Tag Archives: Pregnancy

Natural Childbirth: What Worked For Me

A friend messaged me today asking for some insight on childbirth without pain meds. As I went through everything that worked for me, I realized I would have loved similar tips before I had Eloise. So, below are some thoughts on what helped me to avoid having an epidural. I don’t claim to be an expert, nor do I expect what worked for me to work for everyone. However, I really do believe natural childbirth is more attainable than most women realize. And, if you fall into the “I just want an epidural” camp, no judgment, I get it.

I chose to avoid an epidural because I have a sensitive system and I did not want my labor to be slowed down by any outside interventions, (my biggest fear was needing a C-section). When I found out I would have to be induced because my water broke a few days earlier, I was really nervous. I had heard Pitocin changes the way contractions feel. While this may have been the case, I survived, and I want other women to know that being induced doesn’t mean you will automatically need an epidural.

Here is what worked for me (and, I will be honest, I was nervous about whether I could handle the pain):

1. Research. Before Eloise was born, I read as many natural childbirth stories as possible. I also talked to everyone in my sphere who birthed naturally and watched everything I could find on Netflix and the internet. The more positive stories I heard, the more I believed in my own ability to give birth without pain meds in a hospital setting. Among my favorites:

2. Established a birth team. For me, this meant hiring a doula and deciding that only my husband and she would be present at the time of delivery. While I had other visitors before everything got too intense, I knew it was important for me to maintain my focus if I was going to keep my momentum. While I love my family, I could feel their concern as soon as they walked into the room.

Hiring a doula ensured I received support from someone who had gone through the birthing process hundreds of times. According to studies, the presence of a doula reduces the use of interventions. I could definitely see why. Our wonderful doula advocated on my behalf throughout the process. She monitored how much Pitocin was given and spoke up when she thought it might be too much, something I would not have known to do on my own.

Most importantly, the calm presence of my doula reminded me of my goal. As she sat there listening to me curse and moan, I did not want to let her down. In retrospect, I know she would have had no judgment if I changed my mind about an epidural, but there was something about knowing she was there for the specific purpose of supporting me in my desire for natural childbirth that helped me get through to the very end.

3. Exercise. This is where I could have done a much better job, but I did enough to make it to the finish line. If I have another child, I will work even harder in this department as I used every last ounce of energy I had to get Eloise out. I was really worried I would need a C-section if I had to push any longer. Had I built more strength prior to delivery, I may have been able to use a different birthing position than the traditional hospital bed, which could have expedited the process and made some of the after effects a little less painful.

4. Relaxation and nutrition. As much as exercise is important, it is equally important to be rested and well-nourished. If you eat crap the weeks leading up to your delivery, you will probably feel like crap, which is not going to help you. Likewise, if you fill your pre-delivery maternity leave with as much activity as possible, you may be wasting some of the energy you need later. I rested, a lot. I ate carefully. I spent a lot of quiet time on my own. You get the picture.

5. Birthing ball. Don’t leave home without one! I was pretty nonchalant about using a birthing ball, but once I got to the hospital I realized there was no comfortable place for me to sit and labor. I ended up spending most of the 17 hours sitting on the yoga ball my mother-in-law graciously brought with her to the hospital because I had forgotten it at home. The bonus, it made a fantastic seat for laboring in the hospital shower.

6. Flexibility. I don’t mean the physical kind, although I am sure that helps too. Birth is not a perfect process. I had to adapt to Pitocin even though it felt like the end of the world for a few minutes. By the end of labor, I did not even care how they got her out anymore. Had they told me I needed a C-section, I would have been disappointed, but it would not have mattered. I just wanted my daughter out and in my arms. This is something I did not understand before I got to the hospital. At the end of the day, all that matters is a healthy baby and a healthy mama, whether this is achieved with drugs, surgery, or just a healthy dose of willpower.

So, there you have it! I am sure there are a million other secrets to natural childbirth, but those are the ones that worked best for me. Yes, I breathed through it, but my doula guided me through the process, I didn’t practice any fancy breath moves ahead of time. I didn’t use meditation or visualization. I just focused on surrendering to the process, remaining calm, and remembering my goal. I am stubborn but not particularly tough when it comes to pain or physical feats, which is why I want to share my experience. If I can do it, I am not alone.

Should you be contemplating a natural childbirth, feel free to contact me. I am kind of obsessed with birth. It is the most amazing thing I have ever done, even if it hurt, a lot.

This is not the face of a particularly confident mother about to give birth without pain meds, but I did it anyway.

This is not the face of a particularly confident mother about to give birth without pain meds, but I did it anyway.

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Anyone up for a summer health challenge?

As I lay on my yoga mat this morning, I remembered the way my body felt at the end of my pregnancy. Compared to my non-pregnant self, I was disabled. Each movement required effort, changing positions in bed was a conscious act, a walk around the block left my hips and lower back aching. I wanted so badly to run at full speed down the street when we walked the dogs. I swore I was going to make the most of being able to move when I was no longer pregnant.

Three months postpartum I have not made good on this promise. While I am slowly getting stronger, I have been generally too tired or too preoccupied with baby tasks to exercise beyond our evening dog walk, (which took about a month to do comfortably). The first time I tried downward dog a few weeks ago, I practically fell on my face, my arms weak, my wrists throbbing. At the two yoga classes I have attended, my hips, back, wrists, legs have all creaked and ached in ways I never expected.

Put simply, I did not realize postpartum recovery would be such a slow process. I assumed the six week doctor’s visit would coincide with my miraculous return to postpartum health. After all, I eat well, take care of myself, had a natural childbirth… Ha. Apparently sleep deprivation and the act of carrying and then pushing out a baby take different tolls on different people, naturally-oriented or otherwise.

In talking with friends, I have realized postpartum recovery differs for everyone and it really can take anywhere from a month to a year to feel normal. Three months in and I am ready to take matters into my own hands. I want to move better than before and be stronger than I have ever been. When you have known what it feels like to be unable to move, moving suddenly takes on a much greater value.

Which brings me to this post. A year ago, I had just finished a 30-day yoga challenge and felt the strongest and healthiest I had felt in a long time, (also when I got pregnant, hmm…). I want to come up with a new health challenge to get back to (or better than) that point. While I am in no way ready for our next kid, I know I am going to have to be strong and healthy to go through that all again, (I really think if I had been in better shape, my delivery would not have been as taxing and I may have had the energy to actually use a pushing position other than the classic inclined hospital bed).

Using year-ago post-yoga-challenge me as my inspiration... I don't expect (or even want) to ever look exactly the same as pre-baby, I just want to FEEL the same if not better. This picture is probably the healthiest I have ever felt.

Using year-ago post-yoga-challenge me as my inspiration… I don’t expect (or even want) to look exactly the same as pre-baby, I just want to FEEL the same if not better. This picture is probably the healthiest I have ever felt.

So, I need a little inspiration. My time is limited and it is also 100+ degrees outside (yuck!). The more I can do with baby indoors the better. I need goals/ideas for:

1. Healthy eating: I’m already on a restricted diet to help with her colic, (no dairy/wheat/processed sugar), but other processed foods are still a major weakness, (hello Mojo Bars, Late July tortilla chips, turkey jerky, etc). I need easy but filling inspiration, (and when I say easy, I mean no more than 20 minutes to prepare, since baby girl will only sit and watch me for about half that time before she starts fussing). Oh yeah, and I need to drink more water, duh.

2. Exercise: This makes me giggle. I have never been a runner (despite my pregnant fantasy of running at full speed). It’s hot outside. My baby doesn’t wake up until 9AM. I hate exercise videos. I’m full of excuses. I pretty much only like yoga and walking, but I’m going to need some serious encouragement to do enough of either to make a difference. Really, I need a buddy to force me.

3. Mental health: Hanging out with other moms has helped and will definitely be an important ingredient going forward. Writing is also key, but comes at the expense of household chores, exercise, food preparation, etc. Obviously exercise helps, but it already has its own category. Limiting technology makes this list, I find myself sucked into internet on my phone while I nurse, which doesn’t seem good for anyone involved and takes me out of being present with my daughter, (must break addiction)… I digress.

Whether you’re recovering from baby or not, I figure pretty much everyone could benefit from some new health goals or focus. Excited to hear your thoughts/secrets/tips as I develop a new plan for myself. I also encourage you to come up with your own summer health challenge. Life is too short to waste time unhealthy.

{And, side note, I managed to bang out this post in one sitting without baby girl waking up. We’re making real nap progress! Going on two hours! Woohoo! Now to see if there is time to actually proofread, might be pushing my luck…)

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Birth & Surrender

Just one of many posts scribbled in my journal in the wee hours of the night. Parenting has changed me. Everything is moving in slow motion, but I don’t mind. It’s hard to even put her down long enough to type anything at all…

***

It’s time to push and some of the nurses are switching shifts. One says there is a beautiful, light rain falling outside and I look, the dawn sky letting a little light in through the window. I knew you’d come in the rain. I am soothed by this omen. Each contraction brings another chance to push you out, to see your face and touch your skin to mine. I give everything I have, again and again, until I am certain I only have a couple left in me.

I have to get you out on my own. I have worked so hard not to have an epidural, not to waste a single ounce of energy in bringing you into this world. I was already pretty tired before the Pitocin went surging through my veins, leaving a fuzzy feeling all over my body. Five nights of prodromal labor, darkness bringing the rhythmic pains, the excitement of a moment finally coming, contractions 12, 8, 6, 4 minutes apart, then the light taking it all away again.

Your water broke long before they induced me. Five days. Your Grandma Cathy says the weather did it, a magnificent thunder storm. It was not the overwhelming burst of water seen in movies, but instead a trickle, easily confused with all the other pleasant end-of-pregnancy symptoms. I did not go to the hospital then, I expected contractions to follow, and they did, but then they stopped at dawn and everything seemed fine again.

Besides, I knew a small, or high leak, was considered common in the home birth world, nothing to worry about if the steps are taken to avoid infection. We closely monitored the situation and kept waiting for nature to take its course. Each day I would sleep the best I could and each evening the contractions would come again, teasing me with the prospect of imminent delivery. After five nights of this dance, the contractions growing to the point where I would moan and rock on the floor, my watch cued to time and hope, I reached my edge. It was time to go to the hospital.

Sure enough, my water was mostly gone. You were safe, still, but it was time for you to come out. When the midwife told me they would have to induce, tears poured out. I wanted a natural birth for you. I had heard Pitocin horror stories of more painful contractions and one intervention leading to another until a C-section was necessary.

I was afraid.

The midwives and nurses were so kind, though. They encouraged me with stories of otherwise unmedicated births with induction. An almost natural childbirth was still possible. I cried and regained my resolve. Your dad and I walked around the hospital courtyard, me in my goofy, oversized gown, while we waited for your doula, Heather, to arrive. The air was cool, but I was running on so much adrenaline, I didn’t mind. Your dad stopped and held me. He was so excited to meet you. We were standing at the very top of a long roller coaster.

Heather arrived and reassured us the small dose of Pitocin would be alright. By 7PM, it was pumping through my veins, the contractions returning as they had each night, regular and strong.

“Is this what they felt like at home?” the nurses would ask.

“Not quite,” I answered for some time.

Before everything became too intense, all your cheerleaders arrived, a whole waiting room full of family eager to meet you. Your grandparents, godparents, and Aunt Kaitlyn spent the entire night on those uncomfortable fold-out chairs, supporting you with their laughter and lullabies from afar. For a few sweet minutes, they all came in and sat with me, their love so strong I cried as they each stopped to kiss me good-bye between contractions, my body rocking back and forth on the big red yoga ball. Your grandfather James, as he is apt to be called, made me cry the most, his words so tender they burst my heart.

However, much to the chagrin of your big, beautiful, loving family, I needed space to get you out, space to curse and chant, and lose my modesty in the dimly lit shower and delivery room. And, boy, did I curse. “Oh f***” was my favorite phrase. Your kind, patient, powerful doula sat with me quietly through it all with reminders to surrender, no matter how painful. Your father’s touch, his hand still on my thigh, calmed me.

Sometime in the middle of the night, I began to talk to myself, yelling “I surrender” to the universe over and over again, in hopes someone would hear me. Periodically, a nurse would tell me someone from our family was hovering outside the door, concerned over all the noise, desperate for news of your arrival. They kept vigil as I moaned and cursed and chanted through the night.

I questioned my ability to keep going without drugs, the pain in my lower back and hips unbearable as they opened with each wave. Maybe some people really do achieve a pain-free childbirth, but even if you call pain something else, it hurt, a lot. Your doula gave me strength in her words and presence. Had she not been there, I might have caved.

That’s the funny thing, though. Caved is not the word. I have a new respect for all types of birth, medicated and otherwise. Each journey is different, and even if I had chosen an epidural, I would have still done an incredible amount of work to get to that point. Birth and parenthood is an enormous mental transformation no matter the path. I get that now.

Still, the promise of transition kept me going. I did not want a single drop of pain killers to slow me down. I needed you out of me, I was tired and quite certain I did not have an ounce of strength to waste. Transition promised change and by a little after six in the morning, I was ready to push. I thought you would come quickly, you were so low and close in station two, but my body had other plans.

Maybe I had not surrendered enough yet.

Two hours of pushing with everything I had and then magically, your original midwife from all our office visits appeared, the third change in shifts since we began. Her retro Vans announced her arrival behind the curtain. That’s when the nurses mentioned rain and somewhere I found my last reserve of energy, now was time.

Heather and your dad sat at the foot of the bed, amazement on their faces as the hair on your head emerged. The midwife climbed onto the edge of the bed and three nurses held my legs, everyone working together to get you out. A few more pushes with this extra help and I felt your head, your shoulders, your wiggly body tear into this world, shock and the most intense pain I could imagine. You were finally here, wet and warm against my bare chest, tears in your fathers eyes and mine.

While we bonded, staring in disbelief at all your perfect, little features, I felt more connected to your dad than I have ever felt in our nearly 14 years together. You are our glue, our little miracle, the love that has ripped our hearts open in a way I could have never understood before.

Even two weeks later, your dad and I cry and smile in disbelief– a joy so intense, the happiest moments of our lives thus far. But, with this happiness has also come the pain of surrender as we have turned our hearts over to you. We have already had our scares as new parents, our extra nights in the hospital, our worry over all the little things. Surrendering is difficult, but you are here to teach us new lessons and we are ready to learn with our hearts grateful and ready to receive. You are our greatest blessing, Eloise Claire.

To say we love you is not enough.

Eloise

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37 Weeks: Almost Time.

I’m excited for little things, like day trips to Bodega Bay for fish and chips and walks on the beach, baby in her carrier, dogs on their leashes. A drive down the coast to the aquarium in Monterrey, where she’ll see another world underwater. I’m excited for long walks through our neighborhood, first in her stroller, later on a tricycle. Her first Christmas trip to San Francisco with our big, loud family.

I can’t wait to be able to lie on my back again when I sleep, to drink a whole glass of wine or a pint of beer, to go to yoga and bend my body any way I’d like. I can’t wait to move again, in a normal way. I fantasize about putting on my running shoes and running full force down the street, as though I ever liked to run in the first place. I can feel it though, the exhilaration of full exertion, the bounce of a good pair of shoes.

I’m curious about the sensations, the rushes or the pain, depending on who you ask or what you read. I want to know what it feels like. I’m expecting sleepless days and nights, exhaustion beyond anything I can imagine. I’m expecting the hardest thing I ever do, because that is how people describe it.

Mostly, though, I am imagining her in my arms, or beside me in the sleeper next to our bed, or sitting in the swing next to our television, or crawling across our floor with toys strewn everywhere. She is both real and imagined, all there is left to do is wait.

Each day of waiting is a strange balance of rest and preparation, a little writing mixed in for fun. Somehow middle grade fiction is pouring out of my fingers without the promise of enough time to finish before she is here. The change in genre is refreshing, the lower word count a goal I might be able to reach before everything changes. Each non-labor contraction brings it all back home again.

Change is near and I’m excited.

Even the dogs seem to know it is almost time.

Even the dogs seem to know it is almost time.

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36 Weeks: Now is About Now

Today is exactly four weeks from our due date. According to the hospital, this means we can expect our sweet baby in anywhere from 2 to 6 weeks. Apparently due dates are not very accurate. All this means is whoa, this is really happening!

Yesterday was my last day of work before maternity leave. As I stood and watched two of my coworkers have a dance off to “What Does the Fox Say” in front of the entire school, it hit me that my life is about to change and I am going to miss my work more than I realized. There are things about my job I absolutely love, like the spontaneity and joy manifested by my coworkers, adult and child alike.

Choreographed dance numbers just happen to top my list.

Students who normally show me little affection hugged me yesterday. I ended my afternoon with sweet applause from twenty-nine little sets of hands. My class submitted hundreds of baby names to my back table. My team of teachers decorated the staff room, made the baby personalized onesies, and presented an elaborate table of treats. Gifts appeared on my desk all day.

Every time I said good-bye and got a sad look from a child, I reminded him or her I would be back, a strangely reassuring statement for myself, too. While I am planning to return to work, I also know the future is unpredictable. The coming months will bring a lot of choices. These last few weeks of teaching have been extra hard. I am hopeful my patience is hiding somewhere underneath the aches and hormones of pregnancy.

After all, teaching has become part of my identity over the last four years. Then again, my identity is about to change, and underneath all the layers is also a desire to write, to teach yoga, to… As these thoughts surface, I have to quiet them. Now is not about June or even September. Now is about now, a funny thought given all the hubbub about living in the present. Shouldn’t now always be about the present? Somehow my impending transformation makes this concept more real than ever before.

For me, the coming weeks mean crawling back into the quiet of my mind and finding those spaces of calm so that I can use them both in labor and those first few weeks of parenting. I have everything I need today, a thought that has brought me peace on many occasions in the last few months. Contentment in the moment, how novel. Now if only I can make it last…

A favorite student question, "What are you going to name the baby?" To which I reply, "Not sure, because we want to see her first." Yesterday they decided to take matters into their own hands and help us out.

A favorite student question, “What are you going to name the baby?” To which I reply, “Not sure, because we want to see her first.” Yesterday they decided to take matters into their own hands and help us out.

My team of teachers is amazing. These onesies will keep me laughing through some exhausted newborn days, I am sure.

My team of teachers is amazing. These onesies will keep me laughing through some exhausted newborn days, I am sure.

All the love we have received from students, coworkers, friends, and family has surpassed anything we have ever experienced. It is amazing how people come together to celebrate new life, my heart is truly touched. Now all there is left to do is be present and wait.

All the love we have received from students, coworkers, friends, and family has surpassed anything we have ever experienced. It is amazing how people come together to celebrate new life, my heart is truly touched. Now all there is left to do is be present.

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You Know You are in Your Third Trimester When…

1. You awaken at 6:45 on Saturday morning to eat pupusas, cabbage salad, salsa, refried beans, and rice because you have just had two back-to-back dreams about eating at two different Mexican restaurants. These are the leftovers from the dinner your husband courageously picked up solo from the El Salvadoran place down the street that shuns gringos and is best visited with a Spanish-speaking wife, (and which was all done so you could sit on the couch in your jammies at 7PM on a Friday and watch reruns of Downton Abbey without moving).

2. Your idea of evening exercise after work sometimes includes eating organic peanut butter cups while rocking side to side on the balance ball because eating and moving somehow tie in the priority book.

3. You find yourself singing non-sensical songs and doing strange-looking dances while making dinner after a long day of work because this is the only way you can stop your shoulders and lower back from hurting and is still more comfortable than sitting on the couch. The bonus, you supply your husband with endless entertainment in your adaptation of familiar song lyrics, even if he has yet to catch the Elaine-style dance moves that accompany them.

4. You start counting yourself in the next week of pregnancy at half-way through the prior week, so that even if today is the first day of week 31, you’ve considered yourself 31 weeks pregnant since Wednesday so the number of remaining weeks left at work seems more manageable.

5. You find yourself the center of attention among small children who do not know you but are now brave enough to ask, “Is there a baby in your belly?” You respond, “What do you think?” because you forget that only older children find your smart-ass humor appealing.

6. You allow people you barely know to touch your belly because they seem so happy when you let them. You also endure countless remarks about how small you look for being (insert number) weeks pregnant, even though you do not feel small and are proud of how much your body has managed to adapt.

7. You catch most people, including the children in your classroom, looking at your belly before your face.

8. Your dogs suddenly think you are the messiah and accompany you wherever you move throughout the house. They also sniff, lick, and use your belly as a pillow.

9. You spend at least an hour a day staring at your belly in order to catch a glimpse of the Lock Ness Monster surfacing across your skin, (affectionately named, of course). You also force anyone in your vicinity on the couch to touch your belly and watch with you, (even close friends who typically avoid hugs).

10. The women in your life have finally started to tell you the truth about late pregnancy and those early post-partum days. Thanks ladies. No, really, I mean it. How else would I know that purchasing a supply of adult diapers is not some kind of cruel joke?

11. It is 7:32 AM, you ate 32 minutes ago, but you have been thinking about what to eat next since you ate that last mouthful of pupusas.

12. You have not blogged in months because the effort required to work, socialize, sleep, eat, educate yourself about babies and childbirth, and exercise makes writing random posts seem trivial compared to researching which diaper pail you really ought to buy and debating whether the bulge on the left side of your stomach is the baby’s head or butt. However, you know you’ll return to the world of writing soon enough, that all these experiences are just adding to the texture of what you will share after this huge transformation unfolds.

Happy Saturday, time to eat my second breakfast.

While you may not get the scope of my belly, this is a typical evening on our couch, three hands on deck in anticipation of kicks: a dog's, mine, and my husband's.

While this picture does not do the size of my belly justice, this is a typical evening on our couch, three hands on deck in anticipation of kicks: a dog’s, mine, and my husband’s.

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Writing While Pregnant

One of my biggest fears about motherhood was I would lose my writing identity. Sure, I follow plenty of women writers who find ways to make it work, but I also heard story after story of how motherhood changes you. No time, little rest, more important priorities.

While true motherhood is at least a few months away, I already feel these shifts I dreaded, as writing has taken a backseat to other activities, such as napping, cleaning, preparing, resting some more. What I did not expect, however, is a calm to come with these changes. Instead of lamenting my lost writing time, I feel more present, still, and content. Time has already gained a sort of elastic quality, where less occurs in more time, as though the minutes are stretched, the actions slowed, hours somehow disappearing with little done.

Other things have fallen by the wayside, too. Yoga now means a few minutes of stretching and breathing at various points in the day, instead of my before-treasured blocks of hours. Again, there is a peace in this. Instead of panicking over a loss in identity, I feel a reassurance that these pieces of myself will return in time, or perhaps just exist in more fragmented but highly-treasured moments.

I realized recently, I write to escape and create a space of contentment. With pregnancy, my urge to escape has diminished, my ability to be content in simple moments has improved. Likewise, my thoughts I used to share so freely suddenly feel much more private, more difficult to share. Even so, I love that feeling of progress, as pages of writing become clean and stronger, blog posts emerge out of thin air, and connections are made across this electronic universe. Today I write to say I am still here, just a little quieter than before.

For those of you haven't hear already, we're excited to welcome a little (human) girl to our family this March.

For those of you haven’t heard, we’re excited to welcome a little (human) girl to our family this March.

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Offbeat Families Post: Baby Fever!

It is only fitting my last post was about vulnerability, because today I am excited to share a post I wrote for a much bigger blog than my own, Offbeat Families. The coolest part about writing this post was hearing from others that I am definitely not alone in my overwhelming desire for children. The least cool part is admitting my obsession.

However, I am happy to report the fever has diminished a bit since I wrote this piece a few weeks ago. I don’t know what happens to our brains as women. It seems to be getting worse and worse each year… Babies, babies, babies.

Even pictures of myself as a baby make me want a baby. That's sickness.

I find it mildly disturbing that even pictures of myself as a baby make me want to be a mom. It’s a sickness. 😉

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