Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Tot School Supply List

     I’ve been asked a couple of times for a list of basic supplies to have on hand when doing tot school. If you are in America, you can usually go out and get what you need for a particular activity, but it really is nice to have some basic items on hand o you can put something together without much planning ahead.
     A lot of what you will use will be stuff you have lying around the house, like spoons and ice cube trays and masking tape. In fact you can probably manage a pretty great tot school without buying anything at all. But if you have even a few bucks to spend and time to wait for good deals to come up, you can have a lot of fun slowly building a stash and expanding your repertoire of activities.

The very basics

If you have a small budget and want to stock up on the stuff you will use the most, I suggest:
  • Do-a-Dot markers 
  • Construction paper
  • Pom-poms 
  • Yarn
  • Pipe cleaners
  • Felt
  • Glitter
  • Food coloring 
  • Play dough  - Making your own not only saves money but allows you to be creative with colors, scents, and textures; here is a basic recipe
  • Small tongs
  • Scoops (you probably have various scoops and spoons around the house that will work)
  • Plastic bin (you may have something lying around that would be perfect for this too)
  • Sorting tray (a divided round veggie tray works great, try looking in a dollar store)
  • Library card!
The deluxe supply kit

     Over time, keep your eyes open for these things when you catch them on clearance or at a yard sale. You don’t need all of these things, but grab them slowly as you have the chance and each time you find something new, look to Pinterest to see the hundreds of ways you can use your new item to create fun activities.

  • Quality children's literature
  • Sidewalk chalk
  • Washable markers and crayons
  • Glue (regular and colored/glitter)
  • Safety scissors 
  • Buttons of every kind
  • Ribbon, rick-rack, and other sewing notions
  • Foam sheets and shapes
  • Colored craft sticks
  • Stickers
  • Cotton balls
  • Water beads
  • Glass gems 
  • Rice, pasta, and beans
  • Scented oils and extracts
  • Seasonal knick-knacks
  • Cheap toys and other items that go along with themes your child would be interested in (little plastic dinosaurs, butterfly stamps, sea animal bath clings, ice cream shaped erasers, you get the idea)
  • Bean bags – You can sew your own easily (I haven’t done it but fully intend to)
  • Hot glue gun (for you to make stuff…not for your child to use)
  • Plastic trays

     If you decide you want to do printables (this really depends on the age and personality of your child) you might consider investing in some of these as well (in addition to a printer, ink and copy paper):

  • Binder
  • Page protectors
  • Dry erase markers
  • Laminator and pouches (Here is the laminator I got. When I need pouches, I just hunt around for the best deal I can find on Amazon.)
  • Velcro dots

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Things I Will Miss About Tanzania

As our first home assignment appears on the horizon (we leave two months from today!) I find myself noticing some of the things that have become familiar and comforting here in Tanzania over the course of our first term. Here are some of the things I have come to love about our African home:

1. Amazing fresh tropical fruit
2. Being able to take a day trip and see elephants, giraffes, and hippos in the wild
3. Two housekeepers
4. Perspective….I now know that my lack of mocha frappuccino isn’t that big of a deal
5. The school kids who like to practice their English on me when we pass each other road
6. The sense of accomplishment that comes from exchanging a joke in a second language
7. Taking hot tea out to my night guard
8. Fresh air coming through open windows year-round
9. The way noisy children are viewed as blessings and not as disturbances
10. East African fashion – I love seeing all those bold colors that I could never pull off
11. Soda made from real cane sugar instead of corn syrup
12. The slower pace of life
13. Getting to be the one who teaches a 10-year-old to swing for the first time
14. Hearing offhand news like, “So, my little brother tried to kidnap a second wife last weekend…”
15. Eating seasonal and organic without having to pay extra
16. Pilau (a type of rice…just come here and try some, I can’t describe it). And fresh chapatti. And kachumbali, and…sheesh, seriously, what are you waiting for?
17. My kids’ best friends are from all over the world.
18. I know a secret language that I can use when I go home if I don’t want other Americans to know what I’m saying.
19. I have a friendly dog who lives at my house and loves me unconditionally but never requires any upkeep from me.
20. I eat so healthy most of the time that if I get the chance to pig out on something indulgent I don’t have to feel bad.
21. The monkeys that habitually play on my water tank
22. The majestic mountain range in my backyard
23. I now have cooking-from-scratch skills that will serve me well the rest of my life.
24. Tea time
25. I have a group of wonderful friends who are becoming like family to me.
26. Spending my afternoons analyzing linguistic data that I collected myself.
27. I go to a church where probably 50% of the people in the congregation offer up a word of praise during praise time.
28. I am no longer afraid of giant millipedes. Still working on giant cockroaches, but it’s good to have room for personal growth.
29. Engrish bloopers in every restaurant menu
30. Buying eggs from someone I know and not having to refrigerate them
31. If you really need to transport 9 people (six of whom are children who would have to be in car seats in America) in a vehicle with five seatbelts, no one is going to bother you about it
32. Being able to accept grace from people I once thought had nothing to offer me
33. American t-shirts on people who don’t know what they are advertizing
34. Pigs, chickens, cats and children wandering through my yard
35. The laidback parenting style here that helps to put some of my paranoia to rest
36. Buying prescription medications without a prescription, and paying only pennies to get them
37.The inability to take myself too seriously that results from making language and culture mistakes on a daily basis and learning to laugh about it
38. I have a milkman. He delivers on foot.
39. Not having to pay to heat the house
40. Excellent authentic Indian food
41. I never know when the mushroom guy is going to show up at my gate with a box of overpriced fungi strapped onto the back of his bike. It’s like surprise Christmas.
42. When I buy anything, I always feel like I’m boosting the economy and helping a real person who can truly use my business to support their family.
43. The beautiful harmony of Swahili singing
44. Baobab trees
45. Trying to create familiar food products from locally available ingredients is a fun expat-community hobby, and we all share in one another’s successes. I never knew you could “make” marshmallows.
46. Constantly being surprised at how much freight can by moved on a bicycle.
47. The unity with nature that I feel while using the bathroom where there is no bathroom
48. Feeling like I’m in Back to the Future, amazing people with stories of the exotic land from which I come (“We have machines to dry our clothes. And to make the air cold. And to make ambient noise so that we don’t here the sounds of nature when we are trying to sleep.”)
49. Tanzanians know how to party.
50. The cute, ubiquitous little geckos 

Friday, May 31, 2013

Things I Miss About America

In no particular order, and with no particular purpose, I submit...

50 Things I Miss About America

1. My family
2. Traffic lights
3. Prairie Farms milk

4. The public library 
5. Starbucks Mocha Frappuccino
6. Target 
7. Squirrels 
8. Public restrooms 
9. Central air conditioning 
10. American church services 
11. Sleeping without mosquito nets
12. Huggies Overnites
13. Privacy 
14. Free shipping
15. Blueberries 
16. Local agricultural holidays 
17. Clothing stores with the same garment in multiple sizes 
18. Soft couches 
19. Putting away my own laundry/knowing where to find my socks
20. Garage door openers 
21. Soft serve ice cream 
22. Public parks 
23. Yard sales
24. Clean and uniform eggs 
25. Autumn 
26. Kids’ menus
27. Water pressure
28. Baseball 
29. Whiter whites 
30. Arby’s curly fries 
31. Historical tourist attractions 
32. Dollar bins 
33. Garnier Fructis 
34. Evergreen trees 
35. Child-sized clothing hangers 
36. Dishwashers 
37. Non-metric measurements 
38. Office Depot
39. Peaches
40. The roads…so deliberate, so well-marked, so deliciously passable
41. Pediatricians
42. Being able to hold hands with my husband in public 
43. Video streaming 
44. Cream cheese
45. Using my toothbrush without shaking the ants off first
46. Church potlucks 
47. Price tags 
48. Blending in
49. Carpet 
50. Winter

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Rationale for Tot School…and Why You are Not a Bad Mom Even if you Never Do Any of the Cute Things You Pin

For several months now, I’ve been posting pictures to a Facebook album called Tot School, showing some of the learning activities I do with the kids. The reason for the album is to put ideas out there for any other parents of young kids who like to do fun pre-preschool stuff too. I was nervous about this right from the beginning, though, as it has the potential to look like showing off. Kind of gives off the vibe, “I not only having my 2-year-old painting triangles – I made the paint myself out of MILK! What do YOU do?” My fears were revived when one of my friends approached me the other day and said good-naturedly, “I saw your facebook album, and I thought, ‘I am a terrible mother!’” Even though she was joking, I felt the time was ripe to explain why and how we do tot school.

There are four main reasons why I tot school my kids. (And just to clear up any ambiguity, I didn’t create the phrase “tot school”; it’s in use on a number of blogs that are aimed at early childhood education. It seems to focus primarily on ages 1-3, and there are even a good number of such activities aimed at babies.)

1. It’s fun for me. Everyone needs a hobby, and mine is tot school. I get the same kick out of creating a sensory bin or a theme-related gross motor exercise as many people do out of sewing, scrapbooking, or hiking. I love to unwind after a hard day by staging a date with my laminator. Yes, I own a laminator.

2. It’s fun for my kids. Rose absolutely loves tot school and usually requests to “do some school” several times a day. For a really active, rowdy kid (like Everett is turning out to be), our activities would look a lot different and a lot less “schoolish”. But with open-mindedness the right sort of planning to address each personality and learning style, I think a version of tot school can be fun for just about any kid.

3. It’s a bonding experience. Like most kids her age, Rose likes to learn, but I think even more important to her motivation is that school is a little piece of the day when I focus entirely on her and we get to enjoy doing stuff (basically playing) together. This is a big part of what I love about it as well. For us, tot school fills that need for mother-daughter time and shared experiences.

4. It is one way of helping my kids grow healthy brains and prepare them for lifelong learning. I do think there is some benefit to the activities we do. Most importantly, I think it shows my kids how much fun learning can be and ignites an excitement for reading and exploring their world, which will hopefully serve them well later, both in school and in general life.

Note that I said this is “one way” of preparing my kids for school and life. I certainly don’t think it is the only way, nor do I think you are setting your child up for academic failure if you don’t do tot school per se. I excelled in school despite the fact that my own mom never heard of or attempted to implement tot school. This is not to say that my mom didn’t prepare me for formal learning, though. She certainly did, through informal teaching and mostly just through using everyday situations as opportunities to discuss and learn.

I do think it is important to help your young child develop a healthy mind, but I don’t think there is any one method for doing this. Parents who engage with their children and enjoy doing things and going places together as a family will naturally do what is necessary to help their children learn. God created children to explore and inquire, to challenge themselves, and to develop healthy minds. Given a safe, loving and stimulating environment with an active caregiver, and barring the interference of any learning disabilities, they will do so without any fancy activities or equipment.

So if you see pins for creative and artsy preschool activities and feel a sense of guilt that those kind of things don’t appeal to you, or if they do appeal to you on the surface but actually spending the time to do them dampens your enthusiasm, stop right there. You are not doing anything wrong, even by foregoing tot school entirely. I’m not an expert on early education, but I got some training in it and have learned a lot in my own self-directed learning since then. From my perspective, this is what you should focus on doing for the first 3-5 years of your child’s life, whether or not you tot school:

1. Interact. Talk with your kid, do everyday stuff together, enjoy experiences together. Your kid will learn best from the things that happen in the course of life by simply talking to you and watching you. Keep your screen time to a minimum during your children’s waking hours; those are your hours to engage their minds simply by being mentally and emotionally available to them. Be watchful for teachable moments.

2. Teach practical life skills. Keep your eyes open for the sorts of things your child might be ready to tackle next: self-dressing, cleaning up toys after play, drinking from a big kid cup, helping you bake, using good manners, folding dish cloths. These things are hugely foundational for the kind of ordered thinking and self-discipline needed for later school success. It takes an initial time investment to teach these things, but then having your kid be a little more self-sufficient frees up some of your time too. (I just want to confess here, I haven’t done well at this with Rose. Now we are starting to back up some from schoolish stuff and do more of these kinds of skills because I see how important they are.)

3. Love your kid. No matter how cognitively advanced your kid may or may not be, their success in school is tremendously dependent on their emotional health and the strength of their family bonds. Meet their physical needs, spend time bonding one-on-one with each child doing the things they like best, show them that you are always there for them, help them build a healthy self-image and respect for others, teach them about God’s love in meaningful ways, plan fun family times, and prioritize the health of your marriage.

If you do these things, I really think you can’t go wrong. Living in Africa has reminded me that even in families where the parents have little formal education themselves and don’t purposefully set out to prepare their children academically for school from an early age, children can succeed because they have healthy families and healthy childhoods. In the situations where they have been adequately nourished and raised in a secure environment, by the time they start school they have spent six years exploring, observing, and imitating. They enter school with the best piece of educational equipment: a healthy mind, ready for formal learning.

The time you could spend tot-schooling could just as profitably be spent investing extra energy in these essential things. 

And for those of you who do get as excited as I do about threading beads onto pipe cleaners, freezing toys inside blocks of ice, or making bath paint from shaving foam – stay tuned! The next few blog posts will be for you. I’ll be sharing some of my favorite sources and our own ever-changing method of doing tot school.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Breast is Best, and I am the worst.

If I could sum up the most important thing I have learned in my almost three years of parenting, it would be “Don’t judge.” I’m not by nature a merciful person. I tend not to give myself much grace, nor others either, and that has caused me a lot of frustration over the years. I’d like to think I’m improving on that front, and much of that is due to the hard-knocks education of surviving my children’s early years.
Maybe it started with the fact that I couldn’t breastfeed Rose. Breastfeeding is a big deal these days. The tables have turned over the past couple of decades, and now it seems the breastfeeders have claimed the moral high ground and feel justified in declaring (or at least privately basking in) their superiority over their bottle-feeding comrades. I probably would have taken that route myself had it not been for the cleft palate thing. My baby was 100% unable to breastfeed, and the only way to keep her alive was to let go of the vision I had of my baby peacefully nursing in bed with me and instead to embrace 2 AM dates with my Medela Pump-in-Style (I’m not sure I will ever hate any sound as much as that of the rhythmic electric sucking of that infernal machine), while my husband was the one sleeping on the couch with my newborn by his side, getting to be the one to nourish and bond with her by painstakingly squirting tiny amounts of milk into her mouth in rhythm with her instinctual but ineffective attempts to suck.
It was a few months before I stopped crying about my own sense of loss, and several more before I could let go of my desire to explain myself to everyone who saw me offering her a bottle in public. I wanted them to know how well I had prepared myself for a nursing relationship that turned out not to be possible, how hard I had worked to give her as much pumped milk as I could, how hard it was to feed a special needs baby…but as it turns out, it’s rather awkward to start volunteering that information to perfect strangers.
So I would sit there feeling ashamed and misunderstood. In some cases, I’m sure I projected all those attitudes from my own insecurity and people were really thinking nothing of it. But I know my own prideful heart, so I would be na├»ve to think I wasn’t sometimes right. I’m sure I was boosting some people’s ego by my apparent lack of concern for giving my child the very best.
So the first lesson I learned was the importance of giving others the benefit of the doubt. Even though I was blessed enough to be able to have a wonderful nursing relationship with my second baby (one that is still thriving at 14 months and that I cherish every day), those first couple of months of extreme pain and exhaustion reminded me that breastfeeding, even when it ends up working, is rarely as simple as just deciding to go for it. Without a great support system, in less-than-ideal circumstances, or in those cases where the baby or the mother’s body simply won’t cooperate, I can 100% understand why someone would decide that it’s not the best choice for their family to keep fighting the battle. Families with newborns are nearly always under tremendous pressures of various kinds, and there may be things they have to prioritize above their desire to nurse. We never know what someone else is going through.
The other lesson I learned is that I can’t really justify my own parenting choices, or anything else in my life, to others and expect them to understand. We will all be misunderstood frequently, by many people, for many of our choices. The desire to feel superior to others and to justify ourselves at their expense is central to our fallen human nature. We can and must work hard to tame that pride within ourselves, over and over, as we repeatedly fail to approach others with the proper grace. And we cannot expect others to have conquered that in themselves. We have to live with knowing that other people will never fully approve of us, and that that is ok, because we do not have to answer to them (unless they ask us, in which case we can unload all of our cleft palate back story). There is so much freedom in letting go of that Mommy Shame, even for the thousandth time.
Breastfeeding, or the lack thereof, has been just one of many aspects of childrearing that have shown me how little control I have and how unable I am to handle, much less thrive in the midst of, parenting two small children. I could go on about my failure to have the natural childbirth I wanted to pursue, or about my failure to have either of children sleeping through the night by their first birthday, or about 18 months of futile potty training, or about how my home can go from spotless to health hazard in just 48 hours when my housekeepers leave for the weekend, or about disregarding the warning on the Bumbo seat and sending my 8-month-old plummeting head first from the kitchen counter…Suffice it to say, I am nowhere close to having it all together, despite my quest to get that magical snapshot of toddler-management bliss and frame it and pretend that our life is actually like that. I have two domestic employees and a fantastically supportive husband, and I can still barely make it through the day.
There is a part of me that will always long to be that mom who is the embodiment of all the calm collectedness of Supernanny, the creativity of Martha Stewart, and the domestic charm of June Cleaver. But all things considered, I guess I would rather be the frazzled mommy learning slowly and imperfectly to embody the grace of Jesus Christ, accepting it for myself and extending it to others. May I always endeavor to let Him work in me.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

It's been a while

I haven't had time to write for the past almost three years. I don't have time now, either, but I think I will anyway. A lot of thoughts have floated in and out of my chronically sleep-deprived head which I wanted to tell the world about, but at the end of the day all I could do was fall into an exhausted heap. These thoughts were probably incredibly insightful, so it's a real shame that they have been lost, but it was either let them go or shrivel up and die at the keyboard.
Parenting is hard. Nothing has ever been so effective at dismantling my pride, at showing me without a shred of ambiguity that I am inadequate and ignorant. And then I moved to Africa, so I got another dose of humility from having not just the regular degree of inadequacy and ignorance that characterizes most parents worldwide, but a whole special brand of inadequacy and ignorance reserved only for foreigners trying to find their feet in a host culture.
Let this serve as my depressing summary of the past 33 months, which, while hard, have actually been the absolute opposite of depressing. This is real life, and it's what I have always wanted: a good challenge.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Everett's Birth Story

I had every intention of going past my due date. I had been gearing up for the inevitable induction battle with my OB for weeks. I had no signs that labor was approaching, and at 38 weeks Rose came down with bronchiolitis that brought us to the ER in the middle of the night on Christmas. A few days later Tim and I were sick too. I was fine with my baby staying put until we were all better. At 39 weeks and 3 days I decided to launch a house-cleaning initiative. Since I was feeling too pregnant to do much, this meant that I put Tim to work. I decided we would divide the house into five zones and clean one every day so that the house would be spotless by my due date.

That night I had frequent but only mildly uncomfortable Braxton-Hicks throughout the evening. I went to bed around 9:00. At 11:45 a strong contraction woke me up just as Tim was getting ready to come to bed. I couldn’t sleep after that because the contractions kept coming before I could drift off. I watched the clock. They were 15 minutes apart, then 12, then 10, then 7…at 2:00 I got out of bed and ate some cereal. From 2:00 to 3:00 they were 3-5 minutes apart and quite uncomfortable. I would stop what I was doing and just breathe calmly until they ended. I considered calling Mom, and I considered waking up Tim, but then at 3:00 I suddenly felt sleepy. I sat down to read, and the contractions spaced out some. I went back to bed and drifted off, going in and out of sleep as they continued for the rest of the night.

I woke up at 6:45 to the worst one yet. For the next couple of hours they were very irregular, about 10-20 minutes apart. My daughter woke up, and about 9:00 she was sitting on the potty and I was sitting next to her when I had a strong contraction. I had to get on my hands and knees and moan to get through it. But I thought my body might just be warming up and that the contractions would just fade away at some point.

For the next hour, we tried to get cleaning done, stopping to deal with each contraction as it came. We fell into the following routine: I would tell Tim another one was coming, get down on my knees and lean over something nearby. He would kneel behind me and rub my lower back hard in a circular motion. That ended up being the only strategy we used the entire labor – it never stopped being effective.

At some point during the morning, Tim asked me what the contractions felt like. Drawing upon our shared experiences on our Tanzanian internship, I said they felt a lot like dysentery. Then I amended that to say they felt like someone standing on my bladder while I had dysentery.

Around 10:30 my vocalizing was starting to scare Rose, so we called Mom at work to have her come to our house. She arrived, distracted Rose, and observed us. She said it looked to her like this was the real thing, and she thought we ought to head to the hospital. We started packing up, but we were being casual about it. We called our doula to tell her this might be the day. As I packed, I became more distressed and contractions became more painful. I started to feel urgent about leaving, so we hurried to get ourselves moving. Partway down the road we realized we had left our cell phone at home, so we stopped at my grandmother’s house to borrow hers. She was very excited to be able to help us out.

We stopped at my parents’ house, intending to labor there for a while with no one home. We called the doula again and said contractions had been 7-8 minutes apart for some time, but were becoming intense. She said it probably wasn’t active labor yet and that if we decided to go to the hospital now we should be prepared to resist interventions. I was discouraged to hear that. I ate a cereal bar and then told Tim I wanted to go ahead and leave. We still had a 70-minute drive to get through, and I was starting to wonder how I could cope with the contractions in the car.

While en route, I would turn around and drape my head over the car seat when I felt a contraction coming on. Tim would drive with his left hand and use his right to massage my back with the omni-ball. The pain of the contractions got to the point where I sometimes had to bite down on the car seat, and I was very loud but tried to keep my voice low-pitched. I started to think that if this was still early labor, I wasn’t going to be able to handle it when it got much worse. I decided that if we still had a long way to go when we arrived, I would need to consider an epidural.

Once at the hospital, I had Tim drop me off at the regular entrance to use the public restroom. I made it in and out between contractions, although I’m sure I looked bedraggled to the other people there, and then I had one contraction out by the vending machines with Tim holding me up. We went back out to the car, and I told Tim we should find someplace else to labor for a while, that I didn’t think it was a good idea to get admitted. Contractions were still 7 minutes apart, so I thought we were not progressing yet. He said we needed to go ahead and check in, so I consented. That was a good move.

We walked into L & D, having one contraction on the sidewalk on our way in, and went to the registration area. I told the lady, “I think I might be in labor.” Then I got on the floor for another contraction. I think she was convinced, because she started moving through the paperwork very quickly. One more contraction and a few signatures, and we were ready to go. She told me I was doing a really good job, and that meant a lot to me. I was feeling a little frazzled by that point.

In triage, I changed into my gown and got hooked up to the monitor. Contractions were harder to handle lying down, but not impossible on my side. The nurse checked me, which was more painful than any contraction I’d had. I said, “Please tell me I’m at least a little dilated.” She said, “Honey…” and the way she said “honey”, I was sure she was going to say I was barely started, but she said, “You don’t have much further to go. You’re at 8 cm.” I could have kissed that nurse.

Tim called my mom and the doula (who was shocked). The nurse said, “We better get your water broken.” I said I didn’t want them to break my water. She said, “Are you sure? It’ll go a lot faster once your water is broken.” I said, “I don’t need it to go faster”, which was so true. A couple contractions later, my water broke on its own…

And that’s when I went berserk.

I immediately had the urge to push. I told the nurse, and she said I couldn’t because I wasn’t complete yet. I ignored that because there wasn’t really any way not to push. Some nurses hurried in, and they wheeled me on the bed from triage to my LDR room at the other end of the hospital. I was insane at this point. The physical pain and pressure were suddenly completely overwhelming, and I had just gone from not being sure I was in labor to pushing in a matter of minutes. I was not prepared for that. I was screaming through contractions, and I was pushing even though the nurses kept telling me not to. I would push until the peak of the contraction was past, and then I was able to blow through the rest of it. I started yelling, “No!” and “I can’t do this!” and “Help me!” and “Get him out!” and all the stuff that you hope you won’t say when you’re having a baby.

I had my eyes clenched shut and had a death grip on the side rail of the bed, and I was oblivious to what was happening, but Tim said our trip through the hospital was pretty epic, with the nurses trying to move as fast as they could, me screaming, people dodging to get out of the way, the bed fishtailing…wish I could have seen it. I do remember them telling me I had to let go of the side rail, and in my craziness I wouldn’t. It turns out the bed would just barely fit through the door of the room, and they needed my fingers out of the way so they could squeeze through.

Once in the room, they checked me again and said I was complete (no surprise there; I could have told them that) and directed me to blow through two more contractions while my OB got her scrubs on. By this time I had gotten into the habit of saying no to everything. I was lying on my side, and they said to get on my back, and I said no. They said that if I was going to push like this, then I needed to pull my leg up, and I said no. One of the nurses told me I was putting all my energy into screaming, and it was keeping me from pushing effectively. I continued to scream.

I could kind of tell we were getting nowhere, and I felt like I needed to get on my hands and knees, so I did. Tim said they all looked at each other, and the OB said, “That’ll work.” So I pushed in that position for a couple of contractions, and the baby really started to move and got around my tailbone.

They were having trouble getting the monitor to pick up the baby’s heart tones because my belly was hanging down. One of the nurses said, “The baby’s not doing so well. You need to flip over on your back.” So I did. I honestly don’t know whether they were seeing a problem with the baby, or whether they just weren’t picking anything up because of my position. In any case, I ended up pushing on my back, but by that time, the baby was close enough to coming out that I was able to push him out relatively quickly in that position.

I felt the ring of fire for a couple of pushes, and then they said the head was out and that I should look down and see him. I looked, but my big belly was in the way, so I couldn’t see him yet. A little more pushing, and his arm and shoulder came out. And then all of him. At that point, I felt so relieved, and my sanity instantly returned. I didn’t say anything, because I didn’t want to say anything stupid. They put him on my belly, and there he was. I thought he was nice. No fireworks really, no supernatural/hormonal surge of maternal instinct, but I liked him.

About five minutes after he was born, my doula Marisha arrived. She felt terrible for missing the birth, but she jumped right in advocating for me. I got to hold Everett for quite a while, almost all the time they were stitching me up, which I think really helped me relax. I had a second degree tear along my episiotomy line from my last birth. I had been afraid of getting stitched without an epidural, but it turned out not to be all that bad. Marisha helped me get started nursing him, and he stayed at the breast for about 45 minutes.

The recovery from this birth has been far and away better than last time. With my first, I had an induction, epidural, episiotomy and vacuum extraction after about 2.5 hours of ineffective pushing, and ended up with a third degree tear and hematoma. This time pushing was much faster, my tear was less severe, and my body was generally not as traumatized. I was up and around some by the next morning and was able to sit in a chair and nurse as soon as we got home. I’ve had more energy to take on breastfeeding and care for my kids. My dad came to see us a few hours after the birth and said how much better I looked this time, and Tim has said the same thing many times over the course of my recovery. I’m very grateful for that, as it was one of my main reasons for wanting a natural birth. I am able to enjoy my baby much more when I am not in so much pain.

As for the birth experience itself, up until the urge to push started, it really was manageable. Very painful, but not excruciating. I think because my contractions never got close together, I was really blessed to have lots of rest time in between them to stay calm and regroup. The experience as a whole was probably the most painful experience I’ve had, but no individual contraction was the worst pain I’ve had. The pushing stage, however, was extremely painful and panic-inducing. I did not find it to be a relief. I felt like my body was out of control and if it lasted very long I wouldn’t be able to take it. I would gladly have asked for something to reduce the pain at that point if I had been able to form a complete sentence or known what to ask for. This was not what I expected. I really wanted an NUCB so that I would have control during the pushing stage, since I hated the feeling of not being able to tell my body what to do when I had my epidural. As it turned out, I still didn’t feel like I had control because my body was doing whatever it wanted against my will, and I couldn’t think clearly to be able to cooperate with the people around me.

As for next time, I have some ideas. I definitely want to find a new caregiver. Even though I have a good relationship with my OB, I never felt she was totally on board with my hopes, and it caused a lot of stress because I started to feel like I couldn’t trust her and didn’t know what she might throw at me in the middle of giving birth. I ended up pushing on my back with my feet in stirrups, and I’m still not sure if it was warranted. She forgot to delay the cord clamping; admittedly, I didn’t give her enough notice to be able to go over my birth plan at the last minute, but I just feel like she wasn’t all that interested in it. When I tore, she said it was “right along the dotted line”, as if she thinks having the episiotomy last time was good for me. The next day, when Tim told her how much better I was recovering this time around, she said something about having to get that first one out of the way so that the second one can go easier. I felt like she was minimizing all the work I did to keep myself healthy and plan for a better birth this time around, instead giving all the credit only to the fact that this was my second birth.

I’m not sure if I want to try to find another place to deliver next time. On the one hand, I didn’t feel totally supported in my birth plan at the hospital. Also, having such a long drive to get there really complicated things. On the other, I kind of feel more secure knowing I have everything the hospital offers to fall back on if things don’t go well - both the medical care and the interventions - should I need them. I know for many people it helps not to have an epidural available, but for me I think it actually helped me to be less panicked. I didn’t put pressure on myself to go natural at all costs, just for as long as I could handle it. As it turned out, we weren’t there long enough for them to interfere a lot with our plans. The postpartum care at our hospital is excellent, and the lactation department is simply fantastic.

All in all, Everett’s birth was a good experience for me, and I do feel empowered by it. At the same time, at the very end it was scarier than I expected. Tim feels very positive about it. He said the whole thing looked much healthier and less scary than Rose’s birth. He was a bit traumatized by seeing all that went on while I was delivering Rose (he had a better view than me!) and has often said, “It looked like they were hurting you.” I felt the same way, that I was helpless and maybe even a little victimized while giving birth to my daughter. This time my body got the baby out on its own, and that was much better all around.

We are enjoying having Everett in our family. I am anxious to see his little personality come out in the coming months, and I can’t wait to see my children become close as they grow up together. We are truly blessed to have had a good birth, and much more so to have an amazing, healthy son.

Everett Christian
January 4, 2012 at 2:55 PM
7 lb. 9 oz. – 21 in.