pregnancy

my dream birth

I didn’t realize how traumatic Atlas’ birth had been for me, until I experienced something remarkably better. Phoebe’s birth was a dream come true. It was fast, relatively peaceful, and — dare I say — easy.

Phoebe, like Atlas, arrived on her due date. The night before, I didn’t sleep well, and eventually got up at 4a to start timing my contractions. They were already 2.5 minutes apart, but I didn’t want to wake anyone up until it was absolutely necessary. I made a pitcher of tea, unloaded the dishwasher, and took a hot shower.

I woke Noah up at 5a. Our friend Ruth arrived at 6a to watch Atlas. When we got to the hospital, I was 7cm dilated. The nurses commented on how much I was smiling for someone so far into labor — but there were definitely tears, too.

We chose to go to a midwifery center in a hospital instead of having another home birth because it was less stressful and more affordable. I knew I wanted a natural birth, to stay fully present in my body, mind, and spirit. I also wanted a way to deal with the pain that didn’t numb me from my experience.

When I was pregnant with Atlas, I read lots of books, but giving birth is so abstract on paper. I assumed I would just listen to my body and figure it out when the time came. But during labor, I had no idea what to do. I felt like an animal, wild and hysterical. I bellowed until I was hoarse. I used Noah as my punching bag.

With Phoebe, I needed a better plan. Or at least, some kind of plan.

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Some people find euphemisms effective. They call a contraction: “rush, surge, birthing wave,” they call pain: “sensation,” and hard: “challenging.” I would rather call things as I know them. Labor is actually hard. Contractions are really painful. This is what’s real to me.

But I still have choices. I can choose to be a victim and be overcome by pain. Or I can choose to be a creator, and though I am not in control of my body or my baby, I am always in control of my experience. It’s a life principle that I somehow previously never applied to birth, but once I did, it changed everything.

Whatever I focus on grows. When I focus on pain, pain increases. When I focus on something else, pain doesn’t go away, but it no longer dominates. So I concentrated on something I had power over: my breath.

I asked Noah to count my exhales, and each contraction became a dynamic meditation. For me, it was a powerful example of real-life yoga: staying present in self-awareness, intentional breathing, and the greatest union of breath and body I have ever practiced.

Inhale deeply through my nose, exhale audibly out my mouth, one. Inhale, exhale, two. After nine or ten breaths, the contraction is done. Now rest. Close my eyes. Enjoy the stillness. Gather my strength.

I never felt the primal need to scream. I never felt overwhelmed by pain. At 7:30a, when I felt a sudden onset of pressure, I turned to my midwife: “I forget the stages of labor — is this the transition? What do I do?” Jessica answered in what could either be considered very helpful or completely useless: “Just do what your body tells you to.”

It was exactly the reminder I needed to hear.

I was on my knees, gripping the side of the bathtub. The inflatable birthing tub was being filled, but I never had time to use it. After three pushes, just 15 minutes later, I felt Phoebe’s head come out, the slippery release of her shoulders, then someone was helping me lift my leg over the umbilical cord so I could sit down and hold my daughter.

I had a difficult postpartum time with Atlas. For the first several days, I couldn’t stand up unassisted without fainting. I could barely do anything. I felt lonely and isolated. I mostly stayed in my room, and didn’t leave the apartment alone with Atlas until my 6 week postpartum appointment.

After birthing Phoebe, I feel wonderful. Swollen, sore, and tired, but giddy with awe and excitement. I am stronger and more energetic than I was after Atlas’ birth, and am able to focus on simply enjoying my newborn. I had the empowering, redemptive birth experience my heart longed for and it far surpassed any expectation.

“This is how people get tricked into having more babies,” Noah observes. But I already knew I wanted a third baby, when the time comes. This birth encourages me that when I get a second chance, to believe the best for it and make the most of it.

Things can always get better, and life can surprise you with just how sweet it can be.

Photo credit: my husband. We couldn’t afford a birth photographer and I love photos more than most things, even more than NY-style pizza.

differences between my first & second pregnancies

A lot of moms are more easygoing during their second pregnancies, but I was pretty laid-back the first time around. I didn’t follow any rules about what I shouldn’t eat, drink, or do. I listened to my body and practiced headstands well into my third trimester. I felt confident and strong and looked forward to an empowering birth experience.

This time, I feel more protective. This past winter, we lived in a basement without much privacy, without a real bedroom or a door to separate our space. I had a threatened miscarriage, which increased my feeling of vulnerability. I’ve gained more than the “recommended” weight and feel big and mama bear-like, ready to fight for my babies.

Every pregnancy is different because every relationship is different.

I’m not sure what is true about being pregnant with boys versus girls, but I know my relationship with Phoebe is different than my relationship with Atlas, and so her time in the womb is different as well. She sits lower, as most subsequent babies do, and stretches more than she kicks. Perhaps she’s already practicing yoga poses?

My relationship with myself is also different than it was in 2015. My first pregnancy taught me a lot about connecting with myself and being present, but this pregnancy shows me I still have a lot to learn. I’m not a fearful person, but the past few months I’ve felt frustrated with my body and anxious about the future.

It’s easier for me to be hopeful when lack of experience leaves room for any possibility.

With my first pregnancy, I had heard of pain-free and orgasmic births, and I believed anything was possible. Intellectually, I still believe anything could happen, but experientially, I know birth and postpartum can be hard and indeed very painful. Dealing with eczema again when I thought I was healed makes me wonder if I can trust my body.

I know my body is more prepared to birth a human this second time and it remembers what to do, but in many ways, my heart and mind are not as ready. I have to make a conscious effort to choose peace instead of stress, to choose to live in the “now” instead of jumping ahead to next week or next month.

In some ways, I am giving birth to myself.

In my last post, I wrote about becoming new. With Phoebe’s birth, I will become a new mom, again, but I feel like she is also a retelling of my own story. My birthday and her due date are just a few days apart. Thinking of her brings up thoughts of my relationship with my own mother, and all the emotions that come with it.

Though this won’t be as drastic a transformation from maidenhood to motherhood, it is still a big change from one child to two, from three family members to four, from just my boys to my boys and my girl. This pregnancy, I’m more cognizant of how nesting is not only preparing a place for a new baby, it is also preparing a place for a new me.

Noah says, “There’s always room for more love.” And so, in our hearts, and in our home, we make room.

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I would love to hear how your pregnancies and birth stories differed! As well as any tips on how to parent two under two :)

 

phoebe’s victory

It was one of the scariest moments of my life, and also one of the most beautiful.

In January, as our Christmas gift to each other, Noah and I went to Florida to attend Overland’s annual conference. I was excited to learn more about the organization (Noah went with them to Zambia last summer), but the trip was primarily so we could see our friends Adam and Kelly before they moved to Cambodia.

During the opening night of the conference, I was suddenly overcome with an immobilizing pain in my groin. Not wanting to be distracted from the speaker’s message, I tried to ignore it. As the meeting came to a close, I realized I had some discharge, enough to leave a huge wet area that covered more than half my chair. Embarrassed, I whispered to Kelly what happened and quickly tied my sweatshirt around my waist to escape to the bathroom.

I was 11 weeks pregnant. The first trimester is the most vulnerable and the most crucial part of pregnancy. It’s when the baby develops all his or her organs. It is when the risk of miscarriage is greatest.

Once in the bathroom, I discovered it wasn’t discharge — it was all blood. I was shocked by the amount. The only time I ever bled this much was when I gave birth to Atlas. I immediately burst into tears.

But God was taking care of me, providing more than what I could have ever asked for in comfort, encouragement, and protection.

If this had happened here in Colorado, where we had few friends in the area, I would have felt utterly lost and alone. At the time, we were living in the basement of another family’s house, where I never truly felt at home.

It was messy and inconvenient to bleed through a chair in public, but I am thankful it occurred while sitting next to my best friend, in a room that felt safe, full of people who unhesitatingly rushed to my side when I needed it most.

I stood in the bathroom stall, soaked in blood from the waist down, weeping uncontrollably, but I was only alone for a moment. I was instantly surrounded by a group of powerful women to whom I was a stranger, but also a sister. There was Jessi, the speaker’s wife, earnestly praying over me. Richelle, who bled throughout her entire first pregnancy and now has a healthy 4-year-old son, proclaiming her testimony over me. Julie, a midwife who witnessed firsthand countless miracles on the mission field, and would continue to send me messages and check up on me in the weeks to come, as if she, herself, were my midwife.

Unbeknownst to me, there were more who covered me with support. Guarding the door, Joe announced the bathroom was closed and instructed everyone to use the one upstairs. In the main room, God revealed to the couple in the row behind me what was going on, and they interceded for me the entire time. Without anyone telling her, our friend Rachel also knew I was pregnant and something was wrong. She and her husband dropped what they were doing and decisively announced they were accompanying us to the ER.

Pregnancy is a holistic experience, and this felt like a spiritual attack on my family — more than just a physical emergency. But fear didn’t have a place while I was shielded by so much love. From the women in the bathroom, to Adam and Kelly taking care of Atlas at our shared Airbnb, to Rachel and Dalton hopping in our car and staying in the ER with us for hours. Driving to Cape Canaveral hospital, we sang worship songs and declared words of life and health. We stood on the truth that God is creator, healer, savior, and life-sustainer. We felt full of hope and courage. We believed everything would be fine.

As we waited for tests to come back, I posed for silly photos. As the bleeding slowed, we shared jokes and laughter. I had my first gurney ride to get to the ultrasound room and it was reminiscent of an amusement park ride. Noah and I watched with anticipation as the technician displayed various images on the screen: my ovaries, uterine lining — and then, just as we had believed — there was our tiny baby: kicking, moving, with a healthy heartbeat.

We were overjoyed to see our little girl was okay. Every test came back normal, but I was put on pelvic rest until the bleeding stopped. This seemed like another spiritual attack, on marital intimacy, but in spite of this, Noah and I felt even more affectionate, unified, and emotionally connected.

We had one more week in Florida, and while some might view it as a vacation ruined, it was a huge blessing. Bed rest is practically impossible with a toddler. If we had been home, Noah would have kept going to school, leaving me home alone with Atlas. But since we were already together, Noah could help me and I could rest. If a crisis were ever welcome, now was the most convenient time.

Five weeks later, shortly after moving into our new home, I stopped bleeding completely. Five is a symbolic number for “grace,” and Noah and I truly felt showered with kindness and strength during that month. Looking back, it represents the end of our most discouraging season and the beginning of a new season, one that is full of peace and the promise of what is to come.

 

love letter to my daughter

Dear little Phoebe,

You are so loved, so wanted. I have been patiently waiting for you to enter this world at the perfect time. Your name means “bright, shining one.” In a season of hiddenness for our family, you come at a time of transition to hopefulness and light.

It took a lot of work for me to love being a girl. But I don’t want it to be as hard for you to embrace who you are. To love yourself. My heart longs to share with you what I have learned and to walk alongside you as you discover your own way.

Even now, though you are so little and do not yet understand, I speak truth and love over you — truths I never heard from my own mother, truths that took me years to grasp. That it is possible to be both strong and feminine. Both logical and emotional. Both powerful and gentle. Both independent and reliant on others. Both ambitious and content.

I want you to see me look in the mirror and smile at my reflection. To see me comfortable in my skin. I want you to see me put on bright red lipstick and a fancy dress for a date with your dad, but I also want you to see me feeling just as beautiful and confident in chapstick and leggings.

I want you to see me excited about my birthday. I want you to see that life is a blessing and every year is worth celebrating. I want you to see me go back to school. I want you to see that it’s never too late to start something new. I want you to see me practice yoga in our kitchen. I want you to see that it’s important to take care of yourself.

Growing up, I was often reprimanded, “Don’t be too much Bethany.” It hurt me to think that being myself was a bad thing. But oh my darling, it is impossible to be “too much Phoebe!” My hope for you is that you would increasingly become more and more yourself. Being you is the best thing you could ever be.

I want you to be free. Free to be a little girl when you are a little girl and not have to rush your childhood. Free to pursue the dreams in  your heart no matter what stands against you, because I will always stand beside you. Free to explore all the wonderful ways to be a woman. Free to create a path that empowers you.

I want you to see me free in my motherhood. If it is something you choose one day, I want you to know that you can find freedom in it, too. That staying home with your children is a powerful choice when you are already a powerful person.

I place my hand over my belly and feel you move. I am overwhelmed with how proud I am of you. You are my favorite daughter. My bright, shining star. You are full of life, full of radiant brilliance. It is your name, it is who you are. My dear little Phoebe.

<3

atlas’ birth story

I gave birth at home after six hours of active labor, which is relatively short for a first-time mom. I lost a lot of blood, but not enough to warrant hospital transfer. I needed stitches, but I’ve healed well. For the first couple days postpartum, I couldn’t stand up without fainting, but I peed squatting in a bedpan and I love to squat-pee.

As far as births go, it was wonderful — intimate, peaceful, and free of complications. But as far as Friday afternoon activities go, it was absolutely awful. 

My original due date was December 12th, but that was based on the predictive method using a regular 28-day cycle. My periods were irregular, so I made my own calculations. I decided December 4th was a more accurate due date. My midwife agreed and updated my file.

I didn’t have any particular expectations about giving birth. I didn’t give much thought to labor positions, breathing techniques, or other strategies. I didn’t attend classes or prepare candles or music. I assumed I would listen to my body, eat my snacks, and do whatever my midwife told me.

I never thought twice about a natural birth. I wasn’t afraid of pain simply because I didn’t see the point in fearing what I couldn’t control. I believed in my body and what it was made to do.

But optimistic beliefs and the power of positive thinking only go so far. In retrospect, I completely understand why women choose epidurals, schedule c-sections, and stop after one child. Natural birth is a commitment, and easier kept at home.

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My water broke punctually at 12:45a on December 4th. I leaked for over 7 hours — not a sudden flood like in the movies. Since I tested positive for Group B Strep, I needed to go into labor within 12 hours to avoid hospital transfer. I was relieved and excited when mild contractions began at 3:00a. I knew I would be having a baby that day.

At first it was all joy and anticipation. Getting tattoos taught me to channel uncomfortable physical sensations into pleasurable experiences. I applied this to contractions in early labor and it worked successfully for several hours. I ate a hearty meal. I put on lip gloss and posed for photos. I texted friends. I instagrammed.

And then it wasn’t fun anymore.

My midwife arrived at 2:30p and I promptly ripped my clothes off. I moved around from floor to birthing tub to toilet to birthing stool to bed. I bellowed until my throat was sore. I felt frustrated and helpless. My body inexplicably and repeatedly attacked itself and nothing I did could mitigate the pain.

I felt better when it came time to push because it was active effort instead of passive endurance. Maren and Kelly encouraged me to reach in and feel his head, but I wasn’t interested. Reaching in felt counterproductive. I wanted to focus my energy on getting him out of my body.

Soon enough, I felt the pressure of his head, then shoulders — and my baby was born. He was immediately wrapped in a towel and placed on my chest. I was laying down and didn’t have the strength to lift myself up to properly see him, but I held his warm little body close against mine and it was all I needed.

I lost track of time in those first few hours, and continued to live in a daze as subsequent days and sleep-deprived nights blurred into weeks. My world instantly became very small, but it’s also expanded as my heart overflows with the purest love I’ve ever known.

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It was one year ago that I decided I was ready to be a mom.

I had dealt with personal issues, healed from childhood hurts, and processed my perspective on future generations. I was at an emotionally healthy place in my relationship with my self and with my husband. I knew I had more to learn and more to give. And I kept getting the sense that my next step was woven within the journey of motherhood.

Several months ago, Julie, a dear friend and mother-figure in my life, told me: “The world was not ready for the gift of Atlas until now.” Those words strongly resonate with me. I believe he could not have been born at a more fitting time.

Atlas will grow up knowing the story of his birth — that from the beginning, he was so wanted, so loved, so treasured. That even in the womb, he made his parents incredibly happy just being himself. That he was born in his bedroom on a quiet, cold winter evening. As far as births go, it was wonderful. And as far as babies go, he is perfect.

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Photos by Reagan Denine Photography

things you can totally say to me while i’m pregnant

There are lots of things people say that offend pregnant women. Then again, there are lots of things people say that offend people in general. Personally, I love any question that is asked in an honest effort to understand or show me I am cared for.

Pregnancy is mysterious and fascinating and everyone experiences it differently. I happen to be an expert on my experience, and I love to share my expertise. Here are some things I don’t mind hearing in the least:

“Was it planned?”

It’s kind of a strange question because you’re asking about my sex life, but there’s more to it than that. With so many birth control options and perspectives on making babies, I am happy to tell you my story and how my thinking has changed over the past several years.

“How many kids do you want?”

I have no idea, but I like when people ask this because then I can reply with my charm and wit: “One at a time!” Baby brain is real, so when I have a prepared answer, I can’t wait to remember what I want to say and actually say it.

“You’re huge!”

OMG thank you! I would much rather hear that I’m large than small. I’ve gained almost 35 lbs and that weight is not hiding – I feel it every time I stand up, roll over, laugh, or basically try to do anything. My body has put a lot of effort and hormones into growing so big and beautiful (and emotional) and it doesn’t want to be ignored.

“Any news?”

Towards the end of pregnancy, I see how it could get annoying to be bombarded with constant inquiries of “Did you have the baby yet?” However, I choose to interpret it as: “I am so excited about the birth of your baby! Here is a conversation starter for you to talk about yourself and update me on whatever you’d like!”

Have any questions for me? Come over for some homemade kombucha (I’m GBS positive, so loving the probiotics) or say whatever you’d like in the comments below.

practices for life beyond pregnancy

Pregnancy problem: I don’t have anything to wear. Seriously.

Solution: Wardrobe simplicity.

Women’s clothes normally come in an overwhelming array of sizes and styles. But when you’re pregnant, a small is supposed to fit a multitude of bodies of varied heights with differently shaped bellies, butts, and boobs. And maternity clothes are expensive. It took me all summer to find reasonably priced non-knee-length shorts whose leg openings were the size of one leg instead of two. And then it started snowing :(

These days, I’m not working a regular person job. It’s very convenient for getting dressed. I rotate between two pairs of maternity leggings I bought specifically so I can still wear them post-baby. I have several non-maternity stretchy tees. I have socks. I have scarves. I have my winning personality. I look the same every day, but having fewer clothing options makes my life easier.

Life principle: I never want to be weighed down by stuff.

Pregnancy problem: My ribs hurt. All the time.

Solution: Regular showers.

It’s been my most persistent, most vexing pregnancy inconvenience. I have a small rib cage and just don’t have a lot of room. It’s not my muscles that are sore, so massage doesn’t help. Child’s pose is comforting, though inappropriate in some social situations. But hot water does wonders with relieving rib pain, and effortlessly persuades me to bathe on a consistent basis.

I’ve known about hot showers for a while, but I went through a phase where I would go without for days. I would wait to shower as a reward for exercising, or I would wear braids and hats and prove to myself how low maintenance I was. After I got married, in an attempt to embrace adulthood looking clean and bright, I slowly increased my showering frequency. But pregnancy has been the ultimate motivator.

Life principle: Good hygiene can be a gift to myself as much as it is a gift to those who must interact with me.

Pregnancy problem: I have no idea when I’ll go into labor.

Solution: Rest. Now.

October 1st, I stopped working a stressful schedule that was extremely taxing on my relationships with others and my relationship with myself. Since then, I have more time to engage in activities that inspire me. By operating out of a daily practice of rest, I’ve experienced a noticeable increase in my productivity, creativity, and peacefulness.

But sometimes the most restful activity is good ole passive slumber. At 38 weeks + 4 days, my baby is as active and nocturnal as ever, and he can greet the world at any moment. My midwife recommends daily naps so I will have enough energy for whenever a regular day becomes a birth day. I love it. Life will happen, and it’s out of my control, but I want to be ready to put in the effort when it matters most. (tweet that)

Life principle: Rest as a prerequisite for hard work and not a reward.

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Photo credit: http://reagandeninephotography.com