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Saturday, March 10, 2012

On natural childbirth, etcetera

This is the post where I write down all the things I've been meaning to share about pregnancy, natural childbirth, and nursing. Let's start by acknowledging that I'm certainly no expert on this subject (maybe 5 kids down the road I'll feel more like one?). But when I was pregnant, I loved hearing people's experiences with pregnancy and birth, and after Jake was born, I would have loved to read what I'm about to write about nursing. Hopefully this post can prove useful to someone, if not just myself when it's time for round two. Forewarning that it will be rather long-winded and will likely contain a bit of TMI.

By the way, you can read Jake's birth story here:
http://ash-and-matt.blogspot.com/2011/10/jakes-birth.html. Okay, moving on.

On growing bellies:
My 6-year-old brother Joshie made sure to keep me humble. "Wow, that baby sure is growing in there!," he exclaimed when we visited Utah in July. Then, one month later,  I was Skyping my mom when Josh walked in and joined the conversation rather inquisitively.

"Um, have you been watching a lot of TV lately?," he asked.
"Nope, we don't even have TV," I explained.
"Then you must have been playing a lot of video games," he replied knowingly as he gestured to my big belly.
I laughed. "Actually, I've been making a baby -- arms, legs, you know."
"Oh! You're like a machine!," he concluded.
That's right, everyone. A baby-makin' machine.
My belly on my birthday, at 39 weeks exactly.

On exercising through pregnancy:
I highly recommend the book, "Exercising Through Your Pregnancy" by Dr. James Clapp. It makes a lot of sense. A healthy pregnancy is important for both the mom and the baby. I exercised throughout my entire pregnancy with Jake, and was jogging and playing tennis up until the day he was born. Even while I was on just-in-case modified bedrest (because of the IUGR) from 33-37 weeks, my doctor had me very slowly do the elliptical 3x's a week for circulation's sake. I felt a million times better on days that I exercised and it definitely helped with my all-day sickness, mood, and eventually, labor and recovery.

That said, there's such a stigma about exercising when pregnant. A sweet little grandma about died when she saw me out for a run last July. And when Jake had IUGR, I felt like everyone would judge me for having exercised and "hurt" my baby. Of course, my doctors -- including the high-risk specialist I saw multiple times a week during the third trimester -- assured me that was not the case. They were very happy with my weight gain (which, while I'm engaging in TMI already, was 29 pounds) and promised the exercise I'd been doing was good for me and my baby. I trust my doctors, and especially my perinatologist, and if they said my exercise was good, then my exercise was good. But people don't sit in my prenatal appointments with me -- um, thank goodness -- and therefore I still worry about those judgments regarding Jake's and future pregnancies.

On hiring a birth photographer:
Best thing I've ever done, ever. I highly recommend it to everyone. We got to capture those special moments for ourselves and share them with our far-away families, while allowing Matt to be totally in the moments rather than trying to document them himself. Letting Matt just enjoy it and having pictures of him doing so were huge selling points for us, and it was worth every penny for those reasons alone. He never had to pause and fumble around for the camera to get a quick shot of Jake being weighed, and when the nurse handed me my baby for the first time, Matt got to lean in close instead of jumping behind a camera lens. We have beautiful pictures of Matt meeting and holding his first-born son for the first time, and the pictures of the three of us as a brand-new family are priceless.

Interestingly enough, I told our photographer beforehand that I didn't really want many pictures of the labor part -- I just cared about pictures once the baby was born -- but I was pleasantly surprised by how much I treasure the pictures of those moments before Jake was born, too. Sandy captured the love, concern, pride and joy on Matt's face, and the pictures offer a beautiful little glimpse into our marriage. A few of our favorites can be seen in the slideshow on Jake's birth story post.

The few people we told about hiring a photographer before Jake was born thought it was a little odd, but I'm pretty sure they changed their minds when they saw the pictures. I know that one argument against birth photographers is not wanting to have a stranger in the room for such a special moment, but if you think about it, the room is full of strangers -- doctors and nurses -- already. What's one more? Sandy was a sweet fly on the wall, just capturing moments as they happened and giving us all the space we needed. We plan on hiring a birth photographer every time. (In fact, I already have my photographer picked out for our next baby in Utah. No, I won't be getting pregnant for awhile.)

On natural childbirth:
I believe in modern medicine and am certainly grateful for it. However, unless it was truly medically necessary, I didn't feel like medical interventions or drugs were right for me or my baby with this delivery. Of course, every person and situation are different, an epidural isn't the end of the world, sometimes c-sections are necessary, yada yada yada. You get the idea. If Jake hadn't shown barely-enough signs of growth at every appointment like he did and had to be born at, say, 34 weeks instead, perhaps things would have been different.

When I was a teenager, I remember saying I wanted to deliver my babies naturally so I could get up and shower immediately afterward. Then I grew up and developed a few more, well, "grown-up" reasons for choosing natural childbirth. Which was good, because it took a good seven hours or so to pry myself away from my baby and into a shower, so that reasoning would have proved rather faulty. I won't delve into all of my real reasons here, but I'd be happy to share those in another setting.

I ended up deciding that the Bradley Method made the most sense to me -- it's pretty basic and logical (I'm not one of those "imagine that you are floating on a cloud" type people at.all.). Luckily, I'm married to the most supportive human being on the planet. We ordered this book, which is fantastic. Fantastic, and a bit, um, graphic. Matt covered up all the pictures with post-its and dutifully read the entire thing with me (well, separately, but we both read it), and we prepared together. It made a huge difference to have a partner who understood what was going on and knew how to best help.

For those curious about the pain aspect, I won't sugarcoat it. The pain is real. Back labor is excruciating. A contraction at 5 cm is absolutely nothing compared to a contraction at 10 cm. There is honestly nothing like it. Believe it or not, the contraction pain seems to calm down a little bit during the actual pushing stage, presumably because of the adrenaline, counter pressure, and the fact that's when you're really working with your body. And then you have the baby and the pain is immediately replaced with the unspeakable joy of holding your little one. Oh, it is all so worth it. In the end, I was able to be very much "there" for every part of his birth, he came out wide awake and alert because he hadn't received any drugs through me, and I was able to have a pretty decent recovery.

On trusting yourself:
My two tips for anyone planning a natural birth are to be prepared and trust yourself. When it was time to push, the 5 well-meaning nurses around me and even my doctor kept giving directions, counting, and telling me to push when there wasn't even a contraction. In the craziness of the moment, I listened to them at first because you know, this was new to me and they've done this a thousand times and I had a baby trying to come out of me. But inside, I knew better. As soon as I tuned them out, trusted myself, and did things my way, there was real progress and Jake was born in minutes. Trust yourself.

On nursing:
It's been really frustrating, especially since things were so easy (albeit excruciatingly painful) in the very beginning and I feel like I messed things up for my baby somehow. And then I feel like it's not fair, because no one else seems to have such a hard time with nursing. I think that last sentence is why so many moms quit nursing--because they think it's so easy for everyone else and therefore something must be wrong with them. I'm here to tell you that nursing is absolutely not easy for everyone.

We've really been through the ringer with nursing. If there's a nursing problem, I guarantee you we have dealt with it. Cracks, bleeding, rawness, being required to exclusively pump for a couple days, Jake preferring the bottle after that, mastitis, pesky thrush, never-ending wrestling matches at feeding time, hyperlactation, and most recently, trying to maintain supply during a recent nursing strike. My doctor and lactation consultant told me they've never seen a mom as damaged as I was who actually continued to nurse.

There was a one-month period where everything possible was going wrong and it seemed like I did nothing but nurse, think about nursing, talk about nursing, or research nursing problems and solutions online. (PS: The La Leche League site and Kelly Mom are both helpful.) I was bound and determined to nurse my baby at least until the recommended 6-month mark if at all humanly possible. So despite all the pain and frustration, we made it and are still going strong. But I had to make little goals for myself along the way -- first 6 weeks, then 3 months, then 6 months. Now, we'll see.

When I think about having another baby, being pregnant, giving birth naturally, and recovering all sound fine. But doing this nursing thing all over again? That makes me want to cry. Of course I'll do it and hopefully it will go better the next time around, but oh my, I will not be looking forward to it. If you ever have any nursing problems, please feel free to call for empathy.
Ah, the joys of public nursing. At Disney World, no less, when Jake was 2 months old.

On sleepless nights:
Jake had a rough night about three weeks in and Matt sweetly stayed up to help me with him. Unfortunately, this caused him to sleep through his alarms and be late for work. He texted his coworker to let the office know he was on his way. Later that morning, Matt's boss came by his desk. "Sleepless night last night?," he asked. "Yep, and a sleepful morning," Matt responded. Thank goodness for an understanding boss.
Unfortunately, I haven't had a "sleepful" anything in what seems like forever. Jake was actually a decent sleeper for the first few months, waking up around 12:30 or 1:00, then 4:30 or 5:00, and then for good around 7:30. But then we went to Utah for the holidays and he turned 4 months old and it was all over. For the past two months, he has waken up every 1.5-2.5 (if I'm lucky) hours throughout the night. (Now that Jake's 15 pounds and 6-months-old, sleep training is on the agenda.) He typically wakes up happy, just wanting to hang out and snack and stuff. I haven't completed a single solid REM sleep cycle in more than 60 days and I feel like a zombie all too often. And yet, every time he wakes me up, no matter the hour, I can't help but feel happy to see his sweet little face.


  1. I have 5 kids and have had nursing troubles with every single one. Most of them were complications due to hyperlactation but some were just because I'm lucky I guess. Regardless, I have nursed every single one of them for at least 5 months, others for a year or more. I am so glad you put this post out there because I remember being pregnant with my first and having so many people telling me how convenient and wonderful nursing was so then I felt really guilty when it wasn't working out. Hopefully it will go better with your next baby but if not, at least you know what to do to get through it.

  2. Good you Ashley! I just posted today I love to read birth stories and such and I am so glad I could read someones I actually know!

  3. Good you Ashley! I just posted today I love to read birth stories and such and I am so glad I could read someones I actually know!

  4. I've never even thought of having a birth photographer but after seeing your pictures and how you both could enjoy the moment it just makes sense. (How's that for a run-on sentence? ha ha) Thanks for that tip. If I'd known that for the first two.
    Nursing is so rewarding and yet so frustrating. Sorry you've been through the ringer and back.

  5. I loved this post! Mostly because it's interesting to know details and to hear what other's experiences have been like. Regarding nursing, I can relate to you to a small degree. I wish I enjoyed nursing. At first I was SUPER sore and hated my life. Then we started using a nipple shield which helped a ton, but here we are at 2 1/2 months still trying to wean her from it. Sometimes she's fine without it. Sometimes she cries unless we use it. The wrestling matches...totally been there! When I pump, sometimes I only pump 2.5 oz and I know she's supposed to get 4 to 5. But she's gaining weight and eating every 3 hours like she should so I guess she's getting enough. I just don't get it. And I find myself thinking and talking about nursing all the time too. It's so nice to know that other people have the same frustrations I do! Thanks for your post!! PS I made my blog private but if you want an invite, send me an e-mail. lauren_jones55@hotmail.com I really should change my e-mail address to my married name. Oh well! :)

  6. This was such a wonderful post! Thank you for sharing! We are talking about, thinking about, and researching everything about having kidos. And I absolutely love reading personal stories versus technical WebMD and the like. Congratulations on natural child birth, that is what I absolutely am dreaming for!


  7. These pictures are beautiful! I never thought of having a birth photographer, but I love the idea.
    I won't be having a baby anytime soon, but I still loved this post.

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  9. Loved this post! I am due in 3 months and love to read all about other peoples experience, especially breast feeding!! I am more nervous about that then the actual birth! Now I know someone to call if I get discouraged!

  10. I just pinned this. Yep. I love this post. Even though we have chatted about most all of this, it's so great to read it all in one sitting. (Or 3, because I had to keep getting up to help E! haha) Thanks for being so open about everything Ash, I think you'll help a lot of people!

  11. Thank you for sharing. I loved this post, but to be honest I love all of your posts. You are such a talented writer. This post in particular really helped me, being pregnant for the first time it is great to hear real stories. A lot of blogs out there are very sugar coated so the honesty is greatly appreciated! Thank you again for sharing something so personal.

  12. I love this post- it is so true about breastfeeding it is NOT easy! It was seriously the most exhausting part of my entire pregnancy. While me bf-ing wasn't painful emotionally it was so difficult. Especially because everyone tells you that you will loose so much weight and everything through bf-ing, which is true for ALOT of women, but I was the opposite, while breastfeeding I couldn't loose weight and my body felt like it needed to hold onto that extra fat no matter how much I exercised. It was truly a growing experience for me to continue bf-ing even though it was such a personal sacrifice. I also wanted/want to have a natural birth-I'm sure you've read my story but I appreciate hearing about other people's experiences and reasons why they wanted to do it a certain way etc. Just curious about the circumcision and how you came to that decision? i read a lot about it and decided not to do it. Email me!

  13. This was so interesting to read - I'm due in July and I am planning on having having a natural birth so reading your experience of it is really helpful!

  14. Thanks for your comments! It is really so helpful to hear that I'm not alone with nursing troubles. Good for you for sticking through it, ladies! It's more of an accomplishment than most people realize. And I'm glad this post has been helpful for a few future moms, too :)

    Sara, don't even get me started on the emotional toll that nursing can take. A few months ago, I heard a pregnant lady say she couldn't wait to have her body back and I thought, "Ha! Your body is so much more yours now than it will be when you're nursing." So there's that, plus the frustration and guilt, plus the time commitment, etc. And the supposed benefits of BFing for the mom? Weight loss, lesser rates of postpartum depression, and period suppression? Well. I don't think it helped terribly with my weight loss, I'm pretty sure nursing would be the cause of PPD if I ever have it, and I had postpartum bleeding for four weeks and then good ol' Aunt Flo started visiting the very next month(!). Cue the "life is not fair" violins, eh?

    Negative aspects aside, though, nursing is also incredibly rewarding. All of the hard work is MORE than worth it for the lifelong benefits it provides your baby. And some of the sweetest moments can come during that alone time with your little one.

    To answer Sara's question about circumcision: I read and heard arguments from both camps and came out fairly neutral and undecided, so I left that ball entirely in Matt's court (after all, he knows a lot more about that business than I do). So Matt made that final decision.

  15. i'll definitely reference this post when the time comes for kids. One thing is for sure, I'll hire a birth photographer because I LOVE when people share their photos from labor. I always cry!

  16. With Kamden I got thrush twice, then it turned into a skin disease on my nips called dermatitis, then mastitis and then left one boob completely deformed compared to the other. Hows that for a visual? Lucky for me I had cancer and had to have radiation so they made me stop at 4 months. I wasn't too sad though because of the stress it caused.
    With Easton I think I was just so relaxed about the whole thing. It was like if it works great, if it doesn't I'm not going to stress. But...I really wanted it to work because for some reason I love the thought that he is living because of me. I know that's weird. As far as benefits go, Eastons been my most sick kid. Ear infections, bronchitis the works...weird. Bonding is always hard for me, for some reason a baby is just in my way for the first couple months, I know that's really sad. I don't get PPD but I do get the baby blues for 2 weeks following labor. Every pregnancy and I am a hot mess. I loved your pictures! I couldn't wait for your story when you delivered and you really helped me to want a natural birth. I wish I would have had some classes or read something as far as the breathing goes...but I got thru it:)

  17. I loved this post! I had a very quiet birth with my son (just me, my husband, my nurse and Dr) which was just how i wanted it. But now looking back, i would still have it quiet, but i would definitely have had a birth photographer. My son was born at 9:15 pm and by 9:30 both our parents were there. It was just exhausting and overwhelming to first go through labor, and then have family already there. Does that make sense? So we missed out on quite a few pictures. :( also, for next baby i would love to be alone with just the new baby and my husband.for a few hours to bond and kind of just take everything in.

    I almost went natural with my son, but chickened out at the last minute. I got to an 8 without medication, and i should have kept going. There was a lady delivering naturally next door.to me and she was making some ungodly noises. Needless to say she gave me anxiety and i kind of freaked out and got the epidural. Maybe with my next child.

    I am.so glad to hear that other people felt the same way regarding nursing. I hated it. I felt like something was wrong with me because i didn't absolutely love nursing! I struggled with low milk supply which made me feel even worse. Long story short, my milk supply was dwindling away and my son began to slow down on gaining weight and i had to start supplementing formula. That was even harder. I had sister in laws who had over supply of milk and had freezes full of milk who judged me. I felt like a failure. I finally came to terms with the fact that i did my best and formula is not poison.

    Thanks for your post. There needs to be more real and raw posts about those first few weeks. Its definitely not all sunshine and daisies, but those weeks are so special in their own way.

  18. Great Post. I relate with so much!!! I've had so many nursing problems my LC said the same thing about me. Everything else sounds so easy compared to nursing again! It still hurts, but we're still going strong. Good luck on sleep training. It seems it's an ongoing process. Every time you get something down, it changes. It's worth it though.

  19. This is kind of weird because you don't know me- but I love your blog! I have a 10 month old son who has been sleeping through the night since he was 2 months old, and I credit it all to the book On Becoming Babywise. It has some great tips and ideas. Some of it is kinda weird,but overall it's a good resource. You can get it from Amazon for about $7. Everyone I've shared it with has had a baby who sleeps through the night.
    I hope this helps.

  20. Kami - Your post about being scared to nurse again actually really helped me back in the day. I remember telling you that I was oddly encouraged to hear that it sucked for you, too. I'm glad it went better with Easton!

    Leigh - If I had a lady screaming next door, I might be worried, too! I had a pretty quiet birth as well, but I tend to be pretty quiet about my pain anyway. To each their own, I guess. And I'm sorry to hear about your SILs. You're not a failure at all! A friend of mine recently lost her milk and is crushed by it, only to have her SILs brag about their oversupply. So insensitive and frustrating.

    Lace - I actually saw your post on FB this morning and was glad that we were in the same boat last night haha.

    Jesikah - You're so sweet to comment! I have friends that swear by Babywise, but just haven't felt like it's right for me and Jake. But I do love and use their general pattern of sleep, play, eat. That said, 8 months of sleeping through the night sound like a dream. We'll be there soon :)

  21. I feel so much better about my baby boy (7 weeks tomorrow) and his sleeping after reading your post. I sometimes feel so worn out due to lack of sleep, but I know it won't last forever. I'm glad you are still functioning with little sleep!


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