Bodies, pregnancy & birth: “Bouncing back”

Me & baby M, 6 days postpartum

On evening #2 postpartum I had a strange sensation & a thought. I was listening for M’s burp to come, but instead felt my own body shifting back to its previous order. It’s as if my intestines were settling down with a big sigh, my body literally re-ordering itself. I really started to think about what my postpartum body is, would be & should be. While society has come a ways in discussions of the postpartum period & postpartum bodies (both with humor & sincerity), we still have far to go.

So much of what we think about postpartum bodies has to do with weight. It’s no news that our culture is obsessed with women’s weights & for some f’d up reason, we’re almost more obsessed with weight after giving birth than at any other time in a woman’s life. At a time when we should be so proud of our bodies for building & sustaining life, we’re pressured (or allowing ourselves to feel pressured) to change our miracle makers. Women deserve a big ol’ break from the body (self-) talk postpartum, not new demands.

As if taking care of a newborn isn’t enough. As if recovering from birthing isn’t enough. As if reorganizing your innards isn’t enough. As if making breast milk isn’t enough. As if taking a damned shower isn’t enough.

But really, the weight issue is just the tip of the iceberg. It’s the socially accepted code for talking about women’s bodies. What we don’t talk about are all the other body issues that come with postpartum. Losing control over basic bodily functions. (If we’re honest, this includes not only peeing, but also pooping, farting, sweating & crying… Did I miss anything?) Dealing with new bodily functions we can’t control either. (I’m talking about you, leaky boobs!) Worrying about having (good) sex again. Having newborns, then babies, then toddlers, then children who still think of (& treat) our bodies as extensions of themselves. 

Postpartum body issues are about more than how we look to the outside world. And we don’t necessarily have a good way of talking about all this yet. Heck, no one talked to me about the health of my pelvic floor after I had my son over seven years ago, not even my midwife. And certainly no one warned me that I’d still feel “touched out” sometimes by my child seven years later.

In terms of bodily integrity, somehow, having a foreign body growing inside me for nine months has paled in comparison to postpartum (& motherhood, generally…). And it doesn’t help that the healing portion of the postpartum period lasts so long. Feeling bed-ridden for days & then housebound for weeks is hard, especially on the heels of an active pregnancy (heck, I was at work the day before I gave birth!). 

What I came to realize in those early days (as I sat around, nursing around the clock & try to catch fits of sleep here & there…) is that postpartum is such a contrast to the powerful experiences of pregnancy & birth. Suddenly, after growing a human child in my womb, after pushing that baby out with blood, sweat & tears (not to mention other bodily substances!), there I lay, needing help getting out of bed! 

We need & deserve help in the postpartum period. We need to heal & recover. We need to put our bodies’ energies (what little we have left, that is) toward nourishing ourselves & our new babies (& keeping us both alive!). We need to keep our sanity & put a check on those baby blues (not to mention dealing with full-blown postpartum depression). When my mom told me that no one stayed around to help her after she brought me & then my brother home from the hospital, I felt so sad & angry that new mothers have been (& continue to be) so underserved at such a vulnerable time. 

It’s obviously different for each woman, but if I’m honest, part of the reason the postpartum period is so hard is that it is, in some ways, a let down. After giving birth, we need help not only walking to the bathroom or getting dinner on the table… We need help feeling normal & important. We need support in so many ways.

Sure, I may be crazy in love with the new little person in my life, but it’s a bummer to feel so weak & out of control in those early weeks following birth. When my mother in law & husband brought me breakfast in bed the first few days after giving birth, I felt special. When my mom made me an herbal sitz bath, I felt loved. 

Mothers need to “bounce back” mentally before even getting back to a more-or-less functioning body. Fitting into my pre-pregnancy jeans is just not a priority, even if I am starting to work on being more physically active. Feeling some sort of normal is a priority. I’m lucky to have had the help of family getting there.

A few days postpartum, I sat in the bath admiring my soft belly. My uterus was still painfully shrinking back to its former size. My belly button was a weird inny-outy blob & my beautiful linea negra still adorned my strangely pigmented & deflated belly. My abdomen was a bit uneven, as if somehow my liver were now crooked. Or my small intestines we balled up on one side. My nipples were practically scabbed over & slathered in nipple cream. This is ok, I thought to myself. This body, today, is wonderful!

Now, 10 weeks later, I sometimes think that if I put baby girl down in the bassinet for her nap, I could exercise. Some days I do put her in the stroller for a proper walk. Most days I just hold her tight. I don’t need my body “back” right now. My body is all that it needs to be in this moment, even if that means I’m a human pillow for an hour or so.


Filed under Breastfeeding, Feminism, Living, Mothering, pregnancy

We’ve had a baby!

Little Mom, JD, Jr. (aka “M”) is here & has actually been here for about 2 months now! 

Yikes, life is busy with 2 kiddos! Whereas with T, I started this blog in the early days of his life… with M and T, I haven’t found much time to do any writing. 

Little Baby M has been a joy & I’ve waited so long for her to join us that I find myself just staring at her most of the day in wonderment at the miracle that she is. Nursing time has been (a) meditative, (b) restful, (c) time to jot down ideas for the blog, or (d) wasted on Facebook. 

And when she’s not eating or sleeping (usually on someone), I’ve been trying to engage with T (who is the most amazing big brother) or take care of household stuff (which means managing various states of chaos, if I’m honest…).

I have managed to stay off of my work email (aside from purging emails so that I don’t get locked out of my email system entirely), though I may start working remotely for a few hours a week one day soon.

I have so many thoughts about motherhood in the early newborn days, postpartum living, birth after miscarriages, parenting, maternity leave, work-life divides, and living radically… But mostly these thoughts are just swirling in my sleep-deprived brain. I hope to get some of them out of there one day soon.

So, yay, she’s here! And she’s waking up, so that’s all for now…

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Letter to my as-yet unborn daughter 

Big brother’s picture of baby, mom, T & midwives on baby’s guess date.

Dear baby girl,

I am officially in the final days of what is likely my last pregnancy. With you! This means you will be born so very soon. Last night, I dreamt of your birth & it was amazing. I know your actual birth will be even more amazing… I woke up & you weren’t in my arms but you will be on your true birthing day!

Despite the darker days of uncertainty I’ve had during this pregnancy (sometimes doubting that I’d ever get to meet you), I’ve enjoyed every minute of nurturing you in my womb. I was worried when I was pregnant with your brother, but for different reasons—born of inexperience & naïveté. I worried about you because I knew too much. 

Still, nothing has been more miraculous than feeling you wriggle around in my belly. Feeling you changing inside me & growing stronger, week by week. 

And now that your birthing day is just around the corner, I am relaxing & letting myself be excited to meet & hold you. I’m talking to you more (though never as much as your sweet brother, who I am convinced you will recognize by voice immediately after you’re born). I’m allowing myself to think & daydream about the person you will be on this side of the womb. 

I fear I won’t want to let you go once you’re here. Ever. 

But there are others who are so excited for your arrival. You, who they’ve never felt the way I have. Who nonetheless love as if they had carried you these past 8 1/2 months. Your dad, who pats & kisses my belly every day & takes such good care of us. Your brother, who is so ready to sing & read & talk to you face-to-face. Your loving grandparents & aunts & uncles & cousins & dear friends. 

With birth, I will have to let you go. Even if just a little bit. Which is perhaps why I’ve loved being pregnant so much. I’ve had you to myself all these months! 

When I look at your brother, who is so fiercely independent, I realize that birth will be your first act of independence. 

I’ve been preparing for this birth, but so have you! And, really, it’s your birth, not mine. I’m not exactly on the sidelines, but together our bodies will be working to bring you into this world. 

And as flawed & sometimes horrifying as this world can be, my instinct is to keep you protected inside me. Where you are safe & near me at all times. But only out here can you help make this world a better place. I know you will. More love & more loving can be nothing but healing. Even if it’s just in our small corner or neighborhood. I can feel your love already. 

Soon, others will feel it too. 

Love always,


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Filed under Miscarriage, Mothering, pregnancy

You know you’re going to be late for work when…

You’re all dressed up for court (or, as dressed up as you can be in 90 degree heat when you’re 8 months pregnant…), you’re still on time for your bus, you go to gently (& quickly) wake your child with a good-bye kiss & upon kissing said child you hear a pathetic whimper & notice tears in his eyes…

I unknowingly woke T from a nightmare this morning & couldn’t just run to catch that bus after all. 

… And when I missed the next bus (after a pathetic attempt at preggo-running to the bus stop), I had to call MFA Dad for a ride… 

I was late to work, but at least I made it to court on time!

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Filed under Attachment Parenting, Lawyering, Living, Mothering, Parenting, Working

So, how do we support mothers?

Just in time for Mother’s Day last month, the Washington Post published a flame-y opinion piece by Amy Tuteur. Perhaps this is why I was a bit cynical in my own reflections on Mother’s Day this year (aside from my son reminding me that I had ruined his day, twice). 

As a mother who has given birth & is preparing to give birth again soon (not to mention those miscarriages that were like mini-births in their own way), I had to chuckle when I saw that the title called out the natural birth movement as an “industry.”

To call the relatively minor support system that has grown around the (relatively) recent awareness & desire for natural birth an “industry” (when the presumed “opposite”—the medical system—is literally an industry, and a very lucrative & powerful one) is a gross exaggeration, to say the least. And coming from a former obstetrician, the motives of the author are a bit suspect. 

Tuteur complains that midwives make an average of $75,000-$99,000 dollars. Funny, since most midwives are highly trained nurses working in a hospital setting. And those working outside the hospital setting, assuming they are equally highly trained nurses, deserve that & more, considering they have to fight insurance for coverage of the basic costs of attending births. 

But I digress, because what I really want to talk about are moms. How do we support moms? Birth is just the beginning, but it is a signpost for how we treat moms & families generally. It matters how we talk to moms about birth.

Tuteur is right about many things. For instance, we ought not to forget that “natural” is not always better. As she aptly points out, women have been birthing “naturally” for eons & for most of that time birth was dangerous for both mother & child. 

But on how we should treat birth today in the United States, now that healthy outcomes are the norm, I think Tuteur’s inflammatory, “us vs. them” approach is absolutely wrong. 

As is her style, Tuteur treats birthing women as black & white pawns, women who are either for or against natural birth or medicalized birth. In Tuteur’s world, it seems you must either be catching your own baby under a tree in a remote forest or scheduling your c-section so that you can squeeze in your pedicure appointment.

Let’s be honest, most women realize that birth & motherhood is a much more complicated affair. 

My first birth was natural-ish. I was hooked up to an IV. Using Hypnobirthing techniques to manage discomfort. Attended to by midwives. In a hospital. My son was administered antibiotics (with my consent) shortly after birth. I required interventions of a personal nature that I’d rather not talk about on the Internet. My son took some hospital-provided (definitely-not-organic) formula while I recovered. A lactation consultant taught me the key nursing positions.

I felt empowered by my birthing experience. I regret none of the interventions I required (even if I do wish we could have avoided those pesky antibiotics…). 

I realize that I was lucky. I had great insurance as a law student at a fancy school. I had choices! I lived in an area with a good hospital & an even better group of midwives (along with back-up OBs) whom I trusted completely.  

My birthing experience was not natural or medicalized. It was a little of both. It was messy & complicated because that’s what birth is. We cannot control the birthing process, only our reactions to the experience. And even that emotional control sometimes only comes after the fact. Sometimes, I can imagine, it never comes at all, leaving women to feel their birth experience was both physically & emotionally out of their hands.

We cannot necessarily control the circumstances of our birthings. When women can’t choose their care providers. When they aren’t empowered to choose a basic starting point or offered options that align with their values & priorities. Which is why some women legitimately feel hurt or traumatized by their birthing experiences. 

We shouldn’t discount these women’s voices or insist that all that matters is taking home a healthy baby. 

Which is why I get so ruffled by Tuteur & her polarizing writing. 

I don’t think it helps mothers to demonize one group or approach to birthing in an attempt to help some mothers feel better about their own birthing experiences.

Don’t get me wrong, Tuteur’s ultimate point—that making mothers feel guilty or bad about interventions in their own births is a terrible thing—is right on. Shame on any person (another mother, healthcare provider, natural birth advocate, etc.) who makes a woman feel guilty for choices or necessary interventions made during her birth. But does a basic respect for all women in birth (& the myriad choices those women might make given the modern miracles of today) require shutting down & belittling advocacy for natural birth?

It’s a mistake to simply flip the board over & upturn the players. When we mistake advocacy for an ultimatum, we create boogie men (or women, as the case may be) that haunt our parenting decisions. We see those who chose differently than we did as judges & bullies, especially when those others embody the choices that we might have made under more ideal circumstances. 

But in truth, advocacy serves a purpose & the overwhelming majority of advocates aren’t judging or finger wagging. Where would c-section rates climb to without natural birth advocates? What would the state of homebirth midwifery be without advocates who caution against homebirth or who promote safe homebirthing options?

The ugly truth is not that you are doing it wrong. The ugly truth is that all of these issues are terribly messy & navigating the myriad of birthing & parenting choices (to the extent that we have choices) is taxing, emotionally & otherwise. Which perhaps helps to explain why it’s so easy to feel under attack. 

The better question for women who feel hurt by their birthing experiences is simply, “Why?” And then we should listen. 

If it’s another mother on the playground or on an Internet message board, well, we can help those mothers better understand each other. It’s an interpersonal & a basic manners issue. If it’s a natural birth advocate or one of those pesky natural birth instructors or programs that Tuteur picks on in her article, it’s a little bigger than mom-to-mom conflict, but it’s still essentially an interpersonal issue, or even a training issue. 

If it’s an OB or a hospital, well, then we’re moving into institutional & systematic issues that raise serious questions about power & patient rights. It’s a bigger problem & something we should take seriously if we care about birth. If it’s an incompetent or militant midwife, that’s also a very serious issue that gets into legal & systemic problems that are complicated & sometimes seem to be intractable. 

Tuteur’s mistake is to focus on the interpersonal issues to the exclusion of the systemic problems, at least in this article. (She deals with homebirth issues extensively on her website & other fora, though she perhaps is not entirely fair in her approach to the issue & tends to simply demonize all midwives.) Mothers may be legitimately hurt by any of these interpersonal or systemic actors & I agree that we should be cautious about idealizing a “perfect” birth. We should carefully listen to any mother who feels bad about her birthing experience. I try to listen as a way to curb my own enthusiasm for natural birth. I do my part by trying hard not to be an asshole. 

But I have to say that my limited observation tells me that those women who have been most traumatized feel that it was a systemic issue that hurt them. What can we do for them? It’s a harder issue. Tuteur’s solution—take down the natural birthing “industry”—is entirely inadequate. 

There is nothing inherently wrong with education focused on natural birthing techniques. That women who are passionate about birth can sometimes make a living or a bit of money by supporting like-minded mothers does not make natural birth advocacy an evil empire, intent on setting women up for “failure.” 

Could some of these folks do a better job preparing women for Plan B (e.g. medical interventions)? Probably. Could some of them be a bit more focused on the reality of messy birth & less on how many candles you’ll have in your bedroom? Probably. 

I wholeheartedly agree that natural childbirth education needs to embrace the contingencies of birthing. But many already do that. In my Hypnobirthing class (which I took when I was pregnant with T), the instructor showed us many videos of quiet, peaceful births. Then we also saw a c-sections delivery & got the low-down on induction & forceps. All delivered practically & without judgment. In the Hypnobabies course I’m taking, visualization exercises remind me to be prepared for any direction my birthing might take. The company also offers a course for mothers planning a c-section. It’s not all gloom & doom, as Tuteur’s article makes it seem. There’s a lot of sympathy & understanding for a myriad of birthing experiences in the natural birth advocacy world.

We have to give ourselves grace for our mistakes and misfortunes alike.  And we have to extend that grace to others, as well. 

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Filed under Attachment Parenting, Breastfeeding, Feminism, Food, Living, Mothering, Parenting, Working

Pregnancy after loss & loss after pregnancy

I’ve written a lot about miscarriage & secondary infertility in the last year or so. In fact, it seems like those two topics took over my blog & my life for what seemed like forever. 

When I became pregnant late last fall & the weeks started ticking by, I didn’t quite know what to think or feel, let alone what to write about. So I didn’t. 

I didn’t think or feel or write. At least not for a good long while. 

Plus, it’s been a bit of a complicated pregnancy. Or, at least it was at the start.

Which is probably where I should begin…

When I first fell pregnant, after three miscarriages, I was in a bit of denial. No way was this going to stick. Just continue on with life.

Well, that worked for about a week or so.

I had found out very early on that I was pregnant. Something just told me to test (though by this point, I had pretty much given up on testing… what was the damned point, anyway?!). It was early, but I got a fairly strong positive.

Then I started to worry… I should check my hormones, make sure I don’t need progesterone… You know, just in case? So I went to the reproductive endocrinologist (RE) I had been seeing, even though I had sworn her off since I found visits to her office so stressful. But her lab was fast & I knew I’d get same day results.

Everything looked good! HCG (that all-important pregnancy hormone) looked great! Did I want an early ultrasound, the nurse asked. No thank you. Not necessary. I was back off the RE, now that I knew my hormones were in tip-top shape. 

Now to wait. I didn’t want to see any medical person until I miscarried again or I got through the first trimester, whichever came first. 

But then my RE called me back. I guess my hormones were a little too good, so she wanted to keep an eye on them & me. You know, to rule out twins.

Twins?! I laughed out loud on the phone. … Oh, shit! Twins! 

Then I remembered. After my foray into Mayan abdominal massage (which was pretty awesome & empowering, I have to say), I had felt pretty strong ovulation pains. Twice. Oops.

So much for my hands off approach. I marched into my RE for blood draws & ultrasounds. My hormones were sky-rocketing. And then, come six weeks, there they were on the screen in the ultrasound room… two tiny, tiny hearts beating away.

I started laughing. Then I started crying. I think everyone in the tiny ultrasound room thought I was crazy. MFA Dad wasn’t with me, so I sent him a quick text message: “2 💓!” Once I left, I called him, laughing & crying again on the phone. Not one, but two!

My doctor warned me about something called “vanishing twin syndrome” but with each passing week & more ultrasounds, it started to look like there would be two babies & we’d magically become a family of five, not three. Those little hearts kept beating. My pregnancy symptoms came on fierce, due to the extra work my body was doing & the extra hormones.

I didn’t like having to go to my RE’s office so often, but then again, a twin pregnancy was a more medicalized & monitored affair. I was getting used to the visits & they really weren’t so bad since I kept getting good news. Looking good!

MFA Dad were already talking about what kind of car we’d need to carry around our gaggle of kids. We started fretting about expenses & how we’d pay for childcare & schooling. I started to consider that we’d have to move to the suburbs & stop paying for private school in the city. I got myself used to the idea that a caesarean was all but inevitable. I was trying to remain detached but it was becoming increasingly difficult. This was all just so surreal & crazy & unexpected & wonderful & miraculous!

At around 9 weeks, I marched into the RE’s office for another ultrasound (knowing full well by now that all this monitoring was getting a bit ridiculous, even for twins). I was alone. Even though the RE encouraged me to bring MFA Dad to my appointments, she never gave me a choice as to day or time. And so, every time I had to explain that we had a son & someone had to get him to school in the early morning, which seemed to be the only time she could ever see me.

I hopped onto the table, let the ultrasound tech do her thing. But something was wrong. I could see immediately that there was only one beating heart that morning. 

At least the ultrasound tech didn’t hide the truth for me (something I’ve experienced in the past). The RE came in & started talking Latin (or what might as well have been non-legalese Latin) to her resident. Um, excuse, me? I’m over here! With a wand stuck you-know-where! Talk to me damnit! 

Twin A was gone. 

I had a million questions & my RE had the wrong answer to all of them. She handed me a brown paper bag that contained a plastic container & gloves. I was to try to capture any tissue should I miscarry. Would I miscarry? Would I miscarry both? Was it possible to miscarry just the one? Hopefully, I wouldn’t miscarry either, but if I did, it was likely that I’d lose both. At least that’s what she told me. 

Later, I’d learn (from my midwife & the inter-webs) the complete end of this pregnancy wasn’t actually a done deal. And the surviving twin’s heartbeat was strong. I tried to take solace in that. 

But it was an admittedly confusing & difficult time. I was feeling hopeful & hopeless at the same time. Emotionally, it felt like another miscarriage, but physically my pregnancy continued. 

It was difficult to go in for my follow-up ultrasounds. Not only was I terrified of finding out we’d lost the other twin, but the technician & doctor always seemed focused on Twin A’s sac. I wanted to focus on Twin B’s beating heart, not to endure examination of the lifeless sac that would “hopefully” vanish to oblivion. 

After a couple follow-ups, I called it quits. An ultrasound wouldn’t change the outcome, so I went back to just waiting it out. My RE thought I was crazy. She couldn’t understand how more ultrasounds weren’t more reassuring to me. But I had to figure out my own path here. Loss in the middle of a pregnancy isn’t exactly easy. 

So I waited until the end of the first trimester. Hopeful & hopeless. I learned I could be both at the same time. I tried to be ok with that. Life is full of gray areas. 

Luckily, I can report that I did not miscarry either twin & “Twin B” is turning somersaults in my belly as I write. My midwife, who was encouraging from the moment I told her what had happened, was right when she told me that losing one twin was common & did not mean the end of my pregnancy. 

I started a Hypnobabies home study course (…reluctantly, I know I need to prepare for labor & birth!) & as I listen to “positive affirmations” about pregnancy & childbirth, I realize that my nagging fears are perhaps more present than I had thought. One exercise prompted me to imagine & connect with my baby. I realized I had not yet imagined or dreamt of this baby at all. Probably out of fear. 

And as MFA Dad & T get more excited for this little one’s arrival, I fear that my body will disappoint. What to them seems like all but a done deal, to me is still fraught with the danger of disappointment & loss.

It’s a nagging feeling & I’m trying to shake it the best I can. Or at least realize that the space of hope & hopelessness is with me, with hope taking a slight lead.


Filed under Living, Miscarriage, Mothering

Reflections on Mother’s Day

Last night (on the evening of Mother’s Day), I texted a dear friend & asked: “Is it bad to want to strangle your child on Mother’s Day?!?!”

Because that’s the kind of day it was.

I admit to having mixed feelings about Mother’s Day. It’s a strange thing, celebrating “motherhood,” whatever that means on this particular Hallmark holiday. I tend to think that Mother’s Day amplifies the cult of motherhood. By which I mean the unhealthy obsession our culture has with how women execute the care of their children. Usually this entails judging women based on the time spent (& the fervor with which they are) tending to the minutiae of their children’s lives. 

It’s also a funny thing when you compare it with Father’s Day. Women want to celebrate Mother’s Day (or not) in a myriad of ways, but the overwhelming message is that if you have young children, it should be a “day off” (i.e. a day on which one doesn’t have to mother). Father’s Day, by contrast, is a day for the kids to spend with dad. I’ve written before about the different expectations for dads vs. moms … And I think the themes of escape & engagement that are dominant in Mother’s & Father’s Days, respectively, are manifestations of the generally unequal state of parenting today.

I don’t think Mother’s Day needs to be any one thing, but it’s interesting to think about what Mother’s Day isn’t. It’s not a day of empowerment for women who happen to be mothers, nor is it a celebration of solidarity among mothers. It’s not a day to recognize how poorly our society & culture treat moms or how the pressures moms face are surreal & impossible. It’s not even necessarily a day free of judgment, hence my hesitance to text my friend my very personal question. 

But life goes on on Mother’s Day, even if you’re of the “escape motherhood for the day” camp. And sometimes that means your kids will test your limits & frustrate the hell out of you, even on the day that supposedly celebrates mothering, when we moms are supposed to feel all gooey & loved. 

I don’t mind a little extra special treatment every once in a while, but Mother’s Day? Eh, I can leave it or take it.

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Filed under Feminism, Living, Mothering, Parenting, Simplicity