Birth Plans

At my 36/37 week appointment yesterday, I was 1-2 cm dilated and 70% effaced. This was only my second vaginal exam this pregnancy, and since I was getting the Group B strep test anyway, I said sure when the midwife asked if I’d like her to check how things were looking down there. I’ve been so happy with my care and preparation this time around, and having my provider ask if I want a check done is representative of the autonomy and confidence I feel in approaching the actual birth.

In some ways I’m still doing things conventionally — like having the Group B test at all, but a) I’d like to know if I am positive, and b) at least this time I did a couple homeopathic things to reduce my chance of getting a positive (I took Vitamin C and acidophilus supplements every four waking hours in the two weeks leading up to the test; you can be a lot more aggressive in preventing/treating Group B, but I had both of those on hand, and they’re good to take anyway, especially for, uh, digestive tract health, if you know what I mean). I don’t think I was ever positive before my three other births, but as an example of how much I relinquished responsibility, it’s possible that I was positive but wasn’t told or didn’t give it any thought because I had epidurals with each, and so always had IVs through which the antibiotics could be given without any disruption to my plans.

My appointment was with one of the midwives I hadn’t met yet, which isn’t ideal of course; ideally I’d fly to The Farm this week and give birth in Ina May’s shadow next week, but all things considered I’m happy with this group of midwives and I don’t begrudge them the life-convenience of sharing call, especially since it is their habit to stay with the mother for the entire labor. I reviewed my plans and hopes and fears with this new midwife, and after telling her how quick Lucy’s birth was (6 hours) even with an induction and epidural at 39 weeks, she supported me in staying home as long as possible but encouraged me to be prepared for things to go quickly and to maybe go from hanging out one minute to being ready to hop in the car the next (it’s a 30-minute-plus ride). Of course, anything could happen; I could be in labor for three days two weeks after my due date, but hopefully not.

Either way, it’s probably time to start getting ready. I have a lot on my To-Do List:

1. Write my birth plan (mostly a list of stuff I don’t want done, like an IV (I’ll sign a waiver to forgo the hep-lock the hospital requires in case of emergency; given my low-risk history my midwives are comfortable with this), taking the baby out of my arms (much less to the nursery) before I’ve had an hour to bond and breastfeed, cord clamping before it’s stopped pulsing, continuous electronic fetal monitoring (I’ve agreed to the initial twenty-minute baseline by telemetry which allows movement, then 90-second checks at 30-minute intervals).

I’m still researching the eye ointment and Vitamin K shot business; since Tom and I are life-long monogamists there should be no need for the eye ointment and since I’ll be producing tons of colostrum for a full-term baby the Vitamin K should be unnecessary too. On the other hand, these are relatively minor things (I think) and I don’t know how strongly I feel about them. Things like enemas, shaves, and episiotomies aren’t routine, but maybe I’ll include them just in case. 50% of the women who see my midwives have an epidural, and I plan not to — what I need instead is praise and encouragement, offerings of physical and emotional support, NOT of drugs (I know what’s available and can ask for it if I need to; Tom knows it’s his job, if that happens, to remind me that I want to wait 15 more minutes and see how I feel then, repeatedly, if necessary). Things I do want to have happen are harder to write down. I want things to go how they go; I want to feel comfortable in vocalizing (loudly if I feel like it), moving, bathing, drinking (I probably won’t want to eat if I arrive in active labor/close to transition), squatting, etc).

2. Pack a bag (with my own nightgowns, music on the iPod, a birth ball, juices and light snacks, a note for the door and maybe some cue cards for Tom and Chrysanthemum from Birthing From Within, stuff for the kid, 3 or 4 versions of Pride and Prejudice to watch (you know, the usual); Mockingjay if it’s after August 24th).

3. Wash some onesies and blankets, buy some diapers and a nursing bra or three (any recommendations? I was never very happy with my previous ones, and I’m bigger this time around — 38DD and not looking forward to engorgement).

4. Arrange babysitting, though Avery (9 /12) has expressed a lot of interest in being present. I’d like to have her there, but a lot will depend on the timing (and how I’m coping; I’d love her to see a natural birth, but not if I would scare her).

5. Finish reading the books and watching the dvds Rixa sent me (The Business of Being Born is available for instant play on Netflix,and I think Tom was surprised how interesting it was). Right now I’m practicing the stuff in Birthing From Within; it seems more helpful and realistic than Hypnobirthing, though I’m sure they could be complementary.

6. Finish cleaning and organizing the house. I’m not overdoing things; I nap most days and my blood pressure was a nice 107/67 yesterday. I mostly want things clean and organized because I feel so much calmer when they are. If I’m lost in reading or writing, I can ignore clutter or dirt for weeks. But if I want a soothing, comfortable environment for early labor, I know I’ll want things pretty clean and minimally distracting. This will be just as important in the sleep-deprived newborn months, especially with school starting for Avery and Callie just five days after my due date. Part of my organizing is a chore-training campaign with the girls. They’ve always helped in the kitchen and in caring for their personal space and belongings (though not terribly consistently), but now they’re old enough to do more, and more independently. Mom, if I whined as much as these hooligans do sometimes, all I can say is, I’m being sufficiently punished for that.

7. Get a priesthood blessing from my husband and maybe my father too. I read this call for stories about spirituality in birth, and realized, again and anew, how inadequately I prepared for birth previously. One of the tenderest moments of my life was when I asked for a blessing from Tom in Cairo before my first miscarriage, but I did not even think about asking for a blessing before my three deliveries. I hope this doesn’t mean that I’m not a very spiritual or faithful person, but the alternative, that I viewed childbirth as something that would just happen to me, something that would be “done” by my doctor and therefore not anything I needed help in “doing” is just as incompatible with my vision of who I am.

There are two things I’m worried about as the birth gets closer. I’m worried about the pain, and I’m worried about feeling inhibited in acting instinctively/naturally and asking for/receiving comfort measures for the pain other than a socially-acceptable epidural. Despite the numerous reassurances I’ve received from almost every single woman I’ve spoken to who has some experience (as a laboring women, nurse, or midwife) with the hospital I’ll be at — that it is a natural-birth-friendly institution, I can’t forget the things I’ve heard and read about the  significance of the fundamental decision I’ve made to give birth in a hospital, despite being pretty convinced after extensive reading and research that both the baby and I would be more comfortable and just as safe at home.

Still, that’s the decision I’ve made based on Tom’s and my feelings/perspective/experience, and other circumstances such as what our health insurance covers and our distance from a hospital in case of true emergency, etc. It’s a bit disconcerting (in a cognitive dissonance sort of way) to read (and believe) a book like Birth as An American Rite of Passage and still plan to give birth in a hospital, but no other compromise presents itself to me as more reasonable given all the specific factors of my present life and understanding.

I feel lucky to not be worried about my body’s ability to give birth vaginally. Especially after reading Birthing the Easy Way and talking to my cousin who’s had two c-sections and three homebirths, it’s clear that many natural-childbirthers have more logical reason for concern; I admire their courage. I got lucky three times: despite welcoming any and all interventions, things went as well as possible. So it’s not my body I’m worried about, but my brain’s ability to turn off, surrender, relinquish control not to an institution or authority figure but to my own body’s natural wisdom and design.

Easy Enough

I just finished Three Cups of Tea. One of the best things about our electricity fast was the books I read, especially since, for a former English major, I don’t always read well. I devoured Hunger Games and Catching Fire; I cried through The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, I loved/hated Eat Pray Love; I thought Darcy’s Story was the worst waste of paper ever (but I had to finish because I couldn’t just turn on Lost in Austen instead); I wondered why I’d never read I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings before. When I finally picked up Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth again, I was flabbergasted that just a year ago it seemed too hippie. I vowed to change my life according to Soft-Spoken Parenting: 50 Ways Not to Lose Your Temper with Your Kids (harder than it seems).

Then there was Three Cups of Tea. And, I was in Manhattan the day the Twin Towers fell. I know I said more than once that we should just bomb the whole place “over there” and be done. Luckily I don’t have any sort of influence but unluckily I’m not the only one who thought that reflexively. But reading Three Cups of Tea made me think of the influence I do have over my three (and soon four) daughters, because it’s all about educating girls, and how that is the way to change the world.

Basically, I’m convinced. The book is a fascinating adventure story and history/geography/politics/culture lesson. It also confirms something I’ve long thought: that real heroes, people like Greg Mortenson who are crazy and visionary enough to effect real change in our world are worth studying and following even though they’d be hell to live with (or to be).

I had a professor who said one of the saddest things I’d ever heard, that it was rare for a book to come along that changed how he thought about the world. At the time, almost every book I read did that, and I couldn’t imagine being so jaded. Now I can, which makes Three Cups of Tea so remarkable. It’s obvious, now, that education (especially of future mothers) is the answer, but how obvious is it that one person could actually do so much about education with so little support/money/conventional development savvy?

Usually I shrug off  charitable concerns. When you tithe (10%) of your income, it’s easy (for me) to think I’ve done my part, but this book actually makes me want to do more. Then I thought: too bad I’m about to give birth soon, I know I’ll be preoccupied with a new baby for the forseeable future. Except, I’m a girl, a mother of girls. I can work every day to be a better mother and educator of these people in my own house, raise them so they’re aware of the wider world, grateful for their own opportunities, and eager to help others. We can save money as a family to donate. I can follow Greg Mortenson on Twitter, of all things. And there on the list of suggestions for how to help at the back of the book is number 5: Write a book review for a blog.

So, easy enough: everyone should read Three Cups of Tea.

Nine Lessons from an Electricity Fast

For 40 days we limited our use of electricity. We made exceptions for food preparation and clothes washing. We (the kids and I) were 100% successful only on no dishwasher, TV, and computer. I hung my laundry to dry every day but one, when I ran four batches through the dryer after recovering from bronchitis. The thing about drying laundry is you can’t fall behind because it takes 12+ hours for each batch to dry, even in arid Utah. The other thing is that it’s a little romantic (rhythmic, soothing, productive) to hang damp, clean clothing; I wouldn’t mind continuing, except the stiffness of the towels and the lint and wrinkles on the clothes are a little irritating.

For half of the fast we used no air-conditioning; it was cool most of June, so this wasn’t a hardship, except the day it was 92 degrees. A week later, Tom’s allergies (probably the cottonwood trees) were so bad he took a sick day and ponied up for prescription Allegra. We shut our windows and installed a high-tech air filter. I’m ashamed to admit just how happy I was to have that excuse for using the a/c. I said at first that we’d set the thermostat at 80, so we’d still be doing something, but that cool air is seductive (especially in the third trimester of pregnancy). Soon I had it set on 78, then 76, and finally 74. I can now say that I would rather do without internet than air-conditioning. (Obviously) I am weak, but physical discomfort is utterly disruptive to any sort of thought process.

Our fast was initially prompted by a high electricity bill that led us to lower our thermostat in winter to 60 degrees and cancel our TV. It was astonishing how easily and quickly we adapted to those two changes — and how much I liked it (especially how the kids act when there’s no TV; though Tom and I continued to spend too much time online and watching hulu). We wanted more of that. I also especially wanted to re-set our expectations and habits to a more “natural” standard, waking with the sun, sleeping with the sun, paying attention to each other and the world around us, instead of all the wonderful things available electronically. Summer time was perfect for this, with school out and everyone eager to be outside anyway, and with the solstice (longest day of the year) falling right in the middle.

Here are some of the things I learned (see 1. Old-fashioned sorrows are (maybe) easier to bear in old-fashioned settings.):

2. Kids (and husbands) are impressionable; make rules wisely (and sparingly). A few days into the fast, Callie (5 1/2) walked up the bare basement stairs towards the kitchen for a glass of water. Near the top she stumbled and hurt herself. Her cries pierced the darkness and Tom told her to turn on the light. She wailed that she couldn’t because we were doing our electricity fast. I said she could make an exception because  she was hurt (and I was too lazy to get out of bed). She insisted that no, she could not.

A few weeks later Tom was home alone for one night while I slept over at my moms with the girls (Grandma has a swimming pool, and a dog). He told me later that, in addition to missing us, he had the strongest feeling of guilt over even thinking of turning the lights on. Even though it was my fast, and it was a completely subjective thing, not a sin or an objectively “wrong” thing to do, the imposition of guilt was a real thing.

3. Exceptions are a slippery slope. A couple Sundays ago as we walked to church, Callie shouted, “Mommy, you’re wearing flip-flops.” I don’t let the girls wear flipflops to church; it’s one of my very few clothing rules. Lucy’s (3 1/2) sparkle jeans under her dress get a pass because she is a little obsessed with layering, even in summer. Callie and Avery (9) are sometimes ball-gown fancy, sometimes playground pinafore casual. But there are no flipflops. Except, I told Callie, when you’re eight months pregnant. When you are eight months pregnant, I told her, you can wear flipflops to church too. Callie thought about that for several moments then proclaimed, “Mommy has a lot of exceptions.”

4. Maybe you’re a night owl, or maybe you’ve just never gotten a good night’s sleep. Tom has never woken up on his own (without an alarm or serious nagging) before 9 am in our twelve years of marriage. He’s always been a stay-up-until-this-one-last-bug-is-worked-out kind of guy. During our electricity fast, he still used his laptop to do freelance projects, but there was no TV on hulu, and I was asleep by 10:30 every night (except the few nights I stayed up to finish a book).  So even though he often was  up later than the rest of us, within a week, he started waking up around 6:30 every morning. The habit (what he thought was his natural rhythm) of his entire adult life was broken in a matter of days. And? Now that we’ve been catching up on Friday Night Lights? It’s 9 am less than a week later, and he’s sound asleep.

5. There’s more light outside even if you think your house has good windows. The sun goes down around 9 pm before and after the summer solstice in Mountain Daylight Time. Twilight lasts another half an hour. Before it got really hot, I resented nightfall. It meant I couldn’t see to read anymore. I was quickly resigned to not being able to finsh the dishes or hang the laundry if I waited too long, though some nights I did both by candlelight if I was in the mood. Other times I could shrug and say, I’ll do it tomorrow. Now it’s time to do something else.

Most nights I go walking with Chrysanthemum at the beginning of twilight. It’s simply gorgeous. The silhouette of the mountains, the perfume of the relieved grasses and trees sighing into the dark, the silvery fountains of the powerful sprinklers on the golf course. If we’re not walking, I usually end up angling my book towards our south-facing windows for the last smudge of light, or join Avery outside on the porch swing, because it is always surprisingly lighter outside.

6. Kids will take all the time you give them. I thought I’d have tons of free time once my computer was off. I knew I wasted time online. I knew it was bizarre (unhealthy, robotic, unnatural) how I’d head straight for the computer upon waking or returning home, during breakfast and lunch, hypnotizing myself out of hearing anything said around me until I’d gotten a hit from the internet. I was a little worried that I’d be bored. I read several books, books I might not have picked up or stuck through if I’d had easier entertainment options available, but I tried not to become lost in them as a substitute for the internet, but to instead really experiment with being more present (if you can forgive the phrase).

I trained my kids early to be self-entertaining (actually, I just selectively-neglected them into it). They play together or alone, they had already adjusted to no TV, and they coped with no movies and no computer games easily. How they ever had time for TV before is a mystery. They are busy from waking to sleeping playing, playing, playing. But I found myself suggesting card games (Uno, Skipbo), and reading more books to Callie and Lucy. Avery has her Saxon math to complain about, and Callie is more confident reading, looking to me for confirmation of a word less and less often. Lucy wants to read her books to us at naptime, and she is adorable. We all agree she is adorable, and when she smothers the baby in my tummy with kisses, I’m even more impatient for August.

But I need, and deserve, time of my own. I love to wake up before everyone else and read or write, or water the garden or even weed when it’s still deliciously cool. My kids won’t be harmed if they know there are times I can’t help them right now or even play with them all afternoon, but it was nice to not hear, not once in six weeks, dimly, outside my bubble, “Mommy’s on her computer.” It’s about balance, of course (all these buzzwords; sorry), and about not doing anything simply because it’s habit (unless you’re sure it’s a great habit), but because it’s something you’ve conciously, recently, decided to do.

7. It’s really frustrating to write longhand. It’s freeing to write where no one will ever see it, to record the day without thought of elegant structure or narrative meaning. But after awhile, it’s a little unrewarding to write only for yourself. Perhaps I have lost all my readers (it appears so from the dearth of comments on my last posts), and I don’t plan to do any of the things you’ll learn to do at blogging conferences to attract readers (besides try to write better), but somehow the act of making something public is enough, in itself, to lend significance. Perhaps if the fast had gone on longer, I would’ve learned the opposite.

8. It’s just as easy to lose your temper with the lights off. I’ve written a lot about my anger problem. For the first little bit of the fast, the novelty was enough to temper my impatience. That, and I read the fabulous book Soft-Spoken Parenting: 50 Ways Not to Lose Your Temper With Your Kids. A few days after finishing it, I realized I need to read it again, and again. The point is — no change of scenery or circumstance lets us escape ourselves, our habits and vices. I noticed when the kids spent an afternoon watching movies this week (I was the first one down with a nasty stomach virus) that they then fought for two hours afterwards. Of course an occasional movie isn’t bad, but something happens in their brains when they’re plugged in like that for long periods of time.

I had hoped that the same sort of purging of aggression would happen with me when I unplugged. But somehow little things still bugged me (though I reacted a lot better to interruption). It helped when I was fully rested (almost impossible at this point in pregnancy, no matter how much I sleep, but something I have to work on as we head into the newborn months), and when I took the time to write in my journal, to record the good things that happen.

9. Sometimes it’s easier to see in the dark. When you know it’s going to get dark soon, or hot soon or cold soon, you think about how you really want to spend your waking hours, your “good” hours, your daylight hours. I read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by flickering candlelight and had some inkling of what it would mean to be rationed 1 candle per family per week. I know the majority (?) of the world’s population lives daily without electricity (or even worse, plumbing). An electricity fast is a first-world luxury, a probably unthinkably arrogant gimmick if you’ve ever experienced the real lack. I haven’t talked to Tom or the kids about this, but we need to donate our savings from this fast to Heifer International or something, in order to make it good for something real.

Summer is more than half over. Our electricity fast is definitely over, but I plan to do a month-long TV/movie/computer fast at the beginning of every summer. It’s so easy to go back to turning on lights, to putting off important things because you know you can extend the day as long as you like. It makes me wonder what else we could give up (could I give up the kinds of foods I like to eat?), how much we could do without, how our lives would be different if we thought in terms of What don’t I need? instead of How can I get that one thing I want? (I should confess here, maybe, that I love the fancy Belgian waffle maker Tom got me for my birthday in June and that I now want a breadmaker, oh, and a new vacuum.)

This reminded me a little of our first month in Egypt, when Avery was 18 months old. The power went out the first night we were there (and many subsequent nights). Avery and I were cooling off in the tub at an odd jet-lag-induced hour. We were pretty insulated from real life there, in our nice ex-pat neighborhood. But it was still jarring and exotic and reflection-causing. I’m not saying I want to impose bizarre lifestyle restrictions on myself and my family in order to be different or just to switch up our otherwise-mundane lives, but neither do I want to keep doing what we’ve always done if there’s a good reason to experiment deliberately.

1. Old-fashioned sorrows are (maybe) easier to bear in old-fashioned settings

On Father’s Day I sat in on a class of seven-year olds at church. Before the lesson they each get a turn to say whatever they want, in hopes that they can then listen for six minutes straight. I used mine to ask them, these kids who all live within a block or two of our house, if they had seen my cat, the cat we adopted last September as an orange-striped seven-week old and named Skippyjon Jones.

He was not my cat. I made it a point not to feed him so that he would love the girls and Tom for feeding him. I only let him sleep on my pillow at the very beginning, because I felt sorry for taking him from his mother (and I had just miscarried. What can I say?) When he came to me for affection, I petted him briefly; I never cuddled. The last time I saw him, Friday afternoon before Father’s Day, I teased him about lazing in the sun on the rug in the basement, but I had things in my hands, so I didn’t bend down to stroke him him as he stretched. I didn’t even write about him on this blog, though Tom said often that he was the best birthday present I’d ever given him, and the girls’ happiness at finally having a cat made me feel mean for denying them so long.

The boys in the class eagerly told me that they had seen my cat, dead on the side of the road, just the day before, on a corner Tom had passed in his searching several times. I had to leave the room — to cry in the bathroom and to barge into the men’s meeting to confirm with one of the dads.

I cried incessantly, uncontrollably that day; by evening I had to gulp great glasses of water to replace all the fluid my baby probably needed to swim in. I blamed my pregnancy hormones, I told myself it was stupid and I shouldn’t upset the kids with my irrational grief. Still, I cried.

It got dark around 9:30 pm, and we sat around the kitchen table eating the specially-planned rhubarb crumble I’d finally thrown together. We had one lit candle; we couldn’t really see each other’s faces. With one candle in the center of the table, we gathered close, even though we still couldn’t really see. My daughters believe in heaven, and Jesus; I told them (and myself; they were easily convinced) that we have to remember that Skippy is happy now, we’re just sad because we miss him, but he is happy.

Then I told them about my young Aunt Jodi, who died when I was 11, of kidney failure. Jodi let us all sleep on her twin waterbed and had hundreds of nail polish colors to choose from. She had a goat, three horses, Ceasar the noble golden retriever, several cats, and probably other animals I don’t remember; she was studying to be a vet though she’d been sick for years. When she died my sister and I inherited Bonnie Jean Monster. We took pretty good care of her, though not her kittens, which is another story and a big part of my reluctance to have (or love) a pet again.

Avery was quick: “So now Jodi is taking care of Skippy for us in heaven?”

We trooped upstairs, all five of us, set the candle on the edge of the sink while we brushed our teeth and then trooped back downstairs, two flights of stairs this time to the unfinished basement, where Tom and I settled into our bed and the girls snuggled in the nest of blankets they’d arranged a few feet away on the floor at the beginning of our fast.

For once there were no cries of “she hit me” or “she took my pillow.” There were “I love you, goodnight”s and a few “I miss Skippy”s. Then it was completely dark, and completely quiet. I fall asleep quickly these days. But that night I spent several minutes, alone with my family, wondering why something so common hurt so much.