We took our first cross-country trip as a family of four a couple of weeks ago--home to Rhode Island. Although the travelling was horrendous (hours and hours of wrestling two small boys in a confined space) it was so good to see my dad, sister, brother, best friend from childhood and their families. I miss them (and my hometown) incredibly. I either need to move or spend at least a few weeks a year back there. Seven days was no where near enough time--especially with a wedding in Vermont thrown in the mix (that's 2 full days of driving round trip!). No, it wasn't a 'vacation'--but it was wonderful.

My brother's girls--climbing rocks already!

I have such mixed up feelings about where to live long term. I love California, the sun, the mountains, the fresh fruits and vegetables.... but I miss my roots and my family (and definitely the ocean). Maybe it's because  I've been a 'little under the weather' lately.  I need a trip to the acupuncturist and the doctor.  Okay, now I'm rambling... There's so much for me to post about. Coming soon: my obsession with Dia de los Muertos and how I'll be going all out for the holiday. (My latest distraction).

All photos by Jason B Smith


Birth Story: Bodhi

I’ve waited 8 months to write this story, but I think I’m ready now. 

Bodhi Gavan Smith born December 19th, 2010

Bodhi became my ‘chi baby’ sometime during my pregnancy—I think it was when I began a daily qigong practice to help me sleep.  In one move, you connect the chi directly to your navel (dantien). When I touched my belly, he would roll up to my fingertips and I could feel a calming warmth and a strong energetic pull. Amazing.
Getting pregnant for the second time stirred up some unresolved emotions for me. My mom died of cancer while I was in the early stages of my first pregnancy (2 1/2 years prior). I had horrible anxiety.  Once school let out for the summer I spent most of my time with Finn, but also focused on working through the anxiety, going to therapy, going to yoga, going to acupuncture, writing….wow. It was intense.  Fortunately, I was in great shape physically-- I was healthy, eating well, and like I mentioned—doing lots of yoga.
Finn's birth took place in a free standing birth center (Best Start in San Diego) with a midwife and I wanted to give birth there again but my insurance changed and I would have to pay completely out of pocket. Instead, I opted for a hospital birth center (still with midwives—but there were 9 of them, and who actually attended my birth would depend who was ‘on’ that night).  I decided to hire a doula—Leigh Fenly, and I’m so glad that I did.
Being of “advanced maternal age” (at the age of 37), I had to do ‘non-stress’ tests weekly from 36 weeks. That meant going into the hospital to hook up to a machine that reads the baby’s heart rate. I wonder if I would have had to do this with a home birth, because these ‘non-stress’ tests totally stressed me out.  Sometimes Bodhi wasn’t moving around enough for them to get a good reading and they’d send me over to Labor and Delivery (L & D) to wait for hours. It was ridiculous. I knew that he was fine. One time they found that he had an arrhythmia (irregular heart beat) and started making me come back twice a week. I would have to leave school and rush over there during my 'prep' period.
Even though the arrhythmia would probably go away right after the birth (and it did), they insisted that I could no longer give birth in the birth center. Instead, I would have to give birth in Labor and Delivery (which was just one floor below the birth center). I was devastated. I could still have a midwife, but the rooms were regular hospital rooms and there would be no tub for labor. We would only have been one floor up!  I had to let it go and accept it. I knew that they were just trying to do the best for the baby—but everything was beginning to feel so medical. I was really regretting not having gone for the home birth.
On my due date I was sent over to Labor and Delivery during the non-stress test and I was super annoyed. I wanted to be at home resting, not in the damn hospital waiting when I knew everything was fine.  My intuition told me that the baby was healthy and strong, but all of this nonsense was beginning to make me question that. I was 4 or so cm dilated already and 75% effaced. I let the midwife, Rebecca, “swipe my membranes” which she said would help move things along.
And move things along it did, but I think it was a day or two early. It was Friday and  I went into labor at about 1 or 2 am Saturday morning. I figured Bodhi would be born by 9 am. Everyone kept telling me that “the second one happens fast!”

Not so fast.

The contractions began at about 10 minutes apart and stayed that way for the next 24 hours--which meant no sleep. These were the real thing too: the intense, can’t talk, bitch, motherfucker contractions.

My plan was to stay home as long as possible so that I wouldn’t have to labor for very long in L & D. We called Leigh who said to call her back when the contractions got closer together.  We talked to her a couple of times on Saturday, but they still weren’t getting closer and I started to get worried. I had done hypnobirthing classes the first time around and was so focused during Finn's birth. I was using the practice again, but started to get really discouraged. Was I doing something wrong? Why wasn’t labor moving along? I was having intense back pain and I wondered if he was facing the wrong direction like Finn was. I started getting in the flipping baby positions. I wished that Leigh was there, so I looked through the affirmations she’d given me on one of her visits and said them over and over again—

My body knows exactly what it is doing....I feel the strong waves of labor and know that everything is normal and progressing....My body will give birth in its own time....keep my mind on acceptance and surrender.

I listened to music. [I teach 12th graders and had them make me playlists I could use for the birth. It was during the final stages of our project, so I didn't get many, but I did get introduced to the XX which I lovel I listened to my hypnobirth tracks. Jason rubbed my back. Time passed. 

Sometime around midnight Saturday night the contractions started to get a bit closer together and Leigh arrived (hooray!)  At one point on the phone she gave me the idea to ride the pain like a wave and I would picture myself as a little cartoon surfer as a contraction hit. There I was—outside the pain, it would pass….right?

She suggested that I try to rest for a while so Jason and I went to bed, but the contractions got more intense. Lying down was the worst and suddenly during one crazy-ass contraction my water burst (this never happened with Finn—it’s such a strange,unique feeling—a warm explosion of liquid, kind of like a water balloon).  It was about 2 am or maybe 3?

To the shower. Things were really moving now.  I could hear Jason and Leigh talking and I started the groaning, the full blown birth moan.  Things were really moving. As I let the water wash over me I wondered, do they know how close I am?  I’m going to have this baby right now in this bathtub. Can’t I just stay here? Please can I just stay here? There’s no way I’m getting in the car.  Have you called Desi? (She was coming over to stay with Finn who was asleep). She’s on her way. 4:30 am.

Leigh let me hold onto her shoulders and lean in. This was good.  You can do this, she said. I can do this. It’s going to happen. I can do this. Somehow we made it to the car. I couldn’t sit down, I couldn’t belt up. It was the longest mile and a half drive ever. Slightly raining. No one on the streets. Please no bumps! 

The hospital was dismal, empty and quiet.  We had to make it down an insanely long hallway to the elevator. They were looking for a wheelchair. There’s no way I’m going to be able to sit in it, I thought. They brought it anyway, I tried to ride backwards on my knees but they were nervous, so I went on sideways, sort of leaning on one hip.
To Labor & Delivery. Check in. She’s feeling pushy, Leigh said to the nurses. They didn’t seem to care. I’m going to puke. The nurse gave me a little something to puke in and headed down the hall to set up. Not a nice nurse. Damn. We got in the room and they started hooking me up, but I didn’t want to be hooked up. They had to do the fetal monitor for the arrhythmia, but it was mobile, so I was too. They put an IV port on the back of my hand, but no IV and then proceeded to ask me 5 thousand questions which they already knew the answers to because they were right there on the computer screen in front of them and I’d answered them every time I was sent there during those damn stress tests and I’m ready to push fucking damnit. JASON will you please answer these questions I can’t do it!? 
Leigh got right in front of my eyes. I know it’s hectic in here, but you can stay calm, just breathe. You can do this. I can? I can. I can do this.  Here we go.

Midwife enters. Finally! She’s here. I like this one--Jasmine. I feel like she was only there for 30 minutes, but she was kind and smiling (finally, a smile from someone at the hospital) and she tells me that I don’t need to rush with the pushing—I can take it slow. Take it slow?! I think it took about 30 minutes.

Well it was good advice…because that 9 pound baby came out of me without a single tear! Amazing. 

I was on all fours and his head came out with a push, but I just couldn’t push his shoulders out at that angle. The women were sounding nervous—and I was like, Just tell me what to do! I’ll do it. Flip over! They flipped me on to my back and pushed against my feet for resistance and out he plopped! They put his slippery beautiful body onto my chest and I looked into his eyes. …he went right for the nipple. 5:50 a.m.

That lasted under a minute because the pediatric team was waiting to check his arrhythmia. They whisked him over to the table and I had to wait. I started getting the post partum shivers  and needed that baby back. I tried to be patient, but I was in an altered state. I want my baby!  The woman holding him seemed to get offended like I shouldn’t be so impatient and I remember thinking that I was being demanding, but come on! I just gave birth. Cut me some slack. 
I had him back and he latched right on. He’s big, Jason and Leigh said and sure enough when they weighed him he was 9.1 pounds. Wow. Unbelievable.

The hospital was strange. It was grey outside.
But the little bodhisattva was in my arms. My big chi baby. We did it. 


Birth Story: Finn

I love reading birth stories, so I thought I'd post both of mine and then convince some other people to let me post their stories. Here's my first: Finn, born May 13th, 2008. I wrote this a month or two after he was born.

Giving birth is like an initiation, really. One day, I was an average pregnant woman: uncomfortable, belly stretched to unimaginable proportions, a waddling walk-- wondering day after day "when is this all going to go down?"

And then it happens. For me, there was no question. This is labor. I awoke just past midnight to the cramping that occurred in intervals of about 10 -20 minutes. I had just finished work that afternoon and given a final presentation that night. I turned on my ipod and relaxed in the dark on my bed listening to the calming Hypnobirth tracks. Time passed quickly as I practiced breathing and listened to the birthing affirmations over and over again.

I wanted to wake up Jason because I was so excited, but I decided to let him rest for a while. I held out for an hour or two until I saw him stir in his sleep. I'm in labor, honey. He didn't seem to think it was for real. After a couple of hours and some convincing, Jason started to pack. We called the midwife--Jude-- who said that I should try to eat something. I considered the peanut butter and toast in front of me, but couldn't do it. My contractions were four minutes apart and she said if I couldn't eat then it was probably time to head to the birth center. It was 5:30 a.m.

The early morning darkness was strange at the large house that was converted into Best Start Birth Center. It was empty and quiet like an abandoned office. I was 6 cm dilated when we arrived and 8 cm soon after. I climbed into the warm tub and Jason turned on music. Billie Holiday, St. Germain. It felt good to be in the water. I thought that I would have the baby soon and right there in the jacuzzi style tub. I felt confident and calm-- I got this-- no problem.

But the baby had other plans. He was anterior and I was feeling the contractions intensely in my back. I remembered that a friend told me to have someone apply counter pressure-- so Jason pushed on my lower back with two tennis balls during the contractions. I kept my breath slow and deep.

Labor takes you into such an altered state. I remember the other people (the nurse, midwife, nurse assistants) making cameos in my solo universe. Jason was next to me, whispering words of encouragement every so often. I remember thinking that he was so sweet and that he must be tired. Jude kept checking the baby's heart rate. Sandra and Deborah were nurses training to be birth assistants and Ruth was the main nurse. Sometimes their cell phones would ring and they would chat. I wanted them to be quiet, but then I didn't seem to care too much.
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No one tells you just how painful the whole thing is. I was shocked to be vomiting. Jude said that it was normal and that I was probably in 'transition'. Hours had passed and I hadn't dilated much further than 8.5 cm. Whenever Jude checked me she talked about how the 'lip' of the cervix was caught (or something like that) and that I needed to dilate a little further. Maybe he wasn't progressing because he wanted to flip over?

Jude broke my water, which in retrospect, I should have refused. Maybe the water sac would've helped Finn turn and get out easier.

I got out of the tub and onto all fours on the bed. I focused on getting the baby to turn around. I waited for the 'urge to push' that they talked about, but I never had it. I thought that I was going to 'breathe the baby down'. That's what the Hypnobirthing classes talked about. Jude seemed skeptical that it would work. I had no clue. I just wanted it to happen...soon. Jude did too. She mentioned that I might need to transfer to the hospital if things didn't start to progress soon.

I was in the tub again when she said this and for the first time I started to get scared and stressed. I can't go to the hospital. There's no way I'm getting into a car! This baby will be born here in this room.
My focus faded. What if I can't do this? I could feel myself clenching with the contractions and wondered if I was keeping myself from getting the urge to push. You're doing everything right. That was Ruth--this made me feel better. The contractions were getting so close together there didn't seem to be a break between them. The intensity increased as well. I tried to envision my cervix softening and opening. Let go. Release. Allow it to happen.

Enter: Roberta (another midwife). She persuaded me to get up on the bed, stuck her hand up inside me and looked at me with a calming, confident smile. She has long, silver hair and looks like a midwife. "Your baby is right there, Colleen. You're going to push him out now." She seemed so sure that I could do it. And she showed me how. I believed it. Okay, I can do this.

Jason and all of those women helped me to do it. Dulce-- the woman that I talked to at the front desk for each of my prenatal visits even came in to help. She rolled up a sheet and I pulled on it for resistance. The other two nurses held my legs. Jason sat behind me. When they showed me what to do and I tried it,  I couldn't believe it was what I actually had to do. I thought my uterus would burst out of my abdomen. (Remember, I still didn't have the urge to push-- I was forcing it here). Labor had been so quiet and serene until now. I screamed. I didn't want to scream. I thought of all the people in the waiting room and how I must be scaring them. I thought of all the women before me who had done this. I had always considered myself to be a tough, strong woman, but now I just wanted this all to be over. All of these people must think I'm being dramatic. [Edited to add: this is hilarious to me now! i was so concerned that I wasn't doing it right!] I wanted the baby out and I didn't think I could get it out myself. I don't think I can do this!!!!  (I yelled).They reassured me, Yes you can. .

Each push seemed to yield such little progress! Isn't the birth canal short? They moved me from the bed to the birth stool and back to the bed. I decided I didn't want to push in the water-- I didn't know how everyone would help me in there. The women told me to relax my face as I pushed and to focus on my 'bottom'. That helped. I was wasting energy by clenching every muscle in my body. His head felt like a bowling ball in my vagina.

As I climbed back up on the bed for the final pushes I felt his head go back up and I thought I was losing ground. It's two steps forward and one back, Colleen. You are progressing. You are doing everything right...Ruth was amazing. I wanted to believe her.

They told me to lie flat because of the way he was angled. They thought he would come out easier this way. At one point they had me reach down and feel his hairy little head coming out. I was scared to do this too. I don't know why. I think that I still thought he would bust out my entire pelvic floor.
He was right there! A few more pushes they told me. Each push seemed to gain such small ground. There's his head, it's almost out. Come on! Okay, his head is out, now his shoulders...That sounded hard to do...I pictured the birth videos that I'd watched, after the shoulders the rest came easily. I felt him slither out and then the weight of his wet body on my chest. There he was screaming, umbilical cord and all. A blanket was thrown over him.

He opened his little eyes and looked at me-- a living, breathing creature. There he was-- part of me, part of Jason. I moved him toward my breast and he suckled there. Time stopped. 3:03 p.m. He was wiggling and he looked huge! I couldn't believe that he came out of my body. He had a crazy conehead. Will that go away? They assured me, yes.

Jason cut the cord. He was like an angel beside me. He looked so happy. As Jude gave me a couple of stitiches Jason held our son. Everything had changed. And it was nothing like I expected. My whole world had just opened up into a different reality. It was an initiation, really. Into what, I'm not so sure-- I was struck by how little I know about life. How little I've experienced. How rich it really all is. And now I've experienced giving birth. Next is motherhood. yikes.

For about a month afterwards, I would search my mind for all of the mothers I know and think things like: "Wow. She did that? She doesn't seem like she could handle it!" I had a new found respect and connection to moms everywhere. I would see women in parking lots who looked otherwise unimposing, towing kids, doing their thing and I'd think, " I wonder what her births were like..." I suddently realized that there were all of these women walking around who had given birth, which was undoubtedly the most challenging thing I'd ever faced, and it didn't even seem acknowledged by society. Shouldn't they be walking around like goddesses or queens or something?
And maybe they actually are.

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