Sign Me Up For The Post-Partum Village Please

We aren’t meant to birth and raise children alone.  We just aren’t.  I know it in my bones.  It’s not something I thought about before my husband and I moved 1,400+ miles south from our native Seattle; then, at a time in my life when I wasn’t considering LAC (life after children). And now here I am, two children deep and acutely aware that the relative isolation we live in is not optimal for any of us.

I can quite easily close my eyes and transplant myself to my childhood home where my mom’s family sat around the kitchen table playing cribbage and drinking Folgers coffee (or gin and tonics, depending on the hour), and we kids tumbled in and out of the house and yard with our neighbor friends. My dad came home after work every day and we ate dinner as a family.  Both parents tucked me into bed at night. We did backyard BBQs and holidays with aunts and cousins and I had four loving and present grandparents, each in their own ways. Sadly, these are not the early memories my children will have.

We have evolved into a nomadic species. We pick up and move from the place of our birth and the land of our family of origin for education, for employment, for love and for adventure.  And then we settle on new land and start our own family, apart from the village that birthed and raised us.  At least that’s what I did. I’m also handicapped by the fact that my parents are both deceased, so the presence and support of maternal grandparents just isn’t an option. I don’t think I could know all of the ways my story would be different were my mom and dad living today, but I know there are many.  And I’m convinced the effects would be far-reaching, directly on my life and the lives of my children and then their children.

We now live on nearly an acre of land in a beautiful desert. Sometimes it feels like our backyard is the last place one would be lonely, with the myriad of bird species announcing their mating calls, rabbits running races and snakes passing through. Our property walls are high, providing lots of privacy and spaciousness. Good for many things, but, Buddhists would argue, not for one who is prone to the mind states propagated by excess space. I have no family here to fill in the gaps. I have a husband who travels more than I’d like.  I have some friends, but none that I would beg to come over for an adult conversation or call after an exhausting day of parenting, when you’re ready to drop your kids off in the Goodwill donation box on the corner (not really…well mostly).

I am a person who tends to isolate when things get hard. I turn inward and focus on my separateness (a lie that reinforces itself) and the intensity of my internal experience – not ideal coping for me or any new mom. As a new mom the first time around, I developed a hyper-vigilance that did not serve me. A strong preference for order, neatness and control didn’t help the equation when early motherhood is mostly disorganized, messy and absolutely unpredictable. I still believe both my genetics and the extreme post-partum hormone shift contributed to the perfect storm following my daughter’s birth and I have taken some steps to address these factors with baby #2 (including placenta encapsulation and other supporting supplements). However, I’m also now aware that the days I really struggle are exacerbated by this sense of my aloneness in it all. Thus the post-partum village I’ve enlisted.

After my first child was born, I tried hard to do it all myself, even when things were spinning out of control.  My role models in parenting, namely my mom and my sister, both did it “alone” and seemingly without effort (though I now know this to be another lie I told myself). This time around (with baby #2), I didn’t waste any time or guilt before enlisting the support of some heavy-hitters. I have a post-partum doula – bless her soul – who spells me so I can lay down my hyper-vigilance and sleep deeply some nights. A respite from sleep deprivation (which, by the way, is used as an effective form of torture in war) has been an invaluable boon in these early months.  With baby #1, I was so out of sorts that I couldn’t rest even when I was given the opportunity.  Thankfully, I can now collapse into dreamland as I place my sweet boy into her loving arms. During the week days, I share parenting responsibilities with an incredible nanny who has raised six children of her own.  We have adopted a tag-teamesque approach: I nurse my son as she feeds my daughter lunch; she rocks him to sleep as I take her to swimming lessons; she holds them both as I take a shower and I hold them both as she folds the laundry.  Another set of hands, another pair of eyes, another calm voice and accompanying energy to provide all that my children require to feel seen, heard and loved.

One perk of a second post-partum experience is the absolute eradication of any false expectations that early motherhood will be easy or only rewarding (of course there are moments of ease and enjoyment and even pure bliss, when my nursing son looks up at me with his big blues). This wisdom, gained only by passing through the gates before, helped prepare me for what was to come.  I would argue as well, that struggling as I did with my first child wore down my defenses and weakened that independent bent of mine that seeks to maintain a mask of control and order. This time I knew it wasn’t best for anyone for me to try to do it all myself.

I know that we are blessed to have the resources for this type of support. It is the best money I have ever spent. I know many people have nuclear and extended families to assist with the vast responsibilities of parenting. I also know that many other people do it alone and my heart goes out to them.

With this village, I am able to be a better mother.  I’m still not a very relaxed mother in this first year of life, but I know that the road is long and the current sensations will simmer down at some point, for some time, before they likely bubble back up again.

Even my sweet two-year old knows the truth of togetherness.  As she tumbles around in her crib, not sleeping, I hear her singing an old Raffi classic: “The more we get together, together, together…The more we get together the happier we’ll be.”

I am three months post-partum and grateful for the support of my village.

(*and still looking for a new blog name)

 

 

 

Pass The Placenta Please!

I bet some of you are wondering exactly where this is going so I’ll get right to the heart of the matter.  I have joined an unknown number of human and animal mothers who consume their placentas after the birth of a child.  I have to admit when I first heard of this as a possible antidote for post-partum depression my mind recalled the scene from the Hollywood film “Alive,” where a group of people, stranded on some deserted, snowy mountain range after their plane went down, reluctantly (or maybe not so reluctantly) consumed the buttocks of one of the other deceased passengers.  Now I’m not eating my placenta because I’m starving (though with a toddler and newborn the fridge looks rather sparse much of the time), but rather with the hopes of tempering the hormonal and chemical shock to the body that comes with giving birth.

Some may be relieved to know that consuming ones’ placenta has a scientific name: Placentophagythough it makes no difference to me. I’ve never been one who is overly concerned with what others think of my choices so I’m happy to share my decision to partake in this admittedly unusual and arguably animalistic activity after the birth of our son.  If you have ever seen a live placenta (and if not, take my word for it!), you know it is a good-sized organ, a bloody mess really. I decided not to take a bite from it in its raw form (though some people do) and I also passed on the option to blend it up with seasonal berries and drink it in a smoothie. Instead, I’ve chosen the more “traditional”(?) route of consumption – for humans anyway – where the placenta is slowly dehydrated at a low heat, ground and encapsulated.

WHY??  You might (or have already) asked.   First, a little history and context:

The placenta has been used in different forms (and to treat different ailments) in traditional Chinese medicine since the 1500’s, and other non-Western cultures have utilized the placenta in modern times to address post-partum fatigue and increase lactation. As you might guess, it’s less common in our country and there is significant polarity on the issue.  Leading the “go-team” is the doula/midwifery community, in addition to other alternative healthcare providers who advocate the nourishing potential of this powerful organ. And captain of the naysayers is the Western medical community, mainly OBGYNS, who argue there is no clinical data (which there isn’t really) to support this choice. Unfortunately, the healing properties of this organ will likely remain largely untested in a clinical environment as you’ll be hard-pressed to find a pharmaceutical company willing to invest money and research in a potential therapy that won’t offer future revenue to the company (there are some early studies being conducted by the NIH which you can find references to here and other places on the web: http://placentabenefits.info/medicinal.asp)

Here’s what we know: the placenta is a nutrient-dense organ, packed with iron, vitamins, minerals and powerful hormones, amassed over the 40 weeks it nourishes the growing fetus. Just a few of the known ingredients include prolactin, which promotes lactation; oxytocin, noted for pain relief and secreted when bonding (and nursing); hemoglobin which replenishes iron; cortisone and thyroid stimulating hormone, which promote energy and combat stress; and prostoglandins, which stimulate involution (the shrinking of the uterus) and reduce bleeding.

During gestation, the placenta takes over for the hypothalamus, producing heightened levels of the hormones progesterone and estrogen.  At birth, these hormone levels plummet and it takes approximately two weeks for the hypothalamus to get the message that it needs to kick back in. So this initial period, also the time that many new mothers experience varying levels of stress, anxiety and inevitable sleep deprivation, is critical. At the same time we continue to experience uterine contractions, wait for our breast milk to come in and heal from the physical labor of birthing a child.  Although many women will muddle through these first few weeks (and some will blissfully sail, bless their fortunate souls), some of us are not so lucky. When I heard about the potential of my placenta to contribute to a happier, healthier post-partum experience, I was intrigued and hopeful.

This incredible organ has nourished and supported my baby boy throughout gestation and (in our culture) is generally tossed in the garbage without a second thought.  Not mine!! I am happily popping my placenta pills at breakfast and lunch each day with an awareness of its life giving (and sustaining??) properties.placenta pills

Although it’s still early, I will share that I am having a significantly different post-partum experience than I did after my daughter was born.  Less anxiety, fewer tears, better sleep, deeper breaths, less bleeding, more energy and a greater sense of early bonding with our son. While I expect this could be attributable to a number of factors (I’ll take a stab at what those might be in a future blog), I will be the first to proclaim: “pass the (my) placenta please!”  Stay tuned for a progress report on this and a new domain name for my blog (no longer pregnant….hmmmmmm).

I am two and a half weeks post-partum, grateful for my placenta pills and present.

 

 

 

Am I Ready?

I think I just lost my mucous plug.  Confirmation on that: said mucous plug has exited the building.  Does that mean I’m ready to have this child??  Actually, expulsion of the mucous plug can happen days or even weeks before active labor begins and many women don’t even notice this event in the midst of the myriad of physical and emotional changes occurring in the approach to D-Day.

bed rest

**Note: For those of you who have not received a bed rest update, I recently concluded my four weeks of bed rest and round-the-clock anti-contraction medication (Nifedipine).  It feels good to know I have reached and surpassed the 36-week “safer” zone and that our little guy has had this additional time to grow and develop his lungs. I’m moving around more now, picking up my daughter and starting to change my focus from keeping him in to preparing to invite him out to join our family! Interestingly, this week has been a bit of a transition for my mind and spirit as I haven’t quite finished patting myself on the back for being a compliant patient and successfully avoiding pre-term labor. All of a sudden the focus has shifted and now “it’s time.” People have been asking – and assuming – I’m SO READY for this boy to be born.  There’s usually a look of shock and dubiosity when I respond that I’m not sure I’m so ready.

You see, I tell them, I know what’s coming.  Those sleepless nights, the physical demands of nursing and the potential for a less-than-optimal post-partum experience that might mirror my first. And all of this WITH a very mobile and interactive two-year old attached to my hip. At least now I have regained some semblance (or the illusion of some semblance) of predictability and control in my life after the first year of total and complete commitment to another human being. As a stay-at-home mom, I’ll admit to loving the 90 minutes (if I’m lucky) of quiet, personal time allowed to me when my little girl naps and even longing for the evening hours when I can unfold onto the couch and lose myself in the days’ news or a meaningless television drama. I’m relieved that I can think of something other than my child’s well being, at least for an hour or so, before my mind drifts back to its new center.  I look forward to those infrequent nights out where my husband and I get to escape, however exhausted, and look only at one another, as if rediscovering each other as we are now, forever modified. I’m also aware of a part of me that wonders how this child will compare with the joy and pure wonder I feel when I’m holding my daughter; and if I’ll have to compromise the love I now bestow on her. Will I have enough time and energy to give them both all that they deserve? Will I have anything left over for myself or for my marriage?  Likely not, at least for the first while.

mother and daughter

So, in fact, when someone asks me if I’m “sooo ready,” I want to say that I’m cherishing these final days as “mother of one.” I am reading an extra bedtime story (or four) to my daughter these days; I am indulging her when she asks for my undivided attention and I might rather be resting or reading; I am allowing her magical smile to imprint into my heart and mind as she lives her final days as an only child, the singular center of our worlds. I am giving extra love and pets to my other children (my two sweet dogs), ever loyal, even as they exhibit an awareness that another big change is coming. I share with my husband my apprehensions and what I see as realistic mental preparations about the changes to come – sometimes to a fault. Last night I reminded him that I, that we, will be “next to normal” (reference to a past blog) again some day. I hope he believes me.

In preparation for the Big Day (ready or not, here it comes), I’ve started surfing the web for some labor meditations and spending some time with my breath.  I’ve added a few of these sites to my Mediation tab in case any of you pregnant ladies reading are interested.  There are many more out there (and many you can purchase), but I decided to see what has been made available to the masses free of charge.

childbirth meditation

Even with all the mental chatter, the fear of losing the little bit of cherished routine in my days and the knowledge of the hard work (and I’m talking about the work that starts AFTER delivering the baby!) ahead, I know that this child is blessed to be born into a home where love abounds.  He is safe, He is loved and He is welcome.  And that’s really all there is.

I am 37 weeks pregnant, not all the way ready and present.

 

Riding The Waves of Pain In An Ocean Of Change

Where you stand, where you are, that’s what your life is right there, regardless of how painful it is or how enjoyable it is.  That’s what it is. “    -Taizam Maezumi

That was the quote on my daily “Wise Words From the East” calendar just a few long weeks ago; one I have clumsily carried around with me in my wallet, pocket and hand for the numerous reminders I’ve needed lately.  It actually seems to help.

It has been a wild month, of pain, sleeplessness, uncertainty and change, all asking me to flex my tight grip on the way things should be and begin to fold into the way things are.  I am tired.  I envisioned this would be the introductory sentence to a blog I would write one week or month into having a new baby, but no – I am floating somewhere in my seventh month and I am dog tired.  I started having problems with my arms and hands a few weeks –feels like months- ago and have been riding the waves of pain since then.

In early December, I started dropping everything: that coveted daily shot of espresso, a pan of soaking turkey loaf water, ice cubes and peanut butter jars (but luckily not anyone!) as my hands swelled and went numb throughout the day. These daytime inconveniences were a bother, but more than manageable. It’s the nights that wore me down as my arms ignited shortly after I went horizontal.  When the smoldering flames rose to fire, I got up.  For the first few nights I migrated to the couch where I watched a beautifully lit Christmas tree conveniently erected on the mountain outside our back window (thank you neighbors, city of Phoenix or god – whoever put that tree there).  Sitting upright, arms wrapped in ice, I would drift in and out and somewhere between 3 and 4 AM the Christmas tree lights would go off so I knew I had slept.  After a few nights the couch did not welcome me so kindly so I moved to a recliner chair in the office.  That incline worked on and off for a week and then I stumbled wearily back to the bed. A sad game of musical chairs.

Fortunately I’ve been dropping more than kitchen utensils and some heavy expletives lately. Due to sheer necessity, I’ve been relinquishing some mental barriers as well.  The first few mornings were scary, physically and mentally painful and wearisome. One morning I sat down in the shower and cried, which caused a bloody nose, caught in a web of fear that I may not sleep until the baby arrives (and then not sleep for another year).  Where you stand, where you are, that’s what your life is right there. I started adjusting to little chunks of sleep, to moments of rest, and some days to none at all.  I began to accept that I could not control the painful sensations in my body. I did not feel strong.  I did not feel rested.  I did not feel my body was supporting me. Regardless of how painful it is or how enjoyable it is.  And so it became one night, one hour, one moment at a time. That’s what it is.

I’ve read and heard it’s likely pregnancy-induced carpel tunnel compressing the nerves in my wrists and hands. Another possible diagnosis is thoracic outlet syndrome.  This originates from compression of the nerves and arteries higher up, between the thorasic spine and the first rib and can affect nerves throughout the arms and hands.  The labels don’t matter much, as they don’t offer solutions to the problem of excess swelling and the sleeplessness it has caused.  At my doctor’s suggestion, I saw a Neuromuscular Massage Therapist, had some acupuncture and finally saw a Hand Specialist.  Each offered their own paradigm for viewing the problem and ideas for symptom relief, but nothing really helped.

Until… knock, knock, knock (the sound of this baby boy knocking on my cervix, hinting at his intention of an early arrival).  A mind of his own already??  Two hospital visits, two shots of Betamethazone, some tears and resistance, oral medication to slow the contractions and multiple fetal monitoring tests later, I am home on bed rest. And guess what  – no hand pain! My OBGYN said it was “a blessing.” A baby threatening to make his earthly debut at 32 weeks: a blessing?? A blessing, she said, for a woman who refuses even Tylenol in pregnancy, a woman who would not even consider a recommended dose of oral steroids for pain relief, a woman who needed to slow down.  I thought about her words as I lay awake for two nights after receiving the steroid injections.  Yes, my hands felt relief for the first time in a month, the swelling greatly reduced and the burning and tingling gone.  But my mind was on fire, spinning like the come down after a good party drug (or so I’ve heard) and I lay awake writing lists and blogs and manifestos for the whole neighborhood. Calm hands, racing mind.  It’s always something isn’t it?  Night three post-steroids I slept.  And four and five I slept some more.  I’ve noticed some tingling sensations return in the last few days, but I’m trying not to leap into the arms of fearful resistance.  Where you stand, where you are, that’s what your life is right there.

During my first post-partum period, my friend and post-partum doula reminded me that all thoughts, sensations and feelings (including physical and mental pain) are like waves, rising and falling, percolating at different levels of strength and intensity in different moments of time. Rather than identifying so strongly with our thoughts and sensations, we can – though not always easily – step back a few feet, or maybe just an inch, and observe them, witnessing their variable qualities.   On bed rest, there is ample time to watch the waves.

So I’ve begun to study them…

- Tingling sensations in my hands when I’m reading a book to my daughter, fatigue, fear, deep breath, acceptance of what is and what may be again.

- The urge to DO anything (I don’t even care what it is): pick up toys, pick up my daughter, wash dishes, organize and clean, prepare for this little baby who is coming soon….it accentuates and I rise from the couch.  I do something though I know I should be sitting down.  It recedes.  I sit down.  Maybe the next time I can allow the urge to rise without responding.  And maybe I can’t.

- The contraction of my uterine muscles: first tightening, then bulging, holding strong for long moments in time and finally loosening and relaxing.

- A high-frequency vibration in my body– is it frustration, confusion, annoyance? – as my 22-month old daughter whines at her toy, the dogs and me. It dances on my nerves, threatening a contraction of my mind, if not my belly and I attempt my limited coping and parenting skills from the couch. The moment passes, her smile returns.

This practice is a good one, for me and for all of us, on bed rest and when plowing full speed ahead in living and in life.  There are moments of heightened thoughts and sensations, of cresting waves that threaten our peace and our ground.  There are also troughs between the waves and calm seas that carry us forward.  Witnessing it all – from the couch– I am fostering a non-adhesive quality in the flow of change.  I am riding the waves in a sea of possibilities.

I am 33 weeks pregnant, bed resting and present.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pregnant and Present: A Remembrance of Me As Mother

This might be a little like cheating – sharing something I wrote a few years ago in my graduate coursework; the class was called Opening the Gifts of Death and Grief: A Transpersonal Investigation.  Some might wonder how pondering ones’ own death relates to being either pregnant or present.  However, it seems to me that this is actually a pretty accurate reflection of some down and dirty “presence-practice” I engaged in a few years ago.  I think it’s productive to reconnect with things like this; to check in and see whether there is continuity in our values as we move through life, to modify if need be and recommit to the type of legacy we hope to leave behind.  Interestingly (although it’s only been a few years), this piece didn’t receive much revision at all when I read it today. It is a letter I wrote to my children (before I had any). It will be here for them, some day when I no longer am, as a reminder of their mother and who she was.

My dear children,

First, and most importantly – I LOVE YOU.

I am writing you a letter today – and if I have fulfilled my intention, it is one of many -that you can look back on in the years to come when you wonder “what would mom do or say if she were here.”   I hope that you feel that I’ve led by example (if not, ignore my actions and abide by the “do as I say, not as I do” slogan!).  If you are inspired by my living, embody the qualities in me that you admire, and then improve upon them and all of my faults and failings.  You each have so much to offer the world.

A few things to remember on your journey (I am your mom :-) ):

1) Travel light.  In our culture so often spinning with ideas of what you should have and do in order to be who you are, remember that none of that really matters.  Find a quiet place to connect with your center and your core values.  Do it often so that you’re less likely to get confused in life’s chaotic adventures.

2) Understand the power of the mind, that the thoughts you think create the world you live in. Choose your thoughts with care.

3) Be moderate in all things, except love.  Your granddad once wrote that in a card to me and he was never more right about anything.  I have found that deep connections with family and friends hold the ultimate meaning in my life.  As for the rest, “the middle path,” as the Buddha called it, has the most promise for a life of balance and equanimity.

4) Ask lots of questions – of yourself, your teachers and the world.  Know what you think and believe and still remain open to new perspectives if yours need remodeling.  Explore, dream, learn and travel (but be careful!!)  Life is for living and you only get one chance (that we know of).

5) Love your neighbor as yourself.  This one is not always easy.  Cultivate compassion for people you don’t understand, people you don’t like and people you don’t even know.

6) Set goals and work hard at whatever you do.  If you are a housewife, a physician, a gardener or a teacher, it’s your intention that matters most.  Know that I support you as you work toward your life goals and achievements, whatever they may be.  This is your life.  You get to decide and in large part, design its course.  Look at it as an exciting choose-your-own adventure book!!

7) Be honest and strive for open communication in your relationships.  Don’t be afraid to admit that you’re wrong and to ask for forgiveness.

8) Understand your impact on others and the world – use only what you need. Be cognizant of the footprint you leave for the next generation and my great-great-great grandchildren.

9) Give feely.  Practice generosity whenever you can and help others less fortunate than you.  You can do this with money or your time, but I hope that each of you will find a cause you believe in enough to show up and be with in person.  This practice has changed my life.

10) Be grateful for your many blessings (and don’t forget the simple things like afternoon naps, dog kisses, or an early morning sunrise with a cup of coffee). Count them often.  Live each day to the fullest, with an awareness that the gift of life is on loan to each of us.

11) And finally, advice from my mom, your dear grandma, in the last year of her life that has guided me in mine:  “Be true to yourself, keep things in perspective and save lots of time for fun, laughter and love.”

In your grief of losing mom, know that is okay to cry out and miss my presence in your life.  Even as you grieve, I want you to move forward with your own lives.  I have lived a full life and I want you to do the same.  You can honor me by offering support and presence to someone in need and by approaching your life with a gracious and joyful attitude. I’ll be watching with eyes of love and support.

If you remember me as a loving and present mother, than I have not lived in vain.

I will remain – in these words, in the blooming buds of springtime, in the faces of your future children and in your hearts.

All my joyful love,

                                         Mom

While I don’t spend the majority of my waking hours contemplating death (and especially now, on a hiatus from hospice work with my primary focus on the other end of the cycle of life), I do check in with the reality of impermanence throughout the day. I think my “death meter” runs a little on the high side because I’ve endured a significant amount of loss in my life and consequently have chosen to work in the fields of dying and grieving. Also, I’ve grown to believe that by denying the unavoidable truth that all things inevitably change and die, we only doom ourselves to a load of extra suffering (and there’s enough of that already, isn’t there??).

A few simple suggestions to look at your own death, if you dare.

1) Read Stephen Levine’s A Year To Live. Maybe even in your book club if you really want to get down to business and have some witnesses.

2) Think about what is/will be important to you as you face the end of this life and write it down in an Advanced Directive.  This was a really interesting process for me.  I started out wanting absolute control over the circumstances of my death (laughable, really) and this desire morphed into something much more flexible and fluid called my “preferred strategy for the end game” (a term I borrowed from Stephen Levine).

3) Write a Will, if not for yourself than for the benefit of your loved ones, who are often left to navigate the messy waters of Probate as they simultaneously move through their own grief.

3) Write your own obituary.  How do you want to be remembered? Let this draft inspire any changes that you may need to make in your life in order to ensure you are on the path to being remembered the way you want to be.

4) If you’re a parent, consider writing a letter(s) to your child(ren).  Having lost both of my parents young, these special cards and letters written by my mom and dad are treasured gold.

And finally, let any and all “death reflections” you choose to engage in inform your living and your life. May the truth of impermanence motivate us all to travel the remainder of our days with our Eyes Wide Open.

I am almost 28 weeks pregnant, present and alive.

 

 

Pregnant, Parentless And Next To Normal

On a recent date night, my husband took me to a musical we first saw in NYC a few years ago.  It has to be one I REALLY like to see it twice, especially with a curtain call of 8:00 PM (these days, about the time I am plopping my growing belly onto the bed for the night). The themes of the musical that touched me are Universal and I presume many in the audience could relate a story from their own life about death and grief, mental illness, drug use, loneliness or longing. It didn’t take long for me to remember why I loved this production so much. The songs carried the emotions of the characters from the stage to my aching heart, drawing out my own stories of grief and longing.  I was grateful that the man next to me alternatively adjusted his hearing aid and snoozed through parts of the second act as I sniffled and fought to control the tears streaming down my face.  I held my breath for moments of the show, seeing my own family and myself on the stage.  I felt the broken parts inside of me rising to the surface, along with the love. Thank goodness for the love.

Admittedly, it sounds a little strange when I say that finding out I was pregnant again made me sad.  Of course my initial reaction was excitement (mixed with some fear about how I would handle a second child and the exhaustion that would come with two little ones) as I shared the news of my positive pregnancy test with my husband.  But shortly after our little celebration, I felt the longing creep up on me. Who do you call after you share this news with your spouse or partner but the people who gave you life? There is other close family – sisters and aunts, and friends who would share in our joy, but none with quite the wonder and pride as would my own parents.  The longing continued the day I set out to buy those first special “boy clothes” (with my daughter in tow), an event I know in a parallel universe was honored with a mother-daughter shopping spree and lunch.  As I begin to think about decorating his room, my heart softens, a project I would love to share with my creative and loving mom.  The birth of our child, those first demanding months, a first word, a first step, and the endless joyful firsts that will follow with each of my children…all will be experienced without the company of my parents.

It makes sense to me when I want for them in the dark times, during my challenging post-partum period after my first, with the death of a friend, during hard times in my marriage.  I yearn for that invested support, that selfless concern, that steady love they each provided.  It feels harder when the yearning surfaces in the midst of a celebration, when the longing bubbles up in the middle of a party.  It feels hard, like an interruption of something good.  But it’s real.  It’s a part of me, a part of my experience, a part of my story.

Sometimes, and in the hard months after the birth of our daughter, the longing overwhelms me and I sink into missing them, accepting my grief as a heavy weight for that moment or day(s). Other times, I work to channel it in a positive and productive direction, hoping it will strengthen me as our relationships once did. I look for space for their memories to live and thrive so that my children can know my parents.  I make a family picture wall, displaying black and white photographs of my ancestors and tell my daughter stories of them when we pass the photos outside her bedroom.  I recognize holidays in the special and excessive way my mom did, gathering decorations to display and honoring traditions that have been passed down. I play the rock ‘n roll tunes I grew up on for our daughter and can’t wait to tell her stories of her musical granddad and the bond that we shared.  As my husband and I begin to talk about names for our son, we consider including my dad’s name (and/or my husband’s dad) as a way to honor them.  I look for ways to keep them alive and now it’s for my children as much as for myself.

After the show, my husband and I talked about the title of the musical: Next to Normal. What does it mean to be next to normal and are we, as humans, forever chasing this dream of normalcy? We finally settled on the idea that each of the characters on stage was really just searching for something “next to normal.”  Normal wasn’t the end-goal; just something not so far out there that the sense of loneliness and disconnect overwhelmed them, as it does for all of us at times in our lives.  The title affirmed the belief that I hold that we already there – in one form or another – hovering in this space of being ok with exactly who and what and where we are, in this moment of our lives.  I think that’s part of the biggest gift we can offer in relationship with one another: the ability to mirror this sense that we are, already, next to normal. Through listening, sharing, crying and just being together, we can jointly shift our focus from our inadequacies and longing, to our gifts, relationships and the abundance in our lives.

I am the mother of a beautiful baby girl, who amazes and amuses me daily. And I am an orphan on planet earth. Both are true. I am married to an intelligent and thoughtful man, who has become a better father than I even imagined he could be.  And I long for my own father to look at me with the pride my husband holds for our little girl.  Both are true.  I am blessed to be carrying a new life inside of me (a boy, this time!) and ever-aware that I won’t have my mom to call on those early sleepless nights, and that this little boy won’t know the calm voices of his loving grandparents.

I am 25 weeks pregnant and present – and the longing continues.  I don’t yearn for normal.  I’m way past that.  I’ll settle for Next to Normal any day.

Getting Bigger and Letting Go


So…I was on the elliptical machine at the gym last week with all good intentions: to move the body, which so often feels stiff and heavy in its expansive state; to increase my heart rate and the baby’s little heart rate (check out this book on exercise: Exercising Through Pregnancy, James F. Clapp III, MD); to wake up and enliven the physical body. I glanced, curiously, over at my ellipticalling neighbor to check out her chosen speed and incline and noticed her lean and defined quadriceps. After I took a moment to admire her toned thighs, I then looked down at my own and met a moment of surprise, disapproval and then terror.  “Am I already THIS big??” This was not my first ah-ha moment that my body is rapidly changing.  For the past few weeks I have been engaged in a monumental battle with my skinny jeans and, in fact, all pants except of course leggings that travel with me through the journey of pregnancy.  I have struggled day after to day to slowly inch them up over my thighs and butt – you can do it! – only to reach a roadblock and U-Turn sign at my monstrous hips and I succumb.  Thou shall not wear your skinny jeans any more this year :(  Deep Breath.

As I looked down at my own thighs, my mind raced with thoughts of fear and inadequacy. How is it that I already look seven months pregnant when I’m just a few days over five? … I was barely showing at this point in my first pregnancy… How much weight is too much for my body, this baby, my ego???  Deep Breath. It didn’t help that had just run into a friend of mine who is 9 months pregnant with her second child and looking svelte and healthy.  She only gained 20 pounds (I would take the over bet that I am 20 lbs heavier before my 7th month). It also didn’t help that I had one large maple bar for breakfast for 74 days straight this summer.

I let my mind compare and judge, critique and disapprove for a few minutes – just watching, just listening – and then brought it back under my control.  The mind is a powerful beast, capable of so much.  I find we work best together when I allow it to go off the deep end every now and then, as long as I rest in the witness as it goes. Sometimes I can relate to my observations with an attitude of curiosity and wonder. Other times I have to remind myself that I am not my judging thoughts, my frantic fears or my musings of inadequacy.  I am much more than that. Deep Breath.

As I reach the thirty-second minute of what was meant to be my warm-up, my body tells me it’s done.  Kaput.  Finito.  I listen to the intelligence of my body…this time.  I slowly dismount the elliptical and remind myself that the body knows.  It knows it needs more weight, and it needs it earlier this pregnancy in order to support the little boy I am nourishing.  It knows when I need to rest instead of exercise.  It knows when I need salt, despite what the medical community tells us about reduced sodium intake.  It even tells me when it needs a doughnut – and I listen – though that likely means I will gain more than the requisite 20-25 pounds said to be “healthy pregnancy weight gain.”  The body knows…

Sometimes I don’t like what my body tells me (or my Dr. speaking for my body in this case). At our 20-week anatomy ultrasound yesterday, we were informed that I have a condition called “marginal cord insertion.” In brief, this means that the umbilical cord has implanted on the side of the placenta, rather then in the middle like a good little umbilical cord.  Potential concerns are: 1) compromised nutrient delivery to the baby which can cause problems with growth, and 2) problems with blood and oxygen flow to the baby when the body starts contracting before and during labor.  Because of the risk of the latter, some women deliver via cesarean section before they begin to labor. Even with this condition, it is possible that mom and baby will emerge healthily and safely. So, for now, we watch and wait.  Deep Breath.

I know in my last post I said: “I don’t live in fear.” It doesn’t mean it’s not an acquaintance of mine, and I’ve found it to be a more frequent visitor now that I am a mother. Today, as I reclined into savasana or corpse pose, I let fear wash over me as my mind spun away, considering all the “what ifs” related to this pregnancy and my life. I felt my tears fall to the yoga mat with each exhale, releasing the fear, the need to control the number on the scale, the progression of this pregnancy, my fluctuating emotions and the events of my life.  This is another reminder that it’s really not about the skinny jeans at all. These bodies are on loan to us.  Sometimes they will feel strong, supporting us as we go. But they will also change and break down and ultimately fail us. It is such with our lives as well. There are moments when the synchronicity is plain as day and life just has a flow to it.  Other periods of our lives (like my first 8 months post-partum), confusion overwhelms and the ground just seems to elude.  Letting go of the grand illusion of control can be liberating. So can settling into this moment, whatever it entails, with a sense of curiosity and wonder.  So bring on the maple bars (after a little broccoli)!!

And Keep Breathing.           

Songs that inspire me to take deep breaths (disclaimer: I don’t necessarily relate to all the lyrics in these songs, but the choruses do speak to me):

1) Keep Breathing – Ingrid Michaelson

2) Breathe – Alexi Murdoch

I am a little over 21 weeks pregnant and present, and trying not to hold my breath.

 

 

 

Postpartum Depression: One Woman’s Experience (Part One)

In anticipation of the birth of our second child, my husband and I have discussed the increased probability (though by no means guarantee) that my post-partum experience will be similar to the first go-round.  My husband thinks I am brave to have another child after my experience with postpartum depression and has asked if I am afraid.  I paused and really contemplated the question, allowing myself to return to some of the angst and anxiety that inhabited me before responding.  I don’t live in fear.  It doesn’t feel useful to me and on its own won’t alter the course of the future anyway, so I think it’s pretty much a waste of time.  Don’t get me wrong; I have a strong preference for a different, happier, more relaxed and less stressful post-partum experience.  But I’ve learned that we can’t control everything that happens in our life. I am moving through my second pregnancy with memories of one challenging experience, knowledge gained from living through it, more realistic expectations of the demands of an infant and a solid plan for self-care and support.

This week I am sharing a letter I wrote to my daughter on her first birthday.  I’ve decided to share this for a number of reasons. First and foremost, it’s the truth, or part of the truth, an accurate reflection of part of the whole of my experience of birthing and caring for an infant.  As important, because my intention with this blog – and in life – is to be present and open to all of it, I am not afraid to say that I found the experience of birthing and caring for my first child both intensely uncomfortable and disorienting, even as society tells us it should be only beautiful and natural, eliciting a loving bond between mother and child from day one. I share this because I didn’t hear a similar story from anyone I knew when I was in the throes of these disturbing sensations and emotions – not one person.  So, although I hope you won’t need someone to relate to, if you do, I am here.  You are not alone.

My sweet baby girl,

This year, for your mom and dad, has been one of Big Change.  Your arrival in our world has caused our hearts to expand exponentially, even as we’ve moved through a challenging adjustment period.  I share this with you because I want you to know that as human beings, we move through periods of life when we do not feel comfortable, happy or at peace.  Although it isn’t fun and can even be scary, it is part of the journey here on planet earth.  I share this with you here, in this letter, in case I’m not here to share it with you in person some day, and most importantly, in case you experience some similar thoughts or emotions when you have a child of your own. 

I had a less than optimal post-partum experience (arguably a strong case of postpartum depression and anxiety if the label is helpful).  It started almost immediately after your birth and remained a strong experience for me until about the eighth month of your life.  As I reflect on it now – and this is the first time I have written about it – it seems that the circumstances of my life at the time of your birth were ripe for the perfect storm.  Your dad and I had moved to a new city a few years before your birth, so we had no family or close friends around us. Your dad’s work required a lot of him, including frequent trips away from home. My parents’ (your grandparents) absence at this most special life event made me feel more alone than I had in many years since their deaths.  I wanted them to be there to meet you and love you in their special ways and I wanted them to be there to love and support me as they had done so fully and completely.

I’m pretty sure I had unrealistic expectations of early motherhood.  I hadn’t been around infants or babies much so I had no idea how much they cried (and you cried most nights from 6-9 pm) and how little they slept (you were pretty adamant most nights!), and without my mom around I think I was a little unprepared for those first weeks and months as a new mom myself.  Finally, I think some part of my experience was impacted by a very strong hormonal response to pregnancy and childbirth and to some lesser extent, perhaps, by genetics. I had an incredible pregnancy; I felt calm and grounded, as I cared for my body and the growing life inside it with love and intention.  From the day you were born, my body felt robbed of that peace and calm I had carried during pregnancy.  I couldn’t relax or sleep, even when those coveted opportunities presented themselves to me.  Sometimes I wanted to crawl out of my skin. Other times I wanted to crawl into bed with the dogs and shut the door on the outside world.  Sometimes I wanted to scream, and I did.  And I cried a lot.

Even as I experienced this powerful set of sensations and emotions, I knew that your dad and I had created a life – our loving daughter – and that you were totally dependent on us.  I was determined to do everything in my power to move through this experience and reminded myself again and again of the truth of impermanence, this time a boon that meant I could not feel this way forever.  Together, your dad and I created a plan to help me move through this experience and I want to share that with you today as well.

First, I had to accept that I needed help – physical, human help to nurture me and to help care for you so I could sleep.  We hired a post-partum doula, who nourished us both and had an indelible impact on your early life.  Later we would find a part-time nanny so I could have some breaks for mom during the day.  I knew I needed to exercise, so I returned to playing tennis or walking the dogs almost daily.  I needed proper nourishment and hydration to give back to my body all that is required to nurse (and pump) through your first year of life.  I needed support and I sought counseling, both alone and with your dad to talk about my experience.  I also talked to friends and family.  More than once I considered the use of anti-depressant medication, desperate to change my state.  However, I was determined to continue nursing and your dad was concerned about the possible medication effect being passed to you through my breast milk so I did not take the medication.  Around the eighth month of your life, I learned about the alpha-stimulator device, a non-pharmacologic treatment for depression and anxiety, and used it religiously for the next 6-8 weeks and then intermittently thereafter.  This is around the time I began to emerge.  It also coincided with our decision to encourage you to self-soothe at bedtime.  It was an incredibly difficult decision as we had never been at ease with you crying, but you were smart, you learned quickly and I believe that you had achieved a level of secure attachment that bolstered you, even at that young age.  After a few long days you began sleeping through the night, and so did I.  Whether it was a combination of a change in my brain chemistry and/or physics from the alpha-stimulator device and sleep or something else, I’ll never know. Being a mom is still hard work, and because of the circumstances of my life I am likely more lonely than other moms and people in general, but I am grateful to be able to say that I have moved through that particularly intense period of my life. 

Although this experience I’ve wrote about at length was a prominent part of my life this year, it was by no means the most impressive, and I pray that it has had no lasting impact on you, my dear.  I read somewhere that having a child necessitates the death of your ego and I have felt that truth in the direction of my thoughts, the depth of my heart and all the way into my bones. My life has changed more than I could have imagined and sometimes I miss the old days when your dad and I could hop on a plane and head overseas, adventure-bound.  But mostly I am in awe of you: the way you approach each moment and new experience, your mischievous smile, your outstretched arms as you ask mama for a hug, the sweet kisses you offer to my growing belly and your future brother or sister and the miracle of your life. 

I am, your loving mother.

I am 18 weeks pregnant – full of hope and hopefully some wisdom, grateful for my life and the lives of my children – and present.  Thank you for being a part of my quest to be open to it all, even the really hard stuff.

 

Presence, Not Presents!

We pregnant women do tend to receive a plethora of presents during and after this monumental nine-month journey, but those aren’t the kind of gifts I’m talking about on this blog.  Full disclosure: I bought the domain name pregnantandpresent when we were trying to conceive our first, with Big Ideas about what I had to say; but when I found out I was pregnant I had zero desire to write about it.  Seventeen months later, I find myself sitting on the same couch, yet a world away from where I was when anticipating the birth of our first child.  From this modified posture on the same red couch, the desire to cultivate presence continues to burns brightly (most days). So here I am, all of me, showing up to this pregnancy, this day, this very moment as mom, wife and woman (among the other things). Interestingly, as this blog takes shape I see that being pregnant and present isn’t what it used to be. I no longer have the luxury to wake up slowly each day, mindfully attending to the needs of my growing body and savoring my fleeting independence and freedom. Instead, I am blessed and tasked with balancing being pregnant and present with the needs of a curious and demanding 17-month old. And so, maybe the name of the blog merits revision – to say “PP&P” or pregnant, parenting and present. Or perhaps you’ll all just give me a little leeway here.

It’s not easy to be present in this whirly-bird world we reside in.  Pulled this way and that by “shoulds” and “need tos,” stretched thin by conflicting duties and responsibilities, roles and relationships. Driven (often unconsciously) by the value our culture places on efficiency and multi-tasking, results over process, complexity over simplicity, striving over contentment with what is. After the birth of our first daughter, I struggled mightily with the shift from the intellectual energy of pursuing a Masters degree and “serving” others to serving only the most basic, life-sustaining needs of a tiny human being.  My days consisted of very little sleep, nurse, burp, change, rock back to sleep and repeat and repeat and repeat. And when she didn’t immediately look up at me, smile and say: “you are my mom,” I wasn’t at all sure she ever would (sometimes it’s much easier to not be present to the small and large dissonance, confusion and trauma we experience).  Let the story of my less-than-optimal post-partum experience be told on another post.   This blog aims to demonstrate why I continue to list presence on my “to-do” list, day after day, since at least half the time it entails showing up for an uncomfortable or undesirable thought, sensation or experience.

Photo courtesy of http://www.santosha.com

First, a quick trip back to the beginning for some background.  I came to my current presence-practice through a devoted, traditional Ashtanga yoga practice.  On the mat, I connected to the present moment through my physical body and the sweet, predictable repetition of yoga asanas (poses) that Ashtanga offers. At the end of each practice period, my teacher would lead us in a short, seated meditation where he would say something like: “now close your eyes and focus your attention on your breath…just breathing, just listening…as you notice the mind drift away from the present, spinning stories about the past or planning parties in the future, just notice it – no judgment – bring it back, gently, to this moment and to the breath.” Although he was my first formal teacher, and over ten years ago, his simple words still resonate and remain at the foundation of my practice today.

Over the years, I would explore formal meditation practice from different traditions (sitting for guided meditation at a Tibetan Center in the desert, days of silence and teachings at a Zen Center in the mountains of New Mexico, singing at the Dances for Universal Peace and Walking with Thich Nat Hanh in the streets of New York City).  A jack of all trades some might say, a perpetual dabbler or commitment-phob (what do you think??), it was never about finding a tradition I could call my own (though sometimes I wonder where I might be had I done so).  For me, it was acknowledging and enjoying the gift that each of these practices offered to anyone interesting in exploring them: the ability to inhabit fully this very moment without all the rest of life getting in the way.  The gift of Presence.

Supta Baddha Konasana – Photo courtesy of MyYogaOnline @ flickr.com

These days, I find my way to the yoga mat and the zafu less often than I’d like and feel like the kitchen sink is an extension of my hip and arms. I admit to missing the luxury of sipping a piping hot latte and pouring over the front page of the paper – a morning meditation, without a doubt; the days of strolling into yoga a little early and unfolding into Supta Baddha Konasana and staying there as long as I wanted; the work and reward of a week of silence and observation of the mind; the deeply gratifying practice of showing up for someone as they prepare for their death…

Season’s change and I’ve had to adapt and evolve my presence-practice (thank goodness we are capable of this)! Today, my practice takes place largely inside the walls of my home and my marriage and the daily acts of parenting and caring for my growing body. The practice is always available to us, in solitude or in relationship with another, in work or play, when energized or exhausted.  Here are a few examples of how I’m keeping my presence practice at the center of my life these days.

  • An infrequent quiet moment with my husband with the intention to simply listen to his needs – or conversely, to attend to my own and courageously speak my truth, sometimes ugly and in need of some TLC.
  • Approaching a full sink of morning dishes – hardened eggs and empty bottles, in need of my attention – with a deep breath and an open mind.
  • A few deep breaths after a long day, with my hand on my belly or my heart, acknowledging the miracle of growing a human being inside my body.
  • Moment after moment (because they sometimes feel endless as a stay-at-home mom) with my 17-month old daughter who admittedly demands my full attention much more than I give it to her. My deepest practice occurs when I am down on the floor and we are building imaginary castles that climb into the sky, or she is in my arms and we are dancing to the soulful beat of Adele (one of her favorites), or when I tell her a bedtime story about our loving family and the new life that is growing inside of me and she moves slowly toward me, all the while looking into my eyes for approval, and kisses my belly.   Just breathing, just listening

I’ll sign off today with a Zen chant that enlivens my practice and my life, so full of truth and urgency.

Let me respectfully remind you. Life and death are of supreme important. Time passes swiftly and opportunity is lost. Wake up, Wake up, Take Heed. Do not squander your life.

I am – groggy, grateful and 12 weeks today! – pregnant and present.

 

 

The Daily Quease

I’m not a fan of sugarcoating things. I don’t think it’s useful and in fact it sets up false expectations for an experience that’s bound to be less optimal than you’ve been told or imagined. Let’s just be real about things, okay? I am one of the women who have been blessed with a pervasive and enduring nausea in week seven of my second pregnancy. I don’t remember feeling this bad with my first pregnancy so either this is an early sign that this pregnancy will be different than the first, and/or my mind has conveniently secreted that special hormone postulated to make us forget the things like intense nausea, the pain of child birth and that first eight months I didn’t sleep with our first daughter. Thank goodness for that hormone (whatever it’s called), because without it I really would be a one-trick pony like I’ve threatened my husband.

This feeling – so we’re all on the same page here – percolates in the space between my pelvis and my throat and is a combination of nausea, chills and dizziness, almost like motion sickness. Sometimes it moves past the throat and my mouth fills up with water, though no actual emesis (formal medical term for vomiting) yet. In conjunction with the nausea, I’ve been feeling a level of exhaustion that far exceeds that of a normal day chasing around my 16-month old (and that is considerable). I’ve heard it described as “bone-deep fatigue” and I can’t say it any better myself.

Back to the topic at hand: I propose that we change the misnomer of “morning sickness” for the sake of all future first-time mothers. In the name of honesty and realistic expectations for how bad it might/could be (because some women are lucky and just feel great). Some names I’ve considered are: Sick til You Sleep, The All-Day Fight, From Dusk til Dawn, it Goes On and On, and Sicker than a Dog Days (or weeks, or months!). The current winner, and most accurate description of the perpetual state I find myself in is “The Daily Quease.” Can anyone out there relate??

On the brighter side, I’ve been doing some strict, scientific research on things that might help with this unfortunate state. Here are my suggestions (in no specific order, some original, some I have tried at others’ encouragement):

  1. Keep the Saltines by your bed for middle of the night and early morning bouts. Just remember to brush the crumbs out, instead of towards your husband’s pillow.
  2. Don’t let your stomach get empty (it’s a killer if you do). The conventional advice says: “eat small, frequent meals.”
  3. But wait, don’t eat too much! A near impossible feat when I go out for Mexican food.
  4. Eat plenty of protein. Protein is digested more slowly than fat or carbohydrates, so it helps keep your blood sugar at a more consistent level over time. Protein is also really important for the growth of your baby. Hard boiled eggs, string cheese or nuts are good snacks.
  5. Exercise helps me. It doesn’t seem to matter what it is. Unfortunately I feel worse afterwards, but maybe you won’t.
  6. Another one suggested by the professionals is to stay hydrated. I’ve been struggling with this as the only thing I WANT to drink is bubbly water and coffee (healthy!). I’ve found that drinking water between meals and snacks works better for me.
  7. Caffeine helps (or so I’ve convinced myself). As I truly do believe that eliminating caffeine, as I did in my first pregnancy, is the absolute best and cleanest choice you can make for your baby, I won’t advocate it’s use. However, I will be honest and tell you that when I drink either some coffee or chai tea, my nausea seems to abate for a time period.
  8. Salt helps (thus the saltines). Any other plain crackers with salt will do.
  9. Ginger chews – a soft candy you can purchase at Whole Foods
  10. Sugar helps. I’ve read something that suggests I may feel better when eating sweets if I have low blood sugar. Maybe so, but it also tastes REALLY good right now. Of course, I also don’t advocate binging on sugary foods, but my current favorite is maple bars. Really??

To be honest – because I promised that – nothing seems to help that much or for that long, and I return to the Daily Quease again and again.

Some real good news: morning sickness is thought to be a good sign. It is postulated that this pukey feeling is caused by the increase in hormones (especially human chorionic gonadotropin, or HCG) secreted to support the growing fetus. The American Pregnancy Association states that nausea may be a positive indicator that the placenta is developing well and it is thought that women who experience nausea and vomiting may have a lower risk of miscarriage. I try to remember that, again and again, when I feel the water filling up my mouth. And I remind myself that this, too, is part of the journey of growing a human being.

I am, pregnant, perpetually nauseous, and present.