A few weeks ago I wrote a little ditty about body image during pregnancy. I told you about the skinny voices I’ve heard all my life (the voices coming from magazines and television and the way people around me talk about weight that made me feel like being and/or staying skinny was somehow crucial to my happiness), I rejoiced at their disappearance during my pregnancy, and I silently hoped they wouldn’t return to plague me once Pickles had been born. My post was even picked up by Eat the Damn Cake, a lovely website about self-esteem and body image written by the same writer behind homeschooling blog Skipping School that I have been reading for the past several months.
Now, writing this at a little over two weeks postpartum, I’m taking stock. I have a 20-centimeter-long scar just above my pubes that I was afraid to look at for days after the birth. I’m still afraid to touch it, and when I finally brought myself to place my hand between it and my navel, I found the skin there strangely numb—a side effect of the epidural perhaps? But as my uncle said: “Sorry they had to bring the knife in, but then again who doesn’t want a new cool scar!?” (He has a point there. Scars make you seem more dangerous and mean. Too bad any opponent I will ever have to face in a back-alley knife fight won’t be able to see mine.) I’ve already lost 22 of the 33 pounds I gained during my pregnancy, but my belly sags slightly over the scar. And have the skinny voices returned? No. (No!) No, they haven’t. Now there’s something worth celebrating.
But it got me thinking. Why is it that pregnant ladies rejoice in their bellies when baby is inside, but hide them away once baby is out? In hiding those bellies we’re doing ourselves a disservice. We should be celebrating our baby houses just as much postpartum as we did prepartum. Because if we did that, then Hollywood wouldn’t have a monopoly on what Most Folks know about postpartum bodies.
Ever watch Lost? Notice how the blond chick was insta-thin after giving birth to her little boy? Yeah, that pissed me off. Ever watch My Name is Earl? Notice how Joy was insta-thin after giving birth (in about three minutes, ha!) in her kitchen? Yeah, that pissed me off some more. Because if most of the western world only sees pregnancy through the eyes of film and television makers, then most of the western world is going to expect that real, live pregnant ladies get insta-thin immediately after giving birth. Which creates a lot of pressure on postpartum ladies. And the last thing anyone needs is more pressure to look a certain way, especially a woman recovering from birth. Every pregnant woman starts at a different weight, gains a different amount of poundage, and loses it (or doesn’t) at a different rate. But no postpartum woman looks like she did before her pregnancy directly after the birth. And the implication that that is even possible is poison.
So in celebration of postpartum bellies, I thought I’d share a picture mine, with a nice scar close-up for good measure.
I had good luck; I didn’t get any stretch marks. I didn’t smear any magical creams on my belly during my pregnancy; I just had the good luck to not gain more weight than the elasticity of my skin could sustain. (Though I was pretty surprised, when I was 13 or 14 a growth spurt covered my thighs with them, so I thought I was pre-disposed.) But why do I even consider that good luck? Why is the world so down on stretch marks (and bellies!) anyway? Once upon a time a hippy boy I knew saw the stretch marks on my legs, apparently the first he had ever seen, and asked, “Hey what are those? They are beautiful. They look like roots.” I think he had the right idea, and so far I’m loving the curves pregnancy has given me too, not to mention the beautiful baby.
Ah, yes. Remember my last building project? The baby-crap storage shelves and fold-down changing table? Well, while I was in the hospital the Beard went and finished it up. See, when it comes to projects I’m the slow contemplative one, and he’s the fast impatient one. So despite all my good intentions, he’s almost always the first at the finish line. When Peanut started knocking on labor’s door I shrugged and figured we’d change her on the floor for the first few weeks. He took the bus to the building supply store and put on the fold-down bit in an afternoon.
The table is attached to the shelves by two large hinges and is supported by two steel cables and the two peices of wood that hang down past the bottom of the shelves (as you can see in the first picture). At first the Beard had just gone with the cables, but as it’s turning out that I’m the spacey relaxed parent and he’s the nervous paranoid parent, he was worried that the cables might fail and toss Pickles onto the floor. So he screwed on the wood bits for a bit of extra support. The padding is a bit of foam covered in some water resistant plastic stuff, and it is all held closed by an old guitar strap attached to hooks on either side of the shelves.
Using it so far has been dreamy. I can open it up with one hand, and fold it back up the same way, kidlet on one arm and the other shoulder to hold up the table while I hook the strap back into place. So far, an excellent solution for tiny living with a baby in tow. And a hell of a lot cheaper (I don’t know what the Beard spent, but I’d reckon it finished at about 50 to 60 euros total) than the fold-down changing tables I’ve seen in stores (which cost about 300 euros and don’t have nearly as much storage space). Another win for tiny houses, frugal living, and diy.
So here goes folks, Baby Pickles’ (uterine code name: Peanut) birth story in all its gorily (well, not really, they didn’t actually let me watch the operation) detailed glory. May seem a little personal for the internet (and warning the tmis start in the first paragraph), but I LOVED reading other folks’ birth stories on the web during my pregnancy, and I wanted to give my own four cents back to the virtual birth-blab community. If this sort of thing is totally not your bag or if you are a particularly sensitive brand of pregnant right now and/or might be bothered by a bit of a rough obstacle/complete melt down around the pushing bit of the story, I’d recommend that you don’t read it. Go read this instead. This birth story has a happy ending, but it’s not entirely peaceful. Otherwise, onward!
labor at home
Friday morning I wrote an e-mail saying that I didn’t think labor was happening that night. But by evening, when the rocks that had been in my intestines for weeks turned to lava and made their exit, I was sure that I’d been wrong. It was how a lot of the birth stories I read began. The Beard and I watched an episode of Dexter, and I kept my mouth shut. I didn’t want to jinx it by saying it out loud, but I cleared off my dresser and set up my computer (where my playlists lived) just in case.
The Beard fell asleep early, and I watched episode after episode as the Braxton Hicks turned into real contractions. As each came and peaked I stood, leaning against the shelves that house our clothing and television, chanting to myself in a whisper “relaxrelaxrelax relaxrelaxrelaxrelax.” I wanted to let the Beard sleep for as long as possible—he’d worked late the night before and needed to catch up—so instead of waking him up to start timing contractions, I searched the internet for a timer. Bingo. They were coming every two to four minutes and lasting for about 40 to 50 seconds. Oh. Oh! That’s like, umm, serious. Shit. Shit! It was 2 am, and I’d only been having “real” contractions for about a half hour.
People keep asking me what contractions feel like, and I was annoyed as hell for the lack of concrete description available in my reading beforehand. (And forget getting any real description of birthing pain in any of Ina May’s books. If those books had been my only impression of birth, I would have been pissed to find out how it really feels. Hint: In no way psychedelic.) Anyway. So what does a contraction feel like? Well, a little like period cramps, except concentrated, more. They are like no other kind of pain I’ve ever felt (though just different, not the worst), but if you could imagine the cramps you get on each side of your abdomen during your period joining together to create a larger, unified ball of pain, that would come close to how I experienced them. Painful, but totally manageable. Thank cod.
It might have been 3 am when the Beard woke up. He looked at me and asked me if I didn’t think I could just try to sleep. I laughed. “Umm, no I don’t think sleep is an option any more,” I told him. “I’m having contractions every two to three minutes.” He didn’t seem to believe it at first, but after a few more sleep-smeared minutes he trudged out of bed and off to the kitchen to make some coffee. I continued my ritual of leaning against the wall through each peak. When he returned we timed about fifteen minutes of contractions together, and he started getting things set up for the birth (one table moved, another cleared off, candles set up and lit). Around 4 am we called the midwife, who mumbled something into the phone and hung up. We assumed she was on her way and went back to dealing with my peaks.
During the next hour I started getting tired—standing up for each contraction was too much. I had been vocalizing through each contraction for the last hour or so, but found that holding the Beard’s hands and looking into his eyes while we breathed together and I vocalized on the exhales worked much better. So I laid on the bed on my side (despite this not being the most comfortable position for coping), we dealt with each peak together, and I was able to rest a little in the few minutes between each contraction. The midwife arrived just after 5 am. (Hereafter known as Clara.)
When Clara arrived, she crawled into our bed and strapped on the heart monitor (the kind you can see me wearing in the next picture) to check out the baby’s heart rate and the intensity of my contractions. They were “this baby is coming soon” contractions, and Clara told us later that she’d initially expected that we’d have that baby out in three or four hours tops. But! Alas! My cervix was not opening. When she finally checked it around, well who fucking knows when, but I think it was light again outside, it was at a measly two centimeters. The exam hurt so much that I practically climbed backwards up the wall trying to get away from the pain. (Which makes me wonder if it was the pain that made me close up or if it hurt because I was still so closed. Food for thought.) Clara poured some homeopathic something or other into my mouth to give me longer breaks between contractions, and there was an hour or so when they weakened and I managed to doze off between each peak. Aaaand I managed to throw up all over the bed before we’d covered the mattress with plastic. Whoops. Note to self: don’t put that part of the preparation off.
More time passed. There were more contractions. I moved onto the birth ball so I could be upright but rest between the pains. At some point I played half of my “good mood” playlist before turning it off. Clara dozed on a stool next to the bed. The Beard took a coffee and bathroom break and Frau Doktor came over to take his place. I found contractions easier to deal with looking into her eyes than the Beard’s. Often his eyes were mirroring back my own pain, which I did not want to see looking back at me while coping (I eventually told him this and he made a point of looking peaceful thereafter). Her eyes were full of empathy, perhaps simply because as a lady she knew her body was capable of doing this to her too. I didn’t like closing my eyes during the peaks because it made me feel like I was trapped inside my body, alone with the pain. Through the eyes of another person I could come outside of myself and escape it. The contractions remained as constant and intense as they had been from the beginning. Clara gave me a suppository meant to help soften my cervix and help it open and left to get some breakfast. But when she returned—after seven hours of labor—my cervix was still at two centimeters.
“I don’t know what the problem is,” she told us, “but the intensity of your contractions doesn’t match up with the state of your cervix, so I’d like to go the hospital. When something doesn’t add up, it usually means that something is wrong.” I thought I would need a moment to mourn the loss of our home birth, but I didn’t. I had picked Clara because of her birth philosophy, and I felt confident that any decision she made would be the same decision that I would have made were I the midwife with 35 years of experience. Looking back now I’d add that this is the most important aspect in having a birth deviate so far from your own ideal without any feelings of regret, so ladies planning your births, find a midwife or a doula who you trust implicitly to be your voice! It may be the single most important bit of preparation that you can do.
“If we go to the hospital, I don’t think I’m going to be able to say no to painkillers,” I told Clara, while the Beard scrambled around packing (I had already packed things for the baby and some of the things for the hospital, but didn’t have my own things—wallet and clothing and the like—ready), and somebody got the key to the car we’d be taking.
“And I don’t think that you should,” she replied. Well, ok then. I’d read about pain killers helping ladies rest or relax, helping them achieve a birth without surgery, so why not? I waddled out to the car.
We only live about ten minutes from the hospital we’d chosen (there is another hospital even closer, but one with a pretty bad reputation as far as natural birth philosophies go), so I only had to deal with three contractions in the car. I remember bracing my feet against the floor and moaning at a stop light, wondering why the hell anyone would chose to get in a car feeling like this without complications to force them into it. The Beard held my hand from the backseat, but I couldn’t see his eyes for the needed escape.
labor at the hospital
Outside of the hospital I had to sit down on a concrete planter to deal with a contraction, and two women having a smoke heard me moaning and asked if they should call someone. “No, no, thanks,” I told them. “The contraction will be over in a minute.” And it was. They grinned giddily at us, maybe both mothers themselves, and we wound our way to the labor and delivery rooms where a nurse hooked me up to a wireless heart moniter while the Beard fielded paperwork at the front desk.
Someone put a hep lock in my hand (that’s the perma-IV hook up you get in the hospital so that you can be quickly attached to any meds you might need), and Clara hooked up a bag of fluids and a bag with a few drops of cervix softener (heh, every time I say it that way I think of fabric softener and chuckle) and a whole bunch of a light pain reliever that she said would make me feel like I’d had a couple of glasses of wine. It did. It was excellent. My cervix sprang open like a jack-in-the-box. (Roughly put. Over the next four or five hours it opened completely. Time flew.)
Drunk for the first time in nine months! As much as I’d hoped to get through the birth without any pain meds, I’m here to tell you: these were frickin’ awesome. (I hadn’t even realized that there were grades of pain relief below epidural. Sweet!) Considering the fact that Clara only used a few drops of meds to help my cervix, it may have actually been the pain relievers that finally helped me relax enough to let my cervix open. Either way things were back on track, and I spent most of my contractions laying on the bed on my right side, holding the Beard and Frau Doktor’s hands and grunting like one of my favorite characters in Tetris Attack.
It must have been about 2 pm when my water broke. I was still laying on my side, and I was convinced I had just pissed the bed. (But where are all the fluids coming? from I remember wondering, I can’t have drank enough for that kind of a piss.) And then it happened again, and again. “I think I’ve just pissed the bed,” I announced. I may have even laughed. Everything felt surreal and absurd.
“You know you can get up and go to the bathroom if you want,” Clara told me. Then she took a look at the fluid. “But this is your amniotic fluid. Your water just broke.” Well shit. If I remembered correctly, that meant pushing was about to start. We were in the home stretch. And now for the hard part.
Clara checked my cervix and after another half hour (maybe? ten minutes? time was meaningless at this point) said I could safely push. I did. I felt baby head pressing down near my vag, and I felt her slipping back in. Which must have been when she jammed her head against my pelvic bones because she never came that close to a natural exit again. I pushed and pushed. Nothing happened. Clara directed me into a few different positions. I pushed and pushed. Nothing happened. My body started intensifying the contractions to try to get Peanut out. My vocalizations became screams. Clara—who had always complained that we weren’t loud enough when we practiced during class—actually told me to try to be a little quieter. “But it feels. GOOD. TO BE. LOUD,” I spat/screamed back. I can only guess that she just didn’t want any doctors running in and sticking their noses in our business prematurely.
I pushed, I tried not to push, I pushed, nothing happened. Things became a blur. The pain was becoming unbearable as my body continued to intensify the contractions, futilely. Every time I pushed I was pushing baby head against pelvic bone. Clara tried to free Peanut’s head with her hand. She gave me meds that should have stopped my contractions for ten minutes or so to give me a break. They didn’t work. Pushing felt horrific. Trying not to push was worse. I said my pain killer password (the Beard and I had a code word so that I could swear and complain, but he would know when I meant business about needing pain relief). I was falling apart.
The doctor on duty, a real unfriendly bitch with nothing behind her eyes, came in to check the baby’s vital signs. After fucking up the test twice (the one where they screw a thing-a-ma-bob into the baby’s scalp, the scab from which still hasn’t healed completely by the way), she determined that Peanut was distressed. Heart rates were sinking. My contractions were useless and getting worse. Someone shot me up with some more contraction blocker. It didn’t work. I was desperate, barely coping. The doctor recommended a c-section, and Frau Doktor sent her out of the room so we could consult. Clara said she would recommend the same. She had tried all of her tricks—short of giving me an epidural to give me a break and a fresh start—but didn’t think it would solve the problem (that Peanut’s head was caught on my bones and not budging), and considering the stress signs the baby was showing… I said yes. At that point I would have sold my soul to Monsanto to make the pain stop.
Once the decision was made, everything slowed down. Doctor’s came in to read me lists of horrific risks that I was to sign off on before the operation. I couldn’t care less, and I could barely manage a signature. If we were going to do this I wanted to do it NOW, wanted the pain to stop NOW. The contractions kept coming. Finally I was wheeled off to the operating room, and the Beard was directed to the scrubs closet. Four more doctors jabbed me with medicine to make the contractions stop, completely ignoring the fact that each time they did so I told them that I’d already had quite a lot of that medicine and THAT IT WASN’T FUCKING WORKING AND WHERE WAS MY FUCKING HUSBAND???!?! Still having massively painful contractions, but left alone to deal with them by myself in a room full of bustling doctors I was a total fucking mess. The Beard followed my screams into the operating room.
I hadn’t removed my belly button ring, and all the docs in the room started freaking out when they saw it. “She has a belly button ring!” they repeated frantically, once again ignoring me, and the fact that I was telling them that, no, they couldn’t remove it without pliers and that if they would just get my fucking husband we had some with us and could take the fucking thing out with them. And WHERE THE FUCK WAS MY HUSBAND ANYWAY???!? No one paid any attention to what I was saying. Minus three hundred points for the medical community. And when Clara arrived in her scrubs they gave her shit too. “Sorry,” she told them, “but I don’t take babies out this way.” Her job is a constant battle against over-medicated births and oft-pointless hospital regulations and bitchy doctors (note: doctors ask you to take out piercings before an operation because if they have to revive you with those shock things, any metal on your body will burn the skin around it). Strong lady.
I heard the older woman in charge of the operation saying “It doesn’t matter, we found mumblemumble in her blood, we need to get going.” (Still haven’t found out what it was they found in whose blood.) The anesthesiologist finally stuck me in the back (I had a spinale PDA, which the dictionary is telling me is called a spinal epidural in English). My legs went numb, and the pain was finally gone. It was glorious. Someone brought in what looked like a race-car seat with straps—that was for the Beard, and the straps for the birth partners who pass out when they look behind the operating curtain. The Beard had arrived and was holding my left hand. I could feel people groping around in my innards and wanted to watch (with a spinale you feel some pulling and pressure, but no pain). Now I’m glad I don’t have those images burned into my brain. I had no idea she was even out of my stomach when there was a cry from the right corner of the room. Our baby our baby! I couldn’t believe it. At 3:36 pm. after about fourteen hours of labor, Peanut was on the outside, had become Baby Pickles. Wow.
I turned my head to the right and watched Clara weighing her across the room. (She got a 9 on the initial apgar, and then two 10s. I was impressed.) Then Clara laid Baby Pickles on my chest, and we blearily gazed into each other’s eyes, hers crusty, mine probably crazed. I cried, and sang her all her favorite womb songs. It was hard to focus on each other from that close (the curtain was hung just below my ribs, so the baby was about three inches from my face) but it was amazing and even more surreal than anything that had come before. After five, maybe ten minutes, the Beard went with Clara and Pickles to the delivery room we had started in while the doctors finished stitching me up. At 4:15 they wheeled me out, flipped me from one bed to another with a crazy machine lift, and Clara pushed me the room where Frau Doktor and the Beard were chilling with Baby Pickles, who was wrapped up in a bright green towel. Never in my life have I ever been so happy that something had ended, or begun.
If any of you have your own birth stories online, I would love it if you posted a link in the comments. There are so many amazing birth stories on the internet. I want to read them all.
Madame Pickles (as Uncle Sprinkles has so often dubbed her and as I’ve decided to call her from henceforth on this blog in the name of not giving away all her internet privacy before she’s even had a chance to have any) arrived on Saturday at 3:30 pm. House birth turned hospital birth turned c-section. (About which I will write in much more detail later, once I have mastered the art of one-handed typing.) But all is well in the house of Stewart (I think—as I’m still in the hospital I can’t say for sure), and I should be able to go home tomorrow.
I think I can best illustrate the level of my desire to not be pregnant anymore with an anecdote. Imagine it’s been a bad day. It’s been hurting your hips to walk for months now, but today the pain has brought you to a new level of hobbling. You consider never leaving the house again, but make plans to go out to dinner with friends instead because once the baby comes who knows how soon you’ll find the time/energy again. But! One of your friends really wants to cook something! So you skip the restaurant and go to his house and eat some snacks and chat. But! The chicken for the soup isn’t cooperating and needs a lot longer to cook than anyone thought it would! Your blood sugar drops and you feel like death and are getting pretty tired on top of it since you know, it’s already 10 pm (gasp!) and it’s kind of a miracle that you’re even still upright at this hour. So you say goodbye you need to go home right now, hobble to the very cold bus stop, and manage to keep it together—despite the raging hormones that want you to cry at every opportunity and the fact that hunger has always made you feel surly and hysterical—until you make it home, sit down on your bed, and try to take off your pants. It is with them around your knees that you realize that you can’t get them off by yourself. Commence weeping and blubbering.
I’ve been praying for rain ever since. (And by praying I mean shaking my fist threateningly at the sky. And by rain I mean contractions.) But no luck. We made it to our last birth prep class. My due date is two days off, and the reality is that she has to come soon because that’s how this works. But I can’t believe it—I’ve even managed to convince myself that it is my very desire to get her out that is keeping her in. This doesn’t make sense, I realize. But pessimism comes easily to me.
I know, I know. Wah wah wah. Complain complain complain. A hell of a lot of people have had a hell of a lot more reason to be pissed at being pregnant at the end of their terms. But the thought doesn’t really improve the situation for any of us. And I’ve never been one to try to coat everything with a layer of rosy frosting.
THE GOOD NEWS IS: We are so ready. So ready! And not just mentally (though I think the Beard is already pumping with the good adrenaline—I call him to tell him something banal and he comes running with this giddy look on his face, thinking labor might be starting and he keeps dropping things). We’ve got a couple of bags of stuff—candles, extra sheets, snacks, et al—waiting in the corner of the Wagen for their moment in the sun and below you can witness my “it’s almost over!” / “bring on the contractions” hoppity dance. (I hope that the fact that I am doing said dance in front of our altar of whiskey counts for something with some god or goddess with influence over my uterus out there somewhere. Bacchus? Aphrodite? Anybody?) Even though I’m mostly feeling complainy, I promise that I actually spend most of my time attempting to make light of what has become a rather annoying state of affairs.
for those of you who are interested in the nitty gritty details of this sort of thing…
If you ask my midwife, which we did, all you really need for a birth in a pinch is a pair of scissors and a clamp so that she can deal with the umbilical chord after the birth. She’d managed with nothing more than safety scissors and a chip clip, she told us, when she once upon a time went to do a prenatal check on a woman who had been planning a hospital birth and arrived to find that the baby had already dropped in.
If you have a little more time, I’d say the bare necessities (for a low-risk home birth with no medical complications along the way) probably also include a comfortable nest, a supportive birth partner, and an experienced midwife. Funny how a lot of people are always trying to tell you about things you should buy to prepare for this sort of thing (because even birth has to be about consumption these days). But we did buy a few things. We just didn’t have that many pairs of dark colored sheets.
my midwife’s home birth check list as applied to a Wagen birth
This is the prep list my midwife gave us last week, translated for your convenience. (The bolding is hers.)
1. Build a nest! Accessible bed with pillows and light blanket. (Check and check. Our bed is the coziest nest EVER, and I can’t wait to give birth in it. All of our pillows and blankets and duvet covers came from the trash across the street. Thank you, wasteful students, for providing us with an amazing nest.)
2. Enough space in front of the “nest” for a birth on a birthing stool. (My midwife may or may not be bringing this along. When we tried it in class I asked her about it, and she said maybe, though she had doubts about us having enough space. I told her that if we had room for a birth ball, which we do, we have room for a birthing stool. She said she’d see if it fit in the car that day.)
3. Source of warmth—a radiator, heat lamp, or hot fan. (This is where the wood stove comes in.)
4. A lamp or flashlight. (Check. Now that I think about it, both of our lamps are also from the dumpster across the street.)
5. An exact clock. (Not so much check. Our cell phones are our clocks. Need to find something with a second hand to borrow.)
6. Water-tight tarp or sheet. (The Beard bought a thin painter’s tarp at the building supply store while I was laying in bed. So I have no idea how much it cost.)
7. One to two bed sheets. (We’ve got four, but that’s because our “king size mattress” is actually two mattresses jimmied together. Two we had, and then we bought one black, one red for 4,99 each. I wanted dark colors to avoid staining, though I have heard that all the home birth juices wash right out.)
8. A large trash can or trash bag. (Check. Had this already.)
9. Bowl or bag for the placenta. (Planning on freezing it and burying it beneath a newly planted tree or bush in the spring. Have a large metal bowl at the ready for initial catch.)
10. Four to five mid-sized towels. (Thank you flea market and dumpster across the street.)
11. Possibly a hot water bottle. (Check.)
12. Ice packs. (Thank you one euro store.)
13. Thermos full of strong, hot coffee.
14. Post partum pads. (Donated by a friend who didn’t use all of hers.)
15. Mutterpaß. (The little book you get in Germany for doctor’s to record all your pregnancy health info.)
17. A bag packed for at least a one day’s stay in the hospital in case of emergency. (We have the stuff the midwife wanted us to pack and the stuff for the baby packed into the car seat, but I haven’t packed anything for myself yet, and I have my fingers crossed we won’t need our back-up bag anyway. Cross your fingers for us to if you think of it.)
18. Food and drinks for the birth team. (Orange juice and red berry juice with extra iron have already been squirreled away under the bed. For snacks we have a bag full of fruit energy bars and yogurt. Want to make some hard boiled eggs to have on hand as well.)
We also have a birth ball (which I am still struggling to figure out how to blow up), massage oil, a massage ball, various heating pads (ie the kind filled with beans or cherry pits that you can heat up in the microwave or oven), candles, and about six different playlists for all the different moods I anticipate being in. There’s the relaxing playlist (a no brainer), the good mood playlist (for pushing and/or general desperation), the sing along playlist (all songs that I love to sing along to, in case singing through contractions turns out to be my thing), the shake your hips playlist (in case I need to do some gyrating to get the baby moving down), the ocean sounds playlist (I have a feeling that visualizing the contractions as ocean waves might be a huge meditative help), and the Wolves in the Throne Room playlist (slow, intense doomy forest metal strikes me as being something that could be the perfect birth soundtrack). Then again I might just go into a trance and be annoyed by any noise and skip the music all together.
My “birth team” consists of my midwife, the Beard (main birth partner), Frau Doktor (relief birth partner and general runner-arounder, retriever of all things needed, taker of photos, and tender of the wood stove), and me. Not to mention the hoard of Platz-mates who may be outside pacing and chain smoking in anticipation of that first cry and could also be called on to help us out in a pinch.
I hope that the next time I write you it’s to tell you that Peanut is finally here. My fingers and eyes are firmly crossed.
We interrupt your regularly schedule gorilla pregnancy ramblings to inform you that Click Clack Gorilla is being featured on one of her favorite parenting websites today, Offbeat Mama. *Waves at anyone visiting from over there.* You’ll recognize the article they’ve posted there from this post but if you go over and check it out you can join in the conversation about aliens and pooping during labor over there.In celebration of that, I’m posting another prego update post today instead of later in the week as I had originally planned. Besides, Peanut could be here by the end of the week. (!!!!) (I hope.) (!!!!!!!)For any of you just joining up from Offbeat Mama, scroll down to the end of the post for an index of more prego-related posts, from my decision to do a “house” birth in our trailer to prego acupuncturing to how we found our awesome midwife.
The pressure has always been there, ever since I was old enough to notice bodies or to read Teen magazine (who is that younger version of myself who actually had a subscription to that magazine? 2012 Nikki can barely recognize her). It was the pressure to be a certain kind of pretty, to wear make-up, to do my hair a certain way, to have certain clothes, and to be skinny like all the models whose bones played the role of hanger to each month’s trends.
I studied those magazines like they were bibles, and I went to insane lengths to meet their standards. I showered every single morning. Every morning I straightened my naturally wavy hair before caking on a layer of foundation/eyeliner/eye shadow/et al. I felt wrong leaving the house without straight hair, wouldn’t have dreamt of going out without make up. But the biggest pressure of all was always the pressure to be skinny, horrifyingly, “perfectly” skinny. Like the hanger women in the magazines.
And yet I’ve always been skinny myself. As luck would have it, I happen to be genetically programed for the kind of skinny-ness that has been popular in my lifetime; I come from a long line of paperclip-shaped women. Yet there has still always been the pressure: to be skinnier, to stay skinny. What if I gained weight? What if I wasn’t skinny enough? People would comment on my skinny-ness all the time: they wanted to know how I stayed so thin, they wished they could be so thin, they were worried that maybe I wasn’t eating enough. (While I was busy envying them their curves and their cup sizes and eating like a I had hollow legs. The grass, greener, etc.) Through the constant mention, my skinny-ness started to become a part of my identity. Which only made the pressure worse because it felt like gaining weight would mean losing a part of who I was.
Even though I have long given up the values that used to compel me to put on make up every morning or wear deodorant or straighten my hair, I’ve never been able to think myself out of the skinny pressure. Even with a partner who loves me no matter what I look like or how round my belly becomes, I’d never found a way to accept my belly no matter how round it became because I’d never found a way to stop the skinny voices. Even though I no longer read beauty magazines or watch television or expose myself to the media pressure to look a certain way, it remains, it refuses to leave me in peace.
I’m largely ok with my body these days, and I’m not looking for any sort of pity in mentioning this. This is not a serious problem, but I think it is a pretty common one. Thing is, the voices telling me that I need a flatter stomach or less thigh, no matter how often I intellectualize them away, regardless of the fact that I have at least managed to stop letting them influence how I live my life, just wouldn’t shut the fuck up. And I think a majority of women—though with the dawning of so many men’s beauty magazines, probably most men at this point too—hear the skinny voices too.
That is, until I got pregnant.
Once I was pregnant the pressure disappeared. Instantly. There was a big echoing space where it had been, and I was stunned. I hadn’t believed that it was possible. I had thought I would have to deal with the skinny voices for the rest of my life, futilely trying to talk myself out of hearing them in some sort of body image purgatory and never finding a gag big enough to stuff their big traps.
But suddenly nobody expected anything from my body anymore, most of all me. I didn’t need to work to be conventionally sexy, I just was. Everything my body did was perfect. Every pound I gained was part of the life of the little sea worm swimming in my stomach. Every pound I gained made me even sexier because being pregnant is as sexy as it gets, is the embodiment of sex itself. I began to understand how miraculous and powerful my body was. It could build a human with a complex nervous system and a brain! It could create the milk needed to feed another human! It could adapt to having all its organs pushed out of their usual places! My body could do no wrong, and the pressure was gone! The pressure was gone!
There are a lot of ladies who don’t feel like this during pregnancy. There are ladies that feel ugly and fat and terrible. (I wish they didn’t because I think they look great. Contrary to my weird-o expectations for myself, I think women with lots of curves are fucking gorgeous.) But for them the pressure to look a certain way doesn’t stop; the magic doesn’t work for everyone. I don’t want to make those women feel bad for feeling that way, during pregnancy or ever. But I want them and every other woman who has ever heard the skinny voices telling her she looks all wrong every time she looks in the mirror to know it is possible. It is possible to turn off the skinny voices! And if they can be silenced during pregnancy, then maybe they can be silenced outside of it. Maybe there is a gag big enough to shut them up after all.
How did you feel about your body during your pregnancy? And for those who have never been pregnant, how do you deal with the skinny voices? (If you hear them at all. And if you don’t hear them, I want to know how you managed that too.)
Want to read more about my gorilla pregnancy? Check out these posts… (Or check out the entire gorilla prego category here.)
I debated whether or not I should share this story on the internet for a while, but finally decided that I should. For the pregnant singers who might be searching the internet for solidarity right now. I had the debate at all because the story is a bit…icky. So if you have a puke-story aversion, go read this instead (it’s about moving to Dresden), and I’ll see you on Monday for more of the usual CCG non-ewww, non-pregnancy ramblings.
At 37 weeks pregnant, we played our last concert pre-baby. I didn’t want to travel far from home during the month when labor could be anywhere from weeks to minutes away. Week 37 would be cutting it close, but with the venue just a few blocks from our place, I figured going into labor on stage wouldn’t be a big deal. If it happened, I’d squeakily explain to the audience between contractions, and then we’d walk home, call the midwife, and get on with it. The concert organizer was ok with the risk that we might have to cancel the show last minute or mid-song, so we gathered up our instruments and headed down to Baron for an evening of music.
I was excited. Home-town concerts usually mean a good crowd of good people, and sometimes even some singing along. There is nothing more flattering than standing in front of a room full of drunken, smiling people who are singing along to—having actually memorized!—a bunch of words you wrote. As a writer, as a singer, as a person. We’d be taking February and March off from playing shows so the Beard and I would have time to get used to life with baby, and I wanted to go out with a bang, or at least with that happy glowy feeling that comes of having made music on a stage with a fun crowd. Good moods abounded, and the dinner we got as part of our payment for the evening was delicious. Mmm.
So far singing during pregnancy hadn’t given me many problems. We went on a ten-day tour about three weeks in, all of which I spent puking, trying not to puke, and sleeping in the van. It wasn’t pleasant, but I never had a problem with my voice, never once had to run off stage to have a good toss between songs. Of course, considering the fact that we play a lot of punk venues, doing so may have actually earned me some kind of punk rock merit badge from the audience, but I didn’t want to find out, and I fought off the nausea on-stage whenever it started to rear it’s hideous visage.
I had expected to have problems breathing. You see, when a baby grows in your stomach, it squishes all your other organs out of it’s way like they’re so many useless pillows piled up on the bed. (It is really fucking amazing that the human body is capable of this.) Your stomach, squished up under your ribs, can’t hold as much food, and your lungs can’t hold as much air. But I never found myself lacking the air to finish out a note. (Though apparently there was a period when I was a lot quieter.) After the tour there were several outdoor practices during which singing itself would bring up the chunks, and I would have to run around the corner to puke in the bushes between verses. But for the most part, I was fine, my voice was fine, and we carried on with our musical activities as usual. We even recorded an album during week 35.
Fast forward up to Baron, where I’m in a good mood, and we’re on stage in front of a packed room playing and strumming and plucking and twanging and warbling. We made it a little over halfway through the set before it happened, before my voice suddenly cut out in favor of a cough/cookie toss. Cough cough, hand over mouth, turn, swallow. Cough, puke, swallow, cough cough, repeat. Turn bright red. Eye fellow bandmates with bulgy eyes. Tell them to keep stalling between songs so I have the time to recover. Eventually I did, and we played another handful of songs before it happened again, at the very end of Crow’s Nest. Nothing came out of my mouth as I tried to sing the last verse, and then came another bout of hack, turn, puke, hack, turn, puke. Except this time I didn’t manage to swallow in time and left a little puddle in front of the bassist’s feet. Yum!
Not wanting my voice to cut out even earlier in the next number, I signaled to the others that I was fucking done, we played a few instrumental numbers to wrap things up, and I retired to a chair in the back of the room while they played an encore without me. I was glad to be off the stage. Not exactly the bang I’d been imagining going out with, but a bang none-the-less I supposed. Certainly something to remember. Ugh.
The best past was that no one in the audience had noticed. Afterwards I asked friends who had been standing in various parts of the room if they had realized what was going on. But even those who had been in the front row had thought that I had just been coughing, even someone who had unwittingly gotten a photo of me mid-toss. So at least there’s that. Stage face maintained. Puking in front of strangers getting their first impression of our band averted. But it’s still not a lot of fun to sit on stage regurgitating your cud.
So what went wrong? It could have been the singing itself. Since being pregnant, I’ve noticed that I have to burp a lot (A LOT) when I sing. On stage I probably put even more grunt into it, and whatever it is that causes the burps could have caused the puking with the added pressure/air exchange/whatever. My only other theory is that I reacted poorly to the iced tea I was drinking. Though I’ve been told that it is perfectly fine for me to drink one coffee or black tea a day while pregnant, I’ve rarely done so (had to give up coffee a while before the pregnancy because it was fucking up my stomach, so we’re talking black tea here) as it had started making me feel weird (usually a few hours after). But would that be enough for a puke fest? I really don’t know. But I find myself relieved that I won’t need to get onstage again until I’m thoroughly un-pregnant.
Any of you had a similar singing/pregnancy experience or heard of someone else who has?
Want to read more about my gorilla pregnancy? Check out these posts… (Or check out the entire gorilla prego category here.)
With leftover soup heating up on the wood stove I look out the window and realize it’s snowing. It’s a sandy snow: sparse and thin like powdered sugar. I’ve been imagining Peanut as a snow baby lately, so I shake my stomach and tell her “Snow! You should really come out and see this!” She doesn’t respond. As usual.
Last night I tried acupuncture for the first time. After 36 weeks, my midwife offers a weekly group session for five euros a person. Apparently you can shorten labor by a few hours through the careful pricking of several spots on leg and foot—these pressure points are alleged to be able to shorten the neck of the cervix without with presence of labor—and help prepare the body for dealing with labor pains. (Some people also insist that acupuncture can naturally induce labor, but as my midwife says, “People have been trying to induce labor themselves for years and nothing has ever proved to be reliable. It’s the kids that decide when they’re coming.”)
In the same room where she gives birth prep classes I sit on a red yoga mat with four other pregnant women, and our midwife kneels beside each one of us in turn, inserting hair-thin needles into our scalps, arms, and legs. I barely feel the needles go into my scalp, though the first sends a strange tingle through my entire body. It is also the needles in my scalp that I find the most uncomfortable throughout the session and on into the next day. (Those were supposed to be for relaxation.) I am glad that I can’t see my own head because looking at the pin-cushioned scalps of the other women makes me feel like I’m in a bad science fiction short story.
Lights dimmed, our midwife then leaves the room for twenty minutes, telling us to close our eyes and relax. We chat in whispers about swollen hands and breastfeeding instead. My hands have been feeling strange lately—a bit swollen, often falling asleep, often painful to ball into a fist—but my complaints are nothing next to the paws my neighbor has developed. She can no longer remove her wedding ring, and her ring finger is starting to look a lot like two links of sausage. Others complain of swollen faces and lips, and I am once again thankful that my main complaint is that walking is painful.
At home, I finally google the difference between Senkwehen and Vorwehen, two German words I hadn’t been sure of and that had been coming up more and more in my conversations with other prego ladies. It turns out that what German folks call Vorwehen (pre-contractions) are what I call Braxton Hicks (ie when you’re uterus contracts and your stomach goes hard) and Senkwehen (sinking contractions) are the mildly crampy contractions that help your baby sink down into the pelvis.
I hadn’t previously realized that there was a difference, but I experience both for the rest of the evening and night. “Go go go, come on Peanut!” I chant at my stomach, but by morning they are gone; I’m not in labor. I am convinced that my desire for her to arrive early is going to keep her in long past my due date, but I’m converting my rain dance into a labor dance and crossing my fingers that Peanut isn’t hoping to wait out the entire winter. If you have a minute, pretty please do a few hip shakes for us too.
Any of you ever tried acupuncture? I’d be curious to hear about it…
Disclaimer: It is pretty dark in here right now. Which means I didn’t take a new picture. Which means the belly picture up there is actually from week 35. It’s even bigger now. Though shockingly still stretch-mark-free.
Want to read more about my gorilla pregnancy? Check out these posts… (Or check out the entire gorilla prego category here.)
We traded cold tempuratures for beautiful days. For the last three months I’ve woken to grey. Grey skies, grey air, grey skin, and grey trees. The grey got into everything. Usually I spend a lot of time outside in the winter regardless of weather. There is always wood to be chopped, and there are always limbs to be warmed by the movement. But this year the Beard has taken over the wood schlepping and chopping duties (for those of you just signing in, it’s because I’m pregnant), and I’m sure in part that there’s a vitamin D deficiency cohorting with the grey.
Now the weather has gotten frigid, but the skies have turned a brilliant blue. Snow would complete the scene, but it’s far too cold for white frosting now. I am ready for hibernation. But instead I’m damned by my species to remain awake through the cold. I usually enjoy the change of pace that a good tuck-in-for-the-winter can bring. There are books to read and movies to watch and 90s point-and-click adventure games to play and down blankets to heap on top of chilly limbs. The sound of a new log catching fire in the wood stove is the soundtrack, the sound of a neighbor’s axe hitting the chopping block the beat.
But having been “tucked in” since the beginning of the pregnancy (morning sickness, ugh), I’m ready for winter activities to give way to something warmer, to something involving warm sunlight and movement. I’m tired of reading, of watching movies, of browsing the internet. The sauna is my salvation. Once a week I go for four hours to remind my body what it is capable of without the watermelon tacked to my front in the heated pool and to steam my limbs, an exorcism by air and water.
Since it’s gotten cold, we’ve been sleeping longer, and it has become harder and harder to get out of bed. Who wants to leave the warm folds of a down blanket for such a cold day? Though we remembered to turn the water in them off on time this year, the toilets are both currently stopped by bits of ice somewhere in the pipes, and now a walk to the bathroom takes me further and longer. It is the glory season of the chamber pot.
But the weather is another reason that I can’t wait for the baby to hurry up and arrive already: once she’s here I’ll have new grounds to appreciate being tucked in, a new relationship to develop and someone fascinating to spend hours in bed cuddling with and getting to know/staring at/relearning everything I know with. And relatively, it won’t be long until winter really does give way to spring.
Demons exorcised by steam and just enough energy left to attempt to think positively, I turn to music for a good mood while the doldrums last. This song is my current magic spell. Do you have a good mood album or song that gets your feet tapping and the corners of your mouth heading north? For the love of cod, share it in the comments if you do. The long ninja approach will not conquer this winter’s doldrums, but a virtaul army might have a chance.
I’ve reached the end days phase. The bit of being pregnant where I’m constantly thinking “well this could be the last time I wear this T-shirt before I have a baby.” Or “this could be my last shower without a baby.” Or even, “Maybe the next time I light the wood stove I’ll have a baby.” And on and on and on. It’s all very exciting. I can’t wait to have my body back to myself again, and I can’t wait to find out what giving birth feels like.
Looking back its been a pretty pleasant pregnancy. There was that uncomfortable four months of puking, but it’s far enough in the past now that I’ve already begun to repress the memories—or better put, my brain has started to take the kick out of them. Then there was the fun part when I first started to show but had yet to begin the gradual descent into gestational-crippledom and general exhaustion. Which, I might add, culminated last night in me carrying a large bowl of salad for twenty meters, and it destroying my back to the point that I was no longer able to remove clothing or leave the bed without help. My walk went from penguin waddle to shuffling, malfunctioning robot in seconds. After the Beard rubbed some magical herbal stuff on it I was eventually able to manage a shimmy/crawl down the mattress though, so at least I didn’t have to wake him up to carry me to the chamber pot for my 340 nightly trips to the toilet.
But for the most part I’ve had a really easy time health-wise, and I am so glad that so far (knock on wood people, there is still time for the demons to find me and try to drive me into the hospital) I haven’t had any serious health issues. Here here. Ladies who have had health issues during pregnancy: I salute you. I think of you all the time and how strong you must be to get through that shit. I haven’t had to deal with anything serious, and it’s been a pain in the ass, so I can only imagine what some of you have made it through. Good job.
I’ve never been much of a belly talker—though I sometimes like to imagine that maybe she can pick up images if I concentrate on them just right—but lately I’ve started giving Mount Peanut motivational speeches about how great it is out in the world, you know, in case she thinks she might be ready to pack up and leave the water cave. At this point she’s safe, physically, to come, and if labor started at the end of this sentence I’d be euphoric. All the sappy feelings about being excited to meet her aside, I can’t wait to be alone in my own skin again. I have never looked forward to jogging so much in my life. Not to mention the little things I miss, like walking fast and carrying stuff and not getting winded by a walk to the bathroom Wagen. And oh my god, laying on my stomach! And on my back! And sitting close to a table! Now those were the days.
Oh my cod and the birth! That is going to be amazing! The miracle of life! My body doing crazy ass shit I never thought possible! A fully formed human being emerging from my innards! A brain built by my body on autopilot! Eyes that can look and a mouth that makes noises! I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, this is the stuff of magic. I’m prepared for everything and for nothing, for magic and pain and tears and to come out of a trance to find myself on all fours on my bed mooing like an agitated cow. Wish us luck…
We’re running a little guessing pool for our friends to bet on the date of Peanut’s arrival. I’d include you in it, but I think it’s probably illegal to run random internet gambling circles. Either way, if you feel like putting in your psychic ten cents, leave us your guess in the comments. The gyno says February 20th and the midwife says February 19th. I say “get this thing out of me as soon as possible,” so I’m just assuming that she’ll wait until the last possible second, ie 14 days later. If you get it right, maybe I’ll even send you a little present.
Want to read more about my gorilla pregnancy? Check out these posts… (Or check out the entire gorilla prego category here.)