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Another Birth Story

Hey Mamas! Long time, no see. This time, though, there’s a pretty good reason for my little hiatus: he’s here!

That’s right, our second son arrived 12 weeks ago, just over 38 weeks into my pregnancy. Little J is small – he was just over 6 pounds three weeks after birth and is still not on the growth chart – but he’s doing well. He’s cooing and smiling and doing all the things little nuggets his age tend to do.  And so, I have finally found the time to emerge from deep in the newborn forest to share my experience of his birth.

Some of you will remember that my husband and I were debating whether or not to try for a vaginal birth after having our first son via c-section (known as a VBAC). In the end, after much consultation with our midwives and an OB-GYN, we decided to give my body until the due date to go into labour on its own, without any medical induction, and to book a repeat c-section if that didn’t happen. I will confess that while on one hand I was pretty sure that the baby wasn’t going to wait until the due date, I simultaneously thought there was a solid chance that my body would not cooperate by going into labour. My own medical history, my experience at the end of my last pregnancy and struggle with breastfeeding the first time around had led me to believe that my body was a bit of a dud.

Turns out, I needn’t have worried.

My water broke mid-morning, but contractions didn’t start right away. When they did, they were mild and sporadic, coming every 20 minutes or so. My midwives told me to expect a long wait, and that the baby probably wouldn’t arrive until the next day. Just go about your day, they said. Try to eat well and get some rest.

For extra security, we had my in-laws pick up our 2.5 year old just before noon. I cried when he left, knowing that things would always be just a little different moving forward. We watched an episode of John Oliver and then my husband, who had taken a sick day from work before we knew things were starting (sorry, love!), went to take a nap. I turned on a movie, thinking I had a whole day of gradually-progressing labour ahead of me. The mild contractions continued, still 15-20 minutes apart.

Then it was like someone hit a switch. I hadn’t gotten half-way through the movie before my every-20-minutes, mild contractions suddenly became strong contractions that seemed to come on top of each other, about 2 minutes apart. My poor husband was jolted awake by my yelling to him from the bathroom. We called the midwife, who stayed on speaker phone through a few contractions before telling us to head to the hospital.

I wasn’t having it. I did not want to get in the car. This was my first labour, and things had come on so quickly. I was convinced that baby was going to be born right there in the bathroom. Fortunately, my midwife was able to convince me that I definitely wouldn’t want to get in the car later on, and so my husband ran frantically around the house, grabbing the various bags I had prepped, with me barking random orders: “Here’s my hairbrush”, “Make sure the cats are inside”. The poor guy was so flustered that the TV was still on when he got home the next day (sorry again, love).

The ride to the hospital is a blur. I discovered that having the car seat against my back provided significant comfort and I focused my mind on breathing through each contraction. The midwives met us at the hospital just before 5pm and found that I was already 6cm dilated.

In all, I had about 4 hours of active labour and 16 minutes of pushing before little J emerged, one hand up near his face, fist-pumping his way into the world. My husband described them as four of the longest hours of his life, but for me the time sped by. To be honest, I had no concept of time. I found comfort in holding my husband’s hand throughout, but otherwise I turned deeply inward. My whole world became entirely about just getting through. I had expected the pain, but the intense pressure of the baby moving downwards took me by surprise.

Like so much about parenting, my expectations of labour didn’t sync with my reality. I had always thought that I would be a person who would embrace pain medication, and I tried taking the edge off with nitrous oxide. But I didn’t like the light-headed feeling it gave me, preferring instead to keep my mind focused. I had anticipated that I would want to move around a lot during labour, and had pictured myself giving birth in a position that would use gravity to my best advantage – standing or squatting or resting on all fours. Instead, all I wanted was to lie on the bed, with the pillows and mattress providing soothing counter pressure against my back.

After worrying for months about my body not being up to the task of labouring – and when I began to doubt during labour itself – it was such a relief to hear my midwives saying, “This is going so well. Things are going just as they should be. We are so happy.” Much of my experience of labour is now blurred in my memory, but I clearly remember the comfort of my husband saying, “You’ve got this.”

My body was so eager to bring J into the world that it started to push even before I was fully dilated. My midwives helped J arrive safely just before 8pm, all 5 pounds and 14 oz of him. And suddenly, there he was: a tiny body snuggled onto my chest, just as I had wished for so many times since my c-section. It was the greatest relief and my world was just the three of us, cozy, safe and happy.

There was a knot in J’s umbilical cord, created by his pre-natal gymnastics, which fortunately hadn’t completely tightened. If it had, he probably would have died due to his oxygen being cut off. His small size and quick delivery had saved him. This was the first scary surprise of the night.

J’s birthday fist-pump and his quick arrival meant that I had what the nurse later called an “impressive” tear. My midwives brought in an obstetrician to do the repair. To help keep me comfortable and calm during the hour-long process, I was taken into the operating room and given a spinal anesthetic. I chatted away to one of my midwives to keep my mind off the work being done to repair my body. I got back to the recovery room and suddenly felt like I was fading. The combination of blood loss and fluids given to off-set the spinal meds dropped my blood pressure to 40/20. At the time, I didn’t know how serious this was. I just saw everyone around me jump into action. I was given two pints of blood and recovered quickly. I saw the colour return to my husband’s worried face as it returned to mine. We both finally got to eat and rest, and our cozy world was back to the way it had been immediately following the birth.

It took me a few weeks to process my experience of J’s birth – the trauma and the joy. It’s amazing how quickly the details fade, a by-product of sleep deprivation, no doubt.

Now we have officially made it through the fourth trimester and all the intense-newborn-focus that that entails. My body has healed, though I’m still doing a bit of physiotherapy to ensure that healing process goes as well as it can. L has accepted that the baby isn’t going anywhere. While he has yet to agree to hold him, he likes when his little brother smiles at him.

Our new normal is starting to feel a little less new. Our adventure as a family of four is well on its way and I’m looking forward to sharing it with all of you.

 

Our little bean, on his birthday and at 11 weeks old.

 

Kudos to the Pre-Tech Moms

Much is made of the negative sides of the internet and smartphones in the parenting world. Mothers of previous generations have consistently told me they do not at all envy us younger women when it comes to figuring out how to do this parenting gig. They look at all the information that we have available to us on the web, and surmise that it’s no wonder we are so stressed about getting things”right.” They express gratitude that all they had to deal with was the sometimes conflicting advice of their immediate circle of family and friends, as well as a few parenting books, instead of the opinions of the global population of the interwebs. They shake their heads at the high expectations arising alongside social media imagery that tells us we can, and therefore should, be able to attain perfection as mother, crafter, party-thrower, cook, housekeeper, organizer, and professional.

But I’d like to throw my own head shake, along with some hefty kudos, back to my foremothers today. Because for all the bad rap that technology gets for its dominance over our lives, it is also sometimes my savior of a day.

Kudos to the moms who did this without cell phones. What did you do when you were, as I assume everybody has been since the invention of clocks, running really late with an infant to meet a friend who also had a baby? Did they just wait around forever, or did you finally show up at your agreed-upon place only to discover your friend had, quite reasonably, left an hour before? (I refuse to believe that you were just always on time.)

Kudos to the moms who did this without Netflix or podcasts. Being able to tune into an episode of One Bad Mother, or binge-watch West Wing or The Crown, have been key to my sanity while in a stretch of waking up at 5 a.m. every morning with a tiny baby who thinks that’s an appropriate time to start the day. I think I would have gone crazy if I was left with only the entertainment TV and radio stations deemed fit for air at that hour.

Most importantly, kudos to the moms who did this without having friends in a little box in their back pocket. I don’t know what I would do without having my friends accessible at the touch of a button, even in the midst of winter when none of us want to go out of the house, even while a little one is too sick and we don’t want to risk passing the germs around, even in the middle of the night when I’ve felt frustrated and ineffectual. Many instances of loneliness and self-doubt have been alleviated by an encouraging text, a humourous retort to my baby’s inconvenient behaviour, a photo that confirms no one else really has it all together either, or even just a string of messages with content that doesn’t seem in the least bit important. On some days, those “insignificant” conversations have been essential for keeping this mom grounded in the world outside her house.

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I love knowing what these women get up to during 3am wakings

I know, I know, if we lived in a time before these technologies, we would be able to do without them as well. But this is neither here nor there. Today, I want to give kudos to my heroines of the past, who did all we do, and sometimes a hell of a lot more, without these little electronic boxes that connect me to my village.

Looking Forward to Mat Leave the Second Time Around

Happy Valentine’s Day, mamas! I hope you’re all enjoying a day filled with love from your little ones and maybe even a bit of grown-up love time.

In our house, we have officially reached the baby-could-come-anytime countdown. And like pretty much every Mom I know, I am simultaneously completely ready to be done with pregnancy and frantically trying to accomplish as much as possible before the little nugget arrives and I am newborn-bound. Given that this will be my second maternity leave, I also find myself reflecting on my hopes and expectations for what lies ahead.

I should start by saying that I am extremely fortunate. Living in Canada means that I am entitled to a full year off with the baby, and with my workplace benefits, I can afford to do that. This will allow me time and space to truly step away from work and focus my attention on my little one and my family. I know very well that this is not something everyone in North America enjoys, and I am grateful.

At the same time, I know from my experience with my last maternity leave that so much time away from the routine of work and adult time can be deeply isolating. And for someone like me – who thrives on checking off to-do lists – the need to feel like you’re getting things done can be hard to fulfill when your day is largely dictated by a tiny human who gives exactly zero fucks what’s on your list for that day.

Still, I’d like to think that the fact that this isn’t my first baby rodeo will help me have more reasonable expectations and provide perspective and comfort on those tougher days. With that in mind, I’ve got three goals for this upcoming year at home:

Accept that some things are just not going to get done, but recognize that lots of things are getting done: The last time I went on maternity leave, I had a big list of things I thought I would get done in my “year off” – things like mastering recipes for lemon meringue pie and hollandaise sauce, and finally painting a three-panel seascape for our living room. Seriously.

In retrospect, I don’t know what the hell I was thinking. It will shock precisely no one who has ever met a baby that none of these things even got started, let alone finished. But there were lots of other things that did get done – organizing and cleaning projects that made our daily lives as new parents easier, a scrapbook of my son’s first year. And, of course, there was all the growing and developing that my son did over that time, which is pretty remarkable when you think about it. In other words, the stuff that was more important to our family got done. 

So this time around, I’m going to try to be kinder to myself and to have faith that while sometimes it may seem as though nothing is getting checked off the list, in the grand scheme of things the important stuff will get accomplished. I may still have no clue how to make hollandaise sauce, but my kiddos will be fed and cared for, so we’ll call that a win.

Get out of the house and into the village: The last time I was on maternity leave, it took me months to feel confident enough to leave the house alone with the baby for any trip longer than the five-minute walk from my house to the local coffee shop and then promptly home. We went lots of places with my husband or other family, but when alone I was petrified that my son would have a meltdown in whatever public place and I wouldn’t be able to handle it by myself. Last time I was on maternity leave, I was also the only one of my friends with a small baby. Linds was home with little A, but she lives six hours away, so our commiserating was mainly over the phone. My not very big house started to feel teeny tiny, let me tell you.

Two days in particular helped me gain a bit of perspective. The first was five months in, when Linds came to visit for a week with A. We took the bus together to the mall to do some Christmas shopping…for most of the day. And you know what? Everyone was fine. The boys were mostly content, but when they got fussy, we knew how to deal. It was exactly the proof I needed that I could hack this mom thing, not just in the safety of my house but out in the world.

The second day was nine months in (yes, nine), the first day that I spent mostly away from my son. All that time focused on the needs of my beautiful little baby hadn’t included enough focus on taking care of myself and I was melting down. My husband saw me melting and, fortunately, took matters into his own hands. He called my mother-in-law, who was more than happy to take my son off my hands the next day while my husband was at work. I don’t even remember what I did with that day. I just remember realizing how very much I had needed that break and how important it is to embrace the village around you.

So, this time around, I want to remember the lessons from those two days. I want to get out of the house more from the start, confident in the knowledge that I am perfectly capable of navigating baby needs in public. And, at the same time, I want to remember that it is more than ok to ask for help. It is necessary. No one can do this parenting thing truly alone, and taking care of yourself is essential to being able to take care of your kids. This time around, I am also fortunate to have a few friends who are home with their little ones too, and I plan to take full advantage. After all, there’s no one who understands what you’re going through as a mom better than other mamas.

Enjoy: Initially, I was going to write “enjoy every moment”, but let’s be real. Some moments…they’re not going to be so great and I’m not going to enjoy them. Some moments are going to royally suck. That’s ok. There are lots of moments that will more than make up for those times that make me want to scream into a pillow.

And having done this before, I know full well that when this year comes to an end, I’m going to wish I had more time at home with my little nugget.

GUEST POST: How community helped during the hardest time of our lives

This month, we are pleased to welcome Kristi Sterry to the Raise a Mother village. Kristi is the mom of two little boys.  She works in cancer research, and enjoys travel, hiking, and trail running. You can find her blog at lovelearnrunblog.wordpress.com and follow her on Twitter @krististerry. Welcome, Kristi!

bio-picOur youngest son, James, was born with a serious medical issue.  Hours after his birth, we discovered that his esophagus was not connected to his stomach, his trachea was underdeveloped, and had a fistula.  This condition is called esophageal atresia with tracheoesophageal fistula, or EA/TEF.

Our world changed overnight. Instead of the sleepless nights, baby cuddles, and diapers we expected, we found ourselves navigating major surgeries, lengthy hospital stays, and an uncertain future.

Our friends and family shared our heartache and our hope for this sweet new baby. Everyone we knew offered to help.  And honestly, they made all the difference in the world.  Here’s how:

Help with the older kids

My water broke at 5:45am, and we left for the hospital by 7am.  My older son, Thomas, awoke to the news that he had a new baby brother.  Before Thomas even met his brother, James had to be life-flighted to a larger hospital 2.5 hours away.  I followed as soon as I was discharged from the hospital.

I was terrified for my new baby, but my heart broke for my firstborn.  I knew he was confused and sad and missed his family.

During this time, our friends and family took care of Thomas, helped him FaceTime with us, took him on play dates, and brought him over the mountain pass to visit us.  Knowing that he was being loved and cared for brought this mama tremendous peace of mind.

Meals

After we got home, friends showed up with meals every day for 2 months.  It was such a tremendous help to have that off our plate so we could just focus on our family.  And many of my friends don’t cook (like me!), so they chipped in on gift cards.

Reach Out

Those long days at the hospital were really lonely, especially since we were hours away from home.  My best friends texted constantly.  My sister and mom e-mailed me encouraging quotes and verses late every night, since they knew I would be up pumping.  One sweet friend sent her friend who lived locally to deliver a care package.  It was so nice to connect with another mom.  Honestly, the love and support we received during that time still brings tears to my eyes.  Not everyone knew what to say, but just knowing they were thinking of us meant the world.

Keep offering to help

This is the big one. Once the baby comes home from the hospital, it seems like the medical crisis is over. But for many families, it is harder, lonelier, and scarier once they leave the support of the hospital. Our friends and family keep checking in with us.  They pray alongside us when James is sick.  And they celebrate every milestone as he continues to grow and thrive.

Watching your child suffer through a major medical issue is not something I would wish upon anyone.  But I wouldn’t trade our journey with James for the world.  He has taught us many things, not least of which is what a wonderful community surrounds our family.

January is EA/TEF Awareness Month.  Each year, 1 out of every 4,500 babies is born with EA/TEF.  Even after their repair, many of these children battle a long list of chronic issues.  On this official awareness month, we spread the word about this unknown condition and celebrate modern medicine gifting our children with life.

To Push or Not to Push: That is the question

pregnancyThe third trimester has officially started at our house. Woohoo! As Raise a Mother regulars will know, this pregnancy hasn’t been the easiest, so I am excited to be heading into the homestretch.

At the same time, we’ve still got so much to do. When I was pregnant with our first, I carefully researched and planned, making sure we got things ready throughout the nine months so we wouldn’t have too much to do at the end. This time…not so much. One of the things we have yet to sort out? Whether or not to try for a vaginal birth after c-section (VBAC) or to opt for a repeat c-section.

We are fortunate to have health care providers who are committed to giving us all the information we need and then supporting whatever decision we make, (Shout out to Ontario’s midwives!)

Still, it’s a big decision. After all, it’s literally deciding how we want our child to come into this world. If you had asked me right after my son was born, I would have said, without a doubt, that I wanted a VBAC. I even asked my midwife at my discharge appointment what I could do to help to increase the odds of a successful VBAC the second time around.

I had a hard time with my c-section, both before and afterwards. I was disappointed when my son refused to move from his breech position – our little Buddha making surgery a necessity. I was scared shitless when my belly stopped growing properly around week 34 and then my amniotic fluid got low, ultimately resulting in our surgery being scheduled earlier than initially planned because little buddy was no longer getting the nutrients or space he needed. After the surgery, my body temperature remained too low for me to hold my sweet baby, so I watched from under an inflatable hot-air blanket as my husband had the first skin-to-skin contact with our son. I had to wait at least an hour to hold him, let alone try to feed him.

I felt like a failure whose body hadn’t done what it was “supposed” to do. It didn’t help that I, like many women who have had c-sections, had difficulty breast feeding. My son didn’t regain his birth weight for a full three weeks, and we ultimately moved fully to formula feeding after three months of struggling with a never-ending cycle of bottles, boobs and pumping. I promised myself that if I had the chance to do it again, it would be a vaginal birth all the way.

But now, more than two years later, I can honestly say I’m torn about what to choose.

Because I’m not the same Mom I was when my son was born. I have enough distance, perspective and confidence to know that I didn’t fail my kid when we had a c-section (or for that matter, when we switched exclusively to formula). In fact, that was me Mom-ing Up. We did away with my expectations of how things were supposed to go and instead went with what was going to work best for my kid and for our family.

Now, there is a big part of me that finds it appealing to go with what I’ve already done – the “devil I know”, so to speak. After all, there are so many things about parenting that throw you into the deep end, leaving you to either sink or swim. Why not choose the thing that’s more familiar – where you know what to expect – if given the option to do so?

On the other hand, assuming that all is going well and there are no complications, VBACs are statistically safer than having another major surgery – which is, of course, what a c-section is. Not to mention that the idea of trying to deal with a six-week recovery period with a two-and-half-year-old at home sounds far from appealing, if not impossible. Seriously, how am I not going to pick up my firstborn for six weeks?

And, just because my c-section no longer makes me feel like a failure doesn’t mean that I’ve given up my desire for that moment of having my child placed on my chest immediately after he’s emerged from my body. Do I really want to give up that opportunity voluntarily?

On the other hand (yes, I have three hands in this scenario), the idea of trying to have a VBAC and ending up with an emergency c-section scares me the most. The idea that I could shoot for the moon and end up with a birth where I feel even more separate from my baby – and both of us are put at greater risk – is my personal nightmare. So, does that mean we shouldn’t even try?

At the recommendation of our midwife, my husband and I attended a VBAC information session run by ob-gyns from a local hospital. The facilitator emphasized that we shouldn’t think of this as a single decision, c-section or VBAC. Instead, we need to answer a series of questions: Are we comfortable with any medically-approved induction methods or do we want to rely on my body going into labour naturally in order to go for a VBAC? At how many weeks do we give up on that and schedule a c-section? If we opt for an elective c-section, what does our birth plan look like if I go into labour before the scheduled surgery date?  etc, etc, etc.

I found this framing very helpful because it recognizes the many variables that come into play in any birth experience. My husband and I want to ensure that we are on the same page, so our plan now is for each of us to answer the questions and come up with what would be our own ideal birth plan. Then we’ll compare and find the plan that will work best for both of us.

Of course, the decision may not end up being ours in the end. I know all too well that kiddos have a way of rendering your well-thought-out plans irrelevant. The circumstances of this pregnancy may shift and a VBAC may no longer be an option. The best we can do is plan for the best-case scenario, be prepared for things to change, and keep our focus on getting our little nugget here safe and healthy.

I’d love to hear about your experiences with a repeat c-section or VBAC. Any advice you can offer to this mama-of-two-to-be?

 

Why Sleep is the Best F**king Thing on the Planet

When you’re sleep deprived as the parent of a baby or young toddler, it can seem like the world is, well, basically, Mordor:

mordor

 

…when it looks to everyone else like your life should be this scene from Marie Antoinette:

marie-antoinette

 

In my experience, people are usually pretty nice to you about this plight, pretty sympathetic. But eventually, even some of the nicest people, with the best intentions, seem to get a little… shall we say… sick of your tiredness? Continue reading

A Lovely Little Corner of the Oft-Infuriating Internet…

I have a resource to share that has really been a game-changer for me, fellow parents! Recently, I signed up for Lori Petro’s Chaos to Cooperation 10-Day Virtual Retreat via her Teach Through Love site . I’m not even sure now how I came across her stuff… I think it was during my 5am-feeding window, where I scroll through Pinterest and Facebook in order to keep myself awake while little R eats. I must have been surfing on the topic of dealing with toddler tantrums, and I ended up inputting my email – an action that is extremely rare for me, since I always think I’m getting too many emails as it is. So I must have been pretty desperate at that moment. (I want to say up front, too, that the course was FREE – completely free! And she has not emailed me once since the end of the course, either!) Continue reading

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