Thursday, October 30, 2014

A Bookish Halloween (Or, I Love Coordinating Costumes)

Okay, so confession. Halloween is not my favorite holiday. However, I can't deny that I love dressing up. Especially when we have a stroke of brilliance for an absolutely adorable coordinating family theme and pull off four homemade DIY costumes for under $5.

Coordinating costumes are just the best, aren't they? They just tickle me to death. And ours turned out so cute this year I can't help but sharing.

So I'm really hoping the readership of this blog is savvy enough to discern not just the theme, but also the identity of each costume from the picture alone. But just for the sake of spelling it out, here we go: I am dressed as Miss Frizzle from The Magic School Bus. Our 2 year-old is dressed as the coconut tree from Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, the wee babe is dressed as The Very Hungry Caterpillar, and my husband is channeling Harold and the Purple Crayon (his costume really needed a light blue footie onesie to complete the look, but my husband has his limits, and I settled for just the blue shirt).

I'm sure no one really cares, but here's the story behind these costumes. Back at the beginning of October, we tried to take our 2-year-old to the zoo dressed as a cowboy for an early Halloween trick-or-treating experience, but he was having none of that costume. He wouldn't wear the hat or the bandanna, and we didn't have boots anyway, so the costume was a total flop. So we sat around asking ourselves what kind of costume he actually would wear. Most kids want to wear costumes based on what they are currently interested in; trains or cars or princesses or whatever Disney movie is hot at the moment. My kid is a bit weird. His current obsession is the alphabet (this is a post for another day), and so I said something like, "If only we could figure out a way to dress him up as letters, he would totally love that." My brilliant sister, who was visiting at the time, made the suggestion that we dress him up as the coconut tree, because he is OBSESSED with that book. As in, he has it memorized and recites it over and over again all day long. As soon as she suggested it, I knew we'd struck gold.

So the idea was hatched and we devised a costume made entirely out of construction paper and foam sticker letters. It was brilliant, but I really wanted the family to have coordinating costumes, because like I said, coordinating costumes are the best. So the question became, what to do for the babe? My lovely sister came to rescue again, as her little boy had been the Hungry Caterpillar the year before, so she generously sent me the hat, we had the green onesie on hand, and the theme of Classic Children's Literature was set. I chose Miss Frizzle because somehow I thought sewing paper cutouts of stars and planets on a dress would be easier than any other costume and our only expense there was a three dollar wig of red hair. My husband's costume was by far the easiest, once we figured out what he was going to be. He spent an hour crafting his crayon out of construction paper, threw on the shirt, and off we headed to the ward trunk-or-treat.

So here are my take-aways from our costume experience this year:

  • It's a bit tricky to breastfeed in a dress, especially one that has construction paper bits sewed all over it.
  • It's totally exciting to have a child old enough to "get" Halloween, and to be super excited about his costume. Seriously, he loved being that coconut tree so much he wanted to sleep with his costume (there was a total meltdown when we told him no).
  • About 70% of people have never read Harold and the Purple Crayon. Seriously people? Why are so many people clueless about this classic? Maybe we just really needed that adult footie pajama.
  • Classic Children's Literature is just about the most adorable costume theme ever. And the possibilities for costuming are endless. I have a feeling I'll be using this theme again in future years.

Happy Halloween!

Monday, October 27, 2014

Book Review: Daring Greatly

Daring Greatly by Brene Brown (I don't know how to get the accent over the last e in her name, and I'm too lazy to figure it out. Apologies.)

Summary (Courtesy of Goodreads): Researcher and thought leader Dr. BrenĂ© Brown offers a powerful new vision that encourages us to dare greatly: to embrace vulnerability and imperfection, to live wholeheartedly, and to courageously engage in our lives. Every day we experience the uncertainty, risks, and emotional exposure that define what it means to be vulnerable, or to dare greatly. Whether the arena is a new relationship, an important meeting, our creative process, or a difficult family conversation, we must find the courage to walk into vulnerability and engage with our whole hearts. In Daring Greatly, Dr. Brown challenges everything we think we know about vulnerability. Based on twelve years of research, she argues that vulnerability is not weakness, but rather our clearest path to courage, engagement, and meaningful connection. The book that Dr. Brown’s many fans have been waiting for, Daring Greatly will spark a new spirit of truth—and trust—in our organizations, families, schools, and communities.

This book came highly recommended to me by several very trusted sources but it took me a while to get around to it. And when I finally did pick it up, I wasn't sure I would personally get a lot out of this book. After all, Brown's big revelation that "vulnerability" is necessary to experience true connection and joy wasn't all that big of a revelation to me. Honestly, that was something I figured out the first time I fell in love (because I was the first one to say "I love you," and I experienced all sorts of vulnerable emotions that long week before he plucked up the courage to say it back to me).

And as far as the "shame" issues she discusses, I felt like I was beyond that too. Brown talks a lot about shame, and how when people feel shame (over body image, money, lifestyle, whatever it is) they will use coping techniques to hide their shame in an attempt to control how people perceive and connect with them. Of course, back in high school I experienced all sorts of insecurities and shame (who doesn't), and I definitely used to be a perfectionist (one of the unhealthy coping strategies she talks about). But somehow I managed to get over it. By and large, I feel like I more firmly belong in the category of "whole-hearted" peopled she described as coping well with shame, and I didn't think this book would offer me much.

But the more I read, the more I realized what a prideful assumption that was on my part. I may not feel the same types of shame as most other people in our society today, but I still feel shame about a lot of things, and I still have coping techniques that are not healthy. In some types of relationships, I am great at being open and honest and connected. But in other relationships, I feel nothing but disconnect. I feel vulnerable or uncertain, so I close up and shut down. Most of the time I attribute this to my introverted nature, but Brown helped me see how a lot of my relationship problems come from shame, and a lack of willingness to be vulnerable.

The chapter I found most insightful was how to be open to vulnerability as a parent in order to really connect with our children, and most importantly, never to use shame with our children. I've found myself thinking and reflecting about this constantly. Brown talks about how some parents use shame in an effort to control a child's choices, but that is never healthy or productive because it often leads to a child who feels fundamentally unworthy of love. Suddenly I wondered if my attempts to potty-train my toddler by pointing out all his friends who are potty-trained and telling him only babies wear diapers are communicating a sense of shame instead of motivation. I really want my children to feel comfortable with me, to feel like they can be open with me and tell me things without fear of shame or judgment from me, and that's one of the main reasons I will keep coming back to this book over and over again.

This book had some other great insights too, about feeling like we have "enough" in our lives instead of "never enough," and allowing ourselves to truly feel joy without any sort of caveat (this one was big for me, I am almost always suspicious of happy moments in life because I'm sure it means something terrible is going to happen soon). And even though I feel like I intuitively understood many of the lessons it took Brown twelve years of research to figure out, this book was still incredibly helpful for me in understanding the motivations and behaviors of others. It's heartbreaking to realize how many annoying or confusing or abrasive behaviors are motivated from a place of shame. If anything, this book has helped me have more compassion for other people, and greater courage in how I navigate relationships with other people.

In the end, I determined this book was one I needed to revisit and reread. This is a book for marking up and taking notes. It is one I needed to own (so my sister got it for me for my birthday), and like I said in my last post, that is the highest praise I can give a book.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Owning vs. Checking-Out: Where Do You Get Your Books?

Usually, I have a policy against buying books. This may seem strange, seeing as how I love all things bookish, but I have two reasons for this policy.

1.) I have no room for more books. Our bookshelves are currently stuffed to capacity (over-capacity, with books piled on top), and since we don't have space in our little apartment for more bookshelves, any new books get shoved in the boxes in the closet, under the bed, or if they're lucky, added to the pile on my nightstand. It pains me that so many of my books don't have a permanent home, and I don't want to buy more books until I have adequate space and housing for them (someday I will have my dream home library...).

2.) The public library. Why on earth would I spend money on a book that I could get for free at my library?

Generally, the only time I break this policy about buying books is when I've read a book that is so good, I know that I will want to reread it, mark it up, take notes, and generally have the book on hand for future reference and referral. The two most recent books that broke this policy were The Gift of Giving Life and Daring Greatly.  I haven't talked in depth about either of these books yet, but they were both so good I asked for them for my birthday. Honestly, the highest praise I can give any book is to actually spend money on it (remember how I hate spending money).

Here's where we get to the story for today. At my local branch library, they have a little shelf set up near the front entrance with books that are available for sale. I used to always ignore this shelf because a.) my general policy, and b.) I assumed the shelf was full of trashy romance novels and dirty retired library books that had seen better days. It wasn't until one day over the summer, when we had arrived a little too early for story-time and I had a few minutes to kill, that I actually stopped to look this shelf over.

And guys, I was totally wrong about this shelf. I mean, yes, there were plenty of trashy romance novels to go around, but there were actually some quality books there as well. Books that were on my to-read list. And they weren't old used library books either, most of them were brand-new. Then I saw the price list: 25 Cents for paperbacks.

Say what?

I don't care how little shelf-room I have at home, how can I pass up a perfectly good like-new book from my to-read list for only a mere quarter?

I can't, is the answer. Since making the discovery of this shelf, I've purchased six books (pictured above, sans The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton which was hiding under a pile of burp cloths on my nursing chair).

Now, every time we go to the library (at least once a week), I find myself perusing this shelf with great attention. They don't always have good stuff, but often enough I find these little gems that I can't help bringing home. This shelf is proving to be a serious detriment to my commitment against unnecessary consumerism.

But if I have one weakness, it is the temptation of a good book.

What's your book-buying policy?

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

On Money and Spending Philosophies.

I know. Money is such a controversial topic. Everyone has such strong opinions about money. So why am I bringing it up? This month marks the one year anniversary of my husband starting his real job. Which means we've had one full year of living on a real salary.

Before this year, when we were students living off grants and student loans and part-time jobs, my philosophy on money and spending was very simple: we can't afford anything. We never bought anything unless it fell into that Absolutely-Desperately-Necessary category. In the first two years of our marriage, our grocery budget was $30 a week, which I generously expanded to $35 a week when we moved to Chicago (higher cost of living). My husband likes to tell how I encouraged him to use the restroom while he was on campus to save on our toilet paper purchases (but seriously, he uses way more toilet paper than is necessary). And when it came to things like new clothes, those were special birthday or Christmas presents. I'm all about presents serving a practical purpose.

You would think having a real salary would feel liberating, after all those years of scrimping every penny. But actually, no. I find it kind of disorienting. Now when we're at the store, and my husband asks if he can buy a pair of sunglasses, my old response of "We can't afford it" doesn't work anymore. Because we can afford it. So now the question becomes is it a necessity, or just a want? But this is actually a fairly complicated question to answer because usually there's an argument to be made about necessity on some level (because yes, sunglasses are "necessary" for eye protection). So the next question becomes should we buy the cheapest pair, or is it okay to spring for the fancier nicer pair with polarized lenses? Because there is that argument to be made about investing in quality products because they will last you longer and potentially save you money in the end. And suddenly what was once not even a question now becomes a really complicated question with lots of hemming and hawing over options and values and priorities and how do we want to spend our money? And believe me, these questions and options tend to leave me way more stressed now than I ever was in our student days.

In honor of this one year mark of employment, we've been working on some spreadsheets to analyze our spending habits and create a budget going forward. Of course, we had a budget in place for this year, but it's amazing how many expenses popped up that we didn't plan for. And it's been fascinating (and a bit discouraging) to see where our money has actually gone this past year. Needless to say, this spreadsheet project has inspired a lot of discussion between me and my husband about our spending philosophy.

So I found it a bit serendipitous when I stumbled across an article recently about how to spend in a way to increase your happiness. I think most sensible people understand that "money can't buy you happiness." I grew up believing money wasn't for happiness, it was for security, and the only way for money to bring you security was to be as frugal as possible and save, save, save. So I find the idea that spending in certain ways could actually make you happier to be intriguing, and I've been thinking about this a lot. The article was actually a book review of Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending by two behavioral science professors, Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton.

Now, I'm freely admitting that I haven't read this book yet, and therefore I'm not recommending it (however, I have added it to my to-read list), but the article I read summed up five of the major points this book makes about spending, and I found them very interesting.

1. Choose Fun Over Stuff

Sometimes this one feels a bit counter-intuitive to me, because obviously "stuff" is going to last longer than "fun," and is usually the more practical option. But my husband is all about spending money on "fun", or on experiences that are super memorable. And it's true, when I look back on our student days, my favorite memories are the trips we made even when I thought we couldn't afford them, and the fun we had exploring Chicago and the surrounding area. I don't regret spending money on those experiences one bit.

2. Make it a Treat

The idea behind this one is that you take something you enjoy regularly (eating out, for example) and voluntarily restrict how often you do this thing, because your enjoyment of it actually increases the more rare an experience it becomes. I'm a big believer in this one. Growing up, my parents let us pick where we wanted to eat out on our birthdays. Because we NEVER ate out, not even at fast food places, I remember this being the greatest treat ever. My younger siblings even chose to eat at McDonald's for their birthdays. It's hard to imagine now thinking of McDonald's as a treat, but when you never go there otherwise, it becomes special. My problem now is deciding how frequently we deserve "treats". Just birthdays and special occasions? Once a month? Once a week?

3. Buy Time

This one also feels a bit counter-intuitive to me too. At my core I believe that saving money should always be the priority, even if it means investing a lot of time. But Dunn and Norton argue that we could be happier if we spend on things that will maximize how we spend our time. For instance, they contend that buying a smaller house (or in our case, renting an apartment) closer into the city will make you happier than moving out to the cheap suburbs where you can get a huge house, but pay for it with a long commute. This one is a big question for us, because we will probably be moving within the next year, and we are trying to make the cheap suburb vs. expensive city decision. Right now my husband's commute to work is about twenty minutes during rush hour, but if we move to the (much cheaper) suburbs, that commute time will triple, if not quadruple. When he already spends so much time at work, neither of us want him spending more time on the commute.

Another quick example is using a house-cleaning service. My mother's philosophy of course is to never pay anyone to do something you can do yourself (she comes from good, honest, hard-working farmer stock), and this includes housework and yard work. But honestly, I hate cleaning. We live in a tiny, two-bedroom apartment, and I struggle to keep it even decently clean (let's be honest, when I was pregnant, I didn't even try at all). So I was delighted when my husband gave me a voucher for a two hour cleaning service for my birthday this year. Not only was it a treat (see above), but it's time well maximized. A cleaning service will accomplish in two hours what it would take me a miserable week to do. (I haven't used the voucher yet, I'm waiting until all my help with the new baby leaves and I'm left on my own with two kids again).

4. Pay Now, Consume Later

This one seems mostly to be talking about the happiness that comes from anticipation, like buying your plane tickets now and then having months to anticipate that trip to Europe. The anticipation is almost as satisfying as the trip itself. For me, this one works because the worst part about any experience, in my opinion, is paying for it (I am not one of those "retail therapy" types, shopping is almost always a stressful and painful experience for me because it involves paying money). But once money is spent, once the tickets are purchased or the hotels booked, it's a sunk cost. The money's gone, so I am free to enjoy the experience when it comes. So yes, I appreciate the idea of pre-paying for experiences or goods. The pain happens up front, and then I get over it and enjoy what I paid for. I think this is a much better experience than waiting for the bills to come after you've had a good time (way to end a vacation on a sour note).

5. Spend on Others

This is one that has been the topic of lots of our money discussions lately, because it turns out that many of our unforeseen expenses this past year were gifts (we didn't anticipate how many baby showers and toddler birthday parties we'd be invited to) or donations to close friends and family (there's been a lot of tragedy recently). This one is a puzzle for me, because while it's nice to feel like we are in a financial position to be generous, how do you budget for it? My gut instinct is to nix all expenditures that aren't in the budget (after all, this money has to come from somewhere), but at the end of the day these are also the kind of expenditures that make us feel the best. It feels good to buy all my nieces and nephews birthday presents, even if that expense grows exponentially every year. It feels good to donate to a cancer fund, or some other charity. It feels good to give back when we have been blessed with so much. It's just a puzzle how to decide who and when and how much, especially when most of these opportunities are unanticipated.

Now these tips above don't address a lot of my money questions. We're still sorting through much bigger problems of how quickly to pay off our student loans (oh, the burden of debt!), where our savings should go (rainy-day fund? retirement? house down payment?), and how to allocate our budget. But with the discretionary money we do have, it's interesting to think about how we can use it to increase our happiness. And it might make me feel less anxiety about spending to think of it this way.

I'm curious to know, what's your money philosophy? Are you all about frugality, or do you see spending as a way to increase happiness?

Monday, October 20, 2014

Books I Read in September

You guys, I'm not pregnant anymore. You have no idea how much this fact fills me with glee. In the hospital, right after I pushed that baby out, they handed me the room service menu because I hadn't eaten anything since the day before (hate how they do that to pregnant women, cruel and unusual making you labor on an empty stomach). I ordered a cheeseburger with fries and the chocolate cake. And it tasted SO GOOD! For the first time in nine months, food tasted normal! I wanted to cry from happiness. I feel like myself again, hallelujah! Just had to share that.

On to the books I read in September. Yeah, yeah, I know October is 2/3rds of the way over, but I still need to report this. September was my best reading month in a long time. Apparently being on semi-bed rest gives you lots of time to read (cleaning, not so much).

Delicious! by Ruth Reichl

I have several food-themed books on my to-read list, and I must have gotten this one confused with another one because for some reason, I thought this book was a non-fiction memoir until about half-way through, when I realized there was no way this scenario could actually be real life. I felt a little silly after that (I mean, it says it's a "novel" on the cover, how did I miss that?) but it didn't change my enjoyment level much. As far as stories go, this one was nice and well-plotted, but also pretty predictable and not very substantive. However, this one is worth reading for the food descriptions alone. My main impression coming away from this novel was how much I wish I worked in the cheese shop she describes. Cheese is the number one reason I will never commit to a paleo/vegan diet, it is my kryptonite. It sounded so good.

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

This book, published in April, made a bit of splash early in the summer and was recommended to me by a few trusted sources as a "book-lover's book." Obviously I love my books, so I was intrigued and put it on hold at my library, finally getting around to it last month. And my opinion is: meh. Yes, it is a sweet little story. Yes, the main character owns a bookstore and makes lots of interesting short story recommendations. But I doubt I will remember this book in a year. It just didn't stick to me.

The Gift of Giving Life by various authors

This one! Thoughts, lots of thoughts about this one! I will write more about this one later (I may even give it it's own book review, I have that many thoughts), but just know that I highly recommend this book to any woman who is pregnant or in the middle of child-bearing years (it is directed to the LDS community, but has great insights for any mother). Five stars for sure.

Daring Greatly by Brene Brown

If you haven't heard of this book, perhaps you've seen the TED talk. I've been hearing about Brown and her books for years now, but only finally got around to reading this one last month. And now I own this book. Lots of thoughts on this one too, but I think I need to read it again (and maybe again) to really let these ideas sink in. Highly recommend.

And now, in the unusual category of Did Not Finish:

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd

I loved The Secret Life of Bees when I read it a few years ago, so I was excited when I read some positive reviews of Kidd's latest book. It took forever to get it on the holds list at my library, but then, I didn't love it at all. I mean, the concept of it was good, and I was very interested in the historical details. But her characters were so unbelievable, I couldn't stand their contrived voices. It just didn't feel like quality writing to me, to the point that I just didn't care about finishing it. If you can look past the poor writing, the story itself is an interesting one.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Baby #2 Birth Story

Yeah, this is a book blog or whatever, but who doesn't love a good birth story? And in my personal opinion, this is a good birth story. At least, it has a very happy ending.

For those of you who read my private family blog, this may be a bit redundant, but there are a few juicier details here.

So, for a little background. My first pregnancy's labor and delivery was a bit traumatic for me. After 15 hours of active (induced) labor, a horrible epidural, 3 1/2 hours of pushing, an emergency C-section, and a terrible recovery, the experience was anything but ideal. Due to issues with the epidural not working very well during the C-section, they ended up knocking me out completely after the baby was out. I didn't get to really see, let alone hold my baby for another ten hours. Breastfeeding was a nightmare, both because my son's first meals had been formula and he got used to a full belly, and also because of the C-section scar. I had a very difficult time holding him in position to get a good latch. I know it was mostly due to the strong waves of hormones coursing through me after birth, but I couldn't help feeling like a failure. My body had failed to push this baby out (granted, he was 9 lbs 5 oz. with a ginormous head, and the doctor said he never was going to fit through my petite frame), and I was failing at taking care of my child. That first week of his life was incredibly stressful and emotional for me.

Needless to say, I was bound and determined to have a different experience with this second pregnancy. I found a doctor that was very experienced with VBACs. I did all the research and read all the books and pretty much got very convinced that in order to have a successful VBAC I needed to have as natural and intervention-free of a labor as I possibly could.

Due to some thyroid issues in my first trimester, some anemia issues in my second trimester, and what I can only assume were some general hormone issues throughout the whole pregnancy, I always felt sick and exhausted and generally miserable. Which is why I kept putting off preparing for this baby. I always felt too tired, plus I had plenty of time. I wasn't due until October, so when September hit I remember thinking, No worries, I've still got a whole month to get things ready.

So imagine my surprise when on September 9th, at only 36 weeks along and on a grocery shopping trip with my toddler, I started feeling some major cramping. I booked it home, threw my kid in his crib for quiet time, and tried to sleep it off myself. But when the cramping and contractions kept getting stronger through the afternoon, I finally called my husband and begged him to come home from work early. I didn't think I was in labor, but I was in enough pain that I couldn't face dinner and bedtime routine alone. Needless to say, my husband found this episode really concerning, and even though the contractions ended up subsiding later in the evening, he was worried enough that he took work off the next morning to come to my doctor's appointment with me.

At the appointment, my doctor confirmed that indeed, I had experienced some real pre-labor contractions. I was dilated to a three and nearly completely effaced. My husband asked what that meant in terms of when this baby would come, and my doctor said, "Well, she could have this baby tonight, or it could come in another three weeks." Based on my experience with my first baby, I thought we probably had some time, but I was certainly praying it wouldn't be three weeks.

We went home, and I put myself on a self-imposed bed-rest for the next few days. We put friends and family on notice, my husband desperately tried to finish up some projects at work so he could leave at a moment's notice, and we spent the weekend sorting baby clothes and pulling all our baby gear out of storage. Finally we settled in to wait.

And wait.

And wait.

The two weeks that followed were perhaps the most miserable of my life. Contractions became the constant background of my daily existence. Any sort of movement or activity (like getting off the couch to go to the bathroom) could trigger a bout of contractions or cramps. They were much stronger and more painful than the Braxton-Hicks I'd been experiencing for several months, and they would often stick around for several hours at a time before fading away. There were episodes when the contractions would become very strong and painful, and I would think This is it! I'm finally in labor!, but they never became consistent or regular, and in the end they would always fade to a dull ache. These contractions left me incredibly sore. I tried going to church the first Sunday, and even took my own pillows to sit on, but it was terrible. I hobbled out of the meeting two hours later like an old woman, I could barely walk. I didn't leave the house much after that, because I was nearly physically incapable of it. I never slept well. I couldn't sit or stand or even lie in one position for too long. I could barely take care of myself, let alone my toddler. Things were pretty desperate.

At my 38 week doctor's appointment, I had an ultrasound to measure the size of the baby. These estimates are never very accurate, but the measurements came back at 8 lb. 4 oz. My doctor was concerned that if it took much longer for me to go into labor, this baby would grow too big and we'd have a repeat situation of my first pregnancy. As I was already dilated to a 4, she offered to induce me at 39 weeks. I was surprised by the offer, because she'd told me repeatedly from the beginning that she never induced VBACs, and I didn't want to be induced again anyway, but as soon as she made the offer for an induction I felt very peaceful that this was a good direction to go. After all, I still had over a week to wait to go into real labor on my own, and I could decline the induction at any time.

And so I endured another week of physical and mental torture. By the end, I was going a little bit crazy. My body was completely exhausted from being in perpetual labor, and I was ready to be done. There's a part of me that really wants to believe that if I had just waited long enough, eventually my body would have had to go into real labor. But there's another part of me that isn't so sure. There's a strange little family pattern between my mom, my older sister, and me. Among our combined nine pregnancies, not a single baby has been delivered without the help of pitocin. In fact, I'm the only one that has actually experienced any form of natural contractions. Perhaps all these inductions speak more to the medical profession's tendency to intervene, but after a lot of prayer and consideration on my part, I couldn't help but feel that waiting to have this baby naturally would only increase my chances of needing a C-section, and this baby was ready to come sooner rather than later.

And so, on September 26th, 17 days after my first contractions started, we dropped our son off with some friends and finally made our way to the hospital. I was dilated to a 5, and fully effaced. Despite the fact that I had agreed to be induced, I still wanted to avoid an epidural at all costs. This was actually one of the things I was most nervous about, because I knew that contractions on pitocin are supposed to be way more intense than natural contractions, and I worried that I wouldn't be able to handle the pain. Here is where I need to give a shout-out to my e-friend Amy. She was the first person I'd ever heard of that had actually delivered not just one, but four babies on pitocin without an epidural. She generously sent me all of her beautiful birth stories, and I was completely inspired. I knew it was at least possible, and so I convinced myself that I could do it too.

My attending nurse tried very hard to convince me otherwise. I did not like my nurse very much at the beginning (she grew on me by the end). She gave us all these statistics about how low my chances were at having a successful VBAC and about how incredibly risky it was that I was being induced (I didn't realize it when my doctor made the offer, but pitocin increases the risk of uterine scar rupture, which is why doctors usually never induce a VBAC), and she assured us she had the operating room all prepped because it was very likely I would end up with another C-section. She told me if I didn't have the epidural, they would have to knock me out again in the case of an emergency. I was pretty upset by all of this, but bless my doctor! I had talked to her about my desire to avoid an epidural, so when she came into the room and saw me filling out the anesthesiology consent forms, she said in a surprised voice, "Oh! Are you getting an epidural?" And when I told her I wanted to hold off on making that decision, she totally backed me up and said, "Yes, well, I would like you to be feeling contractions before you decide." So, the nurse backed off and I got to put off the epidural question.

They started the pitocin drip at 1 PM, and my doctor broke my water soon after that. My nurse said she would check me again at 3 PM. I was relatively comfortable for the first hour. I enjoyed being able to move around, I got up to go to the bathroom, and I played a game with my husband on his phone. But during the second hour, things got pretty intense rather quickly. I had my husband turn on some music, rolled onto my side, and had him massage my back through each contraction. The pain quickly escalated to a level I had never experienced before, and I found myself clinging to the side of the bed, making these pathetic whimpering noises, feeling like I was going to pass out, and trying desperately NOT TO MOVE. It seems ironic now that one of the reasons I didn't want an epidural is because I wanted to be able to move around and labor in different positions, but when I was actually in the middle of it, my only goal became to move as little as possible. For some reason I felt like moving at all would kill me.

I tried really hard to remember all of the breathing and relaxation techniques I had read about and practiced, but honestly, I had a hard time focusing on anything. At the height of each contraction, the promise that the epidural could take all this pain away was honestly the most tempting thing in my life. Luckily, during the lull between contractions I was able to relax enough to tell myself that I could endure one or two more contractions without an epidural. I just had to survive through the next one.

At 3 PM, my nurse came back in to check me. She announced that I was dilated to an 8, and then she said if I wanted the epidural, it was now or never. I remember thinking Don't tempt me! I'm going to last through two more contractions, and then I'll give in and get the epidural. But at this point, I wasn't really capable of talking so I didn't actually respond to the nurse. She got really busy at this point, calling my doctor, wheeling in the delivery table, and running around like things were about to happen. I wasn't sure why she was in such a hurry, because I had convinced myself that I still had hours and hours ahead of me, so imagine my surprise when a mere fifteen minutes later I felt that uncontrollable urge to push, and finally found my voice to announce that to the room.

My doctor came in at this point with a few other support nurses, and they set about rolling me onto my back. I was NOT happy about this because it HURT SO BAD TO MOVE. I kept telling the nurse that I did not want to move to my back, and she kept telling me that I HAD to if I wanted to deliver this baby, and I remember thinking, No, I do NOT have to be on my back! I've seen Call the Midwife! But of course, I was in no condition to actually make that astoundingly logical argument, so onto my back I went.

They started coaching me through the pushing, and this is the point when I became extremely grateful that I'd held out and not gotten the epidural, because what a night and day difference between my first pregnancy! I could actually feel the baby! I could feel where I needed to push! I could feel the progress as he moved down the birth canal. I could feel myself stretching, and I could feel when I needed to push harder. The contractions became so much easier to bear because I was focused on the sensation, and it felt so productive. I was still mentally prepared for this part of the experience to take several hours (remember I pushed for 3 1/2 hours with my first before the C-section), so I tried not to get too excited when they talked about seeing the head, or told me I was doing well (I'd heard all that before, it didn't mean anything to me). But when my husband finally asked if it looked like it was going to work, or if the baby was stuck, the nurse said, "Oh, this baby is coming out vaginally, no question," I finally let myself believe this was really happening.

It took 45 minutes. Forty-five blessedly short minutes before I felt the release as the head emerged, and then the rest of the body wriggle through with that last contraction. They held up that wriggling, squirmy baby, my husband cut the umbilical cord, and they handed him up to my chest. And there he was. My perfect little baby that I had pushed into this world, snuggled in my arms.

It was absolutely one of the best moments of my life.

I had done it. I beat the odds. I labored on pitocin without an epidural. I pushed an 8 lb. 10 oz. hunk of a baby out of my body. I welcomed that baby into this world and held him to my chest and snuggled him and told him I loved him just minutes after he was born. It was a beautiful experience for me, a moment I will never forget.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

So I Had a Baby Last Week...

Just in case anyone was wondering what I've been up to recently, and why blogging basically didn't happen in September...

I had a baby.

And yes, this is the most terribly unflattering picture of both of us, but it's the only one I have on my computer right now so here it is.

The birth story is long and convoluted (actually, just the pre-birth story is, the actual labor itself was rather quick) but I'm going to regale you all with it someday soon, because who doesn't love a good a birth story, especially one with a very happy ending?

In the meantime, I'm just soaking up my snuggly newborn.