Archive | November, 2013

Birth Story

27 Nov

The Unicorn is 12 weeks old, almost 13. It has been a few months in the making, but I have finally written our birth story. I never thought birth stories were important until I gave birth and saw how little attention such a tremendous event receives.

Birth is powerful. It impacts everyone differently. Some experience trauma, anger, frustration, pain and heartache. My birth experience was healing, transformative, invigorating, and tremendously empowering. I’ve met some people that describe their experience as simultaneously traumatic and empowering, or beautiful and terrible. Birth is complex like that.

Through the social justice world, I’ve learned a lot about the power of story telling. It can be a protest, a therapy, an art piece, historic documentation, and so much more. Story telling is how we bring important parts of our lives out of the shadows. It is how we often shed shame and embrace all the pieces of our lives. Story telling is how we can keep important things alive, even when they have to compete with all of the big horrible aspects of our world.

With that, here is the story of the Unicorn’s journey Earthside.

Labor was a process. My process began on August 15, three days before my due date. I woke up having contractions and back pain, texted my midwife and went to work. When my partner came home, we went to the grocery store and filled our kitchen with fruit bars, dark chocolate, peaches, corn on the cob, and dried mangoes. I drank a glass of wine, took a bath, told my work I was officially on leave, and went to bed expecting to wake up soon with stronger contractions.

It was not time. I fell into a frustrating limbo. I wasn’t at work, or doing any of my normal activities, but I also was not anywhere near giving birth. I struggled because I had no control. I fielded endless questions. When is that baby coming? When are they going to induce you? Are you ready to be done? Have you felt anything yet?

A few days passed, and the intensity of those feelings faded. Our midwife recommended chiropractic adjustment and regular acupuncture. Contractions came and went. I stopped answering emails, calls and text messages. My partner and I went for walks in the Botanic Gardens and farmer’s markets. I spent hours in the kitchen making peach jam, knish, macaroons, challah, and soups. Every morning I put flowers, herbs, tobacco, and a note in a dish on my front porch. We lived in a bubble and I did whatever my heart told me needed to happen. I struggle to describe these moments, but I remember they felt sweet and magical.

August 26 things changed. Contractions grew stronger. Warm baths and wine did not stall them. I called the midwife and made a decadent dinner of butternut squash ravioli with wild mushrooms, white beans and chard. I stayed awake on the couch watching Top Chef. My partner was able to get a little sleep. I called the midwife when the contractions were strong enough that I could not stay seated.

I do not remember the next 24 hours with any sort of chronological clarity. I remember the midwife arriving. We played with my cats and talked about how we believed that birth and death should both happen at home whenever possible. She brought me plates of cherries, peaches, and nuts. I dozed off in a rocking chair, she curled up on the floor. When the sun came up, she tidied up the house and let the light in. I tried to eat. I refused to go for a walk. The birth tub in my bedroom was filled, and I spend several hours floating around. I slept between contractions. My partner and our midwife brought me drinks. I left the tub and began pacing around the living room.  At some point in time we played music.

My body was full of strange sensations: heaviness, tension, cramping. I do not remember a lot of pain, just intensity. Sometimes the contractions were so strong I would laugh awkwardly. Sometimes arrows of pain would shoot through my body. The midwife thought the baby might be in an odd position, so she helped me manipulate my body to move them from my pelvis so that they could reengage in the correct manner. This involved doing a headstand off the side of my bed, lying still, and several other activities that I would say, “I can’t do that!” to. The midwife eased me through the exercises. She spooned herbs into my mouth. I remember feeling like I was dancing and doing tai chi as I wandered through my house.

The intensity built. I felt nervous for a moment. The contractions were strong and the arrows of pain were coming with greater frequency. I leaned over a chair and my partner was putting counter pressure on my hips. I started to feel a little panicked only to feel a tremendous relief as my water broke. I laughed at how much fluid there was and jumped in the shower.

When I came out, I was in the transition phase of labor. I was well aware of this fact, and that made it even more frustrating. I remember hitting the cat’s scratching post and feeling profoundly claustrophobic. I kept saying, “I can’t do this.” The midwife reminded me I was at home and without pain meds by choice. She offered to take me to a hospital. I responded with an assertive, “No!” and went to the bathroom to labor on my own.

Then it came time to push. I didn’t realize I was pushing until my midwife told me I needed to come out so she could be with me. I practically dove into the birth tub. The second midwife was called in. My partner leaned over the edge of the tub and said, “You are doing it!” I had to move out of the tub to move the head through the pelvis, and then returned to the water.

The midwives cheered me on. One said, “Take a deep breath and breathe air into all of the parts that are burning.” I was about to stop and say, “I don’t feel burning,” and then the ring of fire hit. (Sidenote: This is a moment so aptly named that you would think June Carter Cash wrote about it instead of her sinful love for the hellion Johnny Cash.)

And then, at 1:44am on August 28, there was a baby in the tub. My partner caught them first. I grabbed them immediately. The Unicorn’s eyes were open. They squawked and cried. We eventually moved to our bed. The midwives left us be for an hour. The Unicorn nursed. We called our parents. Eventually I was patched up (with such grace and skill on the part of the midwives that my greatest birth fear as a trauma survivor has blended in with other lovely memories), took some arnica and put on some clothes. The midwives left as the sun came up, and the three of us fell asleep together.

Update: A few people have asked who our midwife was. Her name is Jen Anderson Tarver of New Lead Midwifery, and she is easily one of the smartest, wisest and kindest providers I have met.

On risk, part one

9 Nov

After a month or so of breastfeeding and pumping, it became quite clear to me I was going to have a great abundance of milk. We had all of the reserve I needed for Unicorn in case of an emergency (and then some), enough for when I was at work, and still I was pumping to avoid great discomfort. My freezer began overflowing with glass bottles and little bags that would come flying at me any time I went for a popsicle (not cool). At this point in time, I decided to start donating milk.

There are a few ways you can donate. One is to donate to Prolacta Bioscience, a for-profit milk bank. I think Prolacta Bioscience is corrupt and evil, in that way that any for-profit company selling a human necessity and making millions is. The next is to donate to HMBANA, a bank that screens donors, pasteurizes milk, and then sends it to babies in the NICU. This milk isn’t free (it also doesn’t cost hundreds of dollars like the milk from Prolacta), but it does go to the tiniest, most vulnerable babes. The final option is an “informal” milk share, where you can post with a need/want for milk, or just respond to posts from others, start a discussion, and swap milk. I really liked this option, because it was free for the family needing milk, went with my belief in mutual aid, and allowed a lot of freedom for all parties, so I went to Human Milk for Human Babies  and started talking to people.

As soon as I started sharing this with friends, I was sent this article about how breast milk purchased online was full of salmonella and other bacteria with a note like “Thought you should know about this one…”

Essentially, scientists assert that people buying milk from the internet cannot be certain that the milk is a) human milk (or any kind of milk for that matter) or b) not a cesspool of microorganisms waiting to pounce on their child’s wee immune system. I freaked out for a minute. I thought about stopping donating milk, because I didn’t want to get any babies sick. I couldn’t imagine being in a place where you were trusting someone else to help feed your kid only to have them contract a horrid disease.

Then I remembered I am not trying to turn a profit on what I am giving away, and am certainly not selling anything on the internet. Then I realized that every ounce I pump I do so with my Unicorn in mind first and foremost. Once they are set for the time I am away for work (and I recount my frozen backup 50 ounces) I give milk to another family. You bet your ass I am washing my hands, boiling my equipment, chilling the milk, and doing my damnedest to ensure that my beloved Unicorn’s food is not tainted. The last shipment I sent away, I packed the milk up carefully with icepacks, cold bags, and a cooler. I would have trusted that milk with my own child. Why did I feel so guilty and anxious giving it to someone else?

This feeling–not the particular terror of giving someone else’s baby ebola, but the anxiety of doing things the wrong way–is not unfamiliar to me. We had a home birth. Any time I came in contact with a doctor or nurse, I was told about how I could die, my baby could die, my house could catch fire, or some other horror could transpire. Overall, I was confident in my choice. My midwife is probably one of the most wise and intelligent people I have spent significant time with. I met every ounce of criteria for being low risk. That said, every so often I would start to feel a creeping anxiety about making the wrong choice.

Is it possible I am a completely reckless person?

What will happen if [xyz] horrible thing happens?

I ended up having a healthy, magical home birth that made me want to have many more babies. I also came to a realization about how we are socialized to understand risk in this world, especially with regard to medical choices.

The Western Medical Industrial Complex has sold us a concept that all things done outside its realm are risky, dangerous, and overall not advisable. Things done within the doors of pharmacies, doctor’s offices, hospitals, and other sanctioned areas may have a slew of side effects, but they aren’t anything like the risks you encounter with any of those traditional medicines that have been healing people for thousands of years on a slice of the same budget.

And that is where I come to a simple, trite sounding truth that I want to scream from a tall building. Life is full of risks. The thing about living in a world with massive corporate control is that some risks will be emphasized over and over (and over and over and over and over and over). Typically those risks do not make people in big tall buildings wearing power suits lots of money.

Don’t believe me? Ask your nearest person that has given birth how many doctors, nurses, media sources, etc. informed them as to how their chance of receiving risky medications, unnecessary interventions, or surgery was increased dramatically by giving birth in a hospital without a midwife or a doula.

I have heard a lot about the perceived risks of breastfeeding. A baby may not thrive on a parent’s milk production alone. They may get an allergy. They may never take a bottle. They may grow up to be “strange”, “overly attached”, or my personal favorite: HOMOSEXUAL. I have also heard that I may spread horrible diseases to my baby if I pump milk and have it fed to them. I have not heard about the potential dangers of formula feeding.

This isn’t to say some babies don’t need formula, or that formula has no place in this world. However, there are big powerful people that make A LOT of money selling formula as an easy, risk-free fix all for infant feeding. But what about severe allergies, or factory mixups, tampering, or product recalls? Those things happen all of the time, and formula is not exempt.

I could go on, but the point isn’t to argue about what behavior takes more risks, it is that there are risks to all choices and we make the best ones we can based on our personal circumstances. For the families I share with, they have decided that donor milk from someone that drinks some (not much) alcohol/caffeine, abstains from dairy, does not smoke, takes vitamins, and eats a mostly plant based diet is a good source of nourishment for their kid. Someone else may choose different. The reason why corporately influenced medicine is so dangerous is because it will leverage influence over practitioners and slick advertising campaigns to make people believe any alternative is so full of risk and inefficacy that they are ridiculous for treading that way.

And with that, I continue to make the intimate personal choice to donate milk. I know that most families cannot afford to buy milk at the high costs of Prolacta, and also cannot access the supplies of HMBANA. I trust that they have weighed their options and make their choices with the same goal I have: healthy babies.

Post script: Perhaps the hardest part in the milk donation process was when I was ready to arrange a sustained donation (I would give everything I was able to a family on a regular basis) to a family, and they asked “Do you have a boy or a girl?” When I told them how I has raising the Unicorn, they told me they had concerns about my “lifestyle” and refused the donation.