In the last few months, I’ve started getting the You guys thinking about having a third? comment more frequently. Maybe because several of our friends have just had their third–or fourth–baby.
This is it.
The baby has finally started sleeping a glorious, GLORIOUS, twelve hours at night straight, partially thanks to the four nights of Crying It Out that I stomached. Nothing worse than listening to your baby screaming at full volume for 40 minutes while you paw silently at the door, on the verge of tears yourself.
He’s okay. My God, he had seven, SEVEN!, bottles today. He’s not hungry.
He’s okay. He’s 6 1/2 months old.
He’s okay. He’s 22 pounds. 22 POUNDS! He’s a Monster Baby, for the love of God.
He’s not going to die.
He’s just really, really pissed.
He’s got the eat-sleep association.
You’re not a bad mother.
Oh God… Will he EVER stop crying? Is this damaging his vocal cords?
Repeat that several more times on the first night.
But he did. By the fourth night, Done.
(Can I just say, sure, you love your baby. But man, you REALLY, REALLY love your baby when he doesn’t bother you from 7:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m.)
Two is enough.
In the first two weeks postpartum, I went over the numbers in my head and made a list of reasons for or against having a third child. Yeah, yeah. We said we’d only have two, but LOOK AT THIS FACE!!!Oh my God. Babies are incredible. I could totally do this again.
But then, we’d be looking at a minivan.
And I’d be 37? 38? 39? And pregnant? I remember how I felt being 35 and pregnant. I don’t think it’s going to get any easier. This body has been through enough. (And you’re welcome, Offspring.)
And another three years of full time-daycare ($33,000 total at today’s rate)?
I think it was the cost of daycare that was really the deciding factor.
We were talking the other night about just how much “free time” we had before children.
I mean, duh, right? Of course we had more time. In some ways, it was great. Coming home from work and relaxing. Nice. It was “the life.”
Of course, we did other things. I wrote a novel. Doug volunteered extensively for our church, cooking meals for 100-200 people weekly. We hung out with friends. A lot. And it was fantastic. We went out to eat. We entertained.
We also worked more than our fair share at our jobs. I worked about 50-60 hours per week at four (yes, four) jobs. Doug often worked more than his required 40.
But from my perspective now, I look back and think, God, imagine what we could have accomplished for this YouTube channel if we had started doing this before we had kids.
But that was years before YouTube’s currently capabilities and reach.
So here we are.
Instead of having a third baby, we have a YouTube channel.
It’s got his hands and my eyes.
It really is a combination of all of our talents together in one creative outlet.
Like, no, women aren’t naturally prone to gregarious extraversion, which leads to them to avoid negotiating their salaries.
They don’t usually try to negotiate salary because they fear how asking for more money will be perceived by their future employer. And, it turns out, they should be worried about that. Because future employers very often rate women who ask for more money as “unlikeable” and “pushy.” For more on this read Linda Babcock’s Women Don’t Ask or Iris Bohnet’s, What Works: Gender Equality by Design.
Better yet, here’s a decent video summary of What Works:
And don’t get me started about the point about women being naturally neurotic.
But like I said, I’m skipping Damore’s points that I disagree with.
One thing Damore gets right is the assertion that he makes that is actually informed by his own personal experience (not what he imagines is the reality of women). He says,
The male gender role is currently inflexible…Feminism has made great progress in freeing women from the female gender role, but men are still very much tied to the male gender role. If we, as a society, allow men to be more “feminine,” then the gender gap will shrink, although probably because men will leave tech and leadership for traditionally “feminine” roles. (emphasis added)
First, my criticism: I have a hard time believing that just rethinking gender roles will lead to more men pursuing “feminine” roles. Money talks. And as long as the jobs that are traditionally done by women (TEACHERS) continue to offer piddly salaries and boatloads of responsibility, ain’t no guys gonna stand for that shit.
But as to Damore’s first point, YES. YES. YES.
The male gender role is inflexible.
What makes it so inflexible?
Shame from all sides.
Sociologist Brene Brown writes about this very issue in her book, Daring Greatly. Women and men experience different shame triggers. For women, body image and motherhood are key triggers for shame.
But for men, the key shame trigger is weakness.
She tells this vivid story of a man who came up to talk to her after one of her lectures. He had been brought to the lecture by his wife and daughters and had just listened through a lengthy talk that Brene had given about women’s shame triggers. After watching all the head-nodding between his daughters and wife, he took time to talk to Brene about the lecture, out of earshot of his wife and daughters. And this is what he said:
We (men) have deep shame. Deep shame. But when we reach out and share our stories, we get the emotional shit beat out of us. Before you say anything about those mean coaches, bosses, brothers, and fathers being the only ones (who experience that shame)… My wife and daughters–the ones you signed all of those books for–they’d rather see me die on top of my white horse than watch me fall off. You say you want us to be vulnerable and real, but come on. You can’t stand it. It makes you sick to see us like that. (p. 84-85).
She then connects this story with another story of a twenty-year-old man who participated in a focus group on the topic of men and shame. Here’s how that young man described the confines of the male gender role.
‘Let me show you the box.’ I knew he was a tall guy, but when he stood up, it was clear that he was at least six foot four. He said, ‘Imagine living like this,” as he crouched down and pretended that he was stuffed inside a small box. Still hunched over, he said, ‘You really only have three choices. You spend your life fighting to get out, throwing punches at the side of the box and hoping it will break. You always feel angry and you’re always swinging. Or you just give up. You don’t give a shit about anything.” At that point, he slumped over on the ground. You could have heard a pin drop in the room… ‘Or you stay high so you don’t really notice how unbearable it is. That’s the easiest way.’
Before reading Daring Greatly, it was very easy for me to laugh at any comments from men that fell into the sentiment of “men have it tough.” I have been steeped in not only feminist literature and the psychology of prejudice, but I have also spent years and years addressing misconceptions and bias towards immigrants and international students. (Why are they here? Are they planning on staying?)
I’ve had a world-class education in identifying systems of oppression that work against the marginalized.
So I guess that led to my implicit conclusion that simply being male was probably a much more pleasant experience than being female.
But then again, I was drawing conclusions based on my outside observations about men. Even though I had been married more than ten years at the time that I read Daring Greatly, I don’t ever remember having a conversation with my husband about men and shame. And even if I knew what to ask (or even that we should talk about this), was I really ready to hear what my husband had to say?
Just as the man pointed out to Brene, was I really ready to see the man I loved completely fail? Completely fall apart? Be completely wrong? Be the loser?
Striving for gender equality isn’t just a matter of lifting up women or leveling the playing field or sensitizing men to the struggles of women (although, yes, all of those things are important.)
If women are really ready for gender equality, we need to embrace the breaking of the male gender role.
We need to be comfortable with letting the men that we love cry and doubt and fail and lose. Instead of recoiling in their moments of pain, that is when we need to reach out and embrace them and say, “This messed up version of you? I love this. I love you.”
This also means that we have to re-imagine new love stories, ones that don’t hinge on a strong, capable man swooping in to save us from whatever problems we face (bonus points if the problem you need to be saved from is yourself!).
And perhaps more important, we have to reassure men that we don’t want that fantasy anyway.
We have to be open to relationships that don’t fit all the movies or all the songs. And hey, the best guy for us probably isn’t the one who only shows his soft side in the privacy of the bedroom.
The best ones are the ones who do the tough, emotional work that doesn’t come easy for guys. And doing that emotional work in full view of others. Like asking for forgiveness. And moving through rejection. And learning to love again. And expressing grief.
We’ve got to stop loving the image of the silent, stoic, lonely cowboy. Or the unbreakable superhero. Or the cold-as-ice mafia man.
We’ve got to teach our young girls to look for arousal beyond stories of men who dominate and control women (Fifty Shades of Grey), even if the premise is that they’re “protecting” them from danger and doing so for our own good (Twilight).
And, ladies, we have to stop putting all of our hopes and dreams into their hands. And then blaming them when they’re not able to live up to our lofty standards.
I mean, really, who can?
Of course, I wouldn’t be writing about any of this had James Damore not written his memo. I’d just be sitting on these little nuggets of information that I had previously gleaned from my own personal reading… And not sharing them at all. Because I didn’t have any current context to draw my readers into this piece.
So there’s another thing that he got right: We should talk about these issues.
It’s hard, yes. For women, we often immediately go on the defensive, anticipating yet another frustrating conversation in which we’re called upon–once again–to solve men’s problems of blindness toward gender inequality. I get it. Really. I want to write off Damore as another guy who just doesn’t get it. That’s so much easier than trying to contribute to any discourse on this topic.
But that doesn’t get us anywhere.
And we’ve got a long way to go.
The inflexibility of gender roles drives a lot of the thinking that leads to guys like Damore concluding that, It’s probably women’s biology that’s holding them back, which is a hop, skip, and a jump away from, This is just the natural order of things.
We know this inflexibility hurts women.
But, let’s be honest: it’s just as damaging to men.
Since Damore’s memo went viral, he has doubled down on his stance that Google is promoting an ideological echo chamber. It’s not surprising. He’s being attacked from all sides.
What does our society say men should do when they’re attacked? It tells them to fight back. To dig in their heels. To be a man and stand up to confrontation. And he’s doing just that.
So the question remains…
Women of the world, are we ready to embrace those moments when men experience vulnerable moments of weakness?
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
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 shouldn’t have to, but I know how quickly the mind jumps to conclusions…)
I think breastfeeding is awesome.
My love of formula feeding in no way diminishes your breastfeeding experience.
Infant feeding isn’t a zero-sum issue.
(And by the way, when did it become one?)
Formula feeding, one week old
As I’ve written about extensively in my book and in other blog posts, breastfeeding was so much worse than childbirth for me. (And I gave birth without drugs).
With my first baby, I was overcome with feelings of guilt (This shit might actually keep her brain from developing as much as it would if I were breastfeeding…) and shame (If I were a better mother, I would have kept pumping, even just a little bit. Every little bit helps.)
In my mind, I wasn’t allowed to openly love formula feeding. Proclaiming how much I loved formula feeding would have been akin to saying that I didn’t particularly care about the health of my child.
That’s what I thought.
When I try to trace back where those thoughts came from, I realize how much of my own insinuations were responsible for the guilt and shame that I felt. I read four or five credible books about breastfeeding when I was pregnant. (The Breastfeeding Book by Martha and William Sears was particularly good.) My takeaway from this and the other books was that, as long as I stuck with breastfeeding, my chances of success were very, very high.
I just needed to buckle down and commit to the process.
Because, let’s face it, breastfeeding is better for me and the baby.
I LOVED THIS MESSAGE.
Because if there’s one thing my friends and family know about me, it’s that I CAN BUCKLE DOWN AND COMMIT like no other.
I’m like a dog with a bone when I move something to the top of the priority list.
And in those first weeks after my first child was born…
Let’s just say, Ruff, ruff.
There’s a difference between loving the way that you feed your child and doing it simply because you hate the alternative.
I had to learn this the hard way with my first child.
Because, I confess, I didn’t love formula feeding her.
I just hated the alternative of breastfeeding.
Breastfeeding made me absolutely miserable. It brought me no joy. It only brought physical and emotional pain. Feelings of inadequacy and resentment. And days and days of being awake for 22 out of 24 hours (and that brings you to the brink of psychosis, let me tell you).
So I quietly switched to formula feeding when my daughter was 12 days old. Every time, someone saw us feeding her tiny bottles of formula, the mental tape of guilt and shame ran its course in my mind.
I bit my lip and hoped no one would say anything.
Most people didn’t.
But some did.
And then I was prepared with my boilerplate speech that grew increasingly awkward as I tried to figure out on-the-fly if this audience really needed to know the shape of my nipples or the amount of milk that I was producing. (Does anyone really need to know that?)
It was agonizing.
But this post isn’t supposed to be about how hard breastfeeding was for me.
It’s supposed to be about how awesome formula feeding has been for me.
I’ll admit, I didn’t automatically switch to loving formula feeding after having my second baby simply because I had done it before.
But once I realized the absolute deluge of work that having a second child heaped upon us, I was ALL ABOUT FORMULA FEEDING.
With no grandparents living nearby to constantly stop by and help out, we bear the full load by ourselves. (Read: full-time jobs, daycare drop-off/pick-up, hours of housecleaning every day, lawn mowing (a HUGE yard), shopping, doctor visits, dentist visits, blah, blah, blah…)
So trying to breastfeed when my body wasn’t cooperating?
Breastfeeding even if my body were cooperating would have been a challenge.
I think the only way I would be breastfeeding right now is if…
1) I truly loved the experience of breastfeeding
2) I could hire outside help to pick up my share of the household chores.
Barring those two crucial factors, breastfeeding would just not happen.
Because now, the day is doubly full of responsibilities.
Now, there are no simply no free moments to wade through the quagmire of the Internet and second guess everything that I’m doing and compare this product and that product and this method and that method.
I no longer run Google searches like “infant formula obesity” or “does formula cause diarrhea?” or “comparison of intelligence breastfed and formula fed” or “mother child bonding only breastfeeding?” And then get sidetracked into a discussion board where self-righteous and insecure young mothers tear each other apart.
So unh-uh. Ain’t nobody got time for that any more.
If you’ve gotten this far, perhaps you want some specific reasons that I love formula feeding.
Here are my top reasons, in order of importance to me.
I know exactly how much my baby has eaten (This always helped put my mind at ease in those early weeks when your baby is trying to regain their birth weight.)
I know exactly what ingredients my baby has eaten.
I don’t have to worry about how my diet affects my baby. (After ten months of pregnancy, this is a huge relief, I can tell you.)
My body starts to feel like it belongs to me again, much sooner.
I can more easily share night feeding responsibilities.
I don’t have to pump at night or at work, just to keep my milk supply up.
Actually, just, I DON’T HAVE TO PUMP. (Those machines are like a form of torture, I swear to God. And of course, they were invented by a dude.)
I don’t have to scrape the bottom of my soul for the willpower to endure a baby’s incessant need to nurse all day, for several days–just to get my baby through a growth spurt.
I can get a babysitter and leave the house–without wondering how soon I’ll need to pump or nurse before my boobs explode.
I will never run out of food for my baby–even if my body isn’t cooperating (a statement of middle-class privilege, I acknowledge. Although… so are a lot of these reasons…)
If I get sick, I can take time to recover without having a baby attached to me all hours of the day.
I can exercise without worrying about diminishing my milk supply.
Actually, I can just live life without worrying about diminishing my milk supply.
I only spend 2 hours per day feeding my child (20 minutes X 5-6 feedings), rather than 4.5 hours per day (45 minutes X 5-6 feedings–that was about the fastest I could ever nurse).
I didn’t have to worry about whether my baby would take a bottle at daycare.
I don’t have to confront the frustrating situation of wondering if some nut job is going to find my breastfeeding “inappropriate.” (IT’S NOT. GET OVER IT.)
I’m sure I could go on…
I write this post specifically for mothers who are formula feeding.
Because I know what it’s like to be sitting in a group of moms and overhear someone refer to infant formula as “garbage.” Or hear another mom say, “Well, if that’s how you want to feed your baby…”
It ain’t fun.
And, if you were raised to be “ladylike” like me, you didn’t stand up for yourself. (Instead, you just pretended that you didn’t hear… and then complained about it later to an accepting audience as a means to let off steam. Being female is a bitch, isn’t it?)
What I want to say to you is this:
There will be sooo many times in motherhood when you can’t please everyone, no matter what you do.
This truth hit home hard just a month ago when another daycare mom who was considering withdrawing her baby (who had started just weeks earlier) called our daycare center a “dirty”, “expensive,” “baby factory.” (Expensive, sure, but dirty? Uh, have you been to other daycare centers???) After I told her that I liked our daycare, she said,
“Huh. I just thought my baby deserved better. But you’re fine with this, right?”
Ick. I couldn’t get out of the conversation fast enough.
Trust me. There will always be someone who will try to make you feel badly about how you’re raising your kids. No matter what you’re doing.
And if you need even more assurance that everything’s going to be okay, here’s Adam explaining why baby formula isn’t poison.
Press on, moms.
There will always be someone who is sure you’re not doing the best that you can. (And for some reason, it’s their responsibility to let you know about it.)
For six weeks in the summer, we continue to send the kids to daycare and I finally have time to sink my teeth into a big, creative project.
In 2014, that project was writing my first book.
In 2015, it was publishing my first book.
2016 was a bit weird. It was mostly riding the roller-coaster of early pregnancy, dabbling in writing a short young adult novel, and (admittedly) watching a lot of Netflix.
This year, the big creative project is a new YouTube Channel, featuring instructional cooking videos.
Not recipes. Think techniques.
For years, I’ve watched my husband make simple, delicious, and healthy meals. And he can do it without covering everything in butter, cheese, and ranch dressing. He cooks a large meal on Sunday night. It’s usually a huge pot of rice, some vegetables, and grilled, baked, or roasted meat. Then, he portions it out into containers that we take to work.
I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heated up a meal that he makes and my co-workers have been like, “Mmm… What’s that?”
This guy is talented. The food is delicious. And he understands food chemistry and can give the best advice about how to prepare food. (And did I mention that another one of his hobbies is photography?)
But he’s not great at the storytelling aspect (although, I think he’ll learn easily).
Oh. And he detests social media.
So that’s where I come in. (And did I mention that I’ve got experience with video editing?)
I remember one night when we had a group of Doug’s friends over at our apartment for a dinner party, probably six or seven years ago, and someone said, “Doug should have his own YouTube channel!”
Our response was mostly, “Ha ha. Someday, maybe.”
“No seriously. He should have a channel.”
“Yeah, okay. Not right now.”
But have you seen YouTube lately? It’s integrated with Google now. It’s getting incredibly easy to get started.
I don’t think we can put it off anymore.
So that’s what I’m working on this summer. I have never done something like this before.
But hey. That’s never stopped me before.
Also on the summer dockett:
I’m hoping to release Henry’s birth story as a Kindle single, probably for $0.99 to help me recoup some of the time spent on writing it. It’s a powerful story, but nothing book-length. Stay tuned for more on this.
I also have three academic publications that are in the works right now. All of them are related to an intercultural communication program that I helped design and facilitate with our university’s Department of Teacher Education. One will be published on University of Dayton’s eCommons. One will be in the TESOL Intercultural Communication Interest Section Newsletter. And the last one will (hopefully!) be with the on-line, peer-reviewed journal, Dialogues: An Interdisciplinary Journal of English Language Teaching and Research.
I seriously need to go through some boxes of old photographs and letters that my mom gave me two years ago. I’ve been dubbed the designated family chronicler, so I’ve got to make some decisions about what stays and what goes. I know the boxes are sticking in my husband’s craw.
And hey, Henry is now officially in the sweet spot of babyhood: post-newborn and pre-mobile.
June 2017: Baptism (Doesn’t look too thrilled)
It was Splash Friday at daycare. Thus. the swimsuit.
While jogging in the dark, my foot must have caught on a piece of raised sidewalk and I fell forward and hit the concrete just as a minivan was passing me.
Left knee, right knee, left hand, right hand. I saved my face. (At least physically.)
The minivan kept going.
For a moment, I just lay there against the concrete, gauging my pain.
I hurt. But I didn’t think I had broken anything. I couldn’t see how badly I was scraped up, but I felt it mostly on the outer edge of my left hand and my right thumb, which was warm and wet. Blood, for sure.
What else to do but keep jogging home with bleeding hands?
I’ve only had a few dreams of my dad since he passed away three years ago, but they’ve always come around this time of year.
In the first dream, I walked into a convenience store and was looking for a jug of milk to buy. (Who knows why. I hate drinking milk.) After I pulled it out of the refrigerator case, I saw four men sitting at a small booth, playing a card game. All their heads were lowered, studying their cards.
I walked over and even though I couldn’t see their faces, I just knew that one of them was my dad. I don’t remember what I said to him, but we talked like we always did — our eyes looking at other things, words passing between us that didn’t really resemble anything like what we really wanted to say.
Like, I miss you.
Like, I love you.
Still, whatever we said was comfortable and familiar enough to make us feel like all was well.
It was then that I realized that my ride was leaving.
“I have to go, Dad.”
“Don’t leave,” he told me, still not looking up. Still staring through his cards.
I kissed him on the head, complete with his bald spot, and I told him that I would come back.
“It will be too long. I don’t want to be alone,” he said.
“I swear, I’m coming back, Dad.”
He didn’t lift his head. He just sat there, sad and withdrawn, just as he did for the last few years of his life. Completely alone, even in the midst of company.
I kissed his head again and walked toward the door.
When I got to the door, I turned around and told him, “This is where we can meet, okay? This is where we can find each other. I’ll come back. I promise.”
I woke up feeling empty.
I’ve never been able to get back to that convenience store.
A few nights ago, as the anniversary of his death approached again, I dreamed again of my father.
It was a scene I’ve lived a thousand times before — riding in the car next to my dad, his left hand balanced casually on the steering wheel, his elbow resting on the edge of his open window. He was talking a mile a minute about everything and anything, the way he did when he descended into periods of mania. At first, it was normal. Just dad talking and talking and talking while I was looking out the window.
Then, it started to snow. And snow. And snow.
The drifts piled up around the car as we drove. But then he veered into the parking lot of the K-Mart in the town where I grew up. He started driving in a circle, talking faster and faster, the tires kicking up snow around us. I told him to slow down, but he wouldn’t. As the car picked up speed, we spiraled once, twice, three times, four times.
With each pass, I tried to keep my eyes on a fixed point outside of the car. The McDonald’s. The apartment building. The ATM. Anything that would keep me anchored to reality.
Maybe, if I could keep my eyes on something, I could slow us down.
Maybe, this time, I could be the one to anchor both of us.
Maybe, this time, I could keep the world from spinning, keep him from sliding into depression, keep him from falling and breaking his neck.
But we kept spinning and spinning and spinning.
In my dream, I started screaming.
And then I was beside my mother, and we were looking at a calendar. She wrote down her birthday, May 9th. But then she crossed out the 9th and wrote in dark letters, May 10th and underlined it.
“What year?” I asked.
She wrote “1” and “9” very easily, but then struggled to write the next number. It came out looking like a gigantic “9” and then a “0.”
“1990?” I asked.
She shrugged. “Sure. It all kind of blends together.”
And somehow, I understood that we were deciding when we would go back in time.
We were trying to get back to a time when Dad was Dad.
I woke up a few hours later and went for a morning run in the dark.
Because I’m a glutton for punishment? Maybe.
I prefer to say it’s because I refuse to be beaten by a bad experience (although, there are plenty of times when I am).
It was beautiful that morning. The moon was full and still high in the sky at 5:00 a.m. I watched the sidewalk much more carefully than before and walked for a few minutes before I started jogging.
The Head and the Heart played on my Pandora station.
Darling, this is when I met you.
For the third time not the last
Not the last time we are learning
Who we are and what we were.
You are in the seat, beside me.
You are in my dreams at night.
it’s easier to run with bleeding hands than it is to run with tears.
I’m like a lot of people — I only want to believe that dreams mean something when they’re good.
I don’t want to believe that the bad dreams mean anything more than the emotions that I’m working my way through when I have them.
American women are more likely to die from complications in pregnancy and childbirth compared to women in any other developed country.
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.
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.
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.
It seems unimaginable. Really? In the United States? But we have so much technology. We have some of the best hospitals in the world.
What the hell is going on?!?
There were several major findings from this investigation.
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.
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.
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.
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“
Some women tear up as they leave their children at daycare for the first time.
I practically skip inside.
Grin from ear to ear.
I. LOVE. DAYCARE.
Last Monday was Henry’s first day of daycare. Another daycare mom saw me taking him inside and asked if it was his first day. After I nodded, she jumped out of her van and gave me the biggest hug and said, “Isn’t it great!”
“YESSS!!!” I yelled.
“With the first one, you’re bawling about it and then the second, you’re just like ‘have fun!'”
She gets it.
It’s true. The first time we started daycare was much more involved and made me a little nervous. We spent about 20 minutes going through the list of critical bits of information that the infant teacher needed to know to feed, change, and soothe our baby to sleep.
She likes to be rocked to sleep while being held sideways. Like this. And try to put her down 90 minutes after she wakes up. We haven’t started solids yet. How do you heat the bottle for her? She likes it just lukewarm. Not too warm. If she starts crying and she’s not tired, she might be wet. Sometimes. Just check. You’re going to check every hour or so, right? Okay. She’s really pretty easy to take care of.
But after two days, I’m pretty sure we thought daycare was a Gift from God. (Thank you, Ms. Cathy!)
It was like, Wait… We just drop the baby off at 7:00 a.m. and we don’t have to be back until 6:00 p.m. at the latest????
Here’s some money.
Here’s lots of money.
I love you. Here’s some cookies.
Do you like Panera? I got you a gift card. Happy Valentine’s Day.
Thank you so much. You’re wonderful.
Daycare pretty much taught our daughter about hand-washing, drinking from a cup, and sitting in a chair for meals. They helped us potty train her. They taught her how to sit in a circle for storytime, how to cut with scissors, how to hold a crayon, and how to fingerpaint. They provided an atmosphere full of dress-up clothes, kid’s kitchens, and books, books, books. (We didn’t have to buy any of it! And I’m not responsible for cleaning up the toys!) They taught her how to walk in a line and take turns. They showed her that a room can be stunningly decorated with the artwork of little hands.
And oh so important… They introduced her to the concept of sharing.
They used the classroom to teach rules. They modeled politeness and respect for others. They reinforced the lesson that actions have consequences.
This does not make me sad.
It doesn’t make me feel like I’m not doing my job as a mother.
I don’t regret sending my kids to daycare.
I wholeheartedly embrace it. I even embrace it to the tune of half of my salary.
On the surface, it’s easy to see why some moms love daycare as much as I do. It gives women a break from the role of being a mother.
This is huge.
Mothers in particular are constantly carrying around a mental list of things to do that just grows longer and heavier with each child.
Daycare allows them to put some of that down.
And pick something else up.
But my love of daycare goes beyond that.
Daycare, I believe, is an expression of feminism.
For those of you who are completely turned off by the term “feminism”, stay with me for a minute. Because that word gets a bad wrap in some circles. Feminism doesn’t mean “man-hating” or “female victimization.” (I do not blame men individually for the culture and structure of our society. I blame patriarchy.)
Feminism is about sharing power. It’s about making sure that everyone has a voice. It’s about making sure that when important decisions are made about policy (both in government and business), the people who are making those decisions don’t all come from the same background (White. Male. Native-born. Able-bodied. English-speaking.).
Millienials are the first generation to kind of get feminism. Not all of them do, but from my anecdotal observations, it seems like some of the assumptions that we had about gender and power are finally not assumptions anymore.
One of our former teenage babysitters told us that when she was catcalled in the school hallway, she turned around, went up to the guy, and told him in very clear terms,
“You don’t treat me that way!”
When I was growing up in the late 80s and early 90s, we were taught in school to imagine our futures. What would we like to be when we grew up? Doctors, astronauts, teachers? Athletes? Superheroes? Dinosaurs? Robots? We were encouraged to let our imaginations run wild.
Like many women in their 30s, I truly do not ever remember an adult — teacher, parent, or family friend — telling me that I couldn’t do whatever I wanted to do. No one told me that I was expected to get married and have kids right away. (Although my grandmother did ask me when I turned 18 if I was interested in any good boys…)
I was like many of my female friends. In high school, we all worked hard and earned good grades.
We went to college.
We got good grades there, too.
Maybe we went to graduate school.
And we got good grades there, too.
We followed the rules. We were doing fine.
We got jobs. We didn’t negotiate salary (because that’s not what good girls do, even though they should, we just couldn’t imagine drawing a line in the sand. That’s not who we are.)
And then we had children.
And everyone looked at us and said, “Are you going to stay home or return to work?”
No one asked our partners if they were going to stay home.
And there you have it.
The message is clear. It’s your baby.
It doesn’t provide any economic benefit to this company. It’s even costing us productivity. Make up your mind. Do you want to work here or not? Six weeks is a lot of time for you to be gone. You don’t want to make that kid dependent on you anyway, do you?
What about all the things that I could be now that I’m an adult?
Was it all just empty promises, fueled by good intentions and a dream of equality?
Because, I’m here to tell you, access to affordable (!!!) quality daycare is critical for keeping women’s voices at the table. (Side note: The United States was a hair’s breadth away from free universal preschool for all in the 1970s. Here’s what happened to that awesome, bipartisan bill.)
The tide is turning, though.
Almost all of the dads that I know assume as much responsibility for their kids’ lives as their mothers do. When they take care of their kids, they’re not “babysitting.”
I mean… duh.
They’re being dads.
When they take their kids to the grocery store, it’s not some miraculous event that comes around only once every few years.
My husband knows how to swaddle a baby better than I do. He was the one who made the baby food and showed me how to make smooth formula without all the clumps. He can change a diaper in the dark and he’s even yelled at me for making too much noise while he’s trying to put the baby to sleep.
Regardless of how you define “life,” at 3 months old, a baby has officially been a growing organism for a whole year.
In 365 days.
A. Ma. Zing.
This child was conceived four months after a miscarriage. We could have tried sooner, but, you know. Closure. Time. Space. All of these things are good and healing.
Because I was charting my basal temperatures every day for months before all of my pregnancies, I had a pretty good idea of when I would ovulate.
Day 14 is ovulation day for a “typical” 28-day cycle. Mine was usually Day 16, but sometimes, it was as late as Day 22. This meant that I had short luteal phases, which can make it difficult to get pregnant or to keep a pregnancy. (I often had a nine-day luteal phase, and sometimes as low as six days. Not good.)
When we conceived our first child, it was Day 18. So, based on past experience, we decided to aim for Days 14-18. You know. Cover all our bases.
I put vacation in quotation marks because we were traveling with a 2 1/2 year old.
So, yeah, it wasn’t really a vacation that was very conducive for baby-making. But that was the timeline.
So be it.
Three days before we left for that trip, our daughter went to bed early and this beautiful window of an hour with nothing to do opened up.
It was Day 11. In the 22 months of data that I had collected, I had never ovulated before Day 14. But whatever. Let’s just have a good time, we thought.
As it turned out, that was my ovulation day.
We officially started “trying” on Day 14, but of course, nothing we did at that point would have gotten us pregnant.
The best laid plans sometimes, right?
It would be easy to write this story as destiny. That because our baby is so beautiful and perfect, we were just meant to have sex days before we had planned. God just knew that we needed to get together then in order to make this beautiful baby. Or something like that.
Believing in destiny is all well and good when it’s going your way.
But for all the healing that believing in destiny can do, it can just as easily bleed you dry.
When we miscarried, were we just meant to have sex at the wrong time?
Was that destiny?
Or is destiny just a comforting idea that we hold on to when it helps us?
If there is no destiny, is it all just chaos and luck?
Or do we call it chaos so we don’t need to acknowledge the real consequences of our actions?
Although I’ve been thankful for this child that made his way from cell to zygote to blastocyst to embryo to fetus to baby…
I sometimes wonder about the two pregnancies that didn’t get this far. What would they have been like? Were they boys? Girls? One of each? Did they have chromosomal problems? Would they have been perfect if my body could have held onto them? Would they look like my two living children, who both look more like their cousins than they do their parents?
What alternate course of events may have played out if those pregnancies lasted?
When it comes to conceiving a child, it feels like a bit of both.