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Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Birth of Luna Holiday

Ah labor. I don't know why I thought it would be remotely similar to the first time. I was anticipating some differences (and praying to God it would be shorter this time), but the ONLY similarities between my daughters births were that a baby exited my womb via my vagina. 

My first born daughter was 10 days early and made me work hard for nearly 24 hours to get her out. My second daughter, much like her father was in utero, did not seem to be in a hurry to leave her cocoon of serenity. I was not prepared for this. Since I had the old adage "first babies are typically late, and second ones come a little sooner" floating in my head, and since my first baby was already early, I was ready for showtime at 38 weeks. Both my doctor and my doula booked their vacations for just a couple days before my due date because we were ALL expecting this wee gal to be early. We were wrong. 

In addition to superstition, gut feelings, and anecdotal evidence fueling our confidence in an early delivery I was 3 cm at 38 weeks. Then 4 cm at 39. I kept having weak sporadic contractions. And this girl was LOW. My waddle turned into some strange combination of limping and a slow motion gallop. Someone at the grocery store told me I looked "like I had a hitch in my giddy up." Yes sir that would be the human inside me bruising my pubic bones. It makes you walk weird. At this point I'm kind of in a constant state of freaking out. Every tiny sensation in my midsection starts my heart racing in anticipation. I have cleaned and rearranged all that is possible in my house. And I'm also freaking out because I am literally days away from neither having my doctor nor my doula (who also happens to be my best friend) present for this birth. I didn't feel like I couldn't have the baby without them, but I really really really didn't want to. So we went into Let's Try To Start Meg's Labor mode. I did everything. I'm not even going to make a list for you. And I kept dialating. Almost to 5 cms with NO LABOR. Dirty tricks. Its also frustrating to be in a constant state of is my labor Because people almost look disappointed to see you. 

We get to the night before my doula bestie is leaving the country. She comes over and spends some time with us. She keeps telling me "you look labory". I felt labory. After several hours we have a good cry and say our goodbyes. I was devastated. Not just because I wanted her there holding my hand and telling me I'm awesome when my contractions are rocking my world, but because she was going to be gone a month and wouldn't get to meet this girl for a whole month. I go through the same process with my doctor. I see her the day before she leaves. She looks at me very intently and says "I just have this feeling I'm going to see you tonight!" Wrong again. 

I sort of felt left out at sea. (ok thats a bit dramatic, but I have a flair for drama and I'm pregnant here so its dialed up a few notches.) I love and trust all the doctors in my practice to respect my wishes and get me and my baby through safely. I love and trust my amazing supportive husband who is a pro at this point helping me through the birth process. But when you spend 9 months preparing and dreaming with certain people only for them to not make it to show time, its discouraging. 

then comes my due date. At this point I feel like a handicapped hippopotamus. I want my labor to start on its own. I'm willing to wait it out, but its hard to imagine functioning for another possible 2 weeks. If you've never had to take care of a rambunctious 2 yr old while you're 5 cms dialated let me assure you, it is not pleasant. I had been toying with the idea of having my water broken. I was nervous about it. I did not want to be put on the clock and start an intervention landslide that ends in an unnecessary c section just because I was impatient. I knew I could birth this baby without intervention, and that was my desire. I really wrestled with this decision. I talked with many midwife, OB and doula pals and verbally processed at my husband to the point of his utter insanity. In the end, we did decide to get my water broken.

It was surreal to walk into the hospital NOT already in active labor. And in the middle of the day. I begin to feel a little trapped thinking of being in a hospital room for hours upon hours. However the nurses taking care of us were super laid back and friendly so as long as I have this baby by shift change I wont be too annoyed. Checking in goes super fast. It was only minutes of waiting before the doctor came in to break my water. 

And then, it began. 

Like, instantly. Like the doctor closed the door, I got out of bed to look out the window and BOOM. A contraction. A legit stop me in my tracks contraction. My husband starts timing them. The next one in 3 mins later. Then 2 mins. And that's the longest breaks I got. I immediately have to mentally shift my focus. This race is going at a much different pace that anticipated. I hop in the shower and hold blasting hot water right over my belly. It is a relief and helps relax me but I'm super uncomfortable sitting on the hard shower seat and sorta feel like I need to grow a third arm to brace myself. After the fact a friend mentioned taking the yoga ball into the shower which I did not even think about. Learn from my mistakes: take the yoga ball in the shower. I decide to get out. Its too fatiguing to hold myself up with one arm and hold the shower head with the other and remember to breathe and junk. Like my first labor my contractions stay under my belly. So I decide the best plan of action is to lay on my side and stretch my body out as much as possible. This was a good decision and a comfortable labor position for me. I'm taking the time to say this because I feel like so many natural birthers are all like "stay out of the   bed! The hospital bed is like giving in to The Man!" Listen, if you wanna lay in the hospital bed while you labor- Do It. 

I feel like mere minutes pass and I start puking. I'm unable to hold my head up. I'm gripping the bed rail as my contractions double and triple upon each other and my body feels like its rising in the air with the pain. I have a thought: am I in transition? I just got started! I have a second thought: I'm not giving the birth photographer very good shots of how awesome I'm laboring right now. Yes, even in the midst of the hardest work I've ever done I managed to be vain. 

Apparently thoughts are all I have in the form of communication. I am nearly silent this whole time. And yet my husband is responding to my needs as I think them. Because he is awesome and knows me so well. He picks up on the fact that I seem transitiony and we have a non verbal conversation where he asks if I want the nurse to check my progress and I say yes. 
The nurse comes in. "You're almost at 8 centimeters! Great job!" 
8?! I look at the clock, not much time has passed. Just over an hour. Hopefully that means I don't have 8 more hours of this cause SHIT this is hard. Soon after the nurse leaves I think "man I REALLY want to poop." This is not surprising. It had been a while since that blessed event had occurred. TMI? You are reading a birth story you know... My contractions are so close together I don't think I can manage walking to the bathroom. But I have GOT to poop. At this point whatever modesty and propriety I have left are out the window. Imma just poop right here in bed and the nurse can take care of it. Lord knows they've done it before. So I attempt. Upon attempting I realize- oh. That's a baby coming out. 

Once again Justin reads my mind or hears me start pushing and gets the nurse again. It has been 20 mins since the last time she was in the room. She confirms it is indeed Go Time, which is good because I can not stop pushing. This is not like my last labor. I feel like my body is expelling this kid outside of my control. Thankfully the Doctor is right behind her and nearly as soon as everyone is suited up out comes Second Daughter. I think I pushed twice. Labor time: 2 hrs, 15 mins.

And the initial wave of emotion was actually laughter and disbelief. We just GOT here! I'm not exhausted! The sun in shining! Thank God that's over. 

Everyone leaves. The room is peaceful. The light is beautiful. My daughter nurses. My husband calls family to report the good news. I feel wide awake and exhilarated. I know I my energy will tank and I will feel the pain soon but the first moments after labor are incredible. I may never jump out of a plane or scale a mountain but having babies fulfills my need for adrenaline. I'm so thankful for the Lord's goodness to grow and bring life through my body. It is a humbling miraculous thing. I'm thankful for the wonderful care I received from my husband and the nurses and doctor who gave me the supportive space I needed to give birth. I'm thankful for two healthy daughters. I'm thankful for how having children reminds me of my own smallness and dependence on my good God, the giver of life. 

Photos by Ashley Revell

Monday, March 25, 2013

Suffering, The Gospel and The Blues.

It wasn't until college that I first threw myself open armed into American Roots Music. Particularly that of African American music traditions, and most specifically what we know as blues music. I think if I were truthful I can say that by the age of 19 I'd faced pretty minimal suffering. Not that I grew up in a bubble, but as a middle classed white educated female who's parents were together and alive all my growing years, that puts me ahead of most the world. I never wondered where my next meal would come from. I never wondered where I'd sleep at night. And yet when my ears were first pricked with the wailing sounds of blues musicians I thought there is something truer about this music than my life right now. And I wanted to know this music. I wanted to sing it, and I wanted to be truthful with it.

I didn't know what I was longing for.

Morning rain keeps on falling
Like the tears that fall from my eyes
And as I sit, in my room, staring out at the gloom
That's the rain in the same old blues

-Freddy King, Same Old Blues

My whole family is mostly tone deaf. Some completely so, and some with just enough God given auditory sense to stumble through a well intentioned rendition of Happy Birthday. Only my Father's mother, whom I never met, was blessed with a singing voice. In my family we've got athletes and stock brokers. We have some other creative people, but no musicians. None. My poor parents. They nurtured their alien song bird of a daughter the best way they knew how, taking me to musicals and buying me Amy Grant cassettes. When I became serious about singing and really wanted to study and grow into a legit vocalist I felt extremely frustrated that when trying to learn a Celine Dion tune, the results were less than pleasing. I'm not a pop singer. I didn't know it at the time, or that there were even other options, but my voice doesn't do those things. I was really pissed about it. But I also didn't feel connected to what I was singing either. Even with a lot of music I sang at church.

Back to college. Freshman year my boyfriend (now husband) bought me my first Gillian Welch and Freddy King albums. And while I didn't immediately have a deep spiritual connection to these records I did think- man that is COOL. I want to sing songs like that. So I started trying. It was pretty pathetic. Like I said, suburban white girl. My frustration grew. I really felt like giving up a few times. I wanted there to be a story in my voice and I didn't feel like I had much of one. I was painfully aware of my youth and inexperience. It showed in how I sang. So I decided to learn other people's stories.

I spent most of my college years learning everything I could about American Roots Music. And when you get down to it blues music was born out of suffering. It was born out of slavery. How in the world should I be allowed to sing these songs? I really almost drove down to Mississippi one weekend to find a cotton field so I could sing an old spiritual and sweat and feel my fingers bleed and long for heaven in a way I didn't understand yet. I felt a deep responsibility learning this music. Its history is rich and fraught with peril.

Goin' away don't you wanna go
Goin' away don't you wanna go
Goin' away don't you wanna go
Goin' to my home on the other shore

Mother and Father stand and cry
Mother and Father stand and cry
Mother and Father stand and cry
Lord have Mercy my child is dyin'

- Goin' Away, performed by The Staples Singers

One of the things my daddy always told me about the way his momma sang was that she sang from "deep down in her gut". And he'd put a hand over his belly every time he'd say it. What I really want to do now is spell out for you the physics of what is going on when someone "sings from their gut". I wanna tell you all about how the sound is vibrating and why Mahalia Jackson's vowel placement is perfect. But I really almost feel like it's better to say she sang from her gut. When some people first hear Bill Monroe or Robert Johnson they don't get it. Their ears aren't tuned to that ancient musical language and it sounds messy. I had a music professor spend a whole class on how Robert Johnson dropped measures because he wasn't a trained musician and I wanted to punch him in the face. Cause that's not the point. All the old timey artists were fantastic musicians but that's not the point either.

The point is that this music speaks of the human experience of suffering better than any other art form in my opinion. And there is an old magic to the way the melody dances with the lyric; each complete in the other like a beautiful marriage. The notes are like a hollowed out tree being bent by a windstorm. And the words riding the backs of those notes are telling you about life, love, and death.

Death don't have no Mercy in this Land
No Death don't have no Mercy in this Land
He'll come to your house, and he won't stay long
You'll look in the bed and somebody'll be gone
Death don't have no Mercy in this land 

-Death Don't Have No Mercy Here, Reverend Gary Davis

Maybe you don't wanna listen to songs about dying. Maybe you wanna listen to Call Me Maybe cause it makes you forget about dying. But it's inevitable my friend. Someone you love will die. You will die. These bodies gon' wear out, or be taken before they do. Do you have a song to sing about that? Greater still, where is your hope for dealing with death? Where is your hope for your own parting from this world? As a Christian, I believe that because of the suffering of Christ on my behalf, death does not have the final say over my life. It is not the final field hollar. Jesus died and rose again in my place so that when my body leaves this earth there will be an end to my suffering. That is a good hope. In the past decade since that 19 year old girl first heard The Staples Singers I have experienced a little more of the darkness of this world. I have lost people I love. Some young and some old. Most closely and recently my Daddy, who passed away a few weeks before I gave birth to my first daughter. We've had friends get divorced. We've seen babies die. Too many babies. We've lost jobs and had health issues and seen friendships end. It hurts. Its hurts really bad. My hero, and my Christian sister Mahalia Jackson describes the blues as "being in a deep pit yellin' for help." I think that's why I love and need the blues so much. I have this freedom to be explicit with my hurts. To be graphic with my need for help, and to make you hear that in the way that I sing. Because I'm not crying out to thin air, but to a living loving God who gives meaning and promised relief to my trials. The simple plea heard so many times over in blues Lord have mercy is no longer a black-culture colloquialism for me. It is the singer's song, it is me, from a deep pit, yellin' for help from our God. This hopefulness is laced throughout the blues story. A bluesman wails a lament to stay hopeful, many times hoping in Christ. Many songs were written and sang as a community sharing suffering together reminding one another- you are not alone in this trial. I now know what that is like too. I'm so thankful for the community I gather with every sunday and throughout the week to sing songs about our suffering, and the suffering of our Lord Jesus Christ and the hope that we have in him.

One of my first favorites on that Gillian Welch album is an old timey song called Orphan Girl. I liked the way it sounded. It was cute. It made me feel like I was walking down the street in O Brother Where Art Thou? Its a little more relevant to me now.

I am an orphan, on God's highway
But I'll share my troubles, if you'll go my way
I have no mother, no father, no sister, no brother
I am an orphan girl

When you lose a parent... even if they are very old, and even if you are very old, you feel that deep horrible permanent sense of abandonment. I often think about how I would feel if my mom suddenly died too, and I would feel like an orphan. Utterly alone. Even if you're a grown up you just want your mommy and daddy. Always. Yet you know you will lose them. They are not yours to keep.

Blessed savior, make me willing
walk beside me until I'm with them
Be my mother, my father, my sister, my brother
No more an orphan girl

I realize most of these lyrics may not sound like Shakespearean poetry to you. My hope is that if you're obedient to my wishes you will LISTEN to all of them as well. (look! I provided high-tech links) These words are the simple, gut wrenching cries and moans when words won't really do. You must listen to them, and listen more than once. There is magic to be found in the nuance sliding painfully in between each note. You must sing the words over and over because each time you sing them the meaning deepens. I hope you will listen. I hope you will find your song to sing. And I hope its in the arms of Jesus.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Whoa there tiger.

So with babe number two only a few months away I'm starting the process of getting myself pumped up again. For me, since I find the child birthing process amazing and have a toe in the hippie pond this involves reading lots of Ina May Gaskin, and looking at pictures of women giving birth in a plastic blow up tub in their living room. This sort of thing is encouraging to me, it makes me excited. The other day I was looking through a bunch of beautiful birth and breastfeeding photos on facebook and I "liked" several of them. Then I freaked out cause I'm a mega people pleaser and I didn't know if by "liking" these photos they'd pop up in your news feed and somehow offend you. Maybe you had a c-section. Maybe you wanted to breastfeed your baby and you couldn't. And seeing those photos was a painful reminder. Maybe you're 17 and all this stuff is freaking you out. Or maybe, and what I think is often the case, by seeing me "like" those photos you immediately feel a judgement being placed on you by me, or a collective group, or something even more abstract because I, we, it made different choices than you. And People Pleaser Meg does not want you to feel judged because I want us all to gather round the campfire of motherhood and snuggle. But I also don't want you to feel judged because I'm not judging you! I don't actually spend any energy thinking about the decisions other mother's make for their labor and delivery unless they are a friend and have invited me into that decision making process. And I hope and pray that my life and words and actions reflect that. But I have lots of momma friends that I only interact with on facebook. Who may only see the Granola Hippie Earth Momma pictures I've "liked" and that's the whole of their impression. Which is then filed away with all the other positive or negative interactions they've had from that camp. Or vice versa.

I'm feeling a mixture of sadness and frustration over this phenomenon, particularly in the realm of social media. I do realize that there are actual battles worth waging for women's rights in birthing and I'm thankful that there are people out there to fight them but I'm just the girl over here wanting all the momma's I know to calm to heck down a little when speaking to one another. Cause I think our words to one another as mothers are some of the post powerful tools of support or discouragement available to us. And people have strong words and strong opinions about this stuff. You have people staging breastfeeding flash mobs that actually do involve a great deal of intentionally flashing as a reaction to the people who hunted down my sweet momma while she was breastfeeding me in a dark corner with a cover to make sure she knew they thought what she was doing was disgusting. You probably all justly think both these scenarios are a bit ridiculous, but these are the stories that make it onto ecards with witty blanket statements and a dramatic photo and that's how we form our opinion of nursing publicly.

I have been very blessed to have felt nothing but love, support and helpfulness from the mother's in my community who have a variety of perspectives and experiences regarding child birth. It was because of this support that helped me make the decisions I did about my birthing experience, which was a good one. I've shared that story in an earlier post, but I'd like to share the journey to getting there.

I had never even heard of "natural childbirth" until the year before I got pregnant. I didn't know that you had the option to have a baby without being hooked up to anything, that is was possible to just do it with your body. What I did know is that an epidural was a giant needle inserted into your spine which rendered you committed to a bed for unknown hours. I hate needles more than anything in the world, and if you've spent more than 5 mins with me you know I am the most fidgety person alive. So the thought of having to deal with a needle in my back, an IV in my hand and maybe some tubes up my pee pee hole all the while not being able to move sounded like my own personal version of hell. But I didn't know I didn't have to do it that way. Thankfully the first nautral birthing momma I met is maybe the most laid back lady on the planet and simply let me ask questions and explained to me why she wanted to have a natural birth and I did not feel stress or pressure or judgement of any kind. What may have also been helpful is that I was not pregnant at the time, nor was I thinking about being pregnant anytime soon so that relieved a layer of pressure as well. I'm thankful I was able to start thinking through these decisions and learning about the birthing process well before conceiving a child. When I first learned the work involved in having a natural child birth I didn't think I could do it. It sounded kind of like torture that you only survived if you mastered meditating while standing on your head on an excersize ball, or were really good at yoga or something. But being stuck in a bed sounded equally awful. Ok, so I get to choose between two terrible options. awesome. But the more I talked to women about birth I heard the excitement and joy in their voices when telling their stories. Even through the hard parts. That it was work and painful and exhausting but it was good and fulfilling work. I don't like working hard. I like the easiest means to an accomplishment. So breaking down some of my fear issues was a really good and healthy process for me to take in regards to childbirth. It helped me grow in other areas of my life. It was the right choice for me, and I had a great birthing experience. I also gave birth in a hospital with an obstetrician. I think midwives are the bomb but my insurance and the state of Kentucky prevent me from using a midwife so I decided to find a really awesome supportive ob. And I did. She is my hero. So when I hear people talking about all ob's like they're evil scalpel hungry control freaks I get really upset cause have you met every ob in the history of the world? I didn't think so. I also get mad when people think of midwives as being uneducated or inexperienced, which is equally ignorant. I chose a hospital over a home birth, not because I think home births are inherently dangerous but because frankly, I'd like my blood clots and amniotic fluid to fall on someone else's floor. I was thankful to have the postpartum care at the hospital (even though they are loud, unattractive and you have to deal with an occasional mean nurse) and return to my clean cozy home. Now a birthing center? That would be my jam right there. Sigh, one day I hope!

Similarly with breast feeding I had not only an awesome lactation consultant and awesome helpful nurses but I had mom friends calling and texting me every day for the first several weeks asking me how I was doing and if I had any questions. I had friends come over and watch me nurse and help me find a good position and watch to see if my daughter was latching correctly. And telling me I was doing a great job. I needed that every day!!!

While I have been amazingly blessed by encouragement, I have also experienced the sting of hurtful words as well.

"oh, you're giving birth at Norton Suburban? Oh gosh...well, I mean you know everyone is going to be really awful to you since you're going natural right?"

"you're going natural? that's so crazy, you know how bad that's going to hurt and how miserable you'll be afterward that you wont even want to hold your baby right?"

"I mean, that's great you wanna breastfeed but you know your boobs will be gross when you're done and you'll probably never enjoy your husband touching them again."

Talk about someone popping your balloon. Thankfully I had enough knowledge and support to combat these negative thoughts, but many people don't.

So, I bring to you my quandry. I feel passionately about this stuff. I don't feel as passionate about who you vote for frankly, but I feel passionate about mothers being empowered to make choices regarding their births because they had education and support. I want to show you these pictures of a mom's face finally seeing her baby after 27 hours of labor and say look how beautiful that is!! And not have all this grouchy subtext of you wondering if she had an epidural or not before you decide its beautiful. But lately I've been driven to hold my tongue more often because I'm afraid of offending someone. And like I said, I'm no activist. I'm not going to call any hospital CEOs (are there CEOs at hospitals? I don't even care) or my senator to try and do a thing. But I care about the way we talk to each other. As mothers. Because that's powerful. As someone who is pro-natural birth I want to be able to dialogue with expectant mothers who invite me to about what their options are. I want to tell them that the woman's body is this incredible life giving vessel that was created by God to bear children and that they can go into their labor with that mindset and be at peace regardless of what medical intervention is or isn't used. And while these bodies we have are amazing, they are also affected by the curse and because of that, birth is not always this beautiful experience we want it to be. Sometimes it is survival and thank God it is 2013 and there are life saving procedures we now have access to.

How does our desire to educate and support turn into prideful combative mommy wars? How can we better serve the expectant mothers in our community? How can we be honest and bold with our passion for childbirth and still be sensitive to women who have either chosen to, or had to have medicated or surgical births? What have you found helpful and hurtful? This is me opening the dialogue.

Tell your story.
Ask your questions.
Share a fart joke so we can all lighten up.
Encourage a sister.