Archives for posts with tag: Birth
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Photo courtesy of papaija2008 / freedigitalphotos.net

Physically, my pregnancy was easy. I felt, even at the time, that the baby was only giving me what I could handle, which, especially in the beginning, wasn’t a lot. Offered his dream job, my husband Brian had moved a five hour drive away to an idyllic rural community, while I stayed in the city, and shacked up with my sister to avoid hermitude. The time was right for a long-awaited baby, so we figured that I would figure out how to make the move when I got pregnant. Getting pregnant took only a few months, but during that time, my father in law was diagnosed with terminal cancer and he passed away the week we found out our happy news. I was able to work out a new job and a work-remotely deal, and after an initial training period moved to join Brian at the beginning of my third trimester, ready to leave the emotional strain of the last few months behind.

When I arrived, I was happily greeted by Brian’s new colleagues. But in his grief, he hadn’t managed to meet many friends over the year he had been there alone. When I moved in, working from my home office, we had a few friends, but were much more alone than I was used to. So although we had taken a full-day childbirth class in the city, we signed up for all of the classes our rural hospital offered—to get to know the staff and facilities as well as meet other new parents.

My labor was most notable for being unexpected and quick, about two weeks before my due date. When we arrived at the small rural hospital, we found that another baby had just been born, so the main labor and delivery room wasn’t available, and the staff was in a tizzy at having two babies coming at the same time. After a short, intense labor, the doctor gleefully exclaimed “it’s a girl” and put our new daughter, Laurie, on my chest. I knew, rather than felt, how much I loved her, or would.

Over the next few days, as I worked to learn how to feed Laurie and meet her needs, I also struggled to trust myself with her. I felt that my main job was to feed her, and couldn’t manage anything more. Brian became in charge of diaper changing—I was too afraid—as well as everything else. He even sat up with me at night when I fed her. Around day four, I woke up early one morning and snuggled her on my chest on the couch, realizing I hadn’t held her yet aside from nursing.

As my milk came in, she proved to be quite skilled at nursing, regaining her birth weight by the time of our follow up visit. While that meant I never had the stress of worrying about her growth, it meant that there was never enough food in the world to keep me from being hungry. I realized later how much that hunger affected me, that the shakiness I felt in that first month in particular was from constantly being hungry and not realizing it as I frantically sought to take care of Laurie, never myself. I cried every day, never trusting that she was thriving and that I would be able to provide for her. I went to her first doctor’s appointment with a list of ailments I was sure she had, and didn’t believe the doctor who told me I was wrong about everyone of them based on her healthy weight gain.

We were hours away from family, and the friends that visited were all new friends, not trusted ones I could cry to and admit my fears. And I seemed to have a bunker mentality—I didn’t want either of our families to come visit in the first few weeks, I wanted them to wait until I had my act together more. So I was alone, unsure of myself, and constantly, unconsciously hungry. I was afraid to leave the house, feeling that Laurie was a fragile flower who needed to be watched at all moments, waiting for a crisis that so luckily never came.

Brian is a teacher, and so was able to spend the first month home with us in August. Thankfully, as I really wasn’t trusting myself alone with Laurie yet. The first time I went out with her alone, a half hour drive to pick up our farm share, I was a basket case. I was nervous to be driving, nervous in case she would cry and I wouldn’t know what to do, unsure of how to deal with her and the world around me at the same time, afraid everyone would see what a poor mother I was. And so I nervously awaited the day Brian would have to go back to school and I would be trusted alone with her for hours at a time.

My salvation came a week before that, in an e-mail. The message came from the father of the baby born the same morning as Laurie. We had met that couple at a few pre-natal education classes, and had liked them, and had chatted with them a bit while we were all in the hospital together. His message said that his wife Sue was looking for new mom friends, would I be up for a walk. As I got to know her, I realized she was a still obviously dealing with the crisis of new motherhood but also up for the challenge, and seemed to be functional. She suggested we go for a walk with our girls. At that point, in week four, it had not occurred to me yet that it would be ok to take Laurie out for a walk by myself. Literally just getting out of the house and into the fresh air cleared my head, but I hadn’t realized it was ok to do that until she gave me permission. And not only was Sue dealing capably with the same issues I was, but she also had a four year old daughter. She gave me the confidence that it was ok to leave our home and interact with civilization again, and that it was ok to feel stressed without letting it overcome everything—after all, she was doing it with another child! I came to view her both as a friend that I enjoyed spending time with and a trusted resource that had already gotten one wonderfully charming daughter to preschool, so must know what she was doing.

We began trying to get together as often as we could, generally about once a week. Listening to how she had the same struggles, I gained confidence in myself, realized how much of my anxiety was caused by my constant hunger, and began living outside of my own head. I reached out to another new mom to go for a walk, hoping to pay the favor forward that Sue had done for me. At that point, I realized Laurie and I were going to make it. Which isn’t to say I haven’t still obsessed, worried and cried needlessly, but the totally enveloping fear had subsided. My lesson was that it really does take a village, or at least someone else to share powerful emotions with. As other friends have had their first babies, I have told them in plain language how rough the first weeks can be, that it’s ok to cry anytime, make sure to eat enough and try to take some care of themselves, and have friends on call for when things get dire, including me.

We have now, a year and half later, moved yet again. I love Laurie more than I could have imagined in those first dark days, as every day she becomes more of a person, more herself and farther away from baby. Her belly laugh chases clouds away, and even her new toddler tantrums are still charming. As I contemplate a sibling for Laurie, I am actively building a network of mom friends that I hope to be able to count on if I need help again, and offering my help to them. Writing this renews my commitment to give myself permission to struggle without despairing, to forgive myself for when I do despair, and to forge a community to help me through the crisis. New motherhood is scary enough, no one should ever go through it alone.

I became a reluctant mother five years ago this month. I was never someone who wanted children and when my husband and I first got together, neither did he. After living together for four years, about when he turned 35, something shifted for him. He began to want to have children. To really want children. This posed a serious issue for our marriage, by far the most serious we’ve ever faced.

We argued, we fought and I cried many tears. I absolutely could not envision myself as a mother. I am very close to my own mother and I had a very happy childhood so it’s not as if I had a negative view of mothers in general. It just was not something I saw fitting into my already very full life.

Needless to say, I eventually changed my mind. I love my husband very much and I’ve known since the first time I met him that we could build a very happy and fulfilling life together. I could not imagine my life without him and I came to the conclusion that our marriage was not going to withstand a life without children. So, very slowly, I changed my mind.

And of course, I became pregnant almost immediately. I was completely in shock. Even though I was having unprotected sex, I just assumed it would take a long time. My mother had a terrible time getting pregnant with me and I somehow imagined that my hesitance to become a mother would play into my biology. Nope.

Physically, my pregnancy was simple and straightforward. I was never sick. I am a runner and I continued to run until I was about 5 months pregnant, then I hiked and did yoga. I was tired, like every pregnant woman, but all that clean living gave me glowing skin, thick, shiny hair and a radiance that I always thought was a myth about pregnant women. However, I really hated being pregnant. I didn’t really feel like I could say that, not in such strong words, because at 30 I was surrounded by friends trying desperately to get pregnant without success. And since I felt so good physically, it seemed petty to complain about being sad all the time.

Looking back, I think it was much more than just “being sad.” I think I was clinically depressed. I had never heard the term prenatal depression. My midwife, who was wonderful in all ways, kept telling me that it normal to feel blue or listless when pregnant but I was not fully sharing the extent of my misery with her or anyone else. It was a grueling, day in day out, feeling of hopelessness and emptiness. And, it was completely out of character for me. I’ve always been full of energy and life. I’ve always been the one who wants to do more, do it again, do it better. Until I got pregnant.

My husband was very supportive and I know it was a long year for him too. We joked about my overwhelming sadness when we could and he just let me be sad, without trying to cajole me into feeling things I was not feeling. I lived with a weight and a level of fear and paranoia I have never known. I felt unsafe all the time. I felt like someone, usually the strange man I would encounter while hiking, was going to attack me at any moment. The fear and anxiety took away all my pleasures in life, namely being outside alone, and left me feeling like a mere shell of the person I had been just months earlier.

Still, the baby grew and I grew and I just counted the days until I would be longer be pregnant. I knew, even then, that I would be an OK mother if I could just get to the other side of the darkness that engulfed me. And as if the universe just wanted to twist that knife a little more, I went 15 days past my due date before I went into labor.

I had my daughter at home at 12:30pm on January 16, 2009 on the coldest day of that winter. It was -25 when the second midwife showed up around 2am. I labored hard from about 2am until 6am when I started pushing. And, as if a physical manifestation of my reluctance to be a mom, I pushed for six hours. Yep. Six whole hours. I could actually see her head for about 4 of those hours but I could not make any progress. It was beyond maddening and it was exhausting. At the time, I kept refusing to think what I could not help but think…that the birth was slow because I was reluctant. That it was my fault.

Once she was finally born, I learned that the umbilical cord was wrapped many times around her neck and that it was preventing her from coming out. In fact, the cord tore on the inside once she finally did emerge and it was then that I understood why it felt like a part of my insides were being slowly torn apart. They were.

But, this is a postpartum blog and here’s my postpartum story. It all got better. Almost immediately. My spirits lifted and I kid you not, within hours of giving birth, I felt great! Sure, I had the issues that every new mom has. I was tired. I was learning all sorts of new things. I was getting to know my daughter and how she sometimes cried for no reason at all. But, the crushing sadness of pregnancy was completely gone. I was overjoyed to have my life back.

My journey into parenthood has been remarkably easy and smooth ever since. My daughter is strong and healthy and was an “easy” baby, compared to some. My husband and I settled into our new roles as parents and we are probably happier than we’ve ever been. I have seen no glimpses of that darkness and since we don’t plan to have another baby (No, really this time. He got a vasectomy) I hope to never encounter depression like that again.

There’s a lot of pressure to be a happy pregnant woman, especially when everything about the pregnancy seem right. We were happily married. We owned a house. We had good jobs and lots of support from our friends and families. I was healthy and the baby was healthy. But, I now believe that prenatal depression is a very real thing. Had I known, I may have reached out for help. I may have been more honest about the extent of my misery and the depths of my pain. I may have found relief, through medication or therapy or something. But instead, like so many people who battle depression, I just
suffered through it.

My daughter will turn five in just a few weeks and I love being her mother. When she is older, I will talk to her about how depression can come upon you, even when you are not expecting it, and that it’s OK to talk about it and ask for help. Then, I will hug her and think how lucky I am to have had the experience I did and to have emerged on the other side.

                                                                      mabel sledding

B and C

To become a mother. That was really all I had ever dreamed of and hoped for as a little girl. Those countless classroom writing prompts, What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up? A Mommy. There was really never any other answer for me. As I grew older and eventually went off to college, I started to get self-conscious of my secret wish to someday be a stay-at-home mother. I certainly couldn’t declare that as a major, and many of the strong, smart women I befriended and surrounded myself with were all so driven, so motivated to have it all…the jobs, the success, the family, and the role as mother. I jumped on board, looking for a major and a job that would carry me through. All the while, secretly dreaming of the day I would wake up in a sun-drenched room, roll over and see my perfect, little pink baby, curled up next to me in bed.

I feel fortunate that I found my husband and our life fell so effortlessly into shape. We wanted the same things: family, children, a life based on love and togetherness. We wasted little time after our wedding before trying for a baby and were shocked and overjoyed when we found out we were expecting. At the time, my husband was working as a Marine Engineer and would be home for one month, and shipping out for the next. So for half of my pregnant experience, I was alone. Not ideal and definitely not how I had imagined and dreamed it would be. The pregnancy itself was somewhat different than I had expected. I gained a lot of weight, which made me very self-conscious, somewhat irrationally so, and I experienced morning sickness, which prevented me from really basking in that “motherly glow.” My husband missed many milestone appointments like finding out the baby’s gender, being there for the first kicks, taking me in for routine appointments and nursing me through sickness and harder times. But we made it through, keeping our eye on that final prize, our little baby. We had worked his schedule so he would be home six weeks after the baby was born and it was going to be our heaven. Our new little family would be all together, fulltime, for six full weeks. Well, six weeks if all goes to plan and little baby arrives right on time. I didn’t know the secret rule that happens when you get pregnant and have a baby, that rule that if you make a plan, it will, without fail, not come through. You say you’re never going to be a short order cook? HA! You’ll have the pickiest eater! You’ll never push a pacifier? You’ll wake up with a two and a half year old completely and utterly obsessed with a binky. Mark my words, mama’s-to-be, never say never.

I ended up having to be induced at 39 weeks with our sweet son, Charlie. We had gone in for our routine appointment and my doctor noticed I had dropped 3 cm in diameter, a little too much for comfort. An ultrasound revealed I had a slow leak of fluid and there was only one cushiony pocket of fluid left cradling our little boy, so it was time to go to the hospital and for him be born. My beloved doctor, now my dear friend, instructed my husband to drive me to the hospital, register me, then head home and get our bags and things we would need. As soon as she left the room and reality of the situation hit us, I panicked and made it clear he wasn’t dropping me anywhere and we would race home together. We called our friends and family on the way, sharing our exciting news, holding hands and kissing at stoplights, unable to fully grasp just how significantly our life was about to change. I had a somewhat routine delivery. Charlie was pretty well lodged in the birth canal and started to get into distress at the end and we ended up having to use the vacuum. My doctor later shared that it was a sweat-worthy moment and we were very lucky things went so well, but at the time, I wasn’t really aware of how serious the situation may have been. Once that squirmy little angel came out and was placed on my bare chest, I was hooked. Big, navy eyes, purple little quivering lips and a pterodactyl cry I instantly fell in love with. Complete and utter, deep love. I didn’t want to let him go to be cleaned off, checked out and measured. Shortly after he was returned and I had had my third degree tears, rips and mess all sewn up, he was back in my arms, where he stayed for the duration of our hospital stay.

The hospital time is so surreal. The constant interruptions of nurses, doctors, food services, registration offices, etc. at all hours of the day and night…it’s overwhelming and it is exhausting. Everyone coming in to check on you, to look the mother in the eye, are you ok? As if post-partum would necessarily sink in that quickly, that I was going to lose my mind already. I remember feeling so frustrated thinking, yes I’m ok! Stop asking me! Fighting with the nurses to keep him in our room with us, not wanting him out of our sight for even a second in the nursery. The forcing of watching the retched Purple Cry movie – ugh, let’s have a collective sigh for that one. I was ready to go home as quickly as we could.

Once we had tucked his teeny body into the seemingly way too big car seat and managed to drive 30 miles per hour home that first night, my husband and I found ourselves completely alone with this new little tiny life. We were suddenly just us three. With nothing to do. We changed his diaper, I tried again to nurse (with no success), and eventually we sat down on the couch and put on a movie. A seemingly easy Saturday night ABC movie, of Dumbo was on. Have any of you watched Dumbo since become a mother? So it turns out Dumbo was a big emotional trigger for me. As I held my three day old baby in my arms and watched a movie of bullying, a mother going crazy for protecting and defending her son and subsequently gets locked in a prison cell, unable to care for him or love him, ahhh it’s horrible!! As I sat there watching this Disney movie I’ve clearly seen hundreds of times with a fresh pair of mama eyes, well, let me just say, I lost it. Emotions ran through me like wildfire. I sobbed, held Charlie close, ordered my husband to turn off this retched movie, then started the waterfall of fear. What have we done? Can we take care of this little life? Who’s checking in on us to make sure he eats? What if he doesn’t ever eat? Could he die from not eating and how long would that take? What if I fall down the stairs while carrying him? What if we don’t have the car seat in right? What are the chances of SIDS? Will he die in his sleep? I don’t dare to sleep! What if I am not holding him and he has SIDS?! I looked at my husband and he somehow looked too young to be a Dad and I felt too young to be a mother. He collected us both, realizing quickly it was time for bed and we proceeded to turn in for our first night at home.

I’d like to say that first night was rainbows and our first morning together was one of sun drenched motherly bliss. Charlie and I never actually slept. Nursing wasn’t happening, my milk hadn’t come in despite the massively, overwhelming size of my breasts and Charlie was unable to latch. At five in the morning I called my sister-in-law crying. I need you, please come over, I don’t know what to do with him. He won’t eat, he won’t stop crying, I don’t think he likes me. She was over in 10 minutes, standing in the bathroom, with the fan on high, his tiny, frantic arms swaddled tightly against him and was fast asleep before I could even wipe the tears of frustration and exhaustion off my face. I tried to put it out of my head that she was able to comfort my new son in a way I wasn’t able to, and instead, stumbled back to bed, thankful for the quiet and desperate to close my eyes.

It slowly got better after that. It’s wasn’t instant and it wasn’t without a lot of work. I still wrestled with crazy irrational fears. I was completely terrified of SIDS and was rarely able to sleep without waking in a panic, checking to see if he was breathing. We almost bought the SIDS mattress alert system, but my doctor cautioned me that it might make me more obsessed and more fearful. He reassured me that all parents are terrified they are going to accidentally harm their child, and he could tell that I loved my son and would do everything I could to keep him safe. My own recovery was very slow because I wouldn’t take the time to take care of myself, which so many new mothers are guilty of. I was numb to my physical pain when I was holding Charlie, which is ultimately a blessing, but when someone would come and hold him so I could have a break and take some time to myself, that was when I would get into the shower and just cry in pain. The stitches, my swollen, stretched, engorged body completely repulsive to me now that it didn’t harbor a precious life inside. It all hurt so much and the only way to stop thinking about it was to focus on Charlie. So that’s what I did. It wasn’t until Charlie was close to two months old and my mother came down to stay with us that she forced me to start taking care of myself. It was amazing what showering, putting on real clothing and blow-drying my hair would do for my confidence, not only my mental well-being. I felt I was slowly pulling myself together.

We suffered through nursing. I went to specialists, consultants, Le Leche groups, and it turns out we needed to use a plastic apparatus called the Nipple Shield because my nipples were inverted and prevented him from latching on effectively and correctly. It was incredibly time consuming, exhausting and I literally spent all day and night working on nursing for the first three months of his life. I guess I didn’t realize how completely insane it was at the time, because that was really the only job I had to do. I realize now, as I’m pregnant with my second little love, that I am not willing to make that sacrifice again. While I completely and wholeheartedly believe that breast milk is the best nutritional gift I can give to my children, there is a new perspective I have in being a mother of a two and a half year old. I realize that while I will live and die for my children, forever, that a happy and complete mother is also a mother who takes care of herself.

It took me a long time to get into my natural swing of things. To find myself again. To have confidence in myself, and my choices as a mother. To not just define myself only as a mother, because as rewarding and as completely fulfilling as it is, there is more to life that I want to enjoy. I want to be a wonderful wife, a lovely friend, a loving daughter and a supportive sister. I want to find passions outside of my motherhood realm that allow me to become refreshed and passionate and come back to my role as constant caregiver with fresh eyes, rejuvenated arms and a bubbling spring of patience. I believe completely that each parent has to find this balance within themselves in their own time. It is not possible to force this readjustment or balance and is only possible when you’re ready to make the changes. It’s sometimes hard to put away those guilt bags and think, I’m doing something for myself right now, because often times as mothers, we’re expected to be self-sacrificing to the end. That if we really love our children, we’ll live only for them. In my life and in my experience (which is the only experience I have the right to judge and share about) that isn’t all this life has to offer for me. I am a mother, I am a woman, I am a wife, a daughter and a friend. I am a lover of music and written words, of warm summer sunsets and cold Maine waters. I love my son and soon to be daughter with a fierce, love that is even more powerful than I could have ever have imagined. But it isn’t all of me. It’s just my most precious, most sacred part.

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My daughter is seven weeks old.  Seven weeks!  How did that happen so quickly and slowly at the same time?  I’m looking at her now as I type this.  She is peacefully sleeping, her perfectly tiny hands resting on her stomach and her pacifier dangling from her lips.  She has changed so much in these seven weeks, I can hardly reconcile the baby she was those first days to the baby she is now.  What an awesome journey.

My husband and I were married five and a half years ago and immediately began building a house the hardest way you can probably imagine.  I thought the house would be finished and we would be moved in and cozy within a  year and then we’d get to the baby making!  I couldn’t wait to become a mother.  Even during the long years that went by when we were building our house and were in no position to start a family,  when I would tell people I didn’t really want children (probably to ease the pain of waiting), I always knew deep in my heart of hearts that this was the only job I really wanted.  My sisters tell me they cannot remember a time that I wasn’t waiting for motherhood.  Last winter, when we thought the end of house building was just beyond the horizon (ha!), we decided to throw caution to the wind and begin trying for a baby.  We didn’t consider the timing.  We didn’t consider anything, really.  We just wanted a baby, and luckily we didn’t have to wait long for that positive pregnancy test.

Pregnancy was easy for me.  In fact, I spent the first four months insulating and plastering the house just about full time and the next three months working full time as a teacher and plastering at the house on the weekends and after work.  I have a great photo of myself well into the second trimester twenty feet high on scaffolding plastering the second story of our house.   I was nervous about the birth, though.  I knew that it would push me to the limits of anything I had ever done before and I was scared.  To ease my fears, Jason and I signed up for a nine week Mindful Childbirth and Parenting class.  We learned how to meditate, practiced prenatal yoga, learned all about what happens physically and chemically during birth, experimented with pain management and were introduced to breastfeeding.  I left that class with my fears eased–the birthing process was demystified and I was sure that if I couldn’t handle the pain, at least I would not be afraid of it.

As fall turned to winter, and then winter turned to deep winter, my due date approached.  The winds picked up and the temperatures fell to well below freezing.  We live on an unbridged island off the coast of Maine, and these two factors meant that boats were canceled almost on a weekly basis.  I began to feel a little nervous about how the heck I was going to get to the hospital when the baby decided to come.  This was the only time in the whole pregnancy I really kicked myself for not considering the timing of this baby!  What were we thinking:  Giving birth to a baby in the dead of winter when you live on an outer island with unreliable transportation to the hospital–crazy!  I spent many windy nights awake, pleading that she would wait for a calm day.  It turns out she did.

I was in the middle of teaching a science lesson when the first signs of birth began with the sensation I was peeing my pants.  I tossed the dry erase marker in my hand to my long-term sub, Lauren, who happened to be shadowing me that day and ran to the bathroom.  Sure enough, the signs were there that my waters were beginning to leak!  I was in a daze for the rest of the day.  That night my husband and I sat with each other at the dinner table and toasted to the possibility that our lives and our relationship were about to change forever.  We were excited and nervous.  I went to bed that night as the first contractions started.  They grew steadily throughout the night, but never got serious enough to warrant waking Jason.  By 5am, the contractions were steady enough, strong enough and close enough to get up and make arrangements to catch the first boat off the island at 6:30am.  I packed up what we would need for the hospital and grabbed the baby bag while Jason ran out to the new house (no we’re still not in it–soon, though!) to stoke the stove and feed the chickens.  We hopped into the truck and drove down to the dock to catch the morning boat.

It was a stunning morning.  The water was like glass and the sun  coming over the horizon was streaking the sky pink and orange.  She could not have picked a more beautiful day to be born!

Of course by the time we got off the island all contractions and signs of impending birth had completely stopped.  I was so bummed, but also certain that if I ate enough pineapple and walked up enough hills things would get going again. My good friend and doula, Emily met us at the dock.  She spent the entire day with me and Jason trying to restart the birth process.   As the hours went by and nothing happened I felt embarrassed and so confused. The whole island knew we went off during the morning, Emily had rescheduled all of her work for the day–how could I possibly go home without a baby?  As the morning turned to afternoon and afternoon turned to evening, I began to come to terms with the fact that this baby wasn’t coming.  Jason and I decided to sleepover at Matt and Nichole’s just in case and Emily decided to go spend some time with her family.  The rest of the evening I tried to make light of the situation.  I joked around with Jason, Matt and Nichole and even had a glass of wine to relax a bit.    Finally it was late enough to go to bed.  I fell asleep, disappointed.

I woke up just 30 minutes later.  The contractions were back and stronger than ever.  I worked through the first phase of them for about an hour before needing some help.  I woke Jason and we worked together until the contractions were just 30 seconds apart.  At this point Jason mentioned that maybe we should call the hospital.  After the previous day, I didn’t really trust that what I was experiencing was the real thing, but I agreed that we should call.  The nurse encouraged us to come to the hospital.  Jason helped me to the car and we made the 10 minute drive to the hospital.  By then it was 1am.

Once in the hospital things progressed quickly.  I spent the next hour, hour and a half in the tub laboring through stronger contractions while Emily and Jason both helped me by applying pressure to my lower back and wiping my forehead with cool water.  Labor was intense, but I was surprised by what a peaceful experience it was.  The room was dark and quiet and each contractions came in a predictable wave.  As each contraction subsided I was able to relax and connect with my breath.  I kept reminding myself that I was now connected to every other mother on the planet.  I felt so happy!

Then it was time to push.  Jason helped me move from the tub to the bed.  Just as we reached the side of the bed and I put my hands down for support, my water broke.  I remember experiencing such a rush of surprise by the sound and feel of warm water just gushing from my body.  And then the first true urge to push overcame me.  It came from the tips of my toes, rushed up to the top of my head and then bore down on my whole body with such force I could do nothing but moan and brace myself against Emily, Jason and the bed.  It was during this part of the labor that I had to dig deep into myself to find the strength to keep going.  My mind rushed from thought to thought and I said “I can’t do this” more than once.  Of course, I had no choice.  The moments that I remembered to stay present and find the few wisps of peace between contractions were very helpful.  After just an hour of pushing, Lauren, the midwife, shared that she could see the baby’s head!  I reached down and felt her emerging.  With just one more push her whole head was out and one more push her body slipped out into the world.  Giving birth was simply the most amazing thing I have ever experienced.

And then everything changed.  In just one moment, with just one push, our lives were completely altered forever.   Now we began our life after the birth of our beautiful daughter.  If I thought that being pregnant was hard, I realized while laboring that pregnancy was nothing compared to giving birth.  It was soon after welcoming this helpless, precious little being into the world that I realized that if I thought giving birth was hard, it was nothing compared to the journey we were just beginning.

For me the hardest part of this experience so far is the loss of my former self and the birth of a new version of me.  I don’t know how to describe what this process has been like so far except to say that it feels like a slow surrender.  The first stage of this surrender came after the first week of the witching hour.  From the very first week of her life, Luciana has suffered from evening colic.  Every evening starting around 6:30 and lasting between three and five hours, our little girl screams uncontrollably.  Her face turns bright red, her body becomes as stiff as a board and her steel blue eyes seem to plead with us to do something to help her.  We swaddle her, play white noise, bounce and rock and dance, hold her on her belly or on her side and hold a pacifier in her mouth until she realizes it is there and begins to suck.  Our efforts to sooth her work to calm her crying, but she is still stressed, and short, violent bursts of cries continually slip out of her throat throughout the night.   It is utterly painful for all involved.

When this behavior first began Jason and I fought against it.  We complained about it and felt frustrated.  One night, during a particularly frustrating episode, we looked at each other and said “What did we do?  This was a mistake.”  After days and days of growing frustration, we finally realized that this was just how the next period of time was going to be and there was nothing we could do about it.  After we realized that the coming days, weeks and possibly months were going to be like this in the evening, things began to shift.  We stopped trying to eat supper together and instead took turns soothing our baby and eating.  We stopped thinking that we would get to bed at any predictable time and we started taking turns caring for her and sleeping.  As this surrender to our little baby continued, we also began to recognize that our frustration with her during this time became less and less and our compassion for her grew and grew.  There are certainly still times that we are frustrated, but we have learned to support each other during those times and we are getting through each night bit by bit.

Surrendering to this baby has not been easy.  It’s been exhausting and trying.  In fact, to find strength to make it through this, I began to pray.  I’m not a religious person and my prayers are not to any God in particular.  In fact, they are probably prayers to myself more than anything else.  I pray for strength, patience, and the mindfulness to cherish each moment with this little baby–even those during the witching hour and those in the middle of the night when she wakes up for diaper changes or feedings or just because.

I’m not sure if this surrender is complete yet.  There are definitely times that my frustration level boils up unexpectedly and I need to take a break, but things are getting easier.  I’m finding deeper pools of strength and patience than I ever realized I had within me and I am falling in love with my baby more and more every day.  It is true that I instantly felt love for my precious baby, but somehow that love grows infinitely stronger every day.  Even when I’m exhausted, sore, frustrated, and sobbing, my love for this little human overwhelms me.  It’s a love like I’ve never experienced before.  I now also recognize how quickly she is growing and changing.  Where before I just wished and wished for her to develop so things would be easier, now I try not to wish these moments away.   At night, before I fall asleep and the baby is sleeping next to me in her cradle, I gaze at her and try to remember each detail of her sweet expression, her little fingers and toes, the way that she breathes and moves her arms when she begins to stir.  In the middle of the night when she wakes up to nurse and I cradle her in my arms  rocking back and forth I now recognize that these hours in the middle of the night are my favorites.  I’m sure this is the beginning of my own transformation, but so far, I like this new version of me and I’m open to the continued surrender.

Looking back on the last seven weeks I know now that I wasn’t prepared for this life after birth.  But then again, is there anything that could have prepared me?  The first weeks were the most challenging of my life.  This whole experience continues to be the most challenging of my life.  But I guess that’s the thing with parenthood.  Yes, the sleep deprivation, the uncontrollable roller coaster of emotions, the discomfort of breastfeeding, the loss of independence–all of those things are really, really hard, but somehow, even with all of that, this experience is also the most intensely amazing, loving, beautiful and wonderful of my life, too.

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Today Alona Maya and I were playing in her makeshift fort.  We were in and out with giggles, running around the blankets, Alona (15 months old) jumping on me throwing her head back with laughter.  She leans in: “Mama”, and kisses me right on the lips.  I melt, into the yummiest love puddle, filled with pure joy in my heart..

Was it always this way? No.  A resounding No.  Time had it’s way with us, the universe with it’s playful choreography, somehow got us to this place.  I look at my fiery, energetic toddler and it amazes me that it has only been 15 months.  It feels as though we have been on a wild & challenging journey forever.  Though the fog is so far behind me.. as I type and recall, how quickly I can imagine that thick fog; life after birth.

Before my daughter was born, I was a practicing licensed massage therapist with a specialty in prenatal, a certified yoga teacher specializing in pre & postnatal, and a strong advocate for educating/supporting pregnant women and their choices in childbirth… “I got this!” I thought.  I was so insanely over prepared for my homebirth, I almost felt empowered to labor unassisted.  I thought about the baby, my baby, so abstract and inconceivable.. I thought it would all just come to me.  Right?

My birth story (a long story made short):  With my midwife, her assistant, my husband Isaac, my rockstar doula, my birth tub, we were ready. Ready for the marathon.  My water broke at 11:30 PM on Sunday, December 4th and my contractions started about a half hour later.  The next morning contractions had slowed – we went to an accupuncturist, took a walk in the park, walked up and down the stairs, nipple stimulation (no sex because of the ruptured membranes).  By Monday afternoon’ish, the transition from early labor to active labor was not a gradual progression, but much more dramatic than I had expected and learned.  I rode out each contraction, trying to breath & rest in between.  The labor continued hour after hour, in bed, in the tub, on the floor, on Isaac, on my Doula, on the couch, in the shower, on the toilet, and pretty much every other square inch of my house.  The contractions began to steadily increase in length and frequency, and got worse (or should I say more “intense”). Sometime Monday evening my midwife checked me (a rather harrowing experience on its own) and declared that although I was 90% effaced, I was only 3 cms dilated!  This was a pretty serious blow.  I was still healthy and the baby’s heart rate was fine (and remained fine for the entire labor) so we all just kept going.  The midwife had me in a variety of difficult and painful contortions.  It was too much, I thought I would be here forever, drowning.  Despite all our learning and preparation, I think what I was least prepared for was the sheer amount of time that things could go on for.  I just kept going, one contraction at a time.  At some point they gave me tea with some vodka to try & rest a little..

By 5AM on Tuesday morning, contractions had progressed to around 90 seconds long with a minute or less in between.  I started to voice doubt, I felt as if I finally lost control in the unrelenting ‘undertow’, over and over.  I was checked again, and at only 4 cm.. Isaac & I cried, shocked & defeated.  The midwife told us that we should consider transferring to the hospital, that a “therapeutic epidural” might have the effect of causing my cervix to dilate rapidly.  It would serve as a specific function in the labor instead of just relieving pain.  My water had broken 30 hours ago, and hospital policy is 24 hours.  We were healthy, me and the baby, with a strong and steady heart rate.  A decision made by me while barely able to listen to one full sentence as another wave crashed into me.

With a taxi blaring evangelical talk radio, we made the 10 minute trip to the hospital.  The twin challenges of transition-like contractions and the feeling of defeat and failure that came with transferring was unbearable.  Things were difficult at the hospital when we arrived as well.  They split up our birth team, we had to deal with rude obnoxious nurses, and the whole experience was just everything we had hoped to avoid.  Once I got the therapeutic epidural, there was a rapid and dramatic shift.  I caught my breath, took a one hour nap, and dilated 10 centimeters.  With the support of one hospital midwife, one homebirth midwife, one rather obnoxious nurse, and my dear Isaac, I pushed our baby out millimeter by millimeter for three and a half hours.  (We were lucky that we ended up with a fairly progressive hospital midwife, but nevertheless there were some real challenges about being in a hospital; staff laid on the pressure, constantly watching the monitors and threatening an episiotomy, even when mama and baby were strong and healthy.)  At 2:00pm on Tuesday December 6th, Alona Maya was born.  We smuggled out the placenta, and got the heck out of there within 24 hours.. we were home.

Home.  I entered with my newborn, having spent the night alone with my new baby in the hospital, without Isaac.  I swatted away every nurse who tried to pry my baby away from me.  They wanted to take her from me it seemed almost every hour for various things, I never let her go.  I wouldn’t let them bathe her to wash the precious vernix from her skin.  I think I recall at one hazy hour them taking her for a minute to check something – I was so weak.  I counted the seconds before they would release me.  (I had no fresh clothes or anything of my own, we had never packed a bag in case of a transfer)  When I got home, I couldn’t walk (from the pushing, and some stitches from natural tearing) and anywhere I walked I was reminded of the trauma I had endured for the past 3 days.  Letting other people hold my daughter was nearly impossible for me.  As the days went on, a sweetness and light entered our home as we got to know our baby girl, though I still held her close, tried to nurse, skin to skin, wearing her, naked day after day, unable to fully let anyone else hold her.  I hated visitors, I wanted to throw my phone out the window, I didn’t respond to emails… I wanted to take my cub and my partner, and hibernate in a cave together.  I wanted to be left alone to heal and nourish each other.  My need to protect was strong, I wanted to run away far from anyone who knew me.  I didn’t want anyone to know she was born.  It felt too raw and precious, we three had been through something no one could understand, we had traveled to a different reality.

Nursing became a great challenge.  Alona was tongue tied, and breastfeeding was torture.  I was engorged and crying, I was so underslept, hungry, and vulnerable. (Isaac was truly incredible in all of this, he was my fellow lion.)  We got her frenulum clipped which was nearly impossible to handle, watching your baby being held down to snip her tongue.  I almost passed out.  Thank Gd we did it, as our nursing relationship would have never flourished.  Breastfeeding became easier (for lack of better words) and as 4-6 weeks rolled around, Alona began to cry, a lot.  She wouldn’t stop crying, and she was in pain.  My midwife told me to keep nursing and cuddle, but Alona wouldn’t lay blissful and cuddle.  She hated to lay down, she cried and I began to shatter.  I continued to stop using my phone, I lost a few friends (even still)  connecting with people was the hardest thing to do. Alona screamed and cried while awake, and slept on me when she collapsed.  At 7 weeks old, her colic/reflux (at that time we had named it) was as bad as ever.  I bounced on my birth ball every day for hours, we did craniosacral, I cut out every food that could possibly irritate Alona’s digestive system.  It was all so painful and unrelenting.  I wrapped my baby into my warmth, braved the winter and traveled between three different mom support groups.  Alona and I would pace and find our rhythm around the room while listening to other mothers.

Then one day, with a dramatic shift, we started to lift above the fog.  Alona and I started to have moments of tenderness and alertness, there were smiles between the hour of crying and bouncing.  As we rocked and danced our way towards 4 months, there was a calm and steadiness, and I could see past the fog.  Fast forward months of both challenging and beautiful moments.  We cherish our community of wonderful like minded mothers and babes from the support groups.  We still don’t sleep through the night, but it’s livable.  The crying is now something I understand, and through sign language or her expressive face, I can be present with my girl and attend to her needs.  We play and learn together, I smile as she learns the world through bold movements and voice.  My expanded heart drops when she is brave and falls or runs too fast.  I still hold her close, and she is my little cub.  Although she’s still not the greatest fan of a good long cuddle.  We nurse and I hold her feet and brush her hair with my fingers in awe of our ordeal.  I wonder, will she read this story?  Will she remember?

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I spent my life anticipating motherhood. I looked forward tremendously to being pregnant and having children. My husband and I were very lucky in that we conceived easily, the first pregnancy “stuck” and was a smooth and healthy experience. I felt and looked good throughout the pregnancy which boosted my confidence about having an “easy” birth experience. To prepare we took a mindfulness class, in which we meditated, practiced yoga, and discussed the realities of labor, delivery, breastfeeding and the early stages of parenthood. I read countless birth stories, each one getting my adrenaline pumping and the excitement of my son’s impending birth almost too much to bear.

BIRTH

My due date came and went, and then we found ourselves at a 41 week appointment discussing labor induction. This isn’t at all what I had hoped (and planned) for. I wanted to labor at home for as long as possible. I pictured it being at night, we would call my dear friend who was also serving as my doula. Her boyfriend would heroically bring her from their outer-island home to ours on his boat. We would walk in the moonlit field behind our house to coax out the baby inside me.

Instead, 4 days before my 42 week mark, my husband and I “checked” into the hospital to begin a round of prostaglandin suppositories followed by a shot of morphine to help me sleep through the night. I was disappointed and relieved by the turn of events; this baby had to be born and though we tried everything we could at home (walking, yoga, spicy food, sex, CASTOR OIL, red raspberry tea, resting) my body wasn’t ready and the statistics are persuasive enough that and induction felt like the right thing.

I woke up in the morning with mild contractions, but I was still walking and talking and eating and laughing. The midwife decided to up the ante with a pitocin IV. This caused more intense contractions, but they were disorganized, coupling, and not very effective. They were still a lot of work to get through and this is when I felt my real labor began. I spent time that day in the tub, but mostly hanging on my husband and moaning through each contraction. By the evening I was exhausted and still only 5 or 6 cm dilated, so the midwife thought I should try to rest. I was having severe lower back pain and opted for a sterile water injection which was UNBELIEVABLY painful. But, my back didn’t hurt after that and with another shot of morphine, I was able to get some rest that night.

In the morning my cervix had dilated to 7 or 8 cm and now stuff was getting really real. I was in the zone and thinking only about my contractions and how to get through each one. I felt calm and focused. I hung on my husband again all day long and moaned and sat in the tub. Around noon I asked when I could start pushing and the midwife said if I thought I was ready then I could start right then. So I did. I pushed in the bed, I pushed in the tub, I pushed squatting and I pushed hanging on a railing. Pushing was exhilarating, but by far the most exhausting thing I have ever done. Because of the pitocin IV the baby was being monitored throughout the labor and for the most part his heart beat at a steady 133-ish bpm. At some point during this first round of pushing, his heart beat dropped and the midwife and nurse had looks on their faces I will never forget as they had me lay down on my side on the bed and take oxygen. I remember looking at my husband with tears in my eyes thinking, “When and how is this going to end?”

After 2 ½ hours of pushing and little progress I asked about getting some pain relief. My contractions were coming so close together that I was in constant pain from them and couldn’t feel when one started and one ended. I was so exhausted. The midwife thought getting an intrathecal (like an epidural but allows feeling in the legs and the ability to feel pressure) would be timely. Two anesthetists arrived shortly thereafter and gave me the injection in my spine. The relief was so incredible I immediately started cracking jokes and had an entirely renewed sense of hope. However, I also realized that I had barely slept in the last 48 hours and I couldn’t push forever so I talked to the midwife about a caesarian delivery: when they would make the call, if my husband could hold our baby as soon as he was born, when I could start trying to breastfeed, etc.

After about an hour of resting I could start to feel the contractions gaining intensity again and I wanted to try pushing while the pain was still somewhat numbed. With the OB surgical team scrubbed in and ready to deliver at any moment I pushed and pushed and pushed until another  2 ½ hours had passed and my baby was born.

LIFE AFTER BIRTH

My very first thought upon the vaginal delivery of my baby was physical RELIEF. No more contractions, no more “ring of fire.” I observed the well-being of my boy, lying healthy and large at 8lbs 11oz on my chest, but felt no immediate rush of emotion toward him. He was here. Healthy. Great. Now I want to eat, hydrate and get some rest.

The first few days in the hospital turned my world upside down. I was emotionally all over the place, crying almost constantly. I didn’t want to connect with people; even my family and friends. It took us 3 days to name our son. I could barely walk I was so exhausted from the labor.

Truth be told, I was absolutely terrified. I thought we had made a huge mistake. I couldn’t believe that anyone would want a baby. I kept searching for understanding in people’s eyes, but everyone just mooned over Caleb’s health and robustness and were so proud of my stamina during the labor. But I was struggling with breastfeeding, extreme fatigue and couldn’t find the spark of connection with my baby that I thought would come naturally if I followed all the “rules” of bonding. I was breastfeeding, doing lots to skin to skin contact, cuddling him in our hospital bed. Of course I loved him and would already do anything to protect him, but what I really saw when I looked at him scared me to death. He was ceaselessly needy and a total mystery.

I was very happy to leave the hospital after 5 days, though things didn’t get much easier. I got Caleb to sleep during the 45 minute drive home and just sat next to him in the back seat completely shell-shocked. I cried. My husband’s mom and sister were staying with us for 2 days after we got home which was so wonderful. They cooked food, were quiet like mice, and my mother in law did her best to ease my fears about breastfeeding and being a new mother in general. I dreaded the moment they left: my husband and I alone in our house with this tiny creature squalling for food, sleep and comfort. I began realizing how long it would be before I got to sleep more than 3 hours at a time, watch a movie, have a night out with my friends. These thoughts made me nauseous and panicky. Just like that, it was if the person I was before Caleb was born had never existed. How could I not be grateful for our perfect, healthy baby? What was wrong with me? WHAT HAVE WE DONE?

3 days after we got home, my nipples cracked and bleeding, I began to feel very ill. I took my temperature and had a low grade fever. I called the hospital and spoke with my midwife. she asked if I had any red splotches on my breasts and indeed I did: mastitis. What was already extremely challenging for me was rendered almost unbearable by this infection. A part of me hoped she would say I had to stop nursing. Another part of me hoped I would have to be hospitalized. Then I could finally rest. Someone else could take care of Caleb. It took 20 days of antibiotics (during which time I worried about yeast infections, thrush and exposing my newborn to so much medicine through breastfeeding) to clear up the infection. However, by then nursing was getting way easier. In fact, everything was. I was beginning to understand my baby and read his cues and cries like Dr. Sears said I would. At about a month he gave me a smile. I have been head-over-heels in love ever since.

What I experienced was not postpartum depression, anxiety or psychosis. What I experienced is commonly referred to as “the baby blues,” but I feel that this phrase does little justice to the depth and profundity of what I went through. I know that not all women struggle as I did, but I believe that many do. I think through sharing stories and we can give strength, hope and comfort to other families have similar experiences.