A p.s. on Valentine’s Day

My awesome friend Jenn commented on the post I just wrote about Valentine’s Day and the tragicomedy that has accompanied it through my relationship with AJ. She wrote,

Good points, and relevant to all sorts of expectations, not just holidays. You didn’t mention, have you ever done anything for AJ on Valentine’s Day? As a non-Valentine’s-celebrator, I didn’t really notice until this year that it seems to be a one-way affair of heterosexual men lavishing their heterosexual women with presents and romantic gestures. That seems weird to me. If it’s a celebration of love and your relationship, and you have an equal relationship with your partner, wouldn’t both partners have to work to make it a lovely celebration? Or, my preference, ignore it and then buy the marked-down candy!

Now you see why I’ve been friends with this woman since I first wandered into her Bob Dylan-postered dorm room. She raises a sensational point. I did not mention the years, like the last few, when I gave AJ valentines, declaring the particular ways in which I loved and was grateful for him. So yes! I have done things for him on Valentine’s Day.

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Like this one that I  call “Valentine Amoeba meets The Greenhouse of Love”

And, I’m a tad ashamed to admit that the swelling arc of my feelings around Valentine’s Day has tended to have 90% to do with what I want or might get or what AJ is not doing for me. I like to explain this with the notion that I am a creature of the world, and my specific world has this particular story on hyper-repeat—this “one-way affair of heterosexual men lavishing their heterosexual women with presents and romantic gestures.” One reason I like that explanation is because it makes me feel less like a selfish, ungrateful twit. Another is that I think it’s true.

So let’s talk about the other stories here. What do you like to do for your partner on Valentine’s Day? And if you’re a heterosexual man, what’s your experience of the whole situation? Do you feel left out? Disappointed? How does this whole all play out in same-sex relationships? For folks who aren’t partnered? Bring it on, dear readers. How do you experience your expectations around Valentine’s Day? Any other selfish, ungrateful twits out there?

Giving up the Valentine’s Day ghost

I’m an idealist. So I often fantasize about someone knowing the Exact Most Perfect Version of what I want and presenting it to me on a platter at the precise time when I most need it. Shockingly, the result of this practice has been a fair amount of disappointment.

Even when my family would scratch it all together and throw me a surprise 15th birthday party, I would notice all the ways it fell short of my perfect, Platonic Ideal of a 15th birthday party.

I’m sorry, Mom and Dad and Maxine. It really was a delightful party.

And yes, this brings us to Valentine’s Day. What a horrendous notion for a holiday, for us fantasizing idealists and their partners.

Seven years ago, AJ and I flew home from New Zealand on February 14th. It was the tail end of a year and a half of gallivanting around the world as only two newly married people without children can do. We crashed in hostels, caught a scary bus in Ljubljana, marveled over this  tree in Hong Kong

Hong Kong Tree

and worked on organic farms in Spain and New Zealand. For weeks after we bought the flight home, I kept slipping little underhanded comments in for AJ. “We’re flying home on Valentine’s Day.” “Did you know that since we’re flying over the International Date Line that we’re going to have 2 Valentine’s Days?”

“VALENTINE’S DAY!!!!!!!!!!”

“I’m desperate for you to do the perfect thing for me on Valentine’s day.”

This was on the heels of the previous Valentine’s day, when we wandered around in Amsterdam for hours looking for a place to eat dinner, and I kept thinking that AJ had a Valentine’s surprise tucked up his sleeve. When I finally asked, he admitted he didn’t even remember what day it was. I gushed out my disappointment and tears all over those charming European paving stones.

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You know how this ends. On the magical mystery flight through two Valentine’s Days, AJ didn’t plan anything. I cried and cried. And then he scrambled and scribbled together a whole stack of handmade valentines and gave me one every hour from his shirt pocket.

I am delighted to report that we have evolved since then. I gave up the Valentine’s Day ghost, as it were, and had a few years of just protesting the whole thing. And AJ has taken to remembering and doing nice things for me on this commercial trap of a holiday. Last year, things were so blurred by pregnancy and home ownership and scrambling to rent a duplex that AJ hugged me, and that felt sufficient. Yesterday, AJ raised the topic of what we should do, and I said, “I want you to buy me flowers from that place by the fish market.” And he did. I wasn’t disappointed.

Winter update: light and dark

Where to begin? It’s been a long time since I’ve written, and I feel all clogged up with words and thoughts that have been knocking around for weeks, trying to get out.

There was Christmas, for which I only managed to decorate this much.

Christmas Lights

Somehow, this string of lights managed to pick up on my lack of motivation, and all but 6 lights fizzled out.

I felt some guilt about this, since I have young children, and I feel some ambient social pressure to drape our house in all sorts of festive finery and set up jolly, felted craft projects. I just honestly didn’t have the energy, and Jo never asked to decorate. To be honest, craft projects hold his attention for about 6 minutes at the most, and if we had decorated, I’m 90% sure that I would have spent all of my time explaining why ornaments are for hanging on trees, not for throwing as ninja bombs.

And then there was the night of the glorious power outage on our entire block. It lasted for hours. We could see more than the requisite 16 stars, and our house was DARK. Not just we-turned-out-all-the-lights-before-bed situation, when we still have the eerie, golden, sodium streetlight glow seeping in all the windows. It was the darkness I remember as a girl, growing up on the mesa. The darkness that happens when the sun sets and night falls and you’re out on a mesa in the dark, with coyotes.

AJ wanted to light candles, and I wouldn’t let him for the first hour or so. I just wanted to lay on the couch, curtains and shutters wide open, in that quiet blackness.

There’s just more room to fall back when it’s dark like that. To rest your weight and be still.

But then we did light the candles, which felt sort of epic, since these were all the candles that the women in my life gave me to light when I was having the home birth that never happened.

Candles

So they’ve been christened now, and I love watching them burn, late on these winter nights.

Seems like I’m circling around a theme of light and darkness here—not bad for these days as we’re slowly climbing out of the pinpoint funnel of solstice. I often wish I had more quiet in the winter, to contemplate and breathe about the fallow, slow darkness.

As always, my project is to slow down. Drive the speed limit or less. Walk so that my body is upright instead of lurching forward towards the next and next and next thing. But not so slow that I lose all inertia and wind up on the couch hypnotizing myself with the 407th season of the Bachelor and a pint of coffee ice cream…

OH! And there were all of your fabulous photo responses to my call for pumping room portraits, about which I will write a post soon, so that you can see them in all their glory. And I have a pumping room update of my own–all of your Facebook comments inspired me to do some advocating for the lactating women at my office and there have been some developments. Namely, a new pumping room. That’s heated. Isn’t that something? Portrait coming soon.

Bear Traps, Chinese Finger Cuffs and Motherhood

There are a million and one metaphors I could use to portal into this topic. But the one that is most vivid is a bear stuck in some sort of a paw trap in the woods. I have no idea if paw traps exist, or if they are used on bears, but bear (oy vey…) with me.

You know how this goes. The trap locks down on aforementioned bear’s paw and bear startles and struggles, tries to get away. In so doing, she keeps injuring and re-injuring her paw in the sharp metal confines of the trap. Finally, she surrenders, relaxes, submits to reality. And the paw, still throbbing and sore, feels better. The bear, still trapped, feels a little less terrified and takes stock.

        Here I am. Now what?

Now I’m going to compare motherhood to being stuck in a bear trap.

There are many moments a day when I struggle against some known or unknown force and then finally submit and feel both defeat and relief.

I have a bushel of things to do this morning—meal planning, grocery shopping, nanny-share hunting, thyroid lab procuring, prescription filling and blog writing. This long list, in and of itself, is a problem. Some days, I do manage to keep things more simple and take on less. But let’s face it, I’m a creature of the here and now, and we’re pretty big on dodging traffic between appointments while checking our voicemail and sucking down a latte.

Since I’ve got this big list and one child who is off to school for the next 3 and a half hours, I assess my other wild card—baby Cal—to get a sense for how to organize the morning. It’s nap time, and I will triumph. I’ll put Cal down for his nap and get the meal planning and shopping list ready during that sweet 40 minute reprieve.

I do the song and dance (literally) and place Cal down for the nap. He won’t have it. I try again with a modified song and dance (literally) and still no. I could leave him to cry for a few minutes—sometimes he can put himself to sleep quickly this way, but I decide that it’s too much for me this morning, and I relent. Though I know he’s not hungry, I settle into bed and give him another long nurse. I hold his pudgy, white hand. And tip my head back against the wall and close my eyes. The bear takes stock. Her paw hurts less.

The other metaphor that was in contention this morning was that of a Chinese finger cuff. You know the little, cheapy tubes you can win at seedy carnivals—they’re woven out of contrasting strips of wood? bamboo? When you shove both your fingers in and try to pull them out, the cuff stretches and narrows and traps your fingers inside.

Photo by Casey Fleser

The way to get out of this particular pickle is, once again, to stop trying to struggle out of it. If you move your fingers towards each other, the cuff relaxes and voila! you’re free.

Now I’m going to compare motherhood to struggling out of a Chinese finger cuff.

Thirty five million times a day, I have something that I need or want 4 year old Jo to do. About thirty five million minus five times a day, Jo doesn’t want to do that thing. It is exhausting and frustrating for both of us.

I’ve been finding, thanks to a Hand in Hand Parenting class, that Jo is often a lot more cooperative when he feels connected to me. In other words, if I can put all the groceries and the baby down and turn off whatever is boiling over on the stove and get closer to Jo and look in his eyes and play with him for a few minutes or ask him what’s going on, things after that point go better. Not always, but often.

This morning we had 15 minutes to get dressed, eat breakfast, brush teeth and pack lunch before his carpool got here to take him to pre-school. We only had 15 minutes because I strategically took 7 minutes to send various cars and animals rocketing down a track he had built on our stairs in the hopes that this connection would see us through the morning gauntlet. It sort of did.

I still wound up restraining him from throwing cashews in the kitchen that he didn’t want to eat and the toothbrushing was a lengthier negotiation than I wanted. Finally, the car arrived to whisk him off to school. I wanted nothing more than to toss him inside and run for my life. Instead, he hid behind my legs and willed his body to weigh 80 extra pounds, his little shoes sinking into our patio like a rusty anchor. At this moment, I wanted to say, through gritted teeth, with all the authority and domineering I could muster, “Jo, you have to let go, its time to get in the car.”

She struggles to pull her fingers apart, and the Chinese finger cuff wraps its grip even tighter.

Instead, I surrendered. Got down, looked in his eyes and said, “Are you feeling shy?” “Yes,” he said. Connection? Check.

He shuffled those 80 lb feet all the way to the car and got inside like a champ.

While the motherhood-as-trap metaphor sounds defeatist and sad, it also feels deeply true. There are so many moments that I just want to use my free will and strength and smarts to muscle through. Often when I do this, there is so much collateral damage in the form of tantrums and resistance that it’s really not worth it. But there are some days when I just really, really want to run free. Fast and unencumbered.

And then I take stock.

       Here I am.

I have 2 children. That means that there is a built in, hour by hour surrender to my days. Sometimes, that surrender feels like giving up. Other times, it feels old and true and wise. I want less struggle. I want more connection. But I also want freedom.

       Now what?

Some relief, courtesy of big pharma

Well things are leveling out around here. Sort of.

I *might* be finding a new Zoloft dosage that works better for my new friend, Anxiety, who has decided to hop on the post-partum emotions bandwagon. It’s only been a few days at the new dosage, and it’ll take a few weeks for things to level out.

We’re still not out of the woods yet, but I actually experienced what it is like to live in the body of a normal, non-anxious person for two nights in a row, thanks to a bit of Lorazepam. I’m always nervous to take a new pharmaceutical, but my friend C nudged me to give it a try, after two horrible mornings of feeling what can only be described as hyper-hell-restless-everywhere syndrome. In the early morning, between 5 and 6 when AJ would bring Cal up for his early morning feed, my body would come online in a bunch of worried, jittery bursts that kept firing over and over and over. As if my whole self was trying to jump/stretch out of my body. And then I’d spend the next several hours reminding myself that I was not dying and that I and my family are all perfectly okay and even doing well.

So an hour after I took the first wee, white circle of Lorazepam, my entire self heaved a huge deep sigh. Relief. I didn’t realize how long my body had been feeling this way until I had my first real break. I’ve been walking around with this tight, fearful, panicked body every day for the last few weeks. And it has been draining as hell.

Last night, after I took my new favorite drug, I just laid on the couch and soaked in the feeling. No aching limbs. No tightness anywhere. Just a tired lady on the couch at 9 pm. Oh, the joy of feeling like a regular person.

Photo by Jorbasa

If I were a cat with a small, wicker ottoman, this is what I would look like after taking my Lorazepam.  Photo by Jorbasa

I feel somewhat guilty for being reliant on prescription medication for my basic sense of wellness these days, but that guilt can just shove it. There will be a time and place when I have more time and resources to try other things. Life is long. Maybe in a few months or a couple years, I’ll be feeling great with an occasional therapy session and the drops of some horrendous tasting tincture. For now, though, I need the big guns, and I’m gonna use them.

Anxietyville USA

It’s been so touch and go around here that when I wrote this post last week, I decided to focus on my recent experience of depression. I just didn’t have enough time to go into the whole kit and caboodle. The truth is, a couple weeks after starting the Zoloft, I found myself smack dab in the middle of Anxietyville USA. The last time I visited anxiety-town was during that special time in Jo’s 4th/5th month of life that I often refer to as “The Downfall.”

Like then, the anxiety has had a consistent and tight grip. The layer of my body beneath my skin and above my muscles is always tense and on alert, particularly in my arms and face.

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Photo by arbyreed

My mind and body feel as though things are always about 13 seconds away from complete catastrophe, even if I’m just strollering baby C up the sidewalk while Jo runs and whollops everything he passes with a stick he found.

Anxiety. A real dream come true, let me tell you.

When it first crept in, I thought it was because I’d had a couple nights of sort of crappy sleep and because baby C started doing the old 40 minute napping routine that Jo started doing just before The Downfall. (Thanks to my sister-in-law, I’ve learned that this whole 40 minute thing is a Thing commonly referred to on blogs and parent forums as “the 45 minute nap intruder.”)

Desperate to reign in the anxiety, I made a plan to get more sleep (Ambien) and to simplify my daily routine (put the cloth diapers on hold and supplement with formula a bit if necessary). Check and check. I was going to nip this in the bud.

I got the sleep, and am still getting it. Our trashcans overflow with disposable diapers. And we did supplement with formula a few times. But my little friend Anxiety is still kicking. Right now as I type, I’ve got that old familiar tight ache in my biceps and wrists, as if to say, “Stay on guard. Be ever vigilant. You might be needed for swaddling at a moment’s notice.”

I’ve started to wonder if the anxiety could be a side effect of the Zoloft. I don’t remember this happening the first time I started taking the stuff, but I was also goggle eyed with exhaustion and depression, and anxiety already had me white-knuckling it through every day. (It was quite a time, let me tell you.) My primary care doc confirmed this for me today–anxiety is a common side effect particularly during the first few weeks on Zoloft. But I’m already 5 weeks in.

Whether it’s a side effect or situational doesn’t really matter, though. Because it’s happening. So what I need to do is figure out how to manage it while its here and hopefully to help it go away.

I made an appointment to talk with a psychiatrist (it only took 26 phone calls to find one who could see me this month and accepts my insurance–such a joy to do that while parenting 2 kids and feeling emotionally unstable) so I can wade more efficiently through my questions about side effects and what the best meds (if any) would be for me, given that I’m breastfeeding.

And I also have had some great revelations about things that calm me down and things that leave me feeling like a frayed live wire.

  1. Trying to connect with the anxiety in my body makes it feel better than trying to wish it away. Thanks to yet another great idea from my miracle therapist, I try to find the time to sit quietly for a couple minutes during the day and touch my arms and face where I feel the coiled up tightness. That physical connection often makes it feel better within seconds, and helps me feel less afraid of it. Yep. That layer of my body feels tight. And here I am. And everything’s okay.
  2. Trying to control things makes it worse. When I nurse baby C in the early morning between 5 and 7, I try and get one or two of his infinite burps out of him and then put him back down to sleep in the co-sleeper. Then I creep over to my side of the bed and lay down. And then I find that I’m barely breathing because I’m trying to disappear any possible sound I might make for fear of waking anyone up. I lay there, in whatever strange position I landed, worried about rustling the covers because I might wake AJ or the baby. I flinch when I hear a blunt thud –is Jo waking up? Is he going to burst in the door with his new helicopter and wake up the baby? Shockingly, being in a state of hyper-awareness and frozen silence does not help me get back to sleep. And on those rare and blessed mornings when everyone else actually sleeps till 7:30, it would be lovely to be sleeping myself or at the very least resting and relaxed in bed. So I’ve trying to breathe a lot more deeply in the morning, and, god forbid, let myself make some noise. I walk around like a normal person who takes up actual space. I even flush the toilet. If I wake someone up, so be it. We’ll figure it out. Cause its not worth the emotional and physical toll it takes to try to make myself so small and silent. And even when I barely breathe and tip toe around, they still wake up sometimes.
  3. Simplicity rules.

I might be am trying to make myself feel better with all these lists. Groping for some sort of structure in the midst of the soupy uncertainty of my days and hours. Here’s the deal–I don’t know if I’m okay. Sometimes I feel brave. Others, I’m scared and defeated. Either way, I have two boys in my care, and I’m still feeding them and smiling at them and trying to find ways to maintain an environment of safety when one of them (take a guess) rages in his little kinetic body and wants nothing more than to hit, kick and throw things at me. At any moment, I can’t say how my seretonin-challenged brain is going to react to all of this, but I do know its flipping out sometimes. I’m just hoping I can stay above water.

It’s not about winning or losing

One of the hardest things about the dance I’ve been doing with my depression over the last month is that I feel like I came out the loser in some sort of competition I didn’t even know I entered.

I was so hoping that this time I’d be able to set things up in just the right way to not have to experience this. Enough meals in the freezer, connections with friends, supplements in their little day of the week cubes–enough preparation and I could just avoid having to feel the feelings that are hardest for me.

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What happened to land me here? Things were going so well. I was sleeping (and still am!). Baby C is still so much easier than J was. I’m still taking all the fish oil and vitamin d and placenta pills.

There are a whole bunch of stories I could tell, theories that I have for why I started feeling depressed in the first place. In the end, though, it doesn’t really matter. Because about a month ago, right when I wrote this post, the flat, heaviness that is my depression started to roll in.

After a week of feeling its ebb and flow, I opted to go back on my Zoloft. That was a hard day–not unlike this day, before baby C was born when I had to let go of having him at home and pack for the hospital. My decision to go the pharmaceutical route again was another moment of surrendering to reality. I cried to my dear friend M on the phone, saying, “I hate feeling this way.” And she said, “Well, you don’t have to for long.” The truth of that statement was sobering. There is something I can take that helps this feeling go away and helps me perform the myriad duties that my children and life require of me. So why was I feeling so resistant to filling my prescription?

Some time since I stopped taking the Zoloft that helped me cope with J’s infancy, my brain decided that if I didn’t need the Zoloft this time that I would win.

After turning that thought over a few times and recognizing it as a complete piece of crap, I started accepting reality. I needed and wanted help.

So my little green pills are back. And they’re helping. And I feel really good about making that decision to help myself and, in effect, the people I love, so that I don’t get so stuck in my weepy, catatonic, existential place. It’s a relief all around.

Today also happens to be Jo’s 4th birthday, and the marker of the day I became a mother. Happy birthday, little weasel. And happy birthday to me.

On being tipsy and resenting children and Eckhart Tolle

My nearly 4-year-old J has really been getting to me lately. God love him, he knows how to push my buttons. (Perhaps anyone’s buttons–because really, who likes being communicated with in a steady stream of whiiiINE?)

I’ve found myself wishing, at times, that I had a different child. One less kinetic, less fiery. One less interested in turning every object into a weapon. I’ll take that boy over there, the one talking to himself while he colors at the table, absorbed. Or that little girl, sitting in her mom’s lap, watching the other kids at the park.

As luck would have it, I’ve started leafing through my still unread copy of The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. I’ve had previous love affairs with Eckhart, but the last few years, I’ve found him so hard to relate to. Does he ever wear colors? Or burst out laughing? Or swear? Is he really a person? Or just a little alien elf, ported down on earth to write unnervingly insightful books and high five Oprah?

Anyhow, I stumbled into this:

Place your attention on feeling the emotion, and check whether your mind is holding on to a grievance pattern such as blame, self-pity, or resentment that is feeding the emotion. If that is the case, it means that you haven’t forgiven. Non-forgiveness is often toward another person or yourself, but it may just as well be toward any situation or condition–past, present, or future– that your mind refuses to accept… Forgiveness is to relinquish your grievance and so to let go of grief. It happens naturally once you realize that your grievance seres no purpose except to strengthen a false sense of self. Forgiveness is to offer no resistance to life–to allow life to live through you…The moment you truly forgive, you have reclaimed your power from the mind. The mind cannot forgive. Only you can. You become present, you enter your body, you feel the vibrant peace and stillness that emanate from Being.

Thank you, Eckhart, for this life-altering little nugget. You may be a strange, impish man with a monotone voice who wears too much beige, but damn, you’re good.

This whole forgiveness thing helps me understand a momentary break from my resentment towards J that I had last night:

After the 35th whiny intonation about why the chalk road I was drawing needed to be longer or orange or “more crazy,” I poured myself a nice big glass of wine.

I had a few sips. And I felt a little less resentment over the fact that I was squatting in our driveway, maintaining a slight jiggle to to keep baby C asleep in the moby wrap, and managing by some feat of flexibility and balance to draw a road for J’s dump trucks and dragons with teeth and spikes.

Halfway through the glass, I was actually enjoying J. Well, first, I was angry because I couldn’t find him, and was ready to enforce the rule about staying on our side of the white fence. And then I saw a rustling in the grass on the little planted strip between the sidewalk and the road. There he was, all nestled down, staring up at the golden seed pods arcing into the sky.

JinGrass

I had done the same thing as a child. I followed our black and white manx cat, Dolly, up a grassy hill near our garage and found her in a perfectly soft and matted cove in the tall grass. I crawled in after her, layed down, and had that dreamy feeling of being underwater, light filtering down through the green.

The nest in the grass that J had found was a few feet beyond The White Fence border past which he is not supposed to go unless he asks. But in that moment, in the glow of the wine and my childhood memory, I just connected with him.

As we smiled at each other and talked about how beautiful the grass was, I felt less angry, less resentful, less a beast of burden.

I don’t know how Eckhart would feel about this, but I think the wine helped me forgive. I think the wine helped me get out of my incessant mental chatter stream about all the really good reasons I have to feel resentful towards J. And I was able to just see him. And be there. And see how beautiful he was all nestled down under a grassy sky.

On empathy, and how it helps me and my oldest son

J’s most common response when baby C cries is to furl his brow, put his hands over his ears and start screaming himself.  I started by trying to explain to J how it would actually be in his best interest to stay quiet, since his screaming would probably only make C cry more. That explanation didn’t get much traction.

So I’ve been trying to connect with J about it.

I don’t like it when he cries either. It’s loud, huh?

Empathizing with him like this has been relieving some of my pent up anxiety, and I’ve realized how much J and I have in common here. I really don’t like it either. And if I weren’t commissioned as the caretaker in this scenario, I might be moved to go for the screaming option too.

I’ve also been taking the empathy a step further, thanks to some advice from my dreamy therapist. She recommended that I try and stretch J’s awareness, and point out that while he feels mad right now that C is crying, he also feels love for C sometimes too.

I’ve been saying stuff like this:

I see you’re feeling really angry that C is crying. I don’t like it when he cries either. Remember this morning when you were playing with C and laughing? Isn’t it crazy that you feel angry at him right now and that you also felt all that love this morning?

Lo and behold, when I’m saying this stuff to him, it reminds me of the same thing–to see things in terms of both/and rather than either/or.

Hey there, self, I see that you’re feeling scared that you’ve been up for 2 hours in the middle of the night trying to get C to go to sleep. And now you’re wondering if the decision to have him was a huge mistake. Remember when you were taking a shower the other day and you thought that having C might be the best thing you’ve ever done? Well, both things are true.

Both things are true.

And if I can just take a breath and stick with my life for another 5 minutes or 10 hours or week, the feeling I’m having will change into another and another and another. And they’ll all be true.

Yesterday, J stopped me in my tracks as we were talking again about C’s crying. He said (in that wonderfully casual and earnest way that only he can), “I love him when he’s crying too.”

Well, knock me over and call me Nancy. He gets it. The bigger we make the space, the more feelings can fit in.

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Photo by BugMan50

We are expansive enough to feel upset and loving at the same time. Or frustrated and hopeful. Or scared and excited.

Hopefully I can remember the same thing the next time I’m awake and exhausted in the wee hours.

How I came to love the hospital birth that I didn’t want, Part 2

We’re picking up, right where I left off last time–in the hospital, having rhythmic and mild contractions after taking Misoprostol and feeling vindicated for choosing to be induced after the baby’s heart decelerations returned with my contractions. Between the oxygen and IV fluids they gave me, the baby recovered beautifully, and we all tucked in for some sleep around midnight.

(In the event none of this makes sense to you and/or you’d like to know the back story, here’s Part 1, in all its glory.)

Four hours after I took Misoprostol, the doctor suggested that we add Pitocin to my IV drip. My cervix had dilated to 2.5 centimeters with the help of the Miso, and Pitocin would likely continue that process. If the baby had more decelerations, we could always turn the Pitocin down or completely off (which is not an option with the Misoprostol pills). She made this suggestion at 2:00 am.  My partner, A, asked her if we could start the Pitocin in the morning, after more sleep and some breakfast. “Sure,” she replied, casually.  And with that, he earned me 4 hours of sleep and a big plate of eggs, bacon and toast to fuel my labor.

(Why a doctor who specializes in helping women have babies would not think of this small adjustment on her own, I’ll never know. But I’ve found in my own births and as a doula that when you ask if you can have more time to make a decision or, say, a few hours sleep, or some food before engaging in one of the most taxing experiences known to human kind, the doctor often says “Sure.”)

My doula, C showed up at 9:00 am. We started Pitocin at 9:45, and contractions were strong enough that I wanted to get out of bed by 11. My preferred method for coping with contractions: I wanted to be on the birth ball, leaning back into someone. With each contraction, I would go limp and slump forward into a still, silent lump. And then I would just tunnel into my uterus. The center of all that pain and energy and power. I would think of lightening.

I’d envision this.

Ixchel

It’s a card from a deck of goddess cards my friend A gave me—and when I’m feeling particularly lost or confused, I’ll draw one. So that’s what I did before we started the Pitocin. I happened to draw the Mayan goddess of childbirth, Ixchel (whose name I still don’t know how to pronounce). Score.

Between contractions I felt pretty blissed out. I’d look around at my midwife, my doula, the nurses and tell them all how beautiful they were. At one point, I smiled and cooed, “I love pitocin.” (I’d also like to mention that I knew to look for the bliss between contractions because of Nancy Bardacke’s masterful way of explaining labor in pages 86-89 of her book, Mindful Birthing.)

When contractions got stronger, I got into the shower with A and did my whole birth-ball-still-and-silent thing. When we got out of the shower at 2:35 pm, I confessed to my doula that I was starting to want the labor to be over—and she said, “Yeah, since you got into the shower your contractions have started to space out a bit, so I think you’re having more time to think.” Somehow, that helped.

Ten minutes later, at 2:45, they checked me, and my cervix was dilated to 5 cm. I know better than most that dilation numbers are meaningless–women can stay at 5 cm for 10 hours or go from 5 cm to having a baby in their arms in 30 minutes–but I was still deflated. Then I had a fierce contraction while I was lying in the bed. It wrapped all the way around my hips and down my legs. When it subsided, I told my doula, “That one made me want an epidural.”

With that, I got out of the bed, back on the ball, and thus began the “never-ending contractions” portion of my labor. They rolled in, one after another, hardly a break between. And my still, silent meditation became the still, bellowing moose meditation. It was mind-blowing. To be certain, there was no time to think between contractions.

Fifty minutes after my 5 cm cervical check, and I heard my own power moans turn into pushy grunts. With the first mammoth grunt, my water broke. My midwife laughed and said, “The baby’s right there,” and I reached down and felt the wet toadstool squish of head. In the next few moments, in the stillness between contractions, and as I felt my body gathering up its power into pushing the baby out, an earth-shaking awe flooded my senses. It was as close to terror as I’ve ever been without being terrified. I was laying back, head turned to the side. I could see my doula’s blue eyes and the black plastic side of the computer screen next to me. My eyes were focused to the tiniest pinpoint and wide, all-encompassing, to take in the gravity of the timeless, massive, awe-inspiring place where I was.  My body trembled on the edge and at the center of a shocking and immense moment beyond time.

I pushed with my own instinct and then with the urgings of my midwife. And in 6 minutes, I felt this immensely hard, huge, lumpy head fill up and then come out of my vagina. (There’s really no other way to put it.) And then I pushed out a shoulder. And then I opened my eyes and reached down to grab this warm slippery thing, and bring his body up to my chest.

And that’s how it happened.

Had I known beforehand that this is the birth I would have–in the hospital, induced, pitocin, the works–I would have cringed with disappointment and sadness. On this side of things, I feel aglow and triumphant. What a tumble into the space of letting go! Once I was able to shed my own hopes and expectations, I was just left with what was:

  • my steady and balanced partner A, who should really consider moonlighting as a doula
  • the doula of my dreams, C, who helped me through with her presence and humor
  • my midwife, with her remarkable skill and empathy
  • a rotating array of hospital nurses, midwives and obstetricians, all of whom listened and worked with us towards the birth we wanted
  • baby C’s incredible body
  • my incredible body

It was a beautiful birth.

CsBirth
Cbirth2Csbirth3

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