Monday, October 21, 2019

Wrestling with motherhood

I go to so many new Mom circles and I sink gratefully into the commiseration and I also resent it.

Because I think the idea of "motherhood" in the US is absolute BS.

I wanted no part in it. It was maybe the primary reason I was ambivalent around having children for so long.

I need the commiseration and the venting because the problems are real. It's insane to have no national paid parental leave. Breastfeeding is fucking hard. Other people's unresolved pasts and their need to shove them down your throat in the form of constant unsolicited advice is toxic. The fact that culturally we don't know how to relate to one another and support one another means we all struggle with community, relationships, and support.

That shit is hard.


Motherhood shouldn't be that.

I look around the room at a diverse group of women. Always. Always shifting. They're all different. It's why some suck their teeth and want the others to suck it up. And others are sniffling. And some want to start a revolution. (And I may be any one of them given the day.)

And the babies in their arms are just as diverse. This one is long and skinny like his Dad. And fuckers still constantly pester his Mom wondering about his health. This one has this circadian rhythm. This one has these allergies.

They're humans. Little tiny humans. And all diverse.

And the orchestration between the adult, diverse Mom humans and the tiny, struggling-to-effectively communicate baby humans is beautiful. There's attunement and false steps. There is utter love and mutual devotion and exhaustion and terror.

There is the fullness of human experience swelling in the intensity between each mother and baby.

And some of the mothers throw themselves fully and endlessly into the role.

Some rebel and really want hot dates or good sex.

Some forget who and how they ever were.

We all reconfigure.

Some do it so majestically. They grow with their baby and grow as themselves. Their own art is breathed into the world as they write early in the morning or choreograph a dance piece during a nap.

Motherhood is so much bigger than we allow it to be.

I recently read an article that was so beautiful. It also called BS on the density of expectations on mothers (and it is mothers. I know fathers have their own experience. I can speak to this one and it's specific!) alongside the radically dwindling support. Women are continuously told that when anything goes awry: the kid has an issue, sleep is a struggle, the marriage doesn't include as much sex, the house is messy, whatever! It's the mother's fault.

And women have honestly been complicit. We're culturally taught to people please and acquiesce. We really haven't had a lot of energy to fight back against this trope while we're breastfeeding around the clock.

And then, some of us resent the burden and feel others should have it too. Only fair.

Wearily, we've been accepting systemic failure as personal inadequacy.

It's bullshit.

I've loved traveling my whole life because it always reminds me of the diverse ways to live my life. If something isn't right for me (like in my case, college :) ) there are other paths.

Women mother differently in other parts of the world.

And when they have more community support and aren't so sleep-deprived, they're less likely to swallow this load or horse shit.

And when babies growing up knowing that the person in the center of their orbit also centers themselves, that message is transmitted. Center yourself in your own life. Matter the most to yourself. Let your life be your project. Let your health be your responsibility and your power. Live in your life. Live in it fully.

Trying to talk about this topic feels like tiptoeing through landmines. There's unprocessed shame and resentment. There's defiance. There are a diversity of feelings and experiences.

And that's what I crave. That diversity. That chorus of voices puncturing through the veneer of the martyred mother; tired, unsupported, dry, not sexual, not creative, a drained vessel for her family.

Her counterpart: the neglectful, selfish mother or the one who leaves. Either one who prioritizes themselves.

There isn't as common a narrative of a woman who values herself and does that within the nexus of her family.

I want that story told. In all its diversity. The chorus of voices of how they configure themselves in the real context of others who need them.

I know that this is not the time in my life when I can endlessly indulge my own wellbeing. I care for myself in tiny pockets of time. But I do care for myself. And I do it in part to model for my daughter but beyond that, I do it for myself. Because I am at the center of my own life.

I relate to her when I am. She can be herself when she does not have the burden of defining me.

Casually and frequently, I'm asked for my elevator pitch explanation of her. It usually amounts to my baby is "good" or "bad," i.e. she's a "good" sleeper and an utter angel or she's a "bad" kid with colic and clings to me. And the truth is, she is honestly all of that. She's so so unbearably good and also awful. And I find myself protective of how I respond. I don't want to diminish her.

I'm not asked by acquaintances to characterize my marriage in the same way. Kevin and I fought so hard to not have a marriage that was cliche-- I nag and he resents. We've worked to be humans to one another, to see one another continuously, and to let our relating live outside the bounds of flawed, limited definitions of marriage.

I want that for my mother-daughter relationship too. I don't want to fall into the prewritten script of battle and struggle. Seems like the options are: 1. she's an angel living out the life I couldn't live myself or 2. she hates me. What if we live in witness to one another, both being who we are? What if we had a relationship that wasn't written for us, but rather one that we live out minute-to-minute? What if instead of being asked if she was "good" or "bad" or a "good sleeper" or whatever, I was asked, "What is it like? What is your experience?"

There's so much more space.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

What I currently know about birth

Birth is a force, an energy, like standing in the ocean and feeling a tidal pull or standing on a mountain and feeling the rush of wind. Birth has it's own identity and agenda. It's moving spirit to earth and that process isn't simply physical. I believe, for a woman to birth, she works with herself, the baby, and the birth force. It's optimal for each woman to know herself well enough to understand her own fears, what makes her feel safe, her ancestry, her intentions, and what she's willing to relinquish. Ideally, she also feels the baby's energy-- how the baby wants to move, the information the baby is providing about itself during the pregnancy.

The space that forms around birth is timeless-- time stretches and contracts beyond everyday rhyme and reason. It's necessarily messy and broken because it's an uncontrollable, feral force.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Pelvic Floor Physical Therapy

Early in my pregnancy with Twyla, I heard a Birth Kweens podcast about the Fourth Trimester period during a baby's first 3-months of life. As a first time parent, and someone who hadn't paid much attention to pregnancy and birth until I decided to go down this path myself, the period after delivery completely captivated me. From everything I read and heard, in this period mother and baby seem developmentally in tandem. Both in diapers. Both re-establishing communication with their elimination functions. If nursing (and perhaps if not?) both need to eat around the clock. Both enduring strange sleep cycles less tied to the sun while wrestling with exhaustion. Both finding their body in a different state, geographically, physically, with brand new sensations.

Some East Asian traditions feel that the postpartum period sets the tone for a woman's menopause and old age-- that by active care during this period you establish a stronger foundation for later in life. Intrigued, I began cultivating my own postpartum care.

I learned that in France it is standard care for all women to have at least 10 postpartum pelvic floor physical therapy sessions, no matter how they birth nor how the birth goes. In any birth, there is still a lot of pressure and stress (not unhealthy, but action) on the pelvic floor. The common advice given to prenatal women, at least in the United States, is to do a lot of kegels or actions to strengthen the pelvic floor. I think this is because, logically, when there is so much weight of a baby on your pelvic floor, there's a sense that you need to be strong enough to bear it.

However, most of us actually have really tight pelvic floors. That doesn't necessarily mean strong, but it does mean unyielding. For a woman to fully dilate and birth a baby, the pelvic floor has to be responsive and soften to the birth. I knew through my yoga practice that I fell in the tight camp. Years of active practice and aggressive mula bandha had tightened my pelvic floor. I also learned about a fascial connection between jaw and pelvic floor. As someone with periodic TMJ and teeth grinding, I knew that was also symptomatic of a tight and less yielding pelvic floor.

I didn't want to tear, so I began learning how to soften and open my pelvic floor in pilates, prenatal yoga, and also pelvic floor physical therapy.

This type of physical therapy retrains this important muscle group through external and internal work. In the United States, there are very strict rules about who is permitted to do internal physical work-- usually, just OBGYNs! While that makes sense in theory, it means that in so many ways, the types of touch and the relationships we have with our body are stymied. I didn't realize that until I engaged with the practice myself.

I've practiced yoga since I was 16. I felt like I was fairly integrated and embodied. Knowing that I wanted to do postpartum pelvic floor physical therapy, no matter how the birth went, as a preemptive action to restore my whole health, I found a pelvic floor physical therapist, Dr. Amanda Heritage. We had an initial phone call and saw that we were both very excited about the possibilities both of her modality and how pregnancy and birth can be used as periods to shore up overall health. Dr. Heritage recommended that I do a prenatal visit to ready my perineum to stretch, hopefully rather than tear, during birth.

In our first session, we first talked. I explained some of the "lightening crotch" sensation that I'd been feeling. That's a fun one! Dr. Heritage showed me models of the nerves in the pelvic bowl. I began to understand that I would feel sensation in my legs because my baby was triggering a nerve much higher inside my pelvis and the sensation was referred away. I was utterly fascinated, but also somewhat reassured throughout the rest of my pregnancy.

We then began the actual work. Physical therapy always involves patient action, movement, and integration. Pelvic floor physical therapy also includes bodywork. Dr. Heritage used myofascial work on my abdomen and hips before slowly moving towards perineal work. She taught me perineal massage. With every action, there was conversation and consent.

When the session was over, I felt that I'd had an experience that I didn't yet have the framework to process. That happens from time to time like if I'm in a foreign country where people are living in a way that's beyond my previous conception. It takes time for my brain to catch up to a reality that I'm witnessing. I don't have a file to place what I'm seeing.

I sat in my car and felt that I was in uncharted territory. My impulse is often to numb out by scrolling on my phone. As I've begun recognizing what's occurring in real-time, my current response is to just sit quietly. That's what I did. I sat in the pine shade and acknowledged that I was growing, something was shifting, and it would require time.

By giving myself that allowance, my brain actually does catch up more quickly. I realized that I was stretching into integrating my body in a completely new way. My arm has had a huge history of touch. I've felt my own arm and said, "arm," knowing it cognitively. My arm has been bruised and touched lovingly and touched clinically.

My pelvic floor is a very different story!

I realized that prior to the first session of pelvic floor physical therapy, I had experienced only clinical and sexual touch. This experience felt like neither of what I had previously known. It was clinical touch but at a slower pace and more time for me to make the same cognitive connection of "Oh! That's my perineum." Pregnancy is new, relentless sensation and this was a process of naming and embodying each feeling. The mystery was both contracted and expanded. In a way, it felt more like the friendly touch you would get on a shoulder in a part of my body that had never been dealt with in that way. I realized I wasn't fully living in every part of my body as I had previously thought. I had no point of comparison until my range of feeling and touch was expanded.

In learning about the postpartum period, I learned about many rituals that various cultures offer to this rich time. These rituals often occur in cultures that mark many points in a woman's life like the onset of menstruation, partnership, and menopause.

I imagined if I had pelvic floor physical therapy when I first began menstruating. I wonder how I would have known my own body with that information? If pelvic floor physical therapy was in a way, a ritual we utilized not only in times of distress but in marking new evolutions in our body. What if we used this modality as mapping and a point of integration? Each time the body evolves into a new function and iteration, here is a way to know it and be in it.

I had two prenatal sessions and go for my first postpartum session in a few weeks. I'm living in a completely different body. My current body is no longer pregnant but also still bears some of the space and aftermath of pregnancy. My body is not and will not be what it was prior to pregnancy. It's taking a new form. I'm excited to know it more deeply.

Filling the Mind

It's not hard (for me) to rest in solitude. The new, demanding practice is resting without sleep and keeping attention trained on the needs of a tiny, vulnerable human. I've been on silent retreats where I feel utterly restored by the ability to give the fullness of my attention to myself, to let my imagination wander unrestrained, and feel saturated by that spaciousness.

This is very different.

Time is a bit shapeless. It gains contour at dawn, with a kind feeding and the knowledge that soon Kevin will be up. There will be someone who will speak to me in the English language and in full sentences.

I steal naps where I can, furtively blinking open my eyes to see the small baby chest rise and fall with breath.

I watch for cues-- the fist to mouth to signal hunger, the red face for poop, the "O" mouth for pee. I judge myself for missing or responding slowly.

I've begun dubbing her expressions, "the weather." Storm clouds pass over and she winces. A soft smile opens her brows. What she feels moves quickly. She is experience-- reality unfolding.

I sneak in my own maintenance when she first falls off my breast drunkenly. Wedge her somewhere that's hopefully safe. Go to the bathroom. Refill water. Grab a snack. Begin to brush hair. She wiggles and squeals. I abandon brushing teeth and swig mouth wash instead.

I try to put my feet on the ground but really my body wedges in whatever shape keeps her to my breast or afterward jiggles and moves her to help her tiny, not-yet-properly-functioning-digestion run as optimally as possible.

Kevin rests, cleans the house, prepares my food, and runs our errands. And I have the nerve to resent his freedom. And he meets my glare with compliments on how well I care for our daughter. I soften. He's an incredible father. And he does understand-- we have so few responsibilities and simultaneously so many. There is very little to do-- meet the needs of a tiny human. And that task demands everything.

I feel my attention stretching. I'm working to build endurance as I would a muscle. Each day, working to attune.

Not to be a martyr. Not to deny myself. But to meet the agreement that I made with her: I will care for you. I will do everything I can to help you feel a sense of safety in the world. Because you will only ask this of me for a season. I do my best to rise to the moment.

I knew parenting would be demanding. The cascade of labor, birth, and ceaselessly flowing into the sleepless, sore-nipple aftermath would be stunning if I had time to even process it.

I talked about the postpartum period to so many parents and they all got a far-away look on their faces. "We would talk about it more," one replied, "if we remembered it."

I know this period will blur into more defined seasons where she and I venture forth into the world. Our lives will again gain recognizable shape.

When I read accounts of pregnancy, birth, and new parenthood, the postpartum period was the gap. There was so much on pregnancy and birth and then crickets. I wrote about my plans for the postpartum period, acknowledging that I was working from limited accounts. I anticipated some challenges in lying low for a month and attending solely to my own and Twyla's care. What I didn't expect was the specific challenge-- directing my own attention from its previous freedom.

Yoga has prepared me well. I'm used to working with my mind and my thoughts. I'm accustomed to witnessing my own inner tendencies and acknowledging that they're not fixed, that there are ways to shift my interior towards a new goal or alignment. I have tools.

Twyla is my new mantra. Twyla is my new drsti. Her singularity is both the most compelling and demanding practice yet.

I'm used to cheap escapes. I can still myself and focus for a beat and then fall out of the pose to no consequence. I can let my mind wander in meditation and no one knows but me.

Twyla knows.

And this too will change. As she takes more freedom, my focus on her could become a burden. I find a pattern emerging now that I imagine will continue-- as soon as I feel like I steady a bit, as soon as I gain ground and muscle and maybe even anticipate her needs-- she shifts. My knowledge becomes largely useless. An unrelenting teacher, she nods at my growth and pushes me to the next.

Friday, July 12, 2019

Twyla's Birth Story

Many thanks to Returning to Birth for publishing Twyla's birth story! Read on here:

The heavy: weeks 38 and beyond of pregnancy

All in all, being pregnant with Twyla was pretty sweet. My body seemed to respond well to the hormones and shifts of pregnancy and-- most importantly-- I wanted her, I wanted to be pregnant, so mentally and emotionally, I adapted to the changes more willingly. While there were shifts, documented in other posts specific to various trimesters, it was pretty navigable.

And then week 38. It was kind of overnight. Everyone said at a certain point you won't want to be pregnant anymore and I thought, "Nah." And then I woke up and thought, "Oh." Walking through the world with a full grown baby in me elicited constant, "are you ready?" comments from friends and strangers. The truth was, "No." Every option was intense-- staying pregnant meant more nights awake on the couch, staying upright because anytime I laid down meant insane acid reflux, trying to find something new on Netflix while I resented Kevin snoring in our bedroom. Labor was its own mystery but obviously not a light-weight scenario. And then, a newborn. The most terrifying option of all!

The weeks of 38 and beyond (I went to 41 weeks) were full. Heavy. Laden. For both Kevin and me. I hit week 40 the day after his students graduated 8th grade and he was officially on summer break. For the first few days of that week, he was so happy to be able to shift his mental energy fully into baby. He made us a screened in porch. He got lots of groceries. There was plenty of readying and nesting.

And then we both got restless. We sat in the baby pool we'd purchased to cool off. He drank a beer. I ate cake.

I'd expend my energy by maybe running one errand per day. Being in the world was so bizarre. Being pregnant already makes you a walking target for unwanted and unexpected advice but being THAT pregnant meant I was eliciting constant birth stories. Lots of "you're lucky! I went early" to "let me tell you how crazy painful my labor was!" Cool. Cool.

Of course, I was grateful to have a full-term healthy baby. I also had no room for anything beyond the lives I was carrying.

Throughout pregnancy, I noticed how much unprocessed material is carried within so many people-- and how any pregnant person can unwittingly become target. I got better at deflecting and redirecting. And I resented having to learn this skill when so much of my energy needed to hold my own experience. I was breathing patience. I was softening into something I couldn't predict nor expect. I was on a constant precipice of radical change, and I needed to just live in that window.

It's strange to live right before you and your life changes unrecognizably. I think the truth is that we always live there, but certain periods make that more apparent and undeniable. Being so very pregnant is one of those seasons.

As much as being that pregnant was not the best, I did not want to rush her labor. I really wanted Twyla to arrive on her own timeline. Human gestation is organic, not mechanic. While there are trends of full-term babies arriving weeks 37-42, really, if allowed, babies arrive when they're ready. I knew there might be certain specific scenarios that would warrant a medical induction, like if the amniotic fluid levels varied or anything like that, but barring those circumstances it was important to me to guard Twyla's birth. I wanted her to initiate. I wanted her to be ready. My work was to surrender to patience and mystery.

My google history was endless, "does this mean labor?" while my text exchanges were fending off about the same from those curious about Twyla's arrival. I felt Twyla's wholeness in every movement. Bending over was a thing of the past. I got good at squats. Trying to get up from being reclined (because laying down was not an option, given the relaxin-induced acid reflux) was an event in body awareness and movement. I became really grateful for all my years of yoga, running, swimming, and other movement practices because they meant that I had more ideas and dexterity to haul myself around.

There were so many suggestions to induce labor naturally. I looked into all of them and did some. From what I can tell, there's only evidence corroborating dates readying the perineum. Beyond that, all the pineapple, sex, spicy meals, eggplant dishes, and the rest are just anecdotal and accidental. I still tried plenty of them. Castor oil may be real, but also induces some of the worst experiences of people's lives. I left that alone.

Twyla continued to prepare me. She adapted me more or less to her sleep schedule on the outside. She made it mandatory that I kept snacks around, though my appetite and ability to eat a full meal had radically decreased (my stomach was somewhere hovering near my throat). She took up all the room in Kevin and my life even as we lived out our last few days without her on the outside. They're the days that leave an imprint because you know you're getting ready to live out the events you'll never forget: the first contraction, laboring with her, how she would be birthed, and beyond.

She created a full space, infused with her presence. We waited for her to arrive, to fill it.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

The Ballad of Twyla

My baby,
You are made of mountains
When I was sorting out how to extend an invitation to you
I drove south
And west and out of the cities
And into the earth. The red clay, the pine trees, the land that held
You and me. For you were in my Mom, your potential, your life, as I was in my grandmother. I contain your daughters. You contain my great-granddaughters.
I drove into the thread back, winding through blasted shale, 
Mountains opened to their vein, left bare,
Sunlight blinking through their wounds.
I downshifted iron from them,
I heated my cabin with their energy.
The landscape down there gently swells and I feel
That, I feel you, now.
I swallowed the cosmos. Your Dad sent a spark and now
You’re nesting inside me.
I feel how you’re preparing me. I feel your drawing in
And down and I didn’t know I could love a word not yet whispered.
It shows me that truly, I am so loved, I was so loved,
How could I not have been given what I feel for you now?
I love carrying you. I love holding you
In my body. I’m starting to feel who you are, little twinkle,
Little twilight. I’m starting to sense you out.

We heard your name in a song.
I was feverish and wan, struggling through undiagnosed Lyme disease. We drove
Out on a spring Wednesday night to hear a favorite band, Calexico.
The lead singer said he had twin daughters who wrote a song. One of 
Their names was "Twyla" and that night lit upon me. I heard it with Kevin’s great-
Grandmother, the Irish Catholic, "Eulalia."
Eulalia, whose mother read the Imitation of Christ each night in Richmond. Eulalia, whose round vowels were too big for her grandbabies’ mouths so she became “Wa Wa.” 
I heard Twyla Eulalia. I heard you. 
I hear your name as a song.
I heard your name as a spell you could cast when you need to remember who you are.
The mountains who made you.
The parents who prayed for you.
Your mother, who heard you.
We listened to those Calexico songs, the driving beats of the US southwest and thought of you coming towards us.
We drove south and west back to Tennessee, where my grandmother was exiled after losing her mother.
I kept feeling my great-grandmother, Maggie, feeling her tugging at my sleeve. We saw her house. We learned of her losses-- her mother Susie Griffith who passed just two years before Maggie took her own life. That exile shot my grandmother and all her siblings out of Tennessee. They lost that land, those mountains, being known in that way.
We were in the south on Maggie’s birthday. And that’s when you took root inside of me.
I’m gathering your songs. So many women conspired to pull you here-- Maggie, my grandmother Sue, Eulalia, my Mom, and so many more.
We want you here. We’re making a place.
These are your mountains.
You come from this. 
From these heroines and devils. From the sweetness and the absolute worst. 
I’m still trying to figure out what to do with that material myself. But I think it’s a reminder that we contain it all. We’ll control our monsters and let our better angels win.

And when we forget, we listen to our song to draw us back in.

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Planning for Postpartum

When Kevin and I first decided to take the leap into human-making, I never would have expected to become so captivated by the postpartum period. There's so much that feels compelling. For one, pregnancy actually garners a fair amount of attention and support. The support is kind of uneven and the attention not always wanted, but there's energy in its direction. I'd already observed with other friends that they seemed overlooked once the baby arrived and we would even talk about that. Some of them felt really OK with the level of energy going towards their children. Some felt newly invisible.

The more that I learned and observed, the more I kept circling back to a feeling that potentially more than pregnancy, labor, or birth, but the postpartum period is the hard part. And the magic part. The messy, quiet, and pivotal part.

The Fourth Trimester and The First Forty Days helped me understand cultural practices that used to cocoon mother and child in this sacred window. And, like Ina May's more nuanced histories, helped me understand that we didn't completely lose all the support simply because of "the patriarchy." Some postpartum practices, like Chinese women being kept indoors under their mother-in-law's care for the first forty days, were at times very oppressive. Women balking at some of these older rites was, at times, for good reason.

But we might not have understood what we were losing.

I started looking at the struggles of the postpartum period alongside older cultural support practices and also in the context of current messaging: bounce back! Get your life back! Get your body back!

And all these accolades to women who returned to work or exercise or travel practically minutes after giving birth.

And some women who had no choice but to return to much of their life that was outside of the world of a new baby.

In some conversations, I noticed a lot of resistance from other women about the possibility of needing recovery time after giving birth. I asked a friend her take on it. She said, she felt like most of us struggle with limits. My understanding of the postpartum period is that by investing in it up front by doing as little as possible-- resting, eating nourishing food, nursing your baby, bonding, and staying quiet-- there is the potential for very long-term resiliency. But it means slowing down for a period. That is very, very hard for many of us.

I also think some of our collective resistance to fully caring for ourselves, setting up support, asking for and receiving help, and allowing for this healing time is due to lack of information. And a fear to meet our own limitations. From what I can tell, birth has the potential to fully empower women, which is also why it can feel counter-intuitive that the aftermath might be so quiet and internal. One notable piece of information is that after a woman births, no matter how she births, when the placenta exits the uterus it leaves behind a wound inside the uterus. Among the reasons that care providers urge postpartum women to be so conservative in their movement and energy output in the early days is because there is a literal, but not visible, wound healing. You wouldn't run to the store or try to resume yoga if you had a gaping wound on your thigh, but because we don't see it and it's not commonly spoken of, a wound in our uterus, a very central internal muscle for women's health, women push themselves.

I have a lot more to say about this period, but so much of it right now is speculation. It feels to me like one of those critical moments that can deplete or restore a woman long-term. Given that we're such resilient creatures, I think women can "bounce back" quickly after birth and maybe not notice many side effects in the short term. Again, this isn't backed, but I would like there to be studies! I think the moment of consequence might be menopause. I'm strongly suspecting that what happens to women postpartum has great bearing on their experience of menopause. I think it has something to do with restoring hormonal balance, among other things.

I want to be a powerful, strong, older woman. I want to use the postpartum period to my benefit.

And I know I can only parent well if I'm well, so I want to use the postpartum period to restore my energy and vitality fully.

It feels like an opportunity.

Based on my reading and research, I selected the practices that felt most important to me. Some of them have to do with balancing hormone levels but some of them feel important for more obscure reasons. They just feel right.

  • Pretty early on, I booked placenta encapsulation.
  • A friend of mine set up a postpartum meal train (and I'm SO EXCITED AND GRATEFUL!).
  • During pregnancy, I began osteopathic manipulation with a DO at my practice. I'll go at least once more in the first five weeks after having given birth to help put everything back in place while relaxin continues to loosen my system.
  • Also during pregnancy, I had two pelvic floor physical therapy sessions. I learned perineal massage and had some myofascial work done to prepare for birth. After birth, I'll have at least one or potentially more sessions to make sure my pelvic floor is fully healed. This is some of the most important work to address very common, but unnecessarily so, issues like incontinence. Most women will face some disruption to the pelvic floor and neighboring organs. Pelvic floor physical therapy is standard postpartum care in France and helps women navigate the common, but unnecessary, post birth issues. We don't need to be martyrs. We should all get this care.
  • I found a steam care specialist who advised me on appropriate herbs and a protocol for postpartum vaginal steaming. Depending on how the birth goes, this will likely begin on day 2 and continue for 30 days.
  • I asked one of the wisest women that I know, who is also one of the most talented myofascial body workers, to bind me postpartum. We'll also do myofascial work.
  • I plan to "lay in," meaning I'll stay in bed with my daughter for at least a week. If we can, we'll stay in bed or near it for about a month.
  • Last, I'll have a blood panel check my hormone levels regularly in the ensuing weeks and months post birth.

All of these plans and protocols are pretty explicitly geared at me using this pivotal time to shore up my own health and longterm vitality so that I can parent to the best of my ability. My insurance only covers the osteopathic manipulation. I think all of these practices should be studied, so they could responsibly be prescribed as standard postpartum care. I'm able to do these practices thanks to support from my community, family, and most importantly, Kevin.

Another way Kevin and I tried to think through postpartum is to think about our own tendencies and patterns when we're sleep deprived and freaked out. I'm doing everything I can think of to support myself to hopefully navigate this period as well as can be hoped for. And a lot will fall on Kevin. We've had a lot of conversations about how each of us handles sleep deprivation (he's way better at it than me) and what we tend to do when stressed. Conversely, we've tried to think about what helps both of us feel like we have some sustenance or nourishment to ride out a stressful period. Knowing what helps each of us, we're going to try to make room for one another to do what we gotta do.

Living through these phases of life like pregnancy, birth, and postpartum is reminding me of how seasonal needs can be. I don't believe that I'm meant to live into postpartum as I lived into my energetic early thirties. I think I'll face other phases of seclusion and shoring up as well. I feel like I have an opportunity here-- to go in and allow for a quiet rest and strengthening with my daughter. I think it will ready us to reenter the world whole.

I'll report back.

Prepping for labor

We joined a practice that doesn't offer epidurals (unless you require transfer and surgery) so they request that you prep for labor. We'd planned on it anyway and signed up for a great class with Cat LaPlante and Carrie Sarlo-Randazzo at the Village. We got fantastic information about the general arc of labor, ways to move and support both comfort as well as the baby's descent, and best of all, ways that Kevin can massage me. Win.

This experience and many prior and since spurred Kevin and I to talk about what support feels like to each of us. We're very different characters. If Kevin were the one giving birth, he'd probably either want me to be totally silent or read aloud super obscure Stoic philosophy. However, I'm chatty. Our practice recommended hypnobirthing materials. I listened to a podcast and looked into it a bit-- from what I can tell, it's an amazing network of resources and feels very similar to yoga affirmation mantras. And it caused me to realize something else about myself. I have a history of being gaslit, meaning I had pivotal experiences where I was told that what I experienced wasn't real, or wasn't what it felt like to me. It's taken me years to really trust myself and my own perceptions. I realized that due to those past experiences, cliche affirmations don't work well for me. I want verbal communication and I want it to be very specific. When I get that, basically, a narration of reality that affirms my own experience, I feel safe.

This is a pretty foreign way of operating for Kevin, but he's a champ, and we've been working on it. He's been writing up a list of all the things he's seen me accomplish so that he can remind me of them if I need encouragement. He's working on affirming what I'm experiencing first and being verbally connected to me so I feel like everyone around me is checked in and on the same page.

I put this in a birth preferences sheet for my practice-- that's basically a "birth plan" but perhaps with more allowance for the reality that birth can't be planned. My midwives were very responsive and grateful to know what communication style made me feel the safest and therefore the most relaxed. They agreed that for many birthing people, less information or communication is preferable. Knowing this about myself is helping me ask for what I need.

I mentioned in other posts that I'm also deep in both Ina May Gaskin and Spinning Babies rabbit holes. Ina May is a plethora of wisdom on all sorts of things, but mainly, the miracle of the birthing body. She's reminding me to keep my mouth loose and make low noises and filling my imagination with all the possibility of birth.

Spinning Babies is reminding me to move, move, move. This is another request that I put in my birth preferences document-- to get suggestions and encouragement in moving frequently during labor. My midwives responded really well and I'm excited to get their support!

Kevin and I packed bags for two nights at the birth center, and they're in the trunk. He installed the car seat and I got it inspected. We've made a document on who to text and when, like our friends who will come watch the cats when we go to the birth center, and a list of who to contact after our daughter has made her arrival-- we don't want to forget anyone.

The main thing that has me stumped is snacks. Easily digestible, high energy food tends to really help people in labor-- and those supporting them. Kevin has a bunch of energy bars. I'm not good at food prep. It's on the list.

Apart from that, we're trying to make room. Just time and space to sink into the sort of twilight feeling of waiting for birth. I'm starting to feel that labor isn't just the hours leading up to the arrival of the baby-- it starts way earlier. Things get softer and fuzzier. There's a quiet. A sinking. A loosening and deepening. Going with that, so labor can unfold.

I'll report back.

Friday, May 31, 2019

The dissolve

I learned that so much of my prior ambivalence to motherhood was feeling like I had to potentially play the role of "mother." I didn't know who that was and I certainly didn't feel anywhere near the archetype. I didn't want to surrender who I am. I didn't want to feel bound and tethered to further conform and in so doing, sacrifice my children, by making them into caricatures too. I didn't understand how pregnancy, birth, and parenting could actually make me wilder, more defiant, more embodied, and fierce. It's a ferocity that I had no model for nor understanding of prior because it does coexist with a softer, gentler surrender. I'm finding myself slow walking into a process where I feel utterly animal and also transcendent. I don't know how to communicate about this differently nor in any way that doesn't feel cliche.

I want to bury myself. I want to go on hospice. I want to be in a cave. I want others, nearby, protecting my sphere, barring intruders, and leaving me food at my entry. I'm ready to completely disintegrate.

I wouldn't have been 10 years ago. I would have fought it, and in so doing, fought my body, my spirit, and my child. And that could have been my path. I think it's a reasonable path.

But I had enough time. I had enough room to know who I am and to care for who I am. And now I'm ready for her to dissolve. It's OK. She had enough room.

I can feel the release. My hips already feel like the hubcaps of a beater car. They feel like they'll just rattle and roll off. My whole body is open, unstable, and loose. And yet, so communicative.

I have no bandwidth to receive other information. I used to be such an avid consumer of books and podcasts and ideas. I just don't have room. I was trying to understand why all I want to do to relax is rewatch "The Office" for the 50 bazillionth time. It's because I have so much information rising up from within. I am so fully saturated with this newness, this understanding, and wild new world, that there's no room for anything else. I just want to casually watch Jim and Dwight prank each other while I mindlessly play Solitaire.

I joke to Kevin that I'm on hospice. Whoever I was is already gone. I do see that. I'm in the liminal space. It's weird, I can't wrap my head around it fully, I can't see the future at all, and so many parts of who I knew myself to be aren't within reach. For example, I was reliable. I answered emails and scheduled things well. I could count on my brain to supply me with words and ideas. None of these things are the case right now. I feel like a total and utter flake and yet, I really don't have it in me to do differently. I watch my mouth feel for words and they don't come or they come totally mangled. I look around for the ideas that used to rise so readily and instead, it's just way quieter in there.

This would have terrified me 10 years ago. But it's OK. She's done.

Birth is the initiation. I can see that. That feels good to me. I'm kind of excited.

And it's not my birth. It's my daughter's birth. But I'm excited that I get to be present for it. I get to work with her and the bigger life force energy. I get to dance with it all.

And it will totally wreck me.

And I'm not mad about that.

Honestly, I don't even think it will be that bad. I feel like I'll probably go into spontaneous labor and deliver my daughter vaginally. And there will probably be moments where I don't think I'll get through it and other moments where I'm overwhelmed by the surge of power and oxytocin and strength and support.

And my uterus will contract and pulse and there will be blood everywhere and I might tear. Or it could be worse. I might be cut either through episiotomy or a C-section. I may be filled with more drugs and fluids. I just don't know.

Any way it shakes out, I'll be pretty broken.

And that's OK.

That's what happens prior to reconfiguration.

My daughter will be pretty busted up too.

From what I can tell, we'll both come home from the birth center in diapers, disoriented, and with jacked up digestion.

I'm making a sanctuary, and the two of us will heal. We'll need Kevin to bar the doors and feed us and keep us safe, so we can rest and eat and find ourselves and one another.

And somewhere down the line, we'll both emerge.

Whoever I will be will be utterly different from who I am now.

And I have no idea who she is or how she will create herself.

We'll just create the space, witness, and allow.

The Third Trimester

The second trimester was pretty sweet. And I did wake up, somewhere early on trimester three, thinking, "Shit." A lot was back. The crazy fatigue. The less manageable discomfort. My butt hurt. My hips are a hot mess. Acid reflux, manageable with papaya enzymes in trimester two, rose with a previously unknown fury. Like, couldn't sleep through the night anymore. Acid reflux was no longer related to what I ate-- my stomach was in my throat so it washed over anytime and especially when I was trying to lie down to sleep.

And breathing. I remember that. It was so nice and relieving. No longer a thing. I've gotten winded going up and down steps but now I got winded bending over to pick something up off the floor.

I started to understand why people get really sick of being pregnant.

Thank the goddess that my insurance fully covered osteopathic manipulation. That put me back together and would give me about two good days before my hips opened again and my low back started barking.

In this phase, I was faced with decisions like when to stop working and when to pull back. Originally, I planned to work up until the end. I didn't realize that might actually make others uncomfortable. I started noticing that others seemed concerned about me, or worried that I might go into labor at any moment. I also couldn't dependably find words or be on time. Everything is just slow.

I decided to go on maternity leave at week 38 so that I would have some time to settle into the next phase. It's tricky, because I very well could go up to 42 weeks of pregnancy, meaning I will have taken off a full month prior to giving birth. But, how to predict? And, appointments start increasing towards the end. My midwives want to see me weekly, plus osteopathic manipulation, and the other birth prep that I added on, pelvic floor physical therapy.

In this stage, I began eating 6 dates a day and taking evening primrose oil. Both are said to help the perineum stretch in delivery. Six dates a day is a LOT of dates.

My pelvic floor physical therapist taught me perineal massage so I began doing that as well. I took slow, ambling walks. I rolled and looped on the birth ball. I aimed to do 40 cat/cow tilts daily. I slept on my left side.

All the things. In a slow, muddy period. A weird open space with no boundary or definition.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

The Second Trimester

Someone told me that in the First Trimester, you'll hit a day where you suddenly don't feel pregnant anymore. Had I not been warned, I would have been alarmed. It was totally true. I think it was the first day of week 11. I woke up and felt... normal. Almost. Not so ravenous. Not nauseous. Less sore and awkward and bloated. More human.

Like the entire journey, that feeling ebbed and flowed. I had a little relief and then would be hit with another bout of fatigue. I kept following my interests, like my growing fascination around the postpartum period. To me, the most influential reading has been The Fourth Trimester. That book connected me to others like The First Forty Days. All of these resources affirmed my sense that I should trust the intuitive information that was speaking more loudly to my conscious mind. Among the messages I was receiving was a strong sense that my child wouldn't be born within the average gestation timeline of 40 weeks. For context, 40 weeks from conception is most people's due date. A full-term baby is any child born from 37-42 weeks from the conception date. Twins are almost always going to be born earlier than that timeline. After that, most first time mothers deliver somewhere midweek 41. A mother's mother's gestation history can shed some light on how long she'll take to birth. I was born at 42 weeks as were some of my siblings. We cook for longer. I really felt like my baby would too.

There are risks at any stage of pregnancy. Later in pregnancy, some individuals can have varying levels of amniotic fluid that can present a risk to a baby. Some people are given third-trimester sonograms to measure the baby. While these sonograms often aren't accurate, some mothers are told their babies might be too big for a vaginal delivery and the baby's size will influence how and when the birth takes place (potentially moved earlier if the baby is deemed big, for example).

Knowing what I felt, and trusting both my body and baby to be just fine, no matter how long she wanted to cook, I asked my midwives if I could be allowed to go beyond 42 weeks, if it happened that way. Unfortunately, to keep kosher relationships with partner hospitals and insurance companies, almost no care provider can allow their client to go beyond 42 weeks. My practice was no exception. If I do go to 42 weeks, I'll be gently induced.

I want to avoid that.

To try to urge my baby to come out prior to 42 weeks, in the second trimester I did both myofascial release work as well as osteopathic manipulation. Both help my body support my baby being low in my pelvis and in position. While no one knows officially what triggers labor, a baby's position seems to contribute to the start of labor. A baby who is still high up in the uterus is unlikely to trigger labor.

Additionally, I became fascinated with Spinning Babies, an organization that studies and supports optimal fetal positioning. They offer suggestions for pregnant and laboring women to move in ways that help a baby move down through their body to ultimately be birthed. I love the empowering information on how I can work with the process of pregnancy and birth to assist my child.

I felt really angry about the arbitrary limits placed on gestation. So much of birth policy is grandfathered in information. There is very little research. While it's an admittedly a hard experience to ethically research, the reasons for this lack are mostly unsatisfying. I love my practice, but given the restrictions they face in keeping hospital, physician, and insurance partnerships, they couldn't allow me to go beyond 42 weeks. That's actually generous by many practice standards around the country. I realized that so much of what I was feeling was my overall frustration at the limits placed on pregnant and birthing women, for no real reason.

Initially, I thought it was the patriarchy. And, kind of. But Ina May Gaskin has actually been an amazing resource in charting birth histories. Based on her research, it seems to me much more accidental. A lot of feminists actually pushed for policies that we now deem barbaric, like twilight delivery where women are knocked unconscious and babies are extracted by forceps. Feminists wanted painless birth, tired of the weight of pain in birth being linked to Eve's original sin.

I understand their perspective and so many of the other accidental procedures that followed and can see how they got quietly organized as standard care. It seems to me that we somehow traded the responsibility and power of birth for shortcuts that took on a life of their own. Perhaps, right now is a bit of a reckoning around what pregnancy and birth can be if they're allowed to be supported, natural processes.

I ate a ton during my first trimester and gained the most weight there. It was a bit unnerving, but I kept feeling hungry, and not eating when hungry felt unbelievably painful and dangerous. I trusted the physical feedback and went with it, even while I felt bloated and grew slightly concerned about the weight gain.

And then, my appetite stabilized somewhere in the second trimester. It's ebbed and flowed some, but it seems my body wanted a lot of nutrition and energy early on and then over time would allocate. I'd be bloated for a bit, and then the bump would take shape. I'd be slightly large and amorphous, and then wee one would go through a growth spurt and the extra on me would be redirected. I've still gained a lot but I can see that my body was telling me what it needed, so I'm glad that I trusted and heeded.

(I definitely understand this process better now from the vantage point of the Third Trimester. My stomach is basically in my throat and my appetite is nil. I can eat only a little bit every now and then. My weight gain has stabilized and at moments, I've even lost a little bit of weight. I'm still swollen and bloated but I drink a ton of water to attempt to balance that. I can see that my body stored what it would need throughout this process. I'm grateful that I trusted my body and didn't fight!)

I curated my instagram to be a gallery of pregnancy, birth, and postpartum images. I found life and diversity affirming hashtags and accounts to populate my visual diet with the range of life around birth. It was pretty funny-- I'd open up my account, say, at a coffee shop, and see an image of a baby's head crowning. It has kept me in the realm of wild, feral womanhood, and that has been really useful.

I found a movement diet that has seemed to work for me. Given the high dose of relaxin loosening and destabilizing a pregnant woman's body, I focused on strengthening pilates, yoga with an emphasis on stability and strength, spin, and walking. Other friends said they had their own mix that felt like it supported their health and still others spent a good bit of pregnancy on bed rest. We all seem to have our baseline point. I tried to heed what felt right to me.

I was fortunate to have the option of limiting sonograms, so I did. I did the dating ultrasound early in the first trimester to hopefully allow me to go as late as possible without induction. I agreed to the anatomy scan but scheduled it later at week 22 (some happen as early as week 19) as I was hoping my baby would be pretty well formed and visible to again, reduce the number of potential repeat scans. The ultrasound tech got almost all she needed but my babe is an active one and she runs away from dopplers and scans consistently. I had to do one more scan to record some final organ and limb measurements and then I was done.

We opted to learn the gender at the anatomy scan, so I asked the tech to write it down. We decided on a place meaningful to us, made the trek, and Kevin opened the envelope. We were outside, together, and away from the institutional glare of a hospital.

We found out we're having a girl.

That moment shifted something. What had been vague and possible and harder to conceive of in reality became concrete. An actual human. An actual baby.

Around that time, her always active movements took on a decidedly more human feel. Instead of weird swimmy sensations, the feelings of kicking, punching, stretching.

I began getting a lot of urging to create a registry, set up a shower, and engage in the rituals around welcoming a baby. Going into big box stores makes me want to die, and I'd heard some horror stories from friends who felt pretty confident about welcoming a baby to suddenly feel completely overwhelmed by the pressure sales of a store. I turned to friends who recently gave birth and asked them what they had actually needed and used. I found out, the answers were as individual as are they, their homes, and their children. A few invited me over to witness the sanctuary of life with a newborn. I held some sweet babies over my bump and looked at their stashes of diapers and onesies.

I wound up triangulating a few of their registries, which helped me identify the common items on each one. Then I did some research to figure out what Kevin and I would do: cosleep or bed share? Cloth or regular diapers? Changing table or a pad on a dresser? As I'd answered those questions, I also became the lucky recipient of tons of baby items that are only good for a child's first 6-months of life. I did inventory on what we had and what it seemed we needed and made the registry.

While I certainly requested items for the baby, I also requested items for us. A friend set up a meal train for us. She was wonderful at making it clear that this did not entitle anyone to a visit-- this was simply support! We'll put a cooler on our front steps and those contributing will leave food in the cooler and text Kevin. That way, we can continue to respond to our newborn and receive the food as we're ready. We'll set up visits as ready and independently!

We requested tons of gift cards. A friend wisely said that much can be ordered after the baby arrives-- including take-out when you're hungry and sleep deprived! Friends also recommended against requesting any clothes. People are excited to dress the baby so clothes come whether they're requested or not. She was completely right. We have requested no clothes and have basically a full wardrobe for our daughter's first two years.

I shared the registry again and again-- at my birthday or whenever anyone asked to help. It felt a little shameless, but I've slowly acquiesced to the realization that having a baby truly does require support. I didn't understand prior. I do now. Community is critical!

I'm increasingly grateful for community because I recognize the role they play not only for me, but for my daughter. I want a wide network around her. I want her to know that there are many people that she can turn to. Kevin and I will do our best to be her primary supports, but we're people. We have limits. We can't do it all. Knowing that she has many people who are invested in her comforts me. While I've often fantasized about moving anywhere in the world and starting over, right now I know we need roots. And thankfully, we have them.

In the second trimester, joint pain showed up, especially at night. I found that magnesium oil was pretty miraculous. Spraying some on my knees and calves would quiet their complaints and allow me to sleep. Similarly, epsom salt baths did the same.

Acid reflux came with a fury one night. In the middle of the night, I ran out to get Tums and slept seated on the couch. Rough night. The following day, at my midwife's advice, Kevin got me papaya enzymes. I take them after most meals, especially dinner, and they largely keep the reflux at bay.

I became very conscious, or maybe more conscious, of my own energy and the energy others bring to bear. While I've consciously gathered community, I've also been very mindful of limiting access to anything that feels unnecessarily stressful or chaotic. Kevin and I have made our home a peaceful sanctuary that supports us, in the hopes that we'll be more capable to support one another, and this little girl.

The First Trimester

I have so much to say about pregnancy. And yet, I'm still in it, and that's made me feel somewhat protective of this fascinating sphere of experience. Like, maybe I need distance and time and space away from this to see it. And yet, there also exists the possibility of forgetting! My hormone-addled mind is already less prone to remembering and then I hear of that helpful amnesia that keeps people procreating.

So I'll try to record some of this.

I have learned, without a shadow of a doubt, that pregnancy is always a truly individual, singular experience. And yet, it rubs up against the universal. For sure, there are trends and patterns and portals and pathways. But every woman is completely unique. And every child that she carries is completely unique. And their intersection will every time, be distinct and have its own signature.

It seems that the most useful thing is cultivating an ability to listen and be with what is.

First Trimester

When we discovered that I was pregnant, I was immediately staying up all night googling baby names. And then I started looking into care.

I wanted to do a home birth, but it looked tricky in South Jersey. My insurance won't cover it and most homebirth midwives practice in Philadelphia and not on my side of the bridge. So, I looked into midwife practices. Again, in my area, there aren't many, but the one I found felt so right. I found a practice of 5 midwives who deliver babies at a birth center in Elmer. They're in-network for my insurance. The birth center is affiliated with a medical center if needed and has the lowest intervention rates on the East Coast. If a woman is showing signs of complications, they go to a hospital where the midwives are partnered and the woman receives any interventions she might need and the baby has access to a NICU. If there are no signs of big complications, a woman delivers at the birth center. They work to let you labor and deliver naturally.

I visited the 5 birth suites in the small birth center. I loved it. It's an all women staff who seek to support women in natural deliveries.

I scheduled both the tour of the center as well as a consult with a midwife prior to committing to the practice. Once I signed on, they scheduled my first visit for when I was about 8 weeks pregnant.

Next, I started quietly telling friends who had recently delivered. This was a good move. I didn't know, but there are tons of private trading routes for new parents exchanging goods that babies only need the first 6 months of life. Two friends who just delivered invited me over to test drive holding a baby and look around at what stuff was actually useful and what wasn't necessary. These were sweet experiences to get a glimpse into the newborn cocoon.

I had recently gone to a baby store to buy a gift for another friend and was completely overwhelmed. The energy is so bad, the fluorescent lights, ALL THE STUFF. I left nearly hyperventilating. I decided I wanted to avoid ever going into one of those stores ever again. I emailed these recently pregnant friends and requested their baby shower registries. I've triangulated what I found on every list (likely important) and what was more personal and subjective. It's meant that the only thing I had to do was take a deep breath and go back in the store to make sure I could handle moving the car seat into the stroller by myself and with one hand (because if I can't, every day of my life might suck mercilessly). Done and done. Never going in again if I can help it.

Early scheduled care, support from others who have been there, and a registry that meant not actually being in stores have all been amazing practices for me! Pregnancy is such a magic, individual space. I'm sure each pregnancy is different and if I do this again, I can only imagine what to expect!

I also got a maternity wardrobe around week 12. I was lucky to have a Mom that offered a maternity shopping spree (thanks Mom!). However! Had that not been the case I think that I would have turned to another local Mom suggestion and joined a local Facebook Mom group sooner. These groups are really good for giveaways and women are frequently offloading their entire maternity wardrobes.

Other friends went thrift store routes. I'm a terrible shopper. I pieced together stuff from Motherhood Maternity, Target, and Old Navy. A lot of maternity wear has been shifted to online and there are coupons.

Other women wait longer to get their wardrobe. My clothes felt tight pretty early. I didn't really have a bump, but I was just bloated and bigger. I felt much better when I made the shift. Do it whenever you want!

There has been plenty else to navigate-- a solid month of first trimester nausea, waking in the middle of the night inexplicably (finally I realized that if I ate something I could fall right back to sleep-- took a while to sort through as I'm not a middle of the night snacker), learning to always have snacks to keep blood sugar level, and mainly, just riding out the pregnancy. If I resist something I'm feeling, things don't go so well. If I just allow the fatigue and rest or, conversely, feel the energy and move with it, it's all pretty great.

During that period where only Kevin and I carried the knowledge of what was growing between us, I cherished the privacy and the bubble. Little by little, our news became public. It was amazing to receive support, most notably from other new mothers. These women invited me into their home and showed me what worked, what was unnecessary and had endless helpful tips.

And then there was the less helpful. Surprisingly, it came mainly from older men. I don't know what that was. It felt somewhere in the vicinity of their desire to be closer to the experience of pregnancy and motherhood-- to share in something ultimately unknowable-- merged with an unchecked sense of entitlement to women's bodies and experiences. Didn't sit well with me. While massively self-protective already, that has escalated to new heights. I started thinking about what teachings reached me as a child. They generally weren't the ones spoken to me. What I remember is the way the people around me lived their lives. Knowing that my example will likely be the piece of what I offer this girl that has the biggest impact, it felt even more imperative to define the lines around my experience, what I was willing to share, what others had access to, what I had to offer, and how to navigate that terrain.

While I was angry at thoughtless comments, unasked for advice, and intrusive touch, I was also unbelievably sentimental. I spent this past Christmas watching Hallmark movies and crying.

Early on, a friend recommended that I pick up the Mama Natural book. This was a great resource in week-by-week prep and navigating the shifting territory of pregnancy. I'd recommend it to anyone early on as it gives great suggestions on how to choose care providers, when to disclose at work, and other really practical considerations.

I also bought Ina May Gaskin's Spiritual Midwifery. This book is way hippier but kind of lovely. Ina May is the godmother of natural birth in the US. Her history of how women have birthed in the 20th century gave me a lot of context and information. The rest of the book is largely women telling their birth stories. Hearing the diversity of experiences has kept me steeped in the mystery and wonder of birth. I pick it up periodically, get oversaturated, put it down, and then come back to it down the line. Delving into all of Ina May's works has been a pregnancy joy.

I think via an instagram rabbit hole I found the podcast, Birth KweensI love them! This hilarious midwife and doula go through just about every topic central and adjacent to birth. I learned a ton about nutrition, movement, baby elimination, and more. Via one of their episodes on postpartum care, I learned about Magamama and picked up her book, The Fourth Trimester. This has maybe been the most powerful learning experience of my pregnancy. I had a lingering sense that pregnancy actually gets a fair amount of support but that the postpartum period might be the part that needs some shoring up. Magamama's work helped me understand what I can put in place prior to birth and after so that I can fully heal as well as reap the benefits of pregnancy and birth. If this whole process can empower and refortify my health, I'll stand a stronger chance of being able to be present to and protective of my child.

From my current perspective of birth-could-be-any-minute-now, I mainly remember the fun and fear of the first trimester. There were the ever-shifting odds of will-this-pregnancy-go-the-distance? There was my body, not as visibly adjusted to other's gaze, but hugely changed and changing in my experience. The privacy of having this exciting, life-changing secret and then navigating the news moving into the world. And waiting. The first trimester felt so long to me. I just wanted the baby already. Now, with her arrival at any minute, this whole journey feels like it was traversed in a heart beat.

Being a universe

Being pregnant has made me ever more conscious of what I feel physically, emotionally, and spiritually, because I know that feeling is shared somehow. My daughter likely doesn't relate to the input as I do, but she has an experience of it. I wish I was this conscious of how I related to my experience at all times, but I'll take this new depth in awareness.

Generally, I've felt pretty healthy and calm, which I'm glad about. Every now and then I'll be stressed or have a physiological response. I realize that shapes the "weather" my daughter perceives. Right now, I'm her world. How I function is creating some type of reality for her. When she's born, that will largely stay the case for awhile. She'll develop away from me and become independent, but her early experiences will create a map for how she understands the world and its interactions.

No pressure.

I think about sometimes, and what I can honestly offer her. My only "goal" as a mother is to be present to myself and to her. My hope is that if I know where I am and how I feel, I'll better be able to monitor what I'm responding to. If that's the case, I might be able to stay a little calmer as she goes through normal childhood development. And probably, the majority of the time, I'll freak out and be stressed. But you know, I'll do my best.

My hope in presence is also to see her. It seems pretty easy to slide into parenting her how I think I should have been parented, even though I already know she's an entirely different creature than I am, and she's arriving into entirely different circumstances. If I can be present to myself, and what comes up for me, I might stand a chance of seeing her and what might be of greatest value to her in any given moment.

As I become her baseline, I think the most honest thing I can do is try to stay present and in reality as I know it. I am a subjective creature and I can't change that. But knowing my own orientation may be as clear as I can get.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

The road to conceiving

In my first trimester, I loved the little cocoon of privacy around me. It was a big move (for me) to be vulnerable and open up about this next chapter. When our baby enters the world, she'll enter and on her own terms. We'll lose control (as we should... and honestly, as we have). For a time, this one was just ours. Our hopes, our excitement, our evolution.

Opening up means opening up to what you can't control-- the reactions that are helpful and those that aren't. The opinions. The ideas. The projections.

I've treaded carefully and slowly.

Because I spent most of my life avidly avoiding being pregnant. It scared me. I had built so much of my identity on what I did and the freedom to do it. I was scared of having my identity be based on a child-- it felt like an unfair burden to them and like I would never be fully formed myself.

Instead, Kevin and I invested our energy into exploring, creating, and getting clear on who we are to ourselves, each other, and creating our life. And honestly, at a certain point, we felt more settled in that. We made big strides to be informed, but not defined by, the events of our early life. We equally worked to define for ourselves our values and beliefs.

We felt more formed.

And from that place, we felt like we could maybe, possibly, be present to another little human.

So we decided to pull the brakes off and conceive.

And it didn't happen.

Well, not right away. For those of you who have been there, you know. It's a harrowing experience. For those of you who haven't, it's big. Thankfully, our wait wasn't that long. It's tough to figure out how to navigate. Who do you tell that you're hoping to conceive? What advice to you want to be open to? And then, how to stay happy for those who simply become pregnant and raise their kids? And patient to the same parents who complain about a process you desperately want?

It's so tricky too because I really didn't know whether or not most people conceived right away or had to wait. I had very little information. The only thing I knew about pregnancy was after the deed was done. Kevin had more awareness of friends and family members whose journey to pregnancy was longer and more uncertain. All I knew were people who were surprised by it or those who seemed to just walk through an open door. I didn't know that it's not always immediate. I knew there was a ton of scare tactics out there about my age, but I didn't know how valid any of that was.

I went to acupuncture. My acupuncturist recommended a book with a terrible title, Making Babies. The book is co-written by an acupuncturist and physician. It was so helpful and reassuring to me. It reminded me of the mystery and magic of conception and told me the information that is available. The thing is, when people don't conceive, right now, the common course in western medicine is force without even fully understanding what's preventing conception. Women are prescribed medicine to release more eggs. Folks go to IVF. For those for whom these practices are successful, I am truly happy for you! The issue I have is that there isn't much done to try to figure out what isn't aligning before going to pretty big, intense, invasive measures.

The book talked about folks who just needed a course of antibiotics prior to conceiving. Or adjusting vitamin levels. Or had scar tissue that needed to be removed. So many various pieces impact conception. If there was a patient investigation, it seems like so many people could remove the obstacles and begin their families.

I don't know what took us a few months. Maybe it was just timing. Magic.

In that time, we figured out how to ride out the uncertainty and fear together. So many different issues emerged and we had the time to work through them together. During that time, Kevin, being the proactive researcher that he is, began helping me seed cycle, offered me daily pregnancy tea (apparently good in conception as well as second and third-trimester pregnancy), and much more. Primed!

And then, I got Lyme disease. Which forced me to reconsider how I worked with western medicine, how to advocate for myself, and how to navigate that system. I got information that I was anemic and had low B12. Then I set to righting those issues. I had a hefty course of antibiotics to treat the disease, and then I made it my business to restore my gut health to the best of my ability.

And then I immediately became pregnant.

So... I don't know what it was. But I'd guess that maybe I needed to correct those pieces. Or maybe the moon had to align. Whatever the case, the timing is kind of amazing. I'm due on Kevin's last day of school. I can easily take maternity leave through the summer while still running the Grant Building's teacher training program.

Kind of beautiful.

As I've been steeped in this pregnancy journey, I've learned so much more about women's health. So much of it is embedded in reproductive health. For a woman who wasn't sure she wanted to reproduce, I didn't know this is where so many gems lay! I would tell my past self that in addition to all the great stuff that I did-- acupuncture, supplements, and adjusting my diet-- I would also look into vaginal steaming. Now that I'm developing my own postpartum care I'm finding a lot that circles back to fertility care and it all seems to tie into overall wellness.

When I look back, maybe our journey was par for the course. We didn't conceive right away, but the process gave us opportunities to both get closer and shore up our own health. In retrospect, it didn't take too long either. It was just private and without a lot of context. I share in the hopes that we can build a broader basis of experience and evidence so we both know we're not alone and we also have ideas about resources that might support our goals. I now wish I had done so much of this research earlier in my life. I think I could have contributed to an even greater degree of overall health and wellness. But I'll take it now. Another gift from my daughter.