On All Over Albany:
On All Over Albany:
I have this posted near my bathroom mirror. I stare at it every morning. In 2015, I’m focusing on the things that make me happier, that help me live better, the small choices that make the difference.
Staring at it every morning means these words knock around in my head.
At 7:15 last night, after work and daycare pickup and dinner, I had a kitchen full of dishes, bottles to wash, lunch containers to unpack. It was 15 minutes before we had to start Evelyn’s bedtime routine. She slid up next to my leg. “Will you play hide and seek with me now?”
I looked at the kitchen counters. Felt the weight of all the Have To Dos.
“Yes, let’s play.”
“Ok! Yay! I want to hide first!” Her face lit up, she bounced up and down. (What would that face have looked like if I said no? If I turned toward the chores and away from her?)
I covered my eyes and started counting. She ran off.
Doors opening and closing. Giggles from the coat closet. (Already,I feel lighter and better. The Have To Dos fade away.)
“Ready or not, here I come!”
Stiffled giggles, rustling around.
“Hmmm, where’s Evy? Is she under the couch? Nooo….. Is she behind the chair? Nooo…”
I hunted around the house.
“Is she in the drawer? Nooo….”
The closet door pops open. A little hand darts out and pulls it shut. More giggles.
“Is she on the ceiling? Noooo… Is she in the CLOSET? YES! There she is!!”
She gasps and giggles, pops out and dances around the hallway. “I was there! You didn’t know it but I was in the closet!” Her feet barely touch the floor, the excitement bursts out of her. “Your turn to hide, Mommy! I’ll count to 22.”
I tiptoe down the hall while she lays on the couch, counting, skipping a number here and there. I scan my usual hiding places and end up standing in the bathtub, the shower curtain pulled closed.
“Ready or not, here I come!!!!” Patrick holds the baby while they search the house for me.
“Is mommy under my bed? Nooo….”
They look everywhere. “Where haven’t we looked?” Patrick asks her.
“The guest room? No mommy there. The bathroom? I don’t see….” She pulls back the curtain and squeals with glee.
“Ahhhh! I found you! There you are! You’re in the shower?? I found you, Mommy!”
I am laughing so hard that I “have tears,” as she says. A belly laugh. I pick her up and we all laugh together. The baby joins in, drooly baby belly laughs.
I did and I will do it again. The dishes got done. Instead of seeing a stressed out Mommy and hearing about all those things I “have to do” and all the reasons I can’t play, we laughed together. I turned toward the joy and had the best 15 minutes of my day.
One 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.
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).
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 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.
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.
This is the photo of my maternal grandparents on their wedding day in the early 1920s. The little flower girl on the far right is my great aunt Minnie. Aunt Minnie (real name Carmella, called Minnie always) passed away on Thursday at the age of 95. She was living on her own and cooking for herself and her family (including making her own sauce every Sunday) up until a week before she died. Her sister, my grandmother, died 11 years ago just a few weeks shy of her 95th birthday. The photo on the left is Aunt Min in September at our wedding– looking good for 95, eh? I only hope these women passed those genes along to the rest of us!
We’re heading out of town this afternoon for the wake and funeral and general family togetherness, back here tomorrow.