Meditations on the Beginning of Spring

One year ago, I didn’t know I was going to get pregnant that month. I had just turned 35 and was still recovering from my loss the previous autumn. My oldest friend had just welcomed her son, a son that was supposed to have been born a mere three months before my own. But it was spring, a time of new beginnings, and I was trying to embrace that.

I had started acupuncture a few weeks earlier, and my acupuncturist had suggested I meditate on the green and growing things of springtime. He suggested that I focus on the fertile time of year that it was. And I was following my Circle + Bloom meditation program as well. I was meditating a lot. I meditated a lot in the months following my loss.

I didn’t know that I was standing on the cusp of a new period in my life. That a couple weeks later, I would see those two pink lines, and all the excitement and fears they brought up. This year, one year later, I’m sitting in a quiet house, watching my nearly-three-month-old son nap. We went to my friend’s son’s first birthday party this weekend.

I can feel the air warming and the world moving into springtime again, just as I did last year. This year, I won’t be blooming quite so obviously with the spring, but I’m still growing, becoming a mother, slowly but surely. And I get to watch my own little sprout grow as we nurture him.

Despite the years I’ve had in my life, I’m always amazed at the difference a year can make. As we emerge from winter, it’s nice to touch base with the constants in life — the spring, the sun, the flowering trees, the migrating birds — as I consider all that has changed. And I can sit here and appreciate every moment of my journey, joyful and sad, and appreciate that spring has come again.

childbirth, Dan

An Ode to the Other Half, Part Two: Birth Partner

In this series, I’m giving my partner, Dan, his due as a fantastic partner at all stages of our journey to parenthood. Today, I’m going to talk a little about how he prepared for and participated in the birth of our child. I can honestly say that Elliot’s birth would not have been the largely positive experience that it was without Dan’s help.

I’ve already told the story of Elliot’s birth and how I used my Hypnobabies techniques to keep calm and mostly comfortable during labor, especially before getting an epidural. I’ve also talked about how my first epidural started failing on one side because it was improperly placed and I had to have it redone while experiencing the height of pitocin contractions. But that’s the middle. Let’s start at the beginning.

First of all, though he was dubious about its effectiveness, Dan was always willing to participate in the Hypnobabies training. He took to the scripts and the cues right away, and I felt confident that he would be able to help, which made the anticipation of labor less scary. We checked into the hospital at 4pm the day of my induction and he stayed with me for the entirety of my hospital stay, which was almost 36 hours of labor, a c-section, and four additional days, sleeping on couches and staying up all night to soothe the baby so I could rest and recuperate as much as possible.

When we first got into the perinatal room, he helped figure out the TV options while I chatted with the nurse, and later on, he made sure that I could comfortably eat while mostly stuck in bed because of the monitors. Other than the time he spent sleeping the first night (I was pretty oblivious to my increasing contractions while on Cytotec, so I let him sleep as much as he could), he was engaged in the process and made sure to touch base with the nurses to know what was going on. He also was in charge of bringing my cold snacks to the nurses’ station to get them refrigerated, and then fetching gelatin and broth for me later on. I ate a lot of gelatin after we moved to labor and delivery.

But Dan truly started to shine when my contractions became more intense on pitocin. I had a private conversation with him that I was thinking I should get an epidural before I mentioned it to anyone else, and he supported me, while also encouraging me to wait until I talked to the doctor and the doula again, so that I didn’t regret getting it too early. When I did finally decide it was time for the epidural, he was right there with me, helping me relax through the contractions while I had to sit up for the anesthesiologist.

And when that epidural failed and I didn’t think I could keep going on, he was right there with me. I’m so glad our doula was able to snap the picture above of him comforting me through what would turn out to be the worst part of my labor experience. When I had to sit up for the second epidural placement, he was right there with me, helping me with relaxation cues to help me through the contractions while staying still for the epidural. I honestly don’t know if I would have been able to do it without him.

Eventually, we decided that it was time to move to the c-section, and I was so glad they allowed him in with me. I had to go in first, to get prepped, and then they showed him in. I was having really bad shakes from the spinal and it was making me anxious, which made me shake even worse. As soon as Dan came in and sat next to me, he started using Hypnobabies cues and some tricks the doula showed him to help me relax. Even though he claims it didn’t look like it made a difference, I felt much more relaxed and felt like I was shaking less.

Once Elliot came out (greeting the world with a fountain of urine!), Dan was the one to cut the cord and held him the rest of the time the doctors were finishing up. And once I was back in recovery, doing skin-to-skin time, Dan and my nurse made sure to watch us so that I didn’t have to worry about feeling drowsy from the effects of the anesthetic (and over 36 hours of labor and surgery with very little sleep!).

Throughout our hospital stay and the weeks after, he was the one who made my recovery possible. When I had trouble picking up Elliot because of my incision, he reminded me that most people who have abdominal surgery are told not to lift anything, rather than “nothing heavier than the baby,” so that as long as I had him to help, he would do the lifting. Every night when Elliot woke up to nurse, Dan was right there to pick him up out of the bassinet and hand him to me. Sometimes, Dan is better at soothing him to sleep than I am!

His quiet resilience and willingness to help with everything that was possible for him to do made it possible for me to rest and recover from my surgery, while his emotional support has helped me through some of the mentally toughest moments I’ve had. I feel lucky to have such good support and know Elliot feels lucky to have such a good dad.

[photo by Jenny Corbett]

Fourth trimester

Welcome, Elliot


It’s been a while since I’ve updated this space. If you follow my Instagram, you’ll know that’s because baby Elliot decided to arrive just over a week ago. We’re all very busy at home getting used to our new little family, but as soon as I find some time, I’ll share the story of Elliot’s birth and start updating with how these first weeks are going.


Thoughts on a Quiet Christmas à Deux

Well, we had thought this would be our first Christmas with a baby. Had my due date proven a more accurate guess, we would probably be in the throes of cluster feeding and sleepless nights still. But due dates, like the pirate’s code, are really more like guidelines, and here we are, waiting on our baby, fielding well-meaning inquiries from friends, and getting a lot of comments about having our own “baby Jesus” (for what it’s worth, I did suggest that if the baby came on Christmas, we’d have to consider using “Noel/Noelle” as the name, but Dan vetoed that.

We had always planned on this Christmas being a quiet affair with just the two of us. We hadn’t even planned on making the 20-minute drive to my mother’s house nearby because, if we had a newborn (and a recently-postpartum body, for me), there was little chance we were going to both put on real clothes, let alone leave the house. But the eerie calm-before-the-storm feeling of being overdue and alone together during Christmas wasn’t expected.

I’ve had quiet Christmases before, and Christmases without a large gathering, and even Christmases where we woke up on Christmas morning with just the two of us in our house. But somehow, this one feels different. We didn’t really have anything planned because the hope was always that I would wake up suddenly and be gearing up to give birth at any moment, so why make big plans for one specific day?

This year has also been a bit of a trial run for an idea we had for future Christmases with our child: gift-free. This year, we’re not buying gifts for each other and just focusing on spending time together on a quiet day off. Our hope is that in the future, we can make this holiday about spending time together and not about gifts, at least in our immediate little family. That way, we’re not adding our own excesses to the inevitable pile of gifts from grandparents.

So this year, we’re having a quiet day in, waiting patiently to see if I manage an eleventh-hour birth on my own before my scheduled induction later this week. I’m making a bit of a special breakfast because we need something to mark the day, and just generally trying to celebrate the return of sunlight into the world without as much to-do as usually goes on.

pregnancy, Third Trimester, Weeklies

Forty-one Weeks Pregnant

Yup, still pregnant. I now refer to myself as “excessively pregnant.” And it’s certainly been a week. I spent this week working from home, which was at least nice because I didn’t have to fight crowds on my commute, but it also meant that I didn’t get the benefit of interacting with other people on a regular basis. It did get a little lonely and made me wonder how I’m going to handle being at home with the baby for three months after Dan goes back to work.

I’m also just starting to feel big, ungainly, and tired. The baby is obviously running out of room, and is starting to grow back up into my stomach, causing my reflux to get worse. Friday and Saturday nights were the worst, but I’m hoping that upping my Zantac dosage (doctor’s suggestion) will help that. I’m still not showing any signs that the baby is coming soon. I’ve had some contractions, off and on, but nothing major and nothing that progresses.

So I’m scheduled for an induction this week and that’s when the baby will probably come out. At least I know this is my last full week of pregnancy and have an end in sight, but I do hope my next few days are better than the last couple have been.

Dan and I are now both officially off work. I’m using my paid time off to cover any days between now and the birth, and Dan has two Federal holidays and an undetermined amount of time furloughed before he can get his leave re-approved. Thankfully, our finances are robust enough to weather the shutdown at the same time as I’m heading out on partial paid leave.

So we’ve spent our time being relatively lazy and just resting mostly. I prepped some homemade gelatin to have on hand, since it’s what I’m allowed to eat right before my induction, and I’ll probably make a batch of lactation bars to take with me to the hospital for after the baby comes out, for when I need an easy, hand-held snack. But other than that, we’re mostly as ready as we’ll ever be.

childbirth, pregnancy

Seemingly-Simple Wisdom from our Doula

I’ve made references to our doulas in the past. We’re having a doula from Silver Spring Doula attend our birth. Since both of them share duties, either Jenny or Rose will attend the birth, but our “primary contact doula” is Rose. She’s a certified Hypnobabies instructor and has been really helpful as I’ve gone through my self-study, and has been working as a doula for over a decade. Plus she has two kids of her own. So she’s learned a thing or two. And I thought I’d share some of her little wisdom gems.

  1. Freezer meals: I’ve mentioned this one before, but rather than carving out separate time to prepare “freezer meals,” simply make a double-batch of whatever you’re making for dinner that night. And then freeze half. It’s so simple, and yet I hadn’t thought of it. I was dreading figuring out when I was going to have time to make casseroles, not to mention buying spare dishes to freeze them in and figure out the freezer space. But since I’m only freezing two servings at a time and cooking when I would already be cooking anyway, it works out with much less headache.
  2. Shelf-stable high-protein snacks: She suggests having some shelf-stable snacks that are high in protein stashed around the house for eating while breastfeeding. Energy bars and peanut butter are good ideas. I imagine beef jerky would also work (although I’ve heard you get incredibly thirsty while breastfeeding, so that might be counter-productive).
  3. Hospital bags: Rather than packing a “his” and “hers” bag, pack a bag for during labor and after labor. That way, you only need to bring one bag in with you when you get to the hospital, and your partner can run out to the car to grab the other one after the baby’s come out. We actually re-packed our bags after hearing this and I feel much more confident about our packing because it also gave us a better way to organize things to make sure we hadn’t forgotten anything.

I know, I know. This all seems so simple and obvious, right? Well, I hadn’t thought of it. And I’ve mentioned it to other pregnant women I know and they were surprised not to have thought about it. But it’s helped me feel so much more prepared for birthing and the postpartum period to have these little ways to get things done. That way, my mental energy can go where it’s really needed: washing so many things for the baby.


Expecting Better, Pregnancy “Rules,” and How I Managed My Personal Pregnancy Restrictions

So in my review of Like a Mother, I referenced Emily Oster’s book Expecting Better. Now, I don’t think I need to review this book. A lot of women find it helpful or liberating, while others find it cherry-picked and overly permissive. Personally, my takeaway from this book was not that everything they tell you to avoid in pregnancy is fine, but that it’s important to investigate the context behind any “rules” you’re given in pregnancy.

The big one is alcohol. At this point, the medical bottom line is that there is no safe amount of alcohol in pregnancy. But it’s not as simple as that because the “no alcohol” rule is a product of social context and backlash after the discovery of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, which occurs when mothers have a serious problem with drinking. So Oster’s book attempts to actually look at the research behind drinking in pregnancy beyond just the excessive level that is known to cause FAS. Because it’s unrealistic and infantilizing to tell women that they can’t have anything to drink ever if they’re not using birth control (seriously). But that’s not to say that alcohol is necessarily safe. I mean, ethanol is a known mutagen and teratogen, and the products of metabolizing ethanol in the body have similar negative effects on cells.

But this is a rabbit hole that most people don’t want to go down. Most women pick up this book and just want someone to tell them “Is X safe?” Unfortunately, the answer to that is that, well, nothing is safe in pregnancy. Because pregnancy involves so many interconnected variables that it’s pretty difficult to pin down whether one particular factor was or wasn’t a factor that helped or harmed a pregnancy. Beyond taking folate and not getting yourself injured, there’s not a whole lot of consensus on what is and isn’t an appropriate risk to take in pregnancy. So we can talk to our doctors (though they need to stick to certain party lines) and read books like Oster’s and The Panic-Free Pregnancy, but ultimately, we have to decide how much restriction we’re willing and able to accept in our lives.

Another thing that a lot of people do is look at how restrictions vary by country. Personally, I looked at the recommendations on drinking tea for women in Asian countries, where tea is seen as a healthy beverage and not a caffeine-laden vice. But it’s important to remember how differing practices of handling food in other countries may affect the recommendations. For example, women in the UK are told that it’s safe to eat raw and undercooked eggs in pregnancy, but only because there is a type of egg in the UK that is certified to be free of food-borne pathogens. Since these eggs don’t exist in the US, that recommendation doesn’t really apply to women in the US. The same is true with warnings and recalls of vegetables in the US. A woman in Europe wouldn’t necessarily need to avoid romaine lettuce because it’s unlikely that it’s coming from one of the contaminated sources in North America.

Ultimately, I drew my personal lines and decided what I felt comfortable with and what I didn’t. I used a little of the information in Oster’s book, and a little information from Broder’s book, as well as jumping into my own research when that information seemed lacking. And then… I listened to my body. In particular, I spent some time thinking about alcohol. I knew that women in other countries aren’t necessarily counseled as strictly about avoiding alcohol, I had the information gleaned from Oster’s book, and I decided that I would feel comfortable drinking a glass or two of wine per week once I passed the first trimester. And then, while out with my in-laws at 14 weeks, I had the tiniest sip of prosecco from Dan’s glass and the resulting heartburn was excruciating. I tried again while we were in Barcelona and had similar effects. So no alcohol for me.

The same proved true with sushi. I had convinced myself that any food-borne illness I might catch from sushi wasn’t particularly likely if I stuck to places that had never made me sick before, But then, my food aversions started manifesting as aversions to both taste and texture, and I realized I felt oddly about the idea of chewing raw fish. And I didn’t want to risk the expense of ordering a sushi dinner, only to discover that I couldn’t eat it (I had this problem with plantains and bacon where I didn’t realize I had an aversion until I put them in my mouth). So no sushi during my pregnancy.

So I think it’s important to come to your own conclusions. While I was grateful for the general discussion of caffeine in the books I read, I found it insufficient to guide me in my daily life because I drink tea that is steeped in a way that differs from the standard view of “a cup of tea.” So I did my own research and came to my own conclusions about how to incorporate tea into my pregnant life. I did the same thing with personal care products, especially since there is almost no discussion of this in the books, and doctors’ advice will range from “use as little as possible” to “anything is fine.” I think a lot of people don’t understand the importance skin care plays in my life, especially when hormones can make your skin a little wacky, so I had to find my own data to make decisions. And this is fully supported in Oster’s book.

I think the main advantage of the new trend towards pregnancy books that cast a critical eye on traditional pregnancy “rules” and restrictions is a response to the idea that pregnant women should always want to be as cautious as possible because it’s better to give up something of themselves than potentially risk a miniscule chance of harm to the baby. But everyone should be free to come to their own conclusions. I, personally, decided that listeria and toxoplasmosis were not risks I wanted to take, so I avoided cold cuts, cold-smoked fish, pate, charcuterie, rare meat, and working in the garden (we have a lot of outdoor cats in our neighborhood). Dan took care of the litter box mostly because of the smell, since our very sheltered indoor cat likely poses no risk of toxo. I also did my best to avoid other forms of food-borne illness, just because that didn’t sound fun. I temped my heated food and I broke the yolks in my eggs, or scrambled them. But I was less dogmatic about this, especially with eggs from farmers we patronize frequently. And I did have the occasional sip of wine, and to hell with the heartburn!

(Now, anyone who is visiting me in the hospital or soon after can feel free to pick up a charcuterie platter from our favorite butcher, shown above when we visited a year ago.)