Posts

Our Fifth Born: Jack's Home Birth Story

Our Fifth Born: Jack’s Home Birth Story

 Jack Phoenix Maaser

Born: 3-3-2017 (Friday)

Time: 4:54 a.m.

Measurements: 7 lbs 9 oz , 21.5 inches long, 13.5 cm head circumference

In a lot of ways, I view Jack as a miracle or a gift. We really thought we were done with four children and even traded in our 15 passenger van for a bells and whistles minivan thinking that the diaphragm would keep us safe. It did not, however, and the entire pregnancy, birth, and time with our sweet little Jack has seemed so surreal, as if it were all part of a dream that I never want to awaken from. He is our bonus child. (Read our thoughts about finding out we were pregnant for baby #5 here.)

The Pregnancy

Finding out we were pregnant this time around was a shock, miracle, joy, and beautiful surprise. As we began making preparations for prenatal care and birth, we were thrilled that we would actually be having another baby in the same home and with the same midwives for the first time ever. (Ruby was born at the Mountain Midwifery Center in Colorado, Elliot was born at our condo in Colorado attended by DeAna Durbin, Ophelia was born at our rented Reed City home attended by Sarah Badger with Simply Born from Grand Rapids, and Julian was born here.) Laurie Zoyiopoulos with Faithful Guardians Midwifery and Jillian Bennett now with Family Tree Maternity attended Julian’s birth and would also be attending us during this new journey as well.

Just like with Julian’s pregnancy, I was so busy with all of our kids, routine, and life, that I kept forgetting that I was pregnant! Life just carried on with the exception of a few additional supplements and a more careful diet. Also, just like with Julian’s pregnancy, I was measuring quite large at first, so we scheduled an ultrasound to be sure there was only one baby in there. I was feeling a lot of morning sickness and fatigue, but it wasn’t because I was having twins, it was just that I needed more sleep and more food! I always love the idea of twins, but the reality scares me, and I was actually quite relieved that it would be just one.

The ultrasound showed that everything was normal and that my expected due date was Feb. 18th (we predicted Feb. 14th, so pretty close). Based on the way I was feeling and what I was craving, I was CERTAIN it would be a girl, but at our 20 week ultrasound, we found out that we would be having a boy! We had never had two genders in a row and were very excited for Julian to have a little buddy.

The entire pregnancy flew by, and I started to feel like being pregnant was just a part of who I was going to be for all of eternity.

But just like with all of my other pregnancies at about 35 weeks along, I started feeling Braxton Hicks contractions very regularly. It made me fear that I would go into labor early and be forced into a hospital delivery, and all of a sudden it hit me like a ton of bricks that this baby was coming soon! I started getting more serious about doing my prenatal yoga videos, tackled a deep cleaning/organizing project just about every day, started gathering all of my birth and baby things, and most importantly, I started to visualize what my birth would be like.

Organizing the Silverware Drawer

Organizing the Silverware Drawer

As my due date drew closer, I was relieved that my little guy had made it full term, but devastated to see that everyone in our family was getting sick when we had worked so hard to keep everyone healthy throughout my entire pregnancy. Scott got a REALLY bad stomach virus that made him miss a bunch of work and left him bedridden. I kept feeling like labor was right around the corner and thankfully my mom was able to stay with us and help me around the house until he was better.

We viewed each day that labor didn’t come as a gift that allowed everyone to gradually get better, for my mom and I to tackle more and more cleaning projects, and for our sweet little boy to continue to grow stronger inside my womb.

When I was about a week overdue, Scott got really sick again with a different virus that once again left him bedridden and with a high fever. At this point, I was getting a little mad. I mean, we were eating healthy, getting enough sleep, taking high quality supplements…and I couldn’t figure out why he was not only getting sick repeatedly, but worse than I had ever seen him before.

It wasn’t until after the birth when I was rereading our old birth stories and noticed that the exact same thing happened to him right before Julian’s birth, and then it dawned on me the amount of stress he was under and how it really took a toll on his immune system. Seeing the way he is so calm and at ease now makes hindsight 20/20 as I look back and see all of the signs that he was getting stressed out. I mean, not only was he nonstop busy at work, but to have something looming in the future that is so life changing and that comes with such a huge responsibility, but you have no idea WHEN it is going to happen is enough to drive anyone mad!

37 Weeks Pregnant

37 Weeks Pregnant

At any rate, up until about 37 weeks, I would have truly been content to stay pregnant forever, but after that, things started getting really uncomfortable, sleep was difficult, my back was killing me, none of my clothes were fitting, my leg cramps were always just one bad stretch away, I was always cramping from Braxton Hicks and out of breath, and I was just ready for it to be done. As I saw my due date come and go, there was a part of me that was excited to tackle the birth and anxious to finally meet our sweet little guy, but happy at the same time knowing that he needed this extra time to grow and that he would come when he was ready.

Even though people kept asking me when I would be getting induced, I knew that being overdue wasn’t a bad thing, especially since the midwives were continuously monitoring me to make sure everything looked good.

Leading Up to Labor

Scott came home from work about an hour early on Monday (Feb. 27th) feeling awful with a high fever. I put him to bed for the rest of the afternoon and we hoped that with the extra rest he would be feeling better on Tuesday. But on Tuesday he felt just as bad, and at 10 days overdue, I didn’t know how much longer our son could wait to be born! I was getting a little panicky because I really and truly didn’t think I could go through labor without Scott by my side, and I could feel that things were getting closer. All of the Braxton Hicks contractions I had been having left me at about 80% effaced, at least 3 cm dilated, and I could feel that he was very low.

I mean, at some point, it felt like he was just going to fall out!

Scott took Wednesday off as well and was finally starting to feel better. That night, I was feeling a lot of cramping and thought things might progress in the night – but they didn’t. We figured that it was probably best for Scott to take Thursday off to ensure a complete recovery and so that he could watch the kids while I went to my chiropractor visit on Thursday at noon. I was trying everything I could to get our little guy out of his posterior position, but nothing was working, and I started to wonder if his position was preventing labor from getting started. My midwife, Jillian, thought that a chiropractor visit would help us get him into an optimal position. We had planned on keeping the big kids home from school on Thursday, but as luck would have it, school was canceled due to the snow and ice!

Early Labor

At 6:30 a.m. on Thursday (March 2nd), I texted my mom to say that my contractions were coming back, but that it still felt like it would be quite a while yet. She said she was caught up at work and could come and just hang out with the kids even if things didn’t happen for awhile. When she got here and took over, I went and hid in our room to bounce on my ball during contractions and was determined to finish my blog about being overdue (12 days at this point) before our baby was born. Scott helped me edit my final draft, and I got it published just in time!

Working on My Blog (Julian took this picture.)

Working on My Blog (Julian took this picture.)

All morning, my contractions were very erratic and had no pattern. It felt like labor was in a cycle where it was continuously starting and stopping, and it was really messing with my mind. I even wondered if what I was going through was prodromal labor (labor that starts and stops…more intense than just Braxton Hicks contractions), and it made me feel like I was stuck in a loop that would repeat endlessly like in Groundhog’s Day.

It was nice having my mom around, all of the kids home, and Scott there to keep me distracted. At one point, Scott had all of the kids outside and was pulling them in the sled in our new (used) riding lawnmower, and I decided to take over. There is definitely something to be said for the whole “bumpy car ride” getting labor started, and I could feel my contractions spurred on with each jarring bump!

After that, Scott and I stayed bundled up and went for a walk to Vics to get a few groceries while my mom watched the kids. It felt like so many other pregnancies when we would try to “walk them out”. (We even went to Vics when I was in early labor with Julian!) Each contraction that came would make me stop, and Scott was there to support me through each one.

Walking to Vics

Walking to Vics

 

Scott took this picture of me because in the background it says "She's a thing of beauty"...love that man!

Scott took this picture of me because in the background it says “She’s a thing of beauty”…love that man!

When we came home and still nothing was progressing, I started feeling really discouraged. I had been keeping my midwife, Jillian, in the loop and she really lifted me up when I started messaging her with all of my fears (i.e. What if the baby is posterior? What if he is stuck on my pubic bone? Why am I starting and stopping labor? What if I never give birth? etc.). I told her how I was trying everything under the sun to get him to turn if he was posterior, and she said that she saw no reasons for concern, and that I was doing all of the right things. This helped me to release most of my frustration, anxiety, and pending panic.

My mom took Julian and Elliot for an excursion to McDonalds which left the house considerably quieter with just Ruby and Ophelia who were playing independently. Then our friend LeeAnn showed up to deliver our milk, and even though I slipped into our bedroom to bounce on my ball during contractions, I stopped thinking about whether or not I was in labor. It felt like it was just another day as I putzed around in the kitchen while LeeAnn told Scott about her recent cruise. Then my dad stopped by, on his way home from doing business up in the U.P., my mom brought Julian and Elliot back from McDonalds, and as the house became full of tickles, laughter, and love, my contractions seemed to have been put on the back burner and totally subsided.

When my dad was getting ready to leave, I encouraged my mom to go home as well,

“I really don’t think anything is going to happen for awhile,”

I told her with defeat, but she insisted on staying nonetheless. By the time we put the kids to bed, my mom was already tucked in for sleep. The kids were very helpful during our bedtime routine.

After we put the kids to bed, Scott and I stayed up to watch most of La La Land and then headed off to bed around 10:00 p.m. I was starting to feel contractions again, but I just wanted to get Scott into bed so that he would be well rested if indeed the end was near. Even though I didn’t think that I would be able to fall asleep, I did. When the contractions came, they were enough to wake me up and I had to moan softly, but not get me out of bed.

Finally at about 11:30 p.m. I couldn’t take lying in bed anymore. Not only were the contractions getting too strong, but I suddenly realized that I hadn’t pooped yet that day (TMI maybe, but hey this is a birth story…what did you expect?). So first things first, I drank a Fiberwise and then putzed around the kitchen until I needed to poop. After that, the contractions started coming on stronger and more quickly. I even had to get on my hands and knees to rock through them. It was really sweet though because our cat Storybelle would crawl under my belly as I did this, and focusing on the softness of her fur really distracted me and made the pain melt away.

After a particularly painful contraction, I hurried into our bedroom to grab my birthing ball and came out to the living room to watch the parts of La La Land that we had skipped. (Sidenote: I really love how this movie shows how love and family are more important than a career and dreams of individual happiness via external achievements.) I sat behind the couch in our living room, bouncing on my ball, watching the movie, and moaning softly with each contraction.

At about 1:30 a.m., I started to feel like I needed Scott’s support. The contractions were getting a bit more painful, but with all of the delays, I still wasn’t convinced that anything was really going to happen. When I gently woke up Scott and said,

“I need you now. I can’t do this alone anymore,”

he bolted out of bed like it was a fire drill and stumbled into his sweat pants and shirt in about 3 seconds. I gathered up a nightgown, told Scott to grab my birthing kit box, and we crept past a soundly sleeping Elliot and out into the living room.

As Scott sat on the couch watching me expectantly, I almost felt foolish when after minutes and minutes nothing was happening. He asked me if I had called the midwives yet, to which I curtly responded,

“Now with you here, I don’t think anything is going to happen again.”

But seconds later…something did.

Active Labor

All of a sudden, the waves of a very powerful contraction washed over me, and I yelled to Scott, “My hips!” He immediately sprang into action and expertly began rubbing my hips and back like he had done with every other birth. The pressure from his hands was strong and soothing and helped to dull the pain of the contraction, but it was still painful enough that I moaned loudly. When it was over, Scott sternly said,

“You need to call the midwives now! This could be happening fast!”

After another powerful contraction, I called Jillian and told her that things were happening and that they were happening fast.

“We might have the baby before you get here!” I stammered while completely failing to sound calm.

In between contractions, Scott started laying down chux pads while I unpacked the birth kit. As I visualized giving birth unassisted, my mind switched from just getting through each contraction to worrying about all of the possible things that could go wrong. (Would he get stuck in the birth canal? How could I get him to rotate if he was indeed posterior? What if he got tangled in the cord on the way out? etc.) Jillian called me when she was on the road (later she told me she could hear the panic in my voice) and reassured me that they were on the way and to let her know if we needed her to walk us through anything.

Laying Down Chux Pads

Laying Down Chux Pads

Laurie and Jillian were each about 45 minutes away on a good day and now the roads were icy and it was the middle of the night. But just knowing that they were on their way put my mind at ease, and I went back to focusing on my Enya mix and getting through one contraction at a time. In between contractions, the pain melted away, and I continued putzing around. I really wanted to get more videos of me going through contractions and of the birth, but this (below) is all that we managed to record!

Laurie was the first to walk through the door at 2:30 a.m., and Scott and I joked that she was our babysitter there to give us a night on the town. She unpacked her bag and checked on me right away. The baby’s heart rate was good and after watching me have a contraction, I could tell by the way that she hovered that she thought things would be happening soon. Jillian arrived shortly after Laurie and after about twenty minutes, their assistants Sarah and Stephanie arrived. It was about 3:00 a.m. at this point, and frankly, I was completely surprised that he hadn’t been born yet.

Laurie Checking on the Baby

Laurie Checking on the Baby

Transition

Transition is defined as the dilation of the cervix from 8 cm to 10 cm and typically lasts about 30 minutes to 2 hours with really intense contractions typically occurring every 2 minutes and lasting from 60-90 seconds. It’s hard to say when transition really began for me because right up until the end, my contractions were anywhere from 5 to 8 minutes apart and lasting about a minute. But even with my erratic pattern of contractions, I could tell with an internal check that I was pretty much dilated all of the way and just waiting for that pushing sensation.

The midwives kept coming in to check on me to see how the baby’s heart rate was doing, and at one point it dropped to 116 beats per minute (from about 138 I think). Scott knew that with the lowered heart rate, I needed to pick up the pace. He gently encouraged me to walk around in between contractions to get things going, and I did so with shuffled feet and tearful eyes.

With every contraction, Scott was right there by my side to expertly massage my hips and back, but it wasn’t making the pain melt away like it had with all of my other births. As each contraction came and went, I was getting increasingly frustrated that I wasn’t getting the urge to push. I started to feel a sense of panic creep into my psyche as once again that feeling of being stuck in this moment for ever and ever and ever penetrated every ounce of my being.

The contractions were wearing on me, and I started crying when they came, not sure how much longer I would be able to hang on. “Why am I not feeling the urge to push???” I asked in exasperation. The midwives could tell I was having a hard time, and even though the baby’s heart rate was back to normal, they wanted to encourage me to move things along. I felt like I need to do something different, but I didn’t know what. I asked Jillian if I should squat she said, “NO!” (*If the baby was posterior…which we weren’t sure of at this point, but suspected, then squatting would have made him descend posterior and could have led to over an hour of intense pushing.)

Jillian recommended instead that with the next contraction I get on my hands and knees and sway my hips back and forth. So with the next contraction, I did just that.

With my hands out in front of me and my butt up in the air, I gently swayed my hips back and forth, and as I did, I felt his head turn about 90 degrees in my pelvis.

The pain was excruciating beyond all measure of belief, yet I somehow managed to bring my hands up to the edge of the couch and buried my face in the cushions so that I could scream with reckless abandon. Scott was still expertly massaging my hips and back, but at this point, nothing was helping with the pain.

It felt as though time was standing still and this pain and this moment were somehow holding me captive to live in this experience for all of eternity. But then a little voice inside me whispered,

“I promise that this is the last time you’ll ever have to do this.”

And somehow knowing that this would be the last time ever, gave me the grit to see that the end was near.

Birth

The previous contraction was about 90 seconds of the most intense pain I have ever felt in my life, and after that I was immediately racked with another one.

I felt like I was spinning out of control and that my body was being turned inside out, but I kept telling myself over and over that this would be the last time and that it was almost over.

With a pop and a gush, my water broke, and FINALLY I got the urge to push. It was such a relief!!! The feeling of his head coming down the birth canal consumed the cognition of every cell in my body, and I pushed with all of my might like a sprinter reaching desperately to break the final ribbon at the finish line.

I heard everyone frantically clamoring behind me trying to process the sudden uptick in the pace of things. Jillian asked Scott (who was still massaging my hips while I was on my hands and knees) if he wanted to catch the baby. “Yes, of course!” he said.

“Well then get ready,” said Jillian, “here comes the head!”

Scott looked down in shock to see that yes indeed here came his head! With every other birth, after the head is delivered I have waited until the next contraction to push out the rest of the body, but I just wanted things to be over so badly this time that I reached into my primal core and used the reserves of all the strength I have ever saved to push his entire body out in one go…and so out came his head, shoulders, and hips all in one big strong push.

After the Birth

After he was delivered, I awkwardly spun around while Scott listened to directions for how to hand him through my legs and up to my chest. I glanced at Jillian and noticed the look of concern on her face when he didn’t cry right away. Typically, the passage through the birth canal will help to aspirate the lungs, but with our little guy coming out so quickly, he was having difficulty taking his first breath. With the cord tugging at the placenta still buried inside of me, I brought him up as far as I could and patted his back while Jillian tickled his feet and massaged him a bit trying to get him to cough or cry.

After the longest 20 seconds of my life, he coughed a wet raspy cough, gave a little cry, and I could immediately see him pink up. Right away, I let go of the breath I didn’t realize I had been holding.

I nestled him to my bosom, skin to skin, and finally said hello to my son. I cannot even tell you in words the feeling of elation, wonder, and joy upon first meeting a child after getting to know him over nine long months in every way possible except for sight. To see his little body, sweet face, and big eyes looking up at me, recognizing my voice, and feeling a complete flood of oxytocin love hormones as snuggled on my chest rooting for my breast, well it was enough joy to fill a thousand lifetimes with happiness. When I looked at our little boy and felt his warmth, I caught a glimpse of him taking his first steps, learning to ride a bike, falling in love, having children of his own, and being by his side every step of the way. What an endless miracle a new life is!

Scott quickly ran to wake up Ruby who had been anxiously waiting for this day to come. She came and sat down beside me simply in awe of her new little brother. I suddenly got the urge to deliver the placenta, and I could see her eyes widen in shock as she watched it come out. When the cord had stopped pulsing, the midwives clamped it in two places and handed Ruby a pair of special scissors. With one snip, a little blood spurted out and with a some encouragement, she went back in for two more snips to complete the job.

In that moment, I saw Ruby’s maternal instincts awaken and blossom…she was so tender and loving, and it made me remember what it was like to cut my sister’s umbilical cord some 30 years ago. It was a moment of pride for me and a special memory that I have not only cherished but that has helped to shape me into the person I am today.

Ruby Cutting the Cord

Ruby Cutting the Cord

The midwives helped me up to sit on a chux pad lined couch, and we gathered around our son as he latched on to nurse. I asked Scott to wake up my mom, and she was thrilled to meet her grandson! We enjoyed telling her all of the details of the birth, and she couldn’t believe that she had slept through it all! When we noticed the meconium poop all over our nice swaddling cloths, we realized we should have put him in a diaper. So we quickly cleaned him up, put him in a diaper, and continued to bask in the glow of what had just taken place.

Ruby, Scott, Jack, and I

Ruby, Me, Scott, and Jack

Scott, Ruby, and Jack

Scott, Ruby, and Jack

Baby Jack

Baby Jack

While Ruby and my mom went to boil the herbs for my herbal bath, Scott and I talked about names. We originally really liked the name Reed and thought about Reed Scott or Reggie Reed. We also liked the names Kurt, Easton, Bradbury, Landen (Ruby’s idea), and Alex or Alexander (Elliot’s idea). But when we were driving to Chicago for Christmas, we heard one of our favorite bands come on shuffle right while we were passing under an overpass with the street name the same as the band’s name…Phoenix. We both looked at each other with eyes wide saying, “It’s perfect!” But then we remembered some friends of ours had a son named Phoenix, so we were torn. A few weeks later, Scott finished a Steven King book about JFK whose nickname was Jack. He really loved the story and we have both always been in awe of JFK, not to mention Jack White from the White Stripes and all of the nursery rhymes featuring Jack. Plus, Jack has such a versatile and regal resonance to it that can allow for any path that our son may choose in life.

When we met our little boy, we knew that the name Jack Phoenix Maaser suited him perfectly.

Jack passed the newborn screening with flying colors, and after inspecting him (practically no vernix, just a little in the crease of his thigh) and seeing his placenta (many spots of calcification showing its age), we knew that he was definitely overdue!

Newborn Screening

Newborn Screening (Me with a pinkie in his mouth, Stephanie checking him over, my mom watching, and Sarah charting)

After going over some information with the midwives, Jack and I took a nice relaxing herbal bath. He nursed hungrily on both sides and soon we were all tucked in bed right as the sun was rising. Ruby cuddled up inbetween us as we reflected on the birth.

After awhile, she went to go play, Scott and I stayed in bed to sleep, and my mom stayed up to take care of all of the kids as they woke up one by one. (We had the big kids miss school.) I was prepared this time around with my After Ease Tincture and a heating pad to help with the after pains (which started to become tremendously painful after baby #3.)

Family Cuddles with Jack

Family Cuddles with Jack

At about 9:30 a.m., Elliot crept into our room like he always does on the weekends to cuddle us in bed, and he was thrilled beyond belief to discover that there was a baby in there with us! He was so sweet and kind as he snuggled up to his new little brother, and then he ran through the house saying, “There’s a baby! Mom had her baby!” The other kids soon came in after that. Ophelia was so happy to see the baby, but right away wanted to call him Jude (her friend Adeline’s little brother’s name) and said, “Awwww, he really likes you!” Julian was excited too and said, “That’s a baby in mom’s tummy!” When Ruby came to cuddle us, she didn’t leave for hours, and we had a very sweet conversation. Scott and I were able to take another nap and woke up feeling very rested. My mom stayed long enough to help put the kids to bed, and then she went home. Life was feeling very sweet.

My Mom Holding Jack During Bedtime Routine

My Mom Holding Jack During Bedtime Routine

Life with Jack

Since Jack was born on Friday, we were all happy to head into the weekend together. Scott took over the house on Saturday and let me rest and stay in bed. On Sunday, we had our two day visit from Jillian. Jack was looking really good, and Jillian was happy to see that I was resting and mostly staying in bed. (I can’t even tell you how amazing it has been to have had all pre and post natal appointments at our home.) Most babies lose weight at first and then come back to their birth weight by two weeks, but Jack had already gained 3 ounces! I was kind of having difficulty getting him to latch at first (which all started right after we gave him a pinkie to suck on, which soothed him at the time, but probably created a bit of nipple confusion), and so I had been pumping and feeding him colostrum in a dropper which probably really helped him to gain some weight!

Jillian Weighing Jack

Jillian Weighing Jack

Just like after Julian’s birth (and all of the others probably), but to a WAY worse extent, my hips and lower back/top of my butt were in terrible pain following the birth. This made any type of sitting very painful and difficult. (Someday when I’m fully recovered, I’d like Scott to rub me again like he did towards the end of the birth to see just how hard it was.) At any rate, after going through about 3 hours of intense contractions with Scott’s special hip, back, and butt rubs plus going through a posterior labor, it just took a toll on me. When my midwife suggested a chiropractor visit, I was determined to get an appointment. We went to Family Chiropractic Health Center with Dr. Tracy Morningstar, and I was overjoyed that she was able to bring my pain level down significantly and immediately. (My pelvis was really out of whack.) She was also able to do some work on Jack who was having trouble latching on the left side, and he went from being a calm baby to the calmest baby ever who could now nurse on both sides!

Jack at the Chiropractor

Jack at the Chiropractor

Not only has Jack been our sweet little miracle bonus baby, but he has been the easiest baby, and what a wonderful gift that is to have with baby #5! He nurses well, poops and pees like a champ, is alert and awake during the day, sleeps wonderfully all night, sleeps in most days so I can shower, naps wonderfully, takes a pacifier, doesn’t spit up, hardly ever cries, and brings joy to every single member of our family and everyone he meets.

We love you Jack Phoenix Maaser! Welcome to the family.

Jack Phoenix Maaser

Jack Phoenix Maaser

What To Do When You’re Overdue

So here I am, 12 days overdue with baby #5, and of course I’m feeling a crazy mixture of emotions that range everywhere from excitement to fear.

I’m full of anticipation and wonder as I think about meeting my sweet little boy, but I’m also very thankful for every day that he decides to stay put because I know that he’s active, growing, and doing well while I’m busy taking care of a sick household.

When I was ten days overdue with Elliot (our second), we were living in Colorado, and they had a law about not being able to have a home birth when you were past two weeks overdue. That (in addition to the fact that I was working full time and had limited maternity leave that I was using up with the end of my pregnancy) motivated me to try everything under the sun to get him out (including castor oil…do not do this ever!!!).

Now with this pregnancy, I am a stay at home mom with no agenda or timeline and no laws about timing out of a home birth. The midwives and I continuously monitor things to make sure he is still growing, active, and that I continue to remain healthy, but now as I approach the two week mark of being overdue, I want to be prepared if I DO need to “encourage” him to come out and know with certainty what my risks and options are.

How is a Due Date Calculated?

Before I get into induction methods and such, I wanted to reflect on the accuracy of a “due date” and take a minute to look at where it came from.

A woman’s due date is calculated by Naegele’s rule, which states that the due date should be approximately 280 days (40 weeks) from the start of the last menstrual period. The median found by Naegele’s rule merely shows that half of all births occur before 280 days and half occur after with birth data typically clustering around the “due date”.

A standard deviation diagram of human gestation showing the curve's center is at 280 days (40 weeks) past the last menstrual period.

A standard deviation diagram of human gestation showing the curve’s center is at 280 days (40 weeks) past the last menstrual period. (Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons, 2009, Nasha)

Naegele’s rule doesn’t take into consideration that women don’t always have menstrual cycles lasting 28 days with ovulation occurring precisely on day 14, so those with a shorter cycle could have a shorter pregnancy and those with a longer cycle could have a longer pregnancy. In addition, studies show that first time mothers are more likely to be overdue and that women of African and Asian descent tend to deliver about a week before Caucasian mothers (Source).

Ultrasounds used to measure the size of the developing embryo before the 12th week of pregnancy are 95% accurate within an error margin of six days and those in the second trimester have an an error margin of 8 days.

When I was in my tenth week of pregnancy, we had an ultrasound (basically because I was wondering if we were having twins…like I do!) and they gave us a due date of Feb. 18th. So if you add six days to that and then two weeks, that would make March 10th as my latest date of arrival. Being that it’s only March 2nd right now, I’ve still got plenty of time!

Risks of Being Overdue

No one really expects to give birth ON their due date (only 5% are in fact), but with most births being clustered around that time, when you reach one week overdue, it becomes common practice for strangers to start telling the mother that she should eat spicy food/go for walks/have sex, and at two weeks overdue, an induction is absolutely expected. Am I right?

So why do we expect induction at two weeks past the due date anyways? Well, in one case, researchers looked at ten studies involving 6,000 women, and they found that when labor was not induced after a certain time, about 9 out of 3,000 babies died and when labor was induced after 41 completed weeks of pregnancy, 1 out of 3,000 babies died. So basically, without knowing any other factors in these individual cases, we could say that inducing labor after 41 weeks of labor reduces the chances of infant death by 8.

When looking at the risks to the baby when the mother is overdue, these are the main concerns (Source):

  • Aging Placenta – The main risk with being overdue is that the placenta might stop providing the baby with the nutrients or oxygen that he or she needs.
  • Infections – The risk of infections in the womb and unexpected complications during childbirth increases too.
  • Meconium Aspiration – The risk of breathing in meconium is decreased with induction (from 11 out of 1,000 to 7 out of 1,000). When the baby’s bowl contents are released into the amniotic fluid during labor and the baby becomes distressed, he or she may breathe in the meconium and it can cause breathing problems.
  • Stillbirth – The risk of stillbirth between 37 and 42 weeks is 2 to 3 per 1,000 deliveries and increases slightly to 4 to 7 per 1,000 past 42 weeks (Source).
  • Health Problems with the Mother – If the mother is overdue and at risk for preeclempsia, high blood pressure, gestational diabetes, or any other health complications, it could lead to an emergency Cesarean section.
  • Baby is Too Big – Macrosomia is the medical term for a big baby and some researchers consider babies over 8 lbs. 13 oz. to be big while others say anything over 9 lbs. 15 oz. is big. Trying to predict whether or not a baby will be “big” can be difficult and researchers have found that ultrasounds are only accurate at predicting “big babies” 50% of the time and that women suspected of having “big babies” have higher inductions, Cesarean sections, and maternal complications. If you don’t have type 1, 2, or gestational diabetes, then the risks of vaginally delivering a “big baby” (such as perineal tears and shoulder dystocia) are not statistically significant to warrant any intervention (Source…this is a good one!).

I have heard many stories of women who have had “ten month pregnancies” and they feel like their babies just needed to “cook” longer. Many practitioners feel that we should actually be advocating for 43 weeks to be considered the definition of late. Basically, reaching your due date (or getting close to it) is not reason enough to force an induction.

Making Sure Everything is Safe

Although some sources say that medical examinations are not typically able to detect problems when women go past their due date (and use this as justification for inducing ALL women who go past their due date), there are several things that my midwives check for to ensure the safety of both myself and my overdue baby.

  • Fetal Kick Count – This is the most effective assurance that the baby is doing fine. Every baby will have his or her own patterns of movement, and if a mother is in tune with the times, duration, and frequency that her baby moves, that is the best way to ensure that everything is fine. Basically, when your baby is active, you should feel at least ten movements in two hours (Source).
  • Fundal Height – The measurement from the top of the pubic bone to the top of the uterus is the fundal height. After 16 weeks of pregnancy, your fundal height measurement (in centimeters) should match the number of weeks you’ve been pregnant. So if you’re 40 weeks, you should measure 40 cm. Just keep in mind that you will lose some ground when the baby drops!
  • Low Amniotic Fluid Levels – This is known as oligohydramnios and affects about 12% of pregnancies that go past 41 weeks. Low levels of amniotic fluid could be an indication of declining placental function and lead to intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR) where the baby doesn’t grow as it should (Source). Trained midwives are able to use abdominal palpation (feeling with their hands) in order to detect the amount of amniotic fluid. Basically, the baby would be very easy to feel and in some cases you could see limbs, the uterus would be smaller than expected, and there may be fewer movements (Source).
  • Fetal Non-Stress Test (NST) – The goal of this test is to measure the heart rate of the fetus in response to its own movements. Healthy babies will respond with an increased heart rate during times of movement and the heart rate will decrease when the baby is at rest. This test is an indicator that the baby is receiving enough oxygen and uses electronic fetal monitoring (Source).
  • Auscultated Acceleration Test (AAT)– This is an alternative to the fetal non-stress test that doesn’t involve any electronic fetal monitoring. Basically, you’re listening to the baby’s heart rate for 6 minutes and looking for at least one acceleration (Source).
  • Swelling – Some swelling is to be expected during pregnancy, but excessive swelling could be a sign of preeclempsia, and if a woman were to show signs of preeclempsia (high blood pressure, protein in the urine, retaining water) after she reached her due date, she would definitely want to deliver very soon. If left untreated, it can lead to serious complications for the mother including liver or renal failure and future cardiovascular issues. It can also prevent the placenta from getting enough blood which will deprive the baby of oxygen and food (Source).

Baby’s Growth Towards the End of Pregnancy

I am thankful for every day that my baby is growing inside of me. During the final days and weeks of pregnancy, some amazing growth and development is taking place (Source). If you were to rush into an early induction, your baby could be missing out on some of the following.

  • Passage of Antibodies: During the last weeks of pregnancy, maternal antibodies that will help fight infections in the first days and weeks of pregnancy are passed on to the baby.
  • Putting on Weight: Starting at about 35 weeks, your baby will start to gain weight rapidly at the rate of about half a pound per week.
  • Growing Brown Fat: Brown fat is found in hibernating animals and newborn babies and develops in the final weeks of gestation to help regulate the newborn baby’s body temperature.
  • Building Iron Stores: In the final weeks in the womb, babies build up a reserve of iron stores.
  • Developing Sucking and Swallowing Abilities: Oral feeding that requires coordination of sucking, swallowing and breathing is the most complex sensorimotor process for newborns sensorimotor process for newborns and develops in the later part of pregnancy.
  • Lung Development: The final phase of lung development occurs during the final weeks of pregnancy. If a baby is suspected to be premature at the time of delivery, the mother can be given a steroid injection to speed along the lung development process (Source).
  • Brain Development: The last three months of pregnancy provide your child with the basic brain structure that he or she will have for the rest of his or her life. The brain grows rapidly during this phase and roughly triples during the last 13 months of gestation (Source). Every day in the womb allows the brain to grow and develop even more.

Risks of Inducing Too Early

Many women breathe a sigh of relief at 37 weeks because that has typically been considered “full term”, but now the true definition of full term is considered 39 weeks for the best chance of optimal development. Not only that, but you may think that you’re 37 weeks based on inaccurate measurements and really only be 33 or 34 weeks along. Yes, the later part of pregnancy is uncomfortable, but inducing a baby to be born before she is ready can bring about way more problems. If a baby is born premature, there are several risks involved (Source):

  • More Interventions: Interventions tend to lead to more interventions. If you are induced before your body is ready and labor doesn’t begin, it can lead to a Cesarean section and other interventions that might not have been necessary.
  • Stay in the NICU: Babies born too early can have problems breathing, staying warm, dealing with jaundice, sucking and swallowing, and may require a stay in the NICU.
  • Long Term Health Problems: Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD); and as adults, they are more likely to get diabetes, high blood pressure or heart disease.

Medical Methods of Induction

According to birth certificate data in the US, 23% of labors (in 2012) were medically induced, but this is not something that is always reported on a birth certificate. Survey data shows that number to be more like 41%. Here are the possible medical methods of induction (Source).

  • Prostaglandins: You can be given a medication containing synthetic prostoglandins inserted into the vagina to thin and dilate the cervix or an oral dose of misoprostol that will do the same thing. *Note: there are MANY natural ways to do this, see next section.
  • Foley Catheter or Cervical Ripening Balloon: By inserting a thin tube into the cervix with one or two tiny uninflated balloons on the end and then filling these balloons with water, the pressure on the cervix stimulates the body to release prostoglandins which can ripen the cervix. Then when the cervix opens, the balloons fall out and the tube is removed.
  • Strip or Sweep the Membranes: If the cervix is already somewhat dilated, a finger can be inserted and manually separate the amniotic sac from the lower part of the uterus. This will cause the release of prostoglandins as well. This can be a bit painful and uncomfortable, but can stimulate contractions. *This is something a midwife can do or you can do if you are familiar with your body.
  • Rupture Membranes: This is otherwise known as “breaking the water” and involves inserting a small hooked instrument through the cervix to break the amniotic sac. There’s a small chance that this will stimulate contractions, but if it doesn’t, then pitocin will be given.
  • Pitocin: The synthetic version of oxytocin (the hormone released that naturally stimulates labor) is called pitocin and can be given through and IV pump to stimulate contractions.
    • Oxytocin versus Pitocin: During natural labor, oxytocin is released into the mother’s body in a pulsing action that provides for breaks during labor, but pitocin is given in a steady stream through an IV so it causes contractions that are longer and stronger than your baby or placenta can handle which can deprive him/her of oxygen. It also prevents the mother’s body from releasing endorphins (that will prevent and counteract pain), is not as effective at dilating the cervix as oxytocin so more is required, lacks the peak that oxytocin provides allowing for a faster easier birth, and interferes with the release of oxytocin…otherwise known as the love hormone that helps promote bonding after birth.

Natural Ways to Induce Labor

If your body is ready to go into labor and just needs a helping hand, then there are many natural methods that can help to spur things along. Some are very gentle and safe while others carry a certain risk and must only be used with extreme caution (Source).

  • Get the Baby into Optimal Position: Ideally, a baby will be LOA (left occiput anterior) when engaged for labor, meaning that if the mother looks down at her belly, the baby’s head will be down and the back can be felt on the mother’s left. If the baby is in an OP (occiput posterior) position with its back lined up with the mother’s spine, it can prevent a mother from going into labor or make labor start and stop. Spinning Babies is a wonderful website and goes into great detail about baby positions, when it’s recommended to turn them, and how to go about doing this.
    1. Bouncing on a Birthing Ball – This can help tremendously to get the baby into an optimal position. I must have a uterus perfectly designed for posterior babies because they have all started out this way and then turned during labor. But I have always relied heavily on my birthing ball to help me bounce and swivel my hips at the same time. My husband has also been a great help by pushing on my hips or on my lower back…it really helps to be very vocal about what feels good and you want your partner to do!
    2. Kneeling on all Fours  – I love getting on my hands and knees to release the pressure of the baby. It also helps to stick my butt up in the air to let the baby move more freely into an optimal position.
    3. The Miles Circuit – This is a series of positions and movements involving lunges, walking on an uneven curb, and side stepping up stairs to open your pelvis and get the baby into an optimal position. (Read more here.)
    4. Chiropractor Visiting a chiropractor trained in working with pregnant women can help to align the spine and joints to help the baby be able to get into optimal position for birth.
    5. What About Deep Squats? The idea that squatting with your knees higher than your hips may seem like a good idea to get the baby further into the pelvis, but really should be avoided in later pregnancy because it can cause the baby to get settled into an unfavorable position. (Read more here.)
  • Walking – With every baby, we always talk about “walking it out”. The bumping up and down can help to move the baby into the birth canal. Walking up and down stairs, especially two at a time while lifting your legs up really high can also help to move the baby downward. Swimming can also be a nice low impact way to help move things along.
  • Sex – What you did to make the baby can help the baby come out too! As long as your waters haven’t broken, it is still generally safe. Also, have fun talking to all of your coworkers and friends about all of the raunchy details of your sex life when they suggest this method of induction. 🙂
    1. Sperm – Sperm contains prostoglandins that can soften the cervix. May be taken orally or vaginally. 🙂
    2. Female Orgasm – The uterus contracts during orgasm and this can help to stimulate labor.
  • Nipple Stimulation – You can gently rub or roll the nipple in order to release oxytocin to help stimulate contractions. But it can make contractions very strong, so use with caution! (Read more here.)
  • Stretch or Sweep the Membranes – By inserting a finger into the cervix and doing a gentle sweep between the uterus wall and amniotic sac, it can help to stimulate labor within hours or days. (I’m not sure how many women would feel comfortable doing this to themselves, but I did this to get Elliot’s birth going. Here’s some more info on how to do it.)
  • Oils to Ripen the Cervix – Instead of synthetic methods or sperm, there are other ways to soften the cervix. Borage seed oil, evening primrose oil, and black current oil are natural sources of prostoglandins which are fatty acids that can soften the cervix and increase the flexibility of the pelvic ligaments that will help with effacement and dilation. You can take them orally starting at about 35 weeks and with the evening primrose oil, you can insert it vaginally (just do it at night and use a panty liner).
  • Meditation, Visualization, and Yoga – I recently wrote another blog about this because I think that having a peaceful mindset is very crucial before giving birth. Recently, everyone in my family has been sick and needing me, and I have certainly felt the signs of labor stop when I am needed or stressed out.
  • Acupressure – There are accupressure points in the ankles and webbing between the thumb and forefinger that can cause muscle contractions in the uterus and help to stimulate labor. (Read more here.)
  • Herbs to Take Towards the End of Pregnancy
    1. Motherwort – This herb makes contractions more effective, regulates Braxton Hicks contractions, and stops false labor. If taken before birth, it can calm nerves and potentially help to prevent postpartum depression. (Read more here.) *Get the herb here and the tincture here.
    2. Red Raspberrry Leaf – Starting at about 34 weeks, this herb can be taken as a tea or a pill to strengthen the uterus and potentially lead to a shorter labor, especially the pushing stage (Additional source). *Get some in bulk here or in tea bags here.
  • Foods to Help Stimulate Labor
    1. Bananas – Bananas have a lot of potassium which is crucial for muscle contractions, so being low in potassium could potentially delay labor. *Don’t overdue the potassium or take supplements as they can be poisonous when taken incorrectly.
    2. Basil and Oregano – These herbs are emmenagogue that can help to bring on a late period and in higher doses can cause uterine contractions. You can make food with these herbs or steep them in a tea to get things going. (Read more here.)
    3. Dates – Six dates a day leading up to your delivery date can make labor start sooner, make it shorter, and help with dilation (Additional source).
    4. Pineapple – Fresh raw pineapple contains a small amount of an enzyme called bromelian which can soften the cervix and get labor going.

Natural Methods That Might Do More Harm Than Good

  • Castor Oil – Because castor oil causes severe diarrhea, the theory is that these bowel movements will stimulate contractions. I actually got desperate enough with Elliot and tried this method, and let me tell you IT WAS NOT WORTH IT! Yes, my body was ready to go into labor and it probably did help to kick things off, but my butt hurt worse than my vagina after labor, plus I ran the risk of dehydration. No thanks.
  • Licorice rootLicorice root and licorice extract contain an ingredient called glycyrrhizin, which can cause uterine contractions but also have some negative side effects, so beware.
  • Spicy food – Even though there is no scientific evidence that spicy food can bring on labor, many women swear by it. The theory is kind of the same as castor oil in that it can upset your digestive system enough to cause cramps that may lead to contractions. Personally, I’d like to avoid the discomfort, but if you’re really desperate, it can’t hurt too bad!
  • Black/Blue Cohosh – If you’re past 40 weeks and already experiencing contractions, these herbs can help to strengthen and regulate uterine contractions. While generally regarded as safe, there was an isolated incident of it causing heart trouble in a new baby, so use with caution. (Read more here.)
  • Clary Sage Oil – By mixing with a carrier oil and rubbing on your belly, it can help to promote labor and relieve pain, but it should only be used under the guidance of a trained professional as there can be other complications if not used correctly.
  • Golden Seal – Golden seal can be taken orally in tablet form and has hydrastatine and berberine that have been known to induce labor. Because of complications, however, it is recommended that you only take it with professional guidance.

What Causes Labor to Start

Labor will typically begin when the maturing baby and aging placenta trigger an increase in prostoglandins that will soften the cervix and get it ready for effacement and dilation. Estrogen will rise and progesterone will increase which will make the uterus more sensitive to oxytocin. The baby will move down into the pelvis and contractions in the last weeks of pregnancy may start the effacement and dilation of the cervix. Women will typically feel a burst of energy to help them make the final preparations before labor begins (Source).

In addition, the uterus has an increased number of immune cells (macrophages) there to help to fight lung infection that begin to migrate to the wall of the uterus during late pregnancy (called surfactant protein, aka SP-A). Once there, a chemical reaction takes place stimulating an inflammatory response in the uterus that starts the process of labor. So basically, when the baby’s lungs are developed, labor will begin (Source).

In Conclusion

Even though I am anxiously awaiting the arrival of our precious little guy, I am in no hurry to “make him” come before he is ready. I have viewed each additional day as a gift where I get to accomplish one more task or cuddle with one more child before my little guy enters this world and demands my full attention. I have also enjoyed eating special meals, treating myself to organizational tools for my home, doing yoga daily, nesting in every possible way, getting caught up on things I would have never dreamed I would get caught up on, reading, journaling, spending time with my husband, and taking lots of time to reflect and enjoy every aspect of life.

Now that I am knowledgeable in all of the risks of being overdue and aware of a variety of methods of induction, I am ready to turn this part of my brain off as I listen to my body, become aware of my baby, and prepare for this miraculous journey that will bring a new life into the world.

The Importance of Visualizing and Meditating Before Giving Birth

The Importance of Visualizing and Meditating Before Giving Birth

Visualizing and meditating before birth has helped me to have three peaceful home births (Ruby, our first born, was a slightly different story…read her birth story here and my afterward thoughts here), and as I prepare for the birth of baby #5, the reality of being 8 months pregnant has finally hit me, and I know that I need to make a conscious effort to get in tune with my baby and my body before the birth happens.

Using Yoga to Meditate

I absolutely LOVE the way my body feels when I regularly move through yoga. After several weeks of a new routine, the awkward and stiff feelings are replaced with strength and confidence and the world melts away as I focus and concentrate on my movements.

Yoga is as much about freeing your mind as it is about freeing your body from tension and pain. With four young children to take care of and so many things to constantly make, prepare, and do, it’s really hard for me to find time to clear my mind and really concentrate on the present moment.

But when I do find the time to move through a yoga video, the calm music and gentle guidance of the instructor allow me to let go of the world and to be fully present in the movements of my body. I can let go of my to do list, my worries, and my fears…everything else simply melts away as I focus on my breathing, my baby, the position of my limbs, and the intricate placements of each of my ligaments, muscles, and bones.

Sometimes it’s hard to justify setting aside a full hour for myself to do yoga, but when I make it a priority, I feel stronger, calmer, and more at peace. Some other amazing perks are that it makes my leg cramps go away (I also have found GREAT relief using this magnesium spray), helps with my lower back pain, and helps me to sleep better at night.

My Favorite Yoga Vidoes

When I first started doing yoga, I went to the local library and checked out everything they had. I also looked for YouTube videos for “prenatal yoga” and found two videos that have stood the test of time throughout all five pregnancies.

My ultimate favorite is Shiva Rea’s Prenatal Yoga by Gaiam. This workout is put together sooooooo well and incorporates every single little movement that a pregnant woman should go through to release tension and strengthen her body. I also love the modifications for each trimester, the soft background music, the serene setting, and Shiva’s gentle guidance.

Another top favorite video is ZenMama Rainbeau Mars: Prenatal Workout. This video is a bit easier than Shiva Rea’s and because Rainbeau talks during her movements (rather than having the sound dubbed over later), there are little mistakes and such, but I actually really enjoy this video more because of these foibles. I also LOVE her guided relaxation piece at the end.

I encourage you to explore several videos as well and find something that works for you. When you do the same video/videos over and over, it can help you to memorize the routines so that when you need a quick little “pick me up” you will have some go to moves.

Visualizing Life with a New Baby

The reason why I usually start “nesting” so early is that I spend a lot of time visualizing what our lives will be like with a new baby. My husband and I will talk late into the nights about what our new bedtime routine will look like, how he will take care of me and support me during the important recovery stage of postpartum care, what our new morning routine will look like, where the baby will sleep, how we will regulate the temperature of our bedroom, what nursing stations I will require throughout the house, and every other possible little detail that we can think of.

I find times when I can let my mind go (usually before I go to bed or when I’m cuddled up with a little one during the day) and totally visualize what it will be like to cradle a sweet little babe in my arms. I think about being tied to a bed or chair for long periods of time as we establish breastfeeding and I recover, and I try to see what I will see then…which inevitably leads to lots and lots of organizing and cleaning because I just KNOW that the dust on the ceiling fans, the organization of our book baskets, and interior cleanliness of our refrigerator is going to gnaw at my mind!

Visualizing the Birth

Whenever I get into the final weeks of pregnancy, the fullness of what I will be going through hits me, and my first instinct is to panic. I start worrying about how I will get through the pain of transition, how I will manage pushing out an entire body through my lady parts, and how a potentially long labor may drain me of every speck of energy until the point of collapse.

My second instinct is one of excitement as I visualize meeting this tiny being that has been nestled in my womb for so long. Seeing his little face, knowing that he will grow up like all of my other children with a unique and definitive personality all his own, feeling the soft touch of his skin and the elation that my husband and I will feel when we actually get to hold him and gaze into his precious little face…all of these things lift me to a tremendous emotional high.

But then back to the birth…I reflect on my past births, but know that this one will be its own story. I picture myself feeling the first acknowledgement of labor, the recognition that these contractions aren’t Braxtons anymore…they are real, and this baby is coming. I know that the excitement of that moment will trump any notions of sleep, and it makes me treasure those moments of rest that I have now.

I visualize myself keeping it a secret as long as I can letting my husband rest or work…finishing whatever he needs to do so that he will have the energy to support me in my final moments when I know that I will need him the most. I see myself putzing around the house in the beginning stages of labor as I prepare food, tidy up the house, and pull out my birthing kit. (Ummm, I still need to order this…) I also know that I will need to rest during this beginning stage and save my strength for the more difficult parts.

I see my body starting to take things seriously as I’m no longer able to move during contractions, and I wonder, “Where will I want to be when this happens?” For Julian’s birth, I liked being in our living room, far away from the children’s bedrooms with the soft glow of the fireplace and the large windows in the doors that give me a view to the backyard. I think about lighting candles (Oops, I forgot to add some to my last Melaleuca order…), turning on my Pandora Enya mix, and preparing a stack of pillows and my exercise ball (I need to clean this off and pump it up…) for what will probably result in back labor once again (I have a body that cradles posterior babies it seems.).

I think about where I will want to be when I push (probably on my hands and knees like the last three births), where I will rest afterwards, and how we will sneak past Elliot (if he’s sleeping) to get to the large sit and stand jaccuzi tub in our bathroom for an herbal bath afterwards.

I also think about where the midwives will be while they are here and how they may need a place to rest if labor is long and food to eat to help everyone keep up their strength. I wonder when I’ll call my mom to let her know labor has begun and think about whether or not the other children will need to be entertained so Scott can support me or whether it will all happen in the dark hours of the night.

As I think about all of these things, and continuously prepare for this upcoming journey, it puts my mind at ease. I can “see” what is going to happen, and it’s takes away my initial feelings of panic, anxiety, and self doubt. When I think about the birth after visualizing and meditating, I feel tranquil and excited for what is soon to happen.

Helpful Resources

As I embark upon my fifth birth, I have plenty of my own stories to reflect on and think about, but when I was preparing for my first and second birth, these are the resources that helped me to learn more about what would happen to my body before, during, and after labor. This knowledge helped to alleviate my fears about the unknown and put my mind at ease during the process of birth.

*Note: I am a person who likes to know EVERYTHING inside and out, I LOVE research, and I strongly believe that knowledge is power. Some people, however, will say that the best advice is to not listen to too much advice because everyone has so many different opinions. When it comes to childbirth, you might feel more comfortable in a hospital, at a birthing center, at home with a midwife, or completely unassisted, but the bottom line is that some crazy stuff is about to happen to your body, and I truly believe that the more you learn about the process, the less you will succumb to fear of the unknown and therefore pain.

  • Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth – Ina May is a very knowledgeable midwife, and I love the way she explains exactly what happens to a woman’s body during birth with special attention to information that supports a natural birth. I also loved reading all of the birth stories. *I also really like Birthing from Within by Pam England. 
  • The Business of Being Born – I can’t even fully explain how this opened my mind up to the world of birth, but when everything was so foreign and so new during my first and even second pregnancies, this documentary was nothing short of a miracle for my mind, and something that I watched several times. It was really good for my husband to watch as well. There is also an additional four part series called More Business of Being Born that is in some ways even more amazing.
  • Hypnobirthing Resources – I’m trying to find exactly what I used for this, and I think it was the cds from the Hypnobirthing Home Study Course ($170), but this Birth Hypnosis cd by Gabrielle Targett ($1.99) sounds very soothing as well. I remember taking a bath when I was very much pregnant for Ruby (our first) and falling into a deep state of meditation as I prepared for my birth. I never really entered a state of hypnosis, but listening to these cds during labor really helped me to connect with a very peaceful center (that along with my Enya and Sigur Ros mix), especially when I started to feel like I was going to panic from the pain.
  • Orgasmic Birth – Personally, the idea of having an orgasm during birth seems quite strange to me, but I was very fascinated to learn about the close connection between pleasure and pain. This documentary helped me to open up to the idea that birth isn’t just a painful experience to endure, but a beautiful and amazing experience to take part in. *It also makes me chuckle when I prepare my “birthing area” with dim lights, flickering candles,  and soft music because the ideal environment for having a baby is truly best when it’s the same environment used to make a baby. Speaking of which, this video hilariously makes this point quite well…seriously, you have to watch it! 

  • Birth Videos and Stories – In a birthing class Scott and I took before Ruby’s birth, we watched some videos of women in Africa giving birth outside with very little assistance. Even though we knew we would be more comfortable with having the assistance of a midwife present, I enjoyed watching numerous videos of unassisted births (like this one) because they helped to give me the confidence that my body was made to do this. I also liked reading stories about unassisted births (like these) as well.
  • Prenatal Massage – My husband is so sweet and loving to give me some amazing pregnancy massages throughout all of my pregnancies. At first, we enjoyed using the guided prenatal massage in Shiva Rae’s prenatal yoga video, but now he just massages me while we unwind and maybe watch a bit of TV at the end of the day. I’m having trouble tracking down a reliable copy of Shiva Rea’s yoga dvd that includes the massage other than this, but this article and video provide some nice tips as well. The bottom line is that if your partner is willing to massage you, there is really no “wrong” way to do it as long as you have open communication about what feels good and what doesn’t. I have also enjoyed getting a professional prenatal massage that really helped with some sciatic nerve pain.
  • Chiropractic Care – When I was pregnant for Ophelia, I had excruciating sciatic nerve pain. After several trips to a chiropractor who specialized in treating pregnant women, I was able to have the pain completely relieved. I highly recommend asking your doctor or midwife for a chiropractic recommendation, especially if you’re feeling any pain. There is a lot they can do when it comes to helping with the baby’s position as well. If you have a baby in a posterior position (which can lead to some pretty painful back labor), they can help with this as well. The Belly Mapping Workbook is also a good resource for “spinning babies”.
  • Birthing Classes – We were originally planning a hospital birth for Ruby, and so Scott and I took every single birthing, baby care, and breastfeeding class that we could. When I was about 31 weeks along, we made the decision to switch to a birth center and proceeded to take every class they had to offer as well. It was really fun to learn together!
  • Birthing Plan/Support Team – I highly recommend writing down a birth plan and discussing it thoroughly with your birth partner who will be an advocate for you while you concentrate on giving birth. You may also want to consider hiring a doula who can be your advocate, help guide you, and provide support to both you and your birth partner. Knowing that you have this plan and knowing that you will have proper support will help to put your mind at ease throughout your pregnancy.

In Conclusion

Being able to enter a meditative state during pregnancy is so helpful because it makes it that much easier to enter that same state during the process of labor and delivery. Visualizing the birth, anticipating what it will be like to go through each stage of labor, and making sure you are completely prepared will help to eliminate the fear, panic, and anxiety that can come with the unknown. As I sit here in my eighth month of pregnancy, I am grateful to have the time to write this all down and reflect on my own journey that will soon bring me face to face and skin to skin with baby #5.

You also might enjoy the following articles:

How I Survived Postpartum Depression

Let’s be honest. Being a mom is hard. Being a person is hard. Sometimes it’s hard just to “be”. Period.

I am not perfect. I am not happy all of the time. Sometimes I even totally lose my shit…but you might not know that about me because I have a tendency to mostly share just the positive…because that’s what we do. We celebrate what we’re proud of, and we sweep the rest under the rug.

I was at a MOPS meeting the other day and felt such a profound connection with all of the women there as we started sharing stories of postpartum depression. To be honest, I was completely floored when I heard story after story that kept sounding like my story, and as I looked around the room, I noticed not just a room full of tears, but a room full of love and support. It made me realize that none of us really have the answers, but by sharing our stories, we feel connected, we feel like we’re not alone, and it made me feel, well…ok, almost normal even.

The bottom line is that it made me want to share my story. I have tried to write this blog for a long time, but I could never find the right words, and then I realized, there are no right words. There are just words – words that come together to form a story, and that’s what I’m going to do now; I’m going to share my story. Just know that yes, I’m happy now, and I’ll share that part of the journey too, but first I want to take you to some of the darkest moments I’ve ever experienced in my entire life.

Postpartum Depression Round #2

About 9 months ago (when Julian was 13 months old, Ophelia was 2, Elliot was 4, and Ruby was 6), I started writing a blog called, “I’m Choosing to be Happy Today”, as way to work through some of the depression that I was feeling. But while everything I was writing was completely real, raw, and full of emotion, there was no happy ending, and so I had to put it aside until things weren’t so bleak.

Now that I’ve been able to crawl out of the depths of postpartum depression (for the second time), I think I’m finally ready to share my story.

It was the middle of winter and yet another cold and flu season was upon us when I noticed a little bit of spotting, and then a bit more, and pretty soon, I was experiencing the first period I’ve had since…gosh, I don’t even know how long! (4 births in 6 years…hello!) My mom warned me about fluctuating hormones, but I brushed her warning away thinking,

“I’m too tough to get emotional. I’ll be okay.”

At the same time as I got my period, it seemed like my milk was drying up. Julian was up to feed in the night just about every hour, and he would get really rough, pulling on my nipple, hitting me with his arms, and flailing his legs. (On a side note, I think this is what led to my nursing aversion.) When he woke up with a practically dry diaper after an all night nursing marathon, I knew that it was the beginning of the end of our breastfeeding relationship.

This made me so sad – desperately sad. The only way he would go to sleep was with me nursing him, and even though he ate food with us at every meal, I never really had to worry about how much he ate because he would just nurse him all. the. time. (In hindsight, I wish I would have started this bedtime routine with him a little sooner.)

The thought of not being able to breastfeed Julian anymore, the ongoing lack of sleep, the constant busyness and business of our daily lives, feeling overwhelmed and constantly behind, and now these hormonal changes with the onset of my period absolutely turned my head upside down. It was a gradual change for sure, but one day, it felt like a switch had been flipped. Everything that used to make me happy was suddenly driving me bat-shit crazy.

The way that everyone needed me every single moment of every single day made me want to run and hide. I felt like a failure, a loser, and a fraud. I started fantasizing about going back to work and putting them all in day care. I just didn’t feel like I could handle it for one minute more…and then I remembered feeling this same way when Elliot started to wean. I tried hard to pinpoint why I was feeling this way. Was having two little ones 2 and under just too much for me to handle? Did I need to work on creating more of a balance in my life? Did I need more things just for me? I just couldn’t figure it out.

Usually, I’m pretty good about seeing what I’m doing well and planning new areas of growth for my future, but with everything going on…

My self-doubt started to outweigh my self-worth.

I started feeling like I was failing everyone. I started feeling like I was doing everything wrong. I started feeling like I wanted to quit being a mother. I started feeling like I wanted to find someone more capable to take care of my kids and just get a job where I knew I would be able to succeed (as if that would be so much easier).

Whenever I would hear the little voice of self-doubt in my head, the one that said, “You’re not good enough. You are a fat, frumpy, disheveled mess. You are a failure.”

I would scream, “NO!” and I would try to quiet that little voice and instead look at my sweet little darlings, and I would choose to be happy.

I felt like I was at the edge of a precipice and could go either way. With one more little negative event or thought, I knew that I would tumble into the abyss of sadness, but with every conscious choice placing me into the world of “happy”, I saved myself from that doomed path.

Then one day, I woke up, looked in the mirror, and noticed a giant zit on my chin. That was it. It was the zit that broke the camel’s back so to speak. Everything came crashing down around me, and all of those little walls of happiness that I had worked so hard to build suddenly came crashing down.

I tried to choose to be happy again like I did before, but I just couldn’t. Every little thing was making me cry, and I felt like a complete and utter failure.

Usually, I have a long list of things that make me happy – things like making a healthy meal from scratch, cleaning out and organizing a drawer or cupboard, designing a new learning activity, cuddling up and reading with one of the kids, getting the house clean and organized, writing, or researching a new blog topic,- but no matter how many times I went through the motions, NONE of these things were making me happy.

And then I couldn’t even go through the motions.

I would find myself just sitting there on the floor, looking out the window with a blank stare while the kids played around me, feeling like I was in a fog, and like I could just start bawling at any second.

When my husband came home for lunch one day and didn’t say the right thing, I snapped. I got angry and told him to LEAVE. We fought via texts until he came home hours later, and I just bawled about all of the things that were making me sad.

He was very kind and supportive, but he said,

“It doesn’t make any sense. None of these things were making you depressed a few weeks ago. Where else could this be coming from?”

Those words really struck me because he was right. I didn’t have a reason to be depressed. My life was good, and I was surrounded by things that should make me happy. Why couldn’t I see that? Why couldn’t I feel that? And of course…that just made me even more depressed.

But I kept thinking over and over again about choosing to be happy. And even as the tendrils of depression tried to reach out and pull me into oblivion, I kept thinking, “NO! YOU’RE NOT TAKING ME!!!”

I tried thinking about all of the things that were spiraling me into depression in a positive way, and so instead of thinking, “When will Julian ever sleep through the night?” I started thinking about his sweet little smile, the feel of his body tucked into mine, and how I was the only one who could comfort him at night.

That evening, I cracked a beer, slipped into a warm bath, and just thought about all that was good in my life. Then I pulled my daughter Ophelia into the bath with me. She was so happy to pour water and to “swim” in our sitting Jacuzzi tub. I looked at her face, really looked, and noticed how she was happier than ever just by being with me. She didn’t need any special activities or toys, she just needed me.

The more I started to think about how I was enough, how just the mere existence of me was enough to nourish and sustain all of my children, I could feel the veil of sadness begin to lift.

Where before every thought had been in a muddled in a fog of sadness, suddenly everything started to look so clear, so simple, so…attainable. And just like that, I felt my breasts fill up with milk. I almost wept with tears of joy! It was almost like all of my worry, self-doubt, and depression had inhibited my milk supply. I was overjoyed to feel my milk let down as Julian nursed hungrily. In the times of nursing him after that, I noticed that if I wasn’t present in the moment, I couldn’t make any milk, but as I became aware of his warm body, his sweet eyes looking up at me, and my love for him, I could feel that old familiar fullness of milk.

And that was that. It wasn’t a long list of things that helped me to lift my head up, it was a moment. I forgot about my insecurities, my fears, the future, and my past, and just really and truly tried living in that moment. Noticing the smells, the sounds, the textures, the sensations…just being in the moment…it was my life preserver.

Now, it wasn’t a completely magical fix after that. I still felt like I was at the bottom of a deep dark well, but it was like the sun finally came out and illuminated a step that I never noticed before. Every day, I worked hard to see the sunshine at the top of the well and the light that illuminated the way, and brick by brick, I found a way to climb out.

Postpartum Depression Round #1

Now, before I delve more into what helped me come out of my postpartum depression for good, I want to step back in time to my first experience with postpartum depression because this was truly my darkest time, and I never even thought that this could be connected to postpartum depression until my experience after Julian.

Before we had children, I loved being a teacher, and I mean LOVED it. After I got my Master’s degree in Linguistics, we were blessed with our first child, and the year after that I landed my dream job as an ESL coach working with teachers to help make input more comprehensible for English language learners. Little did I know, however, that I was pregnant again. After only one year on the job, I knew that I just couldn’t leave my sweet babes in daycare anymore, and so I quit my job to be a stay at home mom. (Read more about that story here.) We decided to move back to our home state, lived with my parents for 8 months, and then finally moved into a rented house in the city (which we would later come to find out was a pretty rough neighborhood) while my husband worked over an hour away.

Instead of feeling like we had made it, I felt completely lost. Who was I? How would I fill my days? And what was there to stimulate me besides poopy diapers and preschool activities???

I mean sure, I was loving being home with my little ones and really enjoyed challenging them with creative learning opportunities, but I started to get depressed…and I mean REALLY depressed. I thought that by moving “back home” we would be surrounded by the positive support of friends and family, but what they had to give just wasn’t enough to fill the deep whole in my heart. I longed for adult interaction and the need to be challenged intellectually, I wanted to own a house in the country, I wanted a good friend group, I wished my husband worked closer to us, I felt like I was missing so many parts of me…and then, just like with Julian, my period returned, my milk started drying up, and I started slipping into a really really deep and dark state of depression.

Because it was so long after giving birth, I never thought of it as “postpartum depression” or even “depression”. (I think technically it’s called postpartum distress syndrome.) All I know is that I would cry…a lot. I would check the mail ten times a day hoping for something exciting to happen. I felt listless, restless, lost, and worst of all…empty. I hated that I couldn’t lose the last 10 pounds of belly fat, and I hated how I looked in the mirror. I used to have all of these dreams and aspirations, but then, I felt like I had nothing, and then I would feel so GUILTY! I mean, I was able to be home with my two golden treasures, wasn’t that enough? I got to cuddle them, read to them, take them to play groups, build forts with them, go to the library for story hour, put them down for naps, feed them healthy food, and just BE with them.

But it wasn’t enough. I didn’t feel whole, or complete, or even like me really.

Then one night, my husband and I got into a HUGE fight that ended up with him driving away. I wasn’t sure if he would come ever back because he’s usually never the one to leave. I was so relieved when several hours later he came back. We were finally able to talk without screaming, and we decided that we didn’t want to end our marriage. I also knew that I wanted to find happiness as a stay at home mom, and so that’s what we set out to do. It wasn’t always easy, but we just took things one day at a time.

After that conversation, I started discovering the new me. I read Nourishing Traditions like it was my Bible, got really into feeding my family healthy food, I started working out and eating a better diet, we found out we were pregnant again, we moved one mile away from my husband’s work to a beautiful home in a safe neighborhood where he could come home for lunch every day, and I started my blog about embracing the new me…embracing motherhood. After Ophelia was born, I was prepared. I encapsulated my placenta into pills and started taking them after she was born. Whenever I felt the first signs of depression, I would take a pill, and I would immediately start to feel better.

Now, as you know, postpartum depression did find me again after our fourth child, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as the first time, and somehow, I found my way out of it once again.

What is Postpartum Depression?

After going through all of this, I started to realize that it was more than just a choice of being happy or not. Yes, that was a battle going on in my mind, and yes all of the chaos of my life made me more susceptible to depression, but there was something going on with my hormones that made it the perfect storm.

When you’re pregnant, your body produces extraordinary amounts of estrogen and progesterone to help you grow your new baby. The moment the placenta leaves your body, however, estrogen and progesterone return to pre-pregnancy levels. This hormone crash is why up to 80% of women feel the “baby blues” in the first few weeks after pregnancy. About 10% of women will suffer from a more severe form of the “baby blues” in the first year, and this is what is known as postpartum depression (PPD). After the baby is a year old, postpartum depression is actually called postpartum distress syndrome (PPDS), but is still primarily related to fluctuating hormones. A more serious form of postpartum depression is postpartum psychosis (PPP) in which the mother may suffer hallucinations, thoughts of suicide, and thoughts of harming the baby. This is more related to a bi-polar disorder and should be treated immediately.

The reason why postpartum depression can affect mothers so long after birth is because many of the hormones present during pregnancy still remain afterwards. Relaxin, for example, takes about 5 months to leave, which is why you are more prone to sprains at that time, and prolactin, that hormone that produces milk, will stay present during the entire phase of nursing. Proloctin is also what suppresses the production of the fertility hormones estrogen and progesterone (which prevents ovulation and menstruation). Once the baby starts to nurse less, estrogen and progesterone levels will increase, ovulation will resume, and the menstrual cycle will return. If there is an imbalance with these hormones and there is too much progesterone, anxiety can occur, and if there is too much estrogen, depression can occur.

The bottom line here is that after you have a baby and when your period returns, your hormones can get out of whack and make you feel crazy, especially if you already have a history of depression.

Tips for Overcoming Postpartum Depression

These are the tips that have helped me to completely pull away from postpartum depression, or postpartum distress syndrome, or just plain old depression, or whatever the heck you want to call it.

  1. Find happiness in the moments. At first, you just have to find the happy moments…the moments that make life worth living, the moments that make you smile, and the moments that make you see that being on this earth is where you need to be. After awhile, you can find the happy days, and then the happy weeks, and eventually they will lead to happy years and a happy lifetime, but you have to start small. Baby steps. Find the happy moments first.
  2. Build a support system. Talking with other women who have experienced the same thing is so valuable, and something I simply can’t even express enough. Now, if you talk to someone about what you’re going through, and instead of listening to you, they try to “fix” you and tell you all of the things that you “should be doing”, RUN! You need to find someone, anyone, who can just listen to you and let you talk about every feeling you have, every thought, and every idea without judgement, and without trying to fix you. All they need to do is listen. Sometimes, the best option might be to speak to a therapist or psychiatrist about what you’re going through.
  3. Know that the cause of (and the solution to) your depression lies within. Does it seem like your husband, your kids, your job, your appearance, etc. are all contributing to your depression? If you fall into this trap of thinking, it can make you think that if you leave these things, then your depression will simply end, but it’s not that simple. The way you perceive the world and interact with the world is controlled by you and only you.
  4. Have open and honest communication with your significant other. My husband has been there with me through the good times and the bad, and through it all, I have learned that he cannot read my mind, he cannot always pick up on subtle clues to figure out what I am thinking and feeling, and that I need to share my feelings openly and honestly on a regular basis. If I bottle things up, they will eventually explode, but when I share my feelings often, it helps me to figure out why I’m feeling what I’m feeling, and that’s what open communication is all about.
  5. Feed your intellectual adult brain. Yes, being a stay at home mom is a very rewarding, thrilling, and amazing experience, but I needed something to stimulate my adult brain too. By creating a reading system for young children and blogging, I feel like I have an outlet, a voice, and a form of expression. It continuously motivates me to research, learn, stretch myself, and grow.
  6. Accomplish something. Sometimes you need to see something checked off a list that isn’t part of your daily routine. For example, once I found my niche of blogging and creating a reading program for young children, I have continuously needed to see myself making progress in order to be happy. Sometimes, I need to complete something as small as making a list of blog ideas in One Note, collecting some research based articles online, drafting an outline for a blog, or perfecting the rough draft of a flashcard sketch. But whatever it is, I need to feel like I’m moving forward.
  7. Know that sometimes you might need a life preserver. Have you ever physically felt what it’s like to drown before? I have. When we lived in Colorado, we stupidly went tubing down a river that was full of spring rain with no life jackets and cheap little inner tubes. As I went over a mini rapid, my tubed slipped out from underneath me, and I was immediately pushed to the bottom of the river by the very powerful pressure of the rapid. I tried desperately to reach for the surface, but it was so so hard, and I thought, “This is it”. I could feel myself slipping, ready to let go. I could literally see my life flashing before my eyes, and suddenly I thought, “NO!!! I’M NOT READY TO DIE!!!” With every last bit of strength, I reached for the surface, and as if by some miracle, my hand latched onto something. It was a kayaker, my guardian angel, there to save me. As my head exploded to the surface, arms flailing and mouth gasping for breath, he yelled at me to STOP panicking, to hold on, and to kick my legs. When he brought me to shore and then disappeared down the river as if he were some sort of apparition, I felt as though I had been given a second chance at life. That story is pretty much the best analogy I can think of to describe depression. When you’re in the depths of depression, it literally feels like you’re drowning, and sometimes you just need a life preserver, something to rescue you so that you can tread water again. Maybe it’s a trip to the spa, maybe it’s making a big change in your life or many small ones, maybe it’s seeing a therapist and/or taking some medication, but the important thing is that you need to grab ahold of something so that you can tread water again.
  8. Don’t be afraid to facilitate change. If it bothers you that your house is continuously messy, find a way to keep it clean! Get rid of the clutter, get your kids and spouse to pitch in more, or hire some cleaning help. If you hate your body, find a way to work out, cut out the sugar, or count calories. If you’re upset that you haven’t accomplished anything, find something to accomplish! Try a new recipe, sign up for an online class, or do a paint by number. If you’re mad at your husband because he won’t help out enough, TELL HIM!!! How else is he supposed to know? If you are frustrated that your kids don’t help out enough, TEACH THEM HOW! How else are they supposed to learn? Anyways, you get the point. 😉
  9. Create healthy habits. This may sound simple, but it is so so important. Make sure you’re getting enough sleep and plenty of sunshine, eat a healthy and well balanced diet, make time for mediation/yoga/reflection, and find something to be thankful for every day. Before you can take care of everyone else, you have to take care of yourself.
  10. Take placenta pills. I didn’t learn about encapsulating my placenta into pills until my third pregnancy, and boy what a difference that made! Whenever I would start to feel a little depressed, I would pop a couple of placenta pills and feel like a completely different person. Now I just to remember to save some to see if they’ll help when my period comes back.
  11. Know that sometimes, it’s just hormones. Sometimes, not all the time, but sometimes, it’s just hormones. After Julian, when I realized that it was actually the hormones making me sad and not my entire life, it was a lot easier to mentally switch gears.

In Conclusion

I have been very hesitant about sharing my experiences with postpartum depression because I don’t want people to judge me or feel sorry for me. I don’t want people to look at me like I’m weak, and most of all, I don’t want people to look at me with pity and say things like, “Are you really okay,” while touching my arm in a consoling but also slightly condescending way. I’m tough, I’m strong, and I’m capable, but I’m not stronger than postpartum depression, and I think I’m finally okay with that.

I’m glad to share my story because I think that we all need to share our stories. It’s the only way we can feel – it’s the only way we can know – that we’re not alone. So, if you have a story that you’d like to share, share it. Share with your loved ones, share it with your girlfriends, or share it here. If you’d like to submit a guest post about your experience(s) with postpartum depression, that would be awesome! You can even post it anonymously if you want. The important thing to remember is that you’re not alone, you’re not a failure because you’re depressed, and there is a way out, you just have to find it.

Additional Resources

  • Click here to see a map of the United States to find someone to talk to about what you are going through.
  • Tools for Mom – Here you’ll find checklists, questionnaires, support groups, and more.
  • Postpartum Support International – This is a great portal to learn more and to find many additional resources.
Embracing Motherhood 9 Tips for Getting Over First Trimester Morning Sickness and Tiredness

10 Tips for Getting Over First Trimester Morning Sickness and Fatigue

First trimester morning sickness (which doesn’t just hit in the morning, ahem) and the overwhelming tiredness that the first trimester brings can bring a rough start to the beginning of a pregnancy.

As I embark on this pregnancy with our fifth child, I’ve been overwhelmed with the tiredness and nausea, which maaaaay be a sign of twins, but since I won’t be able to rule that out for quite a few more weeks, I’ll settle for reflecting on my past experiences and a dabble of research to see what I should do to combat this nasty business. (*Update: It wasn’t twins!)

Why Women Get Tired During the First Trimester

During the first trimester, our bodies do something so amazing that it rivals the fact that we’re actually growing a living human being. Our bodies are making an organ…the placenta to be exact. This organ will nourish our baby (or babies) with both oxygen and food throughout the entire pregnancy, and so yes, we’re going to be a little extra tired during this process.

On top of this, our metabolism kicks into high gear, our hormones are increasing like crazy, and our blood sugar and blood pressure both tend to be lower. All of these things working together create the perfect storm for fatigue, but don’t worry, I have some ways to beat this! (Source)

Why Nausea Hits So Hard During the First Trimester

Now, this is a little more elusive than the fatigue question, and “no one really knows” why women get “morning sickness”. (Yes, morning sickness is a stupid name because it doesn’t just happen in the morning and the “no one really knows” things just always bother me…)

Almost 75% of all pregnant women will experience some sort of nausea or vomiting which can begin as early as 4 weeks, peak at about 8-10 weeks, and then taper off by about 14 weeks when the second trimester begins. Although, for some women it will last longer, and for a very small percentage, it could be hyperemesis gravidarum which is extreme vomiting that never lets you keep anything down.

One theory is that it is triggered by the human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) hormone that rises rapidly during pregnancy, which is why women pregnant with twins typically experience more nausea since they have higher levels of hCG. Estrogen also rises rapidly (along with progesterone) and could be another trigger. The heightened sense of smell, a sensitive stomach, and stress could also contribute to this “morning sickness”. (Source)

Tips and Tricks for Getting Over Morning Sickness and Fatigue

Even though nausea and fatigue are technically two different things, I have found their cures to be inextricably linked. For me, it’s like they work in tandem. By adhering to the following tips and tricks, I have been able to stave away extreme fatigue and nausea in my first four pregnancies, but now with our fifth baby, I’m wondering why I am feeling so particularly tired and nauseous. Could it be multiples or do I just need to take better care of myself? By adhering to the following tips and tricks for the last few days, I am already feeling a million times better.

1. Stay Away from Sugar

When you’re pregnant, your body is more sensitive to sugar. (Read more about why this causes women to experience more yeast infections and get gestational diabetes here.) This sensitivity peaks at about week 23, but it begins the moment you conceive.

Basically, you’ve learned that you’re pregnant, and so now that you’re “eating for two” you want to pig out on ice cream, doughnuts, and cake. But what happens when you do this is that your blood sugar spikes and then totally crashes leaving you feeling extremely tired afterwards. If you were already a “sugar burner” before pregnancy, it’s only going to get worse now.

I have always danced around hypoglycemia (pre-pre-gestational diabetes) with each pregnancy, and my sensitivity to sugar has continuously increased. Now, in my 5th pregnancy, I am going to do my best to avoid it on a regular basis. (But hey, there’s always special occasions, right?)

2. Stay Away from Processed Food

This kind of goes along with the sugar thing, but the reality is that you’re going to be hungry…A LOT…during this pregnancy, and it’s best to start some healthy habits so that whenever you do feel those hunger pains, you’re not stopping at McDonalds or grabbing a bag of Doritos.

Because most fast food and cheap processed food is void of nutrients, you’re just getting empty calories when you eat processed food. This is not going to energize you and make you feel alive and vibrant! It’s going to make you feel tired and sick. Now, for some people, a treat now and then is okay, and for other people, this is just a gateway for more and they must adhere to complete abstinence.

3. Eat Nutrient Dense Food

Finally, something you can do! If you only have 9 months to grow a human life including it’s brain, organs, tissues, and skin, you want it to be constructed out of the very best parts, and this is where nutrient dense foods come in. Grass-fed beef, pastured chickens and eggs, raw milk, butter, cheese, organic fruits and vegetables, organic and properly prepared grains and nuts are all foods FULL of nutrients. Basically, you want to eat food in as close to its original state as possible. (For more information about nutrient dense food, I highly recommend reading Nourishing Traditions or checking out the Weston Price website.)

Now, maybe you can’t always afford organic produce or pastured meats, and that’s okay. Just do the best you can with what you have.

4. Eat Small Meals

I feel like during pregnancy, I go through this viscous cycle where I’m STARVING, which makes me feel nauseous, and so I’ll eat a HUGE meal, which makes me feel extremely tired, and so I completely crash, and then the cycle threatens to continuously repeat itself.

Throughout my first four pregnancies and now this fifth pregnancy, I feel like most of my symptoms associated with nausea are usually because I’m hungry. But if instead of eating a large meal (especially one full of sugar and processed foods), I eat just a small one full of nutrient dense food, it usually gets rid of the nausea and leaves me feeling energized. Basically, I try to eat when I’m hungry and stop BEFORE I’m feeling totally full. And by having the house stocked with healthy, nutrient dense food, it makes it that much easier to grab something that’s good for me.

If I’m starving, I find it’s best to have something high in fat and protein. These are my go to snacks:

  • A handful of almonds or pecans
  • A glass of raw milk
  • Some crackers and cheese
  • A baked potato with butter, cheese, sour cream, and chives
  • Greek yogurt
  • boiled egg with salt
  • An apple with peanut butter

If I’m looking more for a meal, I’ll have:

If I’m looking for a lighter meal or snack, I’ll have:

  • Carrots, peas, cucumbers, etc. and ranch (or plain)
  • Popcorn with coconut oil
  • A big salad
  • Tomato salad with mozzarella balls, herbs, and italian dressing
  • Blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, etc.

If I have a sweet tooth:

5. Get More Sleep

I know this kind of sounds like a no-brainer…if you’re tired, get more sleep, duh! But easier said than done! We are such creatures of our routines, and it can be hard to change. When I’m not pregnant, I can survive easily on 5-6 hours of sleep a night. But when I’m pregnant, especially in the first trimester, I need MUCH more! Lately, I’ve been getting 9-10 hours of sleep a night, and I feel pretty darn good about it!

Basically, you’ll need to experiment with sleep to find your sweet spot where you feel well rested, but know that 9 hours of sleep are recommended per night for pregnant women in their first trimester.

6. Take Naps

I’m not one of those people who take long 2-3 hour naps and feel rested. Usually sleeping for that long actually makes me feel even more tired, but taking quick little 5-20 minute cat naps leave me feeling quite refreshed. When I’m feeling super duper tired (even when I still have a million things to do), I just plop down on my bed (light pouring through the windows and everything), close my eyes, and get up as soon as I feel my eyes flutter back awake.

Here’s some of the science behind why taking cat naps are so good for you, and how they will boost your energy, cognition, and health way more than a cup of coffee could. (I am not totally against coffee by the way, but on a side note, teeccino is a good coffee substitute.)

7. Cuddle More

I have four kids between the ages of 18 months and 6 years, and they ALL love to cuddle. I always have so much to cook, clean, and prepare, that it can be hard to find time to just plop down and cuddle, but when I do, it is something we all enjoy. Sometimes I’ll grab a book and read to any/all of them, other times I’ll just lay on the floor and watch them play, and occasionally I’ll wrap one or two up in my arms as they watch one of their favorite shows.

8. Get Moving

I know that when you’re tired and/or nauseous, the last thing you want to do is think about moving your body, but if you’ve had a good night’s sleep, a little cat nap, some cuddles, and some nutrient dense food and you’re still feeling tired and/or nauseous, get your butt off the couch and go for a walk or a bike ride! Put the kids in the stroller or in the bike cart and just move it! When I force myself to do this, even when I feel like I should just plaster myself to the couch, I always feel better afterwards. Getting some fresh air, sunshine, and the blood flowing fills me with endorphins, and I feel totally energized.

9. Yoga

This is the one thing I try to start my mornings with, and it not only makes a tremendous difference with how I feel during pregnancy, it also strengthens me for labor. When I was pregnant for Ruby and on summer vacation, I had time for really long yoga sessions, but now as a busy mom of four, I’m lucky to get ten minutes a day for this! Here are the yoga videos I have enjoyed.

You could also just go to your local library and see what prenatal yoga videos they have or type in “prenatal yoga” into a YouTube search bar and find one that suits you.

10. Supplements

Eating well, reducing stress, and getting enough sleep can do wonders, but during pregnancy especially, I think it’s good to have some good supplements. Here are the things that I like to use.

 

The Basics:

For Nausea:

  • Ginger: Ginger is known for helping with a variety of digestion issues including nausea. You can get a good ginger tea like this, or you can make your own by grating up some ginger root and boiling it with lemon and raw honey.
  • Peppermint: Peppermint calms the muscles of the stomach and improves the flow of bile, which the body uses to digest fats. You can get a good peppermint tea like this that works great, or sometimes just the scent of peppermint oil on a cotton ball in an inhaler stick works too. I would not recommend ingesting any peppermint oil, however. Read more about safety with essentials oils here.

In Conclusion

I really needed to write this blog as reminder for myself that as I embark on yet another journey of pregnancy, that I have to take care of myself! When we really listen to our bodies and respond to their signals, we can overcome so much. As I have started to take my own advice (especially the parts about allowing myself to sleep, taking naps, and eating healthy snacks), I already feel tons better! So, if you’re in your first trimester and you’re feeling nauseous and/or tired, slow down, listen to your body, and take care of yourself. You will be so glad that you did!

Pregnant with Baby #5!

With four children between the ages of 18 months and 6 years…girl, boy, girl, boy…we were starting to feel like our family was complete, but nature had its own ideas of what our family size should be!

Here’s the story of how we discovered we were pregnant…with baby #5. You’ll notice I’ve included the range of emotions which are truly the heart of this story.

June 8th, 2016

Every time I feel a bit fat, I take a pregnancy test thinking, “Of course that’s the reason why I can’t lose these few pounds!” So three days ago when my pants were feeling a little bit tight, I peed on a stick.

Scott came home for lunch soon after I took the test, and after we had cuddled and talked a bit, I pulled out the pregnancy stick not yet having looked at it myself. “I’m sure it’s negative,” I explained, “I know we’ve been careful every single time.” It was the fancy kind of stick (with a cap for the pee end and everything), and neither of us were surprised to see that there was a big negative sign sticking out at us.

For some reason, I left the stick lying on our bathroom counter, and when I looked at it the next day with the sunlight pouring through the window, I noticed a faint hint of a line that would complete the plus sign. I was certain that it was just saturated or something since I had left it sitting out overnight, but nonetheless, I texted Scott saying,

“I have some crazy news!”

He called me right away, but thought that the fact that all of the kids were still sleeping at 8 a.m. to be more shocking than a faint line that probably didn’t mean anything anyways.  We talked instead about how he would help me load up the little ones in the van during his long lunch break as we went to pick up Ruby from her last day of 1st grade and celebrate with ice cream.

Before he got home, I peed on another stick…just because of mother’s intuition. This time, it was just one of the cheap pregnancy sticks that I buy in bulk and use every time I miss my period or if my pants are a little too tight. Within minutes, the second line (that indicates pregnancy) started to show up. This wasn’t a faint line that could be explained by faulty mechanisms. This was a real deal, in your face, pay attention to me, I am telling you something kind of line. I was shocked, I was giddy, and I stifled a giggle as my glee threatened to take over.

Just as Scott was trying to scarf down a few bites of lunch before we headed out the door, I told him about the second pregnancy test. His fork froze mid bite, the color drained out of his face, and he said,

“Well, I guess the next time we need to use protection, I’ll have to cut my balls off.”

So yes, definitely a strong first reaction, but wait for it…

When we got in the car, I was all ready to start talking about our birthing plan down to every last little detail, but he was still in shock, and I knew he needed some time to process this information before diving into the details. We talked nervously of other things but held hands and smiled sweetly at each other the entire drive.

We had a fine time greeting Ruby after her last day and enjoyed some cupcakes and ice cream to go since by the time we left Ruby’s school Ophelia started screaming, “I want to go to bed!” (Her modus operandi these days.) The rest of the afternoon was a blur as I stayed busy absent-mindedly putzing around.

When Scott came home from work, I could tell that the reality of the positive pregnancy test was hitting him because as soon as he saw me, he looked me in the eyes with excitement and glee and said,

“We’re going to have a baby!”

We hugged and giggled and talked about the absurdity of it all. I mean, we actually were thinking of trying in August so that the baby would be born at the end of the next school year, but as that date approached, we found ourselves talking more and more about how complete we felt with four and how full our lives were and so on.

It was like, even though we love our kids and love having kids, consciously choosing to have more felt like wielding too much power. The fact that it just happened without our planning truly makes this feel like a miracle baby because I don’t know if it would have happened otherwise.

Telling the Children

We waited until the next day to tell the children because there was just too much going on before that. We weren’t sure really how to do it, but I knew that I wanted to find just the right moment. So after dinner, we gathered Ruby (6) and Elliot (5) on a sheet outside while Ophelia (3) and Julian (1) played in the little swimming pool nearby. I told them that they would each get three guesses and that if anyone guessed right they would get ice cream.

“My guess is that we’re going to have another baby!” Ruby guessed first. (Wow! how perceptive!)

“Elliot, what do you think?” I asked.

“I think we’re going to have another baby,” he copied. (He knows when to listen to his sister!)

“Okay,” I said, trying not to give any indication that that was in fact the right answer, “Do you have any other guesses?”

Elliot proceed to guess that we would get a new towel or that he was going to grow another head. Ruby’s other two guesses were that something special was going to happen to either me or daddy.

“Well,” I said, “You guys were both right on your first guess; we’re going to have another baby!” Ruby squealed with delight, and Elliot followed suit. Everyone hugged and then Ruby started running around the yard chanting, “We’re going to have a baby! We’re going to have a baby!” Scott asked them each if they hoped it would be a boy or girl. Elliot expressed that he only wanted a boy, and Ruby said that she knew that it would be a girl because that was the pattern in our family.

When I tucked Ruby into bed tonight, we had the cutest conversation in the whole world which inspired me to write down this story in the first place. Usually, we read together while cuddled up in her bed, but tonight I said, “Let’s just talk.” As we chatted about the new baby, I was just blown away by her insight and by her desire to help. I told her how with four kids, I felt a little overwhelmed already, and that I would probably need a lot of help. She bolted up in bed, put her hands out in front of her for emphasis, and said,

“Don’t even worry about a thing mom, we’ve got you covered!”

She went on to explain how I needed to take advantage of her and Daddy over the summer to get everything prepared for the new baby and added (in all seriousness), “And I won’t even charge you any money!”

She absolutely beamed, and I saw a joy and pride sweep over her face like never before when I told her about all of her amazing qualities. “You are going to be such a big help to me,” I told her honestly, “You already help me out so much with the little ones. Why, just today, you made sure Julian didn’t go into the road while I got the mail, and you’ve taught Ophelia so much about reading. The little ones look up to everything that you and Elliot do. That’s why Julian is eating so good with a fork, I never taught him, he just watches you!”

We continued to chat, and Ruby, ever the planner (just like her mother), wanted to talk about all of the things we would need to do to get ready for the baby. We talked about baby clothes, bassinets, and how Ophelia would need to potty train so we wouldn’t have three in diapers and sleep in her Dora bed so we could use her crib. I felt like we could have chatted long in to the night, but my eyes were already starting to close, and I still wanted to write this…

“Do you want to leave your light on so you can read my dear?” I asked her. She thought about it for a moment and said,

“I’m going to turn it off because I think better in the dark, and right now, I have a lot to think about. There are so many things that we need to prepare. I am just so excited for this baby!”

When she said that, my heart melted into a gigantic puddle of goo. As I blew her a kiss, shut the door, and felt the butterflies dance in my stomach over the thought of this new little person growing in my belly, I knew that this was meant to be. It was all always meant to be Just. Like. This.

In Conclusion

Lately, with Julian weaning, and everyone needing me less and less, I’ve started to think about the future…what will I do with more free time, how can I start contributing more financially, and so on, but with the news of a new baby, it’s like I can breathe a great big sigh of relief and focus entirely on the one thing that I was meant to do, the one thing that I’m better at than anything else I’ve ever done, and the one thing that unites our marriage, causes us to fall even more in love with each other every day, and gives us a sense of peace and purpose more than any raise, promotion, or other accolade ever could…a baby…a tiny little baby to hold, to love, to nurture, and to complete us all.

I wanted to share this story first of all because it’s beautiful, but also to show our thought process and our range of emotions. At first, we thought we had our lives all planned and figured out. We didn’t know what we didn’t know. So many times I hear of families stopping at one or two, or not even trying at all, and while that is totally fine, and I completely understand that some people are very happy that way, I just want to say, don’t let fear be the reason to stop you from letting nature take its course.

Money has a way of being stretched, time has a way of making you let go of the little things to extend it, career goals shift and change when you put them on hold, siblings love having more siblings, you actually find MORE time to be intimate with your spouse, and there are no limits to how far your love can stretch.

Now, I’m not saying to go poke holes in your diaphragm or anything (and NO, I did NOT do that!), but sometimes men can be hard to convince when it comes to wanting any or more children. They don’t have the same hormones and yearnings that women do. Their love for children grows gradually and exponentially…more so with each child in fact. This is actually because of their hormones and how they change with each child. If you want more, don’t be afraid to speak up about it. Find a time when he’s happy, and if he says yes, even for a day…GO FOR IT!

Because in the end, having children hasn’t been something that we do, it becomes who we are. And when we’re two old farts sitting on a porch swing, reminiscing about the “good ole days”, we won’t be alone. We will be surrounded by an entire future generation that will bring us joy until our dying breaths, and that is something I don’t think we will ever regret in the slightest.

4 kids

Elliot (5), Julian (1), Ophelia (3), Ruby (6)

Embracing Motherhood How to Establish a Bedtime Routine with a Baby (or What to Do When Your Baby Won't Nurse to Sleep Anymore)

Establishing a Bedtime Routine with a Baby Who is Used to Nursing to Sleep

I usually just like to nurse my babies to sleep, but at some point this starts to not work, and instead of panicking and thinking that the world as you know it is over (like I may or may not have done), just know that this probably means your child is ready for a bedtime routine.

Julian, My 4th Child

Julian (my fourth and the recent inspiration for this article) didn’t all of a sudden stop nursing to sleep one night. It was a gradual progression that began when he was about 15 months old.

At this time, our nightly nursing sessions were getting longer and longer, and I remember one night after flipping him from side to side and nursing him for like an hour, and he just looked up at me and said, “Hi!”

I was dumbfounded, I didn’t know what to do, and I didn’t have a plan.

All I knew was that I couldn’t let him keep nursing, and I didn’t want to just let him stay up later. He was tired. I needed to do something. (Also, I was starting to experience what I later learned was nursing aversion…more about that here.)

1. The First Time I Put Him to Bed Awake

Feeling like I was out of options, I decided to just lay him down and see what happened. When I placed him in his crib, he SCREAMED bloody murder. I knew that he wasn’t sick, teething, hungry, or needing to poop, and I also knew that he was tired, so I expertly tucked him in, whispered, “Nigh-night, I love you!” and closed the closet door (where he sleeps). As I sat back on the rocking chair to see what would happen, my mind felt blank. Usually I go into these situations with a plan, but I just felt helpless as I listened to him wail.

Then, a miracle happened. After about 90 seconds of crying…it stopped.

I sat there waiting for awhile until I was sure he was settled in, and then I went out to the living room to enjoy some much needed alone time with my husband. 🙂 He didn’t make a peep until he woke up for his usual 12 am and 3 am nighttime wakings. When I nursed him at these times, he went right back to bed.

With every child, I have always been determined to never let them “cry it out”, but inevitably, a few tears are usually shed during this transitional phase.

2. New Bedtime Routine: Reading Stories

The whole “nursing and nursing and nursing, hoping he would fall asleep, and then putting him down awake if he popped off the breast” became our new bedtime routine for about three months.

Finally, when the nursing aversion made it practically impossible for me to nurse one second longer, I knew that I would need to get him going with a bedtime story routine as soon as possible. The first night I tried it, it was super successful!

When I remembered how well bedtime stories had worked for all of our other children, I kicked myself for not starting this routine sooner!

Even if he was nursing to sleep some nights, on the nights that he didn’t fall asleep nursing, we could have read some stories and made this transition even easier. But alas, it is so hard to change!

3. Setting the Scene for a Successful Bedtime Routine

By getting everything prepared ahead of time so that the environment can be the same every night, it will make the nightly routine that much easier. This is what has worked for me. You will have to find what works for you, but this might be a place to start.

  • Rocking Chair: I have a nice comfy rocking chair in the corner of our room that I always nurse him in before putting him to bed in his crib.
  • Books: Next to the rocking chair, I put a stack of his favorite books.
  • Salt Lamp: I love the reddish glow of this dimmer lamp, plus it purifies the air by releasing negative ions!
  • Sippy Cup of Milk: I love using sippy cups with handles like this so that my babies can hold on to them and feed themselves. I fill it up with raw milk, but you could also use water or a glass sippy cup like this.
  • Silky: Every night, Julian sleeps with this special silky that I hand made for him. I’ve always wrapped him up in it while we’re nursing, and I tuck it over his legs while we read bedtime stories.
  • Fan: I like the white noise of a fan. It’s helpful to have a sound buffer since he sleeps only a few feet from our bed.

4. Julian’s Bedtime Routine

Children love and crave routines, especially with something that predictably happens every day…like bedtime. Each activity precipitates the next, and it makes the entire process predictable, fun, and easy.

  1. Big Kids’ Bedtime Routine: I’ve been wanting to write a blog about this for quite some time, but basically, we get our pajamas on, wrestle, cuddle, have family time, eat a snack, brush our teeth, and then begin a series of reading everyone stories and tucking them in. Julian has always tagged along with one of us during this process until I’ve been ready to nurse him to sleep.
  2. The Rocking Chair: When we were just starting to wean, if he would try to wiggle into a nursing position, I would nurse him briefly (or distract him with one of his favorite books), and then sit him on my lap. After that, I cover him up with his silky, give him his sippy cup of milk, and get ready to read.
  3. Reading Books: Sometimes I’ll read a whole stack of books, but if he’s really tired, I like to stick with just three. Before I read the last book, I say, “After this book we’re going nigh-night.”
  4. Sing a Song: Once he realizes he’s going to bed, he sometimes starts to cry so I try to distract him with a song and maybe even a little dance/spin move. (For some reason, I started singing him, “Boom, boom goes the little green frog one day, boom, boom goes the little green froggie, pee-i-pickle-i-pee-i-pickle-i, boom, boom goes the little green froggie.” With each child, a different song has emerged.)
  5. Drop and Run: If I can lay him down, cover him up with his silkies, get out of the room, and shut the door in less than 1.5 seconds, then there is a much better chance he won’t cry!
  6. Milk Cup: Julian and Elliot never did get into pacifiers like Ruby and Ophelia did, but Julian has really liked taking his milk cup to bed with him. It’s got a child safety top, so it usually doesn’t spill unless he sucks on it, but if it does, I’ll just wash the sheets.
  7. Wake Up Time: When Julian wakes up in the morning or from naps, sometimes I like to let him linger in bed, especially if he’s still laying down and stretching. I will sit by his bedside, rub his head, sing him songs, make funny faces, or whatever. I also like to let him play in his bed sometimes during the day. This helps him to become familiar with his little space during a time where he isn’t focused on going to sleep.

5. What if He Cries?

  • If He Cries Right Away: Sometimes he screams and cries really loudly when I first lay him down. My first instinct is to just pick him up and comfort him, but I want to give him a chance to fall asleep on his own. He usually never cries for longer than 15-30 seconds. The first few times we went through this routine, I think he cried for more like a minute or two.
  • If He Cries After Being Quiet: When babies try learning how to fall asleep on their own at first, they may be quiet at first, but then get frustrated if they don’t fall asleep right away. What I do here really depends on the nature of the cry, past behaviors, personality, how our day has been going, etc. Typically, I like to give him a minute or two to see if he’ll settle down on his own. If he starts happily babbling, I know he’ll be okay, but if his cry escalates, I will get him and quickly go through our bedtime routine again.
  • If He Wakes In the Night: When we were first weaning, I would still nurse him in the night with gradually shorter sessions. That worked pretty well at first, but then he got frustrated by the short nursing sessions, and so one night I just stopped altogether. Now, when he wakes in the night, I quickly go through our bedtime routine and lay him back down. If he cries for a long time, I’ll get him up and go through the routine again.
  • Naptime: Since I’ve been doing this routine, he’s been up pretty early every day and has needed nice long naps. (*Before I started this routine, sometimes he would fall fall back asleep after our morning nurse and then be able to go through the rest of the day without a nap.) I go through the same routine at naps as I do at night. I wait to put him down until he shows signs of being tired (gets really clingy, cuddly, and says nigh-night after I do), and then we go through our routine. Many times I can hear him talking or singing quietly for quite a bit of time, but if he’s not crying, I leave him in there. Many of our children have been in a transition out of naptimes, and if they were awake for awhile and then started to get fussy, I would get them up. So far, Julian has always fallen asleep.
  • Laying Little Babies Down Awake: In my experience, it’s always easy to lay a little baby down when they are awake yet sleepy and let them fall asleep on their own. “Experts” say that this will help to train them to fall asleep when they are older, but this has never been the case for me! Things like teething and illness usually mess up even the best of sleepers 🙂

In Conclusion

Every baby is different, but after having four, I’ve started to notice some patterns. Even though babies are ready for a bedtime routine at different ages, they all eventually crave one. By establishing a good bedtime routine from a young age, it will make bedtime that much easier as they get older. Our two older kids sleep soooooo good and do sooooo well at bedtime. Sometimes these baby/toddler years of sleep seem like they will be endless, but babies who learn good sleep habits eventually turn into young children who have good sleep habits as well.

Sweet dreams!

*You might also like my article about nursing aversion and weaning tips and my 15 month old who still wasn’t sleeping through the night.

Why Can't I Stand Nursing Anymore? A Tale of Nursing Aversion

How Nursing Aversion Led to the Weaning of my 15 Month Old

I was bombarded by a range of emotions when breastfeeding, one of my favorite things in the world, started to make me recoil. I thought something was wrong with me, I thought I was failing motherhood in some way, and I started slipping into a pit of depression because of it. After much research, including reading about other mother’s stories, I realized that I wasn’t alone, that I wasn’t failing as a mother, that my feelings of revulsion were the result of my changing hormones, and that there was something that I could do.

Tips for Weaning

If it wasn’t for the nursing aversion, I was hoping to nurse Julian until he was at least two years of age and/or let him self wean, but alas, that did not happen. Reading through my story may resonate with you as you are on your own journey, but you also might just be looking for some quick weaning tips, so I’ll give you those right away. 🙂

  • Gradual weaning. Sure, you can go cold turkey, but with risks of mastitis and lots of tears, I advise a more gradual approach.
  • Get through the night. Save night weaning for last. If your little one gets over tired, all he/she will want to do is nurse anyways, so just get through the nights at first.
  • Don’t offer, don’t refuse. If your child wants to nurse, let him, but don’t offer it.
  • Distract, distract, distract. Keep your child busy, busy, busy with his/her favorite activities.
  • Replace nursing with milk. If you haven’t already, start sippy cups of milk. We like using raw whole cow’s milk, but use what works for you.
  • Give plenty of food. Make sure your child is getting a nourishing diet so that he/she doesn’t need to breastfeed for the calories. Milk is high in fat and protein, so keep that in mind too.
  • Find other ways to bond. If your child loves nursing for the closeness and cuddles, make sure you’re providing plenty of other opportunities for physical closeness. My favorite is reading. We can cuddle up and be close and the book provides a nice distraction! (Check out my blog about reading with babies here and my favorite books for babies here.)
  • Nurse as long as you can. When my nursing aversion was in full effect, I could only nurse for about a minute. I would literally count to 60, and then say, “Ok, that’s enough.”
  • Tea tree oil. When Julian started catching on that I didn’t want him to nurse, it was like it made him want it even more! So, I put a bit of tea tree oil on my nipples, and one taste of that and he was like, “NO WAY!” Yes, it felt kind of mean, but I was getting pretty desperate at this point.
  • New bed time routine. If you’ve always nursed your little one to sleep, you’ll need to start a new routine. Having a sippy cup of milk, a silky, reading three books, and singing a song became our new routine. Did he cry a bit at first? Yes, but never longer than a minute or two. (Read more about setting up a bedtime routine for babies here.) *Some people have success with Daddy taking over the bedtime routine and nighttime wakings, but with me being a stay at home mom and Daddy working, we never got to this point.
  • Nighttime weaning. Getting them to bed is the hardest, after that, maybe you’ll get lucky and there won’t be any night time waking! (Ha, yeah right!) But if there is, you have to use your best judgement to get through the nights. Can you nurse long enough to get through it or are you so completely over it that you’re about to lose your mind? If the latter is the case, then maybe a few tears will need to be shed until the transition is over. I hate, hate, hate the idea of “cry it out”, but inevitably, all of my children have cried a little bit during this transition period…not hours and hours of “cry until you puke” crying, but protest cries only after all of their needs were met.
  • Know that “This too shall pass”. When you’re in the thick of a situation, it may seem like it will never ever ever end, but rest assured that there will be an end to this.

My Story

If you’re experiencing nursing aversion due to fluctuating hormones (due to pregnancy or the return of your period), I hope that by reading through my story, you will know that you are not alone! I was feeling so miserable and so guilty, and once I started learning that nursing aversion was actually a thing, I almost wept with relief. So here is my story: the good, the bad, and the ugly of it.

The Moment It Happened

The gradual annoyances with nursing that I started to feel when Julian was 15 months old were nothing compared to the moment that nursing aversion hit me with full force. Julian was 18 months and it was the middle of the night. He woke up to feed (like he would about two times every night), and I laid him down in bed beside me, ready to close my eyes and fall asleep as he nursed. But as soon as he latched on, my eyes popped open, and I bolted upright into a sitting position completely overcome with a feeling of utter revulsion. I looked at him intensely trying to figure out what was going on thinking that maybe he got a bad latch or something.

But alas, his eyes were closed and he was sucking away with a perfectly normal latch. Regardless, it just felt different. It was as if he was lightly flicking the tip of my nipple with his tongue instead of getting the deep latch that he usually did. It felt weird.

I tried to fight this intense urge to just push him off of me.

Instead, I flung my legs over the side of the bed and tried to get him to detach on his own (like he usually does when he’s done nursing and ready for sleep again). I got lucky and was able to gently pull him away and lay his sleeping body into his crib.

He didn’t wake up the rest of the night (thankfully), but I was worried about what it would feel like the next time we nursed. Usually, I nurse him every morning when he first wakes up. It’s always a fun way to cuddle, bond, and start our day. So the next morning, I got in my nursing chair (hoping the night before was just a fluke), wrapped him up in his silky, got my phone ready in case he fell asleep again so I could browse, and settled in to nurse.

The second he latched on, that revolting feeling took over, and it took every ounce of my willpower to not immediately rip him off from my body. Once again, I was sure his latch had to be off. He had tongue tie surgery at 6 weeks old, but we never fully got rid of it, and nursing did always kind of hurt a little bit. Or maybe with all of his new teeth that came in, his mouth was just different…

I kept nursing him as I tried to figure out this weird feeling. It wasn’t pleasure, and it wasn’t pain, it was just weird. If you could translate nails on a chalkboard into a physical sensation, that is the best way I can describe it. The feeling of wanting to make it stop was some kind of primal urge like when you get an itch and find yourself scratching it without even thinking.

This Has Happened Before…

Then, I remembered feeling the EXACT SAME WAY with Elliot when he was 18 months old. He went through the same thing where nursing didn’t put him to sleep anymore, and he just wanted to nurse more and more and longer and longer, getting more aggressive and grabby with each nursing session.

I remember the weird feeling from nursing Elliot got so bad that pain became a welcome distraction. I would dig my nails into my arm or bite myself as I nursed just so that I could continue. When my husband noticed I was drawing blood, he was like, ‘Something has to change’.

I wondered what was wrong with me. Why would I feel this way? What was I doing wrong? What was going on???

What is Nursing Aversion?

First of all, nursing aversion is not feeling “over-touched”. You know that feeling when everyone needs you at once and you feel like you’re standing on a little chair trying keep snakes away with a little stick? Well, it’s not that.

It’s not a choice. It’s not a failure. It’s a primal and physical reaction based primarily on fluctuating hormones due to pregnancy, tandem feeding, or menstruation.

Abby Theuring (The Badass Breastfeeder) explains how it made her feel.

“I was overcome with a physical [sensation] in my nipple of stinging, prickling and buzzing and a creepy crawly feeling all over my body; an emotional feeling of disgust mixed with fear mixed with irritation mixed with the heebeegeebees.”

On the La Leche site, Barbara from Minnesota gives her definition of nursing aversion.

“The best I can do is to say it felt like bugs were crawling all over my body, and I couldn’t brush them off. It started out difficult and annoying, and soon became intolerable. People used to ask me, ‘Does it hurt?’ And I’d think, ‘I wish!’ Pain, I could deal with. This was so beyond pain. It was just icky. Really icky.”

I like Kate’s definition of nursing aversion.

“The toe-curling, blood-boiling, rip-your-hair-out, bite-the-back-of-your-hand and want-to-go-running-down-the-street-screaming feeling that you may get when your toddler asks for the boobies (again).”

My Definition of Nursing Aversion

After much curiosity and research (there’s not much information out there about this), this is my perspective on nursing aversion.

During birth, we are completely flooded with oxytocin which helps us to bond with and breastfeed our babies. Whenever I nursed, I could feel the flood of this love hormone surging through me. I loved nursing (once we got all of the kinks worked out), and I always looked forward to this special time with my babies.

Many people talk about nursing aversion occurring during pregnancy. (La Leche League also calls it breastfeeding agitation and explains how it effects nearly one-third of women during pregnancy.) And although Ruby and Ophelia self weaned during my pregnancies with Elliot and Julian, I never experienced nursing aversion. Yes, nursing became a bit more painful during pregnancy, my milk changed, and they really seemed to lose interest, but it was NOTHING like what I’m experiencing now.

At any rate, as Julian and Elliot became older and my period returned, I believe that oxytocin was released in gradually diminishing levels during our breastfeeding sessions until it just wasn’t there anymore. Without oxytocin, prolactin isn’t released either and this is what stimulates let down. Without oxytocin or prolactin, the body starts to halt the production of milk, and this is what I imagine usually leads to weaning. As my body began to produce less and less milk, this is probably what caused Elliot and Julian to get progressively more grabby with longer nursing sessions as they desperately tried to hold on to one of their primary mode of comfort.

The Guilt

With Elliot, and now with Julian, I felt like breastfeeding was the best thing I could give to them. It was so nourishing, it was bonding, and they LOVED it.

How could this thing that was so nourishing, bonding, and wonderful make me recoil so intensely?

With Elliot, I weaned him quickly because the gradual weaning seemed to just make him want to nurse more and more and more. I didn’t like he results of that at all. To this day (he’s 5 now), I think he has suffered from it. He always has these fears of me abandoning him and always needs lots of extra cuddles.

Now, with Julian, I didn’t know what to do, so of course I did everything wrong at first. 🙂

Weaning By Quitting Cold Turkey

The revolting feelings I had nursing Julian were so intense that I just didn’t think I could handle one more nursing session. He was drinking plenty of milk and eating lots of solid food, and I felt like it would be best to just quit cold turkey.

That night, I put my salt light lamp by my rocking chair, set up a stack of books, and got a sippy cup of milk ready for our new bedtime routine. As I sat in the rocking chair, he arched to nurse, but I pulled him into a sitting position, read three books while he sipped on his milk, and laid him down. He cried for about 15 seconds (like he usually would after I would lay him down if nursing didn’t put him to sleep), and he was quiet. “Well that was easy!” I gloated to myself.

When I thought about our two upcoming nighttime feedings though, my heart sank. I had no idea what to do. My husband and I talked about it, and I said I was going to try a sippy cup and books (I even had a bottle on hand). During his first waking, I tried giving him the sippy cup, and he HATED it. He pushed it away and tried desperately to nurse. Knowing how it would feel, I just couldn’t bring myself do it, and I laid him in bed.

He screamed for about 5 minutes. I couldn’t stand it! My heart was breaking for him.

Just when I was about to get him, he stopped crying. As I finally drifted off to sleep 3o minutes later however, he woke up again…crying for me. I tried the sippy cup again, and put him back to bed crying. This happened a few more times, and it was awful, but somehow we made it through the night.

Weaning with More of a Gradual Release

The next day, I was determined to be vigilant about not nursing (because of what we had gone through the night before). While I was talking to my sister Lisa about everything, I started getting my breast pump ready. I have this one super boob that produces the bulk of the milk, and it was super duper full at the time.

When Julian saw what I was doing he bee-lined for me. I felt like if I were to nurse him, everything we went through the night before would have been for nothing, but I just couldn’t refuse him, and so he nursed. My engorged breast was so full that nursing was actually a relief, and I barely noticed the weird feeling that I could tell was just lingering under the surface.

I knew he didn’t drain me all the way and that we would probably need to nurse again later. “Maybe a gradual release would be a better way to go about this after all?” I wondered. (Ummm…yes!) I decided that I wouldn’t nurse him to sleep, I would try not to nurse him during the day (don’t offer, don’t refuse), and that I would nurse him (for as long as I could, even if it was just a minute or two) when he woke up in the middle of the night.

A New Problem Emerges…Mastitis

My right breast still felt pretty full at bedtime that night, so I nursed him quickly and then transitioned into our new bedtime routine of reading books. He went to bed that night without making a peep. Even after I nursed him, my right breast was feeling pretty sore, but I didn’t think anything of it.

Then, in the middle of the night, I woke up in intense pain. My right breast was throbbing, and I felt awful. I could feel myself burning up with fever, but I was shivering and shaking. I felt like I might be sick, but I just took some ibuprofen, put an electric hot pad on my breast, and somehow went back to sleep again.

When Julian woke in the night to nurse, I massaged my sore breast and realized that there were some major obstacles buried deep in there. Plugged ducts…masititis…oh no!

The details of my recovery from mastisis would best be saved for another post, but just know that it was awful. I had to nurse him like crazy to get rid of the lumps…and every time I did it was so painful that the nails on a chalkboard took a backseat! But at least in all of this, we established a new bedtime routine that didn’t involve me nursing him to sleep.

Where We Are Now

Overall, gradually weaning has been an easier and more gentle method for Julian (although I personally would have preferred cold turkey). I had to nurse him a lot at first to help me get over the mastitis, but once that was done, I was able to go back to “don’t offer, don’t refuse”.

I tried really hard to keep us busy and to keep him distracted so that he wouldn’t think about nursing. When he did want to nurse, I wouldn’t get the silky or even get very comfortable, I would just pop him on the breast and let him nurse for about as long as I could tolerate it (maybe a minute or so). On one of the first days, I put some tea tree oil on my nipples when he wouldn’t leave me alone, and it was VERY effective at keeping him away! At night, if he leaned down to nurse, I would nurse him quickly before going into our new bedtime routine.

Now, when he wakes up to nurse in the night (usually twice), I let him nurse for about 1-2 minutes, and then I put him back to bed. Sometimes he cries for about 15-30 seconds, sometimes he babbles the ABCs, and sometimes he’s just quiet. If he cries for a longer period of time (or if he’s quiet for a bit and then cries again), I repeat the process. Occasionally, if I’m worried that he might be genuinely hungry for some food, I’ve taken him into the kitchen to cook up his favorite food – dippy eggs and toast.

*3 Months Later: Now that three months have gone by, I wanted to give an update. At 21 months, Julian goes to sleep after his bedtime routine every night without a peep, and most nights, he sleeps right through the night (unless he’s feeling sick). If he does wake up, I give him a sippy cup of milk and either go through the bedtime routine again or just rock and cuddle him until he falls back asleep. As we finished our gradual weaning, I would always make sure to stuff him full of food before he went to bed and he just started sleeping through the night. Yay! After about 3-4 weeks of not nursing, he stopped lifting up my shirt (although now he is obsessed with my belly button…and his own for that matter) and seemed to gradually just forget about it.

Julian (18 Months) and I Hanging Out and Happy!

Julian (18 Months) and I Hanging Out and Happy!

In Conclusion

I wrote this blog to help me understand what I was feeling when breastfeeding gradually became less enjoyable and then suddenly repulsed me. I learned a lot from reading about other mother’s stories, and I hope that by sharing my story, I can help other mothers realize the same thing.

All in all, I think that nursing aversion is nature’s way of saying, “It’s time to move on.” This mama dog trying to wean her puppies is a really good visualization of this. 🙂

Embracing Motherhood My 15 Month Old "Baby" is Still Not Sleeping Through the Night

My 15 Month Old “Baby” is Still Not Sleeping Through the Night

It’s 2 o’clock in the morning, and it feels like my head just hit the pillow, but now he’s crying again. I wait for a minute to see if it’s just a quiet whimper and he’ll fall back asleep, or if it’s more of a full on cry and he needs me.

His cry gets louder and takes on a shrill brassy tone. I jump quickly to my feet keeping my eyes still half closed because I don’t want to fully wake up.

He’s sitting up in his crib, and I pull up my shirt over my right breast so that I’m ready to nurse before I even scoop him up. We plop down onto my tower of pillows (that have been there since he was born), and as we nestle under the covers, my head tips back, my eyes close, and I drift back to sleep.

I awaken to little fingers tickling at my neck, and before he can fully wake up, I cradle him in my arms and tuck him back into his crib.

As I walk through the closet door, take one step, and plop immediately back into bed, I wonder once again why I didn’t just leave him in our king sized bed in between us, like I did when he was smaller. There’s definitely plenty of room, but for some reason, I just sleep better when he’s in his own crib. And even though I know I’ll have to go and get him again in a few hours, the time in between I will be sprawled out on my belly hugging my body pillow (that is now just a part of my side of the bed after four pregnancies) and sleeping HARD knowing that there’s no one next to me that I might squish or who might kick me in the face.

I nurse him again at 4:30 a.m. and wonder if I should just get up for the day. I’ve already gotten about 5 hours of sleep, which is pretty much par for the course these days, and there’s so much to do…

But against my better judgement, I decide to close my eyes again just for a moment. Before I know it, I am startled awake by a small little cry. I know that I must have been sleeping because the remnants of an intense dream still dance across the backs of my eyelids, but it doesn’t feel like more than two minutes have gone by. When I look at the clock, I realize it’s been about two hours since I’ve last nursed him.

As I meet him in front of his crib, he starts babbling, “4, 5, 6, 7..” and I know that he’ll want to be awake for the day. Still, I cuddle him up in bed and nurse him one last time. When he’s done, he pulls away and smiles happily at me, “A, B, C, D…” he says in his sweet little voice, and then proceeds to chant through the entire alphabet as I rock him in my arms, turning up the red glow of the salt lamp beside my bed as I look at him, smiling, and nodding the entire time.

He eventually he squirms out of my arms, slides off from our mattress on the floor, and heads over to the door happy and ready to start his day.

Not every night is this peaceful. Some nights he’s up every hour, and I feel like the walking dead as I shuffle through our nursing routine or try to bounce and rock him to sleep when he’s teething, sick, or really gassy. Other nights, Scott awakens to hear me cursing or crying as I gather my phone, Ophelia’s monitor, and Julian’s silky knowing that we’ll be out in the living room for the next few hours when all I want to do is just close my eyes and drift away.

But still, even when things are at their toughest, I’m glad that I can be there to rock him in my arms as those sharp little daggers of teeth torture his gums, help him breathe by sucking out all of his boogers with a Nose Frida, rub his tummy and pump his legs to help him with his gassy tummy, and give him nourishment and sustenance with my body’s milk.

Lack of sleep is like a badge of honor that I wear as a mother, and I’m proud of it!

On days when I’m really tired, I close my eyes for a few minutes after story time, or I might get a quick nap when Scott gets home (Napping when the baby naps doesn’t happen when you have four kids!), and I always get to sleep in on the weekends! (Thank you love!)

This idea that babies should sleep through the night at some certain age is completely arbitrary, and seems kind of fishy the way that this abnormal fallacy is spread throughout the major “parenting websites” out there as “normal”. Sleep train your baby before they can stand you say? Don’t let them fall asleep breastfeeding because it’s a bad habit you say? Make them cry it out because a baby needs a well rested mommy you say?

Hogwash! It is an HONOR to nurse my baby to sleep every night! I love being in tune with his needs! I love how his nighttime nursing keeps my milk supply up!

I don’t want to turn my mommy heart off while I listen to him scream himself to sleep every night, I don’t want him to stop needing me, and I don’t want him to stop telling me that he needs me.

Already, he is starting to show signs of not needing me anymore, and it’s scary! After 15 months of nursing to sleep every night, he is starting to pull away before he’s done, preferring instead to burrow his face in the silkies tucked in the crook of my arm and fall asleep that way. And sometimes after we do our bedtime routine and nurse, he squirms away from me until I lay him down in his crib, ready to fall asleep on his own.

The mistake I made with Ruby and Elliot was thinking that there would be some magical day that they wouldn’t need me in the night anymore.

Now, with Ophelia and Julian, I realize that the progression with sleep is just as gradual as the progression with any other milestone.

2 and a half year old Ophelia didn’t just start reading one day. It was a gradual sequence of events that began with daily flashcards at 8 months old and progressed a little more every day from there. Ophelia still needs me in the night a few times a week. Sometimes she wants some milk, sometimes a pacifier, and sometimes I think she just wants to be covered up again. Heck, even Ruby and Elliot still need to go to the bathroom or get a drink of water in the night sometimes! It’s never over. It’s never done. Having kids means that you’ll probably always be sleeping with one ear open, and IT’S WORTH IT! It’s so worth it!

I have finally learned (after 4 children) to stop Googling so much and to start listening, really listening, to what my mommy heart has to say. My mother’s intuition has more answers than any book on the shelves, and I know that when I trust in it, the answers are always more individualized and nuanced that anything some Dr. Sleep with a doctorate could have ever written.

It’s time that we all listened to our mommy hearts. It’s time that we stop trying to perpetuate the idea that there is ONE right way of doing things and that there is some unrealistic standard that we are all somehow failing. I get that it feels good to be supported by the attachment parenting group or the cry it out group once you’ve made those decisions, but neither group knows what’s best for you in every possible scenario. Maybe your mommy heart IS telling you that if you don’t have your child cry it out you are going to straight up lose it! If that is what you need to do then do it! You DO know best! Read the blogs, look at the forums, skim through the books if you must, but know that they are only there to kickstart what’s inside.

When we listen to our mommy hearts, when we respect our intuition and demand that others respect it to, it will give us the confidence to own this thing called motherhood.

Because sleep issues are just the beginning of this journey of motherhood. Before we know it, our little ones will be teenagers, and then adults, and someday (maybe) mothers and fathers themselves. And when this happens, I want to share with them how I loved these nights, how I cherished this time, how I gave everything I could, and how I loved it.

Embracing Motherhood I Need to Take a Break

I Need to Take a Break

If you’ve seen my pictures on FaceBook, you’ll know that our family just had an incredible vacation at Wolf Creek Lodge. While it’s true that we had a great time and really bonded as a family, the bottom line is that it left me feeling physically and emotionally drained.

Ruby and Elliot are so sweet and independent…ready to take on the world with us as their guides. But Ophelia and Julian are still a bit timid and afraid, needing us to hold their hands a bit more. Going out into the world on this vacation was really fun for the older kids, but it was completely overwhelming for the little ones…and for me.

Cuddling with Julian (15 Months)

Cuddling with Julian (15 Months)

Being so close in age, Ophelia and Julian seem to constantly need me and compete for my attention. Being on vacation just exacerbated their needs, and now they are even more fragile and seem to need me even more than before we left!

Cuddling with Ophelia

Cuddling with Ophelia

The bottom line is that I am feeling completely overwhelmed. I need a break. And so I’m taking one!

As much as I enjoy Embracing Motherhood and as much as it fulfills me and gives me joy to create and share the things I am learning and creating, being there for my family gives me EVEN MORE joy! And so I am going to take a break from blogging. I am going to take a break from FaceBook, Instagram, Google Plus, and Twitter. I am going to unplug from these things so that I can focus on the most important aspect of my life. My family.

I will still be working on my “Teaching Your Baby How to Read” flashcards and videos because they are a part of my daily homeschool routines, but I will not be blogging about them until my hiatus is complete.

If you need to get ahold of me in the meantime, my email is stacey.maaser@gmail.com

Thank you in advance for understanding!