27 March 2015

when Zoe came

There's no rushing Zoe. She followed her own lil' schedule when it came to being born, and she still does.

I was due on January 10. No matter how hard I tried to relax, no matter how often I told myself that due dates are just an estimate and the baby will know when it's ready, I couldn't help half expecting that she would be born early just like her sister. However, despite weeks of regular Braxton-Hicks contractions, nothing happened. And nothing happened, and still nothing happened.

My midwives (I use the plural because there are at least six at the practice and I saw most of them during my pregnancy) deliver at home or at their birth center until 42 weeks. After that, they only deliver at the hospital. So I knew that if I hit 42 weeks, I would have a choice: soldier on without intervention and let Zoe come when she wanted, then go to the hospital, or attempt to get labor started myself so that I could still deliver at the birth center.

At 41 weeks and 3 days, on January 20, I went in for a non-stress test to make sure that Zoe was still happy in there. She was. I am no great fan of artificial induction, but when it came down to the wire, I was prepared to down some castor oil in order to avoid the hospital; it's what I used to kickstart Ellie's stalled labor and it worked really well for me. While taking the test, I talked to the midwife on call about when I should try castor oil and what to do afterwards. However, before I left the midwife did a quick cervical exam and found that I was already 3 or 4 centimeters dilated. She predicted that Zoe would soon arrive on her own, without any "encouragement."

Sure enough, shortly after leaving the midwife and picking up Ellie from my mom's house, I started to experience real contractions. Those aren't much fun to have while you are driving! I texted Jared while sitting at a stoplight-- I think I just said ouch, these hurt! He started to wrap things up at work so he could come home as soon as possible. When I got back I put Ellie down for a nap and started to make lasagna. I knew that I'd want food before going to the birth center, and cooking was a welcome distraction from contractions. Jared came home early and packed everything into the car so we could leave quickly once labor picked up.

We ate dinner and cleaned up the kitchen, my contractions growing stronger all the while. I called my parents, who were going to keep Ellie while we were away. I had been instructed to head down to the birth center once contractions were intense enough to require my full concentration. I knew I would reach that point soon. As I paced around the living room, timing contractions on Jared's phone, breathing deeply through each one, I felt confident that after so much waiting, this was the real thing.

So my dad picked up Ellie; we said goodbye to our "only child" for the last time, and off we went. Remembering how exhausting labor was for both of us, we decided to stock up at Five Guys' on the way. Double bacon cheeseburger with fries? Please. And a huge Starbucks coffee to top it off.

By the time we reached the birth center, at about 9:00 PM, I was squeezing Jared's hand and moaning quietly during every contraction. I was so excited to get out of the car! I don't know how women manage to give birth while lying on their backs or otherwise confined. (Give me mobility or give me death.) The midwife then on call, Jaime Lynn, welcomed us in from the chilly parking lot and let us get settled in the room-- the same room where I gave birth to Ellie, in fact. She asked how I was feeling, then laughed at herself: "I guess it's not fair to ask you that right now." She watched quietly as I worked through a couple of contractions, swaying back and forth and closing my eyes, and told me that I was doing just fine. I admitted that I still had moments where I worried that this was a false alarm, and she told me to get that out of my head . . . she had no doubts! She checked my cervix and found that I was about 4 1/2 centimeters, "with some stretch." Since it was still early, she didn't officially admit me but instead left us alone for a couple of hours, only checking in occasionally. (The midwives at my practice wait until labor is very strong and you are well dilated before calling it active labor. Because of that the "clock" doesn't start until you are pretty far down the childbirth road, and you have a lot more time to get the baby out on your own, before they feel the need to recommend pitocin or other interventions.)

So in the first hours after arriving at the birth center, I had very little interference. I knew that Jared was there if I needed him, but I felt able to cope on my own and told him that he should get some sleep. I labored on an exercise ball for a while, then moved into the shower, which felt fantastic on my stomach during every contraction. Time went by in a haze: I carefully avoided looking at the clock, knowing that it would just stress me out. I prayed, repeated several Scripture verses to myself, and breathed as slowly and deeply as I could.

A couple hours in, I was too tired to stand in the shower anymore and decided to get into the jacuzzi. My contractions were also ramping up and I wanted support. After I slipped into the hot water, Jaime Lynn checked me again and cheerfully announced that I was 8 centimeters dilated; she "officially" admitted me at 11:00. Soon afterwards another midwife came on shift. Lori was both maternal and straightforward. She recommended breaking my water because she thought that it would probably speed things up. I agreed, but it hurt immensely, because to do it,I had to lie on my back during a contraction. Once I was in the tub I found any position other than on my knees to be excruciating. Lying on my back while Lori broke my water was one of the worst moments of labor. I was glad to get back on my knees . . . even though things didn't exactly feel wonderful there either!

Zoe had been posterior for my whole pregnancy and she was still facing the wrong way during most of labor. During Ellie's birth I was pain-free between contractions, but this time I had a terrible backache even after each contraction ended. That was emotionally tiring because the pain never really let up. (Needless to say, I am going to do everything possible to get future babies facing anterior. I don't care if I have to stand on my head for an hour every day. Back labor stinks.)

Also contributing to my emotional stress was fear that this labor would last every bit as long as Ellie's did. I remembered being at the birth center hour after hour with Ellie, and couldn't imagine sustaining this level of intensity for that long. While I was in the tub, I had a lot of trouble with controlled breathing. I wasn't screaming or anything, but I couldn't stay quiet and was wasting quite a bit of energy that way. After one particularly strong contraction, I turned to Jared and wailed, "I don't remember it hurting this much so early on!" He reminded me that it wasn't early: I had already been in labor for a long time, and I was actually coping well. But I was frightened by the pain level and struggled to believe Jared and Lori when they encouraged me. I thought they were just saying nice things to make me feel better. I was convinced that I was weak, that I wouldn't have the endurance to make it to the end, that I wasn't really doing a good job . . . no matter how many times they told me that I was.

In fact, on my labor record Lori jotted down "mood variability." I was in transition but didn't know it. :)

After a while Lori started asking me if I needed to push, and I realized that I must have progressed a lot farther than I thought. I told her that I was afraid to push, because I wasn't sure that my body was ready for it, but she replied that she could tell just by watching and listening to me. Sure enough, I discovered that pushing a bit at the peak of every contraction did help, so I did that for a while. Happily, Zoe decided to rotate during one of these contractions to face the right way. I knew she had turned when I noticed that my persistent backache was gone!

At this point, I also regained a bit of control over my breathing. At the start of one particular contraction I challenged myself to simply breathe-- and not make any noise-- all the way through, and I realized that I could do it after all! My poor husband got his hand crushed in the process, but concentrating on those long, deep breaths allowed me to reserve energy and stay calmer.

Suddenly the urge to push got stronger, and both Lori and the nurse, Kate, encouraged me to go with it. Pushing did not hurt at all with Ellie, because I'd gotten a shot of Nubain immediately beforehand. With Zoe things felt much different. First the contractions became even more intense (no more quiet breathing, believe you me) and then halfway through each contraction my body's need to push took over and my brain basically shut off the pain. Despite that, I was yelling like a maniac the whole way. It was an odd, slightly out of body experience. I could see myself pushing and hear how loud I was, but I couldn't do a single thing about it. My muscles and my voice had a mind of their own!

Assuming that I would have to push for a long time, I told Jared that I didn't think I could keep it up. He told me not to worry: I was doing great and Zoe was coming really soon. Again, I hesitated to believe him, but sure enough, after about fifteen minutes of pushing I gasped, "She's coming now! I can feel her crowning!"

My fear finally drained away. I knew that I had reached the end!

Kate scrambled to get Lori from the next room, where another birth was in progress. Still on my knees in the water, I kept pushing whenever a contraction hit. The contractions got faster and faster and I threw all my concentration behind them. This is actually happening. And I know exactly what to do now. I could feel Zoe's head sliding further down, bit by bit. I grabbed Jared's hand as an extra shot of energy surged through my body, and I pushed as hard as I possibly could and everything burned and stretched and BAM!!

"The head is out!" Lori cheered. She directed me to turn around in the tub so that once I delivered Zoe's shoulders and body, Lori could catch her. A few moments later Zoe had completely emerged into the water. Lori picked her up and handed her to Kate. "What a big girl," she observed, and I had to laugh to myself: I guess I am a member of the fat baby club. (Still, it only took 19 minutes to push her out.) I heard Kate murmur something about being limp and blue, but she began rubbing Zoe vigorously and suctioning out mucus, and within seconds announced that our little girl was perfectly pink and healthy. I carefully turned back around and leaned against the far side of the tub, where Lori placed Zoe on my chest.

I couldn't believe it. After all my worries and fears that she simply would not come, here she was at 2:04 in the morning, wide awake and incredibly soft. She blinked soberly up at me; I could see the absolute trust in her eyes and the wonder at her strange surroundings. I couldn't stop kissing her head and talking to her.

She was scrunched and wet. I was sore and wet. I still needed to deliver the placenta and get stitched up. But that was tiny potatoes compared to what I'd just been through. In the next couple of hours we washed up, discovered that Zoe loved to nurse, and took a nap or two. I was so excited, and it was sweet to rest together and enjoy our happiness.

When we finally left the birth center, we found that it had snowed overnight. What a beautiful cold morning to bring Zoe home.

My two girls have given me reverse experiences with labor and infancy. Ellie came early. Zoe came late. Ellie was a lazy eater. Zoe never stops eating. With Ellie, I cherish remarkably good memories of her delivery, but all my positive recollections stop at the moment she left my body and don't resume until three weeks later; in between I waded through a torrent of anxiety, numbness, crying, and all-around ugh. In contrast, Zoe had an emotionally traumatic delivery and a rather lovely postpartum period. I still battled the baby blues to some degree, but everything was easier.

Overall, I would far prefer to repeat Zoe's birth than Ellie's. This time the hard part lasted only four or five hours, while the wonderful part kept getting more wonderful (and even wiped out the trauma of the hard part). This time I could feel the truth of Jesus' words in Matthew, where he talks about the joy of new life erasing the memory of labor pains. And as I think about next time-- yes, I am hoping for a next time-- I hope to prepare better so that, with God's help, I don't succumb to the fear that undermined me during those difficult hours.

I am amazed as I reflect back on that night, though. God showed Himself mighty in my weakness. I had very little to give, but He strengthened me with each breath, so that I could make it through those brutal contractions and push every last inch of my daughter into the water. I didn't feel powerful but I did it anyway.

I would love to wed the relaxed mindset of Ellie's labor to the relaxed mindset of Zoe's first few weeks. I suppose that would be a "perfect" experience, as these things go. Of course, I don't know what will happen if and when Baby #3 comes around; that's the point. But a girl can dream. And pray.

20 March 2015

Family snippets // Weekend linkage

Recently I discovered the wonders of DIY dry shampoo and now I cannot believe I waited so long to try it. Postpartum hair is phenomenally bad: now that I am done shedding (oh the shedding!) my hair has gone limp and seems to attract grease. But one can't easily shower with two anklebiters in the house. In fact, this week I managed to go for 4 entire days without a real shower, which is definitely a lifetime record. So . . . dry shampoo to my rescue.
Ellie is constantly adding to her store of knowledge. She asks "is it?" a thousand times every day, and you absolutely must answer (it's a laundry basket, it's a bobby pin, it's a banana) or she will stand there repeating "is it is it is it" till kingdom come.

Funny thing is, sometimes she is asking to gain information and other times she's just testing you.

Ellie: Is it?
Me: That's toothpaste.
Ellie: Yeah! (Translation: Good job Mommy, you got it right!)


"What Is Quick?"
This weekend, I finally decided to conduct an experiment. I say finally because I’ve been meaning to write this post for about two months now, and I could just never seem to find the… time. What I wanted to do was to time myself, from a standing start, and see what took longer: a weeknight dinner made mostly with pre-made ingredients, or a dinner made with all real stuff.
"How Ikea Took Over the World."
Ikea printed 217 million copies of its most recent annual [catalog]—which the company claims is the biggest run of any publication of its kind in the world—producing them in a studio in Ă„lmhult, Sweden. For every room setup, there is an Ikea employee standing by responsible for tracking any element that needs to be switched out—making sure that glass products produced in mainland China don’t show up in Taiwan’s catalogue and removing Persian rugs from the one that gets mailed to Israelis.
"Man Does Not Live by Man Skills Alone."
It’s certainly useful to know how to keep a journal, survive in the wilderness, keep yourself fit, plan a date, cook a steak, and do home repairs. But mastering these arts doesn’t make you a real man in the deepest sense. My father taught me how to polish my shoes, tie a tie, and match a shirt to a suit. He taught me how to shave and impressed upon me the importance of deodorant and cologne. He taught me how to look a person in the eye when you shake hands, how to safely handle and shoot a gun, how to look for a job, and how to keep the job you have. But ultimately, he lived a double life, and he left me unprepared for the weightier responsibilities of manhood.

19 March 2015

pretty happy funny real #16


This wide-eyed little princess makes us smile . . . though she hardly ever smiles herself.


Tomato and bean seedlings in the making. I am looking forward to fresh vegetables from the backyard, and I suspect that Ellie will be an enthusiastic "picker."


Ellie's laundry day fashion statement: two clashing prints, plus Mommy's high heels. (She's actually really good at walking in them. Clomp clomp clomp all through the house.)

18 March 2015

no frigate like a book #6

Today, two for the grown-ups and two for the babies.

Corelli's Mandolin by Louis de Bernieres

I was actually angry when this book ended, because I wanted it to continue forever. I initially borrowed it from the library but proceeded to purchase my own copy, which-- in these days of responsibility and reduced pocket change-- is an honor reserved for the books I truly love.

It follows a widowed doctor, his sprightly daughter, and the colorful inhabitants of their tiny village through World War II, specifically through the Italian occupation of the Greek island of Cephallonia. The chapters are narrated from a variety of perspectives within the story, so that you get a well-rounded view of what happens.

Bernieres is a marvelous writer, I think, and this book seems to have everything: romance and history, heroism and tragedy, humor and philosophy. I laughed out loud quite often, and mused on serious themes just as often.

Can it be a tad raunchy? Yes. Did that diminish my enjoyment? Alas, not in the least. I grow lenient in my old age.
"I am sorry, Koritsimou," he confided to the corpse, "if we had not been here, you would have lived." He was exhausted, long past the point of fear, and his weariness had made him philosophical. Little girls as innocent and sweet as this had died for nothing in Malta, in London, in Hamburg, in Warsaw. But they were statistical little girls, children he had never seen himself. He thought of Lemoni, and then of Pelagia.
The unspeakable enormity of this war suddenly broke his heart, so that he gasped and fought for breath, and at the identical moment he also knew with absolute certainty that nothing was more necessary than to win it.
One Light Still Shines by Marie Monville

This is a memoir written by the wife of Charlie Roberts, who in 2006 took eight Amish girls hostage in their own schoolhouse, then shot them and committed suicide. (This happened just twenty minutes from my parents' home, in the tiny town where my current midwife practice is located.)

I was away at college when the schoolhouse shooting occurred, so it didn't have as much an impact on me as it might have. The story affected me much more this time around, as I read about it through Marie's eyes and sympathized with her shock, betrayal, and spiritual turmoil. She relates how God sustained her and her children in the immediate aftermath, protected her from bitterness, and demonstrated His love to the world through the responses of the Amish community. It's quite a remarkable story of redemption.

I've read more than my usual share of nonfiction in the past couple months, largely due to my book club. This was January's pick. I don't think I would have chosen this on my own, as it looked too much like "inspirational material" for my tastes. However, I enjoyed it (if enjoyment is at all appropriate for such a topic) and was deeply impressed by Monville's clear and sincere faith. The writing can be a bit repetitive and sappy, I'd say, but a good read overall.

I Love My Daddy and I Love My Mommy by Laurel Porter-Gaylord and Ashley Wolff

I've mentioned the mommy version before on the blog . . . we got the daddy one soon afterwards. I love this pair of sweet board books. They both have beautiful illustrations, right up animal-crazy Ellie's alley. They express a child's affection for his parents with perfect simplicity.

I also take a wicked delight in the non-politically correct portrayals of each parent. ("I love my daddy because he watches over me at night. I love my mommy because she feeds me when I'm hungry.") I even found a review that praises them for originality and realism, but concludes that "Unfortunately, the tendency here to emphasize Mommy as caretaker and Daddy as protector may reinforce sex-role stereotypes." Well, boo hoo.

12 March 2015

this is hard.

Except for the magical time when naps overlap, someone always needs me. My body is being drained by pregnancy, breastfeeding, nights of interrupted sleep. And every afternoon, I start to think that if I hear one more whine I will snap. You'll have to visit me in my straitjacket.

I want to do something different. Every day I wash the same dishes, fold the same laundry, gather up the same scattered toys. I want to go somewhere new. I want to take a break.

This mothering gig is no joke, you know?

But then Ellie hurls herself into my arms shouting "hug! hug!" or Zoe ventures a tiny, milky smile in my direction, and I remember, this is a good job. It's a big job. It's an important job. What would their lives be like if I refused to love them? I want to do this.

I think everyone who reads this blog knows that motherhood is difficult, either by personal experience or simply by being an observant human. So I don't write this to enlighten anybody. I'm just writing to say to every other tired, stressed mom out there: me too. When you are up at midnight with a sleepless baby, when your toddler is dumping rice on the carpet, when you can't remember the last time you took a shower and everybody's still wearing pajamas at dinnertime, well, we're in it together.

This is a club of sorts, and you and I are members for life. Even when our babies grow up they will still be ours. We'll still be thinking of them and letting them bump our hearts around. Yes, letting them, because this Having a Child thing was a choice and we walked into this willingly, even if some of us reluctantly. Here we are. God is carrying us all.

And it certainly is hard. There's nothing wrong with admitting that. Talking about it, realizing that you're trudging the same road as a friend, lifts the burden a bit. It is our reality.

Let's just not forget, on the hard days, that the hugs and the milky grins are our reality too.

08 March 2015

Weekend linkage

Hunters in the Snow by Pieter Bruegel the Elder

Gout, Your New Favorite Food Magazine. I love snobby cooking magazines but will never pass a snarky send-up.

Cooking myths: which are true, which are false? Bet you'll learn something.

Two interesting looking podcasts: The Memory Palace (described as a less pretentious version of This American Life) and The History of English (who doesn't love a little linguistic enlightenment?).

"The Children Who Raised Themselves."

From Bluecollar Gospel: "Jesus Is My Everything."

Why nobody should bother taking the new SAT. Author notes that the SAT essay was widely regarded as a joke. I spent considerable time tutoring kids for that essay and fully agree with his analysis.

"Three Englishmen Saved from Boiling Pot by Cannibal King, Who Was Friend at Oxford." WELL THEN.

06 March 2015

Family snippets

At six weeks old, Zoe has decided to be a sleeping champion. Thank you Jesus and glory hallelujah. She usually wakes up twice per night, and that is excellent, giving me several looong blocks of uninterrupted sleep. Thanks to her better sleeping patterns, I feel like I've emerged from the "survival mode" period and am entering normal life again.

Sometimes, when my lucky stars are perfectly aligned, she only wakes up once. Then I feel like Wonder Woman in the morning.

Not this morning, though. We're all sick, sniffling and sneezing our way around the house. It is a pajama day full of echinacea tea, Vitamin C, and cod liver oil-- which Ellie believes is a great treat, ha. (It actually doesn't taste bad at all, even though swallowing a teaspoon of oil is weird.)

Ellie loves to talk. I mean, absolutely loves it. She narrates her life almost without pause, whether or not she can correctly pronounce the words. She points out when Zoe is finished nursing ("baby done!") and names everything we eat ("peppers! olives! meat!") and tells you what the weather is like ("snow! raining! sunshine!") and talks about what she's doing ("upstairs! downstairs! box empty! orange car!").

It's really funny to see what she finds important, or what she notices about our daily routine. For example, right now she's standing at the front door saying "No package." I had opened the main door to let in more light through the glass on the screen door; Ellie was evidently hoping to find a box on the step. Clearly, I order a lot of stuff from Amazon.