So I scrapped the first draft of my birth story, but I guess I’ll tell you how I started out. I was going to tell you about the process of my labor — when contractions got intense, how far apart they were, and how I figured out how to cope with the pain. When I started writing it that way, it became pretty clinical and dry, which doesn’t accurately portray the experience that Eric or I had. I also had an eloquently written disclaimer about natural birth — how it is right for some people and might not be right for others. But that seems pretty distant from my emotional experience as well.
What I can tell you for real is that I am a whole new person. Birth is a bridge you cross, and the whole of it collapses behind you once you step foot on the other side. I know now that I will never be the young girl that I was at twenty-two, carrying on about frivolous things, and I won’t be just a wife to my husband anymore. Sam will always be in the mix. He peppers the thoughts of my future with birthday parties, long nights dealing with fevers and coughs, after-school activities, growing out of clothes and shoes too fast, getting dressed for prom, and graduation, prepping for college in the month of his birth, and finally, leaving us behind to become his own person. It molds my future with possibilities that are not my own, tears and laughter that belong to someone else, and hopes and dreams that I will do anything to defend.
But it’s the bridge that I’m talking about here, the one that led me to this place.
There’s nothing that you can do that will completely prepare you for labor. I tried my damnedest to learn every possible aspect of what would transpire within my body to deliver my little boy. I read for hours, took my twelve week class, had marathon conversations with my doula, and figured out the process that I thought we would follow. I made a birth mix on my iPod (didn’t use that at all), practiced my cat-cow stretches (unbearably painful during labor for me), and packed my bags weeks beforehand (the only useful items for labor were cold, cold water and chapstick). I am a planner — and I tried to plan everything. It doesn’t happen like that, but I’m truly glad I did all of the work and preparation, so that I could be as ready as possible.
I went into labor at 39 weeks and 2 days, on Sunday afternoon, September 12th. Contractions actually started the night before but didn’t get regular until about 3PM that day. First they felt like strong cramps, which didn’t really bother me. In fact, it made me feel that I could cope the whole way through.
We called our doula to come around 8PM that night, after I had started my labor song, which would continue for the next fourteen hours. A friend of mine (who delivered the week before) had suggested that I hum to match the pain, which is probably the best advice that I got or could give. I vocalized with big “Ohhh” sounds in time with each contraction. This is what got me through much of my labor. I also used my doula’s Tens Machine, which helped for a long while during early labor. The other gigantic help was that my doula came to labor with us at our house for three hours, and chatted with us and petted our dog while I paced and moaned. The feeling in me at that time was nervous and anticipatory, and the pain was low, strong, and pressing. I happily talked away during each pause between the pains, not yet withdrawing into what my doula terms “labor land.”
At 11PM, we decided to go to the hospital. By this time the contractions had become more intense, and I had three in the car. This had me clawing at the seat and arching my back in the air — all I wanted to do was walk off the pain. Be mobile, pace, moan.
Once we arrived at the hospital, I was placed in triage for two hours, viewed by residents and medical students, and strapped to the bed with monitors on my swollen belly, all trying to get a “good read” on Sam’s heart rate.
Want to torture a naturally laboring woman? Strap her to a bed and tell her to be still while a 24 year-old med student asks her if she has AIDS or Hepatitis B.
At the end of this marathon triage, I was told I was only dilated three centimeters, which meant I was still in latent labor, and not in active labor. Apparently you enter active labor at four centimeters, and all of the work before that is … what? Not active? At that point, I was pretty disheartened. With the pain the way it was, I knew I wouldn’t be able to sleep at all through the night, and it would likely be all of Monday and into early Tuesday morning before I would deliver Sam. Up until that point, I had been excited. Hearing that my labor might take another whole day took some of the wind out of my sails — especially since I was hearing this around midnight. They told me I had the option of going home and coming back, but that seemed like such a step backwards in time. I told the resident I’d rather not go home, since my parents were on their way, and everything was in order for me to be in the hospital.
After that, I walked. I walked through the hospital while my parents talked to my husband. I walked off the anxiety and tiredness while they readied my room. I walked through the labor and delivery room to which I was assigned, and I only barely tolerated the fetal monitors that strapped me to the bed, like clockwork, every forty minutes. I moaned and breathed deeply, sighed and paced. I rocked in the shower and swayed and sang out my labor song. Sometime around two or three in the morning, the room was darkened, I was in the hot hot shower for a brief respite between monitoring, and I began to dream as Sam moved lower in my body, and I opened more and more. Scattered images crossed through my mind, words and phrases came and went, nothing making sense, and I closed my eyes as I lay against the cool metal guard rail, the hot water running over the pulsing muscles in my back.
I wailed to be checked when my nurse came into the room around 4AM. I told Eric that I didn’t know if I could keep going if I hadn’t progressed — and I just knew that I had. The pain had seemed to intensify with each contraction, and I felt my body doing rapid, solid work.
When my nurse checked me, she smiled and said that all that walking had paid off. She told me I had dilated to six centimeters … I felt so proud of my body for accomplishing that much so quickly.
I said, “So it’s going to be today?”
She replied, “Yes. September 13th is going to be a cake and ice cream day in your home for many years to come.” Did I mention my nurse was amazing? She was the most positive and upbeat influence — and she was very relaxed when it came to how long I stayed on that awful monitor that tied me to a three foot area next to the bed.
After that, my sense of time began to blur. I remember the pain increasing, I remember seeking out the shower again, I remember vocalizing over and over.
It seemed that suddenly there were multiple people in the labor and delivery room — I’m not sure how much time had passed, but all of them insisted I stay hooked up to the monitor so that they could get a solid read on the baby’s heartbeat. They said it was too slow, but I could easily tell (even while in the depth of labor) that the monitor was reading my heartbeat and not Sam’s. When the monitor caught his heartbeat, it was strong and solid, so it baffled me as to why everyone was acting like something was wrong. When I saw my OB enter the room, I knew that something was happening.
My nurse was gone at this point, and a temporary nurse had replaced her. She told me that my doctor would have to break my water in order to insert an internal fetal monitor. I started to cry because I knew the contractions would hurt a lot more without my bag of waters as a cushion, and I knew that they would have to stick the monitor into my baby’s head. I had so not wanted any intervention, and it hurt me to know that I had to have it because the hospital equipment couldn’t see the strong heartbeat that was so clear to me. Eric and my doula assured me that it was best to listen to the staff — after all, now I would be able to walk around in my three foot space and not have to lie on the bed while being monitored. And I would avoid a c-section if they had a solid read on Sam’s heart rate.
“I can’t do this,” I said. I was in agony and knew I couldn’t take anymore.
“You can,” said the nurse whose name I don’t remember. “I did it twice, so you can do it.”
“You had two natural labors?” I asked her. “And you did it?”
“Yes, so you can do this.”
“I won’t want another baby,” I said. “I can’t do this again.”
“You will,” she said. “Don’t say that. You will.”
So I laid back and let my water be broken, felt it flow from me onto the plastic sheets on the bed, and watched as the strong heartbeat I knew was there register on the monitor as they attached the probe to Sam’s head. The nurse who had given me those words disappeared, and was replaced by a calm and gentle woman who would guide me through transition.
The rest of my labor, lasting about five hours, was the most intense experience of my life. After my water was broken, the contractions had very little pause between them — maybe thirty seconds to a minute of rest, followed by a lengthy contraction with a mighty peak of grinding downward pressure in my body. After a while, my moaning vocalizations became wails and loud, long screams — the only sounds on the otherwise silent labor ward. I would cry and tell the nurse over and over, “I can’t.” I told Eric, “I can’t.” But they kept telling me that I could, and that I was doing it. I told Eric I thought I would need an epidural if it continued like this, and he reminded me that it wasn’t what I wanted. My body was so tired that I went into my dreamlike state again, trying to lie down on the bed when contractions ebbed, and standing when the pain became so strong that I had to move my body and sway my hips.
The thoughts that circled through my head were the San Culpa affirmations that I had practiced in prenatal yoga during Savasana relaxation. I am powerful. I am connected to all the women who have come before me. I am a strong woman, and I can accomplish anything. Even as I screamed, “I can’t,” I tried to take in the “You can” from those around me, and I focused on the positive affirmations I had practiced over the past months.
When my nurse checked me again, I was dilated to 9 centimeters, with only a small bit remaining until I could push. I kept trying to convince her and my husband that I was ready to push. (Eric said this lasted for an hour or so before I actually started pushing, but it seemed like a short time in my mind.) My nurse told me I would know when I was ready, and she went calmly about setting up a delivery table and notifying my OB that I would soon be ready to have a baby.
As much as I wanted to push, I was terrified that it would hurt more than what I had already gone through. But yes, I knew. I could feel my whole body thrust down, the pressure overtaking me, and I screamed fiercely as the feeling swept through me.
“It’s time,” I said, and this time, the nurse believed me. “I’m ready to push.”
Let me pause to say that I thought this would be the scariest part — after all, a woman’s body opens completely to birth a child, and with that, the experts are fond of saying, comes pain. (If you haven’t read about the “ring of fire,” you will in your birth related studies.)
So I was scared. But here’s where the magic comes in — the pushing, the part that we as women are groomed to be terrified of, is exactly why I am so glad I didn’t have an epidural. I would have missed out on the most powerful experience of my life. I can’t imagine not feeling every push, not knowing when to reach down and touch my baby’s head, not FEELING him enter this world.
If you’ve done your research, you know that you have all sorts of chemicals in your body that do work for you. Well, adrenaline and endorphins are at work when you are pushing.
When Eric and the nurse helped me up onto the bed to start pushing after that last horrible contraction, these chemicals flooded my body. I felt an amazing rush of energy, and suddenly the pain vanished. As Eric and my calm, collected nurse held my legs, I finally bore down and felt my baby’s head travel lower and deeper through my body. The feeling was incredible — I was able to do work after ten hours of crushing contractions. Sam was moving lower — and I could feel him with every push. I watched Eric’s face between pushes. He was smiling and laughing as he saw our child’s head come into view. I could feel my the top of his head as he started to crown, and I reached down to touch him and his wispy hair. I was overcome with emotion … I was birthing my child.
The nurse told me to control my pushing so that I wouldn’t tear — and so that the doctor could arrive in time to deliver Sam! I tried to breathe through each rush of energy and slow down, but I couldn’t. He was coming fast, and my body was thrusting him quickly forward. I yelled that I had to keep pushing; the pressure was so great that I could not possibly stop. My doctor arrived about ten minutes before I gave birth — just in time to catch Sam. I gave my final pushes, guided by my doctor, and felt my baby’s head enter the world. In just one more push, his body followed. I heard a throaty, forceful cry — his first announcement of life. I watched as Eric cut his cord, and they put Sam onto my bare chest. My first thought was that he looked like my husband; my second was that I would have to try my hardest to be the best mother possible for the rest of my life.
My legs were shaking and I was shivering as I held him. The nurse covered us with warm blankets and brought me ice water. Sam was fussing and making noises, still covered in milky vernix and fluids. I was examining his fingers and toes as the doctor told me to push one last time to deliver my placenta. I barely felt it — I was still on the incredible high of delivering Sam.
Eric went to go get my parents to come meet him. I handed him over to my husband to be weighed and measured. I smiled and watched as my parents took pictures and bustled around the room. There was a whirlwind of energy and celebration that didn’t die down until Sam was safely asleep and I was delivered to my recovery room, legs still shaking.
I remember saying to Eric, as Sam nursed contentedly, “We did it. Look what we did.” And he replied, “No, you did this. It was all you.”
I can’t say that any birth experience is more empowering or life-changing than another. I only have mine to go by. I can say that I’m glad I made my plan, educated myself and got what I wanted for Sam’s birth. I know I am so lucky that the only intervention I had to have was the monitor — so many women plan to birth naturally and then need interventions that alter the experience they wanted. I know that I am blessed to have had a positive natural experience at a small hospital with amazing doctors and nurses. And I know that this experience was right for us — I feel so connected to Sam because we were partners in this experience. I talked to him in my labor dreams and told him that we could do this. And we did — the first experience we had together as mother and child.
For those of you who knew me before Eric and I started planning to get pregnant, you may have at least guessed that I wasn’t exactly a natural birth advocate. I thought the idea of a scheduled c-section sounded like a great idea, and the thought of breastfeeding totally creeped me out. I had a colleague who had had an all natural birth that lasted thirty-six hours, and that was enough to convince me that ALL THAT was something I did not want. After all, as Americans in the twenty-first century, we’ve been given the opportunity to do away with pain during labor. Why wouldn’t you want to do away with pain? Why wouldn’t you want to do away with the strangeness and ickiness of breastfeeding? Knock me out, and give me the drugs. That was quite and very much the way of my reasoning.
Fast forward to July 3, 2009. That’s right — almost exactly a year ago. Eric and I formally decided to go off of birth control that day. I only remember it because it was the one week in the summer that Eric was home from a business trip to San Diego (one that he thought I’d be able to go on, but that’s another story), and it was the night that we saw Away We Go, the day before the fourth of July. Yes, a baby. We decided we were going to have a baby in 2010. Exciting. As you might have guessed, I hadn’t given labor too much of a thought, except that I still thought it was a yucky, painful process. One that I clearly wanted to avoid.
And then I read this post on one of my favorite blogs. (And this one and this incredible, beautiful conclusion to follow up. If you read one of those posts, read the last one, please. Yes. So amazing.) And with those words, and her experience, I began to question what I once knew. When I went to stay with my husband his last week in San Diego, I told him that I thought I wanted a natural birth. Of course, he’s always been a big supporter of this, pretty much calling me crazy for wanting a c-section — I mean, that’s major surgery, and why would you want to schedule that when you don’t have to?
Fast forward again to January 2010. I find out I’m pregnant on the day that we go to visit Eric’s family. I read What to Expect When You’re Expecting that weekend, and it only makes me nervous. After that, I start to do my research in earnest. I read everything I can get my hands on about healthy pregnancy, natural birth, and labor: Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth by Ina May Gaskin, Birthing from Within by Pam England and Rob Horowitz, Your Best Birth by Ricki Lake and Abby Epstein, Pushed by Jennifer Block, Hypnobirthing by Marie Mongan, and The Birth Partner by Penny Simkin for my husband and coach. (And I just got The Birth Book by William Sears.)
I began to realize that I was seriously under-educated about pregnancy and childbirth. I began to realize that most of us — women and men — are seriously under-educated about childbirth. As Americans, we’ve also been seriously mis-educated, misled, and misguided about PAIN. We hear a lot of cliches about labor in particular, and we see them on our television and movie screens. We hear this: “You wouldn’t undergo a root canal without anesthesia, right?” or “It would be like trying to push a watermelon out of your nostril.” We hear about how painful it is, how it’s unlike any other pain you’ve experienced, how it’s pure insanity to go it without pain relief. We see women in terrible pain on A Baby Story, lying back as the doctors swoop in to save the day. We see Ellen Page in Juno and Katherine Heigl in Knocked Up begging for epidurals when they go into labor (and Amy Poehler in Baby Mama celebrating her choice to have one in a rather public way). Think about it: do you see any positive portrayals of natural birth in the media? Do you see any portrayals of women being empowered as they choose the way their child comes into the world?
Let me know if you think of some. I can’t.
In fact, I would posit that we’ve been taught to fear labor, fear the natural signals of our bodies, and fear the pain that is associated with those natural signals. We’ve put our trust instead in doctors, who are incidentally, mostly dudes. (Side note: there are lots of great doctors, and natural-friendly ones to boot. But there are plenty who keep on pushing the fear.) By putting trust in someone other than ourselves, and by passively absorbing the fearful images we see in the media, we give up a valuable part of our birth experiences. We get swept away in the wave of fearing pain, and we don’t give ourselves the opportunity to become educated, take control, and guide our birth experience as captain, rather than passenger.
When you fear something, it gets a lot worse, right? It hurts worse, it feels more painful, it is more intimidating, more frightening … so it is with labor. If you fear it, you will automatically tighten up, which works against the natural contractions your body is producing to guide your baby forward. When you work against your own body, and cannot relax, it can hurt a lot worse. Common sense, right? But still, over nine months (and indeed, the many years before we get pregnant), we are developing an image of an intensely painful experience that we cannot cope with, that will control us, that is compared to an illness in the medical world. How can one be expected to work against that fear when it comes to the day of labor?
Adrenaline plays a role here too. If you see a bunch of people you don’t know in your labor room, you get scared at the onset of a painful contraction, or your doctor gives you a rough exam while you are laboring, it can trigger an adrenaline rush. According to Birthing Naturally, “Adrenaline is the “fight or flight” hormone that humans produce to help ensure survival. Women who feel threatened during labor (for example by fear or severe pain) may produce high levels of adrenaline. Adrenaline can slow labor or stop it altogether.” And if your labor stops, you need the drugs, right? So say the doctors.
Well what’s wrong with the drugs? Pitocin and pain relief medications of all varieties help a tremendous amount of women through labor, but they can also mess with your body a bit in ways you might not expect. I’ll comment here about pitocin — it’s a synthetic version of the natural hormone that makes your uterus contract. But it doesn’t work in the same way that your natural hormone, oxytocin, does. It makes your whole uterus contract rapidly and all at once. You might guess that causes pain — not so great pain that might cause you to start seriously needing the pain meds. Pitocin also doesn’t trigger the natural pain relief mechanism your body has to offer — endorphins. So when you get the pitocin, you start needing the epidural, and the epidural, while innocuous to the body in many ways, can slow labor as much as 25%. And when labor slows? That’s right … “emergency c-section.” Sounds nuts right? It certainly happens.
Understandably, many remain frightened of the pain. But many remain unaware of the benefits of laboring sans drugs. You heal faster, you can walk around and try out different positions, you don’t have to have a catheter to pee, you can get in and out of the shower or tub, and you can sneak in a snack or a drink of water every once in a while. Too, you can listen to the signals of pain that your body gives you as positive markers of where you are in your labor. Finally, you are connected to the millions of women who have come before you — your ancestors — who labored naturally. But how do you cope with the pain in a society that tells you pain is unnecessary? Well, that’s the question. How can you?
In all the books I listed above, there are tons of relaxation techniques, exercises, and guided meditation that many women say can help. The Bradley Method encourages slow, abdominal breathing, while Hypnobirthing touts self-hypnosis. Birthing from Within tells about non-focused awareness. There are a lot of options out there. Hypnobirthing even claims that labor was never meant to be painful, and Mongan’s book all but promises a pain-free labor. (We’ll see about that … ha.) Whatever the technique is, the important thing to me is that I get to choose it. I manage the pain, and it doesn’t manage me.
I can’t tell you where I got so confident about this decision, but it happened early on in my pregnancy. I didn’t want this to be something that happened TO me, but rather a whole event that I guided in the best ways I knew how. I’ll state here that I’m not belittling anyone who chooses a different path — we’re all trying to be mothers in the ways that we think will benefit our children the most. I’m also not going to say that I won’t consider pain relief if I’ve been laboring for 36 hours. And I’ll certainly go with a c-section if my baby’s life is in danger. But the important thing to me is that I have chosen to become educated about my options, and not close my eyes in order to let someone else manage the process for me.
That’s all for now.
When you’re pregnant, you think a lot about the things that you can’t do. I try not to get too bogged down in most of the things you always hear you can’t do — I limit my caffeine but I drink some here and there, I’ve eaten a piece or two of brie and I would never toss goat cheese off of my plate, and I’m probably planning to break the sushi vow pretty soon. Mmm sushi.
What people don’t tell you is that you can lose parts of yourself that you never expect to lose. Along with the unwieldy body that changes the shape of who you are comes the things you can’t do, the trips you can’t take, and the people you can’t see. Anyone who knows me well probably has figured that I love to be social, travel, and generally enjoy myself. For me, this has recently taken the form of taking trips with my girlfriends, or planning a romantic getaway with my husband. In the more removed past, it took the form of jaunting off to the Philippines to get a diving license and swim with whale sharks. When in California, my van rolled from Santa Barbara through Orange County, LA and San Diego and up the 1 to Monterey, Big Sur, Salinas, San Francisco, and Berkeley. It saw rest stops on the highway, empty fields and vineyards, and the wild and beautiful California coast for hundreds of miles.
This summer has been, and mostly will be, at home. I’ve been invited out to see my California friends in LA and again for a girls’ weekend unlike any other in Tennessee. These are trips I would have bent over backwards to make before — and I have for the past two summers. It has been so important for me to stay connected to that adventure life where I could plan a trip and leave my normal life for a moment, to return refreshed and relaxed.
It has hurt me to lose this from my life this summer — it has hurt me to have to say no. I had tried to plan for a trip to California, but after my work retreat to New York, I knew I wouldn’t handle it well with my fatigue and the swelling in my feet. What has hurt me most is missing my Tennessee adventure. But with an eight hour car ride at thirty-one weeks pregnant, or a flight I would likely not be allowed to take, combined with my husband’s worry, I couldn’t make it. With these simple trips, I feel that I’ve lost a part of myself, and I wonder what else I might lose.
I am well aware that there may be no more trips to Cebu or Kyoto, and that I may not even be able to show my son the coast at Big Sur for many years to come. I’ve been mourning those losses since we decided to get pregnant, and I tried to cram as much into last summer as I could — San Diego, San Francisco, Lake Michigan, the Outer Banks. I’ve been trying to enjoy being at home this summer, and I’ve been working to look forward to the time I will have with my little boy and my husband. But I didn’t know that not seeing my friends, not releasing myself to a long, solitary road trip, or a flight to a new place would hit me so hard, and I never knew I would feel as disconnected from the person that I have been.
I know now that I must look forward, but it hurts me to do this. I must now change my perspective, and in that, give away part of myself that I have so long struggled to hold on to. But in giving that away, I know that I will gain something tremendously valuable in return. My husband and I will be creating a family, building a home, and raising a child to create adventures of his own. I know that I will miss the person that I was before we moved to the East Coast, and my passport may well expire, but the adventures that I have will not disappear. Instead, they will be closer to home: catching fireflies in the summer, baking cupcakes, decorating a real Christmas tree, setting up a pool in the backyard, or watching our son realize that he is seeing his first snow.
I won’t ever say that my traveling life won’t remain valuable to me, or that I will opt out of any and all trips during the long, hazy days of summer. I may well keep many of the parts of who I have been, but they will be combined with the new task of raising a conscious, respectful, and curious human being who may someday take part in all of the adventures I dreamed of and many I cannot yet fathom.
I haven’t written a post about my emotions in a little while. It’s probably because I have so many. My iphone app tells me this is normal, so I am reassured. Apparently, pregnancy causes mood swings (total shocker), and my partner needs to be supportive. I told my partner this information from the iPregnancy app, and he was unsure of how to support my mood swings. I told him I was unsure as well. They don’t give you information on that part. You have to make it up as you go along.
I think this is something pregnant ladies don’t talk about that much. I think there’s a lot of shame surrounding the inevitable anxiety that comes with creating a human life, and as such there’s not a community of support when you’re feeling down. It’s a very lonely thing, sometimes, being pregnant. There aren’t always a lot of other pregnant ladies to commune with. When you find a community of ladies with bellies, in your prenatal yoga or Bradley Method class, they may not know you all that well, and they’re not going to say, “Hey, I’ve been feeling down, how about you?” It’s just not something you bring up in polite company.
All that you hear about pregnancy is that it’s this totally miraculous time, and you only see women being happy about it. All of my friends who have experienced it have seemed overwhelmed with joy, eager to meet their babies and transition into a peaceful motherhood. It seems abnormal when people don’t act this way, and such women are automatically stigmatized.
I myself had been expecting stable happiness, particularly after the nausea and fatigue of my first trimester. This is what the books and the websites tell you to expect. Happiness, peace, calmness, less pain and fatigue, breasts not as sore, glowing skin and lustrous hair. So they say of the second trimester.
In my experience, I’ve had a somewhat different second trimester. In the scheme of things, I know my pregnancy has been low-risk and uncomplicated, but seriously, I’ve still got some crazy shit going on. I don’t glow. If I glow, it’s because of the copious amounts of oil I’m producing. If I glow, it’s because I’m sweating. If I glow, it’s because of the pain of my flat feet mushing down into my shoes. I also have back pain, heart burn, leg cramps … and my brain doesn’t wake up until about 11AM. This crap is normal, to be expected. It isn’t what you hear about in the common folklore, but upon digging in the books, you find that it can happen, and it does. And it doesn’t help with the emotional side of things …
To top off these physical changes, I am stressed. I am joyous, certainly, and I love to feel my baby move and contemplate his arrival. But I am stressed. I am tired. Most of the time, I walk about in a state of thinly veiled anxiety that can transition into tearful states. I get worried about finances, about if I’ll be a good mom, about if I’ll be able to care for my baby in the ways he needs, and about whether he’ll love me. I’ve even gone off about whether he’ll call me when he’s in college (I didn’t start calling my mom regularly until after I graduated. Whoops.). Recently, I can’t seem to calm down. It’s gotten hard for me to sleep during the week — when you combine the stress of teaching with the stress of growing a human, it gets hard to have calming, restful sleep. It’s hard for me to focus. It’s hard for me to sometimes complete a sentence. Sometimes, I am plagued by the strange sensation that I want something desperately, but have no clue what it is. It’s a feeling akin to thirst, but it’s an emotional thirst that I can’t readily identify. This feeling? They don’t tell you about that.
How does one cope? How do I cope when I fear so badly that this may transition into postpartum depression? How do I cope when I know I’ve struggled with depression for ten years, and dammit, I don’t want to go to that place during this amazing time.
I have to say, my writing helps me. It unwinds me. It centers me, and it makes me feel whole. I’m also blessed to have a kind and hilarious husband who knows me and guides me, friends who listen to me vent, and coworkers who are my second family. It helps me to stay organized, do my research and make decisions. It helps me to talk to my mother who said, “Oh Cami, I felt all of the same ways, and you’re the best thing that I ever did. Once you got here, all of those feelings went away.” Practically, yoga helps. (My teacher is way awesome.) And prenatal massage doesn’t hurt either. (Get one.)
In writing about this worry and anxiety, and I’m giving it a name. I’m facing it head on, educating myself, and allowing myself to feel all of the things I need to feel. I’m owning up to it, and I’m admitting that I’m not going to be perfect. I’m preparing myself for motherhood in the best ways that I know how, and on the days when I feel like I’ll never be able to do it, I try to take a deep breath and tell myself that I’m not alone. I have great resources of strength upon which to draw, and great love to give and receive. I might never get rid of the anxiety and strange feelings, but I can vow to not let them control me, even on the worst of days.
Perhaps this is my body and brain’s own way of preparing me for the anxieties of motherhood. If I learn how to master it now, nip it in its ugly bud, then I may be able to better manage a screaming child and a dinner that never gets made. I may be able to handle an unexpected illness, or a sudden dip in financial resources, or a son who refuses to eat his vegetables. Maybe my anxiety now is a key to my calmness later. Or simply — what if I choose to view it this way? Could I then turn my mastery of it into a tool in my arsenal of motherhood?
I choose this path. I will overcome my worries and my physical pains. I am a strong, beautiful woman. I will own this and integrate this, and conquer it. This is my San Culpa: I can do anything. I will not be defeated.
There are many things I love about my husband. The biggest thing is that he makes me laugh like no other person I have known. Add to that that he drove me thirty minutes to my ultrasound appointment after the doctor mix-up, and I’m convinced. He’s a good guy — the best.
During our many conversations about whether our baby will be a girl or a boy, he has mentioned his own proclivities as a child. He collected snakes, lizards, turtles. His snapping turtle ate his other turtles. One of his snakes surprised his mother when she opened the bathroom door. He created “battle wounds” in his G.I. Joe soldiers, and melted or exploded many of his toys. He also tells me about the numerous items that he took apart with a butter knife before he got a legitimate screwdriver set. In a later stage of life, he decided that he was a ninja, and later, a skater with athleticism and coordination that I cannot begin to comprehend. Recently, he told me that he would line up garbage bins and jump them … just for fun.
What was I doing in the meantime? I could probably be found reading Roald Dahl or Madeleine L’Engle. I had completed The Hobbit by third grade. I hid in the library during class, or I was caught chatting with teachers while I was supposed to be working on reading I’d probably already completed. I spent days in my playhouse creating art, writing stories, or daydreaming. I made mud pies and “mixtures” in the yard, but I always washed properly afterward. Later, surely, I would become more complicated and mock my mother’s authority, but as a young lady, I was just that: a young lady.
I always envisioned myself as the mother of a little girl just like me. I would teach her the joys of books and arts and crafts, and I would teach her how to cook and sew — activities that I so enjoy now. I would take her shopping for beautiful little dresses, fix her hair as my mother did for me, and hold her when she cried about unrequited love. Of course, I would also teach her to appreciate science fiction, the offbeat writing of authors like Roald Dahl, and above all, I would encourage her imagination to expand and soar, just as mine had.
Well, I must prepare myself for snakes, and it is feasible that we will have to mend battle wounds on multiple toys. Today, we found out that our baby is a boy. Just as I suspected, my child’s ferocious movements are preparing him for jumping fences, garbage cans, and tending to overgrown snapping turtles. I am still prepared to teach arts and crafts, create stories together, and read The Twits and The BFG. I suspect that this young boy will also enjoy some of the other things I love: mud pies, Miyazaki movies, and hiding out during thunderstorms. Above all, I will encourage his imagination to expand and soar.
Our boy will be named after both of our grandfathers. Samuel Rhoderick, the names of two extraordinary men. We’re going to call him Sam.
Sam, we love you.
Tomorrow, I will be nineteen weeks pregnant … And I will find out if my baby is a boy or a girl. Incredible.
I went through a crazy debacle this morning, calling three doctors. Why you ask? Well, I made an ultrasound appointment with the wrong doctor. It’s a complicated mistake, the mistake that I made. I was in an all-day meeting, crafting evaluations for thirty-nine of my students. At lunch, I decide to call for my 18-22 fetal anatomy ultrasound, but alas, I do not have my referral from my OB. Since I am a resourceful pregnant lady, I ask my colleague who also chose to birth at Virginia Hospital Center where she got her ultrasounds done. She responds that she had seen Dr. Maclaren at Maternal and Fetal Medicine. By gosh, that name sounds familiar! In fact, I believe my OB told me that Dr. Maclaren and Dr. Katz perform ultrasounds for VHC.
So I call Virginia Hospital for an appointment with Dr. Maclaren. They refer me to his “new number,” which I call. I make an appointment for Tuesday at 2:30, a day before my work retreat leaves. This was the day I had imagined from the beginning of my pregnancy, just in time for the retreat. So I that I could answer that inane “boy or girl” question with something definitive. Everything was fine.
Until Sunday. On Sunday, I check my referral, only to notice that I have made an appointment with a doctor that no longer works at Virginia Hospital Center. Lovely. Fast forward to this morning. I call the right doctors, who can only make an appointment in May. I call my OB, whose nurse has no desire to assist me in my endeavor, as the appointment is not an emergency. Finally, I go back to the beginning and call the wrong doctor, whose dear and fabulous front desk attendant says that I can come in regardless of the referral. She adds that they need to update their information anyway! I thank her profusely, and we are back to the appointment I had imagined for months. The wrong doctor is about thirty minutes away from my abode, but hell, we’re going.
I mentioned in my last post, however peripherally, that we are definitely going to find out if this peanut is a boy or a girl. I totally understand those who choose not to find out, but Eric and I are devoted fans of modern technology, despite our natural leanings concerning childbirth. Let me put it this way … When we lived in California, my mother sent along our Christmas presents on December 10th with specific instructions to open them on December 25th. Of course, we did not wait. We had Christmas on December 10th. I still don’t feel guilty, and it felt fabulous, indulgent, and very much like Christmas.
I expect tomorrow will feel like Christmas too. It won’t ruin the surprise — not for me anyway. I’ve been looking forward to this since I saw that second pink line appear on that test. It won’t be any more a surprise than if I find out on my the day I deliver. Early Christmas is the best Christmas, I say. And I can’t wait for tomorrow.
I will be honest and say that I have yearned for a daughter. I see those little dresses and hats, and tiny little stockings, and my heart melts. I so love being a woman. I love the strength and beauty of womanhood, I love the challenges that I have faced as a woman, and I love the female friendships that I have formed. I love all that my gender entails, and I would so want to be the mother of a beautiful little girl. Having gotten that off my chest, I do believe my baby is a boy. I’m not sure why, but I feel him in there squirming around, active and agile like his father, and I see him in my dreams, blue eyes and all.
So tonight I will write for you, my son or daughter. I will promise you tonight that I will always love you, that I will give you the best life that I know how, and that I will support you in the person that you are. I will always let you be yourself, and I will encourage you to follow your dreams. No matter who you are, I will always be your mother. I will be there for midnight phone calls, first loves, difficult conversations, and advice that you may or may not want. I will advocate for you at parent-teacher conferences, and I will support you through learning differences, or plain dislike of authority (from which your father and I both suffer). I will help you with book reports, and your father will teach you how to navigate word problems. When you find what you love to do, I will provide for you all of the things you need to accomplish your goals. When you change your mind, I will be excited for you and encourage you to push forward. When you find the person that you love, I will love that person too, whether a man or a woman. I will always teach you to love yourself, to be kind to others, but not to tolerate ignorance or petty meanness. I will stand by you, whoever you are. And I have a feeling that you will make me proud on many days in my life, however many of those days I also feel frustrated. My dear son or daughter, I love you so much, whether you are a boy or a girl.
I have recently started showing to the point that many people notice that I am pregnant. I have been excited about my expanding self, and I feel beautiful — like a mother. However, I find myself frequently engaged in inane conversations with people that I do not know.
Person: When are you due?
Person: When in September?
Me: The middle of September.
Person: But when?
Me: Oh, the 21st or 22nd. That’s what the doctor said.
Person: Oh a Virgo baby!
Me: Or a Libra.
Person: Do you know if it’s a boy or a girl? Are you going to find out?
Me: No, I don’t know yet, but I’m finding out soon.
Person: Are you sure you’re going to find out? I didn’t.
Me: Yes, I’m sure.
Person: Don’t find out.
Me: I’m going to.
Person: Are you excited?!
Such conversations leave me exhausted. I feel that I have to come up with answers I don’t especially want to provide. I don’t think due dates are important, I don’t care what anyone thinks about my decision to find out the sex, and yes, doubly yes, of course I’m excited. I equate these conversations with the useless prattle my classmates in high school and I would exchange after vacations and weekends. One student would ask, “What did you do for spring break?” The answer didn’t especially matter, but it was soft, meaningless conversation. A reply is expected, because vacations and weekends are something everyone enjoys, right?
Such is the case with pregnancy, except that your classmates aren’t the ones asking you. It’s remote acquaintances, people you might not especially like, and very often, perfect strangers. Replies are expected. Smiles are expected. Happiness is expected. Many of my friends who are already mothers hinted at this phenomenon, mostly referring to those people who will rub your belly without permission. The end result is the same; pregnant women are public property, radiant mother-beings with a ready conversation starter protruding from the front of you. Although I am a talkative person, this prattle exhausts me. I feel that I am called upon to perform, dance my way through the words, and provide satisfaction for the listener.
They don’t especially care what I say. Perhaps, they simply wish to absorb the idea of pregnancy into their day, contemplate their own past or future, and of course, share their most pertinent advice that they simply must impart. It’s easy to tell that these exchanges are essentially one-sided, only providing entertainment to the listener, and a lens through which he or she can see their own concept of pregnancy, such a happy time.
I know that I have been guilty of such conversations in the past, prying information out of pregnant ladies for my own amusement. For now, perhaps my own responses are making up for the pressure I have foisted upon others, and the back-and-forth they didn’t want to have. This is just a small, tiring bit of the expectations that are draped upon us as pregnant women, mothers, women in general. I can only respond with pat answers, veiled sarcasm — after all, it’s against the expectation that I be polite to handle it any other way.
I am a pregnant lady, perhaps like yourself, or perhaps not. I am currently sixteen and a half weeks (or four months, to the month-minded). In the past twelve weeks or so, I have felt all of the following: pure contentment and love for my life, excitement, overwhelming anxiety, fear that something horrible will happen to me or my child, stress, total joy and peace, combined with alternating bouts of extreme hunger, fatigue, and nausea. Quite overwhelming.
I found early in my first trimester that it increased my anxiety to read websites dedicated to pregnancy and motherhood, particularly when I feared that something was “going wrong” with my pregnancy. In particular, I had several episodes of light spotting, and some heavier bouts of cramping. Upon searching the web for advice to alleviate my fear, I found many posts saying that these symptoms inevitably lead to miscarriage. These posts were on reputable sites; however, they were frequently posted by grieving mothers who had unfortunately experienced terrible loss.
After having several freak-out trips to my OB, and a few unnecessary ultrasounds, I began researching pregnancy and birth in earnest. I started learning as much as I could about the processes of gestation and labor and the resources available to pregnant ladies around my current home in Northern Virginia. I realized I felt less anxious and more empowered as I consumed books on natural labor and delivery and found websites and blogs that take a positive and affirming view of pregnancy and motherhood.
I decided that I wanted to share the information that I gather with a wider audience. My husband and friends are getting pretty sick of hearing about this stuff anyway, and I want to keep a solid record of this exciting process. I want to be one of those havens on the web that shares a positive view of pregnancy, and not one that leave its readers anxious, stressed, freaked-out. Life is hard enough without adding the undue stress of negativity.
Welcome to the Savvy Mom Space
I’m a liberal feminist that believes that liberal, feminist ideals should gel with embracing your gender and motherhood (if that’s what you feel like doing). I support all kinds of moms and dads and parents. Oh and, although I totally love that natural vibe and not harming the environment, I supplement my organic milk and fresh fruits and veggies with the occasional Twix, the frequent Oreo, and the daily Coke Zero. I’m opinionated, not easily offended, and a loudmouth in person and on the internet. I am what I am. Welcome.