Friday, June 18, 2010


Rowena turned two months old Tuesday. I realized that if I didn’t write her birth story soon, it would be fuzzy, wonderful memory. My plan had been to record her birth as it was happening. After the birth, I would look at those notes, and create a story from them. It was to be an intellectual exercise, exploring memory and the way we tell our stories. Of course this did not happen. In the midst of birth, there was no story. There was only happening. Afterwards, I struggled to write this blessed out story. But the words just never captured that becoming. Two months out, I have accepted that this story, here for my dear readers, is not the happening. It can never be that. It has to be something else. It’s a story for those who might fear birth. It’s a story advocating a certain kind of birth. It’s a story about how birth can heal. It’s a story about the wonder of pushing a life into the world. But it is not the experience of that happening. That happening is something that I can only carry in my body. It belongs somewhere without words.

On Tuesday, April 13, I woke up feeling peaceful and content. I had to trust that my body knew when to give birth. My midwife had emailed me offering me a birth ball to use, and I debated whether I wanted to make the drive to pick it up or not. I had to teach that night and part of me wanted to just go hang out at the park. But I knew that the ball could help my body get ready for birth, and that it might position the baby better for birth. I ended up loading the kids into the van and heading out. D, my midwife, met me and we took a second to check the baby’s position. Nothing much had changed but I felt okay with this. She gave me the ball, and some Evening Primrose Oil as well as some black and blue colosh. On the way home, my contractions started up again. They weren’t over-whelming and I was able to drive fine. Once back at the house though, they increased, and I got on the ball which made them more intense.

H came home shortly afterwards, and I asked him to drive me to the university so I could teach. The class was horrible. I was so spacey and sometimes the contractions were intense enough that I couldn’t talk. I’m sure I made little sense. After the class, I waited around for H to pick me up (he had gotten the time wrong so it was a wait). I walked around a lot as the contractions were coming regularly and with a bit of discomfort. He finally showed up and we went out to eat. By the time, we left the restaurant; I felt that I might actually be in labor. I immediately got on the ball upon arriving home, and I took some blue and black colosh hoping to keep the labor going. I got nothing. The contractions stopped and I went to bed. I woke up once to go pee, and the pressure was really intense. I did some squatting at the end of my bed, and it did feel like she moved down a bit.

Wednesday morning, April 14, I woke up feeling really grumpy. I had not slept really well, and the aforementioned peaceful feeling was swallowed up in the exhaustion of three weeks of off and on again contractions. At this point, I was nearly 39 weeks which is the longest I had ever been pregnant. I went to the university and taught. This class sucked because NO ONE had done the readings. I’d ask questions to only get blank stares. I told them off soundly at the end of class while enduring yet another round of contractions. After class, I soothed my grumpy self by chatting it up with my favorite post adviser. Midway through this talk, the contractions once again regulated. He looked concern as I had to keep stopping and kept asking if I was feeling okay. Finally I left and went to the grocery store. The contractions were coming every five minutes and lasting about 2 minutes. I really wanted this to be it but I doubted my ability to read my body. I shopped, and by the end of the experience was actually hurting. I got home, feed the kids, and then asked my Facebook friends if they thought I should call H. I compromised and emailed him. He called five minutes after I emailed and said “Call D, and I’ll call you back.” D, upon hearing that I was contracting every five minutes said to have H come home, and then if I was still continuing to contract for 45 minutes to call her.

H came home and I was still contracting. I had feed the kids, got them dressed, and was packing last minute things when he arrived. I called my mom as well to tell her that this seemed to be the real deal. Meanwhile, H’s dad calls and tells us he’s at the airport. H gives him our address so that he can take a taxi to our place. And then we head out to the birth center. The drive over was hellish.

Once there we settled into a quiet rhythm. My mom had yet to arrive so we go the kids settled into the room. I spent some time on the ball, talking to D about what was happening. My mom arrived, and we hung and chatted after I introduced her to D and the backup midwife. Then things really slowed down. I was still having regular contractions but they were very peaceful and easy. They didn’t really hurt although sometimes they were intense enough that I had to stop talking. But mostly they were bearable. I did everything I could think of and everything D could think of to get things going. I sat in the pool, I walked around outside, I sat on the ball. I squatted. And we all talked. We talked about music, about breastfeeding, about birthing advocacy. I never once felt rushed to birth, even when I started to feel discourage myself, I never felt like D was trying to push me into action.

She checked me around seven with my permission and I was at 7 cent. I was happy with the progress but feeling a bit like this was going to take much longer than I had anticipated. The baby was bouncing up and down and just not getting really good contact with my cervix. My mom had taken the kids to eat and play at McDonald’s but I didn’t know how much more waiting around they would be able to take when they got back. I was starting to wonder if I should go home. I didn’t want to go home as I knew I wasn’t going to be able to labor with H’s dad there. But I was also starting to feel bad that the midwives were stuck with me. We had also forgotten Umberto’s medicine.

At nine, she checked me again, and I was at 8 cent. This was pretty discouraging. She offered to break my water. H and I talked about after she left us alone. We really wanted a totally natural labor but we were torn because we knew that once my water broke, labor would come quickly for me (this is how I normally process). It was apparent that the baby was big so we weren’t worried about size. We finally decided that H would go get Umberto’s meds, and that if nothing had happened by then, we’d break my water. While he was gone, I watched a movie and talked to my mom while riding the ball. I was still chatting away comfortably while having regular contractions. H came back and we decided to go ahead and break my water.

I got Umberto his meds, firmly made the girls go lay down, and then D. broke my water at 1 a.m. It took awhile. But afterwards things really picked up. I got into the shower with H, and the contractions become more forceful and I had to vocalize through them. They weren’t enough to make me out of control but they were intense. In the shower, I started to squat while H pushed on my hips. It felt so good to have him do this. I felt exhausted at this point so I decided I wanted to lie down. D had come in and laid out her stuff. She later told me that she could hear the change in my vocalizing. We laid down with Umberto on side of H, and me on the other said. I closed my eyes but the contractions now felt like waves washing over me. H had his arm around my belly, and all of a sudden, I felt the baby drop way down. H felt it as well. He said his whole arm dropped down. That’s when things began for real. While it was intense, it was not unbearable. The contractions continued to move in a wave like fashion, and I began to moan, low through them. I didn’t feel like was a pain moan but rather a primitive moan that was bringing the contractions on stronger to help me push out the baby. I squatted at the end of the bed with Umberto watching me his eyes wide. H assured him it was okay and that this meant the baby would be here soon. The student midwife got our camera and woke up my mom who came in and sat with Umberto on the bed.

I don’t remember too much during this stage. D was a felt but never intrusive presence. H was wonderful as always and he held me, soothing me with his hands. Everyone was so calm, and the peace was reassuring. We were listening to Philip Glass and Ravi Shankar’s Passages and the lights were dimmed. I kept squatting and visualizing that my baby was moving to meet us. I began to feel a lot of pushy pressure and wanted to push but D said I had a lip and wanted me to breathe through a couple of contractions. I remember going into the bathroom, and jokingly assuring her I wouldn’t give birth on the toilet. Then I tried to remain standing , tried to breathe those contractions. I was tossing my head like a horse and breathing hard. Finally I decided I had to lie down on my side.

As I was marching toward the bed, the midwives were hurrying to get a chux pad under me, and Umberto was flying off the bed as I was getting on. He stood by my mom from the side as I lay down with H holding my leg and my hand. D wanted me to wait but I just couldn’t help the pushing. She held the lip back while I began to push. I don’t think I pushed as hard as I had with the other children. I wasn’t being coached or rushed so it felt like I was in much more control. I pushed when I felt ready to do so. At one point, I looked up at H and said “I can’t do this!” and he said “But you are doing it!” And the look of love and confidence got me through the next few contractions. Finally I felt her head crowning, the ring of fire, and then at the tail end of a contraction (I could hear D saying “Well the head will be out with the next contraction” and then “No wait she’s going to do it on this one!”) I pushed the head out. I was able to reach down during this and feel her head which was so amazing. But it still hurt! I was used to having the pain pretty much evaporate once the baby’s head was out. “It still hurts!” I exclaimed, “Is the head really out?” H assured me it was and D said “We have to get the shoulders out on the next contraction.” So I pushed the shoulders out and it STILL HURT. I then had to push the belly out.

Finally she slid out, and I heard her cry as she was placed on my belly. The midwives wrapped her in a blanket, and Umberto jumped up beside to get a better look. We looked to see what gender we had. Another girl! H and I were looking at each other, and at that moment I knew without a doubt that he loved me and that I loved him. We had done this together.

We asked Umberto if he was disappointed with another sister and he said “No she’s so cute!” I ask D if I needed to birth the placenta, and she said “Not yet.” I nursed Rowena (who was not all that interested in nursing but definitely interested in crying). Umberto got to feel the pulsing of the umbilical cord. Once it stopped pulsing, H cut the cord, and I birthed the placenta in one easy push. D showed Umberto and my mom how tough the caul had been and we think it was because I drank so much orange juice!

Rowena was weighed and measured (8lb. 9ozs and 19.5 inches long). I had only a tiny tear and needed no stitches. We dressed her and I held her while eating a Waffle House meal (yuck). Piper woke up a bit later, and came in all ready to cry. I said "Hey Piper, you want to meet your new sister?" And she stopped the almost tantrum immediately and ran over. Then 3 hours later we went home with our newest beastie.

The birth was a truly joyous experience. From not feeling rushed to feeling calm, the midwives made this about what I needed to give birth. I felt so in control even at the end when the contractions were so intense. I was never scared, never cried out for a hospital or pain killers. Even at the most intense moments, I knew my body could do this. I knew she was big and I knew I could push out a big baby. As H said it never felt like an emergency like it all too often did during the births of other children. The birth healed me and it healed a lot in my relationship with H. During the one moment where I was faltering, it was H I turned to and it was H who gave me the strength to keep going. We birthed so much in that room. We birthed a new life, a new memory.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Thing Camille Has Been Scared Of

Camille is delightfully eccentric. Anyone who follows this or my blog knows this about her. Even her fears are outside of the norm. I figured I'd put them here as someday this will no doubt will be a wonderful way to torture her around friends. So in no particular order:

1. The giant ice cone at Harris Teeter. When Camille was a baby, we used to show up a Harris Teeter nearby that feature a HUGE plastic ice cream cone hanging over the freeze. When she was really little (9 months or so) she would just turn her head. We didn't really notice at first but then one day I caught it:
Me: H, look she's scared of that cone thing!
H: No way. Hey Camille look at the cone!!!
Camille: NOOO!!!! WHAAAAAAA!!!
Us: Uproarious laughter (cause we're sick and want to psychologically damage our children).

After that whenever we went into Teeter, she would sob if we walked down that aisle. We considered putting this fear on her daycare application.

2. The opening music to the remake of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. She LOVED the movie but was so scared of the beginning that she would hide behind the chair. Once the opening credits were over, she'd sit down and watch. At first, we thought she was scared of the actual opening but one day we discovered the truth. H bought the kids the soundtrack to the movie, and we were playing it for them in the car. While as soon as the opening music came on, Camille screamed "TURN IT OFF!!!" over and over until we did. It was the music not the opening.

3. The owls in the Harry Potter movies. Doesn't every other kid love them?

Right now she just told me she's scared of snakes and spiders.

Just in (direct Camille quote) "Oh yeah, from Alice in Wonderland? The Queen with the huge head? She kind of freaks me out."

Grasping For...

the words to tell the story of Rowena's birth.

But meanwhile, I've been posting a lot at the kids' blog:

Sunday, June 06, 2010


Conversations with my kids:
Me: Camille, get that chair out of my knitting bag!
Camille: I can't I'm trapping Strike! He's the evil devil.
Piper: Yeah he's the evil devil not the good devil. The good devil is good.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Don't You Know What Schooling Will Do To Your Children?

I realized today while responding to yet another negative response to homeschooling that I spent a big chunk of my life defending our parenting choices. For the last ten years, I've had to defend breastfeeding, extended breastfeeding, selective vaxing, baby wearing, co-sleeping, cloth diapering, and homeschooling. Initially, I entered these debates with the fervor of crusader hoping to convert the masses. As the years went the fervor turned more to an irritated defensiveness. And then today as I typed out yet another answer to why I didn't worry about my kids turning into antisocial nut cases I realized I'm kind of done with trying to explain my choices.

Most of the people I am arguing with are not really interested in hearing any kind of counter arguments. The person I was responding to today for example had ignored the article on which we were supposed to be commenting. She had totally dismissed it as bias and must have skimmed over the number of studies cited showing that homeschool kids are often better socialized for the "real world." She was too wrapped up in her own negative experience to see that it didn't have to be this way. If it's not a personal experience people are holding too, then it's a stereotype usually justified in with "I once knew a kid who was home schooled...." There is an idea that when goes against the mainstream they should be prepared to defend that choice.

But what really gets me is this: How many of these people ever asked themselves what school would do to their children? Did they ever stop for a moment to think about not schooling? I know I didn't when I sent Umberto to school. I even knew homeschoolers but it just never occurred to me that I could not send Umberto. Sending your five year old to school is what you did. I didn't stop to think about what school does to a child. I didn't worry about socialization. This coming from someone who read John Gatto with her high school kids! If I didn't stop to reflect on these things how many more conventional parents have? I did all the other research. I look into education philosophies. I read up on the options in my area. I talked to other parents about the schools in the system but I never took a moment to really ponder that school might damage my child.

However as a home schooler, I have to ponder these things every time someone challenges me on why I home school. I have perfected my argument but I still fell into the trap of doubt that comes when you have no support but only criticism. Now I feel stronger about our choice but I also feel really tired of answering total strangers questions.

Here's what I'd like to say:

Adult to my kids: "Oh my why aren't you in school?"
Kids, proudly: "We don't go to school. We're home schooled."
Adult with lips pursued, disapproval all over face: "Oh." Then to me " Why do you home school? Don't you worry about their socialization skills?"
Me: "Why do you send your kids to school? Aren't you worried about their social skills?"

Adult: "Oh you're nursing. Don't you feel weird doing that in public? When are you going to wean? Isn't it a bother" (This is always said in a disgusted voice)
Me: "Why are bottle feeding your kid formula? Don't you know the crap they put into that stuff?

Adult: "What is that you have your baby in? why don't you just use a stroller?"
Me: "Why on earth are you pushing that child in a plastic, metal contraption?'

Adult: "Don't you think it's strange to have your baby in bed with you?"
Me: "No stranger than keeping one in a cage."

Let me be clear upon ending that I don't really have any negative feelings about people's choices (okay some of them for sure) in terms of their families. I have had to use formula. I don't care if your baby is in a crib. I do use a stroller sometimes. But I do find it strange that I am constantly challenged on mine. Maybe it was how I was raised but I would never approach a stranger and demand to know why they send their kids to school, bottle feed, use a stroller, etc. I never ask them to defend their choices, to offer me up their arguments and philosophies of education. Maybe it's time I did not for the sake of judging but the sake of dialogue. Maybe having to think about what we take for granted would spark challenges to the norm.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010


The last two months have been about births of multiple kinds for both the beasties and the grown ups. We have had birth on the brain ever since we found out that we were expecting beastie number four. When the earth side beasties found out the news, they dragged out "It's So Amazing" from under some more popular books, and it once grained it's popularity in our home. We looked at lots of pictures of what the fetus looks like during various stages of pregnancy as well as many, many youtube videos of births as the beasties were invited to this birth. So we had this birth to look forward to but there were other births waiting in the wings.

First, Umberto had two grand mal seizures and was diagnosed with epilepsy in late January. This was after an EEG showed that he had petite mal seizures as well as some activity during his sleep. Petite mal seizures aka absence seizures occur without much visibility. It looks like someone is spacing out. My brother has these. But the birth here wasn't my son's condition. What happened is that he began meds and he began to read. It wasn't that dramatic but we noticed a marked improvement within a week of the meds. And with each tiny step toward reading, Umberto began to grow more confident. Suddenly it wasn't just Camille who was sitting curled up in chair reading, it was Umberto as well. He was no longer scared to read to me because he finally knew most of the worlds. I felt justified in my instinct that was something was off with Umberto, and while I wish to whoever that he didn't have epilepsy, I'm glad it's been caught and that we are finally seeing some improvement.

And Camille had her own birth in reading as well. Freed from the constraints of school, she is now reading chapter books on her own. We're guessing she's a third or fourth grade reading level...not too shabby for seven.

Second, we rebirthed our love of modified unschooling. I make no claims to be an unschooler so let's keep the flaming to ourselves, ok? But I do think we lean towards unschooling. The last few weeks of my pregnancy found me a constantly contracting bitch who really had very little patience for any kind of formal schooling. We spent a lot of time doing: reading, park, Legos, Bill Nye the science guy on the internet. My kids learned a lot, and so did I. I realized that I didn't really need to come up with fancy lesson plans. When you make learning a part of your life, you don't need to make it entertaining. There's no need for the dog and pony show I was used to creating to keep high school students from drooling on their desks. I even got to drive the point home with H.

We introduced Camille to habitats and food chains with some library books. Of course Umberto and Piper went along for the ride. I read them a few books and we talked about them. The next day the kids began a week long obsession with all things food chain and habitat related. H was stunned as the kids kept running downstairs to bring us pictures they drew, on their own, of various food chains and animal habitats.

Third, we had a real live human birth! And Umberto witness the whole kabang! All of the children began the journey at the birth center but only Umberto managed to stay up until 3:23 am to witness his sister being pushed out into the world. He sat on the bed while I labored upright using the end board for support but when I decided I needed to be on my side, lying down, he flew off so fast it was hard to believe he was ever on it. My mom reported later that the watched me push Rowena out from the side! As soon as she was laid on my chest, he jumped up on the bed and was touching her. He even got to feel her umbilical cord pulsing, and see the placenta. Our midwife was really wonderful at letting him touch and explaining things to him. He got to help her with Rowena's newborn exam as well. He was a little disappointed at not getting his big brother but he's in love with this little girl and she's already crazy about him as well.

I see a connection between this birth and homeschooling. In both, we are bringing things that have become institutionalized back into our home. We are erasing boundaries between public and private between institutions and homes. Some might think we are limiting our children's horizons by keeping them in a bubble but I like to think we are expanding them by breaking down what is expected, what is seen as normal. I want my children to question society and to see through that questioning that what is often presented as natural is often unnatural. That what we are told to do is often more about habit or worst control then it is about what is good or right. With both experiences my children learned to challenge the norms and through this challenge, they learned different ways of being.