It is now officially my “due date.” I’ve never been pregnant this long before. My other children came 9 days, 5 days, and 10 days early. All of my mother’s six children came either 9 days or 6 days early. I’m not certain, but I think all of my sister’s kids came early as well. I was under the impression that the women in my family “cook ‘em fast.” So my husband and I have been quite surprised to see this pregnancy continuing as long as it has. But I’m totally OK with that. I’ve learned some important things over the past week, and I feel I have God’s and my baby’s wise choice of timing to thank for those valuable blessings. I’d like to share some of what I’ve learned.
You may be aware from prior blogposts (Pitocin on the Brain, On loving baby slime, Mothering my children, healing myself) that bonding with my freshly-born babies has been a struggle for me in the past. With each child, the bond has come more quickly, but it has still never happened as quickly and strongly as I would like it to. My past experiences have led me to believe, at times, that I’m not capable of experiencing that instant “love at first sight” some parents speak of. But it doesn’t keep me from fantasizing about experiencing it. Especially when irrational fears creep up in the recesses of my consciousness filling me with doubts that I’ll even be able to love this new baby at all.
For weeks whenever anyone has asked me, “Are you so ready for this baby to come?” my immediate response has been an adamant, “No! I wish I had two more months! I’m not ready!” I’ve been nesting for quite awhile and crossing things off my before-the-baby-comes to-do list every day (only to think of more things to add and then cross off), but, beyond the physical preparations for the birth and postpartum period, I haven’t felt an ounce of readiness. Each night as I have gone to bed, wondering whether a birth would be waking me soon, I have felt an overwhelming lack of surety… a feeling that not everything was in place… a yearning for something to bolster me and give me the foundation I need to give birth in peace in confidence. Today it came.
A package I received on my doorstep yesterday has filled my heart and mind with trees… ’cause here’s what was inside that box:
This beautiful little bonsai was sent to me as part of a virtual “mother blessing” gift from my book collaborators. As soon as I opened up the box and saw what it was, I thought, “Of course! What could be more perfect?”
Based on my previous births, this baby is very likely to arrive sometime within the next five days! I’m trying (often unsuccessfully) to keep my fears and worries at bay. Going to bed last night (and the previous night) was especially anxiety-provoking. Two out of three of my labors have started at 12:30 in the middle of the night, and my last labor happened in the evening. It seems like my body just prefers to labor at night. So going to bed also means the prospect of waking up to broken water or contractions.
Last night Ax had to soothe, talk, coax, and hold me to sleep. I don’t think I could count how many times he uttered the words, “Everything is going to be fine,” between 10:30 and 11:30 p.m. I love that man. I think I’ll probably have to re-read the words of the blessing he gave me a couple of nights ago multiple times a day until I give birth. And the words of the scripture that came to my mind immediately after that blessing:
“Let not your heart be troubled,
neither let it be afraid.” (John 14:27)
I could use your prayers, friends!
During our home visit last Thursday, my midwife, Mary, mentioned that the baby is still “really high.” Since two of my births have started with my water breaking, we definitely don’t want the baby’s head high much longer since the cord could easily prolapse. She told me to do lots of walking to coax the baby down into my pelvis.
We went on another hike at South Mountain at the beginning of January, but I haven’t been getting much exercise since then. So Mary’s advice was just the nudge I needed to get myself back out there and “going” again.
The weather was gorgeous here in the Valley of the Sun today. Can’t beat 72 degree weather in January. So we took a nice two mile walk/bike ride before dinner. It felt really good to be getting some fresh air and exercise again. The forecast is threatening rain and cooler temperatures this coming week, but I’m hoping we can get some more walking in. Come on down, baby. Pretty please?
Regardless of what type of disaster may strike or how severe it is, there will always be pregnant women in need of special assistance. Pregnant women are among those most at risk in disaster situations, in part because severe stress can trigger premature labor, but also because so many women are forced to give birth under precarious circumstances. When hospitals may be over-flowing with sick and injured survivors, roads or transportation inaccessible, and electricity likely unavailable, women who would otherwise have given birth at the hospital will have to seek alternatives. It is also a possibility that hospitals will only have resources for the most high-risk pregnant women, leaving low-risk mothers to give birth with little or no assistance from staff. Even in the absence of a large-scale disaster, on just an ordinary day-to-day basis, sometimes a birth happens too quickly to make it to the planned location or before a qualified birth attendant can be present.
Robbie Prepas, a certified nurse-midwife, saw many such births first-hand during the Hurricane Katrina disaster. She delivered five babies in the New Orleans airport, twins in an ambulance, and provided impromptu care to hundreds of pregnant and postpartum women, checking fetal heart tones, etc. She explains, “There were no policies or procedures in place to care for pregnant women or mothers and their babies after Katrina. We even lacked such basics as diapers, formula, baby bottles and clean clothes” (“Disaster Preparedness for Mothers & Babies: Getting Prepared”). Midwife Mary Callahan, CNM, MS, also assisted in the Hurricane Katrina relief effort, providing midwifery services to displaced women in a large shelter and assembling emergency birth and prenatal kits for use in other area shelters (“Chicago Midwives Travel to Baton Rouge”). While we may be fortunate to cross paths with a doctor, midwife, or paramedic with birth supplies in an emergency childbirth situation, we can’t be certain of such luck. Given all of the possibilities, the best course is to have plans and supplies in place so that we can meet our specific needs in emergency situations.
On Monday I started “nesting.” A sudden urgency to prepare for the arrival of baby #4 hit me like a ton of bricks. The first project I tackled: pulling out all the gender-neutral baby clothes and blankets and washing them (even though they were already clean). I also threw our stash of cheap washcloths for the home birth into the load as well. Later we got the last few supplies we needed from our home birth supply list. And then I started cleaning my bathroom (the room I anticipate spending most of my labor in).
I couldn’t help wondering, as I busied myself, is this “nesting” thing just a logical consequence of my realizing how little time I have left before my baby arrives, could it simply be that I’m motivated by the New Year and its attendant resolutions, or is there really something within my body chemistry triggering my need to ready our nest? There’s no question that the nesting instinct exists within the animal kingdom, but what about within us? Is the human nesting urge for real? Are we, too, being governed by instinct as we prepare for our babies’ births? Questions like those always get my blogging juices flowing.
I hoped to find some scientific studies of the nesting instinct among humans, but my search brought up mostly studies among animals. For instance, one of the first things I found was a really old study suggesting that nest-building in rabbits is triggered by a change in the ratio of estrogen to progesterone.
A little over two years ago, I wrote a post about facing my deepest fear surrounding my upcoming home birth: a dead baby. It’s interesting how each pregnancy is different, and the things we worry about can also be very different.
Yesterday morning, I woke up to pee (again) sometime after 5:00 a.m. My kids were all still sleeping, so I headed back to bed, but I couldn’t fall back to sleep. Suddenly I was overcome with wave after wave of fear rolling through my head. I’m afraid I’ve “used up” all my positive birth luck. I’ve had three great vaginal birth experiences. For whatever reason, I feel like I can’t expect them all to be good. I’m afraid I’m “due” for a difficult birth experience. I’m afraid it’s my turn to see the other side of birth… the complicated side where unexpected things happen and you end up going to places and doing things you never dreamed you would.
Speaking of my daughter… we had another birthy conversation over lunch yesterday. We got talking about her dream again, and then, between bites of her lunch, she asked me, “Mom, do you think you should have this baby in the hospital or at home?” Before I even had a chance to respond, she said, “I like home better.” When I asked her why, she kind of giggled and said, “If you went to the hospital, your baby would be caught by a doctor!” Her facial expression made it clear that this was not the ideal scenario in her mind. Then she said, “It’s better if a midwife catches your baby. Or if YOU catch it.”
You might think I spend my time brainwashing my children with my particular birth philosophy, but I really don’t. And I know there are countless wonderful obstetricians who catch babies every day. We’ve never had a conversation about the pros and cons of different types of care providers with our kids before. I also find it so interesting that she never says anyone will “deliver” my baby… only that someone will “catch” it. I know I’ve talked about babies being “delivered” many times, so it’s not that she hasn’t been exposed to that terminology. So so interesting. She also happens to be obsessed with birth YouTube videos. I couldn’t even count the number she has watched with me, always saying, “Let’s watch more!” The sounds and bodily fluids don’t frighten her in the least. She loves all things birth-related. :-) That’s my girl.
I was chatting with another birth-loving friend the other day about how we “thought we knew so much” the first time we attempted “natural” birth. I had definitely studied and prepared myself, but, seven years down the road, I can’t help but see my first-time-mother self as a naive birth novice. That was the beginning of my childbirth obsession, but I had no idea back then just how deep the “rabbit hole” was going to go… and still it goes deeper.
Each of my births has been an improvement upon the last one, with fewer interventions, faster recovery, more intense bonding, etc. So, naturally, I’m looking for ways to make birth #4 even better than the rest. I will be seeing the same midwives I chose for my last birth, Mary and Nedra. I tried to be open to intuition and inspiration about choosing a care provider. I didn’t want to choose out of habit… just because I chose them last time. But my gut always came back to them. I don’t think I could feel safe enough with anyone else, and it’s so nice to not have to start from scratch because they already know me, my family, my body, my house. Plus they’re phenomenal midwives (see my old blog for a post I wrote all about them). So… drawing on all that I’ve learned over the last seven years, and assuming that I remain low-risk and complication-free throughout the duration of my pregnancy and labor, here are my plans, hopes, and goals for this next birth…
In February of last year, I heard about a study that reaffirms what our mammal cousins have known instinctively for thousands of years… birth should happen in a dark, comfortable place. It also helps explain why most women go into labor in the middle of the night. And why so many labors slow down or stall in a hospital setting.
Ever since a conversation last night with my brother and sister-in-law, I’ve had this phrase going through my mind: “It’s not where you are, it’s who you’re with.” It seems to me that traumatic births often prompt couples to choose an alternative path for subsequent births. For those who experience that trauma in the hospital, home birth often provides the healing they seek. Because of the trauma my brother and his wife suffered following their home birth (and I do think my brother has some valid and genuine post-traumatic stress), they will likely have all of their subsequent children in hospitals [<—actually, 2015 update, they had another home birth]. I think it’s just human nature to associate those intense frightening emotions with the place where they occurred regardless of whether the place contributed to their occurrence.