Surrender

I’m 38 and a half weeks pregnant now, and still waiting to meet my little girl. I’m trying to boost my faith in my body’s ability to do what my brain is scared shitless about with well-researched articles and a mantra of surrender.

This idea of “surrendering” and trusting that the baby will come when she’s ready, that my body will know how to labor, that it’s all part of  a natural process that a zillion women do all the fucking time and that’s why there are 6 billion people on earth is the most difficult thing right now. I’m coming to terms with my predicted giant-sized baby and have learned that most complications from presumed large babies come from the unnecessary medical interventions used based on wildly divergent and inaccurate size estimates, especially for non-diabetic mothers. Research demonstrates that the likelihood of my inability to push her shoulders out is somewhere around 0.6%. Fourth degree tearing is much more likely with a vacuum than it is with a large baby (11 times more likely). Science wins, and the satisfaction with my choice for a low-intervention, natural-with-probable-epidural oxymoronic birth is returning.

There is no evidence demonstrating better outcomes for induced or surgically removed babies based on their size. It’s just something that a lot of practices do. Just because something is common practice, doesn’t mean it should be. While I deeply trust in the scientific process, that’s different than trusting all facets of the medical establishment. Hospitals are businesses that benefit tremendously from C-section births: they can turn over delivery rooms faster, charge more money for surgery than for vaginal birth, and they are less likely to be sued if something goes wrong (defensive medicine).

Read this article for more information about why there is no evidence to support benefit for inducing large babies, which helped me tremendously.

It’s taken me two and a half weeks and countless conversations with my midwives, doulas, friends, and husband to screw my head back on the right way and peel the terror-death grip of anxiety off because of all this stuff. But now the “reason” half of my brain, which is actually like 90% of me and how I operate, needs to take a back seat. Now I have to figure out how to let all of this go.

On a related note, I really identify with Krang, the villain from the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

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Remember Krang? He’ s a mighty but vulnerable brain that has to live in a he-man robot suit in order to use his powers. He’s pretty crafty, but without his bodysuit, he’s just a brain in a bucket. I’ve always felt kind of like a brain in a bucket. My brain has always felt like the source of whatever power and strength I have, and it feels disconnected from my body, which is mostly just a haphazard appendage that gets me places and into occasional trouble. It’s generally controlled by the mothership of my brain, and when it does its own thing despite my specific instructions, it’s uncomfortable.

This is not a good setup for labor.

First of all, having never done this before, I have no idea what to expect, how it will feel, or what I’m supposed to be doing. I have no idea what’s going to happen! How am I supposed to provide detailed, type-A, control-freak level instructions to my body on how to push out a giant child when I have no idea what I’m doing?

The answer, I’m told, is that I can’t. For the first time maybe ever, I need to quiet my inner Krang and trust that my body was built to do this. My body knows how to birth this baby, the same way my body knew how to build this baby for the last 9 months. I have to learn how to quiet the panic, trust that I’ve surrounded myself with the right team who can provide the right support, and let go. Let it go.

There is no concept more difficult than surrender at a time when all I want to do is panic and control.

The first step, for me, is to take the induction or C-section off the table (for now). While a specified delivery date would be an excellent brain-calming method for exerting my anxious will over my body’s natural process, there is no reason for it (at this point).

Next, I need to talk about it. I need Kate to tell me that trusting this rickety old body is the best thing I can do for myself and my baby. I need to text my doulas and have them remind me too. I need to cry at every midwife appointment and have them reassure me again and again. I need to remind my husband to remind me that everything will be okay during every onslaught of singing wayfair.com commercials every 4 seconds on the DIY channel. I need support! I need to be reminded 15 times a day that I can do this, and not be embarrassed or ashamed that I need a lot of help. I’m not a superwoman; I’m a weird little brain in an awkward bodysuit that has hopefully been wired properly.

I’m still figuring out the rest of it. Should I read Pema Chodron in the tub? Download some meditation timer apps? Join an online forum?

I’ll probably just try to rest the best way I know how: little naps, walks with my weird dog Donald, delicious salads, iPad time management games (oddly relaxing), and shit-talking home improvement shows on HGTV.

I’m repeating it like a mantra: I can surrender. I can surrender. 

I can’t wait to meet you, baby girl.

 

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My Big, Fat Baby

Of all the difficult things about pregnancy, the insomnia can be the hardest. The middle of the night is a very lonely time. There is nothing to distract you from yourself, no way to turn off the ticker tape of worries that keeps rolling through your brain like an old film reel. I’ve tried podcasts, noise machines, iPhone games, trolling social media, reading, movies, getting up and doing something, changing positions, counting sheep (counting sheep!), doing nothing and hoping for the best. Despite my best efforts, I usually wake up 4-5 times a night, and am usually awake for one long stretch between 2am and 5am; the no-man’s land of sleep.

Every night is like this, but last night was the worst night like this I’ve ever had.

When I found out I was pregnant, I decided to seek the care of a midwife rather than an OB. There is a lot of evidence out there to support that midwives are safer than OBs for low risk births, with less chance for surgical or other intervention during labor. I also didn’t want to have an anxious pregnancy, which I felt I’d have with an OB. Doctors are trained to diagnose medical problems, and I don’t believe that a pregnancy is a “medical problem.” I didn’t want to spend 9 months chasing the next screwy chromosome, or right femur bone that may be slightly longer than the left, or other types of medical insights that cause stress and worry and offer no result besides fear, because I’m going to have this baby. I’m going to love her. I don’t need to medically scope every potential, scary imperfection. I’m going to love her.

I have nothing against science or doctors. My day job is running clinical trials for one of the largest cancer treatment centers in the country. I work with brilliant doctors and nurses every day, who save lives with solid, evidence-based, often brutal (chemo, radiation) medical intervention. I don’t believe you can treat cancer with herbs, I will absolutely vaccinate my daughter, and I want to give birth in a hospital so that any medical intervention that may become essential is very close by. But I want a vaginal birth, and I want the option to labor for as long as I want without medical intervention. Also, I want a fucking epidural.

(I talk about cancer and birth in the same paragraph because this is how the stereotypes work: people who use midwives are anti-science hippies who all want a home birth so they can tend to their pagan rituals during labor and have their partners rub basil on their vaginas for pain relief. Like most stereotypes, the ones about midwives and low-intervention care for low risk pregnancies are complete bullshit.)

Please note that these are MY choices about MY birth, and nobody else’s. Let me state plainly that I applaud the woman brave enough to birth at home without so much as a tylenol, the woman in the ER having a scheduled cesarian, and the woman squatting in a labor tub or the desert or the back of a pick up truck. I don’t get to have an opinion about how anyone else gives birth, and neither do you.

A few weeks ago I went to see my midwife for a regular visit. Part of the low intervention care model is that they don’t order a lot of tests that are medically unnecessary (doctors love to order tests; after all, hospitals are big business, and medical testing is big money). I’ve had three sonograms throughout my pregnancy, at 8 weeks, 12 weeks, and the 20 week anatomy scan. I asked the midwife about getting another ultrasound. “I just want to see her,” I said. “It’s been a hard pregnancy and I just need something, like seeing her little face, to get me through this last stretch.” Sure, she said, and gave me the prescription.

I procrastinated for a few weeks with a busy schedule, and went in for my appointment yesterday. I was so excited on the drive over; thinking about seeing her, wondering who’s nose she got.

After checking in and waiting a while, the ultrasound tech called my name and invited us back for the sonogram. I wobbled up onto the table, got a towel tucked into my crotch, a squirt of warm jelly on the stomach, and we were rolling. “Wow,” the tech said, “your baby is HUGE.”

I told her that all the women in my family have fat babies. “Yeah, but this baby is huge. She’s 7 pounds, 9 ounces, and you still have 4 weeks to go. She’s in the 87th percentile for weight.”

“You’re officially high-risk. You’ll need to be induced to get this baby out,” she continued.

I lay there in shock. I told her that my midwife said she was normal in size.

“Well, that’s why you shouldn’t trust midwives. They just don’t provide the same level of care as OBs. I would never trust a midwife.”

At this point, my husband, seated behind her, was openly making faces and giving her the middle finger.

Can I see her face? I asked. The tech laughed. “Is that what the midwife told you? You can’t see her face. She’s head-down, face-down. You can’t see anything at this point.”

She finished up her measurements, toweled me off, and left the room.

While no pregnant woman is a stranger to unwanted questions, opinions, and statements about their bodies and choices (a daily occurrence during pregnancy), this tech’s opinions were particularly horrifying. I’m a rational woman, but when someone in a very medical-looking office who is looking at my unborn baby with a magic wand tells me that I’ve made shitty choices for myself and my baby, that my baby is not safe, that something is terribly wrong, it is deeply, horrifyingly unnerving.

I left the building in a state of shock, unable to process this information. My baby is not okay. I am not okay. This is not going to be okay.

Once we got in the car, I called my mom and started sobbing. Everything just fell apart.

I called the office for my midwives, and had them leave a message for the midwife on call. I told the girl at the answering service what I was calling about. “I’m 36 weeks and my baby is 8 pounds.” “Wow,” she said, “Sounds like they’re gonna have to induce.”

Waiting for a call back, with no idea what to do with myself, we drove to a nearby mall. There’s something about the predictability and sterility of a mall (the inevitable Macy’s and Starbucks) that was vaguely comforting. I found a kiosk where I could get my eyebrows threaded. We waited.

Somewhere between the Express and the food court, I got the call. She listened to my story in disbelief. She told me, first of all, that ultrasounds at this point were wildly inaccurate assessments of weight (up to 1.5 pounds off in either direction). She was most likely not 8 pounds: the statistical model the machines use to predict weight just isn’t very good. The only thing an ultrasound can tell you this far along in the pregnancy (36 weeks) is whether the baby was in the right position for labor (she is). There is no medical reason to start discussing induction or C-sections. There is no evidence to support better outcomes for early induction of “big babies,” particularly when the tools used to measure babies’ size in utero are not accurate. Further, ultrasound technicians are not obstetricians, gynecologists, nurses, or any other kind of licensed care provider. The only thing they’re qualified to do is squirt jelly on your stomach and click the buttons on their machine.

This woman had absolutely no right whatsoever to insert her opinion about the state of my pregnancy, or the type of care and support I’ve chosen for my pregnancy and delivery. 

Even though I believe my midwife, and had a couple of comforting phone calls with my mom and texts with my best friend who’s an L&D nurse (who agreed completely with the midwife), and talked to other friends who provided comfort, support, and distraction: I am still scared. Labor is already a totally, scary unknowable thing. It can happen at any time, under any circumstances, and you can’t know how it’s going to go. I want to face it and be brave, be secure with my choices, believe with everything in me that I can survive the experience, hopefully without trauma, and meet my daughter at the end of it. Someone will hand her to me and we’ll both be alive and okay. I’ll get to see her face for the very first time. My husband will finally get to fall in love with her the way that I have.

This little web of expectations and support is so fragile. It’s so easily pierced by a sociopathic tech with a very limited medical background and a squeeze bottle full of warm goop, despite knowing better. There is too much to fear.

Heading to bed last night, I knew it was going to be rough. I knew I’d wake up around two, and stay awake until five. Last night, the insomnia had a fresh batch of terror to exploit. Even the soothing balm of a 5-row match in Candy Crush was not enough to relieve the gnawing anxiety produced by this woman’s comments.

Please, let’s all make our own choices about how we want to handle our bodies, pregnancies and deliveries. There are as many ways to do this as there are women on this earth. Let’s support each other, even though we are bound to disagree. Let’s not make statements about things under the guise of medicine that we are not qualified to make. Let’s not assume that the choices we might make for ourselves are the best fit for someone else.  Let’s take care of each other, because deep down, all pregnant women are scared.

A special thanks to my friend Nicole, who came over yesterday afternoon in the midst of all this panic. Thank you for listening to me, and then feeding me that delicious eclair, for the arepas stuffed with black beans, sweet plantains, and queso fresco, and the little tacos and churros dipped in caramel sauce. My big, fat baby is grateful, too.

We’ll be okay.

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File Under: Things That Make Me Happy

I’ve spent a little time today reorganizing the pegboard in my office (and by office I clearly mean “craft room”).

Everything about this mitigates the nasty rainy grey old day outside. Look at these rainbows! Ooooh!

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By the way, have you ever checked out Goodwill for yarn? The store by me always has a huge basket of the stuff. Yesterday I found 5 rolls of wool in crazy 70’s colors (see above) for $.89 a pop.

15 minute DIY: Felt Leaves on a Stick

In keeping with the “things on a stick” crafts I’ve been doing lately, here are some little felt leaves glued to a stick:

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I love the effect: nature meets cartoon. This little branch will be part of the nursery, along with my other stick DIYs.

To make your own, you’ll need a stick, a piece of felt or two ($.39 a sheet at Michael’s; I used yellow and green), and your trusty hot glue gun.

First, cut little leaf shapes out of felt. I cut the felt into strips, the strips into rectangles, and the rectangles into leaves.

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Next, hot glue the leaves onto a stick.

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That’s it. Once glued on, you can manipulate the felt leaves a little so the shapes feel more leaf-like (curl the ends slightly with your fingers). Other than that, you’re done. Put the stick in a little vase somewhere and take a million pictures for Instagram. Revel in your craftiness. You really deserve Ben and Jerry’s.

Bad, Bad Clam

Kyle and I decided to ring in the New Year with an early bird trip to a local restaurant we’ve been dying to try. My deep fried brussel sprouts with parmesean, chili honey, and Rice Krispies and thin crust margherita pizza were surprisingly delicious (the former) and totally satisfying (the latter). Kyle, on the other hand, opted for the wood-fired oysters and clam pie. He spent the rest of New Years Eve glued to the toilet bowl, with intermittent bouts of shivering under multiple fleece blankets in bed, moaning. The man got a bad, bad clam.

Needless to say, it was not the New Years Eve either of us expected. While Kyle slept last night, I spent the majority of it in a long haze of pregnancy-induced insomnia, cruising Instagram for pictures of drunk friends at cool parties and testing different settings on my noise machine app while waiting for my Candy Crush lives to refill.

We took on a lot in the last year. In December of 2013, we closed on our first home. We moved to new town, a new county, where we didn’t know anybody. We adopted a weird and wonderful adult dog from a shelter, named Donald. We decided to have a baby, and I got pregnant. I changed jobs and stopped commuting into New York every day, effectively cutting me off in an immediate way from everything I’d built for the last 13 years (community, friendships, sense of place and identity).

So here we are, New Years Day: Kyle in a puddle under a mass of blankets trying to keep down water while reading subreddits, me massively pregnant (still waiting for my Candy Crush lives to refill), Donald shedding all over the bed, the cats actively trying to attain linebacker body mass index by returning to their food bowl every 14 seconds to see if anything new has appeared. And then there’s the little goose I’ve been carrying around, who I think about day and night, who I already love more than I’ve ever loved anything, even though we still haven’t officially met.

It’s been a really crazy year.

Even though all of these things seem so predictable (deciding it’s time to “grow up,” moving to the suburbs, getting pregnant), they feel enormous, unprecedented, and scary. It’s hard to live one way for a decade and then throw it all up in the air and start over. It’s also incredibly exciting, rewarding, and liberating.

We had a lot of fun this year, not despite, but because of the growing pains. My relationship with my husband has never been stronger or better. Having all this time and space around us has allowed us so much new creative freedom. Kyle learned how to build bookshelves and closets and wire things. I’ve learned to sit still (sort of) and relax and weave bowls or glue pompoms to various objects. This new kind of work is deeply rewarding and satisfying. It’s much harder to be creative in New York, where everybody lives on top of each other, physically and emotionally, and you quickly become buried under social obligations.

There are so many things I want for the next year. I want to learn to be a good mother and stay a good partner. I want to continue to build my little house into a sanctuary, so it feels like a full-sized blanket fort with rooms and a working kitchen. I want to stop doing things that make me unhappy.

What I’ve learned about wanting these things is that they’re too big to ask for. Instead, I need to ask for some time each day to sit and create something, a little bit of stillness, a sandwich, a glass of water.

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My best friend Kate wrote this in 2010, and it sums up everything I feel about growing up.

I was in the steam room and I sat still in there for a long time. I sat still waiting for the physical stillness to empty my mind. My mind was loud, was screaming, just now: “What the fuck is going on!!! Everything is out of control!!! Your life is out of control!!!”

I laid there for a long time. Then I stood up. As I walked out, I blacked out for at least three seconds, still on my feet. I kept so calm in a way. I told myself: No worries. Your brain is going to sleep but your feet will remain standing. Hold on just a second –

Really: everything is fine. Everything is full of wonder. I just want you to be happy, that’s it. I want you to happy so that you can help other people be happy. But you have to be happy first. You have to be nice to yourself before you are nice to everyone else.

The real truth is that I haven’t spent enough time being quiet today.

Mary Karr wrote a great poem about this, too, The Voice of God (excerpt below):

The voice of God does not pander,
offers no five year plan, no long-term
solution, nary an edict. It is small & fond & local.
Don’t look for your initials in the geese
honking overhead or to see thru the glass even
darkly. It says the most obvious crap—
put down that gun, you need a sandwich.

In 2015, with so much more growing on the horizon, I hope I can remember to be quiet, take a moment, get some sleep, be grateful, ask for help, and eat something (not clams). The broken stuff will heal on its own. It’s been a beautiful year.