Monday, July 29, 2013

milestones and reconnecting

This past weekend, Gwen had a bit of an adventure. For the first time she slept away from home without her father or me, her very first sleepover. Trav and I had a wedding to attend, and as it was very close to her grandparents' house, the easiest thing for all of us was to have Gwen sleep there. She was so excited for a sleepover with her Nonnie; Trav and I were so excited for a fun night together, and a chance for a bit of sleeping in!

It was surreal, driving away from my parents place. My preschooler was a baby just yesterday, and here she is, having her first sleep away. It was only for a night, but it was a milestone nonetheless.

Now, we are starting our week of vacation. Today is the beginning of our 3 days of camping, something I am so looking forward to. Life gets so busy and hectic sometimes. Its so easy to get caught up in the routine of the everyday, and let it all just slip by. We wake up, we get ready, we're off to school and work, we come home, make dinner, have bath time half the days, maybe have time for a brief play or some yoga, then its time to get ready for bed. A few precious hours of sleep and its time to do it all again. We get as much together time in there as possible, liberally sprinkle all waking hours with hugs and kisses and I love yous, but it isn't enough sometimes.

I'm so looking forward to the next 3-days as a way to relax and reconnect as a family. 3 days of enjoying nature, being outside (which we all love), hiking, cooking over a campfire, without the normal interruptions of school/work, chores, or technology. There will be no laundry, no dishes, no vacuuming. There will be no TV, no videos, no kindle, no computer. The iPhone will be there, but turned off in the car, in case of emergency only. We will sleep side-by-side, in our sleeping bags, under the moonlight. We will listen to the sound of the woods, and the rushing of waterfalls. We will make our fingers gooey with s'mores, then rinse them in the stream. We will hike until we are tired and sore, looking at all the beauty that the environment displays to us, then sleep deeply, satisfied. We will do it all together, without the normal distractions from each other.

Gwen is growing and changing everyday. I know these times are fleeting. This chance to reconnect is so cherished.

How do you reconnect when you feel like daily life is getting too distracting?

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Vaccines and the Ultimate Controversy: Where Do You Stand?

Around the time my firstborn was two years old, I started researching vaccinations. Up until his second birthday, we had been vaccinating on schedule. Once I started delving into the heaps of information and controversy, however, we began vaccinating on a delayed schedule, and have done so with our other two children, as well.

Through the research that I've done, I've found some pretty incredible information criticizing vaccinations, tempered by plenty of unreliable and sensationalistic "literature," mostly on rogue websites filled with fear mongering and very little fact (unfortunately, it's usually on the side opposing vaccinations, which makes the anti-vaccination camp look uneducated indeed). It's important to remember that just because something is written on a website doesn't mean it's true, credible, or factual (including this one. I urge you to look up any and all information I provide here for yourself, and please come back and let me know if you find facts to the contrary of what I've posted). 

I don't claim to be any type of expert, but I'm sharing the information I've found in the hopes that someone may find it useful. I respect and understand both sides of the issue, and have no doubt that parents on either end of the spectrum are doing what they believe to be best.

So what are the issues with vaccines? Certainly the loudest and most well known controversy is that of MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) and autism. There is a barrage of constant misinformation being pumped out regarding this particular vaccine. When Andrew Wakefield was disgraced and his study discounted, the headlines screamed about "no links between vaccines and autism," and "no harm from mercury in vaccinated children."

In fact, there is no mercury in any current vaccine in the US other than the flu shot. Additionally, there has never been mercury in the MMR vaccine--the issue was that of the measles illness itself being found in the guts of children studied, some of whom showed signs of autism, some of whom went on to develop autism later in their young lives, and some who didn't. The evidence was inconclusive, but definitely warranted further investigation, which never happened. The controversy surrounding Wakefield is huge, but I invite you to read Callous Disregard, written by the man himself, which is eye opening.

The mercury in vaccines is a completely separate subject from Andrew Wakefield and his study, and I find it frustrating when they are clumped together. There was mercury (or thimerosal) in multiple vaccines in the 90s, and children were harmed by it, and there are mounds of proof--it's just not easy to find, and it's not found through Google. Did you know that the safety of thimerosal on humans was tested on 15 meningitis patients, all of whom died from their disease a few weeks after they received the chemical? "No adverse effects were reported" because there wasn't enough time to make a conclusion.

Autism is not the only issue--or even the most important one, in my opinion. There are hosts of autoimmune illnesses that are on the rise in young children, such as diabetes, asthma, and juvenile arthritis, and there is a school of thought that suggests the practice of giving so many vaccinations all at once is the culprit. The introduction of so many different viruses, toxins, allergens, and other agents at such a young age confuses the body, and it begins to attack itself. Something that should be investigated, but once again, has not been adequately addressed to date.

What toxins, you ask? Toxins like formaldehyde, phenol and aluminum (found in flu, Hib, Pneumococcal, and DTaP vaccines). Gelatin, a common allergen, is a flu vaccine ingredient, and the vaccine is cultured in chicken embryo (egg), useful to know for those with egg allergies. Hepatitis B is cultured in yeast or yeast extract. As for foreign agents, most MMR vaccines are produced in fetal bovine (cow) serum, and the rubella vaccine has been produced using cells from an aborted fetus infected with the disease. The Rotavirus vaccine is produced in
vero (monkey kidney) cell culture. It's naive to assume that none of these foreign agents don't have some effect on our bodies. An early polio vaccine (1950s) was contaminated with a monkey virus named SV40 that causes cancer in laboratory animals. It's been suggested that this virus was the cause for thousands of cases of cancers like mesothelioma, brain, and bone cancers. Is it true? We may never know, but it's certainly alarming.
Additionally, though most doctors will tell you that adverse vaccine reactions are rare, they are under reported to VAERS (Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System) by as much as 85%, which makes them far more frequent than the average person realizes.

Part of the problem as I see it is that our medical care is very "one size fits all." Through my research I came to learn that when making the vaccine schedule, the lowest common denominator is taken, that being families with less access to good health care or families who are unable to afford frequent co-pays, and the CDC (Center for Disease Control) and AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics) work up from there. One of the reasons babies and small children are given so many shots in one visit is because that takes away the need for the parents to return the children for another doctor visit--statistically, many don't go back.

The Hepatitis B vaccine became routine at birth due to the fact that so many mothers who were infected with Hepatitis B were passing it on to their babies. Over time, it went from being administered to only infected babies to everyone, regardless of the mother's medical history. You can refuse the shot for your newborn at birth. Hepatitis B is only transmitted through sexual contact or intravenous drug use, and so our family doesn't administer hepatitis B to our kids until they are 4, and then it's really just because it's the law in NY for public school attendance.

It trickles into prenatal care, too. Each time I became pregnant I had to have an HIV test despite testing negative with my prior pregnancy (NY law). Each of my children had to have erythromycin put on their eyes at birth despite my testing negative for gonorrhea and chlamydia (which can cause serious complications for the baby as it passes through the birth canal). In fact, even babies born by C-section are given erythromycin, which makes little sense since they are not passing through the birth canal and so have little chance, if any, of coming into contact with the mother's infection (especially if she's tested negative during pregnancy!). Meanwhile, we take just one Strep B test, and if it's negative, we do not get antibiotics during labor--never mind the fact that Strep B comes and goes and can be negative at 35 weeks and positive at birth.

Doesn't make much sense, does it?

Neither extreme is good, in my opinion--unless there is some medical or religious reason for children to remain unvaccinated. Personally, I'm not anti-vaccine; I'm anti-toxin and anti-schedule. We do vaccinate, but do so on a delayed schedule (and skip a couple altogether). I believe that certain vaccines given at certain times, and too many vaccines given at one time, can be harmful, but I won't skip vaccinations all together. I also don't believe that vaccine manufacturers and those making the vaccine schedule, like the CDC and the AAP, have our best interests at heart. I've come to believe that much of it has to do with corporations, stakeholders, government, liability, and money. Lots and lots of money.

I don't trust anyone as much as I trust myself and my instincts when it comes to what's best for my children. It doesn't matter how many experts tell me that the current vaccine schedule is safe, that the toxins in vaccines are given in such minuscule amounts it doesn't matter, etc., etc. At this point I'm confident enough to base my decisions on what I've learned as a layperson and my instincts as a mother, as well as my own common sense. I don't like when people cite studies because I've learned that unless the studies are conducted completely independently, they can be skewed to say pretty much anything (did you hear that
cloth diapers are as bad for the environment as disposables are? Do you know who conducted that study? Procter & Gamble. As in, the Pampers and Luvs manufacturer).

Most doctors I speak to on this subject give me the standard answers, or offer statistics which really mean nothing--because my children are not numbers on a page. But have these doctors actually done any research themselves? Doubtful. They are repeating what they have been told, which is insufficient at best.

There are those "experts" that will tell you that as an average parent, you know nothing and should trust scientists and those who have gone to medical school (as if that makes anyone smarter in and of itself). But did you know that parents, just regular old laypeople with no medical or scientific background, are responsible for ensuring that future generations are not harmed by vaccines as their children were? It was one such group of determined parents in the 90s that finally got the US to stop using mercury in new vaccines and phase it out of current ones.

What we know as DTaP (diphtheria, tetanus, and a-cellular pertussis, known as whooping cough) used to be DTP (which was the full pertussis virus as opposed to it being split), and children became ill and died as a result. It was the great and exhausting efforts put forth by parents decades ago that forced the hand of those in charge and made them look at the vaccine and realize it was harmful.

Not related to vaccines, the plight of Augusto and Michaela Odone, as portrayed in the film Lorenzo's Oil, again highlights what can happen when parents take advocating for their children to another level. These two parents took matters into their own hands and made medical advancements that were extraordinary, to say the least. Neither of them was a doctor or scientist.

Lastly, I avoid mainstream parenting sources for advice on vaccinating. Dr. Paul Offit and the AAP are quoted in publications like Parents Magazine, promoting the safety of vaccines. And then, a little digging finds the following:

"The vaccine industry gives millions to the Academy of Pediatrics for conferences, grants, medical education classes and even helped build their headquarters. The totals are kept secret, but public documents reveal bits and pieces.

A $342,000 payment from Wyeth, maker of the pneumococcal vaccine - which makes $2 billion a year in sales.

A $433,000 contribution from Merck, the same year the academy endorsed Merck's HPV vaccine - which made $1.5 billion a year in sales.

Another top donor: Sanofi Aventis, maker of 17 vaccines and a new five-in-one combo shot just added to the childhood vaccine schedule last month. Every Child By Two, a group that promotes early immunization for all children, admits the group takes money from the vaccine industry, too - but wouldn't tell us how much. A spokesman told CBS News: "There are simply no conflicts to be unearthed." But guess who's listed as the group's treasurers: Officials from Wyeth and a paid advisor to big pharmaceutical clients.

Then there's Paul Offit, perhaps the most widely-quoted defender of vaccine safety. He's gone so far as to say babies can tolerate "10,000 vaccines at once." This is how Offit described himself in a previous interview: "I'm the chief of infectious disease at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and a professor of pediatrics at Penn's medical school," he said. Offit was not willing to be interviewed on this subject but like others in this CBS News investigation, he has strong industry ties. In fact, he's a vaccine industry insider. Offit holds in a $1.5 million dollar research chair at Children's Hospital, funded by Merck. He holds the patent on an anti-diarrhea vaccine he developed with Merck, Rotateq, which has prevented thousands of hospitalizations. And future royalties for the vaccine were just sold for $182 million cash. Dr. Offit's share of vaccine profits? Unknown.

There's nothing illegal about the financial relationships, but to critics, they pose a serious risk for conflicts of interest. As one member of Congress put it, money from the pharmaceutical industry can shape the practices of those who hold themselves out to be "independent." The American Academy of Pediatrics, Every Child By Two and Dr. Offit would not agree to interviews, but all told us they're up front about the money they receive, and it doesn't sway their opinions. Today's immunization schedule now calls for kids to get 55 doses of vaccines by age 6. Ideally, it makes for a healthier society. But critics worry that industry ties could impact the advice given to the public about all those vaccines."

Below are some of my sources.  

Dr. Sears' Vaccine Book has got useful, factual information, is constantly updated with the latest things you need to know, and has some alternate vaccine schedules for those who don't want to follow the AAP schedule.

Evidence of Harm is an excellent book to read. It goes into the fight parents led against mercury in vaccines in the 90s. Eye opening regarding our government and its agencies, and where their priorities lie.

This is a great site, established in part by the parents highlighted in the book above. 

Another good book is What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Children's Vaccinations. It's been fairly recently (2010) updated and its got information on vaccine ingredients, etc., that I did not find anywhere else.

You can also pick up two books by Jenny McCarthy--Louder Than Words, and Mother Warriors. I know she seems like an unlikely author on the subject, and she's been made fun of quite a bit. She's not unintelligent, however, and I found her books extremely helpful and riveting.

The most important thing to remember is that the choice is, and should be, yours. Make your own decision, but make it an informed one, no matter which side of the coin you fall on. 

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

What Happens When Your Water Breaks and You Don't Deliver Within 24Hours: Part 3: Birth Story

"This birth is cursed!" I announced after hanging up the phone and then commenced sobbing dejectedly. Almost three whole days since my water had broken, and I STILL wasn't in labor. Less than twelve hours and I wouldn't have a single study to back up that my baby was not really at risk. Three days of believing in my body and that all I needed was time and good energy and thoughts and my body was still letting me down! Now, I call our doula to let her know we were going to the hospital (the drive of shame I called it nastily in my head) only to find out she had just fallen and possibly broken her ankle. (No way she could drive or be on her feet for my labor all day.) Because she's an amazing professional, she'd already arranged a back up doula to cover us, but the thought of having another stranger there to witness my possible failure (my chances for a successful vbac were about to be a bit decreased by the introduction of pit at the hospital), was too much. I just couldn't stomach having a stranger there. (Now I kind of wish we had had her there for the pushing stage, but hind site is 20/20 and who knew that alone would last over four hours?)

The hour and twenty minute drive to the birth center seemed like an eternity since I wasn't in labor like I had planned to be on the drive. For someone who had worked really hard to not be "in her head" so much this labor, having almost three whole days to do nothing but think and wait had been agony. Because my natural coctractions were so strong, I went ahead and sat in the back seat so I could kneel or squat whenever they hit, but my last minute hope that active labor would just strike like lightening during the car ride was not to be. We arrived at the hospital, went up to the birth center floor, and went directly to triage, a place I had sworn I would skip because I would be in such advanced labor before I even left the house, where I was tested to see if the fluid really was amniotic even though it had pretty much stopped flowing over twenty four hours before (we think it was a high leak and the baby moved to block it). It was positive (duh!). I was an emotional mess. I cried before the midwife and midwifery student even had a chance to get more than "hello" out. My heart rate was high because I was so upset. (Once I did some hypnotherapy on myself it dropped right down.) I felt humiliated and like a failure. Suddenly, having another c-section and a hysterectomy no longer seemed like far off possiblities. I kept most of those fears to myself and tried to dispell them as best I could.

Something I am grateful for is the completely non-plussed attitude the midwives had about how long my water had been broken. While my OB during my last birth had panicked because it had been fifteen hours since my water had broken and my contractions were steady, but I was not in completely active labor, my midwife took for granted that my body was fine. I had no signs of infection. My baby showed no signs of distress. No cervical check was done. Just the swab for the amniotic fluid and that was all. In my distress, I had even forgotten my birth plan, but my midwife had already scanned in a copy, so they just printed one out from their computer. They were also very respectful of me. They not only got me into a tub room and found me wireless monitors (I was only being monitored because of the pit) so that I could be as active as I wanted to be and get into the tub when I was ready, but they also found me a birth ball and gave me a chance to eat a meal before hooking me up to pit.Normally they encourage mothers to eat as much as they feel they need to during labor, despite hospital policies to the contrary, but when on pit, it's clear liquids only. At every turn, whenever they knew they were veering off my birth plan, they apologized and made sure that I gave the final okay for everything. It was made clear to me that although the circumstances of my birth were not as I had planned, this still was my body and my birth. I felt safer being treated with so much respect. I remember a moment when my husband left the room to check on our son and the nurses left the room to get something before finishing hooking up the pit and I could almost hear my heart beating out of my chest and the waves of shame that I was going to "need" pit to have this baby washing over me. I decided in that moment that there was no more room for shame or for fear in this birth. I actually decided to "bless" the pit and let it know what I did and did not need from it before it could enter my body. It felt a little silly, but equally important because I wanted to feel in control of my birth again. So, I said a quick prayer and then I said, "Okay, pit. I just want to let you know where we stand. I know that I cursed you as an enemy in my last birth, but you are going to help bring me stronger contractions so that my baby comes to me a little more quickly and for that I thank you. For every wave of pain you send my way, I will thank you until my baby is in my arms. You are here not because I am broken, but because my water has broken a bit early. I do not need you, but I welcome you. You will not give me contractions that are too strong for me, because I am stronger than you. My body gives you your power and it will give me my baby. God is with me. You will not over power me."

They then hooked up the pit and because I am a VBAC, they told me that they would use very minimal doses and up them every half an hour or so until I was in active labor. It took two hours and four doses before the "pit" contractions became anywhere close to my natural contractions that were still occurring randomly. My husband and I walked together around and around the circular birthing center, and as I walked the contractions got stronger and closer together. I tried to teach him how to give counter pressure on my hips during the contractions. After three hours on pit, the contractions were two minutes apart, were lasting at least a minute each, and were powerful enough that I needed to vocalize to get through them (they would continue at this pace for the rest of my labor . . . another twelve hours). The wireless monitors were also running out of juice, so we had to return to the room and I sat on the birth ball or got into different squatting or all fours positions to get through the contractions. It was at this point that the midwife shift was about to change and the midwive coming on was none other than *my* midwife. The midwife I had seen exclusively at her one day a week shift at the location closest to where I lived (about 45 min from my home). I was so glad to see her, I almost could have kissed her. She was the one thing that seemed to be exactly right. After she came on shift, I requested my first cervical check, just to see if I was far enough along to get into the tub. She checked and I was at a four. A four!?!?!? A four. I know women who get to fours without ever feeling a contraction and here I was drowning in powerful ones and I was only at a four. Not even half way there. My labor still felt so fragile at that point, so ephemeral. My VBAC in general seemed so illusive I couldn't stand it. I had wanted to feel the power of my body, to get caught up in birth, but despite the power, intensity, and regularity of the pit contractions, I still felt that at any moment it all could be over and I could find myself in surgery. The perfect trust I had had in my body all during my pregnancy had been shattered by my days of waiting after my water broke. In fact, I had received a text shortly before going into labor in which a well meaning loved one had meant to assure me that the birth that needed to happen would happen and that I should not hold myself to blame for whatever did occur, but the words that had been used were "some women are just broken and need help in birth." The word "broken" just reverberated in my soul. When I heard I was only a four; I heard that word "broken" repeating in my ears again. I started crying. My husband couldn't understand what was wrong; my midwife couldn't understand what was wrong. My doula who continually kept calling to check on us and was a nervous wreck waiting for news told us that the first four centimeters are always the hardest. Still, I pressed on, but fear had started creeping back in. It wasn't until about twenty to thirty minutes later, that something happened that forever changed the trajectory of my birth and made it possible for me to have a successful VBAC despite the obstacles and challenges that were still to come.

I was sitting on the birth ball, breathing and vocalizing through my contractions. I was using an "ahhh" sound this time to relax the back of my throat and the sound that came out actually became (through no direction of mine) a bit of a song. I would sing my way through my contractions for most of the rest of my labor. Suddenly, I felt the baby drop and shift just a tiny bit and I felt pressure in the back. I knew that I was not far enough along to push yet, but it was a sensation that I had never felt in all 29 hours of labor with my first child. Suddenly, right in the middle of a hellishly strong contraction, I found hope. I felt that bit of pressure and I thought, that's it. That's the right position. This is new. This is different. This VBAC is going to happen. That was the moment that made it all possible. Come what may.

Just an hour or so later, I started showing signs I was in transition and I moved into the large birth tub to help ease the pain. There I sang through every contraction and sniffed lavender and other essential oils my midwife prepared for me. I also drank some raspberry leaf tea. From here on out, I become pretty unsure of times, but I probably entered the tub around 9 or so and exited a little before midnight. While I felt pressure, I still did not feel it was time to push quite yet. My midwife eventually asked if I was willing to leave the tub and give another position a try. I tried laboring on all fours in the bed, but the midwife suggested maybe I should try lying on my side and rotating from side to side every other contraction. I think she wanted to get the baby in a little bit better position and it must have worked because fairly soon I did feel pressure to push. At some point, she had checked and I was at 9 1/2 centimeters which it felt awesome to hear because that was further than I had gotten in my first birth. Laying on my side had really hurt, but it seemed worth it. (I would not feel that way the next time I was on my side.) Feeling the need to stand I got up from the bed and tried leaning against my husband and the nurse, but when the next contraction hit, I found an urge to squat through the contraction. The midwife suggested making my song's notes go lower more like grunting to help power the energy downward. She suggested I go ahead and try a push if that's what I felt like doing. (I did!) Pushing felt amazing. It was such a relief to work with my body rather than against it. Because it was not yet midnight, I foolishly dreamed maybe I would only need to push a few times and the baby and I would share a birthday. Alas, that was not to be.

After a few pushes, my midwife got a little bit of a worried look on her face and said she thought I migh
t have a cervical lip, so she tried to hold it out of the way during the next push, but it was stubborn. A veteran of over twenty five years, she seemed like she knew what she was talking about so when she told me that it seemed particularly "spongy and stubborn" and that I should stop pushing and lay down, I listened to her. In my first birth, I had reached a dilation of 8.5 and then after bearing down too much, too early I had started undilating and had ended up with my ceasarean. I did not want history to repeat itself. I had come to far to do that again. So, I consented to laying on my side again this time with my legs closed and rotating some more to keep the baby in a good bithing position. I have been through a root canal, I have had two molars pulled with only partial pain relief, I have been through (a collective total of both of my births) over 30 hours of un-pain medicated pit labor, I have gone through two abdomen surgeries (a c-section and gall bladder surgery) with no pain medication after the initial surgery except ibuprofen and tyenol and I have never felt pain like the pain I felt lying on the bed after pushing. To fight to relax my body after being able to work with the pain of the contraction was incredibly painful and holding my legs together felt impossible. I felt like my body was going to shake apart from the strength of those contractions. Adding to the misery, there was absolutely no respite from the pain. In between contractions, because of the position of the baby I was in a solid block of pain that was only intensified during a contraction. The best way I can think to describe it is being stabbed by a knife and then having the knife almost slid out to relieve part of the pain, only to have it plunged back in. I shudder thinking about it now, four months later. It was at this time, I finally broke and started crying. I just wanted a short respite from that pain. I didn't think I could continue without some sort of a break, but here's the thing. I did. It was bearable. Even though, in the moment, I was afraid it wasn't. It was. I was stronger than that incredible pain.

Finally, I felt that if I didn't push I was going to die, that the contractions would simply break me in half and my baby would come out that way. I begged the midwife to let me push and she offered to check, but I could tell by her voice that she didn't think my cervical lip was gone, but to her surprise, it was. She told me on the next contraction to push. I was so relieved. I glanced at the clock and realized that it was past midnight. The baby had chosen to wait for his own birthday to be born. I had been on pit about 11 hours. The nurse and midwife installed the squat bar over my bed and with the next contraction I pulled myself up and pushed. Although it hurt, it felt much, much better to push. As the baby squeezed low under my pelvic bone, my hips began to burn like nothing I had ever felt before, but then the baby would slide back. I would push into the pain and then the baby would slide back, peek a boo. The midwife helped me learn how to direct my pushes so they could be more productive, but still the baby was not coming out. This went on for hours. I want to note that I was not panicked. I was not under the impression that I could not do it. With every push, I felt like this was the one that would get the baby's head out, but each time, it wasn't.
After awhile, I noticed my nose felt runny like it sometimes did when I went to the gym and I was a little embarrassed about that, but since nothing could be done, I just pushed through it. I noticed my husband starting to look worried, and I tried to be reassuring, but that was hard when all my real energy was on pushing. I noticed drops of blood all over the bed and thought it was from the pushing, but I learned later the blood was from my nose. It turned out that every time I squatted to push, my nose would gush blood. When the midwife (who was going between rooms because another mama was pushing as well) returned, she told me she wanted me to lay down to push for awhile, but didn't tell me that it was because my nose was bleeding so much. I would lay to push the rest of the time. (This is VERY unusual for my midwife practice, but was done simply because of the stress I seemed to be under vertically.)

I am uncertain exactly how this next part happened, but eventually I realized I was having a lot of trouble breathing. My lungs felt really tight and no matter how deeply and slowly I tried to breathe there was never enough air. I was so focused on living push to push that the sensation sort of snuck up on me. It was a little surreal because I was too focused to even panic about it. It took me a long time to even vocalize that it was happening because the two twin goals of pushing and breathing were so all encompassing that it was all I could do to keep up with them. Talking was too difficult. The midwife and the nurse could tell something was wrong, though, my heartrate was going up and my oxygen (although it stayed pretty high) became a little erratic. Eventually, I was put on oxygen, but that did little to help. I remember just feeling completely washed in the sensation of drowning; I was lost in a sea of pressure, pain, and pathetically little air. I became aware that I was becoming very foggy. Again, I did not panic, the sensation as strange and horrible as it was had something familiar about it that I couldn't put a name to with all my focus on getting the baby out. I began to wonder if I was going to be able to stay concious, fighting for every breath the way I was and struggling to stay aware. Still, the siren song of the need to push kept calling and I was powerless to resist. Even when my midwife began to tell me that I was pushing too hard and I needed to take every other contraction off from pushing, my body just could not obey. My contraction would come and my baby would call and my body would push, with or without my help, so I would take the deepest breath I could and I would push myself as hard as I could because to do otherwise would have been to waste what precious energy I had left and I, even in my foggy, dissassociated state, knew that I would run out of energy eventually. The only point where I did get a little panicky happened after what I guess was a particularly hard push in which I had a very brief break with reality and momentarily lost where I was and what I was doing. I remember looking around and thinking: where the heck am I and what in the world is going on? I think I may even have attempted to say it outloud because I remember seeing everyone look at each other really concerned. I thought at the time I might have passed out and came to quickly, but eveyone present swears I was awake the whole time. Fighting to breathe and fighting to push, I was in no position to argue with anyone if someone had said that a repeat cesarean was necessary. I was completely at the mercy of my provider. Looking back, I am very happy that I was so picky and insistant about finding a provider I believed in and who I thought would support and believe in me. As much as I wanted to be powerful, in charge, and independent during my birth, my breathing difficulties and my fatigue made it impossible. I told myself that I was going to push on and on and on and on until I had a baby in my arms or I passed out and woke up in an operating room. I could not assess which would be my outcome, but my midwife saw strength and resiliance in me that I could not see in that moment. She saw me as a powerful woman facing only seemingly insurmountable trouble and she told me I could do it. I couldn't even hear her voice, but I knew she was in my corner and had not lost faith in me. So, on I pushed and pushed and pushed. Each time amazed that I could still rise to the contraction's call even as the air seemd to grow thinner and thinner. (The baby's stats remained strong throughout no matter my distress level.)

Sometime later (an eternity? an hour? two?), the head was finally emerged enough that I could touch it and remembering I had expressed a wish to do so, my midwife encouraged me to feel my baby's head. She had what seemed like an endless supply of hot evening primrose oil and it seemed to me that she was doing everything she could to preserve every micrometer of progress I made with my pushes. A few pushes later, she told me that if I wanted it, she would perform an episiotomy just to help me get the baby out faster. She stressed that it was my choice and she was only offering it because I seemed so distressed. I told her "yes." Anything to make this eternity of airlessness and pain come closer to an end. (I learned two days later that it was only the second episiotomy she had ever performed in over 25 years of being a midwife and the only one she had performed because the mother seemed distressed.) She performed it and the very next push my son was born. Although I had always been told the shoulders were the worst part and the ring of fire was something to behold, both sensations were nothing compared to the pain of laying on my side trying to get rid of my cervical lip or the burning my hips felt as I pushed the baby out. In fact, I never felt the shoulders at all. As soon as the head was birthed, I did not need to push again. The baby fell out and was quickly placed on my chest. Although he would remain there only seconds as we both breathed raggedly, stunned to finally be there, it is a moment I will never forget.

It was at this point that we veered yet again from my birth plan and the baby was whisked to a pediatrician who had been called in because I had been in such obvious distress while pushing. His umbilical cord stopped pulsing mere moments after birth and as soon as it was cut, he was taken over and examined in the incubator. My breathing was becoming easier, but I could hear that his cry was strange and his breathing seemed "off" somehow. I birthed the placenta without even pushing and as the midwife stitched me back together, the pediatrician on call (our doctor was back in the town where we lived almost an hour and a half away) came over with my still crying baby and told me that the strange cry I was hearing was because my baby might not be "tolerating the conversion to gas oxygen well." He thought that the best course of action for the time being would be for me to give him lots of skin to skin and to suction him as much as possible. He would return in an hour to check the baby's progress unless the baby seemed to get more distressed in the mean time. He encouraged me to nurse whenever the baby seemed interested and ready and that he would not take the baby from me and into the NICU unless he got worse. It seemed that there would be no respite from worry in this birth.

However, an hour later found the baby still crying, freshly nursed, but breathing better. Another very thorough sunction from the pediatricican and I finally saw my baby at peace. We lay together, skin to skin, heart to heart, battered lungs to battered lungs, both a little shocked, amazed,and thankful that we were there, together, and still breathing. Exhaustion washed over us both and we slept.

Two days later, it hit me why the sensation was so familiar. My struggle breathing had been an asthma attack. Because of the noise of the baby's monitor and, later, the whir of the oxygen tank, no one could hear the tell tale wheezing of my lungs. Having an asthma attack while in labor is exceptionally rare; less than one percent of asthmatic women ever experience it. Yet another crazy statistic in this crazy birth. I talked to my midwife about it and she was relieved to hear what had happened had an explanation. She felt awful for not recognizing the signs for what they were, but she had never experienced any patient having an asthma attack during labor, either. "Next time, if there is a next time, I'm going to put it in your chart. Puff and then push". I couldn't agree more.

There is line from a Margaret Atwood poem that ends "I don't want this/but I want this also." In the hours and days after my second son's birth, those lines haunted me. After I looked up the poem, I realized why they haunted me, although the poem is ostensibly about the love the speaker has for her lover whose body has been broken. I realized that it perfectly encapsulated how I felt about my body after birth. I was not the birth warrior/goddess I had always thought I could and should be, but I did it anyway. I was adequate and adequate was all we needed. I don't love this story I have written for you. I wanted something different. It is not full of power and self assurance and victory the way I imagined it would be, but I love and want this also because it is the story of how my son came into this world and how I birthed him with my imperfect body that was still enough.

Final Stats: 
Second baby boy born 82 hours after water broke
7 lbs 8 oz
20 1/2 inches long
On his due date the day after my birthday,
5:11 am March 10,
15 hours after pitocin introduction

Thank you for reading,

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Road to Healing

Every year my oldest daughter's birthday comes around and I am taken back to when she was born.  I rework her birth story, add more understanding and less anger.  Though nothing could have prepared me for how her birth would feel after having my Freebirth.

Her cesarean has always been hard for me to deal with.  I'm able to talk about it most times now without stumbling and crying, I can talk to some of the people that caused the reasons for her cesarean without wanting to run away, but now knowing that my body was never broken, that it simply needed no one to mess with it?  I now have an entirely different perspective.

I know that most women won't have the birth I did.  Unassisted Birth, or Freebirth, isn't for everyone.  It isn't meant to be.  You take an even more direct approach to your own care, and you have to reach deep down to become in tune with your intuition.  Some women need another person in charge to rely on.  Others don't want to take completely responsibility for their birth.  Even more don't care.

However, my Freebirth almost eight months ago opened my eyes.

Six years ago I was told things would end differently.  A supposedly term baby, a very "unrisky" procedure, and the possibility of a cesarean if she didn't turn from breech.  I didn't think much beyond that.

Every bad thing that could happen did.  I had a cesarean, my "term" baby couldn't breathe, and I had PPD/PTSD for months after.  I didn't bond, didn't feel much of anything for her other than responsibility.

Now having had my Freebirth, having had that instant bond, I know a few things in the shadow of six years.

The procedure before could have killed her and was completely unnecessary and even more dangerous now that I know about my bicornuate uterus, but the cesarean I despise saved her life.

That may not sound like much, but this is a huge step for me.  One that I see is a step in the way of healing.

They saved her life and inadvertently created the birth of my second.  I don't know if I would have found this path without the trauma caused, but I can now be a little bit grateful for it.

Monday, July 15, 2013

yoga: a personal persuit becomes a bonding experience

After I had Gwen, I lost myself in motherhood a bit. There is no denying that you change, on a very profound level when you become a parent. After a year, I knew I had to do some work to find balance in my new life. I needed to make sure that I was caring for myself, and addressing my own needs, not just Gwen's. I started going out with girlfriends for occasional dinners, and started volunteering with a state park clean up once a month. About 9 months ago, I added yoga to my weekly routine, and it has quickly become one of the most crucial ways that I find balance in this mommy life of mine. I only attend a formal class once a week, but it is one night a week to focus solely on me, and my emotional, physical, and mental well-being.

This, and more amazingly gorgeous family yoga pictures, can be found here.
Recently though, I decided it might be fun to share what has become a passion of mine. Not that one night a week - that is still mine, and mine alone - but yoga in general. Gwen has shown a curiosity in this pursuit that keeps me out past her bedtime regularly, so when she asked me about it a few weeks ago, I decided to ask her if she wanted me to show her what yoga was. She was very excited about the prospect and quickly soaked up each position I showed her. At first, it was just something that she brought up sporadically, but once she started showing her school teachers different positions (her favorites are tree and wheel), I thought it was time to make this something more regular. I have a family yoga DVD in hand that I can't wait to show Gwen.

At first it seemed funny to me that something which brings me so much joy as a personal pursuit would be something that is such a joy to share with Gwen as well. Honestly though, when we love something we want to share it with the world, and that's what Gwen is to me. The benefits are numerous as well. Gwen's knowledge of my practice was important to me, because I want her to be aware from a young age that my physical health is a priority; I want physical activity and healthy pursuits to be a focus of hers. There is so much pressure on girls to look a certain way, but this has a different focus - feeling healthy. Our conversations are never about how I do this to fit into my pants, or so I don't get fat, since that is not at all what it is about; our conversations are about how yoga helps me to feel healthy, strong, and gives me more energy for other types of play.

As we continue to explore this passion, I hope Gwen will find, as I have, that she is becoming more in tune with and more aware of her body. I want her to be proud of what her body is capable of, and to understand that with practice and patience, that capability can grow.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

What Happens When Your Water Breaks and You Don't Deliver Within 24 Hours: Part 2: My Pre-birth Story

Okay, so Part One was all about the research that went into the decision I made not to go to the hospital even after my water had been broken for over 24 hours. This is my personal story.

It was Wednesday, March 6. Like all wednesdays were at the end of my pregnancy, this one was busy. In the morning, was my son's library story time (a highlight of his week), followed by a rush to make lunch and get dinner in the crockpot, than get my son down for his nap, then head out to a town 45 minutes away for my now weekly midwife appointments (there was only one midwife at that location, the closest to my home, and she is only there one day a week), than another 45 minute drive home when I would rush in to get dinner finished and on the table. This had been my routine for three weeks. As I was placing dinner on the table that night, though, something different happened. I felt a small gush of warm liquid. I'm not going to lie. My first thought was, "Crap. Not again. I don't want my water to break when I am not in labor yet!" My second thought was maybe the baby (always low in my 39th week) had put pressure on my bladder. I went to the bathroom and there was no more "leaking" so I thought maybe I could stop it with my kegels and that it wasn't really my water. However, immediately after leaving the bathroom, I started to feel squirts every time I took a step and there was no stopping them. It was my water breaking before labor. Again. I asked my husband to finish setting the dinner table, went upstairs, changed my clothes grabbed a poise pad (I had convieniently bought two large bags of them just in case) and told my family over dinner that my water had broken. My husband wanted to call everyone immediately, but I held him back knowing that labor could take awhile in coming (little did I know how long!). In the end we made four phone calls that night, one to each of our mothers as a heads up we could need child coverage that night, our doula, and our midwife practice because I wanted to make sure that a tub room would be available for me. We then double checked our labor bags, set them by the door, got out all our "birth day celebration" goodies we had bought for our son and his grandparents to decorate the house with while we were at the hospital birth center and went to bed early to rest up for the big day. Around ten, I started getting moderate contractions lasting about a minute and coming every five minutes and this lasted for about three hours, and I tried to rest through them knowing that active labor would be much harder. Gradually, they petered out and I started the next morning still not in active labor.

Thursday March 7

Still, I knew from research that something like 90% of women have their babies within 48 hours of their water breaking, so believing statitics to be on my side, I did not worry. In fact, I even felt a little proud of myself. Here was my chance to do what I thought I should have done my first labor, stay home longer! I did make a call to my chiropractor whom I had been seeing weekly and she agreed to adjust me just in case labor was slow in coming because of some positioning issue (I had been doing the daily exercises from spinning babies every day since my 31st week, and I continued to do those, but I figured chiropractic help couldn't hurt!). She came in on her day off to do it (because the doctors at Volz Chiropractic are awesome like that). I then decided to gently encourage labor by doing some walking and our family of three went to the mall to walk (or in my case, waddle) and invite our fourth member to join us. We walked for a few hours, with me staying well hydrated and making frequent stops to change my pads and to breathe through some decent contractions. We then came home for lunch and I took an after lunch nap with my son to rest up for the big show. However, by the time we hit the 24 hour mark, my natural contractions had increased in intensity, but were still very sporadic and I was no where near active labor despite bouncing on the exercise ball post nap and doing tons of labor "visioning." At my husband's insistance, I called to check in with our midwives (we'd been touching base with our doula all day) and the midwife on call told me that it was their offical recommendation that I come in for pitocin if I was not in active labor at the 24 hour mark. I spoke with her about the research I had done about pit increasing my risk as a VBAC mama for uterine rupture and the study I had read that found that women who had their babies up to 72 hours after their water had broken showed no increase of infection if they stayed at home until they were ready to deliever and had no cervical checks. She agreed that I was making the best medical decision for me and my baby, reiterated the signs of infection that I should be monitoring myself for and I agreed to check back in at 48 hours if I was not already in the birth center at that point or holding a newborn in my arms. I then went for a long walk and had a good cry because despite the fact that I was sure my research was solid and I was doing the best thing for my baby by doing nothing, I still was starting to feel like my body was letting me down by not going into active labor yet. However, I decided that either I trusted my body and God or I didn't and I would just have to trust a bit longer. That night, my contractions intensified during another three and a half hour session and were five minutes apart lasting one minute or longer, but once again, alas, they faded out.

Friday March 8

The second morning, I was feeling a little bit more panicked. I wasn't sure what the response would be if I checked in with the midwives that night and was still not in active labor. Luckily, my amazing doula came over and calmed me down. She brought with her a list of gentle, natural encouragement methods (from Susan Weed's herbal book) we could try that would be far less dangerous than pit for me. Although I am not in favor of induction at all in normal circumstances (I know there are certain medical circumstances in which it is advisable, but in general I feel it's best to let nature take its course), I figured my water breaking was a sign that my baby was ready to be born and maybe just needed a little encouragement. So, that day, I:
1. Did an intensive hypnotherapy session with my doula creating new birth goals and relaxation while having castor oil applied topically to my belly and benefitting from essential oils.
2. Did some homeopathic induction therapy
3. Walked again. A lot. While staying hydrated and taking breaks.
4. Bounced on the ball again.
5. Went to an acupuncturist for the first time. This did bring on some mild contractions, but nothing like the natural contractions I would have very randomly that were intensifying ever so slowly. It was a very strange, awkward experience and one day I will write that story because it is very funny and worth telling.
6. Did nipple stimulation three times. This brought on the best contractions, but they would always peter out after a few hours.
7. Did more aromatherapy with essential oils my doula had brought for me.
8. My usual positioning exercises only doubled.

Still at 48 hours, we were not in anything close to active labor. I called in as promised and got the midwife I had been seeing for the duration of my pregnancy. I was feeling pretty defeated and would have done anything she asked me to do, and she could hear the defeat in my voice (a first for me in the entire time I had been planning this VBAC). She told me that she did not think I was in the right mental place to face pit (a chemical I had privately labeled my nemesis in my last birth) and that she was not worried in the least that I or the baby was not okay. She knew I was monitoring myself and that my "home" bacteria were the least compromising bacteria I could be around. She told me that it was her "official recommendation as a midwife in the practice and a representative of the hospital that I come in after 24 hours of no labor after my water broke" BUT as MY midwife she thought I needed to rest, do whatever else I thought I needed to to induce labor gently and naturally and to come in the next morning or even the next evening for pit if I felt that was what was right. I agreed to do just that and asked directions to try castor oil (the only thing I had not tried yet); she gave me her recommendation and I hung up. My husband was freaking out at this point. He had been sure that we were going in that night for pit (as had I) and felt panicked at the thought of staying home even longer, but we had a long talk and I told him what I knew to be true. I was fine. The baby was fine and would remain fine and I needed rest and a new outlook if I were to have a successful VBAC in the near future.

That night, the night before my own birthday, I took castor oil shots chased with orange juice which aided in my nipple stimulation induced contractions and thoroughly cleaned me out, but did not put me into active labor although by morning my natural contractions were extremely strong, just still random. The next morning we woke up, walked the dog, I opened two birthday cards from my husband, kissed our son goodbye with many tears shed by all (this was far from the labor at home until the very end, leave only for the birth itself and then come home as soon as possible labor plan I had from the begining of my pregnancy), and headed on the road to the birth center to be put on pitocin once again. It had been about 63 hours since my water had broken. My "birth" story will be told in part 3.

Thanks for reading,

Monday, July 1, 2013

love makes a family

In our household we are teaching Gwen that people are people, no matter how they look. We don't judge someone because of their appearance and its similarities or differences to our own. 

We are teaching that, like people, families come in all different shapes and sizes. A mom and a dad, just a mom, just a dad, two moms, two dads, one child, lots of children. Love (and devotion) is what makes a family, a family.

In our household we are teaching Gwen that love is love, no matter what gender the persons are. Because you don't decide with whom you fall in love. And we all deserve the chance to experience true, passionate love.

These things must be discussed, they must be nurtured. A gentler, kinder world starts with us. Every child that we teach to love, accept, and share joy instead of hate, fear, anger is making the world a better place. We treat Gwen with the same kindness and respect that we want her to carry out into the world.