny pressure inside my abdomen. It was so subtle that I wasn't sure if it was really the baby, but Stuart reminded me that the baby is still pretty small, so it may not be big enough for strong punches or kicks yet. I feel the minuscule movements right now as I'm typing this.

These milestones keep accumulating, things that remind me I'm actually pregnant, and there really is a tiny being growing inside me. For the first three months, I was doubtful. I didn't really experience morning sickness, only a slightly nauseated feeling for about a month along with new, weird aversions to certain smells and tastes. The changes were so subtle that I kept sprinkling my speech with "if" and "maybe" -- "If I'm actually pregnant..." "Maybe we're having a baby..." Deep inside I didn't want to admit that I was going to have a baby, because I didn't want to get too excited. It was still early in the pregnancy, when miscarriages are common. I didn't want to be too disappointed or depressed if that happened to me. Have I ever mentioned I'm a perpetual worrier?

Even after a pregnancy test confirmed it, I still don't think I truly believed I was pregnant until about three months in, when I met with a midwife at Bella Vie and she asked if I wanted to hear the baby's heartbeat. She pulled out a device called a doppler, held it against my abdomen, searched around a bit, and finally there it was: a quick tick-tick-tick-tick. The baby. It really existed. I almost cried. So did Stuart.

Now that I'm in the second trimester, things are getting more real. And more fun. About two weeks ago, my belly finally started to grow enough that I was sure I had a baby bump. (Before that, it was tough to tell if it was just my beer belly -- thanks to Deschutes and Rogue for that.) And now, feeling the baby moving around -- it's like a mega dose of reality. Now all I think about when I do anything is whether the baby feels it and what it thinks. If I sit in a way that constricts my stomach and the baby moves, I wonder if it's reacting to having less space. Tonight I ran 1 1/2 miles on the treadmill at the gym, and I wondered what the baby thought of all that jiggling. Was it irritated? Confused? Did it like it?

All these sudden changes, the baby making its presence known, make me finally start to see it as a person in there. It's no longer some abstract idea. Instead it's a little life that I feel infinitely closer to.

Monday is my first ultrasound. That will bring all these feelings to a whole other level. I can't wait!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Where will the baby be born?

Many people who find out I'm pregnant ask me questions relating to when the baby is around, like "Have you thought about a name yet?" or "Have you gotten your nursery ready?" But truthfully, almost all we thought about for the first few months was the labor itself -- how did I want to labor, and more importantly, where?

When I think back to late fall, when Stuart and I first started having that conversation, I'm amazed at how much I have changed my viewpoint in just a few short months. One thing I knew from the beginning was that I wanted to have a midwife rather than a doctor, although even my reasons for that have changed over time. Many of my friends worked with a midwife, and the initial appeal for me was that I could see the same friendly person throughout my pregnancy, get to know her well, and be assured she would be there throughout my labor and birth process -- as opposed to a doctor who may or may not be on call at the time I give birth and who would likely only show up at the end when the baby was on its way out.

For a long while, I believed we would have a midwife, but still deliver in a hospital. Several local midwife groups do this, and this is how my close friends delivered their babies. It seemed very safe. I would have someone I knew to support me throughout labor, but I could still be in a hospital to receive care if I had complications. But as I researched more about the positives of midwives, I also learned some things that did not comfort me about hospital births. I wanted to have a natural birth -- no c-section, no medications, no inducing labor or other interventions. But I read many statistics about the high number of c-sections among hospital births, and learned that sometimes these are partially caused by hospital interventions. I'm not saying all medications or c-sections are bad (they're very necessary in medical emergencies and many women understandably choose to have an epidural to get through the pain of labor) but they weren't what I wanted from my experience. Also, I've never felt comfortable in hospitals -- several bad experiences with doctors over the years have made me dread the hospital environment. I didn't want to give birth in a place where I was nervous, uncomfortable and may not be able to let my baby come naturally the way I wanted.

We interviewed several midwives, including a group that delivers at a local hospital, a group at a birth center not connected with a hospital and a woman who only does home births. I admit, I only interviewed the home birth midwife to appease Stuart -- he was excited at the idea, but I was way too terrified of what might happen if something went wrong and I wasn't in an environment where I could receive medical help. Home birth sounded cool from the natural birth perspective, but too scary for me. I wasn't completely closed to the idea, however. Recently I read Michael Perry's wonderful memoir "Coop," where he details his wife's home birth. Several details appealed to me, including the fact that they never had to leave the house -- from the start, the baby was at home in bed with mom, in the safe environment where it would grow up. We also watched an enlightening (albeit extremely biased) documentary called "The Business of Being Born" which showed me another wonderful aspect of home births: mom or dad can catch the baby themselves and immediately hold the baby close, rather than watching it be whisked away first to be cared for by doctors. Research shows this immediate contact with the baby helps with bonding over the long-term.

We ended up choosing the birth center, Bella Vie, because the midwife we met was wonderful and she understood and agreed with our needs. Also, they have a really beautiful birth center, a turn-of-the-century farm house that they renovated and converted into multiple rooms for birthing. Outside of my own home, it was about as comfortable as I could imagine. Finally, these midwives give you the option of delivering at their birth center or at home, so I still had a choice, and I didn't have to make up my mind yet.

It was only about a week or two ago that we made our choice: home birth. We just finished building a beautiful, safe and eco-friendly home that we plan to raise our family in, and it seemed like the perfect environment to also give birth in. Our house is only a 10-minute drive from the hospital, so medical help is close if we need it. I fell in love with the idea of having my baby be at home from the beginning, and not having to spend several days recovering in a hospital. But most importantly, I felt the support for home birth from many of my friends and from my midwife. I was worried that home birth sounded like such a foreign and scary option that people would doubt my decision. (A friend who recently gave birth told me she stopped telling people she planned to do it naturally because they kept giving her condescending looks that said, "Yeah right, you have no idea what you're in for.") But the more friends I told about it, the more I heard positive comments and excitement about home birth. When we told our midwife our decision yesterday, she cheered and was quite excited to help us through this experience.

I never could have imagined this was the decision we would make. But for now, it feels more right than anything else I've considered during this pregnancy. I can't wait for my baby to open its eyes outside the womb and see its loving parents -- and its new home.

This is where we want our baby to be born.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Here we go

Recently Stuart started asking me if we should keep a baby blog. We already have a house blog about the process of constructing our Passive House, and many of our friends have kept baby blogs chronicling their prenatal and postnatal stories and photos. It seemed only natural that we might start one as well.

But the more I thought about it, the more I realized I didn't want a typical baby blog with photos and brief updates about my latest doctor's visit or the status of our nursery. Those are perfectly fine blog topics, and I enjoy reading those, but it didn't feel right for me. That's because all I've been thinking about for the past four months is what's going to happen to my body during this pregnancy, how I'll feel, whether I'll be able to face the natural birth I hope to have, and what I'll need to do to keep my body and baby healthy so that I can give birth the way I was meant to, without interventions and unnecessary medical procedures.

What I've been feeling so far is terror. I know what I want to do for my baby's birth, but I'm scared of whether I'll be able to face it -- or whether I'll encounter some complication that keeps things from going as they should. Lately what I've found the most comforting is talking to other mothers about their birth stories, hearing that what I'm feeling is perfectly normal, and most important, seeing that no matter how hard others' labor experiences may have been, in the end, the baby came and everyone was happy and they were changed forever. In other words, it all turned out fine.

My hope is to use this blog to share more personal stories about what I'm thinking and feeling throughout pregnancy for two reasons: a) To help me give words to my complicated emotions so that I can face them and work through them, and b) to hopefully gain the support, love and shared stories of my friends, whether they've already been through this process or not.

The story behind my blog's title is a bit complicated. I am terrible at titles, so for inspiration, I searched online for other baby blog titles. Many had cute or ridiculous names that would never fit my purpose (just Google baby blog and you'll see what I mean). One used the word "unknown," which struck my fancy. First, the cliche of "Into the Unknown" entered my brain. I considered it for the title of my blog, but then I realized "Into the Unknown" sounded a bit forbidding. That's not how I want to feel about this pregnancy. Yes, there are plenty of unknowns, but I want to feel like my journey is exciting and natural and life-changing. "Unknown" didn't do that for me.

Then my my inner music nerd popped in and said, "Into the Unknown is also a Bad Religion EP." And even better, their follow-up EP was titled "Back to the Known." Long story short, Bad Religion is my favorite punk rock band, and "Into the Unknown" was an EP they released in the early '80s where they decided to randomly change musical styles (it wasn't pretty). They followed with "Back to the Known," abandoning the weird style they'd tried to adopt and returning to their punk roots.

This idea of heading "back to the known" seemed to perfectly describe how I want my journey toward motherhood to be. I could see this time as a series of unknowns to deal with and possibly to fear. But I would rather return to my roots, so to speak -- my roots as a woman, as someone who is part of a much larger group of mothers who have birthed for countless generations, as someone whose body was made for this journey and who can do this.

So here I go. Back to the known. Thanks for helping me get there.


Now, just because I can't help it, even though this has nothing to do with babies or motherhood, here's my favorite song from Bad Religion's "Back to the Known."