It’s Not All Sunshine And Roses

There’s this thing that happens with (typically young) mothers on social media: an illusion of joy. That’s not to say there isn’t real joy in the lives of these young mothers, but the tendency to shine up the turd before you post it on Instagram or FB or whatever creates an alternate reality where we all seem to have it all together and feel joyful just all the time. Motherhood is sunshine and roses and we all feel so complete and blessed by our children.

It’s an illusion.

No one feels that way all the time. No one has it together all the time. If you are someone who DOES, please tell me which meds you’re on because I want what you’re having.
You can hate the fuss of cloth diapering. You can grimace every time your kid wants to nurse. You can turn on Caillou and flee to the bathroom with a locked door and damn the torpedoes. Buy a Happy Meal instead of cook non-GMO-fed-grass-fed-organic beef. Hire a babysitter and go get drunk. Turn off the baby monitor for half an hour and get LAID good and proper.

Don’t forget you’re human first, and a mother second. They don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

Dedicated to all the Crazy Mamas out there feeling “blah.”

Postscript: I don’t mean to exclude fathers. But had I included you and then talked about nursing, it would have seemed odd.
Plus, sometimes mothers need to feel exclusive :)

Needful Things

I’ve had occasion recently to think about some pretty dire stuff. Life and death kind of stuff. And it occurs to me there are some things that I need to say to my children, should the worst happen and for one reason or another, I’m not around to say these things when they need to hear it.

First and foremost – we’re here on Earth to engage with other people and the world around us. That’s our purpose. It’s not the job you do or the important things you have to say – those things have a place. But the single most pressing task for us as members of humanity, of our community, of the world at large is to develop and foster relationships with other people. Even people we may disagree with – maybe most importantly those people. Don’t be afraid of other people. They’re just as lost and confused and scared as you are. Some of them aren’t able to reach outside their tiny bubble and grasp your hand. You come from a folk that is able to do that – we are a family who is unafraid to make friends of strangers. Use that. Get to know as many people as you possibly can. Everyone has a story that is unique and unlike your own – and you’ll find that as you get to know folks, there are similarities everywhere you look. Other people are the key to fulfillment.

Maybe just as important – don’t always turn your back on hatefulness and spite. It comes in so many forms – and the root of all hate and anger is fear. Sometimes your ability to reach out, to try to understand, will overcome that fear and tear down the hate. You may find that you’re able to communicate with someone that others may spurn as too full of negativity. Everyone has a story. But also, you have to learn when to walk away. You will learn as you grow that some people are too stuck – too anchored in fear – and it is not your job to “fix” them. You can’t fix people – only things. Be the hand that reaches out – you’ll feel better for it. But try to recognize the moments when someone is  not reaching back – and move on. There is always another story – always another person to reach.

You’re probably hearing a lot about God and heaven and where I might be now. You may or may not know by now that your Mom is a very spiritual person – but that her understanding of God and heaven doesn’t necessarily line up with what others are saying. I need you to hear this: God is everywhere. God is all around us. That moment when you’re talking with your best friend, and you both say the same thing at the same time? That’s God. When you’re with someone you love watching the sun set over the ocean and you feel so small and insignificant, until that person takes your hand? That feeling? That’s God. When you break down at the side of the road and your phone isn’t working and you don’t know what to do – but someone stops and helps you? That’s God. Energy can be neither created nor destroyed. Creation is going on all around you, all the time. Time is a man-made way of dividing up your life into easily understood segments. If time is set aside, then everything that can happen, does happen, somewhere, somewhen, at some “time” outside yourself. You may not see it – but it happens. There is a place where I am still with you. There is a place where I have been gone a long time. But there is NO place where I have never been, and yet you still are. That is God. My heaven is knowing that my energy is alive in you. That I did not live for nothing – that you carry me into tomorrow, and your children will carry me further still, and all our children will carry us into eternity.

Depending on how life happens, you may still have your grandparents with you now. They feel a love for you that you probably cannot comprehend. I am you as I am them and we are all they have. They will need you as much as you need them. And never be afraid to tell any one of them anything about yourself. They are entirely unshockable – your father and I have made sure of that. There is not one single thing you could tell them that would make them love you a single ounce less. Take a moment and FEEL that. Not everyone has that – but you do. Do not be afraid – you are not alone. You might be surprised how much they know and can tell you about anything. There is nothing new under the sun – if you’re confused and scared, take that burden to them and lay it down.

You were no accident. You were created and brought forth into this world in pure love and intention. I have always told anyone who will listen that I transformed as a person the moment you were each born. I set aside the person I was before – I honored her and said farewell to her – and turned to face the new woman that I would become. You each made me a different person – one who knew so much more than she did before. I learned patience from you. I learned how to endure from you and from your birth. I learned exactly how strong I can be when I need to be strong – and that strength is boundless. My energy is boundless. I am always with you.

Love. Love is all there is. Love is all around us, all the time, even when we can’t feel it. You are loved. You have always been loved. You will always be loved. There is no end to how much love a person can feel – and I learned that from you. Boundless. Look up at the stars – try to count them – and you’ll find you cannot – and know that there is more love than there are stars in that sky.

And finally, know that your Mom always knew she could write. I’ve always known I’m a writer since I first figured out how to put words on paper. I wrote stories for as long as I can remember. I wrote stories on an old Apple IIC computer I got for Christmas – and any internet search will tell you how long ago that was. I never stopped writing – even in the times when I thought I’d forgotten how. But never in my life did I discover a better way of concluding something important than with the words of someone far smarter than I am. Most of the time, that was Terry Pratchett, Joseph Campbell, or Shakespeare. In this case, I’m going with my first love and saying this to you so you will hear it:

Doubt thou that the stars are fire
Doubt that the sun doth move
Doubt truth to be a liar
But never doubt I love.

Anna’s Birth Story, Part Two

When we last checked in on our hero, labor was at its very earliest stage. It was 5am, and Crazy Mama decided to do the obvious thing…go to bed.

5am became 6am, 6 turned to 7, the sun rose – but not shining brightly as it was overcast with a drizzle of rain that day. A cold, rainy, November day in Memphis. It even *sounds* like the blues.

I laid in bed on my left side, snuggled with my body pillow, legs arranged as per the research I had been doing just prior to going to bed to best encourage baby to flip around from posterior to anterior. I don’t recall what I was reading lying there in bed, but I do remember how hard it was to pay attention. I kept reading the same paragraph over and over. Every time I’d feel another cramp, I’d look at the clock. 40ish minutes apart (6am)…then 30ish minutes apart (7:30)…then 20ish minutes (8:20)…and I thought maybe I should call the folks who would have the longest drive to let them know to start heading our way. Rebecca, my best friend and the person who had introduced me to homebirth, lived at the time on a farm in Western Kentucky and was planning to make the 5 or so hour trip down, so I called her first. I didn’t want to go through my first birth without her. My mom was in Louisville visiting my grandmother and would also be driving down so I called her. By then it was getting close to 9am and the contractions were getting stronger and closer together – about 12 to 15 minutes apart. I decided to wake Amy (my midwife) and give her the heads up.

She was…less than thrilled…to learn I’d had no sleep at all. In fact, she wanted me to take a warm bath, drink a glass of wine if I could, and try to slow things down enough to get some rest. I had told her at a prenatal appointment about my maternal family history of pretty fast births, so we both knew it was likely that things were really happening – but she wanted me to try to get some rest nonetheless.

So with my bestie on the way and my mom excited and likely running in circles in Louisville, I hopped in the shower. Well, probably not hopped. More like waddled. You get the picture.My husband (Jason) was still sleeping peacefully and I decided to let him be. To be honest, I didn’t want to tell anyone there at the house. My mother in law (Leann) lived downstairs and was probably awake and reading, but I wanted to be alone.

That was a good shower. I was so excited and having been awake so long, it felt really good to get hot and steamy and clean. I even managed (somehow) to shave my legs. The contractions were still coming on though. By the time I was out of the shower, they were closer to 8 or 10 minutes apart. I bundled up in my favorite blue robe, dried my hair, and tried to lie back down.

Yeah…no. I couldn’t. The next contraction that hit after I laid down was strong enough to bring me right back to my feet. I grabbed hold of the co-sleeper we’d set up next to our bed and heard myself lowing like a cow, deep and open and low in my chest. I held onto the sleeper and swayed back and forth, rocking my hips, until the contraction passed.

I had read – I think in Spiritual Midwifery – that the cervix is a sphincter like the rectum, the larynx, etc – and that if you concentrate on relaxing one sphincter, you’ll relax them all. So I took myself back to my old Acting and Voice classes from college. I imagined my throat as a big, open tunnel, my center as a big yellow ball of light, and singing that low, low note would draw the yellow light up and out from center, warming and softening my throat as it came. I threw my head back and sang low to the ceiling, letting my mouth hang open. Loose and open and wide. I even sang, “Oooooohhh-pen,” on as low a note as I could comfortably sustain.

I’m really, really glad that I had decided to stay alone, and that my husband is an incredibly deep sleeper. I probably looked like a mental patient. I probably *sounded* like a mental patient. But it felt right, and that’s all that mattered.

After that first really strong contraction, I discovered that I needed to walk. I couldn’t sit down, couldn’t lie down, couldn’t even really hold still. I wanted to walk. I’d had a big yoga ball, but one of the seven cats (yes, seven freaking cats) had popped it a couple of weeks before. I don’t think I could have held still enough to use it, mind you. I felt like a tiger in a cage – pacing in a big loop around the upstairs sitting room and bedroom. When a contraction would start up, I’d make my way back to that sleeper and hold onto it, swaying and rocking, lowing at the ceiling and picturing my ball of light moving up and through my body. “OOOoooohhhhpen…AAAAaaaahhhhh,” I’d sing. I checked the clock again. It was around 10:30am.

5 hours in – and still no sleep. I realized at this point there wouldn’t be sleep. There wouldn’t be rest. Contractions were anywhere from 3 to 7 minutes apart and were starting to be strong enough that I had to hold on “for dear life” during them. I called Amy again. She kept me on the line until one hit – then said she’d pack up her bag and come on over.

After that contraction passed, I found myself picking up piles of clothes, trying to make the upstairs as neat as possible. I cleaned the bathroom as quickly as I could. I think there was another contraction in the bathroom – then I realized there just wouldn’t be time to clean (and what the hell was I thinking, trying to clean house while in active labor?) It also occurred to me that maybe I should wake Jason before Amy and Rebecca arrived.

He got up, helped me put the two sets of sheets with the vinyl fleece-backed picnic tablecloths between them on the mattress, then got in the shower. I had one good contraction before he got in the shower, and I think that was probably when things got real for him. With Jason awake, I found it was far, far more comfortable to wrap my arms around his neck and dangle from his shoulders while I swayed and moaned – and let him support my weight. More comfortable for *me* of course. He was a trooper though – it had to be pretty scary, but he held me up – and continued to do so for the rest of the day whenever I needed him, which was a lot. I don’t want to downplay this part – he literally held my entire weight from his neck/shoulders for what wound up being hours – with me yelling and groaning in his ear all the while. It takes a special kind of person to be able to do that, much less willing.

While he was in the shower, I called down to let Leann know to expect Amy. She was beside herself. She had heard me up and moving around, but figured I wanted my privacy (good on her.) I could hear her begin making her rounds of phone calls from the downstairs living room. I kept up my tiger-in-a-cage pacing, only stopping to sing through the contractions.

Amy arrived, arranged her things, made note of where all of my boxes of supplies were stored, then said she wanted to check me after the next contraction. When she did, she looked up at me and said, “Girl, you’re already at 8cm – the hard work is just about over and you’re still smiling!”

I couldn’t believe it. I’m not sure what I expected labor to be like, but I thought the contractions-part was supposed to be super painful and difficult. Granted, things weren’t exactly a walk in the park at this point, but I wasn’t in what I’d call pain (yet…) I remembered Rebecca’s first labor and thought she was dealing with way more pain than I seemed to be. She had a lot more back labor than I did, which was likely the main difference there. I started to be worried she wouldn’t make it in time.

Sometime after noon, I remembered the jacuzzi bathtub downstairs and decided to give it a whirl. Amy said it was fine, but if she told me I needed to get out, I’d have to comply. Getting downstairs was a bit of a trip – I had to lean pretty heavily on my husband as my legs were super tired from all the pacing and swaying (not to mention the total lack of sleep.)

That tub felt SO good. I laid back and turned on the jets. It was almost deep enough to cover my whole belly. Husband stayed in the bathroom with me and Amy went back upstairs to work on her charts.

Pretty sure the bath lasted all of half an hour. The first contraction was manageable, but it was the first time I’d tried sitting or lying down through one all morning, and it wasn’t very comfortable. Rebecca arrived while I was in the tub, and I remember looking up at one point and seeing her, my husband, and my mother in law all kind of crammed in around the door of the bathroom right as another contraction hit. That did it. “Get me out of here,” I said to my husband.

Once he got me back upstairs, Amy wanted to check me again. She had checked one other time before I got in the tub and I hadn’t progressed beyond that original 8cm. The contractions had slowed down, too. When I got back upstairs, the story was the same. No progress, but a contraction hit while she was checking. That…sucked. It was good for her to see how things were going, but it totally made my skin crawl. Jason had to pretty much support all of my weight on that one to keep me from collapsing on top of poor Amy, who was sitting in the floor to check me.

The good news about that was she felt things open up a bit more during that one (it was a really strong, really uncomfortable contraction.) “I think you were waiting for Becca to get here. All that’s left now is one little lip of your cervix to open up and you’ll be ready to start pushing.”

I was feeling really tired – but now that my whole birth team was in place, I felt good about things.

Pretty much once I got out of the tub, everything starts to run together. I have no more concept of time. I don’t know when things happened. Part of that is writing this 4+ years later, but even my initial try at writing the story right after the birth got blurry at this point. Over the next couple of hours, contractions got much, much more powerful. Force of nature powerful. I still wanted to stand through them, but had to lay down between. The lack of sleep took a major toll. Amy had Jason bring me something to eat, some water, and a Popsicle. The snack was a tortilla with cheese I think – but I couldn’t really eat much of it. The Popsicle tasted really, really good – for as long as it lasted. Not long after eating, I threw it all back up anyway.

Amy checked again and told me it was time to push whenever I felt the urge. Once the pushing started, I got really whiny really fast. I tried standing and pushing, crouching and pushing, pushing on my hands and knees…I know baby was moving down, but it felt like nothing was happening. My legs were so weak and shaky, I couldn’t hold myself up. On one attempt at standing and pushing, Rebecca and Jason were basically supporting all my weight. Nothing doing – I had to lie down. After all my good walking and swaying and rocking, here I was at the big moment, and all I could manage was lying flat on my back – the LAST position I wanted to be in to give birth. I tried resting between contractions, but they were so close together that I just couldn’t. Amy had to (as gently as possible) tell me to stop the weepy stuff and conserve my energy for pushing. I got in a bad habit of just yelling while I pushed, as if I could somehow shout my baby out. Amy and Rebecca both tried to help me turn the shouting energy into pushing energy. At some point, baby started crowning. I remember reaching down and feeling her hair and being so excited. I worked so hard to get her to crown and “stick” but she kept retreating. I felt so hopeless – the weepiness started back up. Jason was holding up one leg for me, Rebecca was holding the other, and I’d sit up in a crunch to push, looking Amy right in the eyes.

I guess she saw me losing hope. She saw how tired I was. She heard how whiny I was. She did exactly what I needed her to do in that moment.

She made my birth partners step away. They were just to the sides of the bed, but she didn’t let them help me. “Put a hand behind each knee and pull your legs to your chest while you push on this next contraction. Try not to make a sound. Use everything you’ve got for pushing. Don’t whine about it, just do it.”

“Tracy, push your baby out. Do it now.”

On the next contraction, I pushed til baby crowned and I held her there. Once she was there and staying, Amy let Rebecca and Jason help again. I pushed and pushed and delivered her head. Anterior. She had turned after all. Then I pushed shoulders and body free and there she was…6 lbs 4 oz of sweet and silent Anna Marie.

She started breathing on her own, but she was so quiet. I don’t remember her crying at all. The next little bit is even blurrier than the previous stage, because in my third stage, the complications no one could foresee started.

It began with the cord. Anna’s cord was so very fragile and short. It was only weakly pulsing. Amy gave it a gentle tug to pull some more free and give us a bit more “play” to move Anna about, and it came apart in her hands.

So much for delayed clamping.

Amy asked whether I felt any crampiness that would signal the placenta’s delivery and I did not. I didn’t know at the time, but there was a fair bit of bleeding going on. She had me try to breastfeed Anna for the first time to stimulate contractions. It was hard to sit up straight. I felt super weak. Anna latched on and nursed a bit, but no contractions, no cramps, nothing.

Amy gave me a tincture and a shot of pitocin in my upper thigh. No contractions. No cramps. Nothing. Then she said what I heard in my head for the next several years.

“Tracy, your placenta isn’t coming. There’s a fair bit of blood. I’m going to have to go get it. It’s not going to be fun.”

I remember asking if there was any other way…anything she could do…I was thinking transport in my head and she saw that.

“There’s just no time. I’m sorry,” she said. “I’ll be as quick as I can.”

“Do what you have to do. It’ll be okay.”

So yeah, sparing you the worst of the details, I watched my midwife get a new glove, then watched as she bathed most of her lower arm in betadine.  Jason stripped the upper half of his body down and laid down next to me on the bed so Anna could continue having skin-to-skin warmth with her family.

Skin to skin with Daddy

Skin to skin with Daddy

I tried to keep my cool. I tried to bite down on the screams that wanted to come.  I looked over at Anna lying calmly on Jason’s chest. I tried to be strong for her.  After a few minutes, I couldn’t hold it in anymore. I lost every bit of cool or calm or composure I may have had.

Anna’s placenta had not detached. Amy got it out in five pieces. We didn’t try to keep it for burial or encapsulation or any of those things natural birthers tend to do. It got bundled and disposed of. As Amy put it, it was a “bad placenta,” extremely calcified. Anna decided to come on this particular day because she had to – it was time.

I spent the next couple of days in my baby moon, just like any new mom will do. The experience that capped our first birth gradually dimmed, but it didn’t entirely leave me. The hemorrhage wasn’t severe, and my body handled it – I was still up within a couple of hours, taking a shower, using the toilet, all things a midwife will want her client to do before she leaves the home. I had no lasting physical effects, and my joy with Anna quickly eclipsed the pain of her birth.

Sweet Anna

Sweet Anna

No more tears, this fountain dry

w_wide beach

You know how you hear those stories on daytime talk shows about girls not realizing they’re pregnant and having babies at high school proms or other wildly inappropriate places? Have you said to yourself, “there’s no way I could ever just not know I was pregnant?” Yeah, me too.

Have you eaten much crow in your life? I really don’t recommend it. Tough and gamey…

I knew I was pregnant with our first child almost immediately. I felt a tingling, a spark of something new inside my body. With our second child, I seriously thought I was dying of some dread illness. For real. I spent nearly three months unable to eat, nauseous, out of energy, waking up with a funny taste in my mouth that wouldn’t go away. I couldn’t even drink Cokes, for God’s sake!

In December, my husband bought (yet another) pregnancy test and begged me to please shut up and take it. Convinced I’d just be proving him wrong, I harumphed off to the bathroom.

Remember what I said about crow? Yeah, so this was the first course…

Pregnant. An ultrasound a few days later showed that I wasn’t just a little pregnant – I was nearly 12 weeks already (that’s 3 months or so for you cretins who didn’t pass elementary math and look at ladies who speak in weeks like we’re spouting some strange, new language.) I’d faked my way through the entire first trimester, convinced I had a stomach tumor or some intestinal disease. When the tech first put the ultrasound wand on my belly, the baby immediately jumped into view, and I swear the little critter WAVED at us. “Helloooo!”

Another ultrasound several weeks later showed a room full of ultrasound techs, their instructor and me what everyone plainly saw – my baby was a girl. We were terribly excited. My daughter, who is four, had been talking for years about a sister – she really, really wanted a sister pretty much as soon as she realized that such things exist. And lo, here we see on an ultrasound the sister our daughter has been waiting nearly her whole life to meet.

I arranged for a friend who is an excellent midwife to come to our little tropical paradise in the summer to enjoy a vacation and to coincidentally catch my baby. Our EDD as given by that first ultrasound was July 7. As things progressed, I started re-evaluating that ultrasound-given date. I remembered our conception date quite clearly (things like that stand out when you have an active and inquisitive four year old who is only rarely occupied with something long enough for conception to take place.) I also finally remembered the date of my last cycle – which I could not recall – and those two things together proved that the July 7 date was off  by as much as two weeks. So my midwife decided to make the trip down earlier – toward the end of June – and we adjusted my EDD to around June 26 instead.

As June came to a close, all of my plans started to come together. My best friend was able to make the drive down to assist with my labor. She brought her 6 year old daughter with her to help keep my daughter entertained so I could relax. The same midwife who delivered that 6 year old would be delivering my new baby – and the last time we were all gathered together was for the birth of that little girl, so it was a pretty cool reunion. My husband had been an amazing support for me (literally) during our daughter’s birth and I could see him starting to feel anxious the closer to the due date we got – and then as we moved past it. So I asked another friend of ours who lived with us for awhile – and who was also present back in December when I took that pregnancy test, in fact – to join our birth party to provide a bit of a support system for my husband. I could tell he needed someone – and I knew in labor I would not be able to be that person.

When my CPM arrived in town on June 25th, we did a belly exam and I permitted her to do a vaginal exam just to get an idea about how my cervix might be progressing. I’d been having lots of Braxton Hicks contractions for weeks. She could tell from the belly exam that baby was cephalic (head down) and very low behind my pubic bone. We took this picture the next evening, and you can actually see baby’s position in my belly:

40 weeks in style!

40 weeks in style!

Yes, I’m performing with a band at 40w pregnant. It was awesome. And yes, I’m also holding a glass (one) of wine in my hand. But the point is that if you really look, you can see the outline of the baby, head down, angling off toward my left ribs. That’s not a trick of the light or something on my shirt – what you think you can see is absolutely what you’re really seeing. It’s also a prime position for a baby to be in for labor.

So I’m at full term, and I’m walking around 4 or so cm dilated and effaced to about 80% or so. Completely ready for labor, in other words. We checked a few more times in the following days, and the story was the same. Every night, I’d start having toning contractions at about 10pm or midnight and they’d continue all night until about 4 or 5am, when they’d finally slack off (or I’d fall asleep.) I was restless, pacing around the house like a tiger in a cage. My birth team was assembled and ready. All of our supplies were set out and prepared. All systems were go – but labor just didn’t seem to want to start.

At 41 weeks, we all took a trip to the beach for the day. It was the first of July and the weather was amazing. I couldn’t believe how good I felt for someone so terribly pregnant – and getting only about 6 or so hours of sleep at night. We had a great day in the water and I got my bestie to take some pictures of me. I’m glad I did – this is the last belly shot taken before labor started that evening.

I'm Queen of the World!

I’m Queen of the World!

I’ve written extensively about my feelings on interventions in pregnancy and how they often lead to unplanned for medical issues and procedures. I’m a strong advocate for unmedicated, intervention-free labor and birth. If you want to read more, check out this post I wrote a few months ago. I say that because the very next thing I’m going to tell you is that I decided to ask my CPM for a little assistance getting labor started – something that I would have told you I’d never do had you asked me back when I wrote that post. But I had a very good reason – on July 9th, my CPM had to return home. I didn’t have a backup midwife, I didn’t want to wind up with an unassisted birth nor did I want to wind up birthing with strangers in a hospital. So she and I chatted, and based on her advice, I allowed her to strip membranes. I knew full well that my body was ready for labor, my baby was ready – but birth trauma that I experienced in the third stage of my first birth had me feeling anxious and afraid. I think that fear was what kept shutting down prelabor before it could turn into the real thing. And I also knew going into it that if baby was NOT ready, a membrane strip would not be an effective means of starting labor.

At around dinnertime on July 1, Candace (my CPM) did what she called one of the best, easiest membrane strips she’d ever done. Within minutes of her walking out the door, I started having stonger-than-before contractions that were about ten minutes apart. I called my husband and his friend, both of whom were out running errands, and told them not to rush, but just to be prepared – baby girl was on her way and would likely be coming earthside that night.

Rebecca (the best friend) made an awesome dinner for me. If you’ve ever wondered what labor at home looks like, it starts out looking something like this:

What do you mean, women in hospitals aren't allowed to eat?

What do you mean, women in hospitals aren’t allowed to eat?

I downloaded a contraction timer to my iPhone. Since Candace had left to go eat and try to turn in early for some sleep, my contractions had been about ten minutes apart and lasted for about a minute each. Labor can go on like that for hours. Just before she left, she told me to eat a good dinner and “have sex – lots of it if you can.”

As it turns out, sex is the best natural tool at our disposal to kickstart labor. Semen contains prostaglandins – hormones that stimulate the cervix to ripen, and orgasm causes uterine contractions. Both of those things together can put a body on the edge into active labor. Even WebMD says so. To paraphrase natural childbirth icon Ina May Gaskin, what got the baby in there will also get it out.

Contractions that were ten minutes apart had petered out to half an hour or so apart. After Jason (my husband) got home…and got down to business…contractions sprang to 2 minutes apart. Things were starting to get interesting. The entire birth party was assembled moments later when our friend Chris arrived, whiskey in hand (for the birth team, not for me…the irony of this did not escape me.) We were as ready as any group of friends can be:

Belly envy

Belly envy

I had my timer in hand – two minutes apart, each still lasting about a minute. But these were still early contractions – I could still talk and laugh during them. They weren’t a walk in the park, but they weren’t “the real thing” just yet. So I sat on my birth ball and set about trying to relax into each contraction.

Massage helps

Massage helps

Rebecca joked that Chris was a natural Doula. Then we giggled as we tried to explain to him what a Doula is. My husband asked if I felt like playing some Halo. At first, I declined – I didn’t think I could concentrate. But then he said, “what, you mean you don’t want to play versus and chase me down with a shotgun?” When he put it like that…

Why yes, I would absolutely LOVE to blast your ass with a shotgun right now

Why yes, I would absolutely LOVE to blast your ass with a shotgun right now

In all honesty, I sat there and set the game up – picked a board, picked out weapons, picked out secondary weapons – but then had to get up and move during a contraction that sent me over the edge. I suddenly couldn’t focus, couldn’t chat freely, and Rebecca heard me moan in the other room. She came in and helped me prep the bed with the fleece-lined table cloth and sheets. Our Halo game never happened. But this did:

I highly recommend hiring your very own birth guitarist

I highly recommend hiring your very own birth guitarist

Rebecca and I agreed that once my contractions got down to a minute apart and were strong enough that I had to make noise through them – three of those in a row – it would be time to call Candace. It’s nice knowing your midwife is a mile away and napping in preparation for your birth. Sometime around 1am, it was time to call Candace.

Holding on...

Holding on…

I laid down while I knew I still could. My pattern of labor with my first had been to walk and walk, only stopping to rock and sway through each contraction. I spent about half an hour or so lying in bed, holding hands with Rebecca through contractions, dozing off between them, waiting for Candace to arrive and check on things. Not long after this picture was taken, the first gush of water happened as my bag of waters gradually started leaking. The fun and games portion of our evening had come to a close.

The storm approaches

The storm approaches

Once that water showed up, I knew contractions would become more powerful. I was ready for it, while at the same time being completely unprepared. We never realize, do we? We just don’t remember – and that lack of memory is our greatest blessing.

Getting in the zone

Getting in the zone

The hard work began. My cervix didn’t want to open all the way. After weeks of preparation and early dilation, early effacement, that last anterior lip – the same one I pushed against for hours with my first baby – was back. Candace checked me and said I needed to work naturally against it for awhile before she could help me. She wanted me to go sit on the toilet through contractions. I wanted to stand through contractions, and sitting on the toilet through them felt like agony. I didn’t want agony. I wanted fearlessness. I wanted strength. Sitting on the toilet felt scary and weak – because it hurt more. Because it wasn’t “my way” – and because it just felt all wrong. But I respect Candace so much, and I know she knows what’s best, so I did it.

NOT my happy place

NOT my happy place

Every moment in that place was difficult. I would stay as long as I could, then I would have to go. I wandered from the bathroom to the bedroom and back again. When I was in the bedroom, I would sit back on the bed between contractions, then rise up and have my husband hold me while I groaned and moaned and…let’s face it…yelled my bloody head off.



Powerful waves pounding me. Picking me up and crashing me on the shore that was my sweet, lovely bed. Just when I’d start to feel comfortable and restful, another would creep up on me, clenching and grinding and building and grasping. All the while, I could feel my baby still riding “too high” inside me – not descending the way I needed it to. I tried to go out to our backyard pool, but once I got there, the water felt too cold and I didn’t even climb in. I made my way back to the bedroom. Candace kept gently reminding me to go back to the toilet. To let that position help open things up and bring baby down. I tried. I tried harder than I tried to do anything in my life. In the end, I found myself back on my bed, flat on my back, in the absolute last position I wanted to be in to give birth. I started to lose the faith. I thought longingly of all those women in all the hospitals of the world at that same moment, hooked up to tubes full of mind and body-numbing drugs that could make all of this go away.

Not here...never here...

Not here…never here…

Then I would think about what that meant to me – what giving in would mean to me – and I would fight through another contraction. One at a time. I know my husband was there with me. I know I saw Rebecca come and go, I saw Chris come and go – both of them full of concern, full of encouragement. I gripped Jason’s hands, hung from his arms, crouching and pushing against contractions, willing baby down. Willing that cervix to open. Willing the pain to break, to crest each time and collapse over me. And each time it did.

After what felt like a lifetime of coping and working and fighting, Candace checked me again and said she was able to help me overcome that last lip of cervix. It felt horrific and fantastic all at the same time. Terrific pain that was going to result in all of this finally being over. When she stood up, she told me I’d feel baby drop into my bottom on the next contraction and could start pushing for real when I was ready.

When I was ready.

I stood up. On my own two feet. I turned and faced that nice, soft, cushy bed where my daughter had come into the world four and a half years before. I got OFF of my back. I got out of my head. I turned my back on everyone in the room, on everything in my way. I decided once and for all to say, “Fuck you” to the fear – and I started pushing my baby into the world.

Owning it

Owning it

On the next contraction, I grabbed my bed with my hands and squatted down into it – pushing as hard as it felt like I needed to – which was as hard as I could.

I grunted and cried out like a woman coming apart. Because I was coming apart. I could feel the separation. I could nearly hear the grinding groan of my hip bones creaking apart. As that contraction abated, I stood up and readied myself for the next one. No lying down. No resting. No giving up or giving in or taking comfort. The time for comfort and weakness was over.

I pushed. And I pushed. I felt the ring of fire and I told everyone in the room. “Ring of fire…here she comes, Candace.” And when I couldn’t possibly take any more, I pushed even harder.

I heard Rebecca say, “I see your baby’s head, Tracy. I see your baby’s hair!” Of course she did – because I felt it. I knew right where my baby was, and I felt absolutely in control. Maddened a bit by pain, but owning every second of it.

The crowning

The crowning

I didn’t even wait for the next contraction. I gathered everything I had and I pushed until I felt the head come clear. You know when you’ve pushed the baby’s head out because the baby’s neck feels so freaking glorious after the unbelievable power of the baby’s head leaving your body. One big push got the crown, the second big push delivered the head. I gathered myself again for the next. On that third monstrous push, I felt baby’s shoulders, and I kept pushing, knowing it was the end. This last push, everything I had (because anyone who tells you the head is the hardest part has never paid attention to how fucking hard it is to push out those shoulders.) I felt the shoulders, I felt the tiny tear I learned about later, I felt the release that comes once the shoulders are clear and I heard Candace say, “Tracy, catch your baby.”

“I can’t. I’ll fall.”

I was bracing my entire body on my arms and legs. If I’d let go to catch, I’d have fallen flat on my face. But I looked down. And in that moment, I saw my sweet baby’s face looking up at me. Body still inside my body, sweet face with a head full of hair looking up at me. I’m coming, Mama.  I heard my baby cry before the legs were delivered. “You catch her.”

And it was over. I was free. Baby was free. My legs started trembling, but I forced them to hold me. Candace said, “Tracy, you need to look closely at your baby” as she passed the baby between my legs to lie on the bed in front of me.

Hello, Mommy.

Hello, Mommy.

Oh my God, my baby. There’s my baby. And my baby, that sweet baby girl I’ve been talking to for months, singing to, calling by name…is a boy.

It's a boy.

It’s a boy.

He’s a boy. And he’s perfect. He’s connected to me still – his lifeblood pumping into him from the placenta still inside of me, the light in the room offending every ounce of his being, crying out at the injustice of it all. He’s my baby boy.

Oh my God

Oh my God

I sat back on the bed, that blessedly comfortable bed I’d been trying to avoid lying in for so long and could finally allow myself to collapse into…my baby boy.

My baby boy

My boy…my baby boy

I pulled my shirt off, ready to put his sweet skin against mine. The bathing suit top I’d worn under it all night the only thing between us. I pulled it off, too, wanting to allow him to do a breast crawl if he could.

He could

He could

It was unreal. That tiny body squirming, the little head turning – he shouldn’t be able to do that! – but there he is doing it. He wriggled and he worked and he turned and he found and then missed and then found again. His first latch was weak but it was there, and he found his way without assistance from anyone.

Because really, this baby boy had come into the world on *his* terms, not mine. Not a doctor’s terms nor a midwife’s. Certainly not an ultrasound’s terms. We were all expecting one thing, and he showed us something else entirely.

“Yes, I have tricks in my pocket, I have things up my sleeve. But I am the opposite of a stage magician. He gives you illusion that has the appearance of truth. I give you truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion.” 

— Tennessee Williams, The Glass Menagerie

Concerning Birth and Fear and Doctors and Fear and Pain and Fear and…Plumbing?

I keep reading fearful posts from mothers-to-be on a closed group page for a natural birth community. Women are saying things that start, “my doctor won’t let me,” or one asked, “what do contractions feel like…I’m scared,” and another posted “what if I get to 40w and nothing has happened?” These woman are all fans of an amazing birth blog and community, Birth Without Fear. So when I read these posts that emanate fear, I want to help. I originally posted some of what follows on that closed group page. Lots of the members “liked” that post – and several commented that I should turn it into a blog post that they could share. To those women I say, “okay.”

In response to “my doctor won’t let me:” obstetricians can’t dictate what you decide to do. Your doctor can make recommendations based on his/her experience. Your doctor may even strongly suggest that you follow a particular course of action – and some may “threaten” to discontinue care if you don’t do as s/he says (it’s rare, but it happens.) In no other realm of healthcare do we commonly hear things like “my doctor won’t let me.” Doesn’t happen. But of their obstetricians, I hear women say with alarming regularity things like “my doctor won’t let me.” There’s a long history for why this happens – and sure, I’ll go there in a bit – but it’s still kind of odd. Ultimately, your doctor simply can’t dictate your decisions. In fact, you have to allow them to do so.

Originally posted on The Unnecesarean

Originally posted on The Unnecesarean

A doctor – obstetrician, internist, dentist, podiatrist, whatever – is really no different than any other specialist you might hire to solve a problem you aren’t comfortable solving on your own. Sink dripping into your cabinet and you can’t fix it? Hire a plumber. Roof leaning and you have the carpentry skills of a rabid beaver? Hire a roofer. Fertilized egg implants in your womb and baby starts growing in your belly? Hire an obstetrician. Or – just as in all those other cases – don’t. No one tells you that you must not try to fix your sink or repair your roof. Lots of people will tell you it’s a terrible idea for you to try, but no one can tell you that you must hire a specialist. Sure, there’s cases where you might need a licensed, bonded plumber – because the problem might wind up being much bigger than a leaky gasket. In fact, you may discover that all your pipes are made with lead and you’re going to need to rebuild the system. It’s time to call in the big guns. So it’s probably a good idea to bring in a specialist. But guess what? Odds are good, unfortunately, that if you call in the specialist right away – before you even explore what might be going on – that what may have been a leaky gasket that needed the turn of a wrench, turns into a huge operation involving other parts, cutting things, replacing things, repairing things (that only got broken when the cutting started…) In other words, it gets really involved, really fast – and really expensive – really fast.  Why does that happen? Because you didn’t check it out. You didn’t google “my sink is leaking” and read about what might cause that. You didn’t call up other people with sinks and ask their opinion. You didn’t educate yourself about the problem – so when the specialist arrives and sees that 1. there’s a problem and 2. you’re clueless, that specialist has an opportunity to do what he or she went into business to do…and it’s probably really naive to think the answer to that is “help people.” That doesn’t mean all plumbers are dishonest – of course not. They have experience. They recognize symptoms of things that, in their experience, led to larger problems later. Sometimes much later. Sometimes those symptoms didn’t actually lead to a larger problem later, but one time it did, and that one time was a very, very bad time – so now whenever that plumber sees that same condition, s/he goes ahead and treats it just like s/he wishes had been done the one time that things went very, very badly to potentially prevent that same thing happening again (not that it would have, but it might have…)

(Wait, am I still talking about plumbing? And wtf, am I really building an overwrought metaphor for prenatal care and birth around a plumbing example? I think I’m offending myself…)

Here’s the deal – obstetricians have totally seen some completely horrific things. Every worst-case scenario you can imagine has at one time or another landed at the feet of an obstetrician. Were I in that position, I’d certainly be tempted to do everything in my power to prevent those worst-case scenarios. Witnessing one maternal death would be too many. One baby that didn’t make it. That would be enough. I’d be out. That’s why I’m not an obstetrician. It’s why I’m not a midwife. Obstetricians are trained surgeons – and for an OB, there’s an illusion of control about surgery that just doesn’t exist with vaginal delivery. For whatever reason, the fact remains that America has an enormous cesarean section rate. The CDC calculated the 2010 section rate at 32.8% – but when I go to that link and do the math on vaginal delivery vs cesarean delivery, I get 48%…so not sure what I’m missing there.

Wait – go back a second. Read those last few lines again. I’ll wait.

It sort of doesn’t matter if the number is 32.8 or if it’s 48 (FORTY EIGHT!!) it’s too high. Way too high. Did women suddenly develop defective hips? Are our vaginas busted? What the hell people? Sorry – I’m sidetracked in mid-blog, but that just upset me a great deal. I’m going to need a minute.


Click here for additional angst

I don’t need to go down this path. Other people have gone down this path – and there’s no need for me to reinvent this wheel. Go visit The Unnecesarean and do some research if you’d like. There’s an epidemic. This is not new information in the natural birth community. If it’s new information to you, please, please go read about it.

What I’m saying is that when your obstetrician says that he or she won’t “let” you go beyond 40 weeks, or won’t “let” you give your birth a trial of labor, the unspoken “threat” there is cesarean section. Whether or not you view that as a threat is none of my business. I see it as a threat. Sure, the early stages will include inducing labor – might be as simple as sweeping membranes – but either way, once the first intervention is allowed (by you,) you’ve made a turn down the path that leads in many, many cases to a cesarean delivery. If you don’t want that for yourself, don’t start down the path. Nobody can tell you that you must. And it doesn’t matter that one time out of 100,000 a really, really bad thing happened to a woman who didn’t have “x” done. You know who it matters to? The industry whose entire business model is built on calculated risk. Insurance companies. Malpractice and health insurance companies. They’re the only ones who care about 1 in 100,000. So who needs to be making healthcare choices for you? A board of directors (many of whom have never given birth)?

Oh, and fascinating information right here – most obstetricians have never had the opportunity to attend a home or natural delivery outside of a hospital. I once had an awesome conversation with a young female obstetrician on a flight from Chicago to Atlanta where we talked birth, I told her my birth story, she told me several of her own (she has no children yet, but has already attended hundreds of births.) She had never talked to a woman who had given birth under a CPM’s care at home. She was fascinated. She ordered Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth while we were on the plane. I like to think I may have started a ball rolling there that would end in some very happy birth outcomes for patients of her practice. She’s in Illinois, where homebirth illegal – but was going to try to hook up with some midwives to “sneak” and attend a natural birth. When your OB looks at you like you’re nuts for wanting to birth at home – try to remember that what you’re talking about is completely and entirely outside that person’s realm of experience.

If you haven't read this, go buy it now. I'll wait.

If you haven’t read this, go buy it now. I’ll wait.

By the way, I don’t mean to imply that your only option is hire an obstetrician or go it alone. All I mean is that there are other options – always other options – for your healthcare. Pregnancy is not a medical condition. Birth is not a medical procedure. It can be – because sometimes problems happen – but it’s not necessarily medical. Plenty of us have had low-risk pregnancies and have given birth without intervention or medical assistance. Sometimes we’ve hired a midwife. Sometimes we’ve had an awesome obstetrician who helped us deliver naturally. Some women have had an unassisted birth. My point is the options are there – but don’t expect “the plumber” to tell you to hire someone else. That’s not his job. Delivering as many babies in as little time as possible, with the best number of average outcomes – that’s the obstetricians job – and how s/he makes the most money. Are you comfortable being a statistic? Or do you suffer under the radical notion that women are people?

Next question:

“What do contractions feel like?” Generally followed by, “I’m scared.” I’m going to take that a step further and boil it down to: is there pain in giving birth? If you’ve gotten this far in your life or in your pregnancy without realizing that…oh honey. I have read where women say they felt no pain – and I have read about (and seen) agony in child birth. Here’s the thing to remember – pain is perception. It’s not “real” – pain only happens insofar as your brain interprets the signals it gets from the nerve endings in your body. And guess who is in control of your brain? The same person who is in control of what your doctor allows you to do. YOU. It’s overwhelming if you let it be. There’s one thing to remember – the perception of pain in childbirth is nothing more than your body can handle. Your conscious mind may have trouble with it – and I’ve heard women say they passed out (trust me, there’s usually something else going on with these ladies…anxiety, other neurological disorders, etc.) But your mind deciding “nope, can’t deal” isn’t the same as your body not being able to deal. It can. More importantly, it will – if you allow it. Are there plenty of drugs available to deaden the pain? Sure. But just remember what I said above – any intervention (and anything foreign introduced into your body while laboring is an intervention) starts you down the path that more likely ends in cesarean than the path where there are no interventions. Comfortable with that? Cool – go for the drugs. Walking is overrated anyway.

“What if I get to 40w and nothing has happened?” First, what does “40w” mean? The average gestation for a human being is 40 weeks. To borrow a phrase from one of the other group members, that means that just as many women give birth at 38 weeks as do at 42 weeks. The average is 40. So when you say that you’ve gotten to 40 weeks and nothing has happened, I’m reminded of a line from one of my favorite plays (Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead) – where Guildenstern asks Rosencrantz what he’d think if the same coin were flipped 85 times in a row and came down tails each time. Rosencrantz says, “I’d have a good look at your coins, for a start.” So, you get to 40w and nothing has happened – how do you know it’s 40 weeks? Do you know your conception date? I know – Last Menstrual Period, blah blah blah – still, there’s a few days where an egg can be fertilized…a few…and it takes time to implant…so even under the most “known” conditions – your “due date” could be off by a few days in either direction. And how many of us really know? RELAX. Release the fear. The ‘E’ in EDD is not ‘Expiration’. It’s an Estimate. It’s a ballpark figure. You’re at about 40 weeks, give or take a day. And if nothing has happened? So what? It’s not time – that’s all. And no amount of walking, bouncing, evening primrose oil, artificial rupture of membranes (having your water broken), or anything else is going to make baby come – and baby is the one who initiates labor, not you. Not your cervix. Not your doctor (again, unless you let them – and even then, all they can do is arbitrarily cause your uterus to contract – not make the baby start moving down.) As my first CPM always told me – no matter what, that baby is coming out. LET IT COME. Release. The. Fear. If it’s your “due date” and baby hasn’t come yet – give it time. You’ve already waited 40 weeks – what’s another few days? Or go ahead and let your OB talk you into artificially ripening your cervix. Let them “sweep” your membranes or break your water. Guess what? If baby isn’t ready, your cervix can soften, your water can break, and you’ll be lying there, not “allowed” to walk, with a monitor shoved up in your hoo-ha, and no baby. Guess what happens next? ‘They’ tell you that it’s been too long – your baby is “dry” (nevermind that your body keeps making amniotic fluid – and a tear in the sac can absolutely repair itself.) They tell you it’s time for pitocin. Now you’re lying there, on your back, with a thing shoved up in your hoo-ha (and probably a catheter by now because you can’t get up to pee) and NOW you’re having horrible, artificial, earth-shattering fake contractions caused by a drug – and wow, those hurt. Here, let’s give you something for pain. Maybe something to calm your nerves – deaden your senses. Then guess what – no baby – and it’s time for a shift change – and wow, that monitor shows baby’s heart rate keeps dipping (wonder why?) and yeah, your baby is in distress, your body is broken, you couldn’t do this after all – sign this form and off to the operating theatre we go. Think I’m being an extremist? Really? Talk to the women you know who’ve wound up with a cesarean they never wanted. Ask them how it all started. Ask them where the pressure started. Ask them if their doctor decided that since nothing had happened at 40 weeks, s/he wasn’t going to let them go overdue, so they decided to sweep membranes and pop in some cervidil. I’m not pulling this stuff out of my rear end.

So if there are so many of us “in the know” – if there are so many women out there who have started to educate themselves – then why is that section rate so darned high? Why do so many women continue to hire obstetricians right off the bat? Why is “natural” childbirth considered something that happens in a hospital room with an IV in your arm, pitocin in your veins, and a team of nurses standing by to whisk the baby off to be weighed, bathed and wrapped before it’s even handed to you? Why is having a baby at home, in a birthing pool or in the privacy of your own bed, considered “unnatural?”

Now *that’s* a loaded question.

There has been a movement – oh, since the dawn of time, really – to remove the concept of self-control from women’s experience of the world. We’re “hysterics,” we’re the “weaker sex,” we’re “pussies” (could write a book about that last…many have.) “Acting like a girl” means acting weak, weepy, or whiny. It’s enormously prevalent, it always has been, and the entire medical system was built around the concept that women (and men) do not know what’s best for themselves. Before men interjected themselves into the birth process, women helped women give birth. Period. And they were fine. We used birth stools and midwives and the men stayed OUTSIDE. Did more women die in childbirth back then? Arguably, yes. But more people died of the common cold back then, too. More people died of everything back then. Knowledge didn’t get around as easily as it does today. People couldn’t read. People couldn’t share information. Men came into the birthing room, and women were suddenly put in submissive posture – on our backs – and given drugs to dull our senses. Heard of twilight sleep? Go read about that happy crappy from the same people who later brought us eugenics. Babies were pulled from our bodies, handed off to other people before they were handed to us (because we were unconscious) – all of this came about when men decided they needed to be involved. Because we’re too weak. Too frail. Too stupid. It persists to this day. Even female OB’s are products of a system that is based on the lie that women simply can’t give birth without a patriarchal system of regulation. It’s so deeply entrenched in our subconscious and group consciousness, we’ve gotten to the point that there are women who actually believe their breasts are for men’s pleasure, not for babies, and that using them for their sole and intended purpose is “gross and, like, incestous.” There are women who report photos in closed birth groups on social media sites that show other women using their bodies to nurture and give birth to their babies – because they think it’s inappropriate and gross (on a birth page – seriously.) That’s how deep this particular bit of nonsense goes. Birth is something that’s icky – and breastfeeding is something that should be hidden away behind closed doors – even when it’s being celebrated within a birth community. 


Indeed, Captain. In-freaking-deed.

So what? What’s the big deal? Lots of women have cesarean sections and are fine. Lots of babies are born while Mom is flat on her back, steeped in drugs and drooling out one corner of her mouth, and those babies are fine. Because that’s what’s important, right? The goal is to have a healthy baby. As long as we achieve healthy baby, who cares about the mother’s experience, right?

Yeah, because that’s what we hear every day, in every corner, about every possible topic. It’s not about the journey – it’s the destination that matters.

No, wait…

Okay, well then, in this one thing, it’s the destination that matters. Just this one. Because ultimately, who cares about a woman’s experience? Who cares about her journey? The BABY is what matters.

Want to know who cares? I care. My fellow mothers care. Yes, we’d rather everything bad that might ever happen to our children would happen instead to us – of course we would – but we matter. Our experience of the world matters. Who we are, what we feel, what we do matters. And for all you women reading this, on the cusp of your 40 week “due date” with your low-risk, perfectly “normal” pregnancy, unsure about what to say to your doctor when you go in for your final prenatal visit later this week, knowing you’ve already been told that once you hit 40 weeks, it’ll be time to “get things started” – I’m going to give you three words of advice. You’ve heard them before. Or heck, I’m pretty old, maybe you haven’t heard them before. Here goes: just say “no.” No, I don’t care to have my membranes swept. And by the way, s/he may not ask – sometimes they just do it as a matter of procedure without even bothering to ask you first. Whether or not that constitutes rape for you is up to you, but I know what I call it when someone sticks something into my body that I didn’t tell them was okay… Your best bet is to say “no” to any internal exam. No, they don’t need to “check you.” It’s not necessary. It’s not. You are probably dilated a couple of centimeters. Even if you’re not, you probably will be soon – so say “no.” Say “no” to stretching and sweeping. Say “no” to a scheduled induction just because it’s 40 weeks and nothing has happened yet. Say “no” to “getting things started.” It’s not up to your doctor to start your labor. It’s not even up to you. Baby will come – when all else fails, that baby is coming out. There’s no need to fear – there’s no need to allow anyone to feed you their fear. There’s no need to assume that the one in 100,000 case will be your case.

Trust your body. Trust your baby. Trust birth. Release. The. Fear.

Courtesy of Shara Rivers, with my thanks

Courtesy of Shara Rivers, with my thanks

**Obviously, every decision about a healthy birth is ultimately up to the pregnant woman and her chosen care provider. I’m not giving you medical advice – I’m giving you advice based on my own birth experience and that of hundreds of other women I know who have given birth naturally and without medical issue. If you have concerns, discuss them with your provider. If you’re not sure what’s going on, ask questions. If you aren’t happy with the answers you get, seek a second opinion. You wouldn’t agree to a complete rebuild of your car engine without seeking a second opinion, would you? And that’s just your CAR!

Anna’s Birth Story, Part One

I feel compelled to write Anna’s birth story – and my own birth-as-a-Mom story. This is most likely because I’m sitting here at nearly 19 weeks pregnant with Baby #2. Oh hey, in case you hadn’t heard, Crazy Mama is getting ready to be that much crazier.

It’s going to be a two-part post. The first is all exposition, sorry. It’s just that I feel a need to explain. Otherwise, you might be a little surprised at how things unfold. Besides, everybody loves a cliff hanger.

How to begin…

Early in my first pregnancy, we decided to forego obstetrical care and begin prenatal care with a CPM, or Certified Practical Midwife. I saw an OB regularly up until about week 24, when the “final straw” occurred that made us decide we’d be in better hands outside a traditional clinical setting.

My pregnancy was super easy. I was low risk, both in terms of my own health and in terms of maternal family history. On two separate occasions, someone at the OB’s office – the most popular practice in our town – panicked over nothing and sent me on a spiral of anxiety, in both cases due to an improper reading of their own instruments.

The first time, at about 13 weeks, the Nurse Practitioner (who I’d not met before this visit) could not detect a fetal heartbeat with the Doppler device. Rather than simply saying, “Sorry, I’m having trouble getting a reading – let’s go over to ultrasound for a look,” the woman visibly panicked, started shaking, and stammered out, “Oh gosh, oh – I – I don’t hear a heartbeat.”

Yeah, really.

I had to take control (someone needed to.) I demanded she leave the room to inform imaging to expect me – and asked her to please not return. Ultrasound proved quickly that Anna was fine – it was just too early to easily catch her heartbeat via Doppler – and as I checked out, I calmly requested an appointment on a day when that Nurse Practitioner would not be involved in my care. Then I went to the bathroom and cried with relief – and nearly puked from the release of the greatest fear I’d ever felt.

The second incident – the “last straw” – the OB reviewed my ultrasound and said, “it looks like there’s a problem at the insertion point of the baby’s umbilical cord.” When I asked for clarification, she said, “well, it could be that there’s a restriction and it looks like her belly button may not be centered, but rather a few inches low and to the left.”

What the heck? Not “it could be, but probably isn’t” or “it looks like, but I could be wrong.”

So they sent me elsewhere for a 4D ultrasound at a specialist’s office – days later – and I was a mess for days waiting. Needless to say, there was again no issue and I’d been put in a panic over nothing.

It thus became clear to us that our baby’s health and my own were playing second fiddle to the star of the show – which was the practice’s insurance policy. Let me be clear – I’d been on daily medication to treat general anxiety disorder before becoming pregnant, and had been for a long time. I was advised to discontinue the drug (Celexa) as soon as my pregnancy was discovered. I soon found that I no longer needed it – I guess the hormones and good diet involved with my pregnancy had the same effect on me that the meds had. But the medical and pharmacological history was on my chart. It had been discussed at the first appointment. That office knew I was at risk for severe anxiety attacks – and had zero problem increasing that risk with their approach to my care. The appointment where the OB essentially misread (or had trouble reading) my ultrasound, but chose to make it seem as though her ignorance or mistake was actually a potentially life-threatening problem for my baby was the last time I stepped foot in that award-winning OB office (which I discovered later had a nearly 45% C-section rate – so bullet dodged.)

I didn’t just go off the reservation. I did my homework. Years earlier, I’d read Spiritual Midwifery by Ina May Gaskin in anticipation of helping my best friend with her first birth. She had chosen to birth at home with a midwife – and I at first thought she was nuts. She gave me Ina May’s book to read and told me to chill out. I read the book. I didn’t really chill out. But I was there with her that day from about 6am until her firstborn came into the world that afternoon, and found that I was forever changed by the experience. I also attended her second birth, a water birth at home with an attendant CPM. I still tell people that watching my friend reach into the water and “catch” her own baby – bringing the sweet little girl up from the water where she locked eyes with her Mama for the first time – was at that time the most powerful moment of my life.

At 24 weeks pregnant, knowing I was totally healthy and so was my baby, I decided to let go of the fear and embrace my own ability to birth on my terms, no one else’s. From that day, the anxiety melted away, the unnecessary worry wrought by others ceased, and I started down the path to a normal, natural, woman-centered birth for myself and my baby.

It helped having a supportive husband who agreed with my decision. It also helped that I quickly bonded with a CPM who reminded me so much of my friend – and who gave me Ina May’s Guide To Childbirth to read on my first visit.

On that same visit, my husband and I sat with the actual care provider who would be delivering our child for about an hour and a half. She reviewed the records the OB’s office had (grudgingly – and with a petty $20 records fee tacked on) released. She took my blood pressure, listened to Anna’s heartbeat with a Doppler device (just like the one the nurse practitioner had so “famously” been unable to use,) did an external palpitation of my belly and took measurements.

We spent more time with the primary care provider on that first visit than we did with the OB over the course of 24 weeks.

For the next several weeks, we met with our CPM once every month. Each visit lasted about an hour. At 36 weeks, we started meeting her every 2 weeks. At 38 weeks, she also stopped by our house to get the lay of the land. She provided us with a list of supplies to have ready:

  • A baby t-shirt with shoulder snaps, pants, a gown, socks and a cap
  • An infant cloth diaper (a few) and pins
  • Soft receiving blankets
  • And some less-exciting items:

  • Plenty of clean towels and wash cloths
  • 2 sets of clean bed sheets
  • 2 fleece-backed vinyl table cloths to use under the bed sheets
  • Rubbing alcohol and peroxide
  • Flashlights and extra batteries
  • Olive oil
  • A package or 2 of incontinence pads (like puppy pads only bigger)
  • Several large garbage bags and a clean trash can prepared with a bag
  • A clean laundry hamper lined with a large trash bag
  • A large plastic mixing bowl with a lid

That’s what I recall off the top of my head. It was a fun trip to Target, I remember that. Everything put together and clearly labeled in easily accessible boxes. The idea was to have everything to hand for the midwife in case I would be unable to give directions.

It was exciting. I sat up late every night reading birth stories. I knew Anna was head down going into week 39, but she was “sunny side up” – face up – rather than face down. A couple of days before my due date, I sat up until nearly dawn reading about things to do to encourage her to flip around.

When I finally dragged myself away from the computer for the night and made my way to bed, I felt a twinge – like a menstrual cramp – that was sort of like the Braxton Hicks contractions I’d been having, and at the same time, completely unlike them. A trip to the bathroom and I discovered the first sign of true labor – the horribly-named “bloody show” that I’d been looking for at every bathroom trip for weeks.

Yep, after being awake for nearly 20 hours already, my labor was starting at 5:00am on November 30, 2008 – three days “early” by the OB’s original estimation. All the complaining about how little sleep I’d been getting for weeks finally culminated in the hardest day of my life starting off with zero hours of sleep the night before. I did what any sane person going into labor would do. I continued on to bed…

Tune in next time for our continuing story. Will our hero get some sleep? Does she manage to beat the odds and deliver a baby without medical intervention? Will a baby born naturally at home without an obstetrician present have any hope for survival? And most importantly – will the baby’s father pass out cold in the bedroom floor?

All this and more to follow. Spoiler alert! Our story has an incredibly happy ending. As four-year-old Anna would say, “duh!”

To the Fathers of Daughters, To Make Much Of Time


Now, I want all of you literature majors out there to shut up for a minute. Yes, I know what many folks assume that piece is about. And YES, if THAT was what I was talking about, then making this a post for fathers about their daughters would be…really, really creepy. But I’M NOT and it’s NOT, so go sit in the corner with your sheepskin and chuckle to yourself.

With that over, I’d like to dedicate this post to my own father, who kept the roof overhead, the bread and meat on the table, and while he never bought me that horse I always wanted, he always supplied all the horsepower I ever needed – and sent me away to college in a Mustang. All in all, I’d say I got the better part of the deal. None of this is intended to be critical of any choices anyone ever had to make (or still has to make.) It’s a piece about fathers and daughters, that’s all.

Dad worked a lot. That’s an understatement. Dad STILL works a lot, and Dad is retired. My Dad came from that generation of fathers who had never heard the phrase “deadbeat dad” and if they had, would have immediately thought of those draft-dodging hippies. Or smelly poets with greasy hair. They might sort of be the same. Dad didn’t change diapers. Dad didn’t give bottles. Dad didn’t sit up with colicky babies all through the night, because Dad had to get up at the crack of dawn and go to work.

Dad meted out justice. Hard, bottom-line, no-frills, justice. There was no arguing with the Chief Justice. Oh, you could try. Oxygen is free, and very few people will jump in your way if you decide to go ahead and start working on your own grave.

Don’t get me wrong. Dad also took over projects that little girls would start and then have no clue how to finish. Tables and chairs for the playhouse. Hell, the playhouse itself. I remember sitting in the garage half the day at around 9 years old, trying to saw my way through a 2×4 with a handsaw – when Dad came home after a 12-hour workday, he found me sitting there with my little saw and my ragged cuts, and fired up the circular saw. I watched for awhile, then ran off to dinner. The next morning, there sat my homemade table and two stools in the back of the garage, with a couple of cans of spray paint sitting on top, ready for me to finish. I took an extra 1×4 piece from the scrap pile, about a foot and a half long, and painted it gold with black letters that said “Dad’s Paintbox” for his paint cabinet. He still has that little sign in his garage, nearly 30 years later. It’s a different garage and a different cabinet – but that little sign moved 3,000+ miles across the country with him.

Once I was in high school, my superhero Dad very quickly became the bane of my existence (second only to Mom – but I was a teenage girl, some things are to be expected.) I recall several specific instances, but the one that has always stuck in my mind was when I talked to Dad about going on the “Senior Trip” to Myrtle Beach after graduation. Most of my friends turned 18 before graduating, and could do what they wanted (or liked to think they could.) I didn’t. My brother had gone on the same trip four years earlier when he graduated, so I was looking forward to it. But when I asked Dad about going, he just laughed and said, “No.” My jaw dropped. “But my brother got to go!” Dad kept chuckling and shook his head. It was so simple to him, and he couldn’t believe I didn’t see it. “Honey, you’re a girl.”


Mom heard the whole thing, and just stood aside. Later, she tried to explain to me: “He still sees that nine year old girl in the garage, building stick horses out of broom handles and tube socks. Give him a break. He was always so busy…he feels like he missed out on so much.”

At the time, I was just mad. Plain, old-fashioned, teenage-girl mad. Such white-hot fury is the sole province of girls of that age. Any older, and we wouldn’t survive it, so furiously does it burn. I heard Mom, but I didn’t really hear Mom.

When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished by how much he’d learned in seven years. – Mark Twain

So – go back and read that poem you thought you knew. Read it from another, less snicker-worthy point of view. Read it from a Dad’s point of view. Or read it from an older daughter’s point of view, to her Dad, speaking about a grandchild. Or read it from a mother’s point of view, to her father-friends (or other mother-friends.)

Somebody has to work. Roofs must be kept over heads. Meals must be put on the table. Do I feel like I missed out on something, having had a father who was so busy all the time? No – because he provided for us and I appreciate that. Do I feel like he missed out on something? I know he did. He knows he did. Something that can never be recovered. So while all those things have to be provided by someone, that same someone deserves to get to experience the joy of the life he or she is providing.

My own husband is a Mr. Mom. He changed as many diapers as I did. He sat up late into the night. He held the crying baby, he played with the happy baby, he metes out justice, he goes to the beach and to the playground. When I travel away from home for work, he does all the work of a single parent while I’m away. He’s as engaged in our daughter’s life as I am. He’s able to do that because we both work to provide for our family. It’s not up to one of us to carry the burden alone – and it’s not up to one of us to experience the joy alone.

It’s still hard. We both have to make sacrifices all the time. That’s what parents do. There’s still times when no one but Mommy will do – and there are also times when our little girl just wants to hang out with Daddy.

I don’t want him to go through what my own Dad went through – and by that, I mean I don’t want him to look around one day and realize that his little girl is gone. That somewhere in there, while he was working and hoping and praying, she grew up and went away, and he missed it. So I make sacrifices, too, and I drag him out of the house when he doesn’t always want to go, and I lock myself in the bathroom for ridiculously long periods of time, and I encourage him to take breaks from working to just go outside and play. It’s not always just because I want some time to myself (although sometimes it is.) Sometimes it really is because I remember how sad my Dad looked on my graduation day, and on my wedding day, and on the day my own daughter was born.

So far, I think we’re doing okay.


You lead, I’ll follow…



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