Friday, April 30, 2010

Tales: Lillian's Birth Story- She's One of Those People, She's Always Gotta Be Different

Lillian's pregnancy was the opposite of Bekah's in that I suspected it the moment I conceived. I was late right away so when I started having very bad morning sickness there was no mistaking it for a "weird flu." I had had it with my first 3 pregnancies but this was even worse. I tried just about anything over the course of the pregnancy to make the relentless nausea, fatigue, and headaches go away.

I started trying the usual things I do- eating small frequent meals of whatever I can stomach at the time and eating a lot of protein.

I was still having trouble functioning with the constant overwhelming feeling of sickness so I tried acupuncture. I had success with acupuncture for migraines. Some of the points were so sore that I bled, something that had never happened before. Since the acupuncture seemed to help a bit I started wearing sea sickness acupressure bands constantly. The only time I would take them off was in the shower or if they got so sore I bruised.

I had to be even more aware of what I was eating and when. I couldn't drink water in the morning or early afternoon. I had to eat about every 20 minutes, usually high protein, just to take the edge off of the unrelenting nausea. I drank a little soda to settle my tummy but I could only drink it with crushed ice. I couldn't eat bland food, like crackers. People's suggestion that I just eat some crackers and drink ginger-ale made me laugh or cry, depending on the day.

It got so bad that the smell of the water, not just shampoo or soap, but the actual water would make me throw up in the shower. I carried a bag with me everywhere I went in case I had to throw up. I cried a great deal of the time because I felt so bad. At one point my back-up midwife (a CNM) wrote me a prescription for Reglan to control the nausea. I never filled it.

I read about hyperemisis gravidarum and just reading stories helped a lot. I never had to be hospitalized for dehydration, though I did come close. The physical and emotional feelings from the extreme, relentless nausea led me to contemplate all sorts of horrible solutions to end my misery.

It was an unusually hot summer in Massachusetts and in addition to working full-time at my paint-your-own pottery studio, I was bringing my homeschooled oldest son into Cambridge by train every morning to go to camp at the Museum of Science and another camp at Boston Dance Company. It was extremely difficult while dealing with morning sickness.
One day I took ballet class with him at Boston Dance Company which actually helped temporarily. It was fun and funny to take class again with the former artistic director of the ballet company I was dancing with when I got pregnant with Felix.

In spite of the debilitating morning sickness, I managed to keep the pregnancy a secret while my sister, who worked at the pottery studio with me, contemplated having a 3rd baby. I actually encouraged her to have another baby because I didn't want my pregnancy to be a reason for her to hold off on having another child. I just figured we'd work out the logistics of running the store somehow. My sister did get pregnant, and then she found out I was pregnant too.

My daughter Bekah nursed throughout the whole pregnancy. She really loved to nurse! When I was about mid-pregnancy I developed yeast in my breasts. It is painful and a long process getting rid of it. In addition to making some diet and lifestyle changes, I used gentian violet. Bekah did not like the color or taste. She said the gentian violet was "spicy." She stopped nursing for 3 weeks while I was treating myself for the yeast. She slowly started up again after the purple was gone, and then really got interested after Lillian was born and there was more milk.

After having my last 2 babies at 36 weeks, I thought I would have another preterm birth. I had several risk factors too- short cervix, evaluation for preterm labor at 26 weeks, excessive walking and standing on my feet all day. However I made it to 36 weeks and celebrated by making a belly cast. Frankie started asking me when the baby would "crack out."

My sister and I also had the best baby shower ever around this time. We went to the fabric store and each picked out fabric to make a baby quilt. We cut the fabric into squares and had all of our friends and family decorate squares to be sewn into the baby quilts. We also asked everybody to bring a silver charm representing their hopes for the babies.
At the shower my sister and I each had beads we had picked out that we strung into necklaces with the charms. I continued to wear my necklace throughout the rest of my pregnancy. Guests also brought their favorite children's books to give to each baby. We had a tea theme and gave out goody filled tea cups as favors. We had a great time and I was elated that I had gotten in everything I ever wanted in a baby shower.

I figured I would give birth soon after the shower since I only expected to get to 36 weeks. I had a lot of work at the pottery studio and I was taking a local Family Strengthening workshop. I had a big project due painting platters for Epiphany School, a local Episcopal middle school. I wanted to complete the order of 30 platters before giving birth. I just kept painting, glazing, and firing as I got to 37 weeks, 38 weeks, 39 weeks and then finally reaching my "due date" at 40 weeks.

I only had 2 platters left to finish at 40 weeks 2 days. I worked all day at the store and finished painting and glazing the last 2 platters. I loaded them into the kiln and walked over to my acupuncturist's office about a 1/2 mile away. I couldn't believe I was actually getting "Chinese take-out" needles put in to encourage labor. The extra small flexible needles were held in place with round band aids on spleen 6 and great eliminator points on both sides of my body. They could stay there for a week and then be replaced with new ones.

After I had the needles put in I picked up a couple pizzas for dinner and walked the mile to my house. It was snowing out, but just lightly. It was just enough to make the town look magical. I often think that Concord looks so beautiful that it is surreal.

Back at home my husband discussed a birth request with me. He said he was tired at the other births because my water had broken in the middle of the night before he had a chance to sleep at all. He asked that my water not break until about 6am so he could be more rested. I laughed and told him that that wasn't something that I could control.

It was a Friday. Since all of my children had been born on a Tuesday so far, I figured that I wouldn't go into labor for a few days. I went to sleep early so that I could be rested up for work the next day. My in-laws were also coming to visit. They had been waiting until the baby was born but this was their last weekend they could come, so they decided to come anyway. We were all hoping the baby would be born during their visit.

I woke up suddenly at 5:45am when my water broke. I waited until 6am to wake up my husband Frank. He couldn't believe that I actually did it; I actually granted his wish for a 6am start to labor. I couldn't believe I was in labor on a Saturday instead of a Tuesday. Frank's parents and sister, Christine, were heading out from New York at around the same time. I wondered if they would arrive while I was still in labor.

We called our midwife to head over but at first there was no real urgency. Pretty quickly after I hung up the phone my contractions became intense and close together. I sat on the birthing ball breathing and low moaning to get through the contractions. By the time our midwife called her assistant and started heading over I was unable to talk through the near constant contractions. It was clear I was in transition. It was close to 8am.

Frank had planned a webcast of the birth to share with family and friends but since his family was already on the way over he put the idea on hold. Things were moving very fast and he had a lot to set up. After already being through one homebirth he knew exactly what to do. He turned the heat up, put the foil wrapped blankets in the oven, put the plastic sheets on the bed with old sheets on top, put some waterproof underpads on the bed, poured me some Gatorade, started boiling water to sterilize instruments, and started getting out the birth supplies, crock pot, and cookie sheet to hold the supplies. He also set up the video camera.

We had called my aunt to head over and she arrived at about the same time as both midwives. They were all grateful that Frank had done so much set up because I was sounding like I needed to push. I was shaking. My contractions had slowed down and I was in-between the intensity of transition and real pushing. I was feeling like I needed to push but was holding back until the urge was really strong.

I was on my husband's side of the bed in a semi-reclining position. Frank's nonchalant attitude kept cracking me up. I commented on the intensity of the labor.

At one point my midwife checked my daughter's heart rate with the Doppler and I could hear that it was very slow. It was clear it was her heartbeat and not mine. I wish that I didn't hear it for myself because it took me from "labor land" straight into my head. Labor gets painful when you are too "in your head," especially when there is also fear involved. I think, for the mother, labor is meant to be more on an instinctual level rather than a cognitive one.

My midwife asked me to turn onto my side to push. The act of moving and this new position brought up the intensity of labor. I prefer to give birth semi-reclining. I think the reason I instinctively choose this position is that it keeps the pushing stage at a slow to moderate pace making it more comfortable.
When I turned to my side, the contractions started coming faster and the baby moved through the birth canal faster than the slower forward and back pushing stage of my last 2 births. Even Frankie's 2 hour labor had a slow and controlled pushing stage. 

The intensity of the pushing was in sharp contrast to the Latin Lullaby CD that was playing in the background. I clutched the quilt made by family and friends. We had decided Frank would catch this time so he left the room to wash his hands as Lillian started to crown. 
Frank cheered me on as he guided Lillian's slippery body out and onto my chest. He was as elated and energized as I was after what seemed to me the most collaborative event the 2 of us have ever experienced together. It was 9:03am, a little over 3 hours after my water broke.

Lillian had no vernix left and her skin was dry and starting to peel a little. She weighed 8 lbs 8 ozs and had lots of dark hair. The kids all came upstairs to see her before the placenta even came out. My sister stopped by to see her on her way into the studio and the midwives were still filling out paperwork when my in-laws arrived.

While doing some online research on the Continuum Concept, a book I had read that really resonated with me, I came across some information on Natural Infant Hygiene, also known as Elimination Communication (EC). I had just finished reading Diaper Free! The Gentle Wisdom of Natural Infant Hygiene just before Lillian's birth. I decided I wanted to start right away. When the midwife asked if we wanted diapers on Lillian I said "no." The first time I offered Lillian the potty she peed.

Lillian came to the pottery studio with me starting just before her cousin, my nephew, Elessar was born 2 months later. She nursed, slept, pottied, and was carried in a sling all day 5 days a week at the studio until we had to close when she was 6 months old.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Tips: Getting Started with Elimination Communication

Elimination Communication (EC) is an alternative to full-time diapering where a caregiver responds to the instinctive signals babies give signaling their need to eliminate. Caregivers offer babies a potty, toilet, or other appropriate place to eliminate when one of these signals is noticed. Caregivers can also use timing (e.g. offering just upon waking) and intuition (feeling like the baby needs to eliminate) to determine when to offer their baby a chance to potty.

The first step in starting EC is the awareness that it is possible and that it is not early potty training. It is simply responding to a need in the same way a caregiver responds to hunger or sleep cues. Why would babies be born with the ability to express the need for hunger or sleep but not the ability to express the need to eliminate?

Since our culture has largely lost touch with the recognizing signs of impending, elimination many parents are confused with how to start, or feel it will be too time consuming. There are some simple steps that can be taken to help caregivers get started with EC.

Use Every Opportunity
Many parents start with a period of observation to become more familiar with their baby's signals, but you can also start by offering at the most likely times such as just upon waking, during or after nursing, and at diaper changes. The excitement generated by starting to "catch" can provide the momentum to keep going. EC is easier to understand once you start catching and communicating.

Use Cloth Diapers, Training Pants or Underwear
Using some form of cloth "back-up" helps your baby to stay aware of the feeling of being wet. Even when using disposable diapers slipping a piece of a washcloth or other similar piece of fabric inside the diaper can help keep a baby in touch with the feeling of wetness.

Use a "Matter-of-Fact" Approach
When first starting EC the first few catches can be very exciting, but for babies it is the expectation they are born with. Babies expect their signals that they need to eliminate to be responded to with the chance to eliminate away from their bodies. Well-meaning excitement and praise can be confusing to babies and leave them with the impression that they've done something wrong. If they are only doing what babies are supposed to do, why is there so much excitement?

EC does not work well when stress is involved. The focus should not be on the number of catches, or even on EC as a bonding activity. Bonding is something that takes place over a period of time as a parent cares for a baby in a variety of ways. When one single practice is emphasized, whether it is breastfeeding or EC, as a way to bond it can create more pressure on parents. EC simply offers another caregiving tool.

Get Information and Support
EC is the modern adaptation of an ancient practice common to an entire community. It was ingrained through observation and practice and was as matter-of-fact as eating. A parent only had to look to any other member of the community for support, and didn't have the stress of being accused of practicing EC out of a motivation to be a "super parent".

In our modern culture we have lost touch with the community aspect of EC. Support organizations, such as DiaperFreeBaby, are filling this void. DiaperFreeBaby has in-person as well as virtual support. They have a DiaperFreeBaby Shop and a free newsletter.

DiaperFreeBaby also has a getting started with EC program and website called The DiaperFreeChallenge(TM).

Make It Your Own
I will admit it...I watch American Idol. I just got finished watching it tonight. Anyone who watches it knows that most of the judges are constantly pleading with contestants to "make it their own". On American Idol they are talking about giving the songs their own unique twist. In the case of EC I am offering it as a reminder that the process is a journey that is a little different for each family. We live in a melting-pot culture which gives us the freedom to parent a variety of ways. EC isn't a set of rules to be followed exactly. There shouldn't be stress about doing it the "right way".

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Tales: Rebekah's Birth Story- The Unexpected

When my 2nd child, Frankie, was a year old I got my period for the first time since his birth. It seemed like a regular period so when I started feeling sick a couple of weeks later I thought I had a weird flu. I say "weird" because I was nauseous but eating a lot of protein, especially several tuna sandwiches at once, made me feel better. Typical for my morning sickness, but not for a stomach bug.

I missed my next period and took a pregnancy test. The test came out positive so I made an appointment with my midwife. I thought I might be pregnant with twins because I was already feeling so much morning sickness. When I went for my appointment my midwife said I was bigger than I should be for 7 weeks. I was still thinking twins. She used a doppler to find the heartbeat and said it was stronger than a 7 week, more like a ten week. She ordered an ultrasound for the next week.

The ultrasound revealed that I was 12 weeks along, that there was only one baby, and that I had a low lying placenta and partial placenta previa. I wanted a homebirth this time and wondered if the low lying placenta would change that.

I found a well respected local homebirth midwife through referrals and interviews. Neither of my midwives, CPM or CNM, were concerned about the placenta because they felt it would move up high enough as my uterus grew with the pregnancy. I was checked throughout the pregnancy and sure enough the placenta did move up high enough.

I was still nursing Frankie but he had started biting me. It was likely due to teething, my lowered milk supply, and changes in the taste of the milk due to pregnancy. He continued to nurse until he was 1 1/2, a couple of months before the birth.

Right around the same time Frankie weaned, I developed sciatica. I had started having back pain but what really "did it" was stepping into one of those bead carts that they have in doctor's office waiting rooms. I had one on wheels at my pottery painting store. Someone left it in the walkway and I stepped right into it getting my foot stuck. Because it was on wheels it zoomed forward with my foot in it. In my effort to not fall completely on the ground, I pulled my back out. I had been walking to work everyday but now had to get rides for 6 weeks because it was agonizing to walk or stand.

Once, when I still couldn't walk, we made a trip to a department store. My husband borrowed a wheel chair for me to use and found it very amusing to wheel me into things or leave me facing a wall. Still, it was a fun trip!

Just as I started being able to walk again I fell on the icy sidewalk outside of my store. It was now December and I was rushing around getting ready for Christmas. The store was always very busy in November and December.

I had taken Lamaze classes with my first and Bradley with my second so this time I decided to try Birthing From Within. I loved all the art and we used clay from my pottery painting store in the class. I started hosting the clay portion of the local BFW classes in my studio.

At some point my primary care doctor decided I should have an internal exam to see if I was dilated because of my early birth last time. My homebirth midwife was not happy about it. She doesn't routinely do internal exams because they are unnecessary, can introduce infection, and can stimulate birth.

Christmas finally came! I felt weird the moment I woke up. I was very tired and crabby. I told my mother-in-law that I thought the baby would be born the next day. I was only 36 weeks but my last baby was born at 36 weeks. The next day was a Tuesday too and my other two children had been born on Tuesdays.

I continued to feel weird the whole day. We went to my parents house for dinner and present opening. When I didn't eat anything off of the dessert table everybody really knew something was up. I went home exhausted but used my massaging foot bath before going to bed. My husband, Frank, was still putting presents away and cleaning up when my water broke at 3am.

We called the midwife though Frank still thought the baby wouldn't be born until January. I had just had an appointment and our midwife said she felt comfortable with her being born early at home. We also called my aunt, an RN, to come over to help.

When my midwife arrived none of her equipment would work because it was so cold outside. We had to wait until it warmed up. She took my temperature and it was elevated. We discussed going to the hospital but decided it was just due to the extreme heat in my bedroom. It was over 80 degrees in my room.

I thought I would have another fast birth, but instead I labored slowly. It was a much different experience. Each contraction was easy to get through and I was walking around and socializing. I called my sister and my parents and planned for my mom to come over with my little brother. My brother was 11 years old, just like my oldest son. My oldest was away with his dad, my ex-husband, for the Christmas break. Every time I talked on the phone my labor slowed. Eventually my midwife said I shouldn't talk on the phone anymore.

I continued to labor and then felt like getting in the shower. My mom still wasn't there yet and I was starting to get nervous about having a homebirth. Really, I think I was just in transition. I was still in the shower feeling "pushy" when my mom got there. As soon as I heard her walk in the door downstairs I felt the urge to go to my bed to push. I picked a spot on my husband's side in a semi-reclining position.

I was in the bedroom with Frank, 2 midwives, and my aunt. Downstairs my mom,11 year old brother, and my 20 month old son, Frankie were in the living room. Frank had set up a video camera that broadcast the birth live on the living room television.

The pushing stage was no different from the rest of the labor, calm and relaxed. It was a huge contrast to my two hospital births. Bekah was born at 11:43am on December 26th, 2000, weighing 6 lbs 10 ozs. She was my 3rd Tuesday birth. She was covered in vernix and very sticky. She nursed immediately and then peed on me.

She was a very relaxed girl who loved to sleep. She would sleep for 6 hour stretches during the day. I had to wake her up to nurse sometimes. We immediately started doing sunbaths to keep jaundice in check.

My husband and I hadn't agreed on a name yet. I stayed upstairs recovering while Frank took care of the older kids and the house. He brought me up meals and plenty of water. He made up fancy trays of food with flowers. We communicated mostly by walkie talkie and spent most of the time discussing names. At one point an unknown person cut in on our conversation and suggested the name Emily.

The recovery was much easier and more relaxing than being in the hospital. Unfortunately, there was also a major shooting the day she was born, though not to the same degree as Columbine on the day Frankie was born. It was an office shooting in Wakefield, MA.

Bekah started coming to the store with me at 3 weeks old. She would sleep at the store in a sling or in car seat. The louder the store the longer she slept. She was able to nurse in the sling while I worked. People would think she was sleeping and would be surprised to find her nursing when they peeked inside the sling.


We finally decided on her name when she was a month old, Rebekah. Around this time we also decided to have a Red Egg Party to celebrate her arrival. It is a Chinese custom that we borrowed. Friends and family brought different Chinese dishes with an explanation of the significance of the dish- long noodles for a long life, for example. They also brought traditional Red Egg Party gifts such as clothing, money, and stuffed animals. As party favors we had ceramic egg boxes and lucky money envelopes.


Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Tales: Frankie's Birth Story- Just In Case

I got pregnant with Frankie less than a year after I opened my paint-your-own pottery business, Thoreau 'N' Clay, in Concord, MA. I was working long hours, lifting heavy objects, standing on my feet all day, and walking a lot. We live car free so I was walking to work everyday.

I had read Spiritual Midwifery by Ina May Gaskin and had decided to have a midwife attended birth this time. My insurance would not cover homebirths. My local hospital, Emerson Hospital, did not have midwives so I found a midwifery practice at a nearby hospital on my train line.

When I was 32 weeks pregnant we took a trip to New York to attend a friend's wedding. It was a tough trip by public transportation. My husband was in the wedding party so he had a lot of obligations. I was left on my own a lot.

After the wedding, just as we started to head home, I started bleeding. We didn't know if I would make it all the way back to Massachusetts by public transportation, about a 6 hour trip.

Carle Place, NY train station
 As we stood at the Carle Place, NY train station, we thought about going to a local hospital. In the end, I decided I just wanted to get back to my midwives as soon as possible. We made it back home and the bleeding and cramping stopped.

[Side note: Thirteen years later we moved to New York a couple blocks from the Carle Place train station, and about 1 mile from this wedding venue]

I started taking prenatal exercise classes and found out about Bradley childbirth classes there. I decided to take Bradley classes even though I had already given birth once. By the time I found a class I could get to by public transportation, there wasn't enough time to complete the 12 weeks of classes before my "due date." We started taking the classes anyway and the instructor said she could do an accelerated version. Still, we spent one whole class discussing the benefits of eggs. That was our last class before I started having bloody show at 35 weeks.

I went in to see one of my midwives to get checked out. It was determined that my water hadn't broken but she was concerned about the bleeding. She put me on "house arrest" also known as modified bed rest. I skipped my Bradley class that afternoon and later that night I had some contractions. I spent the entire time I was having contractions trying to convince my husband things were really starting. They weren't at all painful but I could tell that we were having a baby sooner rather than later. My husband still thought it wouldn't be for another month.

By morning the contractions had stopped. It was Patriot's Day in Concord. My oldest son was marching in the parade with the Concord Museum. I got a ride to the parade so I didn't have to walk.

I had loose ends I needed to tie-up. I made a bank deposit and took care of some important business at my store. My parents and brother were in Concord for the parade and they made a trip to Kimball's Farm for banana splits. I went along for the ride and split a split with them.

I was extremely tired when I got home. I could barely eat dinner. I went to bed early. I woke up abruptly at 3:15am when my water broke. I wasn't having any contractions, at least none that I could feel, but I was shivering uncontrollably. We called the midwife on call and she said that I should stay home for a while since I wasn't having contractions yet. I said I was nervous since the baby was early and I wanted to get to the hospital "just in case." I wanted a chance to get settled in too. She said it would be okay for me to come in.

Since we don't have a car we had planned for my aunt, who is also an RN, to give us a ride. She was about 20 minutes away. I got ready to go while waiting for her. I started having contractions at around 3:45am as I got dressed. Every time I moved at all I would have another contraction. They were already strong enough that I couldn't talk while I was having one. I had to breathe slowly and focus inward to get through them.

There was a light rain as we left for the hospital, a 15 minute drive away. The contractions continued in the car. At one point I asked my husband and aunt in the front seat why the contractions were so close together. I didn't get an answer.

We got to the hospital and went to the check-in at the ER. There was a man ahead of us with a toe injury. I sat patiently in a wheelchair waiting to be checked in. I was pretty fully in "labor land" by that time and very inwardly focused. Eventually the woman at the check-in figured out how far along in labor I was by how close my low moans were coming. She said that we should go straight up to labor and delivery "just in case." She called up and said that she was sending up a woman in "hard labor."

We tried to get on the elevator but it was broken. I don't actually remember how we got upstairs but I'm guessing we found another one that was working.

I was given a hospital gown to put on but I preferred to stay naked. The nurses ended up just draping it over one knee. I was examined and found to be fully effaced, 8cm dilated, and the baby at a zero station. It was now 4:30am.

I had wanted to have a water birth but they said we didn't have the 45 minutes to fill and heat the tub. It was the day I turned 36 weeks and I hadn't yet gone over my birth plan with my midwife. She read it while I was getting settled in. I did not want to have an IV but they said that because I was only 36 weeks I had to have one "just in case." And even though my beta strep was negative they said I'd have to have antibiotics too "just in case" an infection was causing the early birth. I was also hooked up to fetal monitors which I didn't want.

In the midst of all of this one of the nurses approached me with paperwork to sign giving permission to immediately give my baby the Hepatitis B shot. I have zero memory of the conversation because I was so far into labor by this point. It wasn't until I watched the video later that I found out about it. I was appalled! The nurse said something like "all the babies are doing it." Then to my horror, I saw myself sign the paperwork.

A neonatologist was called in to be at the birth "just in case." He was still half asleep and had some serious bed head going on.

As I started to push, the nurses started counting. My midwife asked them to stop and let me push on my own based on what my body was telling me like I described in my birth plan. At one point there was panic because the fetal monitor was picking up a slow heartbeat. Thankfully, my midwife figured out that the baby had just moved really far down and the monitor was now picking up my heartbeat. Still, they decided to give me oxygen "just in case," something else I didn't want.

The first part of labor was very fast but the pushing part slowed down to the perfect length. It was a nice, slow, controlled birth. Frankie was born at 5:14am on Tuesday, April 20th, my 2nd Tuesday birth. He was immediately put skin-to-skin on my chest. The neonatologist examined him on my chest and we delayed cord clamping and cutting. When the cord stopped pulsing, my husband cut it and the neonatalogist further examined Frankie a few feet away while the placenta came out.

He was 6lbs 5oz and 19" long. Since he was early he had a lot of hair in weird places- on his forehead, on the tops of his ears, on his back and shoulders, etc. Hair on his forehead was at first mistaken for a big bruise.

At some point his blood sugar was tested, something I wasn't aware would be done. I was told it was a little low and he would need some formula. The midwife suggested to the nurses that I nurse him instead. He nursed for a while and his blood sugar had come up just from the nursing. When they brought him back to me after testing his blood sugar again, they told me they had given him a bottle of formula "just in case." I felt like someone had punched me in the stomach!

The hospital had boasted about "rooming in" on the tour. In reality, this wasn't what they encouraged. They tried to keep Frankie in the nursery as much as possible and kept telling me that I wanted to get as much sleep without him as possible. I was too elated immediately after birth to sleep anyway and even later on I couldn't sleep while separated from Frankie.

At one point I went to get him from the nursery and was reprimanded for not having on my hospital issue socks with the safety treads. The nurses said I should know because it was right in the hospital policy manual. I said that I gave birth at 36 weeks, 45 minutes after arriving at the hospital and hadn't been able to read any policies. I was also reprimanded for walking holding Frankie instead of wheeling him in the plastic bucket.

The first night in the hospital Frankie was very agitated. He wouldn't just nurse and sleep peacefully. I had to get up out of bed with him and walk around to calm him down. Every time he heard one of the other babies crying down the hall he would cry too.

My milk came in quickly and Frankie was nursing well. I had noticed he was tongue tied and pointed it out to my midwife. He seemed to be nursing well in spite of it and it wasn't clipped.

Frankie was born on April 20, 1999; the same day as the tragic shootings at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. I remember watching the news coverage while in the hospital. I get very sad and anxious in hospitals anyway, but the sadness of this tragedy was a strange juxtaposition with the elation of birth.


We were finally released from the hospital but Frankie was readmitted the next day for jaundice. The doctor felt his bilirubin level was fine but the nurse talked him into admitting him "just in case." I assumed mothers were readmitted with their babies and I stayed at the hospital in the broom closet of a visitors bedroom. I guess they didn't have the heart to tell me that I wasn't supposed to stay too. It took me a while to figure out that the other mothers whose babies had been readmitted for jaundice were travelling back and forth to the hospital.

Frankie was under bili lights and I pumped milk (a lot of it!) so they wouldn't be tempted to give him another bottle of formula. I made them write it in his chart that he was to get nothing except my milk. I asked that he be taken out of the lights to nurse, even if he used a wallaby to continue light therapy. At one point the nurse brought him to me holding him in her arms. She said he was so frantic that she couldn't bear to keep him the plastic bucket on wheels. She said she never seen such a feisty baby!

Frankie would soak his entire mattress under the bili lights with sweat and pee. The nurses couldn't believe it. His poop started to look like creamed spinach too. They said it was from the bilirubin leaving his body. They gave me some information to read on jaundice. Two pieces of irony hit me immediately- it was printed on yellow paper and it was produced by Ross Laboratories (which explained why it said that my breastmilk was a likely cause of the jaundice).

Finally we were able to go home! It was such a whirlwind birth. People's reactions were that I was lucky for having such a fast birth, but fast births are difficult because of the rapid physical and emotional adjustments.

When Frankie was just 2 weeks old he came to work with me to work a party at the store. I continued to work, both with Frankie and while he stayed home with my husband.

Today Frankie turned 17 years old. Happy Birthday, Frankie! It seems like it was just yesterday.

[Updated: 4/20/2016]

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Tales: Felix's Birth Story- It Never Occurred To Me

I was just 20 years old when I got pregnant with Felix, the same age he is as I write this. Everything is so different when you're 20. I turned 21 when I was 4 months pregnant, right around the same time I performed with the ballet company I was dancing with at the time. It never occurred to me to even think about not performing.

Also, around this time, I started a new job at a maternity/baby clothes store at th hie mall. The first day at work I passed out in the bathroom. I didn't think to mention it to my new boss, I just had some ginger ale and crackers and kept working. I didn't want her to think I couldn't do the job. Within a short period of time, I got promoted to an hourly manager.

As my "due date" approached I continued to work and dance. We were rehearsing for Nutcracker that September and I had just had a long rehearsal on the Saturday before my due date. That Monday, the day before I was "due", I was in a manager's meeting when I started to feel weird. I was having hot and cold flashes. I didn't think to say anything or leave the meeting. The other managers noticed something was going on but must have been in denial as much as I was.

I didn't say anything when all the other managers left me to close that night. Back at the store, I got a hole in my bag of waters. It was a small, high break so it was just a small intermittent trickle. I was having mild contractions too. I was the closing manager and the only key holder in the store so it never occurred to me to leave.

When I got home that night I never said anything about the way I was feeling. I just went to bed. I awoke at 6:30am as my water broke, a lot this time. I went to the bathroom and got some towels to put on the bed because I wasn't going to let this stop me from getting some more sleep. After I got back in bed, my little dog Pippy continued to try to cuddle with me right between my legs. The amniotic fluid waterfall wasn't going to stop him! Somehow he managed to make his 2 pound body feel like 100 pounds as I tried to push him to a drier location. I also had the cat in my bed. The cat, being much more dignified, slept with his head on my pillow and his body under the covers like a human.

I thought I might be having contractions so I started to time anything I felt. I was surprised that they were about 5 minutes apart. I was still living at home with my parents and my bedroom was the only one downstairs. I yelled upstairs that my water broke but when nobody responded, except for the dogs who started to bark, I just waited for everyone to get up.

Two hours later my family started to come downstairs. My mother's first reaction was to call her sister, my aunt, in Rhode Island. Finally I called the hospital and the nurse asked me what my doctor's instructions were for when your water breaks. She said it would be on the instructions I was given at my last appointment. The only problem was that Pippy had eaten that paper. I had to tell her that the dog ate my homework. She laughed and told me just to come in.

The contractions felt a lot stronger and more uncomfortable on the car ride over. It was the first time I felt any discomfort at all. I wasn't in pain though, just that I actually felt the contractions. They checked me out at the hospital and hooked me up to a couple monitors. The nurse asked me when my last contraction was and I said it had been a while. She looked at the monitor and said I had just had one 3 minutes ago. Then she gave me a pubic shave (I know! Can you believe it?). Now I was starting to get uncomfortable. I didn't like all of the unnecessary probing and such.

I really got annoyed when I got an IV. It was put in and I was ordered to walk around. By this time I didn't want to walk around (I know now that my instinct during this point in labor is to lie down and get very introverted). I walked around for a while and then a couple of nurses told me I needed "something" (I'm guessing Stadol) in my IV because my contractions were irregular and I needed to relax. Hmmm, maybe I could have relaxed more if I was allowed to lie still in bed like I wanted. I know now that my contractions often don't become regular in labor anyway.

They started to administer "something" and I screamed for them to stop. I would not let them put anything in the IV. I'm probably the only woman in history to scream that I didn't want drugs in labor. Usually you hear stories about women screaming for drugs in labor, whether they really want them or not.

I was scheduled to work that afternoon so at one point I asked for a phone so I could call out of work. I explained that I couldn't make my shift because I was in labor in between my contractions. At this point I was unable to talk during contractions.

My labor kept going and when it seemed like about time to push one of my doctors finally made an appearance. He checked me and said I only had "a lip" to go. He decided that it would be best to force this lip away so with the next contraction he pushed my cervix to one side. It worked but it hurt a lot. It was one of the most painful parts of labor.

I wanted to try different pushing positions so they brought out the "squatting bar". I used that for a while but it wasn't that comfortable to push. I had heard a lot about how many mothers find pushing to be a relief. That wasn't the case for me. Even though I'd never given birth before something didn't feel quite right.

After 45 minutes of pushing the doctor checked me again and the baby was 1/2 way down the birth canal but he also got a panicked look on his face. He said something about his arm being up over his head and his elbow sticking into me. He tried to move his arm but was afraid he would break his arm or collar bone.

At this point things started moving very quickly and without a lot of communication. I wish they had suggested some different positions for me to get into but instead I was given a shot of Novocaine in my perineum (the most painful part of any labor I've experienced). I was then given an episiotomy and Felix was extracted by vacuum.

Felix was quickly whisked away to an examining table a few feet away. Thankfully he was returned to me a few minutes later but we still missed out on the immediate skin-to-skin contact humans need. He rooted around and I nursed him.

I started rehearsing Nutcracker again when Felix was just 2 weeks old, and I was back to work a couple weeks after that. I performed when he was 10 weeks old. It never occurred to me that I should take more time to rest. I left my job when Felix was a couple months old because they were strangely not very baby or nursing mother friendly, especially for a maternity/baby clothes store.

Felix was a calm and easy-going baby, interesting and artistic child, and has grown into the most amazing person. He is a caring, sensitive, and intelligent deep-thinker who is creative in the most thoughtful way. He will sacrifice himself to help out a friend or family member. He's humble and quietly does without rather than complain. And he is one of the strongest people I know. I'm so proud to have him as a son.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Tips: Preparing To Breastfeed

As a breastfeeding mother and breastfeeding supporter I often get asked how to prepare for breastfeeding. Over the years there has been quite a bit of conflicting advice about what can be done to prepare, everything from rubbing the nipples with a piece of terry cloth to toughen them to nude sunbathing. Really nothing fancy needs to be done but there are a few, maybe unexpected, ways to prepare.

Here are a few tips I've learned along the way.

Surround yourself with other breastfeeding mothers

Breastfeeding is natural but it is still a "learned skill". It helps to see breastfeeding before and during your own breastfeeding experiences. If you don't know any breastfeeding mothers, attend a local La Leche League meeting. There is a well-know story about a gorilla raised in captivity in an Ohio zoo who was unable to nurse her firstborn because she didn't know how. When she was pregnant with her 2nd baby some local La Leche League breastfeeding mothers took turns nursing outside of her cage. She went on to successfully nurse her 2nd baby. It seems even for gorillas breastfeeding is a learned skill.

Keep a positive attitude

Many mothers say "I'm going to try to breastfeed" while they are still pregnant. This attitude sets them up for failure because it implies that there is reason to fail. Our bodies are designed to make milk. The primary reasons for breastfeeding difficulties are things we do to sabotage breastfeeding, whether we mean to or not. While pregnant say "I'm going to breastfeed". There is no reason to assume breastfeeding won't work.

Look for healthcare providers who don't distribute formula samples

Studies show that mothers are highly influenced by formula sample give-aways in hospitals and doctors' offices. This is precisely why the formula companies give away free samples. Look for a doctor or midwife who does not have these samples in his or her office. Choose a birth setting, whether at home, a birth center, or hospital, that does not have formula samples or logo items (name tags, growth charts, medical information fliers, etc). A hospital or birth center with "Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative" status is a good bet because there won't be free formula samples and they will have clear-cut breastfeeding policies and credible breastfeeding support.

Research Information and Consider Your Sources

It seems everybody has an opinion and advice about breastfeeding. With all the conflicting advice out there no advice can be taken at face value. Doctors and other healthcare providers are well trained when it comes to recognizing diseases and illness, but often lack training and knowledge in lactation. Don't be afraid to ask for more information. Find out what sort of training in lactation your doctor has. Ask if there is research or other evidence to back-up the advice. If research is cited find out more about it, especially if it was done by a formula company or if the information looks different when breastfeeding is considered the "norm" instead of formula. If advice doesn't seem right to you, such as being told to wean in order to take a certain medication, ask about alternatives or if a delay in treatment is possible.

Get at least One Good Book on Breastfeeding

It helps to have a book to refer to for any breastfeeding difficulties that arise, and also to read about variations in normal breastfeeding. It can be hard to navigate the many choices but if the book is published or approved by La Leache League then that will always be a good choice. La Leche League is the world's foremost authority on breastfeeding. Most LLL Groups have lending libraries too so that you can review a number of books to find which is best for you.