Sunday, October 28, 2012

Concerning My Stomach, Which Is Still So Big

When I was pregnant with Peregrine, I worked part time teaching music at a small private school. I told the kids about my pregnancy early on, and they were an eager audience all the way through. They monitored the weekly growth of my belly and the baby it carried. They kept me supplied with guesses (and actual money bets) on gender, suggestions of names ("Sean O'Reilly Nelson! That's a good Irish name!"), and plenty of free child-raising advice ("Let him watch Star Wars by at least the third grade!"). Then the school year ended, I had my baby, and when Peregrine was about seven weeks old, I started teaching again. My students were thrilled to finally meet him, and continued to ask weekly about how big he was and what new skills he was learning. But, at least for the younger ones, they didn't stop there.

I've been working with children for many years now, and in many ways, I'm used to their unfiltered honesty. Most of the time, it makes my day.

Mrs. Nelson, nothing in the world is as beautiful as your skirt!

Mrs. Nelson, you look a princess!

Mrs. Nelson, we've just voted, and you're our second-favorite teacher in the whole school!

Other times, it's mortifying.

You have hair under your arms! Did you know that both men and women have hair under their arms?

Why are you growing a mustache?

Mrs. Nelson, I can see your belly! I CAN SEE YOUR BELLY! That is against the school dress code, didn't you know that?

Other times, I have no idea what to think.

Mrs. Nelson, I like your hat--it looks like a Nazi hat!

Let's just say I've learned to hold my vanity pretty loosely.

Still, I couldn't help but be a bit taken aback when this one came out at first-grade circle time.

Mrs. Nelson, why is your stomach so big when you already had a baby?

Hello, daily dose of postpartum body love.

Adults are always so polite about it. You look so great for having just had a baby! Wow, you look like you're practically at your old weight! And it's not like they're not sincere. We know, as adults, that baby-growing takes a toll on bodies. We know the weight doesn't just magically disappear. We know that people need to feel good about their bodies, especially when their bodies have been through such upheavals of change.

Kids don't know these things. They just notice what they see.

And really, the only way to respond to an honest question is with an honest answer.

So I said, "Remember how big my stomach got when I was pregnant with Peregrine? Well, it's still really stretched out from how big it was. It will take awhile to get small again."

And they took it in stride. Question answered. They weren't judging me for not losing weight. They just wanted to know. They're learning everything about the body in first grade. You have a right and left side to your brain. The bone in your leg is called a femur. Your stomach stays stretched for awhile after you give birth.

I'm grateful for that day, for that moment, for having to face that question honestly and answer it in simple, true words a six-year-old could understand. Because I'd asked that question so many times myself. Only I wouldn't say it out loud, for fear that it might be true. For fear that my stomach might actually still be big, even though I'd already had a baby.

We need both, I think. The encouragement from other adults. The reassurance that we still look good, great even, that our bodies are awesome and resilient and our beauty is still there. That we aren't ruined because babies use our bodies as houses and restaurants and stretch and sag and change them.

But we need the honest curiosity, too. The questions that need answered. Because it's good to have to answer them. It's good to have to say what's true. To have to say, well, a baby grew in there and stretched it out. If nothing else, it makes you realize how awesome the first part is. And that somehow makes the second part a little bit awesome too.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Housekeeping, This Season's Edition

Housekeeping is something I struggle with daily. I'm not sure exactly why. I enjoy a neat, clean space, and I honestly do like cooking and making things look nice. But the day-to-day monotonous maintenance of a house does not come naturally to me. I don't need a well-kept house in the way a lot of people do, and it's easy for me just not to bother. But I want a peaceful home. It doesn't need to be perfect, or anywhere near perfect, but I do want to have a home that neighbors and friends can drop by. I want my house to be a place my whole family enjoys hanging out in.

I've lived in five different places since I first moved out of my parents' house at age twenty, and each time I've moved, I've tried to make a few small changes in order to keep house better than I did at the last place. For the most part, I've succeeded. I'm not about to win any Model Homemaker contests, but at least I'm improving over time.

I probably won't write many housekeeping posts. But I'm really happy with the few changes I've made after moving into this house this summer. They've made my life a lot more peaceful and actually made housekeeping easier. I think in the past I've focused a lot on figuring out a chore system and making general resolutions to clean more, cook healthier, and keep organized. This time I've focused more on setting up my house and life so that housekeeping comes more naturally to me. It's made a lot of difference, actually. I give up on resolutions and schedules easily. But I do like a nice house, and the easier housekeeping is, and the less thought I have to put into it, the more likely I am to do it.

The first thing that has really helped is grocery shopping weekly and meal planning. I'm not sure exactly why, but growing up, my family had a stock-up-for-the-apocalypse approach to grocery shopping. We always bought in bulk, and bought extras of everything. Our pantry was seriously loaded at all times. And it's the style I've carried into my married life, simply because I'm used to it. Before moving here, I shopped monthly (or less!), and bought a lot of everything each time.
I remember when I took this picture thinking "My fridge is practically empty!" Never mind that we could have lived off Costco babybel cheeses for a month.
 Unfortunately, when all I did was stock up on necessities, it seemed like I never had the right ingredients for anything. Far too often (and especially after Peregrine was born!), I found myself going for the frozen pizza or quick canned-sauce-over-pasta because it was just too much effort to figure out what I could make with 16 jars of artichoke hearts, 5 lbs of freezer-burning Italian sausage, 3 variously-flavored packages of bagels, and a whole Costco flat of canned black beans. But I've come to realize it's not the cooking I dislike. It's the figuring out what to cook. Honestly, making mac-n-cheese is just about as much work as making soup (okay, less chopping, but still). The difference is that mac-n-cheese comes in a box and tells you exactly what to do. By figuring out what I'm going to cook each week, and buying the ingredients specifically for those meals, it's like having my own personalized stash of almost-prepared meals. No thinking required. All I have to do is find the ingredients for each meal and put them together. It's remarkably easy, and we eat a lot healthier. I buy a lot more vegetables when I know exactly what I'm going to put them in. And then they don't mold in my fridge. Which brings me to--

Mold reduction. I hate mold. With a burning passion. I grew up in the dry prairie-mountain air of Colorado where growing things have to fight to stay alive. I still am not used to this soggy climate where--I am not kidding--a little seedling sprouted once out of my dish cloth.
Photographic proof! See that thing? That's a plant. In my dish cloth. Welcome to Washington State.
In the summer, the earth explodes with rich fruits and vegetables and flowers and it's amazing and wonderful. In the winter, the earth explodes with mold, and it's absolutely disgusting. Everything molds here! I fight it all winter long. And part of what keeps me from cleaning and cooking is the knowledge that sooner or later, I'll have to deal with some colony of green fuzz or pink slime or nefarious black stuff that sprouted up overnight. So, in this house, I am doing everything I can to prevent mold. It helps that this house is significantly less leaky than our last one, and that the windows are relatively new. But there are other things, too. Mold and I have been officially at war for the last four years, but I'm learning better strategies. Less food in the fridge is one. But the most important, I think, is not harboring things that grow mold easily. One of the worst culprits? Bath mats and rugs with non-stick bottoms. I went out and bought the kind that are basically just thick towels. $20, less mold, absolutely worth it.

Okay, the next change is kind of embarrassing to admit. But here's the thing: some chores I don't mind doing and I always get them done. Laundry, for instance, pretty much never overwhelms me. Even if I have loads of it do to. Folding laundry is oddly therapeutic for me. Cleaning the kitchen, however, is not. And if the dishes start piling up, I end up postponing the whole job just because I dread doing it. But in this house, I've decided to make sure all dishes end up rinsed and in (or near) the sink. 
This job always gets done. It would get done several times a day if Peregrine had his way of it.
Part of what makes dishwashing so overwhelming to me is that we kind of eat all over the house. When Andrew is home, he goes through multiple mugs of tea and coffee in a day. Peregrine's bizarre obsession with water bottles means they are scattered everywhere. Andrew and I often have ice cream or hot chocolate while watching movies downstairs. It's not that hard to decide to carry dishes to the kitchen and rinse them whenever I notice them around. And making myself do just that--not wash them and put them away, just rinse them and put them in the sink--makes the big dishwashing job a lot more compact and easy to do. It also makes the house so much more presentable, too. Rinsed dishes in the sink are expected sometimes. Dirty dishes all over the house are not.

And finally, the biggest thing that has made my life so much easier in this house has been intentionally arranging the house so that taking things out and putting them away is easy. Most importantly, not layering important items underneath and behind each other. Here's the thing--if I have a space for something in my house, I will put it there. If I have to move something else or rearrange anything, I just won't do it. Maybe I'm horrifically lazy, but realizing this about myself has kind of revolutionized my housekeeping. If I feel like I have to pack and unpack in order to get something done, I will probably leave it undone. Not because I don't want to do the job, but because I don't want to deal with the packing and unpacking. A few weeks ago, I realized I was putting off vacuuming the house (and had been for far too long) because the vacuum was in the back of the closet behind the laundry hamper and I would have to move the laundry hamper to get to it. How embarrassing is that? But it's true. And in the past, I've tried really hard to get over that and just move the dang laundry hamper already. And it will work, once or twice. But the issue is not that I'm not moving the hamper, it's that I'm not vacuuming the house. So this time, I rearranged the closet, moved the vacuum to the front, and pulled some stuff out that could move to a more remote closet. And guess what? I vacuum my house a lot more frequently now.

I'll probably never win any prizes for housekeeping, and I will probably always err on the too-messy side instead of the too-neat side. But hey, small victories, right?

Monday, October 22, 2012

Baby Carriers Part Two: Things With Straps, Buckles, and Ties

All right, picking up where I left off and beginning the other half of my completely arbitrary categorizing of baby carriers. Let's start with mei tais. I recently learned it's correctly pronounced may tie. As in the month, not the drink. You learn something new every day.

This is my mei tai. It is another thrift store find, also for about $10. It is extremely bizarrely proportioned; it appears to have been designed for someone with my torso and about three times my hips. The straps are made from an odd and very heavy canvas-like fabric. Also, it has a cell phone pocket dangling near the end of one of the endlessly long hip ties. Let's put it this way: I understand why it ended up in a thrift store.

What I love: I wish I had had a mei tai earlier. It is super easy to put on, and I think Peregrine would have liked it as a tiny baby. My sister-in-law has one (an expensive, much higher quality one), and she would swaddle Peregrine tightly and sit him upright in it. He could see, and he wasn't scrunched. But I didn't want to buy one new. Peregrine loves it now though, and I use it a lot, especially when running the vacuum cleaner or the blender, neither of which are his friends. He hyperventilates with excitement when he sees it, and always has.

Also, it works well for front and back carries. And it isn't bulky (unless you count the ridiculous canvas-y hip straps on mine).

What I don't love: Aside from the obvious manufacturing deformities on my particular mei tai, there isn't much I dislike about this carrier. Most parents I know really love theirs, too. Mine is a bit feminine for Andrew's taste, but I know dads who find mei tais really comfortable. The length of the straps does matter, though; and I've read plenty of complaints from women who have had difficulty finding mei tais in bigger sizes (they make them, you just can't guarantee any particular one will fit you unless you measure).

Also, it's worth noting: when you're wearing a baby on your back in a mei tai, it makes your belly pooch out. Just be prepared.

Next up, we have soft structured carriers. There are several brands and styles of these, and they can get pretty pricey, mainly because they are, for the most part, extremely supportive and well-made. 
Okay, so not a very clear picture of the Ergo. But it does prove that it's a great hiking carrier.

What I love: The Ergo is perhaps the most versatile baby carrier out there. It works for tiny newborns and three-year-olds. It is comfortable for working around the house, and for hiking all day. It's (simply and easily) adjustable, and wearable by almost all shapes and sizes. It's self-explanatory and easy to give to a babysitter or grandparent without a lengthy tutorial. It's not feminine at all, and the vast majority of dads I know feel completely comfortable wearing it (it's a backpack, not a flowy piece of fabric).

Andrew and I got our first Ergo as a gift, and when Peregrine was just a few months old, we left it at the airport. Despite multiple phone calls, filing a lost and found report, knowing exactly where in the terminal we left it, and knowing that if an actual person could just physically look for it they would find it, we never got it back. I hope it's been donated somewhere and some lucky mother got it for cheap (or free!) instead of it rotting in a lost and found forever. I searched for months to find one used. I tried Craigslist, Facebook, local thrift stores, everywhere. Finally, we decided to just buy a new one. They're expensive, but so worth it. We do a lot of trail hiking as a family, and neither strollers nor slings are good when you're hiking up a mountain. So we bought one, and, as Murphy's Law mercilessly dictates, my sister-in-law called a few days later, excited, saying she'd found us a used Ergo at the thrift store I had been to less than a week before, at half the new price. We'd already used our new one and gotten it dirty. Murphy: 1; Nelson family: 0.

What I don't love: I know a lot of moms use the Ergo around the house for general lifestyle babywearing. I don't. It feels like a backpack to me. I would much rather use something lighter. As Peregrine has gotten older, I do use it more around the house, but I tend to go for the mei tai first. I'm not sure exactly why. It just feels heavy. I seem to be the exception here, though, not the rule.

My sister-in-law doesn't like wearing the Ergo in front with a baby past a couple of months old. I've never minded at all, but she feels like the baby's head is too high and gets in the way. As always, it's worth finding a carrier and positioning that are comfortable for both you and the baby.

There are other soft structured carriers, such as Beco and Boba carriers. There are some differences, but they are essentially the same. I have heard of babies who hate the Ergo and love the Boba. Go figure picky babies. If you have a baby who seems uncomfortable in a specific type of carrier that you love, it can be worth finding a similar carrier you can borrow and try out, just to see if your baby likes it better. Facebook is full of babywearing swaps and support groups that are great for this type of thing.

Okay, there are few different types of carriers I don't own that are worth mentioning as well. Hard-frame backpacks are great for hiking and longer walking trips if you want good back support (although my parents had one and used it around the house all the time). Obviously, you can't stuff them into a diaper bag. Hip carriers are similar to mei tais, but the baby sits on your hip instead of resting against your chest or back. If I'd had one, I probably would have used it, especially since Peregrine has always loved being on my hip. They can be goofy-looking, and are obviously not as versatile as most other types of carriers, but they have their niche. 

And finally, a word about the Baby Bjorn and similarly-styled carriers. There is a lot of Baby Bjorn hatred in babywearing discussions online. When I first discovered this it felt, to be completely honest, like walking into the high school cafeteria and realizing that even among the cool kids, there are cooler kids, and that the popular table has a popular side. I know, though, that a lot of the discussion about Bjorn-style carriers is fueled by parents who had no idea there were other carriers out there and are honestly sharing their experiences. So let me boil some of it down, as I understand it.

Baby Bjorns can be uncomfortable when worn all the time. Okay, all carriers can. But if you're babywearing for hours, and especially if you tend to choose on-the-body carriers over strollers for walking, going to the store, etc, comfort is critical. If you have back problems, shell out the money for a carrier that will really support your back. Moms who wore their baby in the Bjorn for hours and hours and hours and then discovered the Ergo or the Boba are usually floored by the difference in comfort. Some of the anti-Bjorn vehemence is simply passionate excitement at having discovered a more comfortable carrier. But for some, the Bjorn is really quite comfortable. People have different bodies. 

Some people object to the way the Bjorn supports the baby's spine, hips, and legs. This has earned Bjorn-style carriers the unsavory label of "crotch-danglers" in some babywearing circles, and there is a lot (a lot, a lot) of discussion about whether or not this is beneficial for babies. Most of it is on personal websites, blogs, and parenting forums. As I understand it, there is not a lot of truly medical research. The Hip Dysplasia Institute does say that the "dangling" position is not as ideal for a young infant (under six months old) as a position where the knees are above the hips. But again, I think it's worth considering how often you use a carrier. Constant exposure to one position is very, very different from occasional, or even frequent exposure. Babies can get flat heads from constantly lying in car seats. That doesn't make car seats themselves bad. As always, if you're concerned, talk to your actual doctor.

Some people think the Bjorn looks uncomfortable for the baby. Again, the crotch dangler thing. I don't know how many times I have read the phrase, "How would you like to be carried around by your crotch?" A few things are worth noting here. First, adult crotches and baby crotches are different. I sat on fence rails (crotch dangling all the way) quite happily as a child. As an adult, that would not be at all comfortable. Second, the Baby Bjorn does not sit the baby on a piece of rope strung between the legs. There is a fair bit of support. And finally, I think if your baby is uncomfortable, she will let you know this. Some babies may not like it. If your baby doesn't, by all means, find another way of carrying her. But I see happy, comfortable babies in Bjorns all the time (and I crotch-dangled Peregrine in the Moby; he loved it). In fact, I know babies who prefer the Bjorn over any other carrier. I don't think there is any reason to worry that your baby is uncomfortable unless she is acting uncomfortable. Which she might do in any number of carriers.

To conclude all this talk of baby carriers: ultimately, the goal of babywearing is to hold your baby while having your hands free. If the baby is safe (i.e. breathing), and you are both comfortable, and you can still get work/shopping/exercising done, babywearing is doing its job. And if it's doing its job, it's a fantastic resource.

Baby Carriers Part One: Large Pieces of Fabric

In the continued belated celebration of Babywearing Week (which was last week), here is my rundown of the various carrier options out there. I'm dividing into two parts, simply because it's long.

I'm not going to go into definitions of each type of carrier. That would make two already long posts even longer, and the definitions are easy to come by. Babywearing International has excellent definitions; so would a simple Google search. I will focus instead on the carriers I own, and what I have found helpful (or not) with each one. I'll also briefly touch on the types of carriers I don't own, and what I know about them.

Also, it's worth saying that I have never mastered the art of simultaneous babywearing and nursing. I know plenty of women who do, but it's just never worked for me. Either my shirt or the carrier would always get awkwardly twisted, and I would have to take the whole ensemble off and start over. I gave up early on. But it is possible to nurse while wearing virtually any carrier. Some even double as their own nursing covers.

All right, let's start with slings. I love the idea of slings--they are super easy to use, and relatively un-bulky. I had the advantage of "trying out" a sling with my niece for several years before having my own child. She loved it, and was always happy in her sling, but I could get tired easily from having all the weight of the carrier on one shoulder. I knew a sling wouldn't work for me in terms of lifestyle babywearing. Then I had Peregrine, and I soon found out he just wasn't a sling baby. Something about the scrunched-up position required has always rubbed him the wrong way. I've seen so many babies so completely content in slings. Peregrine never was. That said, I own two slings, and they have seen their fair share of use.

This is my pouch sling. Not the greatest picture, but unfortunately, the only one I can locate.

What I love: This is easily the most portable and useable baby carrier I own. There are no rings or adjustments, you just throw it over your shoulder. It fits conveniently in a purse or diaper bag and is super easy to pull out, put on, and insert baby into. It was my go-to carrier for shopping before Peregrine if I didn't need (or didn't want to bother with) a cart. I got all sorts of strange comments on it. More than once, I was asked if my baby could breathe. (What is the correct response to that? "No, he can't, but did you know that closeness to the mother's body is a perfectly acceptable substitute for oxygen during the first three months of an infant's life?")

What I don't love: Peregrine was rarely ever comfortable in it past a few weeks of age. Even during those first few weeks, positioning him just so was a pain. Also, it may look hands-free, and it is, but if you're wearing it correctly, your shoulder is pinned down. It's great for shopping and washing the dishes, but not for reaching up high and putting things away. I always forgot that when I put it on.

Pouch slings are not adjustable, and that means that if anyone else is going to wear your baby, they will probably need a sling of their own (length of torso matters more than anything, but so does your chest measurement). This sling fit both Andrew and me until I washed it. Then it got too tight for Andrew. I ended up getting him a bigger one (it is worth noting here that Seven Slings, the company I got it from, has occasional amazing deals where you pay only shipping and get whole slings for free. This is how I got Andrew's.)

This is my ring sling. I scored it at a thrift store for $10. That was a good day.

What I love: Anyone, of any size, can wear it. That, and its portability, makes it a great option for taking to (or leaving with) a sitter. Also, it is the only carrier I know that you can put a child to sleep in and then remove from your body, with the child in it, and put the whole package peacefully to bed. This is a huge advantage. Most babies go to sleep easier in carriers; some (like Peregrine) have stages where they don't take kindly to going to sleep anywhere else. He would sleep in bed, it just took forever to get him to sleep. Enter, the ring sling. Swaddle baby, insert baby into sling, rock/walk baby to sleep while doing something else, wait for baby to sleep, loosen rings, remove sling, carry to bed, and voila! Peaceful nap! If he fell asleep in any other carrier, I was stuck with him on my body for the duration of his nap. Which sometimes I didn't mind, but sometimes I did.

Once Peregrine could sit on my hip in this sling, he liked it a lot better. I still wear him in it this way, especially when he is sad or sick. It's his preferred snuggling position, he can still see my face, I can even keep my arm around him--but my hands are free and I can get things done.

What I don't love: I am still trying to figure out the ring thing. My sister-in-law, ring sling wearer and expert extraordinaire, has shown me how to do it multiple times, but I've never fully gotten the hang of it (oddly enough, Peregrine liked slings a lot more when she was wearing him). And the one-shoulder thing wears on me after awhile, way more so than with the pouch sling. Once I mentioned this to my midwife, and she said that often, it is men and stronger women who tend to be most comfortable with slings. I have a very weak upper body. Maybe that's the explanation.

Pouch slings and ring slings are the main sling styles, but they come in all sorts of fabrics. I saw a lady recently with a pouch sling that was stretchy (mine isn't at all), and it looked quite comfortable. Some ring slings have padded sides, which can be snuggly and soft, but can also pose some suffocation risks when the baby is incorrectly positioned. I highly suggest trying to breathe through the fabric of your sling, just to see if you can. It's generally suggested that you avoid the "bag" style of sling (you can google it for pictures; I hardly ever see this style used anymore).

All right, moving on to wraps. This was the type of carrier my midwife suggested I try when I mentioned disliking having all the weight on one shoulder. Wraps distribute the weight evenly over both, and some of the weight rests on your hips as well. I have much stronger hips than shoulders.

I have a Moby Wrap, and I cannot believe I don't have a decent picture of it. I wore that thing daily. I guess it often happened when I was home alone. Andrew is wearing the Moby in the picture in my previous post, but you can't see it at all.

What I love: I love my Moby wrap. It is my favorite carrier in terms of comfort, and the one that most approximates the feel of "wearing" a baby. Peregrine actually really liked it, and I didn't mind him taking whole naps in it because it was so comfortable. I loved it for walking him outside, because my coat zipped over it--no need for a coat or extra bundling for Peregrine, just my coat and body heat. So easy. And once Peregrine's hips and legs got stronger (around four months, I think), we could wear him facing out, and suddenly, Peregrine really started to like being in a carrier. It was short-lived, because soon he could start reaching for dangerous items, but it was nice for awhile. Peregrine was not an easy baby to make content. Excited, yes. Content, no.

I wish I had more than one, and with a successive baby, I just might invest in another. Peregrine spit up a lot, and since the Moby covers such a large area, there was no way to keep it clean. One good wet burp, and it was unwearable. I always wished I had a spare.

What I don't love: It's kind of rocket science, wrapping it correctly. Once you know how, you can do it in about a minute or so, but even then, get one piece wrong, and you have to start all over again and adjust it. Which means removing the baby. Which may not sit very well with the baby. (Also, I recommend not doing the initial instructional-video-watching while your baby is screaming. Just a suggestion.) My experience was that it is very difficult to get too tight, and very easy to make too loose.

A few other things worth noting: the Moby wrap traps body heat like none other. Which was great for me, but I am very cold-blooded. If I got overheated too easily, I would hate this carrier.

Also, I know some friends who have had chunkier babies who don't like the Moby as much, and say that the stretchiness makes it less supportive with a bigger baby. I didn't use it past about six months with Peregrine, because that's when he started liking the ring sling better, and started being more content away from my body. So I haven't had experience using it with a heavier baby. Apparently woven wraps (non-stretchy wraps) are a lot more supportive. I don't have one and have never used one, but they are fairly popular. Their huge advantage over the Moby (and the reason I will be stalking thrift stores again if I have another baby) is that you can wrap a baby (even at a very young age) on your back. Housework is worlds easier with a baby on your back instead of your front.

Well, that wraps up part one. Part two will be arriving shortly.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Happy Babywearing Week!

Actually, that was last week. But never mind. Happy babywearing anyway.

Babywearing is one of the more relaxing topics to research online, I think, because it doesn't seem surrounded by the same amount of controversy as a lot of parenting topics. The bottom line is, everyone carries their babies. And everyone sometimes needs their hands free.

I think the biggest hurdle for me to get over when researching babywearing and baby carriers is that Baby Wearer is some sort of identity, and that there is some magical rite of passage that initiates you into being one. It always confused me a bit, seeing people identify themselves online as "babywearing mamas" or the like. What does it take to actually be a real babywearer? Buying a carrier? Buying the right carrier? Using said carrier a certain number of times or hours per day? Not owning a stroller or bouncy seat? Using your stroller or bouncy seat as a bookshelf or toy storage unit so you're not even tempted to put your child into it? You get the picture.

I think parenting topics are often portrayed as all-or-nothing, either-or situations. Where you're in or you're out. That's a whole post in and of itself, and one which I will definitely write someday. But for now, I think babywearing is a perfect example of the reality that parenting is not  an all-or-nothing scenario. There is no point at which you magically become a Babywearer and can sit at the Babywearers' Table in the high school cafeteria. Babywearing is a tool. A good one, if it works for you. One to throw out, if it doesn't.

So from now on, when I use the term "babywearing," it will mean simply this: "carrying one's infant or toddler on one's body in a hands-free carrier." Sound good?

I will also refer to "babywearing as a lifestyle." This will refer to the practice of generally choosing an on-the-body carrier over other means of baby containment, such as bouncy seats, strollers, blankets on the floor, etc. When I talk about "lifestyle babywearing," I am assuming several hours per day spent with a baby in a carrier.

Gratuitous Daddy babywearing picture. Because I could look at those all day.
I own several carriers and use them several times a week. I used them daily when Peregrine was small. But honestly, I babywear less than I thought I would. I definitely imagined myself as a lifestyle babywearer, but Peregrine was a tricky baby when it came to carriers. Don't get me wrong, Peregrine loved being held. Just not necessarily in carriers. And he knew the difference. So I ended up doing a lot more holding, and a lot less wearing, than I had imagined. Often, when I was wearing him, he wasn't really quite content. But sometimes, I needed my hands. 

As far as babywearing information, Babywearing International is a good place to start. All of the basics--different types of carriers, safety and correct positioning, etc--are covered, and the website is really easy to navigate. Also, it's not overly political, nor does it make you feel like a bad parent for not babywearing. It's just information if you're interested.

But from my own babywearing journey, here are some lesser-known facts about babywearing.

1.) Babywearing is not an all-or-nothing scenario. I know I said it before. But it's important, so I'll say it again. Babywearing isn't something you either commit to doing, or swear off completely. It's a parenting option that can be very helpful. Use it as often, or as little, as makes for peace and convenience within your family.

2.) Babies don't always like it. This one came as a shock to me. A huge shock. Most of what I read on babywearing led me to believe that babies always like it, and are always happier and more content in a carrier. This simply wasn't true with Peregrine. Babies can be picky about carriers. Some have positions they love and positions they can't stand. It is worth making sure you are using your carrier correctly and that your baby's body isn't strained awkwardly. But if you know you're using the carrier as it's meant to be used, and your baby still isn't happy, maybe he just doesn't like it. That's okay. Babies are allowed to have preferences. It doesn't make you a bad parent.

3.) No matter how perfect the carrier, you will still feel the weight. Believe it or not, this one surprised me, too. I think maybe it's the term "wearing," which makes it sound as though it's just like an extra sweater. It's not. It's seven pounds, or ten, or twenty, that you're carrying. You'll feel it. 

4.) If it's not comfortable for both of you, it's not worth it. It just isn't. If either you or your baby (or both) hate your carrier, it will be a miserable experience that will not promote bonding or peaceful living. You will feel the weight, but you shouldn't have chronic pain or irritation. Likewise, your baby shouldn't be constantly squirming or acting uncomfortable. Pain means something is wrong. Make sure you're using your carrier correctly. Find another carrier. Or, just don't do it as often. Disliking babywearing doesn't make you a failure. It doesn't mean you don't want closeness with your child. It just means babywearing is uncomfortable for you. There's no shame in that. 

5.) Most baby carriers are quite expensive. Babywearing websites act like you can own a whole arsenal of cute little carriers and select one to match your outfit every day. Okay, so that's exaggerating a bit. But seriously, they are expensive. I highly recommend borrowing carriers, if you can, before you buy one. Or asking rich relatives for them as gifts. Or doing what I did, and obsessively stalking thrift stores. 

6.) Babywearing generates a lot of heat. A lot. In that way, it is just like a sweater. With a little body inside. As a cold-blooded person who spent her first year of parenthood in a very cold house, I will freely admit I often wore my child just to stay warm. But I've also encountered people who don't babywear at all for this very reason. Again, it's not worth forcing. If it's uncomfortable, find another solution.

7.) There are other ways to bond with your child. Babywearing is an excellent way to provide safety and security to infants and toddlers alike. Babies do tend to be happy, on the whole, in carriers, and it is one of the easiest ways to build a close relationship with a child because it allows you to continue the flow of the rest of your life at the same time. But it's not the only way. Choosing not to wear your baby all the time, or most of the time, or at all, will not doom you to detachment from your child. There are lots and lots of ways to love a baby well. There is absolutely no reason to feel guilt for choosing others.

8.) Even if you do a lot of babywearing, your baby will learn to crawl and walk. I think this is the most common criticism of babywearing, and one that people who practice lifestyle babywearing can get very tired of hearing. But unless you are forcing your child, against his will, to remain constantly attached to your body, he will go through normal development, which includes the desire to get away from mom and practice movement skills. Babies want to learn to crawl and walk, and they will let you know it. Wearing a baby will not somehow prevent this. I suppose it might postpone it. Peregrine spent the vast majority of his first nine months either in a carrier or in arms, and he did crawl later than most of his peers. Who knows what all went into that. But he did learn to crawl when he was ready, and became very good at very quickly. 

At some point in the not-too-distant future, I will write about my experience with different carriers and what options are out there. But for now, Peregrine just handed me the Ergo, smiled, and said "Boody!" Which is Peregrine-ese for "Please!" Highly appropriate, I suppose, in light of the fact that it's Babywearing Week (or was). I think I'll go celebrate.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Nap Schedules and Baby Enrichment Classes

I've tried really consciously not to plan the way I'll be as a parent. Mostly because I just know that if the words, "Oh my goodness I would never---" come out of my mouth, I'll end up eating them someday. And because I don't want parenting to be about My Plan For My Child, because I know that if that is the focus, I'll end up seeing my child as a final grade on me. And because, honestly, I'm just not that much of a planner.

But every now and then, I do end up doing something I didn't really see myself doing as a parent.

The big one has been scheduling. I've never really been one for schedules. I never saw myself being one of those parents whose baby had to eat and sleep at certain times. They eat when they're hungry and sleep when they're tired, right?

Newborns, it turns out, do just that. A lot of babies, it turns out, continue doing just that. Peregrine, it turns out, did not continue doing just that.

Peregrine would eat constantly, if he could. But when he snacks all the time, he never gets enough, and so he's cranky and hungry, and the cycle keeps perpetuating. He does best with intentional, focused meals. In his high chair, no distractions. Just him and the avocados/hummus/meat/cheese/whatever else loaded-with-calories thing I can dig up.

And Peregrine doesn't sleep when he's tired. You know those cute pictures everyone has of their child falling asleep in their high chair/exersaucer thing/the middle of the floor? Yeah, I don't have a single one of those. Because the more tired Peregrine gets the more manically awake and alert he becomes. I guess I just assumed, before I had him, that he would just get droopy a couple of times a day, and at night, and I would soothe him and put him to sleep. If I left it to him, he would possibly never sleep. Except for a few short hours at night when he did drop from absolute exhaustion. Seriously, I can't believe how few hours he would sleep if I just let him fall asleep on his own.

But, it turns out, he thrives on a schedule. By making his mealtimes and sleep times intentional, I can catch him before he becomes cranky with hunger, or manic with tiredness. He's a much, much more peaceful little person. And while I don't necessarily like being tied down to his schedule (seriously, it would be much more awesome if he'd just nap in the car when he got tired), it's part of living with a person who isn't me. It's weird, though; I never imagined saying things like "Peregrine will need to nap around 2:00." Because I'm not really a person who naturally does things around 2:00. I do them sometime in the early afternoon. Or later, if something else comes up.

Today, I clocked in another I-didn't-see-myself-doing-this parenting moment. I packed food to go, put Peregrine in the car, and drove up to the hipper part of town for a Baby Gym Class. As in, an enrichment class for one-year-olds.

I'm a bit bound and determined not to be a soccer mom (which means I'm probably doomed to be one). And I've never really seen the point in baby classes. I mean, you don't really need a teacher and some peppy music to teach babies how to clap and bounce, right? And I believe pretty strongly in the importance of free play and in letting children do their own thing in their own time.

Well, winter is settling in here in the Northwest. And by winter, I mean months and months of rain and cold. I've been dreading this season with a toddler. What do you do with an energetic child when going outside (or outDIE!!! as Peregrine says) means freezing rain, and wind, and mud? When going to the park means toweling off every slide and dressing your kid in trash bags in some vain hope of keeping them marginally dry? I asked a couple of neighbors with toddlers how on earth they stay sane in the winter, and one and all they recommended The Little Gym. So I bit the bullet and signed up for the free class.

And Peregrine loved it. Adored it. He explored every corner of his classroom, crawled across colorful mats at top speed, clapped and booty-shook to all the (terribly corny) music, shrieked with delight when he learned how to shoot baskets, and even, entirely unasked, gave his teacher a hug at the end of the class. I can't even begin to describe how much fun he had, and how much energy he burned off, and how much more content he's been the rest of the day. So here comes my first step down the Slippery Slope Of The Soccer Mom. When I think about the long, rain-filled days, and Peregrine's ever-growing energy, I think it will be worth it.

I guess all this is to say that it's worth holding expectations lightly, and letting parenting grow and evolve. Having ideals is a good thing, to be sure. I have a lot of ideals. But children, and reality, are usually more important than ideals. Flexibility is a good thing, too.

Sunday, October 7, 2012


I was at the doctor's office the other day, making small talk with the receptionist. She smiled at Peregrine, asked me how old he was, and started talking about her little girl. We compared development and talked about crawling and talking and teething. We got on the subject of birth, and started trading stories. She asked me if I'd had an epidural, and I said no.

All of a sudden something changed. Something subtle, but there. A barrier of some sort. We weren't on the same level anymore. She told me she hadn't wanted hers, she had tried to go natural, but the doctors thought it necessary, they had made the decision without her permission. She hadn't wanted it, did I know that?

I don't doubt her story, and I'm really sorry her birth involved her feeling forced into a procedure she hadn't wanted. But this is not the first time this has happened. That sudden break in sameness. The loss of something we shared--until now. I hate it. It's happened with strangers and friends alike. It's like people feel the need to apologize for their hospital births, their epidurals, their c-sections, just because I didn't have these things. Like it somehow makes me tougher, braver, somehow better than them.

It started before Peregrine was born. People would ask me about how I planned to give birth, and when I mentioned with a midwife or unmedicated I felt the same sudden distancing. Or people would shrug, and tell me I was "so brave."

I love natural birth. I love midwifery care. I love that I have those options, and that in the part of the world I live in, they are safe, viable, wonderful options. A lot of things went into my decision to birth with a midwife and not to have an epidural. Toughing out pain was not one of them. (If it had been, I probably would have opted out of the soothing rice pack, the anesthetic while stitching, the ridiculously high doses of ibuprofen to deal with after-pains. Just saying.)

I have a friend whose water broke early, and labor never started. She had to go on pitocin, and needed an epidural to manage the (much more painful) pitocin contractions. She is so brave.

I have a friend whose labor progressed much faster than intended, and her husband delivered the baby in the parking lot of the hospital. She is so brave.

I have a friend who was able to fulfill her dream of having a successful VBAC. She chose an epidural early on, and spent the rest of her peaceful, pain-free labor resting, praying, and talking to her baby, sharing her hopes and dreams for her new daughter's life. She is so brave.

I have a friend who chose not to have a VBAC. She scheduled her second c-section because that was the decision she felt most comfortable with. She is so brave.

I have a friend who had a ridiculously long labor due to her daughter's awkward positioning. Labor was intense and painful, but she made it through, in the end, without drugs and without sleeping for nearly two days. She is so brave.

I have a friend who fought long and hard to labor without drugs. Her labor was difficult, and painful, and lasted more hours than her body could stand. She was eventually transferred to the hospital, and had a c-section at the last minute to save her baby's life. She is so, so very brave.

I have a friend who found out at a prenatal ultrasound that her baby had a serious heart condition. She had a c-section at 34 weeks and her daughter was rushed into the first of many surgeries. She is, perhaps, the bravest of all.

Birth is hard, no matter how you choose to go about it. It is harder if the ways you choose do not work and you are forced to consider other options. I believe absolutely in the power of women's bodies and the beauty of birth. Women have been doing this awesome thing for centuries, millenia. But women have been dying of it too. It takes courage to face, courage to perform. With or without drugs, knives, midwives, doctors.

When I hear the story of a baby's birth, the last thing I am doing is comparing (or even thinking about!) pain tolerance. Everyone's story is different. Everyone makes the choices they make. Just because my choices in that one area happened to be higher on the natural spectrum doesn't make me better. Natural doesn't equal better. Natural is an option. With advantages and disadvantages. Like any other option.

So here's to you, receptionist with the nice smile who let my kid flirt with you and play with your cell phone. Here's to you, birth-er of a beautiful little girl. You know what? You are so brave.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Peregrine's Birth Story

I have this written down in much, much greater detail, so that I can remember every tiny thing. But I've been wanting to write the more public, less painfully detailed story for awhile. So here it is. It will be long. I have very few pictures of the event; it was very fast. But I will include what I have.
38 weeks pregnant, shortly before I started feeling huge and sore
I had an easy pregnancy overall. Morning sickness (also known as all-day-all-night-from week-three-to-week-fifteen sickness) was unpleasant and gross and miserable, but not unbearable at all. I had a cough for virtually my entire pregnancy, and I fractured a rib during a particularly violent coughing episode. Other than that, though, I had no complications. I was healthy and strong, and taught music and dance up until a few weeks before I gave birth.

I had planned to give birth at Bellingham Birth Center with a midwife. I had been present at the home births of two of my younger sisters, and that was how I had always imagined giving birth. But, in the case of complications, our home was over half an hour away from the hospital, and that made me nervous. So the Birth Center was a nice compromise.

Peregrine was due August 9th, and I felt beautiful and glowing and alive up until a few days before his due date. Then I just started feeling tired and bloated and huge. My feet were so swollen, and it hurt so much to walk, and I felt so out of shape. I walked constantly, though, because I really, really didn't want to go overdue to the point where I would have to be induced. I felt mentally prepared for any number of birth complications. But if I needed to be medically induced, I felt like it would automatically cancel my plans to have a natural birth. So I walked for miles every day, breathing hard the whole time. Walking also helped keep my mind off waiting. Waiting was slowly driving me crazy.

The morning of Peregrine's due date, I started noticing a pattern to my contractions. I had been having contractions since 32 weeks, even though I couldn't feel them. As I neared my due date, though, they began to make themselves known, though they weren't painful at all, just a barely-perceptible tightening. I got all excited to see a pattern, but then it stopped. So I decided to ignore them and start my daily regimen of eating fresh raspberries and taking multiple walks. (The raspberries had nothing to do with labor. We just had a ton of them, and I liked eating them).
Raspberries! They were juicy, red, and delicious. 
I took a walk with my mom, who came up for the birth. It was a short walk, but it was hard. My contractions became uncomfortable when I was walking, and I had one I couldn't walk through. We came back home, and ate dinner, and cleaned up, and by about 8 in the evening, I was noticing my contractions were coming pretty consistently at every seven minutes. They still didn't hurt at all, they were just like small, mild muscle cramps. We put on a movie, and I used the DVD timer to time my contractions. They were still coming at every seven minutes, but if I got up to pee (which I did a lot), I always had one, regardless of when the last one had been.

It was about 11 when the movie ended, and we decided to go to bed. We were fairly certain I was in early labor, but if we learned anything in our birth class, it was this: When in early labor, sleep. So we went to sleep. Or rather, Andrew went to sleep. I tried to go to sleep, but found out it takes about six minutes to get almost there. And then I would have a contraction, and wake up. My contractions were much more bothersome when I was lying down, so I would usually get up and go to the bathroom when they started. I tried all sorts of positions, but I couldn't sleep, and my contractions were starting to hurt, so I gave up. For awhile, I tried sleeping on my knees on the couch, leaning over the side, but that didn't work either. I tried not to make any noise, because I didn't think I was that far along, and I didn't want to wake anyone up. But finally, my mom couldn't stand not helping me, so she came out and started rubbing my back.

I was annoyed at not having slept, but when I checked the clock, I found out I'd been laboring for several hours already. By 2:30, I was most definitely in real, painful labor, and my mom woke Andrew up and we called the midwife, Eloisa. She said I should wait to come in until I was sure my contractions were lasting a full minute apiece. She said she thought active labor was just beginning, so I should stay comfortable and take it slow. My mom wasn't so sure; she thought I was nearing the end (it should be noted here that my mom had extremely fast labors; she delivered me, her first, in two hours, and woke up in transition with my youngest sister and had her 15 minutes later). Either way, we decided to leave for Bellingham. We had already made arrangements with my friend and doula, Sarah, to have me labor at her house if I wanted to be in Bellingham but wasn't quite ready to go to the birth center.

The car ride wasn't that bad. It was dark and peaceful, and hardly anyone else was on the road. Whenever I had a contraction, I would press my head into the ceiling of the car (which, oddly, really helped), and hum "What Wondrous Love is This" to myself. I could pretty much count on my contractions lasting the length of a verse of "What Wondrous Love" and it was nice, having something like that to concentrate on. My mom timed my contractions, and they were lasting at least a minute apiece, more often a minute and a half, but we decided just to go to Sarah's. We arrived, and Sarah was very (very, very) excited to see us, and helped settle me in on the futon, sitting on the edge and leaning forward.

The next few hours were by far the most peaceful and enjoyable of my whole labor. Sarah was there, and my mom, and Andrew, and they were brushing my hair and rubbing my back and putting massage oil on my feet. My contractions were hard and painful, but there was space between them, and I concentrated on enjoying those spaces. I thought I had a long way to go, so I decided to just rest as much as I could. I wanted to sleep really badly, so my mom made a nest out of pillows for me and had me lie on my side, since it wasn't as painful as my back. Contractions hurt so much worse lying down at all, but I was so, so tired. Oddly enough, that's the one thing I remember the strongest about being in labor--wanting to sleep with everything in me, and thinking it was so unfair that I hadn't gotten to sleep at all that night. I had never pulled an all-nighter in my life before. I kept telling myself, just get through this, and then you can sleep as long as you want. This line got me through many late-night study sessions in college, but it didn't occur to me at the time that when I got through this, I would have a newborn, and would not sleep as long as I wanted possibly ever again. It was a very reassuring thought at the time, though, so I suppose it's just as well my rational self never kicked in.

Three things were very strange about my labor. The first is that I could always control my contractions. I couldn't stop them, but I could start them. If I ever got up, or changed positions, I would have one. The second is that the pain was always in my back, never anywhere else. I expected this at first, and expected it to change. But it never did. Peregrine was positioned just fine, but I had back labor all the way through. And the third was that my contractions always began at full intensity. I had always imagined contractions on a sort of curve-graph, where the pain would build and build, and peak, and then subside. But mine just came on very suddenly, at their peak from the very start, and then would taper off at the end.

At about 5, we called my dad and Andrew's parents, and told them I was officially in labor. Shortly after that, my labor became very, very intense. My contractions started back to back, with no blissful break in between. My legs started shaking, my nausea got much worse, and I was hot, after being very cold through most of my labor. I was so tired, and it hurt so bad. My contractions felt like they were ripping my spine apart. Andrew decided to call the birth center, but I didn't want to go in and get checked and find out I was only a few centimeters dilated. I could focus through the pain if I just concentrated on the moment I was in. I didn't want to think I had hours ahead. Andrew talked with Eloisa for awhile, and then asked me if meeting at the birth center in an hour sounded good. I said yes, as long as I'm not in transition. Apparently Eloisa had some misgivings when she heard that I had said that. But I didn't really think I was in transition, since no one else seemed to.

Looking back, of course I was in transition. But I didn't feel angry, or scared, or despairing, like I had heard women do during transition. I was just tired. Reflecting on it though, there was a definite change in my emotions. I had stopped feeling gentle and strong and capable. I was ready for labor to be over. I just wanted one of my peaceful breaks-between-contractions again. I didn't want to make low noises, I wanted to scream. And I told Sarah and my mom that I didn't think I could do this for much longer. They wisely refrained from telling me I would probably have to. Andrew came by to comfort me and I almost threw up because there was coffee on his breath. He helped me sit up again, and put a little table in front of me with a pillow on it so I could lay my head down, but the pillow smelled bad. Peregrine was so low, it felt like he was breaking my pelvis open. I kept crying, "He's so low! He's so low!" And everyone kept telling me that was good, he was moving down like he was supposed to. But I wanted to go to bed and sleep.

And then it came, a sweet, blissful break, and suddenly there was no pain. My first thought was, so that wasn't transition, which is too bad, because that means transition is worse, and I can't really imagine worse. My second thought was, I don't care, I'm not in pain, and it feels absolutely wonderful not to be in pain.  I rested for probably five minutes, and then another contraction came, harder than ever. I was groaning and bearing down with the intensity of the contraction, and then it stopped, and it suddenly occurred to me.

I was pushing.

That was an unexpected turn of events.

So I announced to the room, in shock, "I'm pushing! He's coming out!"

And thereupon there was a flurry of activity. I was a bit preoccupied with my second pushing contraction, so I'm not sure who was doing what, but Eloisa was called again, and plans were made to get all the necessary people to the birth center. I again announced to the room, "What if I'm not ready to push?" They all hastened to reassure me, but I realized they thought I had meant, what if I'm emotionally unready to push, when I was actually wondering if my cervix was fully dilated yet. I wasn't even worried about this, I just thought I should throw the question out there. I was in a very odd frame of mind.

I didn't want to move, and I seriously considered calling Eloisa and having her just come to Sarah's house. But for some reason, I was fixated on the idea of giving birth in the water. I'm not sure exactly why. But the thought of the wonderful warm tub of water kept me going. Eventually Andrew came over to me and said, "You're pushing the baby out. We're going to the birth center." I was glad he was so decisive. I was willing to do what people told me to do, but I didn't have any energy to waste on making my own decisions.

It wasn't until I had made it out of the apartment and into the hall that the reality of where I was sunk in. I remember a few things running through my mind at the moment. I felt inordinately sorry for leaving amniotic fluid on Sarah's futon, and I felt bad for all the neighbors, being so rudely awakened by the sounds of a woman (loudly) giving birth (actually, someone did come out to see if everything was okay; she seemed satisfied with Sarah's explanation). But mostly, I just thought about the fact that I was at the top of 27 stairs. At the time, I wasn't sure I would ever make it down them all. I was pushing, actively, and couldn't think about doing anything else. So Andrew picked me up on one side, and Sarah's husband picked me up on the other, and they basically dragged me down the stairs. It was kind of awful. Actually, it was really awful.

They put me in Sarah's car, and I lay in the back with my head in my mom's lap while Sarah floored the accelerator and drove the few miles to the birth center. I was wholly prepared at that moment to give birth in the car, and the prospect didn't bother me, or even faze me that much. I wasn't in control of the situation at all. Things would happen the way they happened, and I was okay with that. I was in a really altered consciousness at the time. I felt almost drugged. My overarching memory of that car ride is of just how beautiful the early-morning was. The light was gray and cool and sleepy and the sun was just beginning to come up. I felt oddly at peace with everything then. At one point I asked where Andrew was, and Sarah said he was right behind us. Actually, she couldn't see him at all.

We arrived at the birth center and had to wait a few minutes for Eloisa to get there and unlock the door. Finally, she arrived, and Andrew came out with a wheelchair for me. I have rarely ever been so glad to see anything in my life. I was dreading walking again. They got me inside, where Eloisa was filling up the tub. Someone made some comment about there maybe not being enough time to fill it up, and I remember thinking that was the most pointless thing I'd ever heard. I had waited long and hard, and braved 27 stairs, for that water. Who cares if it was filled up all the way or not.

Right before I got in, my water broke for real (though it had been trickling on and off), and another intense pushing contraction came on. I was glad it happened then, so Eloisa could see I had been serious about having the baby right then, and so she wouldn't feel like I had dragged her out of bed for a false alarm. I got in the water, and she went through the necessary procedures of checking my blood pressure (which was apparently sky-high, due to my almost-crowning baby), and charting what time I had arrived. She tried to check me, to see how far down Peregrine's head was, but my body would have none of it, and so she gave up.

Peregrine crowned a couple of minutes after I got in the water. I felt it starting, and I felt the pain, and I dreaded what I knew had to happen. I told Eloisa it hurt, and she told me (in her perfect, gentle, monotone voice) to go slow, and be gentle on my body; and I didn't know how to tell her I had no control at all. I rested for awhile, and then his head came through, and my world exploded in pain.

I don't know what exactly made that moment so awful, but I do know it is easily the worst pain I have ever experienced in my life, and that nothing in labor compared to it at all. His head crowned, and then just stayed there, and I had no power either to pull back or to push him out. I know it isn't typical to feel tearing, but I very much did. I felt ripped and split and torn apart, and there was nothing I could do about it. It was the only moment in labor I truly panicked. For all I knew, he would be stuck there, in that terrible burning place, forever, and I would be trapped. I'm not even sure I was fully conscious at the time. I remember Eloisa telling me again to be gentle. I remember her saying his hand was coming out, and I needed to keep going. I remember her saying she was going to check for a cord around his neck, and feeling her hands going in, and thinking, well, it won't really make a difference, nothing can hurt worse than this hurts now. And I remember my mom saying his head was coming and thinking, well, that's obvious.

And then all of a sudden it was over and Eloisa had put a baby on my chest. I wasn't honestly sure how he had gotten there, and I don't really remember pushing the rest of him out, or the relief you're supposed to feel at that moment, much less the exhilaration and the forgetting-it-all that I'd heard of. He was just--there--and I didn't know him yet, but he was there. I grabbed him instinctively, and my fleeting fear that I was too weak to hold him was soon replaced by the assurance that I might be too weak to do anything else, but come what may, I was going to hold him. I heard his tiny little gurgling cry, and then a stronger cry, and I said, "Don't cry, baby," and Eloisa told me crying is good, he should be crying, and I didn't know how to tell her I was just saying hello to him.
No elation. Just shock. And the sudden realization that I was holding a baby.
We stayed that way for a long time. Along the way, I pushed out the placenta. I was shocked when it happened, because I had kind of forgotten it was in there. It hurt coming out, furthering my conviction that I had torn, badly. Eventually Peregrine's cord stopped pulsing, and we cut it, and Andrew got to hold him for the first time.
Proud new daddy, cute new baby. Note the dedication with which P is eating his hands.
He made the rounds, and even met some friends of ours who were there for a prenatal appointment. He had his newborn exam, and weighed in at 7 lbs 7 oz, and 20 1/2 inches long. Meanwhile, I waited for the rest of the amniotic sac to decide to emerge, though I had no strength left to push. I felt literally paralyzed from about the waist down. Eventually, it became imperative that Peregrine start nursing, whether or not I had to go to the hospital to finish the placenta removal. But when I stood up, it all came out. By that time, I was glad to be rid of the gross bloody water.

Peregrine latched on like a pro, and nursing him felt completely natural. I had wondered a lot how that moment would feel, but it didn't really feel like anything. I spent my childhood imitating my mom and pretending to nurse baby dolls and stuffed animals (and pine branches and wood blocks), and I remember thinking it felt like that. No huge surge of hormones, no pain. Just a baby, sucking away.
Still no elation. But a very primal falling in love.
Eloisa examined me for tears, which I knew I had. I had felt them happen, and I felt them still stinging away. I was right, I had torn up and down, and although the tears were only second-degree, they went deep, deep inside me. It took a long time to stitch me up, and it was kind of a terrible experience. I kept berating myself for thinking it was so bad; after all, I had just pushed out a baby. But there was no getting around the fact that it was awful. For one thing, my muscles weren't functioning right, so every time one would flinch, there would be a ripple effect in all the surrounding muscles. And for another, I had just pushed out a baby. In a way, it was like scratching a sunburn. It didn't put the pain into proper perspective, it made it worse. I kept asking Eloisa, hopefully, if she was almost done, and she kept telling me (in her calm, gentle, perfect voice) that she wasn't actually, there was a lot more to go, and I should just focus on my baby. I appreciated her honestly, if not her message, so I gritted my teeth and focused on my baby for all I was worth. I don't know the final stitch count, only that one time when Eloisa told me she wasn't done she mentioned having already put in a dozen stitches.

The rest of the protocol was attended to. I drank blue gatorade and peed successfully, but then I just about fainted on the way back to the bed. Sarah caught me in time and laid me on the bed, and Eloisa told me I should take a nap before I left. So I took a nap, and then Andrew and my mom got Peregrine dressed in tiny little clothes and put him in his carseat. The seatbelt was too big, and we had to pad the empty space with diapers. Then they wheeled me outside and got me into the car, and half an hour later (maybe a bit more, Andrew drove way below the speed limit in light of his precious new cargo), we were home, and I was in bed, with my tiny new creature snuggled up beside me.
Still no elation. But wonder, definitely wonder. He was so little.
It was days before I felt elation. The first few days were blurry and strange; I was sleep deprived and every bone and muscle and nerve in my body throbbed and ached and stung. Everything hurt, and I was still covered in sweat and blood because I couldn't stand long enough to take a shower. But when those days were over, and I was beginning to get some strength, then I would stare at him in wonder. Some of it was a kind of horrified wonder (How on earth did that giant head fit through me? How?), but most of it was awestruck wonder. I lived it all over in my mind, hardly able to believe the power, the sacredness, the beauty of it all. And then the elation came, and sometimes it floored me with its intensity.
So that's Peregrine's story. The beginning of it, at least. He came like a storm and lives like one. It's the hardest work I've ever done, and it was kind of wonderful. A part of me was born, I think, when I gave birth to him. I don't really understand it all. But if increased pain in childbearing is part of the curse of sin, I think childbearing itself is part of the image of God.