Watch the Baby, Not the Clock

Is she sleeping through the night?
When's her next feed?
Is she good?

These questions are currently the bane of my existence.

Whenever she wants.
Of course. Because all babies are good.

When Eric and I discussed how we wanted to pursue parenting, it made the most sense to us to be responsive to our child, create a loving, secure environment, and follow our instincts. We feel this to an even greater extent now that we actually have a baby.

But I underestimated the pressure I'd feel from well-meaning folks about sleep training and feeding schedules. And I definitely didn't realise how most people associate predictable rest and eating patterns with the "goodness" of a baby.

I'm grateful that the NHS encourages breastfeeding on demand and that UK laws protect my right to breastfeed in public. Overall, I feel I've gotten good lactation support here. I babbled on to the health visitor last week about how breastfeeding is going and she finally stopped me to say, "that all sounds perfectly normal. You're doing fine." I've gotten similar feedback from several sources so I just need to relax about it. As my doula described, I'm a twenty-four hour, multimedia entertainment system as far as Dash is concerned. I can offer food, drink, comfort, relief from boredom, security, and bonding with breastfeeding, which is pretty amazing. So I'm not keen to withhold when she asks. And also - she's only eight weeks old.

Maybe some people with babies this small are sleeping through the night, but Dash has never gone more than 4 hours in the night without a feed. This bothered me until recently when I just decided not to care. I used to look at the clock every time she woke up to see how long it had been. Why? Thanks to co-sleeping and a miraculous bamboo overnight cloth diaper, neither one of us has to wake up for more than a few minutes.

She's only going to be a baby for a little while and I don't want to miss a second. Of course I'm fortunate to be on a long maternity leave, but my husband feels the same way and seeks to be mindful of every moment with her.

Better questions to ask new parents include:
What is your favourite thing about parenting?
What surprises you the most about your relationship with your baby?
What have you learned about yourself and/or your partner?
What unique characteristics do you enjoy about your baby?
How can I support you?

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Dash's Arrival: Part Two

I had three big fears about birth:
1) A long labour
2) Driving to a hospital with contractions
3) Intervention

I faced all three before I even got to established labour. And they were all hard, but not as bad as I feared.

We arrived at the hospital around 9:30 am and got assigned to the Daisy room. I was sobbing when the midwife came in and she shared that her own birth hadn't gone according to plan but it didn't matter now that her son is here. She was very kind. She proceeded to prepare for the induction by doing a vaginal exam and actually told me that I was nearly 4 centimeters (finally!). She said she would ask the OB if I could just proceed as a normal patient if that's what I wanted. The doctor agreed and I cried from relief. No induction drugs! I resolved to deal with the pain of my existing contractions and pursue the birth I hoped for. The hospital only has one room with a birth pool and it happened to be free. It was also the only room that allowed more than two birth partners, so my mom, husband, and doula all got to stay. The midwife told me I could do it. My spirits were lifted.

The next few hours passed in a haze. I stayed active through the contractions, still exhausted, took some paracetamol, tried gas and air, attempted to snack. It was very hot that day and we were in a room with windows that didn't open and just fans.

When I got in the pool around 3, it was heaven. The water was a magical pain reliever and it finally allowed me to get some rest. I went into "labour land" and completely zoned out. I used my affirmations and natal hypnotherapy. When the contractions got too intense I would say "help me" and my husband or Mom would squeeze my hand and tell me a travel memory. Each time was some place different and the imagery and pleasant memories helped me through it. I even smiled and laughed through some contractions. One of the midwives said she'd never seem someone so calm.

I figured things were still going to take forever so I sent my husband to get dinner for himself and my mom. As soon as he got back, the midwife did a check at 6:15. She told me to feel below because my baby was coming! Everyone was so excited. The midwife told me to listen to my body and I would birth my own baby. I breathed and pushed and released for about 45 minutes. Then the midwife told me to kneel back and catch the baby. Bringing her to my chest was one of the greatest moments of my entire existence.

My husband came alongside and we stared at her and cried. The baby and I stayed in the pool until my husband cut the chord, about 30 minutes. I couldn't believe how she recognized our voices and responded to us. It was all so exhilarating.

So it wasn't the home birth I'd planned, but it was the peaceful water birth we'd hoped for. I feel really blessed that it turned out the way it did.

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Dash's Arrival - Part One

Writing our birth story seems like a rather impossible task, as the experience was so profound that putting it into words seems so banal. But in the words of Anne Morrow Lindbergh, "I must write it all out, at any cost. Writing is... more than living, for it is being conscious of living." I want to be conscious of this life that God created, that DH and I made together, and that I birthed into the world.

We prepared for this birth with as much sincerity as possible. We hired a doula, read books, did a workshop, exercised, ate (sort of) right, got lots of support, etc. I am so glad we did ALL of it. I will have to do more posts about all we learned about natural/gentle birth because the education process really positively affected the outcome for us.

In the weeks before my "guess date" I actually felt pretty relaxed. I was fortunate not to be too big and uncomfortable, actually got decent sleep, and generally savoured my time with DH, knowing that it was the last time it would be just the two of us in that way. I repeated the affirmation "babies are born when THEY are ready" and reminded myself that due dates are really just a guess. I also firmly believed that the baby would wait until my mom arrived.

My mom arrived on Thursday, 18 July and my waters broke that night at 1:00 am. At least I thought it was my water - I didn't know enough about hindwater to be able to tell at the time. I opted not to phone the midwives as I wasn't having contractions. We went about life as normal Friday and Saturday, taking walks and trying to rest. I was starting to get frustrated that nothing happened when finally at 5:30 pm Saturday I had what we determined to be regular contractions, about 15 minutes apart. At 8:00 pm I had a big gush of water and at that point phoned the midwives.

The midwife on call came over to check me and said all looked well. She was so confident I would progress quickly that she said we'd probably see her again in the morning. She was nice but rather loud and didn't exactly fit my peaceful birth plan. Eric set up the birth pool and I took a shower, put on the TENS machine, and slept until the contractions were too uncomfortable.

They'd slowed down a bit so I tried to get them going again by bouncing on the pregnancy ball and other various measures. Mom and I watched a few movies on Netflix and the sun came up. Contractions weren't much closer together. My doula said things probably wouldn't get going until the sun went down again - which was unfortunate as in the summer it's after 10 pm. I don't remember much about Sunday, except going for walks down the alley and back, and generally being extremely bored and stir crazy but feeling trapped.

By the evening, contractions were quite intense but not close enough together. Staying active, singing, and Natal Hypnotherapy helped me through the contractions. We called our doula to come over that evening for support, and the midwife came late in the night to check me. I was only 2 cm, after all that! The only time I got any rest was trying to sleep between contractions, propped up on my side on the couch, listening to the Natal Hypnotherapy CD, and squeezing my mom's hand when the contractions woke me up.

The midwife came back at 7:30 am Monday morning to check me again, and I had not progressed at all, despite a sleepless night of intense and regular contractions. In Britain, the hospitals have a policy that 36 hours after your waters go, you have to be induced b/c of risk of infection. I really thought I would avoid that, but I couldn't put it off anymore. So Monday morning we got in the car and set for the hospital. I was completely devastated, asking for an epidural, and hoping for a c-section as I had not slept but about 4 hours over 2 days.

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That Crazy Parent

Teachers could tell you many stories about those crazy parents, the ones who overreact to every little thing and create drama over slight misunderstandings. We have all encountered those parents. I am actually fortunate to say that while I have dealt with those parents over the years, my stories are very mild in comparison to most. I am not a conflict magnet, and maybe my easygoing nature keeps parents from really losing it. But I am a teacher, so I have heard the stories of irrational Hulk-like creatures rampaging through the halls.

Nevertheless, I have seen enough overreactions and heard enough stories to know that I never want to be that crazy parent. One time I said to a coworker that I wished parents could just be rational about their children, and she told me, "Parents can't be rational about their children. I can't, and you won't be able to either." If I didn't have as much respect as I do for this colleague, I probably would have assumed she was one of those crazy parents too.

Well, here I am now with my first child making her debut in about 10 weeks. My wife's pregnancy has brought many changes to our lives, but there was one I did not expect.

I have started to become that parent.

It started subtly. I have always been protective, but I noticed that as my pregnant wife would cross the street that I would become particularly alert to traffic. Really, all my senses have become heightened since I found out I would be a father. I just notice things more quickly, particularly threatening things. I didn't think much of it because the changes were only slightly noticeable. It wasn't like I developed some kind of Spider Sense.

Then a couple of weeks ago my wife shared something on her Facebook page about the birth. It was a harmless comment about something she learned in her birth class that she really liked. Those of you who have shared anything about your parenting/birthing choices on Facebook surely know where this is heading. You can't share anything on Facebook related to parenting without  receiving unwanted advice, unwarranted criticism, or unwelcome opinions, typically from people you barely know. My wife's post received some condescending comments from a few acquaintances who really felt an overwhelming urge to put her in her place. These people generally drive me crazy, vehemently sharing their views with almost strangers about any topic. However, I usually ignore them. If they want to embarrass themselves on Facebook by looking like know-it-all idiots, they can go right ahead.

This time was different. The comments were really mostly harmless, just condescending. Some of them may actually have believed they were being helpful. My wife was mildly annoyed by it all, but she responded with a clearly-worded, rational, polite answer, as either of us would normally do in the situation. For some reason though, I was irate. I wanted to say terrible things to those people. I wanted to hurt them... and I'm a pacifist.

I do get upset with people from time to time, but I am usually good at calming myself and keeping my cool. I rarely have angry outbursts about anything. But for some reason this time, I couldn't shake it. I was really worked up about it for almost two hours. I couldn't stop thinking about how angry I was and how much I wanted to hurt those people... people I don't really know because they said some slightly condescending things to my wife (who is perfectly able to handle herself) about an unimportant Facebook post.

My Wolverine claws were out, and I was about to go on a berserker rage over nothing. It just felt instinctive like I needed to protect my wife from harm. Rationally, I knew (and kept reminding myself) that nothing had happened, that it was really insignificant, but it felt serious. I finally managed to get over it (but can't you tell I am still annoyed) and move on. In the process, I realized that I was only a few steps away from being that crazy parent that teachers tell stories about.

So to my future daughter, this is just the beginning. When you actually get here, I am only going to get worse. I apologize in advance for being that crazy parent.

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