Monday, September 22, 2014

I Am Saturated

I don't spend time reflecting on life these days. I am in a different season now -- a season of survival. But I have the time and energy to reflect tonight, so I'm going to try. 

I'm sitting on a messy bed listening to the sound of the ocean repeat over and over on sound machines, one in August's room, one in the living room with Cordelia. Every night, this is what I hear. If I'm lucky, this is all I hear. Most nights, there is also coughing or crying or loud neighbors. Tonight it is mostly quiet. 

August has been in his toddler (aka "big boy") bed for a month now, and over this same month he has changed SO much. He is infuriating, but so wonderful as well. Tonight we told him he could watch one episode of Dora before bed if he was obedient, ate a good dinner, etc. During dinner, he started pretending as if he'd eaten all of his food: "All gone!" he'd exclaim while looking at bowls full of food. And then he'd laugh at himself. 

These are the most precious days. Yesterday was the first day he got out of bed by himself and came into our room in the morning. He did it at the proper time (after the bunny on his alarm clock woke up) and we were so proud of him. (We are trying to train him to do this without needing us so that he can quietly exit the bedroom to allow Cordelia to continue sleeping.) Last night he came into our room around midnight, said "Hi," climbed into bed, and laid down next to my legs. I was half asleep, and while I'm usually firm about such clear violations of rules, I couldn't bring myself to move him. I didn't do a thing, I just laid there, enjoying the fact that my baby had just gotten out of bed, walked himself over to our room, climbed into our bed, and laid himself down at my feet. (That sentence just made me sob.) Josh took him back to bed.

You know the people who say, "Soak up every minute; it'll be gone before you know it"? To them, I would like to say, "I am saturated. I cannot soak up another drop."

And I mean this. There are moments when I am so overwhelmed by the wonder of my children that I have to distract myself or else I feel as if I might be crushed. Of course, there are those other moments when I feel I might burst in anger, but those are not the ones I want to remember tonight.

 Tonight I want to remember the moments I go to Cordelia when she has woken up after a good sleep and she gives me the biggest grin as my face hovers over her crib. 

I want to remember the moments August leans his head on my arm and says, "I wuv you." 

I want to remember the moments August sees Cordelia after a day of preschool and says, "Cordy!" and runs up to hug attack/kiss her. She is so tolerant. 

These are truly the golden days. In twenty years we will look back and cherish the years in which we filled this cramped apartment with life and love and mess. Right now we want more -- space, time, money, patience. But we have enough; we have an abundance. 

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

New in Pumping: The Freemie

I've found non-breastfeeders are curious as to why breastfeeding women talk so much about the private business their boobs are doing. My quippy answer? If you suddenly started spending 6-10 hours a day doing something, you'd talk about it a lot too. My serious answer? My body empties itself every few hours to provide nourishment for another person. In feeding my daughter with my body I am giving her not only amazing food, but also medicine, healthy attachment, and an embodied theology.

While I wish I could breastfeed flesh-on-flesh all of the time, I work away from my baby sometimes (and have a desire to be away from my babies sometimes for fun things too!), so I pump. And pumping? Pumping is my least favorite thing about breastfeeding. But something has come along that has made me hate pumping a lot less, so out of a spirit of gratitude I want to tell you about it. I hope it helps you or someone you love as well!

Introducing, to many of you for the first time, the Freemie pump!


Now, before I get started, let me preface by saying the Freemie isn't perfect. It's not going to make pumping fun or sexy. But for me, it is a big step in the right direction! 

I have an Ameda Purely Yours pump already, so I opted to just buy the Freemie collection cups, which connect to the pump I already own. So I cannot review the Freemie Freedom electric pump or the Equality manual pump. (Although it is worth noting this is the first double manual pump I've seen!) 

But for the collection cups, here are some brief thoughts:

-Instead of dealing with flanges that connect to bottles, I have a flange built right into a milk reservoir. Smart! I then pour my milk directly from the collection cups into freezer bags. Less washing!

-These fit INSIDE my clothes, so I don't have to strip to pump. This is the biggest perk right now in my world. Now, as a disclaimer, they won't fit inside all of my bras/shirts, but if I unhook my pump clasps at the top of any of my nursing bras (thus far), they fit inside and rest on the bra. These have also worked in nursing camis for me. But if my shirt is tight, or I'm wearing a normal bra, these wouldn't work. Bonus: not freezing while pumping! I used to wrap a blanket around myself at times.

-I could feasibly wear these discreetly, though someone would have to not be looking very closely for them to not notice my awkwardly-shaped chest. But in some situations, these could be worn in public, especially if it's darker or you use a sweater to camouflage, and they could go unnoticed. As someone who has been walked in on while pumping, that would certainly be an improvement! These might also be handy for pumping on flights or in cars. I haven't tried that yet because travel for work hasn't picked up, but I'm pretty sure by the end of this breastfeeding journey, I'll have done it on a plane and a car. These could certainly be used while on a conference call, unlike normal pumping systems. 

-I have been able to say goodbye to Pink Passion, what we jokingly named my pink hands free pumping bra. Come on, those things are horrible (but so useful). 

-In terms of effectiveness, I haven't noticed any problems with the Freemie cups. As of now (with a 3 month old), they're working fine. 

The flange and collection cup taken apart, with my trust Ameda in the background.

Now, is there room for improvement? Sure! Here are some tips, which Freemie says they're working on:

-Make the plastic see-through so that we can see what the heck is going on. At times it helps to reposition or assess which ducts are emptying. 

-Add ounce markings to the cups so that when they are laid flat I know how much I pumped. 

And this goes for all pumps, not just the Freemie: Can't we make a flange that isn't hard plastic? Something that feels a bit more like skin? It definitely seems like there's room for improvement here. I usually place flanges on my tummy for a minute to warm them up before beginning a pumping session because of how cold they are. 

Now, to be clear: I wrote this review because I want more people to know about the Freemie. While it is perfectly fine to accept freebies (punny!) or compensation for blog reviews, I have not done so in this case. I wrote this simply because these collection cups have helped me not loathe pumping, and I believe more women will successfully breastfeed if pumping technology progresses beyond the machines we've been stuck with since 1988. (I just made that date up.) And the Freemie is a big step in that direction!

Why I pump. Isn't she adorable?

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Cordelia's "Natural" Birth Story

On May 8th we welcomed Cordelia Azar Ziesel. She was born at 12:51am, weighing in at 7 lb 3 oz and 19.5 inches. Because I love birth stories, I'm sharing hers here. 

Sunday 5/4: Contractions during the afternoon and evening that continued well into the night. Before this day, any labor-ish activity ceased during sleep. I distinctly remember being awake from about 2am-4am on Monday, and I was sure Monday would be the day. 

Monday 5/5: Worsening cramping on the way to the OB appt. Was 2cm, 70% effaced before stripping. We are unsure if we are okay with inducing on 5/7 (that was the plan), so we decide to schedule another appointment for the following day. After membrane stripping, heightened contractions and cramping all evening/night. 

Tuesday 5/6: Contractions throughout the day, but not intensifying as they had been. OB appt in the evening. 3cm, 80% effaced, serious blood, and the baby had moved to a -2 station, so we decided to proceed with a "natural induction" the next morning by heading to his office for an artificial rupture of the membranes (ARM). The plan was to get to his office around 9am and then head to the hospital to labor during the day and have the baby sometime during the evening. Obviously the ARM meant that we might have to use Pitocin if things didn't progress on their own, but we thought trying the ARM was better than just starting off with the Pit. 

However, that evening, contractions became serious at home, 2-3 minutes apart around 10pm. So we alerted the babysitting squad and prepped to head into the hospital then. I had heard too many quick second-birth stories to risk it, and we figured it was better to get childcare to our place instead of having to possibly call at 3am. But, of course, as we are prepping to head to the hospital, contractions slowed and by the time we get to the hospital, they were only 6 minutes apart. They said that we can check in anyway since we were going to do the ARM in the AM; we can just stay there and the doc will come by in the morning and things would proceed as planned. Contractions die overnight. Womp womp.

Wednesday 5/7: Doc supposed to come before 8:30am to break my water. Doesn't come. We call, he says he'll be there around 12pm. Unhappy, I was! But, okay, I decide it's a good opportunity for a nap since I was ill-rested from the previous nights' labor activity. I rest until noon, Josh goes home to shower and grab a few more things. Noon rolls around, doc says it will now be 2pm. 2pm... no doc. We play cards, we try to stay upbeat. He says he'll be there by 3pm. 3pm, no doc. This is about when my patience wears out, especially because I now know we'll be laboring into the night. Poor Josh tries to talk me through my frustration, but I was not in the mood. 4pm, doc finally arrives. Waters are broken, so we take to walking the halls and natural oxytocin release. And so labor finally begins in earnest around 5pm. From here on out, I progress somewhat normally, with these milemarkers:

6:30pm: 3cm, 80% effaced. At this point, I'm basically just walking the halls and having contractions 3-4 minutes apart. 

7:10pm: contractions 2-3 minutes apart (documented here)

8:30pm: 4.5cm, 80%, cervix had moved down. I remember having the shakes and feeling nauseous at this point right before getting in the shower. 

8:30-10pm: I labor in the shower. (The hospital had a tub, but because my waters had ruptured, I was not allowed in it. This was fine as I knew the tub was not a guarantee.) This stint in the shower was supposed to only be for 20 minutes, but my nurse was gracious and allowed me to stay in because she saw how effective it was. Josh was actually able to sneak away to eat dinner while I'm in the shower, which demonstrates how in my own world I was in there. I was just kind of in this bubble of hot water and steam and interacting with him less and less.

10pm: Out of the shower and onto the ball. At this point, my temp is up and I'm a bit dehydrated from the long stint in the shower. I down ice chips as quickly as possible (not very), and am hooked up to the monitors again. Cordelia's heart rate is much higher than before (30 bpm faster both resting and during contractions) so the nurse says I'll probably need an IV to combat the dehydration. She knows I don't want to be hooked up to any unnecessary tubes, so she holds off, but I know the IV is probably coming. I remain on the ball until 11:30, and at this point the labor moves almost entirely into my back and butt. This is when things get REAL. Josh starts massaging my lower back around 10:30, and that provided some relief.

11pm: Have a 20-minute period of respite. It was strange. I still had contractions of the same intensity, but between contractions I actually felt a sense of relief and calm. I could talk somewhat intelligibly and thought that this was probably the calm before the storm that our Bradley class (from my last pregnancy) had described. 

11:30pm: 7cm, 100%. From this point onward, I have to stay hooked up to the monitor and the IV, basically confining me to the bed. I know it's too late for an epidural at this point, so asking for it isn't even an option. As I'm telling Josh that I don't think I can handle any more pain, the nurse offers pain meds via my IV. At this point, that was like offering crack to a junkie. I wasn't even thinking about pain meds, but I immediately want them. Duh. Around 11:45, I think, the nurse gives me Nubain via my IV. She says it will "take the edge off." I'm not entirely sure what she meant by that, but it didn't seem to take the edge off the contractions AT ALL. The only difference I did feel was that I could actually catch my breath between contractions, so it definitely relaxed me. But, just to be clear, I don't think nurses should use that phrase because the contractions still seemed to have all of their edges. Ha. But, mentally, I told myself, "This would be worse without the meds, this would be worse, this would be worse." I do think that helped my mental state. But mostly, I was writhing on the bed during this time. Josh recalls things that I don't remember at all. 

12:30am: 9cm. Doc is called. Very quickly, I feel the urge to push and have to hold off until the doc is there. My nurse is adamant that she does not want to catch the baby herself. Ha. 

12:45: Doc arrives! Pushing through the first contraction delivers the head. Prior to this, she was still relatively high, so she moved down very quickly once I started pushing. I think this was why her head was very round; she was not in the birth canal for very long. Pushing through a second contraction delivers her shoulders and there she was! 

Reflections: 

After doing this birth without the epidural, I'm pretty glad I had one for August, my 8.8 first baby with a head that was a whole 2 inches bigger than Cordelia's. Holy moly y'all. 

I do wish the nurse had not offered the pain meds out of the blue. For this birth, we didn't have a written birth plan (I was impressed our hospital bags were even packed), and in the first one we explicitly asked that they not be offered. The nurse clearly thought she was helping (and let's be honest, she was!), and the Nubain was fine, but the thought of taking something via my IV had not even occurred to me, so I'm a bit sad that I took it in that last hour. It feels like a bit of a taint on my "natural" birth. That being said, I'm really not sure what that last hour would've been like without it. Haha. So, it's hard to feel too sad because it did help me catch my breath between contractions a bit. 

I'm not sure I'll aim for a natural birth again. I mean, we don't always have control over these things, so if I show up to L&D for a future kid and it's too late to get one, then I'll have another painful birth. Or, if I show up and I'm already 5cm or something, maybe I'll make a go of it. I do hate being confined to that bed and all of the wires that come with it. But, after these two births, I'm not convinced all of the pain during this one was "worth it." I was up and about quickly afterward, but that was also the case for my first birth, so that didn't feel too different. This one was a bit faster/easier, but I'm just not sure that "bit" is worth it. 

I will definitely try to avoid the Pitocin for future births, especially now that I see that the ARM worked to jump start my labor. Of course, the doc was only willing to do this because my cervix was favorable for it, and that might not always be the case.

August is adorable with his baby sister. If you have stuck around this long and really want to go down the rabbit hole into our family, you can see his reaction to her here

Thanks for your prayers and support during this past year. We survived, and it feels good to be on this side of graduation and birth. Oh yes, I forgot that many of you probably didn't get that announcement: I graduated with my MATS from (the newly-named) Azusa Pacific Seminary on 5/2! We found out I was pregnant 2 days before classes started in September, and Cordelia made her appearance less than a week after graduation. Book ends indeed.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

On Committing To Our Church

'Pews' photo (c) 2012, DaveLawler - license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/When we moved cross-country four years ago, my husband and I decided that finding a local church to call home was something we would prioritize. But, we also knew we didn't want to rush into a commitment, so we gave ourselves the grace to take six months before we made a final decision.

The decision to commit to the church we now call home, Glenkirk, wasn't easy. We had moved from Boston (and New York City before that) to the suburbs of LA. Our churches in those urban hubs were vastly different than what was offered around us. There were tradeoffs though; for example, what we lost in ethnic diversity we gained in age diversity, and what we lost in esoteric sermons we gained in an amazing family/children's ministry that we could grow into (and we have). We experienced a bit of culture shock, but we still felt a kinship with the church we had found, so we joined the church and jumped in. We found a small group, good friends, and a community that shared our sense of mission. It wasn't perfect, but after we committed, you can definitely say we experienced a honeymoon period for about a year.

And then things got hard. Why? Well, the short version, I think, boils down to three things:

1) I started seminary.
2) Our church initiated and completed a denominational realignment.
3) The romance faded.

It's obviously more complicated than that, but I think that combination is what really hit us hard. We started to get... antsy. It wasn't so much that we wanted to go to another church in town; we really felt like we were at the best one of what was offered. And we were too communally-imbedded to slip away unnoticed, so we kept plugging away. But our spirits suffered. We walked away from Sunday services discontent and even angry at times. 

And then. A new church opened its doors in town, and the temptation to run for the hills became real. Like, whoa. If you could have created a church to tempt me away from the one we had committed to (and we had actually committed to it by joining, which we value), this would be it. I stumbled across it one day online and spent about 30 minutes drooling. It was within walking distance of our home, an Anglican church plant, and some of our most respected professors were in leadership there. 

I knew it would be possible for us to start going to this new church and for us to slowly transition from one to the other. I knew how it would work: we go to both for awhile, slowly easing out of our old church and easing into our new one. We could do it without much drama and it would be new and exciting and wonderful. 

But in feeling this temptation, I knew I had to kill it. After I found the church, I didn't even tell my husband about it. I knew talking about it would make it more tempting to check it out. But I knew if I visited and loved it, I probably wouldn't recover contentment at Glenkirk. (It's possible I would've visited and hated it, but I doubt it. The Anglican style of worship goes straight to my heart, in the good way.) 

So, long (and boring) story short, we endured a season of serious discontentment at our church. And now, after being in it for about 2 years, we've finally emerged and are grateful for our church again. I don't know what has changed, but I do know this:

Those Sundays spent in pews, when we felt like our spirits were not being nourished, we were dying to ourselves. It didn't feel like growth, but it did actually grow us. We remained engaged. We had hard conversations. We actually cried about how hard it had become for us. But if we ever believed in the theology of community that we had so often preached, we knew we couldn't bail. We knew real community is something that is messy and doesn't conform to you, so we preached that to ourselves. We knew the communion table was more powerful than politics or personalities. We didn't feel these truths, but we knew them, so we pressed on against our feelings. We didn't ignore our feelings, but we didn't acquiesce to them. 

And now we're happy again. It seems strange and way too simple, but it's the reality of where we're at now. We still have our frustrations, but our feelings have started to line up with our decision to remain committed. Our church is our family here; you don't always want your family, but it's yours.

I don't share this to guilt people who have left churches. I share this to say that sometimes our spiritual growth comes exactly in the spot where we feel like we're dying, where we're intentionally depriving ourselves out of duty. Sometimes, but not all the time, going through the motions disciples our hearts. And sometimes you should stick with it, whatever it is, and you'll be grateful you did. So this is my exhortation to those who are struggling: think about sticking it out. 

Saturday, January 11, 2014

To Try Natural Birth Again, and the Bradley Birthing Method

I don't have great birth photos, but this one was taken prior to labor, when I was about to undergo extended monitoring for the baby's arrhythmia. 
Before my first birth, Josh and I took Bradley birthing classes and hoped for as intervention-free a birth as possible. We strove to achieve this in a hospital as that is where we felt most comfortable among the viable options we had. This is what we got. The summary for those who don't want to read the whole thing, in order:

-Induction using Cervidil, which caused uterine hyper-stimulation without any other drugs
-10 hours of hard, drug-free labor (overnight), with contractions no more than 2 minutes apart, that led to only 3.5-4 cm dilation
-Pitocin and epidural
-Three hours of sleep, which led to being fully dilated
-1 hour of waiting on the doctor once fully dilated
-3 pushes
-Baby!
-Successful latch and breastfeeding within the hour

While this was clearly not what we had in mind, we accepted it without grieving too much. There was a little disappointment, but not very much. I recovered very quickly and felt great. 

So, a few people have asked: Will I try for a natural birth again? And, will I take a Bradley class again? The answers are yes and no. 

The second answer is easier to explain, so I'll start there. We're not taking a Bradley class again because 1) we just took our class 1.5 years ago and still have all of the materials and remember the exercises, and 2) we didn't love taking the actual class. I could write a longer blog about this, but the short review of our Bradley class is this: we enjoyed learned all of the exercises and practicing them, but we found the science and facts outdated and questionable. So I think we got the best from it, we don't really want to sit through the classes again. Perhaps a better instructor would've given us a better experience, but the one we had certainly didn't impress.

Now for the first question. These are the reasons we'll try for a natural birth again, which clearly means utilizing some of the Bradley Birthing Technique:

1) I did not enjoy the epidural experience. I mean, don't get me wrong, I wouldn't have asked for it if it wasn't enjoyable in many ways. But I did not like not being able to move, not being able to feel my legs, not being able to discern what was happening while pushing. In short, I didn't like being stuck. 

2) While I do think that the epidural was helpful in getting me to rest and relax, which aided in a quick dilation from 4-10, I also now know that my body is capable of dilating quickly at the end even after hours of seemingly-unproductive labor. While in hard labor after 12 hours and only being 3.5-4 cm, it did not even seem like a possibility that I could dilate 6 cm in 3 hours. But I did, so this time I will bear that in mind. I'm not doomed to a 36-hour labor just because my cervix is slow to get the memo. 

3) I reacted poorly to the Cervidil. Uterine hyper-stimulation is not supposed to happen, but we now know that my uterus goes *boom* to the drug. For many inductions, either Cytotec or Cervidil are necessary to prepare the cervix, and I'm not going to take Cytotec. And now that I know I can react poorly to Cervidil, I will do my best to avoid that as well.

4) I am convinced that the 12 hours I spent laboring out of bed allowed August to be in a great, low position that made for easy pushing and avoided all threats of a caesarian. This is probably the most important reason I want to try for a natural birth again. Had I received an epidural sooner and sat in bed for longer, I'm not sure pushing would have been so easy for me. And as many women can attest, unproductive pushing often leads to caesarians. I'm grateful for those hours of pain because they kept me moving. I labored in many position (learned via Bradley), and I'm glad I wasn't trapped in bed unable to aid August's progress. 

So, we'll try again! We'll go back to the same hospital, but with a new OB. And if we fail in natural birth, it will be okay. But I do think that it is worth trying. 

Also, I love reading birth stories. I made a call for them last pregnancy in this post: Share Your Birth Stories. It generated some great stories worth reading! If you have one that you haven't shared, I'd love to read it. Comment or link away, in this post or the post where I originally made the call for stories. 

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