Nine Months In; Nine Months Out

Forty-one weeks ago, Miss P made her long-awaited debut- all 7 pounds, 1 ounce, and 20.5 inches of her.

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Introducing Little Miss P

She didn’t emerge with gusto, the way some babies do. Instead, she was limp and silent.

We were transferred from a free-standing birth center to the hospital in the final stages of labor. Before Miss P’s entrance, a nurse explained that there was meconium in the amniotic fluid. Though this didn’t necessarily signify a problem – it actually wasn’t too uncommon – a team from the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit would be standing by incase of complications.

The moment Miss P was born, time was suspended like the lingering pause between a bolt of lightening slashing the night sky and an angry crack of thunder in the distance.

“Meconium. It’s the meconium,” I heard someone say.

The doctor rushed to cut the umbilical cord, swaddled a languid Miss P in a receiving blanket, and placed her in my arms for a fleeting moment – a moment in which someone snapped our first family photo. I barely had the chance to look down at her before she was taken from me, whisked away to the NICU.

Suddenly, there was so much going on around me: bright lights, loud voices, medical staff shuffling back and forth. I could hear the incessant chatter and laughter of nurses seated at a desk in the hallway and the bleeps from equipment in neighboring rooms. A nurse scolded me- something about bending the IV – an IV I wasn’t even supposed to have – as I gripped my cell phone and tried to focus on the 2″ by 3″ photo of my baby girl the student midwife from the birth center had sent me before she left the hospital.

The whole thing was so far from the peaceful private entrance I’d been fantasizing about since we switched to midwifery care and found a supportive doula.

Then for the first time in forty-one weeks, I was completely and utterly alone.

Miss P had what we like to call a rough start, but less than halfway through the day, she was breathing unassisted, alert, and nursing like a pro. Even so, the first 48 hours of her life were spent in the NICU under observation. During this time, Tim and I were allowed to stay with her. We were allowed to hold her and care for her, though not quite in the same ways we would have had the situation presented itself differently.

I find myself often wondering what it would’ve been like had my baby not been pulled from my arms moments after her birth- to have experienced the “Golden Hour” they often referred to in our childbirth classes in all its sanctity: no weighing and measuring, no bath to compromise the precious vernix, no generic blanket and cap to mimic the warmth of that initial skin-to-skin contact with the mother.

I wonder what it would’ve been like to hold my baby close without a tangle of cords hooked up to various monitors intruding between us, to know the sound of her breath without the drone of equipment – equipment that in our case was completely unnecessary. I also wonder how I would’ve felt had I not had to watch a nurse push the empty plastic bassinet from my room, its wheels squeaking across the tile floor.

I don’t often recount the first days of our lives as a family of three, but when I do, most of my listeners tell me to move on. After all, I was fine. Miss P was fine. It was just a rough start. We live under the guise that a healthy mom and a healthy baby are the only things that matter when they are not. And, by the way, the term healthy isn’t limited to outright physical vigor. We can’t know for certain the repercussions – regardless of how delayed or seemingly unrelated they may be – of separating a newborn baby from its mother. I’m not sure I’ll ever emotionally heal from Miss P being taken away from me, even if it was only for a few hours, even though we both ended up being outwardly “fine”.

As much as I daydream about it, I can’t go back in time and make Miss P’s entrance a peaceful one. I can’t change the fact that she spent her first hours in a stark bassinet  instead of in the arms of her mother and father. I can’t change that she spent her first two days adorned with tubes and wires. I can’t alter the past, but I can move forward consciously and with intention.

I think this is one of the reasons I’ve really resonated with many aspects of attachment parenting. I didn’t set out to be an attachment parent; I didn’t read books on the subject or watch documentaries, I just started doing what, to me, felt natural, and I’ll continue to do what feels natural- to utilize the mother’s instinct that was born with my daughter. I don’t want my sweet baby to succumb to fear or loneliness. I want her to know I’m here for her, now and always.

So, here I sit, forty-one weeks later, with Miss P napping beside me. The room is dimly lit, piano music is playing softly in the background, and the scents of lemongrass and cedarwood tangle in the air as they escape the diffuser. This has become our evening ritual- a nightly Golden Hour of sorts, albeit delayed.

I can’t alter the past, but I can move forward consciously and with intention.

As I sit here this evening watching Miss P sleep, I’m trying to wrap my head around the significance of this extraordinary milestone we’ve just achieved as a family: nine months in; nine months out. Or, in our case, forty-one weeks in; forty-one weeks out.

It’s no secret that human infants are nearly helpless at the time of their birth. Though a full-term baby is born around the nine month mark, its gestation period most definitely continues outside the womb, and in many ways, the nine month milestone, with its bold determination and mobility, seems to bring this external gestation full-circle.

I think back to the night we brought Miss P home from the hospital. Those first few weeks were visceral. They were full of laughter, tears, ambivalence, joy, and utter mental and physical exhaustion.

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Relaxing during our first week home

Everything was methodical, and there were so many calculations to keep track of: last nursing session, which side it took place on and for how many minutes, wet and soiled diaper output, frequency and duration of naps, and duration of nighttime sleep.

What was her temperature? Did she burp after she nursed? Did she burp twice? Was she too hot or too cold? There was also the uncertainty about how much milk she was actually consuming- a figure that I now know wasn’t something I needed to worry about, yet I spent our first month together agonizing over this lack of information and intermittently texting my midwife for reassurance.

And don’t even get me started on the fit of anxiety that stems from clipping those itty bitty fingernails, keeping her floppy slippery body upright during baths, and pulling her head and delicate limbs through the tiny openings of her sleepers and onesies.

Now Miss P tries to climb right out of her bathtub, and she pulls her shirts up over her head to undress herself. She creeps and crawls and cruises along the walls and furniture. She points when something catches her interest, bounces when she hears a song she likes, and she clears out the kitchen cabinets at least five times a day.

She calls for our cat, Oliver, with me- says, la la, pssst psssst – and wobbles with excitement as he trots over to us. She buzzes and hums and clicks her tongue, and she never tires of smiling at her reflection in the mirror or probing her finger along the owl wind chime that hangs in our living room if you hold her up beside it.

She’s full of spunk and a touch of sass, and she has so much energy that all of our latest pictures are blurry because I can never get her to stay still for more than a moment.

Our baby girl has now grown outside the womb for more or less the same amount of time she spent developing within, and although her exit was turbulent, every day thereafter has been filled with peace and love and a surprising amount of clarity.

Sure, there’s clutter, and chaos, and exhaustion sprinkled in as well. There are often dirty dishes piled in the sink, and baskets of clean laundry that take far too long to get put away, and there are days here and there that end before I’ve even had a chance to shower, but there’s a certain element of beauty in imperfection, and I wouldn’t trade a moment of it.

I’m constantly astounded by this little person who now consumes me. I don’t know how I existed before her, and then I remember I didn’t exist; I was born alongside of her forty-one weeks ago. And oh, how we’ve both grown!

9 months Chalkboard

Happy 4th of July. Miss P is 9 months old!

41 In 41 Out

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Four Months

4 Month Chalkboard

It’s been four months since our little Miss P sluggishly joined us. This time has passed swiftly, yet it feels like she’s been with us forever; I suppose, in a way, she has.

Sometimes I find myself thinking I can’t wait until Miss P crawls or walks or talks. I get so excited imagining her sitting up on her own or tasting her first solid foods. Then I have to stop myself, because every moment I spend in the future is a moment I’ve missed of today, and these moments are fleeting.

She has already grown and changed so much.

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I often find myself staring at her while she sleeps. It’s like I’m still taking it all in. I’m in utter awe of this tiny human who now fills more space in my heart than I ever even knew existed.

I catch Tim doing it, too. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night, and he’s standing over her crib just watching her sleep.

“What did we do before Miss P?” One of us will randomly ask the next day.

And, although she’s been with us for such a short while, it seems too long ago to even remember. It’s a blurry past-life.

***

Once we passed the three-month mark, so many magical things began happening: rolling over, reaching for and holding onto toys and other objects, feeling the different textures of everything she gets her tiny hands on, splashing in the bathtub, squealing with delight, and making razzing sounds. We’ve even had a few giggles here and there.

Miss P’s been on a relatively consistent schedule these days, albeit her own schedule, but I don’t mind. To keep things interesting, there’s usually one night each week that she decides she isn’t going to go to bed. She’ll babble and razz, roll onto her belly and look around. She’s captivated by so many new sights and sensations.

Sometimes we lay together on the couch, enjoying each other’s company well into the night. If I’m too tired to stay awake any longer and she still isn’t asleep, I’ll put her in the Ergo and pace around the house. This always does the trick. If it happens to be a Friday or Saturday, and Tim doesn’t have to work in the morning, he’ll usually stay up with her while I get some rest.

These nights can be exhausting, but they’re always worth it for the sleepy baby cuddles I get the next day.

The first week of Poet’s fourth month has been a busy one around here. Tim’s been sick for the third time this winter. There’s been a nasty bug going around, so I’ve been taking preventative measures – running around the house sanitizing everything in sight, preparing nutrient-dense foods and drinking lots of apple cider vinegar and Emergen-C – to keep myself, and, in turn, Miss P, healthy.

I wanted to make something to help relieve Tim’s cold symptoms and aid his recovery, so Miss P and I went to work mincing ginger in the kitchen. Fresh ginger is one of my juicing staples, but today I decided to use it to make Tim ginger tea. I was very pleased with the results, so I’m sharing them:

Miss P’s Ginger “Tea”

  • hot water in your favorite mug
  • 1 teaspoon of fresh minced ginger per 8 oz. of hot water (or to taste)
  • 1 teaspoon of raw honey (or sweetener of your choice)
  • lemon wedge

Put the ginger in the hot water, and let steep for a minimum of five minutes. Add the honey and a squeeze of lemon. Stir. Enjoy! (Note: I let the minced ginger settle at the bottom of the mug, then discarded it after the liquid was gone, but if you’re feeling brave – it’s got quite a kick – go ahead and eat it.)

This “tea” is so simple to make, and it’s wonderful for colds and such. The hot water helps boost the immune system, ginger has anti-inflamitory properties, raw honey is anti-bacterial, anti-viral, and anti-fungal, and lemon juice helps cleanse the body.

I’ve also been working on Miss P’s Four Month Photo Shoot this week. She’s full of so much spunk and sass these days. Here are a few of my favorite pictures:

4 Months 1

Are you kidding me with those cheeks?

4 Months 3

And that smile?

4 Months 4

And those toes? I seriously can’t handle the cuteness of those little toes.

4 Months 2

I fall more and more in love with her Every. Single. Day.

This month’s photo shoot was a bit more, um, active than the first few. Miss P kept rolling over and trying to eat the props. (I swear she’ll put anything in her mouth besides a bottle.)

[Behind the scenes]

4 months 6

“You seriously expect me to lay still?”

4 month 8

“But, Mama, I can roll over now!”

4 months 7

“And this blanket tastes so good!” Nom Nom Nom.

I was so excited to show Tim all the pictures I took.

“She’s such a little woman,” he always says. And she is, she really is.

Miss P Makes Three!

I suppose I’ll start at the beginning, before there was a Miss P to have adventures with. It’s difficult, now, to imagine that a time like that ever existed.

Tim and I got married on December 12th, 2012, on a beautiful beach in St. Thomas, USVI. It was a fairy tale wedding. Shimmering turquoise water lapped at the sand around us as the photographer snapped countless pictures. “A Dream is A Wish Your Heart Makes” played softly in the background. There were hugs and kisses and bubbles, lots of bubbles, blown through heart-shaped wands. The bubbles drifted away in the salty breeze and I felt so light, like I could float away in one of them.

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12/12/12 Emerald Beach, St. Thomas, USVI

Since our wedding took place so close to Christmas, we decided to celebrate the holiday without gifts. There was, however, one thing I’d wanted for quite some time.

“All I want for Christmas is a baby,” I told Tim when we’d returned from our trip.

Well, I got my wish.

My pregnancy started like this:

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January 15th 2013. Eeek!

and ended like this:

October 4th, 2013. Welcome Miss Poet!

Here’s a look back at some of the highlights in between:

As soon as I found out we were expecting a new addition, I began researching all things pregnancy, birth and baby related. I’d always felt equal parts of fear and distrust toward the mainstream medical industry, so I knew, from the beginning, that we were going to do things a bit differently.

At  20 weeks, we officially announced Miss P was on her way!

The 20-week mark was very special for us. It came right after our anatomical scan, where we learned that our little babe was healthy and developing normally. Of course, as a bonus, we also learned that babe was a SHE! Tim and I had a feeling she was a girl from the very beginning.

20 weeks is also when I switched from a traditional OBGYN practice to Midwifery Care at a local free-standing birth center. (A choice that I would make a million times over again.) I wasn’t completely unhappy with the OBGYN. She was nice and all, but I wanted something much more personal. Plus, most of my appointments consisted of hours of waiting- the prize at the end being a whopping five minutes with the doctor. She always asked if I had any questions, but it seemed more out of protocol than genuine concern. And since this was my first baby, I always had lots of questions.

I’d also watched documentaries (I’m a documentary junkie) like The Business of Being Born, Pregnant in America and What Babies Want, which made me realize I had choices. I’d never realized there were different types of prenatal care. I also didn’t know that OBGYNs are surgeons above all – and I mean no disrespect to OBGYNs. We’re very lucky to have them in case of a medical emergency, but I really didn’t feel comfortable with this new information given that I wanted my birth to be as natural as my body would allow it to be.

It was through this same research that I learned about midwives, doulas and many other birth options such as declining unnecessary medical interventions, laboring and/or birthing in a tub, delayed cord-clamping, requesting immediate skin-to-skin contact with the baby and so on. I also learned about the extraordinary benefits of breastfeeding.

Armed with this new information, I started seeing a midwife and continued to research options that would help me plan a gentle and memorable birth ensuring a smooth transition from womb to world for my little one.

Insert trite Subway joke [HERE].

Third Trimester! Woohoo!

Note: I cannot say enough wonderful things about HypnoBirthing! It was a no-brainer that I would have an unmedicated birth. I’m the girl who won’t even take Tylenol for a headache, so yeah, drugs were definitely out. A lot of people told me I was crazy and that I’d never be able to do it. (Spoiler Alert: I DID! And HypnoBirthing played a major role in this.) Tim and I took a 5-week course at a place called Amazing Births and Beyond, and it was such an empowering experience. In fact, if we’re ever expecting another baby, I will definitely take this class again!

It was also through Amazing Births and Beyond that we crossed paths with our magnificent doula. (Much more about that in my birth story.)

I was very reluctant to work on Poet’s nursery throughout my pregnancy, but for practical reasons, we wanted the room completed before her arrival. Even though we knew she wouldn’t be using it right away, it didn’t make sense to be running around trying to furnish and decorate a room while caring for a newborn baby, so I had to give the over-active superstitious side of me a nudge and get down to business.

I couldn’t have been happier with the results!

Poet's Nursery

This was another very special week because my sister and brother-in-law came to visit. The last time we were all together was eight months earlier, for my wedding, so it was really nice to see them.

We also got a sneak-peek at our little woman in 3D/4D, which isn’t something I would’ve ordinarily done, (it’s actually something I was opposed to) but it ended up being a great experience to share with the family. (Me, Tim, my sister, brother-in-law, mom and dad all squeezed into the room.)

It was at this week’s end that we had our baby shower and officially announced Miss P’s name: Poet Victoria.

This was our Baby Shower Board:

It was also around this time that I began to constantly worry that she was going to make her appearance too early. (What can I say? I’m a worrier!)

We made it to FULL TERM! (Sigh of relief!) Also, at 37 weeks, we were in our window to deliver at the birth center.

This week I packed, unpacked and repacked my bag about ten times. How are you supposed to know what to put in there? I sure didn’t.

(In retrospect, the three most important things in my bag turned out to be yoga pants, Sleepy Time Lip Balm (the greatest stuff on Earth!) and my favorite two-bite brownies.)

We finally chose a pediatrician this week. (A task I put off for months because it just seemed so overwhelming.)

Growing up in the Northeast, Fall had always been my favorite season. Even though the South Florida air hadn’t even begun to cool off yet, I was still one happy Mama that Miss P was going to be a Fall baby. It brought back glorious memories of leaves blazing with color, fresh pressed apple cider and pumpkin picking.

Beyond the excitement, this week was also the start of much unwelcome (and, in my opinion, unnecessary) stress. By the time I had reached the middle of my 40th week, I was sent for a bio-physical profile and non-stress test to monitor Miss P and make sure she was still doing well. Since the placenta can begin the deteriorate after 40 weeks, these tests would be repeated every two days until her arrival.

My midwife was able to conduct one round of tests at the birth center, but I still ended up having them repeated at a near-by hospital on three separate occasions. Each time I arrived, the nurses drilled me about why my doctor had not yet scheduled an induction, (a word that brought forth in me all-encompassing fear) then they completed the tests in silence. When they finished, they left me in the triage room while they phoned my midwife’s office with the results.

“Do you want us to keep her?” The nurse always asked. “Do you at least want us to check her?”

I smoldered on the exam-table as I listened, through the curtain, to these phone calls. I was always afraid the nurse was going to try to admit me, and I ran these scenarios through my head as I waited.

At one of the visits, the nurse outfitted me with two hospital bracelets. One contained my name and other identifying information, the second was neon orange with the word “ALLERGY” marching across it in bold black letters.

“What are these for?” I asked.

“Just in case.”

She walked away leaving me in a panic. Why did she put these bracelets on me? Was something wrong this time? Was Miss P okay? Were they going to keep me?

After a few minutes, the nurse came back to inform me I could leave. I jumped off the table and exhaled a sigh of relief that all was well. I couldn’t get out of there fast enough.

It was at this point that I began to worry Poet wasn’t going to make an appearance at all. Silly, I know, because obviously she had to come out eventually, but seriously. It wasn’t that I minded being pregnant. Actually, I really enjoyed being pregnant. It was just the constant clatter around me: “Have you had that baby yet?” “Is the baby here yet?” “How about now?” “Now?” “What about now?” “Is that baby ever coming?”

(People, listen up: Don’t do this! It’s annoying, and it creates unnecessary stress.

But, you say, it’s exciting!

Yes, yes, it is, and, trust me, no one is more excited than the Mom-and-Dad-To-Be. And trust me, again, they aren’t going to forget to tell you when the baby arrives.)

I was also starting to get worried because if she didn’t come on her own before 42 weeks, I would no longer be allowed to deliver at the birth center. Instead, the natural birth I had planned would turn into a medical induction. The thought of that was terrifying, especially since my extensive research had opened my eyes to the potential dangers of Pitocin, the synthetic hormone commonly used abused to jump-start or speed along labor.

Sure I’d found things to worry about throughout my pregnancy, but this was the first time I realized just how little control I actually had.

I walked around the block 4589728 times a day in the Florida heat and poured cayenne pepper over everything I ate, and still no baby. I was angry. I felt like my body was failing me. I stopped taking phone calls, and refused to make a Week 41 chalkboard. There wasn’t even supposed to be a Week 41.

When I’d reached 41 weeks and 2 days, my midwife suggested I go for an induction acupuncture session with another midwife, to which I agreed. I’d always had an interest in acupuncture, but I’d never tried it before. I scheduled a session for the next day.

I had my doubts that acupuncture would work, but this new plan gave me enough hope to finally break out the chalk and get started on my Week 41 board. When I finished, I plunked onto my yoga ball and tried to clear my mind of negativity. My back hurt and I was exhausted. I decided for the rest of the day I’d try the only thing it seemed I hadn’t tried yet: relaxing.

I couldn’t sleep that night. My back was still bothering me, and I was restless. Around 1 AM, I began having contractions. They were completely different from the Braxton Hicks contractions I’d been feeling for months now. This time, they started in my lower back and pulled around to the front, like elastic being stretched beyond its capacity. I was getting scared and excited, but I still wasn’t sure if what I was feeling was real.

I woke Tim up.

He gathered pillows and blankets, and we camped out on the couch like kids at a slumber party.

The contractions were coming every 15 minutes or so and felt nothing like I’d expected. They were painful, sure, but not unbearable. Still, I couldn’t relax enough to sleep, so I watched Tim sleep, from my end of the couch, while I impatiently waited for the sun to rise. I wondered if tomorrow would be the day we finally got to meet our little girl.

When 8 AM arrived, I called my midwife and told her I’d been having contractions since 1 AM. I was hoping this would excuse me from the next round of tests I was scheduled for that afternoon. No such luck.

By the time Tim and I arrived at the hospital, my contractions had almost completely stopped. Between waiting to be seen and both tests, we were there for just over three hours.

As the nurse strapped elastic bands around my belly for my non-stress test, I told her I’d been having contractions the previous night and throughout the morning. She asked me if I was able to talk through them. When I told her yes, she laughed and assured me that what I was feeling were certainly not “real” contractions.

I left the hospital, once again, with reassurance that Miss P was doing fine, but as we headed to my acupuncture appointment I couldn’t help feeling a bit defeated. I was so excited I’d finally started having contractions just to be told they weren’t even real. Why wasn’t my body doing what it was supposed to do?

Since we’d been at the hospital for so long, Tim offered to stop for a bite to eat on our way to the acupuncturist’s house. We made small talk as we ate our sandwiches, having no idea it would be the last meal we’d eat as a family of two.

***

YOUR DESTINATION IS ON THE LEFT blared the GPS as Tim approached the driveway.

“Are you sure this is the right place?” I asked, feeling a little unsure.

He nodded, and we got out of the truck.

A cat rubbed its back against the tire as Tim shut the driver’s-side door, then it trotted along behind us. There were sprawling plants every which way leading up the front walk, and I felt, for a moment, like Mary from “A Secret Garden.”

The front door swung open, and we were greeted by the acupuncturist herself. After a quick exchange of hellos, she ushered us down a hallway and through a couple of rooms until we reached her workspace.

I sat next to Tim on the couch as I glanced around. The space hosted numerous books, pillows and tchotchkes, all tidily arranged on the walls, shelves and floor. The room was dimly lit, and it seemed to buzz with positive energy. I was beginning to think this acupuncture business just might work.

The acupuncturist spent a few minutes talking with us, then she asked me to take my shoes off and climb onto her table. I was dizzy with a mixture of uncertainty and anticipation as I sunk into a pillow that rested near the top of the table, and I rattled off something unintelligible because that’s what I do when I’m full of nervous excitement.

She explained what she was doing as she pushed the needles into my skin in swift motions, concentrating on my lower legs, feet and hands. I didn’t feel most of the needles going in at all, but there was one that gave me a jolt like I’d just stuck my foot into a light socket.

“Think of it as a disconnect that’s been reconnected,” she said, and I pictured energy, which, in my imagination, looked a lot like rainbow glitter, swirling through my body. I felt exhilarated.

Next, she mixed a homeopathic remedy, of sorts, for me. She took turns pouring drops from several tiny vials into a large plastic bottle full of water. After each new addition, she shook the concoction vigorously. While she worked, she explained the basic concept of homeopathy: Something about throwing a stone into water and ripples traveling away. The way I understood it was that homeopathy is basically a thing that’s diluted so many times that it becomes nothing, but still something. Confusing, yet intriguing. I had a burning desire to learn more.

She held the bottle out toward me, and my head whirred as I accepted it.

“Take a sip every 30 minutes or so,” she said. “Swish it around in your mouth, and hold it under your tongue for a little bit before you swallow.”

Like wine, I thought, trying to distract myself from the fact that I was about to ingest some unknown substance. I won’t lie. I was scared to drink the whatever-it-was, (I’m funny about stuff like that) but I did it anyway. Sure, I’d just met this woman, but I found her fascinating. She seemed to know exactly what she was doing, and I trusted that she wouldn’t give me anything that would harm me or my baby.

“It tastes kind of like printer ink, but mostly like water,” I told Tim as we drove home. Don’t ask me where I came up with this considering I’d certainly never tasted printer ink before. I took another swig and swished it around just as I’d been instructed.

“Yep,” I said. “Printer ink.”

“Oh yeah?” He kept his eyes on the road. He was used to my offhanded comments by now.

Then, somewhere along the 30-minute trek home, I began having contractions again, and, this time, they didn’t go away until my daughter was in my arms.

COMING SOON: Miss P’s Birth Day