Tag Archives: birth

Showers, champagne, and flame trees: Celebrating and commemorating birth

It is 7:45 on Monday morning. I have been up for two hours already. Dominic’s “secondhand milk” score this morning is my hair, two of my tee shirts, two of his outfits, his play mat, and our bedspread. When he’s not fussing at the moment, he is lying around looking like a tiny, grumpy, Dr. Evil (Austin Powers, for those of you not familiar with that reference). Given what I wrote last week about how actions determine attitude, this seems like the perfect morning for me to write about celebrating Dominic’s birth.

So, celebrations. The first thing I did to celebrate Dominic’s birth was take a shower. Trust me, after you’ve gone through labour and delivery you experience (and remember) that post-birth shower as a celebratory event indeed.

But moving right along to communal activities where everyone was fully clothed and no one was hemorrhaging…

The first thing Mike and I did together to celebrate was drink champagne. Yes, we took champagne and glasses in a cooler to the hospital. In fact, we managed to remember to pack the chilled champagne when we left for the hospital at 5AM but not the apple juice I was planning on drinking during labour. Maybe I should have tried drinking the champagne during labour, come to think of it. If there’s ever a next time (which is still very much in doubt) maybe I will.

Three days later, my first evening home from the hospital, we had a welcome home “wine-o-clock” and baby’s first tasting. It was a gorgeous evening out on the deck. I had my first brie in nine months and Dominic had his first taste of anything but me. Yes, we did feed our three-day-old baby wine (if you can call a drop or two on the end of Mike’s finger “feeding”). The wine was a Bowen Estates Shiraz – one of the few bottles that was left over from the rehearsal dinner the night before our wedding. As you can see, Dominic loved it.

The next day we planted Dominic’s commemorative tree.

The story behind the tree started during the last trimester of pregnancy, when Mike was in Laos and I was attending childbirth classes in Australia by myself.

The woman running the childbirth classes was not only a fan of natural childbirth, she was a fan of burying the placenta.

“She said that women need to honour the placenta,” I told Mike one night via skype. “She says you should respect this organ that’s nourished your baby for nine months by taking it home from the hospital and having a burial ceremony, maybe burying it under a tree. Honour it? I don’t even want to see it. As far as I’m concerned the hospital can totally keep it.”

I waited for Mike to agree with me that this practice of honouring the placenta was weird and sort of icky.

“I don’t know,” Mike said. “I think it’s sort of cool. The Hmong here in Laos consider the placenta the baby’s first and finest clothing. They bury it close to home, or under the house, and believe that when a person dies their soul must retrace it’s journey to the placenta’s resting place. I want to bury Dominic’s placenta under a tree – a new tree that can grow as he grows.”

“OK,” I said, sighing and resigning myself to entering into the spirit of things for the sake of my spouse. “Dad’s going to love this. Now he will not only get to worry about protecting the tree commemorating our wedding from any wandering goats and the ride-on mower, but the tree commemorating his first grandson.”

In the end Dominic got two trees. We picked a Blood Tree the first time we went to the nursery, and then decided we didn’t like it as much as an Illawarra Flame Tree. We planted them both anyway. Mike symbolically shed a drop of his blood over the roots of the Blood Tree using the diaper pin they’d given us at the hospital and we planted the flame tree over the placenta (don’t worry, I’m so not going to show you any photos of placenta). Then we prayed together for Dominic and for this journey we were embarking upon – this journey of parenthood.

Over to you: How did you celebrate and commemorate the birth of your children? Have you heard any cool stories of how other people did? Share them in the comments section below (or just say hello, that’s fine too). 

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Love the feeling, love the action

This post is part of a series on the fruits of the spirit. The current theme is love.

Three weeks after Dominic was born and two days before Mike left for Laos again, Mike and I went out to dinner at the Bangalow pub. I can tell I am not one of these women who is going to struggle to tear myself away from her baby to go on date nights – I finished the feed, tossed him into my Mum’s arms, wriggled into jeans for the first time in nine months, set my watch for two and a half hours and trotted happily out the door.

Over a delicious dinner Mike and I talked about what the month apart would hold for us and the challenge I had just set myself to serially blog about the different fruits of the spirit (Galatians 5:22) as they related to mothering, marriage and the miscellaneous of life.

“Are you going to do them in order?” Mike asked. “Because if so, I’m going to miss most of love.” Mike said this if it were an entirely novel scenario instead of a disturbingly regular occurrence that we are on opposite sides of the world and missing out on love.

“Yes,” I said. “Don’t feel bad, you wouldn’t be getting much loving if you were here, anyway. Not with a three week old baby demanding my time, attention, and body.”

Mike considered this in silence from a moment and then brightened.

“Oh well,” he said, smiling in the manner of someone who has just had a private naughty thought. “That means that during the month of self-control you’ll be in Laos during the hot season. And I get to watch.”

I thought about all the things that might test my self-control in Laos, took another bite of pork belly rolled in apples and dates, and sighed.

“So what are you going to write about first?” Mike asked.

“I don’t know,” I said. “Two days ago I set myself the goal of coming up with one idea or issue a night during the midnight feeds.”

“How’s that working out for you?” Mike asked.

“Well, I came up with one the first night,” I said. “Last night I wasn’t thinking of anything except ‘I’m so tired, it’s so cold, I’m so tired, it’s so cold’.”

“So what were you thinking about the first night?” Mike asked.

“The difference between love as an action and love as an emotion,” I said. “And how I didn’t feel like I felt love the moment they placed Dominic in my arms. I just felt cold and shaky, and shocked and relieved that I had somehow – against all the laws of physics – actually managed to get him out. I think popular culture leads us to expect that we should feel that rush of emotion. I know some women experience being overwhelmed by feelings of love just after birth, but surely others don’t.  I wonder if a lot of women get tripped up by that lack of feeling instant love.”

“Are you feeling tripped up by not feeling that overwhelming rush of emotion-love right after birth?”

“No,” I said. Slowly. Hesitantly.

“What does the Greek word used in the original verse mean?” Mike asked.

“I don’t know which of the words for love it is,” I said. “I’ll need to consult Google on that.”

“I don’t think love is a feeling, ” Mike said. “I think it’s an action.”

“When it comes to babies maybe it’s a feeling that follows an action,” I said. “Maybe it’s due to cognitive dissonance.”

“What?” Mike said.

“Cognitive dissonance,” I said. “When you hold two conflicting ideas at the same time it causes dissonance which messes with your head and makes you uncomfortable, right? We are generally motivated to reduce this dissonance by changing our thinking about one of these ideas to bring them more into line with each other. So if you go through nine icky months of pregnancy, then think you might die giving birth to this child, then have to get up in the cold and the dark every two to three hours to feed the little being, maybe subconsciously you figure that you must hugely value anything that costs you this much and that’s where all that love for your baby comes from.”

Mike took a bite of steak with mushrooms while he mulled that over.

“There’s something really wrong with that,” he said finally.

“Yeah,” I said. “Just for the record, that’s definitely not the dynamic at work in generating my love for you. I don’t think.”

“That might be the sweetest thing you’ve said to me today,” Mike said. “All week, even.”

“I don’t think it’s primarily the source of my love for Dominic either,” I said. “I don’t think.”

Dominic is five weeks old now and I still don’t have what love is in relation to a child anywhere near sorted out, much less where it comes from. But this has been my experience so far: Love has not swamped me like a tidal wave; it is creeping in slowly, like the tide. Dragging myself out of bed at 3am in the cold darkness to feed Dominic is love in action. Wanting to kiss his little face after he’s eaten when I know there’s a good chance he’ll baptize me with secondhand milk – that’s love the feeling.

What do you think? Is love a feeling or an action? And if love for our kids doesn’t spring from cognitive dissonance, where does it come from?

Supply equals demand: Our first argument as parents

I am typing this one handed while Dominic sleeps on my left shoulder. About every twenty seconds he pops his head up and makes angry-koala-bear noises. I suspect that this is because he has so far stubbornly refused to burp after spending most of the last hour guzzling milk. I don’t understand. He burps quite nicely for Mike (who has been primary burper and diaper-changer during the daytime for the last ten days). Then Mike goes into town for an hour and a quarter (and counting) and what do I get? No burps, but a big baby vomit into my hair (the hair that I washed just this morning) and two pooey diapers. Two. In one feed. I mean, can we say excessive?

Yes, you can look forward to more of these aggrieved mini-rants after Mike returns to Laos next Friday for the month of September and I’m pseudo-single-parenting for a month. And that’s enough about that topic for now because every time I think about Mike leaving I feel like making some angry koala bear noises of my own.

So the last two weeks have been a bit of a blur – as life gets when you’re on a three-hour loop that repeats over and over again. Overall I think we’re all doing well, but there have been moments when fuses have been significantly shorter because of lack of sleep, not to mention certain challenges associated with breastfeeding.

Three days after we brought Dominic home from the hospital Mike and I had our first argument as parents. We were talking about breastfeeding and milk supply. The conversation went like this:

Mike: Supply equals demand

Me: You mean, demand equals supply.

Mike: No, the supply is there to meet the demand.

Me: But the demand comes first to determine the supply.

(Long pause)

Mike: Let’s not argue about this. Let’s argue about something more important. Any ideas?

Me: You pick, I’ve breastfed for the last hour and now I’m still sitting here attached to a pump. I’ll argue with you about anything at this point.

That's the demand, right there. When he's hungry he'll attack anything, even my nose, and latch on with the mouth of a famished oyster.

 

Lessons learned during labour and delivery

I don’t really know where to start when writing about labour and delivery. For starters, it was such an intense experience that even now, almost two weeks later, I’m struggling to find the right words (any words) to tell the story well. And secondly, while I was pregnant I was incredibly curious about other women’s experiences of the whole process. Yet I’m not sure that hearing all those stories actually served me well.

Almost no one I talked to spoke positively about labour and delivery, and it seemed that for every woman who had experienced a relatively trouble-free birth there were two more who spoke first (with the haunted look of a trauma survivor) of how badly they tore, how intense back labour was, or how everything went wrong and they needed to have an emergency caesarian. Then there were the real horror stories, of which I heard several.

So I’m unsure of how much detail to go into. I mean, do you really want to know that at 8AM I was 5 cm dilated, throwing up, the contractions were coming one on top of the other almost without pause, and that I told the obstetrician I was dying? Maybe you do, but does knowing that actually help anyone? I’m not so sure.

So instead of giving you the blow by blow, complete with timeline, I think I’ll just talk about a couple of things that I learned or that surprised me along the way. But let me say this before I say any more – overall I had a reasonably good experience of labour and delivery. At eleven and a half hours from first contraction to delivery it maybe wasn’t quite as speedy as I had hoped for, but quicker and generally more manageable than I had feared.

Now, lessons and surprises…

I was more capable of managing the pain than I’d feared I would be: I won’t lie – the pain, especially during the last seven hours, was intense, all-consuming, and like nothing I’d ever experienced before. All that work I’d done creating birth playlists and packing movies we could watch in case of a long labour – none of it was needed. I was completely incapable of concentrating on anything except what was happening in my body.

What helped me the most during labour was keeping my eyes closed and counting my breaths during contractions. As long as I could do that I stayed focused and calm – almost as if I were in a trance. At no time was there any screaming, or swearing at Mike, or biting. Apart from the rough patch at 8AM when I said that I thought I wanted an epidural, I didn’t ask for medication again. In the end I was more afraid that my focus and self-control would completely disappear if I opened my eyes long enough to ask for pain relief than I was of continuing to endure without it. The end result? A completely natural birth.

Labouring in water was a big help: After my waters broke at 8AM I got into an inflatable tub full of warm water and stayed there for the next several hours. The warmth and being comparatively weightless when I wanted to shift position was a huge help in dealing with the contractions.

Having a doula (a birth coach) was a big help: Partly because of the risk that Mike would miss the birth, we decided to hire a doula to be with us during labour and delivery. It was a great decision. Jade was able to stay with us the entire time, whereas the hospital midwives had to keep coming and going as they attended to other patients. She massaged my back at key points, sponged off my face with cold water, gently nudged me to change positions at certain times, kept a vigilant eye on the process, and was able to reassure Mike that things were progressing normally. Left to my own devices I suspect I would have stayed curled up on the bed with my eyes closed the entire time, labour would have been longer, and I probably wouldn’t have made it without pain relief. If you’re pregnant and considering whether or not to hire a doula, hire one.

Moving on, here’s one that I could never fathom how it would be possible beforehand… The women who tell you that in the later stages of labour you will not care if you are stark naked and in the most unflattering position when three total strangers walk into the room… they are right. 

That oft-talked about magical moment when they place your newborn on your chest right after delivery? … Not so much. I was surprised how out of it I was immediately following delivery, and how long the whole after-birth process took. After he was delivered I went into shock and spent most of the next hour shaking uncontrollably while I was being stitched up and delivering the placenta. The baby was on my chest, but it was all I could do to hold him and pat him. There was no incandescent moment of mystery, connection, and wonder as I gazed into his eyes or kissed his little face (which was mostly screwed up, purple, and screaming). He pooed all over me. It was all much more earthy than magical.

Later that night though, when he was all bundled up and I was alone with him in the hospital, and he started to squirm and make unhappy guinea pig noises and wouldn’t settle down again until he was cuddled up right against my chest… that was pretty magical.

So there you have it. If you’ve had a baby or witnessed a birth, what did you learn or what surprised you about the whole process?

Introducing Dominic McKay Wolfe

Dominic McKay Wolfe

Born Tuesday, August 9, 2011 at 1:14 PM

3.62 kg (8.0 pounds)

53 cm (20.9 inches)

More to follow after I get some more sleep and Mike and I figure out which way is up (so maybe you should check back in a couple of years). But in brief:

  • Mother and baby are both well.
  • After being very skeptical about whether I was capable of natural childbirth, I surprised myself by making it through the eleven and a half hours of labour and delivery without any pain relief.
  • Dominic surprised me by coming out with one hand up beside his head – a surprise that has granted me an unhappy number of stitches.
  • I still think marsupials and birds have it all over mammals in the birthing department, but my body has surprised me by what it is capable of enduring and how quickly it can transition from “incubator” to “milk factory”.
  • Mike has not surprised me – he’s been calm, supportive, enthusiastic, and capable during and after the birth. For this, and for many other things, I am extraordinarily grateful.



Breaking news

No. The baby hasn’t come yet.

Yes, I’m grumpy about that (though not yet quite as grumpy as I still am about the fact that apparently he won’t be arriving via the international terminal at Gold Coast airport but via a significantly smaller and much less efficient terminal located closer to home – like just south of my bellybutton).

No, he’s not even technically due for another twelve days and he stayed inside as commanded until Mike arrived, so I know I have no real right to be unimpressed with his lack of interest in relocating but I am anyway. So anyone who’s tempted to leave me reasonable reminder below about how he’ll come out when he’s ready and not before… don’t.

And, yes, Mum and Dad are so thrilled to be watching this waiting game unfold up close and personal and Mike is over the moon to be sharing a continent (and a bed) with me once again. I’m sure Mum’s and Dad’s recently made plans to go up to Brisbane for a couple of nights next week and Mike’s refusal to go out on a hot date with me to Byron Bay last night in favour of sticking closer to home have nothing to do with any tropical storms of moodiness swirling around here.

This morning as we were tidying up Mike picked up a postcard announcing the arrival of a friend’s baby.

“What do you think about printed baby announcements?” Mike asked.

“No way,” I said.

“Why?” Mike asked.

“Money, for one,” I said, flopping onto the bed. “It would cost a ridiculous amount of postage to get these out to everyone who might care that we’ve just had a baby. Even more importantly, it would take a ridiculous amount of time to track down everyone’s addresses and get them in the mail. If you want to do them you are on your own, buddy.”

For an instant Mike looked at me as if being on his own was sounding quite appealing and I felt a little bad. Enough bad to make me ask him what he thought. The problem was, my question came out sounding less like a genuine query than a grudging acknowledgement that a conversation should involve the reciprocal exchange of ideas even though I had absolutely no intention of changing my mind on this issue.

Luckily for both of us, Mike doesn’t seem too attached to the notion of printed baby announcements.

This discussion/diatribe has, however, made me think again about how we’re going to get the news out about little baby McWolfe’s arrival – you know, when that actually happens in 2043.

When we got engaged, Mike was surprised and a bit appalled to discover that I felt there was an important pecking order that needed to be followed in terms of breaking the news. We should, I told him, make every effort to let our parents know first, followed by our siblings, followed by very close friends, etc. We followed a similar process with the news that I was pregnant (with the exception of the fact that the entire country of Laos knew before some of our closest friends due to the fact that near strangers on the street there were completely uninhibited about asking me if I was pregnant yet).

I don’t think we’ll be shooting for a similar, carefully-managed process with the news of the baby’s arrival.

During the last two weeks I’ve had friends ask how I’ll let them know when I go into labour, assume that I’ll share when we’re off to the hospital via facebook, and take for granted that we’ll be calling or texting people shortly after the birth with the big news. And until I started to think through the mechanics of it, I thought some of that might be happening as well.

But when I pause to project forward I suspect that when I do go into labour, as much as I adore my close friends, I won’t want to be thinking about sending emails or updating facebook. And without Australian mobile phones of our own, Mike and I also lack most of our friend’s phone numbers. Those that we do know are scattered here and there – tucked away in emails and on slips of paper.

So, upon reflection, I’ve decided on a very complicated “breaking the news of the birth” plan that goes something like this:

  1. We will call our parents after the baby is born and give them the green light to tell whomever they want whatever they want.
  2. We will send out a mass email, update facebook, and write a blog post when we can – which may not be for several days after the event.

That’s it.

If you object to this plan, feel free to ring and take it up with me. Mike would warn you to tread carefully, very carefully, should you decide to lodge a protest, but I don’t know what he’s on about really – it’s not like I’m grumpy or anything. No, I’m not even going to snap at him one little bit when he reads this and points out I have drafted a plan for breaking the news before I’ve drafted a birth plan or finished packing the bag for the hospital.

What is nesting, anyway?

Last week I found myself wandering around the cute shops in Bangalow. This little town is smack in the middle of eucalypt forests and green fields filled with cows, yet the stores are crammed with vintage wicker furniture, porcelain tea sets, handmade jewelry, expensive clothes made out of hemp, and giant wooden Buddhas going for $600. Even after my seven years in LA, Bangalow is way too trendy for me.

I managed to resist the giant wooden Buddhas and the hemp clothes, but I did almost buy a cookbook of chocolate recipes. This cookbook was a work of art. There were luscious pictures of brownie bites topped with cheesecake and raspberries, and mini chocolate cakes stuffed with cherries, and chocolate pancakes topped with cinnamon-glazed pears… I was utterly entranced. The book had three strikes against it, however. It was heavy. It cost $45.00. And we have no oven in Laos.

I put it back with a sigh but cheerfully reported on my near miss to Mike that night via skype, heartened by the thought that I had been enticed by something so very domestic as baking.

“I’m nesting,” I concluded triumphantly at the conclusion of the tale about the cookbook that nearly was.

“Um, I think nesting is when you find yourself doing things for the baby,” Mike replied, “not for yourself.”

There were a couple of easy answers to this disparaging nay-saying. The first was that a happy mother makes a happy baby and so, by extension, anything I do for myself (or that anyone else does for me, come to think of it) is indirectly being done for the baby. The second was that I am quite sure the baby would have been wildly appreciative of raspberry cheesecake brownie bites. You know, if we lived somewhere we had an oven, we could get decent chocolate and raspberries, and I could actually make them for him.

But all this cross-equatorial flippancy has had me thinking about nesting more seriously this last week.

It seems that most women experience nesting by going on marathon cleaning sprees, washing and organizing all the baby clothes, preparing the baby’s room, cooking meals to freeze, fretting about school districts, and packing their labor bag. So, let’s take a look at these.

Cleaning? Well, not exactly. Mum found mould growing in my shower yesterday and was deeply disturbed.

“Didn’t you see that there?” she asked, confused, after she’d taken it upon herself to spray it with mould killer and warn me not to go in there for several hours.

“Oh, I saw it,” I said, looking up from my desk and shrugging. “But it’s no big deal. It gets much worse in Laos.”

Baby clothes? Well, with the exception of a giant trash bag full of second-hand clothes that has now been sitting on the floor of my bedroom for 11 days, I’ve washed and sorted the baby clothes we’ve been given. Well, OK, Mum washed at least half of them (after informing me that baby clothes should be washed with baby detergent and not regular detergent… who knew??) but I sorted them. That sorting, that was definitely all me.

Preparing the baby’s room? For the first eight weeks of his life the baby will be sleeping in a crib that my grandfather made for my mother. This crib is very cute, but doesn’t have a mattress. Having a custom-fitted mattress made would cost a pretty penny, so Mum and I recently bought one of those change mats with the raised edges that we thought would fit well inside the crib. However someone (not me) measured the top of the crib rather than the bottom when we went shopping, so when we got the mat home it was too big for the crib by several inches.

“It doesn’t matter,” I said. “Dad can just use his circular saw to cut some off of the edges and then it’ll fit fine.”

Mum didn’t look convinced by this. Neither did Dad.

“Cutting the edges off that foam will render it structurally unstable,” Dad said.

“And I think it’s too soft,” Mum said.

I rolled my eyes.

“He’s only going to be sleeping in there for seven weeks,” I said. “And it’s not like he’ll be wiggling very far. It’ll be perfectly safe.”

(Here I would like to pause and point out that a decade ago I spent six months working on a baby-death review team. That job scarred me for life and I don’t take baby safety casually. I really do think this mat would be perfectly adequate, but I’ve been overruled. Apparently we’ll be procuring a new mattress.)

And what of the rest of the nesting signs? Well, there has been exactly no cooking of meals to freeze (though I have baked chocolate malt-dipped cookies, slices, and a number of rhubarb and apple crumbles). On the other hand there has been a little fretting about school districts (or, more accurately, the fact that there are no suitable schools for this little one where we currently live). I have not packed my labor bag.

So using the traditional yardsticks I’m not scoring too well on the nesting front.

But.

The whole point of nesting is preparing the environment for the baby’s arrival, right? Well, in a world where most babies are born into environments devoid of fancy cribs and closets full of clothes I’m less concerned about this baby’s immediate physical environment (which is already way more than adequate to meet his needs) than I am about my mental environment and what that will mean for this baby.

On that front I think I’ve been making good progress in clearing the decks and getting things organized so that I can give him my attention. I’ve sent manuscripts and book outlines to agents, I’ve wrapped up all my consulting commitments and invoiced clients, I’ve submitted articles to magazines, I’ve got things squared away with the psych registration board and the tax office, I’ve filed insurance paperwork and I’m making slow progress on answering email. A shrinking work-and-life-admin to-do list may not look much like traditional nesting. But this, more than anything else, is making me feel a little more prepared for this baby to actually arrive on the scene sometime in the next month or so.

Gulp.

Yes, OK, I’ll think about moving “pack the labor” bag up that list in terms of priority, and maybe deal with the remaining baby clothes. Right after I answer some email and bake brownie bites.

Any thoughts or stories about nesting? I’d love to hear them.

Push It: Music for labour and delivery

A couple of days ago now I asked my facebook community a question. I do this regularly and it usually yields fascinating information (or at the very least some good laughs). I’m often surprised by how much people know (or appear to know) about the most obscure topics and how widely opinions can diverge among my friends.

A month or so ago, for example, I asked my facebook friends the following question: “To circumcise or not to circumcise – that is the question. Thoughts?”

I wasn’t at all sure anyone would touch this topic with a ten-foot pole so I was floored when this status update was the recipient of not just a couple, but several dozen comments. These ranged from the laconic and wildly funny, “At his age, I’d say Mike shouldn’t bother”, to more than one diatribe that basically equated circumcision with crimes against humanity. There were also a variety of stories about botched circumcisions or infections in the teen and adult years that were the result of not being circumcised as an infant. Some of these stories were so graphic and horrifying they belonged in book entitled True Life Stories of Controversial Medical Procedures.

Unfortunately I accidentally deleted the entire discussion thread when I was trying to remove some nude spam video from my profile. I took this as a sign that my next book should not be True Life Stories of Controversial Medical Procedures.

This week’s baby-related status question was this: “Thinking about music for a labour-playlist. Did you play music during labour and birth? Any good suggestions?”

Well over half of my own interactions on facebook trend towards flippant or sarcastic, so I’m not exactly sure why I expected people to take me seriously and flood me with advice regarding soothing cello concertos and celestial orchestral pieces. Perhaps because when you’re the one who’s staring down the line at this aforementioned “labour and birth” experience in less than two months it doesn’t look much like a laughing matter. Whatever the reason, I was honestly surprised at the recommendations I did receive. When I could actually bring myself to read them, however, I did laugh. Sort of. A little.

In no particular order, here are ten of the most outstanding (or egregious) recommendations I received for a labour playlist:

  1. Push It (Salt n Pepa)
  2. Gotta Get Out of This Place (by Barry Mann and Cynthis Weil)
  3. Hold the Fort (by Billy Bragg)
  4. The First Cut Is The Deepest (by Cat Stevens)
  5. Hurts So Good (by John Mellencamp)
  6. Bleeding Love (by Leona Lewis)
  7. Only Women Bleed (by Alice Cooper)
  8. Give Me Novocain (by Green Day)
  9. Take Away My Pain (by John Petrucci)
  10. This Party Sucks (by The Slicky Boys)

Thank you, facebook friends.

Now, for everyone who may actually be looking for something along those cello or orchestral lines I recommend the following:

  1. Suite No 1 in G Major for Solo Cello BMV 1007 (The Essential Yo Yo Ma)
  2. Thais: Meditation (The Essential Yo Yo Ma)
  3. The Lady Caliph – Dinner (Yo Yo Ma plays Ennio Morricone)
  4. Amazing Grace (Duane Funderbunk)
  5. Beethoven: Piano Sonata No. 14 in C Sharp Minor (Classical Chill Disc 2)
  6. Pachabel: Canon (Classical Chill 1)
  7. Haydn: String Quartet in C Major Op.76 No. 3 (Classical Chill 1)
  8. Rachmaninov: Piano Concerto No.2 in C Minor Op.18 (Classical Chill 2)
  9. Grieg: Piano Concerto in A Minor Op.16 (Grieg: Greatest Hits)
  10. On Earth As It Is In Heaven (Ennio Morricone, The Mission)

What about you? Did you play music during labour and delivery? What? Got any recommendations to add to either one of these lists?

A baby-shaped hole in my heart

Last night, after I got up to visit the bathroom for the third time, the baby woke up and started squirming. Then he got the hiccups. I lay there in the dark with my hand on my belly – feeling those small, rhythmic twitches just underneath my fingertips – and thought about how it was impossible now to forget, even for a minute, that I am pregnant.

Twenty years ago I remember wondering why miscarriages were quite such a big deal. After all, my teenaged self puzzled, the baby hadn’t even been born yet. How could you grieve over something that never was?

It was, I now know, an epic failure of imagination.

I am not one of these women who has wanted to be a mother from the time that she was twelve years old. At times during this last decade I have said that I wanted children, but this was mostly an intellectual and theoretical desire not an emotional longing. Even now, ten weeks from giving birth, I am ambivalent about being pregnant.

This is one thing that has baffled Mike. After I wrote the blog post announcing my pregnancy Mike asked me whether I really was as ambivalent as I’d made myself out to be, or whether I was just being a drama queen.

“I’m totally ambivalent,” I said, surprised. “You’re not?”

“No,” he said. “You’re pregnant, the switch is flicked, I’m 100% on board. It’s great!”

Yeah, it’s great. It really is. I am happy, I am content, and I am grateful.

And, yet.

I am also anxious about labour and delivery. I am worried about how my life will change, how I’ll juggle the different identities that are important to me – writer, psychologist, wife, friend, and now mother. I am mourning the upcoming loss of long, lazy dinner conversations with Mike and of quiet and time that has, before now, been mostly mine to use to work, create, or connect as I pleased. My horizon feels as if it’s narrowing.

But.

As I’ve grown physically this last seven months so has the baby – this baby who hasn’t even been born yet – been creating space for himself in my heart and mind. I still can’t fully imagine what motherhood will be. What I may be losing still often feels more concrete than the new experiences and joys that may be coming my way. But, slowly, that balance is shifting. As the little boy inside me wriggles, twists, and stretches he’s not just enlarging the boundaries of my belly, he’s also fashioning a baby-shaped hole in my heart.

I now understand what my 15-year-old self could not – that a baby can be a vital, living, tangible presence in hopes and dreams and visions of the future long before it even comes close to being born. For even as I get bigger and more uncomfortable every day I am starting to catch glimpses of a brand new horizon as it’s opening up in front of me. And, sometimes, that new vista even looks as a little like the view from the back deck did last night when the clouds parted and sun poured through, drenching the sugar cane fields nestled between the river and the sea in gold.

Inflection points

Yesterday morning, right after we got up, I did my weekly weigh in. Apart from one ultrasound in Thailand, taking pregnancy vitamins and stepping on the scale every Saturday morning has pretty much been the sum total of my prenatal care. I suspect that my return to Australia tomorrow is likely to mark the inflection point on this issue (though I must say I haven’t minded avoiding some of the tests that sound like they’re a routine part and parcel of the first 28 weeks if you live within, oh, 500km of good medical facilities).

After I stepped off the scale and Mike stepped on, it quickly became apparent that this weekend would mark more than one inflection point. Yup, I am now officially half a pound heavier than someone six inches taller than me.

That was only the start of yesterday’s fun and games, for we spent much of the day packing, with Zulu following us mournfully from room to room. We couldn’t tell whether he recognizes now that suitcases invariably mean departure or whether he was just soaking up the prevailing mood.

After I laid out all my clothes on the bed I asked Mike to look them over with me. We’re going to be tight on weight both going out and, particularly, coming back, and I wanted to make sure I was traveling as light as possible (which, in practice, I will admit translated to: I wanted Mike to tell me exactly what I wanted to hear with regards to the decisions I had made).

He did not.

And when I got surly after he told me that he thought I should cull some of what I’d selected he had the gall to laugh and then come over for a kiss.

“I know you don’t like me very much right now,” he said, “That’s fine. I don’t always like it when you think differently than I do, either.”

“Yeah,” I said. “But that only happens when you’re wrong. I used to get to make all my own packing decisions without any disagreements with anyone.”

“Mmmm,” Mike, now busy putting my shoes in plastic bags, chose not to engage on this topic. He also chose not to point out that I used to have to do all my packing by myself too, instead of sitting on the bed and watching him fit stuff into my suitcase.

Inflection points. There have been a couple of them lately.

Three weeks ago the belly started to swell faster than a desert cactus after once-a-decade rains. Two weeks ago I suddenly got ravenous (mostly for junk food – can anyone say nutella and ice cream?). Last weekend we transitioned from the second to the third trimester. Tomorrow Mike and I go from together to apart, from hugs to skype, as we separate for ten weeks. I will go from summer to winter as I cross the equator.

At Mum and Dad’s place even my dinnertime conversation will change. In Australia we may not spend an entire meal trying to work out itineraries that might get Mike to Australia in time for the birth if I go into labour more than two weeks early. Then again, that might be because Mike and I have researched this equation every which way and figured out that unless I have a hellaciously long labour, there are none.

There are some silver linings to this whole situations – I am quite looking forward to winter weather, and spending the most time in Australia that I have in a decade. I’m also very glad I have a beautiful and happy home well staffed by my parents to go hang out in for months on end (fully a dozen years after my poor Mum and Dad must have thought they were safely past the risk of having one of their daughters turn up on their doorstep alone and pregnant).

Empty dinner table overlooking the Khan

But there’s grey this weekend, too – a great big cloud of it. I don’t like this whole separated for the third trimester thing. I would quite like Mike to be with me for pre-natal classes and for us to be able to discuss things like birth plans across the dinner table instead of the equator. I would quite like to be with him when he’s procuring things like cribs and change tables and figuring out where to put them. I really don’t like the fact that Mike is sitting across the table compiling the results of last night’s exploration of every conceivable flight route out of here into a document called, “Flight info-Mike to Aus in emergency.doc”

Sigh.

Many of my friends tell me that all of these inflection points will pale in comparison to the one that’s about to hit us when the baby arrives. Of course, some of my friends have also suggested that it will make a far better story if I go into labour the night before Mike flies to Australia and he skids, sweaty and disheveled, into the delivery room just in time to catch the sucker as it pops out.

Nope… as much as I love stories, I think I’ll be far happier if Mike arrives well before that particular inflection point.

I’ll keep you posted. Catch you from Australia.