Talk Books: Maternity Leave Excerpt, 19 Days Old…

This is an excerpt from the new novel, Maternity Leave, by Julie Halpern, released today and previously reviewed here.

19 Days Old

Two days and counting before Zach goes back to work as an IT specialist at a local bank. “What are you so worried about?” My mom holds Sam as I drag a pen along the seams of an envelope. Two half-finished thank you notes jeer at me. “I raised you kids without your dad around, and you turned out decent.”

“I’m not worried about Sam being decent. He barely has a sporting chance, what with being your grandson.” I smirk. “I’m worried about generally sucking as a mom,” I explain.

“Let me let you in on a little secret: all moms suck much of the time. The beauty about being a stay-at-home mom is that there is no one to watch you fail. It’s not like Sam is going to tell anyone. You’ll be back at work before he learns to talk anyway.”

“Mom, you’re wigging me out a little. And yet, you are very wise. You sure you don’t want to move in for a few months?”

“Oh, you’d love that. We couldn’t spend two days in Lake Geneva without the battle of the air conditioner. No, I’ll just be around for support when you need me. At least until I go to San Francisco next month.”

“I can’t believe you’re still going. You have a grandchild now!” I’m worried more about me not having her to help than my mom not seeing Sam, but it sounds better when the baby is the one being the baby.

“He won’t remember. And you’ll make it without me. What if I were dead? You’d have to do it without me anyway. In fact, pretend I’m dead. It’ll be easier.”

“Ma! Why do you always have to go to the dark side?” I ask.

“It’s part of my charm, I guess.”

Doogan looks at me, and I swear I detect a shrug. “She’s your mother,” he says.

I have managed to take care of Doogan for seventeen years. I’ll take that as a good sign. Then Doogan bites me, and I shove him off the couch.

I’m screwed.

20 Days Old

Zach goes back to work tomorrow. I am terrified, scared shitless, and entrenched with fear. I have to be alone with this baby all day, every day, and I don’t know if I can do it.

“You’re going to be fine. You’ve been doing it already for three weeks,” Zach tries to comfort me as we watch “Supernatural” on the couch. Sam sleeps peacefully on Zach’s chest. I give him the stinkeye, just in case he can sense I’m not happy with him.

“I haven’t been doing it for three weeks by myself. At first I was in the hospital, and you’ve been here the whole time, playing a supporting role, as has my mom in her morbid kind of way. Plus– fine? I don’t want to be fine. I want to be the best, most kick-ass mother on the planet. And beyond. I want to nurse him lovingly whilst I bake cakes and keep the house so clean you can hear little chimes of sparkle ringing from the countertops. I want Sam to learn sign language and ten other languages and to fit all the right shapes into that ball with the shapes cut out that five different people bought for him. Fine wasn’t good enough for me before I had this baby, so it certainly should not be good enough when we’re talking about the health and happiness of our first born son!” This would be the start of many a sleep-deprived diatribe on the subject of mama failure. But Zach will soon be lucky enough to get away from it all for ten hours a day, five days a week. Son of a bitch.

Middle of the Night

Full-on panic that Zach goes back to work tomorrow. Thank god for QVC. I don’t know what I’d do without the hypnotic beauty of twenty-four hours of gemstones.

21 Days Old

First Day Without Zach Goals

  • Feed, clothe, change, etc. Sam
  • cut fingernails
  • paint toenails
  • bake chocolate chip cookies
  • take nap
  • master Moby Wrap

Zach is gone, and so far so good. Nothing out of the ordinary, and I did manage to write three more thank you notes. Perhaps I will send them before Sam’s first birthday.

I spent much of the day practicing intricate wrappings of the Moby Wrap so I can wear Sam around when I go places. Working with at least twenty feet of fabric to somehow transform it into a safe nest in which Sam will lay seems semi-impossible, but I’ve made it my quest for the day. Or maybe the week. Why rush these things.

First Day without Zach Accomplishments

  • Blah blah blah Sam
  • Managed to knot my Moby Wrap and watched it fall on the floor
  • Fell asleep while on toilet (nap?)
  • Ate half a roll of refrigerated cookie dough (baked in my stomach?)

When Zach arrives home, the house is the same mess it was before he left. My face is still the same mess it was before he left. Zach looks like he just returned from a three week trip to a spa. I pray for a gigantic, dribbly poo to slither into Sam’s diaper so I can hand it off to Zach, but for once Sam’s baby buns have clammed up. Not that Zach would care. “I missed you so much!” he proclaims to Sam as he swings him around the room. I should take my act on the road. How much does an Invisible Woman make?

Copyright © 2015 by St. Martin’s Press LLC.

Maternity Leave by Julie HalpernMATERNITY LEAVE by Julie Halpern
Published by Thomas Dunne Books
On-sale September 1, 2015
ISBN-13: 9781250065025 | $24.99 | Hardcover

Tenmonthababy!

August 2015 060Tanner is ten months old and stepping out all over the place. When I started keeping notes for my ten month update post, I’d put that he was crawling around with rocks in each hand clicking on the concrete floor—crawling fast, and clicking along so you can hear him coming. As August progressed, that crawling-fast baby disappeared and turned into an all-out walking baby! I knew the day was rapidly approaching and I actually was surprised when he wasn’t walking at the start of nine months, given how skillful his furniture navigation skills were at that point. In our family, we don’t count the baby as truly walking until they go ten steps in a row unsupported. He did 27 steps in a row on August 19 and hasn’t stopped since. He skipped over the sweet, heart-breakingly darling “walk to Mama!” stage and has never once walked holding onto our hands the way babies do (breaking your back at same time). We tried, “walk to Mama! Walk to Daddy!” and he would get so excited he would jump and jump and fall down. He started walking by walking away from us, back to us, heading out across the living room or kitchen from my legs. From the 27 steps, he moved quickly on to walking while holding items, pivoting, changing direction, turning completely around, squatting down to pick stuff up and walking away with it, etc. He also climbs onto the couch and apparently stepped down the steps at my parents’ house alone too (touching wall for support). His steps have been adorably tiny—less than a half foot-length between each and with a slightly hunched forward posture (prepared to catch self in fall) and we joked that he isn’t really walking, he’s just rocking his feet from side to side and propelling himself forward upright that way! (kind of penguin-style) But, even the last few days have seen bigger steps, more confident about not falling down. In the same week he shifted from fast crawling and careful walking, to choosing walking most of the time, no matter what else is happening or where is trying to travel. I sense that the last vestiges of a crawling baby in the house will be over by the next week or so.

August 2015 006

Like mother, like son. “Grinding corn” at the Newburg Children’s Museum two weeks ago.

Can I take a few minutes to :::::sob:::::? While I delight in baby milestones, I can’t help but feel like I’ve been “cheated” out of the last three months of having a baby! He is remarkably toddler-like and not just the walking, but the talking too. He actually asks for things saying, “me, me, me?” or, “meeeeeeeeeee!” with lunge + grab, when not getting his fair share. We’ve heard him say high five, bad, cat, ow, bye, ball, yum yum, rock, dad, doll, block, and “away” (while putting blocks away in tub: “bock. way.” Is that a sentence before ten months? ;) )

He also kisses baby dolls on the head and snuggles his face into theirs. And, he makes music with everything—rattles bracelets, drums on surfaces, strums the wires. He is remarkably good at figuring stuff out—i.e. dropping something between slats and then staring at it, trying to reach through to get it and that doesn’t work, so bends down and reaches around and under to retrieve it instead. He loves to eat whole peppers from the green house and merrily rides out to pick them with Mark every day.

He crushes All. The. Things. It is nonstop chore keeping him from ruining the rest of the house and the people in it.

Working at our table at Mamafest last weekend.

Working at our table at Mamafest last weekend.

He is also a very rough nurser—preferring to nurse upside down with legs standing up over my shoulder, while I’m lying on my back (usually attempting to practice yoga). He makes the same “bratty” face that all my kids have made and that I remember my youngest siblings making too: nose wrinkled up, smirky smile, and a snuffing, hissing sort of sound with tongue against teeth while doing something intentionally naughty or destructive. (He also says, “bad” while getting some things, which makes me really annoyed with my other children, who have been known to holler “BAD!!!!” at him when he is getting into their things.) He also has a knack for raising one eyebrow in surprise. I can’t do that myself, but all of my kids can and got it genetically from Mark. Tanner seems really young for it though!

Tanner is a morning baby compared to all of our other kids. He is ready for bed at about 8:30 and wakes up at about 8:00 each morning with big smiles, hugging me, snuggling, and ready to go. When I pick him up, he adds an extra oomph/leap to it so that he flies into the air and into my arms. He will lean from my arms  to hug and snuggle everyone else in greeting–face leaned against chest or head, saying good morning.

At the end of last week, we went to Magic House with friends in St. Louis. The kids had free tickets from the summer reading program at the library. We had an amazingly good time. I figured I might as well put the photos from it into this post as well!

August 2015 053Last year, when we went to Magic House, I was pregnant with Tanner. What a difference a year makes! That is what I mean about being “cheated” out of three months of baby. This time last year, I was pregnant and there was no Tanner in the house. Now, there is a toddler boy! What happened?!

Recreating pregnant picture from previous year as well as modeling new silk skirt from my mom!

Recreating pregnant picture from previous year as well as modeling new silk skirt from my mom!

August 2015 063

The tiny judge in this picture cracks me up every time I see it!

 

Tuesday Tidbits: Parenting Big and Little Kids at the Same Time

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The biggest (almost 12) and the littlest (9 months) at Alley Spring at the end of July.

I’ve been trying to post this post since last week. But, then Zander stood on my closed laptop and broke the screen. (Luckily, Mark is a genius and Amazon has overnight shipping so it had the screen replaced within 24 hours and was ready for me to take to the first night of class at the Fort). Then, while we were at Mamafest on Saturday, there was a big storm that took out our internet and apparently our dryer too. The ISP can’t fix said internet until possibly Friday, which creates a near crisis survival state in a home with two work at home parents. It is hard to teach online and to ship orders with only one little iPhone’s connection to the outside world!

I’ve been really crying out for rest lately and interestingly, this forced hiatus has felt like a welcome change. We spent the morning sitting on the back deck, drinking tea, reading magazines (that with working internet perhaps would have remained unread for 6 months), while the kids played (alternating with wigging out about spiders and screeching about Tanner getting too close to the edge of the deck). 

This was going to begin as a much different post, but a lot happens in a week as well as a little refreshment and perspective offered by some time off “verandahing” (as Leonie Dawson would say). I woke up yesterday morning telling Mark, “today I will be full of enthusiasm…and making lists.” And, indeed, I did make lists. I made lists of what matters to me/us to include in every day, every week, every month, every other month, and every year. I’m ready for our home to be our haven, our own “retreat” space, and to have it feel as nice and nurturing on a regular basis as it feels to be on vacation. I’m ready to stop pushing and forcing and trying so hard to take care of everything…and then one more thing after that. This is going to mean some significant changes to my blogging here, but I will save that for a separate post. 

It is hard sometimes to feel so full to bursting with inspiration and ideas constantly, while coupled with the realities of the needs of a household of six people. I’ve been feeling down and discouraged about changes in friendships, homeschooling, projects, and more. Tanner has been teething (maybe), sleeping poorly and napping worse, and has morphed suddenly into a full-scale walking baby. Adequately parenting a multi-age range of kids feels virtually impossible. Meeting the needs of one usually means another’s needs are left unmet. I usually feel like I am not “enough” for my kids, while in the rest of my life I feel like “too much,” like I’m overwhelming and too intense for the people around me.

Tanner is a baby-on-wheels walking baby (leaving totally impressive destruction in his wake) and suddenly saying lots of new words intentionally: “ball” and “cat” and “ow,” “Dad,” “rock” and “yum.” Alaina is perpetually in need of attention and help. The older boys blessedly give each other attention and are helpful with Tanner, but increasingly pick on Alaina and taunt her in a way that really needs to stop. When they have things to tell me, I usually have to say, “not now,” or “hold the baby.” Instead of having those fabled bonding-with-pre-teen-boys conversations in the car I always read about, instead we are all loudly singing, “bay-bee, bay-bee, baby, baby, baby,” in an effort to keep Tanner from crying so hard in the car he throws up. “We HAVE to listen to them talk about Minecraft now,” I lament to Mark, “or when someone offers them cocaine, they won’t feel like they can tell us!!!!”

My mom, also a parent of four, split by age much the same as my own, tells me it actually gets harder from here!

So, my posts I highlight today are a potpourri of offerings about big kids and parenting in general…

First, a spot of humor:

The research found that despite using the same disciplinary methods, 100% of the children were more responsive to instructions spoken at a normal voice level if they came from someone other than their mother. To receive similar behavioral results, the women in the group had to raise their voices to that of someone being attacked by several large animals.

via Study: Children Are 800% Worse When Their Mothers Are In The Room | Mom News Daily.

And, then the bad news. Research on the happiness of German parents drew some grim conclusions…

Life has its ups and downs, but parenthood is supposed to be among the most joyous. At least that’s what the movies and Target ads tell us. In reality, it turns out that having a child can have a pretty strong negative impact on a person’s happiness, according to a new study published in the journal Demography. In fact, on average, the effect of a new baby on a person’s life in the first year is devastatingly bad — worse than divorce, worse than unemployment and worse even than the death of a partner.

via It turns out parenthood is worse than divorce, unemployment — even the death of a partner – The Washington Post.

It was interesting to note that the effect was even stronger in parents who are over 30 and have a higher level of education.

Luckily, it turns out that the whole four kids thing is a winner though in the parental life satisfaction arena!

Families with four or more children enjoy the greatest life satisfaction, a five-year study by Perth’s Edith Cowan University has found. Bronwyn Harman, a lecturer in the School of Psychology and Social Science, asked parents from different family types about resilience, social support and self-esteem. She found that parents with four or more children had the best ratings in each of these areas. The second-highest life-satisfaction scores, separated by just 0.25 per cent, were parents who identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer (LGBTQ). “With large families, we think they have social support within the family,” Dr Harman said. “The kids are never bored, they have someone to play with and they get independence quite early on.”

via Bigger is better: Parents with four or more children happiest despite chaos, research finds – ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation).

A couple of years ago, I spent some time musing about why parenting feels so hard and why do new mothers often say, “why didn’t anyone tell me?!” The individual pieces of parenting aren’t that hard and it is hard to point specifically to anything as “the reason” (which is why remarks about said hardness are so frustrating and mystifying to first-time parents while still pregnant), but I settled on the fact that it is relentless. That’s what’s hard. It never stops. And, once you start it, it basically keeps going to the end of your life!

I sink down onto the kitchen floor and cry.

I cry because the work of motherhood is relentless.

I cry because I’m tired.

And I need a shower.

I cry because it’s taking me half an hour to cut up these damn plums.

And I cry because I love these kids so much. They’re beautiful and curious and funny and complicated and completely exasperating. They deserve my patience, and I want to give it to them, but today it’s buried under a heaping pile of demands and I yelled at them instead.

via I’m Not Taking A Break. I’m Breaking. – Scary Mommy Scary Mommy

Moving on to the big kids though and those car conversations we don’t get to have…

I am sorry that when you are starting to explore girls, finding your own independence, and wanting some adult conversation, the toddler is saying the same thing a hundred times in a row at the top of her lungs and we cannot hear you.

I am sorry that every time you want our attention, the baby starts crying or needs something. I am sorry that when you first wanted to drive, we did not trust you with the kids in the car and so it took awhile before you could get your hours up on your learner’s permit.

I am sorry we do not pick you up at the train station when you finish work more often, because we are either settling your baby brother, feeding him, or fell asleep waiting for your text.

I am sorry I cannot remember what time your game is on Sunday – or anything you have told me, for that matter – because I have not slept a full night in over a year.

via Dear Teenager, Sorry About The Toddler And The Baby Scary Mommy.

And this ode to big kids that rings so true for me right now:

You didn’t sign up for this position. You didn’t choose to be the ones born first, a few years earlier, and if you asked to be in this situation, you probably didn’t know what being the older one actually entailed. Real babies and real toddlers, well, they’re a whole lot different than the stuffed animals you used to push in the toy stroller and put to bed in shoe boxes, aren’t they? Yet, you handle the younger ones with an unexpected patience and gentleness (OK, usually), and a lot of the time, you “Big Kids” do a better job of not totally losing it in the face of an unruly 2-year old’s demands than most adults. It’s inspiring. Big Kids are a parent’s unsung heroes. Thank you for holding the fussy baby while we fumble through our trashcan of a purse looking for our credit card so we can just pay for these diapers and get the hell out of the store and home before nap time.

via A Thank You To The Big Kids Scary Mommy

In the midst of all these ups and downs and multitudinous chaos’ of daily life, I am stunned by the bookended realities of my biggest boy and my littlest boy. In looking at the two of them together, it is all right there, in a heart-rending way that means, in fact, I am paying good enough attention and I am, myself, enough after all.

I knew that it would all go very fast, but I still, somehow, forgot just a little bit that once those years were gone, they were gone forever and irretrievable. I forgot, for a moment or many, that it’s a special grief that parents must continually and consistently endure: being at once nothing but grateful our children are growing and healthy, and yet at the same time, painfully aware of the loss of something with each year they put behind them…

via Just Like That Scary Mommy.

At the same time I’ve been feeling this tension and strain and perpetual “push,” I felt moved to create a new sculpture. She was created to remind me to be tender with my heart and to hold my own center with as much love as I’ve cradled my babies, all ages of them, for the last twelve years.

IMG_7256

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The Chocolate Chip Diet

July 2015 086My students often express disbelief that my well-worn, purple “Birth Matters” metal water bottle contains only water. I don’t ever drink anything with caffeine in it and people often marvel at my level of energy and my ability to get things done, while still also getting plenty of sleep every night. While I don’t drink caffeine, I have had a little secret: chocolate chips. For about three years or so, at around 3:00 in the afternoon I start feeling the urge for a little pick-me-up and find myself with my hand in the kitchen cupboard collecting a handful of chocolate chips for a little snack. Not just any chocolate chips either, but delicious, dark chocolate, 60% cacao, bittersweet Ghirardelli chocolate chips. In talking to other mothers of young children, I came to realize that I’m not alone in my chocolate chip habit and that it may be a common, secret way of getting a caffeine boost without drinking coffee or tea. (I also learned that feeling a need for sugar at around 3:00 in the afternoon may be an indicator of adrenal fatigue.)

Additionally, after eating oatmeal for breakfast every day for my entire parenting career, at some point I also learned I could dramatically up-level the awesomeness of my morning oatmeal by adding chocolate chips to it as well. Rather than being solely a bowl of oatmeal, my morning oatmeal became an experience. Homemade vanilla, bittersweet chocolate chips, coconut oil, and pecans really kick it up a notch!

In additional to my chocolate chip habit, here are two other things about me: I’ve never been on a diet and I’ve always been relatively happy with my body. About six weeks ago, I realized that I seemed to be hanging on to 10 extra pounds of pregnancy weight and it was starting to bother me. I started out my pregnancy with Tanner about 10 pounds over where I would have liked to be and I’ve been feeling a little “pudgy” or doughier than I’m used to feeling. I decided that I wasn’t interested in limiting what I eat, but that perhaps, just perhaps, the handfuls of chocolate chips per day could go. I stopped eating them in my oatmeal (switching to just vanilla, cinnamon, and brown sugar) and in the afternoon and…what do you know? Last week I reached my pre-pregnancy weight. That’s right. I went on a chocolate-chip diet and lost ten pounds in a little more than a month! ;)

Okay, so this “diet” could be pure coincidence. I also stopped eating dairy fairly recently because I’ve been struggling with discoid eczema on my arms and legs as well as the scalp psoriasis that I’ve dealt with for 20 years (and that a little voice inside me kept saying would get better if I would stop eating dairy). I’ve also kept up an awesome core yoga practice since the spring equinox that has done a really marvelous job of toning up my “mummy tummy.” Also, Tanner is nine months old now and I usually do hit my pre-pregnancy weight right around nine months. However, the connection between no chocolate chips and the magical disappearance of ten pounds seems like a possibility…

(I also learned how to make these awesome buttermints and make them every week, with lots of cocoa powder in them…)

Talk Books: Touching Bellies, Touching Lives

touchingbelliesEvery so often I end up reading a book that is nothing like I was expecting and yet is totally amazing. Touching Bellies, Touching Lives is one of those books. Subtitled “Midwives of Southern Mexico Tell Their Stories,” I was expecting a collection of birth stories from Mexican midwives. While there are birth stories, and everyone knows that I love birth stories, this book is so much more than a birth story collection. It is a personal pilgrimage, a preservation of the legacy of midwives, an examination of cultural birth practices, and a sobering first-hand account of the declining culture of traditional midwifery in Mexico. Many people may have the misconception that in Mexico or other South American cultures, midwifery is commonplace and maybe even flourishing. In Touching Bellies, we come to understand that Western medical practices are encroaching at a steady pace and that many midwives are elderly, retiring, and not being replaced. A steady theme runs throughout of women going to midwives for “belly massage,” but going to “modern” facilities to have their babies (unfortunately, they’ve imported some U.S. 1950’s-style practices in terms of birth position, birthing alone with no husbands allowed, and being treated dismissively in labor. This is along with a cesarean rate over 40% and up to 70% much in some cities).

The author, Judy Gabriel, takes multiple trips to Mexico on her quest to document the lives and stories of Mexican midwives (most of whom are age 65 and many of whom do not live to see the end of the book). She photographs the midwives and, with some hurdles with language barriers, listens to their stories–asking about the first birth they attended as well as any births that were problematic for them. She returns to them bearing hearing aids, dresses, and photos of family members from the United States. She travels through rough terrain and to distant villages on her quest to listen and learn from these midwives. I was completely absorbed by Judy’s dedication to her mission and her personal insights and life lessons as she travels and learns.

The “belly massage” practice for which Touching Bellies gains its title was endlessly fascinating to me (and to Judy, the author) with midwives regularly helping position the baby, release tight muscles, and ease aches and pains through a gentle process of abdominal massage and fetal manipulation. This aspect of midwifery care was so pervasive that when Judy would ask in a village where the midwives are, many people would not understand and say that they don’t know what she is talking about. When she asks for the woman who massages the bellies of pregnant women, everyone knows where to tell her to go.

In this quote, a 75-year-old midwife tells the story of helping a woman who is in premature labor. The doctors have tried to stop her contractions without avail and now say she must have a cesarean and the baby will most likely die:

“…The mother-in-law said, ‘This woman knows more than you doctors. You may have gone to the university, but, excuse me, for you doctors it is always puro cuchillo, puro cuchillo [just knives, just knives]. Leave the midwife to work in peace, and you’ll see what can be done without knives.’

So I did my work. I rocked the girl in a rebozo and massaged her belly, moving the baby up. The contractions stopped.

The doctors asked, ‘How did you do that?’

I said, ‘You were standing right there watching. I did it in front of you. I’m not hiding anything. You saw me rock her; you saw me massage her.’

‘Is that all you had to do?” they asked.

I said, ‘Yes, that’s all I had to do. What else would I have to do?’

(The baby survived and was born at full-term six weeks later.)

The dedicated care for women, in touching their bellies, touches their lives. Almost all of the midwives in the book have access to nurturing touch and almost no other resources available and yet almost all of them report never losing a baby or a mother in childbirth.

I absolutely loved reading Touching Bellies, Touching Lives. It is an extremely interesting, thought-provoking, and thoroughly fascinating journey. The information about the gradual decline and near-extinction of midwifery in Mexico is sobering, but the book does end on a hopeful note.

You can read more about the book here as well as see some of the interesting documentary-style photographs of the midwives from the book (one of the points of Judy’s travels was to photograph the midwives and share pictures of their families in the U.S. with them and vice versa). The book itself is available via Amazon.

Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book for review purposes.

Tuesday Tidbits: How to Make Life Easier as a New Parent

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In all my years as a birthworker, I still find that one of the most overlooked topics in childbirth preparation is adequate preparation for postpartum—those early weeks, or months, with a new baby. In my personal life, I experienced a difficult postpartum adjustment with my first baby, an easier one with my second baby, and two delightful, nurturing babymoons with my last two babies. Years after training as a postpartum doula, good postpartum care remains one of my passions, so I really enjoyed this post from a mother of five. Her feelings of rushing to get back to “normal” feel very familiar even though almost twelve years have passed since my first, tender, postpartum adjustment:

“I remember coming home from going out for the afternoon with Hero at 7 days postpartum. After we got back to our tiny apartment I came down with a fever. I was probably wearing the cutest non-comfortable outfit I could squeeze into. I probably didn’t think that 7 days after giving birth required anything of me other than “getting back to normal.” Life went on, and I urged it faster. In fact, that’s the way I parented, too. Smile, laugh, roll over, sit, crawl, walk, run, milestone, milestone, grow, grow, grow…

When I think back on my postpartum times (for the most part) I remember being exhausted, being emotional, being upset at Kirby for not doing enough, feeling fragile, feeling sad, and feeling weak. And then I got pregnant with Peter… And by the time I had him, I had interacted with enough wise mothers who had screwed up enough to know better and they told me what to do and I listened. After five babies I could finally say I did it right. I’m not saying you have to do it like me. Maybe you’ve already got your postpartum flow down and you need no such advice. In that case, a w e s o m e…”

Now I realize that some moms can just go, and they are happier that way! I get that. But it took me too long to realize that that’s not me. And I don’t want you to spend too much time thinking that should be you if it isn’t. Don’t spend four days, don’t spend four weeks, and certainly don’t spend 4 entire babies feeling like a shell of a person trying to figure it out…

The Fike Life: How to postpartum like a boss.

Unlike my early memories of my first son’s life, rather than looking back with sense of regret and fatigue, I look back on the weeks postpartum with Tanner (fourth and final full-term baby) with a tinge of wistfulness for the sweet, delicate, care-full time we spent together, nestled in bed in milky, marveling wonder. The author of the post above describes it as a “little sacred space,” and that is exactly how I feel. It also needs to be fiercely protected.

I look at that one week postpartum as a little sacred space that I will never get back. It’s a space where, for the most part, it’s just that brand new baby and me. And I’m selfish about it. And not sorry. Life will keep plummeting forward rapidly and I won’t ever stop it. But I can have a week with a floppy new baby on my chest in my bed and I’ll take it. And I’ll protect it.

AND IF THAT DOESNT TUG AT YOU MOTHERLY HEARTSTRINGS KNOW THIS… (super practical advice I got from my midwife with Peter)

When you have a baby you are recovering from an injury that is deeply internal. Your blood needs to stay concentrated there to bring essential nutrients to heal your organs and make you strong again. When you get up and walk around, your blood abandons your core and flows into your extremities, which can massively prolong your recovery. Stay rested and keep yourself down as much as you can. Just think of your organs! They need you!

via The Fike Life: How to postpartum like a boss.

It isn’t just the weeks following a new baby’s birth that matter, the first hour matters too and can set the tone for the rest of the postpartum journey:

…The way your baby is cared for and nurtured immediately after birth significantly impacts their transition from the womb to life outside.

In a culture that commonly separates mothers and babies for routine procedures such as cleaning, weighing and measuring, most babies are missing that critical time of being skin to skin with their mothers, which has short and long term consequences for all.

As these procedures are not necessary to maintain or enhance the wellbeing of either mother or baby, there is no reason why they cannot be delayed beyond the first critical hour.

via 7 Huge Benefits of An Undisturbed First Hour After Birth | BellyBelly.

Why doesn’t this uninterrupted hour and subsequent caring postpartum support happen for all new families? One reason is related to the “treatment intensity” of the US birth culture:

The questions you post in your article are good ones: Are midwives safer than doctors? How can homes be safer than hospitals and what implications does this study have for the US?

It’s a super knotty issue and it shouldn’t be about the superiority of midwives over doctors or homes over hospitals. The debate we should be having is over “treatment intensity” in childbirth and when enough is enough. The concern is that patients can be harmed by doing too much and by doing too little–in the US I worry that we cause avoidable harm by always erring on the side of too much.

via An Unexpected Opinion on Home Birth | Every Mother Counts.

Another is related to routine hospital practices that are not evidence based:

1. Start with giving the birthing woman antibiotics in high doses so that the baby develops candida (thrush) and colic. Then mix in a lot of stitches, either to repair the perineum or the lower belly/uterus.

2. Separate the mother and newborn. Make the mother walk a long distance (with her stitched body) to be able to see/feed her newborn…

via 6 Point Recipe for Making New Parenthood as Difficult as Possible | Wise Woman Way of Birth | by Gloria Lemay.

On a related note, we find that breastfeeding gets off to a better start when birth is undisturbed. We also find that decisions about breastfeeding may be made months before the baby is actually born:

…Recently, a nurse contacted me asking for ideas for teaching an early pregnancy breastfeeding class. I think this is a great idea, since mothers’ decisions about breastfeeding are often made before the baby is conceived and if not then, during the first trimester.

via Breastfeeding Class Resources | Talk Birth.

11800191_1651989138346635_1607714063463262593_nIt isn’t just postpartum during which we need these reminders about the “cycle of care.” The cycle of care of young children can be largely invisible, both to those around us and to ourselves. I’ve taken some time this week to appreciate my investment in my baby and cut myself a little slack on the other things I always want to “get done.” Brain-building is important work too!

Speaking of said baby, who has been taking his first steps this week at nine months old, I was amused this week to come across one of my older posts on family size decisions, in which I decreed my doneness with my childbearing years. Instead of embarrassing, I find the post oddly affirming or reinforcing that at some level I really did know that we weren’t quite “done,” there was still space in our family (and our hearts!) and there really was one more baby “out there” for us.

We decided we’d make the final, ultimate decision after she turned two, because too much longer after that point would make more of an age gap than we’d want. I posted on Facebook asking how do people know they’re “done.” I had an expectation of having some kind of blinding epiphany and a deep knowing that our family is complete, as I’ve had so many other people describe: “I just knew, our family was complete.” I didn’t have that knowing though—I vacillated day to day. What if I never know for sure, I fretted. Perhaps this sense of wistfulness and possibility with continue forever—maybe it is simply normal. One more. No, finished. But…ONE more?! And, I have a space in my heart that knows with great confidence that four (living) children would be the ultimate maximum for us. I definitely do not want more than four…so, does that mean there still is one more “out there” for us?

via Driveway Revelations (on Family Size) | Talk Birth.

However, I also find it to be true that four is most definitely the ultimate maximum. We laughed earlier this week remembering that a couple of weeks after Tanner was born I kept saying that I thought maybe we’d picked the wrong name for him. Mark asked me what I thought it should be and I said I kept thinking that maybe it should have been “Max.” While we joked at the time that this was because he is Maximus Babius, I only now caught on to the unintended double joke that he has definitely pushed our family size to our “max”!

Other tidbits:

I got this book about midwives in Mexico to review and have been zooming through it. It is SO good!

We’ve been working on new sculptures!

11850648_10207522285005258_4065455347313524959_o

(read more: Sneak Peek: Pregnant Mama – Brigid’s Grove)

We’ve added some new Moon Wisdom/First Moon bundles to our shop:

11825154_1650996815112534_7593072070926503121_nAnd, our new blessing cards came in. We were printing these on regular printer paper and are excited to have nice, professional cards instead!

11800234_1650792701799612_305310151573875723_nWe also still have five spaces left in the Red Tent Initiation program beginning at the end of the month:

Sign up for the Brigid’s Grove Newsletter for resources, monthly freebies, + art and workshop announcements.

And, as is our tradition, in honor of World Breastfeeding Week and National Breastfeeding Month, you can get 10% off items in our shop throughout August: WBW10OFF.

Talk Books: A Passion for Birth

Sheila

“We are only now beginning to discover the long term destructive effects on human beings and families of treated women as if they were containers to be opened and relieved of their contents.”

–Sheila Kitzinger

Sheila Kitzinger’s new autobiography, A Passion for Birth, is an absolute treasure. One of the most long-term and pivotal influences in the world of birth activism, I have quoted her work more times than I can count. In fact, I judge the quality of a book by the number of pages I dog-ear to return to. I turned down the corners of so many pages in A Passion for Birth, that it will take me a year’s worth of blog posts to share all the provocative quotes that caught my attention! While Sheila always included a personal flavor in her other books, this book is truly about her, her life, her passions, her family, her activism, her work. Interwoven throughout is the social justice oriented thread of her absolutely devoted dedication to women, feminism, and childbirth activism. Her book is very real, relatable, and readable as well as often charming. She doesn’t hold back from treading into controversial waters, however, and she is straightforward and unapologetic even when writing about topics that can be divisive in the birth world.

I was pleasantly surprised to discover the full-color series of photos in the center insert to the book, they range from Kitzinger’s childhood, a homebirth picture of the birth of one of her daughters, and ending with a poignant photo of Sheila’s casket, decorated by her family, resting easily on some chairs in the dining room of home she so loved.

An internationally recognized author and expert, Kitzinger was an anthropologist and one of the first professional people to acknowledge that women’s birth wisdom, stories, and experiences are worthy of study and attention. Spanning an impressive career of more than fifty years, Kitzinger’s anthropological and activist work was undertaken at a global level and her clear and unwavering commitment to social justice work and activism is a thread running strongly throughout her entire autobiography. The book takes us from Sheila writing and studying while sitting in a playpen in her yard (an effort to have a work area undisturbed by her five children!) to traveling with her family to Jamaica to study the birth customs and stories of the women there. Her identity as an anthropologist is clearly reflected in the cross-cultural birth experiences she surveys and describes and the autobiography includes lots of travel! It also includes homey touches like favorite recipes and descriptions of family traditions as well as stories of her own four homebirths, including that of twin daughters. I found myself wanting more content about her life with children, her life as a mother, which, while acknowledged and integrated through the text, was curiously absent from much of the narrative’s exploration. I was also curious to know more about the accident and serious brain injury experienced by her daughter Polly, which was mentioned somewhat incidentally (though it clearly had a significant impact on the family), as was the passing mention in a photo caption referencing her husband Uwe’s eye removal surgery.

Highly recommended to anyone with an interest in birth work, birth activism, feminist studies, women’s health, or anthropology, A Passion for Birth was compelling, inspirational, funny, straightforward, assertive, honest, candid, wry and dedicated.

“The way we give birth is an expression of culture. It can be spontaneous and instinctual, but it is still patterned by the society in which we live.”

–Sheila Kitzinger

Stay tuned for an ongoing series of themed posts based on additional content and thought-provoking quotes!

In a pioneering career spanning more than 50 years she campaigned for and oversaw a radical change in maternity care, placing women’s rights and choices at the very heart of childbirth. Her passion, research and knowledge of childbirth have had enormous impact on millions of women worldwide.

A Passion for Birth | Sheila Kitzinger | Pinter & Martin Publishers.

Publishing and purchasing details: 

Author: Sheila KitzingerSheila
Published: 7 May 2015
Binding: hardback
Format: 240 x 160 mm
Pages: 384
Illustrations: colour and b/w photographs
Pinter & Martin edition available: worldwide
Translation rights: Pinter & Martin

Also available from: Amazon.co.uk | Wordery | The Hive | Waterstones | Foyles | Mail Bookshop | Amazon.com

Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book for review purposes.

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