May 26, 2012

A Letter to my Daughter on the Occasion of Her Third Birthday

Dearest one,

I should start by telling you that I have no words to express how incredibly proud I am of you and how amazed I am by you on a daily basis. Watching you grow is watching a miracle in progress, and it humbles me.

If only I could say that you are your best, most sweet self at all times. Growing from two to three is a challenge; you have learned with so much more skill how to tell me what you want, you have learned to do so many things on your own, and you have pushed every boundary presented to you. You’re a nice, normal toddler. You drive me totally crazy. I couldn’t possibly love you more.

I have been so impressed in watching you grow through your first preschool experience. I can see you gaining more confidence in large groups of kids. I was so thrilled to see you at the children’s museum or the aquarium, not intimidated by the crowds, just plowing ahead to what you wanted to see or do. My shy girl has a bit more to learn in this arena, but you have already begun to understand that you have every right to be there, right in the middle of things. I love it when you come home with a song or a story that I didn’t teach you. I love to see you light up when you talk about your projects. And, let’s be honest, I love it when you run into my arms at the end of the day. I’m so glad that I’m still one of your favorite people. You’ll always be one of mine.

This next year is going to be a challenging one for you. We’re getting ready to move halfway across the country. We won’t get to see your wonderful grandparents and extended family with quite the same frequency. You’ll start a new school. Make new friends. Finally face forward in your car seat. There will be good times and bad times. We will frustrate each other. But I know that you will continue to grow into the smart, funny, sweet, emphatic girl and woman that you’re meant to be. Thank you for being my daughter. Thank you for teaching me to take a deep breath and count to 10 instead of yelling over spilled pee. Thank you for giving me the chance to show you how to pick ripe strawberries from our plants.

Thank you for helping me water those same strawberries (and your feet) with your tiny blue watering can. Thank you for sharing your imagination with me. The world you see is often much more interesting than my adult world. Thank you for sweet hugs and kisses and saying, “I love you.”

All my love always,

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May 9, 2012

How I Became a Mom

I didn’t have a blog when H was born, and so could not share the story of her birth. In honor of my third Mother’s Day, I have decided to correct that. Also, I know a few of you loyal readers have expressed interest at various times of hearing about her birth.

This is a few hours after H was born.

H was due May 30, the Saturday after Memorial Day. We were new to Dover so we went to Rehoboth during Memorial Day weekend, and walked (I waddled) on the board walk, ate some fries, ate some ice cream, and looked at the water. It was almost hot. Not hot enough to explain the vast numbers of skinny children turning blue in the ice cold Atlantic, but hot enough that my belly started to sweat under my giant pants.

It was a quiet weekend. We went to bed on Monday night with no thoughts that anything would happen. When I woke up at 4am on Tuesday, I just needed to pee. As this happens all the time even when I’m not pregnant, it wasn’t remarkable. But when I got back in bed I had a contraction that kind of hurt. None of them had hurt before. A few minutes later I had another. I woke Josh up, and told him I was having contractions. While he may be a government-trained operative, my husband takes a little while to fully wake up. At first, half asleep, Josh suggested that we try to get some sleep because labor could be a while. I quickly disabused him of this “sleeping” notion. The contractions started at eight minutes apart and got closer from there.

Josh started timing the contractions, and we went downstairs for a while. I tried drinking some juice, and kneeling by the couch for the contractions. I went ahead and told Josh, “This is all your fault,” just to get it out of the way. At some point we went back upstairs and the contractions started making me nauseous. I insisted on calling our midwives. This was probably only about an hour and a half to two hours in. Josh thought I was freaking out. I thought that my contractions were two minutes apart and lasting one minute.

I told our midwife L (Given that home births are technically illegal in Delaware, I won’t use the midwives’ full names.) what was going on and that the contractions were making me nauseous. She told me very matter-of-factly, “Then go ahead and throw up.” I also had a contraction while we were on the phone. She said she’d get in the car right away. Throwing up, by the way, was a great idea. I felt way better afterward.

We moved into the guest room where we were set up for the birth. In case you’re wondering, you make the bed with nice sheets, wrap it in a painter’s drop cloth, and make the bed again in sheets you don’t care about. The midwives cleaned everything and nothing ended up with the slightest stain.

I very quickly became internally focused. We had practiced all these comfort positions in our birth class, lots of which involved making use of Josh. Turned out once I was in labor that I really didn’t want him to touch me much. I wasn’t mad at him or upset at him. I didn’t want anyone to really touch me. I just wanted to take all my attention and focus it on what I was doing. I’m not going to lie, it was painful, but it was not unbearable. It just took all my focus.

Eventually I started getting anxious about when the midwives would arrive. L lives in Maryland, so it is a bit of a drive. Just as I really started to freak out, they arrived. I knew that things were progressing, and I didn’t want it to go too far before they arrived.

I had not had either the OB or the midwives check me for dilation before. I knew that it would make me nervous either way. If I was dilated, I’d think it was any minute. If I wasn’t, I’d be disappointed. As soon as they walked in, around 7:40am, I asked/demanded that they check me. I was seven to eight centimeters, almost completely effaced, and a +2 station. They saw how hard I was working and suggested I get in the shower.

Even at the time I remember thinking, “The shower! Why didn’t I think of that?!” It was glorious. The warm water eased the contractions an enormous amount. I thought it would be nice to fill the tub and sit down. Just as we plugged it and it started to fill with the shower water I had a contraction that nearly brought me to my knees. It wasn’t that it was so painful. It’s that I wanted to push. Our midwife, S, told me, “No pushing until there’s nothing you can do in the world except push.” It might have taken two more contractions before I said, “It’s time.”

We dried off and went back to the guest room. I started pushing at about 8am. There’s nothing that can adequately prepare you for pushing. There’s no way to practice it. It’s a general tightening that comes very naturally, but to be really productive you have to focus your energy and attention on a very specific area. It helps if you can avoid tensing every other muscle in your body at the same time. This was something I kind of struggled with; I had jelly arms for a few hours after. I have no idea how you can push with an epidural if you can’t feel what you’re doing. I have never tried it clearly, but I am quite frankly baffled as to how it happens.

Pushing was my favorite part of labor. It gave me a chance to feel like I was actively doing something, and it didn’t hurt. When the contraction would start it would hurt a bit, but as soon as I started pushing, it just felt like pressure.

I pushed a good long time. I hadn’t thought that I would want a mirror or anything during labor. But when things started getting rough and it seemed like she was just staying in the same spot, the midwives let me feel her head coming down or Josh would take a picture of her head and show me. It was so incredibly encouraging.

I pushed on my back, just like all the good midwifery books say not to. But that was how I felt at the time. My midwives let me do what was comfortable for me. At one point they did have me get on hands and knees. The contraction was a lot more intense. It was too much for me at the time. I flipped back over. In retrospect, I think I was a little afraid of the power and intensity. I’m extremely curious to see if I feel the same way next time.

Josh had one leg, S had the other, and L was massaging my perineum. After every push Josh would give me a sip of water. He was right there the whole time doing whatever I needed and being a very calm presence. Excellent husband, he is. Finally she came down far enough for S to see that H had her hand on top of her head. Sneaky little baby was making it way harder to push her out because of that hand being up there. Go ahead; put your hand on your head right now. How much bigger does that make the total space needed to accommodate both arm and head? A lot.

Josh and S pulled her arm all the way out, she crowned, and was born seconds later. As soon as I felt the ring of fire from her crowning I said to myself, “This baby is being born RIGHT NOW,” and gave the biggest push yet. Josh and one of the midwives both kind of caught her at once. I very quickly reached down and pulled her directly to my chest. I immediately started sobbing, “She’s beautiful! She’s beautiful!” And she was the most beautiful creature I had every laid eyes on; it didn’t matter one bit that she was all wet and covered in goo. Josh still teases me about this.

I held her up to make sure she was in fact a she and then just held her tight. She didn’t cry too much; she just looked around and tried to figure out what had just happened and who all these people were. The midwives let us hold her until we were ready to cut the cord, which had fully stopped pulsing by then. Josh cut the cord, and the midwives gave her an exam and weighed her right on the bed with us. We all guessed weights. I won: 7lbs, 8oz.

I didn’t tear one bit, despite her rather rapid entry right at the end. I had pushed for two hours. She was born at 10:05am. The whole labor took six hours. It took another 45 minutes for the placenta to come out. Darn thing was just cozy up there. It took a mouthful of herbs, a shot of pitocin, and the threat of a catheter to finally get it out.

About two hours after the birth my parents got there. A little while later I got showered, the midwives saw me into my own bed, and I took a nap. When I woke up you would never be able to tell a birth had taken place. In fact, my parents slept in the same bed that very night.

Home births are not for everyone. Mine was such a wonderful, empowering experience. I have never felt so strong, so powerful before. And the euphoria your body creates afterward had me feeling like I’d do it all again just a few hours later. Then, of course, there was the precious, beautiful baby. She is the sweetest prize of all.

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