Thursday, April 29, 2010

Patience, grasshopper

After nearly two years of trying to conceive our firstborn son, my husband and I ended up at the Duke Infertility Clinic. We arrived on a cold January morning after a holiday season during which I vowed to put my hopes for conceiving a child on the shelf and just enjoy the season.

That morning we strolled down wide corridors lined with open waiting rooms, all brightly lit. As we winded our way through the clinics, the corridors became grayer, narrower, more harshly lit. We navigated the maze-like hallways until we, literally, reached the end of the line. The narrow, cramped waiting room, the only one in that bank of clinics to have a door, was depressing.

We tried a fertility treatment and it failed. We decided to try again in a few months instead of subjecting ourselves monthly to a regimen of expensive drugs and procedures. Now, instead of feeling like my body had let me down once again, I felt like my body was letting my husband and our bank account down. It was the most horrible feeling in the world. But it was the beginning of my acceptance, for real, that getting pregnant was something that would happen in God's time, not mine. It was the beginning of learning to be still and know, for real, that someone with a far bigger imagination and far better plans for my life was in control. Until then, I faked those feelings in the hope that they would become real.

The next month, we got pregnant on our own. And a year later to the day that we walked into that clinic, our son had his first pediatrician visit.

A friend once told me that I should never pray for patience. Why? I asked. You'll get pregnant, she laughed.

How right she was.

I say that moment of failure four years ago was the beginning of acceptance and, ultimately, a greater patience because it prepared me for what was ahead. I'm still learning that forcing something to happen is more painful than waiting for events to unfold naturally, whether waiting for the kids to grow into or out of certain stages or waiting for a pregnancy to begin or end or waiting for the next step to become clear.

As much as I'd like to be holding our baby in my arms and not my belly right now, waiting seems easier than forcing this child into the world before it's ready. It has taken me years to realize this one truth: the easier, softer way is usually the way that appears harder at first. It may seem difficult to continue being pregnant while taking care of two small children, but it would be harder in the long run to recover from an induced, more painful delivery that could very well end in a C-section.

My midwife stopped by earlier this week. The baby is doing well - its heart rate and position are the same as last week. I'm doing well - my blood pressure and measurements are the same as last week. I nonchalantly asked her what is the longest she's ever seen anyone go over their estimated due date.

She raised her eyebrows, looked me in the eye and asked "Do you really want to know?" (By the way, this is one of the reasons I like her. She believes in the mind-body connection as much as I do. She was asking me to think about how this information might affect me.)

I thought it over and said, "Sure. Hit me."

"Four weeks," she replied.

Four weeks overdue would be a long time. Four weeks overdue would certainly test the limits of my patience. Four weeks overdue would certainly test the patience of everyone around us. And four weeks overdue would certainly make some question our judgment. But God knows this child's birthday and soon we will, too.

Friday, April 23, 2010

The waiting isn't the hardest part

When you become pregnant and start to show, suddenly your body becomes fodder for public commentary. And when you're overdue, that public commentary goes into overdrive. Every labor-inducing old wives tale comes out, which leads me to believe that impatience with this process is not unique to our life and times. Yes, we're eager for this baby to born; there are some passing anxieties yet there is a deep sense that this will all come to pass in its own time.

Besides, my anxiety level is tempered by the knowledge of what's coming, born of experience with two previous newborns - sleep deprivation, sore nipples, traumatized toddlers, baby spit up, a dozen diapers a day, a steep decline in personal hygiene and space and a serious toll on my sanity (for about the next nine months which is how long it usually takes my kids to figure out the sleeping through the night thing).

There are some things that I'm looking forward to ... an abrupt end to the heartburn, the frequent purchase of toilet paper and antacid, the even more frequent potty breaks, morning sickness (yes, still) and the aches and pains. And, oh yeah, we'll soon get to meet our new baby and to see the kids' reaction to their new sibling ... priceless. (I threw that last one in just so you wouldn't think that I was totally jaded.)

All I really want to do right now is get some rest because, really, when your a mom, sleep is the new sex. And considering that Fiona was six months old when this blessed "oops" occurred, I was probably asleep or at least pretending to be when this one was conceived.

So, you see, I'm not in much of a hurry here. But here are some of my favorite suggestions from people who apparently are in some sort of hurry on my behalf:

Spicy food: Blech .... my esophagus is already scorched from nine months of heartburn. In fact, that was my first clue that I was pregnant this time around. That and the fact that I was making myself loaded turkey wraps at 10 o'clock at night. I guess the point here is to spur some sort of intestinal distress to coax the baby out? Which leads to my personal least favorite ...

Castor oil: Okay, if you're a guy or not a mom, stop reading now. As eager as I am to not be as backed up as the LA Freeway on a bad day, there is no way I would want the kind of, um, free flowing traffic that this produces. I spend enough time in the bathroom as it is.

Bumpy roads: I already feel like I've been riding a horse all day. I have probably 8 pounds worth of baby crotch grinding me. Speed bumps and pot holes sounds like torture right about now. (I can't take credit for the term "crotch grinding." That was my husband's genius. Seriously, he hit the nail on the head.)

Jumping jacks: Men and childless women, you aren't still here, are you? I'm lazy about Kegel exercises, really, I am. My midwife and my first birth instructor swear by and heartily encourage them. At this point, if I did jumping jacks, I'd need to wear a Depends.

Sex: Um, no. Sleep is the new sex. Period.

Yes, those things may have "worked" for you or someone you know, but in all likelihood those things may just have coincided with the baby's timetable for arrival.

So we're back to waiting. And I really don't mind. Though I have to say that my firstborn spoiled me. I went into labor on my due date with him. Of course, it took us two years to conceive him. I guess he didn't want us to have to wait any longer for him.

A good friend once told me, when my impatience with trying to conceive Danny was at its height, to do something else while I waited. So tonight was a flurry of kitchen activity. Yogurt made. Meatballs made, cooked off and stuffed in the freezer. A couple of chicken breasts cooked off to make a few casseroles. Refrigerator cleaned out. Sam's Club purchases divvied up and frozen. Kitchen floor swept and mopped (despite my extreme aversion to mopping).

Now I'm sitting down with a loaded turkey wrap and some pretzels at 10 o'clock at night ... again. Maybe I've come full circle. Maybe this kid will show up at 2:34 p.m. tomorrow as a friend suggested to me today. Here's hoping, Carole!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Be more, do less

There are few places left in our society where standing back and observing instead of rushing in and doing is considered valuable. In fact, there are few things about our lives that we even trust to unfold in their own time. The major attraction, at least for me, to my former career as a journalist was just that - the standing apart, the observation, the caution to never become part of the story, just tell the story, support the storyteller's voice and let the story unfold. Ordinary people have amazing stories to tell and true journalists and writers are mere facilitators of those stories.

I've never really been an activist. That's not what journalism was ever about for me; though it does have it's place within that field. It's not that I'm particularly apathetic; it's just that I see so little in this world that is within my control. And that just makes me focus more keenly on the things I can control. So what exactly can I control?

My attitude. My mind. My thoughts. That's about it.

For me, childbirth is very much affected by those things. If I believe that my body can't function properly in labor, if I'm fearful of the pain, if I view any part of labor and birth as abnormal, if I pay too much attention to useless, fear-inducing information, I'm going to fail or at least have a harder time succeeding. And just where would I get such ideas?

From a maternal health system that views childbirth as a medical event instead of a natural process. From a system run by people trained and paid to do, rather than just be, for pregnant and laboring women. From a society addicted to information and blind to the mental and emotional consequences of such an overload.

Let me just say upfront that obstetricians are invaluable for high risk pregnancies and in life or death situations. However, the majority of pregnancies are not high risk or destined to end in life-threatening emergencies. When the unthinkable happens, they are my heroes, the people I want in my corner and that of my friends who have had high risk pregnancies and life-threatening emergencies. However, having them in your corner for an entire nine months reminding you of and monitoring you for every scary possibility, no matter how remote, is unwarranted. I think OBs should behave more like a highly trained military force. You don't need them on a routine basis nor do you want them out looking for trouble. You want them highly trained but on standby. You want them deployed judiciously, only as a last resort, lest their involvement disrupt delicate dynamics.

And for pregnant and laboring women, the delicate dynamic is between mind and body, between her and her partner and others in her support system. In normal, healthy pregnancies, caregivers should be facilitators. Too often, though, they are the sowers of doubt and fear. They can negatively impact the woman's ability to birth instead of standing back and letting nature take its course. They should let the mother and her partner work together, stepping in when necessary and offering support and encouragement when asked. They should rely more on external markers like a woman's behavior and urges while laboring than the internal measurements and monitoring that are so much a part of maternity care in this country. Of course, this approach works best with educated mothers and their partners. Sadly, more and more couples are shunning prenatal classes. They know a lot about staying healthy during pregnancy, but precious little about the process of childbirth.

After our daughter was born, my husband noted that our midwife was almost like a ghost in the room. She didn't interfere with the dynamic between us. She and her assistant stood back and watched us closely. She made suggestions when necessary, like when Fiona's heart rate dipped slightly as I wearily sprawled on the floor watching the clock. (It was 2:20 a.m., as I recall.) And between contractions, she and my husband gently nudged me off the floor and into a better position - not something that would happen in a hospital where women are routinely confined to beds and hooked up to monitoring machines. Even when Fiona was born with the cord (loosely) around her neck, it was my husband, not the midwife, who slipped the cord over her head.

A year ago, I left my journalism career behind, but not that  instinct to be a careful observer, to stand apart, to listen carefully and help people tell their amazing stories. Many times in the past year I've wondered where to take that instinct, where would it do the most good. For now, though, my job is to birth this baby and take care of myself and my family.

But one day, I'd like to take care of other women and their families. I want to assure women and their partners that, yes, you can birth safely and normally, you can rely on each other through the process and you can trust your amazing body and mind to do their job. The birth of a child is the most miraculous and amazing story a family will ever experience. I would love to just be with women in labor and help them tell that story. How I'll get to that place, I don't know. The path is not yet clear, but that is just another process I trust will unfold in it's own time.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Any baby yet?

Just like last time, when people find out that I'm past due, they're confused. A typical conversation goes like this:

"When are you due?"

"Last Friday."

"Oh. Well, are they going to do anything, like induce?" (my emphasis)

"We're having the baby at home."

"How do you do that?"

"Well, we just wait for a baby to pop out."

Even with our first child, we waited for instead of scheduling his arrival. In fact, he was right on time and I still got questions about whether we would have an induction. From what I've heard (and correct me if I'm wrong ladies), being on Pit is the pits - probably the most painful way to go through labor and a virtual assurance that you'll desperately want an epidural. That is why I don't want them to do anything. Besides it's just not up to them, now is it? At least in my case and the case of most healthy, low risk women, the baby has the final say in when it's born. And no woman, to my knowledge, has ever been pregnant forever.

But as eager as we are to have this baby, I get the feeling that others are even more anxious. Most people don't understand why, in this age of scheduled deliveries, any one would wait for labor to start naturally. It's as if we are inconveniencing them.

Nor do they understand why we would choose to just not find out the sex of the baby or even get an ultrasound. Guess what? Our mothers didn't have them routinely. The technology was available for high risk pregnancies or when there was a question as to the health of the baby. Why do we suddenly need to see our babies on a regular basis throughout a healthy, normal pregnancy? I guess nine months is a long time to wait in a society where we can have or know almost anything we want nearly instantly. I thought about getting an ultrasound, but decided it was too much trouble to go through just to know the sex of and see the baby. The expense, the inconvenience, the questions and suspicious attitudes from OB/GYN community about home births ... it just wasn't worth the trouble. And as my midwife pointed out, "It depends on what you're going to do with the information." Right ... I don't need to spend the extra money to find out whether to buy or dig out the pink or blue clothes or know for certain what external signs and symptoms already tell us about the health of the pregnancy.

Another weird attitude that I've encountered, with this pregnancy and Fiona's, is the utter shock with which people regard me as I carry on, four days past due, alone with small children in public places. The notion that a pregnant woman past her due date should just hole up in her house until labor starts is absurd. What's that they say about a watched kettle? At this point, not sticking to my normal routine would make me more anxious.

In the grocery store this morning, I stopped to talk with Jai, an older female Thai immigrant who is a stock clerk there. About Jai ... I love talking to her about her country and her family and her impressions of life here in America. And I think that she would make a great nanny or baby sitter. She adores the kids and we began talking over a year ago when she saw me carrying Fiona around the store in a sling. The first thing she ever said to me was "Oh, that's how we carry the babies in my country." Anyhow, I suspect she's been in this country too long. Today she seemed genuinely shocked that I was four days past due and in the grocery store ALONE with the two children.

"What if something happens in the car?" she asked, wide eyed.

I laughed and said, "Oh, Jai, babies don't come that quickly. I live three miles from here and I have a cell phone. I'll be fine." (I actually know a woman who drove herself to the hospital in Washington, DC traffic while she was in labor.)

So, yes, the appearance of this post means that I have not had the baby yet, I am not in labor and I am actually feeling rather normal (except for having to pee three times an hour) for being four days past due. If I hold out till Friday when the kids are at Parents Morning Out, I'll be treating myself to a pedicure. That alone may be worth a few more days of pregnancy.

Friday, April 16, 2010

And so we wait ... again.

A year ago this weekend, I was beginning my last three days of work in a field that embodied my desire to stand back and observe rather than actively participate. Whether that desire was born of fear of participating or a genuine interest in human affairs, I'll never know. But since then, my observations all center around my home and family - the only human affairs that interest me at all these days.

Today is the official due date for our third child. On and around each due date, a calm seems to descend upon our house. I feel a deep desire to be with my family alone, to observe each child, each person in the house, their role and the dynamics among us all. It's all about to change. I want my kids and my husband near me (and my dog to just leave me the hell alone and stop getting under my feet!). I want my house clean and organized and lots of baked goodies around me.

All I can really do is get things ready. Usually, I have all the baby and birth supplies ready about a month in advance. As I get closer to going into labor, I tend to bake sugary goodies and buy cleaning products. In the past three days, I've made oatmeal-chocolate chip cookies, blueberry muffins and chocolate cake with chocolate icing, all from scratch (okay, so the muffins were from a box, but I get points for pulling most of this off while the kids were awake and orbiting around me). On this morning's Target run, I purchased a double pack of bleach disinfectant wipes and a 4-pack of Magic Erasers. Maybe I'll clean the stair railings and door jams filthy from the constant touch of little hands. Surely, the new baby will notice and be disgusted by these things.

The night before Danny's birth I remember that we could have had family over for dinner but decided against it. I just wanted to be alone with my husband. We had spaghetti and meatballs, a salad and one minor contraction right after dinner. The night before Fiona's birth our son Danny played on the floor, putting a Little People figure through a wide-mouth funnel and quietly chanting "Come out, baby, come out," a phrase he had surely heard me say. Meanwhile, I sat on the sofa and timed a few contractions in a half hour's time.
He knew that his baby sister was on her way. I remember dropping him off at Parents Morning Out on the day I went into labor. He went happily, but then stopped, ran back to my arms, crying "Mommy." He just wanted a hug before I left, unusual for the very independent little guy that he is.

Now that baby sister is over a year old. He is almost three and a half. They play together, they hold hands, they take turns, they chatter away at each other, they wrestle. The past few days here have been glorious. Perfect weather, meals on the back porch, playing in the yard, working in the garden.

Despite the calm, there is always a lingering fear or worry. What if my water breaks in public? (It never has before.) What if labor starts hard and fast while the I'm alone with the kids? What if the midwife doesn't make it in time? But with no real physical signs, only emotional and mental markers, as to the imminence of labor, we just wait quietly, hopefully, eagerly, but not too anxiously.

Experience has taught us that logistics and timing are all things out of our control. Those things always work themselves out. I went into labor with Danny on a Thursday, had him on a Friday and Jim got a three and a half-day weekend from a job that he had just started and had no vacation time to take. I went into labor with Fiona on a day when a sleepover for Danny at Nana and PopPop's had already been planned. Danny came home the next afternoon to meet his new sister.

Everything slows down for me when I'm about to have a baby. I'm more sensitive to my surroundings, my needs, my family's needs. Last night, my daughter cried in her crib shortly after I put her down. I just went up and held her over my shoulder, her long body draped over her new sibling encased in my very large belly. There was no fear that I'd spoil her bedtime routine by going in there. I just did it. We rocked for a few minutes. That's all she needed. That's all I needed - a few minutes to be with my soon-to-be middle child, for us to connect and say, silently to each other, "Yes, I know, everything is about to change, but it will all be okay."

Monday, April 12, 2010

Happy Momday to you

Monday should really be called Momday around here. You see, I consistently like myself a lot better as a mom on Monday than any other day of the week. Except, of course, on those rare Mondays when a mega-tantrum forces us straight into Thursday mom who is a lot less tolerant and doesn't take as many deep breaths as Monday mom.

Monday is the also best day of the week to tackle the library and the grocery store, a feat I wouldn't dream of on, say, Thursday. By Thursday, I've become that my-way-or-the-highway mom that I don't really like. Fridays are a relief. The house stays clean all day long since we go from Parents Morning Out to naps to Daddy getting home and sometimes even a Nana and PopPop sleepover. I hardly feel like I'm with them at all on Fridays.

Monday mom is the kind of mom I wish that I could be every day.

Monday mom can matter-of-factly say things like, "Dirty clothes go in the hamper" instead of barking in exasperation "Put those clothes in the hamper RIGHT NOW."

Monday mom can wait patiently for the 3-year-old to complete his morning routine and come down for breakfast. (By the way, he got dressed and downstairs on his own in record time this morning. So proud of him!!) Thursday mom is banging on the wall at the bottom of the stairs while a distracted and usually naked little boy putters about upstairs.

Monday mom remembers to smile at and engage her 1-year-old daughter during diaper changing. Thursday mom sighs heavily and sometimes even growls at the poor kid while trying to wrestle on the diaper.

Monday mom has the energy and foresight to have a fun lunch outside with the kids. By Thursday, it's whole wheat crackers, cheese and apples in the kitchen and a mad dash to get them up for naps. (I read in Penelope Leach's "Your Baby and Child" that this is perfectly acceptable, well-balanced meal for young children. This is my favorite let-mommy-off-the-hook advice EVER.)

Monday mom lets the kids linger a little longer outside. Thursday mom threatens time outs and/or a personal escort into the house for not coming after the five-minute warning is up.

Monday mom can fairly sort out property rights amongst tussling toddlers. Thursday mom just assumes the 3 year old is once again engaging in petty theft.

Monday mom administers discipline with a minimum of drama (at least on my end), a healthy dose of detachment and, again, a lot more deep breaths.

Monday mom physically redirects the 1-year-old from the dog's water bowl. Thursday mom just yells "No" from across the room and hopes like hell the baby responds to voice commands.

Monday mom can suggest with indifference to the 3-year-old that perhaps his little belly wouldn't hurt if he took a trip to the potty and put some poopy in it. (And when he does go, he always excitedly informs me, "I feel better." I'm waiting for this epiphany to become a working part of his little brain.) By Thursday, I'm strong arming him into the bathroom after watching him do the poopy dance for a half hour.

Monday mom is okay with the buffet on the kitchen floor and messes in every other room of the house. Thursday mom wants it cleaned up, pronto, so she can enjoy at least one day (Friday) with a minimum of messes in the house.

Monday mom can answer a hundred questions from her 3-year-old without losing her mind. Thursday mom starts asking questions right back at him.

Monday mom can playfully insist that her 3-year-old say please. (I cross my arms, smile and don't respond to his repeated his requests until he laughs and squeals, "Please MANNERS.") Thursday mom just isn't smiling anymore.

The confluence of a restful weekend, the kids getting Daddy time and Nana and PopPop time and some unscheduled time makes for a more peaceful beginning to our week. The further we get from the weekend, though, the more my brain is in the vice-grip of stress brought on by the constant whine and mess of toddlerhood.

I really do like myself much better on Momday. So what's your Momday?

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

What NOT to say to a pregnant woman

Are you still pregnant? This question is almost always asked WHILE staring right at my very large belly. To which I want to say, "Well, no, I had the baby last week, but in some cruel twist of fate, I get to keep the belly for a while." 

Have you had that baby yet? This is especially annoying coming from family and friends, as if I would just forget to tell you that I passed something the size of a large melon through a hole the size of a lemon. Trust me, you'll know when the baby arrives ... unless you ask me this one more time, at which point you will be off my contact list and blocked from my Facebook page.

How are you feeling? Well, I have a 6 to 9 pound baby grinding into all my internal organs, I haven't slept well in months, I spend an obscene amount of time in the bathroom (seriously, I'm thinking a pair of Depends is not a bad idea at this point), I'm still puking in my 9th month (really), it's over 90 degrees in APRIL and I'm carrying around an extra 20 pounds, plus taking care of two toddlers. I feel fan-dam-tastic, thank you very much.

You're having a girl/boy. Oh, sure, I'm going to take your word for it, old guy in the check out line at Kroger. Aside from having no credible experience in this area, it's rather creepy that you are making that assessment after staring at my body. Ewwww. My midwife, who's delivered more than 700 babies in 32 years, doesn't make predictions and neither should you, mister.

Are you having twins? I've been asked this at least once with all my pregnancies. Again, not only is it creepy that you're looking at and judging my body, you have basically just told me that I look fat. Thanks.
But you don't look pregnant.  I got this a lot just as my belly was beginning to show. It's bad enough enduring the first trimester indignities of morning sickness, extreme exhaustion and stares in the grocery store while gagging my way through the meat department. People must have just thought I had a bad hangover for three months. Now people just think I'm packing on the pounds instead of growing a whole new human being. A little respect and recognition would be nice, people.

You're pregnant again? I got this last night from an otherwise very nice male acquaintance. What I wanted to say? "Yes, I'm pregnant again. My husband and I have no idea where babies come from, could you help us out, oh wise one? Thanks."

My labor was horrible ... why would one woman tell another this? Thankfully, I didn't get this as much with my first pregnancy. I guess there's still some decorum left among women. And it's companion ...

Oh, I just couldn't do natural childbirth. Okay, so this is just something that you shouldn't say to me. It's a particular pet peeve of mine. Yes, you could, if you had to, and it wasn't long ago that all women did. But, really, these days, if you think you can, you can; if you think you can't, you won't. It's the lack of confidence in the magnificence of the female body and it's ability to birth children that really bugs me. We're stronger and more capable than we've been lead to believe.

I'm tired. Until you're growing a new baby in your belly who is seriously impeding your lung function and taking care of two small children on three hours of sleep or less, you have no clue what tired is. Tell someone else your woes.

The only words a pregnant woman wants to hear are "You look great," even if she's gained 50 pounds, has a splotchy face and is waddling like a duck. And, really, those are the only words anyone without a uterus is ever allowed to say to a pregnant woman (especially if they're responsible for her condition).

Somehow these little gems are not included in the perennial pregnancy favorite "What to expect when you're expecting." They really should be.

I'd love to hear some of the inane comments that you've heard while pregnant. Hit me ...