The burn-out. It's not a pretty topic, not one that any of us mom's like to admit to feeling. But, I am there. And I have been for a while. It is just now, now that there's a light at the end of this pregnancy tunnel, that I feel like maybe the fog lifting is a real possibility. Let me explain.
2011 did not start well for our family. I'd just finished a very stressful season of working for the holidays part-time. This was as much out of necessity than anything else, and it was not something that our family was prepared well for. We did not cope well with mama being gone random hours during the day. I developed anxiety bad enough that I went on medication to help with the attacks. We took a trip to Oklahoma and Dallas in January to re-group as a family. It was a much needed vacation for us, and we came back ready to jump back into life.
Our then five year old wanted to try public school, so the Monday after we got back she started at the local elementary school. Her teacher was mine in first grade, a woman who I still cherish and adore for her understanding of my awkward six year old self who wanted to read books meant for far older kids rather than socialize on the playground. Three weeks later, it was obvious school was not working for her. She was grumpy. She was begging to never go back. She loved the teacher, she loved being with the kids. But it took her joy away when it came to learning. And she LOVES to learn. So, with a prayerful heart we pulled her. We decided to unschool that year, let her just get back to loving learning while she was still little.
February began with the passing of my grandfather. Shortly later, my husband was injured at work and had to take a month off. Both of these were setbacks to our routine, to our hearts. But we still were managing to settle into life with a family of five, finding our daily groove after floundering for months. The big girls had always loved their baby sister, but now at 11 months, she was able to join in the playing with them. Life was looking good for our little family.
Then came a surprise. Literally. We found out mid-March that we were expecting baby #4! Such a blessing, definitely. But, we were shocked to be pregnant so soon. I was still in the pit of nursing all night, dealing with postpartum anxiety, and didn't I just have a baby!?!? But we were excited, nonetheless. Until a week later when I found out I needed to abruptly stop my anxiety medication and the hyperemesis gravidarum set in. I was so sick that a couple nights I wound up taking my pillow and blanket into the bathroom and sleeping on the floor in there. Then I started getting panic attacks about getting sick, especially when out alone with all of the kids, since seeing mama sick scared especially the little ones. Only now I didn't have my medication that made me feel human again. And it turned out my anti-nausea medication, unlike when I took it with my oldest, was making my anxiety worse than it was otherwise. Not wanting to take any mood altering medications in the first trimester, I floundered. I did the most I could, but it was rarely enough, and we just tried to keep afloat from day to day. We lost our footing, for sure.
And, as with most tough pregnancies, that's where we've stayed. It's gotten easier. These past few weeks that I've been seeing a chiropractor for the SPD, it hasn't been as debilitating. But third trimester exhaustion and the return of hyperemesis have offset that improvement. I've realized, I can't do this again. Not for a while. When I got pregnant I was just getting back to normal after months of postpartum anxiety. Now I have dealt with months of not just anxiety, but hyperemesis and pain.
NOTHING will change the fact that this baby is a blessing. That our family will love this baby and they will be cherished and adored. But, after a serious round of talking, and a lot of prayer my husband and I have decided that we have to make sure no more babies for a while. We neither one feel done. But I feel done for now. I have mama burn-out. I haven't been able to be the mother, the wife, the WOMAN, the ME that I feel God calling me to be. I feel called to be so much more than I am right now. To be so much more present that what I am able to be. So the decision has been made that there will be no babies for at least 3 years.
And knowing that won't be something to think (worry?) about, I feel...free. Freedom in getting to enjoy and chase a toddler without that familiar pull of round ligament pain. Freedom to nurse my toddler without worrying about painful nursing from pregnancy hormones. Freedom to go to school for my CNA and work overnights to honor the part of me that isn't just a mama, but a person as well. Freedom to look at taking some photography courses as a real possibility and not just a dream because they don't fall into my schedule of pumping or due dates. Freedom to take my doula training. Freedom to look at the four souls God has given my husband and I to guide and teach and learn from and soak them up and rejoice in them. Freedom to find myself as His child again, which is where the real freedom comes from, isn't it?
It is common knowledge in "birthy" circles that the Estimated Due Date (EDD) given to women by midwives and obstetricians in most everywhere is somewhat of a fallacy. Yes, the average time a woman will spend pregnant is 40 weeks. BUT, that is just an average. The normal range for a term pregnancy is 37 to 42 weeks (and based on some people's arguments the range could be as wide as 36 to 43; but for the sake of this post we'll stick with 37-42 as average since it is the accepted norm). Which means that if your EDD is, let's say January 1st, you could have a normal length pregnancy without being either "early" or "late" anywhere from December 11th to January 15th. Quite a difference than focusing on that one day, right?
The thing is, there's been a trend that I've noticed in a lot of natural birthing communities to ignore the first 3 weeks of that range. It is seen almost as a badge of honor to beat the EDD, to go past it. Women are using that 42 week mark as their due date, it's seen as beating the system or being more of a woman to be considered "overdue" by the medical community at large. Especially if you buck the pressure to induce, something that is very very understandably hard to do for both first time moms and mothers with little ones at home who may only have help available for a very short window of time.
And, there is NOTHING wrong with that. I comment women who carry their babies for 40+ weeks without being pressured into a non-medical induction or succumbing to society's pressure to just get that baby out. Scheduling birth is a big trend in our country (I would encourage ACOG to look at elective, non-medical induction, whether suggested by women or their providers, as a bigger 'cause celebre' than homebirth is!), and it's one that many are pressured into by all sides. Even knowing we were planning a homebirth, I started getting phone calls wanting to know when the baby was coming at what we thoughts was 38 weeks with my last pregnancy. And I wasn't even "due" yet! Turns out I was more realistically at 36 weeks; an entire month before when I would have been considered due to have the baby.
BUT, what about those of us on the other side of the spectrum? My children have all been "early." My 3 daughters were born at 36 weeks exactly (according to my OB's wheel; by ovulation she was actually 35w4d), 37w1d, and 37w6d. The first I admit had circumstances that likely contributed to her being born before 37 weeks. I had an infection that left untreated can lead to early labor. And my doctor ignored me when I told him that I wasn't able to keep the antibiotics down long enough to be effective. I did wind up in preterm labor three weeks later (at 33w5d) and spent a weekend in the hospital with magnesium sulfate to stop labor. I was taken off of light bedrest a few days before my daughter was born. If I remember correctly, a different antibiotic was never prescribed after the preterm labor, and I am unsure at this point (almost 6.5 years later) if it was because no infection was present or because it was an oversight in medical care. So, that could very well been a contributing factor in her birth.
The other two, however, came "early" with no prompting from me. I had prodromal labor for at least two weeks before each of their births. With my middle daughter this consisted of hours of braxton-hicks contractions that kept me awake but were clearly braxton-hicks. With my youngest, it meant about 2 and a half weeks of hours long periods of labor contractions that had a definite pattern, involved using breathing and coping techniques. Then? They'd just stop or space out to an obviously not labor pattern. Now, as I'm approaching the beginning of my "due month (late October to early December in my case)" I find I'm having the long periods of braxton-hicks like contractions again. While I have no scientific reasoning, I am guessing on a baby within 4 weeks because of patterns that are showing up as they have with other pregnancies.
Even waiting 4 weeks, which would be my longest pregnancy, I would still be birthing before 40 weeks. And that is FINE with me. I don't like comparing women to appliances, so I don't like when people say I "cook" babies fast or anything like that. I am not cooking an infant, I'm gestating. ;) But, I do err on the side of shorter pregnancies. And, because I am okay with that, because I don't feel bad about not going to 40 weeks or beyond, I've gotten some flack. People saying I "want" a preemie or care more about my comfort than I do my baby's health. And to them I say a two word phrase that I won't repeat here because I made myself a promise not to curse on this blog.
Do I WANT a 40+ week pregnancy? Absolutely not. Let's go with my last, and longest, pregnancy. 37 weeks 6 days. By the end of that pregnancy I could not roll over in bed or get dressed without assistance due to SPD. I was super emotional and full of outbursts of anger from hormones. I felt like I wasn't in control of my mind or my emotions anymore. Doing things with an caring for my older girls was plain HARD and they endured a lot more TV, missed trips to the zoo, and PB&Js than they should have had to deal with. I was dealing with prodromal labor that largely happened overnight, and then had children to deal with all day. Five more weeks of that and I may have lost my mind.
The night before I had my daughter I was cursing and yelling and swearing that I was GOING to be induced that week (at the time we were going with an earlier EDD, but because of my daughter's size, the amount of vernix and some issues with my cycle, I believe an earlier dating ultrasound that had her EDD two weeks later was the more accurate of the two) because I could not be pregnant another second. I was crying at EVERYTHING, and scaring not only myself, but my husband and the big girls. It wasn't a pretty picture. However, even believing I was AT my 40 week mark, I knew I would stay pregnant another 2 or so weeks if that's what the baby needed.
And now, now I would gladly again stay pregnant for 42 weeks. Do I want to? Again, no. This baby's movements are large. My stomach moves more than Shakira's hips! I wake up at night in pain from those movements. The SPD, while more manageable with chiropractic care, is wearing me thin. I have a fractured tailbone and hyperemesis to deal with this time, too. It's been a largely horrible pregnancy. As long as baby is healthy and ready, they can be born as soon as it's safe for them to do so for my preference. But if they need to stick around until the end of the due month, that's okay with me, too. I may complain a LOT about it, but it would be of a venting nature.
Because I don't want a preemie. I've never WANTED a preemie. I was one. I spent most of my first year in and out of a NICU. I wouldn't wish the reality and uncertain health of a preemie on any parent or any baby. I want to slap people when they say I want a preemie; and that is not the pregnancy hormones talking. And while my comfort is important to me, especially right now when there are so many factors attack it, of course my child's health is more important. Worrying about the baby's health versus my comfort is what led me to the natural childbirth movement in the first place.
I guess the point of this post is that the EDD is just that. Estimated. It is the average. And while I commend the women who happily plan for and even relish in 42 weeks of pregnancy, I have to say remember there is another side to the EDD sword. Those of us who make up the early end of that due month curve. And just because we don't carry our baby's in the womb as long and aren't upset about that doesn't mean we should be looked down on. In a community like the natural birth one, full of people that the mainstream world rarely sees as "normal", it'd be nice to have it remembered that for there to be an average there have to be a range both above and below that average. And in this case, unlike our report cards in school, there's nothing better about being above average rather than below average.
DISCLAIMER: This is based on when the BABY chooses their own birthdate and does not apply to inductions before 40 weeks. Obviously there are inductions that are medically indicated before a baby's EDD, and if that is what a woman and her provider deem necessary given their circumstances, I support that. BUT this post isn't about this. When a baby naturally lets the mother's body know to start labor before 40 weeks, there are rarely issues. It's when labor is artificially started that your risks of having complications associated with "early" babies can happen, even within that 37-42 week window.
I'm in the middle of week 32 of this pregnancy. This week has been a turnaround week. A week ago, I was on day 2 of a 3 day period of being bed ridden from pain related to SPD. I went to the chiropractor on Tuesday, and again on Friday. I've had some pain off and on this week, but this weekend has been amazing. Even spending all day on my feet and running around I've been relatively pain free. As pain free as you can be when there is a uterus up to your ribs and little jabs to your muscles from inside your body. ;) I don't think 32 weeks has felt this comfortable since my first pregnancy. Considering that was 3 kids, 8 pregnancies, and 6 years ago, I'm happy!
My other 3 were born in the 36-38 weeks range. Which means nothing, as we all know. I could have a baby in 4 weeks or in 10 weeks. As someone obsessed with details and planning, the last couple of months of pregnancy are maddening as I constantly wonder when to expect baby to come. Especially since I tend to have weeks of prodromal labor.
This pregnancy has been the first one where birth place has been a real discussion. My first I was sure would be in the hospital. People went to OBs and had babies in hospitals. Homebirth was for the crazy hippies. I'm sorry if I sound like I'm mumbling, that's just my foot in my mouth. After a good natural hospital birth, I still knew there was a better way. Better than a first time mom being told after 9 hours of labor that she was failing to progress and being threatened with a cesarean section. Better than waiting over an hour for every single prenatal visit in a crowded waiting room only to be seen for five minutes. Better than an OB who dismissed my hyperemesis as me being a "princess" about normal morning sickness and told me not having an epidural would result in myself having a stroke from high blood pressure (due to a heart condition I'd long outgrown, and even suffering from low blood pressure the entire pregnancy!). Better than postpartum women treating me like I knew nothing because I was a young mother.
Two years later I found myself pregnant again. I knew I would have a homebirth. The question that pregnancy was whether or not I could find a midwife to attend. I was okay with an unassisted birth when a friend found a midwife for me through a message board. I met with her, and transferred from seeing a hospital based CNM to seeing a homebirth midwife. And still wound up with an unassisted birth thanks to a snowstorm, another birth, and being a fast laborer.
By the time I was pregnant with baby number three, there wasn't a question of where (home) or attendant (same homebirth midwife), but instead how we were going to replace the tub that came with the home we'd bought the year before with a new one deep enough to facilitate a waterbirth. That birth, another fast one (just a smidge over 2 hours), was easy. Smooth, quick labor that progressed with no issues and ended in a peaceful waterbirth with the midwife and my husband near the tub and my two older girls in the hallway laughing in delight over the birth of their sister.
This pregnancy, however, has been full of questions. We are seeing our family doctor for prenatal care, and have intended to birth at home unassisted from the beginning. This decision has been one I've considered and reconsidered. I admit the hospital has it's appeal. Not for the birth itself, though their tubs do look amazing. But for the 2 days post birth with no having to clean up, tend to older siblings, having food delivered to me with the push of a button, etc. It's a mini vacation for a tired mama with lots of little ones around! And with our doctor, I know all of my wishes would be respected during labor and birth. I wouldn't have to get an IV, I could eat and drink and move as I pleased, catch the baby myself, and anything else I could ask for. Sounds great, but with the fast labors, the whole being in a car sounds like torture. My contractions tend to come fast and strong. They are manageable when I can do whatever I need to to cope. But in a car they are unbearable (experienced during those weeks of prodromal labor).
For all three girls, the only options were hospital or home. Now, a new birth center is opening in the area. Right near the hospital, actually. A LOT of my friends are very excited about this option. As am I, because it means many local women who were not happy with the current options of unregulated homebirth midwives or the hospital have a new option. One that gives them great care and a non-hospital option that has the bonus of being covered by insurance; something that is usually impossible with homebirths here. I have many friends who are already excited about getting to have their next baby in the birth center. It opens later this month, and since my doctor is the physician who works with the CNM running the center, I can easily switch care to birth there if I chose to.
And I do see the appeal. A real bed rather than the incredibly uncomfortable hospital ones. Big tubs (I am a water birther, the bed is of no matter to me, but the tub? The tub is everything!), no hospital-y feel to the place. And you get to go home within a few hours, so you can settle into your own bed with baby that first night. And the scary "who cleans up the mess" question all of us homebirthers hear is answered. I am pretty sure you can also have family visit before you leave the center and then when you get home, you're home in peace and alone. That is probably an even bigger draw than the tub for me, as I'm a private person and rarely am comfortable inviting others into my home. Even friends and family.
But, where I am now, the birth center option is just not for me. It seems like it would be silly. We can have everything we want at the hospital. If this wasn't the case, a birth center would be a good option for us. The hospital seems kind of crazy as well. We wouldn't be going because we think it is the best or safest place for our birth, but rather to simply have the hotel-like amenities after the fact. I still feel the best place would be home for us. Sure, it means no 2 day vacation afterward. But as long as I do my meal prep and keep up with laundry before the birth, there won't be much to do after around the house anyway. Plus my husband will likely have a couple of days home to help out. Add in the fact that I don't tend to take a ton of rest time after a birth anyway (we were out to eat and shopping 12 hours after my last birth since our birth kit was missing a few items and we got hungry) and staying home just makes sense.
So for now, we say we're planning a homebirth. Come birthing day, we may decide the hospital sounds like the place for us. We have a doctor and doula who are fine supporting us wherever we decide to go. Or not go. So the following weeks will involve putting together our birth kit, preparing the house for a birth, and packing a bag in case we decide at the last minute to head to the hospital. I don't see that happening, but this pregnancy has been so all over the place that I do not make concrete plans anymore. All I know is that in the next 4-10 weeks we will be meeting our new baby. And no matter where or how they enter this world, it will be joyful and miraculous. Just like my other births, and any others that God plans for us.
And with it, it brings a renewed sense of hope for the future. This is, by far, my favorite month. Even though it holds one of the greatest tragedies of my life; the loss of my Ga-Ga, my maternal grandmother. She was one of the most special people to me. More than grandmother, she was my friend. A source of constant support and understanding, even when I was the unconventional, independent, weird kid. She never expected or even wanted me to act normal and be like other kids. She LOVED that I marched to my own drummer, and a lot of who I am now is because of who she taught me to become. My love of southern cooking, hanging laundry, and listening to music while I do chores all come from her. My middle daughter was born in her home on her birthday, and oh how I wish Ga-Ga could meet her now! I like to believe that the sassy, funny, to the point attitude and the gleam in her eye come from her great-grandmother. That before Reese was in my womb, she was in heaven getting told "now, when your mama was little, she had the biggest attitude! So your job is to go down there and give her just as much joy and frustration as she gave me!" Ga-Ga used to say I was the best at getting out of trouble by making what I did wrong so funny or cute that she was too busy laughing to carry out any punishments. And oh is that my Reese to a tee! We often find ourselves walking away to chuckle before coming back to talk about why a certain action was maybe not the best one.
October this year is bringing a new job for my husband, a point in this pregnancy where I am not just feeling okay, but really feeling good and functioning again, and a new sense of relief and JOY. And a desire to draw closer to God as a family. Something we have been trying to do, but have slacked on. The big girls are having a long-awaited slumber party at my mom's this weekend, but next week we are going to start the look for a home church. We're likely going to try the church that the girls' dance teacher goes to. I went there as a teenager and really enjoyed it. My only issue with it as an adult is sometimes it seems a lot of political talk comes from the pulpit. And I really dislike that. But, if other things are in place, I can overlook it. Nowhere is perfect.
Today my husband and I celebrated our Eighth wedding anniversary. Technically it's not until October 9th, but we did our celebrating today. Next week we'll go to church and then eat and watch football with the kids. My kind of celebration! We have our first kid-free day/night in 18 months. And wow is it quiet without the girls here! We went shopping and had long conversations without a million questions. I forgot you could do that!
I'm excited for October. And not just because I'm secretly (well, not a secret anymore!) hoping for a Halloween baby. I'm excited to make the big girls' costumes, to go to the pumpkin patch, to get maternity photos done, to really start preparing to welcome the new baby. 2011 has been a year of great struggle and stress for our family. October has never been anything but good to me (for even in the loss of Ga-Ga, I was rejoicing that her years of pain from arthritis were gone and that she was back with my Pa, the son she lost so many years ago, and Jesus!), and I'm confident that this year's October will be no different!