Musings, Pregnancy

Pain in Childbearing

Julie / February 20, 2010

With both E and R’s births, we went to a freestanding birth center–no pain meds.  Our most obvious reason for this decision is that we believe it to be statistically marginally safer (which studies do back up) and it is unquestionably the better choice for parents who want to avoid a C-section at all costs; chances of a section at the birth center are about a tenth of the chance of a section at any of the local hospitals.
And those are the answers I usually give people in response to the quizzical looks when we tell them our crazy plan.  It’s quite inconceivable why someone would actually choose to endure pain without any overwhelming reason.  (Even if the mortality statistics are slightly tilted in favor of midwife-assisted birth, there’s certainly not a grand difference in the final outcome.)  I expect that these answers are the sum of S’s reasons for supporting natural birth.
For me, though, there’s more to the story.  There really is that aspect which the pagans call “spiritual” about birth, and even about the pain itself.  And it’s very difficult, as a Christian, to coherently talk about that without falling into the earth-mother-goddess paganism that so frequently goes along with it. I’ve never really read an article by a Christian mother, or even a theologically neutral article about it that doesn’t veer straight in to heresy.  Maybe because few Christian women choose natural birth, and so even fewer would conceptualize to write about it.
A few weeks ago, though, I was writing an email to a dear friend trying to explain the mindset that has gotten me through the pain.  It was really complicated to write, because I was trying to express concepts for which the only language I’m familiar with is–pagan.  Unacceptably so.  And yet it was so enlightening to me to struggle through that letter and try to frame things in the context of the sovereignty of God, and it has really helped me to understand birth better.  It has been much on my mind in the days since, and I think it will be useful for me (to me) to hash it out a bit more.  Because at this point, I would choose natural birth even without any medical advantages to doing so.  It’s a horrible experience that I still treasure, in a kind of impossible way.
I know that going into E’s birth, the most important thing in my mind was the historical context.  Birth–the searing pain of birth–is a very particular experience, one that our mothers’ and grandmothers’ generation largely completely missed, and yet one that queens of old knew well, and Mary!  What was it really like for that young girl in that dirty stable?  What, really, did God arrange for her?  I was determined to know, to understand.  And what I found was a deeply horrendous experience!  I wasn’t prepared for the sheerness of it.  I thought I could imagine and I had no idea what I was in for!  I had never felt anything as strongly as I felt pain on that day.  It was literally the most intense day of my life.  It broke all my internal meters, so to speak.  The pain itself and the volume of the pain become two different things: beside the pain there’s this awareness that this is a life experience on a completely different scale than anything ever before, and that you’ll never be quite the same person again.
And so the pagans are right on this point: the pain makes you a stronger person.  I was not “dealing” and I didn’t have happy butterflies about E’s birth.  I knew it was horror when it was happening, and I still freely use that word: it was horrible.  So I’m not saying that birth is a beautiful experience.  The end result, sure–but the process?  Not for me.  Birth is a horrible experience.  But it’s a horrible experience that you make it through, and you come out on the other side.  It’s almost like it makes the colors around you more colorful, except in a metaphorical sense.  It changes everything, and nothing.  It’s just so intense.
So by the time R was born, I knew this.  And Genesis 3:16 had taken on a totally new level of meaning for me.  This pain, this unbearable pain, was there for one reason: the fall.  Sin.  A continual reminder, from God, that we are not as He created us to be.  A dramatic presentation of the separation that came about when He cast us out of the Garden.
That’s a spiritual aspect of birth that I can really get into!  Romans talks about creation groaning in childbirth pains until being freed of the bondage of sin, and of us likewise longing for adoption and redemption.  God gave us pain in childbirth–deliberately!  And it really does increase one’s bitterness toward sin to realize that birth is so horrible because of sin, because we aren’t yet made fully glorified before Christ.  It is so desperate, in those moments of unrelenting agony, to stop and realize that the agony is itself a tool and pointer to God, to instill a longing for home–where pain ends.
So I guess it is a very spiritual experience after all, one that I think I would not choose to forego, even if I had no other reasons.
(I am not saying, even the tinest bit, that using pain meds is wrong.  Just that there is an experience to be had without them, and that I am weak enough to appreciate the reminder of just how fallen our bodies are, and how seriously I need redemption.)


learning new definitions

Julie / February 20, 2010

After I wrote yesterday’s post, I remembered a moment I’d had one day when E woke up from her nap–a good year ago, if not more.  And I thought at the time that there was no better definition for how I felt (which was tired, worn, and otherwise struggling) than poured out.  It fit so perfectly.  Parenthood is so often about giving and doing and going on when you have no energy to do any of those things, about realizing that you can’t but you must and so you do.  (Er, not to sound unremittingly negative–I only mean that sometimes there are moments like that.  They seem to be fewer now than they were at first.)

So there I was, feeling the full weight of the phrase “poured out” in a dramatic way that I’d never understood before.  Of course, the next second I realized that I had unwittingly used a Bible phrase in a non-Bible context–and then it hit me like a load of bricks: if this is what being poured out feels like, then that same sort of dire abandon, that extravagant consumption of me-ness, should rise out of being a believer, in even greater measure.

I never cease to be amazed at how much parenthood changes and informs me about things I should have known long before.  It is so gracious the way that God uses everyday, mundane circumstances to impact me eternally.


All of me.

Julie / February 19, 2010

One of the most striking things about motherhood is how it consumes.  One day, there you are, doing the things you want to do, on a schedule you choose (how much choice you really have you may not realize yet)–and then, suddenly, the next day, you’re completely at the beck and call of a small unreasonable creature.  And the only break is one you arrange at the expense of those around you.  (Baby naps, while they may be a refreshing pause in an otherwise busy day, are not “breaks” in my vocabulary, because you have to be quiet, observant, and restrained, and you never know exactly when the nap is going to end.)

And thus it is easy to lose oneself in the vastness.  And it is hard at first.  I read once a theory about oxygen in the depths of the ocean, that there could be a liquid (instead of gaseous) form that could help the lungs deal with the pressure of ocean depths.  I think this was in a fiction book, because I remember very clearly that they talked about how hard it would be psychologically, because it would feel, for a moment, like drowning.  Eventually you would discover that the liquid filling your lungs was oxygenated and life-enriching, but for that dreadful moment, you’d be sure you were going to die as your lungs lost their last tiny bit of air, all you’d ever known–only to be filled up by this alien liquid.  That’s the best description of motherhood I can think of.  One day air, the next day liquid.  Different.  Foreign.  Scary.  Drowning.  But eventually, every bit as useful and good and maybe even better.

The common response this overwhelming transition: don’t give in!  Take time for yourself!  Be your own person!  Have your own identity outside of motherhood!

Indeed, one must not allow one’s children to become one’s idols.  But this response of unabated narcissism annoys me.  I hadn’t quite put my finger on it until tonight, but after reading the umteeth blog about not losing yourself in your kids, I finally realized why this had been rubbing me the wrong way even more than usual: there’s a third way.  It’s not either/or, me or my children.  It’s not a split, some time for me, some time for them; a little energy here, a little hobby there. The thing all this pop psychology can’t account for is that some of us already lost ourselves long before we had kids.  It’s hard to be overly upset about the reassignment of our time and resources when we didn’t count them as our own anyway.  I’ve thrown myself into motherhood without too much fretting about my own lost opportunities because I recognize that this new calling of mine is one I’ve been given, and one that’s an honor.

I don’t mean that I don’t struggle–deeply at times–with the fact that so many of my old ways have been subverted.  There are certainly things about life pre-kids that I miss; a good night’s sleep tops the list at the moment!  But what I do mean is that I consider this a failing, in large part, when it distracts me or dissuades me.  Complaining and grumbling in my heart about this job I’ve been honored to do is well, sin.

A happy mommy does make for happier, better children.  That’s the mantra and the justification of the do-something-for-yourself crowd, and I have no doubt that it’s true.  But the more important question is, what makes a happy mommy–and what should make a happy mommy?  True happiness is not found in serving myself.  The same One Who made me happy before children is the same One Who makes me happy today, and the happiest, most satisfying thing in the world is to be completely consumed, used up, obsessed, and burnt to a crisp in affection and service to Him.

Compared to that, children are about as much work as brushing my teeth.


Sisters and Mothers

Julie / February 18, 2010

I’ve just been rereading my earlier posts, and almost had to laugh–I have not felt very sorry at all that E is no longer an only child.  Yes, yes, I was right about all the little sweet moments I’d lose when R was born, but I hadn’t nearly anticipated the abundance of other sweet moments gained by watching E and R together, by holding them both on my lap, or by all acting like lunatics (as toddlers are wont to do) together.  The gain is clearly more than the loss.

The only thing that caught me utterly unaware was that I’m pretty sure E likes R more than she likes me.  Or anyone else.  She wants to use R’s blanket.  She wants to take a nap with R.  She wants to be just in the same room.  In short, she utterly adores her sister with an abandon that just won’t stop.  I thought it might, but it hasn’t dissipated one teensy bit.

Unless something changes, I’m beginning to realize that I may very well never have the relationship with my girls that my mother had with me.  Which is a little sad, in a completely selfish way.  I love my parents.  I have often desperately needed my parents.  My parents were my entire substantive social world for eons–more or less until S came along.  And then, with moving out (and away) things shifted a bit, but it was more of an expansion than an exchange–we still keep in very, very close touch.  If I need to talk, or need advice, one or the other of my parents is usually at the top of my list.

I have the vague suspicion, and maybe even hope, that E and R may be at the top of each others’ lists.  I know there’s a unique role of parentalness that siblings can’t fulfill (for instance–the aforementioned advice category), but for friendship?  My notion is that sisters may be better.  Longer-lasting, for sure; parents and children are separated by birth on one end and death on the other.

I hadn’t expected this, although I should have.  Mainly it makes me a little bit sad that I don’t have a sister of my own to have been a child with and to grow old with.  And more appreciative of the relationship–the friendship–that I have with my mom.

Moments, Pregnancy

Let Me Count the Ways

Julie / August 13, 2009

It’s funny how perceptions and fears can change over the course of a pregnancy.

At first, I was very trepidatious about how on earth I could ever love R as much as I love E.  E and I have had so many moments–so much time–that R and I won’t ever be able to have, because E was once an only child, if only for these short months.

But now I’ve grown to connect to R, much more than I did E before she was born.  (Because of E, I hasten to add; I was unfond of babies in general before her existence taught me what delightful little creatures they can be.  I know much more what to expect with R, and the lessened terror at her impending arrival certainly facilitates greater expectations!)  I’m wondering things about R that I didn’t wonder with E, and am much more excited to meet her and all her unique characteristics as opposed to the generalized excitement that accompanied E’s birth.

My fears, then, have changed.  I know the relationship between E and me is getting ready to change forever.  I know our quiet moments, our shared giggles, and our lonely little cuddles are all getting ready to disappear, forever altered by the arrival of a third to our little tea party.  What I fear, then, is that as this precious time with E is transitioning to a different time of sisterhood for her and increased motherness for me, that this intense, unabated, unrivaled love I have for E is going to change as well.

I love E in a way that is unlike the way I love anyone else.  It’s fierce and protective, condescending and cautious.  Until now, she has been the only person in the world to whom that type of love could apply.  Until now, she has been my favorite little girl, the best of her kind–because she was the only, there is no division or sharing.

Yet R is going to be the same.  I think I know enough of myself to know that I won’t ever love one “more” or “less,” even from the very beginning.  They are equally my responsibility and equally my blessings.  And I know, too, that a parent’s love doesn’t lessen because it includes more little bodies–it’s somehow a kind of division that takes nothing away from either side.  And yet.  My time will be split, forever; the moments of aloneness will fade; and so many things that E and I share will change.  I ache a little at that loss even as I rejoice in anticipation of R and all the new joys she will bring to me and S and even, especially, to E.  In balance we have no doubt that R is a good thing–a purposeful thing–

But as the weeks draw to a close, I still ache.  Even though what we gain is greater, this time has been so precious and heady and wonderful, and it is ending.


Cry it out: stubbornness!

So, it turns out that being convinced of cry-it-out and being accomplished at it are two different things!  E has defied all expectations–in a bad way.  After some three whole weeks of misery, we’re still at misery.   A lot less misery than there was a week ago, but the child is still crying every time we put her down, taking unacceptably short naps, and being a wee bit clingy.

But it’s to the point of being quite livable, and is beginning to clearly improve.

She is also clearly doing vastly better in terms of intellect and even happiness.  She takes a much more proactive role in playing with us–inventing her own games commonly rather than rarely–and has actually started to play with her toys, whereas before she mostly ignored them.  Her babbling has increased.  Her physical skills have multiplied; she’s well on her way to being able to do whatever physical task she can conceive (this is scary!).  She has a new smile and smiles so much.  She also doesn’t seem to “wind down” before nap/bedtime as much as she did, although she goes to sleep faster than before.

All in all, cry it out continues to have clearly been the right choice, but I wish the books didn’t all say “10 days or less.”  With E, the 10-day mark left us with no hope in sight, and it’s really only been nearer to the 20-day mark that we’ve seen enough improvement in her sleeping habits to begin to feel confident that life would indeed go on, although many non-sleep-related gains were clear before then.

We’ve also found out the gender of #2–girl!–and named her R.  :-)  Hurrah!

Discipline, Musings

Cry-It-Out: Trials, Trevails, and… Joys?

I was about as anti-cry-it-out as one can be without being a left-wing extremist post-hippie natural mama. Not that I’d go around telling other parents that they were traumatizing their children, but I’d sit there and be quietly smug about the fact that my child could rest assured that her parents loved her and met her needs.

In my defense, the anti-cry-it-out movement is pervasive, especially among parents who breastfeed. Breastfeeding, attachment parenting, cosleeping… three little peas assembled neatly in one pod, while formula, parents-first, and cry-it-out nestle snugly in another. So, since I was so on board with the benefits of breastfeeding, I could hardly help but be persuaded into the camp of attachment parenting. Our failed attempt at not cosleeping (I fell asleep with E in the rocker at 5mo, which scared me to death and began our journey of cosleeping) didn’t help, either.

When Attachment Parenting Fails

But as the months before #2’s arrival shortened, we became more and more desperate for E to sleep through the night. I hadn’t had a single night’s sleep since before she was born, and pregnancy was beginning to make a bad situation even worse: E was waking up more to eat, and I was having an even harder time sleeping thanks to pregnancy’s aches and pains combined with months of sleeping on the floor. Even worse, there was absolutely no way that this scenario could continue after the new baby’s arrival–there’s simply not enough momma to go around!

So we had to do something. First I tried Elizabeth Pantley’s method. It didn’t work. I think it might have worked if E had been younger, or if we’d done it from birth. It also might have worked if I’d had far more energy than I did, or if E was less of a strong-willed child. But it didn’t work for us, and still the months stretched onward. Then we tried the “stuff her full of food before bedtime” method, which accomplished nothing at all.

Finally, we started to contemplate letting E cry. Abandoning her in her crib–where she’d never slept since she was a newborn–and leaving her there all night.

It was a consideration born entirely out of desperation. And a decision founded more in our minds than in our hearts. I was terrified that it would traumatize her, permanently wreck what little “solution” we had to the sleep problem, and, in the end, not even work. But neither of us knew of anything else to do, and so we did it, after surprisingly little discussion and very little time to consider. It was almost as though we, having decided that it was a possibility, wanted to go ahead and get it over with as soon as possible. I suggested that we should begin on the first night of S’s work week, so that I would be the only one home to hear her cries. I thought it was best that only one of us lose extra sleep, and best, too, that only one of us should be traumatized by listening to a child cry because we refused to tend to her.

And So It Began

The first night, I was like a scientist, observing E in a little petri dish. I was pleased to note that her cries sounded angry, but not desperate and not hopeless. I was astounded to realize just how good a job I could do of completely ignoring her. Even when she woke me up in the middle of the night, I found myself only too capable of falling back asleep with her crying in the background–something I didn’t want to do, since we were more or less following the “Ferber method,” which means you check on the child and reassure him/her at regular intervals. I felt cold, and was both disturbed and mildly amused by how indifferent I was to her screaming pleas.

Happily, the first night was not the worst. And the day after, E was as happy as I’d ever seen her; maybe even happier. She had slept a reasonable amount and clearly was not injured by the horror of the night before. The second night, on the other hand, was awful. It was almost enough to make us quit, and I imagine that we would have, if we hadn’t had the better experience of the first night to compare. After taking hours to fall asleep, she woke up in the middle of the night and cried for nearly four hours straight. At the end, I went in and brought her with me after all; I was very much afraid that she would end up not getting any sleep at nighttime, and since we’re not doing cry-it-out for naps, it occurred to me that she might just be smart enough to flip her days and nights around in resistance.

Today is Day 8, and she is “sleeping through the night” in that she is more or less in her crib and not really crying for 12 hours. She still wakes up, but her cries are few and I suspect she isn’t even fully awake for many of them. I’m not exactly sure how much sleep she’s getting, but certainly from a momma’s point of view, she’s “sleeping” perfectly adequately for my needs.

Selfish Parenting?

And here, of course, is where we get to the sticky part. I realized on the very first night, after waking up at 3am feeling more refreshed than I’d felt at 7am on my mornings with E, that I would have been much happier–myself–if we’d done this months ago. The experience of putting her to bed, without being at her beck and call for hours afterward: this was new. Having hours of time that I knew would be unbroken: this too was new. Being able to move freely about, make some noise, and use some light after E’s bedtime: new. An unbroken two-hour-long conversation with my husband: new.

In short, it was clear in an instant that regardless of whether E ever adjusted to sleeping by herself, this new arrangement was infinitely better for me physically and psychologically, and for our marriage. I had forgotten what I was missing, and now that I had the tiniest taste of what it would be like to have it back, I knew I would have a really hard time giving it up, no matter what it meant for E.

Cry-it-out is unquestionably the appropriate course of action for selfish parents.

What about unselfish parents, though? How has it affected E? On Day 8, it’s honestly very hard to assess. On the one hand, the child is clearly getting more sleep. She is clearly learning new independence, as confirmed by those outside our little sphere. In her good moments, she’s less clingy to me than she was before; she’s been much more aggressive about accepting new people. Today a dog two feet away from her barked very loudly, and all she did was jump. She also seems more alert, more intelligent, and more curious. It’s hard to know how much of this is because she’s eight days older than she was before we began, but she seems to have accelerated sharply. On the other hand… one thing nobody told me about cry-it-out is that the days are worse than the nights. On the second and third days, she was just horrible. It was work to make her vaguely happy in the mornings, and in the afternoons she was so tired and upset that nothing either of us did could stop her from screaming non-stop–for hours. It is a horrible thing to not know how to comfort your child when you want to so badly. Only the past two evenings have we been able to hold off her tears until bedtime. She has also become obsessed with being held during the day, although this too seems to be lessening as the days pass. But it’s very slow going, on both counts, and it was all the worse because it was unexpected. I would guess that some of this might have been avoided if we’d done it at an earlier age, but as it is, I’ve often wondered in the past few days if we were ever going to see our happy little girl again.

So the jury is still out, but we’ve seen some positive effects already, and obviously we are hopeful that they’ll continue to grow and that the negatives will lessen and disappear.

A Do-Over

The obvious question, then, is what are we going to do with child #2? I’m still strongly in favor of cosleeping–for my own sake, if not for the child’s. There is no question at all that I got more sleep cosleeping with E than I did getting up out of my own bed multiple times each night to feed her, rock her, and sooth her back to sleep. It’s quicker and less jarring to be in the same bed, and many times I wouldn’t even fully wake up. So we’re planning to cosleep again, this time with a cosleeper bassinet so that I can sleep on a mattress, and so that the baby’s “nest” is physically delineated from mine. E and I never cuddled–neither of us seemed inclined–but a separate bassinet is easier to transition out of cosleeping, as well as safer from the well-publicized “threats” of overlaying and smothering. We’ll have to see how it goes; my only concern is that it will require moving the baby away from me at the conclusion of each feeding, instead of moving myself away from the baby.

In pursuit of sleep, I plan to use many of Elizabeth Pantley’s methods from the very beginning, and take care that the new baby forms as few sleep “conditioners” as possible. With E, I managed to make it so that she didn’t need rocked or “soothed” to sleep–but she did need fed. At the time I thought she would simply outgrow that as she outgrew the physical need to eat throughout the night, but she didn’t. So I’ll try to avoid making that sleep connection, or any at all. Teach the baby from day one to be a self-soother.

If everything went perfectly, that would mean the baby would start sleeping through the night on its own at three or four months, or even sooner. And I’ll certainly be hoping that happens. But if it doesn’t, my experience with E has taught me that I don’t want to wait until one year to sleep-train. That’s too many months of wasted sleep for both of us, and too old a child to be able to negate any “trauma” associated with sleep training. I remember E’s newborn cries, and they were cries I’d much rather listen to than her toddler screams.

So, A Mistake

I was wrong about cry it out. And naive. I certainly would do it differently if I had it to do over. I read so many articles and deliberated so carefully, and came to the wrong conclusion. I’m beginning to realize that parenthood is full of mistakes; there have been many things that I’ve been utterly convinced of, only to be proven wrong.

I think this is the biggest one so far.