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.