Gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies, those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life and the world. --John Milton

Monday, March 30, 2015

My Newborn Smiles

WebMD says after two months I'm in for a treat - a "social smile." Up until then, that adorable grin has probably just been gas ...


My newborn smiles. He smiles often - sleeping, awake, staring at the ceiling, when glimpsing my face.

Um, I don't think that's all gas, do you?

Aren't newborns also capable of "an intentional gesture of warmth meant just for you"? In the womb too, doesn't he dream with that already complex brain and doesn't he smile about his dreams? He often feels what I feel. Perhaps my happiness makes him happy. Perhaps he sees angels.

Eyes aglow, lips parting dimpled cheeks, arms and legs pulsing - he smiles, his whole body smiles. Time stops. I dare not pull away to fetch the camera. I soak up every sunbeam.

Do I need permission from a pediatrician to count a smile?

Don't just anything that smile. Enjoy it.

What was it like when God molded soil into a person and puffed breath into new lungs? Did the sent of God's breath linger in the air? Was Adam's fresh skin as soft as my baby's?

When Adam opened his eyes, he saw God smiling at him. Imagine how he smiled back.

I hear echoes of Darwinian naivety that scoffs at the spiritual dimension of life. When we dismiss what we do not understand, we may miss the opportunity to marvel at the mysterious.

Every time a mama delivers the gift of life, God comes down and puffs the miracle of first breath to expand new lungs. Is it any surprise then when this heaven sent life kissed by God's own mouth smiles?

We've witnessed it haven't we - the reverent hush haloed around one freshly arrived. My babies might have been squished and slimy like squids, and yet each boy glowed with a beauty makeup can't highlight. I sniff and sniff the top of his head like I'm remembering a wistful perfume.

Enjoy this broadcast from Focus: Celebrating the Wonder of Pregnancy from Conception to Birth.

Or watch this brief glimpse into the sacred intimacy of a womb: The Wonder Within You.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

A Tale of Two Births PART 2

The continuation ... (catch up here). I'm grateful to Julie for sharing her beautiful story.

Two years later, we learned we were expecting baby number two. We had maternity coverage this time, so I called a recommended "more natural" OBGYN in town several of my friends had used. I wanted to try a VBAC, but I wasn't sure whether I wanted to try the homebirth route or not.

"What?" The receptionist wanted to know, "you are nine weeks along and haven't contacted a doctor yet? We'll get you in this week and you'll have to come back later in the week for your first ultrasound and then again in two weeks to meet with the doctor to go over your ultrasound."

Then I mentioned the fact that I had a c-section with my first. "Sorry, we don't do VBACs anymore." Several calls to other doctors in the area confirmed that a change in medical malpractice insurance tied their hands in VBAC practice, even when they thought it was the safest route for their patient.

One call to our previous midwife eased my growing panic. "Sure, we do VBACs at our new birth center that's near the hospital. Why don't you wait a few weeks before coming in ... that way we can hear the heartbeat at your checkup."

At forty weeks plus 11 days I went in for a checkup and found out that my contractions that day weren't Braxton-hicks.

Our second baby girl, 8 lbs. this time, entered the world late that evening at the birth center. I won't lie... after the birth, I thought, "I know why women use drugs." But I also felt a bond with women throughout the world and throughout history who go through the beautiful process of completely natural childbirth.

And our sweet little one came so peacefully. She didn't cry at all but looked at us out of big round eyes.

We're planning for another natural birth with the midwife for our next baby who is due in the summer.

Come back next Thursday when Julie talks about a few things she's learned from her experiences. 

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

To Prepare for Labor

What's a must for a woman in labor? To be at ease, I think.

Do wash the receiving blankets, track those contractions, and listen to the sweet heartbeat. But this I've found matters most: to be at ease.

Beyond a technique to relax muscles and before contractions come in like the tide - being at ease is about all of me for all of pregnancy. It's body and soul. It's being startled from a dream and opening to the pain stirred. It's memorizing verses until I know that I know. It's thinking through how I might respond to birth challenges. It's saying thanks for my baby over and over again. It takes practice. Intentional practice.

It's letting go of negativity and leaning in to the joy of new life. With my spirit and with my body.

For me, it isn't easy - at all. To trust, learn patience, forgive. To breathe. one. breath. at. a. time. To surrender lost in this contraction. Breath in and breathe out thanks. To be okay with uncertainty and changing plans.

A woman can be helped to feel at ease with a massage or a hug, a familiar song or a sip of water. Here's what helped me relax (and not like sitting on the couch with my feet up relaxing) before, during, and after:

- Staying home (where I'm used to feeling safe; also, no restrictive car ride! Where do you feel safe?)
- Playlist of favorite songs
- Natural and lamp lighting
- Quiet with minimal talking
- Essential Oils
- Yoga breathing
- Picturing my baby's toes, counting them
- Welcoming a contraction, "Yes, thank you, come on."
- Imagining each contraction as a wave to ride
- Water deep enough to feel buoyant
- Being with the people I can feel completely vulnerable with

Focusing on being at peace body and soul increased my ability to work with contractions and accelerated my recovery. After my first amazing, natural water birth, I was still sore at six weeks. Then feeling holistically better than ever, I again delivered naturally in water. I enjoyed every moment, including falling exhausted into a deep nap next to my newborn. I awoke, lingering in the thrill and wanting to do it all over again.

I brought Baby to his checkup and nurses gawked at me, "How can you look so good when you just gave birth!" And I had to say, "I have been so well cared for." Seriously, the Cowboy made sure I got naps even with a toddler before the birth, and Mom did all the cooking and laundry after.

This is just me, stumbling. I share because I know more mamas can have peaceful experiences.

A woman's comfort isn't a nicety, it's a necessity. Compromising comfort is a risk to consider seriously, I think.

Want to read more? Try Gentle Birth Choices by Barbara Harper. Or Preparing for Birth with Yoga by Janet Balaskeas. 

Thursday, March 19, 2015

A Tale of Two Births PART 1

I adore this lady! and benefit so much from her insight. Julie, welcome to aWonderfulBirth. 

My husband and I were still newlyweds when we found out we were expecting our first baby. They say all you need is love... and that's about all we had at that point in life. 

One of our first steps in planning for this baby's arrival was to call our medical insurance company. That's when we found out that we didn't have any maternity coverage. 

As we researched affordable options, we discovered the world of homebirth. We learned that a certified nurse midwife in our town had been in practice long enough to have delivered half a dozen of our friends as babies, and after a consultation, we launched into plans for delivering the wee one in our little apartment seven months hence.

The pregnancy went beautifully and I ended month number eight with a bump so petite you wouldn't guess I was hiding an almost-full-term baby in there. 

The day the midwife did our home visit to verify our preparations was when the trouble began. "It feels like the baby has its hands over its head," the midwife said. "The baby is pushing back at me when I do an internal check," she said.

Two weeks later at our next appointment, the same thing happened. An ultrasound confirmed that our baby was in a footling breech position. I tried everything to turn the baby from standing on my head to visiting specialist chiropractors to ECV. 

Nothing helped and our midwife was firm that she did not feel it was safe for her to deliver our first baby in this particular breech position.

One week and ten-thousand dollars in medical bills later, on the evening of her due date, our perfect 6 lb. baby girl was born via c-section. The c-section was performed by a family practice doctor (rather than an OB-GYN) who was a family friend. 

We started down the journey of nursing, swaddling blankets, and smiles and never looked back.

Stop in next Thursday for the beautiful continuation of Julie's story.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Birth Costs: Think Outside the Box

Anticipating a second baby, we decided to save, rather than pay monthly insurance. Then during the first trimester, we re-evaluated our birthing options. I was ready to rearrange the budget to be able to deliver at the birth center again, but pondered other possibilities.

What would a home birth cost? How much does a home midwife charge? I called around. How much is a birth kit? How much does a doula charge? Could I do check-ups at a birth center and deliver at home? Can I get a backup OBGYN?

Perhaps I've learned that there are more possibilities than it might seem at first. My husband and I considered and re-considered. Talked to friends, researched the internet, called service providers.

Money was just one of several considerations, but in the end we settled on check-ups at a birth center with a home delivery attended by a doula.

The current system (especially in some states) may encourage a one-size-fits-all birth. But I've found that it's possible to choose a different way.

Different is hard. vulnerable. When our financial choices don't make sense to family and friends. When service providers raise eyebrows. When the system bucks us off. When we doubt our choices.

Different is risky. But maybe sameness just feels safe. Maybe living is risky.

Different is also affordable. It looks like we can't afford it. But what if ... we had one flip phone instead of two smart phones? or cut off internet service? or moved into an RV? These are the type of questions the Cowboy and I ask. I'm serious. It's an exercise in contentment. It's a chance to see what our priorities are.

For a practical example, here's our budget and then actual expenses for our son's birth.

PRENATAL VISITS (including one ultrasound and blood work)
BIRTH SUPPLIES (including pool)

We were very fortunate to meet our budget. We had also talked about how we would cover any unplanned expenses. Perhaps something here is helpful?

What financial birth choices have you made? How have you found you could do something for less money (example: we used a large kiddie pool $40 rather than a birth pool $200)?

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Birth Ghost Stories

Remember the ghost stories told with flashlight under chin at sleepovers? I've heard birth stories told in a similar manner.

To me, a birth ghost story is one propelled by fear rather than facts. Often details are shared that have little or nothing to do with the outcome.

As a young girl I recall hearing about a difficult labor where the cord was wrapped around the baby's neck. The feeling was a superstitious shudder and sigh of relief, as if the baby was just really lucky to not have been strangled. More likely, the labor was difficult because the mother was tense and not working with contractions.

Making the cord the scapegoat feels helpless and typically results in fear-driven decisions by pregnant women who hear the scare story. Instead, hearing that the labor was difficult because of tense muscles gives a mom a specific challenge to overcome. Now she can hire a doula for example to coach her in relaxation.

Another example of a birth ghost story would be "the baby was breech and died." The implication and tone is that if your baby is breech, he will die. A factual account would share for instance that the placenta separated as baby entered the canal, cutting off oxygen.

Now a women is informed of a detailed risk and can consider her options. For instance she may feel confident delivering on hands and knees as recommended for breech or she may choose a c-section. Either way, she can make an informed choice, rather than reacting with irrational fear.

You're nine months pregnant. What is helpful to hear? What is not helpful?

Monday, March 2, 2015

Our Christmas Gift (In Grateful Arms)

I'm back to soaking up sunshine (catch up here). Oh, man, but let me get in that pool.

I'm in six inches of water by the time my doula arrives about 10:00 am. With Mom not having been able to make it as our primary midwife, she wants to clarify who's doing what. I assure her that the Cowboy has the midwife stuff covered - we're not asking her to catch the baby or cut the cord. I just really need her coaching.

More water, more water! I beg. My husband and our dear friend keep busy boiling water after the hot water is out.

I feel good letting my doula guide me. I hold her hand. Look in her steadying eyes. And I breath that this is hard! "Relax your jaw," she reminds. Then between the pressures, "Take deep cleansing breaths."

I draw on the Cowboy's quiet strength, hand in hand, my cheek against the scratch of whiskers. "I love you."

For a couple amazing contractions, I'm so focused, the doula doesn't seem to notice. I'm lost in the ripple of water.

It's hard. Being researched doesn't make the pressure easy. It's incredibly hard. Hard to embrace, to surrender to the massive energy.

I look up. My dear friend is sitting on the couch, head bowed.

I don't thinking about pushing, but focusing. Especially the pushing contractions are a tremendous wave of intense energy. Perhaps like a surfer, I can lean into the wave and ride it - or it will flatten me.

Like riding a spirited horse. Sometimes I get bucked off. Energy explodes in scream.

The Cowboy is right here.

"Okay," I signal another wave. I ride. It's a thrill. I feel the head moving down. Then I lose it and scream a lot. But I'm not scared. I know all is well.

Another thunderous wave. His head is totally in the canal. I can feel him there ready to make his grand entrance. "He's coming!"

Next push, he crowns. And I touch his amazing head. The Cowboy remains as steadfast as the mountains. (I must grant that even though I felt calm deep inside, I must have been quite a sight.)

I feel like turning around to a sitting position. Then with groaning but letting the tremendous energy work - there he is. My fingers stroke a webbed head, a perfect ear. Oh, glorious moment.

Then with excitement, I ride the energy. He wriggles into the water. I scoop him up, bringing him to the surface. I unwrap his precious cord and tuck him against my chest.

I look into eyes looking back at mine.