Births, Deaths, and Other Synchronicities

One year ago, my Grandpa died on my birthday. After much deliberation over how to spend the day this year, Mum brought the family together at her property in South Gippsland. On the day of my birthday, Saturday, we had a birth/death gathering of sorts with a long lunch, wine and sweets. It sounds strange and in some ways morbid to see it written down like that, but for me, it was the most perfect, quiet and thoughtful way to spend the day.

At 3.30pm, the moment I was being born into the world 35 years ago, and the moment we held Gramps as he left us one year ago, we all wandered up to the top of the hill and looked out across the expanse before us: hills, sun, cows, trees, sky.

After Gramps died, I wanted to get something to hang on my wall to remind me of him. I hunted around for months through the depths of the internet, hunting for a big photo of the ocean, or the Prom, or the outdoors; a photo that symbolised something we both loved together which was the big wild world. I kept going back to a photo of a Great Egret that I stumbled across on instagram. After literally months of going to the website to look at this picture and finding out that Robert was a Gippsland based photographer, I emailed him. I was hoping the photo was taken somewhere in Gippsland, as Gramps lived on Phillip Island and we spent a lot of time together down there along the coast. I asked Robert where the photo was taken and instead of simply telling me the location, he wrote, I took the photo at Anderson’s Inlet, Inverloch, in South Gippsland. It was a peaceful late afternoon on a low tide, 19th May 2016. 

I couldn’t quite believe that after looking at what seemed liked thousands of coastal pictures, the one I had chosen was taken the evening before my birthday, the very evening before Gramps died, at a place we visited often together. The last time we were there we sat by the sea with the girls and ate fish and chips. I wrote back a rather emotive email, and ordered a large copy of the print.

Last week I was looking for an envelope for Bird’s lunch order. I was rifling through papers and in amongst a box of life-admin debris I found a water-colour birthday card painted by Gramps, pictured above,  which he had posted to me in 2004 when I was living in London. I stuck it on the wall in my bedroom after receiving it in the mail. On the back you can see old brown outlines of the sticky tape I used, around big letters which say: “LOL Gramps.” By LOL he always meant “lots of love”, however I can’t help but see the funny side of it in this context… rediscovering it the week before my birthday the year after he died.

We came home on Sunday and I did all my usual things: pottering, cooking, preparing for the week. I find myself wondering about death, about how life is possible and how someone can simply be gone, while others are still here. I overheard the girls talking the other day, the conversation went a little bit like this: I wouldn’t like to die, would you? / No way. Can we just stop talking about it? It is really a disgusting thing. / Yeah, it is disgusting. / Yeah, disgusting. I have been carrying around a sad sort of melancholy these past few days, but it has felt kind of warm and necessary. I’m moving forward into this next chapter attempting as light an attitude as I can muster, as he would have wanted. For, no matter my attempts, I will always be someone who thinks a lot. I’m convinced it isn’t always a bad thing.

the pause

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This familiar place. The pause between worlds. This one and that. The old and the new. The end of one, the beginning of another.

Mindless, yet strangely mindful in this lonesome woman’s space. Where sleeping and waking are both foggy and dim.

My baby is guiding the way now.

These final days.

I’d like a natural birth… but…

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I had prenatal yoga last night. I feel like a bit of an old mother goose in my class at times – the majority of the women are having their first babies. Then I lug myself in all third-pregnancy like: usually late, bags under the eyes and kinder dutied out, ligaments stretching from here to who knows where, happy to do virtually anything in that quiet room if only to have an hour away from the crazy two hour long bed time shenanigans going on down the road at my house.

Sometimes I want to skip the pre-yoga chat and just get on with stretching my tired body. But last night’s discussion had me really engaged, and reminded me of the unfortunate birth culture within which we reside. Some of the first time preggy ladies were talking about things people were saying to them in response to their planning and hoping for a natural birth without intervention and it reminded me of how cruel people can be (granted, mostly unintentionally). And not only that, but how much birth-related baggage women (and men) are carrying about with them each day, making numerous attempts to palm it off to unsuspecting victims – or anyone who will listen.

When I was planning the Pixie’s home birth, I was surprised at the number of people who obviously thought a home birth was a selfish choice – in which the mother’s desire for a “nice” or “spiritual” experience comes before the health and wellbeing of her unborn baby. I was shaken by this as it couldn’t be further from the truth. However the vast ignorance of western culture when it comes to birthing and motherhood should really come as no surprise. Luckily for me it was my second pregnancy: I had given birth before, naturally, without any drugs or intervention. I knew what it was like to be pregnant. I was already a mother. While I still struggled with people’s opinions, I can’t imagine having to deal with the onslaught of everyone’s freely spoken negative and misinformed thoughts had it been my first pregnancy.

So last night when one lovely lady said that her friend had rolled her eyes when she said she was hoping to have an intervention free birth I just felt mad! Another woman had a friend who laughed and mocked at her writing a birth plan. All of the negative comments were coming from women who had given birth previously. How any woman who has gone through the pregnancy and birth process can then be so cruel and spiteful to an unsuspecting first timer is beyond me. One of my sisters is also currently pregnant for the first time (soooooo exciting – I am going to be an Aunty!!). She received an email the other day from a friend encouraging her to head straight for the epidural.

It seems widely acceptable to offer this type of unwanted advice willy-nilly (and doesn’t seem to stop once the baby is born either…) But then when you have had a normal experience of birth and consider sharing it, you often become the woman who is boasting about her good fortune and rubbing it in everyone’s face. You can’t win!

I admire people who plan for the birth that will be optimal for their baby and themselves. Women should take it upon themselves to be educated and make informed decisions about what type of environment and situation will be most optimal given their own individual situation – pre and post baby. For example I know someone with extreme anxiety who after much research opted for an elective caesarean in order to keep their stress hormones down and remain as relaxed as possible. For her, that was the most optimal choice which would therefore likely bring about a more positive outcome for her baby too. Good on her!

I think birth stories (and intentions) should be shared freely and without judgement amongst women – without spite or nastiness or fear mongering. That is the last thing anyone needs. So read ladies, read, research, get informed, ask questions to those you trust, build a support network around you and make choices that suit you and your family. Not your mother-in-law or the woman who sits next to you at work or the lady in the queue behind you in the chemist.

P.S. On another note I realise I haven’t updated the blog post-ECV. Long story short – I have a head down baby! Update currently in draft stages behind the scenes 🙂

and I find myself thinking…

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I made this while I was pregnant with Pixie… it was way too hot for her to wear! I’m hoping it will fit little Number 3.

 

What will it be like?

When I went from one baby to two, I found it a much more difficult adjustment that I had imagined. Those that read this blog will know that my number two, the Pixie, was aptly nicknamed due to her mischievous ways – both in and out of the womb… so perhaps that added to my difficulties. But there are also all the other things – you’re so used to that special 1:1 time with your first, how will you make room for another?

Some say going from two to three is an easier leap than one to two because you have already learnt to juggle, your world is larger with two children, you know that your heart truly does expand. And expand. And expand. You do have enough to give. All I can say is that only time will tell!

In the last week my mind has shifted from the I’m-pregnant mindset to I’m-pregnant-but-very-aware-it’s-not-for-much-longer. Once you hit the 30 week mark you do start to feel you’re on the final stretch. Now at almost 33 weeks appointments are being booked left right and centre – acupuncture, birth debriefing, massage. Baby paraphernalia is appearing from forgotten places in the back of cupboards. Furniture is being moved around. We stand in the centre of our small house and wonder where we will all fit. Time after 7pm doesn’t seem to exist for anything other than being horizontal.

I start to imagine a new baby: his/her smells, sounds. Warm, soft newborn skin against my cheek. The quiet darkness and isolation of the deep night. My brain is a fog of… fog… nice and warm and snuggly.

My favourite part of this pregnancy has been knowing that there will be challenges, but having the faith and knowledge that although they may be difficult, they will be short lived. Knowing how quickly things, phases and time passes is a reminder to be thankful for each moment. That is what I aim to take with me into the final phase of my final pregnancy.

winding down, paring back…

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I ran a workshop today (I am a trainer with a not-for-profit in my other life outside this parenting game) and found myself completely tongue-tied trying to find words and phrases that I use on a daily basis. I had to apologise for my slow and steady loss of vocabulary as the day went on.

As frustrating as it is in a professional environment, I am all too familiar now with the brain’s sneaky way of exiting us slowly out of the daily grind, and forcing us to focus inwards as our babies grow and birth becomes near. It’s almost like a slow moving fog descending over my head. Sound familiar?

I fought it a bit during my first pregnancy, but this time around I am relishing in the easy way in which I can float around the place, knowing that this feeling doesn’t last forever. I love that it is happening in sync with the onset of Autumn, and that this baby will be with us at the beginning of Winter. Perfectly timed if I do say so myself. I only have three weeks of work left, we are talking of bringing the baby stuff up from under the house, we’ve packed up the Pixie’s cot and put her into a “big girl bed”… the time is coming near… things are happening… I will remain in this blissfully vague state for as long as possible, thank you.

Apologies if you come across me in the next little while. I hope I can remember your name 😉

purple

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It was my second pregnancy which brought about the notion of colour. Suddenly the colour yellow was flooding my thoughts, I was buying yellow things for my house, the calendar on the month Pixie was due was covered in splashes of yellow. It was everywhere.

This time, it’s purple. It lights up in the corners of my eyes, it warms my brain to look at it. And then, I was given this amethyst, and three others, by my aunty. She didn’t know I was in the middle of a private purple fest, she just knew she had to give them to me.

It’s such a strange and surreal experience, pregnancy. This clash of reality and spirituality colliding in real life, in this moment, in the here and the now. Fill in this form, fill in that form, buy this, buy that, get organised, do it right, have The Tests, etc. Then this other side, a closing in, paring down. A little bubble with just you and your baby. Outside that bubble, it doesn’t matter if you have the singlets folded or the right colour jumpsuit or the ergonomic pram or the form filled out. Who cares.

Did you have a colour for your pregnancy? I would love to hear about it.

books to read during pregnancy // revisited

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When I was sorting out the photo situation here on the blog, I stumbled across this post – my top five books to read during pregnancy. It has been one of the most popular posts on motherwho so I thought I’d add to it a little. Those books are probably still my go-to books three pregnancies in (although I can’t find my Sheila Kitzinger book – if any of my lovely friends have borrowed it… hint hint!). But there are a few more I am adding to my ‘to read’ list this time around, for when I find the motivation to move on from the pile on my bedside table (see picture!).

My number one to-read book this time is Rhea Dempsey’s Birth With Confidence: Savvy choices for normal birth. My sister has a copy of this and I am waiting in line! I absolutely love Rhea Dempsey and have seen her speak a number of times. Last pregnancy I also attended one of her weekend birthing workshops which was very valuable. I was so motivated after the Pixie was born I even got information about becoming a birth attendant myself via Rhea’s training… but then lack of sleep knocked some sense into me and I put the idea on the back-burner.

You’ll also see, amongst a few old favourites on my bedside table, a copy of Sheila Kitzinger’s Rediscovering Birth. I actually bought this book in between number one and number two, as it’s a great read not just for prospective parents but for “anyone interested in birth and women’s lives and wellbeing,” which as it happens, is me, pregnant or not. I haven’t delved far into this book but I would highly recommend what I have read to date (along with anything else with Kitzinger’s name on it!).

And of course, it wouldn’t be a pregnancy book list without mentioning Ina May Gaskin. I will definitely be adding one or two of her books to my shelves (again) in the coming months.

In addition to books there are so many excellent birthing videos to watch, and then of course books for when the baby is actually earth-side… these may have to wait for another post though.

Have a lovely weekend folks x

theatrical perspectives of childbirth

I saw a birth on television today. Not a real birth. A fake one. On a television show.

Usually I just roll my eyes and not give fake births on television any more thought. But today I really watched it, and it got me thinking: why are births portrayed the way they are on TV?

This birth began in the traditional television way: her waters broke. Of course I have actually only ever met one person in real life whose waters breaking were the first indication of impending labour. But until I was pregnant myself I was none the wiser that this is not the normal way for a labour to start.

From the moment of waters breaking, the next scene included the mother-to-be being rushed down a corridor in a wheelchair with a flood of anxious people running behind her. She, typically, was making wild accusations at anyone who would listen, yelling and carrying on about how much it hurt.

From there we enter the hospital theatre, where in a sea of blue plastic, about a million people coach the screaming woman to “push harder!” She responds by screaming various insults at them. When the head begins to crown the father-to-be takes a peek underneath the blue sheet covering the woman and grimaces in disgust at what he sees under there. The people around the bed frown and clasp their hands together. The fifteen odd people waiting in the waiting room pace and worry.

A few minutes later, as the mother lies expectantly and neatly in her bed, a nurse walks into the room and with gloved hands passes over a clean and shiny four month old baby wrapped in a blanket. They smile at each other and everyone sighs.

I understand that a real, true and natural birth in all its powerful glory, would probably be too boring to get ratings. I just wish that birth on TV might sometimes be shown in a relatively real way. I wish that TV didn’t matter, and that people didn’t gain so much of their “knowledge” from watching it. But sadly, the media has a huge influence on what we think, say, believe and do.

I doubt that the portrayal of birth on television will ever change. The main reason it concerns me is because I have my own two girls, who may one day decide to have children of their own. I don’t want them to think that the story above is anything like what birth is all about. From now until that day arrives, I will be doing everything in my power to teach them about real birth. In my house, birth will never be something that is disgusting, painful, horrible, gross or worse: unspoken.

I hope that when my babies watch fake births on TV they will be able to watch and laugh, knowing a fact that is fast becoming a secret in our society: fake births on TV are just that, fake.

My hope for them is that they will reach down and be the first to touch their babies being born into this world. That they might be the ones to first see if they have birthed a boy or a girl. That they will enjoy the power of their bodies being unleashed as they meet their baby for the very first time. That they might lie quietly in the moments after giving birth holding their babies and feeling the warm, slick weight of them on their bare chests, no matter where they choose to be. That they don’t listen when people doubt or scoff at them. That even if things don’t go to plan, that they spend their pregnancies, and their lives, believing that they can give birth and that normal birth is a normal thing.

I hope that they grow up knowing that as women their bodies are capable of more mystery, subtlety, grace, power and miracle than they will ever be able to fathom. And that that is the real normal.

on choosing homebirth…

I haven’t talked much on this blog about Pixie’s pregnancy and birth. I don’t really know why. Probably because while I experienced pregnancy and birth I felt like it was all very private, too private for such a public space. While I had a warm little soul slowly growing inside me, it was so intimate, I couldn’t bring it here, not too often, not too much.

The Pixie is almost six months old, can you believe it? So now I think it’s time. It’s time to tell you, if you hadn’t already guessed, that we had a homebirth this time. There is so much to say and to share about this. Today I will give you a glimpse, a snippet, or I fear this post will be pages long.

Some part of me still feels disbelief that we actually did it. Did I really do that? In the quiet dark of my lounge room with a select circle of hushed supporters, gentle hands placed on my shoulders, my back? Or was it just a dream?

It was a hard choice. It didn’t come easily. There was so much pulling this way and that. So many opinions. I was drowning in them, mainly – but certainly not all – of the rude and negative variety. With quiet minds and much research behind us, we followed our hearts and did what we knew was best – for us. We didn’t tell many people. We kept to ourselves and our support team (who, because I’m sure you are interested, was made up of my naturopath during early labour, then, two midwives – one of whom is my sister – a doctor, my husband and my mum). We did not have a placard to hold or a message for other women and men. Not then, not yet. We believed in our decision and did not feel we should have to justify it to people who were mainly uneducated about our choice, particularly while I was pregnant. I did not want people’s comments, fears and ill-informed ideas sticking to me, attaching themselves to my thoughts, my days and my baby. This was harder said than done. I stayed within myself and the decision we had made as a couple as much as possible.

But then we hit an obstacle. It shouldn’t be as big an obstacle as it was at the time. But there it was nonetheless: Pixie was breech from 29 weeks. (Of COURSE she was!) I have written a much more detailed version of my breech experience and Pixie’s birth here, if you care to read it. Personally we decided we would prefer to go to hospital if she was breech, however unfortunately it seemed our options here were horribly thin in this regard, disgustingly so… After much to-ing and fro-ing, we had an external version in hospital at 36 weeks, and from then on, a blessing: little Pixie stayed head down until the day of her birth, and our meeting, in the sacred space of my own home with people who had shared my entire pregnancy with me (both pregnancies actually, aside from my doctor), who knew my ins and outs, who understood me, who cared about me and my baby.

Having experienced both a hospital and a homebirth, I can see both have their merits. But what I see clearest of all is the right of all women to choose their most appropriate path, the path that after much education and discussion, suits their baby and them best – not a doctor or a midwife or a homebirth advocate or their mother or their next-door neighbour’s husband’s cousin. And not be judged for their decision.

Afterall, though I suppose they are out there, I am yet to meet another mother that did not have their baby’s best wishes in the forefront of their minds, regardless of how they chose to navigate pregnancy and birth “options.”

Where did you have your baby? Did you love or hate being pregnant and giving birth? Or somewhere in-between? Did you feel supported? Knowledgeable? In control? Safe? I’d love to hear your stories too.

*I feel funny calling this a “public space” as although it is extremely public, I continually have to remind myself that people actually read this.

one month today

It was deep in the night when I met you for the first time, one month ago today. We had a bit of a false start but once you decided you were really ready it only took 4 hours before you were in my arms. I wondered how I could have enough love to share between two children, knowing that it must be possible, and it certainly is. Your skin was so warm, glowing and soft in that moment. Everyone had cups of tea afterwards, we sat around talking about you, midwifery, the state of things, life. The night and day following felt foggy, like some strange split in time, I can still find the feeling of it and experience it again. Your big sister blew out a candle for you, Nanny brought a birthday cake. We ate lots of food and lay around, laughing, dozing. We stayed that way for over a week.

This week your face and spirit is opening up to the world. We are seeing you for the first time. You are finding our gaze and holding it, you’re smiling. Your favourite thing to look at is your sister, being silly and jumping around. I have a feeling that is not going to change for a long time. I am waking up too and slowly adjusting to our nocturnal cuddles in the dim light.

Our family feels full with you in it. It seems like we were just practicing at playing families before, now we are the real deal. Thank you for coming, we all love you so much.