Please come find me at The Energizer Mommy!
I started this blog over 3 years ago as a way to deal with how my invisible illnesses were derailing the life I had imagined for myself. I knew next to nothing about blogging, and picked the name half by accident after the first 20 or so names I tried were taken. As I grew increasingly desperate for ideas I threw this one out to check its availability and suddenly, it was mine. I’ve found great support and love here, and this blog has been instrumental in helping me process and accept many of the turns my life has taken.
However, that person is not me anymore.
I no longer define myself by my invisible illnesses. I’m lucky in that pregnancy did much to minimize my symptoms, and also that I gave birth to the most amazing baby girl who has ever existed ever, and now I am happy in a way I never knew I could be. I have found myself in being her mom, “just” her mom.
And so, to reflect that, it is time for me to move on from this blog and this old self to a new blog that better reflects my new self.
I would love if you would all follow me over to
“Just” a Mom (I’ve moved again! Join me at The Energizer Mommy), where I’ll be writing, hopefully more regularly now that I feel at home in my space again. Sadly, I don’t believe subscriptions will automatically transfer, so if you could take a moment to update yours that would be wonderful. All of my old content is there, and I will be leaving this site up as well, but not checking or updating it.
I have a new post up today to celebrate my new space. Come on over and read about how sexy boobs are.
Thank you for all the support I’ve gotten here over the years. I have loved each and every connection I have made, and I hope to see you more at my new site!
I’m now, officially, an extended breastfeeder.
Baby Love is several weeks past one, and our nursing relationship is going strong. She still nurses around 4 times a day and 4 times a night (even though she eats crazy amounts of solids as well!).
When I started breastfeeding I didn’t have strong feelings about it. It seemed like less work than bottles, and I tend to prefer natural to artificial whenever practical, so I figured I’d try. If it didn’t work, no big deal. And I was definitely stopping when she got her first teeth!
Being 2 weeks late, she took to it like a champ. I was in awe at her skill at just minutes old.
Then I grew to resent her. If I was around, she wanted to nurse. ALWAYS. I felt like I didn’t even know what she looked like because I only ever saw the side of her face not blocked by my boob. I felt unloved, like she didn’t care about me, just my services. This continued for weeks. My mom told me to just give her a bottle and take a break, but breastfeeding was working and I didn’t want to mess up my supply if I could feed her. And after a few weeks it got better.
For months breastfeeding was no big deal. No longer a source of resentment, but not the big, bonding experience I’d been led to believe it would be, either. Functional and fine.
Slowly, though, I grew to love it. Being able to feed my child. To nourish her, body and soul, with my body. To be able to give her what no one else could. To feel the closeness. To know I was showing her love in the way she could best receive.
She got her first teeth at 5 1/2 months. I never even considered stopping. I didn’t even remember that had been the plan until months later, looking back. After all, by then breastfeeding was easy! We were both skilled and she needed it less frequently. Why would I stop and switch to bottles at that point? And that’s ignoring the love I was developing for it.
She began solids, following Baby Led Weaning. I never worried about how much she was eating. I’d been trusting her to feed herself appropriately for 6 months, and I continued to do so. I knew that no matter what she ate, almost all of her nutrition was coming from breastmilk, and so there was no need to worry about her solids intake. As more of her nutrition came from food, she ate more well balanced food of her own accord. No need for my intervention. And definitely no need to stop or reduce breastfeeding to force her to figure out what she was doing fine on her own.
And then she turned a year. Our nursing relationship is different now. She eats a RIDICULOUS amount of solid food for her size. But if she’s teething, or sick, and doesn’t feel like it, she can still get her nutrition from my milk. And even when she’s getting much of her nutrition from food, she’s still getting a perfectly balanced supplement from me. She nurses for comfort. When she’s sad or scared or needy, nursing makes her feel secure in my love. And she nurses for fun! She loves nursing! It makes her happy. And it makes me happy to make her happy.
No more is she the floppy little baby in my arms, being held to the breast. When we’re at home sometimes I’ll take my breast out and she’ll walk or crawl over, beaming, and crouch down or climb up to align herself and latch on. Once there she looks up into my eyes, hers filled with joy. She nurses laying down, but also sitting, standing, kneeling, crouching, and bending. Mornings when my husband is home he’ll often go get her when she’s up and bring her to me in bed and she’ll gleefully crawl across the bed, squealing, climb onto me, and plop herself down for snuggles. I take out my breast and she adjusts her snuggles to latch on, sighing contentedly.
Breastfeeding is such a huge part of our lives in so many ways. We both love it. I can’t imagine stopping, just because she hit an arbitrary age. And I can’t imagine her naturally stopping now. I imagine that as she grows she’ll nurse less and less until she no longer wants to. But until that time, I look forward to our nursing relationship continuing.
If you’d told me a year ago I’d still be nursing past one I’d have nodded, smiled, and then rolled my eyes behind your back. But here’s the thing: babies don’t turn one overnight. It’s a slow, gradual process. And while a one year old seemed huge and old a year ago, now she’s still just my baby, and neither of us is ready to be done.
A brief snap shot of Baby Love 10 short days before she turns 1.
-She signs more (in the context of eating), all done (in many contexts), and book. More can be anything from roughly correct hand shape to a bent o or fist touching a palm (most common) to clapping, and she’ll sometimes do it even before fussing for more. All done is a crazy waving of the arms a tiny amount frantically. Book looks like two relaxed hands but tense arms being shoved together so the hands keep falling over each other. She LOVES being able to communicate!
-She is delighted when she understands what we’re doing and can do it too. If she sees us rub our hands together (using hand sanitizer, dusting them off, etc.) she’ll gleefully drop whatever she’s doing to mimic us. She’ll wave sometimes and clap often with you.
-She says “dah-deee!” for daddy and “dah-djshi” for Toby (the dog) with equal delight. No word for mom yet, but I’ve decided to take it as a compliment that I’m just a given in her life. A sound somewhere in between her words for daddy and Toby is her all-purpose filler label for things that intrigue her.
-She LOVES reading and thoroughly enjoys turning the pages of the books as we go. She studies the pictures in books, and prefers stories she knows. She’ll anticipate the end as you reach it and sometimes turn away in anticipation of what’s coming next now that the book is almost done.
-The game “Little Red Wagon” is a favorite. If you stop after each verse she’ll begin doing the next action to prompt you. If you tell her she’s got the wrong one she’ll stop, visibly think, and try a different action. Another, newer, favorite is “Patty Cake”. When you’re done she’ll clap her hands for more, and if you don’t comply she’ll grab your fingers and clap her hands while holding your fingers very purposefully.
-She walks surprisingly steadily, even holding my hand and walking next to me sometimes when we’re out. She’s getting less and less thoughtful before taking off across a room on her feet; it’s becoming a means not an end at all. She still does crawl some, especially when she’s tired, and I love the crawling!
-She’ll sing along if you sing at times, using a more drawn out, melodic voice. If I say, “Yaaaaay!” happy and high pitched she may mimic back “Aaaaaah!” in the same high pitched tone.
-She ADORES music of all kinds. She loves when we sing to her, she loves standing or sitting on daddy’s lap at the piano to play the keys, she loves playing with her electronic keyboards or even her xylophone “piano” to make music, and she’ll happily play with any electronic toy that plays a song. If she likes a song she’ll often dance with it, bobbing up and down or swaying back and forth, though that’s almost exclusively for recorded or electronic music.
-She and Toby are great friends. She idolizes him and follows him everywhere, even where he thinks is safe. She wants what he likes, and will often pull his ball out of his mouth and then giggle when he takes it back out of her hand. They’ll play tug with his toys, and when either wins they offer it back to the other to continue the game.
-She gives the best kisses, both impromptu and when asked. They are getting less open mouthed and slobbery, but still usually include voice (since we say mmmmuah! when kissing her) and frequently include a raspberry. Nose kisses often involve some teeth for extra love. She loves knowing she makes us so happy by kissing us and beams at her power to do so.
-She has begun to problem solve very intentionally and will put the shapes in her shape sorter, stack rings on her stacking toy, and put balls in her “gumball machine” before pulling the lever to have them come out. She is determined to figure out how to achieve each goal when she tackles it, and typically does so surprisingly quickly.
-She is beginning to understand basic spoken directions a little, especially with gesture support. Today she helped me clean her play area and would take a toy I handed her and put it where I indicated (though sometimes she didn’t want to let it go!).
-She is a mama’s girl, and now that I’m home she doesn’t want to let me get far. She loves snuggles and hugs more and more the more mobile she gets. She’ll often come over and climb in my lap and sit there while doing whatever it is she’s doing. I’m loving the cuddles!
-She’s not a fan of the changing table, and will sit up as soon as she’s able and LAUNCH herself into my (hopefully) waiting arms. She also loves to do this from her high chair, though she can’t get as much speed there.
-She adores sharing with anyone, and will often offer her toy and be DELIGHTED if it’s accepted. She doesn’t actually want to let it go, but she’ll be thrilled if you pretend to chew on it while she holds it to your mouth. This is slightly problematic at the dinner table when she tries to share with the eagerly waiting Toby. She gets so happy when an offer is accepted, and he’ll always accept!
-She finds it hilarious when we throw things. At bath time we throw her toys back in their holder to put them away and she can’t stop giggling. She also recognizes when things are abnormal now and giggles at the silliness. So daddy putting a toy on his face, or “wearing” it, evokes delighted giggles that don’t stop. We live for her precious giggles!
-She is a destructive little thing with her teeth, chewing holes in board books and cardboard boxes in minutes.
-She is our little dare devil. She loves swinging upside down, climbing on or over anything available, being up high, being thrown, and any rough handing. She’s already covered in bruises from her many adventures, and I’m slightly scared of what I’m in for!
-She is so, so loved by her daddy and me, beyond what we could ever express. I am still amazed by how fiercely I love this little person, in spite of anything else that is going on. A smile from her makes life worth living. We are so very in love with our little ball of energy and joy!
I no longer feel like a good mom.
Before I did my student teaching, I loved being a stay at home mom. I found complete and utter fulfillment spending my days with my baby, meeting her needs, watching her grow, and moving through life together.
Then the end of my master’s degree approached, and though I no longer wanted to, I went back to work to complete my student teaching.
For 9 weeks I left her in the care of a nanny full time. I was afraid it would make me feel unfulfilled when I came back to being just her mom after being in the working world. But after 9 weeks was spring break. And I settled back into being her mom full time without a hitch. It felt right. It felt natural. It felt good.
Then I went back for my last 5 weeks.
And now I’m home. Permanently. This is day 7.
And this time there have been hitches.
Those last 5 weeks killed our relationship.
She still loves me and I still love her. I don’t mean our relationship in that sense.
But our rhythm. Our way of getting through the days. How we knew each other. How I knew her.
She has always been a problem sleeper. I have gotten all of the advice that exists on how to deal with this. I took some and left some, and while it could make me doubt myself a little, overall I knew that I knew my child and I knew her needs and I was doing right. If I tried advice that felt wrong it inevitably wasn’t successful and I trusted myself to go back to doing what was. If I predicted something wouldn’t work but tried it, it inevitably didn’t work in the way I predicted. I knew my child.
But in those last 5 weeks, my child went from being a baby to be a toddler, in so many more ways than just mobility.
Her communication took off. Her problem solving skills took off. Her interactions took off.
She learned to interact with her nanny in a different way than I interact with her.
And now I’m left with no good sense of my daughter.
When she cries, I no longer am confident if she is truly upset or if she is trying to force a response. To some extent it doesn’t matter; I don’t want to let her cry it out. But to some extent it does. I frame my responses based on the reasons behind things. When I knew her cries were because she felt abandoned or alone I worked to remedy that instantly. No lesson would come from that kind of crying. If her cries were simple preference I wasn’t as quick.
Now we are having a sleep regression. A major one. She had been teething for weeks, but the teeth are through and now the sleep regression is only worse. At night I still have somewhat of a handle on things.
But she will. not. nap.
And I am left without a clue as what to do.
I no longer feel in tune with her. I no longer feel as if we are in step. When she refuses to sleep I am left floundering, unsure of where to go next.
Of course, you never know what to do in mothering. These are entirely other, utterly complex, little people we are caring for. I never knew before. But I was confident in my relative understanding, and I used that to move forward feeling informed.
Now that is all gone. Out the window. The rug has been pulled out from under me. And I am lurching forward unbalanced. Feeling unsure where to step.
And so feeling like I am constantly failing.
My child won’t nap. And I don’t know what to do. Do I leave her to scream, even though in the past these kinds of screams have been legitimate and she is making herself spit up again from how hard she is crying? But now when I walk in the screams stop instantly and she smiles. Does that mean they’re not legitimate? Or does it just mean she loves me?
Is she ready for one nap? Is her resistance towards taking her first nap on time and her second nap at all due to her outgrowing the need for both? Or is it that she is adjusting back to having me home every day instead of her beloved nanny? Or is it that she has figured out she can manipulate me into letting her play more? Or is it that she is over tired from not napping enough and thus not sleeping enough and so she is in extra need of both naps?
I felt out of touch with her while I was working. Many moms can be good moms while working. I was not. I was disconnected from her, just trying to get through my days.
So now, when I’m back to being with her full time, I feel as if I lost the last 15 weeks of gradual growth and change, as if my child and my understandings are 15 weeks out of date. I feel as if my child has changed, suddenly, into one who is 15 weeks older than the one I knew.
I know the changes have been gradual. But I feel like I missed them.
So I don’t know what to do.
And I hate myself for missing them.
I hate that I missed the last 1/3 of her babyhood.
I hate that there is nothing I can do to get those weeks back.
I hate that I am not the one who primarily shaped who she is now as her communication took off and those formative weeks happened.
I know that in the grand scheme of things it was not much time. I know that living in regret only makes me miss what I have now. And I fight it.
But I still hate it.
And it’s harder to fight it when I feel like that time is impacting my ability to be a good mom now.
I want the rhythm I had with my daughter back. I want our easy, beautiful, in-step life back. Maybe I would have lost it even if I was home. But I don’t think so. Not like this. And I’ll never know.
I want to learn how to be a good mother to my daughter again. And I will. I’m sure.
But for now I’m just left feeling like a failure more and more with each lurching step.
One year ago I was 39.5 weeks pregnant, waiting to see if I would go into labor and become a mother of an outside-baby for Mother’s Day.
2.5 weeks later, Baby Love was born after a long, hard labor.
Being her mother has been the most joyful, fulfilling job I have ever had.
After 7 months of being her full-time stay-at-home-mom, I returned to work to complete my student teaching, taking on a full-time job outside the home and leaving her in the care of a nanny. It was very hard.
Friday, after 14 weeks away, my student teaching ended.
I am officially a full-time stay-at-home-mom again.
And I’m loving it.
Thank you, Baby Love, for giving me the best job I have ever, ever had. Thank you for making me a mother. Thank you for helping me find complete fulfillment in being “just” a mom.
Happy Mother’s Day, sweetheart!
Baby Love’s sleep seems to be FINALLY (*knock wood…knock all the wood*) turning a corner (*frantic knocking*). With our new nanny, E, she is more happy and relaxed and that is translating to better sleep.
I never sleep trained Baby Love. I tried a variation of cry-it-out once, and half-tried it a second time, and both times decided it was not for us. I am a big believer in the philosophy that babies’ wants ARE needs, which does not go well with CIO. Even if Baby Love just wanted the comfort of my presence or my boob in the middle of the night, to her that was a need. She had no life experience or tools in her tool box to draw on to deal with discomfort or fear or loneliness in other ways. How could I deny her the one thing she knew she could draw on to calm down, me, and leave her with nothing? It was just not my parenting style. Even if she didn’t “need” to eat in the night after 6 or 8 months, she “needed” my comfort. And that need was just as valid.
I nursed her to sleep for almost every bed time. Whenever she awoke in the night, I nursed her back to sleep.
Within this framework, I set her up to succeed.
I made sure she was rested so she wasn’t so over tired she couldn’t sleep.
I didn’t respond to every little sound, a classic reason I hear people give that babies still wake 4-6 times a night after 6 months like Baby Love did. I understood this idea in theory, but it was pretty clear if Baby Love was going to need me or not: when she needed me she woke up screaming. When she cried for me, I went to her, even if it was for the 8th time that night. I might have been exhausted, but I went, and quickly. No leaving her to cry for minutes on end to try to “teach” her to self-soothe by leaving her without soothing.
I helped her learn to put herself to sleep by giving her the opportunity to do so, but I’d still go back if she needed me and was crying. One day I left her to play in her crib at nap time, something she would often do for as much as an hour before crying for me to help her come fall asleep, and when I checked on her on the video monitor she had fallen asleep on her own. From that day on she fell asleep on her own at nap time regularly. This falling asleep on her own, however, in no way affected her nighttime awakenings. For Baby Love, falling asleep and falling BACK asleep are two very different things.
Then, finally, all on her own, Baby Love was ready to sleep more soundly. She very suddenly started waking up in the night, crying out once or twice or for 30 seconds, shifting to a new position, and going right back to sleep.
I was astounded.
By this point, at about 9.5 months old, I had resigned myself to the idea that we were in for the long haul and her sleep would likely be bad until she was around 2 years old, when children’s sleep habits are supposed to become more adult-like. I had tried all of the gentle methods to get her to sleep better, none of which made a difference, and that was as far as I was willing to take it. I had given up on the techniques weeks or months before and settled in to our apparent normal. I continued to set her up to succeed and nurture her so she knew she could count on me, but I refused to do any overt “training”.
And yet, she taught herself.
When she was ready, she did it.
Since this epiphany on her part a few weeks ago, her sleep has been improving markedly. Even though she has been the sickest she has ever been in her life with an icky head cold over the past week, she is sleeping better than she ever has. She only needs me twice a night much of the time. Any more, four wake-ups is a bad night, instead of a great one. I am getting more, continuous sleep. She is getting more, continuous sleep. It is a beautiful thing.
As her sleep has improved I better understand all of the sleep tips I received. I now don’t go to her as soon as she wakes, because even with an initial loud cry she’ll often put herself right back to sleep. In the past this wasn’t the case, and waiting 5 minutes just led to 5 minutes of continuous screaming (I tried it once for 3 days, not once did she “not really need me” or would I have been responding too fast). I can even understand cry-it-out at this stage, though I still wouldn’t choose it, because now she has the tools she would need to be able to put herself to sleep even when she doesn’t want to. Before this point in her life she did not have these tools, and leaving her to cry and cry would only have taught her that she was utterly alone and could not count on me. Now it might force her to access these skills. (Again, I’d rather let her learn to access them herself, but at least now I see that it could work even if it’s not my preferred path.)
Watching her develop on her own has been a great lesson to me:
I do know my child best.
I was given all of the sleep advice under the sun. I got judged left and right by parents with every age of child. I got told I was doing it wrong, I was coddling her, I was harming her, I just needed to try x and our sleep problems would disappear.
I listened to the advice and the judgement, and then continued to do what felt right for Baby Love.
Looking at where she was from birth to 9 months, and looking at where she is now at 10 months, it is night and day. That sleep advice would NOT have worked before now on her (which is probably why it didn’t). Now it could. Other babies may be ready for it at 6 months, or even 4 months, but mine wasn’t until 9.5.
Just like with every other development that our children go through, variation is normal. I would never strap her into a walker and force her to try to walk for hours a day so she would learn that on my schedule. Trying to force her to conform to sleep training techniques, even gentle ones, before she was ready for them would have been similarly pointless and detrimental.
I’m glad I decided to trust my baby and follow her lead. For us, it worked. Now not only am I sleeping better, I am trusting my mommy superpowers more. I know my child.
We will have sleep regressions. I know that. But we are progressing. And there is light at the end of the tunnel.
And if I do end up needing to do some gentle training down the line, I know, now, that she is ready for it.
Call me a materialist, but my love language is receiving gifts. It’s not that I like having stuff, it’s that, to me, gifts express thought and caring and communicate love very clearly. I feel loved when I receive a considered, thoughtful gift, no matter the size.
This is very foreign to my hubby, whose love language is decidedly not gifting. Gifts were never a big deal in his family, and they just aren’t something he ever put that much thought or effort into. It’s not that he didn’t care about the people he was getting gifts for, it was that giving a gift didn’t have much of a deeper meaning attached to it for him.
Over almost ten years of being together and almost five years of marriage, my hubby has learned how important gifts are to me and has learned to speak my love language.
Right now he’s away at work (on a Saturday, boo), but I am feeling very loved,
eating the expensive meat and cheese he bought me when he was doing the grocery shopping because he knows I love it but would never spend money on it,
staring at the beautiful roses he got me because he knew I’d appreciate their unique coloration,
remembering the delicious dinner he picked up for us from Pita Pit last night because the closest one is an hour away but his work took him close to it and he knows how addicted I am to it.
I don’t talk about my hubby much on here, but I am so grateful to have a man who cares about me enough to learn to show me in the ways that speak loudest to me.
When I began student teaching we hired a nanny to take care of Baby Love. I sifted through almost 30 applications to the position, phone interviewed close to a dozen applicants, and interviewed two in-person. We thought we had found the perfect person to take care of our sweet daughter while I was unable to.
We were wrong.
It soon became apparent that the nanny, Z, and us were on different pages. I would request she do something one way, I would learn later she did it a different way (after agreeing to do it mine). For example, she was a big believer in schedules. We keep Baby Love on a loose schedule, but she’s such a tough sleeper we stay flexible to meet her daily needs. We told Z to let Baby Love sleep in as long as she would and to just adjust naps a little later if she slept late. Sleeping in usually meant a bad night, and she needed the sleep so she didn’t get a sleep deficit and then have a harder time sleeping the next night, get a bigger deficit, etc. I learned after many weeks that Z had been waking Baby Love at exactly 8AM every morning if she wasn’t already awake, despite these instructions. I told her to not let Baby Love cry herself to sleep. She didn’t seem to mind if she screamed herself out (for short periods, if it got too long she’d go in there…I think). I just didn’t trust that my daughter was being taken care of the way I asked.
On top of that we had habits that annoyed each other. She brought her 14 month old with her (which we were fine with in theory), and he ended up being a whirlwind force who got into everything. We babyproofed, but the amount of stuff we had around annoyed her. I’d regularly come home to find something thrown out of the room she watched the kids in primarily…like my Roomba, which had charged in that room…or a single pair of shoes I forgot to move after taking them off the night before and she threw in front of a heater and ruined. I was annoyed by her uncleanliness. I have berry stains in my carpet from where her child threw berries and she didn’t pick them up or clean the stain. And so on.
Worst of all, Baby Love was stressed by the transition away from being with mom. She wasn’t eating very much at all. We almost completely lost her EC. Her sleep was backslid and flatlined at about the worst it had ever been. She’d cry and fuss at least once a day, and would fuss herself to sleep for every nap. She was unhappy.
After being with us for about a month (out of the 14 weeks she committed to) she told us she may have gotten another job for after her time with us ended, but that it started about 2 weeks before ours ended. She said since that job was permanent she’d do whatever she had to to get it, including leaving us early, despite previously committing repeatedly. Then she told me the date. It was actually 4.5 weeks before she was supposed to stop with us. She was leaving us with 1/3 of the job still to go.
I was upset. I had been trying to let the annoyances go, thinking that it was just part of having a nanny and I was being a control freak. Baby Love was stressed, but I thought it was just that Z was not-me, not that she was bad in any way. She was another person “living” in our house for much of the day, and we all had to adjust. I wasn’t sure how I could find someone else we could trust, since we had had to weed out so many people with what we could afford to pay. As much as Z annoyed me, we were at least settling into each other. I didn’t want to start the process over. Nevertheless, we began the search again.
Z told us she got the job on Friday.
That evening I put up a position.
Over the week several people applied, including E. I phone interviewed many. On the following Sunday we arranged to meet with E. And fell in love.
She was fantastic. A calm but competent presence. She had no formal experience, but we still trusted her to take care of our daughter. She was pregnant with her first child, who she had just learned was a girl, and doted on Baby Love.
We hired her an hour later. She started on Tuesday (since the hubby was home on Monday).
I came home that Tuesday and was amazed. Baby Love was so calmly happy to see me. With Z she had always been borderline frantic, borderline melting down, happy to see me in a “OH MY GOSH MOMMY HI PLEASE PICK ME UP HOW ARE YOU!?” kind of way. With E she was just…content. Happy. Peaceful. She beamed at me. It was the same kind of reaction the hubby gets when he comes home and Baby Love has been with me. A, “Oh, hi mom! I’m glad you’re here! Want to play with us?” kind of reaction.
I talked with E about the day. It went fabulously. Baby Love didn’t cry. At all. Zero fussing. Zero crying. She let E rock her to sleep in her arms on the first day she stayed with her! She peed on the potty for her. She ate a generous amount of bottle and solids. She was happy.
I was happy. E was nice and calm and assured but willing to do whatever I wanted. She felt like this was a wonderful job with a wonderful child, rather than something beneath her for not enough pay, and that attitude showed. I felt comfortable inquiring about things, requesting things, letting her know how we did things, and felt I’d be listened to rather than be an annoyance.
As time has gone on the change has been INCREDIBLE. Baby Love has never been as stressed as she was during her weeks with Z. Her nighttime sleep is steadily, sharply increasing as E stays with us. I cannot stress enough how amazing this is for this sleep-deprived mama! She still naps for E relatively easily, getting much longer and better naps on a flexible schedule. She eats an appropriate amount of bottles and solids. Her EC is back.
I had no idea how stressed we all were with Z until she was gone. E is like a breath of fresh air. I am so happy. SO happy.
You better believe E will be getting one well-thought-out baby gift from us!
Let me start by saying that if you want an epidural for your birth, more power to you, go for it! This post is not to judge the decisions of others. It is to ask that the decisions of other not be judged.
Today at lunch I was talking with a coworker who recently decided to go for a home birth for her current pregnancy. As we were talking about out-of-hospital (OOH) birth, another coworker entered the staff lounge and overheard my pregnant coworker saying she was happy to not be going to a hospital because she didn’t want an epidural and thought it would be harder to avoid if she was in a hospital. The newcomer entered the conversation to say:
“Do you know what my nurse said to me about epidurals when I was in labor? Antibiotics were invented for a reason, and epidurals were invented for a reason. Science progresses. There is absolutely no reason to not get an epidural and to be in pain and suffer through your labor.”
I made a bland reply along the lines that being in pain and suffering were not the same thing, but the comment really got to me, probably partially because my pregnant coworker was so happy with her decision to switch to an OOH birth and there was no reason for her to be derided for her desire to avoid an epidural. It is far from the first time I’ve heard such a comment; it is regularly stated by those deriding OOH birthers that there is “no reason” to not get an epidural. The remark, and follow-up statements by the woman, stayed with me, and I began to think of what I wish I had said.
There are reasons to not get an epidural. Just like there are reasons to get one! For some, getting one is the right decision, even if just because they want one, and I do not dispute that.
However, for some getting one is not the right decision. And that seems to be something that many, many people refuse to acknowledge.
I wish I could go back and reply to her again. I would say that there are reasons to not get an epidural, including:
- PositioningIf your labor stalls, if your baby is in a poor position, or if, like me, the last little bit of your cervix simply doesn’t want to get out of the way, changing positions is one of the best things you can do to help things get back on track. Additionally, during pushing many people in a hospital have a baby who gets “stuck”, but simply getting off your back and squatting increases the pelvic opening by 30%. Gravity works even while you’re in labor, and your hip joints and other parts’ positions can be drastically changed by how you are sitting/standing/laying. With an epidural you either partially or completely immobilized, and the range of positions you can achieve is severely limited. This may mean a longer labor, a malpositioned baby who doesn’t want to drop, a cervix that doesn’t want to finish effacing, an “inability” to push out a baby, or many more complications which are created or worsened by being stuck in bed.
- PushingIf given enough time and left unmedicated, virtually all women will have the urge to push. The urge does not not necessarily start right when the cervix is dilated to 10, because at that point the baby often drops down into the opening and it can take awhile for the uterus to shrink to be pushing on the baby again, but once your body is ready the urge is nearly irresistible! Pushing is far more effective with an urge from your body. During my labor, because I was so tired, my midwife gave me the option of having her hold my cervix out of the way while I pushed, which I took. My body was not ready to push, and I had no urge for about the first hour. My pushing was progressing, but it was hard and painful. Once I got the urge, however, there was no stopping me! It felt FABULOUS to push! At one point they even suggested I rest through a contraction and I couldn’t; my body knew its job was to push that baby out and she was coming with or without my consent! In addition to the urge, pushing feels a certain way, and the feelings you have during pushing give you feedback on how to push better. Imagine trying to learn how to “roll your r”s while your mouth was shot full of novocaine and you couldn’t feel your tongue or mouth. Even if you could hear yourself and see yourself in a mirror, it would be much more difficult to learn than if you were getting tactile feedback from your efforts. The tactile feedback a woman gets from pushing is important as well. An epidural takes away or dampens a woman’s pushing urge and her body’s feedback on her pushing. This, again, can lead to many women who are “unable” to push out their baby, though they may well have been able to if they were left to feel.
- Pain is not the same as sufferingPain is a part of life. Sometimes it is to no end but to tell us something is wrong, and once we know something is wrong there is no need for it. However, sometimes it is communicative. Would you want to exercise while completely numbed up to avoid the soreness and pain that can be associated with a good work out session? Of course not! That is pain with a purpose. So is labor pain. Pain is a physical response, suffering is a mental response. It is possible to feel pain without suffering, like when you are achieving a good work out. For many the purposeful pain during labor is worth feeling and does not lead to suffering.
- Lingering NumbnessI have a friend who got an epidural and asked for it to be very light. Since it is not always possible to control how strong an epidural is with that degree of finesse, she ended up with an epidural that left her completely unable to feel anything from the waist down, and whose effects did not wear off until hours after she had given birth. She really disliked that she was unable to stand, walk, or even adjust in bed, and that she felt so uncomfortable being numb, in the first hours of her child’s life. Unfortunately, there was nothing to do but wait for the medicine to wear off. This type of occurrence is not uncommon; it is hard to control exactly how strong an epidural is. Is this a life-changing side effect? No. But neither is experiencing pain during labor. It may be a strong reason to avoid an epidural for some women, just like avoiding pain may be a strong reason to get one for other women.
- Epidural headacheAn epidural is a medical procedure and has a long list of possible side effects like any medical procedure. One of the most common side effects, occurring in up to 1 in 100 epidurals, is an epidural headache. An epidural headache occurs when the epidural needle, which is supposed to be placed just outside the spine, punctures the dura surrounding the spine. This leads to spinal fluid leaking out of the puncture wound. Spinal fluid surrounds the brain, and if too much leaks out the brain tends to sag and rub against the bones of the skull, causing pain. An epidural headache can range in severity, but can be debilitatingly painful. The duration varies from a few days to months or years, with most healing themselves but some needing treatment. A woman may not want to risk this relatively common complication in the first days or weeks of her baby’s life.
- Higher chance of interventions, possibly including c-sectionOne main reason many women have for avoiding an epidural is to avoid the interventions which often come with it. An epidural increases a mother’s risk of longer labor, fever during labor (which leads to antibiotics for mom and baby), perineal trauma (e.g. 3rd and 4th degree tears), and operative vaginal delivery. Some studies show that it doesn’t increase the risk of c-section, but some show it does. For example, one article in OBGYN News (a source definitely not biased towards downplaying a connection) discusses a small study which showed a 30% risk of c-section for women who got an epidural and an 8% risk of c-section for women who didn’t.This larger study of over 2,000 women also found a link between epidural administration and c-section rates. For women who want to avoid these and other interventions, this is a huge reason to not get an epidural.
So to those who berate natural birthers, scoffing, “You don’t get a medal for doing it without drugs!” or declaring, “There is no reason to not get the epidural!” I say, you are wrong. There are reasons to not get it, just like there are reasons to get it. Neither choice is wrong, and the choice should be left for the mother to make without belittlement or scorn.