Category Archives: baby

A new little friend joins our circle, and notes on being The Village

feetOne of my best friends in the world gave birth to a baby girl this week. I am full of joy for her and her husband, and their lucky daughter. There is so much happiness in seeing wonderful people bring a new life to a world that needs more wonderful people.

There were six months when we were pregnant together, discussing kicks and cravings and anticipation. I can’t wait for these baby girls to meet earthside, to watch them babble and then crawl and walk and talk and run together.

At first, I had this impulse to try and tell my friend everything I’ve learned in these 3.5 years of motherhood. I wanted to describe every challenge, every milestone, every answer I’ve found and problem we’ve overcome.

I wanted to spare her some of the fear, sadness, isolation, exhaustion, and difficulty that many of us go through during that transition to parenthood and life with a newborn.

I wanted to describe the amazing moments, the triumphs, the exuberant joy, the heart-bursting love.

I wanted to send links to every helpful blog post, book, website, and article that I’ve read.

I wanted to hand it all to her. A big messy stack, papers flying every which way. Here! I’ve done this! Read this and do this and don’t do that and oh, try this too!

But: no. Being a part of the village surrounding a family isn’t about that. It isn’t about shoving information and opinions at new parents, or responding with input and judgement when they’ve only made an observation. In this social media-link to articles-comment on everything world, we (I) fail at this so often.

The best village offers support, gives help willingly, listens carefully, and chimes in when asked. The village is not a chorus of people shouting out unsolicited parenting tips and advice. The best village is a gentle force, a safety net, a comfort, a chorus of “we got your back!” – I’ve at least learned that much in the little time I’ve had on this job.

This will be their experience. My friend doesn’t want or need my advice or input before she even asks. I’ve let her know that I’m here. I’ll reach out to check on her often. I’ll visit with food and gifts and (if she wants) adorable baby girl hand-me-downs, ready to ease the load where I can. I’ll answer every text and phone call, and if/when I’m asked, I’ll share a thing or two I’ve learned along the way.

We’ll walk the parenthood road together.

I couldn’t help but tell her that yes, this shit can be hard. Few of us get through the early weeks without shedding tears of our own (and not just tears of joy). And it’s also so freaking awesome.

One of the best things I’ve found on my own journey has been a group of moms who listen to me, answer my questions without judgement, share their experiences, and let one another know: none of this is perfect. Very little is easy. Behind the Instagram photos and Facebook posts, things can get messy (literally and figuratively). But it is always worth it. And we’re walking this road together: our mothers and grandmothers and great-grandmothers before us, a village that surrounds us on all sides, past and present. Your experience is yours, but it is also ours – mothers and parents and humans.

So, dear friend, feel the love. Know that you have a net to catch you if needed, friends to lift you up however they can, and all of us just bursting with joy and pride, so excited to embrace another little one within our circle.

And baby girl, good work choosing awesome people to be your parents. You have so much love and laughter in your future. In the words of one of our favorite books: We are so glad you’ve come.

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A new baby, and birth lessons

There is a warm lump of baby sleeping on me at the moment. Charlotte Pearl arrived on July 28. She is an awesome baby (aren’t they all?), and her first six weeks with us have gone smoother than I imagined (knocking on wood. One should never say these things out loud).

Brand new.

Brand new.

I’ve written out the story of her birth, but for now it’s available by request only. Here’s what I’ll say about it: I had the unmedicated VBAC of my dreams. Her birth story is almost boring it was so perfect.

What I do want to share are the lessons of my second pregnancy and birth. Because in our culture, most of us know very little about pregnancy and birth until we are pregnant. And many times, that’s too late. I learned so much during my first pregnancy, and even more in the time since my first was born. And most of it is information that all women should have before becoming pregnant. So, that’s what I want to talk about.  Hopefully this isn’t too jumbled – it’s tough to think and write with this foggy, sleep-deprived, post-partum brain.

1. You have choices in prenatal care providers, far beyond whatever ob/gyn you have been seeing for annual visits. Research. Ask around. Think about what you want. Make changes. Advocate for yourself and your baby. If something doesn’t feel right, change it.

For my first pregnancy I went to a large ob/gyn practice. I saw a different doctor every time. I waited in a crowded waiting room. At every visit I was given something new to worry about: my iron levels were low, I wasn’t gaining enough weight, I was measuring small, fluid was low, baby was small, on and on and on. My baby was breech the entire pregnancy, and no one ever talked to me about ways to get the baby to flip, or any of my options. Appointments were brief, there was no conversation. At 37.5 weeks they wanted to bring me in for a c-section immediately because, they claimed, baby was measuring small and was still breech. I wrote about that birth experience here.

This time around, I knew I wanted nothing to do with that model of care, and sought something different. I wanted a practice that fully supported VBACs, that would take their time to talk to me and learn my story, that wouldn’t look for things to make me scared about. I found exactly what I was looking for at Capital Region Midwifery. This group of midwives is phenomenal. They listened to my history, they were nothing but supportive of my desire for an unmedicated VBAC, the staff knew me, I formed a relationship with the midwives, appointments involved un-rushed conversation about what was going on, and there were usually only one or two people in the comfortable waiting room of their office, which is in a big old Victorian house.

2. So much of your birth experience comes down to the team that surrounds you. This relates to

The first minutes of Charlotte's life, such bliss.

The first minutes of Charlotte’s life, such bliss.the above, of course – your care provider determines a lot about your birth experience. But so does the hospital (or the not-hospital), your partner, and any other supporting players.

the above, of course – your care provider determines a lot about your birth experience. But so does the hospital (or the not-hospital), your partner, and any other supporting players.

I knew I wanted to work with a doula this time, and we hired Johanna D’Aleo. We took Hypnobirth classes with Johanna during my first pregnancy, and her level-headed, knowledgable, grounded, loving presence was one I wanted by our side. We met with Johanna several times before I went into labor – talked about our hopes and fears for the birth, about VBACs, and about our past experience. She gave us advice as we prepared, we practiced relaxation techniques, and got to know each other better. Her presence during labor and birth was calming, steady, and reassuring.

Likewise, my amazing midwife Maureen was a warm, calm presence during labor and birth. Nothing was ever uttered to make me feel nervous or scared – only words of encouragement and assurance.

Patrick was, of course, an amazing birth partner. He knew exactly what I needed, and was a quiet, steady, strong support. I labored for about 14 hours and spent many of those hours standing with my arms around Pat’s shoulders, head bent, swaying. He never complained about standing that long, about my weight hung around him, or anything else. (Well, we both complained about the frigid temperature of the hospital room, but that’s about it.) He was perfectly loving and encouraging during the most challenging moments. He announced that we had another baby girl, and seeing him cut the cord was an awesome moment.

The hospital we chose (Burdett Care Center) was supportive of natural birth, and followed all of my birth wishes – from dimmed lights, to laboring in the pool, to a long bonding skin to skin time with my baby. For the most part, I interacted very little with anyone other than Patrick during labor. The Hypnobirth techniques worked for me, and I was in my own head and body, relaxing down through contractions, leaning into Pat, swaying and moving as I needed to. No one encroached on that. The midwives, Johanna, and the nurses hung around the perimeter and let me do my thing unless I needed them or they needed to tell me something. The baby and I were monitored per the hospital’s VBAC policy, and while that was occasionally annoying I was glad someone was keeping an eye on how the baby was doing.

3. You have choices, you make the decisions.  It’s been eye-opening to learn how much many medical professionals rely on fear to control patients and limit the patient’s choices. Before I knew better, I didn’t know what choices I had – and certainly my OB wasn’t interested in informing me. Every woman owes it to herself to become informed before and during pregnancy, and every woman and baby deserves excellent care. There are tons of great books and websites out there, and plenty of amazing midwives and doulas who have made it their lives’ work to give women positive and empowering experiences.

Daddy.

Daddy.

4. Hear only the messages you need to hear. What I mean is: if you want a natural birth, make sure you’re surrounded throughout pregnancy by people that support you, and send messages of support. Whatever your birth goal is, you don’t need to hear from people who say you can’t do it. From the pregnancy fitness class I took to my midwife to my friends and family – it made such a difference to hear constant positive messages, success stories, and encouragement. No one ever told me that my VBAC goal was impossible, or that it was silly to try for an unmedicated birth. That support did away with any lingering fears I had.

I am so grateful to have had the empowering birth experience I dreamed of. I wanted so badly to experience a full labor, to birth my baby, and to have that baby immediately put on my chest.  My VBAC was a success in part due to luck – a healthy and well-positioned baby, my own health, and no need for interventions. But it was also largely due to finding the right people to support me.

I look back on Charlotte’s birth and feel nothing but joy, pride, empowerment, and love. It was amazing, and I’m still in awe that it happened the way it did. I am so grateful. The only regret I have about the experience is that we didn’t have someone there to take photos or video, other than a few iPhone photos from Johanna. At the same time, that birth space was sacred – maybe it’s best that we have just our memories and our story, unfiltered.

Evelyn meets her baby sister.

New family of 4 – Evelyn meets her baby sister.

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the waiting

Pregnancy is full of unknowns. For some people, the hardest unknown is the gender- and they find out if they are carrying a boy or a girl as soon as they can. For me, the hardest part is the unknown end-date. I thought I had a better guess this time around, since I knew Evelyn had been 2 weeks and 3 days early. Everyone seemed to think this baby would be at least 2 weeks early, too. It’s still possible, and anything can happen (I’m 38 weeks today, that’s 2-weeks-until-due-date….), but I’m trying to just accept that this baby will arrive when the time is right. I’m trying very hard to seek out my zen. I’ve spent the past several days anxious about getting things done, making lists, frustrated by my physical limitations and lack of energy because I just want to get it ALL done NOW. It’s been hard to sleep – not just because of discomfort, but because my brain won’t rest. I vacuumed the living room at 8:00 yesterday morning, minutes before I had to head out the door to work. I’ve been up late organizing and cleaning, which is silly, and I need to let go, but that’s easier said than done. What I know I should be doing is relaxing. Indulging in guilty pleasures like TV and magazines and ice cream. Going easy in these late pregnancy days without feeling like I should be doing something else. But that slow down is so hard, especially when I’m so good at thinking up a zillion things I should do before this baby arrives. So now to focus on these moments before life changes again, and to find peace in the unknown. Trying to slow my brain and my body. Resting. Waiting. Throwing away the lists.

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Preparing for a newborn, again: Lessons from the first time

EC3I have a vivid memory of one of our first days home with Evelyn. She was nursing, of course, as she did every 2 hours, feedings that usually lasted almost an hour. I was recovering from a c-section, operating on very little sleep, and – to be honest- feeling a bit like we’d ruined our lives with this tiny gorgeous creature. I truly couldn’t imagine why on earth anyone would ever have a second child after making it through this once.

And, alas, here we are – less than 2 months away from welcoming another tiny gorgeous creature into our family. I learned a lot in my first weeks and months of motherhood – and I’m hoping some of those lessons make this time around a little bit easier. EC1

Babies cry, and wake up all night long. It’s normal, and doesn’t last forever.
People who have gone through it forget, and others seem to believe that babies’ sleep patterns should match adults’ sleep patterns. One of the biggest sources of stress for me was the sleep thing, and mostly because other people kept asking me “How much is she waking up at night?” and “Is she sleeping all night in the bassinet?” I wish that I’d just tuned all of that out and accepted that my baby slept when and where she slept, end of story.

She slept best in our arms, in the wrap carrier, or next to me on the bed. Occasionally in the swing. This idea that she had to sleep in the bassinet was hard on all of us. She didn’t sleep for more than a few hours at a time until she was 8 weeks old, and then her sleep habits changed every couple of weeks – sometimes longer stretches, sometimes less. I spent the first months keeping track of where and when she slept, scribbling notes at 3 a.m., feeling like a failure if she slept for short stretches or in my arms.  It made the whole thing far more miserable than it had to be. This time around, I’ll be more willing to accept my baby’s sleep needs, and do what works for us. I won’t keep notes, or even look at the clock.

The best advice we got on sleep was for mom and dad to divide up the night, so we could both get some sleep. I would go to bed early, and Patrick would stay up with her, bringing her to me for feedings, but taking care of diaper changes and soothing. I was able to sleep a little, and they had time to bond. Around midnight he’d bring her to me, and he’d sleep downstairs while I took on all the baby duties until morning. We will do this again (with the added complication of a 3 year old sleeping nearby), although I need to find some ways to feel less isolated during my shift – there were times when being alone and awake for hours in the middle of the night was a struggle.

Release all expectations.
Before having a newborn living in the house, most of us only see them in photos, when they are curled up and sleeping sweetly (like that photo at the top). Life with a newborn appears to be very glowy. Even those things you learn about in birth class or in books before baby arrives seem so simple.

In my experience, it wasn’t simple. Those sweet sleepy moments were real, but they were surrounded by a lot of other moments. Don’t get me wrong, new parenthood is so lovely in many ways. The soft weight of a newborn sleeping on your chest is one of the best feelings in the world. But. There’s also a fair amount of crying (from everyone), a major lifestyle adjustment, and a general sense of bewilderment. It’s impossible to imagine or prepare for in advance, really.

I found that any time I clung to expectations about how things should go, I had a much harder time when they didn’t go that way. Whether it was breastfeeding, leaving the house, doing laundry, or taking a nap – as soon as I let go of my own expectations about what would or should happen, a weight was lifted. Taking things moment by moment and adapting to whatever needed to happen was a much easier and more enjoyable way to go.   I’m hopeful that knowing and embracing that from the beginning will make the newborn months a bit easier.

Babies just want to be held.
Probably every new parent is made to feel guilty at some point for how much their baby is held, and how much their baby wants to be held – especially in the arms of mom or dad.  Whether the ‘spoiled’ word is used outright or implied, most of us hear it at some point.

Too bad for the guilt-trippers. I don’t regret a single moment of holding my baby. There were times when I wished she were more okay with being put down, but I learned how to use a couple baby carriers, which freed up my hands and helped immensely. I also learned that we’d all be ok if I put her in the crib for a few minutes while I used the bathroom. She never “learned to like it” – but I became more okay with it when I was ready.

Those comments I got about putting my baby down just made me anxious. I wanted to hold her. It physically hurt to hear her cry. And 3 years later, she loves hugs and snuggles but is certainly not addicted to being held – so I don’t think any permanent damage was done.

EC2Accept help.
I read a genius piece of advice about having a list of things that people could help with. I never did that, and we only accepted help when it was forced on us. Silly, silly new parents.

Lots of people will say “let me know if I can help” — be ready to take them seriously. Accepting help isn’t a sign of weakness or incompetence! When Evy was a newborn, one grandma cleaned our floors and vacuumed, both grandmas brought us meals, a friend visited from out of town and cleaned the house, friends stopped by with fruit and bagels and ice cream and juice. It was all a big help, and I am so thankful for what they did without being asked.

This time around, I might be a little more direct with asking for help, so get ready. This myth that we can care for a newborn and also keep the house clean, the yard maintained, laundry done, ourselves fed – it’s just not true.  It’s one of the many reasons we all need our village.

Communicate my own needs.
Most new parents are so focused on the baby that they let their own needs go untended.  It’s nearly impossible to avoid this for the first few weeks. But this time around I want to be better about recognizing my needs, and talking to Pat about how to meet those (the same goes for his needs too, of course).

When Evy was a month old or so, Pat was outside doing yard work. I was so jealous that he was outside, doing something that wasn’t childcare. I was at that point where I felt like all I did was nurse, change diapers, walk around the house, and I was ready for a break. Turns out, he didn’t really want to be out there – he was back to work at that point and wanted to be with the baby as much as he could.

After a (probably tearful) conversation where we both revealed what we needed, he stayed inside with the baby until the next feeding while I raked and cleaned up the garden beds. It was amazing how rejuvenating that hour was.

One of the hardest parts of parenthood is finding time for self-care and interests outside of parenting and work. It’s  something we still struggle with. But we’re at least aware that we both need time for ourselves, and we work with each other to make it happen when we can. I’m hoping we can keep that up during our transition to a family of four.

Breastfeeding is hard, but it gets easier – especially with the right help.
You can (and should) learn about breastfeeding in advance, but it’s impossible to really prepare for. We took a 3-hour class on breastfeeding and I still felt blindsided by the actual experience. I didn’t think it would be so emotional, or challenging, or take so much effort. I’m lucky that I had a good friend who had recently gone through learning to breastfeed, and helped me to understand that it would be hard in the beginning, and then get easier. I’m lucky that a new mom friend encouraged me to go to a La Leche League meeting. I’m grateful that Patrick was so incredibly supportive (even though we were both unprepared for this physical division of labor – after running a pretty equal household for years, that was hard to adjust to).

I really had no idea how all-consuming breastfeeding would be for the first couple of months. But I’m grateful I was able to do it (and continued to do it for 2.5 years). This time I’m feeling prepared to accept whatever the experience brings.

Get outside.
My sanity-saver during my first maternity leave was outside time: walks, time in the yard, sitting on the patio to nurse or eat lunch.  It was one of the great things about having a spring baby (except for the weeks after she was born when it rained non-stop).  We were both happier with some fresh air, and the exercise helped me through some of the tougher moments.

Be with other moms and babies. Talk to other moms, even if their children are older.
One of the major differences between this pregnancy and my first is the community of moms I’m a part of now. These are moms I met through La Leche meetings three years ago, moms I met through daycare, friends who have also become parents, and moms I’ve met through a wonderful local moms group that began on Facebook.

My early parenthood experience was made better by the women I met in LLL meetings. Those women helped me with breastfeeding, commiserated over life with a newborn, and welcomed me when I felt like I couldn’t even speak a complete sentence. The moms I know now help me feel less alone when I’m overwhelmed, reveal that we all struggle, help me focus on the joy even when it’s easier to feel stressed, and bring humor to this crazy thing we’re all doing.

I’ve also become more open to the experiences of our own moms and aunts and grandmother. Being a mom is a powerful connection. Baby showers used to be about passing on wisdom and knowledge of motherhood, welcoming a woman into that fold, reminding her that she’s not alone. We’ve lost that a bit as the focus has shifted to gifts and themes. It took me years to recognize that this community of women and mothers is an important thing.

With this pregnancy, I love hearing Pat’s grandmother talk about her pregnancies, I love having our moms feel the baby kick, I welcome their (non-judgmental) input on things we struggle with, and I love feeling like I’m a part of this incredible lineage of moms who have walked this road before me (even if they think some of my parenting choices are nuts)!

It might be one of the most important things a new mom does for herself: connecting with other new moms, as well as other experienced moms. We aren’t alone, but the village isn’t as available as it used to be – we have to go out and build it.

It’s all worth it.
This lesson isn’t hard to remember. Everyone says it, and it’s true: For all the difficult parts of parenthood, the boundless love and joy is unlike any other. I’m full of gratitude for this life, and I can’t wait to bring another little one into our family, to grow this love, to see Pat become a dad again, to see Evy as a big sister – I’m full of anticipation for all of it. Just don’t ask me if the baby is sleeping through the night and we’ll be just fine.

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The Nursery

The nursery, from start to finish (click through to the Flickr set for details) :

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