At Home on Hill Haven

Musings, ramblings, and pontifications on motherhood, unschooling, farming, sustainability, spirit, and life in general...

Location: northwest Georgia, United States

I'm a living-working-breathing mom, writing, mothering, teaching, and soul-searching from our home in northwest Georgia. We are whole-life unschoolers, which basically means our kids actually have a say in what happens to them (it actually means infinitely more than that, but's it's a starting point for discussion). We are also hardcore environmentalists, anti-industrialists, trying to escape from our dependence on petroleum, manufactured products and other non-sustainable practices. We homebirth, homeschool, and homestead, and try to make sense of it all, in a constant whirlwind of chaos.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

The Birth of Iris Aurora

Now that Iris is four months old, perhaps it is time for me to finish writing her birth story. I started writing this two months ago. It's a challenge, as it feels like I'm stealing time from her in getting it written, but already I fear I'm forgetting things, so negligent or not, here I go...

Wednesday (June 27) began with my by-then standard flurry of nesting activity. Already suspecting that today might be the day, I loaded the car full of recycling and donations for the thrift store, tasks I knew would never be taken care of after the birth. A phone call from my mom with the admonition, "No babies tonight!" added to my suspicions... I loaded Galen in the car and set out.

After unloading a trunk's worth of detritus, we headed to Provino's in Rome. It felt a bit like cheating, but I went for the eggplant parmesan treatment. I figured if it wasn't time, it wouldn't work. I had already eaten half a pound of pineapple a few days earlier to no deleterious effect. Galen had pasta with red sauce; as a thunderstorm unleashed itself outside, I began contractions before I finished my eggplant. Dessert? Um, no thanks, I think I need to go home to have this baby. (I didn't actually say that, but I should have.)

Although the cleansing storm seemed highly significant, I consciously chose not to get excited. Early labor had lasted more than 16 hours with Galen, and I had since learned of "prodromal labor," which this could have been (but was not). I stopped at Kroger in Calhoun on the way home, stocking up on drinks and snacks. My mother-in-law called me and asked how "It" was going. Judging by her timing, I think she somehow knew things were getting started, but I didn't want to jinx myself or feel like a watched kettle, so I didn't let on. I got back to the house at around 4 in the afternoon.
After putting the groceries away, I timed the contractions to get an idea of what was going on. They were good and solid, always about a minute long, but very sporadic: six one hour, two the next. Nothing serious yet. I cleaned the kitchen and ran the dishwasher. I called my midwife, Claudia, at 8 PM to let her know what was going on, just in case things got busy during the night. She agreed with my assessment, that it might be nothing or might be something, and advised me to try to get some sleep. I took a relaxing bath in our snazzy whirlpool tub (Brad just finished the bathroom remodel less than a week earlier), then put my headphones on and listened to my pregnancy relaxation CD in my comfy chair, which always put me to sleep.

I dozed, but each contraction woke me up. Galen went to bed around 11 pm. By midnight the mounting intensity was undeniable, so I returned to the tub and told Brad to call Claudia back. We timed some contractions on the phone, which were a few minutes apart, and she agreed that it was time for her to come up. She called Rachel, a new apprentice who had agreed to handle the video camera (thank you Rachel!). I called my friend Tommasina, who in turn called other friends, giving me the energetic support of the web woven by my blessingway. I wasn't sure whether I could handle having family present prior to this point, but when I realized active labor was underway and wouldn't stop no matter what, I gave Brad the go-ahead to call my mom and his.

At this point things began to get blurry, as I moved deeper into the birthing process. With each contraction, using Ujjayi breathing ("upward victory breath," a yogic breathing technique), I focused on the sensation of it, visualizing the pain pulling my cervix open. The power of moving toward the pain, contrasted with pulling away from it as I had done during Galen's birth, was phenomenal. By the time Claudia arrived, I was dilated 7 cm and fully effaced. She and Nicole offered to set up the birthing pool we had borrowed from Brad's brother and his wife (who had birthed her first child in it last summer). That they set up in the middle of the kitchen. I spent time in the tub, on the toilet, kneeling at the foot of the bed, on the birthing stool in the kitchen. I needed Brad by my side for each contraction, putting very light pressure on my lower back. As the night passed, he would try to step away to attend to different tasks: moving Galen to his bed, making coffee, but always I would be yelling for him to come back before he could finish. A part of me remained the observer, noticing how I was progressing, marveling at my unhindered ability to know exactly what I needed, to move from room to room, even to walk while having a contraction well towards the pushing stage. I remember also being able to answer questions about where things were, such as tapes for the video camera and birth kit supplies. I remained aware that I was moving through a process that would end with the birth of my baby, something I was unable to stay connected to during my previous hospital birth.

I spent some time in the birthing pool near the end of what I now can call transition; for these contractions, I had to squeeze Brad's fingers as hard as I could and vocalize (a low "Ohhhh") to get through them. I learned later that during that time my mom asked about me getting to transition, and Claudia said, "Oh, no, she's way past that now!" I know they were standing in the kitchen where the pool was, but I heard nothing.

At the end of transition, I exited the pool to go to the bathroom. I commented that I kept waiting for the urge to push, but it hadn't come yet, and I thought I should have the urge to push by now. That first pushing urge came in that very trip to the bathroom. Claudia came to the door and said, "Congratulations! You're pushing!" I may have completed a couple of pushes on the toilet; I don't remember. I do remember that Claudia checked me again at some point in the early part of the pushing stage, noting a slight lip on my cervix. I don't know how she knew, but something about the way I was pushing seemed to have tipped her off. She checked it through a contraction and confirmed that it wasn't getting in the way. I moved to the foot of the bed for a while, then, after my knees got sore, onto the bed, where I could rest between pushes on a big pile of pillows. I think I spent most of my pushing time there. Throughout this phase, I stayed connected with my baby, knowing we were working together toward the common goal of her birth, talking to her about it in my mind, asking her to work with me and let me know what to do. The observer part of my mind noticed that there was a great deal of variation between the pushes and the contractions. Some of the contractions and pushing urges seemed to go on and on and on, with perhaps only a few seconds' break before another began; for others, I found myself resting so long in between that it crossed my mind to wonder when the next one would come. I actually enjoyed the irregularity of it; it seemed to be exactly what my body could handle. Just when I would begin to feel I was at the limit of my physical ability I would get a nice "long" break. About midway through the pushing process, as I had done with Galen, I broke my water during a really good push, kneeling on the bed. Claudia saw this coming and I am told caught almost all of the water on her shirt! Some pushes later (I have no concept of the passage of time during all this), the ring of fire began. I was struggling against myself, resisting the pain, and Claudia knew it. I was breathing and vocalizing to release some of the intensity upward instead of down. She told me, "This is the part where you begin resisting. What you're doing is called..." vocal pushing, maybe? I can't remember now, but at the time I thought, well that's a perfectly descriptive name for that! She continued, "...and that's fine, but if we don't get much more progress after a few more pushes we're going to change positions." It was the perfect way to say this to me; I didn't feel like I was being judged or doing something wrong. I also knew exactly what to do to finish the birth. After a couple more pushes, I asked for the birthing stool. I think Nicole may have brought it in. I moved to it once it was set up at the foot of the bed. Those final pushes were incredibly intense. All this time I had kept my throat open and my noises low (low notes, not necessarily low volume!), but for these pushes, I had no choice. I shrieked. Loud. I think it was the first push on the stool when Claudia told me, "I know, it hurts. That's what you're supposed to feel. This is what you have to do to have this baby." Again, exactly what I needed to hear. She let me know that what I was feeling was fine, that it wasn't too much, it didn't mean I was shredding myself to pieces. It hurts like a you-know-what and that means you're doing it right. I think it was the next push she was providing counterpressure to make sure I didn't tear, and I remember swatting her hand away, unable to speak more than "Argh! Clitoris!" because I was overwhelmed by the contraction. Now that's embarrassing to say in front of your mother and mother-in-law. So, I shrieked right on through and I think it was on the next push that my beautiful baby girl was born.

Her cord was around her neck, so Brad, positioned just right (behind me), flipped her around to unwind it and handed her under me to Claudia, who then handed her to me. She was so calm, just looking up at us, taking it all in. She was born right at dawn, so we chose Aurora to be her middle name. Since she was still "on the cord," as Claudia said, we were able to allow her a very peaceful transition into her life as a creature of earth and air. I birthed the placenta some minutes later, which we kept in a bowl with the cord still attached for the first two hours or so. (Four months later, it's still in that same bowl, in our freezer.) Her birth day was blessed with a gentle rain as we nestled in our bed, a new family of four.

And I thought I was an advocate for homebirth before!

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Wednesday, August 01, 2007

A Day (Or Two) in the Life

In my insistence on trying to write things in chronological order (meaning that my birth story should come before any events that occurred after June 28) I am managing instead to write absolutely nothing. Perfectionism strikes again... thank you, Chronos, now please may I write?

Yesterday I attended robot school (where one learns to build robots, of course). Looking around the room, the instructor indicated the materials to be used in the construction of the robot: a switch like this (pointing to the switch on the infant swing in the classroom), flower feet like this (indicating the picture on the computer screen of a cluster of daffodils). After receiving these minimal instructions, bequeathed with an air of formality, I was to begin. I considered the universal nature of this training and wondered whether I could learn to apply this knowledge to other areas of my life in sore need of attention: could I drop my preconceived ideas long enough to see my surroundings with fresh eyes, to take inspiration-- artistic or otherwise-- from random objects in my line of vision? It was like McGyver meets shamanism.

Today I begin with chef school, and a lesson in improvisation as applied to baking banana cookies. Again I am confronted with universal lessons: go with the flow, trust your instincts, pay attention, use what's at hand. Is there a hidden camera somewhere? I am uncomfortable with these lessons. My instructor pushes my most sensitive buttons, ignores even my simple requests, tramples my boundaries. Why do I tolerate this? Martyred at the feet of my guru, slavishly pursuing some enlightenment ideal? This is supposed to be about making cookies!

In fact, it isn't at all about cookies, and the camera is imbedded in my instructor's memory. Only twenty or thirty years from now will I see whether I learned anything useful. In case you haven't figured it out by now, my instructor is my son, Galen, who is four years old. Also yesterday (Haha, Chronos! I defy you today! Tomorrow you kick my ass! Ha!) I spoke on the phone with my dear teacher and friend Francesca De Grandis. We were discussing how I've been managing Galen's reactions to his new sister. She made the comment, "What do I know about parenting?" (Even though she is a mother herself.) Later I thought, I don't know anything about it either, I'm just learning what to do from my kids. And so I realized in a very solid way that it is fact, not opinion, that our children are our teachers, and not the other way around. No one, no matter how much they read or study, knows how to parent before doing it. And even after doing it once, no one knows exactly how to do it the next time, because all children are different, and because we change in the process. It sounds ridiculously trite, but I can assert from experience that it is also perfectly, and often painfully, true. I think it is a Buddhist saying that you can never step into the same river twice...

The cookies, by the way, turned out rather nicely, a cross somewhere between a scone and a cookie, perhaps a bit like the British concept of biscuits (although I wouldn't know, having never been to England):

Try them sometime, if you dare-- the ingredients are as follows: two bananas, white sugar, whole spelt flour, 2% milk, baking powder, baking soda, vanilla, and brown sugar, all organic where possible. There are no measurements, no ratios, and no instructions, other than baking at 375. Observe, and enjoy!

Oh, and it helps to have your guru with you.

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