On Having A Doula

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A post from Matt on having a doula:

Here’s one of the other benefits to being on the other side of pregnancy: we finally have something to talk about! No longer do I get asked “Are you excited” as a means of starting a conversation – there’s the entire exciting birth to share with others. So far the most common question I get is “What was it like to see Kath go through that?”

It was rough. In my previous post I described my inability to even comprehend the pain of labor. But I’d like to give huge credit to our doula Jen. I know that Kath was super appreciative of her support and probably for very different reasons than I. While I’m sure that all of the movements and positions that Jen put Kath in were helpful to properly situate the baby, I think that her greatest benefit was that she gave us something to do.

If it had just been the two of us I’m sure we would have tried some of the labor positions that we saw in the birthing books or our childbirth class, but it would have been lackluster. I can imagine it now: we would have clumsily attempted to use the ball, or play with the bed’s settings, or attempted to relax in the jacuzzi, but it all would have been done with so much uncertainty (and Kath says fear on her part). At the peak of pain (really a multiple hours-long plateau), we would have treated her like any sick patient and just laid in bed.

Jen had authority. She had knowledge and experience. And she had so much enthusiasm and confidence that we were prepared to do anything she said. I think there was only one or two times when Kath said that she wouldn’t do something Jen asked of her and that was because she was in so much pain she couldn’t! I felt very secure that Jen was continually driving us to the end of labor rather than playing a waiting game.

Jen was so in charge that a few hours in I began to wonder, “Am I doing anything here?” Sure I had been offering encouraging words, doing some massaging, and providing counter-pressure, but I felt like I was not Kath’s main supporter. This might bother some husbands and birth partners, but I was totally fine with it and actually a little relieved because it took away some of the worry of the unknown. I felt then and maintain now that what I provided in emotional support would not have been enough by itself to overcome the physical support that Jen directed to get us through.

So I will highly recommend a doula to everyone out there. It is so valuable to have someone devoted to birth and your well-being but still objective enough to make tough decisions in the face of stress. Especially if they’re as caring as Jen!

A Little Zen

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Another post by the new father, Matt:

I have to hand it to all the mothers out there – I can’t believe what you have to go through to deliver a baby. The worst pain I’ve ever felt was after I had back surgery in 2004. For those who don’t know, I had a spinal fusion at the age of 20 due to a protruding disc. My mother and her mother had the same problem with the same disc, so because of my history and age we decided that going with a full fusion was actually less invasive than trying multiple, increasingly complex surgeries. The procedure went like this: they first went in through my abdomen with an incision at the waistline. The disc was removed, and then they flipped me over, installed a cadaver’s bone between the vertebrae, and then screwed the vertebrae together to fuse.

After the surgery my abs and my back had so little muscle to support me. Try rolling over in the bed without flexing your back or abs and you’ll see how impossible it is to avoid damaging my scars. As a compensatory mechanism, I found I could use my hip flexors to substitute for my abs when it came to moving around in bed and holding myself up. Unfortunately one time I sustained a hold too long and my flexors began cramping and experiencing spasms. I’m big on Zen concepts of “suffering existing only in our mind” and putting your mind beyond pain, but it was just impossible. I was screaming in pain for about an hour – the amount of time it took to contact my doctor to get a prescription for morphine, fill it, bring it to my room, and administer it. Instant relief! I was napping within 2 minutes.

So that was the worst pain of my life, and it lasted an hour. Kath’s active labor was about ten hours, maybe eight if you only count the more intense portions. With contractions coming about every two minutes and lasting one to two minutes, that’s an unbelievable amount of torture. And torture is exactly what it felt like. When we began some of the premature pushing at 12:30, I was pretty excited that were going to have a baby in maybe 45 minutes. Then at 3:00 I looked back at the past three hours in despair that Kierkegaard could only dream of!

I thought that I could empathize with the pain but it was beyond comprehension to me. Still, I supported Kath’s wish for a drug-free birth. Part of it went back to the Zen thing of embracing your pain and letting it become a part of you. Another part was celebrating the continuity of womankind’s shared, ancient experience. And finally there were the scientific reasons of attaining the full benefits of natural oxytocin. Kath had a strong conviction about all these things, so when she had moments of doubt during the birth it was easy for Jen and me to instead turn her focus on the moment and work through the immediate pain. Then we reassured her that she was doing well and every contraction brought her one step closer.

During the birth I felt it was really important to keep stressing that each contraction was one more down and she never has to experience that one again. I imagined that she might feel like she would be sitting there in pain for eternity and that there was no end in sight. We’re so trained to approach life with the idea that we pass from phase to phase – we move from infancy to school age, college to adulthood, marriage to parenthood. I touched on some of this in my first BERF post. I worried that labor might be like this too! Would she just suffer for a really long time, and then eventually a baby would come out? Well I guess that’s how it is, but it certainly wouldn’t be encouraging to tell her that. So I put on a strong face, mustered some encouraging words, and hoped that she could make it through quickly.

Congratulations to all mothers out there – you definitively win!

FYI, birth story writing in progress!! I want to include all the details and do it in one swoop, but I won’t keep you all in suspense much longer! – Kath

Waiting for The Day

We just had a big BERFday in our house!!

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I hope to write my birth story (I can’t wait to put it in writing!), how breastfeeding is going, what happened to my body and more – all coming in time. For now, here is the first of several posts that Matt has journaled about his reflections and thoughts on becoming a father.

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Liberating relief! Nope, that’s not what I imagined Mazen to be thinking on his birthday. It’s what I felt when Kath told me her water broke! I know that The Due Date is just a number and all– but I had been expectantly waiting for about five weeks for the birth. At 38 weeks I began consciously making scheduling decisions at the bakery that would allow me to essentially disappear at any moment if she went into labor. That meant training several new employees, covering my shifts at the Farmer’s Market, buying ahead on ingredients and supplies, and mentally preparing to drop everything at a phone call.

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Even with my planning the waiting was just grinding on me. There was definite excitement at the idea of “vacation” from work but simultaneously I felt worry that I hadn’t planned far enough ahead. And as each day passed, I felt like I needed to plan two more days to stay on top. After the due date came and passed, I began to have restless sleep where I would think her every move in the night was her water breaking or contractions beginning. Have you ever had the experience of buying a new gadget, or kitchen utensil, or piece of technology that you love and you become completely obsessed with it? Where your first and last thoughts of the day are of the exciting new toy in your life? And even in your sleep, you seem to half-dreaming, half-awake thinking about it? It was like that for me with the thought of labor beginning in the middle of the night. I would wake up completely convinced that earlier in the night she had told me that “today is The Day!”

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I was getting frustrated and cynically began joking that we were just going to be perpetually expecting a baby up into our 60s. When it really was The Day, it was so fun to tell people “I’m going to have a baby and I know it!” Even though it was only the water breaking and no contractions had started, it was like the vaguely defined future spoken by three witches on a heath had been lifted of its fog! Are a lot of people like this where they accumulate worry in the face of indefinites? Really, would you say definite indefinites? It’s like spending less on a piece of used equipment but knowing that you’re going to have some horrible repair in the future. An unavoidable future with a known ending, and the only question is when.

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Every day we deal with the undefined future – you have to make a presentation at work, you decide what to make for dinner, etc. We’re not strangers to instantaneously solving problems. I suppose it all comes down to preparation and expectations. If you can relax your standards of control over the unknowns in life and truly live in the moment, you can approach any problem like today is The Day!

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(P.S. It was really fun to click “Add to Dictionary” for Mazen!)

38 Weeks: A Father’s Reflections On Pregnancy

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What aspects of your pregnancy have been the most exciting?

I’ve enjoyed learning all about the biology of what’s going on in the womb – it’s so strange to me that women’s bodies can essentially enter this other phase where they work differently from all other times in their lives. And it’s all hormone and enzyme controlled! Unreal.

What has been your biggest surprise about pregnancy? Is it what you expected it would be like?

I feel like society treats pregnant women as fragile, delicate people, and when you think of someone who is pregnant, you pretty much imagine someone who is 2 weeks away from delivery. In reality, life hasn’t been that different for most of it. We’ve gone hiking, cooked great food, gone to parties – all the same stuff. I’m especially impressed with her activity level to the very end – frequent walking, yoga classes, and trips to the gym. I think the classic image of pregnancy is someone on the couch eating ice cream all the time, and it hasn’t even been close to that.

What about the most difficult to deal with?

I feel like I shouldn’t complain about anything because my problems are minimal compared to hers, but really the only thing that’s been slightly harder for me is not getting as much sleep. And that’s only because she’s getting even less sleep and rolling around a lot.

I guess I’m also a little tired of the perpetual question from other people: “Are you excited?” It’s been 8 months and I still can’t think of a funny enough response! I realize that they’re really just opening up the conversation, but man this question is about as useless as talking about the weather. But to actually answer the question, yes, I’m very excited!!

Are you nervous about labor and delivery?

I’ve mentally moved beyond the delivery – after all the reading and preparing Kath has done, I’m confident she’ll do great. So now my mind has drifted to the future and raising kids. I found this hilarious blog that I’ve been reading: Crappy Pictures. It makes me look forward to all the learning adventures ahead!

What stereotype of pregnancy most suits Kath? (Pickle cravings, waddling, crying all the time?)

I’m disappointed I don’t have a better answer to this question! Besides being sick in the first trimester, and general (and increasing) discomfort, there haven’t been any specific stories about stereotypical “pregnancy stuff.” Nope, still the grossest food consumption in the house belongs to me: putting mayo on potatoes, sipping the water in the tuna can, drinking pickle juice, and messily eating with my hands.

What part of having a baby are you most excited about? Nervous about?

I’m surprised by how much I enjoyed picking out some baby clothes – I’ve always been so annoyed that kids clothing is expensive, elaborate, and not at all appreciated by the wearer. But a baby in a polo shirt? Hilarious!

I’m most nervous about how our schedules will change. I can’t just abandon the bakery, but I also feel guilty with the thought of leaving home to go to work! But I guess being a business owner is a lot easier situation to deal with than a classic 9-5 job. I think the first week or two will be the most stressful, but just like we settled into a normal life with the bakery, we’ll figure out parenthood as well. It’s actually pretty easy to find parallels between business ownership and parenthood – I can’t tell you how many times at the bakery I’ve felt like I will never get all this work done, or I’ll never find a new person to hire, or we’ll never be able to integrate this new thing into the business. But with enough repetition, any job becomes easier over time and you figure out little efficiencies or tricks, or you just get better. I’m sure we’ll figure it out just like everybody else in time.

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34 Weeks: Dads Don’t Sit

If you’ve ever been in the room when someone says “my husband is going to babysit” then you might have experienced some ruffled fathers feathers. Using the word dad and “babysit” in the same sentence wasn’t something that I might have known not to say before becoming pregnant, but I’ve heard women respond with a number of times: “Dads don’t babysit; they parent!”

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I totally get this. “Babysit” implies that they are only a temporary supervisor of their own child and perhaps not very involved in caring for the baby either emotionally or time wise. And it also implies that we women are somehow primary and the dads secondary in importance. Obviously this is not so! Dads are 50% of the parenting team, even if their jobs or lack of breasts keep them from spending 50% of the baby’s time with them.

I do understand why this phrase slips out of people’s mouths though. Based on the fact that women have breasts and the way our society evolved (which is thankfully changing – go women!), women are more often the full-time caretakers while stay-at-home dads are less common. But we all know this is just a stereotype and many families do things in whatever way works for them. It’s all about personal situations and what works in your household. Sometimes there are two dads or two moms!

So my question is this: if you are the stay-at-home mom OR dad talking, then anytime anyone else cares for your baby, the word “babysit” makes sense. But if this word now has a negative connotation, what can we use instead?

Matt is going to parent the baby this afternoon while I go for a run?

Matt is going to watch the baby this morning while I go to the grocery store?

Matt is going to father the baby tonight when I go out with my girlfriends?

Matt is going to care for the baby tomorrow when I go to the dentist.

Care seems the most appropriate to me, but is it all that different from “babysit”? I would expect that anytime only one of us is available we would use singular language like watch or care for.

Since I’m the author of this blog, I’ll be writing from my perspective. And I will be the primary caretaker time-wise due to our jobs. So if I say that Matt is going to watch the baby, I don’t want to be politically incorrect when I talk about our tag-team roles in parenting. And it seems significant to me to note that Matt will be the one watching the baby rather than someone else, so I don’t want to never write this at all. I want people to understand that if I say “Matt is going to watch the baby” it just means because I am going to do something else and not because he isn’t a good dad.

So my question for you all is – what would you say!? What’s the proper thing to say? Any more suggestions in best language practice?

 

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24 Weeks: Fatherhood Part II

Overall I feel like fatherhood is going to be a learning experience for me even more than my child!  But there are several things I’m particularly looking forward to doing with him:

Cooking – When I was a kid I would try to help in the kitchen, but I didn’t really do too much, and my mom didn’t take it any further than I apparently wanted to contribute.  But I realized when I was in college that I had an appreciation for great food but didn’t really know how to cook it.  In fact, I almost felt like the kitchen was space that I wasn’t supposed to be in.  So I’d love to expose my kids to the kitchen early on and encourage them to learn how to prepare food.  I’ve always believed that there are no bad cooks out there – it just takes familiarity via experience, and the bravery to fail!

Hobbies – I have a lot of hobbies but I’m not a master of any of them.  I guess brewing is the one I do best, but I also like to paint, garden, and build stuff.  As a kid I played the guitar and banjo but I’ve become less interested in them.  It must be hard for parents to resist the temptation to force their own hobbies onto their kids.  How many out there were forced to play an instrument or a certain sport?  So I’m looking forward to exposing them to many different hobbies and activities and letting them decide which ones they like.

Being Outside – I hope that my kids will have an appreciation for the earth.  Whether that’s a specific interest in conservation or an enjoyment of hiking or playing sports with friends or just walking in the amazing city we live in.  As a society it seems we’re more interested in living green than we’ve ever been, but I wonder how that affects kids growing up now?  When I was kid and we would have Earth Day or Arbor Day events, I felt like it was just contrived or unnecessary.  Like acknowledging the existence of the planet.  But now people are much more informed about the fragility of the earth, and I hope that my kids grow up with an attitude of not taking it for granted.

Science Experiments – I don’t know where I’m going with this one, but there must be all sorts of fun science experiments you can do at home… you know, blowin stuff up, shooting rockets, growing bacteria, robots, physics tests.  Super nerd time!

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6+3 Does Not Equal 9

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13 weeks: Fatherhood–Part I

A message from the dad-to-be during the first trimester…

When did you feel like an “adult”? I consider the day I graduated college to be the day I became an adult. Sure, I had some responsibilities beforehand, and yes, I barely knew what I was doing afterwards, but that was the time where I truly felt like I was on my own and was finally free to shape my world and my life. That was May of 2005.

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[Furniture assembly in our first apartment]

I started working at Great Harvest in October of 2008, and applied for our franchise in July of 2009. That’s about the time when I felt like I reached the next level of adulthood – a stable life path that I felt was worth following. Until that time, I was jealous of people who had apparently found their career calling, but now I wonder if they felt as insecure as I did?

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So that means there was about a four year period in which I was still pretty naïve and lost, yet I distinctively remember feeling during that time that “one day, I will have kids.” It wasn’t even a negotiable sensation in my mind… really, even when I think back to middle school, I always had the assumption that one day I’d be a father. We have several friends now who know that they never want kids and it’s such a foreign sensation to me – did they know this when they were in middle school?

Now I’m thinking about when is the right time to have kids? I’m talking purely from an emotional level – you can find all the advice you need about the physical right time, or the financial right time. How do you just know? My parents had me when they were 30 and that always seemed like a nice round number to me. But growing up I always imagined them as way more mature and settled than I am right now. Thinking about it now I realize they probably felt as nervous as I do!

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Reaching a stable career is something I sought for a long time. I almost expected that my life would instantly enter this period of calm where I had clearly defined borders between work and play, and at any time I would be able to leave work behind and just relax. But any small business owner will tell you that your work is so intertwined with your life that you never truly escape. Sure, we’re good about not bringing work home, taking our entire Sunday off, and working hard to find the time to go on vacations. And I’m also very thankful that the unexpected, ever-changing nature of my job is what makes it enjoyable and interesting. But I’ve never quite reached that moment of quiet when you suddenly realize you have absolutely nothing to do. Does anyone ever reach that moment?

My personality is such that I like to plan and plan and plan everything to the perfect detail and then finally I execute. But I’m starting to wonder and even accept and believe that it’s basically the human condition to never quite feel in control of your world. That’s the greatest fear I have about raising a child. I believe that my child deserves every single bit of my attention, but I worry that with everything else going on in my life, can I give them all the attention they deserve? How do you ever weigh any decision between doing X thing for your child, or Y thing for any other person or thing? I mean, by running the bakery I provide jobs for a dozen people, food for hundreds of people, tax money for our community, and hopefully a great business for our city. But does that mean anything when my child is at home experiencing the world without me? How do other parents deal with their time and responsibilities?

I know I’m being unreasonable – if we can figure out how to run a business almost entirely through experiential learning, I’m sure we can figure out how to raise a baby. I’m sure I’m not the only parent who has wondered what the heck they’ve gotten into! My world will continue as it always has, except now I’ll have a little someone to experience it with me… for all the wondering I’ve done about other people’s thoughts, somehow I feel like my child’s won’t be quite as hard to guess.