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I have taken an unintended long break from blogging here, but I will be back! I’ve got a new design coming, and lots of updates on things like pumpkin cinnamon rolls, our wedding, and a certain someone’s first birthday coming up on Thanksgiving. In the meantime, pardon the wonky design and lack of action here. See you soon!
My usual: steel cut oats with brown sugar, dried fruit, coconut or almond milk, and coffee.
My favorite: French toast made with homemade rustic white bread and topped with some Vermont maple syrup (grade B for life!)
For Stuart: Baked eggs over sweet potato and walnut bread with maple spread, rosemary, and fresh goat cheese.
This weekend was:
chasing hot air balloons during the Cambridge Hot Air Balloon Festival, printing and addressing save-the-dates for a client, cherries for breakfast, antique inspiration, a trip to the used book barn and the best find of the day, working in the garden, some nice union letterpress found on a telephone pole.
A year ago on Mother’s Day, I announced that I was pregnant. I was 3 months along, and I was so excited for our family to grow. This year, I am the happy mama of a sweet, healthy, charming almost-6 month old baby boy. I love him to the moon and back, and being his mother is the best thing in the world. I decided for Mother’s Day this year, I would write Henry’s birth story. When I was pregnant, I read probably hundreds of birth stories. I loved them. I loved to read about the experience I would soon be having, and the more I read the more normal all of the bits and pieces of birth became. I never really feared childbirth, in fact I often looked forward to it. That’s not to say I wasn’t nervous about it at times but I was always comforted and empowered by the choices I made regarding Henry’s birth. Throughout my pregnancy, I received prenatal care from a supportive, compassionate, intelligent, loving, and highly qualified midwife. Together we planned a home birth, and while that meant I had to answer a lot of questions about my choice while I was pregnant (some people were genuinely curious, others were a bit, or a whole heap, more judgemental), I was always confident and sure that this was the best choice for me and for our family.
Writing Henry’s birth story is also a sort of PSA for midwives, doulas, and home birth. I would like to provide an example of a home birth that was safe, happy, and successful. Because I gave birth at home does not mean I was without adequate care, or that my baby’s (or my own) health was ever compromised. In fact, I believe we were healthier because I birthed at home. That’s not to say anyone who births in the hospital or birthing center or anywhere else has made an unhealthy or somehow worse decision. Each woman should make an informed decision about what is best for her, her baby, and her family. This was the choice we made.
Henry’s Birth Story
Henry’s birth story starts 12 days before he was born. I was due on November 10. I always knew due dates were relatively relative, and there was a two week window on either side when the baby could safely arrive. Still, I was sure it would be the 10th. There was a full moon that night and I was just sure. I baked bread, made a pot of soup and a quart of red raspberry leaf iced tea, and I waited. When the tenth came and went, I was sure every day for days. It had to be today. After 4 or 5 days of long 4 mile walks, spicy Thai dinners, yoga, and positive thinking, I was beginning to get nervous. I was planning a natural home birth, and I knew if I went over 42 weeks, the risks would increase and I would have to choose whether or not to be induced at the hospital. While that was still many days away, I became preoccupied with the idea and began walking longer and faster on my daily walks. Once I hit 41 weeks, I had my first ultrasound. It showed a perfectly healthy baby and we scored a perfect score on the biophysical profile. We saw our baby’s smushed little face for the first time, and the technician told me that their machine was predicting he or she would be 10 pounds, 5 ounces. When I told her it was my first ultrasound and we were planning an intervention-free home birth, she couldn’t contain her shock, nor her thinly masked skepticism of my birth plan. Reassured by the positive results of the test and maybe a little spitefully empowered by the technician’s judgement and negativity, I relaxed a little and began to trust my baby more and more. It had to be soon. The baby couldn’t live in there forever.
A few more days passed. My doula was calling for updates, and I was seeing my midwife Khristeena every couple of days. Khristeena was confident and reassuring, telling me the baby would come whenever he or she was ready and in the meantime it was my job to relax my mind and prepare to welcome him or her. She never let me doubt that my body knew how to do this. Every day that I didn’t go into labor became harder than the last, but I kept my trust in that little baby and in my body to do what it knew how to do. By the 21st, I was going kind of crazy. Our house was spotless. Baby blankets had been crocheted, diapers were folded, and the birthing pool was inflated and ready to fill when I went into labor. There was nothing to do but wait. I decided the morning of the 21st that I was pulling out the big guns. Under the guidance of my midwife, I was trying every gentle home remedy I could to get labor started. I called my chiropractor and arranged an appointment for that afternoon. I called the community acupuncture clinic and arranged to be there at 5pm. There were nearly 5 miles between the two, and I would walk from one to the next. 5 miles may not seem like much, but remember I was almost 42 weeks pregnant with a 10 pound baby!
It was a clear, beautiful November day. The chiropractor brought much-needed relief to my sore back and hips, and I set out down Elmwood for the acupuncture clinic, stopping for a decaf latte on the way. That latte may not seem important to mention, but I’ll never forget the little details of that day. I was wearing a blue shirt, too.
I arrived at the acupuncture clinic and was completely taken with the place. There is one acupuncturist, and everyone being “treated” is together in the same room. I had never tried acupuncture before, but I had read many women’s stories that acupuncture worked well for them in inducing or encouraging labor. Most accounts said that when acupuncture did work, labor began 24-72 hours later. I met the kind acupuncturist, Craig, and told him I was hoping to encourage labor along because I was 11 days late. Fifteen minutes later there were 11 needles in position. I was hopeful but not certain it would have any effect.
I leaned back in the zero-gravity chair and tried my hardest to relax and enjoy the atmosphere and relaxing experience. Five minutes passed and it happened: a funny feeling in my belly. The first contraction. I joked with him that I was feeling some strange energy and it sort of felt like a contraction, but neither of us took it too seriously. After 45 minutes the needles were removed and Stuart was there to meet up with me and walk me home. I was still feeling strange and while I was fairly sure I had felt a contraction, I was also trying not to get my hopes up. I told Stuart if this really was early labor, I’d have to send Craig a thank you card. I remember we stopped for Mexican takeout at a new restaurant on Allen Street on the way home. Tofu tacos with avocado, and a slice of cake from the bakery across the street. By the time we got home, I knew something was definitely happening. I waited a couple hours as contractions came and went sporadically, and around 8:30pm I called Khristeena and my doula Luann to let them know I thought I was in early labor. They both told me to try to get some sleep, stay fed and hydrated, and wait for the contractions to get stronger and closer together.
I tried all of those things, but this is the part of the story where things started to shift. Time no longer felt linear- it seemed to alternate between passing hyper quickly and crazy slowly depending on the pain. I couldn’t sleep or eat. All I could do was pace and rock and sit for short periods of time. What went from slow, ambiguous labor became active, intense labor very quickly. Starting at about midnight my contractions were coming 5 minutes apart and they were strong. Sometimes they would stop for 20 minutes at a time, and other times they would come strongly and closely for an hour. I called Luann (or maybe Stuart did) and she arrived just before 2 am. She confirmed I was in active labor, and Stuart started to fill the birthing tub. Well, to be accurate, he had started working on it many hours earlier but there was a problem. The adapter attachment from our water filter was stuck on the kitchen faucet, and it was preventing him from being able to attach the hose adapter to fill the tub. It seemed like hours he spent trying to make it work. Realistically I have no idea how long it took, I just know at some point my pool was filling up and I was grateful (He had actually had to run the hose all the way to the basement to fill it, snaking it down through the old laundry chute that went up to the second floor- such resourcefulness!)
Once my tub was full and Luann was by my side, I began to gather my strength. Luann was an amazing doula. I regularly think and say that I couldn’t have done it without her. She was by my side for the next 16 hours. She helped me through the pain and the intensity and the exhaustion and reminded me over and over that I could do it. She was there for anything I needed, and to remind me what I needed too. She diligently held up cold coconut water (the only thing I could drink) with a straw for me to take a sip every few minutes. She pressed cool washcloths to my forehead. She stayed right next to me as I shuffled from room to room, groaning through the pain.
The pain. I hate to use that word but that’s what it was. Intense, deep, unfamiliar pain. Every few minutes a wave of tightening pain overcame me and I could do nothing but experience it. It passed, and I let go. Over and over and over for hours. Khristeena arrived around 6am. I knew I shouldn’t call her until it was close to time to push, but she always stressed that she would be there for me whenever I wanted her. I didn’t know we were still 12 hours away, and with such close contractions I was sure the baby was almost here. And I just wanted her there. Where Luann was caring for me and supporting me emotionally and physically, Khristeena was there for the tough love. She didn’t baby me, didn’t hold my hand. She reminded me that there was no way I couldn’t do this. She reminded me that I was strong enough to do it myself. It was exactly what I needed to hear, and her presence helped me stay strong.
Hours passed. I walked around our home, sat on the birthing stool, laid on our bed, anything to find brief physical relief. I had decided prior to labor that I did not want to be routinely checked for progress, but after so many hours, I asked Khristeena to check my cervix. I was 6 cm dilated. Things were progressing but it wasn’t the end yet. I hadn’t eaten since our take out the night before and I was feeling utterly exhausted. I managed to eat a handful of grapes and just a little while later I lost them when I threw up during transition. I fell asleep for a short time, and then everything really started happening.
The contractions I had thought were painful hours before would have felt like welcome relief compared to these intense contractions. I don’t remember much of what I said during these hours. I was so far away, relying on a very internal, somehow animalistic energy to get me through. I know I said “It hurts so much” about a thousand times. I know I apologized and thanked my awesome team, Stuart, Luann, and Khristeena, several times. I remember thinking I should be polite, which, looking back, probably didn’t need to be a priority but I suppose I’m glad I kept my manners about me.
By this point my labor was intense but not progressing quickly. Khristeena suggested I climb the stairs a few times. I can’t even begin to describe how difficult that sounded to me at the time. It was the only time during my whole labor that I said “I can’t.” I did it, though. Probably only 3 or 4 times, but it was enough to get things moving. My water broke in the living room. I felt some relief, and Khristeena told me I could start to push through the contractions. Stuart and Khristeena were working to refill the birthing tub that had since gone cold, and I remained on the birthing stool with Luann’s support, pushing and trying to will my baby out with focus and determination.
When the tub was ready, I got in and felt a wave of relaxation and relief. It was wonderful. I was able to rest to the point of near sleep between contractions. During contractions I would push with all my strength 3 or 4 times. After a while, Khristeena told me the water was making my body too relaxed, and while the baby was doing well, we would be there for several more hours if I stayed in the tub. I got out and assumed a squatting position in front of Stuart who was sitting in a kitchen chair. We were in the baby’s room, and I had arranged candles on the dresser and all of our post-labor supplies lined the walls. I drew strength from knowing I had chosen to birth there, that I was in my home with the best support I could ask for, and the hopeful thought that this would all be over soon and I would be holding my little baby. Luann and Khristeena cheered me on and I leaned into Stuart with each contraction, feeling an immense and powerful burst of energy and purpose. Khristeena told me to reach down and feel the baby’s head in the birth canal. I was so close.
Stuart and Luann switched places so Stuart could catch the baby with Khristeena. I leaned into Luann and used every bit of strength I had to push my baby out. I felt the baby’s head moving farther and farther down until finally with one last, enormous push, I was done. Two and a half hours of pushing and I was done. The baby’s head was out and immediately the rest of his body followed. It was suddenly over. That first breath of accomplishment and relief I took after he was born was the sweetest of my life. I heard Stuart cry and I heard my baby cry. My head was in Luann’s lap and my back was still to them when I heard Khristeena say to Stuart, “Tell them what it is!” Tearfully he told me, “It’s a boy, it’s a boy!” and I turned around to meet my son. He was so new and so familiar all at once. I held him to my chest and felt a love like I’d never felt and every bit of pain and discomfort was gone as though it never happened. The power of that first moment and the feel of my new baby’s skin against mine are things I will never, ever forget. I looked down at my boy, 25 hours after the first contraction, 12 days after my due date, and thought, Henry August, it was you all along. You are finally here.
Henry August Stevens was born at home in Buffalo on November 22, 2011 at 6:25pm. He weighed 10 pounds, 4 ounces and was 23 inches long.
I still need to send that acupuncturist a thank you card.
Today we went to the annual poultry swap at the Schaghticoke Fairgrounds. I have been excited about this for weeks. This was where we were going to get our baby chicks. We brought home four little beauties – Black Australorps around 3 weeks old. They are a hearty, productive breed known for their sweet temperament and beetle-green sheen on their black feathers. We also supported the local 4H with a coffee & muffin purchase, pet some baby goats, saw the dairy princess AND a baby pony, and brought home some local Grade B maple syrup from Hoosick Falls as well as some handmade lavender and vetiver soaps.
Today was a great day.
Welcome home, chickens!