Letters to a young mother

When I was pregnant, I read a wonderful collection called Great with Child:  Letters to a Young Mother. It's a series of letters from the author Beth Ann Fennelly to her newly pregnant friend, and they are exactly the type of letters that a pregnant woman needs. She writes about the mundane, the ridiculous, the serious and the beautiful. She shares the heartbreak of her miscarriage and the experience of her daughter's birth and first days with such jaw-dropping perfection that, on more than one occasion, I had to set the book down and walk away in tears, with laughter, or both.

Here are a few of my favorite passages, excluding her wonderful rallying cry for mamas going into labor that I won't ruin for you.

On becoming a mother

"You'll exchange independence for the benefits of community, the needing and being needed. Fo you will be needed as well; a new mother and child are a powerful renewing force."

On feeling deeply

"You feel more deeply. You become capable of a raw, scary fullness of emotion that tenderizes the hardened muscles of the heart. And it endangers you. Because you feel for other people's suffering more than you used to, especially for the suffering of children, as if the love you bear for your child is so outsized that it can't be contained but splashes out into the world, your salty tears brimming the salty oceans... Your new sensitivity is a strength, and you should see it that way."

On babies and the passage of time

"Truly, babies are hyphenated-- they are endearing-exasperating; they are amusing-annoying. But the phases go so quickly that nothing is unbearably bad (or good) for long. That's why every phase is so bittersweet..

...so their infancy passes in a wave of nostalgia that swells and swells but never crests, never recedes."

Goodness, that last quote is exactly right, isn't it? If you're pregnant, or have a young child, please read this book. You can borrow my dog-eared copy with underlines and exclamation points in the margin, if you'd like.

On feeling deeply

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I feel more deeply now that Clark is here. Many of you possess this superpower without having kids. You are next-level feelers and empathizers. I salute you, and assure you that I don't think this ability belongs only to parents. Yes, I've dedicated much of my professional and personal time to social justice but I have to be straight with you, it wasn't because of a particularly deep human connection but rather a vague framework of and belief in justice and fairness and equality. But Clark came along, and now when the newspapers show photos of babies who died from sarin gas or from drowning trying to flee their country or starving from government-created famine, I see Clark's face. I see his little chubby hands grabbing up for me and I hear my whispers that I'll always keep him safe, always. I think about what it must be like to know with absolute certainty that I won't be able to keep that promise. I think about not being able to feed him or protect him from violence. I see his innocent eyes twinkle and picture them looking at me as bombs drop or the boogymen come. Many of you have always been able to see this, to feel this, but it's a new experience for me. Whether I want to or not, I feel everything so deeply and painfully these days.

Which is why I call bullshit on the border wall and the refugee ban and the lack of empathy and compassion being broadcast from the highest levels of government in our country. You can't take military action in Syria and pretend it's to save Syrian babies, and then deny them and their families refuge. You can't cut off foreign aid because you believe that American babies are worthier than non-American babies. You can't slash social services and health care because you believe poor babies deserve less than middle-class or rich babies. You can't make the choice for a woman about whether or not she even has a baby.

Today, I stand with #womenforsyria. I mourn for the mothers who can't protect their babes in Syria and also in Iraq and Afghanistan and Somalia and South Sudan and here in the United States. I mourn for the mothers in my own country who think that these other babies deserve their starvation, trauma and fear, who don't yet feel the tug of sisterhood imploring them to act with compassion. I mourn for the damage that nationalism continues to inflict on our world and our neighbors.

I've always lost sleep over "world news".  But now my mind plays a reel of Clark's face in every desperate situation, and then it's the burning anger when I think how if he were a different race, religion, from a different country or born to another family... the world might turn a blind eye to his suffering. That is as unacceptable for my baby as it is for babies and women and men all over the world.

Photo above of my beautiful, smiley, delicious baby boy who is already eight months old. Parenthood is a time warp, and I feel like time is slipping away from me like never before. Every day I feel more urgency to not only write, but to share, to search for common ground, to tell truth, to dismantle shame and to let light shine in. So, less editing, more publishing. Maybe.

Clark's birth story

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I've been wanting to share Clark's birth story for months but wrestled with which details to share here and which ones to keep to ourselves or, at least, keep off of the internet. Finally at six months postpartum, here is the birth story of our sweet little boy Clark Wilder.

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I was in the shower when our midwife Kelly got to our house. After hours of laboring, shivering and struggling to keep any food or drink down, Chris suggested that a warm shower might feel nice. I had been drifting in and out of sleep since midnight, laboring through contractions that often came just a few minutes apart. Once I got into the shower, I finally felt like a powerful, confident birthing mama. The hot water was soothing, distracting and also helped relieved my nausea. I stayed in there for 45 wonderful minutes, gathering strength and courage as labor progressed. I was surprised by the intensity of the contractions and how short the break was between each of them but it still hadn't sunk in that I would give birth to our son soon.

The day before, we had gone to my third and final biophysical profile exam and received word that everything was still good with Baby. Chris went off to work and I bought myself two scoops of mint chocolate chip ice cream for lunch. In the afternoon when I told Kelly that I thought I felt slight cramps, she said that was great progress and that she was sure I'd have my baby soon! Chris suggested I start a little labor project, so off to the kitchen I went to bake a batch of cookies and dance around to Florence and the Machine. I gave Clark a pep talk, telling him that it was okay if he was scared because I was too but that we both needed to be brave. I told him that we would get through this part together and that I would keep him safe. I told him that we had waited so long for this day. I told him that his dad and I couldn't wait to see his beautiful face. I told him that I was ready.

Chris and I made dinner and watched Hillary accept the Democratic nomination for president. At around 9:30 I called Kelly and let her know that the contractions were still easy but coming about 15 minutes apart. She said to have a glass of wine and try to get some rest! We stayed up too late watching Hillary's speech, thinking we still had many hours (days even?) before our son would finally arrive.

Flash forward to the middle of the night. I'm wrapped up in a blanket, fighting off chills and watching the clock, telling myself to just make it until 3am, 4am, just get through the night until the sun came up. The sun did come up, I stepped into that warm shower and Clark's birth day was upon us.

After I got out of the shower Kelly checked me, gave me anti-nausea medicine and placed an IV to help me rehydrate. I remember Kelly saying at a prenatal appointment that the two most common reasons for transferring to the hospital are maternal exhaustion and dehydration. After a restless night and hours of vomiting, the IV was a good idea indeed.

I labored mostly in bed. When I had imagined homebirth, I assumed that I would pass the time peacefully walking around our house, eating the labor snacks we bought and quitely breathing through contractions. Ok. So now is the time when I would like to humbly state that birth is intense. And beautiful and powerful and life-altering, but intense. Birth brought me to my knees, swept me into a hazy, timeless world and connected me to our animal nature in a way I hadn't imagined.

I was vaguely aware of Kelly and her two birth assistants quietly shuffling around our bedroom, taking supplies out of our birth kit and making sure everything was ready for Baby's arrival. Chris held my hand, rubbed my back and told me how strong I was and how proud he was of me. The few times he had to step away, Kelly or Kristen or Amanda would swoop in and hold my hand and hold space for me and my baby. The atmosphere was calm and loving.

Kelly said that whenever I felt pressure I could start pushing. So I did, and oh my pushing is hard work. It was the hardest part of labor for me and took every bit of strength I had. Chris and the team were so good about encouraging me and quietly cheering me on. I needed that reinforcement and support. In between contractions I drifted off into a semi-sleep and the room went quiet. At one point I asked Kelly how much longer I had to push and she said, "Oh, not much longer," which I immediately recognized as her gentle way of saying I might still have, in fact, a lot longer to go. The second time I asked her, though, she looked into my eyes and said, "Minutes, Christine. Just a few minutes." I knew I could do anything for a few more minutes, especially if it meant our baby would be here. Chris held my hand, kissed my face and told me how proud he was of me.

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After about 45 minutes of pushing, I birthed our baby boy into the world. Kelly caught him and said, "It's time for you to meet your mama!" before putting him right on my belly.

The moment he was born, the fog of labor completely lifted. I cuddled him as Kelly rubbed his arms and legs and wiped him off. I don't remember if he took a breath right away, but soon enough he did and let out a little cry too. He stayed on me for the next hour while they checked his vitals and cleaned him up. Chris cut the umbilical cord and I birthed the placenta. I lost more blood than Kelly was comfortable with so she gave me a medication to help slow the bleeding. Then the ladies went downstairs to do paperwork. We were alone with our baby! Our son was here! Kristen, one of the birth assistants, came upstairs a few times to check on us and help us to start breastfeeding. She also so sweetly brought us up a cheese plate with crackers, pesto and blueberries– we finally got to eat those labor snacks! We were blissed out.

After an hour or so I showered and then the ladies gave Clark his newborn exam and we all sat around trying to guess his weight. (I guessed correctly at 7 lbs 5 oz!) He was beautifully alert and stared right up at Kelly as she checked him out. The next few hours are a lovely blur of staring at our new baby. Our midwife and assistants cleaned up, started laundry and tucked us into bed before leaving around 5pm. We called our parents to share the good news and started texting friends.

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And just like that, there were three of us. We stayed in bed for hours and watched our little one begin to figure out the world. Chris made a quick dinner and brought it upstairs for us. We stayed up until we couldn't keep our eyes open any longer and then we all dozed off for a much-needed night of sleep. I stayed upstairs most of the next day, tucked away in our cocoon. Our midwives came back to check in on us several times over the next few weeks, yet another wonderful part of the homebirth model. They came upstairs and sat on the bed, or we'd gather in the living room to talk, wherever we happened to be at the time. They weighed and measured and monitored Clark, helped us both with breastfeeding and checked on how I was doing too.

Looking back on Clark's birth, I'm filled with joy and gratitude. It's true that your mind quickly dulls memories of the pain of childbirth, because not even a day later I thought, "Well that wasn't so bad." Giving birth was intense and all-encompassing but I knew I could do it. I was surrounded by people who believed in my strength and believed in the natural birth process. I trusted them to safely guide me and my baby through this experience. I leaned heavily on Chris for the calm, steady support that he constantly provides me, and he was amazing.

You should give birth wherever you feel most safe and comfortable, but may I suggest that you consider homebirth and the midwifery model of care? You can see a midwife throughout pregnancy and safely, calmly navigate potential concerns around a few high blood pressure readings, cervical scar tissue, anemia or going wayyyy past your due date. You can have a homebirth and still get an IV or anti-nausea drugs or medicine to stop excessive bleeding. You can have a pregnancy where your provider's default mode is to trust you, the mama, and the beautiful baby your body is creating. You can avoid interventions when they aren't necessary and trust that if your provider does suggest an intervention, then it must actually be needed. Homebirth is safe, supportive and oh-so-wonderful.

I never thought I'd be the type of person to give birth at home, on purpose. I used to think of birth as a strictly medical procedure. Now I know better. I know that it can be loving and spiritual and beautiful. Whoever you choose as your provider and wherever you choose to give birth, I wish these things for you. I hope our experience allows you to consider, even if only for a moment, the alternatives out there. No matter how you give birth, though, whether in a tub on your living room floor or by caesarean, you are connected to all of the women around the world and all of the women who have come before you that have given birth. That's powerful.

Whatever you do, I'll be cheering for you and sending all of the love and strength your way.

43 weeks pregnant

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I gave birth to our son when I was 42 weeks and 5 days pregnant. That's right, 19 days past his estimated due date. Almost 43 weeks pregnant.

Try searching for #43weekspregnant... you won't find much. So I thought I'd share a little bit about my experience, in case there are any other very very pregnant mamas out there desperately searching the internet for proof that they aren't the most pregnant human ever to walk the earth.

The background
I knew throughout my pregnancy that we made the right choice in care providers, because I felt more confident, calm and empowered than I ever thought possible. I'm a worrier and overthinker, but I felt relaxed and at peace as a pregnant woman, mainly because our midwife helped me feel that way. Instead of assuming the worst, we trusted pregnancy and the birth process. We had a feeling I would give birth after my due date. First, there are the statistics: only 30% of women give birth before their due dates, 5% give birth on their due date and the whopping 65% of women give birth after their due date. Also, I just had a feeling. I kept thinking that I didn't feel pregnant enough, uncomfortable enough, physically ready enough. So when my due date passed, I was okay with that. Well, up until a point...

In the weeks after my due date I had three biophysical profile exams, which are a combination of an ultrasound and a non-stress test. It measures the baby's heart rate, muscle tone, movement, breathing and the amount of amniotic fluid. I had more ultrasounds in the final three weeks of pregnancy than I did in the first 40 weeks! I met with my midwife several times each week for her to feel my belly, take my vitals and listen to the baby's heartbeat. Each visit, and each biophysical profile, confirmed that my baby and I were perfectly healthy. He just wasn't quite ready to be born. We weren't being stubborn or irresponsible, we were being rational and science-driven. Nonetheless my midwife said that if I had any strange instinct or gut feeling that, despite the great test results, something was wrong then we should factor that into our course of action. Mama instinct is real, and we held space for that as we monitored my baby.

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The emotions
I was okay with my due date passing, really. I even handled getting to 41 weeks pretty well, because I was sure that I would have the baby within the next week. "Just a matter of days," I told myself. Then 42 weeks hit. The number that sparks ominous warnings, concern from strangers and very few anecdotes from other women who reached 42 weeks because the conventional OB community doesn't really like women to gestate for that long. I searched and searched for examples of women who gave birth past 42 weeks without intervention. There isn't much out there. Our society is not comfortable with the idea that pregnancy and birth have somewhat unpredictable timelines. Sure, labor starts before 42 weeks for the majority of women. But I wonder how many women would give birth after 42 weeks if we gave them a chance? If after careful monitoring, their pregnancies were still deemed healthy and there was no medical reason to induce?

At 42 weeks, doubt started to get the best of me. We met with our midwife on Saturday. She shared statistics, standards of care and options. We were still comfortable with what our monitoring tests indicated. On Tuesday, I had her try to sweep my membranes to get things started. I imagine for some women this falls on the "uncomfortable" side of the spectrum but for me and my not-at-all-ready-for-birth cervix, it fell on the "toe curling pain" side. I broke down in tears, partly because I was worried that I wouldn't be able to handle the pain of labor and partly because I was so damn pregnant. For the record, labor hurts but in a much different way than having your cervix tugged around when it's not ready, just as my midwife had assured me :) After a very caring and helpful pep talk, I still left her office in tears and immediately bought and ate two doughnuts, went home and watched old episodes of 30 Rock while laying on the couch sniffling and generally feeling sorry for myself. Then I went to my mom's for lunch and had a glass of wine.

So many friends and family members checked in on us, which was lovely because it's nice to know we are so loved, but also added to the pressure. (But if you are reading this and know someone who is super present, still check in with them and offer some words of encouragement. It's better than deserting them, even if it annoys them. Just don't say anything stupid :) I felt like everyone was wondering why we hadn't chosen to be induced yet, wondering why we were being so stubborn and selfish. That they thought we were putting our baby at risk, as though our baby's health somehow wasn't our top priority.  I imagined them doing their own internet research and coming up with the worst case examples. That they were wondering what the hell I was doing. I felt embarrassed and guilty. I had a hard time trusting myself. I doubted that labor would ever start and questioned whether my body was defective. I was done trying to enjoy the last moments of being child-free. I wanted to be child-full. I needed that baby to come out. We were ready.

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The outcome
On Thursday, we went to our last biophysical profile exam. As always, the baby was just fine. On my way home, I stopped for two scoops of mint chocolate chip ice cream, because what else was there to do? That afternoon my midwife called and I told her that maaaaaaybe I was having contractions. I'd been experiencing Braxton Hicks contractions for weeks, maybe months, and what I was feeling that afternoon was so subtle that I wasn't sure they were anything new. She said, "This is good, Christine. You're going to have your baby soon." We had read somewhere that baking cookies is a good labor project because it keeps you busy and takes your mind off of early labor, so Chris texted me from work and told me to start baking. I walked into our kitchen, started crying and laughing at the same time because I finally felt like I might get to meet this baby boy soon after all. And I made cookies. Really delicious chocolate chip oatmeal cookies. Later that night, the contractions grew more obvious.

The next day at 12:31pm, our beautiful healthy son was born at home with no complications.

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Answers to frequently asked questions

Yes, the estimated due date was calculated correctly. In fact, if you just used one of those online calculators they come up with an even earlier July 6 as the due date but my midwife added on a few days because my cycles tended to be longer. So July 10 it was, and that is what we based the 42 weeks and 5 days count on. If you dare to trust the internet (hint: don't), I was somewhere around 43 + 2.

Yes, my midwife "let me go that long". But she didn't make her recommendations without looking carefully at my specific situation and closely monitoring my baby's well-being. Statistics about scary outcomes for post-term babies lump everyone in together:  women with complicated pregnancies, special risk factors and those whose monitoring tests revealed concerns. Statistics can be helpful, but it's more helpful to consider the specific case at hand. My tests and monitoring visits were all positive. My pregnancy had been complication-free. I was low-risk. I made a series of informed fact-based decisions to trust the birth process and my body.

Yes, we could have scheduled an elective induction. We chose not to, as it was not medically necessary. We made the personal decision that the benefit of getting to meet our baby sooner did not outweigh the risks of induction if my body wasn't ready.

No, I don't believe that spicy food, long walks, sex, bumpy car rides or wishful thinking can start labor. Maybe, just maybe, these things can speed up the process once it's in place? But if all you need to do to start labor is to want labor to start, well, I wouldn't have stayed pregnant so long! I think in most cases, labor begins when it is supposed to. If you happened to have Indian food the night before labor starts, let's just call it a delicious coincidence.

No, I didn't birth a 20 pound monster. He was born a perfectly average 7 pounds and 5 ounces. I'll share the story of his birth soon.

That, my friends, is the low-down on being 43 weeks pregnant. Did I mention it was July? A very hot July? I can just picture myself trying to get him on the bus and saying, "Clark, you're always late! You were late being born and now you're going to be late to school!" and eventually he begs me to stop throwing that in his face all the time. If you are reading this and are 43 weeks pregnant and you trust your care provider and are being closely monitored for signs of risk and you listen to your instincts, have hope. You'll get to meet your baby soon.

Related
the first trimester
the second trimester
the third trimester
pregnancy survival list

Updated to add, for those inquiring-- our midwife was Kelly at Sage-Femme Midwifery. The best.

Pregnancy, the third trimester

Yes yes, our little one arrived at the end of July but I have some catching up to do! So here we go, with a blissful disregard to chronology, just the way I like it here...

The third trimester. The very pregnant trimester. We were finally within sight of our due date and our focus shifted from my bump to our baby. I also started thinking more seriously about the birth. People will tell you that you can't prepare for labor and birth but I disagree. Of course you won't be able to anticipate exactly what it will feel like to bring a human into the world, but I think there are a lot of ways you can build a strong foundation for birth. Yoga, for starters, and lots of meditation. Or thinking, or daydreaming, or praying, whatever you choose to call it. As I neared closer to the end of pregnancy, I found myself lost in thought, trying to navigate the major changes coming our way. More urgently, though, I thought about birth and sought out as many (positive, helpful, empowering) birth stories as I could find, while reminding myself often not to romanticize the event so much that I forget to stay humble.

The third trimester is when I realized that the exciting part wasn't being pregnant. The exciting part was getting to meet our baby boy.

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When I was around 30 weeks along, we went on a babymoon and stayed in an adorable artist retreat cabin in rural Vermont for a few days. We lounged around, read books, napped and tried to narrow down our list of baby names. One day we took a short trip into Burlington and bought some artwork for the baby's room. The last night, I had a little glass of wine (!) and we snuggled in, only to wake up the next morning to a late April snowstorm! Any other time I would have been upset by that, but somehow, on our babymoon it felt absolutely perfect. I packed away the Birkenstocks I wore the day before and watched Chris clear the snow from our car before heading back to reality. I highly recommend sneaking away for a few days if you can swing it. If you can't swing it, set aside a weekend for a babymoon at home, a pre-baby staycation, if you will. Don't assemble the crib, don't sweep the floors, just relax by yourself or with your partner. Babymoons for the win.

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"When you are pregnant you can get away with a lot of shit. Women really are at their most dangerous during this time. Your hormones are telling you that you are strong and sexy, everyone is scared of you, and you have a built-in sidekick who may come out at any minute." -Amy Poehler

Admittedly there was something lovely about being very pregnant and getting away with just about anything. Like eating ice cream all the time. I ate ice cream at a Beyonce concert, requested it as the theme of our party celebrating baby boy, turned a work event into an ice cream social, found it at a wedding... if there was ice cream nearby, I had some. And no one dared defy me.

I have the unfortunate habit of feeing intense nostalgia and longing for moments while still being in the moment. As the third trimester carried on, I started missing pregnancy fiercely. I missed my newfound confidence in my growing, perfectly imperfect body. I missed the way Chris would pat my belly and talk to our baby. I missed the way our little guy squirmed around inside me, kicking my ribs and hiccuping every day. I even started to miss my swollen feet. I wondered if I would be incredibly sad once I stopped being pregnant. I wondered if I would feel as good being a mama as I did being pregnant.

The good news about my nostalgia-in-the-moment trouble is that I was pregnant for a very long time, just about 43 weeks in fact. By the time labor began, I was more than ready to say goodbye to the pregnant stage and move onto the birth and motherhood stage. Next up:  what it's like to be 43 weeks pregnant.

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