Sunday, November 25, 2012

Mother's Love

In the wake of Thanksgiving, I am still feeling gratitude for the big as well as the little blessings in my life. 

Big things, like:

* The incredible gift of my sweet and luminous son, Jasper
* The steady love of my dearest dear, Lucas, and his unwavering presence as a father to our baby
* The endless support of our families who came to help us during the first weeks of Jasper's life
* The many post-partum meals contributed by our local community of friends
* Shelter
* Fresh food
* Clean water
* Health
* Happiness
* Safety

And the little things, that in these post-partum days can feel like big things.  Big-little steps taken towards re-normalizing my life post-Jasper's birth.  Things that maybe other new moms are rushed into earlier than I because their partners have to go back to work or because their family and friends aren't able to help them out as much or because they have other children to tend to too.  For my comparative lucky and slow movement back out of the fog, I am incredibly grateful.  And so I find myself celebrating the little things, the little post-partum steps I have taken in the past few weeks off of the couch and out of the fog:

* Wearing earrings for the first time (yes, even this felt like a big deal at the time!)
* Taking a shower for the first time, with no one home but Jasper and me
* Preparing my own breakfast and lunch
* Helping to prepare dinner
* Preparing a pancake breakfast for my husband
* Sweeping the floors
* Cleaning the bathroom
* Driving myself and Jasper into town for the first time, with no one else accompanying us

And then there was the first time I drove myself into town for an appointment and left Jasper at home with his Daddy.  I hesitated in the doorway for a number of minutes, tears brimming at my eyelids, feeling like something inside of me was being torn apart.  Lucas held Jasper on the other side of the room, urging me on with his gentle smile.  I trusted them both and knew they both had each other.  I knew they would be fine, more than fine.

But what about me....would I be fine?  Away from my baby for the first time in 11 months, for the first time since two cells met and married inside my body and our physical and emotional bond began?

Driving away from the house, I really felt the physicality of our emotional bond.  I felt the invisible thread streaming out behind me, connecting me to him, tugging at me.  No matter how far I drove on, it's presence was still there and still just as strong.  And I knew it would always be there.  That this drive away from him is one little step I will be making over and over again throughout his whole life.  That we will always be connected this deeply, however subtly.  That eventually he will be making this drive away from me, over and over and over and over.  And whether he feels it or not as a rebellious teenager, I will always feels that thread running between us, heart to heart.  Even then I am sure I will feel it tugging at me.  I will want to retract the thread and pull him back closer to me, as I am sure my mother still wishes she could do with me to bring me home once and for all.  And like her, I know I will eventually have to let it run loose, let the invisible thread unravel freely as far as it needs to go.  Trusting that we will always be connected and always return in our own ways to each other.   

And so another layer of the meaning and experience of "mother-love" is revealed to me.  And I am grateful.  Grateful for the heartache of separation that illuminates for me the invisible threads connecting every mother to every child.  For that thread that connects me to my son, and the one that connects me to my mother.

When I returned that day, Jasper layed soundly asleep in his father's secure arms.  They were fine.  And I discovered that I was fine too.    

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

A Month of Jasper

A month of loving Jasper already come and gone and moving into the second month!  For him a month is all he knows as forever...and for me this past month feels like one long day.  A long day made up of continuous 2-4 hour cycles of feedings, diaper changes, and short naps.  And yet time passes too fast.  Jasper has changed so much already and the inevitability of him graduating from high school promises to be a quick tomorrow. 

We savor every moment that we can amidst adapting to our new life together.  The sweetness of holding him as he sleeps.  The sounds he makes...imitations of the calls of Canadian geese in flight and donkeys hee-hawing and baby terydactals snorting...the coos...the gasps.  The smiles that emerge more genuinely every day.  His amazing capacity to hold eye contact and look into rather than at our eyes.  His positive reactions to our playfulness.  His gentle, bright, and loving spirit.  The obvious amount of strength he has already gained.  And how he reveals more and more of who he is to us each day.

 Jasper loves to be held.  Especially when sleeping.  He loves big bounces on the yoga ball.  He loves to dance with his mama and to receive fuzzy whisker kisses from his papa.  Jasper loves the "Super Jasper" cape his Aunt Jaime made him, strategically placed on his changing table to distract him, and his stuffed bird Louise who covers his face with her peck kisses.  He loves bath-time and tummy-time.  He loves looking in the mirror and at pictures of family.  But more than that, he loves visits from family and being held by them while he sleeps.  Jasper loves walks outside, and doesn't mind car rides.  His favorite food right now is mama's milk, and his favorite spot is right next to the milk factory. 

Jasper doesn't like waking up from sleep and he doesn't like waiting for his milk when he's ready to eat.  Also, he doesn't like it when a meal is over.  He doesn't like diaper changes nor does he like the gas that frequently moves through him.  He goes from zero to sixty, as our lactation consultant observed, so quickly.  But luckily for us, he can be soothed just as fast as we can change the diaper, or get him his milk, or bounce big on the yoga ball.  Otherwise, he is pretty mellow and easy going. 

We are so grateful for our little buddy.  It has been amazing to watch him grow and to be the ones to hold him closest to our hearts.  And yet, this first month was not all blissful.  It was not glamourous.  It was hard.  And it was messy.  I can say that now, looking back at the past month, as we start to emerge from the fog of it all.  I had always felt that I was so prepared for motherhood with all of my experience with newborns and infants.  But I see now that there is always a learning curve, for everyone, and that....well....this transition time was harder than I predicted it would be. 

Blessed with an easy and smooth conception, pregnancy, and birth, it was apparently time for me to pay my dues in the early post-partum period.  Granted, I didn't have it nearly as bad as many people do.  And for that I am grateful.  I am grateful for the strong network of family and friends who reached out and helped us through it all.  I am grateful for a steady and supportive husband, more than willing to pitch in and tend the fire.  I am grateful to live in a community where there are amazing resources to help with this transition time.  I am grateful for our wonderful midwives who increased the frequency of our post-partum care.  And, I am grateful to be coming out on the other side totally fine.  How do women do it who don't have these support networks??   My respect for all mother's has infinitly grown this past month.  I am in awe.

I don't want to dwell much here on our early post-partum issues, because I know they are small potatoes compared to those of I will just sum it up real quick-like.  Extremely painful nursing latch, mastitis, atelechtasis, decreased milk supply which led to Jasper not gaining weight for over a week and having to supplement his feedings with donor milk, having Jasper's upper lip-tie released, getting cranio-sacral for Jasper, doing everything I could to increase my milk supply (pumping, herbs, acupuncture, etc), feelings of stress and anxiety and overwhelm, lots of tears and being worn thin, and visits with multiple lactation consultants to find the right one, the one who we call the "Boobie Whisperer."  Thank god for her.  And thank god for our support network. 

Now we are coming out of it all.  The fog is rising.  My milk has returned.  The nursing pain is decreasing.  Jasper weighs 2 pounds more than at birth.  And Lucas and I have more time and energy to really enjoy our little man.  And, man, are we in love. 


Friday, November 2, 2012

The Birth of Jasper Sage

It was a Wednesday night when he joined us, in the quiet comfort of our own bedroom and surrounded by a few trusted and gentle people.  He came out totally vital: pink and squirming, crying loud as the oxygen filled and expanded his lungs for the first time.  He was layed in my arms immediately, the quick reward for hours of work.  And the hours of work quickly faded into silent memory as we joyously basked in his beauty and this miracle of life.  Jasper Sage.  Our precious son.

The previous day was my due date, October 9th, 2012.  Up until this point I had had no signs that labor was imminent.  I woke that Tuesday morning and cleaned my house top to bottom to ready for my parent's arrival later that night.  Later that day, I sat as a "belly model" at my old school, Birthingway College of Midwifery, where my rounded belly was used as a practice model for new midwifery students to begin honing their palpation skills.  15 students and 2 instructors each took turns gently pressing and squeezing my belly with the flats of their hands and fingers, trying to determine the position of my little one.  This hour long uterine massage brought about multiple Braxton Hicks contractions, the painless warm-up contractions that I had been experiencing for months.  Due to the extended palpations, they were now coming at a greater frequency. And when I walked out the front door of the school at 5pm to catch the bus home, I felt something different.  My uterus contracted, but this time there was a sensation to it.  Cramping, a new level of tightness.  And with it, a sudden wave of vulnerability and the urge to get home as soon as possible. 

I had several more of these contractions on the way home, about 10 minutes apart and lasting 30-45 seconds each, and knew that this was the beginning of early labor for me.  I also knew intellectually that this development could fade and be a false alarm, but intuitively I felt otherwise.  Being a former student of midwifery, I knew well enough what to do at this early stage of labor.  Eat what I could.  Drink plenty of fluids.  And rest as much as possible to conserve energy for hard labor and pushing.  And so for the next 20 hours or so, I did just that.  During this entire time, my contractions were never closer than 7-10 minutes apart, and lasted no longer than 45 seconds each.  The contractions felt much like the intense menstrual cramps I have been lucky enough to have during my entire menstruating history:  dull pain that wraps around my lower torso, deep and full, nauseating, and enough to stop me in my tracks and draw my brain down into my uterus.  I say lucky in that my menstrual periods prepared me well for labor, and I found labor relatively easy to cope with as a result. 

Not able to concentrate on anything else, I couldn't even read.  In between contractions, I layed on the couch or in bed on my side and instantly sprung up into a hands and knees position during contractions.  Swaying my hips back and forth and focusing on deep breathing, I rode these lighter waves and mentally prepared myself for the harder ones yet to come.  And meanwhile, I visualized exactly what these contractions were meant to do:  I imagined that the tightenings of my uterus were pulling the tissue from my cervix up into the body of my uterus, thus causing the cervix to open and thin while allowing the baby more space to descend.  And I willed myself to relax the rest of my body around these tightenings.  The sudden flame-like sensations rising from my core up towards my navel became hot and striking, and the pressure in my sacrum increased as well.  I even threw up a couple of times.

My midwives arrived at 2 pm on Wednesday to check in on me.  They took my vitals, listened to the baby's heartrate, confirmed baby's position, and did a cervical check.  I was prepared to not have made much progress so far, as early labor had been quite easy for me and as I had seen so many go through a similar early stage only to dilate 1 cm or so.  To the surprise of us all, I was actually 5 cm dilated, 100% effaced, with the baby's head at +1 station!  Tears of relief spontaneously released.  The midwives left, requesting that we contact them as soon as contractions started to become more intense and frequent.  And as soon as they left our house, it was like a light switch was turned on in my body from the knowledge of being this dilated.  My body decided that it was time to get this show on the road! 

Suddenly, contractions were more frequent, every 4-5 minutes instead of every 7-10, yet still lasting only 45 seconds or so.  And the intensity of them was kicked up a notch, making me moan through them to cope, louder and louder as time went on.  Active labor had begun.  Lucas called the midwives back less than half an hour after they left, and then proceeded to start setting up the birthing tub. 

It was after dark when the midwives arrived, one by one.  The lights were low, my birth mix music was playing, it was quiet and cozy in our home.  The midwives set up their equipment, organized birth supplies and helped Lucas prepare the birth tub, while I moved through contraction after contraction.  I thought of several births I had been to over the years, and the ways I had witnessed different women cope with their labors.  What a gift it was to have those experiences as resources for my own birth.  I repeated mantras in my head that I had heard other women use:  ""  And "I can do this, I am doing this."  "I am strong."  And yet, I still didn't feel overwhelmed or like I couldn't do this.  I knew I could and I did.

Once in the birth tub, I felt incredibly grateful for the warm water to move around in and to ease the edges of my contractions. I was grateful for the unobtrusiveness and silent confidence of the midwives.  I was grateful for my calm and supportive husband who sat with me during the thickest hours of labor, massaging my shoulders, laying cool washcloths on my forehead and neck, keeping my water glass full, holding the bucket when I threw up again.  There were even contractions when I found myself smiling and feeling joy, grateful to finally be birthing the baby I had dreamed about having my entire life, and grateful to feel on top of the process of labor. 

At some point towards the end of my 5 hour active labor, I could tell that baby was even lower in my pelvis because there was increased pressure in my rectum.  That is where I first felt the contractions rise, followed by the flames shooting up my lower abdomen.  I vaguely knew that this sensation in my bottom was my body telling me to start pushing, yet I was scared to listen to this.  I hesitated for a long long time before I found the courage to push with a contraction.  But finally I did.  I even checked myself at this point to see where baby was....and was shocked to feel the baby's head just a knuckle and a half inside!  So low, so close. 

I pushed in the birth tub for about 2 hours, changing my position frequently yet not feeling like I was making any progress.  And still a little scared to *really* push with all my might.  The head midwife sensed that I wasn't progressing with my pushing, and suggested I get out of the birth tub for awhile to switch things up.  She also suggested that I let her check my cervix to make sure it was in fact fully dilated.  In the bedroom, on my bed, she indeed found that I had a cervical lip, a crescent moon of my cervix was not dilated and was potentially preventing the baby from descending further.  I knew that my 2 options at this point were to stop pushing with contractions to allow my cervix to finish dilating, or to allow my midwife to hold the cervical lip back with her fingers while I pushed until the baby's head was pushed past the cervix.  I opted for the second option, as I felt like there was no way I could *not*  push with my contractions at this point.  My urge to puch was too strong not to, and it hurt way more to not push.  Plus, that first option could have taken a long time too, running the risk of wearing me out and leaving me with little energy to push my baby out. 

It only took a handful of contractions for my midwife and I to get the baby past the cervical lip, and from then on pushing felt way more effective.  I could feel the baby move.  I decided to stay in a semi reclined position on my bed for the next 1.5 hours of pushing.  I had no desire to move anywhere else, and found it so much easier to fully relax in between contractions on my bed.  My midwives and Lucas were my cheerleaders, encouraging me to push beyond what I thought possible, to push through the intense sensations I was having, to keep going and going and going.

I admit it, I hated pushing.  Some women love it apparently.  I hated it.  It was the most painful part of my labor.  I felt like my pelvis was splitting open from both sides of my sacrum around to my pubic bone.  My tissue burned like a thousand fires as it stretched.  I wanted this to be over.  I didn't believe them all when they said I was making so much progress with each push...I felt like I would have to do this forever.  And that I had no choice but to do just that.  I had to surrender to this force.  To my body.  To the sensations.  To my baby who needed me to do this work to bring it safely into the world.  It was the most intense surrender I have ever undergone, the most all consuming.  I relaxed in between contractions as much as I could to gather my strength and energy, and let myself wail loudly while pushing to help bring this baby down. 

Finally, my bag of waters broke, all over the midwife, all over my bed.  When this happened, the pushing became even more intense and effective.  I could *really* feel baby moving down now.  And soon enough I felt that fabled burning ring of fire, and the animal in me doing everything I could to get my baby out, now!  I looked down and watched as the head emerged, covered in a downy blond fuzz.  And with the next contraction, I nearly struggled to find the energy to push the body out.  But I did.  I did.   10:43 pm.

I did it.  I did it.  I did what my body was made to do.  I did it. 

A wailing baby was lifted up from between my legs and laid in my arms on my chest.  Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god!  Our baby was here!  Pink and perfect, vibrant and fully present!  My baby was here and the pain of labor was suddenly gone!  Thank god!  I lifted the receiving blanket and moved the still pulsing umbilical cord to the side to discover that this baby was not the girl we were mostly expecting, but was a boy after all!  A boy!  A perfect beautiful boy! 

I am so lucky.  I am so lucky. 

A dream come true in my arms at last. 

Labor a distant memory already.  (Though I still haven't forgotten how much pushing sucked!)

Jasper Sage.  Our precious son. 

7 lbs 11 oz (the same birth weight as both his mom and dad!) and 21.5 inches long.  10/10 Apgars.