Becoming Mother

A book and a blog for first-time mothers

Category: Birth

My New Book: A Birth Story Guaranteed To Make You Cry

After I gave birth this past February, I thought,

Well. How am I going to write about that?

Because what I felt in labor had been deeply spiritual. In my first labor, I sensed God’s presence, but not in a physical way. What I experienced was beyond my physical senses.

But this time… I had seen things.

I had actually physically felt things that I couldn’t explain.

I knew that a blog post would become buried in this website over time. That’s not the way that I wanted to share this experience with an audience. I wanted something more permanent. Something more discover-able and more available to as many people as possible.

***

So I published a short Kindle book, called Why Your Middle Name is Jacob: A Birth Story.

From August 3-7, I will be giving away free copies, so I encourage you to download your copy today and share with anyone whom you think would be interested in it.

Important: You don’t need a Kindle device to read the book.

As long as you have an Amazon account, you can read this book. Just go to Amazon’s website, log in, find the book, put it in your cart, and checkout (for free). Then choose “Your Account,” and then select “Your Content and Devices.” You will see the book there and you can read it in your web browser.

Included in this e-book are six additional essays that I wrote in the early postpartum period, curated and compiled for a larger audience.

  • The World is Good Because it is Bad: A Letter to My Unborn Child
  • Postpartum Hemorrhage
  • These Holy Hours
  • Week 6: A Great Time to Return to Work
  • Week 7: And Now My Watch Is Ended
  • Is There Room in Motherhood for Feminism?

Kindle Direct Publishing only allows me to give away free copies of a title every 90 days. Please take advantage of this free promotional period while you can. After August 7th, the book will be available for $2.99.

If you download a copy, please review it on Amazon.

As an independent author, I rely on you, dear reader, to share your thoughts on my work.

I greatly appreciate your support!

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Why are American Women Dying in Childbirth?

 

American women are more likely to die from complications in pregnancy and childbirth compared to women in any other developed country.

It’s true.

But why?

***

At 1:27 p.m. on February 2, 2017, I gave birth to an 8 lb. 10 oz. boy.

Because there was meconium in my amniotic fluid, a NICU team was paged to be present at the birth to make sure that the baby’s lungs were clear.

Those first minutes after birth were very blurry. There was just too much going on to fully appreciate everything that was happening. From my perspective as the birthing mother, I remember my son turning his head upward and looking me in the eyes (that really happened). I remember seeing that he was a boy. (A boy!?! Really!?! What?!?!)

I remember dropping my head back against the bed and crying in relief that it was over. I remember thinking, “Well, that’s the last time I’m doing that.”

I was euphoric and so, so grateful. We had made it. We had survived that. Both of us. That was what I was thinking.

I did not know that I was hemorrhaging. 

This is the thing about hemorrhaging: It happens so fast.

It happens while mothers are crying from happiness that their baby is alive and breathing. It happens while they’re trying to get a good look at their baby’s face. It happens silently as the room’s atmosphere turns from the intensity and suspense of the pushing phase into joy and excitement of the delivery phase.

No woman wants to believe that it’s going to happen to her. I had none of the risk factors associated with postpartum hemorrhage.

But it still happened to me.

While we were celebrating and crying and basking in the joy of the birth, my midwife was tracking my blood loss. I remember looking down and seeing her furrowed brow every time more blood poured out of me. But I didn’t think anything terrible was happening. I was flooded with joy and gratitude that labor was over.

But in the first ten minutes after birth, more and more nurses entered the room and the treatments started. My midwife told me each treatment that she was doing to stop the bleeding. By this time, I had lost about 1200 mL of blood, about 2.5 pints of blood. In other words, I had lost about 25% of the blood in my entire pregnant body.

Surviving postpartum hemorrhage requires a medical professional who quickly realizes what is happening and starts treatment immediately.

In my case, the midwife tried a shot of Pitocin. When that didn’t work, she gave me Cytotec. When that didn’t work, she gave me IV Pitocin. She kept massaging my uterus. She was on her last treatment before starting a blood transfusion: a shot of methergine.

That’s how close we were to a true emergency.

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My heart rate during labor. You can see exactly when the hemorrhage begins and how my body responded.

 

Hemorrhage is one of the leading causes of death in childbirth.

Causes of Death in Childbirth

Still.

Let me be clear: postpartum hemorrhage isn’t caused by a lack of care. This would probably have happened to me if I had given birth anywhere else.

But women die from hemorrhage when doctors and nurses don’t quickly recognize the amount of blood loss and begin treatment. Some states, like California, have codified and implemented standardized procedures and training for nurses and doctors so that teams can quickly and efficiently follow protocol to prevent postpartum hemorrhages from killing mothers. Instead of “eye-balling” how much blood a mother loses during delivery, nurses were taught how to collect and measure postpartum blood loss to help them quickly identify hemorrhage.

“Hospitals that adopted the toolkit saw a 21 percent decrease in near deaths from maternal bleeding in the first year; hospitals that didn’t use the protocol had a 1.2 percent reduction.”

But not all states have such standardized protocol.

***

A joint investigation by NPR and ProPublica found that more women are dying of complications related to pregnancy and childbirth compared to any other developed country.

In every 100,000 births in the United States, 26 women die. In other developed countries, the numbers range between 5 and 9 births. And those numbers have climbed from 17 to 26 deaths from 2000-2015.

Seriously.

Seriously.

It seems unimaginable. Really? In the United States? But we have so much technology. We have some of the best hospitals in the world.

Maternal Mortality

What the hell is going on?!?

There were several major findings from this investigation.

  1. The U.S. is spending more money on research, equipment, and training for improving infant outcomes. Think of how much progress we have made in helping premature babies and treating newborns born with previously fatal deformities and diseases.
  2. Decreased education and training about caring for birthing mothers, for both doctors and nurses. This leads to a lack of knowledge that is passed on to the mother when she is discharged from the hospital.
  3. Lack of standardized best practices for caring for birthing mothers among the states. Unlike other developed countries, there is no nationwide effort for reducing the maternal death rate in the United States. Responsibility has been left to individual states to decide if and how they investigate maternal deaths.

America has not conquered maternal mortality. We like to think that because we have advanced technology and highly trained medical professionals that tragedies like a woman dying in childbirth just simply don’t happen anymore.

At least not nearly as much as it used to.

It’s a kind of hubris, really. To think that we have mastered childbirth. We have tamed it and told it who’s boss. In fact, we’re so good at childbirth that we should just focus most of our attention on the infants. They’re the ones that are the most vulnerable, right?

But the truth is…

“In recent decades, under the assumption that it had conquered maternal mortality, the American medical system has focused more on fetal and infant safety and survival than on the mother’s health and well-being.”

~Nina Martin & Renee Montagne, “The Last Person You’d Expect to Die in Childbirth”

***

If there was one major takeaway from this report that I want to share with everyone it’s this:

Women still die in childbirth. 

Giving birth in the United States does not guarantee that both mother and baby make it out alive.

I completely agree with the report’s observations that labor and birth put women in the most vulnerable position in their entire lives. They don’t know what’s going on. They’re immersed in the pain and process of labor. Birthing women depend on everyone around them, doctors and nurses alike, to notice the signs that an emergency is unfolding.

If you or someone you know will be giving birth in the United States in the near future, I strongly encourage you to read ProPublica’s full investigative report on this topic.

This is not a political issue. ProPublica is an independent organization that is not funded by political donations.

This is a human issue.

American women are not immune to maternal mortality.

For the women who die every year from pregnancy and childbirth from preventable or treatable conditions, let’s raise our awareness of this problem and insist that we study this at the national level, not just the state level.

We can do better than this.

The death of a new mother is not like any other sudden death. It blasts a hole in the universe.

~Nina Martin and Renee Montagne, “The Last Person You’d Expect to Die in Childbirth

A Birth Story in Songs

When the right music finds the right moments, what we see and feel is carved even more deeply into our memory.

Cognitive psychologists have studied this. In long-term memory, what we tend to remember with the most clarity in the long run are the most unusual and emotional moments of our lives. Because of its ability to mirror or even amplify those emotions, music can be an anchor that fastens those memories in place for the duration of our lives.

As I labored this past February during the birth of our second child, the right music found the right moments over and over again.

I don’t think it was coincidence.

To be honest, I made music playlists for each of my births and loaded them with songs that I would like to hear.

But as anyone who has experienced labor will tell you, ain’t no one DJing your birth when the shit hits the fan. In my first birth, we barely touched the playlist once I was in active labor. It just played on. And whatever order I had chosen when I was willy-nilly loading the songs was the order that they played.

I honestly only remember one song from one moment of my first labor. It was the song playing when our daughter was born, “I Will Be Here,” by Steven Curtis Chapman. It was a sentimental Christian ballad that I added to the playlist on a whim, and one that I didn’t even particularly like anymore. Sure, it was a sweet song. It reminded me of those first vows that we said at our wedding eight years earlier.

But it wasn’t really a birth song. And it certainly wasn’t the one that I would have chosen.

So it was surprising to me just how many times the right music found the right moments in this birth. For me, the music felt like another birth attendant.

The songs held my hand.

The songs urged me one.

And sometimes, the songs were the screams from my own heart.

Someday, I’ll share with you a written version of this birth story. I’m thinking about releasing it as a free Kindle Single, if I can make the time this summer to do that.

But for now, let’s go on a ride.

Let’s give birth.

With songs.

February 2, 2017

 

Early Labor: 3-4 centimeters

3:00 a.m.

Contractions every 3-4 minutes. Standing, hips swaying. Eyes closed.

I Can’t Make You Love Me If You Don’t” Bonnie Raitt

Here in the dark, in these final hours
I will lay down my heart and I’ll feel the power

5:00 a.m.

Contractions every 2-3 minutes. Lying on my side on the bed. Leg, dangling off the side to help the baby turn into position.

Landslide” Fleetwood Mac

Can the child within my heart rise above?
Can I sail through the changing ocean tides?
Can I handle the seasons of my life?

7:00 a.m.

Contractions every 2-3 minutes and requiring controlled breathing to cope. Lying on my left side, gripping the headboard of the bed. Eyes sometimes open, sometimes closed.

Society” Eddie Vedder

Society, have mercy on me
I hope you’re not angry if I disagree
Society, crazy and deep
I hope you’re not lonely without me

Active Labor: 5-7 centimeters

9:00 a.m.

Contractions every 1-2 minutes. In the birthing tub. Blue light in the water. Legs floating. Head leaning back on the edge of the tub. Holding Doug’s hands as he sits behind me next to the tub.

Hypnotic, oscillating moments of weightlessness and heaviness. Baby pushing between pelvic bones, twisting in each contraction.

A lot of groaning.

“Teardrop” Massive Attack

Love, love is a verb
Love is a doing word
Fearless on my breath
Gentle impulsion
Shakes me, makes me lighter
Fearless on my breath
Teardrop on the fire
Fearless on my breath

Transition

A.K.A Climbing the Ladder and Wrestling with God:

7-10 centimeters

10:25 – 10:55 a.m.

Forty-five second, double-peaked contractions every other minute.

This part… Oh, this part. I will write about this in detail later. It was thirty minutes of my life that I will never forget because it is the second time in my life that I encountered God.

“God Moving Over the Face of the Waters” Moby

Stalled: 10 centimeters

11:30 a.m.

Contractions every 1-2 minutes, but no urge to push. Although completely dilated, my water still hadn’t broken. Back in the tub for pain relief. I pressed my face into the edge of the tub and cried.

Doubt. Such deep, deep doubt.

“Last Man” Clint Mansell

12:00 p.m.

Contractions every 2-3 minutes. When my midwife checked me, she told me that the baby still needed to come down farther. I tried a number of different positions but nothing helped. I asked her (okay, screamed for her) to break my water.

That worked.

“Redeemer” Paul Cardall

Pushing

12:55 p.m.

This is another part that I will write about in much greater detail. For right now, just know there was a lot of screaming.

I mean… Yeah. A lot of screaming.

“Press On” Robinella

Life is filled with bitter music
Breeze that whistles like a song
Death gets swept down like an eagle
Snatches with our shoes still on

Press on

“Welcome Home” Radical Face

All my nightmares escaped my head
Bar the door, please don’t let them in
You were never supposed to leave
Now my head’s splitting at the seams
And I don’t know if I can

“Holocene” Bon Iver

And at once I knew I was not magnificent
Huddled far from the highway aisle
Jagged vacance, thick with ice
And I could see for miles, miles, miles

“The Wound” Gospel Whiskey Runners

The road is long and dusty and alone
I’ve got not place to rest, no place to call my own
My eyes have seen the glory of your love
And I won’t turn back this time
No, I won’t turn back this time

“Work Song” Hozier

When my times comes around
Lay me gently in the cold, dark earth
No grave can hold my body down
I’ll crawl home to her

Birth

1:27 p.m.

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“You’re All I Need to Get By” Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell

Like the sweet morning dew, I took one look at you,
And it was plain to see, you were my destiny.
With my arms open wide,
I threw away my pride
I’ll sacrifice for you
Dedicate my life for you

“I’ll Have to Say I Love You in a Song” Jim Croce

Every time I tried to tell you
The words just came out wrong
So I’ll have to say I love you in a song

Postpartum Hemmorhage

1:35 p.m.

“Do You Realize” Flaming Lips

Do you realize that you have the most beautiful face
Do you realize we’re floating in space,
Do you realize that happiness makes you cry
Do you realize that everyone you know someday will die

And instead of saying all of your goodbyes, let them know
You realize that life goes fast
It’s hard to make the good things last
You realize the sun doesn’t go down
It’s just an illusion caused by the world spinning round

2:10 p.m.

I asked Doug to take a picture of Henry’s face so I could see him up close.

When I saw the picture, what I thought was,

Yes.

That’s exactly right.

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Week 5: The Hospital Bill Arrives (A.K.A. Why You Can’t Shop for Health Care)

One of the major talking points of Republicans about their plans for replacing the Affordable Care Act is that…

“It will encourage Americans to shop around for their health care.”

To which I say…

Bullshit.

“Shopping around” for health care isn’t a thing in the United States.

You cannot shop around when you don’t know the prices ahead of time.

I mean… Duh.

(You also cannot shop around if there is only one hospital in your area, as is true for all Americans who live far from larger cities.)

If we’re “consumers” of health care, shouldn’t we have the same amount of information that we have when we are consumers of cars or computers, or even breakfast cereal?

But we don’t.

We often don’t know how much our health care costs until we tear open the bill that finally comes to our mailbox weeks later.

Surprise!

***

Before we had this baby, I tried to figure out about how much it was going to cost us out-of-pocket.

You know. For budgeting.

For planning our Flexible Spending Accounts.

You know. Because we want to be responsible. Because we want to make sure we’ve saved enough money to cover our health care costs.

We’re not in poor health. We don’t have pre-existing conditions. We’re fairly young. We’re gainfully employed.

Republicans should love us. Any plan put forth by them should definitely benefit us right? We’re kind of what they had in mind for good American health care “consumers.”

But the truth is you can’t blame “consumers” for the complicated mess that is the health insurance industry, nor can you blame them for the high costs of health care. You can’t tell Americans to just save their money and choose wisely.

I tried that approach and it didn’t work. Not because I didn’t try hard enough, but because the system is not designed to be transparent to patients.

The patients are an afterthought.

***

Our health insurance provider had some estimates for the costs of giving birth in the two main hospitals where I live. These costs were based on their negotiated rates for medical procedures with those hospitals.

But they were just estimates.

So I called the hospital’s pricing line, staffed by the billing department, for a more precise answer.

Ha. Ha.

First, no one picked up the line. It went straight to voicemail. Over and over again.

So I left a message.

Someone called me back the next day.

When I asked the billing department’s representative about specific prices for having a baby at their hospital, he said that he couldn’t give me any prices.

The pricing line. Couldn’t give me any prices.

So I got specific. I told him that I would be giving birth in the birthing center that is attached to the hospital, where I would be rooming in with my baby 24/7. So we wouldn’t be using the nursery. Would we be charged a fee for the nursery? I asked.

“Yes,” he said.

“Why?” I asked.

“Because it’s available to you.”

“So how much will the nursery cost us?”

“I can’t quote you a price on that. It all depends on your insurance and how long you stay.”

“But don’t you have average prices for average stays? Anything?”

“We have a price sheet you can look at, but it’s not going to be inclusive of all of your expenses.”

“I’ll take whatever you have,” I said.

So he referred me to this pricing list, published on the hospital’s website. Why he didn’t give this to me at the beginning of the phone call, I’ll never know.

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Indeed, these charges showed up on my insurance claim for the birth.

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But so did this mysterious $3500 charge. And a boatload of other charges that are all labeled “Ancillaries” and have no identifying characteristics other than a medical code that only medical transcribers can interpret.

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I mean, really. Don’t I deserve a little more information than this? If we’re going to pay $1800, I’d kind of like to know what it pays for.

So I wait for the hospital bill to show up. Maybe they have more information than my health insurance company.

Not really.

IMG_20170306_134632

From this bill, I can see that the ambiguous $1850 charge on my insurance claim is actually for the “Recovery Room.” But the other charges?

Who can tell?

The underlying message here is,

Please just accept this price. Your insurance company and the hospital have already decided on a negotiated rate and it’s really just best that you accept this price, pay it, and move on. See how expensive this birth was? You’re lucky that your insurance company is paying so much. So just suck it up and pay. There’s no free lunch, Friend.

***

I’m not the only one who has a problem with this.

“Childbirth is the number one reason why people go to the hospital,” reports Vox’s Johnny Harris in this well-researched video on this very topic. He finds that prices for uncomplicated deliveries in the United States vary from $1189 to $11,986.

I have to admit, I am slightly jealous that their out-of-pocket expenses were only $841.

But who am I kidding? Many, many Americans now have deductibles as high as $6000 now, making my $1000 deductible seem enviable.

The truth is that knowing the costs of this birth would have been helpful for me and my husband, but it didn’t break our bank. We earn enough money jointly that we can absorb a financial blow like this.

But what about the millions of Americans who can’t save $5000 to have a baby in a hospital?

What about those Americans who are “too rich” to qualify for Medicaid, but not rich enough to afford any kind of useful health insurance plan? One that doesn’t deter people from seeing the doctor simply because of the cost?

So politicians, quit telling people that they should learn how to make wise choices so they can save for their health care costs.

And quit telling people that they should “shop around” for their health care costs. 

Not only is it demeaning, but often it is completely impossible.

What Bleeding Taught Me About Trump’s America

Betsy DeVos. The refugee travel ban. The Syrian War. Trump/Bannon. Alternative facts. The war with the press.

It’s just so much that it nearly paralyzes you.

Then part of you thinks, Hey, it will be okay. Things will work out. They always do. Let’s just see what happens.

To that voice in your mind, I say this:

Fight.

Fight like hell.

Fight for your life.

Fight for the future of this country.

Don’t listen to that voice. Don’t be lulled into thinking that things will take care of themselves.

This country is bleeding. We are bleeding.

It’s true that if we’re healthy, the bleeding will stop on its own. But does it seem like we’re healthy? And if you feel like things are okay, are you blind to the signs that you see from everyone else?

Do you see the pain of others or do you blame them for their pain? Or worse, do you belittle their pain?

Do you realize that you are bleeding? Or will you allow yourself to bleed until you’re too weak to fight anymore?

***

I’ve been thinking a lot about blood loss in the past few days.

Just a week ago, I suffered from a postpartum hemorrhage.

I was afraid something like this would happen. I even wrote about it in my book, Becoming Mother. Dissatisfied with the difficulty of having an unmedicated labor in a traditional hospital setting, I decided to give birth in a natural birthing center attached to a hospital for my second birth.

Sometimes, people would ask me if I would ever be interested in a home birth.

Here’s what I wrote:

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Eerie.

To lose that much blood moves your mind into a place of limbo, caught somewhere between reality and dreams. Awareness and unawareness. The physical and the spiritual. You become light. Hazy. Detached. Almost as if you’re drifting off into sleep.

But it doesn’t feel quite right.

It feels like you’re leaving something behind.

Let me take you into those moments just after it happened to me.

At first, it’s uncontrollable shaking. I’m so, so cold. Nurses cover me with heated blankets upon heated blankets, but still I shake and shake. Then, the weakness. I can barely lift my head from the pillow. The nurses won’t let me walk to the bathroom, so it’s the bedpan for me. Once. Twice. Three times. Four times. With all my strength I push my hips up so the bedpan can slide underneath me.

When they finally let me stand, each of them takes an arm and helps me to my feet. They tell me to look up, not down. They ask me if I’m ready and I say yes.

“Actually, let’s wait on that,” one of them says. “Your lips are blue.”

Then, the fogginess. I can see my husband talking to the nurse, but I don’t immediately understand their words. My understanding is on a several-second delay. The nurse tells me to drink the entire contents of a giant plastic cup of water. I don’t know what to do with it until she puts it in my hands. Using both sight and touch, my thoughts finally click into place. I should drink this.

My husband asks me if I want to eat. I say yes and he hands me the menu. I hold it for a moment, my eyes seeing words that I know are food, but that I don’t understand. Turkey hot shot? What is that? Salmon… is a fish. Salad… Vegetables. Side items are… oh, like fries. Dressings… are for salad. 

The menu falls against my face and I doze off.

But when the food arrives, I eat like a mo-fo.

My husband feeds me bits of burgers, fries, carrot cake, cheesecake, salad, juice, more juice, water, soda, salmon, broccoli, pizza, waffles, sausage, fruit cups, and more. I eat it all and with each bite, a breath of life comes back to me. My mind opens and clears. Voices make more sense.

I feel myself coming back.

The next day is deceptively good. The happiness of new life and the excitement of going home overshadow how hard it is to walk and move from one place to another. I tell myself that I’m already doing better than after my first birth. Look at you move! I praise myself. I didn’t tear this time, so I can sit (mostly) comfortably.

I continue to eat and eat and eat. Chicken, kale smoothies, lamb, mushrooms, baked potatoes covered in butter and salt, granola bars, bananas, apples, thick peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, spoons of peanut butter straight from the jar.

It makes sense later on, this hunger. For fun, I check my Fitbit stats during labor. Look at this.

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I know what you’re thinking. The peak must have been during the pushing phase.

You. Are. Wrong.

That period of peak heart rate happened when I started to hemorrhage. As blood poured out of me, my heart pumped more and more blood to keep delivering oxygen to the tissues and cells that were under attack.

It began after I delivered the placenta. My midwife noticed the bleeding wasn’t slowing. She massaged my uterus. A nurse gave me a shot of Pitocin in my right thigh. Another nurse was prodding my left arm, trying to get an IV started as my tiny veins rolled and rolled. I apologized to her as she stuck me and dug and dug and dug for the vein. Stick after stick.

When the Pitocin didn’t work, the midwife gave me Cytotec.

But I kept bleeding.

The nurse finally got my IV threaded. Pitocin and fluids entered my veins.

But warm blood kept flowing out of me.

If you’re cringing in pain, don’t. All that bleeding was completely painless. My body sent me no signals that I should fear it.

What my body did feel were all the people trying to save me. The nurses, poking and prodding me with needles and IVs. The midwife grinding and massaging my uterus to help it contract. It was those who were working to keep me here that I protested against. My body didn’t understand that those pains were signals of my salvation.

I asked my midwife how much I had lost so far.

“500 ccs is what we usually want to see… You’re probably at 1,000 right now.”

And I kept bleeding.

More uterine massage. I groaned. I moaned. I looked for my baby, but I couldn’t see him. I heard my husband talking and figured that he was the one holding the baby.

I must assure you that I wasn’t afraid when any of this was happening.

You forget.

I just had a baby.

I had climbed the highest mountain I had ever attempted in my life and I had pulled both of us up by fingernails of sheer will and grit. This birth was nothing like my first, which had been a thirty-six hour humbling of body and soul that felt more like spiritual possession.

No, this birth was a struggle. From beginning to end. This birth was a seemingly impossible task that required me to engage and confront over and over again. (Don’t worry: I will write more about this later.)

So as I lay there on the bed, painlessly bleeding life out of me, I was not afraid.

What I was feeling was relief. Peace. Profound gratitude. Love. All covered with the surprise that I had just given birth to a boy.

Then, finally, the drug that works: methergine.

***

The seriousness of what had happened to me did not fully set in until the next day. My husband told me that he could tell from the expressions on the nurses’ faces that the situation was getting tense. That we were probably only minutes from a true emergency.

But hey, I had come through and I was fine. Right?

All’s well that ends well. Time to move on and forget about the whole thing.

After all, I had another hurdle to overcome: establishing breastfeeding.

But just like the last time, inverted nipples and poor milk production have their way with me. Every few hours, I try something new. In the beginning, I use a nipple shield while my husband drops formula from a syringe onto the shield to encourage our baby to not get frustrated and continue to feed. Sometimes, my husband feeds him with a bottle while I pump. Sometimes, I just pump between feedings. Then, I try to get him to latch without the shield.

I don’t realize it at first, but I’ve started to lag behind in my eating and resting.

It’s not something I do on purpose. It happens naturally as my mind focuses on what we can try next to continue breastfeeding.

Then comes the Dreadful Day Four Postpartum. The day when my body starts to register the absence of my placenta, which just days ago was flooding my body with estrogen and progesterone. But now, like a baby rooting for nourishment, my body cries out for that hormonal lifeline that is no longer there and will never return.

This is when the shit hits the fan for me.

At first, I’m doing okay. Marveling that I’m not the sobbing, crying mess that I was with my daughter. After my first birth, I would be tearful and weepy all day long. But it’s different this time. I tear up every now and then, but I’m mostly composed and collected. Is it because of some different hormonal cocktail that I’m experiencing because I had a boy instead of a girl?

But at the end of the Day Four Postpartum, I’ve decided to stop breastfeeding. I climb the stairs to where my baby boy is sleeping in the bouncer, and I have to stop to catch my breath. My Fitbit reads 116, 115, 117, 114, a fat-burning heartrate. I hold onto the walls and allow my breathing to slow.

Then I see his face and it’s over.

The crying starts. The choking sobs build and I don’t make an effort to push them down. I close the door and let it out. All of it. I let all of the thoughts surface. All of the memories of when I stopped breastfeeding my daughter come forth, as clear as the day they happened three years ago. I let them come and talk to me. I let every doubt and fear and reassurance express its voice.

I don’t deny myself the right to feel any of it.

These are my emotions and I’ve learned that I need to let them out.

One voice says:

You shouldn’t give up yet. We have so much breastfeeding stuff! Pillows and the pump, nursing pads and bottles, lanolin lotion and nipple shields. Your milk is coming in this time. Give it a chance!

Another voice says:

You did all you could. It’s okay. You know he’s going to be fine. You know it. And fuck anyone who even subtly holds this over your head. They don’t understand. 

But the loudest voice of all says:

Sharon, seriously. You cannot do this again. Your body cannot go through that hell again. This is the last baby you will give birth to and hold and care for. Don’t you dare rob yourself of the joy of enjoying your child. 

That final voice is right. I know it.

But, God, it still hurts.

I call for Doug and he holds me while I cry. But now the afterbirth pains have skyrocketed because of the weeping and I’m moaning in pain. Doug leaves for a moment and I’m in the bathroom, feeling a tiny stream of blood falling from me. And when I stand, a golf ball sized clot falls into my hand.

That blob of jet black jelly now stains my skin blood red.

I shudder.

I call for Doug.

***

But it gets better.

The next day, I’m relieved that the weaning has begun.

But then the tiredness has returned. At the baby’s first doctor’s appointment, the pediatrician comments that I look really pale.

In the car on the way home, I review my hospital bloodwork that was drawn on the day after the birth by accessing my on-line records. My hemoglobin and hemocrit are way down. I read a brochure about life after a postpartum hemorrhage and I understand that I need to take this more seriously.

I need iron. I need to eat and eat and eat. And rest and rest and rest.

So I do. Eating and resting is what I do.

After I make breakfast, I’m completely spent. So I eat and sleep. Then I rise and I shower. I sleep again. I get up and eat lunch. I rest on the couch and talk with my mother. I sleep some more. I eat a huge snack and I sleep again. I let my friends bring food and I eat and eat more. I sleep.

I do not do the dishes.

I do not do laundry or even pick up my clothes.

I don’t take out the garbage or get the mail.

I forget about any plans to go on a walk anytime soon.

Instead, I conserve and gather my strength.

Every time I eat, I feel life coming back into me. I feel my body swallowing life whole and absorbing it.

I feel reconnected. I feel my mind hook into awareness and reality.

I start to crawl back to the living.

***

This is what I want you to understand about blood loss: it doesn’t just get better on its own.

You have to know that you are not okay. But to know that you’re not okay, you have to rely on more than just your instinct to respond to pain.

Bleeding is painless. It’s the wound that hurts. It’s the attempts to stop the bleeding that hurt. And once the bleeding is over, you can still be slaughtered by it if you don’t equip yourself with enough armor for the battle. If you spend too much of your energy preoccupied with things that don’t ultimately matter, you have halfway lost that battle. And once you realize that you are too weak to fight, it will be too late.

Right now, I am tired. I am weak. I am worn.

Right now, I’m fighting to bring myself back to independence. Part of it is because I didn’t appreciate my own condition. Part of it is because I neglected to understand my own limitations. That instead of pouring energy into nursing, I should have been strictly eating and resting.

Right now, I fight for myself and for my son and we are slowly winning. I look down at his face.

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And I think, we are going to be okay.

But not because things naturally become okay.

Far from it.

We will be okay because I’m recognizing and engaging this weakness and tiredness. I’m conquering it with food, food, more food, and rest.

I am not sitting back and assuming that my body will naturally take care of itself.

This is a struggle.

The same is true of our country. If we sit back and assume that our county will be okay because God blesses the USA and screw everyone else in the world, we are in for destruction.

Things don’t naturally become okay. We need to work for it.

But when I read the news, do you know what I see?

Hope.

That’s right. Hope.

I see so many of you fighting. Protesting. Calling our senators and representatives. Even my husband now has Senators Rob Portman and Sherrod Brown on his speed dial and is planning a group meeting to sit down to talk with our U.S. House representative.

Many of you are responding to the pain of watching your rights and freedoms threatened. The right for every child to access good public education. Freedom of speech. Freedom of the press. The right for every American to have health care.

These battles are good and just.

But we need to vigilantly search for the ways that we are painlessly bleeding.

Where is our attention and what are we missing?

Men, do you fight for women’s equal pay?

White Americans, do you speak out against racial profiling?

Cis-gender Americans, do you squash the laughter when someone points at a transgender person?

U.S. citizens, do you fight to create a welcoming environment for those who are fleeing war and systematic killings on par with the Holocaust?

Christians, do you seek to understand your Muslim brothers and sisters? Or do you paint them all with the same broad brush of suspicion?

Which wounds do we not feel or see yet?

When you can’t see your own wounds, you need to be willing to hear when others tell you that you need help.

Because we need you. We cannot afford to blind ourselves from the truth of what is happening.

Because we are fighting for this future.

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We are fighting for this planet because, in the end, this is what we truly leave behind for our children and grandchildren.

We are fighting against insatiable greed for power and the deceit that feeds it.

We are fighting because we see ourselves in those who are fleeing war and displacement and fear.

We are fighting because we understand that it’s not such a crazy reality to imagine that we could be the ones who are fleeing next.

We are fighting for the future.

For life.

For love.

This world still smells like everything I hate

But I’m learning to love, ’til that’s just not the case

And all my friends, they feel the same way too

We look inside the mirror, and all we see is you.

The water’s still rushing and the blood is still gushing

From the wound you left inside.

….

My eyes have seen the glory of your love

And I won’t turn back this time.

No I won’t turn back this time.

Finally, We’ve Had the Baby

I was supposed to have a January baby. Thought there was no way I would end up giving birth in February.

Ha.

Ha.

Just like last time, my expectations for what would happen during this birth didn’t quite pan out.

Like just about everything else in parenthood.

I’ll write about the details later. Not today.

Today, I simply say that life is unpredictable and messy. No matter how much we like to pretend that we have things under control, we very much do not. We don’t like the storms that plow through our neatly plotted lives. They uproot what we’ve planned. They can undo our hard work and make it irrelevant and meaningless.

But a lot of beautiful things can emerge from the storms of our lives.

Like rainbows.

Years ago, my husband worked in a lasers lab. One day, he told me something interesting about rainbows. The shape of a rainbow is actually a circle, not a semi-circle. If you were to be flying above a rainbow and looking down at it, you would see a circle.

It’s your perspective on land that limits your ability to see the full circle.

When you’re too close to the storm, it’s hard to see the full beauty of the rainbow. It’s hard to see that is has no end. That, like many truths in nature, it goes around and around. Forever.

But the more distance that you gain from a turbulent time, the more you realize that even hope and goodness still abound.

In fact, maybe they exist because of the storm.

For these reasons, I especially like the term “rainbow baby.” A “rainbow baby” is a baby who is born after a miscarriage, stillbirth, or infant loss.

Today, we had our own rainbow baby.

Henry Glass

February 2, 2017

1:27 PM

8 pounds 10 ounces

It’s a funny thing though.

Even though this is the deepest part of winter

Even though the storm of labor has just now passed

And I’m sitting here, holding this flawless face in my arms,

I feel like I’m seeing the whole rainbow.

Not just half of it.

“Do You Realize” by the Flaming Lips

Do you realize that you have the most beautiful face
Do you realize we’re floating in space,
Do you realize that happiness makes you cry
Do you realize that everyone you know someday will die

And instead of saying all of your goodbyes, let them know
You realize that life goes fast
It’s hard to make the good things last
You realize the sun doesn’t go down
It’s just an illusion caused by the world spinning round

41 Weeks: The Answer is No. And Yes.

No, I haven’t had the baby.

No, I’m not going to ask to be induced.

No, the baby doesn’t seem to be huge. Just average-sized.

Yes, the baby is healthy. So am I.

Yes, I’m positive they calculated my due date correctly.

Yes, I’ve tried that. And that. And that.

Yes, I’m losing my mind.

Yes, this is eating into my maternity leave now.

Yes, I’ve had some signs that I’m getting ready.

But no.

No real, regular contractions.

keep-calm-i-m-still-pregnant-2

***

This last week has been an interesting combination of nice and awful.

Nice, because my mom is here, helping with our daughter, running errands, and just helping the hours pass. With Scrabble and Penny Press word puzzles.

Nice, because I haven’t had to work. My daily responsibility is to get my daughter to daycare. And take walks.

But it has also been awful.

Starting with the fact that this last week was the first week of Trump’s presidency. What a week… Can anyone process all the garbage that’s coming out of the White House right now? I feel like every day this week, there has been something else that threatens fundamental American principles, values, and norms. (Please tell me I’m not the only one.)

And then there’s the thought that my mind returns to about every other minute of the day: I’m still pregnant.

My mind spins on and on.

Why in the hell is this baby still in there? Am I not walking enough? Am I not eating enough? Is it because I’m drinking decaf coffee? Is it because I have some undiagnosed hormonal imbalance? Is it because I’m 35?

Oh, you’ll go into labor earlier with your second one, they all assured me. The second time is much easier. Your body still has the muscle memory from the last birth. It will happen a lot sooner and faster this time.

Ha.

Ha.

Maybe I should have had my membranes swept at 39 weeks to speed the process along. Maybe that’s the reason I went into labor earlier with my first child. My doctor swept my membranes–without my consent, might I add–at 38 weeks. It still took me until 40 weeks and 4 days to go into labor though, and another day to actually give birth.

So I ask myself, What is so different about this time?

I keep comparing this whole experience to what happened to me with my first baby. I can’t help it. I’m looking for patterns and signs, aligning them with last time, and then making estimates.

I’ve lost six pounds of water weight. Should be another two days.

Or

The baby has moved down further. Probably just another week.

Then I blow past my estimates. Over and over again, I’m disappointed.

Every morning I wake up, and I tell myself to start fresh. I go for a walk in the darkness of the morning. Enya sings to me and I feel understood.

Winter has come too late
Too close beside me.
How can I chase away
All these fears deep inside?

I’ll wait the signs to come.
I’ll find a way
I will wait the time to come.
I’ll find a way home.

I tell myself that today is a new day. Today might be the day. I tell myself that tomorrow, maybe, we’ll be through this birth.

I tell myself to imagine my future self, reaching back through time, shaking me by the shoulders, telling me to not wish away these last moments of pregnancy.

I tell myself that once this birth is over, I will likely mourn its passing.

I tell myself to enjoy this time with my mom.

I tell myself that all I have right now is this moment.

This day.

I tell myself that even though my mind craves the certainty of falling back onto my previous experiences, in my heart I know this birth will be nothing like last time.

I tell myself, Just one more afternoon.

Then, Just one more night.

Then, Just one more morning.

Today could be the day.

40 Weeks, 4 days: Mountain Climbing

Baby,

I think we’re close.

It feels like we’ve been climbing together for so long.

At first, it was a gradual slope, one that I could walk without much of a problem (although–who am I kidding–the nausea was tough). I brought provisions along for the both of us. Assurances that we would make it through this journey together, whole.

But that slope became a hill. My heart picked up speed, so did yours. The further we climbed, the more of my supplies I left behind. I held on to things that I thought you might need. Because I knew you were fragile, so tiny and dependent. I knew I was tough and I could go without.

But now that hill is a mountain, so steep and imperceptibly tall in front of us. When does it end? I’ve let go of even more, hoping it will make us just a little lighter. My hands can’t find any holds in the rock. I feel like I’m climbing blind, hoping that my fingers will feel what my eyes cannot.

mountain

But now, our companions will stay behind as we go forward. They will cheer for us from a safe distance, while we trudge on.

Alone. Together.

What comes next is the hardest part.

Now that the oxygen is thin,

Now that we’re at our heaviest,

our achiest,

our tiredest,

Now that we’ve given up all that we can,

I will have to reach down and pull out that last bit of strength and will

For the both of us

Because you are depending on me

I will lower my head, reach my hands up into the darkness, and feel for the ledge

For you

I will pull, pull, pull

Even though my body tells me that it will break

And my mind tells me that I will fall

My spirit will say, Yes.

Yes.

Now.

You’re ready.

Open your eyes.

Week 39: What We Learn From Pain

I’ve been thinking a lot about pain this week.

Probably because I know that, very soon, I’ll be in the presence of the Mother of all Pains.

Labor.

I bow in its presence.

What’s that saying? Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t know?

In that sense, labor is a devil that I know. But let’s be honest. It’s been three years since we’ve spent any time together. And having known labor, I’m left speechless.

I know its power.

I know that it will require every last piece of my strength and my will.

And I know that won’t be enough. I’ll have to go deeper into myself, into my reserves that I haven’t had to use for years, just to hold on to the belief that I’ll make it through.

Because that’s the only way that I can transform from a doubtful, anxious human being to a powerful vehicle that brings new life into this world.

That’s what labor does. It transforms you.

***

This weekend, I was reminded of just how transformative pain can be.

In Glennon Doyle Melton’s memoir, Love Warrior, she says this about pain:

What if in skipping the pain, I was missing my lessons?

Instead of running away from my pain, was I supposed to run toward it? …

Maybe instead of slamming the door on pain, I need to throw open the door wide and say, “Come in. Sit down. And don’t leave until you’ve taught me what I need to know.”

love-warrior

Glennon spends most of her life running from and numbing pain through bulimia and binge-drinking. When her husband confesses that he has been cheating on her for years, she is thrown into a crisis that she feels she cannot solve on her own. She finally enters therapy so she can figure out how to pull herself and her family through their quagmire.

In the most poignant moment of her memoir, she finds herself in a hot yoga class. While other women express that their intentions for their yoga practice are to “embrace loving-kindness” or to “radiate sunlight to all creation,” Glennon says that her intention is to “stay on this mat and make it through whatever is about to happen without running out of here.”

As she lies on her mat, she allows the pain of her life to overwhelm her. She sees memories of all the things that have hurt her and she imagines all the terrible things that might still happen. While everyone else participates in the yoga session, she lies on her mat, weeping. She allows herself to feel all the pain that she has been running from and numbing herself from feeling.

At the end of the session, her yoga teacher tells her,

That–what you just did? That is the Journey of the Warrior.

***

I cried when I read that. Because it is exactly how I felt after I gave birth the first time.

I felt that I had just confronted all of my weaknesses and flaws, all of my fears and failures, all of my doubts.

And I had come out on the other side.

Alive. Whole. Transformed.

Before giving birth, I feared that I wasn’t strong. That I was too weak. Too inexperienced. That I wouldn’t know my own body more than my doctors. That when push came to shove, I would get out of the way and let someone better handle the hard stuff.

I feared that that’s how it would probably be when I became a mother. That I would smile in deference and listen to everyone else who knew better than me about what was best for my child.

That I wouldn’t cause problems by raising my concerns.

That I would continue to be “the good little girl.”

That when my time would come, I would numb the pain so I could listen to the doctors respectfully, follow directions like a rational person, and push on command.

Even though I so desperately wanted to be that woman who wouldn’t be squashed and silenced by norms…

I suspected in my heart that that’s exactly who I was.

Another woman who would believe the limitations that everyone else had decided for her.

***

In her memoir, Glennon echoes similar thoughts.

I realize that I have allowed myself to see it all and feel it all and I have survived…

I’d been fully human for an hour and a half and it had hurt like hell. It had almost killed me, but not quite. That “not quite” part seems incredibly important.

Accepting pain rather than running from pain is not a mainstream sentiment in our culture. We’ve built an entire culture around numbing pain. Not just through medication, but through addiction. To drugs. To alcohol. To possessions.

And addiction to distractions.

Smartphones and constant Internet access have helped to create these personal mini-universes, free from empty moments in which we might otherwise feel boredom or pain or discomfort.

But what is the human experience when we don’t allow ourselves to feel pain, whether it’s physical or emotional?

When we don’t allow ourselves to feel the pain, we rob ourselves of a rich understanding of who we are and what we can overcome.

As Glennon Doyle Melton puts it,

Don’t avoid the pain. You need it. It’s meant for you.

Be still with it, let it come, let it go, let it leave you with the fuel you’ll burn to get your work done on this earth.

Bring it on.

I’m ready.

The World is Good Because it is Bad: A Letter to my Unborn Child

My Child,

When I was five years old, my family’s house burned down. To the ground. What was left was a smoky, black carcass that used to be our home. I still remember returning to the site where our home once was.

I didn’t understand. Not really.

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Me: Easter, 1987

We walked through the safest part of the site, our toes nudging burnt, sooty items. A comb. A jacket. That one stuffed animal that looked like a cat, but was really a mouse.

The smell. Oh. The smell. I will never, ever forget that smell. Smoke and soot and water and grass.

While our house was still on fire, flames still clawing at the windows, the fire trucks and ambulances arrived. I saw my oldest brother, Phillip, throw my youngest sister, DeAnna, from a window on the right side of the house. A firefighter caught her. She was just a toddler. I can still see her sobbing there against the backdrop of flames, wobbling on rubbery legs.

I saw my father climbing out of a second-story window, still in his T-shirt and boxers.

I wasn’t thinking about where my other brother and sister were.

I remember thinking,

“I wonder when the fire will be over so we can go home.”

I remember thinking,

“Mom is so going to be so mad when she comes home to see this.”

That’s the way a five-year-old thinks.

My mother worked as a part-time cake decorator for a grocery store on Saturdays. I never knew who called her that day. Someone had to make that call. I wonder now what was it like to put aside the bag of icing that she had been using to decorate a cake for someone else’s celebration… only to pick up the phone to hear that her world was on fire.

***

That night, we stayed in some stranger’s home.

I don’t remember the people, but they lived in a large, well-kept home in old North Dayton, presumably a family who had signed up to provide temporary housing through the Red Cross.

In the middle of the hardwood floor of their living room was a large, oval, braided rug. While my mother talked to the homeowners, my eyes traced the outer edge of the oval rug, around and around and around. Until it ended in the center.

I wondered what was there in the center, holding it all together.

oval-rug

Someone handed out some canvas bags from the Red Cross. Five bags. One for each of us. The homeless kids.

Inside, there were crayons and a coloring book. A toothbrush and toothpaste. Some soap. A towel. There might have been a T-shirt and sweatpants. I don’t remember for sure.

But I remember the smell of those bags. Sterile.

Like the smell of the hospital where we had just been. Where I had just seen my father hack and cough black mucus into a beige dish just minutes before he was officially discharged.

I remember holding that canvas bag, thinking that it was the only thing in the world that was mine.

Hoping that my parents could afford to buy it for me.

And then the surprise and gratitude when I realized that we didn’t need to pay.

***

We went to church, and the Sunday School teacher looked at me with wet eyes. In her quiet, shaky voice, she told me that everything was going to be just fine.

She pulled out some paper figures from a crinkled envelope. They were dressed in robes and sandals. One of them fell to the ground and I picked it up, feeling the fuzz on the back side. Then, she handed all the figures to me and I helped her arrange them on the felt board as she told the story of the Good Samaritan.

good-samaritan

My child, here is what I want to tell you.

Believe in the goodness of people.

Certainly, not every person will be good to you. Some will bully you. Some will mock you. Some will see you hurting and walk to the other side of the road to avoid you.

Do not expect kindness and empathy from those who have never suffered. Too often, they will find a way to either minimize your pain or blame you for what has happened to you. In their eyes, it will always be your fault. And if they cannot blame you for what you have done, they will blame you for what you have not done.

You really didn’t have it that bad. You should have tried harder. You should have asked. You should have done this. You should have done that.

But always, always, always remember this:

As long as there is injustice and trauma and pain and tragedy in this world, there will be empathy.

Because those who have lost and suffered and cried and bled will be the first to reach out to you when you need help.

Every. Single. Time.

Do not wish away misfortune and pain.

Because a life without either of those is a life without true empathy.

And empathy is what has kept the human race from extinguishing itself.

***

Have faith, my child.

Paradoxes abound in a world where we lean on logic to make sense of the hard times.

This world is good because sometimes it is bad.

Goodness and tragedy can exist at the same time.

God is both light and darkness. Fullness and emptiness. The loud, booming voice and the stillness beside you.

It is all so hard to understand now. Even as you grow and learn and experience, it is still hard to understand. Even I don’t understand it.

But my prayer for you is that you remain open. That you are always looking for more answers. That you never feel that you have arrived at the truth. Because your truth is not someone else’s truth.

But that doesn’t mean Truth doesn’t exist.

***

Some of us are lucky enough to have a life that gets better and better, from beginning to end. As Americans, that is what feels normal and right and just.

But the truth is, most of us don’t.

The truth is, much of the time, we don’t get what we want.

Most of us struggle. We fall. We’re pushed back. We lose. We become sick. We grieve.

And this can make us feel that something has gone tragically wrong. It can make us feel that life is unfair and has no meaning. It can drive us to determine that God isn’t real.

How could God be real when there is so much suffering in this world?

How could God be real when I am suffering so much?

What I want you to understand is that believing that life always improves from beginning to end is an illusion. In fact, some cultures in the world do not plot life’s path as a line, rising at equal intervals, ever into the horizon.

Instead, they see life as a spiral.

A constant moving away and returning.

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Photo credit, Jeff Krause, http://www.flickr.com

Moving away from what matters.

Returning to what matters.

Moving away from truth.

Returning to truth.

Around and around and around.

Until we arrive at the center.

Until we return to God.

What you’ll learn as you walk this path of life is that over and over again, every time you return, you will be caught by the hand of God.

That hand of God is your mother’s voice when you come home with a broken heart.

It’s the friend who sits with you at your father’s funeral.

It’s the doctor who tells you that there is no heartbeat. But it’s not your fault.

It’s the teacher who tells you that everything’s going to be just fine, even when her eyes say otherwise.

It’s the non-profit organization that steps in with a bag of normalcy on a very strange day.

It’s the stranger who opens their home to you when you’ve lost everything.

My child, be that hand of God.

Be the one who gives and comforts and heals.

As Mother Teresa has said…

The good you do today, will often be forgotten.  Do good anyway.

Give the best you have, and it will never be enough.  Give your best anyway.

In the final analysis, it is between you and God.  It was never between you and them anyway.

My child, welcome to this wonderfully complex, sometimes painful, but always beautiful world. It is my hope for you that when you face the hard times, that you are still able to see the larger Truth.

With all my love,

Mom

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