The best days of our lives.

I had the rare opportunity this morning to go on my daily walk with just one of my babies. Normally all three of us head out on a wander around our new neighbourhood around 10am for Piper’s first nap, but Autumn stayed home with sicky-dad today. I got in 3 laps, covering 2.6 miles, and Piper fell asleep during the last lap.

We’ve been here a month now and are really enjoying the quietness of this new place. We don’t see many people on our walks, not many cars come and go, and only a few kids on bikes. Mostly just the smell of tumble dryers, the sound of birds, and a train every so often keep the air from being completely empty. It got me to pondering as I walked our tree lined loop, pushing Piper and thinking about where we were just a month ago – stressed, exhausted, prickly, transitioning.

I remember when we were first married and living in Washington we felt stuck in an in between place – newlyweds without our own network of friends in a similar situation. One day we decided to make 5 banoffee pies and deliver them to some established families that we were acquaintances with, as an attempt to break into a social circle. We delivered our pies and at one doorstep had a quick conversation with the father of the family. He asked us what our plans were, were we going to school – we were. He went on, “those were the best days of our lives.” He told us to really make the most of them. We believed him and we did make the most of them. I think the in between stage, the anticipation of “settling” is a key ingredient in what makes “the best days of our lives.” The stage right before everything gets really serious – serious jobs, serious bills and debts, serious responsibilities, kids! When you know things aren’t going to be that way forever you soak it all up.

Our “best days of our lives” stage went on longer than for most people – with infertility, a change in education/career path, we managed to stretch it out for 7 years. We lived a lot of places, saw a lot of things, experienced more than we expected – or even really wanted.

And now as I walk this route with my baby snoozing and her legs tanning in the sun as they hang out of her stroller chair I see the colourful front doors of these little homes and wonder, “is this your first home?” “Are there children in there?” “Is your husband at school or at work? Does he work shifts or 9 to 5” “Are you talking to your sister on the phone and planning a trip?” Mostly, “Are you happy?”

I’m in a phase where I’m still in between. We have the education (3.5 degrees between us), the job – and the first promotion, we eventually had the kids – 2 fantastic rays of light that we love more than anything, we have the bills and the debts, and the family van but we’re not quite there yet. This place isn’t our own, it’s the tail end of “the best days of lives” before things get really serious, before the kids have to be settled, before they need the comfort of more than just us. Soon they’ll need their own space, a place to put their stuff, their own network and people. And then we’ll be in between some new best days and making the most of them too.

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“Being grown up isn’t half as fun as growing up.
These are the best days of our lives.
The only thing that matters is just following your heart
and eventually you’ll finally get it right.”
– “In this diary” The Atari’s

So, you’re pregnant and the baby will have to come out… somehow?

I have a few friends currently “with child” and in the not too distant future will find themselves with a baby on the outside. Going from baby-inside to baby-outside can naturally be a very scary thing to think about. I’ve been asked about my experiences a few times and thought I’d type up some birth hacks (there’s no such thing, that just makes it sound nicer) that might be handy for you store in the back of your mind.

It took us 7 years to become pregnant with Autumn, and one month to become pregnant with Piper. Two very different experiences from start to finish; egg to human baby both times which means a whole lot of learning on my part. These are just my experiences, thoughts and feelings. It’s up to you what you do with them.

To begin with you’ve got to ignore what you’ve seen on TV.

“PUUUUUSH! *SCREAMING* WAH WAH WAH!”

You know exactly what I’m talking about. Giving birth is not going to be that chaotic, that dramatic, that noisy, or that clean, and those babies are usually HUGE. Your waters might not break, you might not lose your mucus plug, and you might not have much in the way of contractions. The other side of the coin though is that you will have your waters break, you’ll lose your mucus plug and you could be in labour for a week. There’s no way of predicting it.

My experience:
9 hours active labour with Autumn.
4 hours active labour with Piper.

Contractions 15 minutes apart with Autumn for 2 days.
No contractions until I woke up in labour with Piper.

It’s different for everyone.

I think though, that it can be calm and spiritual for pretty much everyone but it takes some mental preparation.

How to prepare for something when you have no idea what to expect, other than a human squeezing itself out of your own body through a hole that logistically makes zero sense.

Nothing about getting pregnant, being pregnant, having a baby makes sense to me even after having two babies. I’m hoping that that fact alone, and that I’m able to tell my tale is encouraging to you. I’m constantly surprised that I’m raising two humans and they’re turning out pretty awesome.

With that in mind, these are just my thoughts, my unsolicited advice – because you haven’t been getting plenty of that already.

Here goes, deep breath…

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Tip number 1
Choose who is going to get the baby out of you.

The who is usually attached to a where, ie. a doctor in a hospital, or a midwife in your home or birth centre etc.

That narrows things down and will really shape the rest of your decisions.

My experience
We chose the non medicated route, with a midwife both times.

Autumn was born at 38 weeks at home on our ikea couch.
Piper was born on her due date at our local birth centre.

Part of the appeal for me in choosing a midwife is that I didn’t have any family here. I need to be mothered, and midwives are exactly that – the nurturing, caring, unconditional loving women that I need. I enjoy the bond I have with both the women who delivered my babies. It’s something I cherish and will last forever.

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Tip number 2
Pain management.

However you decide to get the baby out you’ll possibly (guaranteed) experience some discomfort. If I were you I’d start thinking about how to deal with this sooner than later, but I have control issues.

My experience
Autumn: contractions 15 minutes apart for 2 days
Piper: no “warning” contractions. woke up in full blown labour at 2:30am

Autumn was born after 9 hours of active labour
Piper was born after 4 hours active labour

When I had Autumn my midwife, Treesa recommended Hypnobirth for me which I embraced. She had a class where she went over methods of pain management and we tried them out. We listened to music, we tried figuring out if talking/encouraging phrases etc would help, if touch would be soothing etc.

Take a look at this link and specifically the “Put Ice on It” section at the end for some things I found helpful.

When I was getting ready to have Piper it was really cool to ask Treesa if she thought I should try a different form of pain management. I really value her opinion – she said it worked well for me so I stuck with it and it worked even better the second time around.

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Tip number 3
Find your Happy Place

I never quite managed to visualise a “Happy Place” with Autumn. With Piper I awoke one night early on in pregnancy after having a dream – it won’t make sense to anyone else but it worked for me, and that’s really all that matters. My Happy Place had me as a cloud, accumulating mass and power until breaking into rain – the whole cycle to me was symbolic of labour and birthing. It worked for me. “I am a cloud” was my mantra all those months. You should try and find something for yourself that will help you focus. I even drew out a picture of it and kept it by my bed. I would add to it every now and again until it turned into this whole thing that would make absolutely no sense to anyone but every sense to me.

My experience
I thought with Autumn that it would just come to me. I didn’t search very deeply to find that relaxing visual that would help me focus. I don’t know if things would have been different if I had but I do know that Piper’s birth went much smoother than Autumn’s and I believe the “happy place” helped me feel more in control. The first time around the pain did make me panic a little because I wasn’t able to really focus. I hadn’t prepared as well as I should have, perhaps because I didn’t know what I was preparing for.

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Tip number 4
Loosen up

Loosen up mentally by meditating and focusing, literally loosen up physically by trying to keep your chin tucked down and making low humming/mooing noises. Try it. Notice how loose the muscles throughout your body feel? Now try the opposite, strain your neck, like you would if you were screaming at the top of your lungs, feel how tense your whole body is?

My experience
This really helped me during Piper’s birth. It helps with the focus as well as obviously getting the baby out. You want your muscles to be as relaxed as possible or those contractions are going to hurt more than they need to. Breath and moo through them.

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Tip number 5
Use gravity

Your muscles create contractions on it’s own so you don’t even have to push the baby out – that is the purpose of contractions. It’s amazing. Don’t get me wrong, you’ll want to push, your brain will tell you and your body will urge you to do it but when it comes down to it, that baby is coming out whether or not you push.

My experience
I had planned to have Autumn in the birth tub but things didn’t go to plan and I didn’t have a Plan B. I ended up on my back and getting stuck like that until after she was born. It was hard. Hard hard hard! Laying on your back is not a natural position for giving birth. It’s modern tradition but it’s not natural. I felt like I was being suffocated. If you’re not into that, let gravity help you out.

With Piper I was in the number 9 position on this list and it felt like every contraction was effective, paired with my mooing. Walk around, sit on a birth ball, squat, stay upright. If you decide to have a rest, sleep on your side with a peanut ball between your knees to keep your pelvis nice and open.

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Tip number 6
Be Positive

Do what you’ve got to do in order to cheer yourself on. You are in charge of your own thoughts, your own will power. Pain isn’t fun, I know BUT the pain will end and it will end quicker if you believe it’s going to end.

Do NOT let the words, “I can’t do this,” “owie owie ouch,” or “this is too hard” come into your mind. Don’t say them. Instead say, or shout (in MY experience) “I AM doing this!” Tell your partner that “you’re doing so good!” is NOT enough, change it to “you ARE AMAZING!” and “YOU’RE doing it!” instead of “you can do this.” The difference between “can do” and “are doing” was huge for me!

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Tip number 7
Don’t be scared to be vocal.

Everyone around you will be taking cues from you. This is your experience, your body, your baby! Don’t be shy. If you need something you have to say it, everyone is there for your comfort. Don’t have your baby and then think to yourself, “I wish I’d asked for counter-pressure...” Just do it.

My experience
With Autumn I was a bit embarrassed by the idea of being noisy. In the end I pooped in front of everyone, I was completely naked, and I was out of control which made having Piper all the much easier. I haven’t been shy since having Autumn.

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Tip number 8
Focus and timing

I’m not sure where I picked this up from but when it came to focusing on contractions I found it helped if I started to say the alphabet at the start of a contraction. I could tell how long they were depending on what letter I was getting to. This helped when I didn’t have a visual in my mind whilst labouring with Autumn.

Finding focus will help you from freaking out.

Having a baby is intense. It’s hard – that’s why it’s called “labour” and not “a dawdle” but it ends. Labour lasts just a teensy while especially compared to the 9 months you’ve just gone through. My biggest tip is to practice and prepare relaxing now. In my online forum I was a part of for mothers birthing in March many of them said “I plan to go natural but I’ll take the epidural if I need it.” With that attitude you’re going to end up taking the epidural. “Going natural” isn’t just something you do if you feel like it. I don’t think anyone “feels like it” when they haven’t truly decided and there’s an alternative on the table. Make up your mind, do your research, decide what you want for your baby – look into what pitocin (for induction) does to the body, look into oxytocin, research positions, relaxation techniques, and decide for yourself what YOU want.

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Tip number 9
Educate yourself

So it’s kind of a continuation of tip number 8 but a bit different. Ask your care provider questions and for their opinions. Some things to consider that aren’t quite mainstream practice at the moment are things like delayed cord clamping, skin to skin and breastfeeding right after birth (not separating mother and baby), waiting to give baby a bath – massaging the cheese (vernix) into the baby’s skin rather than washing it off, saying “no” to the antibiotic eye goop they put in baby’s eyes if there’s no chance of you having STDs to pass on. These are things I hadn’t heard of until I was preparing to have Autumn. Make the decisions yourself and you’ll feel so empowered. Ask questions, research, and make the choices.

Everyone will have an opinion, and a horror story to go with every choice you could make. When it comes down to it you do what’s right for you and your baby.

I had two very different drug free births – Autumn’s birth was rough, things did not go to plan, recovery took a year. Piper’s birth was smooth as can be. Don’t be pressured into anything you don’t want to do. I’m grateful for both experiences I had, but especially glad for the closure and empowerment that Piper’s birth brought.

It’s different for everyone.

You will do fantastically! Holding that little baby as your lungs slowly expand back to full capacity, and your heartburn and nausea disappear is the most amazing feeling ever! Not needing to pee every 3 seconds, and accidentally peeing every 2 seconds is wonderful.

We can talk about engorged boobs and all the rest of that another time 🙂

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If you want to read about my background a little more and my experience with becoming with child you can do so here.

Got a question? Go head and ask. I’ll tell you straight!

Photos of Piper’s birth taken by The Perfect Moment Photography do not use without permission.

Lifestyle: Homebirth

I’ve been wanting to start posting more bloggish posts here, infuse some lifestyle and such into the site since I don’t use my original blog any more. I had a friend ask this past week if I had any tips for a successful homebirth since that’s what she’s planning on. I don’t have any other kind of birth to compare with Autumn’s homebirth but I know since giving birth on my couch I’d choose to it again.

We were prepared for our birth, and had Autumn delivered by Treesa – Birth with Treesa, who is based in the Bay Area. We found her on Yelp, emailed her and met her at her home the next day, after having spent 2 weeks in complete confusion and denial that we were actually pregnant after 7 years of no signs of being able to achieve such thing. Treesa welcomed us into her home and has become an amazing friend – she talks my language – she doesn’t beat around the bush, she’s blunt, she listens and is happy to explain absolutely anything you have to ask in a way you’ll understand. You can call her any time of day or night, she’ll have you come over when you’re out of your mind with worry and she’ll reassure you everything is fine, and then she’ll offer to let you hear your baby’s heartbeat just to make sure you know everything is ok – she’ll even let you (and encourage you to) Skype with your family so they can heart the heartbeat. She even invited us to her home for Christmas dinner one week after Autumn was born. We were all by ourselves for 2 weeks until my mum surprised me and showed up – Treesa was there for us and visited almost every day for those 2 weeks and then she came to meet my mum and even took us into Oakland to get Autumn’s birth certificate – she went above and beyond. The visits continued for a lot longer than 2 weeks, we still keep in touch and facetime. The bond I feel with Treesa is exactly what I needed but never expected. Autumn is her baby too.

Photos by Photographic Memories by Melinda, in Hayward, California

I wrote out the non-juicy version of her birth story here and kept certain details to myself, although the scary stuff that happened and how it was dealt with only goes to show that midwives really are birth specialists and know exactly what they’re doing.

First of all, a home birth can have whatever vibe you want. Something I don’t think you have much say in is the reverence, but I’m not entirely certain about that. When my friend Melinda arrived to support and take some pictures she said she felt like she was entering (the Temple) Hallowed Ground. Amidst all the labouring and hypnobirthing I did take note of how spiritual it all felt too – the hushed voices, the calm. There wasn’t that clinical, stressful, rushed feeling that you’d expect after being fed that image for years by the media. A reason we chose homebirth is because we don’t feel that birth is an emergency, and therefore shouldn’t be treated like one. Our homebirth was laid back and personal.

Choose a technique and go with it. I picked hypnobirth. I couldn’t even actually tell you the other options because that one was so perfect for me. Choose your technique and go to the class your midwife offers you. We found out that no touching and no talking was going to work best for me. Some people like the counter pressure or comfort from physical touch from their birth partner. Not me. I need positive comments in 3 words or less. “You’re doing it!”, “perfect!”, “you’re amazing!” Pick a technique and make sure you go over it with your partner so they’re in on the plan too. Practice it with them. Treesa, our midwife was amazing and had us test out techniques together, tried using different kinds of music, and explained what was going to happen and how it would feel etc so Stuart could empathise and understand why I’m so awesome. A midwife takes the time to keep you both on the same page, she takes time to have you practice and communicate. You have a role to play in this process and it’s not just pushing the baby out.

Go with the flow. One of my favourite things I remember about Autumn’s birth was right before she was born and the contractions were building. My midwife sat at my feet as I lay on the couch. I was getting uncomfortable and she looked up at me and said, “go ahead and push whenever you want.” Just like, “hey, whatever you want to do, I’m cool with it. Just say when.” The fact is that your body is contracting and will expel the baby on it’s own. You don’t even have to push… I love how relaxed it was and how informed I was. A couple of examples of things I learned about birth – did you know that by not clamping the cord until the blood stops flowing from the placenta your baby gets the last incredibly precious nutrients it otherwise wouldn’t? Treesa taught us this and we embraced it (read more here). Autumn stayed attached to her placenta until there was no need to be attached anymore- what harm does it do to wait a little longer? It’s not like you’re going anywhere.

Also, the benefits of not bathing your baby straight out the womb – that cheesy vernix protects your baby! I attribute Autumn’s amazing complexion to the fact we didn’t bathe her for a week – that wasn’t planned at all but it’s how it happened. Every doctor we’ve ever taken her to has commented on how flawless her skin is and that they’ve never seen anything like it. I honestly swear it’s because we were too tired to clean her any sooner. If she hadn’t pooped out her nappy on Christmas morning she might still not have been bathed… Go ahead and read more about birth cheese here.

Autumn was born at 38 weeks and I hadn’t quite been able to get the bedroom all organised and tidied – I hate the blanket we have on our bed in the first pictures of Autumn. I told Stuart I did not want that blanket on the bed and in the pictures of her but there it is – and that’s pretty much the only thing that went “wrong” with our home birth! I can live with it. Next time though I would like to have our bedroom organised a bit better since that’s where we lived for the next 3 weeks all cosy as a little family. I’d probably try and stock up on home made, frozen meals too.

Our first picture as a family of 3 – my absolute favourite picture of all time, ever.
A brief note about what most people were concerned about when we told them we were having a homebirth: if something goes “wrong” the midwife will take you to the hospital. You make a birthplan just like you would if you were having a hospital birth and part of the plan is what to do and where to go when things aren’t going right ie. if labour is taking way too long and you don’t have the energy to birth, or if something does go wrong etc.

Four things happened to me that were terrifying but were prepared for and handled by the midwife:
1. Autumn’s cord was wrapped around her 3 times (around her neck, torso and one leg), Treesa was able to identify this issue and maneuvered Autumn out with no issue.

2. My contractions stopped before my placenta came out which meant Treesa had to retrieve it herself… with her hand.

3. I bled a lot and needed 3 shots of pitocin to get it under control, which midwives are prepared for and able to administer – homebirth doesn’t mean a midwife shows up empty handed asking for water to be boiled and sheets to be ripped up (neither of those things happened.)

4. Due to the positioning of Autumn’s head because of how tangled she was in her cord (I think) I sustained a pretty nasty (embarrassing) injury. Treesa told me about it and told me she didn’t have a needle thin enough to take care of it. She explained the damage was cosmetic and it would heal ok but if I wanted she would take me to the hospital to have it seen to, at which point I probably tried to roll over and go to sleep 😉

Midwives deliver pretty babies 🙂

Another little note – your midwife will help you stick to any plan you make specifically in regards to feeding your new human. I wanted to breastfeed. Breastfeeding is HARD. It’s hard, frustrating, irritating, painful, stressful – the list goes on. Autumn wouldn’t eat for 4 long days. I wanted to give up. After 4 days of screaming, and feeding her drop by drop by a tiny syringe I asked if I could give her a bottle. Treesa all but said no. I told her I’d keep trying but I wanted her to stop screaming at me. Turns out Autumn didn’t want a bottle either. It took 2 weeks of thrashing, crying, starving, pumping milk before she got the hang of it. And even through the milk blisters, cracked and bleeding nipples, mastitis I’d do it all again. Breastfeeding Autumn for 18 months was such a treat and I am so thankful Treesa didn’t let me give up. Midwives stick to the plan! From what I’ve been told hospitals aren’t as invested or supportive of  sticking to plans when they’re going to take more time and energy than they want to put in.

And there you have it, my thoughts and feelings on homebirth and midwives. I also love granola and greek yoghurt, and I hardly ever wear shoes. We love midwives!