What Labor Really Feels Like

Labor is different for every woman.  Some people have painless births, some people want medication at the first sign of a contraction.  Some people experience great pleasure during labor. What is true for nearly every woman is that as vivid as childbirth is in the moment, you start forgetting what it was really like very quickly after birth.  Try to remember the feeling of a contraction a few days or weeks afterwards and you’ll realize that your memory has become quite fuzzy.  Wait a few more months and you might not have any recollection at all of this experience that was so all-consuming while it was happening.  These are a few of my thoughts on what labor felt like for me, mostly written down a few weeks postpartum. Ready my full birth story here.

On the one hand, it’s the worst thing you’ll ever go through. On the other hand, it’s just PAIN.  Pain that is Purposeful, Anticipated, Intermittent, and Normal. It hurts a lot, but it passes, and then it doesn’t hurt anymore. And, if all goes well, you get to hold your baby at the end, which is an amazing motivator.

**If you don’t actually want to know what labor really felt like for me, you can stop reading now, cause I’m really going to tell you truthfully. Fair warning.**

Labor contractions felt like my insides were turning to stone, extremely heavy stone, and the force of gravity pushed that heavy stone inside me down with immense pressure onto everything—my cervix, pelvis, bladder, sacrum, spine, rectum.  Sharp. Hard-Edged. Solid. The most pressure my body has ever sensed. Not pressure like a blood pressure cuff–more like pinned-under-a-boulder pressure. I’m not saying this to scare people–I’m just trying to be accurate. I got through it, you can too.  There’s actually quite a number of sensations at the same time. Now, seven months postpartum, I don’t have a body memory of how contractions felt in terms of musculature (as in, I can’t remember what it felt like in my uterus, specifically), but I can recall the bone-on-bone crushing sensation on the inside of my sit bones.

Breathing doesn’t take away the pain, it just give your mind something to focus on to get through the contraction. Breathing and “sounding out” are things that can increase in volume and intensity as the sensations of the contractions peak, so it’s a helpful focal point to “stay on top” of the contraction.

Around four centimeters my doula asked me something like “What image or metaphor do you indentify your contractions with?”  Even though she asked me this in between contractions, I was already in Laborland, and she was speaking a foreign language, one that I only understood a few words of, and could speak even fewer words of myself.  The question was too complex for me to both process and answer, so I had to wait until after the next contraction to answer. “Wave” was the only word I could get out. No more complete sentences or complicated syntax for me. I had a baby to push out, and that was enough work for me to do. I didn’t have ANY extra attention for her question, which seemed pointless at the time.  Don’t ask me anymore stupid questions I can’t answer, I thought.

Two times between 2 and 5 centimeters, I entered a contraction and my doula was still chatting or joking with someone else in the room, as if she hadn’t noticed that another contraction was starting. I needed silence during the contractions because any other voices was too distracting and would throw me off my breathing and rocking rhythm.  The first time I said “Stop talking” as I continued my labor breathing and swaying.  The second time it happened I shouted “Shut the fuck up!” and went right on with breathing and moaning through the contraction. Once it was over, I apologized for swearing at her, and she apologized for talking.  It didn’t happen again.

The sensation of needing to push is a lot like having to poop. You probably will poop in the process. That’s ok.

Pushing your baby out of your vagina is a wild, unbelievable, seemingly impossible feat. But women do it everyday.  Yes, there is a “ring of fire” feeling during crowning, and I felt that even though I had an epidural at that point. My baby was ten pounds, so I tore really bad, which I will write about in a different post.

Make as much noise as you need. Move in the ways that feel right. Trust your body. Don’t think about it too much. This is the time to let your mind take a back seat and let your body just do what it’s going to do. You do not have control over this process, and that is ok. Let go and breathe. Then breathe again. And again. And again.

Driving to Write

My toddler takes his afternoon nap by falling asleep in the car. Usually it takes about 20 minutes of riding in the car seat for him to finally surrender. Driving around for nap today, I keep getting writing ideas and turn into the parking lot at every municipal park that we pass to jot down notes on the phone. At least I’m not trying to do it while driving. But the frequent stopping to type a few sentences is throwing off the rhythm of the car ride, and it’s keeping him awake. “Oh! This one!” he says when we pull in somewhere else. “Ok! Go out!”

“Sorry honey, Mommy just needs to write some more words down. We ‘ll come back here and get out another day.” He’s supposed to be asleep by now anyway, dammit. The baby is dutifully snoring in his car seat, why can’t the two-year-old just forget about the choo-choo train and about going over railroad tracks and just go the fuck to sleep already so I can get down my ideas before I forget this brilliant turn of phrase about the beautiful things he did today?

Twenty minutes stretches into forty, then sixty. Still no sleeping two-year-old. Now I have to pee, so I start heading back toward the house, thinking maybe he’ll close his eyes by the time we pull in the driveway. He asks for “Snowman again” each time Frosty ends on the Raffi Christmas CD. This is not a good sign– he’s too aware of his surroundings to be asleep three minutes from now.

As I pull in and turn off the car, I’ve accepted the fact that nap time isn’t happening and we’re going back inside. I’m steeling myself for a late afternoon with a toddler who didn’t-quite-nap. Ok, I got this. I’m putting the phone away and I’m going to be fully present with my children, who miss Mama and are tired and hungry. “I have to go pee, honey. I’ll be right back.” I jump out of the car with the keys, my bladder exploding and put all I’ve got into my post-perineal-tear Kegels.

“No! My turn go peepee!” I hear him say as I close the car door. Not a chance, kid. I flash him a sweet I Love You smile and unlock the front door.

I pee alone, and in silence.

Ok. I’m ready for this nap-free afternoon. Let’s do this. I go back outside and take out the baby in his car seat, still snoring. I carefully set the car seat in his crib, and go back for the no-napper. “No! I do it!” he whines as I slide open his door. I reach for his car seat buckles. “NO! I DO IT!”

“Oh. OK,” I say. I know what this means. This means that he really does want to go to sleep but he really doesn’t want to go to sleep, and if I unbuckle his car seat, he is going to flip his shit and everything is going to be the wrong thing for him for the next four hours. Poor guy. I’m not going to let that happen to either one of us, so back in the car we go. I turn around and go back  inside to get the baby, still snoring, and gingerly re-click him into the car.

“Back in?”

“Yes, honey. Back in.” As I start the car he looks longingly to the front door.

“Hoooome” he whimpers.

“I know, you want to go home.” I turn off Frosty as we get to the stop sign. No talking, no music. He’ll be asleep halfway through our usual loop. I check his drooping eyelids in the rear view mirror. The next red light is particularly long, and I listen to his breaths getting deeper over the traffic noise. I flick on my right turn signal. We’re going home.

I get a full hour of writing time sitting in the parked car in the driveway, the soft sounds of two boys in slumber the only background noise. Miracle. Eventually the baby stirs. We transfer inside, the no-napper still asleep as I slowly lower him onto his bed with all my love and tenderness. In that moment he embodies all the fleeting, fragile miracles in the world, and I am full of gratitude.

The Four Load Experiment

January 15, 2014

I did something rash today. With two full baskets of clean clothes waiting to be folded and one waiting to be transferred from the washer to the dryer, I went into each bedroom, the bathroom, and the kitchen with another basket and gathered a fourth load of laundry. And then it hit me.
This is all we need.
Anything that is left in the drawers and boy’s baskets is just jamming up a system that might just run a lot smoother if we got rid of everything that is not in our current laundry rotation. Well, not get rid of, but rather put away out of sight until the season, size change, interest warrants an update with an infusion of different clothes.

So I grabbed a trash bag, and set to emptying our drawers into bags.  If it was not in the current laundry rotation, we probably weren’t going to miss it. That was my hypothesis.  I wanted to see if I was right. My goal was to take every item of clothing that was currently stagnating in the drawers and put it away, out of our daily lives.

Why? Because I don’t want to spend my life doing laundry, thinking about laundry, annoyed by laundry, overwhelmed by laundry. Because folding and putting away laundry while my kids play in the next room is not the same as being present with them. Because I like simplicity, and I like creating systems that work smoothly and efficiently so I can spend more time and energy on those I love instead of the stuff I have.

And then the anxious thoughts started.

But what if something happens? What if my children don’t have underwear? What if there’s no short sleeve shirts in the laundry right now? WHAT WILL WE WEAR? WHAT IF SOMETHING BAD HAPPENS?

Wow, those are some interesting thoughts, I thought. Want to reign that in a little bit? Is anything bad actually going to happen? Will your children really be unclothed? And by the way, your children don’t wear underwear yet.

I confess that as I went from room to room, I couldn’t actually go through with emptying the drawers and baskets. I just had to leave two items in each basket. Just in case.

It stayed like that for a day while I ruminated on my initial runaway train of fears that having fewer clothes immediately accessible would spiral into domestic chaos and throw us into a dire state of emergency. I had left those two items in each drawer and basket as a security blanket, and I pondered why I had made that decision, when my original goal was to leave the baskets EMPTY, save for the incoming clean laundry.

My security blanket…Security from what? 

C’mon, I thought. What are you so afraid of? Do you think it’s actually going to happen? Where are those fears coming from? Are they really YOURS, or something you’ve been taught to fear?

So then I felt like I should be brave, so I went back and put those two extra just-in-case items from each basket into a separate bag.

This is what I’ll get out first. Just in case I need it.

I kept things this way for awhile. I wanted to know:

Did I miss it? Did I need it? Did if make things easier for it to be gone? How much do we really need to be comfortable and provided for? How often do I need to restock/ rotate? Is that a more enjoyable task than folding laundry and putting it away ? Did it make any difference in the quantity of labor needed to clothe my family, or make it a more enjoyable task?

The results of this experiment were:

1. I did end up putting the last two items back in the baskets. It turns out we did need those two extra items in addition to what was in the laundry rotation.
2. Yes it has made a difference–in the way I feel about the necessary task of laundry. It doesn’t seem like an endless task now. Interestingly, I’m still doing the same number of loads total, but it’s much easier to fold and put back in the drawers now so the system as a whole works more smoothly, making my life easier. It take s up less mental space because it does not get out of hand, mountains upon mountains of laundry accumulating in each room. Just one tidy basket in each room, and when it’s getting close to the top I know I need to put that basket in the wash because that person is about to run out of clean clothes!

3, I will need to rotate clothes seasonally and size-wise more frequently because what is left in the drawers is really temperature specific and we’ll all need different selections when it’s not quite so wintry.

4. It’s made me appreciate clothes more, and also not care about them so much. The Four Load Experiment put the focus more on function and quality (comfort) rather than fashion and whimsy (although those pieces are all the more enjoyed).

The experiment continues…

Five weeks later, I organized all our stored clothes, including the ones I had stuffed into garbage bags at the beginning of this experiment. Beth and I have just one tote each of stored clothes now.  There is one tote each of 12 month, 18 month, 24month/2T clothes, and a tote of 3T/4T stuff for J to grow into.  I also packed another tote full to the brim of kid’s clothes to sell at the consignment store. During this reorganization and purge, I pulled out a few more clothes for my shelves, because those four initial loads  didn’t seem to have as much of my clothes as my other family members. Definitely still enough, but after repeated washings these five weeks, the few shirts I had are noticably more worn than five weeks ago. Also, I’m getting a bit bored of my standard “mom uniform,” plus the seasons are changing, crocuses are blooming, and mild 50-60 degree days are here to stay (mostly).

So my hanging shelves are nicely full again, but not overflowing with clothes.  If after a few weeks of this return of more clothes, I notice that I haven’t worn an article of clothing even once during this time, I’ll likely put it away again, or better yet, part with it for good.

The best thing about the experiment is that now I KNOW that we don’t need to have more clothes than four loads worth.  The world did not implode, and everyone had lovely, clean clothes on their bodies, every day.

The disappointing thing was that it didn’t reduce the amount of time I spend doing laundry.  I still wash one or two loads of laundry most days.

How many clothes is the ideal amount for you and your family?  Would you be willing to have fewer clothes, and why would you take those steps to minimize your wardrobe?  What are the motivating factors for you?

The Giver

It’s Winter Solstice and Christmas time. The meditation this morning at the UU Fellowship was, “Who are you during this season? What are you made of? What are you called to do, to be during this season?”  In a delicious moment of silence, I had the following insights:

This year, I am foremost a mother of small children. This year, I am THE GIVER.

I give my milk. I give my sleep, my time, energy, love, and patience to my children.  I give them my mental space.

Not just in this holiday season, but in this season of my life, I am the giver. I give my family the gifts of healthy food, structure and routine, security and safety, reassurance and a steadfast presence that can be trusted.

I’m ok with this (and I’m a feminist). The Giver is not the same as The Martyr. Martyrs operate as though their greatest worth comes from fully giving up themselves for others, with no hope or expectation of ever getting one’s self back.  Givers know they can grow within themselves through the practice of giving. They find a deep well on which to draw from to nourish themselves so that they can do the work of nourishing others.  It’s not the same as losing yourself. It’s making a long term investment in relationships that really matter.

I’m at peace with this role, because it is one of many seasons in my life. I can give this much because this is the season to do so, and I know that I will be replenished.

Someday, a soon day in the course of my whole life, no one will need me to turn the food I eat into milk for them to drink as their sole source of sustenance. No one will need me to rock them back to sleep at 2am. No one will need me to help them learn how to use the toilet, or how to button their shirt.  Someday I will get a full night of sleep, and someday I won’t need to make anyone’s lunch but my own. Hell, someday someone will make lunch for me.

As exhausting as life is right now with a five-month-old and a two-and-a-half-year-old, this is how it’s supposed to be during this season of life. It Just Is. And it won’t always be. More space and time will open up for new pursuits, new challenges, and new dimensions of my self.

And to be clear, I sure as hell don’t always feel this gracious about my role. But today I do, and that is something worth writing about.

Queer Conception: The DIY Nitty Gritty


I know a lot of queer folks who are looking to make babies. I also know the internet is not as helpful, inclusive, and/or supportive in this quest as we would hope. I know because I looked. There are lots of “trying to conceive” message boards and websites (TTC is the shorthand that everyone on those boards uses) but those sites are VERY heterocentric, and not every queer individual is going to feel comfortable there. There’s also not a whole lot of helpful technical advice, which is important especially if you are going for DIY conception (not going through a sperm bank but finding your own donor and inseminating in the comfort of your home.)

Side note: To be thorough, I will mention that queer families are also created with the help of fertility clinics, adoption agencies, surrogate mothers, and of course sex, too. I’m not as familiar with these methods of conception, but I hope to have some guest posts here someday to cover all these areas.

DIY conception is what I’m most familiar with because it is what we did, and the route that quite a few other families I know are taking. I’ll get into why we made that choice, and the pros and cons of DIY vs. clinic, in a later post. In this post I’m sharing the steps of our process in a lot of detail, and I hope this will be helpful to other folks.

1. Decide what kind of donor you are looking for, what relationship you seek to have with them, and what relationship you seek your child to have with them (present as well as future). In DIY conception, you know the donor, so decide whether you want that individual to be someone you are very close to, or someone who is more of an acquaintance and won’t be in your life much after the donation. Other factors to consider: age, general health, maturity level, reliability/ timeliness (you are going to be depending on this person to be available to do a very specific thing at a designated time. He needs to be able to keep his appointments.)

We wanted someone who was not in our inner circle of friends so as to avoid any complications in the relationship this person has with our family. We were looking for a donation of sperm, not a co-parent and we knew that B would be doing a second-parent adoption of the child, so we had no desire to establish legal paternity. Yet we wanted someone who would be open to the possibility of a relationship of some sort with the child at a later time when and if the child had a desire to know their biological donor.

2. Find your donor. Come up with a list if your three top choices for donors, and broach the subject. Tell them exactly what you are looking for and what you are not looking for. Ask if they might be willing to consider filling this role for you. Give them time to think about it. Include their partners in the discussion, too, because they have a stake in this as well.

3. Once you and your donor have agreed to move forward, agree on your agreements. Be clear about what is going to happen. We wrote up the things we had talked about, and all involved parties signed and dated the document. It was a covenant. We knew what we were signing up for, and where the boundaries were. Things to discuss and agree on: duration of said agreement (are you going to try just once? Six months? A year?), mode and frequency of communication (we agreed that we would tell our donor when I got my period, so he would know that in about a week and a half we would need to meet up for a donation. Then we would text around day 8 of my cycle to figure out a specific day and time for the donation), method of delivery (make sure you and the donor are on the same page about timing between ejaculation and insemination, what kind of vessel will be used, and keeping the sample warm, etc.), and location (Your place? His place? Will the donor bring the sample to you, or will you go get it? Will you already be in the same place when he produces a sample, or will you coordinate to meet up right after?). Lots to think about…

Also decide whether you want to have a legally binding agreement about donation, or not. I’ll write about this in another post, but for now I’ll just say that this may or may not be necessary or desired, depending on what state you live in. We did not make a legally binding agreement, just a written agreement between us. With our donor and in our state, we were comfortable with that.

4. Track your ovulation, and do the deed. I had been tracking the length of my cycle for several months before we started trying. I also tracked my cervical mucus for signs of ovulation. With this information, I was fairly certain I was ovulating on day 11 of my cycle. Because sperm can live for up to 5 days but an egg is only viable for 24-48 hours after ovulation, we got a sample on day 9 and day 11. The sample was provided to us in a glass jar within 15-20 minutes of it being produced, and it had been kept at body temperature the whole time. We drew the sample into a medication syringe and inserted it just like a tampon. Then for good measure we inserted an Instead Soft Cup to trap the sperm up close to my cervix, which I kept in overnight.

5. Relax, Wait, Persevere.
I know a couple for whom this method worked on the first try. For us it worked on the second try (although I’m fairly certain I had a chemical pregnancy the first try, it just didn’t stick). For other couples it will take much longer, and for some it may never happen. Those TTC sites that I mentioned can be a good source of support for you during the waiting game, but it’s also very easy to over-obsess about the process. What is meant to happen will, so try to give yourself some grace. When a child is supposed to join your family, it will come to you!

Birth Story: First Moments

This is really Part 2 of my birth story, the last moments of A’s birth, but I wrote this part first. Click Here to read the beginning of my birth story– A Forty Hour Labor

The lights were turned bright and directed toward the foot of the bed.  I was in a rhythm of pushing, and I could see Aran’s dark hair reflected in the mirror the midwife had put at the end of the bed.  The nurse was putting an oxygen mask over my face in between contractions. My doula was by my head, ready to support my head and shoulders during the next push, my mom and Beth each held one of my knees against their belly, my feet in the air. After 41 hours of labor, I was tired, but calm and excited. My baby would be here soon. The question of whether I was heading for a C-section was no longer a concern. He was definitely going to be coming out through the birth canal.  Through the numbness of the epidural, I could feel the pressure of the next contraction coming on. My doula coached me through a push of ten counts, and I saw in the mirror that Aran’s head had emerged fully.  I took a deep breath and pushed again, screaming out like a banshee as I felt a burning, stretching sensation, then a warm, slippery whoosh of liquid and slimy baby, and he was out.
“Whoah! That’s a big baby!” said the midwife. “He ‘s huge!” said the doula. He let out a cry and everyone cheered.  The cord was clamped quickly and B cut it, then Aran was whisked over to the warmer and a whole slew of pediatric nurses and doctors.  The midwife said, “How’s the baby doing, is he ok?”  She got an answer in the affirmative and she said, “Good, cause we have a problem over here.” Someone ran out to get the OB and returned to say she was finishing up a delivery and would be in as soon as she could.  Whatever they were talking about was inconsequential–my full attention was on my baby, ten feet away surrounded by a gang in yellow scrubs and masks. He looked like the sunset, like dusk after it rains– pinky gray and purple, wet and shiny.  His cry kept me from worrying too much, but I needed to see him. I needed to touch him.  He needed to be on my belly. Right. Now. I couldn’t tell what they were doing for a few minutes, but Beth was shouting out periodic reports. “Ten toes!”  “Ten fingers!”  “He’s beautiful!” “He just has some fluid in his lungs and they’re helping him breathe!”

Finally the pediatrician held Aran up above the yellow bodies around him for me to get a glimpse. My mom, my doula, and me all let out a joyful squeal, a sigh of relief, and a gasp of breathless wonder to finally see him from head to toe.

Aron Brinker 1096

Somewhere in the same span of time the OB got there and the midwife came up to the head of the bed. “We need to get the placenta out as fast as we can because you’re bleeding quite a bit,” she said .
“Did I tear?” I ask, pretty sure of the answer, and not surprised after seeing how big Aran was. “Yeah, you tore pretty bad, a fourth degree, which means through four layers of tissue and muscle, all the way to your rectum. I only repair first and second degree tears, so Dr. Wagner is here to do the repair.”

While Dr. Wagner was stitching me up, the pediatricians were getting Aran ready for transport to the NICU.  His lungs were having trouble fully opening, and he needed more monitoring and assistance.  As they were leaving, they wheeled him to my bed and finally, FINALLY, we touched.

Aron Brinker 1124 Aron Brinker 1134

Beth stayed with Aran in the NICU while my mom and doula stayed with me, and our wonderful friend and photographer went back and forth, bringing news from the other room, and documenting Aran’s first moments, which he spent in Beth’s constant and reassuring presence while he was poked and prodded and wired to more than one machine.

After the baby crew left the delivery room, Dr. Wagner was finishing up the repair.  I started feeling VERY tired, and my mom noticed something was wrong.  She asked me how I was feeling, and all I could say was “I feel tired,” but what I was really feeling was a sense of doom, that I had to stay awake because if I fell asleep I wouldn’t be waking up again.

My blood pressure went down to 60/30, I blacked out, and they opened my IV lines to raise my blood pressure back up. After that, they suggested I get a blood transfusion.  I agreed that that sounded like an excellent idea.

Six hours later, I finally got to hold my sweet bundle in my arms.  He sniffed and licked my breast, latched on and fell asleep.  I cried with relief that we had made it through and were finally, perfectly, together.

Waiting Room

I’m sitting in the lab waiting to get bloodwork done for hypothyroidism and to check my iron levels. The last time I was in this office was in my 39th week, to get an ultrasound to check baby’s estimated weight. The midwives were concerned that baby might be big so they wanted me to have a late-term ultrasound to make sure I wasn’t growing a 13 pound baby. The day of the ultrasound I was having what I thought was early labor- BH contractions very steadily 5-7 minutes apart. I went to the ultrasound (it was a conditional requirement in order to be cleared for a water birth at the hospital) thinking that I’d probably be at the hospital before the radiologist even had a chance to make his/her report. The contractions cooled off when I got back home and rested, and didn’t return again for ten days when I FINALLY went into true labor. My mother had the same pattern when she was pregnant with me; 48 hours of steady but painless BH contractions, then nothing but a few hours of BH in the evening for ten days, then labor finally arriving. I’ve heard lots of women say that their labor was very similar to their mother’s labor for their birth.

Back in the waiting room for my blood draw, Aran is asleep on my chest in his sling, resting his full weight on my ribs and belly. He was on the inside the last time I was in this room and now he ‘s on the outside. Simple, obvious, but still miraculous.

Did you have a similar pattern of labor as your mother?

Are there certain places, foods, or images that trigger strong memories of pregnancy and birth for you?