All posts by Valerie Reiss

About Valerie Reiss

Valerie Reiss is the Managing Editor of Mom365.

Pregnant lady with stuffed toy

The Creature Within

One pregnancy thing no one can quite prepare you for (at least no one prepared me for) is the third trimester baby-moving. It’s so far beyond the sweet butterfly wings of quickening. And even the late second-trimester gentle nudges. Now, my visibly, pretty much constantly shifting belly—an area I once had some semblance of control over—inevitably reminds me of Sigourney Weaver and her alien spawn. In, you know, a sweet way.

At night in bed I am glued to Belly TV. “That was an arm! A leg! A head! OMG, it’s so crazy.” Anyone listening might think I was watching the Sci-Fi channel with headphones.

I make my husband feel and watch with me and he is similarly tripped out by the undulations that look very much like a cat squirming under a sheet. “What do people with multiples do?” he asked yesterday. “I don’t know,” I answered, “but it must feel like a sack of puppies in there!”

This is all excellent, of course. As my therapist said, “You want an active baby.” But I keep flashing back to the woman with twins I met, eight months along, who said she was no longer afraid of labor. She was getting the breath knocked out of her by the constant tussling and kicks to the ribs and just wanted them OUT, NOW. I thought she might be exaggerating, or that it was a twins thing. But after a few swift kicks to some of my sorest pelvic ligaments this week I’m beginning to see how this is really nature’s way of moving things along, including fear.

If the ultrasound print-outs and the growing belly weren’t evidence enough, watching my body move without me makes it abundantly clear to my whole brain that I have a human being growing inside me. I wasn’t quite getting it before. And this is simultaneously awe-inspiring/magical and woah/a little creepy.

I think all of these responses—which I likely share with most first-time pregnant women (right?)— are because I’m fundamentally in denial that I’m an animal. Sure, I eat, sleep, poop, pee, have sex, and respond to pain and pleasure just like any other mammal, but there’s a part of me that is so disconnected from my animal nature that pregnancy, birth, and labor sometimes seem downright weird. Even though they’re the basis of our existence and a species. I assume that’s why we’ve so heavily pathologized and medicalized birth—it’s freaky-deaky to be reminded that we’re basically gorillas a step or two removed. So we often ask women to birth on their backs and quietly please and automatically offer pain meds and cut them open, sometimes for medically questionable reasons. We shuffle the animal out of the room—or muzzle her.

But from all I’m learning about natural labor it’s actually essential that we welcome the beast into the labor and delivery room—she’s the one who will go instinctual and guide our body through the process with movement and sound. One book, The Big Book of Birth, says “If you care about the wallpaper in the room you’ve come to the hospital too early.” That’s because our inner primate (or tigress or lioness) hasn’t entered the equation yet. When things get hard and fast and heavy—assuming everyone’s health is good—the beast will know what to do and décor is not anywhere near her agenda.

Just like the creature in my belly who is a bit shocking for a human who forgets she’s an animal, this transformation from woman to birther is intense (a word I use sparingly, but seems apt) for all involved. And it makes sense that a first response would be to sanitize things a bit—literally and figuratively.

But what I’m learning is that there’s a little creature inside me, and that’s not some sci-fi movie (which, hello, was based on birth fears, of course). It’s the flow of life to life. And to best tend this critter, I have to touch into my inner creature and release her ancient, limbic wisdom and knowing—and maybe growls and pants and all-fours crawling—to allow this boy in me into the world.

I need to get into my animal. From her mama-bear, not-thinking, totally-present perspective, this whole labor thing looks perfectly normal and it’s pretty clear that the only “crazy” or “alien” thing is our denial of that essence. Ruff! Growl! Grrr! Rowr!

 

Breastfeeding Music Video Awesomeness

As an expecting mama who’s about to need some serious breastfeeding help–our official class is in a few weeks–I loved this video. It doesn’t go into every breastfeeding hold and latch, but it’s very catchy and fun. (Warning: visible boob alert.)

I will add it to my basket of tips, along with one my friend gave me last weekend: “Just make a boob sandwich,” she said, squeezing her breast with her hand (bottom piece of “bread” is the thumb; top is the rest of your fingers). “The baby’s mouth is shaped like a straight line and you just need to squash your nipple so it’s the same shape.” I feel like she maybe just saved me money on a lactation consultant. We shall see. meantime, Enjoy this breastfeeding jam!

 

Ice cubes

The Ice Cube Exercise for Labor Prep

No matter what kind of birth you’re planning—or will have—it’s pretty likely some intense sensations will be involved. In fact, sensations that are most commonly known as pain (though in Hypnobirthing they call it “discomfortable.”) I’ve never done it so I can’t tell you what it’s actually like, and most moms have that infamous pain amnesia, so they can’t tell you either. But first-hand accounts have leaked and I hear it’s a lot. Sometimes.

To prep for this intensity (which scares me in ways only the mysterious and foreboding can), I had a Skype session with a labor coach and we did a little experimenting with a version of the Ice Cube Exercise (from the book Birthing from Within) I’d heard about from my friend who’s taking a birthing class.

There are many riffs on it, but ours went like this:

1)   Take a bowl of ice and a small towel. Set a timer for one minute.

2)   Scoop up a handful of ice in your right hand. Hold until the timer goes off.

I spent the first 15 seconds cursing. And thinking: OMG, I will be the worst laborer ever. I am such a wuss. This ice pain is nothing like the pain to come. Wah. Ouch.

Then I remembered that thrashing about and complaining and self-berating only makes pain worse. (My medical history has exposed me to a range of long-lasting pain and/or discomfortableness I’ve learned to cope with). I also remembered that slow, deep breathing goes a long way toward diffusing and defusing pain. So I did that. I kind of dropped my awareness deep inside, shifted to slow deep breaths, and directed my attention away from the pain in my hands and toward what yogis call the “witness consciousness,” the part of us that watches the show of our lives without getting involved. (Ask yourself “Who is thinking this thought?” and you’ll get a sense of the witness).

It hurt A LOT less. It became more sensation, less pain.

When the minute was up I realized I could have kept going longer.

The coach laughed and joked, “Ok, we’re done here!” I guess I know this stuff better than I thought. Whew.

We did it a few more times—some minute-long blocks she jangled keys and blasted music to see how well I could drown out distractions and drop down then, because in a hospital, you can bet your ever-expanding ya-ya there will be distractions. My ability to work with the noise was mixed. Some sounds triggered anger (Uhg, this music is terrible), so then I had to breathe past that and burrow and breathe deeper still to find a quiet place within.

At my friend’s birthing class they did the ice exercise with partners so they could get a taste of the pain too. They also saw how the experience of pain shifted as they walked, moved their hips, and made sounds. (You guessed it: Pain decreased.)

Give it a go! If you’re alone, set your cell phone or egg timer for one minute each.

It’s of course only one of many ways to deal with pain—and contractions may hurt a lot more than some frozen water. But it is an excellent way to begin to train your brain in the old adage: “pain is inevitable; suffering is optional.” Good for birth and life.

 

 

Pregnant lady swimming

Ode to Swimming While Pregnant

Ode:

I avoided the pool, thinking it too full of chlorine,

but other pregnant ladies were really keen.

So, hot, aching, and tired, I strapped on my tankini,

and the cool, buoyant water was so delicious it was almost obscene.

At first I worried about my pace,

a round turtle, not a sleek dolphin, I’d lose any race.

My goggles were tight, my suit raised up past my belly dome.

But as I started stroking the water’s face,

gliding, and sliding, the aqua liquid made its case:

Water is you, the planet, and baby—keep on going, and welcome home.

The SAHM Fantasy Goes “Pop!”?

A New York Times article this week, “The Opt-Out Generation Wants Back In,” by Judith Warner revisits an NYT magazine article from 10 years ago about affluent, highly educated women leaving their jobs to be stay-at-home moms. At the time, the article caused quite the kerkuffle: It was about elite white women and certainly didn’t represent the majority. Fingers were pointed at these moms for opting out (well before “leaning in” was a thing), saying they were setting the women’s movement back a few decades, providing bad role models for kids, and setting themselves up for a dangerous imbalance in their marriages. Fast-forward a decade and a recession or two later, and these women are mostly not in a great place.

At the time the first article came out, I was nowhere near ready to have a kid and in graduate school, huffing my way through a career I hoped to love more, dropping it all to be a mom seemed both like an outrageous luxury and really bad move. I was raised by a mom who took the first three years of my life off to care for me, then went back to work. And my father has always said, “You should work. It’s good for you, and you never want a man to have that kind of power over you.”  The model and the lessons sunk in.

But as I warmed to the idea of motherhood and watched friends struggle to balance work inside and outside the home, it all seemed overwhelming and the cliché dilemma burbled up—how the heck did you do the job hustle and really be there for your tiny kid? I started dreaming of a rich dude who would be able and happy to support me and our imaginary baby, and not expect me to be a domestic goddess. Someone who respected mom work as much as other work. Turns out that’s what a whole lot of women dream of, and this latest article shows in lean-in times, it can become a nightmare. The piece features formerly supportive husbands devaluing the work of childcare; demanding cleaner homes; even getting jealous of their wives for not working.

Most of the women in the article now have or want jobs; and it’s no easy feat—some having leaned out for 10 years or more. Some have seen opting out hurt their marriages and finances and have major regrets. Others wouldn’t change a thing.

Now that I’m on the cusp of mommyhood myself, I’m prepping for a three-month leave starting this fall, and frankly can’t imagine the financial wisdom of doing anything longer than that, while at the same time worrying it won’t be enough. Thus the tug-of-war begins. I didn’t find that feminist bazillionaire fantasy man (as most men don’t find that supermodel genius zillionaire), but I did find an awesome man who will make a great dad, who makes a very decent living. But not a support-mom-and-baby-in-NYC-for-years living. But we have supportive families and are surrounded by privilege and blessings. It’s all going to be OK, somehow.

Yet of course the Pinterest-y SAHM fantasy is tantalizing. Partly because of the one thing the article completely does not mention: the horrible state of childcare and maternity leave in this country as compared to, say, most European nations. We have zero paid maternity leave, we have no national daycare, and FMLA (Family Medical Leave Act) is the only thing standing between an unpaid maternity leave and not having a job waiting three months later. It’s pretty abysmal.

So what do moms really want in the midst of all of this? Of course it varies mom to mom, a lot—but there are overall trends in all the long-term pendulum swinging. According to the most recent Working Mother report, moms want balance: the ability to earn money and be there for the chilluns. They want flexible hours, acknowledgement of their value and contribution in both the workplace and at home. A life with meaning all around. That seems to be the new dream. Not leaning in or opting out, but standing strong in a healthy, centered middle.

 

New Study: Due Dates are Really a Guesstimate

That due date they give you at your first prenatal visit, then maybe confirm with your first ultrasound? Very not so accurate, it turns out.

In our single birthing class they told us to think of it as a “due month,” but a new study says that it’s actually a “due five weeks.”

Only about 4 percent of women give birth on their due dates—this, we knew. But by measuring the hormone levels of urine from 125 women trying to get pregnant in the 1980s (this study was an evaluation of older research), they were able to say exactly when pregnancy began. And they found, excluding preemies, that there’s a natural variation from 38 to 43 weeks after the first day of the woman’s last menstrual period.

Interesting, but not shocking, news. But hopefully this study and perhaps others like it will start drilling home to some docs that induction can often wait. My doc, who is pretty low intervention, recommends induction at 40 weeks, highly encourages it at 41, and requires it at 42. It’s thought that the placenta may begin to degrade around this time—and also, amniotic fluid may begin to leak, compromising baby’s safety. But it all also may be absolutely fine, with baby needing that full cooking time. Her practice does lots of scans during that “extra” time to make sure everything is cool if the patient doesn’t want to induce.

Actually disturbing is that many docs encourage induction at 36, 37, or 38 weeks (in perfectly healthy pregnancies) because they believe this will mean smaller babies who are easier to deliver. But as the March of Dimes’ “39 Weeks” campaign points out, induction too early can compromise essential brain development and may lead to developmental disorders and other health problems later on. Induction drugs can also lead to a cascade of further intervention, and is one of the reasons our country has such a high C-section rate (33 percent)—induction doubles the chance that you’ll have one.

The bottom line, if your doc wants to induce because you’re “past” your “due date” (or even well before), ask questions:

–       Why do you recommend this?

–       What are the potential risks?

–       What if you’re inducing at 37 weeks for convenience and it turns out my baby needed the full 40 or more? What are the potential consequences of that?

–       Can some simple diagnostic tests (sonogram, etc.) replace or stave off your desire to induce?

Here are some great facts and more info from March of Dimes on why it’s ideal to wait, as long as there are no health threats present.

 

Great Father’s Day Gifts for Dads-to-Be

I’m in the process of cultivating my first baby registry and there are many adorable things I love for our future babe—onesies with little whales on them, fuzzy hats with bear ears, fluffy booties (so little!).

And then there’s the list of stuff I’m pretty sure my husband, a comic book/superhero/sports/Star Wars nerd, will love. Here are some of my faves that your dude may also dig.

Cape/Bib

a baby bib

This witty little bib will make him smile, and keep drool contained (it also comes in pink). $12, at Amazon.com

Daddy’s My Hero Onesie

a baby's onesie

Make his majesty mist up with this adorable outfit. $16, at Amazon.com

Dude-Friendly Diaper Bag

a diaper bag

This Skip-Hop Duo Deluxe diaper bag won’t win any fashion awards, but we’ll both be fine schlepping it around town. $46, at Amazon.com

Father and Child Baseball Gloves

a childs baseball glove

No matter your child-to-be’s gender, there is catch in your man’s future. Start him off adorable with a grown-up gloveand kid glove. They may be in a drawer for a while, but they’ll also be in his heart. $17, at Amazon.com.

Infant Sports Jammies

kids bengals pj's

Pick a team, any team and they have cute baby gear. Your guy will be psyched he has another buddy to watch the game with. $32, at Amazon.com

Star Wars Onesies

kids star wars onesie

What child of the 80’s or 90’s doesn’t want his babe dressed as R2D2 or a wookie? $20 at Amazon.com

Superhero Onesies

kids superman onesie

It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s his unbelievably adorable baby dressed as his favorite superhero—Wonderwoman and Superman are our favorites. $16-21, Amazon.com.

Star Wars Storybooks

vaders little princess book

There can’t be too much Star Wars, can there? Hope not, because what this trilogy lacks in a gold bikini it makes up for with sweet drawings of SW characters. First there was Darth Vader and Son, then Vader’s Little Princess and soon, the whole gang unites for the upcoming Jedi Academy. $15, at Amazon.com.

Cool Nightlights

funky night light

These are some neato, rechargeable, portable nightlights that can start off in dad’s man-cave, then transition to the nursery, maybe. $65, at Amazon.com

Baby’s First Legosfirst lego blocks

Not sure if there’s a guy on the planet who doesn’t love Legos. Spark memories and start new ones with this jumbo beginner’s set. $40, at Amazon.com.

Pregnant woman

Five Fun Pregnancy Products

Pregnancy is serious business. Which is why it’s so essential to not take it too seriously. These five things I’ve dug up can put the smile back on your face, no matter what’s happening with your back (or nose, or bottom, or skin).


The Holo Floaty Thing

If this had a U.S. distributor I would have bought one by now. It’s a pool floaty thing with a belly cut out and a crease just above for the girls. Dreamy. You can also use it on solid ground for relaxed belly-lazing. Yes, please. Huh, they actually do ship to the U.S. Hmmm. About $60 USD at holo-lilo.com.

 

A Belly Cast Kit

One of my oldest, dearest friends is due three days before me and we’re planning to bust out the belly casting kit in about a month. This one makes casting allegedly easy-breezy fun. Since we’re both crafty/art girls, we can just get the basic kit and decorate with our own paints. Fun! $20 at ProudBody.com

Maternity Moustache Shirt

Yeah, I bought this. It’s borderline cornball. Or, ok, total cornball. But I love it. It gets big smiles wherever I go. $20 at CafePress.com.

Bola Musical Pregnancy Pendant

I’m against those headphones you put on your belly so your baby can appreciate the symphony or Jay-Z very, very early (seems invasive), but this is sweet. It’s a chime pendant that dangles at uterus level and comes in an array of colors. It’s a way to gently whisper tinkle sounds to your baby. And it’s pretty, too. At BelliesInBloomMaternity.com, $30.

Porn for New Moms

This just makes me straight up laugh. Maybe you know the first book, Porn for Women, which showed handsome, buff dudes vacuuming and doing laundry and washing dishes? More? Well, the dudes are back, and they’re taking the baby so you can nap, giving you massages, and asking, “What was the consistency of his poo again, exactly?” Love it. $12, at Amazon.com.

 

A Third Trimester To-Do List

Now that I’ve entered the third trimester, it’s finally dawning that there will be a new person living in my home very soon. A new person who is helpless and utterly dependent on me and my spouse, for a very long time. (Inhale, exhale.)

This means kicking into mommy gear (who knew that was in there?) and working my way through a fairly hefty checklist. It’s exciting, overwhelming, and scary.

But let’s just rest our attention on “exciting” for the moment (can you tell I’ve been doing some directed awareness practices as birth prep?), as we look at a list of stuff you also may want to address in your third trimester if you haven’t already. Ready?

Take a Hospital Tour

The idea is to get familiar with where you’ll be giving birth. You may be able to see a labor and delivery room, understand check-in procedures, find out where to park your car—all good things to know before the big day. And if the place really doesn’t jive with you, now is the time to figure out how to make it work, or find a better option

I booked and went on mine about a week ago. Glad it’s over—not my favorite thing. It was everything I feared and more—pretty cold, strict, and factory-like. A huge portion of the tour was about the cost of the private rooms—which is typically New York Real Estate cracker-barrels insane. And if you don’t shell out for the two-night minimum (at a minimum of $550 a night, choke), your partner can’t stay with you. Awesometown. But whatever, tour, done. Depending where you live, you might want to book yours soon—ours was almost not possible because I was such a slacker with only three months to go. This is where you can also be grateful you don’t live in New York.

Take Classes: Breastfeeding, Newborn Care, and Infant CPR

The holy trinity of baby prep is pretty essential if you, like most of us, don’t have a village full of women with mama experience to come make a diapering pro of you. Your hospital may offer some or all of these, often as a combo package. Or most cities have centers that do. Google around and find someplace that seems like a good fit. If you’re doing them ala carte, the American Red Cross near you may have CPR classes and the local La Leche League chapter may have breastfeeding classes. The idea is to learn all these things in the cool of the moment, well before there’s a crying or fevery or non-latching baby on your hands. My local place charges $175 for all three two-hour classes. Honestly, not bad, considering.

For me, it’s all about feeing a little bit less freaked and more confident when I get home. I’m sure I’ll have to re-learn plenty of the details, but I figure it’s great to start laying a foundation in my hormone-addled brain now. And thankfully the huz is coming with me, so his how-are-we-going-to-pay-for-this-kid-addled brain will be a co-server for all this new data.

Pick a Pediatrician

This is maybe one of the strangest things on my list. Really? A doctor for a person who’s not here yet? But I guess it’s no odder than washing and folding hand-me-down onesies. But, yeah. Ask mamas in your area for recommendations, then start calling around. What do you want/need in a doctor? For me it’s a holistic bent and a willingness to vaccinate on a shifted schedule—plus, of course, they’ve got to take my insurance. For you maybe location is key, or being a certain gender, understanding any religious health considerations, etc. Call and ask for a meet-and-greet. You want to trust this person, so a good gut feeling has to line up with a nice rational sense of trust

The most highly recommended pediatrician near me has monthly group meet-and-greets, which are, of course, already booking up. I need to get on that, stat.

Hire a Doula

Optional, of course. But having a doula attend your birth is likely to greatly improve your labor experience. They’re non-medical birth assistants, there to provide you and your partner with emotional and practical support. Is there a mean nurse? She’ll handle it. Lights too bright? She’s got it. Feeling like you simply can’t handle another contraction? She’ll encourage you and/or grab the doc if intervention is needed.

For me a doula is essential to feeling like I can face birth in a medical setting. You can look on the DONA website for folks near you, or call/Google around in your area. Talk on the phone, then meet in person if you get a good feeling and their skills and personality match up with your needs. I interviewed five by phone and two in person before picking ours. We looked for experience (our has attended more than 1,000 births—though we would have been fine in the hundreds); specific experience with our docs in our hospital (they know a lot of the nurses and have gone out of their way to build relationships there); and a general sense of feeling like I wouldn’t mind her attending my most primal, vulnerable moment.

Also, make sure to ask who her back-up is, and talk to her—you never know when a client might go into labor just before you. If it’s out of bounds financially (they can cost anywhere from a couple hundred dollars to $3K), think about who/if you might want there supporting you and your partner. Maybe your best friend is a nurse or just a very loving, grounded presence. Or your sister-in-law has 10 kids and you adore her. Ask—most people will be honored and honest about whether they’re up for the journey.

Take a Birthing Class

Though we dropped out of ours—three hours on a yoga mat was more than my sacrum could handle—they are massively helpful. They cover everything from the stages of labor to comfort techniques to what to expect from your care providers, and lots, lots more. Ask your doc or midwife if they have recommendations, or see if any local classes exist at a hospital or a stand-alone center. If you’re not going that route, here are some good movies and books to check out. Though we dropped out, we are going to a single three-hour workshop that’s basically about how the huz can physically and emotionally help during labor. I’ve also been reading like crazy.

Nest!

For me, this has been the most fun part of preparing. Though we only have half our bedroom to work with, it’s been a joy mapping it out, getting bargains on furniture, setting up a registry for all we’ll need for the room and baby, making art, fixing broken things, and more. It’s been a way to give my inner HGTV-addict  a creative outlet, bond with my man, and create a home I hope will feel cozy and welcoming to the dude living in my belly all these months.

Those are the biggies, though there also may be:

–       Make arrangements for day care

–       Make arrangements for post-baby mama care and baby support (a post-partum doula, mother-in-law who doesn’t drive you nuts, frozen meals or quality take-out on speed dial, etc.)

–       Sign up for a cloth diaper service

–       Create a baby registry if you haven’t already

–       Plan a baby shower if you haven’t already

–       Keep taking great care of yourself! Taking vitamins, exercising, eating veggies, drinking plenty of water, etc.

–       Enjoy time alone and with your partner. First kid? Last chance for a while!

–       Book a babymoon

–       Gather addresses for thank you cards and birth announcements now so you’re not trying to do that while sleep deprived

–       RELAX. This can all seem super-overwhelming. So ask for support, or drop anything that feels optional. A baby really needs crib, boob, diaper, and love. The rest you’ll figure out. xoxo