Tag Archives: Anticipation

Birth Story, Part One

It feels strange to return to this space after my son was born four months ago. It feels strange because I had a beautiful birth this time, a birth so unexpected and different than my first one. I think about what I wrote about God as a laboring mother and find it difficult to connect those essays to my latest experience, which was astoundingly good.

A writer-friend remarked to me once that I like to write about failure. That struck me as devastatingly true — I do tend to frame stories by my mislaid expectations and the crashing disappointment of real-life-living. Even the title of this blog, “What Life Does,” refers to a quote that reflects that sense of disillusionment.

But I don’t want to be a person who always frames her life in terms of failure. In writing out this birth story, I am taking a small step in exploring the positive in my life.

40 weeks pregnant.

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I was overdue. I was approaching the deadline, 40 weeks plus 14 days. Instead of needing to produce a paper or article, I needed to give birth. By December 4th. Otherwise I would become a “high risk” pregnancy because there is greater chance that the placenta may atrophy once you pass 42 weeks. And, if you’re high risk, you can’t deliver at a birth center, you have to deliver at a hospital.

I had my daughter at a hospital three years prior and the birth hadn’t gone the way I had hoped. Somehow, I had it fixed in my mind that giving birth in the hospital again would mean re-experiencing the same birth I had the first time. I wanted a different birth. I wanted to deliver at the birth center.

It was December 3rd and I wasn’t in labor. I woke up in the morning feeling angry. Contractions still hadn’t started. I had been doing all the things people tell women who are waiting for their babies to come: have sex, take castor oil, climb stairs, eat spicy food, acupuncture. The midwives at the birth center told me that, if December 3rd came around and I still wasn’t in labor, I could go into the birth center to have my water broken manually. Something about a knitting-needle hook that would be inserted into my cervix. A friend of mine had delivered at the same birth center and had the procedure done to help jumpstart labor; her daughter was born 10 hours later.

I was desperate to have a different birth. I wanted to deliver at the birth center.

I called my doula, my friend Melanie, a friend who I have known for years. Our families have lived together and we’ve seen each other at our best and at our worst. We’ve had fights over unloading the dishwasher and cried together during house meetings and watched each other parent our babies. We’ve talked about our family issues, about old hurts and ways to move beyond them. She has influenced me so much in the way she mothers. She knows how to grow beautiful plants and run a greenhouse, the little seedlings bending toward her careful knowledge and light. I trust Melanie in the way you can trust someone who has known you, who you’ve watched caretake vulnerable things: small children, small plants. The way she nourishes life, gives it the light of her attention, the water of her diligence. And she knows a lot about maternal medicine, having doula-ed countless births.

So I called Melanie, and she didn’t give me advice straight out, but I could sense she didn’t agree with the breaking your water strategy. If your water breaks, you have 24 hours before the risk of infection rises and before medical professionals will hook you up to Pitocin to jumpstart labor. Choosing to break my water could open up my birth to the possibility that I would need more interventions later.

Still, not breaking my water would mean that I would be delivering at the hospital, it would mean that my dreams of a birth center birth would go unrealized. And I wasn’t ready to let that go.

Melanie came with Josh and I to the birth center to discuss the procedure with the midwives. I remember being in one of the birthing suites, seated on a couch, and sobbing as I finally chose not to get my water broken to induce labor. I was letting it go, I thought I was deciding to have a hospital birth. It felt like giving up, it felt like history repeating itself.

The hospital was across the street from the birth center, so we walked over icy sidewalks to visit the brand new Mother Baby Center. It’s a new wing of the hospital, done up in rainbow hued glass and futuristic couches. It looked fine, it was all fine, but I longed for the soothing green walls of the birth center, the tasteful art, the giant water-birth Jacuzzi-style tubs. I know, in retrospect, it may sound selfish and privileged to be whining about where I give birth – a top-notch hospital is among the better places (or so I imagine) to have a baby. Yet, I’d been picturing myself delivering in another place for months; I had all my prenatal appointments at the birth center. Switching to an unfamiliar hospital at the very last minute made me tense.

After touring the hospital, Josh and I tried to decide what to do next. My three-year-old daughter was staying at her grandparents for the day. Should he go back to work? Should I take a nap? Try something else to get labor started?

Melanie suggested we visit an herbalist midwife friend of hers. I wasn’t sold on the idea, but I was desperate. There was still a slim chance that I could go into labor that very day and be able to deliver at the birth center.

So we went. Her office was in her home, the upstairs of a duplex, beaming with light, with hanging plants and warm neutral wall hangings. There were bookcases lined with Ina May Gaskin’s books and several copies of Birthing from Within. She asked us a few questions, she scoffed at the birth center’s rigid two week post-due-date time frame (your gestational length is perfectly normal! There is no real reason NOT to keep waiting, besides for insurance). If you were my patient, she said, we wouldn’t be trying anything to get labor started. We would just trust that it would start in the next few days. And then I felt guilty for not having chosen a home-birth in the first place.

She had me stick out my tongue and she listened to my pulse. She pulled out black eyedroppers full of herbal tinctures and placed a few drip-drops on my wrists. She gave me a few brown bottles of “strong uterine herbs” that are supposed to jumpstart labor. I felt foolish when I wrote the check for $50 – we were barely making our monthly budget – and wondered if this would work.

We went home, I took the herbs, I took a nap. I felt utterly depleted, my tears and decision to deliver at the hospital feeling like giving up on my hopes for a beautiful birth. But when I woke up an hour later, I was having a contraction. And then another. And then another.

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Expecting Newborns, Winter

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The weather is changing here in Minnesota, no – it’s punching, it’s swinging. On Sunday evening I read the forecast: an estimated six to eight inches of snow would fall by Monday evening. Just like that, fall to winter.

I’m not ready, I thought. For the cold, for the darkness at 4:30 PM, for freezing hands on freezing car steering wheels.

My unborn baby boy is due in seven days. I feel like a ticking time bomb, knowing I will give birth anytime. It could be tonight. It could be after Thanksgiving.

But I’m not ready, I keep thinking to myself. I have awesome pregnancies. I don’t have awesome labors. But even once that part is over, once he is here, I will have two kids to manage in wintertime. Minnesota wintertime. Two little bodies to bundle into snowsuits and strap into car seats and drive through blizzards.

I couldn’t sleep on Sunday night. That anticipation, the cusp of major change kept my eyes open as I stared at shadows in our dark bedroom. My mind was awake, running ragged. Please sleep, I told myself. Instead, I kept thinking: will I be able to handle it? Will I be okay? The sleep deprivation, the nursing and diaper-changing whilst my toddler jumps on and off the couch, the putting on and taking off so many pairs of tiny mittens?

My mind scanned the mental to-do list. We still haven’t decided on a name; we still need to put away the air-conditioner that is sitting in our living room; we still need to pack a bag for the birth center. I need to write thank you notes from my baby shower. We have to sell our car.

I got out of bed and pulled out bags of last year’s scarves and hats to sort. I traded sandals for heavy winter boots on the closet shoe-rack. I pulled out my winter coat and put my hands in the pockets, uncovering remnants of life from six months prior: a granola bar wrapper, the set of dice I used for math games in my job as a tutor, a cheap pair of stretchy gloves. I tried to remember what I was doing in April when the last snows were here. Before the glory days of spring, summer and fall, back when I was putting my hands in coat pockets. I know winter had dragged on and on; that I was thankful when the snow began to melt and I put this coat in storage.

Anticipating a second newborn feels like that seasonal cycle; it feels like going back to winter you barely remember. I know it was hard the first time, really hard, especially those first 18 months. I know there were days when I felt like I was drowning in the needs of my needy infant, unable to detangle myself from my role as mother long enough to take a shower. But then it got easier. My daughter started sleeping at night, we had only one nap a day to worry about, and life got into a rhythm. I felt more confident. I started going to writing classes. I worked part-time.

Those were the spring, summer and fall days of life with my daughter, my one and only darling child. We were chums, just the two of us. We had easy days out on the playground or meeting friends or visiting the children’s museum. I had some flexibility in my schedule to pursue other interests.

But now it’s approaching wintertime of parenting again: time to pull out the baby clothes, install the infant car seat, and dig out the bibs and bottles.

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I actually like winter. I was born and raised here in Minnesota; I know how to layer long underwear and what brands of winter boots to buy. Some of the most magical moments of my life have been spent cross-country skiing through evergreen forests, their heavy limbs bending with snow. My sisters and I could tell you painful stories of our family’s epic winter trips to the North Woods: long treks on wooden skis in below-zero wind-chill and having our parents wipe our bottoms with snow balls after we pooped behind trees (true story). But we could also tell you about the muffled quiet of the cold and the brilliance of the blue sky and the steam from the sauna. I have so many good memories, so much love for this season. I’m a northern girl at heart.

But last winter nearly broke me. Last winter was a long string of subzero days, going on and on like pearls on a rope-length necklace. Just when you thought it would be warm enough to pull your toddler in the sled, 30 below zero winds would force you inside for another cabin feverish afternoon. The cold kept coming, the winds numbing our faces so our cheek muscles couldn’t flex enough to smile.

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I like babies. I remember hazy fragments from my daughter’s newborn days: the way she stretched her arms and arched her back in a milk-drunk stupor, the way she lumped on my chest like a warm potato. We have so few pictures of her from that stage; we were naïve to think they would stretch on and on and on. That we would always remember how she smelled or how she cooed. We were too fogged in by sleeplessness, too overwhelmed by new parenthood.

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My family of three took a walk around Como Lake on Saturday, before the snowfall. It was only 4:30 PM, but the sun was already dipping low and the Narnia-esqe street lamps were glowing. We wrapped up our toddler in a scarf, stuffed her hands in mittens.

“Look back,” my husband said. “Look at the sky.”

I turned. The sky was lit, alive, all oranges-pinks-reds with streaks of dark blue. It was moving, it was different each moment; it cast a pink-red sheen on the lapping lake water.

We kept walking, the sunset behind us, but we sped up to reach the curve that would place us in front of the colors all over again. We paused to marvel, and then started talking about baby names, about how we don’t have one that we can agree on, about how this name honors that side of the family but that name has a significant meaning.

And then I remembered to look up at the sky and it was gone. A few faint edgings of pink-purple laced the darkness, but the moving cosmic colors were gone.

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When we started talking about when her baby brother would be born, I told my two-year-old: “When the snow flies.” On Monday we woke to a steady slow snowfall, the ground already layered in white. She raced to the window. Ready or not, it was here.

“Mama, it snowed! Let’s go outside!” she said. After sending her downstairs to where my husband was already making breakfast, I flopped back on the pregnancy body pillow, a thin white snake that supports my oversize belly. Of all the things about parenting, waking up to a chatty toddler ranks among my least favorite.

Later, after I had my cup of coffee and some oatmeal with chopped bananas, she asked me: “Mama, is my baby brother going to pop out now?”

I smiled to myself. Pop out, if only. I walked over to the window and looked at the transformed apartment courtyard, the way everything seemed closer together between stretches of white snow. It’s finally here, I thought. The acidity in my stomach was gone.

It was 20 degrees and we had errands to run. We got on our boots and our coats and our hats and our mittens. I grabbed my green winter jacket, the one with poufy ribs reminiscent of Michelin man. I tugged on the zipper, thankful that I could get it up and over my 9-months-pregnant belly.

I held my daughter’s hand as we walked across the parking lot and got into our car. I scraped the windshield. We drove through the icy streets, following long lines of snowplows and trucks. Despite the memory of last winter’s sub-zero weeks and lingering snowstorms, I found myself marveling the slow-moving snowflakes drifting by. How beautiful, I thought. And, somehow, I remembered how to steer in the snow.

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