Welcome Hawk! (A Birth Story)

One month ago, Hugh Archer Whipple Callahan came into the world.

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Our little man was originally due on September 6th, smack in between our wedding anniversary and my birthday.  Considering the advice that second children often come sooner than first and knowing my history of a late first arrival, Liz and I prepared ourselves to have a due date baby.  Yes, he could be early or late, but the smart money (i.e., our midwife, our doula, our OB/GYN friends) put their bets on the ‘on-time’ category. And so, we were ready. Not that there was much to prepare this time around; we knew how little he would need in the first few weeks, and we already had all the baby gear anyway.

His due date came and went. And, day after day we waited. Evenings brought increased fetal movement and thrills of excitement. Was tonight the night that I’d wake everyone up at 2AM with labor pains? No. Morning after morning I got up to report that I slept shockingly well; there was no baby. To encourage the little man along, I tried evening primrose oil, pineapple, bumpy car rides, pumping, eggplant Parmesan, acupressure, and red raspberry leaf tea – all to no avail.

And so, at forty-one weeks and three days, I headed to the hospital for an induction. It was strange to arrive to the hospital in such a state of preparedness. Here we were, hospital bag in hand, no contractions yet, bellies full of breakfast, childcare in place, everyone calm. Based on Elliott’s birth, I had come to see childbirth as a crazy ride of “expecting the unexpected.” Curiously, the planful approach of an induction was so very expected that it felt even more unexpected to me.

I started on an IV drip of Pitocin and waited. At the time, it felt a bit annoying; after days of anticipation, the hours remaining grew even more difficult. But, in retrospect, Sunday morning was a beautiful time to build relationships with the people who would attend my son’s birth later that day. Looking back, I can see how, person by person, my crew slowly assembled. I started this whole adventure with Liz at my side. Aunt Kate and Grandma both showed up in advance to take care of Elliott; they gave me the opportunity to yield last obligations and focus entirely on this birth. Then, upon arrival to the hospital, we added the Labor and Delivery nurse who started my IV and would finish the day coaching me through pushing. Soon my doula joined; she intuitively knew what I needed and was on my spiritual wavelength. Finally, the midwife with decades of experience and lots of pragmatic love arrived.

By the early afternoon contractions began, gently at first and then increasingly. Liz and I walked the halls haltingly, stopping every minute or so for a contraction. Each time a contraction came, I grasped my IV stand, picked a point on the wall for visual focus, and breathed through it. Reflecting upon Elliott’s birth, I remember the contractions only as pain to be endured; this time, I felt them more as energy moving through me. It was almost as if spirit was pouring energy right into the top of my head, through my body, and out my vagina for the purpose of bringing this baby out with it. If I hesitated or resisted, that flowing energy would get stuck. If I let it simply course through me, it felt painful but also useful.

As I rode contraction after contraction and came to see that pain differently, I knew: This is what I had hoped for in childbirth. I had hoped to learn things about myself, about pain, about presence, about motherhood, and about life through labor. This was a fundamental human experience, consistent over the ages. I wanted to experience every aspect of it. I wanted to receive the wisdom of generations of women participating in this process. I wanted to see what I would learn from it and how I might evolve.  My underlying assumption was that I would learn the most by having a natural birth; drugs would disrupt and obscure what I was meant to experience.

Yet as the birth progressed, my fears crept in. My biggest fear was not the pain of the current contraction; I had found my way to be present to that. Instead, my biggest fear was the expectation of where those contractions might go. How much longer would this take? How much more intense would it be? Would I be able to be stand the sensations? How much did I believe in myself? Aspirationally, I wanted to do all of it without drugs; I wanted to trust in nature and to believe in myself that much.

But I didn’t. Eventually, my question turned from whether I would be able to be with the pain to why I was choosing to experience it in the first place. While laboring on all fours on the bed, I uttered out loud “Why am I doing this?!” for all to hear. I asked: Why am I bearing such pain when there are options for relief? Is it better for me? Better for the baby? Was there really some great spiritual insight to uncover?

And so, around six or seven centimeters, I got an epidural. Part of me is still tempted to judge myself for doing so; I feel that only I had been stronger, braver, more spiritually centered – then I would have had the capacity to be with the experience. And yet, I have to let that go. As in all life experiences, my learnings came not from running some externalized gauntlet – in this case, giving birth naturally.  Instead, learnings came from more deeply being with the experience that was right in front of me and the struggle that it prompted inside of me. My real insights came from seeing how an expected plan can still feel unexpected, from challenging my views of necessary and unnecessary suffering, from reconciling the coexistence of spiritual fullness and modern medicine in my mind, and from examining my assumptions of where and how spiritual growth occurs. Ultimately, it was not about some womanly secret revealed only if I endured; it was about me in the here and now.

Labor progressed swiftly from that point; and by early evening, I was ready to push. At that point, a fair amount of assistance was required to ultimately deliver the little man into the world, but this was less of concern to me. By that time, I wasn’t focused on my learning anymore. I was focused on having a healthy baby – and it was time for the little man to come out.

And so, my son joined us at 7:05pm as healthy as could be. He had none of the complications that Elliott experienced (meconium in the amniotic fluid, jaundice shortly after birth). And in the month since his birth, he’s proven even stronger. He’s made breastfeeding easy, he’s gained at a remarkable rate, and he’s even giving us some reasonable opportunities to sleep.


So welcome to the world, my little Hawk (a nickname derived from his initials – HAWC). In giving birth to you, I learned new lessons beyond those I learned giving birth to Elliott. The experiences may be similar, but the edges of learning are all new and unique. I know that I’ll continue to learn new and different things from parenting you as you grow; I’m excited for this journey together with our whole family.

With love,
Your Mommy, Meredith

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The Second Time Around

as if first

Posing as if it’s the first…

What has been most notable about this second pregnancy is how different it feels from the first.

The first time around, I prepared myself for what I anticipated would be the life-changing and spiritual experience of pregnancy and birth. My friend Michael fed the fire, commenting on how spiritual it must be to have life growing within you and to be in such a powerfully creative place. I wanted to feel that way.

And, I wanted to be fully prepared for everything. We took every single birth class.  I mean every single one.  Not just the birthing and breastfeeding and first-year parenting classes, but also the infant CPR/first aid classes and infant massage classes. I even convinced Liz to come with me to a ‘prenatal partners’ yoga workshop.

Working with the midwives, my birth preferences were extensive. They articulated a plan for natural labor and reflected weeks of research on how things might go best. By the time I went into labor, I was ready in every way – spiritually, intellectually, logistically – to be transformed by this experience.

Thirty-hours of labor later, on August 2nd, 2016, Elliott joined us. The midwife said I looked surprised there was a baby at the end of childbirth, and she was correct. So much of my preparation had focused on me, my experience of birth, and what I would learn from all these things that I couldn’t clearly see how this was the start of so much more.

There is so much which is different this time around, both in my circumstances and in myself. I wish I could say it’s because I’m infinitely wiser, but instead I continue to learn from every new experience.  Here is what I’m seeing this time around:

It’s Actually About the Baby

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…but it’s number two

The most important difference between my pregnancies is that it has shifted between this pregnancy being about me to this pregnancy being about the baby. I know the punchline now; God-willing, childbirth ends in parenthood. The whole point is bringing this little man into the world in a safe and healthy way. So, instead of being curious about the experiences I’ll have, I’m just excited to meet the little man. There’s far less interest in “What am I like in this situation?” and more interest in “What’s he going to be like?”

Who Has Time for That?
I realistically don’t have the time to be so self-centric this time around. I could point to a whole portfolio of demands on my time, but the ultimate cause is my daughter, Elliott. Two-year-olds do a remarkable job occupying every available minute of time, and I am (mostly) happy to give her those moments. As a result, pregnancy looks different. Last time around, I prioritized weekly acupuncture, gentle but diligent workouts, and frequent prenatal massages. This time, I sit in the closet while Elliott delights in opening and shutting the door or lay together on the floor waiting for imaginary deer and lions to come visit. (Elliott requires Liz to do much more active play for some reason.)

I Know I Don’t Have Control
Even if I don’t always act as if it’s true, I know through experience that I have nearly no control over all of this – from pregnancy to childbirth to parenting. The most important processes – physical and otherwise – unfold naturally. While I still struggle to act in accordance with this insight, I realize I am less in a position of control and more in a position of surrender. No birth plan, only birth preferences. A recognition that birth will come when it comes and go how it goes. And, most importantly, no expectations that the lessons learned caring for Elliott as a baby will translate into any better ability to care for number two.

And so…
Sometimes I step back and reflect on all this, wondering if my different emerging relationships to my two children – starting with even these early months of pregnancy – are simply the first manifestation of birth order conditioning. Though still in utero, Elliott had attention and focus throughout my pregnancy.  She’s maintained much of that while this little man has developed inside of me. For his part, the little man has either enjoyed or suffered through a pregnancy with far less of a maniacal focus on him. At times I’ve blamed myself that I have not been more pregnancy-focused during this time, but my wise friend, Nema advised me that “the baby will make sure he draws in what he needs.”

Little Man, I hope that you have everything you need. We can’t wait to meet you.

Meredith

 

(Baby) Bump in the Road

I find much of my meaning in reflecting upon everyday life and understanding what lies beneath. So, when faced with the prospect of up to a month of time off before my due date, I made all sorts of plans. In the ninth month of my pregnancy, I would wake up bright-eyed every day, do prenatal yoga, journal about experiences, and spend my time writing. I knew that creative tasks like writing would be hard with a baby, but wouldn’t they fit perfectly into that prenatal window?

Three weeks later, no such plans have come to fruition (speaking of coming to fruition, neither has the baby fully ‘ripened’ yet). It’s not that I’ve been tired or felt low energy; surprisingly, this has been one of the most energetic periods of my life. But instead of being a time of reflection and creativity, this is a season of productivity and execution. I haven’t written a lick (save this blog post), but between Liz and I, we’ve managed four construction projects and a roof replacement, painted the nursery, bought a new car, run innumerable errands, and dealt with all those items that end up labeled ‘eventually’ on our to-do list. I changed my name with the last few annoying providers. I ordered frames for our wedding pictures. I got our knives professionally sharpened. I arranged for an arborist to trim our trees. The carpet cleaner comes today.

Some call it nesting, but it doesn’t feel that way. Looking at my lists, a minority of the tasks are birth or baby related. Further, few of them are new adds to the to-do list; they are all long-standing tasks which we knew had to get done at some point. More than anything, now feels like a great period of ‘getting shit done’ — a time to tackle what hasn’t been done in the last eighteen years of adulthood and certainly won’t get done for the next eighteen years of parenthood.

Given my earlier expectations of this being a time of reflection and creation, my struggle is finding the meaning and purpose in it. I know what’s meaningful to me about writing, but what’s the meaning of name changes and knife sharpening? I have a suspicion that this is all an early invitation to reconceive meaning in the context of pregnancy and parenthood — an invitation simply to find value in the doing-ness instead of obsessing about the being-ness beneath.

Meredith

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A moment of peace in the productivity. Photo credit: Kimberly Fabbri Photography.

Wheels Turned When We Announced

As we announced our pregnancy, we knew that a certain question would be on the minds of many. In fact, when we had the opportunity to announce to one person face-to-face, we could see a both the huge smile and the wheels furiously turning. The thought bubble above his head read: “Yay! But how did you do it? And am I even allowed to ask?”

I’ll start by saying that we had a wonderful conception process. So many of the medical professionals and administrators we worked with were incredibly understanding and supportive. (We are ready to make our fertility doctor an official member of our family.)

For those who hadn’t thought about how two women go about making a baby, we faced more of a lack of awareness versus any willful ignorance or opposition. Many people simply never thought about how same-sex-partnered women make families. We understand the curiosity and are happy to share parts of the story. Needless to say, a lot of intention went into the conception process (shocking, says Liz).

So, for those of you who have thought about it a lot and for those of you for whom this is completely new: Welcome to the wild and wonderful world of LGBTQ conception!

Putting yourself in our shoes, you can probably intuit our starting point:  lots of eggs, multiple wombs, and no sperm. What might come less intuitively, however, are the many options we found for going about this and the important choices along the way.

For heterosexual couples, the approach to conception can be fairly linear. Most couples first attempt to conceive naturally. If those attempts are unsuccessful, the immediate next step is typically intrauterine insemination (IUI), more typically known as artificial insemination. If this is unsuccessful, then in vitro fertilization (IVF) is in order. As with all things fertility-related, none of this is easy. It can be complex, emotional, iterative, and deeply frustrating; everyone has their own experience and their own story.  In most cases, however, the genetic material involved in each scenario is the same, and there’s an assumption that patients step through the process directionally, attempting one intervention before escalating to the next, more invasive option.

The approach for same-sex partnered women can be completely different. There is a not a linear escalation through increasingly invasive options. Instead, there are discrete choices which represent different processes and, in some cases, different combinations of genetic material. Think of it as four potential options:

  • At-home insemination: Insemination without the advice or support of a doctor.  Includes birth mother’s egg and donor sperm.  This is probably the closest you can get to unaided heterosexual conception.
  • Intrauterine insemination (IUI): A medical provider injects sperm directly into the uterus with a syringe. Includes birth mother’s egg and donor sperm.
  • In Vitro Fertilization (IVF): Combining of sperm with birth mother’s egg in a Petri dish. The resulting embryos are either transferred into the uterus or cryopreserved for future use. Includes birth mother’s egg and donor sperm.
  • Reciprocal IVF (sometimes called “Shared Maternity” or “Co-Maternity”): Retrieve the eggs from one partner, inseminate those eggs with donor sperm, and then place the resulting embryo into the birther mother. Includes one partner’s egg, donor sperm, and the birth mother’s womb.

[Note that there other fertility interventions beyond these – surrogacy, known donor, etc.; I describe this all as a patient and not as a medical professional, speaking from our personal experience rather than any professional knowledge.]

Unlike heterosexual conception, the order of these options is not in ascending level of intervention. Instead, each represents a different level of Liz’s and my involvement, and that’s the factor we cared about most in determining the right approach for us.

Liz and I chose to do reciprocal IVF, meaning that I am carrying Liz’s egg. We love that everyone is involved in a biological way and that the child will have a unique connection to both of us. While it’s certainly not right for everyone, it’s right for us.

That’s your brief introduction. Now you know ‘how we did that.’ To those who wondered what they could ask in person; as with any pregnancy, the answer is ‘not much.’ The decision and process is different for every couple and while Liz gave me the thumbs-up to write this blog, you aren’t going to see detailed information about the retrieval or transfer. So, when faced with the next LGBTQ pregnancy, I’d suggest doing what so many of our lovely friends and family did and waiting for the soon-to-be parents to share any details on their terms.

Moving forward from here, the next frontier of LGBTQ conception is expanding this dialogue with the broader set of stakeholders – particularly with those who determine what health benefits are supported and for whom (Liz and I aren’t infertile, but that is how the conversations had to start) and how parental leave is described (Daddy-to-Be isn’t exactly a good fit for Liz). But that’s a broader social justice issue for another day. In the interim, we’re just delighted to have this healthy little monkey (parts of both Liz and I) on the way!

With love,
Meredith, over halfway through pregnancy (!)

That First Trimester Feeling

Let’s start with the headline: I’m pregnant. 15 weeks. Due July 25th. Don’t know the sex yet but will find out. Going to stay in our current house. Don’t have a name yet. And yes, our dog, Reese, is very pleased.

That’s the explanation for my blogging hiatus. It’s been 10 weeks and 6 days since I’ve blogged. That is 10 weeks and 6 days of feeling crappy.

Since the positive pregnancy test, my entire lifestyle flipped on its head. I went from keeping a primarily dairy-free, gluten-free, organic, minimally-processed diet to developing the appetite of a toddler. Most of my meals involved chicken tenders. I started eating hard candy. I could not get enough cheese and bread. Being a rational adult, I did try to sneak some cooked kale into my Whole Foods macaroni and cheese, but I couldn’t dupe myself and picked it out. Similarly, my sleeping habits shifted. I typically get eight hours of sleep and then turn into a whirlwind of productivity during the day. Now, I found myself ready to clock up to ten hours a night and cherishing a mid-day nap. Moving my body in any way sounded miserable. Leaving the house was not on my list of things to do. My wife wondered if it was invasion of the body snatchers; I had been replaced by a lethargic look-alike.

My doctor, one of the few people who knew of my pregnancy, described it best: it’s like having a constant low-grade hang over (except there’s no fun night out and no miraculous revival when you finally get out of the woods).

All of this caught me off guard. While I have many close friends with babies, I never fully realized how tough first trimester could be. Instead, my images of pregnancy were vibrant, lively, and (as it turns out) disproportionately second trimester. My Facebook feed abounded with pictures of smiling pregnant women; they ran half-marathons, twisted into impressive yoga poses, and modeled for bump-focused photo shoots. They all had elated grins, silky hair, and more stylish clothes than I have ever worn. Even the pregnant ladies I met in person fit the mold: they ran seven miles a day, designed adorable bump-focused Halloween costumes, and munched on cucumbers when everyone else housed holiday sweets. In short, all the pregnant women I observed embodied the pregnancy glow.

I, on the other hand, was eating a mega-sized bag of gas station Doritos on my drive back from a doctor’s appointment, pants unbuttoned.

All this brought up two major emotions in me: self-blame and competition. First of all, why wasn’t I doing a better job at being pregnant? What was wrong with me? Why was my body acting so strangely – and why was I giving into it? Second, I was resolved not to underperform at this pregnancy thing. What did they all have that I didn’t have? What did I need to do to succeed at this?

In my life, I’ve become accustomed to the idea that thoughtful, diligent action drives results. Do the right work in high school and get into college. Do the right work in college and get a job. Do the right work in my job and craft the life I want.

But that’s the thing I’m learning about pregnancy: there is nothing to do. My body’s got it. Beyond taking some prenatals, cutting the booze, and moving a bit, I can’t do much to influence the development of this baby. S/he is going to grow however s/he grows, whether I eat kale or cookies, whether I run a full marathon or watch a Transparent marathon. To be clear, I’m not giving up my responsibility; I’m just letting go of my control patterns a bit more.

Second trimester has provided more relief and normalcy. I eat vegetables again. I have fewer waves of nausea. I even started doing prenatal yoga (like those ladies in the pictures). But I’m glad to have gone through the unexpected unpleasantness of first trimester. With this little one coming into the world, there will be only more and more things I can’t control, from my child’s feeding schedule to the job s/he chooses after school. In that sense, this lesson in letting go is probably the healthiest thing I could do first trimester (aside from buying the organic version of chicken tenders).

 

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Still in the uncertain place:  Is that a baby, or did I eat a burrito?

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