Tag Archives: women’s bodies

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.

 

GUEST POST: Giving up the Ghost of Breastfeeding, Over Two Years Later

Welcome back to Kayla Borja Frost; we’re grateful to have her share more of her parenting journey. Kayla is a licensed mental health counselor, mother, wife, dog-owner, and blogger living in the Boston area. You can check out her blog at https://whatwemeanwhenwesaymotherhood.wordpress.com/ .

When I think back to the first few weeks of my son’s life, one word comes to mind: heartbreak. I feel immense guilt for even mentioning that word in the context of my now two-and-a-half year old son, who is healthy and intelligent and sweet and beautiful. There are so many moms out there (some of them known to me personally) longing for a healthy little baby to call their own. And I am so grateful to have my son.

But rather than browbeat myself too much (because I don’t think that’s helpful to me or to anyone else), I think it’s more important to be honest about my journey. And as I cared for my newborn son, my heart was most certainly breaking.

Because all was not going according to plan. In fact, nothing was going according to MY plan. I hadn’t planned to suffer a serious hemorrhage after my baby’s birth. I hadn’t planned on the sleeplessness and worry of life with a newborn plunging me deep into insomnia, depression, and anxiety. I hadn’t planned on the nagging thoughts of “I can’t do this” and “I’m a terrible mother” and “I’ve made a mistake.” But there they were.

Most of all, I hadn’t planned that the simple act of feeding my baby would have me feeling lost, helpless, devastated, and full of rage all at the same time. The problem: I wasn’t producing milk (no more than an ounce or so at a time). I tried to be patient with myself (perhaps the hemorrhage caused my body a set back) and with my baby (maybe he needed to learn to be a more effective eater). I saw several lactation consultants and followed their recommendations: pumping after every feeding, lots of skin to skin contact, eating specific foods and taking supplements to boost supply, and even using a torturous SNS device (basically a baby beer bong for formula). The one suggestion I didn’t take (which ironically probably would have helped the most) was to go to a breastfeeding support group. I felt far too ashamed and embarrassed to face a group of women and lay bare my nursing failures. Of course now, with some perspective, I realize that I likely would have met women with similar struggles and gained support and reassurance. Hindsight.

However, at six weeks postpartum, the situation felt hopeless. I could only pump the smallest drops of milk. My son would feed for 45 minutes or an hour, and then ravenously suck down a bottle of formula. Then I would pump. Then I would clean the bottle and pump parts. Then it would be time to start this whole process over again. And while I had imagined breastfeeding would be this great bonding experience with my baby, instead I felt a growing resentment.

I also felt a growing resentment toward my own body.  I had always been a strong believer in mind over matter. At my first spin class, my body said “Noooo!” But my mind said “if all these other people can do this, you can too.” I stuck with it and became an avid indoor cycler. But breastfeeding is not a spin class. You cannot force your body to make milk (believe me, I tried). And for all the “It will happen” statements I clung to from LC’s or well-meaning friends, I shut out my OB frankly saying “It might not work for you” and “No one will know on the first day of kindergarten whether he was breast or formula fed.” I shut out my mother and my husband gently saying “It’s okay to stop” because they could see how miserable I was. But I couldn’t stop. I couldn’t just QUIT. For a lifelong super over-achiever like me, that was the unthinkable.

I remember the morning I stopped nursing. My child was 6 weeks old. I had been awake all night with the feeding/pumping routine, and on top of that worrying, worrying, worrying about it all. I felt very close to breaking, mentally and physically. So finally, I felt able to tell myself that I wasn’t QUITTING. I just had to stop. For my sanity. For my wellbeing and that of my baby. I couldn’t do it anymore. I needed to be able to hold my baby without a boob or bottle involved. I needed to banish the nightmarish whir of the breast pump. Moreover, my baby needed ME. And he needed me to be sane more than he needed breast milk.

I would love to say that I made my decision about breastfeeding and stood firmly and proudly behind it thereafter. But that would be a lie. I have struggled (and still do) with so much guilt. More than two years later, I still find myself thinking, “If I had stuck with it for another week, would my milk have come in?” When I see another mother nursing her baby, I feel a hot rush of jealousy and inadequacy. When the topic of breastfeeding comes up, I’m tempted to lie or to over-explain my experience. I just haven’t been able to truly move on.

I experience a deep and profound sadness mixed with rage when I see “breast is best” advertisements. I fully recognize that this material is meant to inform and encourage mothers and the general public. And I am truly in awe of the superwomen who make breastfeeding work for their families, whether for a few months, a year, or longer. I now understand how difficult this is, even for a woman with adequate milk supply. There is no such thing as an “easy” road for any of us.

However, my problem with the current trend in breastfeeding education is that it frames breastfeeding as a choice. And if we feed our babies formula, we are not necessarily making a “bad” choice, but it’s not “best.” But what about those of us who did not have a choice? Adoptive parents. Parents with health problems that prevented breastfeeding. Parents that had to return immediately to work. Or moms like myself that just couldn’t make it work? It enrages me that I am thought to have made a poorer “choice” for my son, when what I feel is that my “choice” was taken away. It was out of my hands. I realize that just by writing this, I am opening myself up to criticism that I didn’t try hard enough. That I made the wrong “choice.” I’m sorry, but fuck that. I’m done feeling bad about this. Or at least I’m really, really trying to be.

So as my husband and I question if or when we might try for another baby, I find myself seriously concerned about attempting to breastfeed again and hoping that I can find a healthy, balanced approach. As I consider this, I am reminded of some good advice a mom friend gave that has stuck with me. As I complained to her about my breastfeeding woes, she said “There’s always going to be something in parenting that doesn’t work out at all the way you’d imagined.” For example, she had always imagined going for leisurely walks with her infant in his stroller. Unfortunately, her son had such terrible reflux that he couldn’t tolerate the stroller.  They never used it. Her stroller was my breastfeeding.

There’s something that just doesn’t work out for all parents. As hard as it is to accept that and move on. But we can move on. Because our children are fine. They’re better than fine. No one will know on the first day of kindergarten that her son couldn’t go for walks in a stroller. And no one will know my son was formula fed. Our children are fine. And we will be too.

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Will I Accidentally Teach My Sons to Devalue Women???

So often, I’m inspired and intrigued by the writing of another mom out there on the web. It’s wonderful to read another woman’s words and think, yeah, I totally get where she’s coming from, and I am so glad she wrote that!

Today, I’m having this feeling about Kasey Edwards‘ piece over at Role Reboot, entitled, “When Your Mother Says She’s Fat .” Her letter to her mom is a bit of a truth bomb, especially as she describes when, at age seven, she first heard her mother called herself “fat, ugly, and horrible”:

“In the days that followed I had some painful revelations that have shaped my whole life. I learned that:

1. You must be fat because mothers don’t lie.
2. Fat is ugly and horrible.
3. When I grow up I’ll look like you and therefore I will be fat, ugly, and horrible too.

Years later, I looked back on this conversation and the hundreds that followed and cursed you for feeling so unattractive, insecure, and unworthy. Because, as my first and most influential role model, you taught me to believe the same thing about myself.”

That first idea, that “you must be fat because mothers don’t lie,” really strikes me. It goes along with the notion that “The way we speak to our children becomes their inner voice” (most often attributed to author Peggy O’Mara). But what Edwards implies is that not only does the way we speak to our children become their inner voice, but the way we speak to and about ourselves in front of them contributes to their inner voice as well. I think for many parents, myself included, we place a lot of emphasis on the way we speak to our kids about them, but not quite so much on how we speak about ourselves in front of them. Perhaps, though, this is just as important.

Edwards goes on to talk about the responsibility she feels toward her own daughter: to end the passing chain of self-degradation around ideas of beauty and worth. Her piece makes me think about my role as a mother, too – only I have sons, not daughters.

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me and my guys

What Am I Teaching My Boys?

I believe I have a huge responsibility as a mother of boys to model positive ideas about beauty and worth with regard to women and girls – ie. that there is no connection between social norms of beauty and inherent worth as a person. (Yes, with regard to men and boys, too, but the correlation is so much stronger for women in my culture, so my work has to start there).

But damaging ideas about beauty and thinness are actually not what I worry about passing on to my boys the most. I have a different brand of negative-self-talk that I worry will affect their perception of girls and women.

We all have our baggage. Mine is along the lines of general self-doubt and low self-esteem. Now, I’ve done some hard work on this in the last decade and I think I’ve come a long way – a looooooong way. I no longer have panic attacks about not being good enough. I don’t wallow for days in a defeatist stew of blaming myself for everything and everyone unhappy around me. I don’t have unrealistic, perfectionist expectations that follow me around everywhere while I try to put on a happy face as if my constant effort isn’t painful.

All. That. Being. Said…

…There are still rare moments where glimpses of this unconfident, former self re-emerge. When I’m particularly sleep-deprived, or there is too much on my plate, I occasionally still hear myself (usually through tears) saying things like:

  • Oh my god, I’m just the worst. I’m terrible. (eg. when my child gets more than a minor hurt and it scares me and I wish I could have prevented it)
  • Sorry, sorry, I don’t know why I’m like this. I just can’t ever seem to read situations right. (eg. when I’ve realized after a meltdown that I could have chosen a better time to have a difficult conversation with my partner)
  • I don’t know why I never ever learn! You’d think I could have figured this out by now. (eg. when the same obstacle presents itself over and over and I wish I had prevented it)
  • I can’t ever do anything fucking right. (eg. when I’m particularly stressed and so have more at stake than is reasonable on something, and it doesn’t go perfectly)

Let me start by saying I don’t think there’s anything wrong with me having these feelings of stress or regret in and of themselves. Feelings are what they are, and I can’t control that they arise. But I can try to control what I do with them. And importantly, I need to consider how my kids may perceive my reactions, especially as they get grow and learn about the world around them.

It’s not unreasonable to suppose that my kids, growing up in a family with hetero, cis-gender parents, are probably going to form some pretty deep-seated ideas about “how women are” and “how men are” from their two main role models: me and my husband. Whether I like it or not, this is probably what’s going to happen. So if in times of stress, I resort to self-blame and devaluing myself, but in the same stressful situations, my husband does not have these reactions, what might my sons learn?

Well, I can’t be sure, but it might go something like this:

  1. Mommy must be the worst, never learns, and can’t figure out how to do things right, because mothers don’t lie.
  2. Daddy must be getting things right since he doesn’t worry (out loud) about not getting them right or say he is the worst.
  3. Daddies (men) get things right and are fine the way they are; Mommies (women) don’t know how to get things right and always need to improve.

Hmm.

A thought-train like this will sure play nicely into established ideas about men and women that they’ll see all around them in their dominant culture. Men as self-assured, women as flaky. Men as rational, women as emotional. Boys as good enough, girls as having something to prove. Patriarchal valuing of “male” attributes over “female” ones will be reinforced. What they see at home will reflect what they learn from their culture, strengthening it.

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Changing My Language

So I’m going to try to remember this in times when my old baggage comes creeping back. If I bring myself into the moment instead of making those sweeping conclusions about myself, I can lower the stakes for these times. Maybe I can change some of my words, as even small shifts could have a big impact.

Instead of talking about how I’m the worst, maybe I can focus on how I’m disappointed with what has happened right now. Maybe instead of apologizing for being the way I am, I can acknowledge that I could have done this one thing better and move on. Instead of bemoaning that I never get anything right, I can applaud my dedication to always keep trying.

And instead of worrying about the negative things my boys might think of me, I can strive for the things I want them to learn about me, and vicariously, to infer about women and girls. Now that list could get really long… it’s a thought for another day!

 

 

Our Bellies, Ourselves

A couple of weeks ago, I got on the bus for my morning commute. It was crowded and I was carrying a large bag, so I was pumped when a woman got up to give me her seat. I was less pumped a few minutes later when a couple of kids got on the bus and the same woman insisted that I remain seated because I was pregnant.

The thing is, I’m not pregnant. I was pregnant a year-and-a-half ago, but I’m not anymore.

I didn’t know what to say to the woman, so I said nothing at all, and just stayed in my seat. I figured that correcting her would only serve to make both she and I feel embarrassed and uncomfortable — and the kids had already found other seats anyway. Still, the experience stuck in my mind for the rest of the day.

When I was pregnant, I was thrilled when people noticed. I loved getting seats on the bus and using the “Expectant Mothers Only” parking spaces at the grocery store. It was one of the only times in my life when I truly embraced my body in all its forms. It was remarkable to me, then, how bothered I was when someone thought I was pregnant now. Why did that assumption suddenly make me feel so bad about myself, when it used to give such joy?

When I told a colleague what had happened, she gave me a hug and said, “That’s just the worst. Because that person is really just saying that there’s something wrong with your body“. Lindsay concurred: “People just don’t recognize that there are many different, normal body shapes,” she said.

And they were right. What I was most bothered by was a stranger making any sort of presumption about the state of my body and feeling comfortable enough to comment on it.

This annoyed me when I was pregnant as well. My husband was shocked when I told him about complete strangers touching my swollen belly, or sharing unsolicited advice about pregnancy, birth, my health, or that of the baby. But other mamas and mamas-to-be I talked to had all experienced the same thing.

The truth of the matter is that even a slight indication that a woman might be pregnant seems to suddenly turn her body into a public object that all are entitled to judge and comment upon. And whether or not the woman is actually pregnant, these judgments can cause her to feel quite insecure.

Last year, Jennifer Garner made headlines when she told Ellen DeGeneres that she did indeed have a baby bump — one named after her three children — and that everyone (including the tabloids) would just have to get used to it. Women cheered. Because whether my rounded tummy is the result of a bun in the oven, or a cinnamon bun for second breakfast, it shouldn’t be up for public comment.

Aside from the fact that it is generally much safer not to comment on someone’s pregnancy until there can be no doubt that there actually is one, I appreciate that this woman was only trying to give up her seat on a bus to someone she perceived as needing it. But even if I was pregnant, I would be perfectly capable of deciding to give up my seat for someone else.

Because it’s my baby bump after all.

~ Shannon

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