Trying A New Angle

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Today at the pool, I went to take a picture after I heard the sweetest little “Watch, Mama!” from my toddler on the cusp of boyhood. It was bright and I couldn’t see my screen, so I just aimed in Michael’s direction and snapped a few pictures. When I looked at them later, I realized that I had somehow put the front-facing camera on by mistake and I was bummed that I didn’t capture that moment. I was about to delete this picture until I realized- I actually did capture that moment. I captured my face as I watched my beautiful growing boy and his awesome Dad having a blast and making a memory. My eyes look tired from so many long days and nights, but they look even more happy. My newest “hairstyle”, the product of being a full-time+ career woman and a mother of two boys less than two years apart, is a mess but it is telling of the fact that I have other ways I would rather spend my time.. The bags under my eyes and laugh lines on my forehead might be there a little bit earlier than I would like them to be, but I wouldn’t trade them for the world because they are indicative of the immense joy and heartache that comes with being a wife, mother, bosslady, and woman. I wouldn’t trade a single moment that caused those wrinkles or eye bags for the world. To me, this is the ultimate portrait of me as a mother: a little worn down, but so filled with joy with every passing moment. The days are long, but the years are short, and I will do my best to stay joyous through it all so that this is the smile that my boys see for every “Watch me, mama!” they throw my way.

And Then There Were Four

I love reading birth stories. No matter how diverse and unexpected, they are always beautiful.

“Tell me about your birth plan”, said Libby, my Labor & Delivery nurse. “I don’t have one.  I’ll tell you what I would love to happen, but I know that things change and I trust you guys to do whatever you need for me to have a healthy baby.”

I had said it hundreds of times, but did I actually believe it? As a mother who had given birth once, it was hard to fathom a different birth experience than what I had with Michael. Spontaneous. Two full days. No pain medications. (You can read that one here if you want!)

But here I was, admitted to L&D on Superbowl Sunday morning, on the cusp of beginning an induction that wasn’t “medically necessary”, solely because my instinct, combined with several minor issues over the past few days, was telling me that something wasn’t right. As if I needed further faith in my medical team, Linda, my Midwife was going to do whatever she needed to make that happen because she trusted my gut as well. She trusted me- just a mom with no medical degree. That speaks volumes to our relationship. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Teddy’s birth story really began on Friday, when, after some bleeding, I marched myself right over to the Midwife’s office to be checked. After a few hours of tests and ultrasounds, it was determined that the baby was not in distress. The bleeding wasn’t severe, and we couldn’t identify the source, so it was decided that it was just some variation of normal and I was likely in early labor. I went home with instructions to just keep a very close eye on fetal movement and come back in if there were any concerns.

Sunday morning around 4:30, I woke up to a gush. Surely, my water had broken, I thought. I was very alarmed when I discovered that it was actually quite a bit of blood. A quick call to Linda, and it was determined that I needed to head into L&D to be checked again. My hubby called my MIL who was going to get dressed and drive down. I called a good friend who lived nearby to come and watch Michael at the house until my MIL got here. I texted my Doula, Shawna, to let her know what was going on. Go plan activated. Check. Check. Check.

When we got to the hospital, I was taken to the room with the labor tub- the same room where Michael was born almost exactly 22 months earlier. Luckily for me, it seemed to be a quiet morning in L&D. I was hooked up to all the monitors for the same testing that was done on Friday. NST to check fetal heart rate. Ultrasound to check fluid levels. Physical check for dilation. Heart rate was fine. Fluid levels were high enough. Still 2 cm dilated, as I had been for a few weeks. Linda came in to go over the test results. Everything looked good. The baby was not in distress. She still did not have an explanation for the bleeding, but there was no medical reason for her to induce me. She gave me two options: go home with the strict instructions that if fetal movement decreased or there was any more bleeding, to come back in or induce right then. Elective inductions are not usually done on Sundays, so she promised that if I decided to stay, she would provide the nurses with a medical reason why it needed to happen.

I’ll be honest. I know enough about birth to know that induction can lead to further unwanted interventions. Induction terrified me and I wanted to avoid it. I talked to Mike. I talked to Linda. I talked to Shawna. I talked to everyone a second and third time. I was nervous about the bleeding, but I was more nervous at the prospect of induction and all that came with it, so I decided that I wanted to go home. I told Mike, who, knowingly, looked at me and said “You don’t seem 100% confident in your decision.” I’d been made. How lucky am I to have a partner who knows me well enough to stop me when I am making a decision out of fear? (Even on Super Bowl Sunday!) “You’re right.” I said, “we need to have this baby today.” While deciding to induce was completely out of character for me, I knew in my heart that it was time for us to meet that baby boy.

What a strange feeling to not be in active labor, but to know that you will be soon. To know that you are willingly volunteering to start the process of one of the most trying physical experiences a person can go through. To know that, somehow, you are going to meet your baby within the next several hours. I signed the papers and said a prayer.

By 10:45am, we had begun the Pitocin drip. For the first few hours, I was really just trying to relax and have fun with it. The contractions were bearable, so I was bouncing on my labor ball and rocking out to some EDM. Mike tried to turn on the Superbowl pregame coverage, but it was really distracting me and causing my contractions to slow down so I told him to turn it off (Sorry babe!)

 By 1pm, I could tell that this labor was going to be very different than my first. I called Shawna and told her that we were ready for her to head in to help out. The Pitocin contractions that I was feeling were already similar in quality to those I experienced at the very end of my spontaneous labor with Michael. I can’t explain exactly, but Pitocin contractions are, for lack of a better term, relentless. With spontaneous labor, I feel like your body takes time to prepare you and ramp up to these back-to-back hard contractions that eventually come. With Pitocin, the contractions are chemically manufactured to occur every 2-3 minutes as soon as possible, so that they can be the most effective. Mentally and physically, you don’t have time to get yourself “there”. The medicine just starts to do its job and you are “there”, whether you’re ready or not, until its time for the baby to arrive.  It does not act like a tide which ebbs and flows. It is like waves crashing repeatedly into a rocky shore. I began to have to really manage my way through the contractions sooner than I expected. I tried bouncing on my yoga ball, standing, walking the halls (thankfully, the hospital was more than willing to hook me up to portable monitors and IV drip so that I could be mobile!) but found that relaxing, breathing, surrendering, and getting very introverted was giving me the most effective contractions. 5 deep breaths. I found that the contractions were lasting 5 deep breaths, and that felt manageable to me. Mike and Shawna were amazing. They went with my vibe- when I was vocal, they shared my affirmations. When I was introverted, they got quiet. They knew when to apply counter-pressure and when to not touch me.

By 5pm, my “relaxing and breathing through it” seemed to be less effective. I asked to be checked and was disheartened to find that I was only at 4cm. Linda asked if I was willing to have my water broken to see if that helped move things along. I had my water broken with Michael as well, so I knew what to expect and was comfortable with it. At Linda’s suggestion, I was able to get into the labor tub in the room after my water was broken. Again, I am so grateful to have been laboring under an amazing team who helped me figure out how to spend some time in the labor tub even with the monitors on my belly and IV in my wrist. I am a water baby and have very fond memories of laboring in the very same tub during Michael’s birth. The water allowed me to mentally relax into the contractions a bit more than I could before, but after just 1.5 hours or so, I felt that I was not getting the relief that I needed anymore.

Once on dry land again, I tried to manage the contractions again by counting breaths, but at this point I was in so much pain that I could barely vocalize my needs. I was exhausted and literally could not keep my eyes open. I distinctly remember thinking “this is what zombies must feel like” as I tried to keep at it.

At 7pm, Linda wanted to check my progress again. 6cm dilated. I started doing mental math. 2 cm when I got here. 6 cm now. 4 cm divided by the number of hours since I started pitocin times 4 more cm = I couldn’t go on like this.

“I need medication.” Mike and Shawna, in trying to help me stick to my wishes, reaffirmed how wonderful I was doing and how proud they were of me. “You can do this” they said. God bless them. “I don’t have anything to prove to anybody”, said me- the woman who had barely managed to squeeze out a string of more than 2 legible words over the past few hours. “Amber is a woman who knows what she needs” said Linda. That beautiful angel of a woman. She knew my hesitations about an epidural from our prenatal conversations, so she offered me a narcotic option instead. While less invasive, it would mean that a medical team would have to take the baby first to assess him before I got to hold him if he were born within a certain amount of time. “Absolutely not”, I said. I was flexible on many things, but one thing I would not give up without a fight was the possibility to be the first arms to hold that sweet boy. “I’ll get the anesthesiologist”. Thank God.

By 8pm, my epidural was placed and the anesthesiologist had left the room. “It should start working within 15-30 minutes” he said. It couldn’t have started working soon enough, if you had asked me. “Now you can relax for a few hours, maybe even sleep, and when you wake up it will be time to push!” Linda said. She was going to go try to get a little rest in the lounge as well. Sounded great to me. “I’ll be back in about a half hour to place a catheter” said Libby. Over the next few contractions, I could feel myself beginning to relax more in-between contractions. I was frustrated that I could still feel all of the contractions themselves, but the relief in-between was truly a gift. I honestly believe that it made all the difference in the last bit of my birth story.

At 8:30pm, Shawna was applying counter-pressure to my lower back during a contraction when I started feeling urgent pressure in my bottom.The feeling did not come on gradually- it came in all at once and unrelenting. I mustered all of the energy I could and urgently mumbled “I’m feeling a lot of pressure!” Shawna thought I was yelling at her for applying too much counter-pressure and she was taken aback. When I realized that she hadn’t heard me, I screamed “I have to push!”  Shawna & Mike said they would call for the nurse. I knew this baby was coming, but I don’t think that Mike, Shawna, or Libby believed me until Libby checked me at Shawna’s urging and saw that the baby was crowning. I had progressed from 6 to 10cm in a matter of 1.5 hours. Something that none of us expected.

From here, things got a little frenzied. This little boy was coming, ready or not! I remembered from Michael’s birth that Linda had me hold my breath and slowly blow it out to help pace the pushing. Like I was blowing out a candle. Linda hadn’t made it down to the room yet, so I “blew out the candle” as best as I could to slow this kid down. At this point, I was grateful that the Epidural hadn’t numbed me yet so I could feel and control what my body was doing. A second nurse hastily got the baby station in the room set up. Linda had been paged again, but wasn’t responding. Libby went into the hall to get anyone else who was around and could help deliver this baby. The two resident doctors on rotation in OB that Sunday came in to the room and Libby quickly explained that the baby was coming. No sooner than the residents got into the room and threw on some gloves, Theodore Anthony flew into the world. 8:50pm after 2 pushes, I was a Mama again.

A few minutes later, a very surprised Linda came tearing into the room (apologetic for not having gotten there sooner!) to help wrap up the process and do an evaluation. While Teddy nursed like a champ on Mama’s chest, Linda helped me deliver the placenta (which I later had made into capsules- I’ll blog more about this later!) and, upon looking it over, discovered that I actually had a placental abruption and a small blood clot, which explains the bleeding I had been having the past few days. She validated my instincts by telling me that induction today was the right decision. Had I waited any longer, the abruption could have caused serious issues for both me and Teddy. I had a little bit above average bleeding, likely due to the abruption, but miraculously, despite not being coached through my pushing, no tearing at all! Since the epidural had not numbed my legs yet, I was able to avoid a catheter all-together and even able to get up and walk myself to the bathroom shortly after Teddy’s birth.

While Teddy’s birth story was much different than I envisioned, it was just as beautiful as I could have imagined. For the past two years, I have been very vocal about my natural birth experience with Michael and, in a weird way, I am glad that Teddy’s birth was so different so that I can share on other aspects of birth now from a place of experience.

Just as in Michael’s birth, I was reminded of the importance of having a birth team that you trust implicitly with your and your child’s life. My Midwife, Linda, my Doula, Shawna, my Nurse, Libby, and my amazing hubby, Mike were all on my side. No one was trying to diminish my feelings. No one questioned my requests or feedback. I felt 100% supported and knew that, if any of them said that something needed to happen, it was not just to meet a quota or because they wanted to go home earlier or because it was easier for them. It was because that was what was necessary for the safe delivery of my baby boy. I can’t imagine making the decisions that had to be made that day without the support from and confidence in my birth team.

Most importantly, I learned to trust my own instinct. One of the reasons I decided to do the induction was because I said that I would not be able to live with myself had we gone home and something happened to Teddy. I shudder to think of what could have happened if this abruption continued to go undetected, but because of my own mommy instinct, I don’t have to. This is a lesson that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.

It felt like the longest day of my life, but once it was done, it was all a blur. Like all the nerves and the pain never even happened. Labor is just like motherhood in that way. The hours are long, but the days are short, and now the two most beautiful boys in the world call me Mama. Someone pinch me.

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“I have everything you need right here.”

“You’ve got to be so in love already!”

I’ve heard these words countless times since Little Man was born, but the truth is, responding with a “yes” has made me feel like a liar. Of course I love my baby, but it is a love that has been evolving. An acquired taste, if you will.

Upon first laying eyes on him, I was in complete awe. I couldn’t believe that this perfect little human came from my husband and I, that I had grown him in my body, and that he was all mine to care for for the rest of my life. I knew that I would do anything for him. I had love for him immediately, but I would not yet say that I was “in love”. I know, it sounds horrible, but to anyone who has never had a baby, I promise that saying this does not make me crazy- it just makes me honest.

I read an article once that talked about our society’s quickness to diagnose new mothers with post postpartum depression. Don’t get me wrong, I know that PPD is a very real problem that affects many women, but I couldn’t help but snigger in agreement at the premise of what I read. The article compared becoming a mother to acquiring a CEO position at a big company. When you become a CEO, the expectation is that there will be a learning curve. The expectation is that you will still have a personal life with some semblance of the one you had before your new job. The expectation is that you will get overwhelmed from time to time, especially at first. If you breakdown and cry during your first few weeks or months, no one will be shocked. When we are new moms, the expectation is that we will know what to do immediately. The expectation is that our personal lives will do a complete 180 from what it was just a few days before. The expectation is that we will handle this all in stride, with a smile on our tired faces and love for our babies in our hearts. The reality that we face is this:  if we are exhausted or overwhelmed and not completely “in love” after just one week of our brand new lives, we are “depressed and need to be medicated”. If we break down and cry during our first few weeks or months, “something must be seriously wrong.” We, as a culture, need to do a better job of respecting the learning curve for new moms. We all need an adjustment period. We need to remind each other that we have all felt this way, and these feelings don’t make us inadequate- they make us sane! To go through a major life-changing event without some challenging emotions attached to it would make us all crazy.

Don’t get me wrong, I experienced a lot of moments of pure, unadulterated joy and bliss during those first weeks, but many will be shocked to learn that a majority of the emotions that I was working through were not positive ones. I was dealing with a beautiful cocktail of hormones, plus the stress of being thrust into a completely new and different lifestyle. To boot, everyone in the world expected me to love it and be a professional at it all right away.

The first emotion that I really had to work through after my amazing mother headed home and my darling husband went back to work was isolation. I felt like I was the only woman in the history of the universe who had gone through these ups and downs of new motherhood. As I’ve said before, there are not a lot of other women in my life at this point who have chosen to begin their motherhood journeys. I did not feel that there were others who I could be completely honest with about what I was feeling. I was excited to spend time with my baby and bond, but how was I supposed to navigate getting out of the house and to the store with a baby when I couldn’t even get him to settle down long enough to do my hair? How was I ever going to enjoy social outings again if I had to hide and breastfeed my baby every hour or half hour or, some days, nonstop all day long? I felt as if my baby were holding me hostage in a life that wasn’t mine.

The next emotion that I really had to work through was yearning. Mostly, this was yearning for my old life. In moments of exhaustion and frustration, I found myself thinking things like “What have I gotten myself into?” and “Will my life ever feel normal again?” I felt so much guilt for thinking these things. For so long, all I wanted in this world was to meet my little boy and to hold him in my arms, but now that he was here, I was wishing it away?! What was wrong with me?! At the same time, I was also yearning for more help or less help or for someone to come visit or for someone to go away. I was insatiable. It is really difficult coming to the realization that becoming a mother is a process. You will yearn for “the way things used to be” until you reach the point where you “can’t imagine what life was like before.” You will yearn for more alone time, until your brains are turning to mush from breastfeeding and watching a marathon of TV shows all day. You will yearn for peace and quiet until your guests leave and you realize that you now only have an infant who can’t even hold up his own head to keep you company all day. Our yearning stems from a fear of the unknown, but once we get more comfortable in our new mommy shoes, that yearning will most likely shift into a yearning to do it all over again.

The last of these emotions, and perhaps the hardest to talk about, is resentment. After a few days of being exhausted and  covered in spit up, where the only lunch you have time for between breastfeeding and soothing a crying baby is a few peanut butter crackers, you will begin to resent… basically everyone. You will resent your partner for having the freedom to leave and go to social outings (or even go to work!) at will. You will resent your friends for being able to go to a nice restaurant for a last minute dinner date. You will even resent your dog for being able to sleep through the night. You will also know, on a very real level, that none of this is their fault. This, however, will not stop you from feeling this way. Why doesn’t their life change more drastically when yours has? Well, the simple answer to that is that you are the mom. You are the one who is allowing your child to thrive by nourishing his body with milk from your own. You are the first face he sees when he wakes up in the middle of the night because he is still adjusting to life in this new world. You are the last voice he will hear before he is rocked to sleep in your arms. And chances are, once you’ve gotten yourself free from the “baby blues” hormones, you will realize that its a pretty fair trade off.

Tonight, as my son was crying from exhaustion and fighting sleep, I said to him

“Its OK Baby- I have everything you need right here.”

When he finally settled and peacefully closed his eyes, those words weighed heavy on my heart.  The world could end and as long as he had me, he would be fine. I can feed him with my body. I can keep him warm in my arms. I can shelter his heart in the safety of my love, and as long as he was safe and happy, I would have all that I needed too.

In that moment I was taken aback by the raw truth in my words, and I realized for the first time, that

I am completely in love.

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One of the biggest challenges that I have experienced so far in my postpartum world is a lack of “community”. Anymore, families in the US are not brought up with multiple generations under one roof. Many families members, even of just one generation, often live scattered around the country (or across the world, in some cases). That old saying “it takes a village to raise a child” is completely valid.  I have been raised in a society where there is an alarming lack of cumulative wisdom and sharing of birth/child rearing experiences, and that has had an unfortunate impact on my experiences as a mother so far. To further push the point, for those women who are lucky enough to have been raised in an extended family, there is still a certain sense of taboo surrounding the real, hard discussions about many issues encountered in these processes. This leaves many women – myself included – with a feeling of isolation. It makes many of us feel that our worlds have been completely flipped upside-down when we become pregnant and again when our babies are born, because we do not have a real-life knowledge base to compare our own experiences to. It makes us feel as though many of the very normal, natural things that we are experiencing are unique to us, which in turn makes us hesitant to share with others and further perpetuates the problem. I feel lucky in that I do have an incredible mother who has been 100% supportive and nurturing during my pregnancy and motherhood journey so far, but I also feel blessed that I recognized the lack of a larger knowledge-base to support my own experiences early-on, and was adamant about finding ways to create this sense of community for myself.

Being an active social media user, I first turned to the internet. Early in my pregnancy, before making the news public, I found myself on google searching for every idle thought and fear that flitted through my mind.

“Can I eat lunch meat while pregnant?” “If I don’t have morning sickness, does that mean that I’m not pregnant?” “When will I start to feel pregnant?” “Percentage of pregnancy ending in miscarriage” “How to tell if I’m pregnant with a boy or a girl” “Cute ideas to tell parents that I am pregnant”

It was truly out of hand. As I spent more and more time on google, I soon realized that it was fairly easy to skew the search results based on the way that I phrased the question. I found myself thinking “Wouldn’t it be great to compare my experiences with other ladies who are going through the same things at the same time or who have gone through this before?” I eventually found myself in a facebook group of about 600 other women across the world who had apparently arrived at the same conclusion that I had- we needed to create our own community. For whatever reason we all had this need. For me, I know, it had a lot to do with this: In my immediate family on one side, I was the most recent baby born (25 years ago!) and on the other side of the family, there had been 2 second cousins born, but they lived on the other side of the country. The information regarding their gestations and upbringing did not feel accessible to me. In addition, I was the first of our close friends in the area to get pregnant. I felt as if I did not have a peer group. The women of this new facebook group were all due around the same time that I was. Some were first time moms like me, others had one or multiple other children as well. I truly believe that the best thing that I could have done for myself early in the pregnancy was join this group. These women allowed me to ask the candid questions that I needed answered so badly, all while hiding behind the safety of my keyboard. They did not judge or laugh at me. They shared in my excitement and in my misery. The group dwindled down in size over the 10 months of my pregnancy, with some women unfortunately losing their babies early, some women just choosing that it was not an outlet that they needed any longer, and some women being kindly asked to leave because of passing unfair judgement or just being outright rude. By the end of my pregnancy, there was a solid group of about 50 women or so, who were (and to this day, still are) women who I consider my friends. We have shared in each others’ joy and sorrow, we have all asked “stupid” questions, and we have all shared our input on our fair share of “TMI” questions that you would only ask a close group of girlfriends who have their own experiences to base an opinion off of. We are all honest about our experiences – the good, the bad, and the ugly – so that we can collectively grow and learn from them.

After Little Man’s arrival, I also started to recognize the need to get out of the house and find other local women who were in the same place in their lives that I was. Much to my delight, I was able to join a “Mom & Baby Meetup” through the Doula group that I used to help aid in my son’s birth. Since joining, I have been blown away by the impact that these women have had on me as a woman and mother. The first time that we met, I remember being taken aback upon realizing that I could stay seated right where I was and breastfeed my beautiful baby boy uncovered, all while speaking candidly and honestly with these remarkable women. It was freeing. I remember feeling warm and fuzzy inside as we shared our birth stories. I remember genuinely choking up when I realized that, though our birth experiences and journeys to motherhood were all so different, we were all going through the same trials. I remember the relief that I felt when I realized that other new moms were having the same challenges that I was every day.

Whenever I am feeling like navigating postpartum life is near impossible, I just take out my phone and call/text/facebook any of my beautiful, strong-willed mommy friends for reassurance and validation. I am eternally grateful to these communities for helping me keep perspective and remember that I am not on this journey alone.

On a daily basis, I am forced to participate in a society that places very little value on the relationship between a mother and her young infant, but I find solace in the fact that I am doing my part to help reverse the vicious cycle. I want there to be an overwhelming support and sense of community for my friends as they begin their journeys into motherhood. I want them to have the option to use it to their advantage or to go about it on their own. I have vowed to my girlfriends that, as the pioneer mother among us, I will candidly share any/all aspects of my pregnancy, labor, and child-rearing experiences with them if they want to hear it. I want their pregnancies to come ready-made with the sense of warmth, support, and inclusion that I had to seek out.