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Dreadlocks: A Brief History

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You are twenty.

When you mention dreadlocks, people smile thinly. They ask about things, like jobs, like cleanliness, like getting married, and how dreadlocks work in those contexts. “You wouldn’t really want to get married with dreadlocks, would you?” “You would have to shave your head to get rid of them, wouldn’t you?” “Can you have dreadlocks at your job?”

You’re working for a conservative non-profit. You’re the receptionist. You’re the first thing anyone sees when they walk in the door. You’ve already learned enough about expectations to know what set apply to you. You should be pretty. You should be professional. You should be well-kept.

You shouldn’t be rebellious.

So, on your spring break, on the night before St. Patrick’s Day, you and your sister and your dad drive up to Door County. It’s freezing. There is still ice on the Mink River. You bought a flea comb, and sticky, heavy wax. Neither you nor your sister really know what you’re doing, but you do it until five in the morning, and when you wake up, the sun is shining. The day is a little brighter. You have dreadlocks.

You deal with the mess. You twist, and rub, and pick, and wax, and tease. And eventually, after a couple of years, your hair begins to understand. It adapts to its new role. It starts to grow. You cut it several times, and still, it grows.

You see other people start dreads, maintain them, and cut them off. You see women with short, fantastical hair. You wonder if people think less of you because you are not orderly, and you struggle with this wondering. You think about how it would feel to close the scissors over the place where the knots meet your normal hair, and every time, it never feels right. You know you are doing it because you want to be accepted. You want to be easier to contextualize. You want less attention.

A man you know, the guy with the beard who lives in the room above you, passes by your desk when you come back from spring break. He tells you that your hair looks good.

You marry this man.

You marry him in an apple orchard, at the same cabin where all of this started. You marry him on a perfect day, with flowers in your hair, and on the trees, and in your hands.

You fight with him. You share a bed with him. You are shocked to find that some days, you hate him. You talk about leaving him, try on the idea. You decide to stay. Not because of all the work involved in leaving, but because of the work you’ve put into your relationship. You see therapists. You learn how to be honest. And one of the best physical feelings you know of is when he digs his fingers beneath the knots on your scalp and rubs away all the tension. You stay married to this man. You sweat with him, and travel with him, and laugh with him.

One day, you hold a positive pregnancy test in your hand.

You give birth. You have a daughter. She screams. She smiles. She laughs. She rolls over. She crawls. She stands. She holds on to your hand and walks. She talks in her own special language, and once in awhile, she breaks into the bland, universal tongue destined for her, and she calls you Mumma. She chases the pets; the dogchy, the keeety.

You leave one church, and you start another. You make friends. You lose them, and some, you get back. You see friends get married. You see friends divorce. You see friends become parents. You see friends move away.

You move dorm rooms. You move into your first apartment. You move into your first apartment as a married woman. You live in a friend’s house. You live in a duplex. You buy your first house. You paint the walls and till the garden. You meet your neighbors. You get a dog.

You write a novel. You sew your own clothes. You take violin lessons. You learn how to make pottery. You are a receptionist. You are an office manager. You are an executive assistant. You are a church secretary. And finally, you quit. Instead of a job, you go back to school to learn about plants, and you love it.

You see the mountains for the first time. You see the desert. You see the ocean. You leave the country. You camp on the side of a cliff in Hawaii. You wash your dreads in a waterfall. You watch the moon coming through the nylon veil of your tent in the red, ruddy deserts of Utah. You feel the sea breeze in your hair as you look at the green coast of Ireland. You go sledding on a glacier.

You change. You run. You have a baby. Your body rearranges itself. Your cheekbones shift, your weight redistributes. You grow smile lines around your eyes. You pierce your nose. You get your first tattoo.

And then, nearly nine years after that night when you were twenty, you sit there, feeling the pull of your hair, and the itchy, heavy feeling on your scalp, and you think about the scissors again. This time, it feels right. This time, you know. They are too much, now. Too long. Too omnipresent. And though you love them, though you still hold on to the dream of being an old woman with grey dreadlocks, you can finally accept that you are ready for a break.

You sit with the idea. You tell your sister. You tell your husband. You look at short haircuts, and a hot, nervous excitement begins to flare up in your bones.

You schedule an appointment, for after the New Year.

The night before, the man you married loving goes through each loc. He picks out his favorite, and asks if he can cut that one. In the morning, you wake up like you always do, like it’s another day, even though it’s not. You watch your daughter shred a piece of Kleenex and then pile the bits next to you on the bed. You play with her. You look in your closet and wonder what one wears for such an occasion.

You take photos. You look at them, and you can say that you love them, and you will miss them, and whatever will come next will be wonderful.

Your sister is coming to help cut them off. You get nervous. A strange nervous. You can’t figure it out. It’s not regret. It’s not fear. It’s not pure excitement. It’s a sick, shaking nervousness. You drink coffee. You frantically start cleaning. You decide that the Christmas decorations need to be taken down right that minute. You sweep the floors. And finally, you recognize it. It was the same feeling you had when you went back to school. That first day, when you didn’t know how it would be. When you wondered if you would be accepted. And that’s it. You don’t know. You don’t know if you will be beautiful. You don’t know if you will be something other.

Your sister comes. She takes one last photo. You take out the scissor. You cut off the first one, that awkwardly-placed one that always made you a little bit crazy. She cuts one. Her boyfriend cuts one. Your husband cuts off his favorite one. Your daughter plays on the floor with your discarded dreadlocks. And before long, your husband is cutting off the last of them. You are lightheaded. Your balance is off. Your scalp is a mess.

You wash your hair for the first time, it seems. It feels amazing. You put a hat on over the chaos, and go down to the neighborhood you lived in when you were married. You pull the hat off, and laugh, and say, “I just cut my dreadlocks off!” And you get a haircut.

You feel the wind in your hair. The world is cold and bright, and there is nothing in the way of you feeling it just as it is.

You wonder if people know. If, when they look at you, they can tell. They can see the lightness, the empty places where all of the weight used to rest. You try not to look at yourself in windows and mirrors too much.

At the end of the day, you nurse your daughter to sleep, just like you always do.

And you feel beautiful.

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A Girl Named Finn – A Birth Story

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This is a birth story. It is not a story of the zen-like labor-induced state of relaxation that some women claim accompanies the delivery of a child, where there is no mention of fluids or myriad of inescapable, agonizing tensions moving from front to back, ribcage to tailbone. If anyone tells you that labor is blissful, they are delusional. Labor pushes at you gradually, over minutes and hours and sometimes days, shoving you through the wall of muscle memory and pain threshold until you find yourself sprinting, sprinting through a long tunnel and at the end is…well, the end. And your child.

There is no limit to the advice one receives in regards to pregnancy, birth, and child-rearing. I sometimes think that even if a woman had no mothers or sisters or aunties or random female busybodies in her life, she could sit very still and hear the omnipresence of everything that has ever been said on the subject. In my case, let’s begin with examining Advice #1: Your first baby is never on time. This is actually supported by statistical evidence; fewer than 5% of babies are born on their due date. As a result, I anticipated a long, lazy week in which I would spend my newly-freed hours vacuuming a rug here and stitching another baby hat there until my daughter decided to make her entrance into the world.

That didn’t happen. Apparently, she knew that she was expected on a certain day and she made damn sure to arrive on time.

I woke up sometime around 4am on Tuesday, November 25, because no matter which way I turned or twisted, I couldn’t get comfortable. It took me a few moments to realize that this wasn’t a result of my bulging stomach, or a back that hauled around extra pounds for months, or legs that were tired of stairs and squats and stretches. This was something else. I got up and assessed the situation. The first thing that I noticed was that I was leaking fluid. Because I had tested positive for GBS early in my pregnancy, this threw a wrench into my original plan of laboring at home for as long as I could. That’s the downside of working with a hospital. It’s the price I knew I might have to pay for choosing to deliver in a more traditional setting instead of in a birthing center or at home.

Instead of baring myself to the ubiquitous eye of the hospital time clock, I woke Jason up. That man was ready. He whipped out his phone, booted up the contraction timer app, and gallantly sat with his thumb poised over the timer button while I texted Elissa, my doula. Still unsure of what to do about the pesky fluid leak and the impending hospital trip, I stayed in bed for another hour or so. Jason eventually went back to sleep, likely with his thumb still hovering. I timed my own contractions for awhile and came to the conclusion that I was going to follow Birth Advice #2: Women in labor should typically trust their instincts. I didn’t call the hospital. This was confirmed by Elissa’s responding text, which told me that I should do what I was comfortable with.

My contractions were very manageable for most of the morning. Although they were fairly lengthy, they averaged about 5-6 minutes apart. Ideally, we wanted to wait for the “3-1-1” to go in – 3 minutes apart, 1 minute in length, for 1 hour. I filled up the hours of waiting for this to happen by moving from room to room. While Jason continued to sleep, I went into the baby’s room and sat on the yoga ball, looking around at the yellow walls and the baby overalls on hangers and thinking of how simultaneously bizarre and beautiful it was that soon, my daughter would be here in this room. I migrated to the couch in the living room and did some stretches while bent over the arm. When Jason woke up for good, he offered to sit with me and help me work through contractions. I sent him off to his lists and laptop so that he could get some work done. Besides, I was doing well on my own. Our childbirth instructor had passed on several different relaxation techniques, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that I actually remembered them. After showering, I spent a couple of hours in our bedroom, enjoying how clean and organized everything was and laboring on my knees with my head and arms resting on the bed. I went over my memories of canoeing the Platte River in Michigan; the white of the sand, and the absurdity of whole troupes of drunken twenty-somethings with coolers of beer on inner tubes, the sparkling tips of Lake Michigan’s wave flashing like a million tiny smiles up ahead of us…

Birth Advice #3 – labor never really goes how you think it will. At some point, my contractions moved into my back and set up camp there. Not like an overnight dirt-ball camp. More like a week-long glampfest complete with solar showers, pudgy pie makers, and elaborate tents. In other words, they got comfortable, and I got quite uncomfortable. I was starting to feel a bit concerned about the fact that nothing had really changed in terms of timing. I went back out to the couch to be near Jason, Googled the possibility of labor starting and stopping, read multiple online forums about women despairing their way through four-day labors, and timed another round of contractions. They were still long and spaced out, and I was still leaking fluid.

Sometime around two, I felt ready to call the midwife in triage and at least have a conversation with her. What should have been relatively simple – a call to the reception desk and a transfer to triage – turned into a fiasco. To begin with, we have terrible cell phone reception at our house. The receptionist kept asking me to repeat myself. Normally, this is a minor annoyance. When you’re trying to fit in a conversation between back labor contractions, it becomes a major stressor. I’m going to give said receptionist the benefit of the doubt and choose to believe that she must not have heard me accurately when I said, “I’m in labor and would like to talk to the triage midwife.” Because somehow, I ended up waiting on hold for almost ten minutes, only to have my call picked up by the receptionist at the midwife clinic. Again, in faltering, static-ridden, teeth-gritting bursts of words, I explained myself to another receptionist, got put on hold for another ten minutes, and had three or four more contractions. Thinking that a fresh start would solve the problem, I called the main desk again, spoke to the confused receptionist again, and told her that I was in labor, again. She had an uncanny ability for asking me questions at the exact moment a contraction would peak. At some point, Jason took the phone and forcefully said, “Look, my wife is having contractions. She’s IN LABOR. Can we talk to triage already?”

That’s why husbands come in handy.

I think it took me about thirty minutes before I finally talked to the midwife in triage.

“Come on in,” she told me.

This was easier said than done. Jason had to run out and pick up some grocery essentials – good labor food like beef jerky and fresh fruit and coconut water, and I had to finish packing a few last minute things. While he was gone, I managed to drop a mason jar holding Q-tips onto the bathroom floor and strand myself on the rug in my bare feet because the very last thing I wanted to deal with while in labor was cutting a toe on a broken mason jar. Jason had to break me out with the broom when he got back. We left the house just in time for rush hour traffic, and, ironically, a light snowstorm. We attempted taking side streets to get to the hospital and ran into the other 50% of the commuting population attempting the same thing. Somewhere in the run-down neighborhoods between downtown and the north side, while we were stopped at a light, a car went into a slide behind us and came quite close to slamming into our rear bumper.

And, well, contractions.

While we waited in the hospital lobby, a young mother with a six-month old had a lengthy conversation with us about having children, how to not spoil them, her natural-epidural labor, and the importance of using birth control after having a baby. Jason gamely kept the talk going while I stretched my smile over my teeth and tried not to think about the landmines going off in my lower back.

Finally, we were admitted back into triage. Gretchen, the triage midwife, strapped on the EFM, which our childbirth instructor had lovingly referred to as “the hockey pucks”. Jason kept telling me to stop watching the little topographical charts of contraction intensity and heart tones, and I kept peeking at them because it was mildly fascinating. There was my mayhem, right there on the screen for God and everyone to watch! The nurse came in and asked me to roll onto my side. I found the request preposterous, mostly because it was insanely painful to lay on my side and also because she offered me a cup of cold apple juice when I declined. I had no idea what the connection was, but I did enjoy the apple juice immensely. Eventually I concluded that they wanted to see some variation in the baby’s heartbeat. Along with creating a fond, comforting association with cold apple juice, the sugars did the trick. Everyone was much happier, myself included.

Gretchen checked me for dilation. She found quite a bit of fluid, but said that my bag was still intact, which was a relief. However, the bigger relief was when she informed us that I was five centimeters dilated, and that I was going to be admitted so that I could have my baby! I felt so productive. Despite the fact that my contractions were still keeping up the same rhythm, I had made a good deal of progress at home. Jason texted Elissa. I drank more juice. And then we moved up to the delivery floor to get the party going. Elissa showed up with her assistant, Claire. We met the nurse. I sat on a birthing ball, ate cashews, and felt pretty darn good. Erin, the midwife, joined us, and we all had a good time chatting about dogs and fleas and working through contractions.

Birth Advice #4 – women who want a natural labor absolutely need support. This is true. I had full intentions of keeping my labor intervention-free. No pain meds, no epidurals, no pitocin. Part of me wishes that I could say it was a purely noble desire to give my baby as healthy a start as possible, but the truth is that part of my motivation has to do with the fact that I loathed the thought of being hooked up to anything involving needles/IVs. I had to consent to two rounds of antibiotics, but my birth plan indicated that I wanted to have a capped IV when the medication wasn’t being administered so that I was free to move around as I pleased. Both Erin and the nurses were very supportive of my wishes. As soon as she came in and introduced herself, she also let me know that I could wear my own clothes, eat as often as I wanted to, use the whirlpool, and do whatever I needed to do in order to have a natural birth. It meant quite a bit to me to have support from her like that. I can honestly say that if I hadn’t had two doulas, a very encouraging husband, and a medical staff that was on my side, natural birth would have been nearly impossible.

We labored in the room for an hour or so. Elissa and Claire were magical. As soon as I told them about my back labor, they tried using counter pressure on my lower back by pressing as hard as they could whenever a contraction came on. It turned out being so successful that those poor women pushed on my lower back more times than I can count that night.

“Your hands must get tired,” I said to Elissa.

“I have really strong hands,” she assured me.

My shower earlier in the day had been fairly comforting, so Jason and I tried hopping into the hospital shower. Unfortunately, it wasn’t quite as comforting eight hours later. It helped a little, but given the fact that I was trying to figure out what the temperature should be, trying not to slip, and trying to keep my dreadlocks dry, it was sort of neutral. Needless to say, that didn’t last long. We then tried walking the halls, stopping every ten feet or so for contractions. I leaned on Jason while Elissa and Claire pushed on my back. I remember the wooden floors feeling so nice and warm under my bare toes, but I also remember feeling as though I wanted to sit down and simultaneously feeling horrified at the thought of sitting down. I felt the same about standing. Or walking. Or squatting. I wanted to do anything that wasn’t whatever I was doing at the moment, and I also didn’t want to do anything at all.

Time during labor is strange. It just goes by, and you somehow stand completely still within it. It’s not that you feel it passing slowly, or quickly. It’s not that you feel it passing at all. It just is. Another breath. Another squat or lean. Hands pressing on my back. Cups of stale hospital coffee. The tongue-shrinking saltiness of cashews and beef jerky. Wanting the midwife to check but not wanting her to.

Eventually, in a small voice, I informed the team that I wanted to try the whirlpool. I had been trying to delay water therapy for as long as possible because the more time you spend in the tub, the less effective it becomes, but I was at the point where it was really the only thing that sounded comforting to me. It was just as good as it sounded; warm and relaxing and quiet. Jason got in with me. Whenever I had a contraction, we leaned into each other while the doulas did their counter-pressure. The nurse came in to check heart tones a few times, but otherwise the whole experience was oddly peaceful despite the fact that my contractions were very intense by this point. They were still quite far apart, and the water was so comforting that I dozed in between them. We sat in the tub room until the water got cold. I’d like to say that it was two hours, but I certainly wasn’t keeping track.

When we came back to the room, Erin checked me. I was eight centimeters, and fully effaced. She told me that if I felt the urge to push, I could start pushing. I think most women feel relief at this point. I, on the other hand, was starting to feel sort of wobbly and tired. I had been in labor for almost nineteen hours by then. I remember Elissa telling me that pushing was good; it meant that I would actually be able to use my contractions for something productive. I think I argued with her, insisting in a whiney voice that, no, they weren’t going to be productive and nothing was going to happen and this was never going to be over. While I had done a good job of keeping myself fairly serene throughout the day, sometime in the whirlpool I had started yelling during some of the worst contractions. Apparently, this is a tough habit to break once you start, and it’s not a very comforting habit to begin with. Screaming didn’t make me feel any better. I just couldn’t stay quiet anymore.

Good thing I was past the point of epidurals by then.

Birth Advice #5: pushing is great. This is a filthy lie. If you’ve never pushed before, pushing is hellacious. It’s a combination of feeling like you constantly need to pee or poop or vomit, accompanied by anvil-like contractions whipping your mind into a panicked frenzy where you start screaming because you’re convinced that nothing has existed before this moment and nothing can possibly exist after it. This was where the tunnel came in. I was draped over the back of the bed, digging in with my arms and fingers, and for all I could tell I was completely alone in the room. That’s how isolating the pain was. Occasionally, Jason was there next to me, and I remember recognizing his closeness, his scent, the color of his hair and beard and eyes. He asked me if he could go get something to eat.

“No,” I said sternly, and I didn’t find out until later that he asked me that because he was on the verge of passing out. Now when we tell that part of the story, I jokingly say that he shouldn’t have asked because anything that anyone asked me at that point was sure to get a “no” answer.

Did I want to try a different position? Did I want to eat something? Did I want some water? Did I want chapstick? No. No. No. I wanted to not be in labor.

This was where Erin showed her true self. My initial impression of her was that of a tiny, easy-going woman who would gently guide me through the birth of my daughter. Not so. Erin was intense. She barreled into the tunnel of labor without hesitation, came right up next to my face, and told me in much more diplomatic terms to get my shit together. Which, at that point, I needed.

“You’re in control,” she kept saying, as though she could somehow sense that in the middle of my yelling and gripping and whining that I felt completely out of control.

She was awesome.

It’s all brief snapshots from this point. Elissa tells me that Erin is changing into clothes to deliver my baby. I’m in the bathroom with what feels like six other people watching me labor on the toilet. I’m squatting next to the bed. Squatting on the bed. Laying on my side. My arms hurt from hugging the squat bar. Erin tells me that she sees a head, and the head has dark hair. Somewhere in the tiny cubbyholes of my thoughts that aren’t focused on hurting, I remember how I hoped for a baby with dark hair. Elissa and Claire and irrevocably kind in their affirmations. According to them, I’m still a strong, capable woman, even though I keep saying, “I can’t. I can’t. I can’t.” Erin tells me to stop screaming in such a high voice, to try being more guttural because it’s more productive. She tells me that I need to try harder, that I’m still in control. My water breaks. There’s fluid everywhere, and of all things to worry about, I’m embarrassed by this. I’m sweating, sweating like the end of a long summer run at high noon. And then, something hurts more than anything has hurt so far and she says, “There. That’s it. You need to push through that. That’s the head crowning.” And all I can think is, “Oh Christ. Not that.

This was where I overcame. When it comes to pain, I’ve always walked right up to edge of the very worst of it and then gripped my breath and muscles and sanity as if to ward it off. Now, I couldn’t. Not only did I have to face it directly, I had to go through it with deep, productive breathes and focused muscles. I had to do this thing that my contraction-addled brain was convinced I was long past capable of. So I did.

She came out with her hand tucked up next to her head, but of course, I didn’t know that. All I knew was that something had changed, that the thing that had hurt more than anything hurt in my life wasn’t quite as bad. After nearly four hours of pushing and twenty-four hours total of labor, I pushed once more.

And then I had a daughter, moving towards my chest in Erin’s hands as the nurse threw a pink cap over her red, wrinkled forehead. Finavaire Andrea, named for my sister and Jason’s sister. A girl named Finn, born exactly on her due date. God, she screamed. She flailed her skinny, uncoordinated limbs and scrunched up her weeping eyes and now that I know her, I know that she was undeniably annoyed. Indignant. Appalled, at having been shoved so forcefully from the warmth and the darkness into the cold severity of my sweating arms.

Birth Advice #6 – you’ll completely forget about your labor as soon as you meet your baby. This was not entirely true for me. I wanted to enjoy her, to feed her and take in the wet, dark hair and the perfect wrinkles of new skin, but I couldn’t. Elissa and Claire helped me peel off my soaked birthing clothes and I fumbled with latching her on and I kept thinking that once I fed her, she would stop crying. I was so, so tired. I’ve never been that tired. Not after driving through the night on a road trip, or hiking the Napali Coast, or running my first four consecutive miles. I was so tired that I was actually relieved when they took the baby away to put her under the warmer because I was afraid I was going to drop her. There was quite a bit happening that I wasn’t completely aware of; Jason, taking off his shirt and holding our daughter so that she would have skin-to-skin contact from the start, Erin talking to me while she stitched me up, Elissa and Claire quietly gathering their things and leaving us to be alone, the weighing and testing and bathing.

As far as my birth story goes, there really isn’t much to tell after that, just hospital food and lots of strange, broken sleep and breastfeeding woes. And, of course, there was her, all heartbreakingly beautiful and peaceful and somehow perfect in her pink, shriveled newness. And while I kept meaning to write this sooner, I’m glad that I didn’t, because I know her now like I didn’t quite know her then. I know that she’s funny and brilliant, that she loves to laugh and that she smiles whenever she sees me. I would say that she’s exactly what I hoped she would be, but that would be a lie because she is a thousand times more wonderful than that, and when I write about the day she was born, it lays like a layer of dark, fertile soil beneath the garden of everything I’ve come to learn about her.

Birth Advice #7 – labor will empower you. Now, I see a woman in my reflection who has finally learned to accept that yes, pain is frightening, but it is not always destructive. It has taught me to trust myself, to trust my body and my instincts. It has taught me to lean into others for support. It has taught me that I’m strong and brave even when the most I can manage is a desperate chorus of, “I can’t, I can’t, I can’t.” Pain is like the sea on a windy day. You can stand in it, let it push and pull around you like the tide, but you will not drown. You will grow stronger because of it.

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On Feeding the Baby

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A quick preface: Finavaire Andrea Smith was born on November 26, at 4:11am. She was a petite six pounds, fifteen ounces and measured 19.5 inches. Because, you know, people dig that stuff.

Aside from the very twilight zone-esque hospital stay that followed, life since then is divided up into tiny little blocks of time in which I actually have two free hands and a mind that is semi-present. As I type this, I am staring down the barrel of the next feeding time. My baby is swaddled and drowsy, propped up next to me in the Boppy pillow. She makes these awesome faces when she’s half-asleep; all puckered lips and gassy smiles.

I can smell her diaper. I’ll have to take care of that, too.

What I should be writing is an edited version of my novel. And if I wasn’t writing that, I should be writing a birth story because, whoa, I rocked a totally natural birth despite a full 24 hours of labor and four hours of exhausting pushing due to the fact that my daughter thought it would be funny to have her hand sticking up next to her head when she came out. Hello everyone. Here I am! Thanks kid.

Instead, I’m going to talk about my boobs. Specifically, my nipples.

There was a time when I was squeamish about my body. Having a baby sort of works that out of you. It probably has something to do with that moment where you realize you’re sitting on the toilet with your husband, your doula, her assistant, the nurse, and your midwife in the room with you and you just don’t care. So, if the topic of breasts as in breastfeeding makes you blush, you might want to skip the rest of this post.

It’s always awkward when people ask me if she’s feeding well. Especially if it’s a guy. The simple truth is that she is. The last time she was weighed, she was almost nine pounds. Her getting the nutrients that she needs and the ensuing weight gain have never been an issue. And I mean, I’m thankful for that. It’s one less potential source of anxiety that I have to deal with. So, if you’re a guy, and you’re wondering if she’s feeding well, she is. That’s the short answer.

The long answer is that while she is doing just fine, I’ve been wading through the proverbial soup of postpartum hormones, sleep deprivation, piles of laundry that I only sometimes can set my mind to, and painful nipples.

It started in the hospital. Remember that kick-ass natural labor? It left me so, so exhausted that despite my adamant wishes that Finn be placed on my chest right away so that she could latch on right away, she was only able to stay there for about fifteen minutes, only one or two of which she actually suckled. It was literally all I could do to hold my eyes open, much less help her get the hang of things. Plus, I was covered in sweat and it was affecting her body temperature. When they took her off of my chest and put her under the warmer, I simply didn’t have it in me to object. I was actually pretty grateful because I thought I was going to drop her.

The next day, the hospital’s head lactation consultant stopped by the room to give me a crash course. She was a very no-nonsense woman who knew her stuff. Hold her like this. Left hand here. Right arm here. The problem was that my newborn baby really cared more about sleeping than the finer concepts of a deep latch and so I was left with instructions to hand express colustum and spoon feed it to Finn in hopes that it would wet her appetite for the real thing, fresh from the source.

“Babies sleep quite a bit the first few days.” She explained. “Just do what you can.”

So I did. I did not, however, see the lactation consultant again. And I get it – this was a huge birthing center and there happened to be tons of births that week in addition to mine. When one of the midwives came to visit me and offered two tubes of lanolin, I was baffled as to why I would need it. Would nursing really be that painful? It wasn’t until the nurse on duty the day that we were released watched me feed her that it was pointed out to me how shallow Finn’s latch was. Basically, she was just gnawing on the end of my nipple.

“You’re going to get really sore if she keeps that up!” The nurse cautioned.

It didn’t hurt at the time, so I kind of shrugged it off. I mean, babies are born to breastfeed. It would come naturally.

I’m going to stop right here and recite my new “one piece of advice” that I will forever after be offering to first-time moms interested in breastfeeding: get that lactation consultant in your room and DO NOT LET HER LEAVE until she’s shown you how to really latch your baby. I don’t care if your baby is sleepy – have her give you some pointers for waking her up. In fact, if you can, have her check your baby’s tongue and mouth shape and observe how she sucks and for goodness sake, make sure they teach you the football hold because forever after, whenever you mention that you’re having problems with your latch, someone is going to ask you “have you tried the football hold?” as though tucking your infant under your armpit will solve all of your breastfeeding woes. If said lactation consultant has to stay for an hour before you’re comfortable or has to come back several times, don’t worry about it. Don’t feel stupid. Don’t feel like you don’t know what you’re doing. Because the truth is you probably don’t and that’s totally acceptable. Get help and expertise right away. You don’t want to mess this up if you can avoid it early on.

We left the hospital on a Friday. Due to a stint with jaundice, Finn remained a fairly lethargic baby for the first few days at home. This meant that we had to wake her up every two hours around the clock to make sure she was getting what she needed. So we did.

It’s one thing to read that a newborn feeds 8-12 times a day. Doesn’t sound too bad, does it? That’s reasonable. They have small tummies after all. However, it’s impossible to truly understand how grueling that is, especially when your alarm goes off at two in the morning, the house is cold, your husband is confused, you’re confused, your baby has no interest in waking up and even if she did, she sometimes plays clueless when it comes to feeding and lays there with big, innocent eyes while you try to make yourself as uncomfortable as possible so that you stay awake long enough to feed her. Nevertheless, I persevered. It wasn’t until the couple of days leading up to her three-week pediatric appointment that I relaxed a little and allowed her to go for more than 2.5 hours without feeding, day and night.

By Saturday afternoon, I was starting to feel uncomfortable. By Sunday evening, I was dizzy with pain every time she latched on.

“It gets better.” Everyone told me. “It always hurts at first. Your body will adjust. You’ll toughen up. Give it a few days. Use lanolin. Rub extra breastmilk in. Try the football hold. It gets better.”

One week after my daughter was born, I was revisiting my deep-breathing techniques that I had learned for use in labor. Jason was also using his supportive partner techniques for almost every single feeding. I vividly remember him rubbing my back and telling me, “It’s alright, it’s alright” at three in the morning while I fed our tiny baby by the light of a thrift store lamp.

Friends were bringing us meals during this time. While discussing my woes with one of the ladies as she dropped off the food, she mentioned that a friend of hers had visited a lactation consultant and that it had helped tremendously. This roused some curiosity in my pain-riddled brain. A lactation consultant. Who would have thought.

The next day, I texted a fellow mother who, with three kids under her roof, has been the wise old sage that I’ve needed to get through this insanity. She and I had already had numerous conversations about the irony of breastfeeding. How unfair it is. How you work your ass off to bring this baby into the world without drugs and just when you think you deserve a break and some nice, cuddly baby time, you get the fiery inferno every time you feed. Which is all the time. Thanks.

“Did you ever get bloody cracks in your nipples?” I asked.

She hadn’t.

I called the lactation consultant. It was the same lady I had seen during our postpartum stay. Thankfully, she could get me in that afternoon. Within five minutes of being in her office she saw that Finn had a minor tongue tie. I won’t go into the specifics of it, but the gist of it was that Finn’s mouth was physically unable to latch and suck properly. The nice lady sent me on my way with a prescription for an anti-everything cream (the knockoff version of this) and a referral to an ENT to get Finn’s tongue tie corrected.

We couldn’t get in before the weekend. In fact, it was almost a full week before we could get in and even then, the ENT said that he wanted to evaluate the severity of her tongue tie before agreeing to clip it. Aside from going out of my mind from the pain, I came down with a high fever due to what I think was mastitis. Because when you have open wounds on your body, they can get infected. Yeah. I kept telling myself that I just had to make it until Wednesday. Finn’s two week birthday. The day of the sacred ENT appointment. It would all get better then. She would latch on like a pro and I would heal up and we would have that blissful breastfeeding experience that everyone talks about.

The tongue tie was snipped with little fuss. The ENT doctor was a kindly, gangly man who gave me a private room to nurse her in after the procedure. My sister came along because I was worried it would be traumatic and Jason had to work that day. After I nursed her, the doctor asked if I noticed a difference in the latch.

“It’s alright if you don’t.” He reassured me. “You might need to heal before you do.”

I didn’t notice a difference.

I gave it time. Some of the cracks grew until they were more like chunks. The ointment didn’t help. Lanolin didn’t help. Saltwater soaks didn’t help. The football hold didn’t help. Nothing helped. Well, I suppose the maximum doses of ibuprofen that I was taking around the clock helped. Until they wore off, that is.

On Sunday, I called the hospital’s lactation office again. The weekend nurse told me to pump for a few days and give Finn the expressed milk in a bottle so that I could heal. Friends, this is where the craziness of motherhood comes in. I sobbed the first time I skipped a “real” feeding and gave my baby a bottle. It didn’t matter how much pain I was in. It didn’t matter that she was still getting all of the nutrients of breastmilk. It didn’t matter that now Jason could actually help with feedings or that I could feed her in public easily or that my milk supply was so crazy that I only had to pump three or four times a day instead of the recommended eight. It wasn’t the real thing. It wasn’t the close, quiet cocoon of warm skin and the soft swallows and her big eyes sliding up to look at me. I had failed.

Plus, bottle feeding is super messy and tedious.

I gave myself two full days. On the third day, I tried latching her back on just before heading out the door to meet someone. She clamped right back on the end of my sort-of-healed nipple, popped off, clamped on, popped off, cried in between…

I set her in the car seat, sobbed, and threw the Boppy pillow across the room.

That particular attempt at feeding stands out as a very low point for me. Nothing could be worse than that.We tried later and it was alright. It wasn’t great. But it was better than before. Slowly, I went back to straight breastfeeding. I kept in contact with the lactation consultants. Someone from the midwife clinic I birthed with called me and said that she had heard I was having some problems and she wanted to see me. Hope sprang anew. She would help. She would guide me. She would make the ridiculous agony stop.

“It gets better.” Everyone kept saying. What I didn’t feel like explaining was that I wasn’t just sore. I was cratered. It was to the point that the midwife was a little taken aback when I showed her the damage. She gave me a prescription for antibiotics and said that I could probably try a nipple shield.

“So, I just go to Target and get one?” I asked.

“Yeah, that’s fine.” She said.

I was so exhausted and depressed that I walked out of the appointment without realizing that she hadn’t even asked to observe me feed Finn. Which, I mean, being that her latch was the likely culprit, wouldn’t that have made sense? She even told me to bring her hungry and then I didn’t end up feeding her so that when I went to Target, she was hungry and upset while I stood in the breast pump section wondering what size I was supposed to get in nipple shields. I guessed and thankfully I think I got it right.

Finally, it didn’t hurt. There was a definite “gadgety” feel to the whole thing, but it wasn’t a bottle and I was able to feed my baby from my breast again without the stabbing sensation. I even got bold at times and took the shield off after a few minutes so that Finn wouldn’t forget how to “really” suck. It was messy and I had to wash the damn thing off all the time but it helped us limp along for another few days until I noticed that something was different. Finn didn’t seem to be getting enough. She would feed for a long time but was extremely gassy and fussy and appeared to be constantly hungry. Her poop (I mean, hey we’re talking about boobs already. What’s a little poopy talk at this point?) changed from the healthy, hearty mustard custard to runny green.

I should mention that all during this time I was stuck in this vicious cycle of feeding, burping, and googling. Feed the baby. Burp her. And then Google. It was always the same problem but with a whole variety of search terms. Nipple pain. Painful latch. Tongue Tie. How to heal giant wounds on nipples. Why does it still hurt to feed my baby. You know, all that. Aside from driving myself crazy, I did discover that part of my problem was that I was actually producing too much milk. Who knew that could be a problem? Well, it is. It makes babies clamp down when they feed because they’re gagging. It makes your already sore chest unbearable overnight when your body produces most of your milk. It means messes everywhere and the stink of old breastmilk and lots of laundry. It also means that your baby is likely not getting enough hindmilk and so they end up with radioactive green poops and horrible gas. Fortunately, it can be easily solved by feeding on one side only until things even out.

I still feel a profound sense of accomplishment for having solved that one myself. And yes, it did even out and some of the problems I was having are now non-issues.

The pain marched on. I fed without the shield until I couldn’t stand it and then I fed with the shield until my gassy, hungry baby couldn’t stand it.

“I want to quit.” I moaned to Jason one night. I had gone into the other room to feed Finn and between being hungry and me being in pain we were both crying. He woke up and came into see what was going on. “Why is this so hard?”

I placed another call to the lactation office I had been working with on December 23, almost four weeks after Finn’s birth. I also reached out to Finn’s pediatrician and asked if they had a lactation specialist that they recommended. They did. If I could have found a third route, I would have tried that, too. I was desperate and willing to head straight to whichever office could get me in first. It happened to be the ped’s recommendation and so I loaded my hungry baby into the car again and sped off to another medical facility.

This lady was actually the best I’ve seen so far. She was empathetic, she was knowledgeable, she was incredibly kind, and best of all, she actually helped me work on the latch. Which I kept mentioning all along was the problem. Duh.

That was a week and a half ago. Since then, I’ve had some good feedings and I’ve had some terrible feedings. I’ve had days where I feel like I’m getting this and it’s truly getting better and then I’ve had days where I feel like I’m the one useless mom who can’t figure out how to feed her baby properly.

At this point, there is nothing left to Google. I have every deep latch technique memorized. I know all of the different remedies one might use to heal their sore nipples and I’ve tried about half of them. I’ve dropped a fair amount of money in the bottle/pump aisles of my local Walmart and Target. I’ve jostled poor Finn around from position to position in an attempt to find one that doesn’t hurt.

But, for whatever reason, it still does. Not as bad as it did in the beginning before her tongue tie was corrected. Oh, but it’s still bad. I still sit with silent, gritted teeth for the first minute or so of every feeding. I still have times where I simply can’t stand it and I have to break the latch and start over. I still look at her intently before I attempt to feed her and ask, “Please, Finn? Please help me out this time?”

And I know. I know. Breast is best. Someday it won’t hurt. And then I won’t even remember what all of this felt like. And you’re all probably right. I’m sure lanolin and breastmilk are usually quite effective too. No, really. I mean that. I’m sorry for my sarcasm. It’s just hard. Because I want this relationship. I want to keep entering into the little world that her and I build whenever I feed her. I want to give her the best possible source of nutrition. I want to say that I got through this, just like I got through labor without any drugs or interventions.

I also want to not feel my motivation seep out with every painful feeding. I want to not feel like all I can really do is sit in the rocking chair while she sleeps and try yet another search term in Google. I want to not feel resentful towards her, Jason, God, and all of those mothers out there who sheepishly say, “Well, I loved breastfeeding.” I want showers to be enjoyable again and bath towels to feel like bath towels instead of sandpaper.

I had a follow up appointment at the midwives clinic today. Currently, I’ve been put on an anti-fungal medication on the very possible chance that I contracted thrush from taking those stupid useless antibiotics and having open wounds exposed to moisture all the time. I’m also loading up on probiotics . I even bought some infant ones for Finn that I keep forgetting to give her. Besides, no harm can come from taking probiotics. And I do like kefir.

I’ve concluded that the whole thing might be a combination of Finn’s mouth shape inhibiting her from latching properly and my naiveté inhibiting me from teaching her how to latch properly from the get go. I do notice that she’s started to open her mouth wider here and there. She’s starting to “get it.” She pulls herself off towards the end less often.

To be honest, I don’t know how I’ve made it this long. I can look at my exhausting labor and remember all of the water therapy and counter-pressure and position changes that got me through it but this has started to feel a little insane. It’s not even about it being painful anymore. That I’ve somehow learned to deal with. It’s just that I find myself worrying that I’ve done some sort of permanent damage both physically and emotionally. Like, am I going to have post-trauma issues from breastfeeding? Am I going to get a really terrible infection and have to quit regardless because I need to have a mastectomy? Is my baby going to be plagued by very early memories of mother frantically breaking the suction and starting over again and again, only to end up in tears regardless?

Alright, that was dramatic.

I will leave you with something hopeful. Because despite everything, I do have hope. I may have used up the reserves of my stubbornness to birth my child but now it’s comeback in small rations and I’m determined to stick this out until the bitter end. That may be when I go back to school in three weeks and have to somehow be able to offer her a bottle without panicking that it will mess up her improving latch, and it may be in eight or nine months when we start offering her solids. Or it may be in a year or two when we’ve made to the breastfeeding nirvana that everyone talks about. The shiny prize that made all of the pain totally worth it. I’m skeptical, but who knows.

Jason, who has been nothing but supportive, asked me the other day what my intuition tells me about the situation. He says that he’s come to appreciate the motherly intuition, having seen it in full on action during pregnancy and birth. I told him that, as vague and lame as this sounds, my intuition says that everything will turn out alright regardless. It will be alright if I choose to keep trying for another month or so, and it will be alright if I decide that, for my own sanity, we need to do something different. It will be alright if I am never one of those confident moms who can magically pull her shirt up and get the baby latched in the blink of an eye in a restaurant booth and instead end up swirling formula around in a bottle for my daughter. I can at least say that I tried everything that could be tried. Nipple shields and football holds and APNO. Coconut oil and probiotics and lanolin. Suck training and biological nurturing and plain old grim determination. Antibiotics and anti fungals and jaw massages and finally, time. I can say what worked and what was a waste. I can say that I persevered through some of the hardest weeks of my life, that I survived the holiday family visits and sleep deprivation and still managed to feed my baby throughout all of it. That is something. That gives me the certainty that I need to be able to look back and tell myself that somehow, it does get better.

I’m going to go feed my kid now. Right after I rid her of the curdling soup in her diaper.

On Hospital Birthing

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Even before I thought much about having children, I’ve always leaned towards natural childbirth. I’m not out to demonize medical interventions during birth; I think that they exist for a reason. Sometimes, a very exhausted woman needs an epidural to allow her body to rest during labor so that she can finish the job. Sometimes, there are complications with a pregnancy that translate into induction being the best route for both the mom and baby. Sometimes, lives are saved by emergency c-sections. All of these things serve a purpose and I’m not opposed to consenting to any of them myself if there is a true need for them. What I don’t agree with is administering these procedures for the sake of convenience, speed or routine. If there’s no risk to the baby or mother, labor and delivery SHOULD be allowed to progress at a natural pace, even if that takes some time (and often, especially for first-time births, it does).

Birth is intense. Duh. People who try to talk about birth being this beautiful, orgasmic experience sort of freak me out. I don’t’ know if we’re talking about the same thing, to be honest. But just because something is painful doesn’t mean that it’s bad. The pain that comes with contractions is what actually tells a woman’s body to birth a baby. If you mess with that pain either by ramping it up way too quickly with an induction or by dulling it with narcotics or an epidural, you interfere with the natural flow of birth.

I haven’t had great experiences with doctors and the Milwaukee medical system in general in the past few years. Lots of careless, quick diagnosis, appointments being goofed up by clinic staff, and unnecessary prescriptions that turned out to be a waste of money. I understand that this is NOT everyone’s experience with western medicine and that some of you have had access to lifesaving procedures as a result of the type of healthcare we have available in our country. I’m just saying that my experience has been mostly negative. Case in point: I don’t have a family/general doctor. I’ve tried three different ones over the past few years and have been pretty disappointed in all of them.

One bright spot in the whole thing was that I began getting midwifery care for all of my more “feminine” exams about two years ago. One of the hospitals in Milwaukee has a HUGE staff of Certified Nurse Midwives (CNM). I knew that they were a good fit for me when they mentioned taking vitamins and probiotics at my appointments – something I’ve NEVER heard come out of the mouth of a more traditional OB or even GP. When we found out that we were going to have a baby, I immediately scheduled my first prenatal with them and began working with a midwife that I absolutely love, Emmy.

The only issue with that midwife group was that in order for me to actually deliver the baby with them, I would have to birth at their hospital. We gave it a shot. We really did. We toured the labor and delivery floor and I got about halfway through my pregnancy feeling undecided about the whole thing. On one hand, I was comfortable with Emmy and had only good things to say about her. On the other, I simply didn’t want to give birth in a hospital setting if I could avoid it.

Especially since finally owning a home and coming to love being there so much, the idea of birthing in a hospital seemed less and less appealing. I considered a home birth. I think the idea was a bit daunting to Jason, and so we decided that an out-of-hospital birthing center might be a better option. It would be a more comfortable setting but it would also be staffed by people who were professionals in natural childbirth. Plus, we wouldn’t have to be the ones cleaning up the tub after it was all over, ha.

I talked to Emmy and got quite a bit of encouragement for an out-of-hospital birth. At that point (and this is still the case) my pregnancy had been very healthy and low-risk – she said that I could probably have any type of birth that I wanted to. While I was sad to say goodbye to her, I felt this was a good choice for us.

There are two birthing centers in the Milwaukee area. Both are mainly staffed by Certified Professional (CPM) Midwives. Why is this important? Well, some people will tell you that nurse midwives aren’t “really” midwives; they’re mostly just labor and delivery nurses who will try to push all of the routine medical stuff on you. As a side note, this has NOT been the case with Emmy or any of the other CNMs at all. Every single test and procedures has been explained in detail to me and I’ve been given the option of declining them if I want. Anyway, here’s the real difference: most insurance companies will cover midwifery care if it’s administered by a CNM. What they won’t cover is midwifery care from a CPM. We weren’t entirely aware of this when we switched from Emmy to one of the birthing centers and had a long conversation with our health insurance company. Basically, none of the birthing center services would be covered or count towards meeting our deductible.

At this point, we were over halfway through the pregnancy, had done my first round of labs, had two ultrasounds, and multiple prenatal appointments. I don’t know the exact amount all of this came up to. However, I do know that the thought of starting over from scratch and paying everything out of pocket was really, really difficult for us to stomach.

I’m not going to lie. I was really upset about it. It was one of the first times in my pregnancy where I felt like my hormones were wildly out of control and I could cry at any moment. I’d think about a hospital birth and all of those machines and the food and the smell and this constant (unfounded) fear that I had about some procedure-minded OB standing outside of my room just waiting to order me to have a c-section and completely lose it. Pregnancy does some weird shit to your brain at times.

I know that if it had been a big enough issue in the end Jason would have supported whatever choice I made, even if it was paying all of fees out of pocket to continue with the birthing center option or even take another look at a home birth. But I gave myself a good week to process our options, get my emotions in check, and then scheduled another prenatal with Emmy. We had a heart-to-heart on the subject. Suffice to say, she totally got it. She explained that, as long as I had a healthy pregnancy and labor, she and the other midwives were 100% in support of a natural childbirth, even in a hospital setting. One of them would be assisting me when I deliver, not an OB. I would be allowed to walk around, use the labor tub, use the shower, bounce on a birth ball, even push the baby out in whatever position I felt was natural. They would respect my desire for intermittent monitoring and immediate skin-to-skin contact with the baby after she was born. I asked her if I needed to write up a birth plan. She told me that, even though I should so that the nurses had something to go off of, their philosophy would likely already match up with whatever I would put in there.

So, that’s why we’re birthing in a hospital.

As a bonus, I get to continue receiving prenatal care from a midwife that I trust. At Emmy’s recommendation, I’ve had appointments with a few other midwives and have found them to be equally supportive. Emmy might not actually be there when I go in to deliver (it depends on the day) but I feel confident enough in her colleagues that I would be in good hands with any of them.

That being said, there have been some irritating parts about routine hospital stuff – gestational diabetes tests, for one. I failed my one-hour test and then spent a week panicking about it only to come back in for my three-hour and find out that my levels are totally normal. My hospital doesn’t induce until 41 weeks 5 days (which is pretty much the most generous time frame of ANY hospital in the Milwaukee area) but I do have some concerns about needing to comply with their policies in that area. Emmy has recommended some herbal and natural methods to get labor started and you can be sure that I’ll be all over those after I reach full-term. If it comes to it, I CAN always say no to an induction but that’s not a battle I would prefer to fight if I can avoid it.

We do have a few things in place to help both Jason and I feel more comfortable:

  1. We’re taking a natural childbirthing class.
    While we couldn’t birth at a birthing center, we could certainly justify taking a class through them. It’s a sort of modified version of the Bradley Method. Which, for all of you folks out there, is a childbirthing method that focuses on support and relaxation to deal with pain instead of drugs. We’ve learned different types of deep breathing methods, relaxation techniques, massages, aromatherapy…all the good stuff. I, for one, am definitely looking forward to a good hand massage to calm me down. Jason’s quite skilled at it J.
  2. We’re hiring a doula
    This was a recent development. Originally, it was just going to be Jason supporting me through labor. Yet the more I thought about it and the more we learned in class, the more we both realized that being a supportive birth partner in a natural birth is quite a bit for one person to handle. Basically, it would mean that I was asking Jason to be emotionally, mentally, and physically present all throughout labor. Don’t get me wrong – I want him there and he wants to be there. He’s done reading. He takes great notes in class. He’s super thorough and pro-active. But I also want him to be able to step outside and take a break once in awhile without feeling anxious about what’s going on with me. The doula that we’re going to be working with is also a Registered Nurse in the NICU at the hospital we’re birthing at, so she’s fairly familiar with the whole thing.
  3. I’m being pro-active
    Healthy pregnancies often help to alleviate unnecessary interventions during labor/delivery. That being the case, I’m eating lots of protein, drinking close to a gallon of water a day, taking all of the recommended supplements, and trying to get between 20-30 minutes of intentional exercise during the work week (when I’m mostly sedentary due to the nature of my job). Weekends are a constant flurry of activity anyway and I have no problem getting good exercise on Saturdays and Sundays. I don’t know how much of a difference my efforts will make come birth time, but I can honestly say that they’ve already made a world of difference in how I feel at 8.5 months pregnant. I can still sleep well. I’m measuring/weighing just right. The baby is very healthy and active. I haven’t had any swelling issues (yet! Fingers crossed).
  4. We have a birth plan
    Not a four-page manifesto or anything…just some clear bullet points on what our preferences are for things like IV’s, monitoring, and cord-cutting. Jason and I are also discussing different scenarios that might arise between the two of us. For example, if I start begging for an epidural (which I might!) we’ve both agreed that we will wait a set amount of time before we actually request it to see if it was just a wall I needed to get through or if I still legitimately want it.
  5. We’re laboring at home for as long as possible
    The fact is, I’m more comfortable there and we’re only 15 minutes from the hospital. I will be checking in with my doula throughout the first stages of labor so that we have an idea of where we’re at. The less time we labor at the hospital, the less time I’ll be in a more stressful environment with semi-strangers in and out of my room while I’m trying to relax and focus on delivering my baby. Don’t worry, we’re not going to wait until the very LAST minute to go. We have some good, standard guidelines for counting contractions and keeping an eye on my emotional state.
  6. We’re not taking visitors
    We’ve already explained this to our family. The hospital isn’t what I would consider a great place for people to meet your newborn. It’s crowded, it’s impersonal, and for pity’s sake, we’ll all be recovering from a pretty intense experience. I intend to have as short a stay as they’ll allow so that we can get back home and be in our own space before everyone comes over.

So, there you have it folks. That’s the long saga of why I’m birthing in a hospital and why I’m (mostly) comfortable with that choice.

For the record, if we ever have another child I plan on working with a birthing center or homebirth midwife right away to make the most of expense. Live and learn, I guess.

In Which I’m thankful for my sewing machine

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So, I used to really love Etsy. I would browse for hours drooling over flowey organic cotton tunics and saving images for future sewing endeavors.

Pregnancy has changed that.

Whilst looking for something simple and comfortable to possibly buy myself as a “treat” for after the birth, I came across the terrifying world of maternity shirts.

Behold.

But what about the days that I actually wear a real cardigan?? What if someone tries to unbutton it to get a peak at the baby? Can’t be giving people ideas.

This is just scary.

Oh, look! The inside of my uterus! I’ve always wanted people to be able to see right through me.

Well, no, actually its not. The last thing anyone needs to do while pregnant is worry about being skinny. This is the ONE time in your life that people EXPECT you to gain weight. Come on!

You know, just to avoid any confusion or awkward questions of “due any day now, aren’t you?” I might as well tell them where I’m birthing. That way they can mark their calendars.

Kids, it doesn’t work this way. I promise.

First of all…why does a woman need a shirt to communicate this? Why is it acceptable to just assume that someone wants to be touched because they’re growing a baby inside of them? How about you don’t look, either? Didn’t anyone ever tell you it’s terribly rude to stare? What is wrong with the world?

Yes, let’s let everyone know that we got drunk and sexy while on vacation. Great idea.

Jason will appreciate this one. Good reason to have a kid! (never mind that they thousands of dollars over the course of their young lives…)

Apparently, they’ve never heard of condoms. Or NFP. Or the pill.

And for the lads, so that you can make sure everyone knows that you knocked up your lady…

To summarize: I will likely be buying a few yards of organic cotton and sewing my own shirt. The end.

*Note: If my sarcasm and lack of good humor over the whole commercialization of pregnancy offends you, I’m truly sorry. I understand that every woman looks at this process through a different lens, and that what one woman finds unsettling another woman might really get a kick out of. Take this post with that grain of salt and hopefully it will bring out the right flavors for you!

 

Passing on the Pink

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Alternately titled: The Smiths are having a girl-squash.

It’s subtle, and it’s everywhere. The ultrasound technician who was photographing our baby’s head and made a comment about “Well, we don’t know whether it will be wearing a cowboy hat or a tiara yet!”. A co-worker who, upon hearing the news that we were expecting a girl, went out to look for pink flowers and apologized that she could find one. The racks and racks of frilly, sequined, bow-festooned clothing that I saw at Target when I went out after the Doctor’s appointment to look for something a bit more feminine than the jeans, striped onesies, and overalls I’ve been picking up. Jason’s question to me the next afternoon, about whether or not he could wrestle with a girl or play catch with her. And, I mean, he wouldn’t know. They wouldn’t know. No one means any harm. It’s just a nefarious lens positioned firmly on the way our society views girls as a whole.

When I first got pregnant, I had one of those woo-woo lady-intuition-type-feelings; I was going to have a girl. I tried not to think about it too much, and by the time we actually found out the gender I was ready for either one of them. Jason and I kept joking that we would either get a Hushpuppy (Beasts of the Southern Wild) or a Max (Where the Wild Things Are). Never did we have conversations about having a princess or a cowboy. When I envisioned having a daughter, I thought about a girl who would have the freedom to get dirty; to climb trees and collect bugs and make things out of mud alongside playing dress up with thrift store clothes, sewing, and having tea parties. I thought of it in this way because that’s how I was raised and to some extent, how I still am.

Parents don’t get everything right, and mine are not an exception (I can say that because I’m 95% certain they’ll agree. They’re not perfect. Thankfully, no one is). But one of the many things they did an amazing job at without even trying was raising two daughters with very balanced perspectives on gender. I did my share of “girly things” as a child – mostly in the winter, when it was too cold to play outside. But I never saw my place as being in the house vs. outdoors. I never saw playing catch or rollerblading or riding my bike or fishing as strictly masculine activities because neither one of my parents ever presented them that way. I loved going fishing with my dad. I loved learning how to work hard in the garden alongside my mom. I loved chasing after my older brothers on my bike.

I know, some of you are groaning to yourselves right now. She’s one of those new-fangled gender-neutral types who are going to never use the pronouns he or she and who will let her boys wears dresses and her girls wear suits if they want to. Typical post-modern parent.

So, let me specify: I take absolutely no issue with girls being feminine and guys being masculine. I take a lot of issues with how society has defined those two terms. I do not believe a woman’s place is always in the home, or that caretaking of a child should mainly fall on a mother’s shoulders. I do not want to raise my daughter with the expectation that the most she can aim for in life is to find a good husband and have a family. I want to give her opportunities to excel at whatever she sets her mind to – and that might be fashion design, and it might be sports, and it might be something that I don’t have any context for yet. It might involve marriage and a family it might not.

The bottom line is that it doesn’t have to be an either-or scenario. Dresses do not mean the subjugation of a woman, nor does a girl who can climb a tree mean the absence of healthy femininity. Having a girl does not have to equal pink. So, no offense Target or Kohls or wherever, but I will not be shopping your racks when I clothe my daughter. I want her to be able to choose a red shirt or a blue shirt or a green shirt, a pair of sturdy jeans or a skirt that makes her feel feminine and confident when she wears it and most of all, I want her to know that getting her clothing dirty and wrinkled while in the process of blowing up her imagination is totally, completely acceptable. Clothes are only clothes. The lessons you allow your children to learn with their hands and eyes and wild little minds are what’s really important.

Thank God for thrift stores. Thank God for my sewing machine. Thank God for the Ronias and the Hushpuppies and the Elnoras, for the Eilonwys and the Lauras and yes, even for the Katnisses. Thank God for a husband and father-to-be who is not too proud to admit that he struggles with emotional vulnerability. Thank God for a father who cried in front of his daughters and a mother who browned her skin in the summer sun from long days of hard work. Thank God for a wide-open backyard and acres of State Forest mere blocks from our house. Thank God for rivers and lakes and lightening bugs in the summer, for sledding and book-devouring and textile arts in the winter.

Thank God for green and red and yellow and blue and orange and purple. With so many beautiful colors to surround my daughter with, I believe I’ll pass on the pink.

In which I find out that pregnancy is a big deal

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8:11am – Posted this on Facebook and tagged my husband:

8:46am – Get a call from said husband. “Did you post the photo? Because my inbox is blowing up with Facebook notifications.”

A huge, flipping deal.

Now that the proverbial cat is out of the bag, I’ll be posting a few of my muses from that weird period of time where we weren’t being very public about the pregnancy but obviously, I still had a lot on my mind. I’m also thinking about doing a series of posts on the hilarious things that Jason has said since we found out. Because, really, they’re great.

I will say this: pregnancy has made me more of a feminist than I knew I could be. Perhaps feminist isn’t the most succinct way of putting it…I mean, there are other words that people might apply to my change in attitude, but I’ll leave that to your imagination. Suffice to say, I am far less willing to put up with people’s bull crap these days. Part of it is that I’ve had to unfortunately learn how much bull crap is out there related to motherhood/pregnancy, and part of it is that I care way less about keeping people happy all the time. Not that I’ve become a raving hormonal mess, lashing out at folks every chance I get. But I have been working on the art of tactfully saying, “Please don’t make comments like that.” Or “Please don’t take this news and run with it because it’s our news, not yours, and not only that but it’s somewhat personal news that doesn’t need to be broadcasted to every friend/cousin/aunt/uncle until we feel we’re ready for that.”

So, be forewarned. As always, none of what I ramble about should be taken as gospel. I’m just a fairly introspective girl woman working her way through an astonishing transition in her life and trying to figure out what it means to be true to myself in the midst of it.

To humor the throngs of people and their questions, I will provide a brief FAQ of the Smithling pregnancy thus far:

  1. How far along are you?
    As of today, I am somewhere in the 15 week range. My due date is November 26, so it’s a possibility that I may be eating Thanksgiving Dinner in a birthing center.
  2. Are you going to find out what it is?
    Yes, we will – July 10 is the ultrasound date. I like surprises just as much as the next person, but I guess I feel like waiting 23 weeks is long enough for the surprise. The idea of waiting until the baby is born sounds far too overwhelming in light of the fact that I’ll be, you know, giving birth.
  3. Do you have names picked out?
    Yes! We have a few names, both male and female.
  4. How are you feeling?
    Currently, I’m feeling really good. The first trimester was miserable, but not unbearable. I had lots of food issues, I was tired ALL THE TIME, and overall it was just weird and uncomfortable. I’m done to almost no food issues (back to drinking coffee!) and my body feels pretty good. I still get tired easily but it’s nothing that a quick nap doesn’t solve.
  5. Where are you going for prenatal care?
    There is a midwives group that functions under the Aurora network here in Milwaukee. So, they’re midwives, but more like hospital midwives. I was seeing them for my OB care before I got pregnant and have only good things to say about my experience. They’re kind, empowering, thorough, and they leave every decision up to me and Jason. No procedures have been “pushed” on us, and everything has been explained in detail. I love it.
  6. Where are you going to deliver?
    Originally, I always hoped to be able to do a home birth. However, I think that for our first go around, we’ve decided that a birthing center is the best route for us. I would really prefer to avoid a hospital birth because I don’t like the feel of hospitals in general. So far, everything seems healthy and I don’t think it will be an issue.
  7. Are you still running?
    Yes, with the full blessing of my midwife. I plan on trying to run until my third trimester.
  8. Is Jason excited?
    Jason is doing what he does best during transitions – he’s figuring stuff out. He’s reading books, asking me questions, and overall is very supportive. He’s not, by any means, glowing or swooning or gushing about “baby”. Which is fine. I would be concerned if he was because that’s not how he is about anything. He does have a very good sense of humor, and we’ve found that taking the situation lightly is good for both of us.
  9. Are YOU excited?
    Well, sure I am. I’m also tired, overwhelmed with all of the things that we need to start getting in order, weirded out by people’s over-the-top-reactions, entertained by the little pre-bump that’s become my stomach, incensed by the way that people feel it’s appropriate to stare at my waistline/touch my stomach/give unsolicited advice/make comments about how “tiny” I still am/etc, etc. Overall, the whole thing has been making me laugh. I haven’t had one of those moments where I just get awed by the “miracle of life” or something like that – I laughed when I saw the positive sign on the pregnancy test. I laughed the first time that I heard the heartbeat. I laughed during the first ultrasound, when I saw the little toot stretching its funny legs in the womb. It’s been hilarious and amazing all at once. I’m not a gushy person, and while I had wondered if pregnancy would change that, it’s really hasn’t. In a way, I’m not feeling any of those sentimental “OHMYLITTLEANGEL!” type feelings because I honestly don’t feel like it’s “my” little angel to coddle over. Sure, it’s mine and Jason’s child, and I like thinking about it growing and starting to respond to noise/touch, but on some level it’s very much out of our hands right now. It’s an exercise in trusting God that if I do the best things that I can do (eating right, sleeping, taking care of my body, etc) that he will keep it healthy and happy and hopefully help us not screw up too much when we become parents. It’s still rad, and I still think pregnancy is ultimately very bad-ass.

That’s about it for now. Stay tuned for more updates here and there. And you know, other stuff that I do, like, uh, writing a book. Because that’s important also.