Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Head down, thumbs up!

Our birth assistant, Liz, visited tonight. A birth assistant helps the midwife but she will also help me and Matthew with my labor and birth. She felt my belly and we were thrilled to hear that the baby is head down! (The baby still has lots of room to move all around, but it was still great to hear.) She used a fetascope to listen to the baby's heartbeat and Matthew and I got to hear it, too. No matter how many times we hear it, it's always a great sound to hear. Then, she did this really cool thing called rebozo using a big scarf to rock my belly back and forth. It's supposed to loosen everything up and encourage the baby to move into the right position for birth. It felt really good and relaxing. She showed Matthew how to do it so now we have another trick to practice. Of course, as this was all going on, I said, "Matthew, get your camera!" I'm so glad we have photos to share. Liz snapped a few shots of Matthew, too. (Please excuse any unflattering shots of the giant pregnant woman. Although, Liz did tell me that my stomach is really tight ... a nice thing for a six-months pregnant woman to hear!) ~ Nicole

Saturday, September 22, 2007


I used to think I became a real grown up on the day my mother died. Seven years ago yesterday. The death of a loved one is one of those experiences that causes your whole world to shift in an instant. Nothing is as it was before. But then, after crying until you can’t breathe and you’ve ruined every pillow you own, crying until you just can’t stand crying anymore, you stop. You realize you have to adjust to this new situation. You decide to adjust even though you don’t really know how. You start to try to figure it out. You are doing this alone because no one can do it for you but at the same time everyone is helping and if they’re not you release them. And the loved one who has died is helping you. Your memories of them and their whispers in your ear when you need a little boost, saying, “C’mon Nic, think positive!” You can hear it and you listen. Sometimes you find yourself listening very carefully. Sometimes you realize you could listen a little better. And, sometimes that person’s absence gives you a chance to evaluate their words differently than when they were alive and you realize that maybe you have other ideas and that’s OK, too. This makes you feel a little sad but it’s also good because it helps you feel just a little more grown up. A little more confident because the confidence is yours not someone else’s. And, that’s when you start to figure out that those little whispers from your loved one are actually coming from inside you because they left them there for you. Little gifts. All yours. And you decide that death is kind of beautiful in a way.

The other night, in our birthing class, we watched a movie called “Giving Birth.” We watched to learn what a normal birth looks like and to hear stories about normal, natural birth from obstetricians, midwives, doulas and mothers. There were beautiful photos of a water birth that showed the father reaching for the baby as it was born, the new family in a big, round tub, outdoors, their skin glowing in the sunshine. There were images of brand new babies, all shiny and wet, in their mothers arms. Not the babies you see in movies or on TV, but real babies each with different little faces and shiny eyes and even hair.

In one scene, we saw a woman in labor at her home. She slow danced with her husband in their kitchen between contractions. Dancing swivels and opens your hips and helps the baby get in the right position. She breathed through contractions and seemed to go inside herself. She leaned on her husband’s shoulders as he held her up. I saw her listening carefully to herself, trying to adjust to this new situation, having made the decision to get through it because what other choice do you have? Then, her midwife had her sit on a birthing stool so she was in a good squatting position but most of her weight was supported. The mother started working very hard at pushing her baby out. When the baby’s head crowned, she reached down to feel it. “Baby,” she said, almost a whisper. Moments later, she got her first look at her baby as she lifted him up to her chest. At that moment, her face changed. All of the exertion melted away and was replaced not by joy but with a look of sheer astonishment. And then she said, “I did it. I can’t believe I did it.”

After the movie, I talked with some of the other women in my class about what we saw. We laughed at how everyone cries when they see a baby being born but that as pregnant women we were even more susceptible to tears. We talked about the value of seeing a real birth instead of a made-for-TV version and that watching it was powerful because it allowed each of us to really imagine ourselves in that situation. And, despite the pain and hard work, we decided it was kind of beautiful.

We are pregnant and there’s no turning back. We will go through labor. Maybe we will even slow dance with our husbands. We will work hard. We will have to decide that we can do this because we have to. There will be others there to help us but ultimately we are doing this alone. We will listen to ourselves carefully. We will listen to the helpful whispers of mothers before us, of our own mother, perhaps, using what strengthens our confidence and leaving the rest behind. And then we will give birth to a real baby. And at that moment, our whole world will shift. Nothing will be as it was. We will be astonished because we did it. Because we gave birth to a baby. But, also, because we gave birth to ourselves, and we are mothers. And, maybe that's what it really feels like to finally grow up. ~ Nicole

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Ask me about home birth, if you dare.

I'm becoming a zealot.
An all-natural-home-birth-breast-feeding-champion hippy dad to be. It turns out that the concept of home birth kinda freaks people out. But the more I learn about it, the more I love the idea - and I'm not afraid to tell you. Just ask my hairdresser.

Ever since Nicole convinced me home birth was the way to go, my feelings on the topic have become stronger and stronger. I admit it sounded a little nutty to me at first, but I didn't know anything about birth then. Like most people, what I saw on TV and in the movies led me to believe that giving birth required being in a hospital where doctors and nurses would buzz around looking at monitors - with lots beeping gizmos and flashing lights - and that there would be some life threatening complication that would require incubators and blood transfusions and we’d end up telling our story on some TLC show. Not that I ever watch that shit.

Well since then, our friends Abbie and Anthony just had their second home birth, Nicole read about 8,000 books on the subject, and we started taking Bradley Method birthing classes. So now I know that natural birth totally rocks. The problem is that everybody wants to know "what hospital are you using?" I learned the hard way that my answer to this question can lead to a sometimes long and frequently uncomfortable discussion - which basically starts with the other person asking me if I'm fucking crazy. It's like trying to sell tofu to taco bell eaters - only worse because the taco bell eaters are convinced that your wife is going to die a horrible death and that we're going to kill a baby in the process. One person I told about it ended the conversation early with a comment like "whatever man, it's your baby's funeral." (Ok, not really but that's what I inferred.) Once friend said natural child birth was "just stupid." And this was someone that I like and respect. It was really disappointing to hear that, but I couldn't help wanting to say You're the one that's stupid!!!" Which sounds pretty juvenile, but it's true. Not that hospitals and epidurals and episiotomies don't all have their place, but why do all that shit if you don't need to? Why assume that every test, probe, monitor, and injection is ok because a doctor said so? After all, it wasn't that long ago that doctors were getting paid by the tobacco companies to endorse certain brands of cigarettes. Is this starting to sound like a lecture? That's probably how my hairdresser felt the other day. He and his wife have been trying to get pregnant for three years. They're probably the perfect candidates for a hospital birth when the time comes, but that didn't stop me from going on and on about the cascade of interventions and the wonders of breast milk. By the end, he was like "ok man, that's cool, I'll check it out, I promise. Now, can I get back to work please?"

So, I guess I have to be careful who I tell what, not to go overboard when I talk about it, and not to get too upset when some people think we're nuts. The other day a friend of mine from work asked: "Did I hear right - that your planning to give birth at home?" He had that "you can't be serious" look on his face that's become familiar to me. Hoping to keep it simple, I just said "yep - that's right." He sort of shook his head and asked why. I had already given one lecture that day and it was getting late, so I just said "because we're hippies man, we're just total freakin hippies."

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Confessions of a frustrated shopaholic

I miss shopping.

It's back-to-school time and even though I've been out of school now for a VERY long time, I still get that itch every fall to do a little shopping for new clothes. But, I don't fit in normal-people clothes right now, and I think any pregnant woman will tell you that shopping for maternity clothes just isn't as much fun.

When your body is changing so rapidly, you just don't know how long that cute Liz Lange skirt or expensive Pea in a Pod dress will fit. And, while maternity styles have come a long way since our mothers were pregnant with us, no matter what you wear when you're pregnant, it's simply harder to look fashionable and hip when your most prominent feature is a belly the size of a basketball. Forget "sexy." "Cute pregnant lady" is about as good as it gets these days. (Look how skinny I was!)

Don't get me wrong. It's not like I have NOTHING TO WEAR (which is never really a true statement but every woman knows exactly what I mean). I'm very fortunate that friends have given me a whole bunch of their old maternity clothes. The clothes are stylish and cute and it's so nice that I don't have to spend a bunch of money on a whole new wardrobe of outfits I'm only going to wear for a few months. I am truly lucky to have a closet full of very cool hand-me-downs from several generous friends. Thank you, ladies!

But, I still miss shopping.

I miss browsing the racks of clothes and knowing what size I will fit into. I miss the excited feeling of walking into a dressing room with a pile of 20 pairs of jeans, which might look identical but, no, they each have slightly different hues and cuts and I must try them all, each and every last pair!

I even miss the disappointment that comes when NONE of those 20 pairs of jeans is quite right and I walk out of the dressing room empty handed. There's always hope in the next store.

I miss that thrill of arriving home with an arm full of shopping bags, excited to give Matthew a fashion show but also a little guilty about how much I bought.

I am so happy to have a little baby growing inside me. It's miraculous and amazing and I wouldn't change a thing. But, it would be so fun to be able to trot out to my favorite stores and buy a cool, new fall outfit, like a pair of skinny-minny dark jeans, a fitted jacket cinched with a wide belt over my (imaginary) small waist and a pair of fabulous stilletos, just like the ones I've coveted ever since I saw Gwen Stefani perform "Hollaback Girl" on Saturday Night Live, like, two years ago, wearing nothing but a basketball jersey as a dress and a pair of tall, sleek black stilletos. (Hey, Gwen looked pretty damn hot when she was preggers, but so would I if I was rich and famous and a clothing designer.)

Shopping was one of my favorite past times. It was fun. It made me feel good. And, dammit, I miss it. ~ Nicole

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Nesting out of necessity

Nesting started early around here. Last weekend, we started a massive cleaning project that could be called "Making Room for Baby." Since we decided we won't be moving any time soon, we (we, as in, I convinced Matthew) thought it was a good time -- before I get too enormous -- to do some cleaning and clearing out to maximize the space in our small apartment.

Step one: rent a carpet steam cleaner. We were not blessed with an apartment of beautiful hardwood floors. All wall-to-wall carpeting, but I guess that's one of the reasons the rent is so cheap. As for renting this machine, we were pleasantly surprised to learn it's pretty cheap -- $22 a day at a local hardware store. Hint for anyone thinking of doing this: You do not need to also spend the extra $20 to buy the special cleaning solutions. After a little research, we learned that Dr. Bronner's castille soap (or something similar) will do just fine. And, it smells much nicer!

Step two: actually steam clean the carpets. Matthew was all over this. He did pretty much the whole apartment by himself. He never actually flat out told me he didn't want me trying to maneuver the steam cleaner (though it's not too heavy or complicated -- I'm sure I could have done it), but I was perfectly happy to let him go at it. I spent the time cleaning furniture, helping him shift things out of the way, etc. We were a pretty good team. We started on a Friday night (after dinner with friends, even) and finished up and returned the steam cleaner by 1 p.m. on Saturday. We even did the couch ($5 extra for the upholstery tool) and smaller carpets.

Step three: clean out the closets. This was, by far, the more daunting task. It's a little scary to think about, but we literally had boxes of things packed into closets that we haven't opened since we moved in five years ago! We committed to being "ruthless" and "unsentimental." It was sometimes difficult. I'm a bit of a pack rat and I think Matthew is, too. But, it's just not feasible anymore in our small place with a third little "roommate" on the way. It was a bit hard to get rid of some things, like much of the bulky things in our "Halloween box." But, we figured it was time to give up those SNL cheerleader costumes, probably our BEST HALLOWEEN COSTUMES EVER, but, alas, I will probably never fit into that tiny skirt again in my life ... and, I'm afraid, those characters are so 1990s. Luckily, lots of foot traffic on our street that weekend and really nice weather meant that the box of "Free Stuff" in front of our house went away pretty quickly.

Our reward for all this sweat and toil? One word: IKEA! We had several items to look at. Matthew wanted to approach the shopping task by actually beelining it from item to item, but my way prevailed -- a meandering stroll through every inch of the showroom. "It gives me inspiration," I told Matthew as I wandered around while he sat at a large, modern looking computer desk scrolling through his blackberry "just checking the score."

Not all of our desired items were in stock, so we'll have to go back later (yeah!), but we did manage to leave with several items for baby: this crib, this storage cabinet (and our future changing table), these curtains in black and white, this mirror, and these hand towels, which aren't really for the baby -- I just thought they were cool.

All in all a pretty successful project.

We still have work to do. Later this fall, we plan on turning the big bedroom (now an office) into our bedroom, where the baby will sleep with us for a while. The small bedroom will become the place for all the baby's stuff (plus guest room as long as the baby sleeps with us. HELLO, DID YOU HEAR THAT? GUEST ROOM!) and eventually the baby's own room. Our nest is shaping up nicely. ~ Nicole

Thursday, September 6, 2007

The Birth of New Parents

We had our second birthing class tonight. Ten more to go. That's right. Twelve weeks. Two hours each week. It's us and about seven other couples. We meet in the back room of a storefront in our neighborhood (A church service is going on in the front part. Tonight, I got a glimpse of the church goers as I was making the first of several trips to the bathroom. I saw a woman holding a fiddle. Curious.)

One of the nicest things about this class is that what we learn is directed at the fathers as much as the mothers. Up until now, much of our preparation -- prenatal appointments, attention on my growing belly -- has focused on me, the pregnant woman. It's nice to see these other men lovingly rubbing their wives' backs or whispering in their ears as we sit in a circle on the carpet. It's so obvious how happy and excited they all are and how much they love their wives and their babies.

Tonight, we starting learning about the importance of proper nutrition. This class is a Bradley class, so a big focus is on getting enough protein. "Enough" is 80 to 100 grams each day. It seems like a lot! It is a lot! But, our instructor told us tonight that there is a theory that links a lack of sufficient protein to pre-eclampsia. The national average of pregnant women developing pre-eclampsia is about one in 10. Our instructor said of all of the about 120 students she has taught in the Bradley method, only one has developed this complication. She credits the diet that we Bradley birthers follow.

We also learned about the egg, the magical wonderfood. A little and inexpensive orb that contains at least 23 essential nutrients, including protein in one of its most perfect forms. It is second only to breast milk in terms of how perfect it is! Therefore, two eggs a day is the way to go.

After all that learning tonight, my favorite part of class was practicing our relaxation techniques. We are learning over the 12 weeks how to relax every muscle in our bodies. This will help later when we go into labor and the uterus is working hard. It will help by not wasting any energy on unnecessary muscles. And, it will help make labor go faster.

To do our practice tonight, we all sprawled out on the floor, women and men. The lights went down low. We closed our eyes. Breathed deeply. The instructor spoke to us softly and rhythmically, telling us to first tense and then relax our muscles, starting with our foreheads and moving gradually down to our feet, telling us we can always let go a little more, relax and sink and let go a little more. Breathe down low in our bellies, quietly and rhythmically. Ahhh. It made me happy. Like yoga. I almost fell asleep.

I know that labor will be much different, but just knowing that such a happy and relaxed place exists and is encouraged during labor makes me almost look forward to it! It certainly makes me more excited and less scared, little by little the more I learn. I envision this squirmy, slimy, wrinkled but alert baby will slide out into this world at just the moment he or she is supposed to, wailing and springy, and eventually relaxed and happy in our arms. ~ Nicole

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

The bump gets bigger...

We got the prints from our Cape Cod vacation back last night and Nicole's belly looks so small. That was only a couple of weeks ago, but the baby has grown so much since then. The other night I felt the baby move. I put my hand on Nic's belly all the time, and I'm pretty sure I felt it once before, but this time there was no mistaking it. What I felt the first time was like the bones of the tiniest fragile little foot. This time it was a real baby moving around. Crazy.
I sort of wish we knew the gender. Then we could name the baby. Which is exactly the reason we decided not to find out the gender, but it seems strange to have this little being in there - more and more part of our daily lives - and not have a name for it. I call it "little baby" when I talk to... the area where the baby lives. The book I'm reading recommends talking to the baby everyday and claims this will seem normal soon, but it still seems really funny to me. I suppose if we knew the gender and we picked a name we probably get way ahead of ourselves and start looking at colleges. - Matthew