Ask, Seek, Knock

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Last night as I nursed my son to sleep, my senses dulled by darkness and the hum of the fan, I felt his hand open and close, open and close, open and close around two fingers on my left one. This movement was no longer an infant’s reflex but a repeated gesture of comfort and love. What a marvelous thing to ponder in my heart as rest overcame both of us after a hard day.

A few sermons ago our preacher chose the text in Matthew chapter seven that discusses God’s propensity to give us good gifts when we ask. Ask, seek, knock.

Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you:

For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.

Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone?

Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent?

If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children,

how much more shall your Father which is in heaven

give good things to them that ask him?

As I rest with my son, I dream of all the good gifts I want to instill in him and present to him. One of those good gifts is the restraint necessary, out of my parental love for him, not to give him everything he asks for. Because he is a child, unwise and unsure of this world. It is my responsibility to use his requests, in combination with the good gifts for which he doesn’t know to ask, to shape and mold him into a strong, loving, just, Christian man.

If this beautiful dynamic can be seen through myself the sinner and my tiny son with the soft, strong hands, how much more glorious is it when magnified by the love, wisdom, and providence of my Father?

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Birthday

I’ve started and stopped this story of my firstborn son’s birth many times over the past eight weeks. I’ve lost drafts in my postpartum fog. I’ve thought up humorous versions, dramatic versions, artsy versions. It occurred to me that there are thousands of homebirth stories floating around the Internet. The fact that Michael Ryan was born at home is not the reason I want to document his birth. It is because he is my boy. And all of a sudden he came earthside and things are oh so different now. In a very good way. This is the beginning of my life as a mother. The beginning of Cody’s life as a father. The beginning of our baby boy’s journey through this ol world. His birth was the day I received a gift directly from the hand of God.

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Labor was nothing like I expected. My first contraction was just as intense as the last. They began and remained about a minute and a half long and two minutes apart. Barely enough time to celebrate the end before a beginning came again. Michael Ryan was in the right occiput anterior position. Not the notorious “sunny side up” but still causing back labor. I remember telling Cody that if my belly could hurt just one time I would be ok. Essentially, babies rotate as they exit the body. Instead of making a little twist like most babes, ours had to do a completely three sixty before coming out. This took a great deal of time and hard work. Carolyn later told me that had I been in the hospital I would have almost certainly had a c-section. But, alas, nature proved itself capable.

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I labored in a wicker chaise lounge with a hot rice pack on my back watching the sun shine through a lace curtain for hours and hours and hours before Carolyn made me get moving. I took many hot showers because during them was the only time I could get a grasp on my contractions enough to be able to talk to Cody. Carolyn was ok with that because the shower was up a long flight of steep stairs. I labored while walking up and down those same stairs sideways, on a birth ball, in the tub (which I was surprised to find left me feeling even more out of control than laboring on land), on all fours with my belly wrapped in a piece of cloth while Cody gently shook it back and forth (heavenly relief), in child’s pose, and while trying to get my hips to sway back and forth just a little in the slow dance position with both Cody and Abby, our wonderful doula. Progress came by the half centimeters as it slowly grew darker. I had been laboring from long before sun-up that morning and Carolyn was now talking about putting potatoes in the oven for her husband’s supper.

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Finally, as I rode out a contraction with my arms draped around Cody’s neck and my right leg on the footboard of the birth bed to help dissolve a cervical lip, a gush of (thankfully) clear fluid spread across the wood floor and Michael Ryan decided he would indeed let himself be born.

I was only seven centimeters but with the next contraction my body curled in upon itself.  I pushed in spite of myself and despite everyone telling me that I must stop. Time stands still when you’re birthing a babe, but very soon another exam revealed quick progress and what Carolyn later described as my body opening as she was checking me.

Nine and a half centimeters and up into the bed I went. First on my sides with one leg then the other held back in the crook of my arm. Then flat on my back (wasn’t that what I wanted to avoid?) with Cody on one side and sweet Abby on the other. Pushing was marvelous. Finally, there was something I could do to make that one spot on the small of my back stop the terrible twisting and aching. My contractions didn’t space out much during pushing, just long enough to catch my breath. But I no longer dreaded their arrival. My baby was coming and I felt immensely better than I had in almost a whole day. I finally regained a little clarity. Although I was out of breath, I could conversate coherently. I talked to Cody a bit for the first time in hours.

Many, many pushes later, up on my haunches I went with my arms around Carolyn. Then off the bed and onto the birth stool which allowed me to touch his head for the first and only time before it was on my chest. Back onto the bed and bits and pieces of conversations about tearing. Lots of wash cloths, bowls of hot water, olive oil. The word episiotomy gets tossed around which I find strange because midwives generally do not perform them in preference for natural tears. Thankfully his heart rate stayed perfect so we were in no rush. More pushing on the bed, in a squat like a jungle woman, and finally back on the birth stool where he begins to crown in earnest. Back on the bed and Cody is taking more peeks than I ever thought he would between trips to the bathroom to blow his nose which strangely poured the entire time I was in labor (he wasn’t crying, he said). I felt no dreaded ring of fire. All of the sudden I had a tremendous sense of relief of pressure and with the next push his body followed and he was on my chest in an instant. No suctioning, no examining, no vigorous rubbing and emotional encouragement to breath. Just a blanket placed on his back and the first glances for fingers and toes and gazes into his perfect face were reserved for Cody and me.

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His eyes were wide open (and they stayed that way for hours afterwards). No vernix. No blood. He came out looking like he had already had his first bath and had been towel dried to perfection. I will never forget the smell of the top of his little head. It was the ideal mixture of my own scent and the smell of my husband. It was like gasoline. One sniff and I couldn’t stop breathing it in.

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A minute or two of celebration later and I felt a gush. I rationaled that it was my placenta, but instinctually knew it wasn’t. Cody’s face told me I was right. Carolyn’s “oh!” heightened my sense that something was wrong but the sweet face looking into mine gave me a strange confidence that everything would be ok (No one ever bothered to remove him from my chest during my big bleed, for which I am very thankful. Had I been paying attention to what was going on, I would have surely passed out.) Much of what happened I didn’t know about until later. After much kneading of my empty belly, two shots of pitocin haphazardly jabbed into my left thigh, internal pressure applied by Carolyn’s fist and quick snipping of the cord and manual removal of the placenta, the fountain finally slowed. During this intense time, Abby stayed close to my face, talking to me about my perfect baby and forcing grape juice and tiny bites of Clif Bar with each breath.

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This is the type of situation that scares people away from homebirth. My refute: it was handled just as it would have been in a hospital, with the same medications, by a skilled practitioner. And I was ok. Had I not recovered within a few more minutes, I would have been swiftly stuffed in a vehicle and at the ER within minutes. And I would have still been ok.

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He latched on within about thirty minutes of being born and nursed for a little bit while everyone asked me if I felt ok over and over again and made me drink glass after glass of juice. After it was determined that I could move around without fainting, I sat naked on the toilet trying to pass Carolyn’s pee test while I watched Michael Ryan’s newborn exam. Then a warm herbal bath was drawn for us with natural soap (oh how I reeked after all that hard work and sweating!), wash cloths, and fluffy towels. I got in first then my naked brand new baby was handed to me. I held his head and let the rest of his body float in waters similar to those that had ruptured and drained from around him only hours before. All the messaging of my belly during the bleeding incident made it flatten rather quickly, and I remember being surprised at how back to normal I looked already. After a few minutes, Carolyn and her assistant told Cody to dress his new baby and watched laughing as he tried to pull a finicky newborn gown over his little body while he lay on that same wicker chaise I had labored on for so many hours. I called my mother while I was in the tub. It was the first conversation I had had with her since I went into labor.

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Eventually, Carolyn checked me for tears and persuaded me to let her stitch up a small internal laceration. I was so over the whole experience by then. I just wanted to be left alone with my baby.

Carolyn put us to bed and closed the door. Cody passed out immediately. My adrenaline was in high gear. I stared at my baby, nursed him a little, and took many pictures.

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We were back home by nine o’clock the next morning.

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What You Really Need to Keep a Baby Alive

I’m still working on our birth story. The writer in me wants it to perfectly portray the truly amazing experience that was our son’s birth and so it has been a slow process ripe with revisions. Long story short, we had a lengthy, unmediated home birth and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

Michael Ryan will be six weeks old on Sunday and I finally feel like I’m physically recovering from the most strenuous thing I’ve ever done and mentally recovering from the postpartum fog. We’ve got the sweetest little babe in the world whose only newborn issue is a little projectile spit up and an aversion to me consuming dairy in even the most minuscule amounts.

Although we tried to keep our baby preparations simple and really didn’t purchase much of anything ourselves, we still managed to accumulate as bunch of baby stuff that’s been not so useful. If a bundle of joy is in your near future, here are five things you really need (assuming that you’ll be breastfeeding, cause you ought to… I’ll  jump on that soapbox in another post):

1. A Boppy Pillow (or another brand horseshoe-shaped nursing pillow)- I didn’t successfully latch MR without the use of this thing for almost a month.  Newborns are floppy. New moms are exhausted. This invention prevents head flopping and tired arms. After a few days practice, you’ll be able to nurse hands-free with the support of this pillow, facilitating the application of a little mascara or the enjoyment of a plate of spaghetti.  Baby can also easily doze in you lap between feedings. The Boppy is also great for grandmas, grandpas, and little cousins who aren’t accustomed to the strain of supporting an infant.

2. Nipple shield: I was committed to breastfeeding 100% and had prepared myself for every imaginable problem. Nevertheless, nursing my child has been ten times more difficult than twenty-one hours of natural labor. It just so happened that a friend popped one of these lifesavers into her shower gift. Lactation consultants and the like usually don’t recommend nipple shields for a variety of reasons. So far, mine has relieved me of horrific engorgement on day three and protected a cracked nipple for almost a month while it healed. MR had no issues going back to nipple au naturale and my supply didn’t suffer. It’s nice to know that if I’m terribly sore for some reason, I can always pop it back on for instant relief. Do your own research, but this thing provided a ray of hope during my darkest breastfeeding days. Nursing with a shield is better than giving up and not nursing at all, no matter what the experts say.

3.  Sleepers with snaps from neck to toe- Putting a newborn’s head through a neck hole is traumatizing for them and the nervous new mama or daddy who just changed the diaper that exploded all over his or her last outfit. Newborn gowns seemed like the smartest option and so I asked everyone for them and collected about twenty. They’re the most annoying garments imaginable and will wind up around baby’s chest in an instant.

4. An assortment of nipple butters/ creams/ salves- Up until a week or so ago, I had only used lanolin. I found a tube of lanolin-free nipple butter in my shower stash and oh my goodness, it is heaven. I should have branched out sooner. Lanolin is great for protecting cracks, but other problems will creep up on you, too. Even six weeks in. Get all the nipple ointments you can find and use them all until you find one that helps.

5. A rocking chair- No need for a custom designed glider upholstered in special ordered fabric. Beg for your grandmother’s tried and true rocker like I did or get an inexpensive but sturdy one from Cracker Barrel. The combination of back-and-forth motion and a little boob is a baby tranquilizer.

These five things alone will get you through the first six weeks of motherhood without tripping over brightly colored playmats, fighting with the buttons on tiny baby blue jeans, having reoccurring dreams that you nipple is falling off, or going broke.

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Review of The Bradley Method

I’ve mentioned that we were completing Bradley Method courses several times over the past few months. Our last class (party!) is Thursday, so I thought I would type up a little review of The Bradley Method of Husband-Coached Natural Childbirth.

Our midwife, Carolyn, requires all of her clients who  are experiencing their first pregnancies to complete a first time mothers’ program. This includes attending parenting classes at her home, hiring a professional doula, paying for extra midwifery support (one or two apprentices) at the delivery, and completing either Hypnobabies or The Bradley Method courses. Having done some freelance work for a hypnotherapist in the past, I knew that Hypnobabies probably wouldn’t be helpful for us. Luckily, a Bradley course is offered in Birmingham. We signed-up with a little trepidation about spending $350.00 and sacrificing our Thursday nights for three entire months.

No matter how our birth turns out, I am absolutely positive that we will not regret completing the Bradley Method training.

Here’s why:

Fellowship

When doing something a little strange like planning to pop out a child minus the socially expected cocktail of narcotics and medical interventions (or hospital, for that matter), nothing is more comforting or reassuring than sitting in a room full of like-minded people. All week long, I (and Cody, too, I’m sure) politely respond to sarcastic remarks, ignorance, dismay, and raised eyebrows about our desire to bring forth our child via a natural, unmedicated delivery. Sitting in our Bradley classroom for two hours on Thursday nights has been a welcome refuge from skepticism and negativity. We have gotten to know six other couples who desire the same type of birth as we do, have read the same books, recognize the same myths, and are making the same plans for their babies as we are. Our Bradley Method classmates are varied in their lifestyles, ages, and careers, but all feel the same way as Cody and I do about the nature of birth and the importance of planning a child’s entrance into the world and preparing the body for delivery. All of us ladies are due within a couple of months of each other. In fact, one of our classmates was in labor during our meeting Thursday night. She successfully delivered her baby girl without medication about thirty minutes after class was over. So encouraging! We connect through email and Facebook and it will be so inspiring to see beautiful, healthy Bradley babies make their entrances in the weeks and months to come.

The Bradley Instructor: Knowledge and First-Hand Experience

Cody and I both have been very impressed with our Bradley instructor. She has a four year old, two year old, and infant, all of whom were born naturally using Bradley techniques and were successfully breastfed. Enough said. The simple fact that I have this woman’s phone number on my contacts list is the source of much comfort.

Nutrition

Cody and I are very aware of the role of nutrition in a person’s overall health. This has become even more evident since I’ve become pregnant and our midwife encouraged a high-protein, high-fat diet at my first prenatal appointment (much like the Paleo diet we were already following). The Bradley Method promotes the Brewer Diet, which is basically what I had been following per Carolyn’s suggestions. The Bradley course recognizes that proper nutrition can drastically reduce a woman’s risk level during pregnancy. Most of the nutritional information covered in the course wasn’t news to me, but it was nice to have some concepts reinforced. Frankly, none of my mamma-friends seemed to have received any nutritional counseling from their OB/GYNs or at whatever hospital-sponsored childbirth classes they attended. I start talking about protein, chugging whole milk, slathering my veggies in real butter, and staying away from excess sugar and Diet Cokes and they have no idea what I am talking about. There’s more to a pregnant lady’s diet than gaining twenty pounds or less so that your pants might zip-up two weeks postpartum.

Our particular Bradley instructor’s day job is a health and nutrition educator for one of the largest hospitals in the Birmingham area. She’s very knowledgable about traditional, whole food diets and the fallacies of modern “healthy” eating strategies.

Home Birth

We are the only couple in our Bradley class planning a home birth. Several times I have sensed tinges of jealously in my classmates as I answered their questions about our experience with midwifery care. Our instructor told us that we were her first students to be planning a home birth and seems excited about hearing how the Bradley strategies perform in an out-of-hospital setting. The course material itself does a great job at addressing issues that might be encountered both in the hospital and at a home birth. I was a little worried that much of the material wouldn’t apply to us since we were the only ones who planned to birth outside of the hospital but nothing could be further from the truth. If anything, the Bradley course has better prepared me and Cody to handle situations that might require us to be transferred to a hospital because we are more aware of what we might encounter there. Information is a pregnant lady’s best ally.

Husband Coached

I could talk about natural birth all day long at this point. It’s something I’ve become very passionate about because it is perhaps the most pertinent topic of conversation imaginable as I sit here thirty-six weeks pregnant and quickly approaching the delivery of my first child. Cody, on the other had, isn’t so keen on hearing or talking about vaginal exams, the horrors of transition, or the effects of epidurals on babies. Or at least he wasn’t. After sitting through nine Bradley classes (we skipped a couple) with several other husbands whose wives had drug them there and hearing all the statistics and concepts I have been chattering about repeated by a well-educated and articulate teacher, he’s more confident, informed, and truly on-board for this adventure than I ever thought he would be. I feel like Cody is better able to explain our decisions to questioning friends and family and is better able to help me make educated decisions regarding the birth of our child. As much as he hates coming straight home from work, showering, jumping in the car, and eating supper while riding down the interstate every Thursday night, I truly think he is very glad that we were required to take childbirth classes, particularly The Bradley Method course. In fact, I’ve overheard him tell several people just that. I’ll never forget him mispronouncing episiotomy during one of our first meetings and his shock when I explained to him what the procedure entailed. Ladies, your husbands need to know what an episiotomy is. And, believe it or not, they probably don’t. No one can be a better advocate for your wellbeing and the wellbeing of your child than your well-informed, well-trained “coach.”

 

Obviously, the Bradley Courses are geared towards couples who are committed to achieving a natural delivery because they feel it is the best way to bring their baby into the world. However, I honestly feel like any expecting couple, regardless of if they plan to give birth in their back yard or under general anesthesia, could benefit greatly from completing this childbirth course. The information taught will help you stay low-risk, take ownership of your birth experience, learn how different procedures affect your baby so that you can make informed decisions, help you care for your own body during pregnancy and postpartum, and strengthen your relationship with your spouse during one of the most volatile periods in a marriage. It saddens me that so many of my friends and family members who are already parents were never given the information that we have received through the Bradley Method courses. It’s truly a game changer. I cannot recommend the program highly enough.

Visit www.BradleyBirth.com to find a course offering near you.

Cost of a Home Birth

Tomorrow, I’ll pay the balance we owe our doula and Michael Ryan’s birth will be paid in full. Here’s a break-down of what a home birth cost in our particular situation:

Midwife fee (including a first time mom’s fee for extra assistants and mileage for a 72-hour home visit) $2900.00

Blood work at 12 weeks $100.00

Various supplements and herbs $100.00

Birth kit $110.00

Doula fee $500.00

Bradley Method Classes $350.00

Travel to Bradley classes (60 miles each way) $200.00 (!)

Travel to Chattanooga for prenatal visits $420.00 (!)

That comes to $4660.00. We were able to access $1900.00 from an insurance policy to pay towards the birth, making our out of pocket costs $2770.00 since February.  One cost I wasn’t expecting and didn’t calculate in the beginning was all the gas we’ve purchased while traveling to and from classes and appointments. That’s added  over $600.00.

We still may have to pay for a hotel room in Tennessee for a night or two, depending on the length of my labor.  I’ve also got at least one more major trip to Wal Mart for snacks, batteries, supplies, etc. to use during the birth. My midwife has encouraged me to visit a chiropractor several times. I haven’t yet because I’ve met none of my health insurance deductible and would be paying entirely out of pocket. If baby has any positioning issues or I begin to feel a little off kilter in the next few weeks, that might be another expense to consider. Of course, if I should require transport to the hospital for any reason, we would have a massive medical bill to attend to. That’s a factor we took into consideration when we decided to pursue midwifery care and a home birth.

An uncomplicated vaginal birth in a hospital (assuming I could make it without an epidural), would cost roughly $6000.00, depending on the hospital we chose to go to.With a C-section rate hovering close to 40% here in Alabama, the reality of a much higher medical bill for an operative delivery must also be considered. Also, these numbers do not include any prenatal care.

I include this balance not because I feel we found a bargain in home birth or because I feel that the cheaper route is better when it comes to something as important as the safe and healthy delivery of a child. I include this information because I feel that I have received much better care for a lower cost. A lower cost that my insurance company refuses to pay. From a highly trained and skilled care providers who is not allowed to practice in my home state, partly, in my opinion, because her less expensive and higher quality of services would pose competition to (literally) lawfully imposed hospital births.