The Day I Breastfed and Weaned My Four-Year Old |An Extended Breastfeeding Journey

web20120310_079
I’ve written this post a hundred times in my head. I think it’s so hard to write because it matters to me SO much.

But I don’t want to be judged. So. I breastfed my firstborn son until he was four. If that freaks you out, you can go read something else now. Or, maybe, reading this will help you understand why something so crazy and weird and socially unacceptable, might have occurred to me and my son.

See, I didn’t set out to nurse him until he was four.

I just started out breastfeeding him when he was born. About an hour after he was born. Then an hour or so after that. Then some days after that. And some weeks and months after that.

I never knew how, or when, or why, moms would wean their babies.

So I didn’t think about weaning, when I breastfed him that day he was born. I thought about nursing.

web20120310_077

Those first two weeks of breastfeeding were AWFUL. I mean, really awful. I was totally, completely determined to breastfeed my children. Before they were born. But in the middle of those first awful weeks, I COMPLETELY understood why so many moms give up breastfeeding.

It hurts. I mean, it really hurts. Even after two lactation consultation visits, it hurt. It only stopped hurting while they were at my house, helping me. That little hour of pain-free nursing was my light at the end of the tunnel that it was possible.

My newborn didn’t want to nurse every three hours. He wanted to nurse every hour. Every thirty minutes. Every hour and a half. He refused a pacifier (I tried several kinds). Nursing made him so darn happy. Even when it was hurting me like hell.

There’s a reason sleep deprivation is used as a form of torture. Because it is. Torture. Breastfeeding a newborn, being woken up a bazillion times a night, for days and weeks and months on end. Torture. So painful. So overwhelming. “Exhausted” is so lame at capturing the feeling, that it’s kind of a joke to even use that word. Desperately, unbearably, horribly, dark, deep, fatigued in every cell of my core. Emotionally drained, physically empty, mentally unable to think straight or even in a wavy line.

I can’t blame all that on breastfeeding. But exclusively breastfeeding (EBF) means no one else can feed baby in the middle of the night. I guess they could IF the baby would take a bottle of pumped milk (which mine wouldn’t). But the alternative to waking up to nurse a baby,  is waking up with horribly engorged, rock hard, swollen breasts from having skipped a middle of the night feeding. So it wouldn’t really be worth it.

At some point, the advice of the lactation consultants began to help, and it got easier. And stopped hurting. Hooray.

Until I got mastitis. Having mastitis feels like having the worst flu ever. High fever, aching body like a beating with a baseball bat, horribly horribly sore breasts that make nursing burn and tear. I was grateful for the help of my lactation consultant, kellymom.com, and my naturopath. I got rid of the mastitis in 24 hours. It came back a couple weeks later. And we got rid of it again. I hate mastitis.

Then one day, breastfeeding was the easiest thing in the world. I never noticed it had happened, until suddenly, it was. Easy. Quick. Painless.

Even more suddenly, it became delightful. Amazing, incredible. Bonding, cuddles, intimacy, connection. Smelling the top of my sweet baby’s head while he nursed. Relaxing on the internet, blogs, or Facebook while he nursed to sleep. Long naps for both of us in bed together, interspersed by nursing sessions. Co-sleeping at night, because everyone got more sleep that way.

Breastfeeding is the purest, simplest form of connection I’ve experienced with my children. It is priceless, and a gift I’m blessed with. I can’t imagine my life, or my relationship with my children, without breastfeeding.

I have SO many photos of Jax breastfeeding. We spent hours and hours nursing and sleeping and nursing and awake. He would nurse in any position, in any carrier, anywhere we went. Nursing was his anchor.

Around twelve months, we both got thrush. My son had whitish spots inside his cheeks in his mouth. I had horrible pain in my nipples, the skin got pink and would peel off, and crack and bleed.

With help from my support team of lactation consultant, naturopath, and kellymom.com, I was again able to treat the thrush naturally. It took several weeks to clear up. It popped up again a few months later, and receded again.

Twenty-one months went by. My son was almost two years old! He slept about eight hours straight at night. The rest of the the 16 hours of the day, he nursed every 1-3 hours, on demand. I never scheduled him. I never put him off from nursing. He was speaking in sentences by this point, and could clearly ask for nursing when he wanted it.

Because of the frequency of his nursing, and my physiology, my feminine cycles had not returned. We wanted to get pregnant again. I knew I had to reduce his nursing frequency, to get my cycles back.

Telling him “No” was torture. He cried. I mean not just a little whine or fuss. Bawling, sobbing, huge tears rolling down his face. I eventually discovered it was easier to tell him “The next time you can nurse is _____ (example, at naptime),” compared to “No, not right now.” Getting him down to three nursing sessions in a 24 hour period (bedtime, naptime, and morning wake up time), was SO, SO hard on both of us. So many tears were shed, by both of us.

As a parent, I’m a firm believer that children are real humans. They have real feelings, opinions, needs, and ideas about the world. I treat my kids with respect, even when they are little. I allow them to have a say in what goes on in their world, as reasonably much as I can. I expect them to cooperate with me, but I find that the more I can understand and listen to their ideas and needs, the more easily they cooperate with my plan.

With this philosophy, I absolutely could not “just wean him.” These tears were real tears. They were tears of sadness, disappointment, loss, pain. They were tears begging for comfort and connection. They were tears needing to know Mommy still loves, and the world is safe and secure. Seeing his tears, I could not physically deny him what he asked for and needed. I had milk to give him. My body was capable. I could only stall him enough to achieve what I wanted – pregnancy.

I had two cycles before we conceived on the third cycle.

Lots of people said their child naturally self-weaned once they were pregnant with another baby. Supposedly it changes the taste of the milk, or the quantity. To be honest, I was hoping for that.

If it did, my two year old didn’t notice or care. Once again, I was in breastfeeding pain. Pregnancy makes the breasts and nipples extra sensitive, and also reduces milk supply. Sometimes I could hardly stand to nurse him longer than a few minutes. But any “no” or “that’s all for now” was met with such sadness and so many tears. And it was clear every time we nursed, that he loved it. He felt peaceful and happy and satisfied. What a gift.

We began to talk about the baby. How the baby would need lots of nursing. How the baby would need to nurse first. How there would still be enough milk for my firstborn. My Jax. How there would even be MORE milk for both of them! I was prepared to tandem nurse, but had no idea how that would go.

Tobi arrived when Jax was nearly three.

Tandem nursing totally tapped me out physically (pun intended). It’s extremely difficult to get two small human bodies positioned in a way that actually works to nurse at the same time. Especially when one is a floppy newborn. Especially when the toddler wants to wiggle around while nursing. And having two little mouths sucking on my nipples at the same time was just way too much for me to physically tolerate. I was willing to nurse them both, but not at the same time.

It’s hard for a firstborn to adjust to the arrival of a sibling. Really hard. I think parents underestimate how shocking and terrible this can be for a firstborn child. How painful the loss of attention can be for the first child. The second child never knows any different. But the first, really this is quite a tragedy – the arrival of this new person. Taking Mommy and Daddy’s time. Taking Mommy’s breasts and milk.

I was so grateful that I could still give my firstborn something reliable. Something that assured him of our connection, of my love, of my availability to him.

In the first few weeks, I was so engorged (like the first time), and mastitis threatened several times. I happily let Jax nurse much more than his usual “designated” times of day (bedtime, naptime, wake up time in the morning). I eagerly let him nurse a few times when his younger brother skipped a feeding, and I was getting engorged.

Eventually it wasn’t working for him to have flexible nursing times. He would ask to nurse all day long, just like when he was an infant. But I couldn’t nurse him like an infant, when I had a newborn nursing on demand. I went back to our three-times-a-day schedule. That worked better. He knew what to expect. He would still ask at other times, and it would make him a little sad when I reminded him of his next nursing opportunity, but it was usually without tears. He eventually stabilized with the predictability of his own nursing schedule, and the difference it was from his brother’s nursing schedule. I also made it a point to read books, do puzzles, or give him my attention, while nursing the baby.

When my second son (Tobi) was four months old, we moved. We bought our first house. We had been living with (renting from while sharing a home with) my parents, since before Jax was born. Living with me, my husband, and my parents, was all he had ever known. My parents played with him at intervals during the day and evening, we ate meals together, and he saw them frequently throughout each day.

Moving away from their home, into our own home, meant a huge loss for him. A huge loss of the playtime and connection with his grandparents. A gaping hole of attention. Not only was a new baby stealing attention, but now there were fewer available adults to fill the attention gap.

Within a few days of moving into our home, Jax turned three.  I had been ramping up to wean him on his third birthday.

It was getting increasingly difficult to keep up with his three-times-a-day nursing sessions. The worst was bedtime, because that was also a fussy time of day for the baby. I would end up either

1) Nursing the baby first, while Jax fussed and complained that he wanted to nurse. The baby would take such a long time to nurse to sleep, that sometimes Jax wouldn’t get to nurse, or would be begging me for such a long time that I didn’t know what to do (since the baby was still nursing). Tandem was so uncomfortable for me, and truly almost physically impossible especially with small breasts like I have.

Or 2) Nursing Jax first, in a big rush, while Tobi screamed. Not relaxing or enjoyable for anyone.

Naptime wasn’t too far off from bedtime, in difficulty, and similarity of issues.

Because of these troubles, I wanted to wean Jax on his third birthday. He’s smart. Really smart. Also really verbal, and quite opinionated. I knew that in order to wean him, I would need a good reason, or he wouldn’t go along with the idea. The only thing I could come up with was that three years old was too big for nursing. So that’s what I began telling him in the weeks leading up to his third birthday.

I nursed him on the morning of his third birthday, and even posted a photo on Facebook that it was our “last” nursing session. I refused to nurse him that day, for naptime or bedtime. He only fussed a little, and I was hopeful.

IMG_6828

The day after his third birthday, when he woke up that morning and asked to nurse, I tried telling him no. No, three years old is too big for nursing.

Soo many tears. So much sadness and hurt and loss. I relented, and nursed him.

I got to thinking about all the changes going on for this three year old. Totally rocking and shaking his world. A new brother. A move. A new home. A new room. Losing daily companionship with his grandparents. Really, it was a lot of sadness. A lot of loss and confusion. Very little security. A world upside down. Truthfully, not a good time to be weaning a child who was still so needy of nursing and security.

So Jax and I had a talk. We talked together about the baby. About how much the baby needs to nurse. About how hard it is for Mommy when the baby is crying at naptime and bedtime, and I’m trying to nurse two people. About how it would be better if Jax didn’t need to nurse at bedtime or naptime anymore.

He has such a tender heart, and an intelligent mind. We had a truly reasonable, respectful conversation. We agreed that Jax would nurse once a day – when he woke up in the morning. This was the most peaceful nursing session for me, and the one he also seemed the most attached to.

For the next year, he nursed once a day – when he woke up in the morning. He only got one “side” so there would always be milk for the baby. Sometimes he asked for more nursing at other times. I allowed him to do so only rarely, as it seemed to spawn more requests, and more tears at my denial. The reliability of the wake-up time nursing worked for both of us, and wasn’t hard on me. It was a sweet time to connect with him in the morning, before our day got going. Most days, he woke up before the baby, so we had time together alone. Like the old days, before his brother was born.

At some point when he was three, I asked him why he liked nursing. I was expecting all sorts of answers, but not the one I got. My chocolate-loving, candy-desiring, sweet-toothed son, said he liked breastfeeding, “Because it tastes GOOD!”

As we neared his fourth birthday, my husband ventured to me in private, that he was getting uncomfortable with how old our son was, still nursing. Up to this point, he had been okay with the breastfeeding situation. We had talked on several occasions about my reasons for continuing, and were on the same page.

I was feeling ready to wean him as well, but was anxious about how it would go, since it went so badly before.

I began talking to Jax with the same mantra I had chosen the prior year. Four years old is too big for nursing. After you turn four, you will be a big boy, and we won’t nurse anymore. You will be all done nursing after your birthday, because four years old is too big for nursing.

On the morning of his fourth birthday, I nursed him, and reminded him it would be our last nursing time. I again took a photo, but this time didn’t share it on social media. I honestly didn’t know how the next day would go.

FullSizeRender

The day after his birthday, when he woke up, he asked for nursing. I gently told him no, four years old was too big for nursing, and we were all done nursing. He cheerfully replied, “Okay, Mommy!” and went on with his morning.

He didn’t ask me again.

A couple days later, I asked him about it. “Are you okay that we are done nursing?” “Yes, Mommy, I’m fine!”

A few days later. “Are you still okay that we aren’t nursing anymore?” “I’m okay, Mommy.”

A week or so later. “Are you feeling okay that we don’t nurse anymore?” “Mommy, it’s okay.”

And that was it. He was weaned.

It’s been over two months now since he nursed. He doesn’t ask me to nurse anymore. Although he is very quick to let me know when his brother is distressed and seems to need nursing!

I was a little more heartbroken than I expected. That was it. I was done nursing my firstborn. We had nursed thousands of times, and this was the end of it. And he was fine with it.

I guess part of me wished he wasn’t fine with it. Wished it had been a battle, so I could have seen how much it mattered to him. But, it was easy. He was ready. It finally mattered little enough, that he was ready for it to be the end.

That is when I weaned my child. When he was ready.

Before I had kids, someone asked me once, how long I planned to breastfeed. I remember thinking, “I’m not even pregnant! How would I know how long I plan to breastfeed?” I hesitated, then answered, “I guess, when they are old enough to help themselves?”

Jax could help himself by five months old. At church one Sunday, while I held him on my hip, he pulled my shirt down and latched on. All by himself.

Since five months old was clearly too early to wean him, that idea of “old enough to help himself” went out the window.

Once he was past the age of being able to “help himself”, I figured one day he wouldn’t want to nurse anymore. I had no idea that day would be his fourth birthday.

I didn’t plan it. I didn’t mean it to be that way. I didn’t expect it.

If I had seen a four year old boy running around and you said I might be nursing a boy like that, I probably would have laughed in your face and felt terribly awkward about the idea.

It happened because my son needed to nurse. Wanted to nurse. Was physically and emotionally benefited by nursing. I nursed him because I’m his Mommy and I wanted to do what was best for him. And at each point I tried to wean him, or reduce his nursing, I was met with such sadness and despair that it didn’t seem like the right thing to do.

Until he was four.

Then he was ready.

I’m sad. I’m relieved.

I’m grateful for our journey.

I Can’t Stop Crying | A Complicated Conversation that I would rather have with you in person but feel compelled to write about tonight

Today, in a landmark decision, the Texas State Governor cancelled Medicaid funding in the state of Texas for Planned Parenthood, the leading abortion provider in the United States. The Governor has made it clear in his written statement that the state of Texas firmly supports both women’s healthcare and unborn life.

Other states are mired in legalities over this topic, and everyone is bursting at the seams with their own opinion and idea of whom we should support, and how.

Abortion is, and will continue to be, a complicated conversation, and a legislative battle in our country.

When I was a senior in college, I worked at Super Target. It was our first year of marriage. I worked full time to support us, while Benjamin was a full time student. I was also finishing a few senior-level classes and my senior thesis.

A co-worker at Super Target had four children, all grown and around my own age.  I remember talking to her one day about being a newlywed, and we got on the topic of birth control.  I was saying something about how we were being extra cautious not to conceive at this time of our lives – both still in school, about to graduate in less than a year, and myself being the only income (besides my husband’s work study job, which we all know how much those pay!).

She lightly said something to the effect of, “Well, if anything unexpected happens, you can take care of it easily.” She told me after she and her husband had two of their children, they conceived an unexpected third. They were poor, and she was beside herself at the idea of another child, at that time of their lives. So she had an abortion. Later in life, they went on to have two other children, when they were more financially stable. She encouraged me that I shouldn’t worry about birth control too much, because there was another option for an unwanted pregnancy.

I sat in my chair in the Super Target clerical office, completely stunned. I guess I had naively figured most women who have had an abortion, when they are “all grown up”, they probably regret it, or at least wonder about their baby.

I couldn’t help but wonder…. she had four healthy adult children. I’m guessing she loves her children, and has grandchildren from them whom she also loves.  I couldn’t reconcile the idea that one of her children, who would have been just as amazing and precious as the four living ones, never had a chance. If she had birthed all five of them, and lost that middle child when he or she was five, or ten, or eighteen – would she have had the same nonchalant attitude about that child?

If you are reading this and you’ve had an abortion, I love you. Whether you feel it was the right decision and stand by it; or whether you regret it and can’t forgive yourself for it; or whether you have mixed feelings and thoughts because…. it was complicated then, and it’s still complicated now. The last thing I will do is judge you for your reasons and your decision. Judgement doesn’t breathe love, and love is what is breathed into every human life at its conception.

We don’t fight civil wars anymore over issues that tear our country apart. Instead we post Facebook articles, write hashtags, send emails to our Senators, listen to media tell us what to think, gush with like-minded friends and un-friend people who don’t agree with us.

When I was pregnant with my first child, I documented my pregnancy in a weekly photo blog. We had waited ten years of marriage, and I felt I had been waiting my entire life, to have a baby. We purchased an iPhone app called Sprout that gave us insight into what was developing with the baby on a week-to-week basis.

 

w20110904DSC_0860

 

By the time a woman misses her period and takes a positive pregnancy test, the cells are in place that form the base of the child’s brain. The baby is the size of an apple seed.

w20110903DSC_0800

 

By ten weeks old, the baby is the size of a radish, has a head and skeleton, and can be seen in a sonogram DANCING.

……………………………………………………….

I don’t generally consider Facebook – or any online format for that matter – to be the right place to express my deeply held values or discuss inflammatory and complicated topics. I prefer to have deep, meaningful, heartfelt conversations face-to-face, where I can hear your story, you can hear mine, and we can understand each other. The human touch is key to resolving conflict; and Facebook, email, and text message don’t do a great job with that.

You don’t have to agree with me to be my friend. I don’t have to agree with you to be your friend. I have friends of many faiths, genders, and nationalities. Our friendship or our business relationship doesn’t hinge on our agreement about a slew of topics (otherwise, who would have friends?!).

What I want to be, as a human and a Christ-follower in this world, is to be part of the solution to the problems I see. I can’t fix the world. I can’t even fix myself and my own kids! The solution for me, is to support women, to support mothers, in the ways I know how. To be a playful partner to children around me. To be a better friend. To be a better parent. To love people who are lonely. To continue wrestling with the possibility of foster care or adoption in growing my family.

Because God is love and love comes from God. And there’s a lot of hurting people who don’t feel loved right now. Born and unborn. Those people – all of them – are where I am called to love and serve.

So today, I can’t stop crying. For the babies. For the mothers. For the lonely people in our world today. For a raging conversation that tears friends and nations apart. For a desperation to see life and freedom where there is death and darkness. Oh God, would you give us more of Your love. Would You help me express more of Your love in this earth. The world needs Love.

Noel is Born! | The Birth Story of Tobi

*** Photo Credits…. First two photos from Jax’s birth taken by our birth photographer Ann Marie Itschner. She was not available for Tobi’s birth. The birth of Tobi was photographed by Monica Barrientes. I edited them, with Monica’s permission. My sister Mercy Persyn took photos during the newborn exam, shown at the end of this post. Just wanted to give credit to our awesome photogs ***

*This is a birth story. There aren’t any “R” rated images, but it’s a birth story with birth photos and descriptions of body parts.*

When I wrote the birth story of my firstborn, I had a reader comment, “You had a traumatic birth.” Other readers said the intensity of my story was just how they remembered their own labor.

I was surprised by the first observation.

I wrote the story of Jax’s birth the only way I could find to do so – from the inside not the outside. From the intense and insane thoughts that rattled my brain and body as I labored and delivered a 10 lb 4 oz firstborn at home without medication.

Photo of Jax’s Birth by Ann Marie Itschner
Photo of Jax’s birth by Ann Marie Itschner


My overriding thought during Jax’s labor was the sensation that I was dying. It wasn’t that I believed I was dying; I just had no other way to name the intensity of pain. Yet somehow, at the moment my brain was saying, “I’m dying”, another part was saying “Open. Open your body, swing your hips, open to let this baby come through.”


I don’t feel traumatized by Jax’s birth. In fact, the intensity I experienced is rather normal for first-time un-medicated births I’ve seen. Horribly painful and I won’t lie about it.

Yet conversely, intensely rewarding. I am SO proud of myself for delivering a 10 lb 4 oz firstborn baby at Home, without medication. I am SO proud that my body can do this. That most women can too.  I was SO happy to be at home, in my own safe element, surrounded by people I know and love. No one to take my baby away from me except my family. No one to do things to me without my consent. No arguing for my birth experience to be preserved. My own room, my own bed, my own peace.  And my son, born into this safe, peaceful place.


I’m a birth photographer. I’ve observed births of all kinds. Difficult natural births, and easy natural births.  Traumatic hospital births and healing hospital births.

I’ve seen many natural births (home or birth center) that were easy.  These moms made birth look like a walk in the park. Or a comedy show.

I’ve seen laboring mothers hiking stairs at 9 cm, making everyone in the room crack up at 10 cm, and making not a single sound of pain while laboring or pushing. I’ve seen babies born naturally and quickly – from first contraction to delivery in less than an hour – without medication or intervention.

I’ve seen mamas who make natural labor a comedy show with a dramatic happy ending.

While my experience with my first born – that of intense pain and a sensation of dying – is an experience many women share; so too is the peace and ease I’ve observed in many of my clients.

During my pregnancy with Noel (our womb-name for our second child), I kept my mind open about the delivery. And I prayed for it to be quicker and easier.

To summarize my labor and delivery with Jax, from a medical event perspective…..

– 10 hours of total labor, 8 hours of that was active (very painful) labor, 1 hour of that was pushing.
– Third degree tear to my perineum (not from his head but from his elbow when he pushed his arm out after his head emerged), which required a lot of stitches and a lengthy healing time.
– Hemorrhage that required IV fluids, methergine, and pitocin to stop the bleeding.
– Postpartum fainting.

This time I wanted to experience a shorter labor, no tearing, no hemorrhaging, and no fainting. I also hoped for a water birth.

…………………………….

My labor story with Noel began Monday evening. I attended a church class that met in our home, and left early. During the meeting, I could not get comfortable in any sitting position, and was antsy and anxious. I slept fine that night (as well as one sleeps at 39 weeks pregnant), and woke Tuesday morning, still uncomfortable all over. I did not consider I could be in labor, but hoped I didn’t have many days of pregnancy left.

I took a walk outside with Jax about 9:30 in the morning.  He rode his tricycle. The tightening sensation of the Braxton Hicks was still painless but seemed rather regular. Just for grins, I decided to track them in an iPhone app, during our walk. They were regular (every 3-5 minutes, and around 1 minute long), but didn’t hurt.  That timing was the same way I began labor with Jax, but it hurt almost right away.

We got back from the walk, and I continued pacing around the house.  Standing still was uncomfortable, even though I wasn’t in pain.  My mom kept telling me I was in labor. I kept saying I was antsy and uncomfortable, but couldn’t be in labor since it didn’t hurt.

At some point I called Benjamin to come home, because I was too agitated to take care of Jax.  I managed to bring all the birth supplies from storage in the closet, out into the birth room, and get Benjamin started on setting up the birth pool.  He and I took another walk, knowing by now, that today was indeed the day.




We called our midwife, Robin around 1:30 in the afternoon (oddly enough, we called her about 1:30 in the middle of the night last time!).  I had several dreams during my pregnancy that I had an easy birth with my baby, and it was so quick and easy that Robin missed it. I didn’t want that part of the dream to come true!

Robin and her assistant ShaeLynn arrived by 3:00 in the afternoon. She checked and I was already 6cm dilated! I couldn’t believe it. I was in pain at that point, but it was bearable. And I had my full presence of mind. I could talk between contractions. I could even talk during them, saying things like, “This sucks. Why does labor have to hurt so much?!”


As a photographer, I know we’re not at the end, until the mama stops talking, and has to fully concentrate. She zones out from the world, and enters a mental labor land. I knew I wasn’t there yet, and had time left. But I was relieved it was already SO much easier than last time. Last time I thought I was dying by 2cm, and this time, I was merely convinced “labor sucks” at 6cm.

By 4:00 pm I was in the birth pool. My mom coached me during contractions. She also read me amazing Scripture verses she had prepared for this moment.






Benjamin was in the water behind me, holding me up, just like last time. My sister Mercy arrived, and would intermittently coach me, or give me water or juice to drink.  They put a fan on my face because I was too hot in the water tub (just like last time).  At some point, I vomited (which I also did with Jax, but early in labor compared to late in labor this time). Eventually the second midwife, Julie, arrived, who I had not met before.





“Don’t panic. I’m with you. There’s no need to fear for I’m your God. I’ll give you strength. I’ll help you. I’ll hold you steady, keep a firm grip on you.” Isaiah 41:10

“And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Comforter, Counselor, Helper, Intercessor, Advocate, Strengthener, and Standby, that He may remain with you forever.” John 14:16




“Don’t be afraid, he said, for you are very precious to God. Peace! Be encouraged! Be strong! As he spoke these words to me, I suddenly felt stronger.” Daniel 10:19

“I am leaving you with a gift – peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.” John 14:27

“The Lord said to him, Peace be to you, do not fear. You shall not die.” Judges 6:23




“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you, and through the rivers, they will not overwhelm you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned or scorched, nor will the flame kindle upon you.” Isaiah 43:1-2

When she read that one, I immediately knew it had to do with my perineum, and crowning, and being able to pass through that “fire” without “burning” (tearing / damage to my perineum). I asked her to read to me a few more times and felt so much strength.




“There is nothing to fear, for I am with you. Do not look around you in terror and be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen and harden you to difficulties, yes I will help you, yes I will hold you up and retain you with My victorious right hand!” Isaiah 41:10





About 4:30pm, there was an unexpected knock on the door. It was my friend Elisha, who hopes to one day have kids and have natural births. She was picking up a bag of gluten-free flour she needed for a recipe.

She had tried to pick it up the day before, Monday. She called Monday afternoon, checking to be sure she could stop by to get it. I was napping, and had my phone turned off. I didn’t get her message until late that evening, and called to apologize. She laughed, “I figured you were in labor.” I laughed too. “No, no, not in labor; just napping. I’ll put it on the porch for you. Pick it tomorrow when you leave work.”

Now, here she was, arriving to pick it up, knocking on the door. And like she joked, I was in labor! In labor, in the main living area of the house. She opened the front door and unknowingly stepped into a delivery room!  I heard someone say she had come in, and laughed to myself.  During my pregnancy, I considered inviting her to the birth, but wasn’t sure if she would want to come.

Now she was here. And at 9cm, I still had the presence of mind to say to her, “Hey! I’m 9 centimeters! Wanna stay and watch a baby be born?!” She stayed.

Around that time, I began having a certain pressure behind my pubic bone. My midwife thought the pressure was the water bag, and the sensation was the baby rocking his head trying to break it. She said, “You can keep doing what you’re doing, and eventually it will break. Or I can break it, and this will be over pretty quickly.”  I waited a couple more contractions, then asked her to break it.

She says it broke with the slightest pressure of her finger. Then she grabbed the crown of Noel’s head,  gently pulling and tilting his head into proper position.

With my water broken, the full pressure of Noel’s head was against my cervix. The pain escalated, pushing me over the edge. I felt the sharp knife-stabbing my insides that I remembered making me scream with Jax, and I flopped around in the tub, trying to escape it.  I hit the intensity of the “I’m dying” wall.  At the same time, I knew I was SO close. It wouldn’t be very long like this.  Ten to twenty minutes passed, then I could feel my body instinctively begin pushing.

It’s one of the lovely things about natural labor, and out-of-hospital labor. You don’t have to wait for the doctor to show up in order to deliver the baby, and they don’t have to “verify” you are fully dilated before “allowing” you to push.  The midwife is always there. And she can tell by a mama’s labor progress and physical/vocal expressions, whether or not she is ready.  I had only two vaginal exams in Noel’s labor, and the last one had been less than an hour ago. When my body was ready, I didn’t need anyone’s permission, and I didn’t have to wait. I followed my body’s cues, pulled my knees up, and pushed.

To my midwife’s records, I pushed less than ten minutes.  To my memory, I pushed four contractions total.








I’m a highly sensitive person when it comes to my body, touch, smell, taste, and physical sensation / experience.  With each of my son’s births, there is a “defining moment” physically, that I can repeat in my memory. It is rich, beautiful, and raw.  I can recall that moment at any time, and enter it again in my mind. It is a sensation of my primal self if you will.

……….

With Jax, that moment was when his body slipped out of me. I couldn’t actually tell when he was crowning, or when his head emerged. I’ve heard crowning described as “the ring of fire”, and I didn’t experience it with Jax at all. His entire hour-long passage down my birth canal felt like tearing and burning, and it was not distinguishable from being inside, to being outside. I did however, feel a great sense of relief of pressure when his head emerged.  I paused, asking if he was okay, touching his head, waiting for another contraction to be able to push him out.  When it came, and his huge 10 lb 4 oz body slipped out, that was my most visceral sensation.  I felt as if I could feel every part of his little body – every shoulder, elbow, hip, knee, bony and bumpy and poking me, and yet slithering, slipping out of me.  I grabbed him under his armpits and tried to bring him up to me, but Robin stopped me. His cord was only long enough to lay him across my hip.

………..

With Tobi, pushing out his head was the most visceral sensation.  I felt the pressure as if needing to poop, and remembered that I needed to push “down”, just as if trying to poop.  His head quickly progressed under my pubic bone and into my birth canal, and it was such an intense pressure. I was thinking to myself in shock, it feels like I’m pooping a grapefruit. That is SO. MUCH. PRESSURE. Pooping grapefruit SUCKS.  I knew it was his head, but it was such a different sensation that Jax.  I REALLY wanted his head to get out fast, because I was not liking the feeling of his head pressing my bones and body apart.  It was maybe only one or two pushes with that intense grapefruit-in-my-bowels sensation, before he was crowning, and Robin told me to stop and blow, to avoid tearing.

She had been worried my whole pregnancy about me tearing again, especially since the old tear had formed some white scar tissue that wasn’t stretchy.  Benjamin worked on rubbing the scar tissue with some oil, in the weeks preceding the birth, and I’m sure that helped. Plus prayer. Always prayer.

I was glad for her alerting me that it was time to pause my powerful pushes, and wait…. I submissively blew short panting breaths, waiting, holding back, allowing my perinium to stretch slowly and gently over his head.  At the next contraction, I pushed again, and his head emerged.  Relief!

And again, the three minutes of eternity. Waiting.  Joyfully rubbing my sweet baby’s head, hoping he was okay under the water, even though I knew logically he was still getting oxygen from his cord inside me.  I knew how close I was.  I caressed and massaged his little soft head under the water, tickling his little ears and feeling his wispy hair under my finger tips. I felt happy and elated.


Then another contraction, and his body.  Robin was holding onto him, and it felt like she was twisting and yanking his body around to get him out. She tells me it was just the baby, moving and turning to emerge.

Then, he was out of the water. I grabbed onto him and pulled him up to my chest. I threw my head back in joyous relief, and held my baby.  One arm around his back, the other under his bum.

With my hand tucked under his bum, I touched his skin and felt that he was boy.

With a laugh, I yelled loudly, “IT HAS BALLS!!!!!”

Later, watching the video, I nearly crawled into a hole when I watched that part.  It’s not like me to yell. Or be crude. Or refer to body parts by slang instead of correct terminology.

But labor removes your inhibitions, sort of like being drunk, and there I was, yelling to the room, “It has balls!”














With Jax, I tried to keep an open mind about our baby’s gender, but this time, I couldn’t help hoping for a boy.  Jax has been such a delight, and we both felt he would love having a brother to play in the dirt, and drive toy cars, and tractors and bulldozers. Not that a girl can’t do those things.  I was so happy he was a boy, just like I was happy with Jax.

Tobi Mitchell was his name. We announced it.  Tobi with an “I.”

I yelled, someone get Jax back in here!  My dad had been watching Jax. They had come in the room minutes before when I was pushing, and Jax asked to go back out of the room. I was making too much noise and it frightened him (he was almost three years old).  My dad and Jax came back in, and I breathlessly told him a baby brother was born, Tobi. Noel was his name before, but now that he was born, and he was a boy, his name would be Tobi.

Tobi was born at 5:51 pm.

If I count from my walk that morning with Jax, I was in labor eight hours.  But if I count active labor from when Robin arrived, I was in active labor around three hours. And pushed for less than ten minutes.

The news got better. I had a day time labor. I had water birth! I didn’t hemmorhage. I didn’t tear!!!!!

My mom said it was the most peaceful labor she had ever seen. I was thrilled with how easy it was compared to Jax.  It had only been intense for around thirty minutes or so.

I was also thrilled that Tobi came at 39 weeks (Jax was 40 weeks), and was born in November.  We had called him Noel since his due date was early December but I really wanted a November birthday for my baby.  And here he was.  Two days before Thanskgiving.

We had two birth photographers on-call for us, friends who were willing to shoot for me at a reduced rate.  We called both of them earlier in the day, and it was a toss up for a while, who would come.  Finally Monica was the one. And oddly enough, her family was celebrating Thanksgiving on that day! Even though Thanksgiving wasn’t until Thursday, they were celebrating on Tuesday. She put the turkey in the oven, and drove to my house. What a special friend.


Just the right day at just the right time. He was born on November 25, the same day of the month as Christmas, just one month earlier!















Oh to hold my sweet son after just a few short hours of intensity!
Oh to have two boys!

To not be pregnant any longer when I had been so uncomfortable the past few days and weeks. To have a November baby!

To deliver him in the water in front of the Christmas tree.

To have my family and friends surrounding me!

It was everything I wished and prayed for. I clung to this tiny little one, rubbing his back to help the oxygen flow into his lungs, caressing his body still smooth and slippery from vernix (which Jax hysterically calls vinegar).


And oh to have childREN not only a child.  In that moment, the world was perfect and I would not change a thing. 

My sister Mercy, who is in nursing school, cut the cord and got to hold Tobi.  Benjamin held Tobi, and Jax got to check him out.  Our friend Tina arrived, just minutes late. Maybe we will remember to call her in time to see the birth of baby #3!

In the meantime, I delivered the placenta, and got out of the tub feeling like a million dollars.  I requested a bag of IV fluids, to prevent dehydration and fainting – just in case.  After the IV bag was finished, I felt even better.  Robin checked me to be sure I didn’t need stitches, and I didn’t!  Our friend Tina showed up.  Benjamin called his mom and insisted I say hello on Facetime. I love my mother in law so much, but was not up for talking right then ha!

Then, I WALKED back to my room. After Jax was born, I was hemmorhaging and fainting, and Benjamin carried me to my bed. This time I walked all the way across the house on my own two feet. I was sore, but I felt amazing.

One of the things I love about having a birth photographer, is they capture things 1) that I would have otherwise forgotten and 2) that I didn’t even see happening – like Mercy, Jax, and Tobi hanging out in the other room with new toys my parents bought for Jax.






























Tobi weighed in at 9 lb 8 oz, and 21 inches long.  Just shy of Jax’s 10 lb 4 oz and 22 inches, but also a week shy of Jax’s gestational age.

My sister Mercy is studying to become a nurse. She’s also been married a bit over a year, and is eagerly anticipating the day when she and her husband can start their own family. Between those two things, she wanted to help out with Tobi and snatch him up any chance she could.  She was a huge help.






By this point, it was nearing Jax’s bedtime. Someone gave him a bath. He started getting cranky. But he did so well. He was sweet as could be with his new brother. He gave him lots of kisses, and checked out Tobi’s latch.  Jax was still nursing about three times a day when Tobi was born, so they were going to have to learn to share. We had talked about it while I was pregnant. I was so proud of Jax, watching him transition to a big brother.




I love this sequence of the four of us.  It reminds me of so much of what I love about home birth.  Peace. Family. Rest. Cuddles. Security. Safety. Usually at this point in the hospital, the baby is taken away to the nursery for several hours.








There’s also something special about the relationship with a midwife.  By the end of one pregnancy, you feel close to them.  By the end of the second, she feels sort of like a second mom.  Robin’s expertise makes me comfortable to do this huge life work at home.  She is wise, educated, calm, and knows which calculated risks are safe, and which ones not to take.  She knows what to watch for to signal a crisis, and can act promptly and calmly in any scenario. She handled the complications after Jax’s birth with great skill.  I can trust her to take care of me and my babies, and that is such a peaceful feeling.










Our lovely birth photographer Monica went home to eat some cold Thanksgiving dinner!  My sister Mercy took the rest of these photos with my camera.











I am special. I was born at home!

Jax’s birth was not traumatic for me, but it was physically painful and mentally difficult.  It never occurred to me during his labor to ask for drugs, or to ask to go to the hospital.  It wasn’t an option on my radar, and it somehow never crossed my mind.  I do recall wishing there was a labor “light switch” so I could just switch off the pain for a while. I just wanted a break, for a few minutes, or hours, then I would be ready to finish up again later.

Tobi’s birth was everything I could ask for. All the people I wanted to be there were there, except my sisters who live out of town.  He was born in the water, in front of the Christmas tree. I didn’t hemmorhage, or tear, or faint. His labor was so easy and so much less painful.

I look back on his labor and delivery with great joy. I can almost laugh inside with the exuberance of how perfect it was. I can recall that it was horribly painful, but it was such a short time, less than thirty minutes, and by that point in my labor, I knew exactly where I was, recognized the sensations, and knew the crazy pain would be over soon.

I got the boy number two I had been hoping for. I held him in my arms, on my chest, and never wanted that moment to end. So much relief. So much joy.

The hormones that create labor also flush the mother’s body with ecstasy when she meets her baby – it is an emotional experience of freedom and delight comparable to none other.

I feel blessed. So blessed, to have this kind of amazing birth.

There were so many prayers for all of this. When Tobi was 36 weeks and still feet first (not a safe position for vaginal birth), I was nearly in a panic. I wrote this post, where I had to surrender my hopes and dreams for his birth.

I had laid my hands on my belly, and spoken to him in a rather firm voice, “Noel, this is your Mommy talking to you. We love you. The world is a safe place. It’s okay for you to come when you’re ready. The Bible says children are to honor their parents. This is your Mommy talking to you, and I’m telling you to turn around. Put your head down where it belongs, and stay there.”  Days later, at a 37-week sonogram, he was head down, and stayed there, and delivered that way.

After this emotional journey of surrender, I was given the greatest gift – to have the birth I dreamed about, the son I dreamed about…..  What joy. Thank you Jesus.

Dear Noel…. my squirmy beloved one, not too far away

** All photos credit to our lovely photographer Melanie Swan.

Dear Noel,

We had some lovely photos taken recently to document your growing life…. but you are as present with me as it’s possible to be at this stage.  You are squirmy and wiggly and flippy, I’m pretty sure even more than your older brother was.  One difference I note is that you do indeed have distinct active cycles and sleep/rest cycles.  I remember with him, feeling like he never let up on his movement.

You feel smaller so far than he did, so even at thirty four weeks, you have plenty of space to move all around.  You’ve spent many days in a breech position, your head pressing hard up against my ribs and your feet kicking around in my pelvic area.  You also seem to prefer a posterior position thus far, which means my belly is constantly full of your knees, elbows, hands, and feet, all over the place, unpredictable, strong, and wild.  Not always so comfortable for me!  But you finally relocated a week or so ago, to at least a semi-diagonal-head-down position, which is moving in the right direction.  I am praying for you to position yourself in good birthing position (and stay put!) within the next few weeks.

Some things about carrying you that I want to remember….

I’ve craved salty and spicy foods.

My life is busier, as in, less time sitting down and thinking.  It means that sometimes I almost forget that you are within me, until you start bouncing around and I think, “Well hello, Noel!” with a little smile.  Then I remember again, how we are anticipating you.

With having children, there’s things I think I thought it would “fix” in my life, and of course things I knew it would “break” (in a good way).  Being a Mommy for the last two years has made me a different person than I was before.

But I have a similar anticipation to you – being YOU.  Your big brother was an open-ended idea… we didn’t even know his gender, let alone his personality, preferences, opinions, quirks.  Some of the things we hoped for him, that he would be full of life and joy and creativity, have all been true.  Other things were just a clean, white slate, ready for him to write his own story.

So it is the same with you.  You will be different than he.  Your gender, personality, preferences, quirks… and I try to hold in my heart, not the expectation of another Jax, but the expectation of Noel.  A clean, white slate, ready for you to write your own story.

It’s harder to do the second time around, but it’s something always on my mind.  To discover you day by day, the same way I did with him.  Expectation-free.  Heart wide-open.  An open-ended journey of who are you, who are you becoming, and what is my part to play in getting acquainted with you and acquainting you to the world around you.

We are even planning your birth to be in a different room of the house.  Most of the people invited to your birth day will be the same, unless perhaps your Aunt Mercy or Priscilla will be able to come, who were too far away last time to make it.

Your big brother is so enthusiastic about you.  I know that you are still living primarily in his imagination, and the reality of you will be so different for him.  But he needs you too, he just doesn’t know it yet.  You will help him grow up and become less selfish, just like he did for your Daddy and I.   You will eventually play with him and the two of you can enjoy some of the best friendships available on earth – that of connected siblings.

He frequently wants to talk to you.  If I change clothes and he sees my belly, he comes over to talk to you.  Or sometimes he will pull my shirt up, lean his head against my skin, and talk to you.  It usually goes something like this, “Hello baby Noel…” (giggles and smiles)… “This is Jax Reilly. I’m your big brother.”

When he and I lay down in bed together to cuddle, or read books, or nurse, he is often close enough to feel you bumping and kicking around.  Sometimes he exclaims in surprise, “Baby Noel is kicking me!” followed by his sweet laugh.

One day when I was cleaning the house and couldn’t play with him, he told me he wanted you to be here NOW so he could play with you.

When other tiny babies come to visit us, he wants to look deeply into their eyes, often holding their shoulders or cheeks in both his hands, to establish connection with them.  Recently he showed one of his favorite hot wheels trucks to a tiny baby – tried putting it in the baby’s hand, and when the baby couldn’t grab it, he set it gently on the baby’s chest for the baby to see.  I know he will be the same way with you.

I’m looking forward to cuddling you, nursing you, wearing you, smelling your sweet-scented hair, and discovering you.

Your brother has brought us more joy, laughter, and life, than we could have imagined, and I know you will magnify that experience in our home.

Besides praying for your health, safety, growth, and smooth delivery, I’m also praying for your heart and character and soul.  That you would be filled with the presence of the Holy Spirit from a young age.  That you would be passionate for His cause.  That those who know you would be drawn to you, and thus to Jesus.

I had an experience early in my pregnancy with you, where I was in a group of people listening to a recorded sermon.  In the message, the man was talking about how the power of God can be invited and poured out when we shout to Him.  It’s in the Bible, many, many times, but not something we practice too often these days.  On the CD, he was prepping his audience, a crowd of hundreds, to shout all together, to God, on his cue.  I was debating in my mind…. here I am with five other people, all passionate people who are crazy for God, but still, here we are sitting in a quiet room, listening to a pre-recorded sermon.  What will happen?  What will we do?  Will we listen or will we participate?  Will the moment of shouting pass by with us sitting quietly, or will someone jump up and yell out to God praise and adoration and celebration of His name?

I decided I wasn’t going to wait to find out.  Breaking out of my hesitant, indecisive self, when the preacher finished his countdown, I yelled, loudly, “Praise You God! We worship You!  You are mighty!  Thank you Jesus!”  I lifted my hands toward heaven as I shouted, and felt almost what seemed like electricity shoot through my fingertips, down my arms and body, and directly into my womb.  I continued shouting, and the others in the room quickly joined in, but I almost sat there stunned.  I knew in that moment, you would live, you would exist, and you had already been filled with the power of God, for a life that has impact in the world.

I’m looking forward to getting to know you.  Looking forward to seeing you discover God’s beautiful world, even in its brokenness, and fighting for His cause of bringing it peace and healing and love.  Be full of His power and passion little one; the world needs it.

 

Maternity Fashion: How to Keep Your Style While Wearing a Bump – THIRD TRIMESTER

I’ve written about maternity fashion for first trimester here, and second trimester here.  This is the final post on third trimester.
The thing to remember at this stage of pregnancy, when you’re feeling sweaty and uncomfortable, having increasing trouble sleeping, and putting up with a daily onslaught of comments ranging from, “Are you SURE you’re not having twins?” to “ARE YOU SURE you’re not having twins,” to “You haven’t had this baby yet?” to “When are you due again (was it yesterday?)” to “ARE YOU ABSOLUTELY sure you’re not having twins,” here’s the thing you have to remember:
This precious, precious little one is going to make it all worth it.  And with the sense of humor God instilled in the universe, you will exchange your sweaty pregnancy body for a drippy-lactating body; your firmly shaped baby-belly for a squishy, lumpy post-partum belly; and lots of trouble sleeping for no sleep at all, topped off with a bazillion comments about how freaking adorable your little one is and are they sleeping through the night yet?
And once again I will repeat, oh the precious little one that is worth it all.  Oh the joy they will bring to your days.  And just like the awkwardness of toting around a pregnancy belly, a puffy face, and swollen ankles, the sleepless nights of early parenthood, too, will pass.  It is for a season that seems long in the moment and short in the past.
Hang in there, mamas!
Overall third trimester fashion tips:
1. If you have any remaining ability to still wear non-maternity blouses or dresses, rock it.  However, pay attention to lines like bra lines or pregnancy boobs popping out of things, panty lines in your dresses, etc…. Being pregnant comes with a lot of imperfections, but you can embrace those curves while smoothing them out.  If the weather allows it, wearing a thin cotton tank under a fitted shirt, or a belly band over the pants and popped-out belly button, will help smooth things out.  I used Ingrid and Isabel belly bands during my pregnancy, because of their high quality and durability.
2. Your face inevitably changes.  Looking through these photos, I can see the beginning of “pregnant face” at about twenty weeks, but by thirty-four weeks, I was having to photograph my face at different angles in order to be happy with how the photos turned out. The good news is your face is probably the first thing to go back to looking normal after delivery, and should do so within a couple days, depending on if you had a lot of IV fluids during a hospital stay (which will add a few more days to losing the puffy look).  You can feel better about how you look by taking care of the parts you CAN control.
3. Comfort becomes increasingly important.  If the weather is cool enough, leggings or tights under a tunic or short dress can be wonderfully comfortable while still looking put-together.
4. You may need to invest in new shoes, if your feet or ankles experience swelling.  I needed new shoes by about thirty-two weeks ish.  I opted to purchase two pairs of flats that were dressy enough for work, but casual enough for daily use – a brownish color and a silvery color since those two seemed to look good with everything.  I had one pair of Crocs flats that also fit until the end of my pregnancy.  I couldn’t wear flip flops because the straps pressed into my swollen feet, plus it really showed that I was swollen, and I got tired of people freaking out over my ankles.  I wore a lot of thin pants at the end, to help hide my ankles.
5. You can still look and feel beautiful. In fact, I guarantee that you look prettier than you think you do.  Other people don’t see the imperfections the way you do, and the bigger your belly gets, the more attention it gets than your face anyway.  Once the baby is born, people hardly look at you anymore because they are too busy looking at the precious tininess.

6. Decide when it’s time to lose the “fitted-under-the-belly” blouses.  You may make this change based on a glance in the mirror, or based on how many twin comments you get in a day.  As long as belts are still comfortable against your ribs, I think they look great all the way till the end.  You will need skinny belts though; wide ones won’t do.  Preferably 1/4 to 1/2 inch at a maximum, or a soft sash or ribbon is even better.

29 Weeks. Dress: Old Navy (not maternity, but two sizes larger than my normal size). Necklace: thrifted. Belt: Ebay. Tights: Walmart or Target. Boots: Ross.  I can’t do the ankle-height booties that are so popular right now – they look like hooves to me, especially on my size 9.5 feet.  But these boots were a short length that was comfortable to wear without being so low they turn me into a horse.

30 Weeks. Blouse: Old Navy (not maternity, but the ruched sides made it an awesome maternity blouse). Cardigan: Old Navy. Skirt: thrifted (not maternity, super stretchy waist). Boots: Ross. Necklace: gift, from India. Belt: thrifted.

31 Weeks. Blouse: I don’t remember, not one of my usual stores… super stretchy and soft, not maternity. Cardigan: consignment, also not maternity. Necklace: fabulous, gift from my boss from New Mexico, real turquoise and various handmade beads. Pants: Craigslist, maternity slacks. I bought a pair of black, brown, and grey dress slacks off Craigslist early in my pregnancy, before they fit.  It was a great purchase as I wore them daily to work.  I paid more than I wanted to for them, but they were still cheaper than buying new high-quality maternity dress slacks, and I definitely got my money’s-worth out of them.  Shoes: thrifted, one of my all-time favorite thrifted finds, red leather retro-looking heels that fit perfectly and were my favorite brand of dress shoes, Gianni Bini from Dillards.  I paid $10 for them, and $16 to have them repaired where some of the leather was fraying.  Which is also to say that high-quality leather shoes can almost always be repaired by a good shoe shop.  I’ve saved many a pair of lovely shoes by sending them for a $10 repair.

I included the close-up belly shot here, to show the transition happening with fitted blouses.  In the first and second trimester, fitted blouses are your best friend. As you get further into the third trimester, they definitely show off your belly still, but it becomes a question of how much you want to show off your belly, and how many questions about triplets you want to field that day.  I was hitting the transition point here for sure.  As you can see, the following week’s photo my belly actually looks smaller, which is just a matter of how I dressed.

32 Weeks. Cardigan: thrifted (Gap), Blouse thrifted, Belly Band (showing under my blouse) Ingrid and Isabel, Pants maternity slacks Craigslist (see prior photo), shoes brown leather heels from Gianni Bini, Belt thrifted.

The cropped sweaters started looking good around this stage of pregnancy. They worked to visually shorten my torso, which seemed to make my belly appear a bit smaller.  This blouse that isn’t fitted-under-the-belly also helps visually shorten my torso and belly size.

33 Weeks. Blouse: Gap (not maternity), Necklace Ebay, Belt Urban Outfitters, pants Craigslist, Shoes Walmart.

Although I was slowly moving away from fitted-under-the-belly blouses at this stage, I wanted to photograph this blouse I had worn repeatedly during my pregnancy.  I had a gift card to Gap Maternity from a friend, and this was one thing I bought with it.  It was incredibly soft and flowy, and not hot to wear.  It was from the non-maternity part of the store, and was a size extra small. I guess they intended it to be worn like a short dress or something, because it would have been absolutely enormous on me if I wasn’t 33 weeks pregnant.  There was room for me to wear it right up until the end.

It is belted at the empire waistline, because I think this is such a wonderful look for pregnancy.  At this stage however, you may be feeling pretty constricted in the ribcage area, depending on how your baby and placenta are positioned.  I was lucky in that my placenta was at the top of my uterus, under my diaphragm and ribs, so I never experienced baby kicks knocking the wind out of me. If he kicked straight up, I couldn’t even tell.

Also, I use Ebay when I have a specific item I’m searching for.  For example, a gold leaf necklace, or a skinny silver belt.  I could visit a ton of stores before finding the exact item I have in mind, or Ebay usually yields it with a ten or fifteen minute browsing keyword search.

34 weeks. Cardigan, thrifted (Gap), Blouse Old Navy (not maternity, I think a regular size L maybe), pants Craigslist maternity slacks, Shoes Crocs Malindi, Necklace thrifted.

Eventually I couldn’t wear these Crocs anymore, as the sling back strap would press into my swollen feet. You can tell in this photo that my feet and ankles are merging.  It was getting hard to hide.  Around 36 weeks, I had slight signs of early stages of preeclampsia, but after treatment from my naturopath and lots of prayer, the symptoms all disappeared and I had a safe, normal home birth.

The looseness under my belly looked best on me at this substantial-belly stage of pregnancy.  The cropped cardigan helped to raise up the eye off the belly and visually shorten my torso.  I love, love this necklace.  I only have a few very-large necklaces in my wardrobe, and they always seem a bit overwhelming when I put them on.  But when I see them in photos, they just look fabulous and really bring vibrance to an otherwise simple outfit.

35 Weeks. Scarf Old Navy, Cardigan consignment, Blouse Liz Lange Target maternity), pants Craigslist, shoes Ross.

I usually say I don’t like purple, but then I realize I have a substantial amount of plum in my wardrobe, and it’s a color I really enjoy wearing.  This is the ivory blouse I wore backward in an earlier second trimester post with a black and white skirt.  I wore it front-ward for this outfit, since the scarf was drawing attention and I didn’t want to overwhelm it.  The cardigan also has little cut-outs on the bell sleeves, so there was plenty of detail here already.

My poor puffy feet.
My poor puffy nose.

36 weeks. Blazer: thrifted (not maternity, two sizes larger than my normal size). Blouse thrifted, not maternity. Pants grey cords Ebay. Shoes Crocs Malindi.

Again, the crop-length jacket really helps here.  This blouse was non-maternity, but had an empire waistline and a generous hemline, making it ideal for a maternity blouse.  It had a bunch of different colors in the pattern, so I was able to wear it many different ways.  I like using one item with a pattern on it to draw together the colors of the rest of the outfit.  The plum colored shoes here are one of the colors in the blouse.

37 weeks. Blouse, thrifted, not maternity. Tank Old Navy, Skirt gift from a friend, maternity and so huge and stretchy that I was only able to use it right at the end, and still had to use the belly band to hold it up. Shoes, Ross. Necklace, gift (some kind of rock/stone on the pendant).

Wow. Really swollen here.  It actually got a bit better after this week, but this was probably the peak of the swelling.  I really wanted to stop wearing shoes at all.  I got a couple “huge” comments this week, which for the record, isn’t a word a pregnant woman likes to hear.

For the rest of the photos in that week, I knelt down on the ground to hide my feet, so I wouldn’t get comments on my blog.

Also, after seeing these photos, I decided I should definitely avoid blouses that fit completely around my belly for the remainder of my pregnancy.

38 Weeks.  Necklace and bracelet, consignment, real coral, one of my favorite pieces of jewelry.  Blouse Old Navy, not maternity. Tank Old Navy. Belt Ebay. Pants Ebay. Shoes Crocs Crocband Loafer.

This blouse was a size XL but was thin cotton and flowy and soft.  If I hadn’t belted it, it would have been waaaayyy baggy under my armpits.  But it was comfortable and seemed flattering at this end-of-the-road stage.

I have never cared for my profile in photos, because it makes my face very angular.  However, at this stage of pregnancy, when my face was so puffy, my profile was actually what I preferred over a straight-on shot.  That’s not really something you can manage in real life, what angle to view your face, but if you’re taking photos at this stage, it’s worth considering.

My son was born six days after this photo, one day before we would have taken my 39 week photos.  As it turned out, after our midwife gave him a thorough review when he was born, she concluded that I was about a week further along in my pregnancy than we were calculating.  His conception date had been a bit iffy, but she felt like she could determine once he was born, which of the two possible dates it was.

So I actually delivered him with a couple days of “40” weeks.  However, I still only “thought” I was nearly 39 weeks, which made it emotionally easier to still be pregnant.  I was prepared to go 42 weeks without induction, since that is the law in Texas during which time you can still deliver at home with a midwife.  As any full-term pregnant woman will tell you however, she doesn’t want to be pregnant one day longer than she “needs” to be.  We chose natural labor and natural home birth for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the over-use of induction in hospitals, leading to many unnecessary cesarean surgeries.  That said, I sympathize with every woman who is emotionally “done” with pregnancy.

So my 39/40 week outfit looked like this: (photos taken by my amazing photographer Ann Marie Itschner out of Kerrville).

And for all the twin comments I received during my pregnancy, it was a bit of relief to discover that my son was 10 pounds 4 ounces at birth, plenty big enough to have been a set of twins.  I lost 20 pounds the day he was born, from him, placenta, water, blood, etc.  And my ankles were back within 24 hours which was such a relief since I have always liked my feet!

I had fully intended to do some post-partum photos, because in many ways, it’s harder to dress THAT body shape than a pregnant one.  Chances are, your belly looks somewhere between three and seven months pregnant still, but it is loose and floppy instead of round and firm.  If you are breastfeeding, your nipples are extremely tender and sore and you would ideally want to walk around shirtless everywhere so no fabric touches your nipples.  Luckily both these things should last just a few weeks, and your belly will regain a sense of normalcy after time, and the nursing soreness will fade and become and easy and delightful nursing relationship.

I am now 22 months post partum, and not yet pregnant with my second child.  I would say that my belly looks now about like it did when I was 10 weeks pregnant with my first child.  It is a bit poofier than it ever was, even though I weigh the same as  I did then. I don’t exercise at a gym, or do special exercising at home, so I imagine it could look different if I did some working out.  But that’s not on my priority list at the moment.

My breasts went through so much change… Pre-pregnancy I am about a 34AA cup size, barely fitting into push-up/padded style 34A bras.  During my first trimester of pregnancy, I increased to a size 36C, and wore that size for the remainder of my pregnancy.  When I was first nursing, in the few weeks while your body doesn’t know if you need enough milk for a singleton or quadruplets, I experienced some engorgement and have no clue what my bra size was.  I didn’t wear a bra during that time, as it was too constricting.  I just wore a loose nursing blouse, and when I went out of the house, I wore a scarf that draped over my breasts to conceal anything showing through.  I guess that wouldn’t work in the summer, but I haven’t crossed that road yet.

I am now 22 months post partum, and still nursing my son at bedtime, nap time, and wake-up time.  I’m probably a size 34B, but nursing bras are stretchy and don’t have the distinct measurements that normal bras do.

I’m proud of the changes my body went through, and the permanent shape-changes that remain with me.  My body was meant to be used, it was designed to carry, nurture, and nurse babies, and it has done so (well one baby, not plural yet).  It has been serving some of that purpose, and shows marks from that use.  And that’s okay with me.

I have been so thin my whole life, primarily by genetics, and I never really liked my body or thought I was beautiful.  It was pregnancy, and all its crazy changes and lovely curves, that taught me to love my body, for how it looked, for what it can do.

So while fashion focuses on what we can do to our bodies externally, pregnancy is also a time to emotionally process how we feel about our bodies, good or bad.  I hope it becomes a time where you can enjoy your changing shape, no matter what size you were or are or become.  I hope the strength your body shows in growing and delivering a new human into the world (by the grace of God), can help you love your body more or begin to accept it for the first time.

We might be dressing the outside, but our hearts are on the inside, and our perception of ourselves is something that can blossom during this season of pregnancy, with all its loveliness and all its flaws.  This is me.  This is you.  Thank God for our beautiful, strong bodies.

And if you’re just here for the fashion, but curious about the birth of my son, I blogged about that too.
Birth Story short version
Birth Story long version
Two days old (the cute baby pics that make you remember why you’re pregnant after all)

| Filed under birth, fashion, God moments, health, pregnancy

Maternity Fashion: How to keep your style while wearing a bump SECOND TRIMESTER

I wrote about maternity fashion first trimester a very long time ago.  My clothing is probably getting a bit out of style so it’s about time to post the rest of my maternity fashion tips while I can still enjoy looking at the outfits again.

I think my tips remain about the same here as they were before:

1. Belts at the empire waistline make it obvious you are pregnant, and want people to know you are pregnant. There is less hesitation about the state of your belly when you are clearly showing it off with intention.

2. Avoid actual maternity clothes, blouses especially, as long as possible. Especially with the baggy blouse look that’s in-style right now, just buy blouses that you like that fit over your bump. If they have a bit of stretch, even better. You might need to go up a size or two, but keep them as fitted as you can so you can look pregnant instead of lumpy.  Stretchy skirts with a flexible waistband that are non-maternity also work great.  Actual maternity clothes tend to be either ugly+affordable or expensive+cute.  Most of maternity wardrobe, barring pants, was non-maternity until my third trimester.

3. Stick with fitted blouses when possible, again to show off the bump. If the blouse is flowy, belting it will add definition.

4. Thrift stores are my favorite places for unique finds that give depth. You buy a lot of brand new clothes the first time you are pregnant, so you can end up with a lot of all-the-same look. Thrifting helps round it out with clothes of other styles or seasons.

5. Being pregnant is hot. Make use of single-layers with a removeable over garment like a cardigan or blazer at work, so you can strip back down when driving to-and-fro.

6. Try to put yourself together every day, or as many days per week as possible, so you can feel good about your appearance.  Sometimes all the difference in an outfit being blah, and thus feeling blah, can be a couple accessories – belt, scarf, necklace, earrings, bracelet, fun shoes.

7. There is a stage of pregnancy where cropped cardigans and blazers look good, and a stage where they look terrible. There is a stage where hip-length longer cardigans and blazers look good, and a stage where they look terrible.  There is a stage where fitted-under-the-belly looks good, and a stage where it makes you look ginormous (at the end).  Take a moment to glance in the mirror and decide if it’s time to show off the belly or tone it down, and go with your intuition.

8. Use Belly Bands. I loved the original ones made by Ingrid and Isabel, but there are other brands that are cheaper. Theirs fit me perfect, were silky soft, and made my pregnancy fashion workeable.  They truly can hold up your skirts or pants when they are too loose, smooth out belly lines when things are getting snug, and perhaps wax your car.

Nineteen weeks. Necklace thrifted, shirt Old Navy, skirt thrifted, shoes Walmart.  I wore this outfit to work with a navy blazer and dark brown heels.

Still with a small enough bump to be fitted-under-the-belly. This is not a maternity blouse.

Twenty weeks: Earrings (feather) gift, Blouse Lands End, Belt thrifted, Pants maternity slacks, Shoes Crocs Malindi. Wore this outfit to work with brown heels.

Side note: These long sleeve basic tees from Lands End are fabulous.  On a clearance deal I purchased four of them. They were soft out of the bag, and have only become softer.  They are thin and lightweight without being sheer. They have never changed shape, stretched out, or faded in color.  My only gripe with them is now they are five years old and the colors aren’t “in” anymore so I should probably pick up a few more in newer colors.  I seriously don’t know if they will ever wear out.  They are unbelievably amazing in a way I didn’t think tee shirt blouses could be.

21 weeks: Necklace: thrifted, Blouse Liz Lange Target maternity (gift from my mom), Skirt thrifted, Shoes Ross.  I wore this outfit to work with a black blazer and black heels.  Also, this blouse is worn backward.  The other side is completely plain with just a little pintuck to help add definition to the belly.  The lacy detail is supposed to be across your shoulders.  I flipped it around, which brought the pretty detail where I could enjoy it more, and left the back loose and drapey.  I wore it backward every time I used it.  Fitted-under-the-belly is a substitute for a belt here – giving definition one way or the other.

22 weeks: Necklace: thrifted, Blouse Liz Lange Target (gift from my mom), Cardigan Old Navy, Jeans Gap (gift from a friend), Boots Ross (pleather).  This outfit was one that I felt confident in almost my entire pregnancy.  I wore it to a couple meeting/conference things and it made me feel cute and pregnant.  The blouse had this awesome ruching at the sides that made it flattering from this stage of pregnancy until almost the very end.  The Gap maternity jeans were fabulous but I wished they had a tad more stretch. I did eventually outgrow them and couldn’t fit my thighs and butt into them by the end of my pregnancy.

23 weeks: Necklace vintage gift (one of my very favorites that finally bit the dust, so sad), Tank: Old Navy, Dress Old Navy (not maternity), Shoes Walmart.

Two years later, these silver shoes are also about to bite the dust, which is going to break my heart.

This dress is a great example of non-maternity clothing being perfect for maternity.  As a matter of fact, I won’t wear this dress post-maternity, because the cut of it makes me wonder if someone might wonder if I’m pregnant.  It was super stretchy and super soft, and I wore it many, many times during my pregnancy.

24 weeks: Earrings consignment, Scarf Old Navy, Sweater thrifted, Bracelet gift, Tank Old Navy Maternity, Jeans thrifted, Shoes Crocs Crocband Loafer.

This scarf is amazing.  It is so soft.  It is one of the most-used scarves in my wardrobe, simply because it draws together any outfit in the blue/green/yellow range.  It has a plethora of colors in a gentle stripe pattern, and it goes with so many different things.  I also own the same scarf in the pink/orange/red hue, and it pulls together any outfit in that range as well.

A simple pattern accent piece can draw together multiple pieces that would otherwise be just a top and pants.

Also, this sweater was getting a bit short on me, so the maternity tank underneath provide added length and another layer of color.

25 weeks: Necklace thrifted (also broken now, sad), Sweater consignment, Blouse Old Navy, ribbon sash came with some other outfit can’t remember, Cords Ebay, Shoes Dillards (red leather and luscious, too bad can’t see them well in this pic).

It was SO COLD the day we took these pics.  I was DYING to be without a coat.  This blouse was non-maternity, and a size extra large. It was really baggy on me, so I covered up the sagging under-armpits with the cardigan, and belted it.  Unfortunately, it was also rayon, and shrank four inches in length with the first wash (cold water no dryer) so now it’s extremely wide and short and useless.  Bummer because I loved the colorful floral print.

I belted the outfit OVER the cardigan, again to add more definition, and I did the same with several other outifts at this stage of pregnancy.

Also, I love the way red looks on me.  I have hardly any of it in my wardrobe, maybe two or three items.  I need red to come back into fashion so I find it in stores again.

28 weeks: Earrings Claire’s, Dress thrifted, Belt thrifted, Hose (sheer black) no clue brand, Shoes were patent black wedges from somewhere, maybe DSW, Bracelet gift (real gold).

Twenty eight weeks is also third trimester I believe, but I’m including it in this post because it’s a change of pace/outfit.

I wore this outfit to my work’s Christmas party and a few other Christmas parties.  This was a perfect stage of pregnancy to be during the holiday – definitely pregnant but not feeling huge.

I tried on a bunch of different dresses at the thrift store, and finally settled on this one because it wasn’t itchy. It was also pretty classy, and my work’s Christmas party is on the formal side.  It is not a maternity dress.  The three-quarter sleeves gave it a youthful feeling even though it’s pretty plain and formal looking otherwise.

The tricky thing about dresses when you are pregnant, is they look great from most angles except directly profile. At that angle, it isn’t clear if you are pregnant in your belly or your butt or both.  After about 30 weeks, I didn’t wear dresses too much anymore because I couldn’t handle how it made my butt and belly look they were off-setting each other in some kind of competition.

Now, maybe I’ll finish the third trimester post sometime before my second child is born (that is an attempt at humor, not an announcement).

I also realize that I need a new collection of necklaces, since most of the ones featured in my maternity posts have since been broken by the lovely child formed in my womb at the time of these photos.

| Filed under fashion, pregnancy