Medical Mystery, 27 Months Postpartum

Fair warning: I’m going to swear, at the end of this.

Something is very wrong. At first, I thought that I was exhausted from holiday travel, and I assumed that this had triggered mid-winter depression. It’s not uncommon. I asked my psychiatrist for a higher dose of anti-depressants and bought a sun lamp. It let up. Then, it got worse. Curious about why my cycles seemed closer together, I started tracking them. To my very great surprise, they were almost a week shorter than they used to be. When the migraines and moods hit for the second time in January, I fell apart. I couldn’t wake up before noon, but I couldn’t make myself fall asleep, even with a sleep aid. I had taken on this “depression” by setting up a schedule for myself, so it was a sudden change in my sleep patterns. By day 2, I couldn’t stop crying. I had a panic attack about calling my therapist, let alone going to her office. I made it in once or twice, in all of February. I went in to get blood drawn (six vials) so my psychiatrist could run some tests. I saw her as soon as the results were in, but before she even looked at the labs, she listened to me. It was a medical mystery she had seen before: women who had given birth for the first time in our late 20s/30s (instead of at 19, as previous generations might have), seemed to have PMS that sounded almost like peri-menopause. My labs did show a potential risk for some thyroid dysfunction, which would explain a lot, and my Vitamin D levels were very low, so that might explain a lot, too.

Hormones were the big worry, though. We talked about who to see, next. The Vitamin D was the easiest fix: since my number on that test had been 14, instead of between 30 and 100, the normal range, every single time I had been tested since before my pregnancy, and nothing I had tried had budged that number even a little bit, she told me that an endocrinologist would prescribe “this brand that seems to work, when nothing else gets absorbed.” I don’t know what the brand is, yet, and that doesn’t really make sense to me, scientifically, but I had heard about this from a friend, very recently. Because I cannot gain weight–I am eating, people! and I am still under weight by 5-10 pounds! no amount of bacon has given me 5 more pounds!–and have a few other symptoms, she recommended an endocrinologist who wouldn’t focus on the numbers that might not mean much. Evidently, the range of “normal” for thyroid tests is not reliable; we don’t test people who feel great, so no lab has a great idea of what is actually normal. Printouts from labs give you big bold “out of range!” numbers, even when something is just a tiny bit out of range, so it was important to see a specialist who was willing to “try things” to see if they helped me feel better. I listened; I was willing to try just about anything, by then.

By the time I saw my psychiatrist, I was functioning again. I walked to her office, which isn’t far, but that means that I did this all by myself, while my mother-in-law took care of the toddler, at her house, and my husband worked. I made it through 24 hours alone, without freaking out, while ten days earlier, at the beginning of my cycle, I had actually eaten breakfast in bed, because getting out of bed was just. too. much. The timing of all of this sparked a long story, from this Doctor Who Listens, a rare creature, and not one I had expected to meet, having chosen her from an insurance directory based on her proximity to my house.

A long time ago, decades, perhaps, she had met with a “coop” of psychiatrists, ob/gyns, midwives, and endocrinologists; they were all seeing women who had had their first babies in their 30s and arrived at their respective offices with the same symptoms. They couldn’t sleep without waking every few hours, even when their children were sleeping for six. They had “PMS like teenagers” and skin changes to match. Their cycles seemed to refuse to go back to what they had been, before children. They were exhausted, all the time. Some of the doctors in the coop dismissed this as Motherhood. Some decided to start testing hormone levels. They saw enough women with levels somewhere between Healthy 30-year-old Women Levels and Peri-Menopausal Levels to convince about half the care providers that pregnancy was causing a permanent change for the worse.

To make life extra fun, I don’t fit neatly into any category: no obvious thyroid dysfunction, no obvious estrogen withdrawal, definitely no psychiatric cause. The last bit is very good news. My fears that I was spiraling into some sort of psychotic break have been put to rest. The fact that I have no answers and now wait on Doctor Time for appointments and new tests and still don’t know what any of those tests will be or what they will show? That fact SUCKS for anxiety levels. I’m a tangled ball of anxious thoughts, racing around my mind like NASCAR drivers.

These are the first words I have written in weeks.

My sleep is getting worse, as my appointment with the recommended endocrinologist approaches. My fear is not that tests will show something horrible; I had enough blood work to rule out just about everything terrifying, including HIV and Lyme’s disease. (How’s that for thorough? From a psychiatrist! So rare!) Even before those first results came back, I wasn’t afraid that I was *dying* – I didn’t feel like my body was in major trouble. I just feel wrong, inside. So, my panic before getting those first results, and my anxiety, now, is that a lot of specialists and testing will tell me that nothing is wrong. I should go home and get more rest and take Vitamin D and go for more walks, and blah blah blah. Everything I’ve heard before. I want something we can all agree is THERE, and I want something that a simple medication can help with. I don’t want to go through anything like trying to find the right combination of psychiatric medications. I don’t want to try mood stabilizers. None of that is on the table, now, but I just don’t know what will be left to try, if this medical mystery remains a mystery. What if I feel so wrong, moods swinging every which way, for no discernible reason?

I want my body back. I want my mind returned to its previous state, even if that’s a state that requires enough anti-anxiety medication to make most adults sleep all day. I want more than two good days a month. I want to stop feeling terrified that my cycle is going to shorten again. I want to inhabit this body without fears about what it will do to my mind, once or twice a month.

I nearly hugged my psychiatrist, when she said, “Of course, there is no research on this, because it doesn’t happen to men.” She rattled off a list of things I’ve heard chalked up to changes every mother just has to deal with, and I realized all over again, for the 10,000th time, that women are told to put up with all kinds of pain and discomfort and anxiety and mood swings, because that’s just what life as a women is like.

I started teaching a HypnoBirthing course to a lovely family, and I heard myself talking with them about how the uterus functions, and why there is no physiological reason that healthy uterine muscles should cause us pain, not even during childbirth… and the light went on yet again. It says, right there, in the script I know so well, that even during a healthy woman’s menstrual cycle, there is no physiological reason for the pain we call “normal.” Painful cramping is a sign that hormones are out of balance. The medical community knows this, because these are just muscles, and as they function normally, just like any other muscle, they should not hurt. But just as the medical community KNOWS that birth happens without any need for medical intervention but BEHAVES as though each birth is a medical emergency, women who are not pregnant hear that, for no reason at all, we are destined for pain and suffering.

I need all my willpower not to start reciting my HypnoBirthing curriculum, when I hear women joking about how much childbirth sucks, and how it must just be amnesia that lets any woman agree to go through it all again. I remember almost every darn minute of my birth, and it was amazing. Sure, there were moments of discomfort and even pain, but my body, mind, heart, and soul worked together with my baby to accomplish this incredible thing: a baby’s gentle entry into the world, from my womb to my arms. The sensations I remember most clearly? Tension and pressure. Muscles tensing in this incredibly powerful, strong way, in waves what moved down when my baby was ready to move down through the birth path. Pressure as my body unfolded to make space for that tiny body to move, gently, from the uterus to the outside world. I later learned that my child crowned for AN HOUR, and all the while, I craved love and support and gentle reassurance, not painkillers.

I will not settle for a monthly cycle that sucks days from my life, because my body can function perfectly. If hormones calmed me down, during pregnancy and childbirth and that first year of breastfeeding, with no periods, then I refuse to accept that hormones will now turn me into a weeping, raging, miserable person I do not recognize. Somebody who knows where to look had better look everywhere, and find me some damn answers.

I see my midwife a week after I see the endocrinologist, and I’ve already spoken to her on the phone about what we’ll be discussing. Now I just have to pray that my body cooperates enough to let her do her work, because God help me, I only have 8 days between the onset of the next period, as predicted by my handy charting app, and my appointment with my midwife. In the meantime, you’ll find me on Polyvore, distracting myself by making collages of pretty things. And hey, if you want to buy some pretty things, or take a HypnoBirthing class, I am happily competent (no crying!) while I’m working on Jamberry, Chloe and Isabel, and childbirth education.

It felt so good to write this. I keep myself going by reminding myself that I am successfully refusing to lose ME to these moods, or even insomnia, while I wait for answers. I haven’t lost anything, the system has just been hacked by a nasty fucker who is not welcome and will not stay.

FMP app. I like elephants.

FMP app. I like elephants.

Unstuck and Working: Anchors of Calm

In the past week, I have taught two HypnoBirthing classes. There’s a switch in my head that flips, when I have agreed to help a family, and I take my meds, get in my car, and I… show up. Always. I’ve never missed a class. Business hasn’t exactly been booming, but when I commit, I show.

I don’t really know how this happens. It has something to do with putting my own needs aside. I’ve talked about this with other HypnoBirthing practitioners, as a matter of fact. Cold season? Watch one of us go exactly two and a half hours without sneezing. Nausea? Watch me down some Tums, carry some peppermint essential oil, and feel fine for exactly two and a half hours. We tap into the same tools we used during our births.

During my own birth, I remember being confused as to why everyone was suddenly telling me, in voices that seemed oddly loud, that I was doing really well. I found out later that all that “Great work!” “You’re doing so well!” was intended to drown out the yelling coming from another room. I only remember hearing her while they were moving me from triage to my own room. Once I got into that room, it was MY ROOM. I heard what I wanted to hear. I saw what I wanted to see. I had the birth that I wanted to have.

This all comes back to the reason I chose HypnoBirthing, and the reason I teach it: these are life skills. The Calm Breathing we teach calms just as effectively now, as it did as I prepared for and experienced childbirth. The ability to focus on what I need and block out what might harm me is invaluable. I’m only two-and-a-half years into this journey, so I can’t always apply it. Obviously, it would have been nice to apply it last week, when it was time to get on a train, and I felt panic.

They key to generalizing this is to add “anchors” to my set of Things That Trigger Relaxation and Laser Focus. Why did childbirth trigger my instinct to use all these tools that calmed me and relaxed my body? Why was that the message I chose to hear, rather than the pervasive cultural message that birth is scary and painful? Because I had practiced. When I heard a recording specific relaxation exercise, beautifully read by a British lady whose voice I still love, I went to the deeply relaxed state that I had been practicing at least once a day, if not more, for weeks.

I’m really pretty shocked that it didn’t occur to me until today to try doing some affirmations and calm breathing while holding an essential oil that I like, anyway, so that I associate the scent with the feeling. I do this for the families I work with. I bring my diffuser and, after checking the scent with the pregnant lady, I fill the room with it. Then, after our last class, I send them on their way with a tiny bottle of it to use during her birth. I really need to do this for myself. I learned to do it for birth, because I wanted to love my birth, and I didn’t want my fear of hospitals to interfere with that experience for my family. I can learn to do it for moments that are a little more ordinary, right? Because why not use this tool to LIVE without fear?  I will proceed with cautious optimism. Why I’m afraid that this won’t work against such obstacles as *gasp* getting on a train, when it has already worked against my phobia of entering a hospital… I can’t tell you. But I’ve never been willing to totally believe that I can live without anxiety being a big part of my daily life. My first psychiatrist told me that that was his goal for me. One of the first things I show parents in my class is that “try” can’t overcome a stronger signal. I even quote Yoda. “Do, or do not; there is no try.”

I don’t want to beat myself up for years of skepticism about my ability to feel better. I have a lot more programming to overcome about how “normal” and permanent my state of anxiety would always be left over from a childhood with a mother who didn’t know how to help me, and a father who really believes that nothing can help his own mental illness. Birth was always a positive thing, when I heard about it. I was preparing to do it just the one time. A whole lifetime of calm is a little harder to believe in. So I’ll work on feeling calm when I open a bottle of something that smells nice, and go from there. That works. I know it does. With practice, it will relax me, no matter what else is happening. That’s the step I can take, now, to create another anchor of calm.

Big News: My New Career as a HypnoBirthing Instructor

I have some amazing news that I have managed to share everywhere but here:

I am studying to become a Certified HypnoBirthing Instructor!

What does that mean? I’m studying information, for now, like the anatomy of the placenta (so. darn. cool.) and fetal development and pregnancy (that’s as far as I’ve gotten). I’ll be rereading my copy of HypnoBirthing by Marie Mongan. Then, during a weekend in August, I’ll be near the Catskills in New York, with other amazing women who are becoming certified or re-certified, learning how to teach pregnant women and their birth partners about the HypnoBirthing method of childbirth.

For clarification: I’m going the official HypnoBirthing Institute Mongan method route. There are several self-hypnosis birthing methods out there, but I did this one. I want to teach it because the teacher/mama/birthing partner connection was so meaningful for my family. There’s a person to answer questions, not just a book or audio tracks. I like that there’s a strict, copyrighted script for instructors to follow, with room to adapt to each couple’s needs. I LOVE that the course includes time, with your instructor, watching actual births with this method. They are gorgeously un-dramatic (very little screaming) and wonderfully mama-centered. They are climactic in only the truest sense, in the only way that birth ought to be: the baby meets the world, the parents react. There is no “OHMYGOD her water broke! Everyone run in circles!” moment. (Ok, so I have only been to my birth and seen stuff on TV and haven’t watched many births.) But watching calm births, and quite a few, meant a lot to me. Calm. Birth. Two words that should go together!

Here’s why it’s such a great fit for me: the premise of this whole HypnoBirthing thing is that if we can eliminate the fear surrounding childbirth, we can eliminate the progression from fear to tension to pain. Think about that. When we are afraid, we tense our bodies. Tense bodies hurt. There’s a lot more pain when the muscles are tensing around a baby who is trying exit a uterus via a birth canal and has either a more room in a relaxed mama’s body or no room in a very tense mama’s body. Less fear means less tension means less pain. No fear? No pain. For. Real.

For someone who has spent the best part of her adult life trying to manage anxiety and fear, the opportunity to help others manage their anxiety and fear is golden. I am thrilled. I am blessed. I’m also going to be thinking about how to relax and eliminate fear a lot. Which means I’ll be reminding myself to use all the coping mechanisms I’ve learned in general and specifically, through HypnoBirthing.

For the already initiated: my favorite thing to use almost every day is the Rainbow Relaxation. I love picturing the colors of the rainbow filling each section of my body, with violet at the top of my head, then indigo, then blue at the throat, all the way to red in the pelvic area. I am always totally floored by how many muscles I just keep in a state of tension in my face and head, alone. Seriously–I don’t need to be using my energy to keep tension in my darn scalp.

Logistics: being a HypnoBirthing instructor means spending two hours each week for five sessions with a mama and her birth partner. I am thrilled that I will be able to schedule this with the families who hire me in a way that lets me leave my baby for just a few hours at a time with his other favorites: Dad or Gram (Dad’s mom). It’s up to me how many clients I take on. I’ll be working alongside my instructor/doula, Kate, who will be celebrating her five-year anniversary by getting recertified with me in New York with the same teacher who taught her first class. The structure of the course means that if either of us has an emergency, we can fill in for each other. A couple would miss nothing if I happened to teach their third class instead of Kate.

The Doula Question: No, not yet. I’m not ready to be away from Walt for indefinite periods of time. Birth can happen any time of day or night and last a while (MUCH shorter for HypnoBirthing mamas, FYI) so for now, I’ll be referring clients who want a birth doula over to Kate, and her wonderful and growing Joyful Birth.

The Future: Yes, I do want to become a birth doula. I also would love to become a postpartum doula, further down the line. I’m totally fascinated by the idea of the HypnoBirthing fertility consultant program, but that would involve becoming a licensed hypnotherapist. So that’s really intriguing. I’m a huge believer that fear and anxiety and tension can prevent conception for years. I’ve also learned in the past few years that a shocking number of couples are given an actual diagnosis of “unexplained infertility” which I will not even give capital letters to. I want to help future parents feel that they have power before conception, during pregnancy, during birth, after birth–all of it.

The mind is so powerful. That is what this blog has been about, in so many ways. I can’t wait to share my journey with all of you!

I looked like this less than 12 hours after giving birth because I was so calm, thanks to HypnoBirthing (and because I ROCKED IT).

I looked like this fewer than 12 hours after giving birth because I was so calm, thanks to HypnoBirthing (and because I ROCKED IT).

Breastfeeding on Pysch Meds

My first goal in writing this blog was to make sure that something encouraging and human showed up in the search results for phrases like “klonopin and pregnancy.” Since I began writing here, my life has blossomed in ways that I once thought impossible. The biggest change is that I had a baby and took on a career as a stay-at-home mom.

The biggest lesson I have learned is this: when it comes to learning about pregnancy, motherhood and mental health, who you ask is as important as asking the questions.

I made this life happen by asking important questions and by asking different people until I found an answer that rang true in my heart. Luck has played its part. I got lucky a few times–living near New York City allowed me to see a psychiatrist who specializes in “perinatal” mental health (during and directly following pregnancy). Living near Stratford, Connecticut allowed me to see Dr. Christina Smillie, pediatrician and celebrated expert in breastfeeding medicine and in pediatrics. Her practice is called Breastfeeding Resources.

Breastfeeding has been an unexpected gift. I planned on breastfeeding and then mourned after being told that I couldn’t safely breastfeed on my meds. Then, I learned that that was not true! The doctor who told me not to breastfeed did so because she was concerned for my health and my baby’s health; the doctor who told me to go ahead and breastfeed on meds is simply better informed. It seems so obvious now–if you have a question about an infant’s health, ask a pediatrician! I talked to a mommy psychiatrist about meds and pregnancy; I can’t believe it never occurred to me to look for a breastfeeding expert to ask about meds and breastfeeding. Such experts are rare. We feel so blessed to have Dr. Smillie and her practice only forty-five minutes away. With her help, we made a plan. Real life happened, and we didn’t follow every detail of that plan. So I’ll tell you the story with the plan, then the real life. The science is going to have to wait. For now, I give you our breastfeeding journey.

In the hospital:

The plan was to feed Walter my colostrum while we were in the hospital. Dr. Smillie assured us that babies eat so little in the first forty-eight hours that we had no reason to worry for even a minute about the meds that might make it into the colostrum.

What actually happened? Well, he did eat only my colostrum. But he slept. He had a hard time latching, so he would exhaust himself trying and fall asleep again. This would not have worried me one bit, because in my reading on breastfeeding, I had read that some babies do not eat much in the beginning. The nurses, however, worried over my baby until I got scared, myself. Was he sleepy because he was withdrawing from my meds, or was he sleepy from dangerously low blood sugar?

They checked his blood sugar. It was not ideal but not dropping at an alarming rate. And yet. Nurses told me again and again that we “might have to supplement.” I had worked too hard to give my baby colostrum (mine and our milk donor’s) to start formula on day one.

I won’t even tell you the whole story of how the nurses managed to scare me to death about my child’s health by not giving me enough information, because it has nothing to do with my meds. I talked to a supervisor later about how the staff can improve communication. It was all much ado about nothing, as Shakespeare might say. And that right there is the big deal about our hospital adventure–the fact that nothing was wrong.

I had spent my entire pregnancy and a good deal of time before my pregnancy worrying over what my baby would go through after birth because I took medication while carrying him. I am happy to report that my baby was and is 100% healthy in every way. He did not lose an abnormal amount of weight after birth. He had some sleepiness and some rigid muscle tone that may or may not have been caused by withdrawal but, again, nothing outside the normal range. Not. A. Thing.

Again, I took (and still take) 4 mg of Klonopin and 225 mg of Effexor every day throughout my pregnancy. I had a perfectly healthy child.

After the hospital:

The plan was to feed Walter about 50% my milk and 50% donor milk to make doubly sure that he would not get enough of my medication to sedate him. We were going to continue this for about three months. As Dr. Smillie warmly explained, this plan was for my peace of mind (and Nathan’s). She did not think that there would be enough medicine in my milk to cause any problems for Walter. Again, story now, science later.

If you know much about breastfeeding, you may be wondering about my supply right about now. We had a plan for that, too! Because we planned to switch to just my milk eventually, I was pumping and freezing the same amount he was getting from my friend. In other words, I was producing the same amount of milk my child was consuming, give or take a few ounces, so that I would have enough for him when we switched to just me.

In reality, this plan worked very well for the first month. I was particularly grateful for the donor milk when we had trouble breastfeeding; he just wouldn’t latch for more than a few seconds. As it turned out, he had a tongue-tie. That means that the very thin skin that connects his tongue to the bottom of his mouth came forward, and this limited his tongue’s movement. It wasn’t a “first degree tie” that completely stopped him from lifting his tongue, but since we were having trouble with his latch, it seemed like it might be an issue. By the time we discussed that and had it fixed with a simple, in-office procedure, I was just so grateful that we had planned on pumping and bottle-feeding breastmilk. If I had planned on exclusively breastfeeding without using bottles or a pump, I would have been really stressed.

Reality stressed me out again about six weeks in to the 50/50 plan. My kid ended up eating about a hundred times a day and went through all available donor milk before his two-month check-up. It didn’t help that my friend’s baby was colicky and refusing to sleep and wanted to nurse 24/7, giving her less time to pump for us. (Send up a prayer for this fairy godmother friend of mine that her child grows out of this no-sleeping phase! It’s bad for everyone!)

I worried a lot the first weekend we had no donor milk to supplement. He was cluster feeding, which means that he would eat for hours at a time. I remember one stretch that began at about 11pm and went on until about 3am. He would stop to burp/spit up (I have a champion spitter!) or poop and then cry until I started feeding him again. I almost lost my mind. I watched entire days of television, nursing and nursing. He doesn’t do that all the time, but it happened to coincide with us running out of all our frozen milk.

Then, I did something I thought that I would never, ever, do; I used formula. My therapist and I discussed my state of mind when Nathan, his mom or other relatives had fed the baby bottles of donor milk and compared it to the state of mind I was in now that it was all up to me and my breasts. It was immediately apparent that something had to give. I was approaching a nervous breakdown, and we had been out of frozen milk for under a week. I sent Nathan out to get the formula I felt the least guilty about–Earth’s Best Organic. The company is one I know because I once knew one of its employees, and I had talked to a rep about their formula at last summer’s BlogHer conference expo.

Walter has never had more than six ounces of formula in any given day, but the naps I fit in, the time I spend all to myself… It’s glorious. Truly. He never had a tummy ache. I could have peace during migraines and a bad cold. Everyone is thriving.

Where we are now:

I breastfeed Walter, and he also gets either formula or my pumped milk about once a day. I try to pump a bottle if we’re going on a long car ride. I was comfortable and happy letting his relatives feed him formula while I got some quality time with my sister-in-law and fellow musical theater geek at the movie theater (Les Mis!). My supply is great. I love bonding with my baby in this special way. The point is that we are happy and comfortable with Walter having my milk, mostly because he is thriving.

What we’re doing is the exact right thing for our family. I can’t and shouldn’t give medical advice to anyone, so please don’t interpret this as me telling everyone to breastfeed, no matter what. This is just my account of how we found our comfort zone.

Of course, I worried about Walter getting too much of my medication. I watched him like a hawk for any signs of extra sleepiness. But even I could see what everyone who met my baby noticed: he is so alert! He loves to open those big blue eyes and look all around. He sleeps no more or less than any other baby. His pediatrician is completely happy with his physical health and cognitive development.

Our entire family is happy and healthy. And I cannot tell you how happy I am to be posting these photos:

The one and only time he successfully ate in the hospital.

The one and only time he successfully ate in the hospital.

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Yes, he does have an excellent latch, thank you!

 

The Rest of the Birth Story or, I Am a Goddess

After Christmas celebration #3 (one in Long Island, one near Albany, NY and this last one in Phoenix, AZ) I have finally had a chance to have a long nap here at my mother’s house and a chance to do some writing. We have been so lucky to have so much loving family around us for the holidays this year! And it’s also pretty exhausting to do so much traveling with a dog and a baby. I caught a terrible cold. The baby seems to have had it. Now his dad has it. Razor blades in the throat and sinuses. Misery. We are lucky to have my mom spoil us with home-cooked meals, baked goods and even an array of our favorite beverages. We are lucky to have help with the baby as we all recover from the festivities and the awful head colds. I feel that all these things merit a mention, because I am feeling so very thankful for them and because without them, I think it would be another month before I wrote this second half of the birth story.

When I left off, it was October 19th at about 7:30 pm, and we were arriving at the hospital. I was trying not to push in the car. One of my favorite things about Yale New Haven Hospital? Free valet parking for families who are having babies there. I developed tunnel vision and could no longer speak around this time. I remember the wheelchair, and feeling grateful for it. I remember closing my eyes and concentrating on my breath and what my body was telling me. I remember the elevator. I remember looking up from the bed in triage at my wonderful midwife, Elise, and immediately feeling more relaxed.

At home, I had felt anxious. How long would I labor at home? What was the next stage going to feel like? Why was I vomiting?! I had not been told about the vomit! Was that feeling normal? That one? That other one?

In triage, I knew that Elise and our doula, Kate, would take of me no matter what happened physically, emotionally or psychologically. I remembered that they had seen it all. I also remember being told that I could only take one “support person” into the triage room with me and moaning “I want Kate!” Nathan took that very well, I must say. It was really hard to talk, but I was really motivated to make that wish understood. Elise later told me that I looked so calm that the staff in triage thought that there was a good chance that I had come in too early and would be sent home to labor there some more. Oh, how wrong they were!

At some point, amniotic fluid began to gush out of me with each surge [contraction] and it just kept coming. Whatever was under me soaking the stuff up had to be changed with shocking frequency and the nurse, Elise, Kate and I all found this funny. How can there be more?! I think I remember being told I was fully dilated. I remember people moving around. I know that we got from triage to a delivery room, and I remember Nathan joining us in the hallway. Elise was suddenly in scrubs, saying “Let’s have a baby!” with a big smile. I was honestly so excited that this time was here.

The HypnoBirthing affirmations work. I had been telling myself for months that I was excited to meet my baby, that I trusted my body and my baby, that I would have a peaceful birth. When the time came, I felt excitement. My heart was filled with faith in my body, my baby, my care providers, my support people, God. I was filled with faith in myself. I knew with my entire being that I was going to rock this. I became a goddess, deeply in touch with nature/my body and with the spiritual, so aware that I was bringing new life into the world. I was at the center of the most sacred process.

I went to that place as we moved and as the delivery room was readied. When my tunnel expanded to include the people around me, I was in a bed in a dimly lit and quiet room. I asked that Kate play my affirmations on my phone. She put it next to my head and held my right hand. Nathan was on my left. I labored on my right side for a long time. I focused on “breathing the baby down” and on the soft recording repeating that my healthy body and baby were doing what they needed to do, that I was helping my baby on his journey. Periodically, the volume would increase on the phone and a chorus of voices would cheer me on, telling me that I was doing great! I’d meet my baby soon! I remember feeling confused at times, because this was obvious to me. I remember smiling to show them that I knew that I was awesome and excited to meet this baby. I found out later that they were being loud in order to drown out the screams of a woman in a nearby room! I still feel a bit sorry for her–they told me she did a lot of screaming.

I was aware that my body was doing incredible things; I am not an athletic person, so I was actually a bit surprised at how well I dealt with the exertion and all the sweating. Fluid continued to gush out of me. We continued to laugh at how often they were changing the pads under me. I asked them if they had to do that, because I did not want to lift my body up at all. They said something about my skin getting irritated and yes, they had to try and keep me dry, but I really did not appreciate that.

Before long, Elise told me to lift my left leg; I was still laboring on my right side in bed, and this would open up my pelvis. I really did not want to move. I remembered a story from HypnoBirthing class about a woman who refused to move out of one position during her birth and that this became problematic somehow, so I cooperated. I may have even laughed after I did it, though, because it felt good. I didn’t really think it was possible to trust Elise more at that point, but after that suggestion made me a lot more comfortable, I did find room in my heart for more faith in her.

At this point, I felt like the already too-short breaks between surges were becoming non-existent. There had been a constant pressure–surge or no surge–for too long already, in my opinion. My body was working even harder. I began to feel tired and lost my focus a bit. Then, Elise told me to reach down and feel my baby’s head. I did, and energy shot through me. At the same time, I was a bit disappointed that there was not more head to feel! He was really only a little bit out?!

I leaned heavily on Kate and Nathan, figuratively speaking. Kate breathed with me. The words in the affirmations lost all meaning. I had absorbed the meaning of those words, and language was not matching how I felt anymore. I felt like an entirely physical being, but I managed to ask that they put on music instead of the affirmations. Elise asked me if I wanted her to set up the mirror so I could see. I felt like opening my eyes was the last thing I wanted to do, but I said yes, in case that changed later. Communicating that took a ridiculous amount of effort.

“Let’s let gravity help out a little, here. If the nurse sets up the birthing bar, will you use it?” I nodded. (For the record, she used the nurse’s name, which I completely ashamed to say I cannot remember; I loved that nurse!) The birthing bar is a simple but incredible piece of engineering. As easy as its inventors tried to make using the thing, I looked up at it and thought “No way, no how.” Nathan and Kate helped me squat while holding onto the bar. I got very tired and discouraged.

Elise said “Anne-Marie, you are amazing! Look at your baby!” And I looked in the mirror, saw his tiny head and felt determination with more force than I had ever felt anything in my life. I was meeting that baby, and soon. After a few more surges, eyes on that head, my arms were simultaneously stuck in position and shaking with exhaustion. I had done what I needed to do, and let gravity help, though, because Elise said that I should lie back. I needed help to do this, since my hands were pretty much glued to that bar. Exhaustion hit me again. Hard.

“I can’t do this!” I didn’t want to say it. I had told myself I wouldn’t say it. I said it because I knew that if I did, all four of the people in that room would tell me that I could do it. What I didn’t expect was that Elise would say “You have done it! Reach down!” I did. “Is that his NOSE?!” And she said “Yes! It is!” I might have laughed, I was so relieved. The next couple surges were difficult, but before I knew it, they told me his head was out. I was lying back again, now, and my eyes were closed. All of my focus was on that baby. I swear, I could see his progress when I closed my eyes, his little head leading his way.

Suddenly, there was searing pain. I remember being pissed off about it, too, because his head was already out, and I was told that that was the difficult part! I didn’t know why the pain was more intense, but everyone around me was cheerleading and I kept going. Elise did something–I felt her hands but didn’t know what she was doing. I knew it was helping. Finally, I felt the release; the pressure was gone. I had given birth!

I remember touching Walter. I remember Nathan cutting the cord and that he double-checked that we had waited long enough to do so. I remember feeling that there was more moving around in the room than I had expected after watching so many tapes of births in class. I remember feeling completely unsurprised that Walter wasn’t crying. I had essentially meditated throughout his birth; we were in a calm space. He had nothing to fear and no reason to be in pain.

Apparently, babies are “supposed” to cry, according to the medical professionals. Something about crying indicated that they are breathing properly. Elise explained that the nurse was taking Walter to the warmer to check on his breathing, but that no one was really worried about him, because his color was excellent and his chest was moving up and down. And yet, because he wasn’t crying, they needed to perform this check. Nathan would go with him. They would only be a few feet away, and I could see the warmer from my bed while Elise took care of me. I was surprised at feeling perfectly calm and ok with all of it. Kate took my phone, snapped a few pictures of my pink, healthy baby in the warmer, holding on to his dad’s fingers with a nice, strong grip. I grinned and grinned.

Elise gave me a shot of Pitocin in my inner thigh, something I had agreed to in the office that morning, because research from across the globe has shown that a localized shot of this drug that causes the uterus to contract dramatically decreases the chances that a woman will bleed too much after giving birth. She told me I had a very minor (“first degree”) labial tear and would need a few stitches. I can’t remember how many, but it was no more than four. I could hardly believe it when she told me why: after I had birthed Walter’s head, he had turned, as all babies do, because it helps them slide their shoulders and hips out of the birth canal. But my son had not put one shoulder down, like he should have. He insisted, she told me, that both shoulders come out at once, perpendicular to the floor, despite her “wrangling.” That was what I had felt her doing; she had tried to use her hands to turn him into the usual one-shoulder-first position. He had refused. She heaped praise on me, and told me that my body would recover faster and better because I had taken my time and remained so calm. Had I pushed harder and faster, those shoulders would have caused a lot more damage and pain.

Walter refused to cry, but he was breathing so well that he was returned to me. I was wearing a once-comfy and soft Pretty Pushers hospital gown instead of the hospital-provided gowns, but it was soaked, so I asked them to just cut it off me. Everyone was still marveling at how much fluid this kid had been swimming in. And it was still coming. They massaged my stomach to help me birth the placenta (I believe my words were, “Oh, yeah! I forgot about that!”) and out came some more. Still more came out with the placenta. You probably had to be there to see the comedy, but it made me laugh to see the surprise in the nurse, Elise and Kate. It was probably the endorphins, but I was strangely proud of being able to surprise the birth veterans. At any rate, they cut off my gown, put dry bedding under me yet again, and we placed my Walter on my chest.

At some point, I realized that Kate was not feeling well at all. I still find it incredible that she had been in intense pain for a long time. An ovarian cyst had burst in her own body. She is so good at her job that she simply kept on holding my hand and breathing until I didn’t need her support, at which point she quietly informed Elise that she required some pain killers and told me that she was sorry she couldn’t stay, but that she had to go call her mom to pick her up. There’s a saying that the doula “mothers the mother,” and that is what she did. She put her life, her body, her pain, aside so completely, all to support me on my birthing journey. Yes, we paid her. But no amount of money can motivate someone to give the kind of loving support she offered me. I had Nathan and my baby, now, and urged her to go rest until she could leave.

I focused in on this beautiful baby boy again. He was mine. He was ours. He was perfect. I offered and encouraged breastfeeding, but he didn’t want to nurse. His eyes opened, and we made eye contact. They were blue, and I sent up a little light-hearted prayer that they would stay light, like his dad’s. I think my own brown eyes are particularly lovely, actually, but I just had this vision of our child with his blue eyes. The nurse had used a warm towel to rub in the vernix that coated his skin, protecting it from the amniotic fluid before birth, but no one cleaned our bodies too much. One of the HypnoBirthing affirmations uses the phrase “pink and healthy” to describe the tissue in the birth canal in order to help moms visualize that there will be blood–a baby comes out of there, after all–but not too much. I think that’s why the blood I saw didn’t bother me. But Elise and the nurse cleaned everything up with pretty astonishing speed. Nathan and I had time with our son while everyone either left the room or watched from a distance. Soon, Nathan’s mother Judy and his step-father Walter had arrived at the hospital. The whole thing had happened so quickly that Judy had not made it in time to be with us for her grandson’s birth, despite living only an hour and a half away. He was born at 10:50 pm, and his grandparents arrived at 11:30.

No one had expected it to go so quickly. I felt shocked! For all I knew, it could have been one hour or ten. It was still dark outside, but I really didn’t think I had given birth only three and a half hours after arriving at the hospital! We hadn’t even been sure it was “the real thing” until sometime after Kate arrived at our house a little before 6:00.

We stayed in the delivery room for about an hour–me, my son, his father, his grandmother and his namesake. Everything seemed to fill up with love, light, peace, joy. I’m sure I sound like a crazy hippie to some of you. But ask anyone who was there–it was the most spiritual, joyful, peaceful birth. Nathan likes to say, “She basically meditated through the entire birth.” It was the best meditation of my life; I have never felt closer to God. I have never felt stronger faith. Remember: hospitals used to give me panic attacks. I have been diagnosed with two anxiety disorders and depression. I took medication that supposedly put my fetus/baby at risk.

I conceived a child, created a human being, gave birth to a person. In fact, I gave birth with dignity and grace. I began this blog to document my experience with a medicated pregnancy. I had no idea that I would one day write that I had grabbed on to the pregnancy and the birth that followed as a chance to heal myself. I am not pretending that I am cured of anything. But I know now that I can do anything, overcome anything. There is nothing in this world that is powerful enough to convince me otherwise. I don’t know I can attribute to giving birth after spending under five hours in labor to my strength or my use of HypnoBirthing methods and techniques. I do know that I created the dignity, the grace, the strength and the peace that I carried through labor and birth.

The Birth Story: Healing Through Childbirth

Two months ago, on October 19th, I gave birth to my son, Walter. Birthing was the most amazing, healing, life-affirming, empowering experience imaginable.

I went to bed on October 18th in complete misery. The baby’s rump was wedged under my ribs. I could hardly breath. I somehow managed to fall asleep around 8:00 pm. At midnight, I woke up with a contraction (which I will now call “surges” because that’s the term we use in HypnoBirthing and it’s a lot more accurate, I think). I immediately knew it was different from the Braxton Hicks/”practice surges” I had been feeling for a few weeks. Those felt like a pretty extreme tightening at the top of my huge belly. This one seemed to travel down into my pelvis, with the pressure at the top releasing as the lower muscles tightened. I drank a lot of water and went back to sleep; if this was it, I wanted to be rested and hydrated. It was technically October 19th, one week after my 28th birthday and nine days before Walter’s due date.

Another “traveling” surge woke me up at 4:00 am and again at 8:00. As luck would have it, I had a routine appointment with my midwife at 9:30 anyway, so I just kept hydrating and resting. That appointment turned into a non-stress test (they monitored the baby and my surges while I lay still) which turned into an ultrasound appointment. My surges were not regular, even though they were happening. I was one centimeter dilated, which means pretty much nothing–a pregnant woman can stay there for weeks. But the reason for the ultrasound check was my crazy monkey baby–he just never liked being monitored! The kid would move away from every monitor ever put near him, and he even managed to kick them or punch them. The readings for his heart rate were not indicative of anything, making the results of the test inconclusive (if you remember the monitoring after the car accident? similar deal).

I breathed deeply through a trip to Ikea–can you say “nesting”?–and a therapy appointment before it was time for the ultrasound. Everything was normal with our beautiful boy, but there was a lot of fluid in there. The nurse told me that they’d make an appointment for me on Monday to keep track of the fluid, because if it got any higher, there’d be some danger of something. I don’t remember. She also said that she didn’t think that my baby was staying put until Monday, so good luck with the birth!

Serendipity struck again at 5:30 pm, when my doula, Kate, arrived for a meet-up we had set up earlier in the week. I was supposed to be finalizing my birth plan. I sent Nathan to do laundry, even though I was pretty convinced that this was it. Within an hour, Kate and I knew that this was IT. I called the midwife, Elise, to let her know what was going on. She told me to keep doing what I was doing, rest, and call again later. Part of me wanted to go to the hospital, because my body was just taking over and doing really intense things! And it hurt! I knew better, though. I also knew that they’d send me right home again if I went too early. Kate held my hand as labor progressed.

By 6:30, we were both pretty shocked at how intense things had become. I was vomiting and laboring on the toilet (both very normal). Kate called Nathan, who came home with wet laundry to find me unable to speak. I wanted to move to the birthing ball/stability ball. It didn’t take much rocking back and forth on that before my water broke. A little later (I was not watching the clock!), I felt a warm gush. Nathan and Kate (doula) talked to Elise (midwife) for a bit while I moaned and tried not to freak out about the pain. I really struggled with this phase. I could not believe that I was still supposed to stay at home! I felt like as long as I was at home, this intensity, the pain, could go on indefinitely. I didn’t feel like I could handle this indefinitely. I wanted to know that my body was moving forward. I felt terrified that labor would stall here. I needn’t have worried.

Kate helped move me to the bed (I didn’t want to move!) to labor on my side and conserve energy. That baby moved as soon as I lay down, because immediately, I blurted out “I want to push!” I remember Kate saying “Alright, get up, let’s go!” She called Elise to tell her we were on our way to the hospital. Nathan ran around getting things together. I remember wanting to kill him for pausing in the hallway to ask our neighbors to walk the dog (this now strikes me as a very smart thing to have done…) and wondering how I was supposed to get to the car door, since walking over the small patch of grass seemed impossible.

I spent an interminable amount of time trying not to push in the car. There seemed to be a ridiculous number of red lights and busses stopping in front of us. I think we got to the hospital around 7:30. Fast, right? It still seems unbelievable that I went from chatting on the phone to triage in about two hours.

That’s long enough, so I’ll leave it for now! Stay tuned for the rest of my beautiful story.

32 Weeks Pregnant: HypnoBirthing and Anxiety

My psychiatrist gave me a grade this morning. A B- in fact. It was actually pretty funny and not something she regularly does. Her point was that when I do well, I do very well. When I break down, I really break down.

Example break down: The details aren’t important, but something happened that freaked me out. I cried for two hours. I wanted Nathan to comfort me, and Nathan was not available. Rather than use any of the other tools I have at my disposal, I sort of regressed to toddlerhood and cried until I got what I wanted (Nathan came home). Two hours of tears and hyperventilation? Not fun. Doesn’t feel good.

Example good day: I practice the relaxation techniques I learned in my HypnoBirthing class. My “baseline” anxiety level drops. When something unexpected/unpleasant happens, I talk to someone about it or get some perspective somehow.

There are many more good days than bad. But here’s the brilliant question my psychiatrist asked me about those panic-filled days: “If you encountered an actual two-year-old child who was behaving this way, what would you do?” No hesitation–I would get down to this kid’s level and ask, “Can you take a deep breath with me?” I would then demonstrate until I got the kid’s attention. That’s where I’ve learned to start. Do you know anyone who listens to reason in the middle of a full-on “ugly cry?” I don’t know why on earth we expect toddlers to be able to listen when it seems like the world is falling apart. So the genius idea is to sort of treat myself like that toddler whose world is totally falling apart, to give myself that empathy and that time to breath. Yelling at a toddler throwing a tantrum does no good, so why would beating myself up and telling myself to just be quiet do me any good?

Brilliant, right?

Now, I’ll talk a bit about HypnoBirthing, which is now a huge part of my life. I want to address some misconception about this particular birthing method.

  • There is no “going under.” The “hypnosis” consists of relaxing yourself. That’s it. Deep relaxation.
  • You can hear what’s going on around you and open your eyes and engage with it if you choose to do so.
  • There is some of what feels like craziness to me in the official HypnoBirthing book by Marie Mongan, but the actual basics of HypnoBirthing are very much in line with really standard meditation or relaxation breathing techniques you might learn from someone with a background in psychology.

That said, I highly recommend, if you’re looking into this method, talk to an actual HypnoBirthing instructor before reading the book. We talked to Kate Sullivan, one of the most practical and down-to-earth women I have ever met. She goes into an extremely calm place when she talks about birth and HypnoBirthing. When Nathan and I left our meet-and-greet with her, we both said that she is exactly the kind of person you’d want to have around in a crisis. Honestly, now that I’m reading the book, I can’t say that the founder of HypnoBirthing, Marie Mongan, comes across quite this same way. There’s a lot of stuff, especially in the first half of the book, that seems aimed more at selling this method than explaining what practitioners actually do. Now that I’m in more familiar territory where the text matches what we learned in class, I like it much better.

I love HypnoBirthing because it relies on several basic principles that tap right into some comforting and familiar experience I’ve had with meditation and anti-anxiety relaxation exercises. By now, these principles have thoroughly-researched foundations in both medical and psychological research. Science has no problem agreeing that focusing on breathing and on slowing the breath relaxes both body and mind. No one disagrees that the uterine muscles tense and relax just the way the diagrams in the book shows. Psychology has long understood that the language we use has a powerful impact on our emotions and attitudes. So here’s the good stuff that I love and that my therapist and psychiatrist agree are totally awesome:

  • Practicing healthy breathing. There is an unhealthy way to breath, and it’s what we do when we panic: short, shallow breaths. Try a few. Feel lightheaded? That’s because you’re not getting enough oxygen. It’s not comfy. There are several different kinds of breathing techniques that I practice to prepare for giving birth, but they one in particular is nearly identical to a breathing technique I learned at church summer camp to calm the body and mind in preparation for meditation. Bottom line: breath slowly and deeply, don’t force anything, and you’ll feel more relaxed. The book comes with one CD and we received another during our class with Kate, and each has a one sort of guided meditation. I usually pick one and practice one each day.
  • A positive attitude towards birth as an experience that is difficult, yes, but not necessarily viciously painful. One CD also has some great affirmations about birth that help me visualize this kind of birth. All of the literature and CDs and, of course, Kate herself, use a different set of language that feels much more comforting to me. At first, it was a little odd. Now, I totally love it. Example: no “contractions.” Instead, “surges” or “waves.” And this is, I am told, a much more accurate descriptor. Yes, the uterine muscles contract or tighten. But any monitor in any birth in any hospital will show that there’s a beginning, a peak and a dropping off in the tensing of those muscles. And what does that mean? It will end! One of the key breakthroughs I had in dealing with my panic attacks was telling myself over and over again that “this will end.” In the middle of panic, it feels like I’m going to die. I am told that some women feel like they will never make it through a contraction/surge/wave when the muscle tension is at its height. For me, calling it a surge is a way of keeping in mind that it will end. The word is also not scary the way “contraction” has become scary after a lifetime of stupid birth scenes on TV and in movies and hearing scary real-life birth stories. Now, what’s this thing about birth not needing to be painful? Well, those uterine muscle surges are so intense because those muscles are pushing a seven pound-ish baby out of your body.
  • My body and my baby and my instincts will get this baby out of me; I just need to get out the way by not tensing up and by paying attention. One set of muscles in the uterus that contract during a surge, as I just said, push down on the baby. Another set opens up. What do muscles working very hard need in order to keep going? Any athlete will tell you that oxygen is pretty important. So the way I’m learning to breath during labor and birth is helping me get out of the way of my body and my baby and will give me a) something to do and b) a way to focus on the pretty freaking amazing stuff my body is going to be doing. It is a huge relief to me that I do not have to know what to “do.” Women in comas, I am told, have given birth undetected. This will happen. I can fight it (PAIN) or I can work with it. I’ve seen about eight videos of women using HypnoBirthing techniques who make birthing look like something I want to do. It doesn’t look easy. It looks really intense. But it looks like the most rewarding experience ever. And no one looks like she’s going to die in pain.

There’s a lot more to this, but it’s all copyrighted and I’m not trained to teach it to you anyway. (Yes, I am thinking about learning how to teach this to other women.) If you’re interested, just take the class. Don’t start with the book. And I’m happy to answer questions.

To return to my original point about the good days: practicing the relaxation techniques I’ve learned has been incredibly good for my anxiety. I have fewer high-anxiety days. Things that used to set me off immediately register negative emotions but do not send me over the edge. Whether or not I have the kind of peaceful birth I visualize for myself, I will have this in my life forever. (And yes, mom, I am seeing why meditating every day is really good for us. I understand why they emphasize that so much in church. This counts as a start, right? A start towards meditating the way I learned in church?)

Prenatal depression gets some attention. And why I’ve been hiding.

I have been hiding for these past few weeks. At BlogHer, I overdid the walking in the no-support-but-very-cute ballet flats and got myself some seriously swollen ankles and feet. Ouch! Then I came home and slept for about three days. In the week that followed, I had time to think about all the amazing women I had met and their amazing blogs and feel, well, not so amazing by comparison. I was so pumped while I was there! And then I felt so inadequate when I came home. I still feel inadequate. But, I love my little blog with few readers and no advertisers, so I am going to keep writing. That is the beauty of this whole enterprise. No one can stop me!

First, I want to let you all know about an amazing series of articles written by Jessica Grosse for Slate called Not Just the Pregnancy Blues. There are three. They aren’t very long. Do read all three!

I really have nothing to add to the brilliant reporting Grosse has done, except that I am so grateful to her for bringing this to the public eye. Many of you have written to me with stories similar to those she shares; my hope is that one day, no woman will stand for it when a care provider brushes off her concerns and feelings. Which brings me to the other reason I have come back…

You. Those of you who come back here, who have shared your stories with me in comments or email or on Facebook or Twitter–you are amazing. This has been a gathering place of sorts, and I do not want to give that up. Especially when the comments sections that adorn any Slate piece attract any and all variety of mean and nasty. If you want to talk about Grosse’s writing, I suggest you send her email if it’s about her or comment here if it’s on the general topic. Do. Not. Look. At. The. Comments.

For anyone curious about pregnancy news: there is no real news! Which is good news! I am 30 weeks, 4 days, so we’re in the home stretch. My belly is beautiful and round and getting bigger every day. I can feel my baby moving a lot, which is really reassuring. I’ve been super lucky to have had, well, almost no symptoms. No heartburn, no constant aches or pains, just glorious pregnancy! I think more pregnant women would feel good if they could sleep whenever they wanted and never had to leave the house except for midwife appointments… I’m very grateful that, physically, I am darn good at this pregnancy thing. Mentally, I’m doing well. I have my days. My therapist has been on vacation which I do not like! But I suppose therapists are people, too, and probably need vacations more than most. I suck at leaving the house. I suck at getting enough exercise.

I am loving HypnoBirthing–the class, the book and the CD. That deserves a whole post of its own, but it actually relaxes me! I know, I was shocked, too! I put on the relaxation CD and I relax and fall asleep and wake up relaxed! I was feeling very scared of the birth and of life after my sweet baby was no longer so deeply connected to me. But our instructor/doula and the affirmations that are part of the HypnoBirthing technique have helped me become very excited and confident.

Finally, here’s a picture from early July that shows off how fabulous I look in general and how round and awesome my belly is. I had to cut out the other people, because I don’t have their permission to put pictures of them here, so I apologize for the poor quality.

On Denial and the Third Trimester

Yes, I am hiding. I am pulling the covers over my head and pretending that nothing is changing, even as my belly grows and the baby’s movement becomes more insistent. I used to pore over descriptions of how my baby was developing. Now that they say things like “practicing breathing” and explain that the babe just has to get bigger–no more major structural development–the descriptions freak me out. I am going to have to parent someone. And before I do that, I am going to have to get that someone from inside of me to the outside world. He/she weighs pounds, people. We are talking about fetal weight in pounds now. And I can feel that weight behind the indescribably weird movement that is also magical.

I do have an excuse for some of the time. In true Anne-Marie fashion, I managed to injure some nerve in my right elbow by using the keyboard/mouse incorrectly. It hurt a whole bunch and I could only type with my left hand for a week or ten days. I normally type at lighting speed, so that was really obnoxious. I’m all better now! And practicing better keyboard habits. (Did you know they were serious about that stuff? It’s totally true! Wrists up and elbows off the arm rests, people!)

In happier news, we started taking HypnoBirthing classes from the lovely Kate Sullivan; I can’t recommend her highly enough, New Haven/Connecticut residents. She comes to our apartment and everything! (That did cost extra, but I sometimes feel so anxious about group things that I refuse to go, so I really think we’ll get more out of it this way.) Kate is practical, funny and very calming. I’m already working on using some of the breathing techniques I learned to calm myself down now. Somehow, she and HypnoBirthing are starting to make birth seem like something that I can do and that will be beautiful and precious. And thank God for that, because I was really starting to wonder how I, of all people, was going to calm down long enough to experience the birth of my child without trauma.

I have one more therapy session before my therapist goes on vacation for three weeks. So there’s that. [I simultaneously totally understand why a therapist would need a good long vacation every year and wish that they were not allowed to take them.] The worst that can happen is that a lot of anxiety builds up and I rattle around until she comes back. She’ll come back, though, and we’ll work through it all. Still, I wish that we were NOT working on acceptance and surrender re: the fact that I could actually give birth any time now. It’s not likely, but it could happy. And I didn’t think of that until she brought it up. I just blithely assumed that I had nothing to think about until October 26th or later. So now I’m working on accepting the fact that I have no control over when this baby decides to come out and surrendering to my body and its incredible strength.

Here this! I affirm: my body is strong and amazing and my baby is, too. They will do this thing if I just listen to them and get out of their way. I am not afraid. I trust my body and my baby. I am not afraid.

Convinced? Yeah, well, I was once told that affirmations are obviously for things that are not true (yet) or we wouldn’t need to affirm them. We’d know them. So I am affirming trust until I feel it.

I do have a strong connection with this child. I thought for sure I’d be one of those women who talks to her belly, but really I just talk to the baby in my head. I do sing out loud. With so much movement (really, if you see me, you won’t have to wait long for a chance to feel the baby kick), it’s easy to remember that this is a person with a personality. I think that that is completely awesome. I’d rather be a vessel and caretaker than actually be responsible for shaping a human character, personality, all that, from scratch. Be whoever you are, kiddo; I’ll just do my best to pay attention and respond.

Let’s end on a funny story, shall we? So, I’m going to this huge blogging conference in New York, BlogHer; the plan since I bought a discounted “early bird” ticket sometime in January or February was to go to the city on Wednesday, August 1st. This is how big a dork I am: I got all freaked out and nervous and took forever packing and got us in the car on June 25th, believing the entire time that it was, in fact, August 1st. I figured it out with the help of the friend I’ll be staying with next week somewhere around Greenwich. It was about 2.5 hours, round trip. Yes, that’s right, I thought it was this week and actually almost got there when, in fact, it is next week. We laughed. I laughed especially hard. This is totally the kind of thing I do.

Will the Trauma of the Pysch Ward Follow Me to the Maternity Ward?

Almost exactly five years ago, as a senior in college, I spent the night in the psych emergency room. Then, a week later, I spent another night in the same ER. The first time, I had naively expected that my new psychiatrist would react to hearing that I had been having detailed fantasies about killing myself by giving me more Zoloft. Turns out, his legal responsibility, since he was not 100% sure that I will not hurt myself if left to my own devices, I would not hurt myself, was to put me in the ER. My plan for that night was to go to a spring fling dance as a first date with a cute boy. Thankfully, my friends managed to convince him that I was sick and without cell reception in the hospital (true) so that I could tell him on my own time what had actually happened.

This was not some small college town emergency room. I went to Barnard College. My psychiatrist, then doing a fellowship of some sort at the affiliated Columbia University, was seeing me for free through some magical program, and his office was in Columbia Presbyterian Hospital. That emergency room is a busy New York City ER with a separate place for psych patients that requires a security guard escort to open two locked doors before anyone can get in or out. Protocol required that this security guard walk with me from my psychiatrist’s office to the ER, I suppose because a fair number of patients have made a run for it or taken out their rage on their doctor. And rage is exactly what I felt. I expressed this by crying a lot, not hitting anyone, but I see why this protocol exists. I could not believe that I had no choice. I was not crazy. I just needed more meds. Clearly.

In a sense, I was right–compared to my roommate in the psych ER (aka HELL), I was 100% sane. Still known among the friends who visited me as The Cat Lady, this woman keened (there is no other word for it) unless she was yelling about her husband having killed her cat by not paying for kitty chemotherapy and threatening to kill this husband to avenge that cat. Why were we both in the same room? Because in New York City, if the police are called to a scene and someone is clearly lacking important mental faculties, they have to take them to the emergency room. Picture this: the palest, most scared college girl you have ever seen in the middle of a crowded and small psychiatric emergency room that is mostly occupied by unstable people, often homeless, that the police have brought in after being called about someone who is either out of control or unconscious.

I had nothing; not even my clothes. The nurses on duty when I got there would not even give me my psych meds. I started to go through withdrawal before a doctor finally got around to getting someone to give me the damn Klonopin. I got a migraine and the best they could do was Motrin, even though I had a prescription for Imitrex (hardly a controlled substance). It took me four tries before someone would give me Motrin; I would imagine that they are used to people lying about being in pain in stupid attempts to get pain killers. My own mother had to call repeatedly before anyone even told me she had called, let alone put me on the phone with her. She was smart enough to keep calling until she got me on the phone, though, because I certainly was not going to be able to call Arizona.

Finally, though, a nurse saved me. She looked me straight in the eyes and said “You are not the kind of patient I usually see in here, and you are a smart, polite, sweet girl. So I am going to tell you this: if you want to get out of here, you had better stop crying all the time. You’ve got to convince them that you are going to be ok, and right now, you do not look ok.” So I dried my eyes, took a deep breath, spoke calmly to the doctors and promptly slept through almost all of my remaining time the ER.

The story of how I got out and how I ended up back in again is long and convoluted, but I did go in the second time by choice–I had realized that I needed real, professional help as an inpatient, and the only way to cut through the bureaucratic red tape was to get to the “good floor” via the same ER. I thought I could handle it. I was traumatized all over again. That second night was spent in a room with two other patients. I can’t even write about this without crying.

Somehow, they had given my clothes to a friend, who had taken them back to my dorm–clear communication was not exactly possible. I showed up on “5 South” to participate in the inpatient program that would turn my entire life around wearing a two hospital gowns and dirty socks. I hadn’t even been allowed to wear my bra in the ER, so I felt pretty freaking uncomfortable in this psych ward where longer-term patients had on real clothing. I had to get special permission to wait in “my” room until my friend could bring my clothes. I wasn’t even allowed to see him or hug him. I never through it was possible to feel so grateful to see a hoodie and a pair of jeans.

After that day, things got better. I made the decision to care for myself and my self-esteem. I actually left school alone and spent time alone with whatever shreds of an identity I could find outside that Smart Girl persona. I will never forget the staff who helped me save myself, particularly the nurse responsible for checking in with me, one-on-one. His name was Michael. I ran into him once, and he hardly recognized me. But I got to thank him. I am forever grateful for the ten or so days I spent on “5 South” and, at the same time, I would not wish the hours I endured in the ER on anyone.

Unfortunately, when I think of hospitals, I think of that ER stay. Trauma teaches us to fear and stay the f*** away from whatever traumatized us. Every subsequent ER trip, I have refused to go until a friend could go with me (thanks, guys!) and one of my favorite things about being with Nathan is that he always stayed with me for the whole trip. (I used to get quite a few bladder infections. I tripled my water intake. That doesn’t happen anymore.) I am terrified that I am going to be locked away, stripped of everything I own and have no access to anyone, not even a doctor (it takes forever for a doctor to see you in the psych ER, worse than the regular ER because they know you’re stuck there for up to 72 hours).

I wanted a home birth for quite a few reasons, but mostly, it was so that I would not have to face this fear. I do not want to check into any hospital, ever, because no matter how many times a billion people repeat that I will have rights in there, I am not convinced. What if I go in and cannot leave? What if they take my baby away? What if they know, somehow, that I will no know what to do with a baby of my own? These are my nightmares. This is why I will have a doula with me in that room. There has got to be someone designated to back Nathan up in dealing with my fear, should it rise up after we check in. I may need Nathan, the doula and the midwife all telling me to breath. I may need narcotics to calm me down. But I will have a beautiful birth, and it will change me. My beautiful birth will teach me that I am powerful and strong. I will set up a birth plan with powerful and strong midwives to ensure that my rights are never taken from me.

My stay in the psych ER taught me the necessary lesson that I was much sicker than I had been willing to believe; my stay in the maternity ward will teach me that I have healed myself more than I ever thought I could.

Yale-New Haven Hospital, where I will prove to myself that I have come a long, long way.