Wednesday, July 28, 2010

a new mantra

We have had two dates in the 11 weeks since Rhys was born.  Last week we saw Michael Franti at the Britt Festival.  This week we saw Jimmy Cliff.  Before both shows, I stood in front of my closet looking fearfully and then hopelessly at the row of ill-fitting tops and bottoms.  I realized that all of my clothes are mom-of-one clothes.
So I say aloud, "I am a mom-of-two.  I am a Mom of Two."
It is different this time.  My midwife said, "Let yourself be changed."  And that feels like permission, so I am following instructions.  But I think it means I need to go shopping.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

A beautiful birth

Rhys Devin Mahoney
This is his birth story.
I really feel that our journey began almost two years before I birthed Rhys.  I became pregnant for the second time in the late summer of 2008.  The pregnancy ended after only about 14 weeks, yet I had connected deeply with the baby spirit who had tried to enter our world.  Throughout the next year I discovered why that spirit had not made a complete journey into our family.  My husband, Devin, and my daughter, Grace, and I had some work to do first.  Devin and I separated for a few months and began a healing path that resulted in a renewed commitment to each other and our family.  Grace turned 5 and had a year of growing independence!  She began to separate from the concrete bond she and I have had all her life. 
I believe now that Rhys was waiting for us to make a little room for him.  Grace moved over a bit, and Devin and I opened our arms wider to love and life and family.
Healing from the loss of that pregnancy only came when I forgave myself for the loss and began to trust my body and my ability as a woman and mother.  I had not realized how deeply connected my identity was to my ability to successfully bear children.  When I failed, my sense of myself as a woman was bruised. 
When I discovered I was pregnant again at the end of the summer of 2009, I was cautiously optimistic.  I understood this time that so many things can and do go wrong when we are growing babies, and what a miracle the process really is.  However, I also had a renewed sense of trust in myself and my body.  I trusted the spirit of my baby and the wisdom he carried.  I knew that he had come back to us now that we were ready.
My pregnancy was refreshingly uncomplicated and smooth.  Morning sickness came and went quickly.  My chronic back pain seemed to have diminished and then disappear.  The only peculiarity was how big I was measuring through the entire pregnancy.  The size of my belly made us all think that I was further along than the ultrasounds were showing.  We thought I would deliver early.
I received care from our family doctor, who had delivered Grace and cared for us since.  I planned to birth at Ashland Community Hospital.
My due date was April 20th.  On April 21st I went to my scheduled appointment where my doctor told me he was leaving town for an "emergency conference" in Florida.  He was leaving me in the care of another local doctor who I had heard good things about.  Because I had passed my date, he sent me to the hospital for a non-stress test and ultrasound to check my amniotic fluid levels.  When I was at the hospital, he called again to tell me that his colleague was not able to be on call as she was also going out of town for the following week.  He said that another female doctor was to be on call. 
I felt anxious, but was focused on the monitoring of my baby and body.  They had me worried that my fluids were too high.  By the time I went home, though, I was feeling extremely anxious about being in the care of a doctor I had never met.  I reached out to Mama's Medicine Wheel, a local resource for moms, asking if anyone had birthed with this doctor I had never heard of.  I received several replies ranging from a mediocre review to one doula who strongly urged me to find another doctor because she had seen this doctor deliver several babies and had never seen anyone pull so hard on the infants emerging head!  I was already feeling uncomfortable with the idea of birthing with a stranger, and now these bad reviews!  I tried not to panic, but I felt increasingly angry.  I began to feel that my choices were being ripped away. 
The next day I spent all day on the phone with local doctors, the birthing center, and learned very little about who actually was on call at the hospital on which days.  I also learned that the only other team of doctors who had delivering rights at my local hospital would not take me on because I was now "post dates".  I felt the panic in my chest rising.  I was so angry that I was spending my last days pregnant trying to find someone to deliver my baby!  I had imagined these last days would be about breathing, relaxing, taking baths, and preparing food. 
That afternoon I was on the phone with my husband, telling him what I had learned and how extremely angry I was.  I knew I would not birth with the on-call doctor, but what were my options?  He stopped me and said one of the most important things he has ever said to me, "Helen, I understand you are hurt and angry and feeling abandoned, but I want you to set the anger aside for now.  I want you to make this decision based on what you want.  What do you want?  Come to this decision from that place."
I knew exactly what he meant.  We had taken a 5 week CHI class early that spring at Hidden Springs Wellness Center that practiced the art of focusing on what we want to create, and how to heal the obstacles that arise.  I took a deep breath and thought about what I wanted.
I wanted to birth with someone I trusted.  I wanted to labor in a way that felt supported and conscious and planned.  I wanted to look in the face of the person who would catch my baby, and know them and know that they knew me.  I wanted to be seen and respected as I birthed my son.
That evening I called Laura Roe.  She was the midwife I had wanted to deliver Grace 5 years ago.  Toward the end of my pregnancy with Grace, she had transferred me to the care of the doctor when I was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis.  I birthed in the hospital and missed out on the home birth I had wanted.  I asked Laura, knowing it was a long shot due to my "post date" status, if she would consider guiding my birth and helping me deliver at home.  I heard the long deep breath she took on the other end of the phone line.  I knew I was asking a lot.  We talked about why I wanted this, about my health this time around (which was excellent) and about our readiness and willingness as a family in this last minute request.  She said she needed to see my charts from the doctor and she wanted to sit with myself and Devin before she could make a decision. 
The next morning she arrived early and sat with us for almost 2 hours.  We talked about the journey we had taken to get to this moment and all of our feelings about it.  Laura had a lot of questions for us.
By the same time the next day, Saturday,  Laura had committed to us and to the birth.  I was excited and relieved. 
I had an ultrasound scheduled for the following Monday because my fluids were high and I was almost 41 weeks.  The tech estimated the baby to be 9lbs 15 oz and asked what my plans were.  Because the ultrasound had been originally scheduled by the doctor, I had just politely asked that the report also be sent to Laura Roe.  I never said that I was planning on birthing at home, but I think they red-flagged my chart.  The doctor came in to review the ultrasound, and immediately suggested that I birth in the hospital.  The first thing she said was, "with a baby this size, the worst-case-scenario is that the shoulders get stuck and the baby dies."  Wow.  I was polite, but left thinking about how fear-based the mainstream care was.  I vowed to not go back to the doctor or hospital unless it was medically necessary.  I would birth this boy at home with the love and faith and clarity that we were now building with our midwife. Laura was not afraid of the size of the baby.  She felt the size of my pelvis and was confident that my body would allow this birth.  I thought it was interesting that the doctor would make assumptions without even feeling my pelvis.
We were on a time line due to the fact that midwives are required to transfer care when a woman passes 42 weeks.  We discussed the options of natural induction.  I had a couple days of accupuncture, colonics, walking, and sex, but this boy was not ready to come. 
Laura suggested another ultrasound to check fluid levels.  She said that if I was 2 weeks post dates I wouldn't be expected to have high fluid levels, and that if the levels were still good, we might get away with waiting a couple more days without having to transfer me to the care of a doctor.  I was dreading walking back in that office.  I asked Laura if I could just have one more night, and if in the morning I wasn't in labor, I would get that ultrasound.  She agreed.  Sure enough, by 9 am, I sensed that the contractions were stronger than the Braxton-hicks that I'd had.  I sent Devin to work, though, knowing that this was just the beginning.  But by 10:30 I called him to come back home.  Laura came about noon which was when I was starting to sit on the birthing ball and breathe through contractions.  It was May 6th, a beautiful warm day. 16 days past my due date.
Grace and Laura sang along to the soundtrack for Annie.  Devin hung out with me in the bedroom.  I was fed, hydrated, and massaged.  Grace held my hand tight through hard contractions.  In the afternoon we felt that it was time to call our support team:  My mom, Devin's mom, and Devin's sister Meghan.  Laura called her team: Veege, and Naya.  I stayed in my bedroom and bathroom, but I sensed the fun and love and peace in the rest of the house.  Now and then I heard music and laughter. 
The contractions were intense.  I felt best on the bed on hands and knees.  Laura reminded me to feel the love and strength in Devin's hand and Grace's hand that held mine, and to breathe that strength into each contraction.  She had me visualize my baby moving down into position.  I used the tools from the CHI class and visualizations to guide me.  They fed me smoothies and water, Grace liked doing it.  She ran in and out of the room, checking on me and helping Laura with the doppler.  I remember noticing at some point that the light was changing, and wondering why this was taking so long.  Grace's birth had only lasted 6 hours.  But no one said anything about time or about progress.  I was trusted completely.  Everyone present trusted me completely.  And that gave me permission to trust myself. 
I dropped into that Trust.  I trusted my body, and I trusted my baby.  More than anything, I trusted my baby.  I knew he had waited a long time for this, and that his timing was perfect. 
Laura or Veege suggested I sit on the birthing stool, which felt really great.  I began to get lost in my contractions, closing my eyes and moaning.  Laura asked me to look at her and as I came back, I felt that I needed to stay present.  They took turns sitting in front of me, looking into my eyes, meeting me where I was, and moaning and singing with me.  They coached me to keep my voice low and my jaw relaxed.  I had more focus than I have ever experienced.  I was completely present.  Veege asked me to stand up and raise my knees one at a time.  It was difficult, but as I looked out at the sky getting slightly dark, I felt my baby twist and slide down inside me.  I sat back down on the stool and a moment later I felt myself instinctively pushing against myself inside.  It felt good, a relief when I pushed.  Veege told me to go with it, and we trusted my body again.  As I let go into the sensations, I pushed and my water broke.  All over Veege!  All over everything!  And yes, I had plenty of fluid!  Seconds later I vomited. The sensation of my baby snuggled down into me in the right position felt good.  And pushing felt good.  I felt strong.  To me it felt like one long contraction, ebbing and flowing and bringing my baby closer.  I felt the spirit of god moving through me, growling through my throat and huffing air through my nose.  I gave myself over completely to the power that was moving through me.  It was so big. 
10 minutes after my water broke, Laura caught my baby boy and handed him up to me.  He was beautiful.  Grace and Devin were beside me and then I finally noticed the crowd that was hovering at the door of our very small bedroom:  both Grandmas, Auntie Meghan, and Naya.  I think they all were crying.  Veege and Laura took up the small amount of space that was beside me on the floor.  What a team!  I felt so powerful.  I felt energized in those moments I first held him.  Whatever had moved through me was still pulsing. 
The midwives were very attentive, but didn't intervene unnecessarily.  My son gurgled a little bit, but was breathing fine in my arms and didn't need suction.  Everyone was saying how big he was.  But I didn't think so.  I had pushed him out easily in 10 minutes and it felt good!  He couldn't be very big!  Or could he?  Later, after he weighed in at 10 lbs 3 oz, I laughed because I had thought he was small based on how he felt coming out.  I thought it funny that I thought I knew what a 10 pound baby felt like coming out of my body.  Grace was less than 8 pounds.  Of course I didn't know what a 10 lb baby felt like because I had never had one.  But THIS baby, coming out of MY body, felt just right.  And, he happened to be over 10 pounds! 
My birthing experience was perfect.  All births are, really.  But this is a birth journey that taught us so many things.  And I am grateful. 
I could have had Rhys in the hospital.  He still would have been beautiful.  We would have loved him just as much.  But I wouldn't have had the opportunity to recover my power.  I refused to let my doctor decide for me where, when, or with whom I birthed my son.  If I had continued care with him, I would have been medically induced.  I may have ended up with a C-section.  I definitely wouldn't have been trusted so completely.  I wouldn't have learned how to trust myself again.  I wouldn't have had the experience of power in my decision making and power in pushing my big baby into the world. 
I believe that a home birth was the best decision for us.  It may not be for everyone.  But I believe that women should have choices.  We should choose when and where and with whom we will birth our babies.  It is our right to make these choices and we should be wary of anyone who tries to take that power from us. 
I learned about power.  The power of a mother bear, which is how they described me as I pushed Rhys out.  I move forward in my life as a woman, and as a parent, with that power, and I hold it close.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

is there room for me...?

In my family, I am realizing, it is The Question.
At 6 weeks old, Rhys is asking constantly, "Is there room for me?" As in, "Will you wake up and feed me? Will you realize that my skin is cold in the wind? Will you stop what you are doing to rub my tummy and help the gas move?" Of course we are all following our natural instincts to meet his needs, even Papa and 5-year-old sister Grace.
Grace asks in classic displaced-older-child style, "Is there still room for me? When are my needs the top priority? Will you put the baby down and kiss my scraped knee? Will you feed me my tricky salad with your left hand while you nurse my brother? Will Papa like my brother more than me?"
Papa finds us in bed late at night, Mama and baby in nursing position, and big sister sprawled sideways. He asks as he rubs tired eyes, "Is there room for me?"
The question I am asking is about the inner Me, the woman I have found and lost again and found and then become a distant acquaintance of. Is there room for Me?
As I walked the stroller up the hills tonight I watched people in their homes, reading, laughing, a couple sitting on their deck in the dusk light. I wonder if they, in their own ways, ask the same question. Because it is about attention to one's true and honest self and validation from those we love.
I am challenged now as a mom of two, mama to a babe again, to make the room for myself. It means waking earlier, sacrificing already sparse hours of deep sleep to get a cup of uninterrupted coffee. It means self-forgiveness and self-love. If I love this body, overweight and marked and scarred by babies...if I forgive myself for snapping at my oldest daughter or blaming my husband for, well, everything...if I truly see myself in that space, I am in effect making room for the woman in the mirror. Making room for the truth of the matter. Which is that I am an excellent mother who sometimes yells, a loving wife who often forgets her husband is not one of the kids, and I am doing the best I can in each moment.
If there is room for us, we feel validated. However, as we grow up, we must make the room ourselves. If we are stuck standing at the end of the bed, waiting for someone to make room for us, we may just be there still at dawn. We must climb in, move a limb or two, share a pillow. But it sure feels good when those same limbs wrap around us and welcome us home to the family.

Monday, June 21, 2010

tears for father's day

I stood in the greeting card aisle at Albertson's early on Sunday morning, tears streaming down my yet unwashed face. Grace and I had left the boys sleeping in bed and jetted across town to pick up breakfast foods and pictures I had printed at Rite Aid. It seemed that this Father's Day hit with more significance than year's past.
Maybe it is because last year we were separated, and this year we are so very together, all of us.
Maybe because Grace was so excited, at the other end of the aisle, that they had water balloons and "can we please, please, please get them for Papa for Father's Day?"
Maybe because of how very deeply I feel now that our family is complete, that Rhys' birth last month really cemented our family as a family.
Those tears felt good. They felt like a surrendering relief, as I recognized how far we have come and how much we have grown. Ahh. We are here. We grew up a little. We are where we said we wanted to go.
I thank you. Your commitment to me and us and these beautiful kids is delicious. You are a poem. You are my poem. I love you.
Happy Father's Day to the best father of all.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

may the hiatus cease...

I thought, in 2008, that this blog would be a place for me to log our adventures, my thoughts, and also the challenges of being a mom and a woman. I lost track of it somewhere along the way...hmmmm...among the burned toast and late dinners and choosing of preschools...
I hope I am back. I hope I can use this to keep connected - to myself, to the journey, to my family and friends.
Here goes...