Category Archives: Doula Talk

Advantages to Choosing a Home Birth

Today, I’m going to revisit a topic that I haven’t written about in a long while: childbirth!

You may by now be getting the idea that I like to do a lot of things close to home- home-grown food, home-grown music, homeschooling- why not a home birth too?

Believe it or not, I was once not so crunchy. I used to think that those who wanted to have their babies at home were nutcases endangering the lives of their children. No access to medication? What if something happened? I couldn’t understand the appeal.


However, due to a situation out of our control, we were pregnant with my first son with no insurance, no medicaid qualification, and no way to possibly pay out of pocket for a hospital birth. It led us to look into our options in ways we hadn’t considered before.

After doing a lot of research and interviewing several home-birthing women and a midwife, we found that there were actually many benefits to a home birth that I would not receive in a hospital. I would like to share some of those, because if you’re not into the idea of home birth or natural birth already, it’s not always immediately obvious why someone would choose this option.

jamesanddaddy10-5-10

My two favorite guys after our first home birth.

Let me be clear: This post is not meant to discuss every possible pro, con, and controversy surrounding a home birth setting. Also, not everyone can or should have a home birth. However, for those who are good candidates and who would like to pursue the option, there are some real advantages.

1) Personal Care. My midwife knew who I was every visit.  She remembered my face, my name, my children (after having them, of course). She was sensitive to my individual quirks, fears, hopes, and passions. She knew my health history in a more detailed way than a big practice provider does. (I believe this is a safety plus- I have heard of more than one incidence where a health care provider missed a crucial part of a patient’s history because of lack of time to know and remember every patient’s health details.)

2) Low-Tech, High Touch Care. Home birth midwives are more likely to use their hands, their minds, and simple external tests to tell you things that a large hospital-based practice would be more likely to check on by administering a test. For example, an experienced midwife can tell the position of your baby in utero by gently feeling your belly, vs. a busy provider who would prefer to perform an internal exam or send you for an ultrasound to tell the baby’s position. I prefer the less invasive, gentler forms of checking on my baby and my health whenever possible.

3) Affordable Care. We all know that hospital and large practice costs are blown out of proportion  in order to adjust for insurance coverage. For example, my Group B Strep test with my son cost me $19 out of pocket. I administered it myself in my bathroom at home. My sister-in-law found a $119 charge on her bill for the exact same test that she had to go into the office for. My most recent home birth cost $2200 for the global cost of maternity care- prenatal, birth, and postpartum. Our local hospital costs about $12,000 for an uncomplicated vaginal birth alone.

4) Physiologic Birth. Midwives employ natural techniques for allowing your labor and birth to progress in a normal, physiologic fashion. For example, a midwife would encourage positional changes during pushing to help your baby to rotate, descend, and crown, vs. a hospital setting where you would likely be confined to your back for pushing- a position proven to close the pelvis and make pushing more difficult for the mother. Natural comfort measures would be utilized instead of drug usage whenever possible, thus reducing risk to mother and baby. Employing techniques to make your birth more physiologic makes for a safer, more comfortable birth.

5) More Options. Want to push on your hands and knees? Want to have your husband help catch the baby? Want to try water to labor in? Want to light candles and play music?  Want to avoid an episiotomy? Want to go for a walk around the neighborhood in labor? Unless you have a very progressive hospital, these options are hard to come by outside of a home birth. Hospital policies, infection control, multiple patients, and liability concerns all curb your options significantly.

6) Peaceful Setting. This may not seem like a very important advantage. After all, a safe birth setting is more important than a peaceful setting any day- but that doesn’t mean that they are mutually exclusive! A peaceful setting can contribute to a calmer mother, less need for medication, less physical and emotional stress during labor, and a quicker and easier birth. While it is not guaranteed, a peaceful birth setting can contribute to making the whole experience safer and more pleasant.

7) Family Continuity. My son played in the living room with his aunt while I pushed out my daughter in the kitchen. There was no separation, no need for frantically juggling babysitters, no great mystery to explain to him when I brought my daughter home. He knew what was happening (mommy was working on getting the baby out), got to meet her right away, and had a relatively easy transition into brotherhood. Of course there is always an adjustment, but I felt that our bumps in the road were relatively few.

8) Strong Safety Record. Most people associate home birth with the practices of 100 years ago, with maternal and fetal death being quite common. If we still lived in that world, I probably wouldn’t be recommending a home birth to you at all! Today, however, midwives can combine time-honored birthing traditions, natural remedies, and the best of today’s knowledge of safe birthing practices in order to bring you a safer, more pleasant birth in the comfort of your home.

The best studies show that home birth is as safe as hospital birth when 1) you hire a qualified midwife (I’ll write another post on this sometime!) , 2) you are a low-risk mother (no pre-eclampsia, uncontrolled gestational diabetes, no hip injuries, multiple VBAC, etc.), and 3) you live within 15-30 minutes of a hospital prepared to do emergency procedures. (Not all hospitals are equipped to do an immediate cesarean, so make sure yours is!)

veritybirth3 Meeting my lovely little gal after our second home birth. (Many thanks to Emily of Sweet Moments Photography for this gorgeous photo!)

A home birth is definitely not right for everyone, but for some women, it can be a good and safe option. Home birth mamas- what led you to have your babies at home?

Learn about the real advantages that would lead someone to choose a home birth over a hospital birth.

(This collage shows my three babies as newborns. Aren’t they sweet?)

I Didn’t Expect PPD

I wrote this post in hopes that it might help another mother somewhere out there. You should know that these events happened nearly five years ago, and I couldn’t have written about them then if I tried. For the longest time, I resisted calling the thing what it was: postpartum depression. I didn’t realize how bad I felt until I finally started feeling better.

My perspective is much clearer now than it ever was then. Now I am able to tell my story. I hope it is a heartening one. 

Like most first time expectant moms, I was thrilled to be having a baby- and I had a pretty clear idea of how I would handle our new addition. After all, I had a lot of experience with kids. I babysat regularly, worked at a daycare in both the infant and toddler room, and was a state certified K-12 music teacher. Naturally, I would know what I was doing- right?


I spent my pregnancy studying birth, preparing a nursery for months in advance, sorting through newborn clothes, and collecting little keepsakes. I counted kicks, belly-watched, dreamed baby names… My entire world revolved around welcoming this child.

Expecting our first. Another mother gave me a book called The Mask of Motherhood, to help share with me what she wished she had known before having a child. The book divulged the darker parts of motherhood that many women don’t talk about- at least not publicly. I foolishly shrugged the book off, thinking that those things wouldn’t happen to me. (Ha, ha.)

In my mind, it seemed that I would naturally fall into motherhood with grace and ease. I would have my home birth, I would breastfeed, and I would care for my infant with love and song. As he grew, I would be a smiling, soft-spoken, “warm-cup-of-milk” type of mother who played with him in the fields. Of course it would have seemed absurd to admit that I didn’t expect to have any trouble with transitioning to motherhood- but I really didn’t.

Well, I had my home birth, and it was just as beautiful as I had hoped. And in fact, the first few weeks- even months- of motherhood were relatively what I expected. Sure, we had a few challenges getting the hang of breastfeeding, but we were fairly comfortable with it by the time my son was 3 or 4 weeks old. Yes, we were tired from getting up in the night- but of course, isn’t that what all babies do?

But as the months went on, things began to get less simple. Let me set the stage.

My husband was a couple of months into his first semester of a full-time online grad school program. He also was working his regular full-time job (a basil farm), and doing part time work at 2 other locations. He would get up at 6:30 to go to the farm, finish around 3-4 p.m., then go off to his part time jobs until 7 or 8 p.m. Then he would come home and work on his graduate studies late into the night. Sometimes he’d still be up typing at 2 a.m. Then he’d get up the next day and do it all over again.

janddada

(A fair representation of our life at the time.)

Meanwhile, our son was anything but a good sleeper. Was it a result of first time parent syndrome, his own personality, or a combination of the two? We’ll probably never know entirely. Regardless, I was up in the night with him far more than seemed normal for his age. And, being the good first-time parent that I was, I made sure to always nurse him in the rocker and never bring him to bed. This translated into me being up about every 2 hours for an hour or so each time- on a good night.

I gradually became more and more exhausted from the lack of sleep. I dreaded when he awoke from nap. Nighttime was more like a nightmare. I would bounce, nurse, rock, sing, pat, whisper, and beg him back to sleep on and off for hours on end. I would crawl out of his room on hands and knees, pleading that he would just give me another hour- heck, even another 20 minutes of rest.

During this time, I had a community of many other mothers around me, many of whom I dearly love and respect. Typically, this would be a really good thing for a new mom. However, I had a major problem with self-doubt and comparison, and to me, the other mothers were a constant reminder of my own self-envisioned failures.

I felt as though I was trudging through- and slowly drowning in- a pool of constantly conflicting advice. Hold your baby, you can’t spoil him vs. you’ve gotta let him cry sometimes! Co-sleeping is how you form a strong bond with your child vs. co-sleeping is how you ruin your marriage. Breastfeed on demand vs. he doesn’t need it- he’s only crying because he expects to be nursed.

You must know that none of these women ever spoke to me critically. They cared for me, spoke kindly, and in most instances, they were just relating their own experiences- not actually telling me what to do. But my hormonal, sleep-deprived mind read much into our conversations. Every time someone offered a helpful suggestion, I felt overwhelmed with how wrong I must be doing it.

Then there were the parenting books. Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems. Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child. The No-Cry Sleep Solution. The Baby Book. And so on and so forth.  I kept looking for the magic formula that would make this sleep and baby thing a little easier. But it didn’t exist.

I became immobilized as a parent. My gut was wrenched over little decisions. Every time I would go to breastfeed (again), I would worry people would think I was nursing him too much. Every time I decided to make him wait, I would inwardly be fretting over our relationship. Whenever he started to cry, I felt like my blood pressure spiked. I was sweaty, anxious, and anything but confident.

superbaby

A fog crept over me. I cried daily, sometimes multiple times a day. I started eating all the time to keep up my energy- except for when I was having a particularly rough day- then I skipped meals altogether.  I spent too much time on the computer. I began experiencing regular insomnia, despite my exhaustion. Though we were living with family at the time (again, a very good thing for a new mom), I often hid in our room so I wouldn’t have to make a public appearance. I avoided going out with friends because I felt I couldn’t hold it together long enough to keep up the facade that we were doing just fine.

Though I loved him more than anything, I began to resent my son. So many struggles came with raising a baby that I hadn’t expected. Caring for him didn’t come easily, and I hated that I was always second guessing myself. Beyond that, our marriage was suffering from lack of time, sleep, and communication. I didn’t feel motivated to do much of anything- work, cleaning, exercise, music practice… I thought I would never be able to sing again.

I blamed myself. I’m just not adjusting well to mothering, I told myself. I became more and more angry with my own lack of ability. I wasn’t made to do this. He deserves a better mother. I sincerely believed that I was doing him a disservice by my existence. I secretly wished that someone else could just be his mother in my place.

Words a friend had said to me when I was pregnant echoed in my mind: “It will take you about eight weeks to adjust to having a baby, then you’ll find a routine.” Well, I was going on ten months and still hadn’t found it. This, to me, said that it was never going to happen. Never.

I didn't expect to battle postpartum depression.I began to feel a deep sense of hopelessness. While I didn’t spend every minute of every day crying, I faced a pervasive darkness that I could see no obvious way to escape. Most people- even those close to me- never would have guessed I was having such a hard time.

During this time, one of the only passions that kept me going- as silly as it may sound- was my interest in (and addiction to) all things birth. I suppose it makes sense- it was the only part of being a mother that gave me any confidence, so naturally, I clung to it. I had such a positive experience with my prenatal care and birth that I decided to become a doula.

One of the books I was reading for my doula training was called This Isn’t What I Expected: Overcoming Postpartum Depression (affiliate link). I picked it up, expecting to be able to better help other mothers after reading it. What I didn’t realize was that I was the one who needed to read it.

I read the checklist for postpartum depression: Crying at least once a day, inability to concentrate, no interest in regular activities, feeling like a failure, lack of energy, annoyance and anger at everything, hopelessness, the sense that I would feel this way forever…

I was actually surprised- Wow. I could say yes to almost every one of these symptoms. Is this what’s been going on? I honestly had thought that I was just a bad mother.

Very slowly, I began to recognize that what I had been experiencing was not normal. I had been wrestling with postpartum depression for months, but always blamed my struggles on my own insufficiencies. I never thought that there might actually be a real problem. Once I gave myself permission to acknowledge my depression, I began to feel great relief.

It wasn’t my fault. I wasn’t just a bad mother. It wouldn’t always feel this awful.

It was as if I was locked in a dark, dusty room for months and someone had finally opened the door to invite the sunshine in. A beautiful world was waiting for me, if only I was willing to step outside.

When you're struggling with postpartum depression, take heart. There is hope.I’m happy to say that my journey up out of the mire was much shorter than the time I spent wallowing in it. While I still struggle with depressive tendencies, I learned a lot of tools during this time that help me to keep it at bay. If you think you may be struggling with PPD, please talk to an educated, trusted friend or professional to seek help. You will be so glad you did. 

 

 

Loving Your Postpartum Body

Learning to love your postpartum body

I am one month postpartum. (Already! Time flies!) Any woman who has ever had a baby knows the frustration of this stage.

You may feel much more like your normal self at this point, but for some reason whenever you try to put on your “normal people jeans,” as I call them (a.k.a. non-maternity pants), they don’t zip. In fact, they don’t even come up over the hips. You jump, wiggle, squirm, lay on the bed, and no luck.


You try on a normal people shirt, only to find that it feels too short. Your belly still sticks out more than you’d like it to, leaving your garment uncomfortably tight. You notice your muffin top. Then you notice that the shirt doesn’t even cover the top band of the maternity pants you still have to wear.

Ugh.

Now, let’s clear something up right away. If you know me, you would call me thin, and you might even be laughing at me right now for writing this post. But I’m going to write a true fact here. Are you ready?

SKINNY PEOPLE CAN STILL STRUGGLE WITH BODY IMAGE.

I am one who does struggle with the changes in my body that come with childbearing, the lack of a flattering wardrobe, and an inability to maintain confidence when I feel so awkward. Pregnancy and postpartum can be hard on anyone’s inner self-conscious radar.

Also, without giving you all the gory details, you should know that I have a history of struggles with accepting and caring for my body. This has ranged from feeling “too skinny” and trying to act super tough to make up for it, to feeling fat and ugly and skipping meals (these phases never lasted long for me because I like to eat), to stuffing my face in anger as an “I don’t care” protest whenever I felt gross about myself. (How awful that I even put “fat” and “ugly” in the same sentence in my mind.) I know, understand, and have experience with self-harm habits that come from a warped body image and self-hate in various capacities.

purpledoor(This scrawny, pre-children, 19-year-old version of myself hid a lot of anger and self-consciousness behind my loud, obnoxious personality. Trying to be hardcore was an outlet for me. Can’t you just feel the toughness emanating?)

I’m happy to say that over the past 10 years or so, by God’s grace and the help of some very patient folks, I’ve managed to finally come to a healthier view of myself- and my body too. So even though I’m thin by most people’s standards, I feel like I can write this post earnestly and legitimately.

Okay, now that I’ve cleared that up, let’s move on.

By loving your body, I’m not talking about being obsessed with yourself, or building a carefully-crafted self-esteem. Loving your body doesn’t mean that you should have some weird hyped-up image of how sexy you are, any more than loving your spouse means you should focus on how good of a wife you are.

What does true love for a spouse look like? It’s not a short-lived infatuation. It’s long-term faithfulness to them. Doing what’s right, even when it’s hard.  Living the boring stuff day in and day out. Caring for each other. Knowing when you’ve failed, asking forgiveness, and moving on. Having realistic expectations. Accepting the quirks and imperfections of your relationship. Having a positive outlook.

While the metaphor can only go so far, I think that we can draw some similarities to a healthy view of loving your body.

Loving your body means you’re not obsessed with short-term goals and the daily ups and downs of the scale. The goal is a commitment to long-term health. Loving your body means doing what is healthy, even when you don’t feel like it. Making better choices one meal and one day at a time. Caring for yourself appropriately. Giving yourself grace and moving on when you make an unhealthy choice. Having realistic expectations, accepting your body as it is, and having a positive outlook.

Postpartum mamas, you may look down and see your floppy belly, your stretch marks, your skin loosened beyond reasonable repair. You may see extra weight that never went away after the baby. You’re leaking fluid from every end, your hormones are out of whack, and you’re sweating bullets with all the stuff you’re trying to juggle every time you go someplace.

But you know what your baby sees? Love. Nourishment. Comfort. Home.

What is healthy for you in the postpartum period? Eating nourishing foods for you and your baby- and lots of them, especially if you’re breastfeeding. Taking care of your mental health and emotional needs. And prioritizing sleep.

Sleeping with J(Napping with my firstborn when he was about 3 days old.)

You shouldn’t be obsessed with the scale- and in fact, you shouldn’t even be exercising until you are well healed. Don’t agonize over the take-out you ordered or the chocolate you’ve been munching. While it is helpful to try to give your body healthy food for healing and energy, it is not helpful to fret over the occasional junk you may consume. Do your best, and move on.

Irene's Arrival & Aug 2015 182(This picture was taken right after baby I’s birth. My stomach isn’t perfect yet, is it? This is just part of the normal bodily changes that come with pregnancy and birth.)

Have realistic expectations. Remember that it took 9 months to put the weight on, and it will probably take a year or more to take it off. Sometimes it doesn’t all come off, and that’s okay too! There are some things that will never change- your skin will probably never be smooth and flawless again, and your boobs will always be saggier. So be it.

This is motherhood. You will not look like the airbrushed, photoshopped, plastic women in the magazines. You cannot wish to have a perfect teenage body anymore.

Accept those imperfections. They are beautiful. They are part of your story and a life passage. They are part of all of what you have become, and we shouldn’t waste so much of our time and energy despising those bodily faults that really don’t matter.

Try to keep it positive. When you’re in the clear to exercise, then exercise.  Do it for health’s sake, for energy, for a better mood. Do it because it’s motivating and invigorating and good for you. But above all, do it out of caring for your body, not out of hate for it.

I’ll be returning to exercise soon, and (hopefully) developing a semi-regular regimen. But I know I won’t be perfectly consistent with eating and working out. And I’ll probably still have bad days. And I know that sometimes I’ll still wish for the ability to wear all those cute “normal people clothes” that I just can’t squeeze into anymore.

But you know what? It’s okay. I’m going to forget about society’s perception of beautiful, and keep working on being good to my body in all ways.

Care to join me?

I’m going to try to use some resources from my new Healthy Living Bundle (affiliate link) for motivation, encouragement, and exercise after I am completely healed. If you are interested in joining me, you can learn more about the healthy eating & fitness resources (including a 90 day exercise program) included in the bundle here. Thanks in advance for your support!

Accepting a Slower Pace

Accepting a Slower Pace(Photo taken at 36.5 weeks. I’m now 2 days away from my EDD.)

It hit me this past week- I feel really pregnant.

Slow and waddly. Hills wiping out my energy. Having to pee every 20 minutes. Feeling the baby’s jabs and turns. Less willing to run after my toddler. My days seem longer and the necessities are harder to accomplish.

I recently walked past the garden on the way back from milking to find Japanese beetles enjoying a green bean leaf salad. Eggs lay hidden, attached to the undersides of plants. The tomatoes were growing redder. There was lettuce that needed to be rescued from bolting.


I stopped momentarily to try to plan what the next task should be. But I saw all the chores glaring at me and instead of planning, I turned and walked back to the house. I felt too tired to spend time thinking about it. (Avoidance is a favorite tactic of mine.)

I’m hitting that stage of pregnancy when everything starts slowing down. While I’m feeling well overall, my body’s natural limitations are still an unwelcome reminder to me that I am not superwoman. I cannot keep up on everything right until I give birth. (And it’s unlikely that I’ll get right back to it, either.)

I gave up on the last two weeks of a cleaning challenge I was working on with friends. My daily to-do lists are growing shorter, and beginning to include things like, “spend time with the kids” and “read your book tonight” and “eat a piece of chocolate, go ahead.” (Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating a little.) But I am definitely choosing to do less, because I simply can’t get everything done otherwise.

I am glad for a husband who’s got patience and strength for when I’m in a slow season. He knows just the right balance between allowing me the extra rest I desire and encouraging me to keep the pace. He’s both my assurance and my motivation. (Sorry ladies, I’m keeping him.)

Is it good to be lazy? No. But is it good to recognize when it’s time to slow down and accept a necessary change of pace? Yes.

My body is preparing to birth. I am about to be sleepless for many weeks. My children need my time and heart as we go through the coming changes. I cannot keep up on every organization project, regular singing rehearsal, cooking endeavor, and extensive outing. It’s time to focus in on home and family, and let all the busyness and ambition pass me by.

I’m choosing to quiet myself a bit. It’s time to accept the slower pace and nest a bit.

Little one, we are ready for you when you are ready for us.

 

 

Using a Kiddie Pool as a Birth Pool

This post was adapted and updated from my old blog. I hope the information will be helpful to women planning a home water birth!

Using a Kiddie Pool as a Birth Pool- Tips for selecting a low budget pool for your DIY home water birth.

Water birth is an option that has been around for many years. But I’ve recently noticed it becoming increasingly popular at home births, as well as in some birthing centers and progressive hospitals. For women planning a water birth at home, however, the cost and trouble of obtaining a birth pool can be challenging.


Some people like to rent actual birth pools for set amount of times from their midwife, doula, or a birth pool rental company. While this definitely has its advantages, there are many of us who like to go the less expensive route and purchase a kiddie pool to birth in.

I purchased this inflatable kiddie pool for my home birth with my second baby. It definitely met my needs- it was big enough, strong enough, and comfortable enough to support me through labor and birth.

But not just any kiddie pool will do! Some are too shallow, some are too flimsy, and some aren’t wide enough. What should you look for in a kiddie pool when you want to use it as a birth pool?

1) Depth. The pool must be deep enough that the water will cover your entire abdomen. If it doesn’t, that negates one of the main points of having a water birth- helping that uterus relax into its work! My pool is 24” deep, and that was sufficient for me to sink down in comfortably.

2) Diameter. Make sure that the pool is large enough that you can stretch out to your liking. In mine, I can sit against one wall and stretch my legs out all the way with room to spare.

June 2013 012

3) Support The walls must be strong & thick enough to support your weight leaning against them- and remember that your partner, midwife, or doula may be leaning against them at some point too. You want to be able to rest on it comfortably. The last thing you want is to lean against a pool wall and start spilling your water over the edge!

June 2013 0104) Comfort. Your birth pool must be comfortable! One thing I really liked about mine is that the bottom inflates. It adds a nice layer of padding for sitting, squatting, or kneeling. Consider also softness of the walls- I much prefer thick inflatable walls over the stiff walls held in place by water weight. I just think it’s cushier.

5) Aesthetics. This may be more important for some than others. Some may prefer a calm, plain pool in soothing blue or green. My pool had colorful fish & seaweed all over it! While it might be nice to keep things a little tamer, the colorful design wasn’t too much of a distraction during labor for me. 😉 If looks matter to you, shop for a different pool that will help you stay in your zone a little better!

One advantage to buying a kiddie pool for labor is- well- you now have a kiddie pool for later use! Sanitize with bleach after emptying and you’re good to go. If you can’t stomach that idea, at least you only paid $30 for it instead of renting one for over $100. Less money down the tubes is always a good thing.

Our pool went through 2 years of use post-birth and now has too many leaks in it to use for baby #3. I just bought a second of the same one- and hopefully it will be put to good use soon. 🙂

I hope this was helpful to mamas considering a DIY water birth at home. If you’ve had a water birth, what type of pool would you suggest?

This post contains affiliate links. Thanks in advance for your support!

Letter From a Pregnant Mama

FYI: This post is mostly just for fun. I don’t really get easily offended, so if you’ve said one of these things to me, don’t fret. Chances are, you just made me smile. Take it all as a friendly reminder- with a grain of salt- and keep it positive, folks! 🙂

Letter from a pregnant mama

Dear well meaning soul,


Some of you are friends and family members. Some of you are complete strangers at the store. Some of you are coworkers who we really, truly like. Some of you are middle-aged men who have never borne children in your life. Whoever you are, there are a few things we need to talk about.

I’m not having this conversation solely because I’m moody and unpredictable, but because I love you and don’t want you to end up with missing teeth because I socked you because I’m moody and unpredictable.

Hear that? This post is because I love you.

First things first. I know I’m as big as a house and then some. I know my belly has stretched beyond what should be physically possible. I know I’m swollen and waddling and whatnot. No, my midwife is not changing my due date because I’m so big. Yes, I’m sure I’m not carrying twins. Though I do get how you could perceive it that way.

I’m probably also carrying extra weight. Yup, probably 16 pizzas in there.  Would you like to tell me how much you’ve gained over the past seven or eight months? No? Why not?

Are you curious about my stretch marks? I’d be happy to show you. You should show me your varicose veins and cellulite while I’m at it. Then we’ll both be nice and bonded and comfortable with each other. (And since we’re so bonded, you should know that if you rub my belly, I can rub yours too. Fair is fair.)

There, now that we’re nice and close, I’m gonna let you in on a little secret: I know how this happened. I took 7th grade science class, and I bet you did too! And guess what else? I also know that there’s ways to prevent this. Kindly spare the graphic and grotesque commentary on the matter. That’s not really nice or civil or considerate. Just sayin’.

Did you know, by the way, that I had kids because I wanted to?  (And even the woman who didn’t actually want to end up pregnant is still doing a beautiful and brave thing by choosing to carry and mother her baby. Perhaps she’d prefer not to be discouraged or embarrassed by unsolicited commentary.)

Kids, believe it or not, can be a good thing. I’m not actually in a predicament. My husband was – surprise!- in on this too. I know this may seem slightly deranged, but we had this idea that we wanted to enjoy our lives together with kids.

Yes, I suppose they will keep my hands full. It might require some hard work and some sleepless nights. It looks like they might keep me running. I’ll admit it- I’m tired. Oh, alright, I’ll give. Maybe I’ll return the kids and get a different job instead.

What??? I can’t? That means I have to have a baby?!? But then I have to go through labor! And you’re telling me that labor will hurt? Oh wait, I’ve done it twice before. Naturally. At home. I’ve got this. Phew, I almost forgot. (And no matter how a woman gives birth, she’s got this thing.)

Wait, before you go, can you please give me some advice on how many children I should have and when? Because we really can’t decide for ourselves. And I know that whatever I choose to do will likely cause permanent psychological damage out of suffering due to my children’s places in the birth order.

Look, if you want to discourage and offend a pregnant woman, just keep telling her how huge and tired she looks. Keep reminding her how her kids are going to ruin her life. Keep telling her horror stories. I guarantee you can successfully make her day miserable.

Or, you could try the following:

  • Congratulations!
  • You look great.
  • Do you know what you’re having?
  • How are you feeling?
  • Your children are beautiful.
  • You’ll do just fine.
  • You’re doing a wonderful job.
  • I know it’s hard sometimes, but it’s so worth it.
  • Can I help you with anything after the baby is born?

I dare you. Try it. See if it helps to soften that awkward communication bump-in-the-road that you’ve been noticing.

You could even think of a happy story to share that might help her on her journey. Encourage her. Teach her to trust her instincts. Help her to love hearing from other parents, instead of dreading it. Help her to want to ask for help and talk through her troubles- not run from it for fear of being chided, embarrassed, or bossed.

If all else fails and you can’t remember these suggestions, remember the golden rule:

Treat others as you would like to be treated.

And keep it positive, folks. 😉

Much love,

Your local resident pregnant mama.

July 2015 004

V’s Home Birth Story

Last week I shared my son’s birth story, and today I’ll share my daughter’s. She’ll be turning 2 in just a couple of weeks, so I’ve been enjoying reminiscing. This was published previously on my old blog, and has been given new life with the insertion of beautiful birth photos from Emily of Sweet Moments Photography. Thanks for reading. 🙂

My husband and I had our dear firstborn son back in October of 2010. We wanted for him to have a sibling relatively close in age, so we put it in our minds that we would like to have a baby sometime before he was three or so. A summer baby was appealing to both of us since Tim teaches middle school and would have a couple of months off available for “baby mooning.” So last fall we began trying for baby #2, and sure enough, we had a positive pregnancy test at the beginning of October 2012. My estimated due date was June 15th, 2013.

When I was first pregnant with J, we spent a long time researching our birth options and had decided on a home birth. Since we had such a lovely experience the first time, we planned on birthing our second at home as well. A brief period of financial uncertainty lead us to consider a hospital birth (since insurance would cover it), but a good tax return enabled us to pay our midwife in full and continue on with the home birth plans.


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The pregnancy was quite different from J’s. I was sicker at the beginning, more emotional throughout, and faced more general pregnancy-related physical challenges. I knew that both the baby and I were healthy, and that this was a blessing I should never take for granted. The most disturbing emotion was a strange unsettledness that I was having a hard time shaking. I was worried about the “what-ifs” of labor, the concerns of mothering two children and loving them both well, the fear of returning late-onset postpartum depression, mild though it may have been.

I pushed off the feelings for a long time, believing in a way it was better not to pay them much attention. But they continued to resurface, sometimes overwhelmingly. In one way, I wanted to fast forward to the birth in order to just get it done with. In another way, I dreaded its coming since I was so nervous about my own mothering abilities.

I realized that I was neglecting to address my fears, and more importantly, I was not taking them up in prayer. I knew it was necessary for me to take time to do this. “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving make your requests known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7) As long as I hung onto my fears, I was not entrusting them to the One who authors life and who could give me the peace I so longed for.

As I approached birth, I was reminded that it did not do me any good to worry. I needed to “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness,” and know that He would provide exactly what I needed (Matthew 6:25-34). I began voicing my worries to some women I trusted. Looking my fears in the face and talking them through brought both tears and great relief. I knew I was surrounded by prayer, faithful and supportive family and friends, and a skillful and compassionate birth team. All I had to do now was to rest in God’s sovereign hand and prayerfully await the onset of labor.

And wait and rest I did. The last few weeks of pregnancy were filled with more peace than I had experienced the whole time. I didn’t think that the challenges or fears would never actualize, but I knew that God would give me the grace I needed to handle each moment as it came. I took lengthy hot baths, read good birth stories and long passages of Scripture, and practiced breathing and releasing all my muscles. I drank pregnancy tea and ate dates, did the birth ball hula, and practiced squatting and kegels. I tried to mentally remember what crowning felt like and welcome it. I spent one on one time with my son and reminded myself that no matter how difficult mothering can be, the joy of knowing and loving each sweet soul was immensely worth every second of it. And as my due date approached, I finally felt ready.

37 weeks V(And at 37 weeks, 2 days, I looked ready too.)

During these last two or three weeks, I experienced light crampy contractions that would last for an hour or two here and there and then stop. I recognized all the usual pre-labor signs- diarrhea, loss of large hunks of mucus, and just feeling “off.” But the signs never went anywhere. I tried checking my own cervix, and it did seem that there was some softening and dilation occurring. As days went on, I could no longer find a distinct ring of cervix, so I decided that I didn’t really know what I was feeling and I probably was just feeling the vaginal wall. The day before my next appointment, I felt a lot of extra pressure in my bottom and assumed it was the baby “dropping.” I told myself not to get hopeful, and that I couldn’t possibly be significantly dilated. Better to expect nothing than think I had made progress, right?

On June 13th, 39 weeks and 5 days, my midwife, Jen, came to my house for our regular 10:30 am appointment. (Coincidentally, it was also Jen’s birthday.) We had discussed all of my “pre-labor” and she thought it would be prudent to perform an internal exam to see what was happening. Since she lived about an hour away, she was concerned about the possibility of a precipitous labor if I was already considerably dilated. After discussing our options, Tim and I decided that if we were pleasantly surprised by my progress, we would go ahead and have Jen sweep my membranes and see if we could get labor going while she was in the area.

As Jen was checking my cervix, she got a funny smile on her face and said, “Hmm! You’re about 60% effaced… and 5 cm dilated this way… and 4 and a half the other way…”

Five centimeters and not in labor?!? I just started laughing. Tim and I were in disbelief that I was already so far progressed! My son’s labor had been so “textbook,” so slow and steady, that I never thought I would end up dilating without any significant pain or long early labor. We also learned that the baby’s head was already at +1 or +2 station, so he or she was already coming into the birth canal. (Aha. That explained all that extra pressure.)

We agreed to have Jen sweep my membranes (a rather uncomfortable procedure, though not painful), and also decided to try some herbal augmentation to see if things would get going while she was still in the area. She left me some “labor prep” herbal pills and a black & blue cohosh tincture mixed into my morning’s green smoothie.  Off she went to some other appointments close to our home, leaving instructions to call her if I began contracting hard at any point. She would come back to check on me in a few hours.

Within 30 minutes of our appointment’s end- about 12:00 noon- I did begin experiencing some contractions. While they were more powerful than my Braxton Hicks, they were no more painful and were not accompanied by any cramps. They felt like strong waves of pressure that took my breath away, though I could still walk and talk through them. They developed into a pattern, coming about 3-5 minutes apart, but only lasting about 30-45 seconds long. I decided to eat a small but nourishing lunch for energy in case this turned into the “real deal.”

Jen called to check on me, but I told her that the contractions were nothing to write home about. She laughed because that was what I had been saying before- and I was obviously already dilated despite the fact that I wasn’t in pain. She said she would still come after her last appointment for the day.

Around 2:30, Jen arrived. My contractions had not progressed to be any longer or stronger. She observed me for a little while and suggested taking more of the tinctures. She said she would hang out at our house for a while because she “didn’t trust me.” She joked that as soon as she turned around and drove home, she knew I would be calling her in hard labor.

Thus, even though we are all of the mindset that we would rather wait for labor to pick up on its own, we decided, given the circumstances, that it was still the wisest course of action to try to give it a little boost. (Plus I wasn’t really worried about any negative side effects of the herbal tinctures like I would be about Pitocin and other drug use.)

Since it was Jen’s birthday (and since J had gone down for his nap), I decided to bake a cake while we waited around for this labor thing to get painful. Too bad I didn’t have any white sugar… or powdered sugar… or cake mix… or frosting. I found a yellow cake recipe that I thought I could make successfully with raw sugar, so I put it together and stuck it in the oven. I searched the internet for a frosting recipe that used honey instead of sugar. We found one, but it turned out to be quite nasty as it called for a large amount of non-fat dry milk. We all laughed at my dismal frosting failure, and Jen suggested she run me to the store for frosting and sugar so that we could consume a palatable birthday cake. (Plus all that going up and down the store aisles might help progress the labor!)

I had to smile as we were going to the grocery store. I thought to myself, How cool is this? Most women’s care providers don’t even know their names without looking at their charts first, and here I am having a relaxing afternoon with my midwife, running errands while I’m in light labor. We selected our items and had a memorable checkout experience with an awkward cashier. (Let’s just say that there was story-telling about an internet figure who drinks bottles of Pert shampoo and other household products.) After some laughs, we headed back home.

I was still having the contractions, but I barely noticed them now. I was beginning to feel doubtful that I was really in labor. I felt a little anxious about what we would do if it all stalled out. We decided we would frost and eat Jen’s birthday cake, and then she would check my cervix again.

One slice of cake later, at 5:30 p.m., I was lying on the bed expecting to hear that there had been no changes. Once again, Jen laughed as she performed the exam. “You’re about 80% effaced and 7 cm. Abi, I can stretch you to an 8!”

Eight centimeters and no pain to speak of? I never thought I’d be one of those women- the ladies who I thought of as the lucky ones!

The fact that I had dilated this far with very mild contractions was actually a bit of a concern for us. We knew I would need good strong contractions to help push that baby out- but also to help my uterus clamp down after birth to prevent hemorrhage. (I had experienced significant blood loss after the birth of my son. While it had never gotten out of control, we wanted to avoid a repeat if at all possible.) I agreed to homeopathic pills inserted vaginally to see if that would help move contractions along.

J woke up from his afternoon nap shortly after the exam. We called my sister-in-law, Michelle, and our birth photographer, Emily, to let them know what was happening and tell them they should come in case things moved quickly.

Within a half hour of the homeopathy, I began getting contractions that felt more “real.” They still seemed like early labor. I could talk through them easily, but at least they were mildly uncomfortable. Tim inflated the birth pool and began filling it; I put my pre-made freezer meal into the oven to heat up. Michelle arrived to help watch J, and Tim and I got ready to go for a walk to help progress the labor.

It had been raining on and off all day, and sure enough, it began coming down harder once Tim and I went outside. No matter. I put up my hood, took Tim’s hand, and we began a brisk walk in the cool, wet evening. We remarked that this must be our labor tradition, as we had gone for a walk in the rain through transition during J’s labor as well. As we walked, we began humming and singing children’s folk songs during contractions. I knew that opening the mouth and throat through contractions helped to relax the mother and open the cervix. It seemed to be true- it made the contractions seem more manageable- much like strong pressure waves. I also helped myself through it by acting silly- I went on melodramatically about my cervix opening up like a flower to the sun and softening in the cool rain. Being ridiculous helped me to laugh and stay positive through the intensity of contractions. I think the fast walking also served as a welcome distraction. All of these were my pain management tools as we walked about a half a mile along our road under the trees.

The walk was definitely effective in helping contractions become stronger. During the twenty minutes or so that we were gone, I felt like I went from early labor to transition type contractions. As we neared our return, I could feel the baby pushing down lower. I told Tim that we had to get back quickly, or I would end up having the baby on the side of the road!

We returned to a welcoming house full of warmth and light and cheerful activity. Jen had prepared for the birth by pulling out supplies and monitoring the tub’s filling. Michelle had pulled the dinner out of the oven. Emily had arrived and was ready with her camera. Michelle was surprised by how much stronger my contractions were, and Jen asked me when I wanted to get into the pool. I replied that I was ready when the tub was.

(All labor, birth, and newborn photos to follow courtesy of Emily from Sweet Moments Photography. Used with permission.)

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Jen had a quick listen to the baby, and then I went to use the bathroom before getting in the pool. As soon as I sat down on the toilet, I felt that familiar pressure of the baby getting ready to be born. One heavy contraction passed. I tried to get up and another came on quickly. I attempted rising again and a third slammed me back down. I kept humming and breathing my way through them as best as I could. They were right on top of each other now, and I knew I had to make it out of the bathroom if I wanted to avoid a toilet birth.

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I finally made it out of the bathroom. Jen asked me if I wanted to wear anything specific in the birth pool, and I told her yes, a sports bra and a tank top. She told me that I might want to go get that on if I wanted it. Yes, yes, I knew that, and I was trying, but I just couldn’t get a break between those contractions… Michelle offered to go get it, and I told her no- that going up the stairs would be good for me. But the stairs stopped me in my tracks again. Each step I tried to take stimulated another hard contraction, and I finally shouted at Tim to “just go!” and fetch my clothes for me.

At last, I got changed and made it into the pool. Jen asked me if it felt any better in the water, and I told her that I thought maybe it did, but I remember feeling disappointed that the water wasn’t hotter. In hindsight I recognized that of course I couldn’t birth a baby into Jacuzzi water temperatures, but it was still a let-down.

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At this point the labor became a bit of an out-of-body experience. I kept humming with Tim through each contraction, but I knew that I would have to push soon. I thought to myself, this is why women get epidurals. Can I just wake up when it’s over? It wasn’t so much the pain that was overwhelming as the sheer intensity of it all. My hum turned into a low moan as I felt the baby begin to descend into the birth canal. Before the next contraction began I quickly told Tim, “no more song.” He said, “Okay,” and sat faithfully at the side of the pool by my head. J came in and out of the room a couple of times, wanting to show me a paper butterfly from his bug book. He seemed generally unfazed by my strange behavior, as we had prepared him in advance for the sights and sounds that accompany hard labor. I asked if we had towels for the baby once it was born. Yes, Jen had already done that. I asked if they had a garbage can for me in case I puked. No, but Tim scurried upstairs to fetch one. The doula in me was going through a mental checklist of necessities.

Now I had to keep a low moan sustained through each contraction. “I’mmmmmm gonna puuuuuuuush….” I groaned as I heard myself making those familiar grunty sounds.

“Okay, go ahead,” said Jen. And everyone attended me patiently and quietly.

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Oh, what a simultaneously glorious and dreadful feeling it is to push a baby out! There’s nothing quite as satisfying, because you know that you’re almost done and you’ll get to meet your precious new life very soon. But there’s also nothing quite as terrifying because you know there’s just no way around it. You don’t want to do it because you know it’s going to hurt badly, but if you don’t just do it you’re going to remain in this pain even longer. So you have to just buckle down and sweat and grunt and moan and let it happen. With my son, I hadn’t felt an urge to push until the very end. And with this baby, I felt the urge overtaking me without my consent. It was like a freight train. Like throwing up, only throwing down.

I was so conscious of everything. I could feel the baby’s descent, and I briefly thought about forcing harder to get it done with. But then I thought, no, you’ll tear. Slow down. It won’t be long. Slow down and breathe. I kept saying, “I’m sorry if I poop!” but everyone assured me that it didn’t matter if I did. (Miraculously, I didn’t.)

There was a sudden sharp pop and gush as my water broke. This was much less pleasant than I remembered it. It wasn’t long before I realized that Tim was in the pool with me. It must be close or he wouldn’t be in here yet. Jen told me gently to slow down.

“I’m trying!” I responded. Then self-doubt flooded me. “Am I doing okay? Am I doing good?” I breathed. (I mentally reminded myself that it should have been, “Am I doing well?”)

“Yes, Abi,” she affirmed me warmly. “You’re doing good.” (She didn’t correct my grammar, bless her.)

And much sooner than I expected, I felt that surreal stretch as the baby crowned- I held it there for just a moment- and oh! The head was out!

“Oh, that’s SO much better!” I exclaimed.

Jen and Tim remarked that there was a lot of hair. Suddenly there was an unexpected sharp pain.

“Whoa!” cried Jen and Tim together. “That’s a hand!” added Jen. It turns out that pain was my baby trying to “swim” its way out with a nuchal hand by its face.

And suddenly Jen was lifting me up onto my hands and knees, saying, “Okay, let’s get you out of the water.” I mentally  jumped to a shoulder dystocia diagnosis, but then just as quickly as I got up out of the water the baby slid out the rest of the way. (It turns out the baby was just about to try to breathe underwater, so that’s why Jen lifted me up. Phew, no major obstetrical emergencies here!) She was born at 7:12 p.m., and I had only pushed for 12 minutes.

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I was eager to see this baby, so I sat back against the pool wall as quickly as I could. Tim and Jen brought the child to my chest and covered it with a towel. I admired our new little life, stroking its hair, rubbing in the vernix, quietly saying, “Hello, baby, you’re beautiful.”  Tim leaned over my shoulder and gazed into those bright blue-grey eyes and smiled.

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“What is your baby, dad?” Jen asked.

We both realized that in the joy of meeting our child, we forgot to check the gender! Tim peeked up under the towel and announced that it was a girl!

She was still and calm and alert. She had only let out one little cry when she was lifted out of the water to be put on my chest. I was concerned about whether or not she was okay because she wasn’t crying, but Jen assured me that her breathing, heart rate, and color were perfect. She told us that water babies are often calm and quiet when they are born.

IMG_5259 copyJ came trotting in, followed by Michelle. (She had been watching him and playing with him in the living room.) He came up to Tim and the two of them shared a great big hug. We showed him his sister, and told him that the baby had come out and it was a little girl! He approached cautiously and looked at her coolly from across the pool. We didn’t force him to come closer- we figured he would do that in his own time. He seemed generally happy enough, however, and went back to playing as we continued to greet our little one.

Our baby girl began rooting, so I took off my tank top and tried to help her find the breast. She latched quickly and knew just what to do! As she was nursing, we watched for any bleeding and checked on the cord. Michelle began calling family members to share the good news.

Probably about 15- 20 minutes after birth, the cord had completely stopped pulsing. We invited J to help cut the cord (this was something we had talked about before the birth). At first he was excited- “With scissors?” he asked. Then when he saw that he had to come up close to the pool and his baby sister to use them, he said, “No thank you!” We laughed and told him he didn’t have to help, and Tim physically separated baby and mama for the first time with a snip.

IMG_5284 copyThankfully, the placenta came out with no problems, and I lost significantly less blood than I had with J! (I had lost about 900 ccs with him, and only 300 with this baby. 500 ccs is about average for a vaginal birth.) Tim took our baby girl while Jen helped me get to the shower to clean up.

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Soon, our new family was snuggled on the roll-out mattress we had brought downstairs for the birth. Jen performed a full newborn exam and pronounced our little girl 8 lbs., 9 oz. and 20.5” long! She had a 14” head circumference, just like her brother. I continued nursing her skin to skin under a blanket while Jen went over postpartum information with us.

IMG_5297 copy IMG_5300 copyAfterwards, Tim helped to dress the baby and I in comfortable pajamas. J wanted to have his little sister laid on his belly so he could hold her. He was finally smiling at her and wanting to see her- and he hasn’t stopped since! After warm hugs and thank you’s all around, Michelle, Jen, and Emily made their separate ways home.

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My family came shortly thereafter, and got to meet their new granddaughter- as well as help put J to bed! Unfortunately, Tim’s parents were on vacation with West coast family at the time, but they came in to meet her as soon as they arrived home a couple of days later.

VbirthAs we reflected on the birth, we were amazed by how different it had been from J’s. His was a steady 14 hours of labor, but this baby’s- little V’s- was only about 8 hours total. Less than two hours of that had any pain, and only about a half hour at the end was truly difficult. I don’t entirely know why this was (though I have my theories), but I’m very thankful for the experience of an almost pain-free labor.

V has been a true joy to us. We are enjoying getting to know her little personality and learning more about her each day. I am reminded by her birth and life so far that time does go so quickly, and that it is most important to soak up every minute with your children and fill each day with love for them. Before I know it, years will fly by, and they will be grown and gone. If anything, our daughter’s life has increased my love for both her and J deeply.

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I am grateful for my wonderful midwife who cared for me physically and personally during this pregnancy and birth. I am grateful for an excellent birth team who came just at the right time and was so helpful to us. I am grateful for a loving and supportive husband- I could never fulfill my role as wife and mother without his patient and gracious help. I am grateful for my two sweet children, who we love more than the world. We are so, so blessed in every way. Praise God for his gracious gifts!

J’s Homebirth Story

It’s getting close to my daughter’s second birthday, and I’m only three short months away from having my third baby. I’ve been itching to get my mind back around all things birth to prepare myself for labor- and also because I really enjoy the topic.

Over the next week or two, I will share my son and daughter’s birth stories. While these were posted on my old blog, the content was written for us to remember the birth. I kept it PG, but remember, I’m a birth doula- so these things seem pretty normal to me. Read at your own risk. 😉

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“Homebirth? That’s great for them, if they really want to do it- but not for me,” I thought. I had a friend who had birthed all three of her children at the time at home, and things always went well for her. I respected her decision, but I always assumed that when I was pregnant one day, I would just go to the hospital- it was the automatic thing to do.

On January 20th, 2010, two blue lines showed up on the stick I bought from Target. I stared at it in disbelief- even though I knew it was a strong possibility, I still had told myself it would probably come up negative. I told Tim on his two o’clock break at work, and over the next several days (and weeks) we flew through a whirlwind of emotions. We felt thrilled and incredibly blessed to have a child on the way, but also overwhelmed by the number of decisions to be made and the coming responsibility of parenthood.

The most immediate decision to be made was that of health care for the baby and me. We hadn’t had insurance since we were married, and we quickly discovered that most insurance companies wouldn’t pick us up because of my “pre-existing condition.” There was no way we could afford the monthly payments of private insurance, and we were told that we didn’t qualify for medical assistance. Thus, we began to search out our options. We started by looking at pricing alone, and we were floored by the cost of hospital births. An uncomplicated vaginal birth could easily cost over ten thousand dollars, and sometimes much more than that. This discouraging reality caused us to look into the possibility of other options. Birthing centers looked like a feasible option, and there was one in Wilkes Barre, not too far from us; but, what about homebirth?

We decided that homebirth was at least worth some research before we disregarded the option entirely. We talked to our friend who delivered all of her babies at home, and the more we discussed the matter, the less crazy it seemed. We began looking up information and various studies on homebirth. Surprisingly, we discovered that homebirth with qualified attendants was statistically just as safe as hospital births for low-risk women. Women planning a homebirth had a low transfer rate to the hospital, were much less likely to receive unnecessary interventions, and the rate of c-sections were significantly lower. There was no difference in the outcomes of the babies between home and hospital births. Also, it seemed that the consensus among the testimony of women who had homebirths was that they had a positive experience and wanted to have homebirths again in the future.

The research drove us forward- we would call Jen, the midwife our friend had birthed her last baby with. We had a free consultation visit with her, and she really impressed us with her knowledge, skill, and experience. She discussed the advantages and possible risks of homebirth with us, and was very honest and open. She did not try to sell herself- she told us that if we chose a homebirth, we had to really be comfortable with the decision. It was then that we confirmed two things: First, that homebirths really were safe for low-risk women. Jen was well prepared to deal with the majority of “what-ifs” of birth, and most “what-ifs” she couldn’t personally handle were things that could generally be caught well ahead of time. There were very few things that actually required emergency transfer to the hospital, to which we lived very close. Secondly, homebirths agreed with my own philosophy of birth. I wanted an all-natural birth where I could fully experience labor, be entirely mentally there for the birth of my child, and be free to make informed decisions regarding the birth. Once these two issues were settled in our minds, we decided to go ahead with homebirth and chose Jen as our midwife.

Over and over during my prenatal care we felt again and again that we had made the right decision. I was excited about homebirth, and the more reading and research we did, the more I felt prepared for the birth. Jen was always warm and welcoming, and we looked forward to every appointment. We also got to work with two wonderful assistants during this time- Monica, from whom we took childbirth classes, and Nicole, who attended our birth. We felt that each one of these qualified women cared for us personally and professionally, and we developed friendships with each of them over the course of our care. We discovered the value of having a supportive, loving relationship with our caregivers. We were going into one of the most personal events of our lives, and it only made sense to have people there who we trusted and felt comfortable with. We knew that we were in the best possible hands, and we could hardly wait for the day of our baby’s birth!

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(Photo Credit- Sarah Mitchell)

At forty weeks and five days, I was having Braxton Hicks contractions all day. No big deal, I had been having them for probably a month already, and they never went anywhere. We had our weekly appointment at my home and Tim and I went out shopping at a local health food store that night and bought evening primrose oil in hopes that it might get things moving.

At forty weeks and six days, October 5th, 2010, I woke up having to use the bathroom- nothing unusual for a woman great with child. I laid back down, and after a few minutes I noticed a contraction that was accompanied by strong cramping this time. Hmmm…. 2:45 a.m. Maybe I would keep track. Another at 2:52. Another at 2:59. So it continued, six or seven minutes apart for an hour. I woke Tim. “It’s birth day,” I told him. We were both so excited, we couldn’t heed Jen’s advice to get some sleep in the early stages.

The contractions were about five minutes apart and lasting about a minute long for a little over an hour. I started having diarrhea and bloody show.  We called Jen to let her know I was in labor, and she sent Nicole on her way to check me out. In the meantime, Tim called our parents to tell them things were finally cooking and ran around setting up our birthing pool and pulling out our birth kit. I, in the meantime, was having contractions in the bathroom and throwing up. Nicole arrived with the sunrise, with Jen following shortly after. They told me sometimes there was a mini-transition period between three and four centimeters dilated, and that may have caused the vomiting.

We drifted through the hours during early labor. I couldn’t sit or lay back, because the baby’s head was on my tailbone. I continued to lean forward over the couch, chairs, countertops, or whatever I could find. Going on hands and knees became a favorite during contractions. I tried to remember what a lady at church had told me- just keep breathing, no matter what. The contractions were definitely still manageable, but I was nervous about how bad they would get before it was over. Jen, Nicole, and I tried to nap and rest as the hours went on, since we knew that there would be no sleep later.

Tim, on the other hand, was working on filling the birthing pool. This turned into quite the event. He ran the water very hot so it would stay warm for when it was time for me to get in it in later labor. However, we ran into a problem- the house we live in had been vacant for three years before we moved in, and apparently the bottom of the hot water heater was rusty. We didn’t know because we had never tried to run such a large quantity of hot water before. When we saw the rusty water, we knew we didn’t want to birth our baby in that! First, Tim bucketed out the majority of water, then tried to use his drill pump to finish the job. In the end, he decided to drive to the farm’s annex to borrow a small pump, as that would be more efficient at emptying the pool. When he returned, we walked up to the barn together to get an appropriate length of hose to attach to the pump. When we returned, Tim hooked it up and immediately found that it was cracked. Nothing that duct-tape couldn’t fix! Tim was finally able to dutifully empty the pool.

We were still determined to have a water birth, so we thought that maybe we could try boiling clear, cool water to fill the pool. Jen and Nicole were doubtful, but we decided to give it a shot. I went to the shower upstairs for relief while the saga of the pool continued downstairs. The hot water running over my back felt so good to ease the pressure of contractions! After about an hour in the shower, we finally conceded that the pool would take way too much water to try and heat by boiling. Empty the pool went again, and we decided we would just have to have a “land birth” instead of our water birth.

Jen suggested I eat something light with protein, and then that we go take a walk to get the contractions longer and harder and closer together. She said that I needed to change the way I was thinking about the pain. Instead of tensing up and dreading each contraction, I needed to think, “Oh boy! Here comes a good one!” This sounded easier said than done, but I knew if we ever wanted to meet the baby we had to try to progress things a bit. They said the more I could move my hips, the better labor would progress and the more likelihood that the baby would get off my tailbone. We had to walk for at least twenty minutes. I had a few bites of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and then I put on my polka-dotted galoshes and green hoodie to go outside to the autumn rain with Tim.

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I will always remember that walk as a sacred time together before the birth of our baby. It was 12:50 pm when we went out. He took my hand and around the yard we went, up the hill, down the hill, around the back, circle the fire pit, around the side, up the steps, through the barn, down the hill… During pregnancy we had taken walks together, and Tim would always sing songs and say that we had to “keep the pace” by stepping to the beat. Now during this final walk as a solitary couple, Tim was still encouraging me to keep the pace. He sang old gospel hymns, cheery marches, and even “Jingle Bells” with enthusiasm. The contractions, however, were now coming on in waves that rocked my whole body. Every time they came, all I could do was lean my weight onto Tim’s forearms and breathe- hard. Keeping the pace seemed next to impossible now, but Tim would slow down his songs to my pace. We gently rocked our hips back and forth together. Occasionally as a contraction came on, Tim would ask quietly, “Is this a good one coming?” I would force myself to try to relax my eyebrows, fake smile, and say, “Oh yeah, really good!” while I just kept inhaling and exhaling. It’s true what they say about “zoning in” during labor. I remember now the wet leaves, the cool air, the steady drips coming down onto us, Tim’s strong arms that I squeezed, the smell of dirt and trees and grass brought out by the rain, how my body heated during each contraction, how tired I was, how I told Tim that we would have the rest of our children by adoption, how I didn’t think I could stand having the contractions any longer and harder and closer together…

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It took us thirty minutes to go around the house three times. We decided we could go inside.

Bathroom time again. I kept feeling like I had to have a bowel movement, but it wasn’t coming. It occurred to me that this was something I should tell Jen. When I reported the sensation, she stopped and said, “Hmmm… let’s check you. We might be pleasantly surprised.” Tim put on some tea while Jen, Nicole, and I transported everything to the bedroom upstairs. Jen did an internal examination and happily announced, “You’re a ten. You’ve got no cervix at all- you’re ready to push!” Tim came up the stairs with two mugs of tea just in time to hear this delightful news. Apparently our walking and dancing outside had gotten me through transition without us knowing it.

jlabor3I didn’t feel that uncontrollable urge to push that some women describe- in fact, I wasn’t even sure exactly what to do at first. Jen let me try for a little while I was sitting on the edge of the bed, leaning forward onto the birth ball. Contractions made me warm, but my feet were very cold. Nicole got me some funny knitted socks with character faces on them out of my drawer to warm my feet. After a bit, Jen suggested I empty my bladder and try pushing on the toilet, because the association helps some women get the appropriate sensation. Tim and I went into the bathroom and I tried pushing through a contraction. The position did help me start to get the idea, but as I didn’t want to deliver my baby on the toilet, we returned to the bedroom. We asked Jen to try her birth stool since it put me in the same position.

After a little while of trying to push on the birth stool, Jen asked me if I would like for her to put her fingers where I needed to push to help give me some direction. I told her yes, seeing as I wasn’t making much progress on my own. Once I felt her fingers, I felt that I knew much better where to direct my pushing energy. She put a mirror underneath of me so I could watch my progress. She began to help me push for longer stretches by counting to ten and asking me to push for the duration. At some point a low yell traveled up from my chest and came out of my mouth. It surprised me to hear it coming out so involuntarily, but it felt right, so I let it come. At some point during this process, there was a sudden pop! My water burst in a startling gush and made us all jump. Wow, that was a change in pressure! It took me a few contractions to gather myself to approach pushing again.

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We continued to try other things, as the baby wasn’t coming down too quickly. I stood up a few times, hanging on to Tim and pushing, sometimes semi-squatting. The intensity was almost too much, so I returned to sitting on the stool. I was extremely hot, so Nicole kept bringing me cool washcloths for my neck. I would heat them up within minutes and she would refresh them. Jen encouraged me to reach up and feel the baby’s head inside of me. I tried it- my goodness! There really was a baby in there that was on his way out! This was my first physical contact with the little person that God had been faithfully growing inside of me for nine months. I could hardly believe it. Feeling his head also finally made something click with the pushing. Now I could tell when a push was effective and when it wasn’t, because I could feel when his head moved down. I discovered that when I thought I had been pushing as hard as I could, I had to plow past that threshold to really get him to move.

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The birth stool started to get uncomfortable. To the bed we went again, waddling on the way. (It’s hard to walk with a baby on his way out!) Hands and knees still felt best, so I returned to that position while Tim sat in front of me stabilizing the birth ball, letting me lean over onto him as I needed. Things really began to get intense at this point. With each contraction, I pushed and let the yelling propel my energy forward. Each bellow seemed to give me a little more physical strength. The baby was coming closer ever so slowly. I was opening up, little by little, and Jen was steadily encouraging me from behind. Tim remembered last minute that his private music students were supposed to come to the house at 5:00, and it was 4:30 already. Thankfully, Nicole took his phone and called them to tell them not to come.

It turned out the phone call was just in time- suddenly, there came upon me the most extraordinary burning sensation as the baby’s head started to crown. Out, out, out, I thought! But at the end of each contraction, he would pop back in, jarring my insides. Each searing stretch caused my yell to rise in pitch as the pain became more overwhelming. Nicole reminded me to try to keep my vocalizing low, as it would help me to stay grounded and in control. Every time we thought the baby was about to crown, he would slide back inside again. I would touch him each time he came close. I was getting disheartened, thinking he would never come out, but Jen was my cheerleader. With each contraction, she would enthusiastically cry, “Good, Abi, good! Big breath, right back at it! Yes, yes, yes! Push, momma, push, keep going!” Tim was rooted and steady in front of me. I remember most his warmth and the scruff on his face and eyes looking at mine and him saying I was doing so well, even though I didn’t feel like it then. He was my strong pillar.

Then, it happened. I was absolutely on fire, a surreal and agonizing and excruciating stretch… I was as open as I could be, my vocalization lost control, and his crowning head finally pushed out. Time stood still. I was panting, looking down at my round belly for the last time. “Let’s see… eyes, and a nose, and a mouth…” murmured Jen. Tim was under me, my chest leaning over his back, his arms outstretched to catch our baby, tears streaming down his face. I don’t even know if I waited for another contraction. With a final great push, our little one slid out into Tim’s hands, slimy and slippery and covered in water and blood.

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His spirited cries filled the air, and I looked down and exclaimed, “We have a boy!” Suddenly, the fact that I had been pregnant all this time, the knowledge that we were going to have a child, the understanding that I was carrying another soul made sense when I saw him. Finally, our long anticipated blessing was here. I cannot describe the love and wonder and absolute amazement of seeing this little one for the first time. He truly was a bundle of joy, and I truly did forget the pain as soon as I set eyes on him. We had a son, born at 4:55 p.m. He was finally here, and we finally got to meet him after all this time.

I laid back on the bed and they laid our baby on my abdomen. His cord was short, so he couldn’t reach me to nurse just yet. I was bleeding quite a bit. Normally, the nursing helps the uterus contract, stop the bleeding, and release the placenta. Since I couldn’t yet nurse, Nicole gave me an herbal remedy to try first for the bleeding. Shortly after, Jen gave me a shot of Pitocin to help. A few minutes later, our baby’s cord stopped pulsing, and it was time to cut it. Tim got to do the honors, and our baby was physically separated from me for the first time. Jen gently pushed on my tummy to help the placenta come out, and with a little push, it slid right out with little effort. The bleeding did slow down enough, and everyone was doing just fine.

Our little son could now reach the breast, and we pulled him up and let him try nursing. It was completely new for both of us. I had to really focus on finally relaxing my muscles after the labor- I didn’t want any tension for our first bonding. He had a couple good latches after a while of trying, and we knew we would both do fine with some practice. Tim and I laid there for probably about an hour, marveling at our son and praising God that all went well.

Nicole helped me take a shower and Jen and Tim gave our baby his first sponge bath over the sink. Jen and Nicole cleaned everything up for us. I got checked, and I had no tears- only a few skid marks and some swelling. Our little boy had his first tests, which he passed with flying colors, and his first measurements- he was twenty-one inches long. He took a ride in Jen’s sling-scale, and he weighed in at nine pounds, four ounces! We could hardly believe he was that big!  Our family came about two and a half hours after he was born- everyone oohed and ahhed, and we made sure to get a picture with Jen and Nicole before they left.

From when I felt the first contraction to when our son was born, I was in labor just over fourteen hours and pushed for about three and a half. It was definitely the most pain I’ve ever felt in my life, but also the single best experience of my life. I am so grateful to God for the blessing of the birth of our son. It was He who provided the strength and courage I needed. All three of the caregivers we worked with over the course of my pregnancy were absolutely priceless and I am very thankful to them. As long as I am in good health, I have the choice, and God is willing, I hope to always be able to give birth in this way at home. Would I have another? Although I’m not thinking about it right now, absolutely I would. But as for now, my wonderful husband and I are enjoying the amazing blessing of having a son. Each day we are learning more how to be parents, discovering more of our son’s wonderful tiny traits, and falling more and more in love with this precious little one. Praise God from whom all blessings flow! His gifts are truly good.

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First Trimester Survival

With my son, I was mildly nauseous for about a month in the first trimester. With my daughter, I was sicker, but only threw up once or twice. But with this one? Well, let’s just say the third time was definitely not the charm for this pregnancy.

First Trimester Survival

Now, I am not complaining, because I have a healthy baby and pregnancy, and I know that sickness is to be expected for the majority of women in early pregnancy. I was not uniquely or especially sick. However, I know that I am also not alone in my desire to try to alleviate first trimester sickness as much as possible- so let me share with you my myriad of coping measures that I clung to this pregnancy.


1) Eat nourishing food. Gross, I know. Believe me, I hear you- all I wanted was sugar and perhaps something dry- like a cracker- and then maybe nothing at all with a side of stomach acid to boot. Eating can be really hard when you feel like you have the stomach bug for weeks on end.

However, depriving our bodies and growing babies of the food and nutrients they most need- not surprisingly- doesn’t usually make us feel better. Having well-sourced protein (pastured eggs were a favorite) really helped to settle my stomach- even though I didn’t initially crave it. Sneaking pureed veggies into my soup or having homemade yogurt were ways that I got some nutrition without losing it to the toilet- well, most of the time, anyway. Mommypotamus has some great real-food remedies for morning sickness that you should give a try.

2) Eat smaller, more frequent meals. You’ve heard it a gazillion times, but it’s true. Even when something tastes really good to you, don’t overdo it. A little at a time, more often, will be kinder to your sensitive tummy than full meals three times a day- or than waiting too long in between meals!

3) Make your snacks count. Sometimes you can’t get a meal down, and sometimes you can’t even think about cooking. Look for ways to get in some nourishing snacks- nuts and nut butter, hand-held fruit, cheese and crackers, or raw veggies if you can stomach them. Try real fruit or cultured yogurt-based popsicles to suck on. Making your snacks count will get more nutrition to you and the baby, and at least you know you got something good in you- even if it wasn’t a full, balanced meal.

4) Love your lemon. Squeezing a slice of lemon into my water really helped to calm my tumultuous tummy. Some mamas adore lemon tea or lemonade in their first trimester. Then again, I have a friend who couldn’t stand this idea. Take it or leave it. 🙂

5) Give ginger a try. Candied ginger, ginger tea, ginger in your food- these helped me a good bit my first two pregnancies. By my third, it made me puke. Who knows? See if it works for you!

6) Keep food by your bed. Keep something by your bed to nibble in the middle of the night or when you first wake up in the morning. This will help to regulate your blood sugar and keep your belly from getting too empty- and too sick.

7) Get your rest. Getting a good night’s sleep- and a nap when possible- is a huge relief. Exhaustion exasperates everything, and morning sickness is no exception. I was SO happy to go to bed each night, because it was the only time I didn’t feel nauseous at the beginning of this pregnancy.

8) Try essential oils. I’m not an “EO” nut, but this pregnancy is what made me a believer. I tried a blend called “Digest Zen” to help alleviate morning sickness and heartburn- and it was sometimes the ONLY thing that worked for me. Some women really like peppermint or ginger oils on their own to relieve nausea. (These oils are generally considered safe for pregnancy, but ask your care provider if you have any questions.) Purchase and get more info on oils for morning sickness here.

9) Get a prenatal vitamin that works with your body. I tried several “one-a-day” prenatal varieties, and I would generally vomit them up shortly after taking them. They were hard to swallow and they never sat well for me. My midwife recommended Rainbow Light Prenatal Petite Mini-Tablets (affiliate link), and I haven’t looked back since trying them. They are small, food based multi-vitamins that you take three times a day. They help to keep your B-vitamins in balance, they are non-constipating, and your body absorbs the nutrients better in these than in conventional non-food based vitamins. They also have two unique elements that I don’t usually see in your typical grocery store vitamin: a “gentle prenatal blend,” featuring red raspberry leaf, ginger, and spirulina, and a digestive support blend. I highly recommend these!

10) Get outside. A little outdoor activity and fresh air can be a welcome distraction to all that pukiness. It may seem hard to get yourself up and out, but it can really be a boost to your spirits and your energy level.

11) Try some gentle exercise. Prenatal yoga or pilates, a relaxing walk, some easy stretches, or swimming all felt lovely to me in early pregnancy. I’m not sure what the science is behind it, but I bet that encouraging some leisurely physical activity can help get your body closer to optimal functioning. (Obviously, please don’t overdo it!)

12) Do what you can. We are all only capable of so much. Take it easy, and don’t fret if you have some bad days when all you do is stick your kids in front of the TV while you lay on the couch and eat junk food. While I really believe that it’s always good to do your best with nutrition, exercise, and the like, I also firmly stand by the need for grace for struggling mamas. When your days go downhill, don’t beat yourself up. Just start back on track when you can.

Remember also that certain remedies will work at certain times, and not at others. This is normal. Roll with what works until it doesn’t work any longer, then try something else. This stage of pregnancy is usually only a short time period in the grand scheme of things, and you will one day begin to feel like yourself again.

*Some women with severe morning sickness find it helpful to be on prescription medication for nausea. I haven’t had to go this route yet personally, but I was tempted this last time. If natural remedies aren’t cutting it for you, there is a time and place for intervention. Talk to your doctor to see if this option is right for you.

What helped you to get through the early stages of pregnancy? Share your tips below for other struggling mamas!

 

Why I Chose Cloth Diapers

This post was updated and adapted from my old blog. It was fun to see how my views on cloth diapers have evolved over four years of use on two (differently shaped) children. Some of our reasons remained the same, and others have changed a little. Regardless, I am still very happy that we decided to go primarily with cloth!

Why I Chose Cloth Diapers

When in my third trimester with J, my childbirth ed teacher asked our class if any of us were considering cloth diapers. I laughed and spat out a “No way!” for my response. I worked in a daycare at the time, and all I could think about was changing pooped-up underwear when one of my potty-training toddlers had an accident.


My teacher smiled, and instead of chastising me, went on to show the crunchier, more interested mamas some of her cloth stash. As she went over options, explanations, and reasons for cloth diapering, I realized I was becoming more interested as she continued to speak. Maybe cloth diapering isn’t as gross as I thought it would be?

By the end of the class, I was at least open to trying cloth. And by the time my son was about a month old, I was ordering a cloth diaper trial kit. And by the end of my two week trial, I was a total convert, ready to evangelize my disposable-using friends left and right. Now I’ve mellowed out a bit- and I even use disposable part time too (gasp!)- but I still love my fluff. Here’s why:

1) It’s WAY cheaper.

We paid around $200 for all of our diapers. That bought us 8 Flip covers and 24 liners- enough for full-time cloth diapering one baby. Some cloth diapering systems cost less, some cost more. While the initial investment may seem daunting, we figured out that we would have spent that much on disposables in about 3 months at the newborn poop rate (obviously that depends on your kid’s digestive tract). Since that initial purchase, we have also accepted hand-me-down used cloth to add to our collection.

The best part about a cloth diaper investment? We’ve reused most of those diapers for our second child. Some of our waterproof diaper covers have doubled as protection against the mess of bed-wetting for our preschooler. Also, when cloth diapers wear out, you can mend them yourself (or pay someone to do it) to extend their life for years to come.

2) Less leaks (usually).

We’ve noticed a remarkable advantage to cloth diapers in the blowout phase of diapering. Every time we had disposables on our newborns, they were soon wearing poop up their backs. Every time we had on a well-fitted cloth diaper, the poop was efficiently stopped in its tracks by the elastic bands. This has generally held to be true for us for both babies.

As a caveat, if you find your cloth diapers are leaking frequently, try a little troubleshooting. Is your baby wearing the right size diaper? Is the elastic or waterproof fabric worn out? Are you changing them frequently enough? Are they heavy night wetters? Certain culprits will create cloth diaper woes, but these causes can usually be sleuthed and solved without too much trouble.

3) Less diaper sensitivities.

My son had a constant diaper rash when he  wore conventional disposable diapers. Once we switched to cloth, the rash went away. We think he was sensitive to some of the ingredients in disposables. Instead of paying for the expensive, organic, chemical-free diapers, we relied on cloth to be kind to his bottom.

4) Better for the environment.

I’m not the greenest person you ever will meet on the planet. But hey- if I can make a simple change to help keep more waste out of landfills and reuse what I have instead, why wouldn’t I? I’ve found that my wash load has not increased greatly since switching to cloth, so I feel that my water usage is not a contraindication to cloth diapering.

5) It’s cute.

C’mon, you have to admit it’s cute to have diapers that match your baby’s outfit! (Okay, so this didn’t play a big role in the decision making process either, but again, it’s an added bonus!)

6) It’s not nearly as gross or labor intensive as I thought it might be.

I mentioned my horror at the thought of endless mushy poopy underwear and pants and shoes and shirts that have suffered the onslaught of potty training accidents. Thankfully, cloth diapering is nothing like potty training, and is, in fact, very similar to disposable diapering! It’s easy, no grosser than disposables, and only adds occasionally spraying off poo into the toilet and doing an extra load of wash every couple days.

7) You can try before you buy.

I highly recommend trying a cloth diaper trial kit to see if it works for you and your family. Make sure it’s a kit with good variety so that you can test several types of diapers- there are just so many options! I used Diaper Daisy’s Trial Kit for J to determine which types of diapers fit him best and worked well for our lifestyle. I was extremely satisfied with Diaper Daisy’s customer service!

jclothdiaper(J snuggling up with his cloth trial kit.)

Another company that I have ordered from and trusted is Kelly’s Closet. They are a larger company, but they quite the variety of quality diapering options along with some online diapering education for cloth newbies. Last but not least, a doula friend of mine has opened her own growing business, MotherBaby Naturals, that you can visit and order from online. (I couldn’t decide on just one diaper source to recommend when I have used several!)

Overall, cloth diapering has been a rewarding adventure, and has saved us a ton of money. Do I still use disposable sometimes? Yes! Do I beat myself up over it? No! 🙂 Disposables work better for us at night and on the road, but when we are home, cloth is still the way to go for us.

What about you? Have you tried cloth? Would you ever consider it? I’d love to hear your experiences!

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