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How Do I Safely Bedshare With a Crawling or Rolling Baby?

One question I encounter regularly about extended cosleeping (specifically, bedsharing) is what to do when baby starts rolling or crawling. Here are some of our thoughts:

Observe your baby: Is your baby able to roll or is she a roller? Will you baby wake and wait for you, or start exploring right away? V was swaddled until he was nine months old. Although he could roll, he had no interest in rolling as locomotion. E, on the other hand, was able to roll at 7 weeks old and varied on loving and hating the swaddle, so we had no idea what to expect from him. He never rolled more than one flip in his sleep, though. Neither of our boys wake alone and start crawling. They wake and call/cry out for us. Thus, we have a degree of comfort in leaving them in our bed even if we are a room away.

Once you've observed your baby, here are several approaches to cosleeping:

Camp out with your baby
If possible, stay in bed with your baby and take some down time. Nap or read a book. Check Facebook on your phone or play a game on a tablet, or something I am fortunate enough to be able to do: grab a laptop and hammer out some work while watching over your sweet little one.

Move a mattress to the floor
A floor bed is a fancy name for putting a mattress on the floor. Some families move the family bed to the floor, others put a mattress on the floor just for the child.

We weren't up for moving our queen mattress to the floor. With my chronic pain issues, I like a bed that I can stand up from easily and Dave wasn't thrilled about it aesthetically, so we set up a twin mattress floor bed for V when he turned 9 months and started crawling. With E, we didn't get around to it until he was a year, and we could only fit a crib-sized mattress in the room. For us, the best space for  this was in a separate room. With the floor bed model, we lay with baby until he falls asleep, then sneak away. We repeat the cosleeping cuddles in the floor bed for each night-waking until we are ready for sleep. Once in our own bed for the night, we bring baby to join us at his next night-waking.  A floor bed should follow the same rules of safe bedsharing, like 1 pillow per adult. So, if  you are leaving the bed remember that no adult=no pillows, so take the pillow with you. Also, since you cannot verify that a blanket will not go higher than baby's waist, forgo blankets until baby is older as well. (18 months to 2 years, for our kids.) The room should be babyproofed in case baby wakes and starts to explore.

V's Floor Bed (pillow introduced around 18 months)
Photo by Heidi Daniels

Room remodeled for two boys:
twin mattress on the left & crib mattress of the right
(no pillow or blankets until 18 months for Baby E)

Shared room on vacation. E is 12 months old in this picture. We didn't offer him a pillow at this age (he's 6+ inches away from it), but we did use pillows as a barrier for the headboard gaps. For a younger baby, a pillow barrier would not be safe. Try a large piece of cardboard or wood across the headboard.)
Sleep on the floor
Your child doesn't have to sleep on a mattress.  When my boys come to work with me, we do a variety of things from naps mats to putting a blanket right on the floor. My body isn't so thrilled about laying down on the hard ground with them until they fall asleep, but the kids never seem to mind having slept on the floor.

Nap mat & Lillebaby Eurotote (great for naps, unsafe as a baby carrier)
Wearing baby down in a carrier and then placing him on the floor works, too.
Napping on a woven wrap

Create a barrier for baby
A barrier can be something bought like a bed rail or something fabricated like a wall of pillows. I only feel comfortable with using pillows for an older baby who will easily move himself away if breathing is obstructed and putting pillows far enough from baby that he'd have to roll or crawl a distance to encounter them. Some people slide a pool noddle under a fitted sheet to create a small barrier. A favorite when we travel is pushing furniture (like high-backed chairs) against the side of the bed.

Pool noodle under fitted sheet

Teach baby to climb off the bed safelyWe started to teach V the skill of sliding off the bed (feet-first, laying on his belly) at 10 months old, though he would not grasp it until a year old (and wouldn't be tall enough/confident enough to do it on his own until about 15 months). That said, teaching him and helping him do this showed him how to assess his own limitation and made us comfortable with letting him sleep on the high surface.

Pad the floor
On the chance baby falls off the bed, pad the floor around the bed with thick, non-fluffy blankets.
You might be tempted to pad the floor with mountains of pillows, but consider that if baby silently fell into the fluffy items his face could be obstructed.

Lower your bed frameSome bed frames can adjust lower. A thinner foundation is another option (e.g. platform instead of  box spring).

Stay close and be awareWe rarely use a baby monitor because our house is so small, but this is one time when we plug in the monitor in because even the lightest rustle comes through if I need to be on the other side of the house. If I am working in the office adjacent to my bedroom, I keep both doors open so I can be aware of all the noises in the bedroom. As soon as I am aware of rustles, I feel out if it is time to greet my child before he fully awakens.

Disclaimer: Not all of these methods will be appropriate for every child or at every age. Use your own discretion when choosing how to care for your child. Staying with your child or utilizing one of the floor options are your safest bets.

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V's Birth Story Part 4 -- Delivery

Continued from Part 3: Labor Intensifies (or start at the beginning).

It was around 11:30 AM. Doula K and Doula J stepped out, as they were not allowed in the room while the anesthesiologist was there, per hospital policy. As it turns out, the anesthesiologist didn’t care if they were in there, but I let them stay away so they could grab some lunch. Realizing that I was selling out the vision of a med-free birth that I’d had since I was a teen, I started crying before the epidural was placed. The anesthesiologist was trying to be nice but made some sort of jerky comment about how lots of women think they can do it on their own and then he gets called in. It was so demeaning because in my heart, I felt this was a medically advantageous decision and not one that was about eliminating labor and delivery pain. I had made it through 50+ hours of labor without meds, a true ultra-marathon—triple the length of an average first-time mom’s labor—and now I was reduced in someone’s eyes to just another  compromising woman who couldn’t actually hack it. It felt like just lonely me against the world to the point that I still have no recollection of Dave being there (though he assures me he was).

After that team left, I worked toward getting in the side-laying position. Dr. M had said that even with the epidural it would be uncomfortable and most women could only manage a few minutes. I was resolved to make it work, no matter how long it took. We put on relaxation music, darkened the room, Dave and the doulas were quiet, and I focused on my breathing for as long as I could bear the pressure in my belly. I made it lying on my side for an hour, much longer than Dr. M had ever had a patient do before.

Dr. M checked baby and found that he had indeed moved, but he had moved occiput transverse, an even less desirable position. We tried the fluid and manual rotation of baby tactic, which was not successful. I think it was at this point that she discovered I had meconium staining. The presence of meconium didn’t stress me out, as we’d covered this as a normal variation in Bradley classes, but Dr. M again insisted that a c-section was undoubtedly the road ahead.

Yet, our little labor team kept plugging along. The environment looked very different than dreamed with me in bed with an epidural and constantly on the monitor, but it was dim, quiet, and relaxed, and eventually I reached full dilation. At some point in there, I was emotionally done and the pain was intense and for the first time I wanted pain relief for the sake of pain relief. I didn’t know that I could push the button to get more medicine, so I let the epidural wear down. By the time I brought it up to someone, it was too late to settle in for pushing.  So, they offered a shot of lidocaine. I’m guessing that was at transition, but I don’t really have much recollection of that time. Medical records also are of little help.

During the considerable unmedicated portion of labor, the records talk about my mood, how I managed pain, etc. The records share lots of “breathing well through contractions” comments and some notes about me being pleasant but refusing things. After the epidural, the records are completely impersonal—just numbers from a monitor and quantities of drugs. I could talk for hours about what this implies in terms of the overall medical model of birth versus midwifery care, but that would get us off-track from an already lengthy story. Feel free to ask me about it, though.

Anyway, back on track: I started to have the urge to push, so I did some practice pushes with the nurse. Pushing was the part of labor I felt like I knew the least about, but I knew that my body would guide me. Albeit, now with an epidural I did worry a bit that my body might not be able to tell me what to do. I let the contractions guide me and I pushed to the point of comfort. At some point in this, baby’s heart started to have some decelerations. This seemed part of the deal to me: I was pushing, I’d had an epidural, it made sense. (Thank you, Thinking Woman’s Guide to a Better Birth.) But, Dr. M came to talk to us about it. She referred to the decelerations as “dippy doos” and encouraged me that it was time to get baby out. With her small frame, girly voice and baby talk, she reminded me of the Dolores Umbridge character from Harry Potter: utterly charming on the outside with a voice as sweet as honey that was used for spewing nastiness. She left and I continued to push to the point of comfort. When Dr. M returned, she was more adamant that I get baby out. She said I had thirty minutes or I would need to get wheeled down the hall for a c-section. I continued to work on my pushing and invited nurse Lara to coach me because I had lost all urge to push on my own.

We worked for a bit on it when Dr. M returned to check on me. This time, it was pure nastiness. She asked me if I had even been trying and told me I wasn’t doing a good enough job. I invited her to coach me through some contractions herself. She encouraged pushing hard and long, to the point I thought the blood vessels in my eyes might burst. I needed oxygen to make it through. It felt so wrong, but I knew that she could call it done at any moment. We were well past the thirty minute deadline she’d set. The doulas and Dave took turns holding my hand and legs. Doula J was amazing and whispered gentle encouragement to me. Dr. M yelled at me, used sports metaphors, berated me. I think she meant well, she was genuinely concerned for my baby and was trying to find something to motivate me. But, all of those were the wrong thing for me. I had prepared for a gentle birth guided by my intuition. I thrive off of positive words. Eventually, she said something about getting mad that resonated. The idea of getting mad at a pain was something I recalled from Bradley class. I focused on that. I am not an angry person, so I tried to focus on things that make me mad. Dr. M was one of them. I was mad at her and her infuriating approach. The other things I could think of were social injustice: rape, starvation. But, those are not things to think about during birth, so I summed it up as evil, as Satan. So, that was my focus: anger at Dr. M and at Satan.  If I could push harder to get her to shut up, then it was worth the anger.

At some point in there, they got the mirror in place for me to see baby’s head and I got to feel it. It didn’t mean much. I couldn’t really see in the mirror or feel much. All I knew was that focusing on those things was taking my concentration away from pushing. So, I had them remove the mirror. Later, I was sad to not have been able to see the actual delivery, though I am told that Dr. M would’ve insisted on it being moved.

Finally, after all of that it was time for V to come out. Dr. M was shocked that it was going to happen. She was still telling me that I couldn’t do it. Yet, he was coming, really coming. The final moments were faster than she’d thought since she just didn’t believe it would happen. I was told to stop pushing while the resuscitation team assembled. (I don’t think I listened to her to stop pushing—ha!) We knew by then that they would take V immediately to the table in the room because of the decelerations and the meconium. We agreed that Dave would go with him. So, when I pushed him out, I was happy and surprised that she laid him on my torso for a moment. I remember him looking wet and grey. He was silent. I wasn’t worried; I was just taking it all in.  I saw the cord for a brief moment. Then they moved him to the table and he made his first cry—small with a squeak at the end.

I wanted to know how his spine looked, as we’d been concerned about a neural tube defect.  It looked fine. V was born at 4:56 PM and weighed in at 6 lbs 12 oz and 20 in long. His first APGAR was a two, but by five minutes he was at a nine. The second stage of labor (pushing) had lasted 3 ½ hours.

Dave and Doula K were at the table with V. Doula J might have stepped out. During that time, Dr. M continued to work and I felt strange sensations. I felt like I was going to have bowel movement. When I asked her what was going on she laughed at me and told me it was the placenta coming out. Records indicate the placenta was delivered just three minutes after V’s birth, so I suspect she was pulling it out, despite our wishes to the contrary.  I got distracted with what was going on with V and the cord and placenta were gone before I could ask about them or see them. I later learned that Dr. M has a reputation of thinking placentas are gross and disdaining patients who don’t share this sentiment. She also told me that I was facing hemorrhage and needed to have Pitocin. I asked her to wait, but very quickly she brought it up again. There is nothing in her records that indicate a hemorrhage, so I suspect it was just another case of her doing things her way. She never said anything about stitching me or if she administered medicine to do so. But, she did tell me that I had torn because not only had V been born in the very challenging OT position where the largest part of his head was coming first, but his face was to the side with his hand by his head (nuchal hand). At some point, I learned that it was a third degree tear plus a partial. Only months later would I also learn that the nerves in my pelvis had been damaged.

After a few minutes, Dave brought me our V. He was calm and very alert and I could admire his dark blond duck fluff hair and his big, round eyes. They were either hazel or very dark blue--it was hard to tell then.

He had long, scraggly fingernails and his feet were dried out and wrinkled like an old man’s. His ear was folded down from where he’d been touching it on his way out. We did the breast crawl, something I had long dreamed of seeing. Babies are born with such incredible intuition!

We were enamored by this little boy—an answer to prayers, a bringer of joy. I had long felt like a mom who just didn't have a child of her own, but now I finally did.

Family Photo
A well-deserved rest

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V's Birth Story Part 3 -- Labor Intensifies

Continued from Part 2: The Hard Work of Progress

I went home physically and emotionally exhausted. It was at this point that fear and anxiety set in. I had always—well, from my late teen years when I heard about the Bradley Method through a family I babysat for— truly believed in my body’s ability to birth a baby of its own accord. But here I was, feeling that I’d read my body’s signs wrong, or that they had misguided me, and it was emotionally draining.  The length of the labor wasn’t the bad part—I had just told nurse that we'd waited 2.5 years for this baby, we surely could wait a few more days—but the beginnings of the realization that my body might not just make this work had set it. Thankfully, I was still largely a believer, just a believer with some innocence lost. And, I kept on going. I called my Bradley instructor and she was encouraging. At about 3 PM, I started having contractions again. They continued to be painful back labor contractions. I sat in the living room on the ball and watched Netflix to pass the time.

Friend Kelly brought us California Tortilla for dinner around 6. Nachos for me! I was sitting backward on a folding chair in the living room processing through regular, intense contractions again about 5 min apart. Later she shared she could have sworn from my contractions and my reactions that baby was coming very soon, like concerned-we-were-still-at-home-soon. 

I decided that I wanted to labor in the tub again since it had felt so good at the hospital. Dave prepared a bath for me and kept me company. It was there that he told me we could name the baby V. We’d long been debating between V and another name. Dave wanted to meet the baby before deciding, whereas I was ready to commit, as I just knew it was the right name. What a great gift to give me a labor boost!

Dave was getting tired so he asked if Jill could come over and help while he slept. She came and kept me company while I continued to labor in the tub. A mere 15 minutes after Dave went to bed, my contractions started to increase in frequency and intensity again, to the point where they were two minutes apart, lasting for almost that whole time, and too painful to talk through. Jill was adamant that it was time to go to the hospital and woke Dave, who took a more relaxed speed in calling Doula K and the Kaiser nurse’s line despite Jill’s continual prodding. We learned that Doula K would not be meeting us at the hospital due to a family issue, but could send her backup doula, who we had never met. That was a big disappointment. We had debated a hospital versus center or home birth until I was about 30 weeks pregnant, and having a doula who was a good fit was key in my agreement to a hospital birth.

We made it back to the hospital at about 10:30 PM and ended up back in the same room as before. Jill followed us in her car came up to the room with us.  This time Dr. V was on call. I had seen him a few times during my pregnancy and I knew he was a fairly low-key guy, like Dr. S.  We got settled in again with a monitoring strip and another painful heplock. I wanted a progress check and this one showed I was 4 cm and baby was at -1 station.

I was ready to get back into the water. But, Dr. V was against it because I had been in labor for so long. He claimed my water might break and I wouldn’t know. I felt this was a bogus rule, so I drew the bath anyway. But rule follower that I am—I just could not relax in the bath knowing that I was violating his orders. So, I got out of the water and labored on the exercise ball in the room.

Backup doula Doula J showed up and Jill headed out. Doula J didn’t know anything about us or our birth wishes, but because I was in so much pain, she just jumped right into helping me through. It took a leap of faith to throw myself emotionally and physically into the arms of an unknown person, but utilizing a doula had been the hallmark of me agreeing to a hospital birth, so I just abandoned my hesitations and went with it. We soon discovered a bit of kindred spiritedness.

Because I was no longer comfortable in the bath, I felt robbed of my most effective pain-management strategy, which was another emotional blow.  Around 1:30 AM Doula J suggested that we put the exercise ball in the shower and she and Dave took turns aiming the spray at the small of my back. This gave me the benefit of the water, but without breaking the rules. It was a brilliant suggestion, and we spent most of the night like this. I would have to get out for monitoring, but then would go right back in to the shower. The shower was a lifesaver. The one big drawback was being cold. I was warm where the water hit, but not elsewhere.  Dave and Doula J tried to keep me warm with towels in the shower, but it was never quite enough, and I don’t think I could even recognize that in the moment. I chose to be in the shower because it was the best pain-management choice, but it meant being cold. The in-and-out for monitoring also played into being cold and expending energy. Tradeoffs that seemed small in the moment added up.

A strong and unpleasant sensory memory I have of the labor is of being cold. I associate that with desperation and my increasing loss of control. The previous night in the hospital, I would get cold when I had to get out of the bath for monitoring and then either stay in my wet swimsuit top or put it back on while it was clammy.  At home in the bath, the water just couldn’t get deep enough to cover me and it didn’t stay warm, so we draped towels on me to keep warm—but eventually they too would get wet and cold. These may seem like minor details, but I would relive being helplessly cold in my panic attacks. It took me months of processing later to understand where that was coming from, so it is a valuable detail to me.

We kept the lights off in the bathroom, which ended up having the added blessing that the staff backed off on pushing monitoring. I took it as respect for my wishes and niceness, but at one point they genuinely thought we had left the room for a long time.

I don’t remember a whole lot from these hours besides unrelenting pain, exhaustion, and the water on my back. I think a part of my brain shut off in order to keep functioning. The next few paragraphs are pieced together from my medical records, Dave, and flashes of memories that would come to me later.

During the monitoring a little after 3 AM, baby showed some “non-reassuring” heart decelerations on the monitor. Dr. Vu encouraged me to have two bags of IV hydration and extended monitoring.  I also agreed to an internal. This showed dilation of 7-8 cm, baby at 0 station and bulging bag of waters.  Dr. Vu expressed concern about the strain of a long labor on my body. I don’t remember any of what he said, perhaps because of my nature to trust my body to do this (and my fear of the intervention domino effect). It was obvious that my body was doing its job—ever so slowly—and my contractions were continuing every 3-4 minutes. I think I thought that delivery was nearing, and that perhaps baby would even be born in his sack.

A little before 5:30, I got out of the shower for monitoring, but brought the ball with me and sat on that during the read. While there my water broke and spread down the towel-covered ball and all over the floor. 

Dr. V stopped in after my water broke and shared with us the idea that baby might be occiput posterior (OP). He wanted to do an internal exam to feel and tell me but I refused to avoid the chance of infection now that my water had broken and because I felt like I was now on a delivery clock. I suggested they do an ultrasound rather than an internal, since he didn’t seem to know how to feel a baby’s position by touching my belly. I got a bizarre line about how ultrasound wouldn’t show us, but a bit after 7:30 AM, Dr. V returned with a portable machine that showed baby was head-down and very likely OP.

During that night and early morning, I was much less chatty than the first days. I remember being mostly silent. Or maybe I wasn’t and I just felt silent. I felt silent and alone while in the shower for all of those hours. Not abandoned, but definitely like this was my road alone to conquer.  I know that I dozed-off some on the ball. I know that scripture ran through my head a ton, as did worship songs. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” was a mantra. Verses I didn’t even know that I knew came to my mind and sustained me.

But, eventually, I know that I was miserable and begging and crying for help. I don’t know that I wanted medicine, but I wanted hope and answers. The pain was relentless and unbearable. I felt like I had been tortured for days by a body that was supposed to innately know how to do this. I was tried and sick of people getting me out of my relaxation zone for monitoring I didn’t want in the first place.

But, then something in me changed. I went from desperate to deciding that no one was going to make me do anything I didn’t want to. No more compromises. When I was told it was time for monitoring again, I talked myself into it. I no longer felt the need to rush to do it on their timeline. This was my birth and I did have choices, even beyond the details we’d put in our birth preferences. This is what I had diligently prepared for, for months, for years.

I started using lots of “I” statements out-loud to motivate myself. “I am choosing to get out of the shower.” “I am choosing to get monitored”. I got very articulate. I decided that though I couldn’t take my relaxation with me out of the shower, I could still take my intense focus. I think that it was a gift from God to prepare me for the next step in my labor: meeting Dr. M.

Dr. M started off very unlike the previous doctors. From our first encounter, on the morning of January 4, it was clear that she had her own way of doing things. She yelled into the bathroom where I was laboring in the shower and refused to come in when invited (inviting people into the bathroom rather than me coming out was part of my new assertion strategy). She insisted that she could only meet me if I was in bed and agreed to an internal exam. She didn’t care about my place in labor; she wanted me for monitoring even if I was in a middle of the contraction. She actually asked me what my problem was when I had a hard time moving because of the frequent contractions. When I motivated myself to come out, she told me that she’d talked to our reproductive endocrinologist about me and that this was a special day. I found her reference to our infertility without me first bringing it up very over-personal.

She was high-pressure about doing an internal, but I had decided that I was ready to know where I was at. I don’t remember where I was at, nor did she enter it into my medical records. She asked me my shoe size and then told me that there was no way I could deliver my baby vaginally. (It seems that my small shoe size confirmed to her that I had a small pelvis.) She also said that my pelvis was not shaped the right way, so baby couldn’t come out. This was shocking because Dr. S had told me twice in my pregnancy that my pelvis showed no contradictions for vaginal delivery, even with the pelvic separation that had developed. She told me that with her twenty years of experience with natural birth, I just wouldn’t be able to do it vaginally.  Even though she was definite in her negativity, and in her position that we were moving toward a c-section, somehow we did get her to suggest that if the baby turned out of the OP position, there was a chance he could be born vaginally. I was upset by her comments, but I don’t remember believing a word of her talk about my pelvis and inability.

I was, however, motivated to get baby to move. Dr. M suggested adding fluid through my cervix and manually moving baby with her hand.  She also suggested laying on my side and stomach (similar to the Bradley relaxation position). I asked for some time to think about it, as I knew to do with all interventions. I didn’t like the idea of introducing anything into my uterus and I was concerned about the relaxation pose. My pelvic separation made laying on my side unbearably painful, and with all of the pain I had already been through, I just didn’t think I could do it. 

In retrospect, I find it interesting that I knew to trust the pain of labor and birth and let it guide me, but the pelvic pain was something that truly struck fear into my heart. When I lay on my side, I felt like half of my pelvis was suspended, unsupported in space and that I might actually do serious damage that way. It intrigues me to think that I felt empowered to deal with the pain of labor without meds, but not with the unnatural pelvic pain.

Doula J helped us walk through the low tech ways to move baby: namely a slow dancing move and leaning over the ball. We tried both. The extent of my physical exhaustion became apparent. Any of it was just too much for me to sustain. While I was on the ball, Doula K rejoined our group. I thought that Doula J would leave, and was bummed out by that idea since we had bonded. But, when Doula K and Doula J talked about Dr. M’s approach to me, they decided that both would stay. They both had previous experience with Dr. M that was not supportive of a natural birth or a relaxed environment.
With Dave and the doulas, we talked through the pros and cons of the various options. I couldn’t bear the thought of laying on my side without some relief, let alone the doctor trying to manually turn the baby. I was so, so sad to be considering an epidural, but with my renewed mental clarity and resolve and ownership of my experience I could see that it seemed like the path most likely to avoid a c-section given my physical exhaustion and the new, hostile environment. After a decade of envisioning an unmedicated birth, meds seemed to be the sanest path to a vaginal birth. Dr. M never mentioned an epidural—the one thing I respected about her care—but I didn’t think I could get through her proposed steps without it. Even with the burst of clarity-of-mind I was having, my strength and sanity were giving out from the work of the previous days. Doula J and Doula K walked Dave and I through our options and questions, but did not offer their opinion. I later learned that they both though this was wise move and knowing Dr. M’s style feel certain she would’ve moved me to a c-section quickly had I not gone this route. (Far out from the birth, I also believe this.)

We decided that I would ask for one more internal to see if maybe I was more ready than I thought, if maybe my desperate emotions had actually been a signpost of  transition followed by the resolve of getting ready to push. But if not, I would get the epidural to facilitate the interventions: side-laying first and the fluid if that didn’t work. When Dr. M came in, I forgot to ask for the internal and just said that I was ready to move forward and that I wanted an epidural to facilitate things. I beat myself up emotionally over forgetting that in the months after the birth. It’s not that an epidural is bad, it’s just that since age 16 I had felt strongly about natural birth. I felt like a sell-out, despite also recognizing the wisdom of the compromise in a hostile setting. Despite that regret, I do think that decision was wise. I’ll skip ahead and share that the epidural helped me relax enough for baby to descend and I was able to get in some rest before the most challenging part of the birth. But, we’ll get there soon enough…

Concludes in Part 4: Delivery.

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V's Birth Story Part 2 -- The Hard Work of Progress

Continued from Part 1.

For Baby E's half-birthday birthday, I shared the story of his amazing, empowering birth (plus gorgeous pictures). Writing big brother V's story has been harder.  At first, I was afraid to face my own story, but I moved beyond that and wrote and wrote. Then, I moved into being afraid of others hearing my story, that they would judge it: that was your traumatic birth? That was nothing or If you would've just gone along with X like everyone else does, you wouldn't have been so upset. Ultimately, I decided that others judging it is ok. I'd rather share it and let a few people glean something helpful than not share it out of fear.

So, what's the deal with birth trauma anyway? Some people say ‘healthy baby, healthy mama’ is enough when it comes to a birth. For me—logical to you or not— it is not. Yes, the “destination” is imperative, but the journey matters, too. It is possible to both celebrate an amazing new life and mourn the journey it took to get there at the same time.

For example, if you completed a marathon, but got injured on the way, no one would say, “All that matters is that you crossed the finish line”. No, people would care about your twisted ankle, they’d want to hear your story, maybe they’d even commend your endurance. They would know that the medal is great, but the journey also matters.

With V’s birth, I walked away as a healthy mama with a healthy baby with a complication-free birth, but for all of those wonderful things to celebrate, the rest of the journey still mattered. So, what is it about V’s birth that was so traumatic that I had panic attacks for months after? That I would wake in the night with thoughts racing? That I learned that there is a thing called Post-Partum Traumatic Stress Disorder (PPTSD) that fit me to a T? Was the length of labor? Was it going into birth having already been in chronic pain for four months because of extreme pubis symphysis diastasis (essentially, a dislocation of the front part of my pelvis)? Was it that I chose natural birth in a medical environment that is so disconnected from what normal labor looks like that they couldn’t believe in me?  I think it is all of it together, and more. As much as my trauma was about the birth, it was also about what happened in the years before and year after. Infertility and loss make the start of the journey long, hard, and sad. The physical healing my pelvis and back required after pregnancy makes the story go on for another nine months (and then years to a lesser degree). But, getting into all of that would make it a life story rather than a birth story, and frankly this birth story is long enough already, so here we go…

Disclaimer: You've probably already noticed, but just to be clear: this is a birth story. It involves bodily functions. I have not shared anything here that I am not comfortable saying aloud to you face-to-face. But, if you aren’t interested in such details, stop reading now.

38 Weeks: 2 weeks before V's arrival
On December 31, 2010, I noticed that I was having some contractions, but nothing with continuing frequency. The next evening, Saturday, January 1 (officially at the 40 week mark per IUI dating, which never synced with ultrasound dating) we had dinner with Dave’s parents, and I noticed the contractions were back, but I didn’t say anything. Before bed, I inserted some Evening Primrose Oil for the first time. Once I was in bed, I noticed the contractions were getting stronger and more consistent.  By 1:30 AM when I finally fell asleep, they were 7 minutes apart. At 3:30 contractions woke me up. I let a few pass, and I sensed they were consistent. At 3:45 I woke up Dave to time them. They were at 5 minutes apart and surprisingly painful from the start. I was expecting intense pressure in my belly and pelvis, but I was experiencing this was pain through my back.

For the next 5 hours we did shower time, I relaxed/breathed through the contractions in bed, I listened to relaxation scripts and music, and Dave got the last of the things together when I needed alone time. I had anticipated wanting him right there with me for it all as the trusty Bradley coach. But, I discovered that I relaxed best alone.  I was finding him distracting, so it was good for him to stay busy. I practiced lots of relaxation and listened to the relaxation script and music that I had downloaded from Kaiser. I was surprised to realize that vocalizing really helped me through the pain of the contractions.

The contractions kept going steadily and progressively, and after five-ish hours they were three minutes apart, lasting a good while, and I couldn’t talk through them. Around 8:30 AM, we called Doula K, and we called the nurse’s line at Kaiser and everyone agreed that it was time to start working our way in. The drive to the hospital was tough with the frequent painful contractions. Going over bumps was the worst. We got to the hospital at about 10:30 AM. I was determined to walk up to Labor and Delivery rather than go in a wheelchair, even though it was tough. I was admitted into an awesome room with a laboring tub (the hospital only has 2 such rooms), my own doctor, Dr. S, was on call (a rare occurrence--they cycle through 8 docs), and a nurse we'd met during our external cephalic version (to move baby from transverse to head-down) who we knew was med-free supportive. It seemed like that day, Sunday, January 2, was going to be the day for our baby boy to be born!

I had not been doing internal progress exams during the pregnancy, but decided to do one when we arrived at the hospital. I was at 75% effaced, 1 centimeter dilated, and baby’s head was at -2 station.  This minimal-progress news was surprising given the frequency and pain of the contractions. Nonetheless, Dr. S was encouraging and we prepared for labor to keep on trucking along, though the contractions had slowed from where we’d been at home.

At that point, I got a heplock put in, which I knew from previous visits to L&D was something if refused would start things off on the wrong foot with the nurses. I figured it was a small, reasonable compromise that would set a peaceful tone.

All settled in around 11:30 AM, I decided to take advantage of the labor tub because of the terrible back labor. Doula K was there by that point and devised a way to keep the heplock dry with a medical glove and medical tape. The tub felt great, but I was never able to 100% relax because I had to focus on not getting that hand too wet. Nonetheless, I was on the path to relaxation. Doula K put electric candles in the bathroom and she and Dave took turns talking with me and helping me relax. For twenty minutes of every hour, I was supposed to get out of the water and be monitored in the bed. I didn’t fully comprehend it at the time, but that was jarring to my relaxation and the move from the water to the bed expended emotional and physical energy. I felt very supported by Dave and Doula K and we passed the time with walking, relaxation, abdominal breathing, time on the ball, etc. After a few more hours things slowed more and more.

Monitoring session on the ball

Five hours later, around 4:30pm I asked for another internal.  I was 100% effaced but only 2 cm dilated. Dr. S was still encouraging about being slow and steady. I tried to get down some food and drink. (I had no intention of following the hospital’s orders to starve myself during the marathon of labor.)

I realized that the bath was really the most comfortable place to be, so I spent much of the next few hours in the water (but getting out for monitoring, though sometimes the staff would extend my time off the monitor).

At some point in there, I realized that I needed to use bathroom. I spent a long time laboring on the toilet trying to work through the back pain as well as relieve myself. The nurses kept warning me to not push on the toilet as though the baby was going to come even though I had made no progress. My feet couldn’t touch the floor which meant my lower back was unsupported through the pain. I tried to prop my feet up on anything I could find, but nothing was quite right. It was a feeling of helplessness. By the time I was done, a baby had—of course— not come out. I did, however, lose my mucous plug. I was happy to see it, as it was a cue that my body did indeed know what it was doing and I could trust my intuition, despite the nurses who did not.

Around 7 PM, friend Jill came to visit to bring much appreciated apple cider and conversation. After she left, I wanted to walk the halls. I walked super-slowly, stopping for each painful back contraction. As I walked, I noticed that the contractions were slowing. Around 10:30, I asked for another internal. This exam found no change.

Because I had made no progress for so long, we were offered the chance to go home, but decided to sleep through the night at the hospital in hopes that being settled would gear me up again. I was nervous about losing the room with the tub after the water had been so soothing to me and I did not want to make another painful trip in the car. Plus, we’d done everything “right” in terms of when to come in the first place with contractions consistent and hard enough I couldn’t talk through them. Dave and I decided that everyone should get some rest and we sent Doula K home while we slept at the hospital.

I woke up at 1:30 am (Monday, January 3) with regular, intense contractions. Dave and I worked through them in the tub and shower but then they stared to decline and so we got some more sleep in. By the time morning rolled around, I was having no contractions and had only made 1/2 cm progress. Since I didn't want to be induced (we were told this was the normal protocol at this point), Dr. S suggested that we go home and wait it out, and we agreed.

Continues in Part 3: Labor Intensifies.

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V's Birth Story Part 1 -- Birth Story for My Son

After a challenging first birth, I joined a birth trauma support group called Mothers Healing Together to help me move to a place of greater peace. Our final exercise was to write a birth story for our child at his current age. V was one at the time. As he turns a big three today, this version is still how I tell it to him.

40 weeks pregnant

1 week post-partum

Birth Story for V

Mama and Daddy had so much love for each other that we wanted our family to get bigger so we could share even more love. We tried for a very long time to get pregnant with you and were very lucky to finally find a doctor that helped us.

You grew big in mama’s belly and we waited patiently for you to be ready to born. Finally, one night we thought it was time and we were so excited! Mama and you worked very hard for you to come out, and daddy took good care of us both, but you just wouldn’t come. But, that was ok. We’d waited two years to meet you, so another couple or hours or days was nothing. So, we waited longer and worked even more. It was hard work, but you were worth it.

Finally, it was time for you to be born. After we’d worked hard for so long, the doctor helping us didn’t believe that it was finally going to happen. But, you and mama surprised her and out you came! Daddy was right there with us making sure that we both felt lots of love.

When you came out, you were very quiet. My first words to you were, “My baby! My baby!” The doctor rested you on my belly and I got to see you and your umbilical cord for just a moment before the doctor took you and Daddy over to a special table where some helpers made sure you were all right. I waited eagerly to hear that you were ok. With Daddy right next to you, you started crying for the first time. We were so happy to hear your voice! Your cry had a little squeak at the end, which was really cute.

After a couple of minutes, Daddy brought you over to me and we got to cuddle close.  Even though you were brand new, you wiggled your way up my body so that we could look at each other even better and so you could try to nurse. You were very alert, and looking into your eyes was so amazing. It was hard to tell their color at first, but later we would see that they were blue. You had a little bit of duck fluff hair. It was too short to tell the color, but we guessed it was dark blonde. Once it grew in more as you got older, we could see that it was blonde with some red in it.

Mama and Daddy loved looking at every bit of you. One of your ears was folded down because when you came out of mama, you were holding it with your hand. As you got older you would continue to love touching your ear when tired. Your fingernails were long and scraggly and your feet were dried and wrinkled and looked like an old man’s feet.  You barely had any vernix on you, a neat substance that helps babies’ skin stay healthy inside their mamas’ bellies as they float in water. These were signs that you had grown big and strong in mama’s body and had really been ready to come out.

Mama and Daddy had to have so much patience to wait to meet you, but all of that waiting was worth it! God blessed our family by putting you in it, and—as is always true, even when it is hard to see—His timing was perfect.

The End (and just the beginning)

I'll share the full birth story in subsequent posts, but I wanted this version to lead the way. I share it because when we strip things down to a childlike, innocent level—leaving just love—the tears, fears, anger, etc. just fade away. The things that were hard are still hard, but the love becomes so much bigger than the struggles.  -Pamm

Read Part 2: The Hard Work of Progress, the beginning of the detailed birth story.

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Babywearing On Board: Two Tots on a Cruise

What's better than a Caribbean cruise in December? Not much! Once again, we decided to cruise stroller-free. If this was a bold move two years back with one ten-month old, it was an even bolder move this time around with a 16-month old and a not-quite-three-year old. As hoped for, babywearing gave us great freedom for adventures big and small. Here’s where babywearing took us this time…

A steep mountain hike



Behind-the-Scenes onboard: backstage in the theatre, the galley, and the bridge

A rainforest trail
Water taxi

Surviving the Airport:
Long security lines (not pictured)
Makeshift highchair (pictured)

 Naps on-the-go
 Portable snuggles for a teething baby (plus milk on the move)

 And gratuitous fun: recreating the same shot from two years ago.



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Babywearing Through the Seasons

Babywearing makes loads of sense in the mild climates of fall and spring, but some parents ask if it is too hot to wear baby during the summer, and the answer is no! Babywearing can actually help you stay in more tune with baby’s temperature and hydration needs than other methods.
This past summer, babywearing helped us brave the crowds during a busy 4th of July Parade, and made a cozy nap spot in the midst of a lot of stimulation.
Babywearing kept us hands-free everywhere from the public bus in Virginia Beach to flying kites on the Jockey Ridge dunes in North Carolina.
On the beach, the Wrapsody Water Carrier helped me get baby fed and napped without leaving the fun of the shore.
We wrapped up our summer adventures with a morning harvesting potatoes at Great Country Farm where, once again, the ability to get one or the other (or both) of the kids up saved the day and kept the fun going.
Now that fall is in full swing, we love wearing our boys on evening walks, to pumpkin patches, and during yard work.
When winter hits, there is no need to stop babywearing. Wearing is a great way to keep baby warm and cozy and to closely monitor baby's temperature and needs. When baby is in a front carry, a large winter coat or maternity coat can fit over both wearer and child.
 On the back or the front, each person can wear their own coat, though this can feel slippery, especially with ruck straps.
Or, child and wearer can share a special babywearing coat. We have a Suse's Kindercoat that I bought in an extra large so Dave and I could share it, and I could wear it while pregnant. (Albeit, it is a big tight for Dave.)  Such coats are even great for spring showers, when the seasons change yet again.


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