Julep’s Pregnancy Story

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Photo credit: Tender Nest Portraits

This is the story of my pregnancy with my second child, Julep. I’ll share details of my pregnancy with my oldest son MaiTai in a future post.

After this post, check out Julep’s birth story here.

First Trimester

I wanted (I told myself, “needed”) to be done with pregnancies by age 27. Nothing special about this age, but I wanted to set a deadline in the foreseeable future. Technically, both of my pregnancies went smoothly enough… but mentally, they’re up there with some of the toughest things I’ve done thus far in my adult life.

My 27th birthday came and went. I started to get antsy and thought maybe I should like, you know, be trying harder to make this happen, but it seemed so forced to do anything other than just let nature behave as it will. Plus my cycles were in clockwork phases with the moon and I knew it wouldn’t be long before I was pregnant again.

So, on a whim one summer day last year, I took my first pregnancy test in almost four years. Positive! And with a guess date before my 28th birthday, of course.

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I was about a month along and excited to find out this early, just like with my first pregnancy. I couldn’t wait to tell whoever would listen but I exercised some restraint and we kept the news to ourselves for like… a whole week. (I gave it my best shot though!) We told MaiTai first, of course. Here‘s our announcement and here you’ll find my thoughts on the best time to announce a pregnancy.

Our baby’s estimated arrival date was in April, a month whose name derives from the Roman word aprillus which literally means “to open.” I learned that six planets would be in retrograde at his time of birth — the first instance of this event in a decade. I liked that we would welcome a baby with an Earthy sun sign to balance our family of one Water, one Fire, and one Air.

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We planned a Labor Day trip to Canada before the end of my first trimester to enjoy a vacation when morning sickness would hopefully dwindle and before the waddling would strike. The night before our morning flight, I noticed my passport was expired. Can I blame it on prego-brain? After debating various ridiculous and definitely illegal ways to smuggle ourselves into the country, it became clear we had to scrap the idea entirely. So, an impromptu trip to San Diego happened instead.

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I had wanted to birth MaiTai in water in a birthing center, but we ended up forced to change that plan in his third trimester. (Disappointment is an understatement). I decided I’d do whatever I could to make that a reality this time. After all, it would be my last birth and last chance.

In August, I went to a Meet the Midwives event at Katy Birth Center, which I liked primarily because it’s only ten minutes from my house (the nearest hospital is equidistant). The staff told me their birth stats (something no obstetrician has ever volunteered to admit to me!). At that time, they said each midwife takes 4-6 clients per month, the transport rate is 10-15% (usually due to exhaustion and other non-emergencies), and the cesarean rate is 3%. Compared to the national cesarean rate of 32.5% and Greater Houston’s hovering around 50%, I’d say my chances of avoiding a surgical birth here were rather promising.

I didn’t bother interviewing anyone else. I set up my first appointment and worked on a plan for the fees (we paid entirely out of pocket, but of course it was worth it).

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I thought our baby was female. TDD agreed he got girl vibes this time, too. It seemed this pregnancy was already different from the first, so clearly that meant I carried a baby of the other sex, right? I suspected our inkling might have something to do with the fact that it was us who were different this time around, but I searched for the signs anyway and they pointed to… girl! I didn’t have a preference either way — boy, girl, it’s all the same. We would never circumcise a potential ‘him’ or pierce the ears of a potential ‘her’ (two main gender-based considerations for American newborns), so it was po-tay-to, po-tah-to as far as ‘what’ we’d be having (a baby, duh!).

We found out our baby’s sex at the one and only ultrasound in November. We chose his name eleven days later (on this blog, his nickname is Julep). That’s right… his! I processed some feelings of disbelief upon the big reveal, but they had nothing to do with the fact that he’s male — just a shallow grievance over the fact that I guessed incorrectly. Still, I was excited to finally know! TDD and I have one brother each, just like MaiTai would.

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Second Trimester

Second trimester began on our fourth wedding anniversary. I started working with a nutritionist who specializes in plant-based diets and pregnancy (she’s a vegan mama who was expecting a baby of her own). Even with a healthy diet, around five months along I was blindsided by a short-lived but nasty case of PUPPP, which I wrote about here.

Halfway through my pregnancy, MaiTai turned three. We spent Thanksgiving in San Antonio Hill Country. The mild nausea from first trimester was long gone by now so this stage was enjoyable and comfortable.

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In the beginning of January, I went to a lecture by Anna Caffrey called “Pleasurable Birth: Rediscovering the Sexuality of Reproduction.” She shared findings from her dissertation about women who experience pleasure in childbirth and the role of natural versus synthetic oxytocin. She lamented our culture’s low standard for mothers’ expectations of childbirth, which is more like “Will they survive?” instead of “Will they be healthy and happy?” She believes one can tell the values of a culture by how it treats childbirth.

I followed newsletters from Ecstatic Birth around this time, too. To paraphrase, the program considered birth to be a sexual act as it is, in fact, the culmination of the act itself. (We birth with the same body parts, have relations with both, and the same hormones are ignited by both. However, with birth this all happens on a much larger scale: energy flow and sensations are greater and the opening is bigger, too).

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Anna Caffrey talks about pleasurable birth.

Also at the start of the year, I informed our midwives we were certain we wanted to birth at home instead of at the birth center. We realized the only reason for us to birth there would be the convenience of not having to ready our house, clean up afterward, or gather as many supplies. We figured avoiding the drive to the center during labor would be well-worth the house preparation we’d be doing in anticipation of our new tenant anyway.

By this time I was attending ten weeks of Birth Boot Camp Classes with TDD to learn comfort measures that dads find especially useful in helping their partners through labor. I felt especially reassured because our instructor had successful past home births with our midwife and she described her as a “seamstress” when it came to stitching (I didn’t tear with either of my births but this was good news anyhow).

My favorite parts of class included the positive cheerleading by our angel-hearted instructor, meeting other couples who were along for the same ride, and the endless discussions the classes provoked between TDD and I about what we wanted and how we could achieve it. The course handed us all the tools we needed to head confidently and proactively into birthing and caring for our second baby; it delivered in the same areas where Hypnobabies had, for me, lent little more than vague promise in my first labor.

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Our BBC class. Photo credit: Cheryl Amelang

By this trimester it was determined that I was apparently anemic. Given the birthplace relocation issues that arose due to my first pregnancy’s thalassemia status, I was particular to ensure my blood iron remained at an acceptable level. I learned more about the benign condition thalassemia and took supplements I hadn’t been introduced to the first time.

(In third trimester, my midwives brought up the option of actively managing my placenta delivery with a shot of contraction-causing Pitocin in my thigh or shoulder once Julep was partially born. The intent of this action is to prevent excess blood loss that could put a mother with an anemia-related condition at risk. After some deliberation, I was certain — it didn’t feel right, so I ended up declining the prophylactic measure [ultimately a good decision]).

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My pregnancy journal became increasingly squandered for space. Filled with birth spirals and inky spirit animals; characters in my likeness inserted into a collage of primal birth scenes; notes taken after prenatal appointments and vivid dreams…

A more left-brained manner of logging my pregnancy progress, I began streamlining my To-Do lists. It included not only chores like “Strip the cloth diapers,” “Update our Living Will,” and “Keep rearranging furniture until home is birth/baby-harmonious,” but also the fun stuff like “Spend all our money on essential oils,””Test out the rebozo,””Practice labor massages,” and “Practice labor massages again.”

One glaring spot in my notes… “To Blessingway or not to Blessingway? That is the question.” In the end… to not, appararently.

The Blessingway/Mother’s Blessing Ceremony sounds so dreamy: Your closest female companions flocking together to bless, honor, and support you as a village should. Flowery foot baths, feathered headbands, sharing of birth stories, pregnant belly painting, henna, personalized affirmations etched into rubbing stones, camaraderie, a safe reprieve from manly distraction, warm comfort foods, and wine (definitely the wine). The more that things piled up on my To Do list, the more a Blessingway seemed a burden instead of a respite. I knew it was another thing to plan and, in being completely honest with myself, I couldn’t ignore the fact that I greatly dislike being the center of attention.

TDD suggested I do a pseudo-Blessingway instead… a Solo Blessing of sorts. So I made a scrapbook of birth affirmations and empowering musings.

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Some of my favorites:

  • Relax, breathe, feel the earth — do nothing extra.
  • Take one contraction at a time.
  • Just notice what is happening.
  • Labor means ‘hard work,’ NOT ‘big pain.’
  • Birth can be tough; and so am I.
  • It is not pain, it is power.
  • “Giving birth should be your greatest achievement, not your greatest fear.” – Jane Weiderman
  • Contractions can’t be bigger or more powerful than you because they ARE you.
  • Birth has the potential to be about seven years’ worth of meditation for the human body.
  • The caloric output of childbirth is equivalent to a 50 mile hike.
  • “The Female being has been chosen by the Creator to be the portal between the spiritual realm and the physical realm. The only force on Earth powerful enough to navigate unborn spirits onto this planet.” – Author unknown

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TDD lovingly made his own honorable contributions, too. He used Excel to design a birth affirmations program that I could scroll through in labor (I ended up watching it in the evenings leading up to the big day).

And check out this gorgeous Birth Necklace he made using some of my favorite animal fetiches and gemstones (below). ❤ He also crafted one with astrology sign medallions (not pictured).

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Now, the pregnancy dreams. Oh boy, those are wild, aren’t they? Not quite like postpartum dreams that warp you into another parallel life with the fifteen minute block of sleep you’re allotted between wiping up milky spittle and sandwiching a breast into a tiny mouth night after night. But a real trip nonetheless.

While my dreams are mine alone, this time I did share more about my child-growing journey with friends and family. This helped me feel less isolated and may have helped stave off the prenatal depression that tested me last time.

I accepted more love. I believed more of the compliments. I relinquished more of the offenses.

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Third Trimester

Kicking off the start of third trimester, I had a maternity shoot with Anel Lestage of Tender Nest Portraits. I knew she’d do a wonderful job; I was so happy with the nursing portraits she took of me and MaiTai when I was (not to my knowledge) a few days pregnant with Julep. You can see the photos here, here, and here.

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Photo Credit: Tender Nest Portraits

Knowing this would be my last pregnancy, I didn’t want to rush through and ‘get it over with already.’ I must say, third trimester is LONG. It felt as if the meat of my pregnancy was held in the last few months. Thankfully I had a good routine going to help maintain the high vibrations.

I made time for exercise to keep my body feeling limber and strong while it acted like a hammock for a little human. Unfortunately, even with regular preventative exercises, I began to feel a familiar tearing within my abdominal wall, especially around my belly button. I knew I could expect another diastasis. Thankfully I’d learned how to heal it after my first pregnancy when I participated in a trial of Abdominal Connections (I was featured in the exercise DVD, too). I should’ve invested in a belly support band to prevent worse damage but part of me had hoped the problem would just go away on its own (it doesn’t!).

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With a daily hankering for nuts, avocado, and vegan yogurt, I wasn’t the only one with changing taste buds this final trimester. MaiTai’s nursing habits began to change, too. I couldn’t possibly elaborate enough in this post alone so you can read more about it here, here, and here.

I knew the mental preparation was as meaningful as the physical. I suppressed the urge to toss What to Expect When You’re Expecting into a raging bonfire and instead read (without skepticism) Birthing From Within, Orgasmic Birth, Spiritual Midwifery, Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth, Magical Beginnings – Enchanted Lives and other books I never finished during my first pregnancy.

I’ve seen it all when it comes to birth videos — everything from violent, traumatic emergencies involving sharp tools to real scenes of women bringing children into the world while seemingly asleep. This pregnancy I watched virtually only positive, ecstatic birth videos — mostly ones out-of-hospital.

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On March 8th, Julep dropped. It would be the first time of many in the coming weeks that he’d drop, raise my hopes for an approaching labor, and float back up. I felt uncomfortable and physically overwhelmed. I started waddling for the first time this pregnancy. So much was happening in my body, it was readying; cramming before the big exam.

Julep was regularly in the right occiput transverse (ROT) position for nearly the entire third trimester. Not the trickiest position, but certainly less ideal than left occiput anterior (LOA). I heeded my midwife’s suggestion to start making visits to a chiropractor certified in prenatal techniques. I’m not doubtful of chiropractic care in general, but a bad experience years ago with my onetime chiropractor left me with Bell’s Palsy and a serious hesitation to risk that outcome during pregnancy. It would be a fear-based decision either way: I could avoid making the appointments out of fear that I’d get stuck with an undertrained chiro, or I could force myself to go, out of fear that my baby would otherwise remain stuck in his transverse-favoring position during labor.

My gut said to not let old scars have their say in current plans. So, to the chiro I went; and for good measure, I did the daily walks, cat-cows, and inversions; hip-circled the infinity sign on the birth ball in lieu of dining chairs or the couch; tilted my carseat forward; quit crossing my legs like a civilized lady at risk of pelvic misalignment.

The chiropractor said my sacrum was very tight and nearly immobilized so she focused on sacral release adjustments. After all of this, Julep still burrowed into my right side with his torso and legs stretched out laterally. I had to trust this baby had chosen his best position for birth (I was just happy he wasn’t spine-to-spine posterior like MaiTai). Then, a few days before labor he scooched himself into LOA!

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It seemed like we hit a milestone moment when our birth team came by for the scheduled home visit. We went over a print-out of my Birth Preferences (I avoid calling it a ‘Birth Plan’), they scoped out the expected birthing areas, and familiarized themselves with where the laundry, bathroom, and kitchen tasks would occur. I remember feeling in a state of disbelief that day. In about a week my baby would be considered within term and our birth team could legally attend us at home. I thought, Wow, so this is really happening. The home stretch now!

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I wore this dress as a bridesmaid at a friend’s wedding ten days before I went into labor with MaiTai. This pregnancy, I reused it for a third trimester date night at the Houston Symphony with TDD.

I visualized different birth scenarios that all led to the same conclusion: my baby in my arms and a smile on my face. I had no way of knowing what would happen, but there’s something in the power of manifestation, right? I saw it play out a million ways but always in first person, being in birth instead of observing myself in it.

Still, until the end of pregnancy I had an unclear idea about where I wanted to birth. At home of course, but the exact coordinates within — undetermined. The obvious place to put the pool was in our spacious living room, but it was too exposed for my liking. I needed to burrow into some den- like area to breathe out this baby.

The master walk-in closet could be so cozy, couldn’t it? I imagined catching our child there, lights off, birth attendants peeking in from a not-so-generous crack in the door. Though on its face, it did seem a bit fearful, and in reality a bit ridiculous. I was both an animal readying to birth, wanting to birth with privacy, but not quite an animal needing to birth in absolute secrecy. The closet began to sound lonely, plus this option would preclude a water-birth and my birth team couldn’t easily reach me if necessary.

So I picked out the parts of this fantasy that especially drew me in. Delivering on my own; safe in a designated space; surrounded on three sides with an exit; being grounded to the floor. A-ha! The perfect spot — the only spot that would do — was in the corner of our master bedroom between the bed and the bathroom. Here, my full-term belly cast hung above the pool flanked by hanging tealights; framed memories of our wedding and a chakra canvas scroll would watch my back as I would labor with feet, hands, and knees planted into the floor like roots to suck up the water and bloom new life, a springtime baby.

In the final weeks of pregnancy, I became so invested in making over this corner into my birthing den that we moved several pieces of furniture, lamps and such to make it possible. Before the pool moved in, this is where I drew notes to Julep on my Buddha board most nights before bed — “Goodnight, I love you,” “I can’t wait to see you,” “We are here with ready arms to hold you,” and so on.

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Photo credit: Stephanie Shirley Photography

Whenever asked how I imagined Julep’s birth, I’d answer, “Relaxing?” But I knew this wouldn’t be the case. Relaxing doesn’t come easily for me and it seemed terribly unrealistic that my birth could be like those sweet and pretty and dainty ones on YouTube. I just thought ‘relaxing’ is what I should say, especially if I was planning for a home birth (especially, especially if I aimed for a water birth). I prepared to ‘relax’ during my first birth with the Hypnobabies method, but I was in for quite a shock at my ease of resistance to going limp and suggestible at will (as called for by the program) when the going got rough.

So, back to ‘relaxing’… three and a half years later, no longer a goal. In truth, I secretly hoped to have fun. And a spiritual adventure — because, well, that’s just my kind of fun!

I asked my baby throughout pregnancy if he’d like a relatively quick, gentle, and pleasurable birth. I came to convince myself this is what we’d have, though I didn’t dare express it to anyone (other than TDD) for fear of jinxing the possibility. At first, birthing the way I wanted seemed like a pipe dream. As the months pressed on, it became devastatingly important to bring my child into the world on my own terms — something I couldn’t possibly admit out loud or in writing until now.

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The Prenatal Wait

I’d accurately predicted the day I’d go into labor with MaiTai and assumed it would happen this way again. My predicted labor date for Julep came and went (as did his guess date, and a week of bad weather, and a full moon! If that won’t send a woman into labor…).

I started feeling weepy about this deviation from ‘the plan.’ Weepy soon became worried, and worried turned into desperate. Would he ever come on his own?! What if my intuition sucks? What else had it miscalculated? I was pregnant and irrational, but the emotions were so real I could grip them between my teeth. I was crampy, feeling effacement sensations, and the weight of his head on my cervix was borderline unbearable (though at the time I kept saying I feel great! I could be pregnant forever! And so on. Denial much?).

We tried to go about our lives as usual so I wouldn’t be tempted to mope around wondering when I’d be able to tie my own shoes again. Waiting for the guess date, we spent a weekend making the belly cast (click here and here to see how it went) and had a housecleaning. Then we were soon in (what is seen as) ‘overripe’ territory and took MaiTai to the movie theater, went to a gem and mineral show, visited museums, and devoted an afternoon to playing with canine cuties at an animal shelter (whatever it takes to get that oxytocin boost!).

We also hosted a yard sale. While rummaging through the wares tabled on our driveway, a neighbor found a gold-hued coin with a butterfly embossed on one side and a quote on the other. He inquired about it and TDD said he thought that might be mine and he suspected I hadn’t meant to sell it. Later he showed it me and I recognized it instantly. I had lost this coin nine years ago. It first came into my possession during my Coining Ceremony at rehab in 2007. I misplaced it weeks later and assumed it had disappeared for good. For nine good years only, apparently — and it’s return timing was impeccable. Even through multiple moves, it had never really left me. But it showed its face now to remind me of its message:

“God Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”

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Our city experienced record-breaking severe weather during the week I thought Julep would arrive. My midwife even rode an inflatable swan through floodwaters to attend a laboring mother at her birth center (the story even made local and international headlines). Because of the deluge of storm waters, people died. Our city was in a state of emergency. It reminded me how immensely blessed we were to be able to stay home to bring delicate new life into the world, come whatever weather may.

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Midwife Cathy Allen Rude rides inflatable swan in floodwaters to get to a laboring mom. Via Facebook.

I was committed to letting Julep pick his own birthday, but… there’s a but. There’s a ticking clock when you want an attended birth. My midwife wasn’t concerned, but she reminded me she didn’t have much longer before she was legally bound to send us for medical induction in a hospital if natural techniques failed to encourage his arrival. The alternative: an unassisted birth at home, whenever that might be. I wanted to birth without unnecessary intervention, with minimal assistance, and no fussing… but I wanted to be surrounded by people I trust, too.

I started to get cold feet, proverbially speaking. I knew logically I wasn’t ‘overdue’ and the ‘wait’ hadn’t even been that long. Still I sought the advice of my Birth Boot Camp peers to help me get through this “will he ever come out” stage of panicking.

I did some things that are considered natural induction methods, but more for my own pleasure (long walks, sex) rather than for the purpose of induction. I don’t believe any induction method, whether natural or medical, will work if one’s baby or body isn’t ready. They can only encourage the process forward if baby and body are already in a state of receptiveness. In any case what I tried only succeeded in causing cramps without legitimate contractions.

I still thought the full moon would swing my body’s cycle into the labor zone, and it was Earth Day nonetheless… an Earth Day Birth Day, who could resist such a delightful rhyme! Well, apparently the Forces that be aren’t so enamored with such frivolity. The full moon began to wane and I was stuck at the local lake every night for nearly a week trying to walk off feelings of disappointment. It was uplifting to spend time in motion with my baby rocking between my hips, basking together under our mother moon’s glow. She reminded me to let go of expectations. Little else but the growing shadow of the moon is a given.

I was able to release some anxiety by retiring the idea that I could possibly know when Julep would be born. I was ready. And when Julep would be ready, well, that was always his secret, wasn’t it? Nature tends to have a better plan than we think we do.

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Three days before Julep was born, MaiTai asked me, “What made you a mommy?”

I said, “You did, hon. I became a mommy when you were born. And I’m so happy you made me one.”

MaiTai bathed me and Julep (my belly) in kisses and hugs. He’s an affectionate kid, but it was an inordinate amount of sweetness even for him. Either he sensed I needed the extra love or he knew knew Julep’s arrival was not the same vague “soon” we kept telling him throughout pregnancy — it was really, truly soon.

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I did a lot of fear-clearing to arrive at the point where I could honestly say however (and whenever and wherever) the birth ended up, it would not only be okay, but I could fall in love with the whole thing. After all, it would not only be my birth but my son’s birth too, and it would reflect how special he is no matter how it may present itself.

I wanted more than anything for him to be proud of me, his chosen vessel for the formative realm.

I shepherded every aspect of this unplannable event to support this intention: Whatever happened, I would enjoy the hell out of giving birth. Come pain, boredom, desperation, loss of control, worry, strain of my physical limits, help from friends or strangers, a venture into the most unexpected areas of my subconscious, hell or high water … I would still be able to say, “This was quite an adventure… and I enjoyed it!”

So that is what happened.

*In future posts: Julep’s birth story, as well as MaiTai’s pregnancy and birth stories.*

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