Psss Poop Poop: Learning to Go

There is a small human that has completely turned our world upside down.

She grunts and snorts, making sounds not dissimilar to a baby dinosaur. Despite her small capacity, this little one can belt louder than Bette Midler, especially during bath time. She has the suction strength of a Dyson, which – let me tell ya – has turned me into a milk-making machine. She can fill a nappy faster than Wyatt Earp could sling a gun, and then do it again as soon as a clean one is on, sometimes before!

She also has a wonderful curiosity. She sees all for the first time. Ceiling fans, lights through windows, shadows on the walls – none escape her attention. Her eyes drink in her expanding world. She is wise.

Prior to Hazel’s birth, I didn’t give much thought to the mental capacity of babies. I grew up around plenty of them (more on that in another post), but I hadn’t considered just how much a baby works to communicate its needs to its caregivers. Every waking moment is filled with her intense and innate need for connection. We are being put through our paces just to keep up with her!

Like all new parents, we’re still learning how she communicates with us – picking up on her movement patterns and the little noises she makes when she’s hungry, or sleepy, or about to go poo. We were mildly prepared for more poo and pee from already having a dog, but having a baby certainly takes it to the next level! My desire to want to be as environmentally-conscious as possible when it came to diapering led us to choose cloth diapers. Through my research on cloth diapering (including hours spent reading blog posts and Amazon reviews), I was even more delighted to read that cloth diapering can help babies learn to communicate about their need to eliminate.

Some of you are reading this and remember a time when cloth diapers were the only ones available! But for millennial mums like me, cloth diapers seem to be making a slow but steady comeback. The disposable diaper industry is expected to reach a global high of US$54.5 billion this year. There’s a reason why, too. Those disposables are very convenient at times! However, they also pack our landfills. Surely we humans must have figured out a better way by now to do the most basic of jobs: help babies eliminate with as little mess and effort as possible!

My search for cloth diapers led me to a relatively unknown movement in our Western culture: elimination communication (or EC). Now this makes sense to me. Like most mammals, humans will not want to soil themselves or their immediate surroundings, like their cot, or mum’s lap. EC builds on a baby’s natural instinct to communicate her need to go by giving parents the tools to respond to her cues. EC is not conventional potty training. It is a way to help a baby become aware of her elimination and to offer her an opportunity to go somewhere other than her diaper. Cloth diapers help in this process by allowing babies to feel the moisture on their skin, something that Hazel certainly doesn’t like!

There are many great resources out there about EC, including godiaperfree.com and The Diaper Free Baby: The Natural Toilet Training Alternative by Christine Gross-Loh. I ordered Gross-Loh’s book when Hazel was just a few days old. At the same time, I ordered a BabyBjörn Smart Potty. I figured that we might start using the potty after a few months and, initially, I put it in the nursery closet for storage.

Once I started reading Gross-Loh’s book, I was amazed by the testimonials of other parents who had started using EC with their newborns. I thought, “why not?” and Geoff and I began to use a verbal cue whenever we heard her go in her diaper. “Pssss Poop Poop” became the first words we’d share with our new baby! We said it a lot and changed a lot of diapers in those first few weeks. When Hazel not quite two weeks old, I decided to try to sit her on the potty. I said the cue, “Pssss Poop Poop”, and wouldn’t ya know? She went. I was overjoyed! Who knew that such a small thing like cueing my baby to use the potty would be so exhilarating? But it was! I rushed into our bedroom and dragged Geoff into the nursery so that he could look at the little yellow spot in the bowl.

Over the past few weeks, we’ve continued cueing her, and I feel like I’m getting to know when she is likely to need to go. Now, more often than not, I lay her on the changing pad and open her diaper only to find it a little wet. The potty now has pride of place beside the pad, where it’s easy for us to hold her over the little bowl and say our cue. Usually, within about 30 seconds of cueing, she will use the potty! I praise her with kisses, then lay her back down to put on a fresh nappy. Once she’s settled in her crib, I rise the potty using a sprayer connected to our toilet. Voilà! We’re on our way to having a diaper-free baby.

So far, EC is a natural choice for me as a mum and as a humanist. Humanism aims toward allowing all humans – even the littlest ones – to achieve full development, to have dignity, and autonomy. I love that EC is about acknowledging my child’s natural instincts and that it is helping us form a relationship built on trust and communication. In time, I know that EC will also give our daughter confidence and pride in her ability to use the potty independently, and that makes it all worthwhile!

 

My Body is Wise: A Birth Story

Up to the 40th week of our pregnancy, I had successfully distracted myself from the ever-looming question, “Is today the day?” I baked zucchini bread, created artwork for the nursery walls, and even cleaned and organized the pantry. I tried some natural induction strategies, including forgoing my dislike of spicy food to have the hottest curry ever, drank raspberry leaf tea, took a few relaxing baths, and continued to walk 2.5 miles on our daily outings to the park with our dog, Henry. Once we hit 40 weeks, I could tell that the other park walkers were also having some baby disappointment. We’d pass the old man in the blue jacket who gave us his obligatory good-morning nod and smile. This week, he was clearly not as chipper about his greeting, since any morning now, he too anticipated that we’d be pushing a stroller and was obviously feeling a little blue too.

Then Geoff started coming down with flu symptoms. Suddenly we had to shift gears again. Now we were hoping the baby would hold off until he was feeling better. His symptoms worsened: chills, night sweats, high fever, and a cough. I went into nurse mode, waddling around the house cleaning everything in sight, dispensing Geoff’s medicine, and doing all the cooking. “My turn will come!” I thought. I knew Geoff would have his hands full after the baby arrived, having two of us and Henry to look after. Geoff’s fever finally broke on Tuesday, but his cough was lingering. By now I was 41 weeks exactly. My midwife Emily assured us that if I were to go into labor while he was still sick that we could still use the birth center, but they’d have him wear a mask. I was relieved, and decided that if this baby wanted to wait another week, so be it!

The next day I decided to get busy again and gathered up all the blankets in the house to take to the laundromat, went to Lowes for new air filters, and proceeded to do all the chores and cook dinner before finally collapsing into the rocker in our living room. “I over-did it,” I told Geoff, feeling weepy and exhausted. I climbed the stairs to bed.

At 11pm, I woke up feeling crampy and went to the bathroom. I wiped and looked at the tissue, as I had been doing for weeks, anticipating with each trip to the toilet that I’d see some bloody show. There it was! I was too tired to feel very excited, but I felt relieved. I didn’t want to get my hopes up either, since I knew that true labor could still be days away. I crawled back into bed and told Geoff. After about 20 minutes, the cramps weren’t letting up. I decided to start timing the contractions using an app on my phone. They were coming consistently but at odd intervals of 4-7 minutes apart, lasting 1-1.5 minutes each.

I drifted into a sleep, and then into a lucid dream. I was standing on a beautiful beach, facing the waves and feeling the surf rush up to my ankles and recede again. The sky was brilliant pink and purple, dotted with bright stars, and the rays of a rising sun. The sand was warm. Geoff stood beside me, holding my hand, facing the vast ocean in front of us. “You’ve got this. I love you,” he said, looking at me with a fervent intensity, filled with love and confidence. Each time a contraction came on, so did a wave, and with each wave, my dream self looked at Geoff and told him how much I love him.

I drifted back to reality, and several hours had passed. I could feel the contractions strengthening. This was the real thing. Geoff took over timing and texting updates to Emily. Finally the contractions were coming 2-5 minutes apart. Emily told us to meet her at the birth center.

On the half-hour car ride, I kept trying to visualize the beach. Between contractions, I thought, “All these other drivers have no idea that there’s a laboring woman in the car beside them!” We arrived at Brookhaven just before 8am.

Time seemed to stand still over the next 12 hours. I labored on my side for a long time making slow progress. I managed to move between the bed, toilet, tub, floor and yoga ball a few times over the course of the day. Since this was a birth center and not a hospital, I could still eat during labor, and I did! I knew I would need the energy. I had grapes, a granola bar and some peanut butter chocolate cake. Cake never tasted so good. As my energy waned, I kept trying to get back to the beach, chanting “wave” with each oncoming contraction, and rocking back and forth to allow the discomfort to disperse through my body instead of settling in one place.

Laboring in water was soothing but seemed to lengthen the time between contractions. Geoff was by my side. Another one came. “My body is wise.” The thoughts and words formed simultaneously as I breathed them out. I realized then I needed to surrender to the ancient wisdom of my body – the inherited knowledge that lives in my muscles and bones, my very DNA. My body is wise. I didn’t know what to expect next, but I knew I didn’t need to be afraid. My body knew what to do.

Finally, Emily checked me, and I still wasn’t fully dilated. She and her assistant Megan offered me a combination of homeopathic treatments to help move things along and to release my tension. Within 30 minutes, the contractions changed, coming one after another. I writhed with the pain, letting my head press to the bed. This was intense. I held Megan’s arms to give myself some leverage. Then I vomited. A few times. There went the cake. Then the midwives put a peanut ball between my legs while I lay on my side on the bed. Suddenly it felt like my entire body was being squeezed and every muscle was bearing down to move everything inside to the outside. If this was the transition to “feeling like pushing” then I’d put pushing on the low end of the spectrum. My body took over, and push or no, this baby was coming out. I recall Emily saying that she saw the baby’s head and no cervix. They called Geoff back into the room. I held his arms through more contractions.

Somehow I managed to move to the tub again, which the midwives had refilled with warm water. I leaned forward on the edge, facing the room, looking up at Geoff. My mind oscillated between “I can” and “I can’t.” My pelvic floor was giving way. Desperate for a sign that I’d survive this, I looked at Geoff. He nodded at me with confidence and reassurance, and I knew it was almost over. I let out a primal shriek, which we both later recalled took us by surprise. I heard the midwives encourage me to pant and breathe low. I grunted. They urged me to shift and lie on my back. I moved my legs under me and let my body fall back into the water. Another contraction, and I screamed again. I think someone said that the baby was almost here, and they could see her head. Another contraction, and a rush of panic surged as I could feel her press through me. I opened my eyes, and the pressure released. Her head was born! Almost instantly another contraction brought the rest of her into the water. Then she was in my arms. Hazel Rose, the most beautiful sight. I wept with joy and amazement. Geoff came to my side as we stared down at our child, our healthy daughter, who was crying in my arms. I counted her fingers and toes, in awe of their perfection. Geoff cut her umbilical cord. I looked into her face as she opened her eyes for the first time. Hazel Rose was born. A mother and father were born too. I kissed Geoff.

The midwives placed Hazel into Geoff’s arms while I moved to the bed. They brought Hazel to me, and we learned to breastfeed. The midwives examined me and said I had some tearing. After surviving labor, I accepted that I would have some scars to show for my experience and declined stitches. Geoff came to my side, and we took in the first moments of being together as a family. Before long, my parents and brother arrived. Geoff called his parents in the U.K. We were surrounded by love.

I got up from the bed and hobbled to the toilet. Nothing would come out. It took about 15 minutes for me to find the strength to go. The midwife’s assistant helped me back into bed. Exhaustion fell over me. We slowly gathered our belongings and placed the newest little human into her car seat. I put on a nursing nightgown I had packed in our birth center bag. Geoff put Hazel in the car, and we made our first journey as a family through the quiet streets back home. It was 2am. We settled Hazel into the bassinet beside our bed. Then we slept, as a family, for the first time in our little nest.

Putting the Human Back Into Birth

The human female is unique among all species of animal on this planet in that she is the only one that can doubt her ability to give birth, despite the fact that most human females are perfectly physically capable of doing so (we evolved to give birth and the system works pretty well!)

The medical and health-related decisions that face any pregnant woman today are too numerous to count. Which doctor to see? How frequently should I exercise? What medicines or food should I avoid? What tests should I get? How often do I need an ultrasound? What delivery options do I have? What happens if I choose to be induced? What happens if I don’t? What circumstances might lead me to have a C-section? What postpartum care will I need? How am I going to pay for this? How am I going to support the new life I’m carrying? What if I don’t have the strength to give birth naturally? How will I handle the pain? What if something goes wrong?

Our medical system (and media) profits on this doubt. In many ways, it dehumanizes mothers, casting unnecessary fear and anxiety into the birth experience and making them the objects of medical processes and policies that prioritize profit. This is manifest in our staggeringly high national C-section rate of 32%.

When we discovered we were pregnant, we were over the moon, but also full of anticipation about how our lives were rapidly changing. I took the happy news in stride, knowing that we would have several months to plan and prepare to bring a baby home. But home from where, I wondered? I knew that most people give birth in a hospital, but I have a friend who delivered her first child at a birthing center. She, however, was the only friend or even acquaintance I knew at that time who had not birthed in a hospital.

At first, I was apprehensive about not being in a hospital. After all, if we had a complication, I wanted to be as close to medical help as possible. I was more concerned about cost. I knew our insurance company would at least partially cover a hospital birth, but I doubted it would cover any other alternative birthing place or method. I knew that if at all possible, I wanted to have a natural birth experience – to give birth vaginally without medication or other medical intervention. My own birth was the complete opposite. My mother endured hospitalization for nearly her entire pregnancy with me, and I was delivered by C-section at 35 weeks, weighing just 4 lbs, 6 oz. Fortunately, for this pregnancy at least, I was experiencing none of the complications or hyperemesis that my mother had. By all accounts, according to my OB, I was set to have a healthy and uncomplicated pregnancy. Great! Now what?

I started taking the Centering Pregnancy class that my doctor’s office offered for free to all expecting mothers. The class was run by one of the Certified Nurse Midwives at the practice and combined group lessons on birth and parenting with our prenatal checkups. I liked this option rather than scheduling individual prenatal appointments because, if I took the class, I would be sure to see the same two nurses at each visit. I wanted to get to know my care providers.

In the first class session, we were told that any one of the nurses and doctors at the practice might be on-call the day we are admitted to the hospital, so it would be impossible to know who would actually be with us on Delivery-Day. Hm. Then, we were told we could labor in water using one of the tubs in the delivery room – but then we would be moved out of the tub to actually deliver, since the hospital doesn’t permit water births. Hm. I wasn’t too discouraged by these two new pieces of information, but it gave me a chance to consider more deeply how important it would be to me to know the people in the room with me on D-Day. I had read that unfamiliar people coming and going from a delivery room could stall labor.

Then I really started to dig into my research. I looked up our local hospital, Augusta Health, to check out its C-section rates. I had seen previous news stories that the C-section rate in the US was staggeringly high, but how high was high? I was shocked to learn that the hospital’s last reported C-section rate for low-risk births was 27% (I would add a citation here, but the Consumer Report I originally found is no longer available at the link I saved. Augusta Health declined to participate in the 2017 Leapfrog Group Hospital Survey.) This, I thought, wasn’t a good sign. I didn’t want my chances of having surgery to increase by over 20% just by stepping foot into the hospital. Other mothers I spoke with also shared stories of how they were pressured into having C-sections, usually after a cascade of other interventions (typically starting with induction). Others shared that they were told if their labors didn’t progress fast enough (after 10-12 hours or so) that they would need to have C-sections. This didn’t seem right. Labor, if allowed to progress naturally, could take just a few hours or over 24 hours. I wasn’t feeling up to being under a hospital or doctor’s time limit.

According to a report by the LeapFrog Group, “One of the most effective ways to lower your chance of having a C-section is to have your baby in a setting with a low C-section rate. Overall, women who labor in a birth center are much less likely to have a cesarean than similar women in hospitals.”

I decided to transfer my care to Brookhaven Women’s Health and Natural Birth Center. Fortunately, our insurance company covers birth center facilities. We were a step closer to the natural birth experience I hoped for. We are lucky. There are only about 345 freestanding birth centers in the US in 37 states and DC. This means that very, very few women have access to this out-of-hospital option.

I continued my research and found the following books and articles to be very informative and helpful in preparing us in our birth decisions:

Women have the right to make their own choices about their birth experiences, but our medical system is designed in such a way that too often a mother’s choice is removed or significantly impacted by unnecessary interventions and practices that do not place her or her baby at the center of the birth experience. Doctors’ schedules, hospital policies, time (and therefore money) too often take priority, leading to interventions that are usually not in the best interest of mother or baby.

Once we actually get to D-Day, there’s no telling just how things will go. I know, however, that I feel confident in my ability to give birth naturally, and that should I end up in the hospital, I’ve informed myself about the possible decisions, processes, and interventions that might be part of our experience there. My hope is that we can bring greater awareness to the risks of our nation’s high C-section rate and better inform women of their birthing and delivery options. We need a more humanistic approach to the care of pregnant women, mothers, and babies that honors our natural ability to birth and which promotes natural birth as a healthy, safe, and optimal choice for low-risk women.

The Beginning

I have a confession. I’m not quite a mum… yet. It’s 3:49am, and today is my due date for our first child, who is quietly napping inside me. She is the beginning.

Like most females at full term, I have all the classic symptoms of a condition called motherhood. So far, my progress to this point has been smooth sailing. A transformation is on the horizon. I’m anxious, achy, and have some insomnia because my brain won’t quite shut off. I’m waiting for it to make the switch from my higher-functioning, reasoning brain, which is concerning itself with logic and the statistical probabilities of  birthing a child within the next week or two (hopefully not longer), to my more primitive brain: This is the brain that comes out after dusk, leading me to deep breathing and stretching on our living room floor. It’s the brain that savors the nighttime sounds of the birds and locusts, listening for the wind in the trees and peering through the moonlight shadows. This is the brain that I know will lead me through labor, birthing our daughter into the light, beginning her independent journey on this blue sphere of stardust.

I have titled this blog “Humanist Mum” because my writings here will come from the parts of my identity that relate to my life philosophy of humanism – love and compassion for fellow humans – and to my new role as the mother of another small human. And so it begins.