Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Sabbatical

It's a weeknight, and my husband and I are sitting on opposite ends of the couch. It's been a long day for both of us, him at work, and me at home, and we both resemble something like soggy vegetables. Just recently, I've been able to get Ellie Jo down for bed around the same time as Ben, giving us parents at least an hour or two of freedom before exhaustion overcomes us and we succumb to sleep ourselves. During this sacred 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. period, I often get so excited and overwhelmed with the possibilities of how I could spend my time. Should I snuggle up with my man and watch a show on netflix? Maybe fold all the laundry on the couch, sweep, and clean up the kitchen. No no, maybe just sit and read the pile of magazines and books I've been wanting to pour through about raising chickens and gardening. Should we just go straight to bed? Give each other foot massages? Try and get back into an exercise routine? Take a bath? Write a blog post?

That happens to be the choice I made tonight. I'm writing a blog post. Which quite honestly, I'm not sure is the best use of my time. My husband is submerged in youtube land, no doubt watching mind-numbing videos and giving his brain a much needed break. But I miss him, and after tiring days, we often don't have a lot left for each other. I feel guilty that I'm sitting over here, worlds away from him editing photos. I'm not finding as much joy here as I once did. I want more time to just 'be' and enjoy my children and take adventures without feeling like I need to write about it. I want my time to be freed to read, to snuggle, to connect with my people. My heart isn't here right now. I've started to feel obligated to post, and so I think it's time to take a sabbatical. A break if you will. It's not the writing, because Lord knows I need that, and I've been writing somewhere else. Somewhere more private and sacred that's just for me (for now).

At first I felt sad about this decision, because I know I have family members who love reading my posts. And my gosh what will Ellie do when she's older and finds out her mom didn't continue writing monthly updates for her online? <----sarcasm. I've toyed with different drafts lately, but nothing really lit a fire under my skin the way it has in the past. I've poured my heart out here on this space over and over again. I became vulnerable in a really growth-promoting way and reconnected with myself and hopefully inspired so many of you on your own journeys. I've met so many women who were there with me on that cold operating table, feeling my feelings as our babies were taken out of our bodies. Women who struggled with loneliness, breastfeeding, motherhood. This blog has given me the ability to reach out beyond the confines of my home and touch people.

I've also been thinking a lot about whether or not this is something I'll be happy I did 10, 20, 30 years from now. Will my kids be happy I shared so much of them so publicly? Do I have that right? Maybe some of these memories should be just for us. I've loved looking back over the years here, reliving and tasting life twice. Chronicling our biggest adventures and smallest moments, remembering the little details about my journey to becoming a mother, processing and living my birth experiences. I've thrived here and made new and wonderful friends. It's a chapter in my life and storytelling I will never regret.

It's always made me smile to picture my dad turning on his computer in the morning with a cup of coffee, waiting for his dinosaur speed internet connection to turn that screen into a picture of his only daughter's life, where he could see photos of his grandchildren and cry tears for my stories. It's been a place where my mom could get to know me more intimately, and maybe our relationship grew and changed for the better because of it. It's made me giggle when my grandpa has called to thank me for 'putting the pictures in the computer' for them to see and read about. Some of you have made me sit on the floor and weap tears of sorrow and joy for you when I've gotten personal emails and comments where you said, "Andrea, thank you. I can relate to this. You've helped me. You get it." I can't think of a better reason for sharing my life so publicly than to know that it has challenged someone on their own odyssey or given strength to another mom in need.

I appreciate that you readers have been part of my life for a couple of years, and it wouldn't be okay for me to just stop writing here without saying something. My husband always pushes me to think about all this social media business in real, physical terms. As in, can I really picture 1,000 actual people reading my words? Real people with hurts, histories, pasts, hopes, and dreams sitting in front of their computer screens, taking time out of their precious lives to take part in mine. That's important to me. Because surely I've posted about things like hiking, lactation cookies, and christmas banners. But you all don't keep coming back for that. You keep coming back because you feel like you know me. You've connected with me because I've exposed my greatest weaknesses and heart's desires to you here. You cared about my birth journey and waited in anticipation for the arrival of my daughter. In 'real life', if we met on the street and you walked up to me and said, "Andrea, you have the cutest kids and are a wonderful mom," I sincerely hope I wouldn't ignore you and keep on walking. That to me is the equivalent of not responding to a comment on my blog or on instagram. It's timely, but I try really darn hard to communicate with anyone who talks to me. Because this is real life, and I want you to know that I appreciate the relationships, friendships, and connections that have been made here. It's been life changing for this stay at home mom.

A sabbatical means to take a break, and that seems more appropriate than goodbye forever. I will most certainly keep the most popular posts on this blog live, but have reverted many posts to draft. Of course you can find me on instagram! I will continue to chronicle our little moments that make up this one extraordinary life on those little 2x2 squares, and I hope you can join me there. I'm known for a wordy caption or two, an abundance of cute kid photos, and snippets of beauty and joy that I see in the world.

Adieu for now,
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Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The 4th Trimester

It's been over a month of nursing, burping, comforting, kissing, crying, wearing, lack of sleep, and falling in love. It has been beautiful and messy and full of growth becoming a mama of two. I'm about 5 weeks postpartum, and while I'm happy, I've been feeling a bit tired and worn out. My body is still adjusting to being its own while nourishing another, and we are transitioning to this big life change. If you need to get caught up on the redemptive and amazing home birth (after cesarean) of our daughter Ellinor, click the following links to read part one, part two, and part three.
This is technically "Part Four" of my birth story series, and what better title for it than the 4th Trimester? Human infants are incredibly exhausting, as they are born into the world depending on and needing their parents for all of their needs. The fourth trimester is when the mother is healing, baby is adjusting to life outside the womb, and the family is changing with the welcome of its newest member.

The seconds that follow Ellie's emergence into the world are so vivid to me. So clear, and forever stamped in my memory. Her tiny body swimming underneath me as my husband's hands reached for her. I looked at his face as he gasped and cried and I fell back to the edge of the tub with my new and slippery daughter wrapped in my arms. I will always remember how she had one eye closed and was searching for me. How I gently rubbed the creamy vernix covering her legs, mesmerized at how perfect she was. The elation and euphoric feeling that washed over me, still not really believing this was real. What a stark contrast to the birth of my son. I barely remember seeing him for the first time through a sea of tears and drugs as I lay on the cold operating table. The weeks and months after he was born were incredibly demanding and miserable. The hours and days following our daughter's birth are a stark contrast...they have been phenomenal. My husband took care of me, and I was able to rest and focus on nursing my babe. I ate good food, drank water, slept, talked about the birth and shared my joy. The 4th trimester with my daughter started off so much healthier, and for that I am eternally grateful.
Before Ellie Jo was born, I wrote a post about some of the things I would be doing this time for my postpartum care. I've incorporated all of those things into this time, including placenta encapsulation, herbal teas, and tinctures. But my biggest focus has always been on making sure I slow down (rest) and listen to my body, mind, and baby. The time after my baby was born I wanted to focus on the balance between staying home, but also getting enough activity for my mental health. In general, our culture is 'go go go.' We push women back to work quickly, we expect new moms to bounce back to their pre-baby bodies, we are uncomfortable talking about depression and struggles and want to see mothers adjusting to life smoothly. But it isn't all that. As a postpartum mom, I am healing from a long pregnancy that grew and protected a baby, and labor and birth, which was both physically and mentally exhausting. The first week after Ellinor was born I rarely left the bed...I nursed, cuddled, slept, watched movies, and stared at the new miracle we created. My husband made our meals and took care of our son. I felt completely guilt-free about this and placed value on that special and cherished time I had with my daughter.
After my son was born, I suffered from postpartum depression. It was a bad birth, breastfeeding was a daily battle, I was lonely, and wasn't vulnerable enough to ask for help. It was a tough time. After this birth, I wanted to be so very aware of my emotions after our daughter was born. The combination of plummeting hormones and big life change can cause a lot of emotional instability. What moms need during this time are loving people who can care for them, listen to them, and give them space to cry and honor their feelings. I personally need and ask for a lot of grace from my husband as a navigate the 'new me' and sort through my emotions. I need to be reassured and know its okay to be sensitive and cry. I need to feel safe and protected. My newborn and toddler depend on me, and I need someone I can depend on too. I need someone to take care of me when I'm weary from taking care of the needs of others. I know that I get through tough phases of severe emotional ups and downs much quicker when I feel loved and cared for.

Postpartum depression can happen to anyone, and is probably more common than you realize. I encourage you, as mothers, to talk to one another and be vulnerable. In my state alone (Washington), PPD affects between 8,000 and 16,000 yearly. It's real, and talking about how you feel is the first step. Here are some of the 'reasons' why this happens to us (I've highlighted the ones that afflicted me after my son Ben was born):

*Difficult pregnancy
*Birth didn't go as planned
*Medical problems with you or your baby following the birth 
*A very fussy or colicky baby. 
*Sleep deprivation
*Feeling alone 
*Drastic change in lifestyle/loss of freedom and 'former' life 
*History of depression
*Not enough support from spouse, family, an friends
*High levels of stress
*Difficulty breastfeeding
While we are working with a fussy baby again, none of the other things I highlighted have been a struggle for me this time, but that doesn't mean I'm still not on the lookout for problems. The transition from no children to 1 child was much more shocking and difficult for me in many ways than this new change to two children. But that doesn't mean it isn't rocking my world in whole new ways as I grow and learn how to parent these babes. Some women rock the newborn and postpartum time. I am definitely NOT one of them. I've always been really jealous of women who fall in love with their babies the moment they see them. I'm okay admitting that I just don't have that ooey gooey love for my newborns the way I wish I did. With Ellie, it's been so much better because our birth was so so good, but that doesn't mean I find this easy. I wallow in guilt because my son doesn't get as much of me as I think he needs, or my newborn has to scream while I put my toddler down for his nap. Simple things like trying to figure out how to do morning routine with two humans (one of whom cries a lot), who need diaper changes, need to eat, change, nap, and play (not to mention take care of my own self) is stressful. I know we will get into a groove and routine, but change is hard and change can be scary.

As mothers, we tend to bury our struggles deep down inside and often think that everything (difficult babies included) are our personal failures. That maybe we could somehow control the situation. We can't. I continue to tell myself I can get through this, it will not last forever. I am doing a great job. I am strong, I am capable, I am brave. Because  I think bravery is a quiet little thing that says, 'I will keep doing my best.' I rest in that comfort...I am doing my best. I love my children and I am doing my best.
My doula told me to ask myself, 'What does this moment need?' so that I don't get overwhelmed with the enormity of this life change. And I love that. When I feel my throat get tight and the tears starting to well, I take a breath and ask myself what I need in that moment. It might be a drink of water, some fresh air, a hug, asking my husband to bring home dinner, calling my mom to see if she can watch Ben for the night or come over to clean my toilets. I also believe in taking breaths to bring myself back to the present moment and guide my wandering mind. It can be toxic to start believing everything we think when we are having a bad day (feeling like we aren't worthy, or we have failed, or that it's the worst day ever because x, y, or z). Sure, some days are HARD, but breathing and keeping the perspective of the smallness of the day in the grander scheme of things helps me immensely.
Recently, I started to tell myself, 'okay, Andrea, it's been long enough, you need to get it together and start your routine and get on with life without relying on so much help from others,'...but then it occurred to me that there is no reason to feel this pressure. I have support, and I can ask for help as long as I need. And so I will. My mom has been in and out to clean and help keep up with laundry, change sheets, play with Ben, and do dishes. My dad came and stayed for four days and played with Ben nonstop and cooked us healthy meals. Can I tell you what a blessing it is to have someone take your toddler outside to play so you can nurse or rock the crying baby without your son climbing on your body? My friend Jessica is here for a couple of days this week to keep me company (just having another adult in the house improves my mood drastically). My point is that it's OKAY to have help for as long as you need it. This does not make me a failure, this does not mean I can't take care of my two children or home by myself...it means I need the extra support right now.
I have great days and bad days and days in between, but I do try really hard to stay positive (and thankfully we have mostly good day!) I know these days are fleeting. I remind myself that I will sleep through the night again, and my little gal will soon grow past this sweet but exhausting age. I will have my 'me' time back eventually. I'm continually grateful for the incredible start that we got from our birth...it's everything I ever dreamed of and has made such a huge difference for us. I've learned an unsurmountable amount between my two different birth experiences, and I'm thankful I knew how to take care of myself better, and to better articulate my needs. As always, pregnancy, birth, and postpartum should be about what YOU want and what is right for YOU.

The 4th trimester can be hard even if you are adjusting fabulously! We are all unique beings with different circumstances, so what might be difficult for one of us might not be so for another. As always, I'm here for you, as so many of you have been here for me through your comments and sweet words of support and affirmation. Together we can be better, we can love one another. Don't assume that new mom you know is being loved and cared for by someone else. Go to Target and buy her nipple butter or pajamas or hand cream, swing by the coffee shop on your way over. Make her family a meal, and prepare it (or buy it) with love. She will think of the time, money, and energy you spent caring for her. Text her, even if she doesn't have time to reply. Sweep her floor (seriously crazy how fast a floor accumulates dirt and crumbs with a toddler in the house). Make her granola. Bring her cookies. Hug her. Show up. Say the words. Go to her house. Love her.
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Thursday, February 26, 2015

The Home Birth of Ellie Jo {Part Three}

Within the hour that labor progressed and my husband and I waited for our birth team to arrive, something shifted within me. I became less aware of the people and noises and external events around me, and instead became highly aware and in tune with myself. As I bounced and swayed on my big gray yoga ball, I breathed and moaned and felt the tears begin to well in my eyes. I couldn't stop them from coming. Through each contraction I cried big and my body shook. Somewhere in my conscious brain I knew I was going through transition and into advanced labor. This was encouraging because while I knew it would be the most intense phase and contractions would get very strong, it also meant I was that much closer to meeting our baby. I continued to be overjoyed at the entire natural process that my body was going through (while painful, so incredibly beautiful and powerful).
In between contractions (somewhere around 3:30) I heard quiet feet enter the house and the soft voice of my friend Katy. I felt peace with her having arrived, and even though she was really there to photograph the birth, she stepped in as a support person until the rest of our team arrived. Justin showed her how to shove the heat pack down my back how I liked and she jumped in to help me while Justin finished setting up the birth tub. He turned on our relaxation music and it helped set my mood into even further peace. Admittedly, the timeline of events is really hazy to me at this point, so I will just continue to tell this story as I remember pieced together with what others shared.
I began to feel the contractions change course from a wave of wraparound pain, to strong pressure. In my mind I thought 'release,' 'let go,' repeatedly. I continued crying and started to get very nauseous. I felt a new set of hands on my own and opened my eyes to see the face of our doula Patti (around 4 o'clock). She waved a rag with peppermint oil near my nose to help with the pukey feeling that had taken over and while I can't remember exactly the affirmative words she was saying to me, they were helping. Shortly after I knew my midwife and her assistant were in the room and when I opened my eyes Marie was sitting beside me with her hand on my arm. I felt relieved that everyone was with me. Patti continued to give me water to keep me hydrated and suggested I try and go pee. The thought of moving from my yoga ball and walking to the bathroom before another contraction hit (which were now coming very close together) was overwhelming. I wrapped my arms around my husband's neck and he help me sway and dance my way to the bathroom and held me tight while I screamed through another surge. Justin is a man of few words, but he continued to tell me, 'I'm here. I'm here,' and it's really all I needed to hear. His strong body and quiet presence, coupled with knowing he was there for me and wasn't going anywhere was so comforting. I couldn't sit on the toilet, because the back labor made that sitting position too painful, so I took off my pants and peed in the shower. I couldn't bring myself to put pants back on and all modesty went out the door. Patti draped a towel over my yoga ball and got me settled back into a position that made the contractions the most bearable.

My midwives were busy getting things set up, and Patti recognized that labor was progressing very rapidly and suggested I get into the birth tub. I couldn't believe things were going fast enough that it was time to get in the tub, as I wanted to wait until the end to use it for pain relief. Unbeknownst to me, I think they wanted me in the tub because I was moving past the point of needing it for just pain relief. Sitting in the tub hurt because no one could get pressure on my back, so I sat spread on my knees with my arms hanging over the edge, and it was perfect.
Shortly after some powerful contractions my water broke in the tub (clear) and I felt a small amount of pressure released. I hadn't had a single vaginal check my entire pregnancy, but my midwife asked if I wanted her to check and see how far along I was. Since I was GBS positive and we had agreed to run a course of antibiotics, my midwife wanted to get those started, but it was looking like there wasn't going to be enough time. I already instinctually knew my body was so far along that I wasn't afraid of getting discouraged by a number, and when she checked I was almost completely dilated. We knew for sure then we didn't have time for the antibiotics, so Marie needed me to move to the bed so we could do the vaginal rinse (an alternative treatment for GBS). I had to move to the bed and lay on my back for this, and if I'm being completely candid, it was worst part of my entire labor. Lying on my back through my contractions was excruciating. After the rinse was over I needed to lay there through a few more contractions to ensure the rinse didn't all come back out before getting in the water. I screamed and clung to my husband with all of my might. When I opened my eyes and saw him crying with me, for it was hurting him to see me in pain, I was reminded that the physical hurt was temporary and it would soon be replaced with our little girl. The pain was good. This short period of time (labor) was just the tiny space between my baby's two worlds.
I was able to move back into the birth tub around 5:40. In my mind, this was the top peak of my labor. It was incredibly incredibly demanding, both physically and mentally. I was overwhelmed and started to feel out of control. It was gritty and primal and raw. I roared. Roared. When each wave of pain and pressure hit I felt like my inner-animal came out. I had no regard for anything other than instinct. I'm not sure I would have felt safe tapping into that power anywhere but my home.  It was the most difficult and amazing thing I've ever ever ever done in my entire life. What a gift to experience and feel everything.
My throat was raw from screaming through contractions and my body was starting to get shakey. My husband had someone grab a few honey sticks from the kitchen and fed those to me to give me a boost of energy. The window was open and the storm outside was blowing, which for some reason was very calming to me. My doula grounded me, relaxed me, reminded me to take healing and restorative breaths down to my baby in between contractions and pushing. My husband helped provide the comfort and motivation. I felt safe knowing my midwives were there behind me, sneaking in to listen to baby's heartbeat, waiting for her to safely come into the world. I could already see my baby as here, my job accomplished. I never had doubt or fear that my body wouldn't do this...I could feel her and knew she was coming. 
The pressure was excruciating. The pain was energetic and fierce and the hardest thing I've asked my body to do. I started grunting involuntarily as I could feel her moving down. Someone told me to reach down and feel her head crowning, but I couldn't lose my focus. With each new contraction I thought it would be the one where I wouldn't have enough left in me to do it one more time, but somehow I found a way. No one was telling me what to do or when to push. Everyone in the room already knew and believed that my body had it under control. My midwife's assistant Karin reminded me to stay in control and calm down, and her words kept me present. With the next wave I screamed to the heavens and her head passed through. The chord was looped around her neck, so after they unwrapped it, I took a deep breath and pushed the rest of her body gently out of my own, parting ways only to be joined together again soon, and at 6:10 p.m., after just 30 minutes of pushing, she was born into this world; our sweet Ellinor Josephine.
She floated into the water beneath me and Justin reached down to grab her and bring her to my chest. In all the years that I live, I will never ever forget looking at my husband during that moment. He fell from his knees to the floor and put his hand on his face, tears flowing. We did it. I did it. I brought Ellinor to my chest and leaned back against the tub. My midwives gently checked vitals while we stared at her dark hair and squinty little eyes, soaking in the world and meeting her parent's faces for the first time. She was covered in vernix and was squealing and squawking. I kept kissing her and talking to her and through tears locking eyes with Justin.
Her chord was kind of short and I was having a hard time holding her without it tugging. Karin explained how we were going to move from the tub to the bed but I wasn't listening and had to ask again. We removed my bra and I held Ellie tight to my body as we moved across the room. I laid down and we were skin to skin, getting to know each other while she rooted around. She latched on to nurse easily as I birthed the placenta, which passed within a matter of minutes. Marie and Karin checked me for tearing, and since Ellie's entire arm was wrapped around her head coming out, she tore me superficially on the way out so I would need a few stitches. We let the chord pump all the blood into Ellie, and after about 30 minutes Justin was able to cut the chord and we had some family time.
Justin went into the kitchen to pour me a glass of our juiced oranges and cook me a breakfast burrito. Ellie continue to nurse and nestle in with her mama while my husband fed me. It was such a normal, but breathtaking moment. My daughter hadn't left my chest since the moment she came out of the water, and I was in my own bed, and my husband was feeding me. It was so perfect.
When Ellie Jo was done nursing, Justin wrapped her up and took her from me so I could take a shower. It was perfect timing since she decided to pass her first meconium poop all over my belly! Karin helped me shower and get back to the bed for stitches, which I was not too crazy about getting. After the painful experience I had just gone through it seems silly now to be upset about getting stitches, but all I wanted to do was sleep and hold my babe. Justin rocked with her in the corner and Katy held my hand while they gave me shots to numb the area and stitch things up. Marie helped me get dressed afterward and got me settled back in bed so Ellie could keep nursing. Patti brought me more orange juice with apple slices, a banana, and some flax muffins and rubbed my feet while we all talked about the birth. I was on cloud nine.
When baby girl was done nursing, we did the newborn exam on the bed to check her length, weight, reflexes, and overall health.
Everyone finished cleaning up and was out of our home by 10:30 p.m. I was exhausted to the core. We got nestled into bed and the lights started to flicker and the power went out just as we were closing our eyes. What an ironic twist of fate! We are very grateful the storm wasn't raging so hard when Ellie was born...I can't imagine giving birth by candlelight! Ha! Justin swaddled up Ellie and held her in his arms all night so I could sleep. We woke up around 3 so I could nurse her again (and the power was back on) and Justin needed to take our vitals and record them, and then we were back to sleep until 7. I mentioned this in part one of our story, but it was so relaxing to be home and get all that much needed sleep with no one coming in all night to take our daughter anywhere, check vitals all night, or disturb the special time. I woke up in the morning rested and in complete awe and disbelief that I had just birthed this beautiful little soul just the night before.
I'm still amazed and in awe at the natural process of the body when left alone to do what it was designed for. My body was absolutely amazing during labor and I'm so incredibly proud of myself. I approached my pregnancy, labor, and birth with a huge happy attitude. I had a joyful anticipation of this insanely difficult but beautiful experience. What a difference the birth experiences of my two babies were, and yet how valuable they both were. I had to have one, to have the other. And we have two absolutely amazing children. I'm so thankful every single day I got to experience one of life's greatest celebrations. Next week I'll be finishing up Ellie's birth story with a part four reflection of our postpartum period together. As always, thank you for sharing our joy and taking the time to read my stories.

*The photos from our birth are deeply private and personal, and I do not share them lightly. I have chosen to keep many of the images just for us, including the very raw and highly emotional seconds captured just as Ellie was being born and lifted out of the water. The photos featured here are copyright. You may not copy, distribute, or steal them.* All photos taken by the magnificent Katy Leet Photography, and Patti Ramos (both amazing doulas and birth photographers!)

Part One (Why home birth was right for us)
Part Two (Early Labor) 
Love,
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Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The Home Birth of Ellie Jo {Part Two}

The few days leading up to Ellie's birth were spent with a lot of intentionality. We focused on togetherness as a family and one-on-one time with our Ben. I had been having a lot of cramping and mild, irregular contractions off and on for a couple of weeks but I could feel that real labor was coming soon. We really like to do what we call 'family dates,' and spent some time at the beach together. The weather was rather dreary and we had the entire beach to ourselves. The guys built sandcastles and I walked and collected shells and rocks, which Ben enjoyed looking at before throwing them into the sea. This was the last day we spent together as just a family of three out adventuring, and I really cherish it. I simply can't tell the story of Ellinor's birth without reliving the days and moments leading up to it.
A couple of days before Ellinor was born, my mom watched Ben for a few hours so I could go to another acupuncture appointment (which I now swear by), had a massage, ate some Thai food by myself, went on a walk, and took a nice long nap. I also stopped by the store and bought some tulips to put in our bedroom around the area where the birth tub was going to be set up. It was a great day spent taking care of myself.
On Tuesday morning I woke up feeling really nauseous. I had my 40 week appointment with our midwife but before I was getting ready to leave I realized I had started to lose my mucous plug. This was so exciting for me, as I didn't have this with Ben prior to labor and I knew my body was doing some work. With that being said, I didn't want to drive alone over an hour to the midwife, just in case. I know that losing your plug can mean labor is hours, days, or weeks away, but I didn't want to be alone on the freeway away from my husband in case things started rolling. I called Justin and asked him to meet me and we were on our way. My appointment was great, I had no swelling and my blood pressure was great. We all discussed and made our final decision to accept antibiotics during labor for my GBS, and my midwife and her assistant encouraged me to relax and enjoy what would hopefully be the last couple of days being pregnant. Justin and I went out for lunch together at a local Mexican place and had street tacos after my appointment, and it was nice to have one last 'date' together. The rest of the day I had light cramping off and on but nothing serious.

I decided Wednesday should be spent at home with just Ben. We baked brownies together, played outside in the woods, did puzzles, colored, and read books. I felt really comfortable most of the day, but also very in tune with my body. I was still losing a bit of my mucous plug, and while this is probably too much information for some folks, I pooped about 5 times throughout the day. I knew my body was cleaning out and getting ready! When Justin got home from work he and Ben cut up strawberries and we prepped dinner. That night we made coconut shrimp with quinoa and asparagus for dinner, and throughout the meal I started having mild cramping again as I sat bouncing on my yoga ball. Ben and I played on the floor together after eating and contractions were pesky and irregular. Giving Ben his kisses for bedtime was bittersweet, as I had a hunch it would probably be the last time we would say goodnight to him as our only child.
I took a bath that night before bed and we watched an episode of Castle, one of our favorite shows. I think I fell asleep around 9:30, only to be woken up a short 30 minutes later by one very strong, long contraction. I settled back in to sleep and woke up about 10 minutes later by another. After a few rounds of this same scenario I grabbed my phone to time and track a few on a free app I had downloaded. It seemed like they were coming every 10-12 minutes and lasting 60 to 90 seconds. I was able to stay lying on my left and while they were very uncomfortable, I could breathe through them with no trouble and use positive affirmations to keep my spirits high, even though I was getting barely any sleep. I used a lot of my hypnobirthing relaxation techniques throughout the night, and would continuously repeat how good this was, using deep breathing and visualizations. I didn't want to get negative and work myself up over the fact that I was going to be very very tired in the morning, so around 2 a.m. I walked around the house a bit, had some water, and ate a banana since I was hungry from being awake. When I got back into bed I was able to rest/sleep in between contractions until early morning.

As early morning approached and the light started changing to dawn, I was really reveling in this stage of labor and delighting in the secret that only Ellie and I knew-that we would soon meet. This new and beautiful little soul was about to be united with us for a lifetime. Each pain brought a happiness knowing I was getting closer to her.

I started to feel so incredibly grateful for the beautiful thing I was experiencing. With Ben I never had the chance to go into labor naturally, and I was just so delighted that my body was working the way it was supposed to! I was so thankful to be able to have these contractions and trust my body to do the work. I can't really describe the way that revelation made me feel.
In the morning my husband's alarm went off for work and I quickly informed him he would not be going in for the day. He was able to go right back to sleep and I spent the rest of the morning still trying to close my eyes and catch some sleep. Around 7:30 a.m. I texted my midwife, doula, and friend/birth photographer to give them all a heads up that I had been having contractions all night but I thought it was still very early labor. Justin went to get Ben and brought him into bed with us, and we read a few books and snuggled up like we usually do. I texted my mom asking her to come pick up Ben and our dog around 8:45, so we could have time to eat breakfast together. Justin made us scrambled eggs with avocado and strawberries. It was the perfect fuel to start the day. As expected, saying goodbye to our Ben was really really hard for me. We gave big hugs and kisses and made it 'normal' for him, just like any other time when he would go spend the day with his grandma, but after her car pulled away I sobbed into Justin's arms. There is just something about knowing your child's world is about to change, and knowing I wasn't going to be a mother to one anymore.

Around 9:30 I decided to take a nice hot shower and get out of my pajamas, and Justin and I laid down in bed together to try and get some more rest. The contractions were staying steady around 8-10 minutes apart, but I was able to get a decent amount of 'nap' in before getting up again around 11:30 a.m. Justin made me my second breakfast of grilled cheese and I spent some time bouncing on the yoga ball in the kitchen. I really wanted to go for a walk, but it was an incredibly stormy day and the rain was dumping outside, so I did some laps around the house and walked up and down the stairs. Justin didn't want me to overdo it so I laid back down again for some rest, and didn't have a contraction for nearly 20 minutes. Discouraged is basically how I started to feel, and frustrated that my body was doing all this work only for it to amount to 'nothing' for the day. I started to let negative thoughts seep in and worried at this rate I would be too tired if labor picked back up again to make it through another long night. I started to visualize myself back in the hospital and started crying. I got up and Justin talked me through it, and contractions started up again. I went back to my yoga ball and we made lunch together; turkey sandwiches with carrots and some coconut water for me. I knew after I gave birth I would want some fresh-squeezed orange juice, so Justin got out the juicer and we peeled oranges while listening to music and made juice to store away for later. It was around 1 o'clock at this point and contractions were picking up to every 5-6 minutes and lasting about 45 seconds. I was able to breathe and bounce and sway through them on my own, but I was having back labor again and was starting to need some heat from our rice pack and my husband's strong hands applying counter-pressure.

My plan was to ignore labor for as long as possible, but contractions were getting strong enough to make me stop and notice the pain; needing to completely give myself over to them. We called our midwife, who listened to me through a few of them on the phone. She encouraged me to continue eating good food, stay hydrated, and listen to my body. I didn't anticipate that I would be anxious about knowing when to have my midwife come to the house. I was so relaxed at the idea of being able to stay home and not have to leave, that it never occurred to me that I would still need to gauge when I would need the extra support to come to me. We called our doula who suggested getting in the bathtub...if labor were really in gear then the relaxing water wouldn't slow things down any. We told everyone we would keep them posted, and headed to the bedroom to try and watch a show and have Justin rub my back through contractions. About halfway through watching Modern Family I started to check out and couldn't really focus, and decided that getting in the tub sounded like a good idea.

As Justin was drawing the bath water for me I was swaying over the counter, breathing through another contraction when I fell to my hands and knees, nose to ground with the tile on our floor, saying his name over and over to help me. Once we got through that contraction I got in the tub, but I knew things were progressing. Justin, bless his heart, really wanted to time a few more contractions on our app before calling our midwife back, but I firmly told him the only data he needed to tell her at this point was that she needed to come. :) Around 2:30 he made all the calls, and helped me out of the tub because I couldn't get in a comfortable enough position for him to help with my back. After helping me get dressed and re-heating our rice pack, Justin got me settled back on the yoga ball leaning over the bed. We hadn't set up the birth tub yet, but I was at a place in labor where I really needed Justin, so he spent the short amount of time in between contractions trying to get things set up and help me. It was intense time alone together before our birth photographer and secondary doula Katy arrived at 3:30, and not a moment too soon...
***
Spending the entire morning and early afternoon laboring together with just my husband was really special for us. I love that he was able to take care of me and help me through early labor, as he was really the only one I needed. I already look back on that time together with real tenderness and joy. I know you all are really waiting for the rest of the birth story, which I promise is coming up next in part 3, along with some truly powerful photographs of my labor and her birth. Let's end this post with my very last pregnant selfie, taken in our bedroom just 4 hours before I became a mama to my daughter.

If you missed Part One, be sure to visit HERE
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Friday, February 13, 2015

The Home Birth of Ellinor Josephine {Part One}

I'm not sure this story could start anywhere but here. The journey to this birth started so long ago, it only feels right to go back to the beginning, and the beginning starts with my son. This story starts when my son was born in September of 2012, back when they took him from my body and wheeled me away. Back when the doctors stitched together the fresh scar on my abdomen but left my heart wide open and I knew that the birth of my child should have been so much more than it was. The months of struggle with depression, the work it took to find closure, the strength it took to grow and turn the experience into something positive. Something good. And now I can truly say that it's so, so good. I couldn't possible be here writing this story about a woman who just wanted to birth her baby naturally, and did so in her bedroom, without knowing the woman who suffered through a traumatic birth on a cold operating table. There's no way I would have viewed motherhood or sisterhood, or birth, or choices, or advocacy, or rights in the same way I do now. So many good things grew from something so sad, and I'm grateful for the entirety of how my son came into the world. It led me here.

When I was 17 weeks pregnant with Ellinor, I had the most vivid dream. It was so real I woke up with tears streaming down my round cheeks and onto the pillows. In the dream I was lying on our bed pushing our baby out into the world. I knew it was a girl and I knew she had the thickest head full of hair. It was so peaceful, so good, so right. I remember the weight of her body on my bare chest and the way she smelled and the look on my husband's face. I woke up knowing with every fiber of my being that this decision to work hard and pursue a vaginal birth would be worth everything. That birthing my baby at home would be the only road.
That certainly doesn't mean that the road didn't have hills and turns and potholes. I fell into more than my fair share of emotional gutters. As my sweet babe grew inside, I was growing and changing too. I spent a lot of time thinking about how I saw myself. I had to relinquish so much control and trust in the organic process of pregnancy and birth.

So, we chose a home birth. Which is definitely a decision that defies a cultural norm here in the great United States. Birth gets a bad reputation with so much focus on the negative and the fear..from other women, from men, from the media, from doctors. Imagine if our culture told us that birth is amazing! That labor is an incredible and transformational journey to motherhood that can be joyful. So, considering it's hard enough to go against the masses to have a home birth, much less a HBAC (home birth after cesarean) with all the fear mongering that goes on, we decided to keep the choice to birth at home as unpublicized as possible. Because you see, for many vbac mamas, birthing a baby is something we all desire so richly and deeply, and the mental and emotional stakes are high. So I'll be damned if I was going to have someone come trotting in to casually tell me I could die, or tell me I was being foolish, or spout off uninformed and uneducated opinions.
Having a home birth was so right, for us. Before getting pregnant I already knew it was the choice I would make, but I still gave myself time to think and process the decision. I spent a week telling myself I was going to have the baby in the hospital, and it gave me anxiety and I felt scared about the battles we would have to fight. I then spent a week telling myself I was going to have this baby at home, and the peace and joy over that decision was evident. I wanted to be in a place where I felt safe. I wanted to be in a place where I had control over who entered my sacred space. I didn't want an IV, an overseeing physician, continual monitoring. I didn't want to go into labor, one of the most natural and beautiful things in this earthly place, feeling like we were going in to fight. So yes, home birth was so so right for what we wanted. But I also truly believe it doesn't matter if you choose to birth your baby at home or the hospital. It doesn't matter if you choose a repeat cesarean or work hard for a vbac. Midwife, doctor, natural, or medicated. What matters is that YOU have made the decisions and educated yourself about the options. Your body, your birth, your baby, your choice. We did the research and knew that home birth was the right option for us, and I never had any fear about that decision or wondered 'what if' something goes wrong, because something can go wrong in lots of places. Mostly, I believe in birth, I believed in my body, and I believe labor and delivery is natural and normal.
When the pregnancy test turned positive, I knew the road ahead was still going to take some work. There were exactly TWO midwives in my greater geographical area who would take vbac moms on as patients for home birth. A lot of wonderful midwives who did home birth, but only two who believed in vbac moms enough to give them a chance. So I drove over an hour to every appointment, because the care I received from my midwife was worth every mile. She never once made me feel different. She always treated me normally, safely, kindly, and with love. Half of the time I forgot I was even a 'vbac' mom. She truly allowed me to have a pregnancy, labor, and birth that was free of fear and anxiety. None of this would have been possible without her.
I will be eternally grateful I know what it feels like to be valued and cared for in this way. From the very beginning my beloved midwife always treated me like any other normal pregnant mother. She never made me feel afraid or made me feel like something was wrong with me. I will be eternally grateful to her for changing my life. I was given a chance by someone who believed in the power of birth. I was the first person to catch and hold my daughter, without interference from anyone. I brought her to my chest and kept her there to nurse minutes within her entrance to this world. My husband was with me every single step of the way, never being forced to choose to stay with his baby or his wife. I was able to walk around, shower, pee, eat, drink, rest, and move in any way that was right for me. I'm grateful I was able to laugh and cry after my daughter was born, without pain in my abdomen. We were able to spend our first night together in the quiet of our own home, with no one coming in to tell me I couldn't hold my baby on my chest. My husband was able to take our vitals, and we were able to sleep and rest and revel in the beauty of our newest miracle without the sound of beeping machines and strange nurses coming and going. I now know what it is to have a baby the way nature intended, and the experience was so incredibly powerful that there aren't the right words to describe it with the depth it even deserves. I am forever grateful for my wonderful midwife and the other people in my life who supported me and gave me this chance. This birth has changed our family, it has changed my life. It's a dream I'm not sure I ever thought would really come true. I still can't believe I gave birth to such a beautiful little soul in my bedroom just a week ago. My cheeks hurt from smiling so much and I cry every time I think about what a blessing she is. Our sweet Ellie Jo, brought to this world with so much love and power.
Part two of this story tells how it all began; the first signs our little beauty would be joining us soon...
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