The Birth Story of Juniper Lee

I’m writing this with my one week old daughter snug against my chest. It’s so hard to believe she is the one who was in me all those 9 months, and worked with me through birth. A couple disclaimers: 1) There is no “easy out” in labor- each woman’s path, whether it’s an epidural or c-section or an at home birth, has its own unique price to pay. There is no comparing two experiences, and I don’t think I had it harder than someone who chose or ended up with a different kind of birth. This was just the path that was right for me. I am humbled by the power of any woman who gives birth. We are fucking warriors. 2) I want to preserve these memories, so I left it uncensored. Some parts are a little gory. Here’s our story:

My contractions started at 8:30 PM on Valentine’s Day. I had had some practice contractions a couple days before on my due date, so I wasn’t sure if this was the real thing or just a warm up. We stayed up to see if they’d progress, and sure enough they started getting stronger. Around 11:30 PM my water broke! It broke in a big burst just like the movies. Trevor and I took a few moments of laughing and crying and kissing, knowing that our daughter would be born the next day or soon thereafter, then called our midwives to give them a heads up. Knowing we had a long path ahead of us, I sent Trevor to bed, made myself a cave-like fort in our upstairs bathroom, and hunkered down. I set a goal for myself to stay in there alone from midnight to 6 AM- partly so Trevor could get sleep and help me more later, and partly because I wanted time by myself to understand the contractions and get a feel for them. I dozed on and off between contractions when I could, finding that I was more comfortable when I stood up for them, leaning against the sink and swaying slightly. It was getting hard, but I was able to use imagery from rowing to get through them. As I’d feel each contraction start to build, I imagined I was at the starting line, at the top of my slide, oars in the water, gearing up for a Power 20.  It was hard, but still thrilling. I was timing my contractions and they were about 6-7 minutes apart. I made it to 6 AM, and was ready for backup.
 
I woke up Trevor and we headed downstairs together. One of our midwives called to check in and said she’d be over shortly. Trevor tried to get me to eat some breakfast, but I could just barely nibble on some muffin and almond butter. I had done a good job of staying hydrated through the night, but knew I was going into labor on zero sleep and zero food- not ideal! Our midwife stopped by to check in- then said she was going to leave us alone to snuggle and labor by ourselves until we wanted her and another midwife to come back. She said they would be there quickly whenever we wanted them, but we’d “know” when it was time to call. That scared me, because after 7 hours of labor at that point, I thought things were already pretty bad! I couldn’t imagine what was lying ahead. She left us, and I continued to labor in the living room, always standing for my contractions.
Trevor would help me through them when I wanted him to, with me standing and leaning into his shoulders, swaying slightly. Sometimes I didn’t want to be touched though, and he’d finish up some last minute household stuff and started setting up the birth tub. We put on some music, which helped more than I thought it would.  
Looking back, this was my “favorite” part of labor. The contractions were hard, but I still felt semi-in control. I was even singing to the music in between contractions. “Gold” by Matt Hartke and Maggie Peake stands out as my birth song. I remember singing it to Trevor, snuggling up close and smiling. I was so grateful he was my partner through this. Whenever he would kiss or nuzzle me, a contraction would come on fast and hard. The oxytocin produced between us helped my body progress faster- one of birth’s mysteries I’m still amazed by.
 
Around 9 or 10 am, I started “figuring out” labor…I called my midwife and said something like “So- I’ve been laboring in the most comfortable positions…but if I wanted this to go faster, should I go towards the positions that make the contractions a lot worse?” Yup. I started alternating between standing contractions, squats, and sitting wide-legged on my birth ball. I was determined to get this over with- at that point the novelty of labor had long worn off, the pain was real and intense, and I was ready to be done. I tried to relax into the contractions and really feel them so I’d progress faster. Each “good” contraction brought a gush of blood- my mucus plug coming out, along with the rest of my water breaking. I was laboring in total silence, still trying to remain in control. I scribbled in a journal, “I’ve figured out the puzzle of labor. I must go boldly into the RED.”
 
At 11 am, I begged Trevor to call the midwives to come. The contractions were awful. I couldn’t understand why my body wasn’t taking over more so my conscious self could slip away. I started getting shaky and feeling like I wanted to throw up, so I had some hope that I was in transition stage and birth would be imminent (ha!). Our midwife Robin came by noon, helped me work through contractions using sounds (thank god! why did I think I had to be quiet?!) and checked the baby’s heart rate about every 15-30 minutes. After about an hour of her being there, me begging her to “HELP ME!”, she checked my cervix for the first time. She was impressed and said I was 7 cm, doing amazing and progressing very fast for a first time mom. Trevor was thrilled- and I was devastated. I thought for sure I had to be all the way dilated by then. The pain was so intense, and I was getting really scared.
 
Our other midwife, Brenda, arrived shortly thereafter. They confirmed I was in transition phase. “Great!” I thought, “I’m headed into ‘Laborland’ and won’t have to be as present for the rest of this.” I’d read about Laborland- that place where time and space do not exist, where you’re floating in and out of contractions and letting your body take over. Well, “Laborland” never arrived or even existed for me- or perhaps I’d romanticized it. I was fully present through the entire birth, fully myself, fully aware of every ounce of pain. The birthing tub was set up by then, and I had been “saving it” for when I really needed help coping with the pain. This was it, so I got in. At first the warm water felt wonderful, relaxing, and I breathed a sigh of relief. Then I had my first contraction in the pool- it did nothing to stifle the pain. This is not what I had read! I needed some sort of relief, and I wasn’t going to get any. At that point I was begging my midwives to help me, shouting at Trevor not to touch me, or telling him to touch me in a VERY specific way and not to talk or breath or do anything except what I instructed him to do when a contraction would hit. (He took this like a champ.) I kept my breathing low and lips loose to try to get this over with.
 
Around 2 pm I started feeling “pushy”- shortly thereafter I went through my first contraction when an urge to push RIPPED through my body. Again, I felt deceived- I had heard so many birth stories where pushing came as a relief. It turned me into an animal instead. I made the most guttural noises and literally begged my body to stop. I remember one of the first pushes and the only sound I could make was a long, low “NOOOOooooooooo!” A few of these contractions later and they checked my cervix- I was stuck at 8 cm. The midwives told me I had to try to NOT push in order to help move the remainder of my cervix out of the way and make pushing “easier”. Some contractions I could do it, most though my body took over and pushed anyways. It was pure torture- looking back on that time in labor feels the most traumatic. My body felt like it was literally being ripped in pieces, I was fully conscious for it, and all anybody could do to help was say “Yes, it is hard AND you can do it.” I realized no one could do this work for me- it was mine alone.
 
It worked though- soon after I begged to be checked again and I was fully dilated, ready for the last phase. They told me pushing should be easier now. It wasn’t. Each contraction was pure hell. My body was being tortured and I was sure there wasn’t anything that could be worth this. I told Trevor between contractions that we were adopting the rest of our family after this. He laughed- but I was completely serious then. I remember looking at my midwives and asking them “Women do this more than once? WHY?!!”
I took some contractions outside of the tub, standing and leaning into Trevor like I had at the beginning parts of my labor. As the contractions came to a close, my knees would buckle. The midwives had me reach inside and feel my baby’s head at one point, so I could “learn how to push” and bring her here faster. I was begging them to be done, asking how many more contractions were left. “Will she come with the next contraction?” I’d ask. “No, not yet- but she’s getting closer” they’d tell me.
Her head felt heavy and close, so I got back into the birth tub and onto my knees. I did a couple contractions like that, then felt something “pop” out. I thought it was the head- but it was only some membranes! I was dismayed but also determined. I continued pushing HARD.
 
Finally, finally, an enormous few pushes, an enormous gush and she slid out of me. They told me to reach down and bring my baby up- I did, sat back, and gaped at her! I couldn’t say or do anything but barely hold her and look back and forth between her and Trevor. She pinked up right away and starting wailing, “telling her birth story” as our midwives said. She was, and is, perfect- just under 8 lbs, beautiful, ours.
 
Besides a small tear and a couple stitches, I was completely healthy. Juniper was completely healthy. We had a successful, unmedicated home birth with a team we love. It went exactly as planned. And yet, it was NOTHING like I had planned. The concentrated, raw intensity of each contraction cracked me open from the inside out and rebirthed me as a mother. Time is already doing its healing- a day after labor, I viewed our story as a traumatic experience. Today, a week later, I am starting to see the beauty in the pain. I’m grateful for the changes it’s brought in me. I have no doubt that this was meant to be our path- and that I’m capable of so much more than I ever knew.
Happy 1 week, Junebug– you were so worth this.

Liver Cleansing Medley

There’s a lot not to like about Sunday nights. Lazy Sunday morning spent lingering over the breakfast table has disappeared. Spontaneous Sunday afternoon adventures have come and gone. And before you’ve gotten anything productive done, it’s 7 pm on a Sunday evening, and Monday morning feels way too close for comfort.

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There is one thing I like about Sunday evenings, though. There’s the feeling of a fresh start, the setting of good intentions, and a hushed hope that this week won’t kick your butt quite as much as last week did.

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I managed an hour in the kitchen tonight, prepping food for the week. This salad took 20 minutes to make, and although it’s not really the food I want to be eating (Smitten Kitchen’s cinnamon toast french toast stole my heart this weekend) I know this salad will help me feel healthy all week long. medley1.jpg

As I’ve learned before, change begets change. Something as small as a few cucumbers and radishes could propel you to get out for a run, do a few yoga stretches before bed, or ditch scanning your morning emails in bed for a few minutes of meditation instead.

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A book I’m reading, The Woman Code, describes this recipe as a “liver cleansing medley”, which sounds a lot more appealing than just “salad.” Author Alisa Vitta writes: “The liver is responsible for removing toxins from your body, and it does this by turning fat-soluble toxins into water-soluble ones so they can be excreted through your large intestine, kidneys, and skin.” If you have a hormonal imbalance, as many people do, your liver can’t operate optimally. Choosing certain foods, like lemon and cruciferous vegetables, give your liver a break. medley2.jpg

I hope you can find some time this Sunday evening to just sit quietly, and enjoy your last few hours of calm before Monday’s rush of deadlines and demands. If you have an extra 20 minutes on your hands, give this medley a try.

Liver Cleansing

Spring Mix Medley

From Alisa Vitti’s The Woman Code

Servings: 6-8

Ingredients:

  • 1 head celery, chopped
  • 1 bunch radishes, chopped finely with mandolin
  • 2 cucumbers, sliced
  • 6 carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 1 jar artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
  • Dress with apple cider vinegar and olive oil

Mix ingredients in a big jar and store in the fridge, store dressing separately. OR, store medley in individual containers with the dressing on the bottom (see pic above). Medley will last up to 1 week.

 

Land ho(ld)!

The plan started out so simple: find a patch of land. Build a small house. Live happily ever after.

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In the past 8 months, we’ve put offers on 3 different houses throughout Maine. We’ve walked through at least 30 fixer uppers, researched small cabin plans, priced out yurts, and looked up tiny house codes. We finally “settled” on building…

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…but it turns out, building a small house costs nearly as much as building a big house. Add on zoning code violations, a low house appraisal because your design is “abnormal”, and trying to get your house agent, loan agent, builder, and seller on the same page and you’ll find yourself where we are now: frustrated, exhausted, and flip flopping on every decision.

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Last night we gave our 2 months notice to our landlord. I look ahead and see 4 different paths, waiting to be chosen: building our dream house with a big garden out in the country, buying a fixer upper within biking distance of Portland, living care free and renting, or frugally camping it out in a renovated bus. I’m afraid that whatever we choose, we’ll regret not taking the other paths.

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Trevor tells me to be patient (always the lesson the universe will keep throwing at me until I learn to let go) and that we just need to wait it out until we understand our options better. He’s probably right- things that are meant to be shouldn’t be so hard. Whatever we end up choosing, we’ll find a way to make it wonderful. We always do.

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More soon.

 

Chicken Soup

soupTrevor’s been under the weather all weekend, so I made my go-to chicken soup. The ingredients are nothing out of the ordinary– just carrots, rice, potatoes, onions, celery, and a heaping pile of spinach thrown on in the bowl to wilt at the very end. But the broth is another story altogether. It’s sweet, tangy, and salty, rich with fat and brimming with magical nutrients. And the best part is, it’s made out of odds and ends I would have just thrown away up until a few months ago.

The best kitchen advice I read last year was to keep a gallon-size plastic bag in the freezer and take it out whenever you’re cooking. Toss in any scraps that you think might taste good in a soup. A few of my favorites are: chicken bones, herbs that are past their prime (rosemary, thyme, and parsley are fantastic), old cheese rinds, garlic nubs, onion skins (they give the soup a gorgeous nutty color), the ends of celery, and even old kale or spinach. Throw the bag in the freezer and don’t think twice about it. Once a month or so, empty the contents into a gigantic stock pot, fill it 3/4 of the way with water, add a hefty dose of salt and pepper, and let it simmer for 5 hours.

That’s it! It’s so easy, cheap, and infinitely better than anything you can purchase at the store. We recently went through a stock frenzy, buying some backs and necks of chicken at our local farm stand, and canned 10 quarts of liquid gold. It’s perfect for sipping when you’re sick or stirring into arborio rice for a quick risotto. We’ll be eating it all week as chicken soup.

Happy February! Stay warm & healthy.

The Whole30

 

This month, I went to see an acupuncturist for the first time. Needles in the face and everything! She’s one of my (badass) yoga teachers, and has a great discount for her students- so I gave it a whirl.

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Two sessions later and I’m totally hooked! Besides the immensely relaxing process that happens on the table (seriously, it’s even better than a message), I find I’m much more calm and centered for about four days after my appointment. I’m catastrophizing less, and am more in tune with my emotions. It’s been blissful.

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Plus, it’s just nice to talk with someone about my general wellbeing and stress management- we cover everything from my mood to my yoga practice to my work to my diet. Which led me to try The Whole 30 this month, per her recommendation.

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Now, years of fad-diet fails taught me that diets don’t really work for me. I’m much better with an “everything in moderation” approach to food. But this diet is so similar to how Trevor and I eat already, we decided to try it out.

The Whole 30 guidelines can be found here– basically, no gluten, sugar, dairy, legumes, or alcohol for 30 days. We are 14 days into it, and here’s what we like about it so far:

A big part of The Whole 30 is identifying and abolishing your cravings. For me it was sweets, for Trevor it’s been gluten. The first five days of this challenge were the hardest for me- 2:30 in the afternoon would hit and my sweet tooth would start going crazy! The second week in, I’m relishing the sweetness of whole fruits. Although I do miss my organic chocolate fix from time to time, I don’t feel controlled by it anymore.

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In general, we’re both feeling much more clean and energetic. Here’s what we’re not so hot on:

It costs more, and we’re eating a LOT more meat. We’re spending an extra $50/week on meat and nuts in order to keep us full enough. We used to eat meat once or twice a week. Now we have meat at almost every meal. Also, it takes even more prep work than we usually do- but this week I think I got the swing of things and devoted a whole Sunday to prepping meals for the week.

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We’ve still got another 2 weeks to go before we can start slowing re-introducing foods back into our diet. We’re thinking about keeping sugar and highly processed carbohydrates, like bread and pasta, out of our shopping cart for good. But we are looking forward to our old staples of rice, beans, select cheeses, and oats.

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If you’ve been meaning to clean up your diet but are looking for a little extra motivation, I’d highly recommend giving this program a try. It’s 100% free, there’s a wonderfully supportive online community (just search the hashtag #whole30), and it’s focused more on how to make your body feel GREAT, and less on losing weight.

Have you tried the Whole 30 before? What did you think?