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,

Mom

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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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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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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.

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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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Birthday perfection

  

T’s seventh birthday just happened & the celebrations included a small party for his cousins & friends. 

The party was on a Saturday afternoon & the Friday before (while still at the office), I found myself wondering… Why do working parents plan Saturday parties… Stupid, stupid, stupid… (Palm meeting forehead.)

But on the train ride after work (going to meet MFA Dad & T at the grocery store for party supplies) I tried to give myself some grace…

“Perfection is not the goal here.”

I repeated my new, impromptu (& very necessary) mantra to myself while making the grocery list & listening to Beach House. Zone out time. 

We picked up frozen pizzas, I found a flour mix to make nut- & gluten-free guests happy (& safe), some healthy-ish snack for the goodie bag & voila, shopping was done & we all headed home. Already exhausted! 

T helped me make the cupcakes & we tidied the house. 

“Perfection is not the goal here.” 

That meant cleaning only one bathroom & not sweeping. It meant minimal decorations, including last year’s slightly torn plastic Star Wars table “cloth.” (Also, technically, there are two Star Wars stickers on the front door from last year’s party that we haven’t bothered to remove…) It meant trying to just get to bed instead of staying up all night readying the house & food. 

After all, this was a small party. Kind of impromptu & definitely planned a bit more last minute than I had intended. I didn’t once look to Pinterest for inspiration. 

Because fuck Pinterest. 

I mean, is there any worse place on the Internet for a working mom? If you can’t get enough of crafting & you truly enjoy planning children’s parties, more power to you! Rock on! But for us mere mortals, really, Pinterest is the worst. 

I’ve been there… I just want to find a few simple ideas. Guess what? There are no simple ideas on Pinterest. Two years ago I found myself drawing mini-fig faces on bright yellow paper cups as guests started arriving for a Lego-themed party. Even that taxed my crafting capabilities! Yeah, I learned my lesson. As a working lawyer, I’d have to start crafting next year’s party now to be done in time.

Even with these concessions, I still imagined piping the frosting onto the cupcakes. But that dream was short-lived… As the clock creeped toward party time, the thought of taking out my unopened, untouched cake decorating kit made my stomach turn a little. That I had made the frosting at all was a miracle. It was delicious (seriously! … every kid licked off all the frosting, even if they didn’t all finish their cupcakes) & that’s what mattered. (FYI, awesome frosting recipe is here & it uses honey instead of powdered sugar… Yes, sugar is sugar, but I prefer the less processed kind when I can & there was plenty of the granulated kind in the cupcakes themselves anyway… I am not a purist.)

Ok, so I slathered on the frosting & called it a day! Phew! (See Exhibit A above: sloppy but yummy cupcakes. Plus my “sample.”)

In truth, I love simple birthday parties at home. Even though they’re chaotic & kind of tortuous. But really, why do children need anything more? 

“Perfection is not the goal here” … A bit of fun & celebration, that’s the goal. And a kid’s birthday party is such a whirlwind anyways, that no one will notice the tear in the recycled table cloth or the messy cupcakes or the used Star Wars figures in the goodie bags. 

Our birthday boy felt honored & celebrated & that’s all he needed for his special day. I, on the other hand, need another weekend to recover from even this simple birthday party!

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Mother Birthday(s)… Blah, blah, blah…

   
Since starting this blog, I have written yearly on the anniversary of T’s due date, which happened to be exactly 2 weeks before he arrived into my arms. Well, I missed not only his due date this year but his actual birthday, too. (On this blog anyway … I missed writing about his birthday because we were busy planning & celebrating his birthday, so no time to write about it!)

To be honest, I didn’t even notice his due date anniversary this year (which I’ve treated as my own mother anniversary here & here & here & etc.). Partly because I was traveling for work & expending all of my mental energy on that. But I also think I missed it for a couple of other reasons, the first & biggest being the passage of time.

T turned 7 this year. S-E-V-E-N! 

It has always been his birthday, but in the past I’ve also felt like his birthing was a moment of becoming for me, too. Being a mother has changed me in so many ways, and I’ve wanted an outlet for celebrating that. The anniversary of his due date has been that outlet for me. A moment to reflect on how far I’ve come as a parent & a woman. A time to nod at my entrée into motherhood, and wonder at how much has happened in & to my inner life. 

But now T is an honest to goodness individual. With interests & friendships & struggles & triumphs all his own. His independence is growing exponentially. As is his personality & inner life.

This season is so much less about me than it is about him. That pregnancy, labor & birth are starting to fade in my mind’s ever-shifting landscape.

He will still hold my hand across the seats in the car. He will still (sometimes) fall asleep in my arms. 

But the seeds of separation are there. He doesn’t always want me as his playmate. He sometimes asks to be left alone. He is more interested in trying out activities outside the house. 

In short, he’s dipping his toes in the world of independence. 

In my heart, we will always be intertwined, but I know that I have to get used to the idea that our paths will slowly part in the future. I just hope that he will always know how to find his way back to me when he needs to. (Great… there I go making myself cry as I write this on the train…)

So as my parenting goals shift, so do my feelings around T’s birthday. I’m just grateful for every new year I get to spend with him, physically & in spirit. It’s still nice to be able to reflect on the journey of motherhood, but sometimes it’s more delicious to simply step back & reflect on the young life taking shape before me. 

I mentioned there’s at least one more reason I missed T’s due date anniversary this year & that’s because I have another due date on my mind. Another small person will (hopefully) be joining our family this summer. That’s right! Mom, JD & MFA Dad have finally hit the “sperm meets egg” jackpot & the tiny one seems to be aiming to stick around this time. I still have my doubts, but there will always be doubts. For now, I’m looking forward to this new due date! Of course, even this pregnancyhasn’t been easy, but that’s a post for another day. 

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