Monday, September 29, 2014


People have transitioned from (when I was pregnant) warning us thoroughly that our lives are about to change, forever, for the worse (at least, all the things they warned us about seemed like bad things--lack of sleep, a screaming child, never being able to do the things we used to do) to oohing and aahing over our newborn and telling us that these are the best days of our lives and we should suck the marrow from every moment. Frankly, I'm a little confused, especially because I am just now, three weeks into this adventure, beginning to be able to enjoy it.

It's hard to enjoy having a newborn when there's so much anxiety associated with him: What if we choose the wrong sleeping situation and he gets SIDS? What if he stays awake all night screaming? What if breastfeeding continues to hurt as much as it does right at this moment? (Which is a lot, and I'll tell you what, I feel like I don't deserve any more pain.) What if I leak when I'm in public? What if I can't ever do my work again? What if we can't find/afford childcare? What if he is staying awake too much? What if my body doesn't heal? What if I have diastasis recti? What if we have 8 children? What if he forever refuses to nap unless he's in my arms? (As you can see, these worries range from big things to little things, from very real possibilities to things that are very unlikely. All the worries get jumbled up together.)

It helps me to get out of the house and be among people and enjoy them oohing and aahing over my son, reminding me that he is, indeed, adorable, and worth enjoying. (Of course, they also imply that later things become even more difficult as he grows up. Goodness, advice is exhausting.) But I also feel an expectation from most people to be unabashedly positive about my baby, which is hard when I bear the responsibility for keeping him alive and happy. It's much easier to be unabashedly positive about someone else's baby.

Sunday, September 28, 2014


"You'll feel thin after you give birth, but you won't be." --Mama Leopard


Friday, September 26, 2014


There is a thin veneer of breast milk, spit-up, urine, and/or baby poop on nearly everything I own. The clean-freak in me is not happy.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014


I've been reading a book about Geel: Mental Patients in Town Life: Geel--Europe's First Therapeutic Community. It's old, published in 1979, but fascinating. Most references to Geel in contemporary literature are fleeting and un-nuanced. This is a more in-depth and honest account of life in Geel. I've linked to things about Geel on this blog before, but it's basically a town in Belgium in which there is a centuries-old tradition of caring for mentally ill patients in foster homes in the town.

What stuck out to me the most is this book's observation that the people who took in boarders in Geel were primarily middle or lower class. They spoke of their initial impulse to take in boarders in economic terms--for the money that it brought them. Although, as the book notes, their commitment to their boarders became something more than an economic relationship over time. This strikes me as a Tocquevillian insight: that people are guided by self-interest rightly understood--perhaps they initially act selfishly, because it's in their interests, but selfishness doesn't explain the whole of their actions. (This is counter the typical narrative about Geel--that people are guided by their society's tradition of taking in borders and by their Christian charity.)

This account of Geel is also attentive to the way in which changing economic realities affects peoples' willingness to take on boarders. A growing middle class means that not as many people are swayed by the extra money. An economic world in which work does not revolve around the home means that extra children and extra boarders are not as valuable of a contribution (whereas in the past at Geel, boarders were in many cases helpful, doing chores around the house and errands for the family).

The book also observes that the boarders are treated differently from the non-patients. The book states this in an almost pejorative way (although the book itself uses outdated language of "normal" and "non-normal"). I found this curious. My experience at L'Arche was always that the "community members" were treated differently from the "assistants." This wasn't a negative thing, in my opinion; it simply reflected the different strengths and weaknesses that each person brought to the community life.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

A Random Assortment

~ A new mom's fashion observation: this looks a whole lot like a moby wrap.

~ "My Year as an Abortion Doula." I had no idea that there was such a thing. While firmly pro-choice, this (really painful to read) article is honest about some of the complications and difficulties and ethical issues with abortion.

~ Some very smart journalism from my favorite journalist: "The Best Urban Innovations Draw on Traditional Forms."

~ What we all need to avoid the horror that is surfing Netflix, looking for something to watch.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Baby Leopard

My favorite things: When he gets worked up and when he nurses he makes a tight little fist and holds it right up to his cheek. His little involuntary smiles, which come fast and furious after a good feeding. His fine eyelashes (I suspect he inherited Francisco's long eyelashes, because mine are nothing to write home about). The way he opens his mouth and throws his head back like a hungry baby robin whenever he sees me.

Also, our 80-something-year-old gardening neighbor met him yesterday. She said that she wants to plant a rose in his honor. She said, "I know you'll move and get a house, but you can bring him back here and show him where he was born."

Thursday, September 18, 2014

JVS on Babies

In response to my comment that taking care of Baby Leopard is harder than reading Aristotle:

"ah the mysteries of life. you will learn more from baby than from Aristotle, and that is not to denigrate Aristotle's wisdom.

... new babies change you and the world, you know where you are supposed to be."

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Birth, Part 4

After the nurse and midwife spent time cleaning up the baby and taking our vital signs and putting us all back together, they left us for several hours so that we could sleep. After two hours, halfway through the time we were supposed to sleep, I woke up and felt like I was bleeding a lot. I asked Francisco to check and call the nurse. It turns out I was hemorrhaging. The nurse and midwife were on top of it quickly--giving me pitocin and cytotec to stop the bleeding, and catheterizing me (it turns out that the hemorrhage happened because my bladder filled up really full and didn't give my uterus room to contract). And then the midwife stuck her hand (twice) up into my uterus to get out the clots. I yelled again like I yelled when I was in labor. And the whole time, I was wondering (as was Francisco, poor man) if I was going to be ok. I've read enough romantic novels in which the woman dies of a hemorrhage after giving birth to know it was serious. I asked the midwife if I would be okay, and she said that I might have to go to the hospital next door for a D&C, which turned out not to be needed.

The next morning, I nearly passed out on the way to the bathroom from the blood loss (4 pounds). So then there was talk of discharging me from the birth center to the hospital, rather than to my home. But the nurse let me go home on the promise that I'd stay in bed for several days. The nurse and midwife said to each other, it's clear that this one will listen to us (they could see that I'm perfectly fine with being taken care of).

Thankfully, because my mother was staying with us after the birth, I could be essentially on bedrest for several days. I have no idea how people recover from the trauma of birth without being taken care of as completely as I was by both my mother and Francisco. (My mother was incredible--she put the baby to sleep and changed his diaper and cooked and cleaned and I, all over again, owe her everything--and, after going through childbirth, I am now aware of how much I really do owe her everything.)

The midwife who was there through the really hard stuff ever so nicely said that she noticed in my birth plan that I claimed that I didn't have a high pain tolerance, but she thought that I absolutely did. She also apologized later for hurting me when stopping the hemorrhage, the pain of which, of course, probably saved my life.

I spoke to my grandmother on the phone later, and she asked if I wished anything were different--if I wished for pain medicine or an epidural during the birth. The funny thing is, as much as I thought that the labor and delivery were hell, something I hope I never have to go through again, I never wished for any sort of medicine. Francisco and I were just overjoyed that we were able to deliver at the birth center, where we thought we received very good care.

I haven't mentioned much about Francisco: he was perfect. He supported me through every moment of labor and delivery, providing every comfort that he could. He was excellent, even though he was exhausted, too. I couldn't have done it without his encouragement, without the support he was whispering in my ear throughout the whole process. And now, seeing him be a father might just be the best part of having a child.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Birth, Part 3

So I was out of the water and getting ready to push. The midwife I had for pushing I'd met before, and I thought she was my least favorite: she was very bossy in a way that felt slightly condescending. It turns out she was the perfect pushing coach: she was maternal and bossy, and I was in no position to ask questions or disagree. She coached me to my limits--always asking me to push one or two more times through a contraction than I thought I could. She was grunting and yelling right along with me. (I had a sore throat after the birth.) She suggested new positions every three or four contractions so that it didn't feel too monotonous. In the midst of pushing, she would teach me how to hang on Francisco for a supported squat or tell me about gorilla pushing. It was an education.

At some point, it seemed to me that the pushing wasn't going anywhere, because I remember asking, "Is he stuck?" Her response was, there's no such thing as a stuck baby, which convinced me that he was indeed a little stuck. And he was--he was in the posterior position and wasn't making his way out that way (and had quite a bulge to prove it when he finally did emerge). After lots of squatting and wiggling my hips to help him turn, he finally did turn, and my pushes started to move him down.

The feeling of him coming out was unlike anything I'd anticipated. Everyone said that the baby comes down so gradually that everything is numb; this wasn't exactly how I felt. I felt like I was going to split in half, like there was no room at all for him to come out, like I wasn't sure I wanted to keep pushing because I might just break open. Francisco agreed: the midwife had him look at the head emerging in order to encourage me and get me to keep pushing, but later he said that he only saw a tiny part of the head, and even as that part emerged, he wondered how in the world the whole head would fit out.

When Baby Leopard was born, they put him on me for a moment, although they were worried because there was meconium in the amniotic fluid, so they whisked him off to suck it out of his lungs. My mom and Francisco were pretty worried at this point, but I remember not being worried at all: I think I had no emotions or energy left. When they finished, they brought him back and he crawled up my chest (they're supposed to crawl right up to the breast and start nursing, but he was a little mad and just kept crawling up me). I was surprised (and continue to be) at how strong he was.

When the baby was born, I looked at Francisco and saw tears in his eyes. I was surprised that I didn't feel more emotions--I'm probably too selfish and concerned about my own physical trauma. I remember thinking that everyone says that you don't feel the stitches afterward, because you're so happy that the baby has arrived. I had to intentionally focus on the baby because I was annoyed at the stitches.

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Birth, Part 2

When we returned to the birth center, we learned a new midwife would be taking over (I think we had four midwives during the time we were there, not to mention four nurses). She wanted me to take castor oil. We also made me a reflexology appointment, since we were willing to try just about anything, and that had given me contractions the last time I'd used it. And at that point, my mom arrived to be with us. We were so grateful for her presence and that she was relatively fresh, since we were both tired out. My mother drove me to McDonald's to buy a milk shake to drink with the castor oil (I'd heard drinking castor oil was terrible, but found it to be just about the most innocuous part of this whole process), and then drove me to my reflexology appointment at a pedicure place. This reflexology person wasn't very good and that was probably a waste. When we returned to the birth center, I was anxious to walk around to get things going, but the midwife insisted that Francisco and I sleep--she said with great confidence that we need to rest now because I'll be getting down to hard work later (she was right). So we napped for an hour and a half or so.

When we woke up we had only a couple of hours left until 5 p.m. I didn't think there was any way I could be in active labor by then. The midwife gave me my first internal exam and said that I was 4 and a half or 5 cm dilated, and we were encouraged by that. At that point, the castor oil, a strong laxative, was really kicking in. And it was ramping up my contractions. 5 p.m. came and went, so I figured that they were happy enough with my labor and they were letting me stay. And I wasn't going to ask any questions about that. Around 6 or 7, they asked me if I'd like to use the Jacuzzi, which they offer during transition. I was really excited to try it. I didn't like laboring laying down (my favorite position was standing up, leaning against the wall in the door frame), but the Jacuzzi was quite relaxing in between contractions, although it didn't really help too much with the pain of the contraction itself (and it was harder for Francisco to reach my back to give me counterpressure for the pain). So I stayed in there. At that point, the contractions were very strong and I wasn't with it very much at all (before that point, there were always points between contractions in which I was myself and could talk and joke, but in the Jacuzzi, my eyes were closed and I was moaning or yelling, and I couldn't even always catch my breath).

And then I was surprised--after not very long I started to feel my body contort and push. I asked the midwife what I was supposed to do when I had that feeling and she said I was doing just the right thing--not pushing at all, but not resisting, either. It wasn't every contraction at the beginning, but some of the stronger ones. She said when every contractions made me feel that way, it would probably be time to push. The contractions made my body involuntarily bend and move, wanting to get that baby out of there.

Soon, she suggested that she examine me and that if it were time, we would push and if not, I could return to the Jacuzzi. At that point, she said I was fully dilated and effaced and that we were ready to push. I had only been in the Jacuzzi for an hour or two: that was the one part of the whole process at which I felt like I'd caught a lucky break; it didn't drag on forever.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Cross

On the Feast of the Exultation of the Holy Cross

We found out last night, on Baby Leopard's one-week birthday, that a dear friend of ours lost her baby in childbirth. I read the email with my son in my arms, and I don't think I've ever reacted so immediately and so strongly to an email or to a death--I couldn't breath and couldn't keep myself from crying. And I wouldn't let Francisco take the baby.

This sad news came in the midst of feeling overwhelmed myself, wondering what I'd gotten myself into with this baby, and wondering how I was going to make it through his infancy, not to mention the rest of his childhood. It made me realize that our baby is a gift, to which the only right response ever, even during the really hard parts, is thankfulness.

My friend went through the troubles of pregnancy, of labor, and even of an emergency C-section before losing her daughter. I can't think of any more difficult cross to bear. At mass today, which was offered for our friend's baby, the priest spoke about the cross--that Christ promises us neither health nor wealth nor success, but only that He will accompany us through our sufferings.

Please pray for our friends in their grief and for the repose of their daughter's soul.

The Birth, Part 1

Our baby was born on September 6th at 10:56 p.m., but the story begins on September 4th. That night, in the middle of the night, I started to wake up with contractions and slept the rest of the night on the couch on and off, so that I could make myself comfortable in the middle of the contractions without bothering Francisco, who I knew would need his sleep so he could help me out for the really hard work to come (little did I know how good the advice of our birth classes was on this point).

I slept myself, with long interruptions. But from the get go, the contractions were very painful in my back. In fact, I experienced them almost exclusively as back pain. I think this happens for one in four births and means that the baby is posterior (coming out facing up, rather than facing down like he should), and back labor is generally longer than average. I remember wondering during those first contractions how this was early labor and not late labor, as it was quite painful--I wondered how the contractions could get even more painful than they already were.

The contractions got regular sometime late morning on September 5th. I wasn't even sure I was in labor as I was just feeling back pain, back pain that required me to focus on it on the birth ball or on my hands and knees or in some other laboring position. But we called the midwives and they said it was probably labor, that I should take some Tylenol for my back and a bath. I ate a meal that morning, as they recommended, to keep my strength up, but from that point on I wasn't too hungry for much. Francisco did some errands for me and beginning early that evening started to support me and try to make me as comfortable as possible--providing counterpressure on my back, walking with me, slow dancing--all the things that they taught us for early labor. Around 5 p.m. I noticed amniotic fluid leaking during my contractions. We were eager for the contractions to progress and get to the point when they were coming every 4 minutes, were one minute long, and had been like that for an hour. That is the magic point at which you can go to the birth center and at which things generally really get going. After walking for 45 minutes, and then sleeping for an hour (in between the contractions), we were at that point. It was 2 a.m. and we thought we were really getting to business.

We went to the birth center to meet the midwife and later learned that she thought that the contractions at that point were mild and we probably came in too early. I guess she's right--she knows what she's talking about, but the back pain never ever felt mild to me. Over the night we continued laboring together--Francisco supporting me excellently through each contraction. But from our arrival at the birth center, rather than continuing to ramp up, it seemed that the contractions were getting more and more infrequent. By the time it was morning, they were noticeably slowed and we started to worry: if I wasn't in active labor (contractions that were 2-3 minutes apart) by 5 p.m., I would have to leave the birth center and be induced at the hospital. This active labor goal seemed impossible to us--my body seemed to be slowing everything down rather than speeding everything up. And induction and our hoped-for natural birth seemed incredibly incompatible: I've heard laboring after being induced with pitocin is very painful.

Our sweet midwife, Jane, suggested that Francisco and I walk to a bagel place a couple of blocks from the birth center and have breakfast together, and then come back and have a rest, and then we would talk about our options for helping my body move along toward birth. At that point we were exhausted and unsure of ourselves and I broke down crying to Francisco as soon as we left the birth center. It seemed that my hope for our delivery was slipping away, and I was imagining a C-section. Even though I'm generally a worst-caser, before our labor slowed, I'd been optimistic that I would have a 16-hour labor or something like that, and that was turning out to be nowhere near the case.